On March 24, Sue Bethanis hosted Dr. Derek Roger, founder of the Stress Research Unit at the University of York and director of the Training Consultancy Work Skills Center. His groundbreaking research at the University of York in England has made him one of the world’s leading experts on resilience and stress management. Derek is a British Psychological Society chartered psychologist and is a fellow of the international Stress Management Association. He’s authored more than 100 articles in the scientific press and is the co-author of this month’s leadership resource Work without Stress: Building a Resilient Mindset for Lasting Success.
Favorite Quote: “Resilience is the ability to negotiate the rapids of life without becoming stressed.”
According to Roger, “People say – oh a bit of stress is good for you. No, it’s not. No stress is ever good for you. What is very useful is pressure. And we make this distinction because it’s really important. Pressure is just a demand to perform. That’s all. Pressure will only become stress if you go on ruminating about it. That’s what rumination is. That’s when pressure is turned into stress.” We are not genetically programmed to ruminate. It’s a habit we have developed and cultivated over time. According to Roger, there is a four step process to overcoming stress.
Waking Up – We have a choice to not ruminate. Rumination is primarily a habit and it can be changed. It’s nurture, not nature. It’s not hardwired and you can change it. Roger says, “When the rumination bubbles up in the mind there is a point at which you can choose either to go on entertaining those what if only thoughts or not. And it is a choice that you make. Now the difficulty with that is that you do have to be awake to be able to make that choice.”
Roger believes that one of the problems with mindfulness is that people are using it as a means to an end. People want to be mindful so they can be happy.
As far as rumination is concerned you don’t need it in your life at all and it very plainly is a choice. Once you’ve “woken up” you can let go of the negative emotion and come back into the present.
Controlling Attention – Roger believes that when you ruminate, your attention gets caught in an unproductive loop, like a hamster on a wheel. You need to redirect yourself to areas in which you can take useful action. An exercise that Roger uses with his executives is to draw a circle on a page, and write down all of the things you can control or influence inside it and all of things you cannot outside if it. Remind yourself that you can care about externalities — your work, your team, your family — without worrying about them.
Becoming Detached – Ruminators tend to catastrophize, but resilient leaders keep things in perspective for themselves and their teams. According to Roger, there are three techniques to try:
- Contrasting: Comparing a past stress to the current one, i.e., a major illness versus a missed sale
- Questioning: Asking yourself “How much will this matter in three years’ time?” and “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “How would I survive it?”
- Reframing: Looking at your challenge from a new angle: “What’s an opportunity in this situation I haven’t yet seen?” or even “What’s funny about this situation?”
Letting Go – The final step is often the hardest. If it was easy to let it go, we would have done it already. Roger has three techniques that help:
- The first is acceptance. Acknowledge that whether you like the situation or not, it is the way it is.
- The second is learning the lesson. Your brain will review events until it feels you’ve gained something from them, so ask yourself, “What have I learned from this experience?”
- The third is action. Sometimes the real solution is not to relax, but to do something about your situation. Ask yourself, “What action is required here?
Biological Responses to Pressure – Worrying is the same as rumination. You can use them interchangeably. Worrying interferes with our ability to processing information. There is an arousal process involving adrenaline and cortisol that is perfectly natural. These hormones are facilitating your awakening. According to Roger, if you’re just sitting and dozing and suddenly there’s a noise behind you and you feel that slight shift in your body – that’s because of adrenaline. The adrenaline level has increased and that’s not a problem. It alerts you. it’s a readiness process. The problem is when it’s sustained.
There is a clear difference between acute stress and chronic stress. Much of the negative effects come from what’s called chronic stress. According to Roger, acute stress isn’t stressing at all, it is just pressure.
On Resilience – The thing about resilient people is that they don’t catastrophize. They don’t ruminate and they are able to keep a detached perspective. And what that means when they don’t catastrophize so they don’t catastrophize about what’s round the corner.
What we found most interesting:
Our lives are about demand because there is always something that needs to be done. That’s the simplest way to think about it. The pressure is constant but that isn’t a problem. Pressure is just a demand to perform. The difference is when you make the choice to hold onto the “negative stuff” and ruminate about it.
To learn more about Derek Roger, listen to the WiseTalk recording.MORE
On January 26, 2017, Sue Bethanis hosted clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Professor Ian Robertson. Dr. Robertson is an expert at applying the latest psychological and neuroscience research to contemporary political, health, social, economic and business affairs in a very accessible manner. Professor Robertson discussed his new book, The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper, a revelatory study of how and why we react to pressure in the way we do, with real practical benefits to how we live.
“In order to control your anxiety you have to believe that you can.”
Robertson says in order to gain control of your emotional state, thinking patterns and behavior there is a fundamental prerequisite that must exist before you can exercise that control – you need to believe that it is possible.
Stress plays a huge part in leaders’ lives and can be both a hindrance and motivator. When your perception of a demanding situation exceeds your ability to cope with that demand – you feel anxious. Anxiety is the activation of the autonomic nervous system which prepares us for fight or flight. This is meant to prepare us to deal with short term danger or opportunity and also gives us the ability to focus.
Too much stress can be debilitating. A moderate amount is extremely good for the mind. Robertson explains that stress causes the brain to secrete a chemical called noradrenaline. “The brain doesn’t perform at its best with too little or too much of this chemical. There’s a sweet spot in the middle where if you have just the right amount, the goldilocks zone of noradrenaline, that acts like the best brain-tuner.”
Anxious responses are habits that we learn. To overcome a habit you need to engage in repetition in order to reshape and gradually replace your old habit with a new habit. Most of us are impatient and easily get demoralized or discouraged. Often, taking a medication reduces your belief in your own ability to control these habits and sabotage the hard work you need to do in order to change an emotional habit. People have a desire for a fast fix.
Robertson says that here is evidence that young adults that have little to no adversity in their lives end up becoming more emotionally vulnerable than those with moderate levels of adversity. “Paradoxically, there is a sweet spot of stress that people need to experience in their lives for them to achieve emotional resilience when they are adults. The overprotection of young people and having a slightly coddle existence means that they are going to be more emotionally vulnerable in the real world of work and all the stresses that go with it.” They experience symptoms of arousal because they have never really experience failure or threat.
Unlike animals that live in the moment, humans can torture themselves with past memories and anticipation of future ones. We can expand this indefinitely and make ourselves anxious long beyond the period of acute stress and make it become chronic.
According to Robertson, there are distinct techniques we can learn in order to reframe our approach to stress. “We can change the chemistry of the brain just as much as any antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug can, but we have to learn the habits to do that,” he says. Genes cannot be changed by environment or experience but the functioning of genes can. “We have the ability to shape our mental destiny.”
- Breathe. Take five long, low breaths in and out. Temporarily apply a routine that you have practiced and anticipated in advance can change the chemistry of your brain and help you build confidence.
- Set goals. Setting goals for ourselves also helps to change the chemistry of our brain. He says, “It could be as seemingly small as getting out of the house and walking 200 yards down the street — something that challenges you to a degree and gives you a feeling of accomplishment to have completed.” The good feeling you get when you achieve a goal increases the dopamine in our brain and part of the reward network. Increased dopamine is a natural antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug. This is where behavior is very important. If you are feeling anxious setting small goals for yourself can stretch you. Achieving these goals will allow your brain to create this natural anti-anxiety compound.
- Squeeze your hand. According to Robertson, “One way to give the left frontal part of your brain a boost is to squeeze your right hand for 45 seconds, release it for 15.”
- Visualize it. Say the words “I feel excited.” Our mind only knows what emotion we are having by context. So, we can trick our mind to be excited instead of anger or upset. “Practice an imagined situation so when you actually come to that, you won’t have to try to remember how to handle it”, says Robertson. It will become a habit.
- Posture. You can also change your posture out of the defensive, aggressive, or defeated posture into a calm and erect posture. Robertson believes that people who adopt a power pose actually feel more in charge or confident. Posture affects our psychological state and the functioning of our brain.
What we found most interesting:
“One of the greatest motivations that humans have is to feel in control,” says Robertson. Feeling out of control is hugely anxiety provoking and particularly so for some people more than others. If we can predict what is going to happen even if what is going to happen is no good you can engage in this amazing capacity of the human brain to plan and prepare. “Most people can adjust to most situations. The change is not comfortable, but you can get there.” The trouble with uncertainty is you can’t engage in mental preparation and planning. This creates a sense of being out of control. Being out of control is an extreme example of helplessness where you don’t believe there is anything you can do to change the outcome, and that leads to passivity. According to Dr. Robertson, “If I can predict something that is going to happen in my mind I can enact certain scenarios and anticipate certain outcomes (hopefully success). Once you stop taking positive actions it pushes your brain into a flight response. Once it is in that mode it is difficult for it to activate the reward and anticipation mode.”
To learn more about Dr. Robertson and his thoughts on shaping your brain’s response to pressure, listen to the WiseTalk recording.MORE
On November 28, 2016, Sue Bethanis hosted Julie Williamson, Chief Growth Enabler for Karrikins Group. Julie is a leading voice in how organizations create sustainable growth by linking communication, design, strategy, sales, marketing, and service. Julie and Sue discussed her newest book, co-authored with Peter Sheahan, Matter: Move Beyond the Competition, Create More Value, and Become the Obvious Choice.
“Change is not an event it simply is how we are.”
Successful leaders need the courage to challenge tradition, the optimism to envision opportunity amid change and the curiosity to explore new territory. These leaders’ cutting-edge knowledge and flexibility at “the edge of disruption” give them an “elevated perspective” on the market. Their deep connections result in “elevated relationships” and their value-based work create an “elevated impact.”
Julie’s interviews with worldwide leaders show they share similar strategies for building businesses that “matter” to their industries, employees, customers and communities. They consider their companies’ distinctive capabilities and reputations, and they work with their clients to learn what issues are most important to them and what problems they need to solve. Established companies are afraid of disruption. The process of discovering your edge of disruption goes beyond looking internally. When you are standing on the edge of disruption you are escaping the “gravity” to who you have always been and you are starting to look out towards what you can be. Julie believes that there is a thrill that come along with standing at the edge and asking “What else could we be doing?”
The “edge of disruption,” which leads to an elevated perspective, marks the collision of new and old technologies and strategies. People who believe passionately about what they do are able to create a spark and light a fire for an entire industry. These leaders are inspired to help companies grow by creating more value and not just by taking costs out of the business.
Elevated Perspectives – It takes courage, optimism, and curiosity to have an elevated perspective. You need to know what is going on outside of your own “organization container.” As a leader you need to model the way. If others don’t see you looking around the corner, asking questions, being curious and being optimistic they are going to model your behavior. You need to figure out how to make time for your people to think, read, listen, and participate in things that take them out of their day-to-day.
Elevated Relationships – In today’s interconnected world there is no major problem that matters that you can solve on your own. When you start to solve problems that require interconnectedness then you are really starting to tackle the big issues for your industry. You need to rethink your current relationships and leverage them to solve the biggest problems that are out there.
Elevated Impact – An elevated impact aligns with an elevated perspective and elevated relationships. The leaders who’ve built companies that matter share certain personal attitudes. This includes a belief that they can negotiate win-win outcomes to benefit their companies, employees, clients, industries and communities. They all share an “authentic commitment to doing well by doing good” and taking a stand for the best interests of their customers and community.
What we found most interesting:
The desire to control and anticipate and dictate the future is something that scientific management has always emphasized (predictability, patterning, etc.). In today’s world, things happen too quickly for this to be too relevant or useful. Things are also not as linear as they once were. Julie says, “We are seeing the need for people to be comfortable with ambiguity. You need to have the confidence to know that you have the courage, skills, knowledge and expertise to step forward even when you don’t know exactly what you are stepping into.”
To learn more about Julie Williamson, listen to her WiseTalk recording.MORE
On October 20, 2016, Sue Bethanis hosted Terence Mauri, a highly regarded leader speaker, author, and Entrepreneur Mentor In Residence (EMiR) at London Business School. He is an Inc. Magazine columnist, and advisor to executives and entrepreneurs around the world. Terence discussed his new book, The Leader’s Mindset: How to Win in the Age of Disruption, and spoke with Sue about how to inspire new leadership thinking to help you disrupt your industry, your organization and, ultimately, yourself.
“If we are lucky, we get about 960 months (80 years) on this planet. Use that number as an energizer. We often accommodate what we should not accommodate for far too long.”
Disruption is a word that can easily lose its meaning. Disruption means thinking and doing what others are not doing. Every disruption is innovative by virtue of it being a disruption, but not every innovation is a disruption. An innovation is an incremental improvement, where a disruption is when you do something big and bold that is 10x different or 10x faster. Many companies are still doing things the old way. According to Mauri, “It is time to upgrade, let go, and refresh.”
Thinking Big Mindset – Most of the time we think too small and think in incremental change. Thinking big is about imagination. Thinking big is also about acting small (disciplined) to execute on the details. The big problems that exist in the world are not going to be solved with incremental thinking.
Acting Bold Mindset – To get ahead you need to have courage and resilience. You need Sisu – a Finnish word that means resilience, courage, and fierce tenacity. It is a mental toughness that happens in the face of adversity. Acting bold is also about having a voice and having the confidence to speak up. We can teach that by modeling that behavior. You need to give others permission and a signal that they have a duty of care and responsibility to speak up when they have an opinion, idea or contribution to make. That is how we grow and develop as a society. People are more courageous when they have a clear purpose and passion in life.
Learning Fast Mindset – The speed of change is breathtaking in the age of disruption. Unless you are constantly learning you are going to become the status quo very quickly. The learn fast mindset is about becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Reading, connecting, networking, putting yourself in new situations, and asking yourself – When was the last time I learned something new? You need to be passionate about your business and industry and the trends that are both exciting and scaring you. Learn fast is a survival skill in the age of disruption.
On Moonshot Thinking – Moonshot thinking is about reimagining the future and trying to think 10X bigger rather than 10% bigger. The idea is to disrupt your thinking and take yourself out of the status quo. You need to shift your perspective so you can have the breakthrough ideas. Moonshot thinking demands you to rethink assumptions about what is possible. If you don’t have a strategy for changing the status quo at a personal or professional level you end up becoming it.
The 3 Box Tool for Disruption
- Box 1 – Is about optimizing the present. Putting your best foot forward and doing the basics brilliantly. That’s what we are good at and where we spend most of our time.
- Box 2 – Is about selectively letting go of the past. Let go of things that are holding you back. We need to be more courageous in doing this.
- Box 3 – Is about creating the future. You need to have a plan and vision for your future. This is very difficult because we live in a time of constant noise and distraction. Too much information can lead to a poverty of attention. We have an attention crisis. Most managers and leaders struggle to focus on what matters every day.
What we found most interesting:
“Most successful people are self-confessed failure pioneers.” They are adept at failing faster and using failure as a learning tool. Failure is not the opposite of success; it is the stepping stone to success. Failure is a fundamental part of innovation and creativity. We need to look at failure as a way to get a step closer to success.
To learn more about Terence Mauri and his thoughts on disruption, listen to the WiseTalk recording.MORE
On September 22, 2016, Sue Bethanis hosted Cat Lee, Head of Partner Marketing at Pinterest. Known as one of the most innovative shopping platforms in the world, Pinterest has revolutionized how people discover products and content, and how customers engage with businesses. Cat gave WiseTalk an insider’s view on how Pinterest has become an extremely disruptive social media powerhouse while building a marketplace of 100 million users.
“Authenticity is about not holding back your point of view and saying what needs to be said in a skillful way with warmth and respect.”
On How Pinterest is a Disruptor in Advertising
At its core, “Pinterest is about exploration and discovery. The big opportunity for businesses on Pinterest is that there is no trade-off between the experience it provides to users and businesses.” Pinterest customers are open-minded to the ideas that come from businesses because they are native to the Pinterest experience. 75 percent of the ideas on Pinterest are from businesses because they are useful, actionable and relevant to users.
What’s unique about the Pinterest platform audience is the intent that can be modeled out based on user actions. The way that people search on Pinterest is based on exploration. If you look at the consumer journey through a partner’s point of view (business), it closely resembles the marketing funnel. The consumer starts with casual browsing, then moves on to engagement (pinning), and then finally the consumer moves to the mindset of wanting to take action.
The Importance of Talent and Processes to Disruption
Cat believes it is important to focus on organizational health in addition to organizational smarts. Through both, you get efficiency and speed in how the teams can work together and ultimately disrupt the market. A key component is communication. If all employees have the same information it empowers everyone to do their best and be in alignment of what’s most important to the company. Macro level processes helps teams go faster.
Cat also believes, “you are doing your best work when you are leveraging your strengths and making sure that they are well balanced. You don’t need to worry about weaknesses as much as helping people to do their best work.”
What We Found Most Interesting:
- The Four Values of Pinterest Knit: The best products come from “knitting,” where everyone works together— from engineering and design to marketing and community. Innovation happens when disciplines “knit” together.
- Put Pinners First: If something doesn’t work for Pinners, it doesn’t work for Pinterest.
- Go: The best way to find out if something works is to try it and learn as you go.
- Be Authentic: Being honest and open (and sometimes saying the hard thing) is a core value.
To learn more about Cat Lee and her thoughts on disruption, listen to the WiseTalk recording.MORE
On August 18, 2016, Sue Bethanis hosted economist, Joshua Gans, the Jeffrey Skoll Chair in Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto and author of The Disruption Dilemma. Gans discussed his new research on innovation theory and the range of actions that leaders can take to deal with disruption.
“The disruption dilemma is “do we go for gold now or do we settle for silver every year?”
- Why do companies that are at the top of their game seem to get into trouble with disruptive innovations? Successful firms have trouble deciding what path to pursue because at first, their customers reject innovation, but eventually they begin to embrace it and the new entrant becomes a real business threat. That creates a real dilemma for an established firm.
- Sometimes something new comes along that in addition to being innovative, is put together in a new and completely different way. Blackberry is an excellent example of this supply side disruption. They just didn’t have the right organization to be able to do what Apple and Samsung were doing. Often, the incumbents are handicapped by the operation and structure that made them successful.
- You need to pay attention to the warning signs: A) a new product comes along and your organization dismisses it without evaluation, and/or B) situations where different parts of an organization have no idea what other parts of the organization are doing.
Tips for managing supply-side innovation:
- Your customers don’t know everything: You need to be actively monitoring new technologies and keep track of what’s going to be the next thing. You need to be strategic and anticipate the needs of the future.
- Acquire new disruptive entrants: Most firms have dealt with innovation by buying the firms that bring the new innovation to market. You must not only acquire them, but you also need to absorb them and their way of thinking and doing. Developing procedures is one way to make these acquisitions successful.
- Have very focused teams on rapid innovation and improvement: There is a cost to this, as you might have a very short time at the top of the industry, but there is the potential to make a lot of money in the short-term.
- Choose the life of the firm: By sacrificing rapid innovation you can lag a bit behind. This does come with a cost as you won’t have as many sales and you won’t be the leader in your industry. But, doing so will make your organization more flexible by breaking up silos and making sure that people rotate across teams. This doesn’t guarantee that a company will survive the next big disruption, but it does increase the odds quite a bit.
What we found most interesting:
Do you want to be gold or silver? Historically, when you choose to be gold you are choosing to be there for a short period of time. When thinking about disruptive threats, it is worthwhile to bring different parts of your organization together to identify and decide how you will deal with them.
To learn about Joshua’s theory and research on disruptive change, and more interesting insights about companies that have fallen to disruptive innovation, listen to the recording here.MORE
On July 20, 2016, Sue Bethanis hosted David Rogers, professor at Columbia Business School and the author of the recent book The Digital Transformation Playbook. David is a globally-recognized leader on digital business strategy. David talked with Sue about why traditional businesses need to rethink, adapt, and learn from todays’ digital disruptors and innovators.
“The reason that digital technologies matter so much to businesses is because it matters to customers. Through technology, customers can discover, learn, interact, and influence each other. It’s changing the relationship businesses have with their customers.”
Digital transformation is a question — How does a business that was started before the digital era need to adapt in order to grow, thrive, and reach its next stage of profitable growth?
According to Rogers, digital transformation really isn’t about technology, it’s about changing strategic thinking and organizations’ need to upgrade their thinking across these five domains of strategy:
- Customers – Businesses need to shift from thinking about their customers as targets (who they market to) to thinking about them as networks. We need to look at customers as active and dynamic participants and partners. Technology is changing the customer relationship with businesses and with each other. There is now a much more reciprocal dynamic relationship with customers and it is important to understand the ways that they (customers) are interacting with each other and making decisions. Businesses now have better insight into the customer’s very rapidly changing path to purchase.
- Competition – We are shifting from a world where traditional competition was very much a zero-sum game. We are now not only dealing with rivals within our industry, but also with competitors from outside our industry (for example, Uber and the auto industry). We are now in an environment where companies are dealing with “co-opetition”. The same company may be your fiercest rival and a critical business partner.
- Data – Traditionally, data was expensive to obtain and was primarily used in an organizational silo fashion to manage processes and forecasting. Basically, businesses used data to operate more efficiently and effectively. Now, data is everywhere. There is an incredible sea change in unstructured data which is commonly called “Big Data”. We are now seeing businesses that can bring this data together in an integrated fashion. Instead of just improving operating efficiency data can be used to create new value and to innovate and drive the business forward.
- Innovation – There is a big shift from the traditional model of innovation that is based on senior organizational leaders making tough decision and placing big bets. We are shifting to a model that is based upon a process David Rogers calls “rapid experimentation.” The role of leadership is very different in this model. Instead of trying to figure out the answer, leaders set the goal and the question of innovation and enable their organization to figure out how they can effectively learn as quickly and rapidly as possible. Digital technologies now enable continuous testing and experimentation so that business leaders don’t sink everything into one big bet that may or may not work.
- Value – The last domain of digital transformation is the value a business delivers to its customers. Industry definitions and borders are becoming much more fluid and evolving. As the environment changes, businesses need to shift from taking a static view of who they are. Every business should look at every change and new technology and ask itself, “How can this create a new opportunity for me to deliver value to my customers that I wasn’t able to deliver yesterday?” It is important to be thinking about how to be as relevant to your customer today and going forward as you’ve been in the past.
On Data Sharing:
Certain industries are more comfortable with sharing data and there are certainly key differences among age groups.
- Brand Trust – Even when an individual is hesitant to share data, if there is a particular brand where they thought they had a trusted relationship with for more than six months they were more likely to share their data.
- Creating Value – People are really influenced by the perception that there is value being exchanged. When they feel that by giving the data to your company they can see that it allows you to serve them better, they are much more open to the idea of sharing data.
On Learning to Experiment:
Experimentation is really just an iterative process of what does and doesn’t work. Thinking about innovation as a series of experiments is about organizing your innovation process around learning.
There are a couple of different types of experiments and as a manager it is important to understand the distinctions.
- Convergent Experiments – You start with a specific question and you are converging on an answer (example: an A/B test). In the ideal situation, these experiments can actually be designed using a scientific method.
- Divergent Experiments – There is not a single specific question like an A/B test. You are posing an unknown set of questions that require a different process design. This is where you might be putting a prototype in the hands of customers or discovering through an iterative process what may be most meaningful for the business. The process may actually generate new questions for each stage. The ultimate goal is to test as many assumptions as possible behind a general idea of an innovation.
What We Found Most Interesting:
Businesses must understand the importance of strategies to build platforms, not just products. In the digital era, the competition shift is being driven by the growth of platform business models – a business that creates value by facilitating direct interactions between different types of customers. So, instead of the business creating the value – the business is creating value by bringing together different parties that are each contributing and exchanging different kinds of value themselves.
To learn more about David Rogers and his thoughts on digital disruption, listen to the WiseTalk recording.MORE
Click here to listen to and download the full audio recording of this month’s Wise Talk with Columbia Business School Professor Rita McGrath (@rgmcgrath) and Mariposa CEO @suebethanis! You’ll come away from the conversation with new insights, tools, and approaches that could help you re-think your strategy, or at least shake out some new ideas and questions to explore.MORE