“By him being open and owning things that had gone wrong, it enabled other people to be candid in their own appraisal of what worked and what hadn’t worked.” – Bruce Daisley
Mark has a new book coming out in 2020 about the seven commitments of leadership. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now for pre-order. Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment.
In this weeks interview, Mark speak with Twitter VP Bruce Daisley (@brucedaisley) about work culture and business leadership. Bruce is the author of “Eat Sleep Work Repeat: 30 Hacks for Bringing Joy to Your Job” and the host of the “Eat, sleep, work, repeat” podcast.
When you listen to this podcast, you’ll learn several ways to create an exceptional work culture, including:
- How to embrace technology without making it the main goal of what you do
- How to better understand the culture of your workplace with neuroscience
- How to make employees more productive by encouraging a “buzz state”
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Hey folks. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. This is Mark Divine. I am so stoked to be with you here today and I very much appreciate your time and your attention. And I won’t waste it.
Before I introduce our guest, Bruce Daisley, let me remind you that my new book “Staring Down the Wolf” is due out first week of March. And we’ve got a wickedly cool pre-order going on. And I won’t give you all the details – I’ll let them be a surprise – but definitely worth your time checking them out at staringdownthewolf.com.
If you want to learn more about the pre-orders, if you want to order in bulk I’ll do a Zen training with you, if you want to order a thousand books – if you’re a leader then I’ll come out and do a keynote for you.
And the content is really good, if I don’t say so myself – useful – that’s the feedback I’m getting.
Ok, enough on that. You know how much I love plugging myself. Not.
Our guest today Bruce Daisley comes to us from London – we were just having a conversation about it being a little darker over there now post-Brexit. The sun goes down a little earlier….
Bruce is a former executive – software executive – worked for Google, YouTube… Most recently Twitter, where I think he’s transitioning out… He’s got a new book “Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat: 30 hacks for bringing joy to your job.” I can’t wait to talk about this.
Bruce, thanks so much for being here on the Unbeatable Mind podcast.
Bruce. Thank you so much. It’s good to talk to you in real life.
Mark. Yeah, no kidding. I have a good friend who went was at Google – Visnan – can’t pronounce his last name, because it’s one of those long Indian names – but he went there in the early days and grew with Google… And yeah YouTube before Google acquired them.
What an incredible experience to be with three iconic tech companies that have had a global impact. I can’t wait to talk a little bit about that.
Bruce. Very much so. That was very much my perspective. I felt any time when I was either in YouTube headquarters, when I was working at Google, or when I was working at Twitter – I probably joined Twitter when there were 300 employees, so every step of the way I was incredibly grateful to have that window in something. All of this technology shapes our life more than anything we could have ever conceived, I think.
Mark. I know. Including the entrepreneurs – you know, early folks who started that. It’s kind of been fascinating to see these technologies also go from hero to villain in a lot of people’s minds, right? What did that feel like?
Bruce. I guess the one thing that was really clear when I started at YouTube, or started at Twitter was the way that the whole of the Internet was perceived – it was very different to the way it’s perceived now.
I think our experience broadly with technology is that when we’re presented with new technology, we normally welcome it with open arms, and it’s only a learned experience that we become a little bit more pessimistic, and probably more realistic. So any new technology that turns up – it might be from apps on our phone, to automated driving – whatever it might be. We generally regard this thing with like open-eyed wonder when it first arrives. And it’s only afterwards that the consequences of these things start to become apparent.
Mark. Well, that’s true, because you know we’re humans right? The technology is just technology, so you bring good humans and you get good things out of technology. And you bring bad actors and you get bad things from the technology. It’s our influence on it, right? I think.
It magnifies human behavior. And I look at that with Twitter. Like Twitter has been unbelievable, because it’s given you a voice from one to many. But then it’s even more unbelievable, because the media has picked up on it as a valid mechanism for getting ideas out.
And so you have this double magnification effect going on. Especially when someone has followers in the millions, right? It’d be okay with me if they were just influencing their Millions, but if the media picks up on it and magnifies that to hundreds of millions, now you’ve got this vast sea change in awareness, and it could be good or bad.
Bruce. Absolutely, but I can’t help but be in awe of how these technologies have transformed some of the societal systems. The hierarchies that we used to have.
So I was chatting to a thinker – a big thinker – last week. And his only route to getting his big ideas out to the world used to be to publish books. And now he’s got a YouTube channel with five million subscribers.
And this guy’s a philosopher… So, you know, imagine that. A philosopher reaching a global audience of five million people… In addition… Probably most of us can’t help but be awed to a greater or lesser extent in the achievements of Greta Thunberg. And Greta Thunberg, the youngest ever winner of Time: Person of the Year – she’s really just in a way that I don’t think any of us could ever have imagined – has lit the world… A sixteen-year-old and just thinking about the unarguable consequences of man’s actions on the environment that we’re in. And social media has helped propel her to that stage.
Because the old way it would have worked is that she would have got a small feature on NBC, and she would have had three minutes. And then maybe in six months’ time people would have said “should we go back to her?”
“No, feel like we’ve done that.”
And the window that we used to give was largely based on the curation. And now I think it’s impossible not to be awed by the way that curation has been displaced.
And, of course, that inevitably brings downsides as well as upsides. But we need to take in the world as it is in front of us now, rather than be nostalgic about the way it was before. Mark. I agree, I think it’s got tremendous, tremendous positive benefits. And a lot of this stuff is still yet to be seen. Because it’s kind of hidden.
And one of them is the fact that Greta wouldn’t have even had this opportunity pre-Google or YouTube to express herself at 16 through the power of the Twitterverse and media… Because she wouldn’t have had the awareness that she has right now, because she wouldn’t have had access to global information at her fingertips.
So it really is a sea change in how human beings receive information, disseminate information…
It’s changing consciousness very rapidly – way faster than social scientists can study it or economists can understand what’s going on. I mean everything is Network effect, and chaos theory and Gaia theory. And everyone’s still trying to live in this linear kind of, you know, old paradigm. Or try to understand things from that old paradigm.
That’s why it’s so challenging right now.
Bruce. Very much so. And I think the critical thing is that we must be careful not bringing our own value judgments into whether we think something is good or bad.
So we’re just entering into the primaries and the election now. And it’s inevitable that any of us, whoever we support in any election or any situation, we often bring our own perspective on things. And we might say “oh, well this politician’s using technology for good. This politician’s using technology for bad.”
And in fact, across the whole spectrum we’ve seen that on the Democratic side, the ability for grassroots campaigns to exist without big money is unparalleled with times before. The president has used the benefits of social media to dis-intermediate the people who previously may have held control over the opinion format. And I think all of us – whatever political party we support, or whether we’re just championing green rights like Greta – I think it’s inevitable that any politician in the future – and any leader, any influencer in the future – will be someone who takes in the opportunity afforded by these new forms of communication. Rather than probably sort of adopt a more Luddite, reactionary, resistant approach.
We need to embrace new technology, and hopefully use it for good.
Mark. I agree. And I see that in all the calls to break up Facebook and Google and you know… The regulatory pressure could really be damaging to free expression and to entrepreneurial growth, I think. You know, to me… I’m more of a hands – the government ”keep your hands off.” I’m a pretty autonomous human being. And so I kind of push back against the shackling of Society through more and more government, more and more regulatory burden.
And it just seems inevitably like this unstoppable train. But you know, I think entrepreneurs are the answer… Changing things. Stay way ahead of them.
Bruce. Yeah, and one of the challenges is beware simple answers to complicated problems, right? So you know if someone says to you “oh here’s what we need to do. We need to regulate.” and by all means I’m not sort of ruling out regulation.
But I think the next part of that discussion needs to be what the regulation looks like. Because certainly from being at the coalface… Being at the front end of these things it’s actually you know these people who are building these products have got the most formidable intellects – the brightest people you’ve ever met in your life. And quite often they struggle with the precision of how to do something that is positive for the end user of the product. That doesn’t have unintended consequences along the way.
Culture and Strategy
Mark. So let’s kind of shift focus and talk about you as a growing leader. Like, where are you from? Where’d you grow up? What were your influences and how did you get into big tech leadership? And you know some of those early experiences.
Bruce. Yeah, so I’m from Birmingham, which is the second biggest city in the country. Blue collar parents – my dad was in construction, my mother worked in chocolate manufacturing. So I sort of came from working-class background in the UK.
And first member of my family to go to college, so… And I think interestingly that helps shape my opinion of life, because like a lot of people I think, I had to work my way through college. I had to work my way through my further education.
And so it sort of shaped my perspective, because always I was really clear. You often do a lot of jobs there for short periods of time. But it was pretty clear, when I used to go into jobs, whether there was a good workplace culture. Whether there was a bad workplace culture.
You’d go into environments and it would immediately present itself to you. “Okay, this is a really fun place. I’m looking forward to working here.”
Or you know you’d be immediately reminded, “okay, this is a hostile place. There’s no trust. People are… They’re out to look after themselves, but no one else.”
And so these things became really clear to me. It’s fascinating. And I think that started my fascination.
Mark. I see that. One thing that kind of popped in my head while you’re talking is – you know, back in the old days… 20, 30 years ago… People used to stay in one job or two to three jobs for their entire career. They didn’t really have that exposure to all these different workplace cultures. And good and bad and the ugly.
And so they they’re kind of like cooked like a frog, to think that “oh, this is just the way things are.”
But now the average length of stay is like 18 months to two years. I mean, it’s rare you see someone stay for long periods of time.
And so you get all this little exposure. And after five or six years or eight years of that you can be like pretty sensitive to positive energy in a workplace, flexibility… All the things that are gonna make you thrive. And if it’s not there, you’re just gonna be like “no.”
Either you’re gonna recognize it right up front or you’re only going to be there for a couple weeks and be gone.
Bruce. Yeah. And I think that’s it. It’s why the companies that seem to crack the formula build an ability to have positive, well-motivated work forces – they seem to be rare – but also the places where workers want to stay. They do become genuine destination employers.
And I think one of the challenges that we’ve witnessed over the last few years is recognizing that these things are like the secret sauce, the magic elixir…
A lot of companies have tried to present their own culture as somehow magical. And they’ve used culture as a Marketing device, in a way that it certainly didn’t used to be 20 years ago.
Mark. Well, I think it was the famous management guru… I wish I remembered – its either Collins or Peters – said “culture eats strategy.” and I think that’s true in a sense, even though I prefer to think they Co-arise – strategy, culture, and operational tactics Co-arise.
So one doesn’t need the other, but if you don’t have strength in all three then you’re on a one-legged stool. So culture is really important. And one of the things as a business leader, I’ve found is culture kind of develops itself. If you don’t do anything, culture will define itself, because it is what it is.
But what are some of the things that you’ve seen companies that you work for do to kind of nudge culture in a certain direction? In a positive direction?
Bruce. Well, I think the first thing is an awareness of it. And certainly I’ve worked in environments where there’s maybe been a mistake at times, thinking that culture and benefits are the same things.
So very often we can find ourselves looking at someone else’s workplace environment, and find ourselves thinking “I wish I worked there. They’ve got they’ve got subsidized cycles, they’ve got free smoothies. They provide all these benefits.”
And we find ourselves looking at that, thinking “I wish I worked there. It must be a wonderful place to work.”
And paradoxically what you can find in those environments is such an absence of autonomy, or such an absence of the things that we genuinely find rewarding about our jobs, that we can end up in a state of – I sometimes call it “affluenza” – where we’ve got loads of material wealth, and yet we feel unhappy. And “affluenza” is increasingly a trait of modern existence. You know, us feeling unhappy despite all of these good things that are happening to us.
And so that’s one of the critical things. Often we can find that workplaces might have those things. Generally the workplaces that seem to have a good workplace culture, often have a combination of two ingredients. And these are the things that I wanted to capture.
So when I wrote my book, I saw it as almost like a cookbook for how any leader could use all of the science that’s been done to construct these good working environments for themselves.
And so the two critical elements that the business psychologists have captured that seem to create a good a culture, are a combination of something called “psychological safety” and something called “positive affect.”
Psychological safety is our ability to speak candidly to each other, it’s our ability to tell a boss that his ideas are bad ideas. Or it’s our ability to tell co-workers that we feel unsure about her quality of work. Or to tell… Just to be candid with each other. Maybe it’s a client relationship – speak honestly to a client saying – “I’m not sure this will work.”
Psychological safety is a really elusive factor to build, but it seems to be immensely powerful when we can actually construct it.
Mark. That’s really challenging by the way, we’ll come back to that, about how challenging that is to build.
Bruce. Yeah, and that’s why I spent a lot of time actually trying to look at the environments where good cultures have built this. And you know I observed it – to your previous life – I observed it in the UK Special Forces. So this is like the elite military in the UK – I observed their tactics for implementing it.
I observed it in hospitals. So there’s this number of organizations that have really tried to systematize it. And it’s fascinating to see how they’ve set about systematizing something across a lot of people.
And the other element I mentioned was something called “positive affect.” and I guess the fundamental thing about positive affect, is it comes down to the question – do you believe the decisions you make are influenced by the moods that you’re in? So maybe not you, cause maybe you believe that it’s not you… But as a child did your mum make different decisions whether she was in a good mood or a bad mood?
Or maybe you see this with your partner. Can your partner make some decisions sometimes? And then other decisions other times? And positive affect seems to be a really critical element of the way that we do our jobs. The mood we’re in does strongly influence the job that we do.
Mark. So you’re suggesting the cultural environment, if structured a certain way so that there’s positive energy and positive feedback loops and psychological safety, then it’s going to improve an individual’s decision-making. The environment will have that effect on one’s abilities?
Bruce. Yeah, that’s right. And these things are immensely difficult – as you mentioned – to build. So the Special Forces told me that one of the things that they set about doing is there after a day’s exercise – a day’s engagement – the guy from the UK Special Forces who told me this, said they would they do it when they’re still sweating in their gear. And they’ll sort of gather. They’ve just finished whatever they were setting about doing. They’ll gather together and they’ll immediately say “okay.” they’ll make an immediate appraisal, the leader will describe what he sees has happened today. He’ll describe the major episodes that occurred on the field that day.
And then he will lead by saying what he felt he did wrong or what he was responsible for that didn’t go to plan. What he was responsible for they did go to plan. And then he’ll invite others to do the same.
And he said to me it was a critical component of that. By him being open and owning things that had gone wrong, it enabled other people to be candid in their own appraisal of what had worked and what hadn’t worked. And he said it’s really important. We sort of need to model patterns of behavior. And that was their way of doing it.
Mark. I love that. And that’s something I’ve written a lot about it – the seals have a process called the debrief – and it’s more important even than the brief. The brief… Getting out the door and making sure everyone knows what they’re doing – obviously that’s critical.
But the learning happens in the debrief. And it’s very much like what you just described. I think all SpecOps kind of have a similar process.
But one of the keys is that it’s very – and you alluded to this, but you didn’t outright say it -it’s very impersonal. Meaning when the leaders or any one individual is saying “hey, I screwed up.” or “this is what I saw you do that had a negative effect on me or the team.”
It’s really not about making someone else wrong. It’s about learning. It’s about learning for the whole team, and so there’s this kind of Gestalt feeling to it.
And there really is a great deal of respect, even when there’s the screw-ups. In fact, there’s more respect when people screw-up than people who just pretend that everything’s perfect. Or that they were the ones that didn’t do anything wrong, right?
And that’s what actually leads to less trust. When perfectionism or pretending that you’re not perfect, right?
So I could see how that debrief – and this is so hard to do in corporations, because everyone’s running a thousand miles an hour – and here’s a good analogy… I was just reading an article – this recent review about US SOCOM, about what are some of the causes of the leadership breakdowns that we’ve seen recently? You know, with the Eddie Gallagher thing, Special Forces war crimes, and whatnot.
And they said some of the troops said it’s because the pace of operations have been so long and so relentless that the teams got away from doing their debrief after the ops. They were just way too tired, way too much to do to get their gear downloaded, and cleaned up, and ready for the next mission.
They stopped doing the debrief. They just figured out “we got this,” you know? And that’s when you started to see the breakdowns. Isn’t that interesting?
And in the corporate world, we’re running so fast it’s almost like you’re in combat constantly. And nobody’s taking time to do the debriefs. Or people on the ragged culture companies aren’t taking time to do the debriefs
Bruce. Yeah, I think that probably chimes with a lot of our own experience. We feel overwhelmed with the inputs, the distractions that are coming at us. The next email, the next Slack message, the next meeting…
And we’re not taking time to reflect. And we’re not taking time to pause.
It sort of strikes me, when I was trying to get to the bottom of some of the ways that our brain operates. And I read a really fascinating thing, which was a very simple sort of 101 model of how neuroscience – of how brains work.
And neuroscientists are pretty much agreed that these three functions of cognition – the first is called the “executive attention network,” and that’s like the main part of the brain. It’s what we’re doing. You might be driving, or you might be typing an email… The executive attention network is running that activity.
The second one is called the “salience network.” and while we’re typing that email, the salience network is just keeping a lookout to see that we’re in a safe environment, that nothing unpredictable is going to happen…
But the third one is really interesting… So the first thing to point out is that neuroscience as a science is really only… Brain scanning is really only 20, 25 years old. In fact, really sort of the millennium is where brain scans really became sophisticated.
And one of the things that we observed at that time, was that brains would were not necessarily stopping their activity when people stopped doing the main thing that they were focusing on. And scientists tried to understand this.
And they ascribed what was going on to these moments of boredom. They called it the “default mode.” and their feeling was that when we’re not actually doing something, this default mode – this this almost screensaver in the brain – came up. That sort of kept us cognitively occupied, it seemed. But it wasn’t quite evident in what we were doing.
Anyway, the strange thing is… This default mode, the experience that most of us would have of it is that we’re in a state of boredom, or unfocus, or you get in and you just want to sit and stare for 30 seconds.
The strange thing is that most of us, when we describe a time that we have our best creative ideas, will often be in a time when we’re in this default mode.
And so my favorite example of it is the esteemed writer Aaron Sorkin – he wrote “Moneyball,” he wrote “The Social Network.” He wrote the “West Wing.”
He realized he was having all his best ideas not when he was in the state of frowning concentration, but when he was in the shower. He says he had a shower installed in the corner of his office, and he has six to eight showers a day.
Mark. (laughing) That’s a pretty clean writer. That’s awesome.
Bruce. Right. But just a good reminder there that we might be in a zone of constant activity, that we might believe that we need to find productivity hacks…
And, in fact, far from it. Quite often we need to understand that our brain needs these breathing spaces. It needs time to sort off to relax into ideas more than we might imagine.
Mark. I mean I 100% agree. And have experienced that as a martial artist. I’ve been a martial artist since 1981, I think, or ’85 actually… Whatever… It doesn’t matter.
And one of the big outcomes of that type of training is expressed in the yin-yang symbol and the yin-yang symbol is simply the expression of action versus non-action, or effort versus surrender. You know, masculine versus feminine energy.
And when you start a martial art – especially a very physical one – it’s all yang, it’s all active. And then I was fortunate enough to get into a martial art that included Zen training. And so the more and more advanced I got, the more and more time I found myself drawn to sit on the bench. Until that became a daily practice.
And it was that time on the bench, and just in that yen receptivity mode that all of my insights I could say – just to mirror what you were saying – came from.
And it literally changed the course of my life. That’s what led me into the SEAL Teams, and it’s a big part of what I teach. That you’ve gotta spend… You don’t have to spend equal magnitudes of time in each… But give each equal attention, right? You have to give attention to non-doing and the yen.
And that is whether it’s taking a shower, taking a walk in nature, laying down and just taking a nap, box breathing – we have all sorts of little drills to guide people with that. And you probably have a bunch of them in your book.
And then when you come back and start performing again, you’re going to be that much more relaxed and spontaneous. And have all sorts of energy as well. So it improves both sides of the equation, right?
Bruce. Yeah, I mean, I saw something recently and forgive this impertinence, but that said almost at times we should turn off our podcasts, we should turn off our music, we should almost have little moments where we’re not putting stimulus in.
Exactly to your point – because the strange think about it is, is that it can feel frustrating that even if we know this is meant to be something that we do, because there’s no immediate return path, there’s no immediate reward, we can sit there thinking “what am I doing this for?”
However, there does seem to be some upside in just allowing that clarity of thought that comes.
Mark. What I found is that that’s great to do you know several times a day. Eventually it becomes almost a nearly simultaneous thing. Where you’re able to shift between default mode and executive function. And also be more aware of the salient Network as it’s scanning and looking and you know receiving information.
But then also to go deeper and form even more, have big chunks of time. So that you’d literally stay in the yen. You know stay in that default mode. And those are in the form of meditation retreats or time in nature.
In fact, I’m heading off today to go on an eight-day meditation retreat up in the redwoods. And I’m super looking forward to it, cause I’ve been charging hard for the last 6 to 8 months.
Bruce. Wow. Talk me through it. So do you get a moment each night to… Because I guess most of us would have separation anxiety from our technology… Is that a deliberately…? Talk me through what happens? Are you allowed to connect at all? Is that not invited?
Mark. It’s not invited. This particular retreat it has both an educational aspect as well as tons and tons of meditation. So probably like six hours of seated meditation a day. Combined with maybe four hours of discussion and stuff like that.
And it’s not a silent retreat. Although I’m doing one of those in September a silent meditation retreat in nature. I try to do two of these a year. Kind of a bookend – first and third quarter.
But here’s the thing, as soon as you drop in… It really takes about 24 hours, Bruce, to settle everything down. And during the 24 hours you’re gonna have some latent kind of like urges, right? The craving to pick up the phone, check your email, do all that kind of stuff.
And then it just starts to settle down, right? Because you’re in this environment, you’re doing the meditation – and then you’ll generally just set the phone away.
There are some retreats where they say “check your phone in.” I’ve done that plenty of times. One last year where they wouldn’t let us have our phone, so for seven days. After the first 24 hours you just forget about it. It’s quite liberating actually.
And then that stops becoming your constant addictive pattern, right? To think that you have to, have to be in touch, or have to pick up that to see what’s going on.
Bruce. But that’s right. And I think we catastrophize, don’t we? Because you know we immediately believe “but what if something terrible happens?”
Now there was millennia where there was no device there. And if something terrible happened – in the very unlikely event – there’s a way for people to get in touch with you, no doubt.
Mark. The irony is when you pick up that phone – like at the one I did last year where I could not bring my phone – and I got it out of the lock bin at the end of this glorious retreat. Where we did unbelievable work for seven, eight days.
And I was kind of like excited to see what happened, right? And I went through a couple hundred emails, and it was all just junk. And like most things had resolved themselves. I was being infoed on stuff that I kind of figured was gonna happen anyways. It was kind of disappointing actually. It was like “that’s what I was…?”
Bruce. (laughing) But isn’t it a strange thing that we sort of… It’s only by doing that that we recognize what a sort of distorted world…
Vividly in my head, I heard about people who had given up refined sugar for a year. And they allowed themselves to have one dessert each month. And what they recounted… There was an article on it… What they recounted was that during the course of 12 months the first bit of dessert they were allowed to have at the end of January felt extraordinarily abundant in sugar. Almost to the point that they weren’t really enjoying it as much as they wanted.
By the time they hit December, they were so overwhelmed with the completely saturated sugar taste, that they just couldn’t consume it.
And so for me that’s really fascinating. That we re-anchor our perspectives. And it reminds us that the way we’re living isn’t normal.
And our devices… There seems to be something in that. It’s just I find it really difficult, because I do adore my device. You know if there is an addiction then certainly you know at times I like being addicted.
Mark. (laughing) I know. There’s so much benefit to it, when you think about just the enormous amount of tools and information at your fingertip. And productivity.
So I agree with you. There is that yen and the yang, the good and the bad. So as long as we just learn to set it down during the day. And then at periodic times. And don’t let the device kind of run our lives, then it’s really helpful, really beneficial.
Bruce. Yeah, I agree.
Healthy Environments and Burnout
Mark. So your work is really around creating healthy workplace environments. You noticed, in your work at those high-tech, fast-paced, hard-charging cultures, a lot of burnout. And that’s actually now something that’s being identified as a chronic stress syndrome – I think is the term that I hear a lot. And so it’s really unhealthy.
And it can lead to anxiety and depression, and a lot of breakdowns.
And for years it’s just been like “oh well. Sucks for you. Go get some help.”
But now I think organizations are looking and say “wait a minute. This is actually a result of our culture and maybe some of our systems.
So, what was your experience? Did you experience burnout? How did you get interested in this? And let’s talk about some of those hacks, and some of the ways that we can create -or leaders can create…
Bruce. Yeah, well I think most definitely – I was seeing burnout in the people around me. And maybe because I was projecting it onto them, because I was experiencing it myself, you know?
But we had one moment about three or four years ago where we had just a very high turnover of people quitting their jobs with no job to go to. And that’s one of the surest signs that something’s gone wrong. And I think it was a stark reminder to me that “okay, this is something that we probably need to be honest about the contributing factors.”
And so we would hear little things in interviews where people would say “you know, I’m quitting because I just feel overwhelmed. I feel exhausted. I feel I can’t switch off at the weekend.”
And yet – simultaneously – some of my colleagues were routinely emailing all weekend. And it became something that… We needed to be candid with each other, about what was going on. Because I remember one incident where I said to someone, a senior colleague of mine, “hey, can we just go easy on these weekend emails?”
And he replied, you know, “Interesting, interesting. Let’s discuss on Monday.”
(laughing) And because… You know, that’s one of the challenges that it’s very easy for us to find ourselves believing that what we’re doing is fine, but what everyone else is doing is wrong.
And me – presented with people quitting with no job to go to, I was really clear – we need to be candid about what’s causing this. And one of the things that we observe is that in US firms, there’s an expectation for people to be connected to their devices through work. There’s an estimation that those people in the US are spending about 70 hours a week connected to work.
And the reason why that matters is that, when we look into the stress levels of people who work more than two hours a day outside of outside of the office, their stress levels generally are in the very highest quartile of stress levels.
So people who are connecting to work 70 hours a week, to all of us it might feel like “I’m just staying on top of my communication. I’m just staying on top of my email.”
But in fact, what we’re doing is we’re adding to our stress levels, in a way that is way more than previous generations have ever experienced.
Mark. No, you’re right. Because it goes back to that addiction to always want to see “hey, did someone respond to my request? Or you know “am I missing something?”
And if you just set it down and breathe – usually all that stuff works itself out and problem solved by the time Monday rolls around.
Bruce. Well, that’s exactly right. And it’s one of the models of when things go wrong, that we tend to catastrophize things. We think that these things are going to be permanent, and in fact normally in all of these situations, actually, a degree of sort of pausing – we remove ourselves from the personalization, we remove ourselves from the permanence of things, and we actually get a bit more perspective.
Mark. But it’s not so easy, is it, right? Because we’ve trained ourselves relentlessly to do this thing this one way. Constantly do-do-do.
And then the weekend comes around, a lot of times my experience is like you’re like, “okay, well if not that, then what? Right? I don’t know what else to do.”
And so then people think “well, I need to get a hobby,” or you know…
It’s not so much about replacing one thing for another, is it? What’s your perspective?
Bruce. Yeah, yeah I do think more than ever before – probably because sort of the imperatives of housing is more expensive than ever before, and college debt are more there before – that people really feel that…
More than 50 years ago… The notion of a career is an invention of the last 40 years, really. And so more than ever before, we feel this pressure on us to succeed. To get on in life. And it’s had the consequent effect that we’ve reduced the amount of time we spend on hobbies. And we reduced the amount of time that we spend on outside activities.
Probably to the detriment of us feeling like we’ve got other interests.
I was really taken… I’m always cautious about what Silicon Valley firms say, and I guess I’m in the fortunate position that having worked in in a couple of Silicon Valley firms, I’ve got the luxury of saying that.
But I’m always cautious of what Silicon Valley firms say. But I was impressed with the value of Slack – the communication app.
Mark. I spoke to them last year, right before they went public.
Bruce. Yeah, okay. And they said “our value is do a good day’s work and go home.” and I was really taken with that, because I thought okay, they said “we would much rather our colleagues have outside interests. They’ve got pastimes, they’ve got hobbies. Because it generally means that they end up being a more interesting contributor to our workplace ideas.”
Mark. That’s fascinating. The other thing that’s kind of going through my head right now is – and this has also been magnified by social media – is this Western culture’s drive – and I think you alluded to this – to always climb. Always compare yourself to the other person and say “well, I’m not content here. That’s the job I want, or that’s who I want to be like.
And so it pushes people often to take on roles that they’re not ready for. Or even right for.
And then that leads to a lot of discontentment or anxiety. And even more pressure, you know?
One example of the opposite of this – and I thought this was super-wise – I have a friend who was a Navy SEAL. His name is Phil – tallest Navy SEAL ever, by the way. He’s like 6′ 8″.
And then he got out and became an entrepreneur and a firefighter right? He was able to do both, because as a firefighter – or at least in the United States – the full-time places where you get hired… They sleep at the station for seven or eight days a month, then you have all the rest of the time off.
And he’s a Harvard MBA, right? This guy’s super brilliant. And so I met with him just last week, and I said “Hey, Phil. How’s it going?”
He’s like “Great.”
I said “How you doing at your firehouse? Are you like leading the place yet?”
He goes “no, no. I’m still firefighter one-dash-alpha or whatever. I sit in the back of the truck and steer the damn thing.”
And I’m like “wow.”
He goes “that’s what I like to do. I want to fight fires. I don’t want to be involved in another leadership, bureaucratic quagmire. Because I’ve been there and done that.”
And I was like “that’s really cool.” Harvard MBA, former Navy SEAL, sitting in the back of firetruck. Fighting fires, you know?
Bruce. I like it though. Because quite often we can end up in a situation where we’re promoted and promoted and promoted. And we’re promoted out of the things that we adore.
Mark. That’s right. That’s my point. Yeah, and then it creates this whole anxiety, because you’re now out of sync or out of alignment with maybe what you’re calling was.
And that’s kind of another really good point to dig into, and I’d love to get your perspective on this…. Maybe it’s one of your hacks too…
Constantly doing shuts us off… Constantly doing, craving, striving… You know, impressing people – shuts us off from our inner voice, or that maybe spiritual guidance that says “you know what, Mark? Take a look over here. Maybe this is what you’re supposed to be doing.”
And this is what I find super-valuable going on these retreats for. Because after a few days of everything settling down, you have these… Not just small creative insights about a project… But like major insights about your life.
Bruce. Well, this is it. Someone told me – I mean, to the point of getting an insight just in the shower – someone told me recently – “you know, I get all my best ideas on vacation.”
And it’s precisely the same. That if we’re constantly pedal-to-the-metal, if we’re constantly just accelerating and trying to get every last drop of productivity out of our bodies… Then, in fact, we’re not giving ourselves space to breathe and imagine. And to get these things done.
So exactly right. That disengagement… That un-focus… Seems to be as productive as being engaged all the time.
Mark. I agree.
You talk about three themes for creating a happier work environment. Recharge, sync up and create a buzz. Tell us about that a little bit more.
Bruce. Yeah, so I think the critical thing for me was that I was setting about trying to create a cookbook of how any of us could fix our workplace cultures. And the reason why I started with these personal interventions that I called “recharge,” is because for me, I was surrounded with people who – if we said we’re gonna fix the culture around here and everyone was working till 10:00 p.m. Every night, and they were exhausted… If I told them that we need to fix the culture, then I think you know they’d have said…
Mark. (laughing) Fix yourself first…
Bruce. Absolutely. They would have said that you know this is sort of a nice first world problem, but it wasn’t their immediate focus.
And so there’s twelve personal interventions there. And they’re just very simple things that any of us can do to make work feel less exhausting, more agreeable…
Mark. Give us a few ideas.
Bruce. Look you know… I’m a big fan of simple things like turning off the notifications on our phone is really helpful. Going for a walking meeting. Is one of the most re-energizing things that any of us can do.
So these really small simple things, and there’s ten of these things. These small things that any of us could do. That make work feel less overwhelming.
You know, taking a lunch break. These things sort of seem almost very routine. But if you build a little personal routine which has got these things together, then they seem to be incredibly potent.
But my overall focus was what could we do to improve workplace culture? So not our own personal experience, but more… And what could we do to improve our team dynamic? And that’s where I set about trying to do those things.
So what you discover in the rest of the book… In the “sync” and the “buzz” sections… Is what could any of us do to improve the connection between team members. And that for me was really fascinating.
Because you start realizing the importance of teams spending time together. Or teams feeling like they’ve got a personal connection with each other.
One of the things that I was really struck by was that a lot of people… Either they might work remotely themselves, or a lot of their colleagues work remotely. Or maybe they go into their workplace two or three times a week, and so consequently they don’t always feel connected with the people they work with.
And what really struck me was that those organizations are often the ones where people say “we don’t feel any team cohesion anymore. We don’t feel like we’ve got a bond with each other anymore.”
And I was really struck with… I spent a lot of time looking at companies, where they’d built strong team cohesion. Where they’d built stronger workplace cultures. And quite often there was attention given to how people could feel more connected with each other. How they could… You know, spending social time with each other. Maybe in work hours.
You know, I met one company and they had introduced a weekly social meeting at 4:30 every Thursday.
And very simple thing. They said it sort of fulfilled the role that maybe the pub might – in British culture, the pub or a bar might have done in previous generations. But it just was a time that people got together and just connected as human beings.
And remarkably, it seemed to have a big impact on how people experience their job and how happy they felt in their in their job.
Mark. I like that. So that’s great for synchronization and getting people aligned. What about creating a buzz state? What do you mean by that?
Bruce. Yeah, there was a really interesting…
Mark. Team spirit maybe…?
Bruce. Very much so. There was a really interesting thing for me where one of the people that I’ve spent a lot of time exploring his work was a professor from Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT. And this professor at MIT had done some wonderful work really sort of taking the technology that we all take for granted in our mobile devices now.
But he’d used it to see if he could track offices. And so he built some sort of things that you might have witnessed in sort of a sports game. When we watch the players on the field we watch where they’ve gone. And we use technology to sort of watch what happens.
He said “I wonder if I could use that same technology in workplaces.” and interestingly, he did it, and he said within a short period of time he could tell – these little heat maps that he’d built – he could tell what was a creative office and what was an uncreative office. What was a productive office and what was an unproductive office. So really interesting insight from this scientist.
And what he discovered was that the most productive environments, the most creative environments were the ones that had a lot of face-to-face conversation. He said from his evidence, from the data that he gathered it was true he could see that there were some offices and workplaces – this isn’t just offices – but there were some workplaces that had a genuine buzz to them. And others that sort of had an absence of that.
And so he was really struck with how he could observe that. Really, he could observe that there were certain things that characterized successful workplaces. And so that – for me – was a really interesting point.
What were the things that any of us could do to bring that buzz dynamic to our workplaces?
Mark. And what are your assertions there? In terms of like the top two or three things?
Bruce. Yeah, I’ve mentioned psychological safety and organizations that are able to bring that psychological safety to their workplaces seem to be on the way to building that buzz, to be able to build that effective workplace culture.
And – to what you say – it often improves immensely difficult to achieve this. This is not easy stuff to do. And so medical teams – I observed their techniques for doing it.
So I’ve tried to give really clear pointers how any of us can try and bring these things into our working lives.
Mark. I observed and spoke to the Harvard neurosurgeon – I write about this in my new book – and observe what they call their Grand Rounds. Which was like a mission debrief, you know? But it was one doctor – and maybe they rotate, they probably do – just picking they’re worst case from the previous week. And then just getting it drilled into by the entire team. Good, bad and the ugly. Mistakes and all. And it was extraordinary to watch.
It was a classic debrief that wasn’t personal… The whole intent was to improve the entire team’s understanding and communication. And also trust.
Bruce. And these things genuinely – you’ll know well – these things you can get real benefit if there is total trust there. If anyone feels like they are being persecuted, or singled out, or victimized – it shuts it down immediately. And no one will share misfortune.
In fact, the woman that did a lot of work on this was studying in hospitals. A woman called Amy Edmondson, and she discovered that the teams that she’d observed were the best teams. When it came to making drug errors – prescription drug errors – the best teams no longer seem to be the best teams. They seemed to be making considerably more errors than everyone else.
And so she set about trying to understand this. Because by any other measure, these seem to be unequivocally the best teams.
What she discovered was they weren’t making more errors, they were just admitting to making more errors.
So transporting back to your hospital you’re describing there – the teams who have got that trust amongst them, who are not going to be held responsible for small things that go wrong – then they can immediately frame everything they’re doing as a learning experience.
And some of the things that I talk about are how framing things as a problem that you’re trying to solve together… Framing things in different ways, can actually be as part of the leaders’ tool set – they can be very instructive for building these cultures. That once we’re in them feel magical, motivated, energizing – but you know sometimes it can feel quite elusive how we can reach that stage.
Mark. Takes a lot of discipline to get there. Transforming a culture – as you’re aware – is probably harder than creating one from scratch.
Bruce. Very much.
Mark. And the seals and the SAS have the benefit of these long accession programs, and they select people who are going to be honest and trustworthy. Or who’ve already had to prove that in other domains.
And so you have a lot of support on the early end, from who you hire, how they’re aculturized, and then how they’re taught to be on the team. And so by the time you get to the high risk environments – pretty much everyone’s already been read in and trained on the new protocols.
Remember Ray Dalio in his book “Principles,” he talks about how to get a culture to have those super-honest, heart-to-heart communications – even when things are going horribly. It’s like an 18-month journey, right?
Bruce. Yeah, that’s right. And, you know, I’m sometimes a little bit cautious of Ray Dalio’s stuff, but I think there’s…
Mark. There is some parallels…
Bruce. Yeah, most definitely. There’s definitely some brilliant wisdom in there. I’m just sometimes cautious, because you do hear cautionary notes about, you know… I’m just a bit cautious of some of it… Let’s put it that way…
Mark. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And my point for it bringing up is just it’s hard work.
Bruce. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Will you definitely don’t just stumble into these things for sure.
Mark. No, no. But well worth doing and what I love about your message is we don’t have to wait for the organization to build our culture for us. In fact, that’s a flawed ideal.
The people in the organization build the culture. And so if you have an organization that is like “hey, we can improve on our culture,” then buying the book “Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat: 30 hacks for bringing joy to your job.” reading it together as a book club. Talking about it at your Thursday afternoon Meetup. And boy you might get like five or ten idea’s that you can just start working on.
And then you evolve the culture. You know, I think that’s a big message for the next coming age is like let’s take responsibility ourselves… Each one of us – through our teams – to help evolve not just our work culture, but family and then broader culture.
Because institutionally, there’s no single institution that’s gonna do it. There’s no one leader that’s gonna do it. UN’s not gonna do it, president Trump or the next president’s not gonna do it. It’s up to us.
(laughing) That’s my theory, anyways.
Bruce. Well exactly that. My feeling was very much that we could all wait for the unveiling of the new workplace culture at our work, and we’d probably be waiting a long time. And the more that we can jump in and take responsibility for these things ourselves – even if we’re not the boss – jumping in and saying “hey, I think we can fix this.” then, that was my take on it.
Mark. I love that. Awesome.
And so this book is in the marketplace now?
Bruce. That’s right. It’s just coming out now, so it’s been a fantastic hit in the UK. It was a best-selling business book of 2019.
So thrilled to bring it to the US.
Mark. I’m glad they translated it to American for us.
Bruce. (laughing) I’ve taken out some of the parochial English references.
Mark. (laughing) Awesome. “Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat: 30 hacks for bringing joy to your job.” That’s available – where would you like people to learn about it? Amazon? Or your website?
Bruce. Yeah, I mean look you know everything is on my website, which is eatsleepworkrepeat.com. And there’s links to big retailers, and there’s links to small retailers there. So you can choose your one.
Bruce, thanks very much. Thanks for doing the work, and I know you’re going to continue on. And I look forward to tracking that. And if you find yourself in San Diego, California – when you’re tired of being wet and cold and dark (laughing) then let’s get together.
Bruce. Love to do that. Thank you so much.
Mark. All right, buddy. Appreciate you.
All right folks. That was Bruce Daisley. Check out his website eatsleepworkrepeat.com and the book. And if you’re a business leader this sounds like a real winner. Evolving culture is the best way to really evolve your organization. So you can grow and scale and have a bigger impact.
It’s hard to do without all your people fired up and aligned and in sync and buzzing. And recharged. Look forward to read that myself, and I hope you do as well.
And on one final note staringdownthewolf.com, some similar messaging, but this is more about how you as a leader can overcome your own fears, and biases, and shadows. So that you can unlock courage trust respect excellence resiliency and alignment and grow with your team.
So I appreciate your support, as does Bruce. And until next time stay focused and be unbeatable.