Multiplier Leaders: Amplifying Capability And Intelligence To Produce Better Results with Liz Wiseman

Everyone brings intelligence, and with the right leadership, that intelligence can be used and grown. Multiplier leaders, according to Liz Wiseman, amplify intelligence and capability to produce better results. They get beyond their own intelligence and they’re curious and interested in what other people know or how the world works. Liz Wiseman is a researcher and executive advisor who teaches leadership to executives around the world. She is the author of New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. Liz says leaders who understand and are confident in their own intelligence are great people to work with because they’re competent and they can focus on the intelligence of others. Learn how you can be a multiplier leader as Liz delves deeper into the subject of leadership.

TTL 223 | Multiplier Leaders

I’m glad you joined us because we have Liz Wiseman on the show. Liz has been named one of the top ten leadership thinkers in the world and for good reason. Her bestsellers are everywhere. She is fascinating and this is going to be a great show.

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Multiplier Leaders: Amplifying Capability And Intelligence To Produce Better Results with Liz Wiseman

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Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

I am here with Liz Wiseman who is a researcher and executive advisor who teaches leadership to executives around the world. She’s the author of the New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, The Multiplier Effect: Tapping The Genius Insiders Schools, and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats, Knowing The New Game of Work. She’s the CEO of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley. She’s got the top clients, Apple, AT&T, Disney, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Salesforce, Tesla, and Twitter. She’s been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking and named one of the top ten leadership thinkers in the world. I’m excited to have you here, Liz. Welcome.

I’m excited to be here.

I knew of your work and I was very interested in everything you did. I watched one of your videos again and you are interesting to me and the way you deliver content is just smooth. You come across as easy going, but then you just have these amazing things that come out of your mouth. Let’s start with your background because I know you were a former executive at Oracle and you’ve worked as VP at Oracle University. Can you just give a little bit of background of what led you to this amazing point in your life?

I am finally doing the work that I wanted to do right out of college. I came out of a graduate program in organizational behavior and I wanted to teach leadership and management. I don’t know what got me on this, but I wanted to do this. I contacted the premier management training company. At that time, they happen to be in the bureau where I was from. I sent my resume and somehow finagle my way into a phone call with the president of the company and told him he should hire me to teach management.

It was the best conversation because he’s like, “You seem wonderful, you seem great, but if you want to teach management, you should probably go get some management experience. You’ll be better at this. Trust me.” I’m like, “I hate this message.” I felt like I have no idea why in hindsight it seems ridiculous. I hate to say, but I could sense that there was something smart about this. I took a job at this young growing software company, Oracle.

This was right out of business school and all my friends averted their eyes when I told them I was going to go work for this company called Oracle because they were all taking jobs working for IBM and McKinsey and real companies, Procter & Gamble, these respectable companies. They thought we were some specialty toothpaste manufacturer or something. I’m from the Bay Area so I’m like, “No, it’s a software.”

A lot of things are happening in this space and it’s this young growing company. There are two interesting things that happened for me. One was they hired this interesting profile of people. They were looking for people who had this trifecta of talent. One, it was raw intelligence, achievement orientation, and then nice. It’s interesting and I can assure you that they often compromised on the nice part of this, but I ended up with smart, driven people and I felt lucky to be there.

That’s what this observation I had about what happens to smart people and what happens when they get put into management is the gem that created this book, Multipliers, because I could see that not everyone that was smart created intelligence or smart around them. There are always a lot of smart people who suck the intelligence out of other people. Why is it that he’s allowed to be smart but the people on his team aren’t? When they got hired they were smart and they were driven, but why do these smart people ended up powering and holding back around some leaders and not others? That was the first interesting part of that experience.

The second was a year into my career and they’re like, “Liz, you’re now the manager of the training department. You’re in charge of training for the company.” We’re about 5,000 or 6,000 people by this time because we’re growing fast and I was young but I was old enough. I was maybe 24 or 25 at that time. I was old enough to understand that there was something wrong about this. I’m like, “I’m a year out of college and now I’m in charge of training for the company. You want me to build a university for the company?” This seems distinctly like a grownup job, this is the job people with gray hair have.

I got thrown into management way before I knew what I was doing or is even ready for that experience. It put me on this very accelerated growth path whereas it’s mostly me underqualified and flailing and trying to figure out how to lead. It all gave me this incredible experience managing and leading an interesting pool of people to be learning to do that and studying that in. It was when I left Oracle that I’ve decided that I had some big questions about what makes leaders effective and what made organizations intelligent and what dumbed-down people in organizations. That’s how I got from there to there.

I’m researching on similar ideas and some of the things you mentioned for my book on curiosity. I’m looking at the things that hold people back from being curious, which you’re looking at things that are not making you be as smart as you were or becoming as good a leader or whatever different things.

It’s interesting to see the things that hold people back. When you first look at some people who get into leadership and you think, “Maybe it’s an example of the fear principle that they weren’t supposed to be there.” In your talk I watched, The Power of Not Knowing that you gave at BYU. I was just going to watch it for a few minutes and I was just glued to that. I’m like, “This is really great.”

It’s a long talk. I have to admit I admire anyone who gets through that whole talk because it’s not TED Talk twelve minutes.

I didn’t expect to get through the whole thing, but I was watching this one. You have addressed the things with the way I like to look at things and the way I find fascinating is when you asked, “Can we actually get too smart?” and the dangers of knowledge, and there is a downside. A lot of people would say, “How can there be a downside? Isn’t it great to be super bright?” Are you making a case for ignorance? What are you doing with that? Let’s just put it that way.

I’m certainly not making a case for stupidity, or a willful lack of awareness or education. I’m making a case that there’s good things that happen when people don’t have all of the knowledge they need to solve a problem. When people are operating outside their area of expertise, when people are forced to go beyond what they know. Actually, it’s in not knowing that we come to truly understand something because when we’ve got it all figured out, there is no curiosity. There is no reach out to find out what other people know. When I was doing this research for the book Multipliers and I was talking to a very dear mentor of mine, Dr. C. K. Prahalad from the Ross School at the University of Michigan, he’s an amazing management thinker. I was explaining my research to him and what I had found.

[bctt tweet=”There are good things that happen when people don’t have all of the knowledge they need to solve a problem.” via=”no”]

He said, “Liz, this is an important idea.” He’s referring to the idea of the leader is the multiplier to their team. I showed him the data about why these leaders get so much more from other people. He said, it’s an important idea because the critical skill of this century is not what you know, it’s your ability to find out what other people know. I think C.K. captured this for me. It’s our ability to tap into what the team of people we lead. It’s not how much we know that matters right now, it’s how fast we can learn.

What we know is becoming obsolete very quickly. Maybe I’m hypersensitive to this because I have four children and two of them are through their teenage years. Two of them are still in their teenage years. When you have teenagers, every day you’re reminded how irrelevant you are. How you are so yesterday, last decade. Like, “Mom, the world doesn’t work that way anymore. Mom, I can’t believe you would get that data through that App.”

You’re constantly reminded that things are changing. If you are so fixated on what you think, what you know, what you’re sure to be true, you’re probably going to end up professionally irrelevant. Your teenagers will ignore you, I can assure you that. You might just lead your team competitively off a cliff. You are so sure you know where to go, but the reality is most leadership right now is about leading people into the unknown. I grew up professionally in a world where we thought about leadership as like a leader’s job is to take like her team to a better place.

I have a vision and we’re going to go here and this is what we’re going to do and like, “This is the destination, come with me.” Take my hand and I will lead you to this place. More and more our jobs as managers and leaders is to say, “We can’t continue to do what we’re doing. We can’t stay where we are. We’ve got to move and we’ve got to go this direction but I don’t know where that is. I just know we need to go,” it’s about taking people into the unknown and building a team that’s smart enough to recognize, “We’re here and now we need to go there.” It’s a very different kind of leadership.

You brought up so many things that are very fascinating to me. I had Naveen Jain on my show who has reinvented his career many times. He’s a billionaire behind Viome and Moon Express and all these different companies. He had told me for him, he wants to go into an industry he knows nothing about. He wants to start from scratch and fresh eyes. You don’t have to worry about all the things you don’t know. You learn it from scratch and then you don’t have these things that you maybe didn’t learn properly. I thought it was very fascinating that he just picks completely different industries from medicine to going to the moon. There’s no thing that’s off limits to him.

That’s important because to look at what we know and what we think we should know and all the factors that you bring up as far as just intelligence of how we in the past have felt insecure if we didn’t know it all and now we can surround ourselves with smart people. What I liked about what we’re talking about is not only is it important to surround yourself with other smart people who would maybe know things you don’t know, but you can amplify that intelligence instead of sucking the life out of it. How do we do that though? You were saying some leaders do it well and then others don’t. What’s the difference between those two leaders?

You’re going to like this little data point I found in my research. When I studied these leaders that I came to call multipliers, these leaders who got the best out of people, leaders around whom we’re smart, we’re capable, we make progress. Then I compare that against leaders I came to call diminishers. I looked at both types of leaders, both scenarios and I compare them on 67 different characteristics. I bet you can guess what the number one characteristic is of these multiplier leaders. Maybe I wrote this somewhere in the book, but it’s buried on page 48, paragraph three or it’s like a tiny little reference in the book. It’s intellectual curiosity. It’s the trait most correlated with multiplier leaders. It’s not so much what they do as a leader, it’s how they think.

It’s this combination of this belief they have that the people around them are smart and can figure it out, which means they ask them, they give them big challenges. They give them ownership, they keep ownership with them because people are fundamentally smart and they’re going to figure it out. It was like back to my early Oracle days, that profile they hired for, raw smart and an achievement orientation. When you hire people for that, it’s a little easier to remember, “I hired smart people and they’re probably going to figure it out because they have this drive.”

TTL 223 | Multiplier Leaders
Multiplier Leaders: With the right leadership that intelligence can be used and it can be grown.

You get people though that hire those people and then they are idea killers.

They forget that they’re surrounded by smart people and we’re all surrounded by smart people. Is everyone in our company, everyone on the planet a total genius? Of course not, but everyone has genius. Everyone brings intelligence. When they badge in, everyone comes in with some form of intelligence and with the right leadership that intelligence can be used and it can be grown.

These multipliers are operating from this premise that there’s intelligence around me and they get beyond their own intelligence. They’re able to be curious and interested in what other people know or how the world works. In some ways, one of the dangers of the way people might interpret my research and my book, is you don’t want to work for a genius. They’re jerks, smart people problem. Not at all. I love working around really smart people. I want to work for someone who’s a genius. This is how I want people to treat their own intelligence.

I want people to own it and be like, “I’m brilliant. I’m a genius and I’m over it,” because the person who understands and is confident in their own intelligence, these are great people to work with. When they come in to work, they are not trying to prove like, “I deserve to be here. I deserve to be at the head of the table. I deserve to be the boss. I’m supposed to do all the talking and tell people what to do there.”

The meeting isn’t going to get contorted and manipulated into a scenario where they look like the smartest person in the room. They’re confident and they can focus on the intelligence of others. If you think about some of the most intelligent people you know who have gotten over it, they’re incredible to be around. You want to be at a dinner party with them. You want to be in a meeting with them.

I was at a dinner and meeting with a bunch of those types of people because I am on the Board of Advisors with DocuSign. Keith Krach is quite an interesting guy, the chairman. He’s over it. He’s so smart and he is humble.

He’s one of these amazing leaders and if the audience isn’t familiar with Keith, he started Ariba and DocuSign. He is a massive disrupter in the tech space and he has built these incredible companies. What’s great about Keith, if you watched him, is you know that people will do almost anything for him. He has a way of leading that he makes it about you and about what you can do.

I feel brilliant around Keith and, and you want to work hard for him and that’s interesting. I was just in a meeting with him and I saw former four-star general and director of NASA. These are people who said, “Whatever you want, I’m happy to do this for you.” It illustrates one of these principles in Multipliers is that these multipliers get so much out of people.

[bctt tweet=”Everyone brings intelligence.” via=”no”]

What I found in the research is these diminishing leaders, get less than half of people’s intelligence. It’s horrifying. Of course the company is paying a full price, top dollar. They’re paying $1 for a resource but getting $.048 of value on that dollar. These multiplier leaders get between 95% and 98% of people’s available intelligence. We simply asked people, “How much of your intelligence was this leader getting based on the way he or she led?” Only you would know how much of your capability is being used. We all have this latent intelligence, these reservoirs of capability that often leaders don’t see. These multiplier leaders get so much from people and you can look at it as, “This is a way of extracting capability and better utilizing your resources, but this isn’t just a good deal for management.”

It a killer good deal for the people who work for these leaders. I studied leadership all around the world, but I tell you, I don’t feel like much of an expert on leadership. At best, I’m a student of leadership. I’ll tell you what I’ve developed a lot of expertise on, is followership. I have come over the last decade to understand how much people want to contribute their capability. It crosses industries, cultures, and continents. People come to work every day desperately wanting to give 100% of what they have.

Not that people want to be asked to do more work and to be like laden with more and more burden, to be used up. People want to be given harder work and people want to be more deeply used. You and I both saw it around with Keith Krach that people are like, “I come to this advisory board with a network and knowledge and capabilities and I would love to share it with you.” Who doesn’t like to be asked what do you think?

It reminds me when you’re talking about Keith as such a great example, you also gave a not so great example in your talk about the guy that wrote Ts all over everything. I want you to share that story because I’ve worked with people like that who just belittle people. They think it puts them a little higher up, and they just don’t see how much damage they do when they’re micromanaging or idea killing or all the things that go along with that behavior. Do you want to share that story?

This was an executive at Oracle who actually ran two different divisions at once. He had two executive jobs and he’s got a huge job. He’s running a major product division and he reviews all of the user manuals being produced, all that documentation. When I use software, I don’t read those manuals, but he’s reading every word that is written that comes out of his division and he’s going through documents and he had this code and some of the people who worked for him told me about this code.

You’d get papers back from him and they would have these Ts written all over them like a new editorial code. They would get to the end and there would be a helpful legend there. It just said, “T equals terrible.” It was just symbolic of how he led. He micromanaged and his orientation was that of pointing out what was wrong rather than what was right.

I had a funny meeting with him. This was back when I got put in charge of the university and because I was young and probably got a little bit of a rebel spirit. I started making a lot of changes to how we did things and this was an operation that he had personally set up. I started making a lot of changes and people were like, “He’s not going to like that.” I’m like, “I’m not worried about it.” “He’s not going to like that either.” “I’m not too worried about it.” “No, Liz. He’s definitely not going to like this.” I’m like, “If you give me a big job, you’ve got to give me some space to do the job.” I’m doing all this stuff. He sees me in a parking lot one day and he’s like, “Liz, would you get on my luncheon calendar. I’d like to have lunch with you.”

I went home and told my husband, I’m like, “I’m going to get fired at the deli. I’m going to get fired over food.” We had this lunch and it’s just awkward, uncomfortable lunch because I have no idea where this is all going and I think I’m going to get fired as soon as we’re done eating and as we get to the end of it and he said, “I just wanted to let you know that I have no problem with what you’re doing.” I told some people who had worked for him for a fair bit of time the story and they’re like, “That was the nicest thing he’s ever said to anyone. You got the ultimate compliment.”

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Multiplier leaders don’t just acquire resources. They use people’s genius they like and create an environment where it’s safe to try things or make mistakes.

He basically said you’re not a total screw up. Like, “You’re not doing it my way, but if it’s okay.” This was how he led, which was micromanaging. He managed for a number of years like that and I saw him many years later and it was like an Oracle Reunion. It was this group of people who they called The Oracle 100. The 100 people who started in Oracle. We somehow appointed ourselves important and got together for drinks or something. When I saw him at this session, I said, “This must be fun for you to see what you helped to grow and to build.” He goes, “No, it was painful. I realized that I was probably hard on people and I probably didn’t need to be.”

I wonder how he came to know that.

It is interesting because if you hired people who were bright and driven or put together, you probably don’t need to beat them up and tell them what they’re doing wrong all the time. Maybe you need to give them direction and clear feedback. You need to tell them when they’re screwing up, but it was just interesting for him to get to the end of his career and see that actually that way of leading didn’t produce the best results. It certainly didn’t give him the legacy that maybe he would have liked to have had.

You get these people, but then it’s so late in the game that they see what they’ve been doing. Steve Jobs was fine with them writing the biography on him. What did you think of his leadership style and why do you think he was okay with everybody knowing how he treated people?

Steve Jobs is so interesting. I get this question a lot. Your whole notion of multipliers and diminishers and I should add to that mix also the accidental diminisher because that is where things really get interesting. Most of the diminishing that’s happening in our world, in our corporations, in our church organizations, most of that is coming from the well-intended leader, the accidental diminisher. People say, “I get it, but what about Steve Jobs? He was such a diminisher.”

Steve is an interesting one because to understand how he led, you have to understand Steve version one and then Steve version two. How he led before he got the boot from Apple was very different than how he led when he came back. In both versions, he’s a sharp critic, but I’ve done a lot of work at Apple. I’ve coached a lot of executives at Apple and it’s been very interesting to hear somebody say, “Steve Jobs was an absolute multiplier to me. I did my best work around Steve. I would have worked for him anywhere, anytime.” He was hard-edged and sharp-tongued.

When you look at what these diminisher leaders do, they tend to be talent hoarders, empire builders. They tend to be tyrants and know-it-alls and decision makers and micromanagers and yes, Steve Jobs did some of those things. He had for sure some diminishing qualities. When you look at what these multiplier leaders do, they are talent magnets. They don’t just acquire resources, they use people’s genius.

People flocked to work for them. They’re liberators. They created an environment where it’s safe to make mistakes or to try things or to dare and do something. They are challengers. They don’t tell people what to do. They issue bold challenges and like when Steve sat across the table from the CEO of Corning, this famous story about that iPhone was not coming together without the specialized glass surface. He just stared that CEO down and dared him like, “Could you make this glass? What would it take for you to be able to make this glass for us?”

People say that Steve had this way of challenging you and inviting you to do hard things. He was this talent magnet. People flock to him. He definitely had his diminishing streaks, but he gave people ownership. He held people accountable. He just told them, “Your work is shit,” was his famous line, but it wasn’t like he did the work for them.

He pulled great work out of them. It also brings up this other thing I found in my research is well there’s some very consistent things that multipliers do, they all go about it in their own way. We do bring our own style and our own personalities to that. Steve was just on the extreme edge with a few diminishing qualities which you see in founder-led tech companies. They’re replete with them. They have a whole set of coping strategies for dealing with that.

[bctt tweet=”An art to recovery is to admit it fast and tell people you’re going to fix it.” via=”no”]

He definitely had a unique style. I still teach a lot of business courses and we talk about a lot of these things. I teach some courses where we talk about being a good follower and a lot of things you’re talking about here. What you brought up about your question about how does what you know get in the way of what you don’t know.

Some of the things you talked about I want to touch on because it helps me with my view of curiosity because a lot of what I saw as the four things that hold people back from being curious is a lot of it is fear. A lot of it is just your assumptions that you make that and then some of it is technology, doing it for you or not figuring it out.

Then some of it is environment and a lot of things we’re talking about here is environment and your boss, your peers, your parents, your teachers, the people, your relationships. It’s very challenging when you’re around people who suck the life out of you and make you not interested in things because it’s not cool to like this or why would you even think of liking that. I’m curious of how do we know what gets in our way of what we don’t know?

I don’t know how to see it, I only know how to keep asking the question. For me this question came after seventeen years at Oracle and finally leaving. I left Oracle and everyone is like, “Why are you leaving oracle? You’ve got a great gig. In fact, my husband was just like, “They love you there. They pay you well. You’ve got this great job.” I said, “No, I’m leaving because I know how to do what I do.” It was a terrible feeling. I had been underqualified and it was fun.

In fact, I used to get teased about being a little bit underqualified for a big job. One time, I’m at this cocktail party and I’m like two years into this job trying to build this university and he introduces me to an Oracle customer, a man with gray hair, who looked like a mature executive. He said, “This is Liz. She runs Oracle University,” and the man does a total flinch. He’s not holding back. His whole body flinched because he’s seeing this kid who’s got this big job and Bob, my boss, was just decided. He was going to have some fun with this. This otherwise very nice supportive man, he just said, “Liz isn’t particularly well-qualified for her job.” I’m like, “Thanks for the executive air cover.”

I was expecting him to say something a little bit more supportive. He said, “She’s smart. She’s doing a great job,” he maybe said that. That’s probably not what I heard. I’m looking for a comeback. My comeback is just what I felt to be true. I’m like, “Bob, who wants a job they’re qualified for?” There’d be nothing to learn. I’m coming off of this run of having all of these oversized jobs. Every one of them is a stretch and a reach and I’m learning and I’m finally now legit. People come to me, “We’re trying to set up a university. What should we do? Can you become a go-to person?” I have to admit, it feels good for like for a day or two, maybe for a year or two if you’re not onto this trap, but then it starts to feel shallow.

I left to go do something I didn’t know how to do, which actually led me to become a management researcher. I’m a management researcher because I didn’t know how to do it. It’s funny, people tell me, “Liz, your research is probably more rigorous than most academic level research,” and I do it because I was a rookie. I doubled down. I wonder, now that I am legit now that I know stuff, now that I’m deemed as good at something, how is that going to blind me from seeing what I need to see? I’m now going out into an area where I fundamentally don’t know what I’m doing. It’s not like I decided I was going to go and be a dentist or something like this and drill through people’s skulls. I’m not in any way suggesting that, but I wondered, “Am I going to be so convinced that I got things figured out that I’m not able to learn or what will I miss because I’m so convinced?”

Diane, I think this is not just a workplace issue. I think this is the issue of our time is we’re a collection of people who are convinced we understand the problem and have a solution. Take immigration, what’s happening right now in the US with immigration. There are so many people who are just convinced that they know what the solution to that looks like, that they’re not hearing. They’re only not hearing other people’s version of a solution, but they don’t understand the problem. It’s a useful question to ask ourselves, “How does what we’re already convinced of going to blind us to what we don’t know, but need to learn?” I think it’s a question we probably ought to ask about once a month or once a week.

TTL 223 | Multiplier Leaders
Multiplier Leaders: People are so afraid of failure and so afraid it’s not going to be perfect that they don’t do anything. They become paralyzed.

That’s something that goes right along with what I’m saying on assumptions for curiosity. We assume we know the answer. We just closed our mind. We’re convinced. Why research anything? Why be curious about it? We know the answer or we think we know the answer when we think whatever we think. When you’re talking about all this stuff, I spent twenty years in pharmaceuticals. At the end, you’re like, “I know everything,” and then you leave and I went into banking. I know absolutely nothing.

That’s a weird feeling when you first go from one thing to something completely different. You go from being the person everybody goes to, to having not a clue in the world, but it was an exhilarating feeling. You’re saying we’re at our best when we know the very least, because we want to find out. We become curious. That’s great for curiosity and you want to learn and get to this next level, but should we always be reinventing ourselves? When do you know when it’s time to move on?

These experiences stoke our curiosity, and there are two ways to retain. I call it rookie smarts, but it’s this hungry, hopeful way of working where we are reaching out to other people. We’re mobilizing the expertise of others rather than relying on our own expertise. We are operating in lean agile sprints rather than marathons. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t put together a yearlong plan.

You’ve got to like, “Am I doing it right? Can you hear me now? Have I got it? Am I doing it right? Am I off base? Too hot? Too cold?” We’re seeking feedback and what I found when I looked at how people operate when they’re new to something important and hard, we operate in very predictable ways. They’re not only predictable, they’re very productive and powerful ways.

There’s actually two ways to work in this mindset and this practices that I call rookie smarts. One is to continue to think and operate like a rookie. It’s to continue to do things we’ve been doing, but to maintain the mindset. It’s like to be young of mind, but to continue to do work we’ve always done. The book is full of all sorts of exercises to do this, like periodically making this “I don’t know” list. Spend time with newcomers and amateurs.

There’s a variety of things that you can do. Periodically toss out your notes, meaning toss out your standard templates and tools and the things you’ve come to rely on. That is the hard way to do it, but it can work. I’m fundamentally lazy, which is why I always like the approach that is easier and the easier approach is just put yourself in situations where you are in over your head, where you are doing something brand new for the first time because it forces you to be curious.

[bctt tweet=”Putting yourself in situations where you are in over your head and doing something new for the first time forces you to be curious.” via=”no”]

Choosing curiosity or forced curiosity, I tend to go to forced curiosity. Here’s my personal practice is I am big on the naive yes. The naive yes is not saying yes to everything. It’s not like yes to anything someone wants you to do. It’s saying yes to things that look different and hard. It’s saying yes before your brain has had a lot of time to find reasons to say no. There’s a great line from Richard Branson on this and I’m sure someone probably could quote this better than I could, but it’s like, “When someone gives you an opportunity to do something you’ve never done before, just say yes and then figure it out while you’re doing it.”

There are many people like Richard Branson who have made whole careers of this, but I would encourage people when something comes on to not go into deep analysis mode and to come up with the ten reasons why you can’t and you shouldn’t. I’m good at the naive yes. When people, “Will you do this?” I’m like, “Yes.” One of one of my favorites was when I was releasing the book, Rookie Smarts, and there’re opportunities for writing articles and by lines and I get an email from someone. It’s Time Magazine and they said, “We saw your new book. Apple is going to be releasing their Apple wearable device,” what we now call the Apple Watch. They said, “Apple is going to be releasing a new wearable device tomorrow. We’re wondering if you could write an article about whether these other smaller niche wearable players have a chance of competing against Apple.”

Can you write an analysis piece on the wearables market? “Apple is announcing tomorrow at like 10:00 AM Pacific and we want to post the article at 11:30 AM Pacific time.” You have to do a first draft overnight. Listen to the announcement live. Re-write your article during the announcement and then submit within 30 minutes. My husband looks at this request, he said, “Liz, you’re going to say no to this, aren’t you? It’s ridiculous. You don’t know anything about the wearables market.”

I’m like, “Yes, but you know what? I have overnight to figure this out. I know a lot of people who do know a lot about the wearables market and I know enough about Apple and enough about tech and enough about incumbent versus newcomers in markets. I’m like, “I’m going to say yes.” It was fun for me to do this. It’s challenging and this was an example of a naïve yes.

People are so afraid of failure and so afraid it’s not going to be perfect that they don’t do anything. They become paralyzed.

The worst thing that’s going to happen is that they don’t publish the article because if it’s terrible, they’re not actually going to publish it. Sometimes we envision far greater consequences than there are. It’s not like we shouldn’t put a safety net under us when we’re doing something hard. I went back to the guy who told me at the cocktail party, “Liz is underqualified for this big job.” He was actually the person who put me in this job in the first place. I said, “Bob, you gave me a big job at a young age. Was it that you saw some capability in me or were you guys just a little bit desperate?”

I figured I knew the answer to this and he wrote back, “Liz, truth be told it was a little of both, for sure.” I’m like, “Bob, don’t you ever think it was a little bit irresponsible what Oracle did or any fast-growing company does where you put people in jobs way before they’re ready?” He goes, “Liz, no, because we never put you on a tightrope without a net under you. We weren’t going to let you fail. There were things that were holding you up that maybe you just didn’t see it at the time.”

For me, there’s something about somebody like you, the just do it personality. Your 10% is better than anybody else’s 100% just because you’re going to try hard. Even if you don’t have 100% of the knowledge, just because of what you’re capable of, they saw that. That’s what we look for in people. The people that have that naive yes that are willing to be innovative, that are willing to just try. There’ are so few people who are willing to try like that.

It’s the willingness to try. I appreciate the 10% versus 100%. I was no smarter or no more driven than anyone else. If there was something I brought to it, it was just a willingness to try and a willingness to recover. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and this is one of the critical skills of our time right now because our cycles are spinning fast and because most of us are operating in spaces where we don’t have best practices and deep experience to rely on. What you’ve got to get is you’ve got to get a rapid recovery mechanism going for yourself. Everybody is talking about failure, it’s not hard to fail. I’ve done that before.

The trick is failure recovery. To your point into what holds people back, is if you don’t know how to get yourself back up on the horse, if you don’t know how to recover from failure, you’re going to hold back. You’re going to be like, “No naive yes for me. No, thank you. I’m going to do what I’ve always done.” There’s an art to recovery and it’s like, “Admit it fast.” Everyone already knows, you might as well just own it, admit it, fix it, tell people you fixed it and then put another 5% improvement on it. If you can get that cycle going, not only do you do great work, but work is joyful.

[bctt tweet=”A critical skill to have it the willingness to try and the willingness to recover.” via=”no”]

That’s a great place for us to end because I agree with all of that. I hope everybody takes some time to watch your talk that you gave at BYU. It’s called The Power of Not Knowing. If anybody wants to find out more about your books and what you’re doing, is there a website or multiple websites? Is there something that you can share?

There are a couple of book websites, because there are three different Multipliers books. Two additional Multipliers and then a book called The Multiplier Effect for Educational Leaders. There’s Our company, our research and teaching firm is I’m @LizWiseman on Twitter. I’m pretty easy to find on LinkedIn and that talk that you mentioned, you could find it on YouTube, Liz Wiseman, The Power of Not Knowing BYU. I also gave a similar talk at Stanford, but the one you’re referring to, you can find it BYU Speeches as well.

This was fun having you on the show.

It’s very fun to talk to you and I feel that I’m going to be a little bit more curious because I’ve talked with you.

Thank you so much, Liz, for being my guest. What a great show. She is so fascinating to me and all this has been great content to support some of the research I’m doing for my book about curiosity. If you go to, it goes right to the show. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.

About Liz Wiseman

TTL 223 | Multiplier LeadersLiz Wiseman is a researcher and executive advisor who teaches leadership to executives around the world. She is the author of New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, and Wall Street Journal bestseller Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. She is the CEO of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley, California. Some of her recent clients include: Apple, AT&T, Disney, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Salesforce, Tesla, and Twitter. Liz has been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking and named one of the top 10 leadership thinkers in the world.

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