Hopefully, all of us strive for our best -- especially in professional environments. What about exceeding our expectations, though? Veteran professional consultants Jason and Jodi Womack, co authors of 'Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More,' believe they have found the key to truly unlocking individual potential. Jason shares their perspective on this week's episode of 'Cotto/Gottfried.' 'Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More' at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Your-Best-Just... SEE more interviews HERE: http://www.sanfranciscoreviewofbooks....
COTTO: Doing your best. It’s something that hopefully we all strive for in life, especially in professional environments. How can we make our best better though? Jason Womack along with his wife Jodi address this question in their book, Your Best Just Got Better. Jason discusses it in this episode of Cotto/Gottfried. I’m your cohost Joseph Ford Cotto, editor in chief of the San Francisco Review of Books. My cohost is Paul Gottfried, head of our editorial board.
COTTO: When people think about doing their best in any given field—obviously we’re talking about a field of work—they probably imagine that they have some idea of what their best is but at the same time they might not really, perhaps they might not have correctly understood their full aptitude. Jason, when you think about people doing their best at work what does that mean to you? Does it mean that they’re performing at what they think is there optimal level, or are you talking about completely shattering the ceiling, so to speak?
WOMACK: I believe people are the most productive and the most engaged—the one word on my mind as you were sharing that little preamble was present. So, whatever my best is today is going to depend on what I am present in or with. I find that when people look back on a day where they missed—whether they missed a task, whether they missed a meeting, whether they missed an opportunity, many times—I won’t try and do percentages guys, but many times it’s because they were thinking or working on something other than what was right in front of them.
A common question I can ask people is this one, “who’s ever gotten on the train, or who’s ever gotten in their car to drive home, and along the drive they make the correct turns, they stop at the right stop sign, they pull into their driveway and they have no idea how they got there.” I think many people are trying to go through the day being their best, but they are either ahead of themselves, or catching up to the past.
COTTO: Paul, any views on that?
GOTTFRIED: I think he’s right. I think it sort of describes the way some people live—that they really have no conscious purpose they sort of just drift along. I think that’s a human type. I’ve encountered people like that again and again. So, I think Mr. Womack is right. Many people who do not really seem, who have no purpose, they just drift along from one experience to the other. And I think the comparison is apt–it’s like somebody who drives from work and lands up at home but has no idea how he got there.
WOMACK: Well that book, Your Best Just Got Better, I encourage everyone reading it to have a journal nearby or at least a sticky note. I’m a big list maker—not in making lists to get things done, but in making lists to get things out of my own head, and one of the activities I’d ask all of us to do, again—make a list of the leaders, the managers, the mentors, the coaches, teachers, the friends—make a list of the people who we remember. And to your comment there a moment ago, the people I remember, there’s instances—moments in our working or living relationship where I remember they listened to me, they looked at me, they acknowledged me. And so, for any of us listening to this as we want to make our best better, one of the things that I’m always going to ask people is, what does that even mean? What does it mean to show up and give of yourself, be a servant leader, a leader who serves the people that she or he manages or works with?
COTTO: One point in your book is working smarter. What do you mean by that? I think most people have a general idea of what working smarter means. It means to be more efficient, to prioritize—stuff like that—but I believe your take on that is a bit more detailed. What does it mean to you?
WOMACK: Well, I’ll just pick one chapter of the three. So, the way that that book works is the first three chapters are all under this guise or umbrella of efficiency and effectiveness as you just said. And why don’t we just take one of those three chapters called Pacing. There are some times during some days when maybe what I need to do actually is slow down a little bit—not go as fast. Maybe I need to draft that email and save it in my drafts section, give myself an hour or a half a day, re-read it—because I’ll just be transparent—many times that I’ve re-read a draft of an email that I’ve started in the morning, I am either smarter in the afternoon, I’m more informed the afternoon—for those of us how are morning people what kind of work can we get done quickly in the morning that would take us longer in the afternoon.
The one last point that I’ll make about pacing is, who is around you will, it’ll change what you work on. So I’ve known of people who during the week they’ll pick one to three hours—not all a once—maybe an hour on a Tuesday morning, an hour on a Wednesday afternoon, an hour on a Thursday midday—they’ll go to a conference room in their office, they’ll stop at the coffee shop on their way to work for an extra half an hour, because where they are is as much a hindrance or enabler to productivity as what they have to do and what they’re responsible for.
GOTTFRIED: Yeah, I think that last comment is interesting about where you are may either help or hinder your productivity. And my own experience coming from a family that was always in business, was that in some ways environment does work to either stimulate or hinder productivity in the worker. And I think that is an important factor.
WOMACK: I was working in a room—this was years ago—and the room had three walls of white boards, and one wall of windows, okay. The windows overlooked the parking lot and then a grassy field beyond that. Anyway, we’d spent about a half a day brainstorming, we were getting some ideas up on that white board, and one of the participants continued going from the wall to the wall, and then she just kept on writing on the window. Well, what wound up happening—it was an unanticipated outcome—because we were looking outside as we were thinking about the inside, I truly believe we got different ideas. I remember One guy was actually tracing a tree in the window that he was looking at outside. And so, I’m a huge fan of shaking things up, of being very present, being aware, being very—I think of the word filter. I want to filter my attention, I want to filter my intention—and by the way, we could go off on that tangent, don’t let me—but where intention and attention meet, that was a productive day. When what I meant to do is what I actually did—all of a sudden now I am creating that moment of movement forward.
COTTO: If you wouldn’t mind going off on that tangent a bit, I think it would be rather interesting.
WOMACK: Everybody that I know wakes up in the morning at some point. The alarm clock surprises them, or the sunlight kisses their cheek—however it is that they wake up in the morning—and from that moment forward, willpower is on a continual downward slope, okay. So, there is no stronger willpower that in the first three to five minutes of the day. “Today, I’m going to get under control.“ “Today, I’m going to make progress on that project.” “Today, I’m going to be a better parent.“ And they just start making this list—and then the world comes at us.
We hit unexpected traffic on the way in, a staff member doesn’t show up, a client is out of control on the phone. Our intention—and for a lot of people, what it looks like is—I called them The Big Three, they’ve got their to-do list, they’ve got their calendar, they have their email inbox. These three things untamed, these three things let—if you let those three things drive you, then your attention is going to be compromised throughout the day. So, now all of a sudden how do we wrangle, how do we rope, how do we tie our intention to what can be done, what should be done, what could be done? And Paul as you were just sharing a moment ago, are used that word environment, because environment, as much as how many minutes are left in the meeting, or as much as how many emails have come into my inbox, environment can pull me in or out of focus.
GOTTFRIED: What do you think about this sort of traditional arrangement in which the boss or your superior calls in a number of people to brainstorm and they all sit around a table and do this—this very often lends itself to parody on television and in movies. Do you think this is a productive way of reaching some kind of common ground, or some kind of conclusion, or a scheme that has everybody working at his most efficient and resourceful, or do you think this—this is my impression, this might be a very bad way to go around trying to brainstorm something?
WOMACK: This is where EQ, emotional intelligence—and this is where relationship management—I’ll tell a quick story and then I’ll give a tool that all of you listening can use. The quick story: I do a lot of work with the military, specifically the Air Force, and over the years, seven years now, we have actually started hosting a brainstorming session, and we divided into three sessions, because what I have found is if I have a one star, if I have a colonel in that room and I have an airman, even if I have a captain, one person will not raise their hand during the brainstorming session. Either the one-star is going to say “well, they’re not experienced enough to even understand what acronyms I’m about to use.” Or the captain doesn’t want to raise her or his hand because they don’t want to look like they don’t know anything.
The issue that we face is that in a session—and this is why EQ is so important, and please, please, please, everybody, if you have not done your Myers-Briggs or DISC profile or Winslow Assessment, it doesn’t matter, any one of these self-assessments—I use the one with all of our clients called It’s free—I mean, you’ve got to give them your email address—but in a heartbeat, you’re going to get information where you look in the mirror and you will understand why you are either the person who will raise their hand as the question is being asked, having no idea of what you’re going to say, or you’re the person who, three and a half hours after the brainstorming session, when you’re sitting at your desk, clicking send on an email [snaps fingers], you think of what you wished you would have said.
So, in my sessions, and here’s the tool that I will give anybody out there—if you’re walking into a brainstorming meeting in the next week, in the next day, in the next hour, here’s what I invite you to do, it’s a four-step process—step one, is you give some kind of color, some story, some fire start. You let the group know what it is that you want to point everybody’s mind towards. Step two is you give folks minimum of three minutes—I won’t go longer than five to seven—minimum of three minutes, and what I need them to do is in their notebooks—here I go again with the list—I want you to write down what you think of when you think of the fire that I just started. OK number three, very important—turn to the person sitting next to you—and look, even if you have five people in the room or fifty people in the room—turn to the person next to you, you’re going to look for two things—number one, what did you write down that she didn’t? And what did you—two—write down as the same? And in a moment what you’re going to find is that in the room you will double to quadruple or even more, and this is step four—now I ask the room, “what ideas have you had?“
Now, people all the time are going to say “Jason, that takes so much time. Why can’t I just walk in a room and ask people for good ideas?” Because, I’ll go back to the beginning—if you ask a room for an idea, the person that always raises his or her hand, before they even know what they’re going to say, they’re going to start talking. And the person who doesn’t have an idea until later on, well quite frankly, you may never get their idea.
GOTTFRIED: I’m just curious, what do you think is the best approach? I mean, obviously the person who raises his or her hand and just wants to be heard or wants to show that he or she is enthusiastic is not going to be the most productive employee or the one that comes up with the best ideas. And then the other person that you mentioned is somebody who hours later may get his cerebral juices working and come up with the answer. But is there something in the middle that you would recommend?
WOMACK: Yeah! You have to slow down the fast thinker and you have to give time and space to the slow thinker. And I know of no better way of doing that someone in that room has to lead that charge. So yes, when I’m running a program it might take 70% more or 50% more time, but I guarantee you we will get more ideas out of that group if we go through those four steps.
COTTO: Thinking bigger, that’s another aspect of the book.
WOMACK: Man, this is great.
COTTO: And it’s something that you hear a lot about, once again like working smarter. Typically, when people ask others to think bigger, they’re asking them to think outside of the box, but that’s such a broad expectation that I think it’s almost meaningless now. When you say “think bigger” you’re thinking of something rather specific. Share with us what that is.
WOMACK: You know again, there’s four chapters in that middle part of the book, and I’ll just jump to—if someone said, “hey Jason what’s the most important chapter of your book Your Best Just Got Better,” well like a parent I’m supposed to say “I like all ten chapters the same,” but also parents know they have a favorite.
So, chapter five to me is the one that jumps out. And the reason why Joseph is chapter five is called Improvement And Your Social Network. Now, let me be very specific. This is not your social media network, that’s something completely different. Your social network expects you to have the ideas you’ve had, to do what you do, to think, to be, to experience the life that you currently have. Now, I didn’t make this up. I read it from Jim Rohn[?]—who knows where he got it from—but I did this activity—I’ll date myself—I did this activity in 1997 and it shocked me into changing my life. And here was the activity. You take out a piece of paper, you write down the five people you will spend the most time with this month. Now, for me when I did this I was a high school teacher, so I wrote down my principal, I wrote down my two department chairs, I wrote down a teacher that I spent a lot of planning time with, and of course I wrote down my wife-to-be.
Then in the columns next to each person’s name, my coach had me gather information. Now, it doesn’t matter what you gather but you’ve got to gather some numbers. Maybe you gather have any days of vacation they take, or how many books they read a year, or how many magazines they subscribe to, what books they have read over the past year. When I was a high school teacher even wrote down how much money each person made because that was public knowledge. And then here was what shocked me into action—and anybody listening, if you do this, please let us know via Twitter how it goes for you—I was living the average of the five people that I spent time with, literally. I was making the average annual salary, reading the average numbers of books, subscribing to the average of the magazines that they all were subscribed to, I even took the average numbers of days of vacation.
Several years later I wound up adding new people to my team of five. I added a millionaire—someone who literally makes more than $80,000 a month. I added someone who was a professional vacationer—he and his wife live in an Airstream. I added someone who had written forty-seven books—not read, but had written forty-seven books. The moment that I started changing who I spent time with—and here’s the point—I started thinking bigger. When someone says, “hey, you need to think outside the box, hey you need to think differently,“ the worst thing from my point of view is to take out a piece of paper and try to think bigger. The best thing is to go find someone who is one, two, three clicks ahead of you, and say, “hey, how do you think about that?” “How do you think about that?” “How do you think about that?“ I can help people add a new fifth person to their team of five, I don’t know how to get rid of one of your current five, so don’t ask.
GOTTFRIED: This is an interesting idea, because I think it is the argument that is sometimes used for explaining why students should attend a very, very good university. Even if the price is high and so forth, because you simply create for yourself circle of acquaintances and people whose example you aspire to. Whereas if you put yourself in a less competitive environment, you’re simply not going to do as well. Even in terms of the social contacts that you make.
WOMACK: I’m a huge fan of creating the opportunity for opportunity to happen. I’ll be very transparent—I fly a lot, I’ve flown over two and a half million miles with one airline alone, I will use my miles not to buy a ticket, but to upgrade one or two classes. I will also use my extra education money at the end of each year to attend different conferences. I create the opportunity for opportunity to happen. It is not a guarantee, but here’s the numbers. I have closed more deals sitting in the front of the plane then I have sitting in the back of the plane.
And look, you can debate it all day long. Is that a waste of resources, that I’m flying in the front? Here’s what I know, the people in the front of the plane, the people at the TED conference, the people that vacation in Kawai as opposed to Honolulu—there’s different people there. Now, what’s important is—and I know you’re going to talk with my wife Jodi later on about another book that we wrote called Get Momentum, when you talk with her, she’s going to have you ask the question, “what do you want to be known for?“ So Paul, from my perspective, what do I want to be known for, that is what I use to dictate what community do I need to join, or quite frankly, whom do I need to spend less time with. Can I make one more comment on that?
GOTTFRIED: Yes, I’m learning a great deal! Go ahead and make the comment.
WOMACK: Another epiphany I had, and this one was several a few years ago—epiphany I had—I opened up a magazine, it was actually the Harvard Business Review—I opened up the magazine and for some reason I paused on the letter from the editor, the letter to the readers. Now again, all transparency, I’ve not done this my whole life, but now I do it with vigilance—here’s what I realized with a little bit of research, the editor of the Harvard Business Review Adi Ignatius, the editor of the Harvard Business Review—I did some due diligence—they receive over a hundred submissions for articles a month. They publish seven. Guess who decides what ninety-three don’t get picked? The editor!
When I realized that the editors of the magazines that I subscribe to were blocking or allowing potential information into my life I got very excited. I need to go follow Adi on LinkedIn. I need to go follow Harvard Business School Review on Twitter. Because that’s going to be the filter of what does or doesn’t make it on to my desk. So, when I ask a person to expand their team, I’m not just saying that you need to make awkward eye contact and see if someone will take you to coffee. I mean what books are on your desk. What email subscriptions do you let into your inbox. What conferences do you attend?
What winds up happening is that when people get very conscious—and this goes back to being present—when people get very conscious about who is around them, they immediately start changing what, how, and when they do what they do.
GOTTFRIED: I’m listening to this with great interest because of an experience in my own life. I spent several years living in Washington as an editor, and in that period of time I made all kinds of contacts. I wrote for a number of magazines, newspapers and so forth, and then I decided I just didn’t like the job of being an editor, and I grabbed an academic job in a sleepy town, it’s a Pennsylvania Dutch town. I meet very few people here. I noticed that my career took a dip. I lost these contacts. I don’t write for the same publications anymore, and I think that Jason is right.
Once you move out of an environment in which you’re likely to meet people who create opportunity for you, it’s sort of all over—and they’re not going to follow you. You have to stay somehow within the parameters of their life. If you leave, your career will inevitably, your professional opportunities will narrow, and your career will suffer.
WOMACK: I’ve actually put together mini-courses for professionals on how to stay in touch with networks they’ve left, and it’s an art, it’s a skill, but more than anything it’s work. In the world that we’re in—I mean, [Robin] Dunbar he did the research way back when, when he published Dunbar’s Number of how many active connections we could actually maintain, and here’s what I know about research—research doesn’t mean anything unless it means something to me. So if someone says, “well, I have a hundred million people follow me on Twitter and I’ve had my book downloaded seven hundred million times,” well it’s like well who are the people five, ten, fifteen days, weeks, months, years, decades ago that you have either lost contact with, or maybe more importantly, who have you kept contact with? And so when I talk about—and I’ll just kind of close this up with that chapter five of Your Best Just Got Better—your social network is made up of the coaches, the teachers, the trainers, the mentors, the people in your life who—maybe even some of you listening—are doing what you’re doing because one person asked you one question in one moment of your day. Others of you have more ongoing influencers in your life.
COTTO: I was going to, for the last question, I was going to ask about achieving more, but I think you very well covered that under thinking bigger. So for the last question then it’ll be, why should people buy Your Best Just Got Better? There are so many books out there about self-improvement and better job performance, but what sets your book apart from the pack?
WOMACK: I believe we need a field guide. I believe that story is a way that we learn. For those of you who are willing to read some stories—for those of us who are story readers—if you want a field guide to your personal and professional success, I wrote Your Best Just Got Better for you. Literally, the dedication in the front of the book it says, “For you, the reader.” So, I hope that you’ll grab a copy of that book. Please, stay in touch. You can connect with me on Twitter or my website or
COTTO: That was a fantastic discussion. Thanks for joining us Jason, and thank you for tuning in everyone. See you next week.