Have you heard of Metronomics? Well, if you are a business leader it might be something you want to know more about. Today’s guest is Shannon Byrne Susko, Founder and CEO of Metronome United. Shannon discusses the framework that has helped CEOs and entrepreneurs achieve success. With Dr. Diane Hamilton, she shares the secrets to help you win the business Olympics with insights from her latest book, Metronomics: One United System to Grow Up Your Team, Company, and Life. Tune in to find out how to create a system for your organization that leads to outcomes for your business.
I’m so glad you joined us because we have Shannon Byrne Susko. She’s got a new book Metronomics. It’s going to be an interesting show.
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Metronomics: Helping Businesses Create A United System With Shannon Byrne Susko
I am here with Shannon Byrne Susko, who is a CEO+LEADERSHIP Team Coach, bestselling business author, speaker, serial entrepreneur and corporate director. Her latest book is Metronomics: One United System To Grow Up Your Team, Company, and Life. It’s so nice to have you here, Shannon.
Thanks, Diane. It’s great to be here.
I was looking forward to this. You’ve got some interesting passbooks. I was looking at some of the things you’ve written in the past. This is another using the Metronome, the name of the book. I’m going to be interested in what you’ve changed in this book compared to some of your last writing. Can you give a little backstory on you for those who don’t know you?
I grew up as an entrepreneur/CEO. I have founded two companies. The first company I cofounded with three others. It was a Global Payment processing company. We grew that up over ten years and sold it to a company in the US. We built another FinTech company, an automated compliance platform for broker-dealers. This one we grew up in a third of the time and knocked it out of the park on valuation. It was one of the top three deals on Wall Street that year for acquisitions.
I assume you learned a lot from the first deal that took off a lot of the problems at the time.
With the first company, we took it global, built it up and sold it with our team. The first four years of building that company, there had been all the mistakes and more you ever want to make in business. I raised my hand for all of those. That’s what led to where I am with the team and companies I work with. That experience drove us to create Metronomics, the framework and system to ensure that we could balance our team, business and lives because most of the time, people think we need to give up one of those things.
You created Metronome United in 2018.
That’s the third organization. I retired after we sold the second company. We had a great return and liquidity event. I said, “That’s good.” At that point in 2011, I got a call from a CEO, someone who knew me out of Vancouver, British Columbia. They watched over the years, growing up one company, taking three years off, growing the other and selling two companies within six years of one another. They were still feeling like they were slogging along. You must have done something different to have done it twice like that. It wasn’t like you got a win in the markets. In 2008, we started the first company and that’s our horrific year.
We lived through the dot-com bomb and 9/11. We went on and on. I was like, “I would say we have a system.” He said, “We want to use that system.” I said, “I don’t know if it will work for you.” He goes, “Would you consider being our coach?” I said, “What does that mean?” There are so many different types of coaches. He said, “I would like you to come in and coach myself and the leadership team.” I said, “That’s good.” I believe in CEO plus leadership team coaching. That’s what we do. That’s what my coach grew into as well as a CEO. I said, “That’s interesting, great. I like that you think that way.”
He goes, “We’d like you to coach the system into our organization.” I said, “I’m going to be frank with you. I’m not sure it will work for you.” We used it four times in the company that we grew up in, the company that acquired my first company and second company, a public company, a small private company, a large private company and a small private company. I said, “It works for any sized team and if I’m involved but I don’t know if it will work if I’m a coach on the team. If you’re willing, I’m willing. Let’s give it a try.” My retirement became my repriorment.
I’m reprioritized, which is fine. The core purpose has not changed. It’s all about growing people. In this case, it’s about ensuring no one was as desperate as I was to grow a company. That’s why we all doubled down and said, “Let’s figure out this connected system that will bring the balance together between team and business.” It sounds a bit cliché but working with that company and putting the system in place proved that I didn’t need to be on the leadership team, CEO or executive. He told a couple of friends and they called and so on.
I am retired. I had young kids. I live in Whistler, British Columbia and I love where I live. I wanted to keep a good balance and why I retired. I agreed to take on a couple more companies and then I figured, “Let’s see how this goes with these companies. If it works well, maybe I’ll write it down and share it.” The last thing I wanted to do was write a book but I had maybe I’ll write it down and share it. When you talked about the three books at the beginning, The Metronome Effect is what people described as a street version of a book called Scaling Up or Rockefeller Habits of Verne Harnish brought into the marketplace. What we put together, Metronome Effect, 3HAG WAY and Metronomics is all the same system. We’re just talking about it from different angles.
The first book Metronome Effect was the street version and it was giving back to all the CEOs and entrepreneurs. I’m looking for what I was looking for as a CEO. Prescribe a system that has worked before and we’ll use it. We’ll iterate and evolve it as we grow, too. We wrote that down in The Metronome Effect for the perspective of a CEO and leadership team exactly how to do it. It’s the prescription. 3HAG WAY, my second book, came to be because not only entrepreneurs by coaches picked up The Metronome Effect. They were quite drawn to this prescription as well and started using it.
The one thing that I didn’t write about in Metronome Effect was the 3HAG, the three-year Highly Achievable Goal. I was naive. I figured everybody was doing that. Mapping out their strategy, step by step and aligning it to their execution. I had missed maybe the memo. What I learned from coaches is the more they learned about the methodology, the more they heard me say 3HAG. They called me out and said, “Shannon, you don’t talk about 3HAG and Metronome Effect at all.” I said, “You’re correct. I don’t.” It wasn’t that big of a deal quite frankly.
A couple of coaches said, “Can we use that methodology? Can you share it with us and explain it to us?” I said, “No problem.” I gave it all to them. They went off and had incredible success as I’ve had with the teams that I was working with, including my teams. We were saving time, growing up the company the third of the time but also reaching and winning what we call the business Olympics. Even to the point where one of the coaches who I didn’t know happen to be at the conference too.
One of their clients got up on the stage and they were one of the war stories of incredible successful growth. They asked them how they did it. They said, “It’s all about the 3HAG.” I happened to be in the audience and I was like, “What? That is so cool.” I can see the coach across the room. He gives me a wave and I’m like, “That’s great. I’m so excited.” After that, there were 1,000 people in the room and everyone was wondering what a 3HAG is. That brought me to write the 3HAG down and the same prescriptive way we wrote down Metronome Effect.
The publisher was like, “Do you need to keep writing those steps down?” I was like, “Yes. People might read it cover to cover, open the book up and jump into it.” The 3HAG out there is written that way. It’s how to build a confidence strategy, predict where you’re going to go, not the strategy and drive your execution to it. It follows along. It’s part of The Metronome Effect series. After we wrote 3HAG, it got out there. Coaches read it, came back within a couple of months and said, “We want to be certified in a 3HAG WAY.” I said, “Really?” Everything is written down.
You can take it all and leverage it. This goes for all the readers, it’s very prescriptive. It’s step by step. You can do it for your company. I said to the coaches, “You can work with it with your companies.” It fits into what you’re doing. It will work. I love these coaches. They’re a bit relentless. Forty coaches asked me to be certified. My team and I sat down and we were doing our planning for fiscal 2019, which is in the summer of 2018. We concluded that it served our core purpose. The whole core purpose of what we’re doing is to ensure no one was as desperate as I was to grow a company.
I, myself, as a coach, could only impact the six clients that I work with. I can speak and write it down but if I could train coaches, we could make an exponential impact. We said yes and brought on 40 coaches. We trained them. In the fall of 2018, we have some Australia, Central America, the US, Canada and UK. We trained them, they went through the whole process and it became Metronome United. That’s why we started that coaching business. I did 3HAG WAY, Metronome Effect and Metronomics as part of it. We trained everyone. They went out and coaches got certified. It was so fun.
It deepened my learning when you have to coach the coaches and teach it to experts. These are 35-year experienced coaches with a full practice and they wanted to add it to their practice. It was super exciting and fun. It will serve my own needs because I will get to learn what these coaches will learn from each other. We’ll get to make an impact with companies around the world. We’ll get better at doing it every year. We’ve had coaches on board since September 2018 but before the pandemic, I had some coaches say, “You’re doing something more.” I said, “I don’t think so.”
I wrote it down to The Metronome Effect. I wasn’t detailed in a 3HAG WAY on the strategy. The 3HAG is a connection between team and business. I said, “It’s all there.” People started asking if they could observe one of my client’s sessions or a two-day kickoff with a client or could I show them my agendas for the meetings? I was like, “Sure.” The agendas haven’t changed in many years. It’s the same agenda I used with my team, the flow and honoring the cohesive, culture, strategy, execution and cash. Put it all out there.
I started doing the other thing, asking what they were doing and how they were doing it. They shared with me how they were doing it. Honestly, it’s not that we didn’t know the same things about strategy, execution and cash. We did. It’s not that we didn’t know how to coach clients. It was about the flow and connection of the team side of things and the three-team systems, which is a cohesive, cultural and human system connected to our strategy, execution and cash. It’s the understanding of where I grew up with my team, building up the system in a high growth company and what are the key connections.
We have over 85 coaches. I got asked enough that I decided, “I’m going to write it all down.” I wrote mostly hard-edge, the execution, strategy and cash system. I don’t need to write the team side of it. Everyone knows we need these things in place. The systems connect. Here is how we do it a little bit every meeting. It never stops. It’s not whack-a-mole. It’s progress. Progress doesn’t have to be perfect. We just need to keep moving. Writing Metronomics was probably one of the toughest things. What I’ve ever had to do is to take out of my head all the connections that exist between the seven systems that exist in every business and get it down on paper in a timely, progressed way.
We wrote Metronomics in a way that it gives a soft-edge heart and science behind it. It prescriptively for 3 years, 12 quarters, write down every step you need to take with all seven systems. It’s meaty and heavy. We made it light that most people are attracted to and then attract them to dig in on Metronomics because it gives the story of what’s going to happen if you commit to taking the first step, which is kicking off with the system. If you commit to kicking off, then it’s going to meet you where you are. Teams are at all different places, sizes and maturity levels but the system will meet you where you are no matter what. It lays out exactly what you need to do to get there step by step.
Metronomics gives the story of what’s going to happen if you simply commit to taking the first step.
One of the big things around Metronomics is it’s about a high-performing winning team. I come from a sports background. What I was trying to do when I was building my first business as a 20-something CEO was, “How do I take all that experience and apply it to business?” We think of business as the sport of business. We took a lot of the same things and applied them. When we think of a winning team, whether it’s sport or business, it kept coming up in the research we did that has three common elements. One is it has a repeatable playbook and process that everyone’s committed to.
Two, it’s got an open playing field and a transparent scoreboard. A lot of people go, “How do you do that in business?” People reading might be going, “Shannon, you’re saying a coach because you’re a coach.” I’m saying the three things as a coach because I was coached. One of the things as we look at every successful team out there, Olympic team, professional team, business team, repeatable, enduring, lasting success business team, there was a coach. Those three things come together. Metronomics brings those three things together.
The callback growth system is our repeatable playbook. It’s written out in Metronomics step-by-step. It also brings together how you create the open playing field. Whether we know it or not, the open playing field as kids, adults, professional athletes is a place where behavioral accountability comes into full fruition. You cannot play on a field together with the rest of your team without having behavioral accountability. If someone passes you the ball on the soccer pitch, you’re going to receive the ball into your very best and move it towards whatever the plan or strategy was for that game.
We’re all working towards the same team goal, which is to get as many more goals in the net as the other team to win the game. We have individual metrics that we’re going to measure within that game. We’re going to ask and offer help. We’re going to play together to whatever the plan was to win that game. We need to create that in business. We created it through leveraging Verne Harnish’s one-page plan but then we took it to another level because that was our playing field in the day where we didn’t have software platforms.
We have it as part of Metronome United. What I built for my six clients is a software platform that they used for many years. I wasn’t going to let anyone else use it because I didn’t want to create another software platform company. We have hundreds of coaches on this platform that use it for thousands of companies and tens of thousands of users around the world because that is their open playing field. It’s flexible enough to work with, not only the Metronomics genre system. It works with scaling up, EOS, a great game of business and all the ones we know.
If you go back to our core purpose, it’s all about ensuring no one was as desperate as I was to grow up a company. I grew up with myself and my team and have a life. That’s how it goes. The last piece of coaching is that great opportunity I got years ago from a colleague and friend who reached out and said, “You have a system. We want to use it.” The last part of that around this whole system is I said, “Why do you want it? I heard you say flogging and it’s taking a long time. It doesn’t sound like you’re having a lot of fun.”
What he said back to me was, “I want to save time, both time to getting to our goals and time in my every day. I want to drive to the growth that we originally planned for and we’re far below that. I want to make sure we’re all having fun, our leaders, myself, the team and we have balanced. Every time I see you, you ensure that you have balance. You have a lot of discipline. I’ve met your team members along the way from your 1st and 2nd companies. They all talk about the balance that the team had. It’s not that you didn’t work hard. We know that the team worked hard. You set your goals and drove to them. It’s about balancing who I am in my life, keeping my team and the company balanced but getting to where we have said to ourselves, shareholders and getting that return on investment.”
I found that interesting because that is what Metronomics is all about. It’s about saving time to get both in your daily life, balance and all that but also saving time and getting to where you want to. We get to set our business Olympics. I’m like, “We’re not competing to be the best team in the world. We’re competing to win whatever we said it was and we get to say what it is, which is amazing.”
I train coaches too to be certified, so I’m fascinated by all the things you talked about. Mine is to give Curiosity Code Index, which is a part of what a lot of coaches are all looking to be relevant. I could see that this is such a huge thing. I’ll be curious if your next book, The Three-year Highly Effective Goal COVID, somehow tied into how that affects the 3HAG WAY or something might be your next thing because things have changed so much.
COVID hits and everything shuts down. I ran webinar series, a part 1 and 2. It’s complementary that I put out there. It’s the one thing that I got so many questions and calls from many, not only my clients on what’s the first thing we should do. It all comes back to exactly the phase of Metronomics. What did everyone do? We went back to the basics of execution and cash. We checked in, convinced ourselves and had the runway to get there. Once we got comfortable with that and realigned, we ensure our customer’s core needs. Our customer was the same. The needs might have shifted.
I had lots of clients and the needs of those customers shifted because of COVID. We recognize that. We got comfortable that we could keep everything going. I have companies in all sorts of genres and industries around the world. Every company did that. “We got to see our cashflow, get comfortable and the team reorganized.” One of my CEO banged the table on Zoom. He was like, “We’re not wasting this crisis.” I was like, “This is so great.” The thing that happened is the same thing that happens in Metronomics.
We went back to basics which were cash, execution and team. The next phase of Metronomics is momentum, where we take that and get it going again. We had a reset in almost every business, reset, re-op, reconfirm, gain the confidence and then we went out and did our 3HAG. We said, “The world’s changed in a snap. Let’s look at what are the trends we’re seeing. What’s going to happen? What’s exciting?” We’re making it up because we’re on the edge of somewhere that no one’s been but with every team, I’m so proud of them. They dug in and drew some lines in the sand.
We did the work in amongst the craziness going on, week over week on the strategy to either evolve the strategy, tweak it or go, “The strategy is still going to work.” Every company that I worked with did that. They did a bit of a reset but within the framework, it gave them a lot of comforts. They knew the process, so we did it quite quickly. It was amazing. You joke about writing another book but that was the feedback I got on that from clients, coaches and their clients to have a connected framework that they already knew and felt better already. It’s a tough time.
All of this goes back, and interestingly, you brought up Verne Harnish. I spoke at EO, so his name has come up quite a bit. He has been on the show. I enjoyed having you on the show. A lot of people are going to want to know how they could find you and learn more. Is there some site or something you’d like to share?
I would love to find anything that we’ve talked about. We have three resource guides downloadable for each book, as well as a whole resource center with anything that I might’ve tweaked your interest. They’re available complimentary at MetronomeUnited.com. You can learn about the resources, the software platforms there and then where you can find all the books. They’re in all the different versions, hardcover, soft, eBook and Audible.
Thank you so much, Shannon. This was great. You gave so much good content. I hope that people have a chance to check out your site. I enjoyed having you on the show.
You’re very welcome. Thanks, Diane.
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 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 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 was getting an eye exam but not known to her, everybody in the waiting room wasn’t patient. 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 is 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 is alone in the room and the bell rings.
What she does is she stands up and sat 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, 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, stunt growth and get the status-quo thinking. That can be the downfall of organizations.
When we do things just because they have always been done in a certain way, we don’t progress and look for other ways to find solutions. I want to go beyond that. I want to know why we are doing things, why is it important and what are we trying to accomplish? That’s what I talked to companies about because they need to look at how and where they are 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 encourage curiosity and exploration. I have had Francesca Gino on the show. She has done a lot of great research in this area. We know that most employees don’t feel rewarded for it if they explore their curiosity. If we want organizations to generate innovative ideas, we must 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, 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 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 and put it in the pan and oven. What happens? If you didn’t turn on the oven, you get goo, nothing happens.
A winning team has three common elements. One, it has a repeatable playbook or process. Two, it’s got an open playing field and a transparent scoreboard. Three, it has a coach.
That’s a huge problem that organizations are trying to get. Instead of cake, they are 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 stuff. They are mixing those ingredients and what they are 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 are supposed to be looking at all the artwork on the walls because it’s the San Francisco Museum of Art but what do 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 are 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 are getting dirty. Don’t look behind there?” We get that. That’s what our parents do. You have to behave but we have 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 are even seeing 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 the 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 trying 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 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 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, so I want to talk about what is the cost of lost curiosity. There are many aspects of what costs companies.
We know that they are losing $16.8 billion due to emotional intelligence if you ask the Consortium for EI or if you look at Gallup’s numbers, they are losing $500 billion a year due to poor engagement. I have seen everything with communications. Holmes has it at $37 billion and I have seen much higher. It depends on where you look but we are 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 are losing money but they don’t recognize the value sometimes of curiosity.
When we talk about curiosity, there’s a big innovation factor. We want to be more innovative but we are 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 that they looked at things from the status quo way that they have 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 are a lot of researches on curiosity but there are not the great statistics I would 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 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 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 are encouraging it. We found that most of the employees don’t believe that. Only 24% feel like they are 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 checking out that HBR article.
I have 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. It’s 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 questioning organizational missions more than older generations. We’ve 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 is the CEO of SurveyMonkey. They are so much into curiosity. They’ve 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 said 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. Other examples are fascinating. Some companies like Monopoly, Ben & Jerry’s, VanMoof Bicycles, I have 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 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 could 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. An interesting story is VanMoof. They make these bikes and they would send them in packages in the mail 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 are trying to figure out how to do this to make their bikes not break and yet, not go over on the spending. What they have looked at was the type of box they were using. They have 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 number of damaged bicycles. 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’ve got back great things. They’ve 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 said, “How can we make this better,” was huge for them. Sometimes it’s not just an employee, and sometimes, it’s leaders.
In the book, Cracking the Curiosity Code, I gave a story about Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. They had 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 Formula 1 pit crew would take the car apart and put it back together in seven seconds. They are 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 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 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 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’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 saw the way it hooked together and 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, which 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, 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 are doing some ongoing research about curiosity with me. I’m excited about that. One of their employees is writing her Doctoral dissertation and we are 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.
Either evolve the strategy, tweak it, or go, “no, the strategy still isn’t going to work.”
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 are a bird and just flying around a bush and you run out of berries, you are going to die if you don’t have the curiosity to look at another bush.
As I was researching for the book, I wanted to write about curiosity but I was like, “Where is the assessment that tells you what stops it?” I’m like, “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 are 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.
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 are all prepared. We are all in the meeting and 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. 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 have had leaders look at me and say things like I had one guy who asked me to do something. I said, “I would be happy to do it. I have 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 are an idiot. It tells you that you should know this. You should lie and pretend you know things. 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 are 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 are not going to be interested, 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 will hold up a bottle of water in the talk that I’m giving and ask, “How heavy is this?” They will say 6 or 8 ounces or whatever. I will 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 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 the over and under-utilization of technology. It can either do it for you, you are not trained in it or you are 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 are 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, we learn 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. 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 have ever worked with. We know that curiosity can be influenced by everybody we are 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 are 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‘ve 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 are 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 have seen.
I would like to see more research done. 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, 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 are training about this, they get to find out their results from the CCI.
It’s like taking a Myers-Briggs, a DISC or something. 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 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 you are 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 they are 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 have given. Some of the stuff I have 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 The Curiosity Code.
- Metronomics: One United System To Grow Up Your Team, Company, and Life
- Metronome United
- The Metronome Effect
- Scaling Up
- Rockefeller Habits
- 3HAG WAY
- Curiosity Code Index
- Verne Harnish – Previous episode
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- Francesca Gino – Previous episode
- Sir Ken Robinson – TED Talk
- George Land – YouTube
- Consortium for EI
- State of Curiosity Report
- HBR article – The Business Case for Curiosity
- Daniel Goleman – Previous episode
- Claudio Fernández-Aráoz – From Curious to Competent
- Amy Edmondson – The Business Case for Curiosity
- TED Talk – How to turn a group of strangers into a team
- Doug Conant – Previous episode
- Zander Lurie – Previous episode
- Cheater’s Edition
- Daniel Pink – TEDx Talk
- Find Your Why
- Max Planck Institute
- The Curiosity Code
About Shannon Byrne Susko
Shannon Byrne Susko is a CEO and leadership Team Coach, Bestselling Business Author, Speaker, Serial Entrepreneur, and Corporate Director. Her latest book is Metronomics: One United System to Grow Up Your Team, Company, and Life.
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