Interview with Andy Bass, Author, Start with What Works
We explore how Andy’s early experience playing in a rock band led to his success today, how organizations can achieve outstanding results starting just with what they already have, and how mental agility will be crucial for dealing with the accelerating pace of change.
Andy Bass, PhD, author of Start with What Works, shares how his early experiences playing in a rock band, skateboarding and teaching resistant psychology students about artificial intelligence taught him how to learn, and how to teach, and how to engage an audience.
Andy sees an accelerating pace of change in the world. He says that mental agility—the ability to think on your feet and improvise, will be increasingly valuable. A key skill is understanding what your customers are trying to achieve, and spotting ways to create value for your customers that they may not themselves see.
WHAT IS FEARLESS GROWTH WITH AMANDA SETILI?
We all want to do work we love, and as leaders, entrepreneurs and employees, wouldn’t it be great to create workplaces where work feels like play?
Where people are tuned in to changes going on in the world around them? Where they’re constantly learning, spotting new opportunities, and taking action to go after them? These traits are essential to an organization’s agility and success.
In the Fearless Growth podcast, Amanda Setili and her guests explore the mindsets and choices that lead individuals, leaders and their organizations to outstanding performance.
Amanda Setili (00:05):
We all want to do work that we love. And as leaders, entrepreneurs, and employees, wouldn’t it be great to create workplaces where work feels like play, where people are tuned into the changes going on in the world, around them, where they’re constantly learning spotting new opportunities and taking action to go after them. I’m Amanda [inaudible]. And this is the fearless growth podcast where my guests and I will explore the mindsets and choices that lead you and your organization to outstanding performance.
Amanda Setili (00:38):
Today. My guest is Amanda Setili, someone that I always greatly enjoyed conversations with. He has a new book coming out in may. It’s called start with what works he’s based in Birmingham, England, and his focus and work is on helping companies to find ways to grow using the assets and people and intellectual property that they already have inside. So kind of mining what they already have inside their companies to find new sources of growth. And I’m sure that that creates a great foundation for future markets and future products that they may not have even envisioned yet. Thanks so much for joining me today, Andy.
Andy Bass (01:20):
It’s a pleasure, Amanda. Thanks for asking me.
Amanda Setili (01:23):
Yeah, good to have you. Um, uh, one of the things that I am really hoping to explore in this podcast series is how to connect people more deeply with their work, how to have people working on things that they’re really passionate about, that they’re good at, that they are interested in learning about. And I’ve found that one of the ways to discover that with some people, at least just to look back at kind of the, the roots of your life. And so if you could just think back to maybe when you were 11 years old, let’s say, what did you really love doing back then?
Andy Bass (01:59):
You know, there were a couple of things. Actually. One of them was I was angling for an electric guitar. I’d been, uh, I’ve been playing the violin since I was about five and didn’t really enjoy it. And I made a deal with my dad. You know, that if I, as long as I would keep the violin going, I could have an electric guitar. I’d say deal. I actually broke. I think he forgave me about 20 years later. Um, so the guitar and the other thing I remember was huge at that time skateboarding. Oh wow.
Amanda Setili (02:30):
That’s fantastic. I love gliding sports. I love any kind of board sports. So we have that in common. I didn’t even know that have either of these things translated in any way to the work that you do now, and you might have to use your imagination to make this leap yet.
Andy Bass (02:46):
You know, I think both of them have, because both of them are, have to do with learning and, um, you know, learning skills. And I became very interested in learning skills, uh, through the both three music, which, who plays an instrument, you know, a lot of what you’re learning is learning how to learn and then skateboarding. And then, you know, I got into skiing when I was a bit, a bit older as well. And, um, again, it’s, you know, you know, how you learn and, uh, noticing the best teachers and the way that they found ways to get ideas across. Um, I think I became fascinated with that whole process of learning and teaching before I even would have known what to call it. Have you
Amanda Setili (03:25):
Spent time of any part of your career focused on teaching or training?
Andy Bass (03:30):
Yeah, indeed. Um, so I, uh, spend a bit of time in academia earlier in, early in my career, you know, I did a PhD in software engineering and then I kind of interested in it, all kinds of stuff. I ended up teaching some computing, so early artificial intelligence in the days when they used to call it good old fashioned AI. So I was teaching that to psychology students who did not want to learn it because they didn’t see computers in psychology isn’t necessarily going together. And so I had to learn how to get their interest and how to get ideas across. And I think, um, you know, that pushed me to seek out training in, you know, how do you work an audience? How do you engage in audience? How do you get ideas across? Because otherwise I was just going to be like the, the lectures I’d had that university, which we finally a bit uninspiring and, and scared. I think they were often quite scared. So I, I decided early, I need to really get to grips with how do you, how do you relate to an audience? And so I, yes, you know, I could see a connection between that and my earlier interests in skills learning is that we were talking about now, did
Amanda Setili (04:36):
You become a performer in any way with the electric guitar? Yeah.
Andy Bass (04:40):
Um, I spent a lot of time probably too much time in the 1990s playing in a rock covers band around Birmingham. And then more recently I was in a rush cover band, a rush tribute band with my brother, um, which was very challenging as anyone who knows Russia will know that’s kind of musicians, music and, and very challenging. So, um, yeah, we, we would gig and, uh, that, that really pushed my playing quite a lot. What
Amanda Setili (05:05):
Was your favorite part of performing for others? Well,
Andy Bass (05:08):
I think, I think when you finish a song and everybody cheers, that is kind of a rush, uh, if you’ll excuse the bone, uh, didn’t mean to, and, um, you know, I did a little bit of standup as well and, uh, I think it’s, I wasn’t terribly good at stand up, but the times when I did get a laugh, you know, you’re, you’re putting yourself into a situation which is potentially rather scary. And if it goes well, there’s a certain kind of a euphoria that goes with that, which is a bit addictive.
Amanda Setili (05:37):
Now imagine, I mean, trying to deliberately be funny to me is very difficult, but I do love being in front of an audience so I can relate to that. Um, and it’s such a rare skill in a way. I mean, so many people are afraid of speaking in public afraid of being in public. So the fact that you latched onto that in your life? Well, yes.
Andy Bass (05:58):
I mean, it was forced upon me, you know, I don’t know how it works in the U S but a university teachers are not selected for teaching ability. They teach they’re selected for research and a, you know, someone who’s good at the one and, you know, everybody knows, you know, somebody might be selected for one thing. Doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily good. Another, you know, I guess immediately and put in mind of that classic thing of the salesperson who gets promoted to be a sales manager and they’re totally different jobs, right? So somebody who’s a good researcher obviously must be a good learner to be in that situation. Doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good teacher. Um, so I had no preparation for it. The only models of performance I had were usually lecturers who weren’t desperately good at the odd exception. And I was, I wasn’t good at it. I was scared of it, but I sought out people who knew what to do. Um, and I’ve always felt, you know, go and get the best teachers you can in anything. And you can usually get to very good teachers if you’re a little bit determined and seek them out, such
Amanda Setili (06:54):
A good point. So many people don’t bother with that step. They feel like, oh, I’m just not good at that. And really everybody starts out not good at stuff. You’ve got to put the time in. So something that you said earlier really struck me as interesting. You were teaching artificial intelligence stuff to psychology majors or psychology professionals, so they didn’t enjoy it, but what’s so ironic to me is now it seems like artificial intelligence is actually like mainly focused on psychology. I mean, if you look at how they get us to spend so much time on social media, how they get us to get, uh, you know, the clickbait issue, they seem to be able to really use psychology to their advantage and to use AI to, to, um, I shouldn’t say mind control, but you know, they, they seem to be able to, to really tap into our base psychology, to get us to do what they want, buy what they want, think what they want. Can you talk a little bit about your perspective on that? Am I off base on this? No,
Andy Bass (08:01):
Not at all. And it’s funny, uh, as well at, uh, just thinking about teaching students who didn’t want to learn computing when I would meet students in subsequent years. And, you know, you said, did we teach you anything at university that you actually found was useful in your life afterwards? And that they would always say the same things they would say? Yeah, the computing and the statistics, which are the two things they resisted the entire time they were students. And I think that tells us a lot about, we don’t know what’s going to be useful in the future, which we could perhaps come back to. I think in terms of your direct question about AI psychology and manipulation, uh, I mean, I, I’ve always been very unhappy about that kind of thing. I remember talking to somebody who worked for a big consultancy, uh, when websites were just kicking off and this, he was basically telling me his job was to figure out how to create a sense of potential loss of opportunity, panic, to get people, to buy things quickly on the site. And I thought, I think that’s kind of a waste of an education, but
Amanda Setili (09:02):
In terms of driving revenue, I’m sure it’s very effective well,
Andy Bass (09:06):
Right. But, you know, I think it depends on what kind of a relationship you want with your customers, right? Yeah.
Amanda Setili (09:11):
So can you point, I mean, this is a hard question, Andy, but can you, can you point to any companies who are using AI in psychological ways that are actually beneficial or benevolent?
Andy Bass (09:24):
Sure. I mean, I could think of lots of ethical and positive uses of AI, you know, generally and things like medical diagnosis, for example, or, um, people trying to help, uh, as manager levels of digital consumption and that sort of thing. You know, I mean, I don’t know. I mean, maybe you can come up with an example too. I’m not sure, but companies that are using AI to create a, a, like a really good relationship with their customers. I suppose if you’re tailoring in an intelligent way to genuinely curator what you offer to people, you know, I, I certainly you see Netflix and what have you offering you, you know, if you like this program, you might like that program, you could see that developing couldn’t you into something that was, that was like a really curated experience. That was very tailored. I’m not sure who’s doing that. Well, I think Netflix
Amanda Setili (10:12):
Is a good example and I think a couple of other good examples might be WeightWatchers, you know, they have ways of being, you use the app to guide you towards more healthy behaviors. Some of the exercise, you know, the wearables that give you little awards. Oh, I got to tell you a funny one though. We got a, a wearable for our cat says little GPS collar to wear so that if he jumps out of the car, when we’re on a trip or something where you can find him, and it’s when we first got it, it goes, congratulations. Jasper has gotten his first certificate. And I look in there and he’s gotten, he’s gotten a certificate for movement today, but he’s only gotten to 2% of the state talk about giving a kid, a trophy, a trophy for participation.
Andy Bass (11:07):
Uh, you know, in my mind that remains to be a sentence. I have a, I have a photo I sometimes use in presentations, which is a cat tree. So it’s, if you imagine this cat tree that has poor shaped platforms that the cat can sit on, okay, next next to the cat tree is a cardboard box. And the cat tree came in and the cat is sitting on the cardboard box because the ghost tree is not for the cat. Um, uh, sometimes I think that’s, you’ve got to know who your customer really is. Yeah,
Amanda Setili (11:37):
Yeah. So I was, I’m interested in this idea that you, that you presented, that you learned how to learn by learning music and that you, you kind of learned the way of breaking it down into pieces and things like that. Have you employed that at all in your, how have you, have you used that skill? Yes. I,
Andy Bass (11:55):
I think it, in some ways it kind of suffuses my approach in that, um, both in trying to learn the instrument and sometimes try and teach other people. You’re looking for the elements, the pivotal elements, that if you’re good at those elements, whether it’s a certain type of fingering pattern or a physical skill, that’s required to get your hand into a particular position, say on the guitar neck, you’re always looking for what are the underlying skills. And remember I had a computing background too. So in computing, you’re always looking for what are the common patterns that you can, that you can, uh, abstract and reuse. So that whole notion of spotting what’s working that may not be obvious that I can reuse somewhere else and let, let me, let’s make it a bit more concrete for people. Um, in the book I interviewed Matthew chromic, who until recently was the CEO of Gocompare, that’s a price comparison website in the UK for insurance and so forth.
Andy Bass (12:52):
And the way when Matthews took that business, uh, on the way that they were competing was mainly on, uh, on advertising because, you know, one, one comparison site, another comparison site they’re offering a very similar product. So they had a, uh, kind of a flamboyant opera singer has actually voted the, the British most annoying British advert for this campaign. This is over the top and, and their competitor had had, uh, something with furry animals. Okay. And they’re just these kind of daft fun sort of frivolous adverts. And they’re just trying to stick the idea of the brand in your mind. And he was saying, there must be more to this than, than just a very similar commodified kind of offering. And so they started to look at their business model and deconstruct the software that made their offerings work. And then say, look, let’s turn this into a kind of Lego kit of components that we can build other products.
Andy Bass (13:44):
And maybe we can supply these components to other businesses as a B2B play. So Virgin bank, if you are a customer Virgin bank and you within the app, you can switch a energy supplier. That’s based on components that GOCO put together and then made available to Virgin. So to me, that’s kind of looking at what’s, what are the, what are the things we’re doing behind the scenes that we’re really good at that we don’t actually identify and claim the value for? How can we make those available to other people so that they can deploy them for other purposes. And I think you can see that, you know, breaking down the kind of route skills of finger independence, very important for a string instrument player then could be applied to another to another instrument.
Amanda Setili (14:33):
Yeah, that’s a really good example of how, I mean, you, you translate, you use the metaphor well, because I can see how, I mean, the thing that I would never be able to play a drink, stringed intimate. It’s just the dexterity to be able to make my fingers move and remember the pattern. And I’m sure if you do it like 500 times in a row, it gets stuck in your brain and then you use it very fluidly. Um, so your example of where they found a piece of their software, a piece of their service that could be employed in a totally different context is a really good example.
Andy Bass (15:09):
Right. And it’s interesting, just thinking back to my experiences learning, you know, I said to the violin before I played the guitar and actually my violin teacher, Mrs. Sefton taught as a finger in defendant’s exercise, right. She used to make everybody in the orchestra used to have to do this, um, from time to time. And it built that kind of foundation of the ability to move it fingers individually and maybe move your first and third finger while keeping the other two down this kind of thing that is kind of a superpower, because then you can use that for probably whether, whether you play the piano or a cello or a guitar, because they all involve that kind of ability
Amanda Setili (15:46):
Are that. So tell me about this in a business context. So let’s say you go into a company, a common scenario that I run across as a company, that’s kind of gotten into this kind of commodity doldrums there. They’re not making very high margins there. People kind of are feeling like every idea they’ve ever thought of they’ve tried and they’re getting kind of discouraged that nothing really worked. And, and they’re, they’re kind of, they’re seeing no way out. They’re seeing that there’s just barriers in every direction and they’re just they’re their board or their investors are pushing them for growth, pushing them for growth or pushing them for profitability. Usually it’s a combination, you know, how can we grow profitably? And, uh, how can you work your magic to make them see those, those little components that can be used in a different way or, or, or to see something there that they’re missing. So
Andy Bass (16:41):
There’s a couple of ways that I would suggest coming at this. Now, one of them is to use a technique that I originally learned from the therapy world, and that became popular in some, some areas of coaching. And, and, and what you do is you say, if we imagine what our ideal 10 out of 10 business would be, or sort of 10 out of 10 vision, give ourselves a score out of 10. And let’s say that the business says, well, we’re a five out of 10. Usually people will say something in the sort of three to seven range. And so if you’re a five out of 10, the main next question would be, how come you’re not a four?
Amanda Setili (17:20):
That’s such a good question. Like you’re really bad, but you could have been even worse. Yeah.
Andy Bass (17:26):
The interesting thing is that people come up with lots of reasons, actually, you know, objectively verifiable reasons why they are at least a five and not a four. And often those answers start to suggest, Hey, how can, I mean it, you know, we do this, right. We get this, this works very well. I’ve got a couple of examples in mind. One of them is, is using this scaling technique. And then afterwards I’ll another example about how to get out of a commodity trap that, that worked for, for another company. But I, first of all, this, this idea of, well, why aren’t you a four? So I was, I was talking to a director of a shopping mall. He was very demoralized because they had done an employee survey and they found that the employee morale had come out in this survey as being pretty dire.
Andy Bass (18:15):
I thought to myself, well, let’s, let’s look at, what’s working here rather than what’s not, not that we’re not going to address this. We obviously need to address the issue. Uh, but I said, look, uh, you have, uh, footfall of 50,000, uh, visitors a day. Right. And it’s deceptive because I Googled it before I went in. Yeah. And that’s got 7% based on last year. Yeah. And I came through the shopping mall to your office today and I saw a load of people easily, safely, and happily going in and out of shops, you know, buying things in the coffee room. And I saw your people walking around, looking after security, looking after, you know, everything’s clean, et cetera, et cetera. Yeah. So actually you have 50,000 people coming in and out of here every day and 99.9, nine, 9% of those people have an absolutely satisfactory experience.
Andy Bass (19:05):
Right? Yeah. Okay. So yes, you’ve got some problems, but how many things must be going right for that to happen every day, you know, their kids get lost and they get re re reconnected with their parents. People lose. And you know, when your staff find them, I’m sure you have some, you know, first aid things and your staff again, look after people. So what I would suggest, this is a, like our first conversation, what I suggest is let’s see, what’s going right here of that. I’ve listed some of them let’s figure out what’s going on there. Cause your people, if they’re delivering this, this experience that the, there must be areas where they are engaged. Just because the survey says one thing objectively, they kind of must be, there must be teamwork going on. There must be people who are day in, day out working hard, turning up on time to deliver what it is that you guys are here to deliver. And, uh, and so that’s sort of, why aren’t you, why aren’t you a four? You know, I, I kinda, that was my thought process, even though I didn’t ask specifically the question and the guy said to me, you’ve changed my day. Like completely. And it just changed the whole mood of the conversation and got us to a better place. So that is this very powerful question.
Amanda Setili (20:10):
Great example. Um, so when you find these things that are the, that make them a four, yeah. What do you do with them?
Andy Bass (20:18):
Right. So then you say, okay, you’re five. You’re not just, you know, not, you’re not just a four you’re five, and these are the reasons why, or what can we do with that to get you to a six? What would a six look like? Because if we can get the ball rolling in that direction, what you’re saying then is, Hey, we have things that work start with what works, right? Hey, you’re going to your people and saying, you do this well, let’s build on it, which is much better for morale and saying, Hey, we have a shortfall and we’re going to fix it. And, uh, it, it creates a positive alignment. And, you know, from there, once you start to make progress, you find often that you’ve got a lot of the answers yourself. And if you do bring in extra resources, you tend to bring in the right ones. Cause you, you understand more about the problem. Uh, you know, because you’ve started to get some traction with it,
Amanda Setili (21:07):
The feeling that a few questions from you can really change their mindset about how they think about their business. And that’s so valuable.
Andy Bass (21:16):
I think our tool, our primary tool really, uh, Amanda, I don’t know what you think it is, questions and, uh, questions, direct attention. And they can, they can do it in so many, sometimes subtle ways, sometimes very dramatic ways. And so, yeah, I completely agree with you. Right?
Amanda Setili (21:32):
Questions are very powerful. And so often companies do, don’t ask themselves the questions that they obviously should be asking themselves because they’re just too immersed in the, in what’s happening every day.
Andy Bass (21:45):
You know, I have a friend who is a, is a turnaround professional. And one of the things that first things he does when he’s called into a business is he goes to the shop floor or, you know, the customer facing people. And he says, how did management mess this business? And he says, he so often gets fantastic answers. But unfortunately the managers never asked their own people.
Amanda Setili (22:09):
Right. They don’t want the answer. Yeah.
Andy Bass (22:13):
It’s, there’s a certain type of management mindset. Right? Of course, a lot of managers do, but those tend to not be the ones who are then calling in the turnarounds guys.
Amanda Setili (22:21):
They either think, um, I don’t want to hear anything bad about myself or they think, oh, there’s just going to tell me something I can’t fix because the guy that I report to won’t fix it, you know, there’s this defeatist attitude. And no
Andy Bass (22:35):
You’d specifically asked about, you know, if, if a business is becoming commodified and just, just to throw a quick example in there, which is Cardinal health, who had a business selling sutures and, uh, scalpels and sort of, you know, the stuff that Pete’s surgeons use in certain, you know, surgical equipment, which was, uh, which was a business that was really all the profit had been competed out of because their competitors could make just as good a scalpel or just as good a sutures or whatever. And long story short, what they did. They went and watched surgical teams and, and watched how they, their, their stuff was being used. And they realized that if they could package the, uh, surgical supplies into kits that are organized for specific procedures. So, you know, you could buy a kit to do a hernia operation or to do an appendectomy or whatever it might be.
Andy Bass (23:28):
And you could then use just in time and all that kind of quality control stuff to deliver, um, a perfect, the sterile package with all the right things in the right order. Then the hospital didn’t have to hold the stock and hope that they had the right stock at the right time and so forth. And I think, you know, they got out of a commodity trap there by going in and looking at the way in which their commodity products would be used and understanding that why the context. And then they came up with a really original solution. They could charge a lot more for it, but the total economics were also beneficial for the hospital because they weren’t having to ask their nurses to be stock managers. If you, if you look at how your things are being used, you may well get clues that can reframe what you’re doing. Right. And they,
Amanda Setili (24:10):
That, by doing that, it sounds like they created a totally new source of value that didn’t even exist before. Exactly. But did people copy them? Other companies?
Andy Bass (24:21):
I believe so, but there’s a certain sort of first mover advantage. And I mean, there are other things that Cardinals always been great at in terms of its knowledge of its customers and the way it’s managed its data and so forth. So integrating all of those things, I think has made them a very, uh, you know, tough, competitive other people to, to muscle in, on
Amanda Setili (24:43):
What seems to me is that whatever you come up with, it will eventually be copied. And so the key skill that you need to have as an organization is how to continually get out there and really understand what your customers are up against. Really understand what your customers are trying to achieve and spotting value for your customers that they may not see for themselves. Just like you walked in. And you said, why are you a five, not a four Cardinal health being able to walk in and say, uh, you know, what keeps you from being able to do 10 hernia operations today instead of, you know, eight that you’re doing now, or, you know, looking at those sources of value of how they can supply something different that creates more value for the customer. Right?
Andy Bass (25:31):
And I mean, this is the sort of thing that you get into, isn’t it in your work as well in terms of helping people to be agile and stay ahead of those trends,
Amanda Setili (25:37):
Constant learning. I just feel like that’s the key to it is having everyone in the organization, setting, learning goals, joint learning goals with, with other members of their team, but also learning goals for themselves and having them be engaged with something that they’re really, they really feel is kind of their sweet spot of being competent, but also challenged so that they’re never complacent. So they’re always thinking
Andy Bass (26:06):
Sort of following on from that. I guess the other thing I would be thinking about is execution ability. And I’m thinking a speaker I heard recently was remarking on this, that these days are a lot of sort of management knowledge that, um, it’s, it’s easy enough to come by because, you know, even professors from the absolutely top business schools make their lectures available online, you know? And so, uh, at one time maybe the MBA syllabus was kind of exotic now anybody can get it, but the difference is can you execute? And, you know, especially given that, you know, your, you came from that kind of very like, you know, top business school McKinsey. And what would you say has that changed that as, as kind of in the knowledge of management has become much more available because of the internet, um, uh, how much do you think that the premium is now with execution or, or with innovation ideas, I’d be really interested to get your take on that.
Amanda Setili (27:07):
The great thing about the world that we live in today is any question that you ask can be answered relatively easily. So if you come up with a management question such as, you know, how can I motivate my sales team when sales are down, whatever it is, you can find the answer it’s knowing what question to ask and it’s having even the interest in asking the question. And so, um, one thing that I ran across in a conversation this week with a client was, uh, this is just an example. Things are always changing. So we’ve just seen because of the pandemic, a huge, massive change in people’s roles, in what we’re expecting of them and how they need to manage. And they’re so busy just being able to keep their head above water, that they don’t have time to go out and necessarily look for those training modules or, you know, get the information sift through the sea of information to find these Zack right answer for what they’re facing, gaining the skill of what exactly do I need to learn so that I can ask the right question to get the right answer.
Amanda Setili (28:17):
I think is something that serves companies very, very well in a time of fast change. And being able to, as leaders shift the metrics a little bit from hardcore performance metrics, like how many units did you produce today, or what was your profit this quarter towards some of that, but also, you know, last quarter you told me that your intent was to learn X, X could be, uh, what do our Cardinal health example, what’s one new idea that we could provide to our customers in the surgical arena. So setting very deliberate learning goals and measuring people versus those learning goals. In addition to some of the performance metrics that you’ve put in place for them, I think it’s really important.
Andy Bass (29:08):
Yeah. I really liked that. I really liked that. And, and also, so if I followed right, what you were saying that, you know, the ability to know exactly the right question to ask at the right time is not something that you can learn, uh, in the way that you can, you know, you can, you can learn specific whether it be, I don’t know how to do financial analysis and planning say, or how to, how to, uh, use the Orthodox strategy tools that people learn on an MBA. But, but the ability to know the mental agility to know, you know, to think on your feet. So I guess it would be the difference almost between being a great actor who was able to, to deliver the lines that were, they were written versus being a great improv performer, that, that, that the premium is now more to, to the person who can be in the moment and ask exactly the right question and respond to what’s going on at the right time. Because, because all the scripts, if you like it now just available to anybody, but it’s that ability to take just the right thing. It just the right moment. And I think you have to, that’s a different kind of education that’s required. And I think
Amanda Setili (30:15):
So much of our progress in terms of, um, changing the way we do things is asking the right questions and that’s really, you know, good, good analytics is really just asking the right questions because everybody’s got such massive amounts of data now, but in order to get anything out of that data, you’ve got to frame the question correctly in order to solve any problem. You’ve got to be asking the right question, no matter how qualitative or quantitative it is. Um, so you can really get off on a misstep. If you aren’t finally tuning your question to, to what result you want to get,
Andy Bass (30:53):
You have all the right answers to the wrong questions.
Amanda Setili (30:56):
Yeah, exactly. So you’ve described, um, a few ways that you help people to kind of get at what they’re missing, what they’ve not spotted that they already have. What do you find are some of the biggest surprises that they encounter when they, when they use this process effectively?
Andy Bass (31:14):
You know, I, I said that that director at the shopping mall had said that they had changed because of, because we looked at what was working well, there wasn’t an, you kind of have to experience that for yourself almost. And I mean, you know, I, in the book, I talk about how to do it. So it’s, it’s not, it’s not magic, but if you actually go through the process with an issue that you yourself are convinced, you, you know, is not going well. And then you suddenly realize that there’s all these things that, that are going well, that can be an absolute revelation. I, I think we have, obviously a lot of people pride themselves on being problem-solvers. So they go in with a problem oriented frame. I don’t know what it was like at your, when you went to school, but, you know, I, did you have ticks for the things you did right?
Andy Bass (31:57):
Or crosses against the things you did wrong. You’re right. You’re right. Uh, if that’s orientation and then you, you flip that it is a figure ground reversal. And sometimes that really is a very dramatic difference for people. And I find, you know, whether I’m coaching an individual on their own performance or helping a business team more generally in the way we’ve been talking about thinking about the business, my assumption is always that there’s our load of brilliant stuff going on, all that could potentially go on and, and we just have to find our way to it. And of course, you know, it’s a, it’s a delight and a surprise sometimes for people when they realize that they, they often have the answers or that their people have the answers and they go, oh gosh, you know, we already have the answers in here and I don’t need to that. They’re there. I can just use them
Amanda Setili (32:43):
So common that people at lower levels have all the answers and nobody ever asked them the question it’s so common. We just expect them to just kind of go on churning out widgets or whatever. And we don’t go down there and say, what should we be doing differently? What happened? I given you that would make you be able to be more productive. What haven’t I given you that would enable you to be more happy and satisfied and engaged in this job? What, what can I do to support you? What, what ideas do you have that you think were silly for not having pursued?
Andy Bass (33:17):
You know, I did some work, uh, with, uh, uh, with an American multinational law that, that, uh, I originally started working with their British arm. And then I managed to, it was great. I had to go around the world to their different plants. And one of them was in Mexico. Now I don’t speak Spanish and I’m not in factory guy, you know? Uh, but we, uh, my client was very open to trying this kind of an approach. And so through an interpreter, I set up, uh, there were, you know, there were facilitation methods where you can take a large group of people and get them to, to work through and figure out answers to general questions. And again, I talk about how to do that in the book, so people can, can read about how to do it. And so we, what we did was we had 50 or 60 shop floor people from this plant in Mexico city.
Andy Bass (34:05):
And through an interpreter, the question was, how do we improve the plant? Just completely general sort of question, how do we improve the plant? And I got the plant manager to commit to how he would handle the answers. So he’d either if he could do them and they were good ideas, he would do them if they, if he, if they were good ideas, but he needed approval, he’d go to my client, the president who was happy to try and do them, if they could. And if they couldn’t do them, he would promise to go back and explain why not. And that was the framing. Yeah. Well, as I say, I’m not a factory guy, but you you’re all you needed to do this. When I revisited a about three months later, it was looking at the before and after photographs of the plant, it was totally transformed from a dark dingy, you know, um, smelly operation with oil on the floor and exposed electrics and, uh, very limited, uh, that the, the, the, the female bathroom facilities weren’t very good.
Andy Bass (35:03):
And or that he was bright, shiny clean, uh, or the, the wiring was tie-dyed up. The warehouse was incredibly transformed in terms of tidiness. There was, you know, all the right sort of tape on the floor for areas to go and no go. The, the, they built, um, showers and bathrooms for the female employees, which by the way, had really, uh, improved their sort of feel for the, for the, for the business and, and how they felt about working there cost very little to do. A lot of the work was actually done by, by the company’s own people. You know, they, they bought the resources and they did some of it over the weekend. They did painting and so on. And it transformed from a plant that you wouldn’t want to show a customer to one that, that they were showing them off to the customer. And it didn’t cost very much. It didn’t involve any sophisticated analysis even, but their on-time delivery numbers got better. Their accident numbers got better. Um, and it was all done by the people in the plant because they knew the answers
Amanda Setili (36:04):
And somebody was finally valuing their input.
Andy Bass (36:07):
Yeah, absolutely. It is. That was wonderful. You know, uh, it was a warm kind of a place anyway, that the kind of culture that was warm and, and, but, but it, it was all waiting there to sort of be released. And, uh, the Goodwill bump was great. Uh, but you know, it showed up in the hard numbers as well in the operating metrics.
Amanda Setili (36:27):
That’s fantastic because I just find that when people pitching together to change something, it really strengthens the bond between the people too. And that bond between the people is what makes it fun to go to work, because you like who you’re working with there, at least, you know, who you’re working with, knowing who you’re working with is this huge, you know, kind of having those human connections that I think now during the pandemic, we’re all like missing, missing a lot, or at least I am.
Andy Bass (36:59):
Yeah. I mean, it’s obviously, uh, you know, the whole, the whole of the last year has been, been a radical change, obviously for everybody. And, um, we’ve, we’ve not been able to do that much of that kind of getting, you know, getting large groups together online and to have that level of interaction is something we’ve been playing with more recently and getting some quite good results, but the, that there are people working on better and better software platforms to do that. And, um, yeah, I think there’s a lot of potential there as well.
Amanda Setili (37:28):
So assuming the pandemic goes away, so we don’t have a true health concern, but, but also assuming that whatever we’ve learned during the last year we get to use and retain those learnings, what do you think the future holds for the world that most people don’t realize if anything
Andy Bass (37:46):
Interesting. And I’ve said this to a lot of people, even without COVID, we would still be if we were on this podcast or, oh, you know, or if you’d still be saying, wouldn’t you that the level of change is unprecedented, I guess, I don’t know if it was in the U S but in the UK then the world’s most overused word last year, unprecedented, but even without COVID, you know, with, with digitalization, climate and energy, changing demographics, um, changing social mores, all that kind of stuff. Um, I think we would be dealing with unprecedented change anyway. And so I think that probably the biggest surprise might be that even, and I’m optimistic, you know, I, I had my first vaccination last week and I think that the, you know, well, thank you. Um, but we’re, we’re all kind of optimistic as it were seeing the rollout of that working.
Andy Bass (38:42):
I think that there’s place for the pace of change isn’t particularly going to let up. I think it’ll continue. So, so, so the idea that, oh, we’ll get back to quote normal and no, because all of this was kind of obvious digital stuff. We could have done a lot of these changes in digital practice. Couldn’t we, um, anyway, a lot of this technology, zoom and so forth, Skype was all available, um, a couple of years before we needed it. Fortunately. So I think, I think that this pace of change is just going to continue to accelerate. I think it will, as you’re thinking forward about the people you’re going to have on your podcast and the kind of things that you’re seeing that you want to bring to your audience, what do you think of the biggest? What do you think the biggest things are going to be? What are the biggest questions that you see? Um, so it was very interesting for me in the UK, uh, to hear what you guys in the U S are prioritizing.
Amanda Setili (39:31):
This is very interested in profitable growth. So that’s like the underlying goal, but how do you get there? And so I have two areas of interest that I’m most interested in exploring. One is a continuation of my first book, the agility advantage of my second book, fearless growth is just how can we continuously learn and adapt as the market throws faster and faster change at us. And the second question, which I think is an enabler to the first is how can we just make sure that everybody loves their work? You know, I’ve had a really interesting career, but I’ve loved every job that I’ve had. I mean, sure. There’s been months occasionally where I’m like bored, cause I didn’t get the promotion I wanted or, you know, like I don’t have the exact client I want or something like that. But by and large, I’ve really enjoyed all of my work my whole life.
Amanda Setili (40:24):
And I just wish everyone could be like that. And so one of my objectives with the podcast is just to seek out people that seem to have done this pretty well. I mean, I feel like I’ve done it well. I feel like you’ve done it well. And there’s a lot of other people that I’ve known in my life that I feel like I’ve just really, um, been able to find joy in work and find ways to continuously learn and really experience a great work, not only productivity, but just engagement and satisfaction. And so I’m interested in exploring
Andy Bass (41:01):
And I think that’s a great theme for podcast and I’m very tempted to invite you. I hope you’ll come and talk about that on my podcast, which I’m about to say yes, I can’t wait to do that. That’d be great. Yeah.
Amanda Setili (41:12):
And I want to remind all our listeners to seek out Andy’s book coming out in may start with what works. I can’t wait to read it and I’m going to see if I can, pre-order it on Amazon. I hope that’s possible. Is that possible? And I’m going to send you a very good, very good. Well, thanks so much for me today, Andy, it’s been a lot of fun.
Andy Bass (41:35):
Thanks. You’re asking me. I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank
Amanda Setili (41:39):
You for listening to fearless growth. You can find out more about the show at [inaudible] dot com slash podcast, and you can listen on apple podcasts and Spotify. If you like what you’ve heard, please take a moment to write a review and give us a star rating reviews matter so much in helping others find us. Thanks for your support.
Speaker 4 (42:07):
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