Workplace efficiency is a goal many companies wish to achieve, and with the proper tools and mindset, that goal can be reached. Join our host, Dr. Diane Hamilton, as she interviews the CEO of Advanced Microcomputing Concepts, Anthony Chiappetta. Tony discusses strategies on reaching peak workplace efficiency using the right tools and mindset and shares his insights on how less is more when it comes to workplace tools and systems. Dr. Hamilton also discusses curiosity and why the lack of it is seriously hampering people from reaching success. She then delves into the research into curiosity and what can be done to drive workplace curiosity and innovation.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Tony Chiappetta. Tony is the CEO of Advanced Micro Computing Concepts. He found a way to make IT about people and a lot less confusing. I’m excited to have him here.
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Encouraging Workplace Efficiency With The Right Tools And Driving Curiosity With Anthony Chiappetta
I’m here with Tony Chiappetta who is the CEO of Advanced Micro Computing Concepts. For more than ten years he ran a company where IT problems would slow the internet, the system going down for hours and things wigging out, and he fixed that. He came up with a 400-point process to address every IT problem experience. I’m excited to have him here. Welcome, Tony.
Thank you. I appreciate it. I’m happy to be here.
That’s an interesting solution. That’s not an easy solution. One of my first jobs was selling System/36 and System/38 for IBM. I got to take tech support phone calls even though I was in sales. They wanted us to see that end of things. There are a lot of problems that can come up. Before we get into the problem aspect, I want to get a backstory on you so that we know why you were even able to fix all this stuff.
I was backed into it through pain and suffering, to be honest with you. My experience is as we grew and scaled, I started creating an environment that wasn’t sustainable as a group. My goal was to improve lives. Our first mission statement is to improve the lives of those we serve. For me, that starts with my employees. I created an IT company that was in complete chaos. As I did that, I figured that I had to find another way. It came out of necessity and of realizing what I’m doing as a good guy. I’m a great person to fix stuff and I’m a good problem solver but I needed to get ahead of it with a different approach if I wanted to be more than just myself running around town. I wanted to have a business that my employees could be successful and have good lives and families. Including myself, as I had children, I started realizing I need to spend time with these guys instead of putting out fires all the time.
You’re an IT company. Why would an IT company have IT issues? Is that pretty common?
It was more of our clients had issues all the time, and it would be weekend after weekend of one person spending a night in the server room and fixing something or a ransomware attack, which is prevalent still, unfortunately. Going through the lumps of all the things that could go wrong where if I was there a day before and I knew this could happen, I could check a box and fix it. There were many times I could have done that but we just waited until it happened to check that box after we spent hours fixing it.
We started putting together a plan to go through that. What it took for me first was stepping out of being an IT person. I had to learn how to run a business, manage people, create a clearly defined role and accountability instead of just telling people, “Do it like me and be like me,” which is a bad way to lead people. It was much easier when I say clearly defined, “You’re responsible to make sure that you solve 10 to 12 trouble incidents a day.” This other person, “You’re responsible for proactively finding and going through our checklist. You have to go through 50 of these questions today.” As I set out those clearly defined roles and responsibilities for our people, I started filling gaps and that became contagious for us to start making an impact and turn the tide.
I’m curious if any of the chaos you’re talking about were security issues. Everybody hears IT and they think security. You say there’s so much more to IT than security. Tell me a little bit about the chaos.In our ego, anytime there's a change, there's a risk. The ego's job is to keep us alive, and change is a threat to that. Click To Tweet
I look at it from the perspective of back when IBM sold mainframes, since you brought up IBM, there would be a team of people that were there to support the mainframe if it had a problem. Usually, a company hire developers or programmers to work hand in hand with the business leaders to figure out the reports that are needed, or to modify a process by taking information and having it flow through the system.
If there was a problem with the mainframe you would just call IBM. It was more or less their responsibility to make sure that it ran as it was supposed to. As Windows servers came into effect in 1996, IT started shifting to managing, maintaining, securing and updating Windows servers. So much time started getting spent on all of these different things that you need to do to keep the server running. Our focus as IT started shifting away from conversations with business owners about how we can make things better. Our focus with this Windows server-side turning into, I have to make sure there’s no disruption to the business.
There’s a new exploit that came out, ask the system. There’s a new type of virus so I need a new antivirus solution, a new email security solution, and a new encryption solution. We have this need to add all of these tools because of the way that hackers have changed a lot over the past years. The security landscape is much more sophisticated and this 1996 technology hasn’t kept up with the times. Microsoft has looked into that and said, “We’re going to fundamentally change how we do these things and get IT out of the game of fixing and maintaining, and into the game of understanding business, and people make their lives better.” We started making the transition to instead of having servers, we started getting deep into cloud services. I don’t want to make this a PSA for Microsoft but we’re a big fan of Microsoft Teams, Microsoft 365, and their Azure Cloud.
We found that you can have one set of services that are completely maintained for you and secured using artificial intelligence and machine learning. With a click of a button, I can prevent ransomware from impacting an organization. The system will detect if it’s happening because it’ll know. I usually change about ten files a day and I just changed 10,000 files. Something’s not right here. This is probably a ransomware attack. I’m going to roll this back and then notify IT. We’re going to automatically have the device quarantined and start going through the research of everything in one place because all of my security is now in one place.
We started going down that road and getting away from the traditional 1996 technology into these new services a few years back and getting all of our people certified in it. It is much more sophisticated. That’s changed the game for us in many ways because now the security piece is a lot easier. I’m not updating and managing servers that are all done by the version of IBM, by the Microsoft cloud services. Our focus starts going towards business and people.
You say you can speak passionately about making IT about people. You brought up people. My question is, how can you make IT about people?
Thank you for teeing me up because I do love this stuff. When I’m not managing patching and updates I can make time to sit down and understand how people are using the technology. Every business goes through this journey where they have a problem and they solve it. They’ve got a Windows server. They’ve got an email service. They need to have security to make sure that they’re not getting spammed like crazy so you add this tool. You want to have web meetings, you add Zoom. You need the phone system so you add a different phone system provider. You start accumulating all of these different tools and you look back and you have this massive array. It’s like a splatter on the wall of all of these different tools to keep your environment secure and allow people to work from different places.
I found this in my business. I had many tools. When I try to bring on a new employee, it is difficult to train them on 30 different tools. It’s confusing and it’s tough to get good at any of them much less great, and it’s overwhelming. We start by helping people consolidate because you could have one platform providing all of these services. If you’re educated and certified and no one knows how it is to set it up, there’s a more sophisticated setup on the backend but the frontend result is a native experience for people to work using Windows, Office and Team. Our first step in the journey is having less stuff because when we do that for people we can start showing them how to get more out of it. That’s where we start training people. It was pretty amazing.
I remember a software I sold to school districts. It was complicated at the time. Nobody had ever seen computers back then. It was one of the first times that anybody had ever been on one and people would freak out over every single thing that went wrong. Do you think that people now expect it to be crazy and things happening? Is it still challenging dealing with the support aspect?
People have an expectation that they can just get their work done. I was talking with my wife about this. We work together. She’s my better half and she’s amazing. In our organization, she’s my integrator. We run traction at our company. She runs the day to day and operationalizes the vision that I dream about. She was reading this book by Machiavelli, it’s called The Prince, and it was talking about how anytime you implement change into a culture, you’re going to get some kickbacks from people. Those that were successful in the current system are going to think that you’re messing up their ability to continue to be successful. It creates a little bit of a threat to them. In our ego, anytime there’s a change or a risk, its job is to keep us alive and it’s a threat to that.
We have to be cognizant of that. IT is about making sure there would be no disruption to a business. No change. You want the new software to look like the old software which makes you wonder what the point is of doing that. All of the benefits usually lie in the disruption. People expect that you’re not going to disrupt them and we have to show them in a matter. This is where we figured some things out. We don’t look to just throw disruption at them. We look to have systems mimic, and that is some of the beauty of Microsoft’s platform, how they’ve done things traditionally. Once we get them to this new platform, we start explaining to them the business case of why some new features and capabilities will make your life easier. They get excited about the changes and how they will impact their life. Once we change it from a little bit trepidatious to, “I’m excited,” then we start cooking.
The people are leery when they’ve had problems in the past and when there were changes, “I got this new system and then I add this and this happened.” You even mentioned there was a list of 400 items that you figured out were problematic. Was there one or a handful or something that was the top thing that you kept running into, or were they 400 of equally horrendous things that people have to deal with all the time?
I put IT in the five buckets. It affects all five of them. There are apps, data, devices, telecommunications and security. I can put every aspect of IT into one of those five buckets. I looked at and spread our 400-point inspection on how we go through to get people into a more modern place as quickly as possible across those five buckets. That’s the nature of it because IT is an interconnected system as you know. I might have a computer, but it uses the network which connects to the internet. I might have my phones on that same network, and they’re all sharing that same connection. If my application is slow, it’s because something’s happening in this total ecosystem.
When we look at it in totality, as we separated these five areas and we attack each of them because what we are looking to do is co-create this with our clients, we’re able to build a plan along the way to say, “This is where you’re at now. This is what it looks like to have less stuff and do more with it.” Oftentimes, it costs less to have the catalog of everything Microsoft offers, and you consolidate along the way. The 400-point inspection helps you get there as quickly as possible. It helps you understand the risks of not doing it, and then guide us through all of the “got you” that will get in the way that’ll make the change not work. We have to adapt for that in one way or another and get ahead of it so that user experience because we have to make it about people, is a pleasant one where they can be excited.
As you’re talking about this it brings up some of my research in the area of curiosity. What was interesting to me was the curiosity about people and different things. When I was looking at the things that inhibit curiosity, because to get more curious you got to figure out what’s stopping you, I found there were four things which were fear, assumptions, technology, and environment. Technology was one I wasn’t expecting to come up with. It wasn’t something I thought about. It was the over or underutilization of it that people freak out sometimes and say, “I can’t do this. It’s too much. I’ll be behind.” How much are you dealing with that that people either want to use too much or don’t want to know the basics behind it or they don’t use it at all because it’s too overwhelming?
I love that research. That’s wonderful. I was writing that down because I can see how those inhibit curiosity. I can also see how they’re all somewhat connected.
Some of them overlap. You can fear technology.Great communication starts canceling out some assumptions. Click To Tweet
Technology could be a huge part of your environment. Without communication, you’re going to make assumptions that induce fear. I love the way that you’ve broken that down. You have to approach it at a human level and connect. Often as IT, we’ve been battered into, “Don’t disrupt me. Keep the systems running.” We started talking more to technology it seems like than to people, which is unfortunate. I’m an extrovert. I’ve infused communication and I do this because I love helping people. This is my method of getting that out and getting satisfaction, purpose and passion to help people become more productive so that they can get more done at work and live a better life. I do those things and I try and attack each of those different areas you talked about where if you’ve got great communication, it starts canceling out some assumptions. You give people a forum to talk to you and ask questions.
Because IT became focused on securing environments instead of helping people directly, we don’t have time because we’re reacting in this firefighter mode to sit down with people and say, “Did you know that instead of hitting these four buttons, you could click here and save 30 seconds each time you do this? Instead of sending an email with an attachment and then having that person update the file and you update the file simultaneously, and you have to spend all this time integrating whatever you’ve updated together. Here’s a new way to do it where you can work and comment on it together, see each other, and collaborate at a much higher level and save time.”
Are you talking about Google Docs or Microsoft?
That’s all within Microsoft Teams, and it completely replaces your file server in the process. Often, people move their email to Microsoft 365 and they just stop. They don’t start taking advantage of moving their files to Teams and leveraging all of the sophistication of the best, most secure file server on the planet. That’s usually because when you’re reacting, you don’t have time to get trained yourself. If you don’t have time to get trained yourself, how are you going to train others to do that stuff?
A lot of people don’t recognize the capabilities that Teams has. They think of it as a Zoom or something else only.
It’s only used for remote work. That’s the thing, 150 million people started using Teams. How many of them ever had any training whatsoever?
Do you train your customers? How do you get them up to date?
That’s probably what has become one of the most rewarding things that I do. We call it Teams Tuesday. Every Tuesday at 10:00 AM Pacific time we offer live training on Teams where I guide all of our clients. I’m passionate about it, if people want to learn, I open it up so that others can come in and learn from our Teams Tuesday. I don’t know too many other live training events that go on like that. I’ve broken it down to go through how Teams in general works like how it was the vision of Microsoft. I show people how they can use it to replace their file server and have access to their files without those pesky VPNs that was the source of that pipeline attack that shut down the gas for half of America.
We go from general to files and we show people how to use meetings and get the most out of their meetings, whether it’s a webinar or a quick meeting with somebody else in your office, and how with a click of a button replace third-party tools like, I don’t want to rip on Zoom, but it’s superfluous. We go from that into a session on productivity where I show people automation capabilities, how to manage a team of people, and then find tasks and let people show how successful they are in your company by getting all the tasks that are required for the output of the whole. Break down those things to show people, “Here is how you can get more done at work. It’s super easy. Have a little nudge of this is what this does and how it’s meant to work.” You get that, “I didn’t know I could do that. That will save me so much time.”
Does it have to be a certain size company to make it worth it?
To use Teams?
Yes or just the whole 365 Teams package.
The beauty of Microsoft’s vision is it scales up and down from a one-person company. You can start using it right out the gate. I know people that are gung-ho on automation and maximizing their own personal efficiency that uses it, and then it scales up to the largest corporations on the planet that use it.
I teach for different universities and I use it for one of them. I have a hard time telling what other people are seeing on the other end compared to what I can see in some of the other software packages. Is it just me or is that something that is harder to tell which screen you’re sharing? I know there’s a button you can pick and share whenever you change, but it doesn’t default to that. Do you find it as easy to use as some of the other ones for that type of thing?
I can understand how Zoom can come across as more intuitive to folks. I find Teams very intuitive but I live and breathe it. I got my bias there.
Once you start using something, it gets easier.
Particularly once you have a little bit of training. If somebody spends an hour with us on our meeting session for Teams Tuesday, you’ll have like this, “I didn’t know that.” There are integration abilities that exceed what Zoom could do because it’s not part of the tools that we use every day. I’ll give you a case in point. PowerPoint is built to integrate into Teams. If you share a PowerPoint file in Teams, it will automatically download on everybody’s computer. They’re not having this stream happen. They’re having it right on their computer in real-time.When you're reacting, you don't have time to get trained yourself. Click To Tweet
It takes it a step further if you need to share a video, you can embed that video into the PowerPoint presentation. When you share it with your audience, there’s no chop, delay, encoding and decoding as you go through all these different hops and internet connections to go from where you’re at to them. It’s on their computer and you can control the video from your screen, and everybody’s synchronized all the way through. It’s got some additional sophisticated ability.
Can you speak over the video while it’s playing? I need to do that because I have another one of those courses. I use that for coming up. I’m going to try that and take you up on that and see how it does.
You could even click the little presenter mode, where you’ll be in newscaster mode. It’ll put you in front of the PowerPoint.
I may have to call you.
I want to welcome you to our Teams Tuesday.
I may take you up on that. Do a presenter day for me, I would love that. I do a lot of different software presentations in many different realms because I’ve worked with different countries in presenting, and everybody has their preferred thing. I’ve seen a lot more Teams coming up than in the past. I always love to learn more about it because it grows my curiosity. I love that you do that. People who are reading this want to know who your typical customer is, and would they make a good customer for you. Who do you work with mostly?
Everybody in your show is welcome to Teams Tuesday. It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom and you just want to know how to use it for personal use, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. For us, as I went through my experience of having a reactive company, knowing what it takes to continuously apply our checklist and the amount of time it takes to do that, we’ve automated a lot of it, but it still takes a human element to understand a person and how they need to work. To go through that and do that process and then to be able to create a strategy for our clients helps them make their people more productive.
I know that we have a minimum monthly amount that usually starts around 15 to 20 employees that use computers to make it worthwhile for them to say, “What I will get in my investment in payroll exceeds the cost of our service.” It scales up tremendously. Mostly, what I see as we scale into the 1,000-plus organizations is our focus gets narrowed to our excellence with the Microsoft platform. When we’re smaller, we do everything for an organization. As we scale up into large organizations, we do this laser-focused management of your Microsoft 365 platform and training people how to use it and offload that capability from IT internally so they can focus more on revenue-generating activities or deeper business process improvement.
If people are reading and they want to find out more about your company or Teams Tuesday, do you have links for these things? How can they find you?
If you go to our website, it’s AMCModernIT.com/teamstuesday, it’ll take you right to the registration page. You can come and join us for Teams Tuesday. You can invite your staff and people that do have the curiosity and want to see what it’s like. As we were having the conversation and you were mentioning, “I do this in Zoom, how can I do that in Teams?” That’s our forum for people to come to and ask anything on a weekly basis.
That’s a very helpful thing.
In adding that, we filled what became a hole with IT where we can do that at a large clip. Maybe people are shy to ask for whatever reason.
Fear, assumptions, technology or environment, it’s one of those.
Being on there and see other people ask questions opens them up to say, “I have a question too,” and it’s like, “That’s a great question.” Let’s walk through that and guide them through. They have this epiphany moment of once we get to, “I didn’t know I could do that.” When you felt that way, does it feel different about technology to a certain degree when you’re like, “I didn’t know that I could share those videos,” we were talking about that earlier, and you start getting that vibe at all?
I love it when I figure out something I didn’t know that was there the whole time. It gets to like, “How did I miss that?” There’s so much that we can learn. Sometimes you want somebody who’s already invented the wheel so you’re not reinventing the wheel and trying to figure it out on your own. The way you’re sharing that on your Teams Tuesdays is the thing that I love, “This is what I need to know, and this is a quick way to learn it,” because you never know what you don’t know to even look for stuff sometimes. It would be helpful to people. That’s great. It’s nice of you to offer out. I’m going to take you up and I’ll follow up. What time of day do you do this on Tuesdays?
Teams Tuesday at 10:00 PST. We’re on the West Coast. I’m glad you feel that way. That’s where we trademark heartbeats, not hardware. We let AI do security and we tweak AI in the background instead of constantly having to update and apply patches. We were able to turn our focus to people and show them. There’s a free tool from Microsoft that if you do anything on your computer can record your clicking of the mouse and your keystrokes, and it can automate that. It’s a tremendous tool that nobody knows about. Let somebody that obsesses about this stuff show you how best to use it. All these little things have a tremendous impact on people’s experience in doing so.
I hope everybody takes some time to check out what you guys offer there. Tony, it’s been interesting and I’m looking forward to attending a Teams Tuesday. I hope other people check out your site and join you for one of those as well. Thank you so much for being on the show. This is interesting.Let somebody that obsesses about this stuff show you how best to use it. Click To Tweet
The pleasure and honor are all mine. Thank you.
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 am also the creator of the Curiosity Code Index. 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 just go along with the way things have always been. I like to talk about an experiment that I share on stage about hidden camera experiments, where they looked at how quickly people go along with the group. This woman went into a doctor’s office thinking she’s 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 was going on where they would have a bell ring. Every time that bell would ring, all the actors around her, which 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’s going along with what everybody else is doing. Let’s see what happens if we take everybody out of the room.”
They call everybody back one at a time as if they were patients and eventually, she’s alone in the room and the bell rings. What she does is she stood up and sat down. She doesn’t know why she’s doing it. She’s going along with what everybody else had 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 and 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, what do you think he does? He gets up and sits down with her. Slowly but surely, what was 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 part of how conformity can be comfortable, but going along with it, sometimes you get bad habits, you stunt growth, and you get the status quo thinking. That can be the downfall of organizations. When we do things just because they’ve always been done in a certain way, we don’t progress and we don’t look for other ways to find solutions. I want to go beyond that. I want to know why we’re doing things. Why is it important? What are we trying to accomplish?
That’s what I talked to companies about because they need to look at how and where are they modeling and fostering curiosity, and 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 encouraged curiosity and exploration. I’ve had Francesca Gino on the show. She’s 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 develop that desire to explore through leaders.
My job is to be curious. I ask questions and get information for a living. I do that through the show and teaching and speaking everything I do. It’s something I want to share with other people because it’s a huge part of what makes companies successful. I look at curiosity as the spark that ignites the process that everybody’s 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, whatever it is you take to bake the cake. You mix it and you put it in the pan and you put it in the 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. They were trying to make money. They know the ingredients. They know they want motivation, drive, engagement, creativity, communication, all the soft skills and all that stuff. They’re mixing those ingredients and what they’re not doing is turning on the oven. The oven, 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 who are adorable looking through this grate 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? 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 just 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 similar to what we see in curiosity. It peaks around age five, and then it tanks as soon as you go through school and about the age of 18 through 31. We’re even seeing low levels. Sir Ken Robinson has a great talk about how we educate people out of our creativity and out of our competencies. George Land also has a great talk about his work with NASA, he looked at kids and followed them. At age five, he found that 98% of children were creative geniuses and then by the time they were 31, only 2% were. 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 we put on the brake. Anybody who drives a car knows that if you put the brake at the same time you put on the gas, you don’t go far.
That’s what’s happening to our curiosity and our creativity. I thought, “This is interesting because curiosity can translate into serious business results.” CEOs get that but 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 is the cost of lost curiosity. What it is? There are 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 EI, or if you look at Gallups numbers, they’re losing $500 billion a year due to poor engagement.
I’ve seen everything with communications. Holmes has it at $37 billion and I’ve seen much higher. It depends on 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. Companies know that they’re losing money, but they don’t recognize the value sometimes of curiosity. We would talk about curiosity, there’s a big innovation factor. We want to be more innovative but we’re worried about job loss and jobs being automated.
The majority of the Fortune 500 companies from 1995 are gone. No one wants to be Kodak or 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 and the success they had. If you do that, the world keeps moving and you get stuck. That’s a huge problem.
What was interesting to me to study curiosity is that there’s a lot of research on curiosity but there’s not the great statistics I’d like to see. There’s a state of curiosity report that Merck did in 2018 and it showed that curiosity was higher in larger companies than smaller ones. It was 37% versus 20%, and then 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’d like to see a lot more research done. It’s fun to look at what experts have shared regarding the value of curiosity.Curiosity is the spark that ignites the process that everybody's trying to achieve. Click To Tweet
Francesca Gino did a great job with the HBR article 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. 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 has done some great research. If you get a chance, I recommend reading that show and also check out that HBR article.
I’ve had Daniel Goleman on the show, he was incredible. He 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 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 question organizational missions more than older generations. We got into a great discussion about that. I hope you take some time to read to that show.
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 and she gets into how the Chilean miner disaster was able to be resolved. A lot of it was because of curiosity. She says, “You’ve got to look at what are you trying to get done, your goal, what’s in your way, your concerns, worries, barriers and stuff like that. What resources, talents, 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 is 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’s 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 30,000–plus which is huge. When he took over in 2002, they had 12% 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 was Zander Lurie who’s the CEO of SurveyMonkey. They’re so much into curiosity. They got permission to change their street address to 1 Curiosity Way. I love that. I was asking him some of the things that they do because they have a culture of curiosity there. They asked, “How can we make our products more productive for our customers? How can we create an environment where people do their best work?” He says, “They do skip-level meetings so that he can find out what works and what doesn’t.”
Those are some examples of people who were on the show. There are other examples that are fascinating. Some companies like Monopoly, Ben & Jerry’s, VanMoof bicycles, 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 dog’s version or cat’s version. They didn’t want to come out with another version. They decided to come out with some research to find out what people did with Monopoly and what they can learn about it. They found out that a lot of people cheat. Over half the people cheat when they play Monopoly, so they came out with the Cheater’s 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. What they do in terms of not getting into status-quo thinking is they don’t keep flavors around forever. They research to find out what’s working. They ask questions, “What’s a good flavor and 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. I love that. They even have a headstone or whatever on their website. They show this flavor was live from this year to this year. They celebrate their success and then they move on.
A story that is interesting is VanMoof. They make these bikes and they would send them in packages in the mail, or through UPS or whatever they would send. A lot of them were ending up broken, and they kept trying to fix these bikes and this 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’ve noticed it was very 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.” It was a dramatic difference in the amount of damaged bicycle. It’s thinking outside the box.
Sometimes it’s just asking questions. 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. They got back things like, “Put an air vent over my workspace or make my table adjustable when I’m folding things that work for my height.” Those are things like, “We can fix that,” and they did.
Going to the horse’s mouth, the employee and say, “How can we make this better,” was huge for them. Sometimes it’s not just an employee, sometimes it’s leaders. In the book, Cracking the Curiosity Code, I gave a story about 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 1 race car event one night and were impressed by how quickly that that Formula 1 pit crew would take the car apart and put it back together in seven seconds. They’re 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 these guys come in, this Ferrari team, and they can show us any improvements that we could make.” They did get some great ideas, which reduce their errors by more than 50%.
We think inside of our cubicle and inside of our 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 gave 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’s like, “What are these things? Why are they sticking?” What he did was he stuck it under the light to look at it and he saw the way it hooked together and he thought, “Why don’t we try this?” In 1998, they made something like $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, and having employees be the actual speakers, 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 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. I’m excited about that. One of their employees is writing her doctoral dissertation and we’re looking at the curiosity, 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 my talks and my book, Cracking the Curiosity Code, and I looked at so much that’s out there.
We know that there are some great TED Talks from Daniel Pink who wrote Drive. What a great book. Simon Sinek’s, Find Your Why and all the stuff that he’s talking about. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. All those are huge. I started to look at this curiosity thing. It’s the Max Planck Institute that coined the term curiosity gene because it’s in people and animals. It creates dopamine and it makes us feel good. If you’re a bird and you’re just flying around a bush and you run out of berries, you’re going to die if you don’t have the curiosity to go look at another bush.
As I was researching for the book, I wanted to write about curiosity but I’m like, “Where is the assessment that tells you what stops it?” I’m like, “Wait a minute, there isn’t one.” That surprised me because the assessments tell 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, but I want to know what stops it. Nobody had studied that so I did. I want to know what holds us back and I found out what it is. It is FATE which stands for Fear, Assumptions, Technology and Environment.We want to be more innovative, but we're worried about job loss. We're worried about jobs being automated. Click To Tweet
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, “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 in companies because you get a lot of yes-men and yes-women because nobody wants to shake up things or look like they are 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 like I had one guy who asked me to do something. I said, “I’d be happy to do it. 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.” What does that make you feel? First of all, it tells you you’re an idiot. It tells you that you should know this. You should lie and 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 or apathetic or it’s unnecessary, “The last time I did that, they gave me more work.” We all have that voice that talks us out of stuff. Sometimes I’ll hold up a bottle of water in the talk that I’m giving and ask, “How heavy is this?” They’ll say 6 ounces or 8 ounces or whatever. 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 or the voice in our head. It’s a fleeting thought, no big deal. We get past it. After an hour, we might hold on to it a little more. After a day, it starts to stay with us.
We have to recognize that we might be telling ourselves all these things we could maybe be interested in, or maybe somebody would help us learn but we talk ourselves out of it. Assumptions are a big thing. What I found interesting was technology was also a big factor. Curiosity is impacted by over and under–utilization of technology. It can either do it for you or you’re not trained in it or you’re overwhelmed by it. Some people had great experiences in their childhood where they had a lot of foundational learning and 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 just 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 we learned behind it, and then there’s got to be days where we take advantage of it and learn how can we use it and not become overwhelmed by it. 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 about age five with 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’ve got many students in class and they can’t answer why all the time. Our siblings can be brutal. If you do something that they don’t think is cool, 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. Fear from technology, for example. It was fascinating to do the research. I studied thousands of people for years to see what inhibited them.
I started by putting a thread in LinkedIn and asking people, and then I thought, “I got interested in that.” I hired people to do all this factor analysis and ended up doing my 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 did inhibit 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 in technology, but then maybe more impacted by their environment. These results are what I’ve seen. I’d like to see more research done.Fear is about failure, fear of embarrassment, and loss of control. Click To Tweet
It is interesting to take a look at how these different factors impact us. What I do is train people. First of all, they take the Curiosity Code Index. I either go do the training at companies myself or I train consultants to give it or I train HR professionals to give it. If those people get certified, they get five hours of SHRM recertification credit. There are a lot of different versions of training that I offer. What’s interesting is when they go through the training class, the employees, when they’re training about this, they get to find out their results from the CCI. It’s like taking a Myers-Briggs or a DiSC or something. It takes ten minutes and you get the big report back, a PDF, within a few minutes of taking it. It’s simple.
They get to get their results and then they go through this personal SWOT analysis, which is cool because they look at ways to create SMART goals, measurable goals, those kinds of things 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, to the 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 innovation, engagement, 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 cake?” You find out and the trainers 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 in the future of companies that people have to try it, explore, poke at it 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 and 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 and you can learn a lot more about curiosity, the factors, and see lots of videos from 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 and I hope you check out DrDianeHamilton.com and CuriosityCode.com.
I’d like to thank Tony for being my guest. We get many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can go to DrDianeHamilton.com. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode.
- Advanced Micro Computing Concepts
- The Prince
- Teams Tuesday
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- Francesca Gino – Past Episode
- Sir Ken Robinson – TED Talk
- George Land – Ted Talk
- Consortium for EI
- HBR article – The Business of Curiosity
- Daniel Goleman – Past Episode
- Claudio Fernández-Aráoz – How to Look for Emotional Intelligence on Your Team
- Amy Edmondson – Past Episode
- TED Talk – Amy Edmondson
- Doug Conant – Past Episode
- Zander Lurie – Past Episode
- Daniel Pink – TED Talk
- Find Your Why
- Max Planck Institute
- Curiosity Code Index
About Tony Chiappetta
Tony Chiappetta is the CEO of Advanced Microcomputing Concepts. For ten years Tony ran a company where IT problems like slow internet, the system going down for a few hours, or our phone systems wigging out frustrated my employees and irritated our customers.
So, he developed a 400-point process to systematically address every IT problem we experienced so it never happened again. The result? His employees were more efficient and focused.
Today, he helps other businesses apply this same process so they can save hundreds of hours of their employee’s time and grow their business.
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