You need a thriving mindset if you want to get through disruption and adversity. When you have a fresh new idea, embrace it. Turn adversity into opportunity. Companies like Kodak resisted technological change because of their fear of innovation, and look where that led them. Embrace disruption with your host Dr. Diane Hamilton and her guest Gerry Valentine. Gerry is the founder of Vision Executive Consulting. He is also the author of The Thriving Mindset—Tools for Empowerment in a Disruptive World. Learn how you can overcome the fear that comes with adversity and disruption. Find the thriving mindset today!
I’m so glad you joined us because we have Gerry Valentine here. Gerry is the author of the new book, The Thriving Mindset: Tools for Empowerment in a Disruptive World. We’re going to have a great conversation with him.
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Achieving A Thriving Mindset Amid Adversity And Disruption With Gerry Valentine
I am here with Gerry Valentine, who inspires people to build resilience, overcome setbacks and understand that adversity can be a source of opportunity. He’s got a new book, The Thriving Mindset: Tools for Empowerment in a Disruptive World. It’s so nice to have you here, Gerry.
Diane, it’s wonderful to be here. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited about our conversation.
You’ve been very patient with a few things to get the show started. Thank you for that. We have a lot aligned with what we’re talking about before and it’s going to be fun to learn more about you. Why don’t you give me your backstory for people who haven’t been familiar with what you’ve been working on?
I am a native New Yorker and I sometimes refer to my backstory as my 6% story. The reason I call it that is that if you look at the statistics, someone who was born into the world I was has approximately a 6% likelihood of leading the life that I lead. I’m an African-American man. I’m also a gay man. I was born to a single mother in New York City, not in New York City now but New York City of the 1960s and 1970s.
That was a time for anyone who does not remember the tremendous challenge within the city. That was a time of urban decay. That was when we had enormous budget problems. My mother was one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. Working 10, 12, 14-hour days was the norm for her. She was raising two kids on her own. Sometimes, even with that workload, it wasn’t enough.
There were times when we did without things like eat or have electricity simply because there wasn’t enough. It was a choice between paying the utility bills or feeding us. She made a choice to feed us instead. It’s bad to be a young kid at home on a cold New York City night. Your mother’s out at work. You’re worried that someone’s going to come to shut off the lights while she’s away. It’s not a good time. I was very lucky. I ended up leaving that life to earn some scholarships to a very high end junior high and high school, then onto an Ivy League University followed by an MBA.
I launched into what was a 30-year corporate career. I run my own business where I help people, companies and teams thrive through disruptive times. Everything I do is based on my story because the thing that I learned through my journey was something I tell my clients. Disruption and adversity are normal parts of life. The key is learning how to turn adversity into our advantage.
That’s an inspiring story that you were able to get out of that situation. You mentioned some of the schools you went to. I looked at Columbia and Cornell. You got through some great education. A lot of people don’t end up in that spot when they start with latchkey kids, the ones that had to go home when the parents were working. It’s interesting to look at your siblings. I’m curious how many siblings you had. Did they end up in the same kind of good fortune?
I have one sibling and I won’t say too much about him. You’ll understand out of medical privacy. My brother has a severe mental illness. That life was simply not an opportunity for him. It became evident at a very early age. As he grew into adulthood, it was obvious that there was a severe mental illness. I can expand. There was another way to look at your question. The neighborhood that I grew up in, very few kids would have gone on to achieve the kinds of things I had. It’s because they simply didn’t have the opportunity.
I was lucky. A lot of things with being in the right place at the right time. The junior high and high school that I went to is a high-end school that’s in Brooklyn Heights, which even during the 1960s and 1970s, was a very high income neighborhood. My peers in school all came from very different lives than I did. I was going home to spend weekends alone, worried that the lights were going to be set off. They were going to their weekend houses with their parents. It was a little bit different of an experience.
Very few kids who come from where I came from have that type of opportunity. One of the things I talk about all the time and speak about extensively in my book is that education and what I call intellectual capital, which includes formal education but is even more, is a fundamental part of overcoming disruption and turning adversity into opportunity. In my case, that early on access to an excellent education exposed me to opportunities that I otherwise would have never even known existed.
It’s a lot of timing. I’ve done a lot of research into perception, different aspects of bias and things that you deal with. What’s interesting to me is how much our culture, emotional intelligence and so many things can come into play in addition to timing. I love that you named it to a thriving mindset. I studied a lot of Carol Dweck’s Mindset work for my work with curiosity and perception. I’m curious what you mean though, because everybody looks at mindset a little bit different. What do you mean by the thriving mindset? Why do you think that’s important?
I’m familiar with Carol’s work too and I love her work. The way I talk about it is I start the thriving mindset with a model that is helpful to illustrate it. Disruption and adversity are normal parts of life and it can be a lot of things. The normal response to any type of disruption or adversity is fear. It’s a fear that we won’t be able to meet the demands of that particular disruption. The fear itself is not the problem. It’s about the problem can emerge and how we respond to the fear.
Too often, people drop into a place that I call paralysis, which is an inability to respond productively to the fear that naturally comes with disruption. The problem with paralysis is it always leads to more disruption, either the initial gets worse or a new disruption arises. An example I always use to illustrate this is Kodak. You and I both were on Kodak. Kodak went bankrupt in 2012 and many people might say because of digital photography. What most people don’t know is that Kodak invented the first digital camera back in 1975. Did you know that?
I do know that because I use that example for my curiosity but most people don’t.
The digital camera was invented by a Kodak engineer by the name of Steve Sasson. There was a New York Times piece on him several years ago. He spoke very candidly about what those days were like, going around the company with this new invention and trying in great frustration to get anyone at the company to listen to him. He speaks about one conversation, where at the height of his frustration, he tried to convince people that this was more than about taking pictures, that it might mean that we could someday send photographs through the phone line.
That’s almost a joke to think about. In fact, I speak off and use that line to get a laugh out of the audience. It’s a symptom of what it was like then. Kodak’s leadership at that time was unable to see. What happened was this invention was seen as a threat and one that we can easily understand looking at the Kodak business model. At that point in time, we took our pictures often in Kodak cameras and film. We took the film to the drug store to be developed often in Kodak chemicals. In about a week, we come and pick up our prints often printed on Kodak paper.
Through one view, digital photography was a threat to every step in the Kodak value chain. Through another view, who better than Kodak to reimagine what photography might ultimately become. The problem was Kodak’s leadership at that time fell into that adversity, fear, paralysis cycle. The disruption of a new technology, the digital photography, caused the fear because of its threat to the value chain, which led to Kodak leaders resisting the technological change rather than embracing it.
As you make those decisions, the cycle gets worse. We can see this adversity for your paralysis cycle in many aspects of life. You see it when people may witness corporate wrongdoing and they make the wrong decision about raising it or covering things up, which leads to a bunch of bad decisions. The cycle could even be triggered by a good event like a promotion. Sometimes when people are promoted, they feel like they aren’t up to the challenges of the new job and may engage in behaviors like micro-managing and all kinds of things that are suboptimalDisruption and adversity are just a normal part of life. The key is learning how to turn adversity to your advantage. Click To Tweet
We see this in companies that feel under threat, as Kodak did. Maybe the granddaddy of all adversity for your paralysis cycles is what we’re going through with the COVID pandemic. This is a level of disruption we could argue that our species has not seen in a century, although very sadly, the COVID death toll has exceeded that of the flu of 1918, which is an incredibly sad thing to understand. There’s a lot of fear for very good reason and we have that risk of falling into paralysis.
The cycle is the first part of the thriving mindset. The question becomes, “How do you break out of this adversity, fear, paralysis cycle?” The key, which I always tell people, is that there’s nothing wrong with being afraid. A lot of people get caught up in this illusion that we should all be fearless. I don’t believe that fearlessness exists in healthy people. Courage is a different thing than fearless.
The thing to realize is there’s nothing wrong with being afraid. It’s what you do when you’re afraid that matters. You can learn that fear that naturally comes with adversity is also a signal that you might be standing in front of an opportunity. You can learn to use that fear as a springboard to leap out of that adversity, fear, paralysis cycle and leap towards the opportunity that’s on the other side of the adversity. I call that taking a courageous leap. This thing that I call the thriving mindset is building in the skills, such that when we face those moments, we can more effectively take those courageous leaps.
I love how you put that because it ties in so well to the research I found with curiosity of what holds people back from it. I found four things and the first thing was fear. The others were assumptions, the voice in your head, technology over and underutilization of it and environment. As you talk about fear, with Kodak, they didn’t want to cannibalize as they were thinking. They are their products but at the expense of something else, the opportunity expense is there.
A lot of what you’re talking about is so important, recognizing what holds you back. My favorite Star Trek lines, if you saw the last Star Trek movie when Spock was freaking out, the doctor said to him, “It’s our fear of death that keeps us alive.” You have this natural instinct to get that fight or flight but that’s okay. It’s almost like when you give a talk. You get that level of stress but there’s eustress and distress and there are all these levels of stress. To be courageous doesn’t mean you’re fearless. It’s almost like mindfulness. You can’t completely empty your mind. You’re going to have some thoughts in there. It’s more of a control and using it for good.
You brought up an example that I use all the time but I never thought about it in this context before. You and I both do a lot of public speaking. I coach a lot of leaders on public speaking. As with you, we’ve probably both encountered people who tell you, “I get so nervous before I speak and sometimes I get the shakes.” What I will often tell people is, “That’s okay.” You will almost never see professional speakers use a laser point or have papers in their hands. That’s one of the many reasons but one of the reasons is many people get the shakes.
If you’re on a big stage, nobody but you knows. If you’re holding a laser pointer, everybody knows you have the shakes because they watch the dot moving. There’s another way to look at that here that comes before public speaking. What you’re feeling is an adrenaline rush. The shakes are your body’s way of discharging the excess adrenaline. In addition to that anxious fight or flight impulse that you’re getting, it does some good things for you. When you have adrenaline in your blood, you’re thinking and breathing a little faster, so your blood is oxygenating more.
You’re in a better physical state to handle this demand of walking on stage and speaking. When you feel that fear and adrenaline rush that naturally comes before you go on stage, rather than resist it and use that as going to yet another adversity for your paralysis cycle, where the fact that you’re feeling nervous makes you nervous, which makes you more nervous, you see that cycle that you don’t whip around in there. Greet it and say, “There it is.” That means “I’m ready for the challenge that’s ahead of me.”
There are so many ways to do that. Let me whip into a business example and it’s parallel to Kodak. I have a very good friend and he’s my best friend. We were both consultants. We met in business school. We both made our careers and we’re off on our own. He consults in the financial space for nonprofits, often community-based nonprofits and some great stuff. He was invited by a great organization in Michigan to lead and off-site they were having for nonprofit leaders.
This off-site was being held in Northern Michigan. He learned that it was at this convention center. It’s a beautiful lodge. I don’t remember the name of it but it’s owned by the UAW. What he was advised ahead of time was that when you rent a car to drive, you must rent an American-made car. You need to check the VIN number to ensure that it was made in an American plant where they’re not going to let you park on the property. You will have to park off-site and they’ll send us a shuttle bus to you. Sure enough, it happened.
Even better, when he called the rental agency to rent the car, the guy at the counter who answered the phone said, “Don’t worry about that. We don’t carry no Asian-made cars here,” except you didn’t say, Asian native. It’s a racial slur. He relayed this story. There are so many things wrong with this story but could you get a better example of the adversity for your paralysis cycle? I’m not even going to look. I don’t even want to see the competition.
I’m going to resist rather than, “You saw fit to buy a product that I didn’t make. Can you come closer? Tell me what you like about that. I want you to park that here because I want to look at that and understand what’s different about it. I hardly understand this decision.” At least don’t take this as an anti-union statement because I believe very strongly in labor unions but even good organizations who are performing a great purpose at their core can make a bad decision. This is a bad decision that we too often make.
I wrote my book before COVID, we were proofreading at the time of COVID, so it was like, “What a moment to launch a book like this.” One of the things I speak about in the book is that pre-COVID, we were at the most disruptive time in human history up until COVID. Our technology, the way we work and relate to each other as human beings is changing faster than ever before. One of the problems we have as a society, even as a species but certainly as a country, is we do a very poor job of preparing people to meet and thrive through disruption.
You pair that with a world that’s changing faster than ever before and you have a huge disconnect. The UAW-owned conference center is a micro example of the bigger problem. It’s a matter of people being very poorly prepared to deal, thrive in disruption and find the opportunity that always accompanies disruption. The reason I wrote the book and the focus of my work is I believe one of the most important things we have to do is to better prepare people to thrive in the face of disruption.
I’ve had some interesting experts on the show that talked about being ready for crisis management before all this happened. I thought, “That’s such a great idea.” I was surprised I didn’t have more but I’m going to be curious to see how many we get after this. You write about a lot of things that need to be discussed, like things we’ve been talking about. You also talk about why you believe members of underrepresented groups are especially effective leaders in these disruptive times. I want you to touch on that before we get to them to the show because that’s an interesting point.
I describe underrepresented groups in many ways. African-Americans, the Latinx community, other people of color, LGBTQ community, which I am a part of are very much underrepresented at a corporate level. Women have gotten much better but women are still tremendously underrepresented at the corporate levels. People with learning differences are also underrepresented at the corporate level.
One of the things I don’t talk about to the very end of the book is that in addition to being a Black man, a gay man or a person from poverty, I also have a learning difference. I have dyslexia. That was not diagnosed until quite late. Some of the things that I have found is that these differences have given me a very unique way of looking at the world. In fact, people from underrepresented backgrounds, those of us who survived the challenges of those underrepresented backgrounds, which is far too few of us, are able to survive the challenges of that. That’s because of societal injustice that needs to be corrected.
In addition to that, for those of us who do manage to make it to the other side, thriving through disruption is the thing that we’ve always had to do because it’s not a new thing. I believe that this is one of the reasons why diverse leadership teams have been proven time and time again, I’m sure you’ve seen the same research I’ve seen, to be more innovative.
One of the reasons that’s true is that when you insert people who are from underrepresented and challenged backgrounds into those leadership roles, they bring a couple of things. First, they bring new perspective, which is absent and critical for thriving and innovation. More so, you bring people into those roles for whom thriving through disruption has been the skill. In fact, we might not even call it a skill. They would call it life. Injecting that into corporations is one of the critical things that helps corporations, teams and organizations better thrive through these disruptive times.
We used to discuss that a lot when I used to do Myers-Briggs training when it first came out. You put everybody on the same team who were alike. You would tell them to build a house of Legos and be boring but you put a bunch of different personality types on the same team and they’d create castles with moats and cool things. You make so many great points here and in your book. As we hit the end of the show, a lot of people are going to want to know how they can get your book or follow you. Is there some link or something you’d like to share before we go?Even good organizations, which have a great purpose at their core, can make bad decisions. Click To Tweet
You can find me on my website, which is GerryValentine.com. If you go to that website, you can learn more about me. You can connect with me on LinkedIn. I love to get connections on LinkedIn. You can find my book, The Thriving Mindset: Tools for Empowerment in a Disruptive World on Amazon or where else you buy your books. If you go to my website, you can download the first chapter of the book for free as my gift to you. I hope people we’ll reach out. I’d love to hear from you.
We had so much in common of what we focus on. I knew this would be a great conversation. Thank you so much, Gerry, for being my guest.
It’s been wonderful. Through this conversation, you’ve given me more things that I’m going to be thinking and maybe writing about. That’s one of the reasons I love this conversation. Thank you so much. I’m so grateful.
This show is going to be a little bit different and I’m excited about it because I’m going to be talking about curiosity. I talk on a lot of other people’s shows about what I work on but I want to talk to you about the value of building curiosity within your organization. I’m my guest. In addition to hosting this show, I’m also the creator of the Curiosity Code Index, and I wrote the book Cracking The Curiosity Code. I give a lot of presentations where I talk about the importance of improving curiosity and getting out of status-quo thinking. It sometimes helps if I share a story that you might find fascinating.
A lot of organizations are held back by a culture that doesn’t embrace curiosity. They go along with the way things have always been. I like to talk about an experiment that I share on stage about a hidden camera experiment, where they looked at how quickly people go along with the group. This woman went into a doctor’s office, thinking she was getting an eye exam but not known to her. Everybody in the waiting room weren’t patients. They were actors.
Every so often, an experiment, what was going on is they would have a bell ring. Every time that bell would ring, all of the actors around her, who she thought were patients, would stand up and sit down with no explanation. After three times hearing the bell ring and without knowing why she was doing it, the woman stood up and sat down, conforming with the group. They thought, “This is interesting. She is going along with what everybody else is doing. Let’s see what happens if we take everybody out of the room.” They called everybody back as if they were patients one at a time.
Eventually, she is alone in the room, and the bell rings. What she did was stand up and sit down. She doesn’t know why she is doing it. She is going along with what everybody else has done. They thought, “This is fascinating. Let’s add some people to the room who are patients and see how she responds to the bell ringing and see how they respond.” The bell goes off and she stands up and sits down. The gentleman next to her looks at her and says, “Why did you do that?” She said, “Everybody else was doing it. I thought I was supposed to. “The next time the bell rings, he gets up and sits down with her.
Slowly but surely, what became a random rule for one woman is now the social rule for everybody in the waiting room. It’s an internalized behavior that we call social learning. We see what other people do and we think, “That’s what I want to do because everybody else is doing it.” We reward ourselves because we don’t want to be excluded. It’s the part of how conformity can be comfortable but going along with it, sometimes you get bad habits, stunt growth and get the status-quo thinking. That can be the downfall of organizations.
When we do things just because they’ve always been done a certain way, we don’t progress and don’t look for other ways to find solutions. I want to go beyond that. I want to know, “Why are we doing things? Why is it important? What are we trying to accomplish?” That’s what I talked to companies about because I think they need to look at how and where are they modeling and fostering curiosity, “What action plans do they have in place to avoid status-quo thinking? Do they have all the answers? How can they take what they learn from different events and utilize that to make some changes?”
It’s important because curiosity has been the foundation behind the Model T to self-driving cars. We know that leaders believe they encourage curiosity and exploration. I’ve had Francesca Gino on the show, who has done a lot of great research in this area. We know that most of the employees don’t feel rewarded for it if they explore their curiosity. If we want organizations to generate innovative ideas, we have to help them through leaders developing that desire to explore.
My job is to be curious. I ask questions and get information for a living. I do that through the show, teaching and speaking everything I do. It’s something I want to share with other people because it’s such a huge part of what makes companies successful. I look at curiosity as the spark that ignites the process that everybody is trying to achieve. Think of it as baking a cake. If your goal is to bake a cake, you’ve got all these ingredients. You have eggs, milk, flour and whatever it takes to bake the cake. You mix it together and put it in the pan and oven. What happens? If you didn’t turn on the oven, you get goo. Nothing happens.
That’s a huge problem that organizations are trying to get. Instead of cake, they’re trying to get productivity or make money. They know the ingredients. They know they want motivation, drive, engagement, creativity, communication and all of the soft skills. They’re mixing those ingredients and what they’re not doing is turning on the oven. The oven or the spark is curiosity. If you don’t turn on the oven, no one gets cake. That’s what I’m trying to talk to companies about.
We know that kids are naturally curious. I love a picture from the San Francisco Museum of Art from Life Magazine in 1963. They have these two little girls that are adorable, looking through this break on the wall that they can see behind the air conditioning vent. They’re supposed to be looking at all the artwork on the walls because it’s the San Francisco Museum of Art but what the kids do is they want to see what’s behind the vent. We were all that way. Three-year-olds ask their parents about 100 questions a day. At that age, you’re curious. You want to find out how everything works. There’s some time that we eventually lose some of that.
Think about it. When did you stop wanting to look behind the vent? Did somebody say, “Stop that. Get up. You’re getting dirty. Don’t look behind there?” We get that. That’s what our parents do. You have to behave but we’ve seen a big decline in curiosity and creativity. There are some great TED Talks about the creativity aspect, which ties in similarly to curiosity and what we see. It peaks around age five and then it tanks as soon as you go through school about the age of 18 through 31, even we’re seeing very low levels.
Sir Ken Robinson has a great talk about how we educate people out of our creativity and competencies. George Land also has a great talk about his work with NASA. He looked at kids. He followed them at age five and found that 98% of children were creative geniuses. By the time they were 31, only 2% were and it was a huge difference. George Land says that we have convergent and divergent thinking. He talks about it in terms of, we put on the gas and try to come up with all these great ideas but at the same time, we over-criticize them and put on the brake.
Anybody who drives a car knows that when you put the brake on and at the same time, you put on the gas, you don’t go very far. That’s what’s happening to our curiosity and creativity. I thought this was interesting because curiosity can translate into serious business results and CEOs get that. A lot of them are not investing in the culture of curiosity but some of them are doing some amazing things. I want to talk about what the cost is of lost curiosity.
There are so many aspects of what costs companies. We know that they’re losing $16.8 billion due to emotional intelligence if you ask the Consortium for AI. If you look at Gallup’s numbers, they’re losing $500 billion a year due to poor engagement. I’ve seen everything. Communication Holmes has it at $37 billion. I’ve seen how much higher. It depends where you look but we’re talking tens to hundreds of billions for each of these issues, emotional intelligence, communication and engagement. It’s a huge problem out there and companies know that. They’re losing money but they don’t recognize the value sometimes of curiosity.
When we talk about curiosity, there’s a big innovation factor because we want to be more innovative but we’re worried about job loss and jobs being automated. We know that if we’re not innovative, the majority of the Fortune 500 companies from 1995 are gone. No one wants to be Kodak and Blockbuster. We know that Netflix ate Blockbuster’s lunch. The reason those companies are not here is because they looked at things from the status-quo way that they’ve always done things. They didn’t want to cannibalize their product or whatever the success they had. If you do that, the world keeps moving and you get stuck. That’s a huge problem.
It was interesting to me to study curiosity. There’s a lot of research in curiosity but there are no great statistics I would like to see. There’s a State of Curiosity Report that Merck did in 2018. It showed that curiosity was higher in larger companies than in smaller ones. It was 37% versus 20%. Millennials were more curious than Gen Z and Boomers. The US had a higher level of curiosity compared to China but maybe they weren’t as high as Germany. That’s just one report. I would like to see a lot more research done. It’s fun to look at what experts have shared regarding the value of curiosity.
Francesca Gino did a great job with the HBR article that she wrote. I loved having her on the show. I hope you check out that show because it’s amazing. In that report, she talked about leaders recognize curiosity is important and they think that they’re encouraging it but we found that most of the employees don’t believe that. Only 24% feel like they’re curious about their jobs and 70% said they face barriers to staying curious and asking questions. She did some great research. If you get a chance, I would recommend reading that show and also check out that HBR article.There's absolutely nothing wrong with being afraid. It's what you do when you're afraid that matters. Click To Tweet
I’ve had Daniel Goleman on the show. He was incredible. We talked about how emotional intelligence ties in. He was cute because he said he couldn’t see why I developed a measure of curiosity because I’m very curious. He was talking about an article in HBR as well by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, saying that curiosity is one of the most important competencies in the future. That’s a huge plug for curiosity coming from Daniel Goleman. He was talking about younger generations having questions of organizational missions more than older generations. We got into a great discussion about that. I hope you take some time to read that.
Another great episode on the show was with Amy Edmondson, who has an incredible TED Talk. She gets into curiosity and how it ties into collaboration. She does a TED Talk about teams and teaming. She gets into how the Chilean miner disaster was able to be resolved because a lot of it was because of curiosity. She says, “You got to look at what are you trying to get done, your goal. What is in your way? Your concerns, worries and barriers? What resources, talent, skills and experience do you bring?” She talks about how they did all that to get those Chilean miners out from under that rock. It’s definitely worth watching her TED Talk. All of them have TED Talks that are amazing.
A great guest as well on the show was Doug Conant, the guy who turned around Campbell Soup. He did that by asking questions. He asked employees what motivated them and then he looked at how to build engagement by writing 10 to 20 personal notes, six days a week. He counted at 30,000 plus, which is huge. When he took over in 2002, they hada12% engagement. By 2009, they were up to 68%. He did some amazing things by asking questions, writing comments and giving input. All that stuff comes out of curiosity.
Another great guest of the show is Zander Lurie, who is the CEO of SurveyMonkey. They’re so much into curiosity. They got permission to change their street address to One Curiosity Way. I was asking him some of the things that they do because they have a culture of curiosity there. They ask, “How can we make our products more productive for our customers? How can we create an environment where people do their best work?” He said that they do skip-level meetings so that they can find out what works and what doesn’t. Those are some examples of people who are on the show.
There are other examples that are fascinating. Some companies like Monopoly, Ben & Jerry’s and VanMoof, I’ve looked at some of them to see how they used curiosity to go a step further. Monopoly did some research because they always come out with the dogs or cats version. They didn’t want to come out with just another version. They decided to come out with some research to find out what people did with Monopoly and what they could learn about it. They found out that over half the people cheat when they play Monopoly. They came out with the Cheaters Edition. That was their second-biggest release since the initial release of Monopoly. It was a cool thing.
Ben & Jerry’s got some interesting information in what they do in terms of not getting into the status quo of thinking. They don’t just keep flavors around forever. They do research to find out what’s working. They ask questions, “What’s a good flavor? What’s no longer a good flavor?” Instead of freaking out that their flavors are no longer successful, they celebrate them and give them a burial. They even have a headstone on their website where they show, “This flavor was alive from this year to this year.” They celebrate their success and then they move on.
The story that’s interesting is VanMoof. They make these bikes. They would send them in packages in the mail, UPS or whatever they would send. A lot of them ended up broken and they kept trying to fix these bikes. There was an issue with the packaging. They didn’t want to spend a lot more money because if you make the package twice the size, you get a lot more expenses. They’re trying to figure out how to do this to make their bikes not break and yet not go over on the spending.
What they’ve looked at was the type of box they were using. They noticed it was similar to a flat-screen television box. They looked into how many flat screens broke and they weren’t breaking. The only real difference was the flat screens had a picture of a flat-screen on the box. They thought, “Let’s draw a picture of a flat-screen, a little bit of extra ink and see what happens.” There was a dramatic difference in the amount of a damaged bicycles.
Think outside the box. Sometimes it’s asking questions and Disney did a lot of that. They did some great questioning to find out what was happening with their turnover. The Laundry Division of Disney, as glamorous as it sounds, is not. They were losing a lot of people that didn’t love working there and they couldn’t figure out why. They put out a questionnaire to their employees and said, “How can we make your job better?”
They didn’t expect to get things back that they could do anything about but they did. They got back great things like, “Put an air vent over my workspace. Make my table adjustable when I’m folding things that work for my height.” Those are things like, “Yes, we can fix that,” and they did. Going to the horse’s mouth, the employee can say, “How can we make this better?” was huge for them. Sometimes it’s not just the employee. Sometimes it’s leaders.
In the book, Cracking the Curiosity Code, I gave a story about the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. They were having a lot of patients that were dying when they were being transferred from one unit to the other. Some physicians were watching a Formula 1race car event one night and were impressed by how quickly the Formula 1 crew would take the car apart and put it back together in seven seconds. They were looking at this going, “They did that with no problems and we can’t transfer people from here to here.”
They thought, “Why don’t we have this Ferrari team and they can show us any improvements that we could make?” They did get some great ideas which reduced their errors by more than 50%. We think inside of our cubicles and silos but sometimes we need to think outside of even our industry because that can be important. Some of the greatest ideas are from that. I have given you some examples. We know we came up with Velcro from a Swiss engineer, hunting with his dog and came back with burrs in his fur.
He was like, “What are these things? Why are they sticking?” What he did was he stuck it under the light to look at it. He saw a hook-and-eye, the way it hooked together and he thought, “Why don’t we try this?” In 1998, they made something $93 million in Velcro and it was sold in 40 countries. It did amazingly well. You have to build a culture of learning. To do that, it’s important to look at some companies that do a great job of it.
I know a top company I work with that does that is Novartis. Novartis does a great job because curiosity is part of their core cultural value. They encourage employees to spend 100 hours a year on employer-paid education to broaden their interests. They do everything from paying for them to watch videos to having them perform in mini-TED events, having employees be the actual speakers and things like that. It’s cool how much they do this. They have the whole month of September as their Curiosity Month and I’m one of the speakers for them. I know how much time and effort they put into this.
If you look at how much everybody talks about how they liked working at the company, 90% of the employees surveyed approved the CEO. Think of how often you see that. That’s a huge thing. I know they’re doing some ongoing research with curiosity with me and I’m excited for that. One of their employees is writing her doctoral dissertation.
We’re looking at curiosity and how it compares to if you intervene and give them some information about things that are holding them back. I’m anxious to share that information when it comes out because I did a lot of research for a lot of my talks and my book, Cracking the Curiosity Code. I looked at so much that’s out there.
We know that there are some great TED Talks from Daniel Pink. He wrote Drive. We’ve got a great book, Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why and all the stuff that he is talking about. Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. All those are huge. I started to look at, “What is this curiosity thing?” The Max Planck Institute coined the term The Curiosity Gene. It’s in people and animals. It creates dopamine and makes us feel good. If you’re a bird, flying around a bush and you run out of berries, you’re going to die if you don’t have curiosity to go look at another bush.
As I was researching for the book, I wanted to write about curiosity but I was like, “Where’s the assessment that tells you what stops it? There isn’t one.” That surprised me because the assessments all told you if you were curious or not. That’s all well and good because you do want to know if somebody is highly curious or not. The Big Five Factors will tell you if you’re open to experience and things like that. I want to know what stops it. Nobody had studied that, so I did. I wanted to know what holds us back and I found out what it is.
It’s FATE. It stands for Fear, Assumptions, Technology and Environment. I want to talk about these separately because fear is about failure, fear of embarrassment and loss of control. Nobody wants to feel like they said something stupid in a meeting. We all want to feel like we’re all prepared. We’re all in the meeting and we’re thinking, “I want to ask that but I don’t want to look dumb.” You lean next to Joe next to you, “Joe, why don’t you ask?” It’s better for Joe to look dumb. You don’t want to look dumb.
That’s a huge problem with companies because you get a lot of yes-men and yes-women because nobody wants to shake up things or look like they’re trying to confront their leaders. Leaders who haven’t modeled the value of curiosity will come across that way. I’ve had leaders look at me and say things, “I have one guy. He asked me to do something and I said, ‘Sure, I would be happy to do that. I’ve never had to. How do I do that?’ He looked at me with disgust and said, ‘I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.’”Inserting people who are underrepresented into those leadership roles will bring fresh and new perspectives. Click To Tweet
What does that make you feel? First of all, it tells you you’re an idiot. It tells you that you should know this, lie or pretend you know things. I don’t know. We get a lot of leaders who will say, “Don’t come to me with problems unless you have solutions.” That sounded good at the beginning because it sounded like we were going to get rid of these whiners and complainers that didn’t have any ideas but a lot of people don’t know how to solve the problem. If we say that, then we’re saying, “We don’t want to know about problems.” That’s a huge issue.
The assumptions that we make, that’s that voice in our head that tells us, “We’re not going to be interested. I’m pathetic. It’s unnecessary. Last time I did that, they gave me more work.” Whatever it is, we all have that voice. It talks us out of stuff. Sometimes I’ll hold up a bottle of water at a talk that I’m giving and I’ll ask, “How heavy is this?” They’ll say6 or 8 ounces. I’ll say, “It doesn’t matter. What matters is how long I hold it? If I hold it for a minute, it doesn’t bother me. My arm is fine. If I hold it for an hour, my arm gets tired. After a day, my arm feels paralyzed.”
That’s how our assumptions are. The voice in our head, if it’s a fleeting thought, it’s no big deal. We get past it. After an hour, we might hold on to a little more. After a day, it starts to stay with us. We have to recognize that we might be telling ourselves all of these things that we could maybe be interested in or maybe somebody would help us learn but we talk ourselves out of them. Assumptions are a big thing.
What I found interesting was technology was also a big factor. Curiosity is impacted by the over and under-utilization of technology. It could either do it for you, you’re not trained in it or you’re overwhelmed by it. Some people have had great experiences in their childhood where they had a lot of foundational learning in technology. Steve Wozniak is one. I love his book iWoz. He talks about his dad telling him how to connect gadgets. He would come back with all these wires and get things from work and show him how the electronics should be connected, why this wire was necessary and how it brought electricity.
A lot of us don’t have that experience. A lot of us might be the greatest mathematicians in the world but if somebody threw us a calculator or Siri did it for you, you’re not ever going to have the foundation behind it. There’s got to be times where we have high-foundation days where we build without technology and learn behind it. There’s got to be days where we take advantage of it and learn how we can use it and not become overwhelmed by it.
The environment is a big one for a lot of people because it’s everybody from your teachers, family, friends, social media leaders, peers, past leaders, current leaders and everybody you’ve ever worked with. We know that curiosity can be influenced by everybody we’re around. The numbers I gave earlier about how it peaks at age five of curiosity and then it tanks after that, a lot of that could be going into school and the teachers don’t have time because they’re teaching to the test. They got so many students in class. You can’t answer why all the time.
Our siblings can be brutal. If you do something that they don’t think is cool, then you can take the wrath from that. It’s challenging to look at what has impacted us. That’s one of the reasons why my research was interesting to me because I looked at these four factors of Fear, Assumptions, Technology and Environment, FATE. Those were the inhibitors for the Curiosity Code Index. They were pretty evenly matched. Assumptions and the environment were higher than technology maybe, but then you can have an overlap. You could have a fear of technology, for example.
It was fascinating to do the research. I studied thousands of people for years to see what inhibited them. I started out by putting a thread on LinkedIn and asking people and then I got interested in that. I hired people to do all this factor analysis and ended up doing my own research because a lot of the research kept coming back in the same fashion of trying to find out if you’re curious or not. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to find out what inhibits us.
It was interesting to look at the difference between men and women. Men were less impacted by fear than women but they were more impacted by that voice in their heads. They were equal to women and technology but then maybe more impacted by their environment. These results are what I’ve seen and I would like to see more research done but it is interesting to take a look at how these different factors impact us. What I do is train people to take the Curiosity Code Index. I either do the training at companies myself or I train consultants or HR professionals to give it. If those people get certified, they get five hours of SHRM Recertification credits. There are a lot of different versions of training that I offer.
What’s interesting is when they go through the training class that employees are training about this, they get to find out their results from the CCI and then they get to learn. It’s like taking a Myers-Briggs or DISC. It takes ten minutes. You get the big report back on a PDF within a few minutes of taking it. It’s simple and they get to get their results. They go through this personal SWOT analysis, which is cool because they look at ways to create SMART goals to overcome some of these areas that are inhibiting them.
Not only do they do that but then we do a similar thing for the corporation as a whole back to how they did it in Disney. You go to the horse’s mouth or employees and say, “How can we fix these things within the company? How can we help you become more curious?” If there are issues with the innovation, engagement or whatever the company issues are, the training classes are a great starting place to go to the employees and say, “How can we make you more curious so we can have this end product? How can we get a cake?”
You find out and the trainers would go back to leaders with this great report, “This is what employees would like to do to help them improve so that we can all improve and make more money.” It’s important for the future of companies that people have to try, explore, poke at and question it. It’s a huge thing that you need to ask yourself about, “How can I be vulnerable and allow this culture of learning? Maybe I don’t have all the answers.” Think about, “What are you doing to foster curiosity? What action plans do you have? How do you do this in this tumultuous time?” Thinking about this, it’s challenging for a lot of people.
I have created a free course. A lot of people can get a lot of value out of it if you’re interested in taking it. If you go to DrDianeHamilton.com and scroll down to the bottom, it offers a free course. If you sign up, it’s a simple thing. They send it right to you. You can learn a lot more about curiosity and the factors and see a lot of videos from some of the talks I’ve given. Some of the stuff I’ve talked about here is in there. A lot of the chapters from the book are in there. It’s a good foundational way to learn more about curiosity. I wanted to give you that information. I hope you check out DrDianeHamilton.com and CuriosityCode.com.
- The Thriving Mindset: Tools for Empowerment in a Disruptive World
- LinkedIn – Gerry Valentine
- Amazon – The Thriving Mindset: Tools for Empowerment in a Disruptive World
- Curiosity Code Index
- Cracking The Curiosity Code
- State of Curiosity Report 2018
- Cracking the Code of Sustained Collaboration
- Claudio Fernández-Aráoz – 21st-Century Talent Spotting
- TED Talk – How to turn a group of strangers into a team
- Zander Lurie – Previous episode
- Monopoly Game: Cheaters Edition
- Find Your Why
- Max Planck Institute
About Gerry Valentine
Gerry Valentine inspires people to build resilience, overcome setbacks, and understand that adversity can be a source of opportunity. Gerry’s an executive coach and public speaker, and author of an exciting new book, “The Thriving Mindset—Tools for Empowerment in a Disruptive World.” With 27+ years of Fortune 100 leadership experience, he is a trusted advisor to corporate executives, entrepreneurs, change makers, and high-performance individuals of all kinds.
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