053: Leadership without judgement; David Burkus, Part 2 (transcript)

June 19, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

David Burkus

For David Burkus this is a second conversation. We spent a lot more time talking about leadership more than environment. Of course, we talked about environment too but his book Friend of a Friend just came out and so we talked a lot about networks, how networks work, what networks are, problems that happen if you’re not aware of these things, how you can avoid them or get out of them if they happen, all that David talk more about that but he shares what can happen if you’re not aware of your network and if you’re not working it effectively. This was news to me. You know I grew up not particularly strong in networking and so I find it very useful. I hope you do too. Of course, naturally we also spoke about cold showers. That was his challenge that he acted on environmentally and you will get two views because he had the one that I think is more common which is [unintelligible], “Ah, they’re not pleasant.” I showed a bunch more that people who know me a lot or read my stuff on cold showers they’ll have heard before but I think it’s valuable to hear this stuff again. Let’s take it with David leadership, environment, cold showers, burpees. Here we go.


Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Josh. I’m here with David Burkus. David, how are you doing?

David: I’m good. Life is good. And it’s been a fun couple of weeks. I mean I guess it’s been like five weeks since we… I shouldn’t say it’s been a fun couple of weeks actually. It’s been a fun last week because I got done with my month of cold showers and so now it’s more enjoyable than it was the last couple of weeks.

Joshua: So cold shower is not easy?

David: It’s not. I’ll tell you my strategy. I read a lot of the articles that you sent over and so my strategy was to sort of ease into it. And so there’s this type of cop out for a cold shower called a cold finish. You’re familiar with this?

Joshua: I presume that’s a hot shower and then you just make it cold.

David: Yes. It’s basically for the last like 30 seconds. You get done and then you waste water because for the last 30 seconds you just expose yourself to right back to the cold water and it’s you know the same as sort of the plunge or what have you, it doesn’t go for the whole time. So I did that for about a week and then I sort of gradually turn it down. But I mean I had to tell you it’s awful. I mean, yeah. OK. Yes, you feel invigorated. You probably need less caffeine throughout the day, etc. but like it’s like I’ve done like the whole polar bear thing too where you jump into the water on January 1. You know it presumably in a place where it’s actually cold water because if you do that in Florida it doesn’t make a difference. But I’ve done that and that was that was pretty awful. But that was like a shock. The weird thing is like your initial reaction is to jump out but then you know you can’t because that’s not going to help. And so yeah, it was I’m sure the after effects are super enlivening but it’s kind of like you know I don’t know. To me it was sort of like if I told you you could replace all of the need for caffeine in your life by shocking yourself with a Taser, that might be true. But, man, that would suck.

So this was sort of like that. Now I will say one interesting thing I noticed happened which is I don’t know how to visually describe it. So my shower is not a knob, it’s a handle. And the off position is basically 90 degrees so like if you’re thinking of a compass it’s due east. And to be hot enough to where I would have considered it to be tolerable was about 90 degrees or to the left of that straight zero due north. You see what I’m saying? So you turn it to the left about 90 degrees due north. That would be about acceptable hot. Now I find especially if it’s like post exercise around only about a 45-degree turn is sufficient. So it’s definitely colder than it was. But it’s also you know tolerable, it’s not a shocking level of cold. So I would say that as a result of the challenge I’m taking a colder average shower. I still wouldn’t call it a cold shower because a cold shower would be like one degree of openness because right when you open the valve is when it’s just pure sort of coming in. It’s not mixed with any heated water whatsoever. So you know I’m taking a colder shower but I have for all intents and purposes abandoned the super cold shower. Man, it’s awful!

Joshua: It sounds like… I’m in the middle of a salt challenge where I haven’t added salt once or twice I’ve done it but it’s like I’m not having salted stuff because I read that it doesn’t take long for your taste buds to adjust or de-adjust to oversalting. And it’s totally the case like flavors are coming out that never came out before. I’m definitely going to put salt back into my food eventually because I do like the taste of it but not like I used to. I put a little bit of soy sauce on something maybe a couple weeks ago and I was, “Wow, this is, one, salty and two, so flavorful.” So you might be getting something like that.

David: I mean that’s probably true. Yeah, I think it’s totally that way. And now I think you know I’m not going to go back to the same level so from the environmental end like we’re still using less energy because the less energy to heat that water and what have you. And so I don’t feel like I need as hot but I feel like you definitely need a little. And I live in a warm climate, that’s what’s funny.

Joshua: You picked this challenge. What was the value behind it for you?

David: I mean so to me I was interested in it because I knew I was coming on your show and I knew I need to do challenges and I needed to find something. I have a very interesting perspective. I live in a more rural area. I mean I live in a city of a million people but there’s also land readily available and I think ironically though it’s an oil state I think it’s that people that’s a little bit more in touch with nature and that sort of stuff except in areas where energy is plentiful. And so heating like our heating bills are ridiculously low in the winter and our cooling bills are ridiculous low in summer because energy is so cheap. And so, I was like it has to do something with sort of energy. I have a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old so the idea of like trying to do less with lighting and that sort of stuff is never going to work because I can’t keep track of how many lights they are leaving on in the house and that sort of stuff. So then it was like, “OK, well, there’s that one.” And then truthfully because it was you, I also know all of your work around morning routines and all of that sort of stuff so I thought “OK, it should probably be something in the morning” and that’s when it kind of hit me. I don’t remember if I had been exposed before our conversation to something you specifically talked about with cold showers but certainly something you shared etc. in talking about your morning routine.

Joshua: So talking about the term challenge. You know when I was interviewing Frances Hesselbein I was in her office and I could see that she’d written some notes out to prepare and she had written not challenge, opportunity. And she was looking at all these things as opportunities for doing things and since then almost every time I use the word “challenge”, I made a habit of it…. See I think I talked to a lot of people who look forward to taking on challenges. So I think for that community challenges are like, “Yeah, bring it on. I love challenges.” But I think it does make it sound like it’s something hard or something you don’t want to do and the opportunity is something… Maybe that would have led you in a different direction.

David: Maybe, maybe. A part of it too as I come from…So for the last almost 12 years I’ve trained in Brazilian jujitsu and the owner of our gym, our head instructor is a former Marine Corps drill instructor and so he loved from the Marine Corps time he loves the phrase “Embrace the suck.” And so when I think challenge I think embrace, like it has to be something, you have to feel something when you do it. Like the ultimate, the perfect definition challenge is something that when you’re standing on the front end you’re like, “Oh, this is going to be awful.” And on the back and you’re like, “That wasn’t so bad. And I found this thing out about myself” or what have you. But the idea of like, “This is going to be easy and doable and I’ve been meaning to do it anyway” that’s a New Year’s resolution. That’s not a challenge.

Joshua: Yeah, that’s what goal of this… That’s why I try to start from the persons what their values are, what they value. Because then they’re doing it for themselves, not for me or not because of some opportunity. So a lot of people they use this as something it’s kind of what you’re saying but maybe slightly different because they like this is something I have meant to do for a long time. I haven’t been doing it. I do want to do it and finally get the chance to start.

So like a lot of people if they want to bring a mug with them to the coffee shop or they want to eat less meat and have been meaning to, you could say it’s a resolution. I think for a lot of people it’s like they needed something to catalyze the behavior that they want to do and knowing that afterward you know… The challenge part is like doing but once you experience it, they expect that the experience will stick and that they’ll be in a stable long term…. Like for me with the unpackaged food, I didn’t know that it would happen this way but this is my model is that I know that it’s can be hard to make the change but I know that once I make the change, I want to stay with it. So food is not hard for me at all to avoid Ben and Jerry’s now. It’s not appetizing to me. I would not ever have expected me to say that because I ate a lot of ice cream and I couldn’t stop myself from eating ice cream actually for a long time. I was like, “Stop getting it” and then I buy it and then I feel bad, I eat it and feel good while I was eating it. I feel bad after eating and I was like, “Damn it.” I was trying not to do that. I think maybe if it was starting with just do something that Joshua’s into, then I feel like you’re doing it for me.

David: Well, I’m doing it for you because I’m on your show. I mean I it was important that I found something for me that I knew there would be a benefit from making that change. So I’m going to dive into a concept from the book. But there’s this concept from the book that you’re influenced by not just the people around you but even three degrees out. So your friends like we’ve seen this in longitudinal studies over like 30 years, your friends make you fat but so do their friends and so do their friends. And smoking rates are the same way, happiness is the same way, what have you. We don’t have a good explanation for why it happens but it’s statistically significant. It’s seen over longitudinal and also it’s not just a coincidence. It’s not that these people let misery loves company or that, I don’t know, [unintelligible] whatever. It’s seen as this longitudinal thing.

What that tells me and I think the best explanation though it has yet to be sort of proven beyond reasonable doubt, the best explanation is that has to do with norms. What’s the normal range of human behavior? And we take our cues off of that. And so whatever is normal…. So if you are running around in a family that is only ever using mugs at coffee shops instead of paper cups, your norm is going to be different than my norm. What I loved to me about this opportunity and this challenge what have you is that we live in very different communities with very different needs. When you say environmental, etc. we think very, very different things. So the idea is when I was looking for a challenge I went looking to learn a little bit more about your world. Mourning routines are really powerful in your world. The idea that some of them establish health benefits are powerful in your world. You know you said don’t attach it to climate change because everybody always does.

Joshua: You don’t have to.

David: You don’t have to but like that’s a part, that’s a thing that you’re paying attention to a lot of. So I went looking for something that would fall inside the realm of your dreams. I knew that I had found the right challenge when I said it and you got really excited. I was not excited about it at all. Hey, he’s got different norms than I do and so I want my challenge to be in that realm so I can better sort of understand it. You know what I mean?

Joshua: Now this reminds me of something that I learned in business school about networks and how you can run into groupthink and stuff like that. And one of the things that I learned was that, and I think this is what your research is going to show in more depth and I can’t remember the details, but it said that the more diverse your group in say trying to make a decision in business you know the more diverse your team is, the better your outcome is going to be but also the greater chance of people getting into arguments. And my big take away it was one of the most important skills to learn for teamwork is conflict resolution, conflict management. Because I think if you have a very diverse group people are going to say stuff, some people are going to misunderstand and you’re going to get arguments and arguments lead to often not necessarily but often lead to anger and things that make it difficult to coordinate. I think as a leader one of the main things to do is you don’t have to necessarily run the show but you have to make sure that things don’t go off the rails.

David: Yeah. So it’s not something we dove into too much into the book but I’ve seen that research and I think you know…. I didn’t look at this conflict resolution. I’ve always seen it as a team leader what your goal should be is to have the most diverse team as possible while still being in the bounds of psychological safety. [unintelligible] idea of psychologic that people feel and truthfully right now to be totally honest with you we don’t have that. We have certain communities that think they’re sort of very tolerant but if you really dive into it, a lot of it is the opposite, it’s almost psychological fear. We can be tolerant as long as we stay in the bounds of this. And then as soon as we violate those bounds we shove you out of the community and go right to sort of like…

Joshua: Yeah, so much of that.

David: You’re exactly right. So the more diverse teams win but only if there is psychological safety.


Joshua: Yeah, that’s when…Man, I can go into this because it feels like, this is like what’s safety spaces and all these.

David: Yeah, that’s not psychological safety by the way. Like they say it’s psychological safety if the actual idea of you know what we can hear someone else’s point of view separate that out from attack on us. We do not judge that person when they say something that’s different from us. We also know that we’re not going to be judged when we raise an idea that is different from the norm, etc. that it will be heard and considered and what have you. The safe spaces in there and there are definitely sort of I don’t want to go on this weird like rant that says I’m anti safe spaces but like they can run the risk of turning into this is a safe space because you’re not going to be exposed to anything that violates your perspective and that’s not safe in the long term because what you need is to learn the ability to conflict resolution, to learn the ability especially is a leadership skill to create psychological safety among people who differ. And that’s the only way you get into the genius.

Joshua: If I’m someone listening to this and thinking yeah, I should expand my network to include people that I disagree with more and get more diversity that way. But I am kind of nervous about these things happening right about safety. Am I right that the way to learn resilience in psychological safety and things like that is to do this? If I’m nervous, should that be a reason to do this more or less, to read your book? Well, that was…

David: Every reason, every reason should be a reason to read it.

Joshua: Should that motivate me to do it, to expand my network?

David: Yeah, I think in general. And I don’t think you know this is where we get into where we are defining this challenge. You took a big challenge of like hey, there’s this world of 63 million people and I don’t know a single one of them. So I want to go meet as many as I can. I don’t think most of us need to start from that. And that’s an idea that I think makes some of us nervous. Otherwise, we would have already had this resolved. And by the way, like I’m looking at the current landscape and the landscape heading into fall 2018 and I’m thinking, “We haven’t figured this out.” We haven’t learned that lesson yet but I think where you start is smaller scale.

What I coach do a lot of people to do is to audit their network. So look at let’s say the top two dozen people you interact with the most right. So go back to your phone records, email, text messages, social media all of that sort of stuff even until like your meeting invites to see who you’re meeting with if you want to do this in a work capacity and come up with a list of like these are the 24-25 people that I interact with the most and then start seeking out where they stand on this, where they stand on this, where are they from, what’s the background, what’s… So you know all of the traditional I call them surface level indicators that are usually strong indicators of various opinions, so you know age, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. but then also political ideology, educational background not just what did they study but where did they study at Ivy League versus state school versus community college. Those are going to create different ways of seeing the world. Figure out all of that for those people and what you will probably find is that if you did a list of 25, about 15 to 20 of them are very self-similar to you. They might look different because they’ve got this thing that makes it but then ideologically they’re not or vice versa. They might be ideological but anyway. They’re going to be very similar to you and then about five to 10 are not going to be. And this is where I think the level most of us get to that and we go that sort of sufficient. The problem is that what the research says is it’s not the diversity that compounds over time. It’s the self-similarity that compounds over time.

Joshua: So you got to keep working at it.

David: So you got to keep working at it. Right. So now you’ve got that list. Now you know the five to 10 people. The easiest place to start is keep them in your mind and make an intentional effort to spend a disproportionate amount of time with them. Like talking with them, engaging with them, asking to meet people that are in their world etc. And you sort of counteract the effects of this long-term network, this effect from [unintelligible], that can be enough to start. And then I think by the time you get to the point where you’re driving through the Rust Belt having conversations with people or if you’re in the Rust Belt you’re driving over to Chelsea and you know visiting a farmer’s market or whatever just to…

Joshua: I often go to the farmer’s markets and the Rust Belt too.

David: I know. That was actually what I was about to say. That’s what really funny is if you are driving, you’re going to visit… Or [unintelligible]. You’re going to go visit that. You drive from those communities and that can happen eventually. That’s my point. I think you start with who’s in your current network and knowing that unless I do something intentional I’m going to tend towards self-similar so I need to intentionally tend towards not.

Joshua: What you’re making me think of is it even though it might sound to some people like this is, you’re suggesting something hard or difficult or challenging, at least what you made me think about was like the rewarding growth horizon expanding things which I guess is what it’s about. Like you’re not writing this book because you’re like, “Oh, I did this thing, it’s really hard, it’s grueling.” Now you do something hard and grueling too. I think you’re doing something that’s effective and you seem pretty happy about what you’re doing.

David: Yeah. I mean the cold shower thing was pretty awful. I don’t want to go back to that. But no, I mean I yeah, I absolutely. What I kept struggling with is I mean this is a book about networking and I am not your stereotypical well-dressed slicked back hair knows everybody can walk into a restaurant and the maitre d sits him by the window and blah-blah-blah about type of person. On the other hand, I deliberately live in a less populated city. I deliberately live in a different part of the country than the one that I grew up in and one that makes it harder to build out on the network to do what I want to do professionally. Especially if you don’t fly but I do. And yet I’ve managed to grow one that’s sufficient. I wouldn’t say my own network is massive but it’s sufficient. And when I started looking into the research a lot of what I realized was that it’s sufficient because I’ve accidentally been in line with what a lot of this research says. I’m not the pinnacle of any one example but when you start to make them little habits and they happen in mind that good things happen.

Joshua: Alright. I want to go back to the environment because for me a big thing is I think I understand what you said about and, correct me if I say it wrong, but you saw this as an opportunity to grow and expand in a way because Josh is doing this stuff and Josh is doing different things and I can do something to expand my horizons in the direction that Josh is moving or that Josh is in. Independent of me, is there something that the environment really means to you?

David: So I mean I would go back to my answer from the first episode which is I mean no, in the capacity of I think she’s a big planet. I think she can take care of herself and if we screw it up and we all die, it has a tremendous capacity over a timescale that we are not capable of fathoming of repairing herself. She’s going to be fine. We’re the ones that are not going to be fine. So like I think what I said in this episode was I don’t care about the environment, I care about people. And so, if we’re doing things that shape the environment that are making other people lives harder or that are making it much, much less likely that we’re going to be able to survive, that’s a problem. And so it’s kind of weird because I think especially when you think about the environment like that perspective and that I would say that’s an attempt to expand my horizons to understand one community and then understand another one. And when you get to that you arrive at a place where you’re like we should probably simultaneously be looking at ways to conserve and ways to do less damage to the environment while we also look at ways to continue to thrive as a species in the environment we’re about to inherit because of our choices today.

So I’m just as interested in…We’re going to go back to one because it’s the easy one I’m just as interested in ways that we can reduce our carbon footprint as I am in ways that we can scrub carbon from the atmosphere and/or other ways that we can lower the overall temperature without having to do that because whatever solution we arrive that’s going to be both end anyway. And so what I try and remind myself is it’s not about…We will never be able to take the planet back to what it was 10000 years ago intentionally by ourselves if we’re still here. What we can do is figure out OK, what’s the optimal thing for us and for all of the other species and then move towards that? And that’s actually both end. It’s not a pure reduction and it’s not a pure sort of fancy innovation where we’re all you know living in or whatever you call that thing where you…You know like what Elon Musk wants to do with Mars? Where you’re trying to…

Joshua: Terraform.

David: Terraform. Right. Thank you. I don’t know why…. I mean actually I know why I was blanking on that. It’s an incredibly difficult to remember word. It’s going to be a sort of a mix of both end. So you know I don’t…. Like I said at the time I don’t necessarily care about the environment as much as I care about people and the ideas of like one of the other reasons I was attracted to water is like I interviewed Scott Harrison for the book and it still blows my mind that there’s still hundreds of millions of people without access to clean water. That’s a huge problem. That’s an environmental problem and it’s also a people problem and we need to solve it by attacking both situations.

Joshua: I’m going to try to rephrase the question in a way because when you were talking about it was a pretty global perspective. We have to be able to figure out how to do on a social billion people, hundred million scale. I remember last time that I said I’m glad you connected people. So what if I asked you this way. Instead of asking do you care about the environment, do you care about how your behavior affects other people when it’s mediated through the environment?

David: Yeah. So yeah, the big realization to me in the book is that for all of the fun of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” and six degrees of separation we really are interconnected by probably less than six approaching less than five introductions. We’re one globe with seven point four billion people strong and counting. And there is a cascading effect to all of us. We don’t win until all of us win. And all of us meaning seven point four billion people. And so yes, I think there’s a cognizance of our own actions sort of contribute to that whole and I think that’s probably the only way we make lasting change on our own individual actions is when they’re seen as you know this is probably the best thing for everyone even if it means denial of self.

Joshua: Is it something you think about? And if so, how your behavior affects other people when mediated through the environment. Because what’s not mediated through environment like you probably don’t steal, you probably don’t murder, and you probably do help little ladies across the street. That’s a very direct.

David: Yes and no. So some of this is affected by where I am in life. I have a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old, I’ve already mentioned them. The primary lesson that you’re trying to get into and they’re both boys in particular, the primary thing you’re trying to do for preschool aged boys is convince them that if everyone acted the way they wanted to act, the world would be a terrible place. I mean we use fancy terms like socialization but that’s essentially what it is is whatever your sort of initial and still stealing is one, mugging the old lady down the street is one. Those are a little more salient but they are just as relevant. I mean even the idea of crime like this is where we get into the broken windows theory and all that sort of stuff all of it resonates throughout the entirety of the network.

And so the weird thing to me about the environment is a little bit easier to get lost in the enormity of the situation. What’s the old line about like two deaths is a tragedy and a million deaths is statistics. It’s easy to get sort of lost in that. The big realization for me both raising them and sort of explaining to them that you know you need to act this way because it’s in the best interest of the whole classroom that you’re in. It may not be. Maybe it’s also in your best interest over the long term but I know you really want to… You would much rather do this and what have you. It’s sort of the same way. The only difference is one might be a classroom of 20 kids. The other is global – seven billion people. But it’s still the same principle. And so, yes, I care about it in the same way that I care about all of the actions mediated through that network of seven point four billion people.

Joshua: I also think that for me I’m not doing it to…This is some [unintelligible] perspective of you know how if ever does it that way, also it’s more delicious.

David: I assure you that cold showers are not more delicious. To bring it all back and maybe this is a good note to sort of wrap up on, again it goes back to in Friend of a Friend with networking. The biggest problem is that we think about network as ours and we think about networking something we do. In reality the mental shifts that we need to have is that we exist inside of a network and how we act in that and how we act especially with intentionality affects not just us but the whole network and then we benefit because of the positive effects on that network.

Joshua: It sounds kind of like a view I have on a lot of things in life. When things are beyond my control I think of surfing. Like I used to think of a lot of things it’s like chess-like, you know you can’t control the wave but you can still have a great time on it if you don’t try to control it.

David: Yeah, totally.

Joshua: To wrap up what I like to ask at the end is do you have any message for… Well, two things. One is, is there anything I didn’t think to bring up? And the other is any direct messages to the listeners? And it could be one answer for both.

David: Well, I guess the answer to the first question is I can’t think of one. I think we covered a lot of range of it. And I think the direct message is probably that one whether it’s the challenges or what have you there are challenges that have sort of that health benefit, there’s challenges that have a health benefit while also having benefits to everybody else and an internal versus external. I guess my biggest lesson is all of us have a better life when all of us win. And I think that it’s the same with networking that you don’t build your network, you don’t grow your network, you don’t have a network. Networking is not even something you do. You just exist inside of one. And everything gets better when you start from that angle and you make it your goal to understand the network you’re already in better and help that network grow in value. That value will inevitably spill over you but that’s not the point. The point is it’s the right thing to do.

Joshua: I’m glad you close with that because it really changed my view. I thought OK, it’s just a skill to improve that. But it’s looking at things in a different perspective, a more broad perspective about understanding where you are. David, thank you very much. And if you ever come up with something else you want to share, environmental especially, leadership, let me know. You’re always welcome back and talk to you again soon.

David: Yeah, thank you for having me. And when I’m in New York next time I’ll get to get to try the vegetable stew.


People have listened to me a lot probably picked up I was indulging in a couple of things in that one. One was the stuff on networks because that to me was useful. I did not grow up being particularly effective at creating networks and things like that. I was referring to stuff from over 10 years ago that it related to. I hope that’s useful too as well. The other thing is you could probably tell that I was indulging myself towards the end and kind of fishing for something for him to share a value that I hadn’t heard before so that he could find something to do that was based on the value of his, not just exploring my world. It didn’t come up so I didn’t really push it. I don’t find leadership where you pushing for things particularly effective. But you could tell I really enjoyed it. I hope you enjoyed it too. So thank you, Dave. I have a feeling we’ll see him again.

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