It is almost a common theme for working parents to find it hard to be successful at parenthood. Dr. Diane Hamilton’s guest for this episode will not only tell you that it should be done, but also that it can be done. Daisy Dowling is the founder & CEO of Workparent, the leading training and coaching firm for working parents and their organizations. In this conversation, Daisy discusses some solutions to common parenting. She shares how the pandemic affected care arrangements and how it forced us to make difficult decisions and pivots. She talks about ways of connecting with your children and making time for them despite your hectic work schedule.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Daisy Dowling. She is the author of Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids. She has so much work that you’ve probably seen in the Harvard Business Review magazine. She’s got a lot of past work that’s been published. Her book in 2004 was Remember Who You Are. She’s got a lot that she’s been working on. I’m excited about her book.
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Work Parent: Successful Working Parenthood With Daisy Dowling
I am here with Daisy Dowling who’s an Executive Coach, a full-time working parent for two young children, and the author of Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids. It’s nice to have you here, Daisy.
Thank you so much for having me.
You’re welcome. I was looking forward to this. It’s a little bit different to talk about parenting. We talk so much about success, it should go in there because most of us are parents. Now with COVID, we’re trying to do it all. I can’t even imagine a more timely book for this topic. Before we get into that, I’ve seen a lot of your work in HBR and all the stuff you’ve done. For those who haven’t been familiar with you, can you get give us your backstory of how you reach this level?
For many years, I was privileged to work as an executive coach in some high-performing, terrific organizations inside the firm. I would sit down one-to-one with men and women in all different functions inside these large companies. My job was to help them succeed, help them get to that next promotion or take on the new job or the new team or the new set of responsibilities or wherever it was that they wanted to go. I loved my work. There was one piece of it that I felt like I wasn’t good at and that’s an uncomfortable feeling when you’re an executive coach.
That piece was behind closed doors, the people I established these relationships with. We had talked all about their career apprehensions and their ambitions and what they wanted out of life. They would say thanks, “Thanks for the advice on how to manage my calendar. Now, I’m a dad and I’ve got to manage my calendar. I’ve got to make it to daycare pick up at 6:00 PM. What advice do you have for me on that?” or “I just came back from parental leave six months ago and I’m up for this big promotion. I’m not sure but people are not giving me some of the hard difficult projects because they’re trying to be nice to me because I’m a new mom. How do I get around that? How do I convey that I still want that promotion and I’m still ambitious?”
Those questions came in many different forms but I didn’t have great advice. I didn’t have something that I could point to as a single resource and I didn’t have the expertise myself. You can see where this movie is going. I became a mom myself. I was the one with all these questions. I thought there’s got to be something out there. It was February in New York City where I live. It was freezing cold. I bundled my two-month-old daughter into her stroller with all these blankets and everything. I pushed her down to the local flagship Barnes & Noble near where I lived in New York City. I said to a couple of the clerks, “Where’s the working parent book?” It’s like if I can get a cookbook for any cuisine, there must be something for this too. I can get a travel guidebook to any country. There wasn’t anything.
I got even more frustrated. I said, “Let me go out and let me find some of the answers.” There’s working men and women who have lived this movie themselves before who have great advice. I started asking every mom and dad who would speak to me, clients, friends, etc. Ask them, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten as a working parent? What works for you? What are the tools and techniques and habits and life hacks that make you able to succeed on the job and be yourself but also be a great loving parent? Long story short, all these many years later, I’m now a full-time executive coach just for working parents. I’ve created my own practice under that. I’ve written this book, which is the book that I needed to read back then.
I can see that that’s a needed thing. I remember what I dealt with going back to work and the challenges. I’m glad that you didn’t just do it with working mothers or working fathers. It’s different. I had seen a documentary where they were showing how women get behind in the workplace. Because of taking leave and they’re off, the men get ahead a couple of years. That was more of the problem. They started making men take required paternity leave. It’s interesting to look at this example you gave, where she’s just six months after having a baby, and they’re going to treat her differently. Do you see that you had to add more for women than men because of those situations or was it equal to put the same amount of content in for both?There's a natural thing where each and every one of us goes through our own lives and assumes that other people are having the same experience as we are. Click To Tweet
I wrote this book for parents. I took a deliberately non-gender-specific stance. In all of my one-on-one conversations, I was surprised by how consistent most of the concerns that parents had. It was so much concern around time management, “Am I being seen and understood? Is my professional brand still what it was before? Am I getting enough time with my kids? Am I making use of that time?” There were certainly some specific concerns for moms who are coming back from leave. I would say 98% of what I advise and what I provide in the book is true for any parents. As the Millennial generation moves into working parenthood, more and more dads are focused on what might be historically considered more for women’s concerns. I hate to use that stereotype. “How do I balance my life? How do I be the parent I want while succeeding,” whatever that means to me on the job. I acknowledge individual concerns. This is true for all of us. There are 52 million American working parents and we’re all worried about most of the same things.
There’s an openness to information now that wasn’t there before. My kids are adults, it’s been a while. I remember childcare, you’d had to hear the word of mouth if you wanted to trust anybody. Now, you can get apps. You can get all these things. I have a puppy and I freak out about who would watch my puppy. I imagine I’d be as bad even with the apps and the stuff. Is one of the bigger challenges finding good daycare or childcare?
Yes, and it’s a challenge for two reasons. First, if you don’t have solid care that you trust in place, it’s at best extraordinarily difficult and typically more impossible to do the job the way you want to. You’re either multitasking because you’re taking care of your child as we saw during the pandemic or you’re extremely distracted and worried, which isn’t a great place to be. That’s not a great way to show up on the job. That’s one thing. There’s the actual process of finding the care. The good news is it’s a process.
Each one of us has a lot of confidence in being able to do our day jobs or our work well. We understand the process if you’re a lawyer of writing a brief or if you’re a nurse, the process of asking a patient some diagnostic questions. We were all confident there. However, I don’t think most of us have been taught to think about finding care as a step-by-step process. Once I can work with clients to frame it that way and to say, “Your job is not to worry or have these apprehensions, it’s to work these steps,” and to say, “First, I’m going to think exactly what I need in a caregiver and what my optimal situation is. Next, I’m going to start sourcing candidates. Here’s how I’m going to do that. After that, I’m going to use these particular interview techniques to assess people in the way that I want to and to have a high degree of confidence.” When you thin slice and break it down like that, all of a sudden, people feel like they’re on their front foot again, “I can do this. I’m taking a professional approach, in a way, a powerful approach to something that seemed like a big hazy problem that I didn’t know how to conquer.”
I like having directions and ideas and certain orders in different things. I’m structured that way. I went about it that way. I see a lot of people who flounder and just don’t know how to find people. Having that framework can be important. I see my niece as the best mother. I’ve watched her with her kids. She’s got also has a nanny and things that help with certain things. I’m thinking, “That would have been nice.” Do you find that people are getting more nannies these days? I would love to have a little help but I had nobody. How much of that is going on?
The pandemic upended many or most of our care arrangements, at least for some short period of time. I don’t track this statistically but I’ve heard from a lot of my clients that they’re thinking about different types of care arrangements. Based on whatever experience it was that they had during the pandemic. I’ve had people tell me that they went from in-home care to daycare because they felt that was more reliable. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve gone from daycare, which may have shut down or not been available to an au pair situation because they wanted somebody who is living in. I think it’s so unique, that it’s hard to spot trends. What the pandemic experience did for all of us is forced us to think, “When the chips are down, when I’m under real pressure, what’s going to work for me then?” That’s where a lot of people are making some pivot points and decisions.
A book like this is important for more than just the parents. I remember when I worked selling loans, I had a boss who was a woman. She had three daughters. She was a great boss and I liked her a lot. She had a husband who stayed home with the kids. She would call these last minute, “We’re going to do a meeting. We’re going to stay and do a blitz and get extra sales tonight. We’re not leaving until 7:00 or 8:00 PM.” We normally would leave at 6:00 PM. I remember thinking, “Yeah, you got somebody home watching your kids and I didn’t.” Later, she ended up getting a divorce and had to take care of her kids herself and I’m sure she looked at it a lot differently. This book would be important to see the struggles that the person who stays home has. Don’t you think?
One thing we haven’t historically been great about as working parents, managers or leaders is understanding some of the pressures of other people’s family structures. There’s a natural thing where each one of us goes through our own lives and assumes that other people are having the same experience. I have four chapters in the book that address dual-career couples, single parents, LGBTQ families and people who may have a partner who’s either full-time at home or largely focused on the kids. It’s the sole breadwinner or almost sold breadwinner situations. In each one of those, there are certainly some throughlines and some themes as to what parents are focused on and worried about. There are also some unique spins and logistics that have to be attended to and concerns and worries short-term and long-term. That’s one big area on which we can raise the game.
Having life hacks and tools and all the things you said that you incorporate is critical. I’m thinking back to when I would work that 9:00 to 6:00 or 8:00 to 6:00, whatever it was in the lending job I had, I would go home at lunch and get dinner prepared. Everybody else got to go to lunch and have a break or whatever. I’d go home and get dinner ready so that when I got home at 6:00 PM. It was important to me that my kids and husband all had a chance to eat dinner together. A lot of people aren’t willing to go through the hassle of some of the stuff. Some parents will do and some parents won’t. Are you seeing parents going out of their way to spend time together with the kids or is it too much to go home and do stuff like that at lunch or other times?
Most parents want to find much more quality time with their kids. The challenge that a lot of type A, ambitious, committed and hardworking people have is figuring out either where to find that time, or how to make that time feel gratifying and rewarding. I was surprised but not anymore. When I first started doing this work, I published an article on family dinners and on how busy people could get at family dinnertime with their families, how they could source and produce the food for it, what that could look like, and how to do it without stress. I was shocked because I got more reader responses from that one article than I’ve gotten on anything else in my entire career.
It’s that desire for connective time but how do I make that time connected? This isn’t a work meeting. I need some techniques and hacks for connecting with a 3-year-old or a 4-year-old when I only have 90 minutes at the end of the day with my kids or with my child. It’s a lot of those things that I spend time with people, honing and refining their approach. For example, when you get home after a long day, what a lot of adults naturally do to connect with a child of any age, even a young child, is to start asking a lot of questions like, “How was your day? What did you do at school?”Having life hacks and tools incorporated in your life is really critical. Click To Tweet
Teenagers may not want to answer those questions because they’re teenagers. Little kids usually can’t answer those questions because that’s not how they think. They don’t relate to other people through conversation. It’s through activity, play, routines and rituals. I talked with a lot of moms and dads about when you get home, instead of starting to ask questions, pull out a game. Get down on the ground and start playing with your child, whatever they want to do. Have a song that you always sing when you come through the door. It’s those things that are going to allow the bonding time to feel meaningful and to be more pleasurable for the parent and the child.
That’s funny because it’s bringing up a lot of my childhood. Neither of my parents worked, which is weird. It’s funny that I ended up working a thousand hours. The way I work, I work all the time. It was playful, which I look back on fondly. At the dinner table, we always played school. Instead of asking how you work, you’re asking questions in a game. If you didn’t answer it correctly, you’re 1/3 of the hippopotamus. Eventually, if you were a whole hippopotamus, you lose. It was all fun things. It was stuff to make dinnertime playful. I like that. I was thinking of a family friend who was over every day. When he walked into the house, he would sing his song so you knew he was there. We hit on a couple of your tips right there, which is funny. Are there other life hacks or tools or something that are popular that people could benefit from?
One important thing is thinking about how you’re going to plan out your week. It’s maybe particularly important for dual-career couples but we can all benefit from this. Working parenthood, so much of the time you feel like you’re on a treadmill. It’s a treadmill where that big red off button that exists on a real physical treadmill somehow isn’t there and you can’t slow it down. It’s a little overwhelming. You have things coming at you all the time. That’s not a great position or feeling from which you feel like you’re on top of the game, or to perform your best at work, or to do what you want to do, which is to connect, being present, loving and available to your child.
If you can look forward to your week. If you can have a Sunday night sit down on a calendar, look ahead at some regular time and map out where are the stress points going to be, “I’ve got a deadline here and an early meeting there. Our calendars may not mesh or sync very well on this particular day. Maybe we need to ask for some extra help or favor or do late daycare pick up or something like that. We’re going to reserve Wednesday night to cook and eat together as a family.”
Sometimes people will make fun of me a little bit gently on this, “You’re taking a work approach to your family life.” In a way, it is. What that does is it lets you feel in control. It lets you feel like you’re making more deliberate decisions. It lets you carve those deliberate, guaranteed times when you are going to say, “I will spend this time alone with my son this morning. We’ll have breakfast.” I won’t be able to do that because I’m working.” It lets some of the puzzle pieces feel like you’re moving them around rather than being controlled by them.
Also, forgetting to do them. I put everything into my calendar because it makes me remember. I’ve had people and have seen their calendars thinking, “Why would you need to clean your baseboards? Why would you put that on your calendar?” For them, maybe they’d never do it if they didn’t do it or whatever it is. If there’s a thing that you might neglect to do, sometimes putting it into a calendar can be important. As you’re talking about this, it ties into the work I did in the area of curiosity. This is interesting to me as you’re speaking because, in my research, I found the four things that inhibit curiosity are fear, assumptions, which is the voice in your head, over and under-utilization of technology and environment.
This is environmental and what we’re talking about is family time, how we ask questions of our kids if we allow them to ask questions and how we interact with them. We’ve got so much of a problem in the working world with low engagement, low innovation and all this. I know you graduated from Harvard and a lot of Harvard professors have been on my show like Francesca Gino and others who’ve studied curiosity. There’s a lot we can do to develop it and it ties into the things we’re trying to encourage in our business setting. I love that you’re asking them to get playful because as you get playful, it also increases dopamine as does curiosity, so we’re feeling better. I noticed you’ve touched on a little bit of the mind-body-spirit in your book.
Absolutely. To continue with that point of curiosity, I’m glad you brought that up because it’s important. Curiosity plays a huge role in successful, satisfying and sustainable working parenthood. Even pre-pandemic, as working parents, most of us felt isolated and alone. If you bring too much of your parenting self into work, it feels unprofessional. What do you do? You clam up. Many or most of the moms and dads, particularly the vintage moms and dads I counsel. When I say, “Have you spoken to other working parents you work with about this? Have you asked how other moms and dads in your workplace or your community are handling that particular concern or issue that you have?”
They’ll say, “No.” That’s too bad because they miss out on some potentially great practical advice. They also miss out on a feeling of treating working parents like, “This is a learnable skill. This is a path that I can get some community along the way. That involves connecting with other people and asking some questions and saying, ‘What if? How do you do this?’” To your point about mind-body-spirit, one thing that I touch on throughout the book is taking good care of yourself by making sure that you have that working parent community, that you’re talking to other parents, that you have working parent mentors, that you have other people that you can turn to because that hits on all three cylinders.
It’s important to have that outlet. As far as the curiosity piece, I love that it resonates with you. Other than having Francesca talk about her HBR article, I have yet to get in-depth, great articles on the importance of curiosity out there. It’s important for children. The whole aspect of getting out of that status quo thinking is what’s going to lead to the greatest things in the future. I love that you touched on that and we get into all these different areas. A lot of people are going to be interested in reading your book because this is meant for everyone, whether you’re a parent or if you have parents working for you. It’s incredibly important from both aspects. If they wanted to get your book or get ahold of you or find you somehow, is there some site or something you’d like to share?
The book is a great place to start. All the curiosity that I’ve had about working parenthood and all the questions I’ve asked so many diverse and different working parents over the years are wrapped together in the book. You can also reach me on my website, which is www.WorkParent.com or follow the articles that I publish on the Harvard Business Review site. I have a regular series of advice, tips, techniques, tools, that’s on that platform also.
I was wondering if there’s anything I didn’t ask you that you wanted to touch on that people should get from your book or something that we didn’t get a chance to address?
We’re in an interesting time, working parent-wise. The pandemic was hard, to put it mildly. Many parents I talked to are saying, “We’re pivoting into this new normal. I’m going to be back to the office or traveling again. The kids are going to be out of school for the summer and then back. I’m running on fumes. What do I do? How do I get myself ready and get back into this game? I don’t feel like I can get myself to the top or on my front foot again as a working parent. Because we are in a time when things are changing, we can also feel some strength in that.
With a lot of the parents I coach, I have them think forward to when their kids, whatever age those kids are right now, to when their kids are working mature adults and potentially working parents one day themselves. What they want the experience for those children as working parents or as working adults to be? We’re laying the groundwork for it now. Imagining that positive future and anchoring what we’re doing now in a picture that might look quite different and much better for our kids than maybe we felt we’ve had over the past few months. That’s motivating and it can help give us momentum and some lift, which we all need.
That’s a great place to end. Thank you so much for being my guest, Daisy. This was fascinating. Many people could use your advice. Thank you so much for being on and sharing it.
Thank you so much for having me.
This show is going to be a little bit different. 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. I want to talk to you about the value of building curiosity within your organization. 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 go along with the way things have always been. I like to talk about an experiment that I share on stage about a hidden camera experiment where they looked at how quickly people go along with the group. This woman went into a doctor’s office thinking she’s getting an eye exam, but not known to her everybody in the waiting room weren’t patients, they were actors. An experiment was going on where they would have a bell ring. Every time that bell would ring, all the actors around her who she thought were patients would stand up and sit down with no explanation.
After three times hearing the bell ring, 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 as if they were patients one at a time. Eventually, she’s alone in the room and the bell rings and what does she do? 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, 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 the part of how conformity can be comfortable by going along with it. Sometimes you get bad habits or you stunt growth. You get the status quo thinking and that can be the downfall of organizations. When we do things because they’ve always been done a certain way, we don’t progress. 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 thought and fostering curiosity? What action plans do they have in place to avoid status-quo thinking? Do they have all the answers? How can they take what they learn from different events and utilize that to make some changes?
It’s important because curiosity has been the foundation behind the Model T, the self-driving cars. We know that leaders believe they encourage curiosity and exploration. I’ve had Francesca Gino on the show. She has done a lot of great research in this area. We know that most of the employees don’t feel rewarded for it if they explore their curiosity. If we want organizations to generate innovative ideas, we have to help them through leaders developing that desire to explore. My job is to be curious. I ask questions and get information for a living. I do that through the show and teaching, speaking and everything that I do. It’s something I want to share with other people because it’s such a huge part of what makes companies successful.
I look at curiosity as the spark that ignites the process that everybody’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, eggs, milk, flour or whatever it is you take to bake the cake. You mix it together and you put it in the pan and you put it in the oven. What happens? If you didn’t turn on the oven, nothing happens. That’s a huge problem that organizations are trying to get. Instead of cake, they’re trying to get productivity. They are trying to make money. They know the ingredients. They know they want motivation and drive, engagement, creativity, communication, soft skills and all that stuff. They’re mixing those ingredients but what they’re not doing is turning on the oven. The oven or the spark is curiosity. If you don’t turn on the oven, no one gets cake. That’s what I’m trying to talk to companies about.
We know that kids are naturally curious. I love a picture from the San Francisco Museum of Art from Life Magazine in 1963. They have these two adorable little girls 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. What do kids do? They want to see what’s behind the vent. We were all that way. Three-year-olds ask their parents about a hundred questions a day. At that age, you’re curious. You want to find out how everything works.
There’s a 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.” 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 at about the age of 18 through 31. We’re even seeing very 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 the kids and followed them. At age five, he found that 98% of children were creative geniuses. By the time they were 31, only 2% were and it was a huge difference. George Land said that we have convergent and divergent thinking. He talks about it in terms of, we put on the gas and we’ll try to come up with all these great ideas. At the same time, we overcriticize them and we put on the brake. Anybody who drives a car knows, if you put the brake on at the same time you put on the gas, you don’t go very 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 and CEOs get that. However, a lot of them are not investing in the culture of curiosity, but some of them are doing some amazing things. I want to talk about what the cost of lost curiosity 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. If you look at Gallup’s numbers, they’re losing $500 billion a year due to poor engagement. I’ve seen everything. Holmes has $37 billion. I’ve seen much higher. It depends where you look.
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 of curiosity. We would talk about curiosity, there’s a big innovation factor because we want to be more innovative. We’re worried about job loss. We’re worried about 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 because they looked at things from the status quo way that they’ve always done things. They didn’t want to cannibalize their product or whatever the success they had. If you do that, the world keeps moving and you get stuck. That’s a huge problem. It was interesting to me to study curiosity. There’s a lot of research 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. It showed that curiosity was higher in larger companies than in smaller ones. It was 37% versus 20%. Millennials were more curious than Gen Z and Boomers. The US had a higher level of curiosity compared to China. Maybe they weren’t as high as Germany.
That’s only one report and 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. Francesca Gino did a great job with the HBR article she wrote it. 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 who recognized that 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 that they’re curious about their jobs, and 70% said they face barriers to staying curious and asking questions. She did some great research. When you get a chance I would recommend reading that and 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 could 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 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. She gets into how the Chilean mining disaster was able to be resolved because 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, 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’s 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. He is the guy who turned around Campbell Soup. He did that by asking questions. He asked employees what motivated them. He looked at how to build engagement by writing 10 to 20 personal notes six days a week. He counted at 30,000 plus, which is huge. When he took over in 2002, they 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.Curiosity is a critical and direct link to improving motivation and communication based issues. Click To Tweet
Another great guest of the show was Zander Lurie, the CEO of SurveyMonkey. They’re so much into curiosity. They got permission to change their street address to 1 Curiosity Way. I was asking him some of the things that they do because they have a culture of curiosity there. They ask, “How can we make our products more productive for our customers? How can we create an environment where people do their best work?” He says they do skip-level meetings so that they can find out what works and what doesn’t. Those are some examples of people who are on the show.
There are other examples that are fascinating. Some companies, Monopoly, Ben & Jerry’s, VanMoof Bicycles, I’ve looked at some of them to see how they use 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 just another version. They decided to 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. They came out with the Cheaters’ Edition. That was their second-biggest release since the initial release of Monopoly. It was a cool thing.
Ben & Jerry’s has got some interesting information. What they do in terms of not getting into status-quo thinking, they don’t keep flavors around forever. They research to find out what’s working. They ask questions, what’s a good flavor? What’s no longer a good flavor? Instead of freaking out that their flavors are no longer successful, they celebrate them and give them a burial. They even have a headstone or whatever on their website where they show this flavor was alive from this year to this year. They celebrate their success and then they move on.
VanMoof’s story is interesting. They make these bikes. They would send them in packages in the mail or through UPS or whatever they would send. A lot of them ended up broken. 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. They’ve looked at the type of box they were using and 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. They couldn’t figure out why so they put out a questionnaire to their employees. It said, “How can we make your job better?” They didn’t expect to get things back that they could do anything about but they did. They got back great things like, “Put an air vent over my workspace.” “Make my table adjustable when I’m folding things that work for my height.” Those are things like, “We can fix that,” and they did. Going to the horse’s mouth or the employee and say, “How can we make this better,” was huge for them.
Sometimes it’s not just the employees, 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 One race car event one night. They were impressed by how quickly that Formula One pit crew would take the car apart, 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 can show us any kind of 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, we think 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 that Velcro came up 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. He saw a hook and eye and the way it hooked together. He thought, “Why don’t we try this?” In 1998, they made something like $93 million in Velcro. 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. It does a great job because they have curiosity as part of their core cultural value. They encourage employees to spend 100 hours a year on employer-paid education to broaden their interests. They do everything from paying for them to watch videos, to having them perform in mini TED events, having employees be the actual speakers and things like that. It’s cool how much they do this.
They have the whole month of September as their curiosity month. I’m one of the speakers for them so I know how much time and effort they put into this. If you look at how much everybody talks about how they liked working at the company, 90% of the employees surveyed, approved of the CEO. How often do you see that? That’s a huge thing. They’re doing some ongoing research with curiosity with me. I’m excited about that. One of their employees is writing her doctoral dissertation. 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 a lot of my talks and my book, Cracking the Curiosity Code. I looked at so much that’s out there.
There are some great TED Talks from Daniel Pink. He wrote Drive, a great book. Simon Sinek, Finding 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 what is this curiosity thing. The Max Planck Institute coined the term curiosity gene. It’s in people and animals. It creates dopamine and makes us feel good. If you don’t have curiosity, if you’re a bird and you’re 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. I’m like, “Where’s the assessment that tells you what stops it?” I’m like, “There isn’t one.” and that surprised me because the assessments all told you if you were curious or not. That’s all well and good because you do want to know if somebody’s highly curious or not.
The big five factors will tell you if you’re open to experience and things like that. I want to know what stops it. Nobody had studied that and so I did. I want to know what holds us back and I found out what is. It’s FATE which stands for Fear, Assumptions, Technology and Environment. I want to talk about these separately because fear is about failure, fear of embarrassment, loss of control. Nobody wants to feel like they said something stupid in a meeting. We all want to feel we’re all prepared. We’re all in the meeting and we’re thinking, “I want to ask that but I don’t want to look dumb.” You lean next to Joe next to you and go, “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 within companies because you get a lot of yes-men, 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 had one guy who asked me to do something and I said, “Sure. 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 shouldn’t 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 who didn’t have any ideas. 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 is the voice in our head that tells us we’re not going to be interested or apathetic, “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 hold up a bottle of water at a talk that I’m giving and I’ll ask, “How heavy is this?” They’ll say, “6 or 8 ounces.” I’ll say, “It doesn’t matter.” What matters is how long I hold it because if I hold it for a minute, it doesn’t bother me, my arm is fine. I hold it for an hour, I start to get tired, my arm gets tired. After a day, my arm feels paralyzed. That’s how our assumptions are or the voice in our heads. It’s a fleeting thought, no big deal. We get past it. After an hour, we might hold on to a little more. After a day, it starts to stay with us. We have to recognize that we might be telling ourselves all these things that we could maybe interested in. Maybe somebody would help us learn but we talk ourselves out of them. Assumptions are a big thing.
I found it interesting that technology was also a big factor. Curiosity is impacted by the 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 have had great experiences in their childhood where they had a lot of foundational learning in technology. Steve Wozniak is one. I loved his book, iWoz. He talks about his dad telling them how to connect gadgets. He would come back with all these wires and get things from work. He showed 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. If somebody threw us a calculator or Siri did it for you, you’re not ever going to have the foundation behind it. There’s got to be times where we have high foundation days where we build without technology and we just learned behind it. 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. It’s everybody from your teachers and your family, your friends, your social media, leaders, peers, your past leaders, your current leaders, everybody you’ve ever worked with. We know that curiosity can be influenced by everybody we are around.
The numbers I gave about how curiosity peaks about age five and then it tanks after that. A lot of that could be going into school, the teachers don’t have time because they’re teaching to the test. They got many students in class. They can’t answer why all the time. Our siblings can be brutal. If you do something that they don’t think is cool, then you 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. The assumption and the environment were higher than technology, but you can have an overlap. You can have fear of technology for example.Curiosity can be influenced by everybody we're around so it becomes more interesting. Click To Tweet
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 on LinkedIn and asking people and then I got interested in that. I hired people to do all this factor analysis. I ended up doing my research because a lot of the research kept coming back in the same fashion of just trying to find out if you’re curious or not. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to find out what inhibits us? It was interesting to look at the difference between men and women. Men were less impacted by fear than women, but they were more impacted by that voice in their heads. They were equal to women in technology, but maybe more impacted by their environment. These results are what I’ve seen and I’d like to see more research done.
It is interesting to take a look at how these different factors impact us? What I did is I train people. First of all, they take the Curiosity Code Index. I either go do the training at companies myself or I train consultants or HR professionals to give it. If those people get certified, they get five hours of SHRM recertification credit. There are a lot of different versions of training that I offer. What’s interesting is when they go through the training class, when the employees are training about this, they get to find out the results from the CCI.
It’s like taking a Myers-Briggs or DISC. It takes ten minutes and you get the big PDF report back within a few minutes of taking it. It’s real simple. They get to get their results. They go through this personal SWOT Analysis which is cool because they look at ways to create SMART goals, measurable goals and those kinds of things to overcome some of these areas that are inhibiting them. Not only do they do that but we do a similar thing for the corporation as a whole like how they did at Disney. You go to the horse’s mouth or 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 so that we can all improve and make more money.” It’s important for the future of companies that people try it, explore it, poke at it and question it. It’s a huge thing that you need to ask yourself, “How can I be vulnerable and allow this culture of learning? Maybe I don’t have all the answers.” Think about what are you doing to foster curiosity? What action plans do you have? How do you do this in this tumultuous time? Thinking about this, it’s challenging for a lot of people.
I have created a free course. A lot of people could get a lot of value out of it. If you’re interested in taking it, go to DrDianeHamilton.com and scroll down to the bottom. It offers a free course if you sign up. It’s a simple thing. They send it right to you. You can learn a lot more about curiosity and the factors and see a lot of videos from some of the talks I’ve given. Some of the stuff I’ve talked about here is in there. A lot of the chapters from the book are in there. It’s a good foundational way to learn more about curiosity. I wanted to give you that information and I hope you check out DrDianeHamilton.com and CuriosityCode.com
I’d like to thank Daisy for being my guest. We get so many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can catch them at DrDianeHamilton.com and I hope you join us for the next episode.
- Daisy Dowling
- Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy KidsRemember Who You Are
- Remember Who You Are
- Francesca Gino – Past Episode
- Harvard Business Review
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- Sir Ken Robinson – TED Talk
- George Land – TED Talk
- State of Curiosity Report
- HBR article – Curiosity by Francesca Gino
- Claudio Fernández-Aráoz – HBR article
- Daniel Goleman – Past episode
- Amy Edmondson – Past episode
- TED Talk – Amy Edmondson TED Talk
- Doug Conant – Past episode
- Zander Lurie – Past episode
- Finding Your Why
- Curiosity Code Index
About Daisy Dowling
Daisy Dowling is a leading executive coach, full-time working parent to two young children and author of WORKPARENT: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids (May 25, 2021).
Dowling runs an executive coaching and training firm dedicated to helping working parents lead more successful and satisfying lives. She also writes about working-parent issues for Harvard Business Review and is the series editor for The HBR Working Parents Series collection of books.
In WORKPARENT, she draws on this experience—including years of coaching hundreds of working parents one-on-one—to coach readers on how to be the professional, parent and person you want to be from the day you find out you’re expecting until the day your child leaves home. What Mastering the Art of French Cooking is to aspiring chefs, and What to Expect While You’re Expecting is to pregnant women, WORKPARENT will be to working parents everywhere – an all-in-one resource for every working mother and father.
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