How business can help heal racial division

1: Getting better at getting better is what RiseWithDrew is all about.

Monday through Thursday we explore ideas from authors, thought leaders, and exemplary organizations.  On Friday, I share something we are doing at PCI in our quest to earn a spot of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Last Friday, we looked at a recent panel discussion on Zoom with four of our Black leaders.  At PCI, we pride ourselves on having a highly diverse workforce.  The discussion was part of our ongoing Meaningful Conversations Series focusing on social justice.

The origin of this event dates back more than a year.  In May of 2020, Lori Bishop, our Chief People Officer at PCI reached out to me and shared that our Black associates, specifically our Black men, were going through a difficult time.  

On a Sunday afternoon in February 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year old black man, went out for a run in his neighborhood.  He was murdered by two white men in a pickup truck.  The incident was the latest in a series of killings of young Black men involving law enforcement or vigilantes.

At her suggestion, I reached out to a group of our Black male leaders and set up a meeting for the following week.  I had worked with the seven men on the call but this was the first time we had ever talked about race, racism, or prejudice.  The goal was simply to create some space for them to share what they were experiencing in the wake of these tragic killings. 

Talk about an eye-opener.

As I listened to each person describe their experience growing up Black in America, I was not prepared for the frustration, fear, bitterness, anger, and sadness that was expressed.  

As a white kid from the suburbs, my experience was so different from what they described.  Listening to each of these men talk, I experienced firsthand what it feels like to see something from a completely different perspective.  It was a meaningful and powerful experience for me.

2: The next week, George Floyd was murdered.

We met again.  Once again, each man was given space to talk about what and how they were feeling.  The tone of the meeting was raw, unvarnished.  There was bitterness and fear.  As well as gratitude.  For the opportunity to share.  To be together.  

We talked about holding a meeting open to all PCI associates.  This became our first company-wide Meaningful Conversation.  

More than 250 of our associates participated.  

Our theme for 2020 was “Trust: the one thing that changes everything.”  Working with our Chief People Officer, we anchored the meeting around the idea of trust, being trustworthy, and building trusting relationships at work.  

I opened the meeting sharing my outrage and anger with what had occurred.  We used the “breakout rooms” feature within Zoom to provide people with a small group setting (7-8 people) to share what they were experiencing.  PCI leaders served as moderators.

We established some norms for these conversations, including “Speak from the ‘I’ perspective,” “Listen to understand, not to respond,” “Call each other in, not out,” “Live in the now, not in the hypothetical,” and “Expect & accept a lack of closure.”

The conversations created an opportunity for people to be authentic and connect with others during a very difficult time.  The feedback on the meeting was overwhelmingly positive.  

We held another Meaningful Conversation meeting two weeks later.  This time we introduced our True Trust Vision:  “We are an ever evolving learning organization of dreamers and doers, who have been called to live the lives we were created to live, commanded to LOVE and TRUST beyond the limits of our prejudices, and open our hearts to change.”

At PCI, we have a 25-year history of holding book clubs where we buy a book, bring people together, and discuss it.  This practice is part of our DNA.  

So, leaning on this history, we decided to read and discuss White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Dr. Robin DiAngelo.  We asked our extended leadership team to participate and then opened it up to any other PCI associate who was interested in joining.  About 150 of our associates participated in the five-week discussion.

The idea was to introduce ideas and perspectives to our associates and challenge our thinking.  We organized into groups of ten and had a PCI leader act as moderator and discussion group leader.  I found the material to be startling and challenging.  The discussions were thought-provoking and soul-searching.

As the summer of 2020 turned to fall, we continued to hold a company-wide Meaningful Conversation every month or two, gathering people together, and providing a forum for us at PCI to check in and have further discussions around social injustice issues.  

Last spring, our CEO Council met, discussed, and adopted several of the recommendations put forward by Orvin Kimbrough, CEO at Midwest BankCentre, in his article: Shared Prosperity: Our Corporate Responsibility in a Time of Consternation,  including: a commitment to diverse and inclusive economic environment starts at the top, look outside your network when hiring talent, and commit to supplier diversity. 

This summer we had a second book club where we read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Once again, about 150 of our associates participated.  More compelling, provocative conversations.

3: As a conscious capitalist , I believe for-profit business can play an important role in healing the racial division that plagues us as a nation.  There are of course many facets to these issues, but making progress against the economic disparity  that exists is a critical leverage point to a better future for all of us.

The workplace is also a highly diverse place.  Companies that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion outperform the competition.  

And, the workplace is where we spend a huge percentage of our time on the planet: shoulder-to-shoulder with people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, ages, and worldviews.  While working together to be successful in business, we get to know each other, learn from each other, and gain an appreciation for each other.  

This, I believe, is the ultimate antidote to racism and social injustice.      


Reflection:  How might I benefit from exposing myself to new or different perspectives regarding racial injustice? 

Action:  Have a conversation with someone of a different race or ethnicity.  Seek first to understand, rather than be understood.

What is the largest, most successful habit-changing organization in the world?

1: The year was 1934.  One of the largest and most successful attempts at wide-scale habit change was about to begin.

Bill Wilson, a thirty-nine year old alcoholic, sat in a dreary basement on the Lower East Side of New York City.  He was drinking three bottles of booze a day.  His marriage was falling apart.  His career was at a dead end, Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit.

He poured his old drinking buddy a glass of gin and pineapple juice.  His friend shook his head.  He explained he’d been sober for two months. Bill was astounded.  He had tried to quit, but had repeatedly failed.  “He’s been to detox and had taken pills.  He’d made promises to his wife and joined abstinence groups.  None of it worked,” Charles states. “I got religion,” the friend said. He talked about hell and temptation, sin and the devil. “Realize you are licked, admit it, and get willing to turn your life over to God.” Bill thought his friend had lost it.  “Last summer an alcoholic crackpot, now, I suspected, a little cracked about religion,” he later wrote.  After his friend left, Bill finished the bottle of gin and went to bed.

One month later, Bill checked into a Manhattan detox center.  A doctor gave him hourly injections of a hallucinogenic drug called belladonna, a popular treatment for alcoholism at the time. It didn’t go well.  Bill began writing in agony.  He hallucinated for days.  His withdrawal was so bad he felt insects were crawling across his skin.  He was nauseous and the pain was so intense he couldn’t stay still.

“If there is a God, let Him show Himself!” Bill yelled.  “I am ready to do anything. Anything!”

At that moment, “a white light filled his room, the pain ceased, and he felt as if he were on a mountaintop, ‘and that a wind not of air but of spirit’ was blowing.  And then it burst upon me that I was a free man,'” Bill later wrote.

Bill Wilson would never drink again.  For the rest of his life, he dedicated himself to founding and building Alcoholics Anonymous.  It would become “the largest, most well-known and successful habit-changing organization in the world,” writes Charles.  

As many as 10 million alcoholics have become sober through the group.  While AA doesn’t work for everyone, millions credit the program with saving their lives.  “The famous twelve steps have become cultural lodestones incorporated into treatment programs for overeating, gambling, debt, sex, drugs, hoarding, self-mutilation, smoking, video game addictions, and emotional dependency.”

What’s surprising is that AA doesn’t directly address the biochemical issues researchers believe are at the core of why people drink.  Moreover, there are no “professionals” who guide AA meetings. “What AA provides instead is a method for attacking the habits that surround alcohol use.  AA, in essence, is a giant machine for changing habit loops,” Charles observes.  The AA approach disrupts old routines by changing the “habit loop.” “Researchers say that AA works because the program forces people to identify the cues and rewards that encourage their alcoholic habits, and then helps them find new behaviors.” Step four demands we make “a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.  In step five we admit “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

What’s going on here?  

“It’s not obvious from the way they’re written, but to complete those steps, someone has to create a list of all the triggers for their alcoholic urges,” Charles observes.  “When you make a self-inventory, you’re figuring out all the things that make you drink. And admitting to someone else all the bad things you’ve done is a pretty good way of figuring out the moments where everything spiraled out of control.” AA also asks us to search for the benefits we get from drinking.  “What cravings, the program asks, are driving your habit loop?” Interestingly, intoxication often doesn’t make the list.  “Alcoholics crave a drink because it offers escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties, and an opportunity for emotional release,” Charles writes.

These cravings for relief occur in a completely different part of the brain than the craving for physical pleasure. AA structures its program to provide alcoholics with the same rewards they receive from drinking.  “AA has built a system of meetings and companionship—the ‘sponsor’ each member works with—that strives to offer as much escape, distraction, and catharsis as a Friday night bender,” comments Charles. “You can relax and talk through your anxieties at the meetings. The triggers and payoffs stay the same, it’s just the behavior that changes,” says J. Scott Tonigan, a researcher at the University of New Mexico, who has studied AA for more than a decade. There is one other element that helps alcoholics in addition to habit replacement. “Over and over again, alcoholics said the same thing,” Charles writes.  “Identifying cues and choosing new routines is important, but without another ingredient, the new habits never fully took hold. The secret, the alcoholics said, was God.”

Charles quotes John, a self-described former atheist: “Without a higher power in my life, without admitting my powerlessness, none of it was going to work,” he reflects.  “I knew that if something didn’t change, I was going to kill my kids.  So I started working at that, working at believing in something bigger than me.”

The final, essential factor?   

“Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior,” Charles writes.

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What sense or meaning do I make from the story above?

Action:  Journal about it or discuss with a friend.

What is “habit reversal training” and how can it change my life?

1: Mandy walked into the counselling center at Mississippi State University.  She was 24 years old.  For as long as she could remember, she had bitten her nails.  

“Lots of people bite their nails,” Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit.  “For chronic nail biters, however, it’s a problem of a different scale.  Mandy would often bite until her nails pulled away from the skin underneath.  Her fingertips were covered with tiny scabs.  The end of her fingers had become blunted without nails to protect them and sometimes they tingled or itched, a sign of nerve injury.”

Her raw fingers made Mandy feel embarrassed.  She often kept her hands in her pockets.  When she went on dates, she would ball her hands into fists.

“She had tried to stop by painting her nails with foul-tasting polishes or promising herself, starting right now, that she would muster the willpower to quit,” Charles writes.  “But as soon as she began doing homework or watching television, her fingers ended up in her mouth.”

Mandy was desperate.  

“What do you feel right before you bring your hand up to your mouth to bite your nails?” asked the psychologist, who was studying a treatment known as “habit reversal training.”

At first, Mandy had trouble coming up with reasons.  As they talked though, an answer became clearer:  “There’s a little tension in my fingers,” Mandy said.  “It hurts a little bit here, at the edge of the nail.  Sometimes I’ll run my thumb along, looking for hangnails, and when I feel something catch, I’ll bring it to my mouth.  Then I’ll go finger by finger, biting off the rough edges.  Once I start, it feels like I have to do all of them.”

2: The key to habit reversal training is identifying the three steps of the habit loop: Cue, Routine, Reward.  

The physical tension Mandy felt in in her fingers was the “cue.”  Biting her nails was the “routine.”  And, the completeness Mandy felt after biting all of her nails was the “reward,” a physical feeling she had come to crave.

The therapist gave Mandy some homework.  She was to carry around an index card and make a check mark each time she felt the “cue” or tension in her fingers.

Mandy returned to the clinic a week later with 28 checks on her index card.  She was now “acutely aware of the sensations that preceded her habit,” writes Charles.  “She knew how many times it occurred during class or watching television.”

3: Next, the therapist explained: whenever Mandy felt the tension in her fingertips, she was to grip a pencil or put her hands under her legs or some other action that made it impossible to put her hands in her mouth.  Then she was to rub her arm or rap knuckles on the desk or do anything that would produce a physical response.

“The cues and the rewards stayed the same,” Charles observes.  “Only the routine changed.”

They practiced for a half hour in the office.  The therapist suggested Mandy continue to make marks on her index card, but now she was to add a hash mark when she was able to successfully “override” her nail-biting habit.

“A week later, Mandy had bitten her nails only three times and had used the competing response seven times,” Charles writes.  She continued tracking her progress with her index card: “After a month, the nail-biting habit was gone. The competing routines had become automatic.”

A new habit had replaced the old one.  

“It seems like it should be more complex.  The truth is the brain can be reprogrammed.  You just have to be deliberate about it,” says Nathan Azrin, one of the developers of habit reversal training.  “Once you recognize the cues and rewards, you’re halfway to changing it.”

Habit reversal therapy is now used to treat depression, smoking, gambling problems, anxiety, bedwetting, procrastination, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The fundamental principle of habit reversal training?

We don’t truly understand the cravings driving our behaviors until we take the time to identify them.

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  What is a habit I would like to stop?  Take some time to identify the cue, the routine, and the reward.  What is the underlying craving that makes the reward so pleasing?  What changes can I make to interrupt the current process?  

Action:  Journal about it. Track my progress. Today.

The secret ingredient to creating new habits 

1: In the year 2002, researchers at New Mexico State University set out to figure out why people exercise consistently.  

They studied 266 people who worked out at least three times a week.  Most started running or lifting weights “almost on a whim, or because they had free time or wanted to deal with unexpected stress in their lives,” writes Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit.

So, why did their exercise become a habit?

Because they began to crave a specific reward.

“In one group, 92 percent of people said they habitually exercised because it made them ‘feel good’—they grew to expect and crave the endorphins and other neurochemicals a workout provided,” Charles writes. “In another group, 67 percent of people said that working out gave them a sense of ‘accomplishment’—they had come to crave a regular sense of triumph from tracking their performances, and that self-reward was enough to make the physical activity into a habit.”

In prior RiseWithDrews, we’ve explored the three step process to create a new habit: Cue, Routine, Reward.

The secret ingredient that drives our habits?  Turning our reward into something we crave.

2: A group of scientists led by Wolfram Schultz, a neuroscience professor at the University of Cambridge, have studied how this process works in the brains of monkeys.  First, Julio the monkey sees a shape on a computer screen.  The researchers teach Julio how to perform a simple routine which results in him receiving a drop of blackberry juice.  

As the experiment continues, and Julio becomes more practiced at the behavior, he begins anticipating the blackberry juice.  As the habit becomes stronger, the brain probes “started recording the ‘I got the reward’ pattern the instant Julio sees shapes on the screen, before the juice arrived,” Charles writes.

Which is why habits are so powerful: They create “neurological cravings.”

Yesterday, we looked at how the marketers at Proctor & Gamble created a billion dollar product with Febreze when “they created a sense of craving—the desire to make everything smell as nice as it looked.”

3: So, how can we put this learning to work in our lives?

Say we want to start running in the mornings.  We begin by selecting a simple cue or trigger, like leaving our running gear next to our bed.  Next, we create a reward, like a midday snack, or cultivating a sense of accomplishment from tracking our miles.  

“But countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last,” writes Charles. “Only when [our] brain starts expecting the reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic to lace up [our] jogging shoes each morning.”

To make a habit stick, we prime ourselves to anticipate the reward: thinking about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush we will feel.  When temptations arise, we focus on our craving for the reward. 

We are wise to cultivate “the craving into a mild obsession.”  Because “this is how new habits are created,” writes Charles, “by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.”  

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  What is a habit I want to begin?  Think about a meaningful reward.

Action:  Purposefully turn that reward into a craving.

Week of September 20, 2021

“It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. It is the interconnectedness.”— Howard Bloom

How a woman with nine cats helped launch a billion dollar product.  It’s not what you think.

1: Proctor & Gamble, one of the largest consumer goods firms in the world, was convinced their promising new product Febreze was going to be a big hit.

P&G should know.  They are the company behind Pringles, Oil of Olay, Bounty, CoverGirl, Dawn, Downy, Duracell, and dozens of other successful brands.

For Febreze, “they spent millions perfecting the formula, finally producing a colorless, odorless liquid that could wipe out almost any foul odor,” Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.  

Drake Stimson, a thirty-one-year-old superstar with a background in math and psychology, was chosen to head up the marketing team.  Drake and his team positioned Febreze as something that would allow people to rid themselves of embarrassing smells.  They created a television commercial featuring woman and her dog Sophie: “Sophie will always smell like Sophie,” said the woman, but with Febreze, “now my furniture doesn’t have to.”

Commercials aired in several test cities.  The marketing team gave sway samples, put advertisements in mailboxes, and paid grocery stores to position Febreze near cash registers.

“Then, they sat back, anticipating how they would spend their bonuses,” Charles writes.


Febreze was DOA: Dead on Arrival.

2: An emergency meeting was called.  Perhaps P&G should cut their losses on Febreze “before board members started asking questions,” Charles writes.  

Drake and his team pleaded for more time.  A decision was made to assign a team of PhDs to figure out what was going wrong.  The newly-assigned researchers began conducting interviews.

“The first inkling of why Febreze was failing came when they visited a woman’s house outside of Phoenix,” Charles writes.  “They could smell her nine cats before they went inside.  The house’s interior, however, was clean and organized.  She was somewhat of a neat freak, she explained.  She vacuumed every day and didn’t like to open her windows, since the wind blew in dust.”

When Drake and the scientists entered her living room where the cats lived, “the scent was so overpowering that one of them gagged,” writes Charles.

“What do you do about the cat smell?” a scientist asked the woman. 

“It’s usually not a problem,” she said. 

“How often do you notice a smell?” 

“Oh, about once a month,” the woman replied. 

The researchers were perplexed.  “Do you smell it now?” a scientist asked. 

“No,” she said.

This sequence occurred again and again in other smelly homes which the team visited.  People didn’t notice most of the icky smells in their homes.  “Bad smells simply weren’t noticed frequently enough to trigger a regular habit.  As a result, Febreze ended up in the back of the closet,” Charles observes.

The situation appeared grim.  “If he couldn’t sell Febreze to a woman with nine cats,” wondered Drake, “who could he sell it to?” 

3: Then, something interesting happened.

The scientists spoke with a woman in a suburb near Scottsdale.  She had four kids.  Her house was clean, but not compulsively so.  She had no pets.  There were no smokers.  It wasn’t the type of house with “smelly problems.” 

“I use it every day,” she said of Febreze.

“How?  What smells are you trying to get rid of?”

“I don’t really use if for specific smells,” the woman said.  “I use it for normal cleaning-a couple of sprays when I’m done in the room.  It’s a nice way to make everything smell good as a final touch.”

When Drake and his team returned to headquarters, the researchers asked the team to join for them for a meeting.  They had spent the prior night watching videos P&G had collected over the years of people cleaning their homes. The scientists “cued up the tape of one woman—a twenty-six-year-old with three children—making a bed.  She smoothed the sheets and adjusted a pillow. Then, she smiled and left the room,” Charles writes.

“Did you see that?” the researcher asked excitedly. 

“He put on another clip.  A younger, brunette woman spread out a colorful bedspread, straightened a pillow, and then smiled at her handiwork,” Charles shares. 

“There it is again!” the researcher said. 

The next clip showed a woman in workout clothes tidying her kitchen and wiping the counter before easing into a relaxing stretch. The researcher looked at his colleagues. “Do you see it?” he asked.

“Each of them is doing something relaxing or happy when they finish cleaning,” he said.  “We can build off that!  What if Febreze was something that happened at the end of the cleaning routine, rather than the beginning?  What if it was the fun part of making something cleaner?”

More perfume was added to Febreze so it now had its own distinct, fresh scent. New commercials were created.  This time they were “designed to appeal to a specific, daily cue: Cleaning a room. Making a bed. Vacuuming a rug,” writes Charles.  “In each one, Febreze was positioned as the reward: the nice smell that occurs at the end of a cleaning routine.”

P&G relaunched Febreze in 1998.  Revenue in the first year was more than $230 million.  Today, Febreze and all of its spin-off products account for more than $1 billion a year.

Drake was promoted.  His team received their bonuses after all.

“We were looking at it all wrong. No one craves scentlessness.  On the other hand, lots of people crave a nice smell after they’ve spent thirty minutes cleaning.”

Understanding this “craving” is key to understanding how new habits are formed.  

More tomorrow.  


Reflection: Think about a habit I do regularly.  Can I identify the reward I get when I do or complete the habit? 

Action: Journal my answers to the question above.

Perspective-taking in the wake of George Floyd

Last Friday afternoon I moderated a panel discussion on Zoom with four of our Black leaders at PCI.  208 of our colleagues joined in, more than half of our overall associates.  

The discussion was part of our on-going Meaningful Conversations Series focusing on social justice.

It was a powerful exercise in perspective-taking.  One of the most personally meaningful experiences I have participated in at work.

The first question posed to the panel was about their first memory of being aware of race.  The first two speakers each shared an experience as young children of being in the car with their father and being pulled over by the police.  One man shared how his dad was beaten.  The other man shared how the officer called his father the n-word and told he better go back to where he came from and never come back. 

Hearing stories like these on television is disturbing.  But hearing these experiences first-hand from colleagues I work closely with every day was an all-together different experience.  Raw.  Real.  Haunting.

The conversation continued.  Each of the four participants shared a version of what they all referred to as “the talk.”  How a parent or grandparent had told them when they left the house and were around law enforcement, that they need to be cautious, to watch their actions carefully, and to be extra careful not to be noticed.  Essentially to be invisible.

As a white kid growing up in the suburbs, this talk was completely foreign to me.

They each shared unnerving stories about being pulled over for “Driving while Black.”  They spoke to the anxiety they feel every day getting in the car and the mixture of dread and terror they feel should they be pulled over.  

When their teenage children get in the car and drive away in the evening, this dread is multiplied 100 times. 

Hearing these stories, one after another, struck deep emotions in my heart.  

And, based on the feedback afterwards, these stories struck a deep chord within the hearts of our colleagues.

Lastly, each of them shared how after each shooting, what it’s been like to show up at work, put on their “game face,” lead their teams, and produce exceptional work.  Each of these individuals is a high performer.  And, they all have continued to perform at a high level.  

Listening to them, all of us had a new appreciation for the burdens and challenges they’ve been dealing with. 

Perspective-taking, indeed.


Reflection:  How might I benefit from exposing myself to new or different perspectives regarding racial injustice? 

Action:  Have a conversation with someone of a different race or ethnicity.  Seek not to be understood, but to understand.  

Only Two Types of Leaders: Effective and Ineffective

1: In the spring of 2006, when Navy SEAL Task Unit Bruiser arrived in Ramadi, it was the deadly epicenter of the Iraqi insurgency.  A U.S. leaked intelligence report said the city was “all but lost.” 

“Virtually no one thought it possible that U.S. forces could turn the situation around there and win,” write Jocko Willink and Leif Babin in Extreme Ownership.

But win is what happened.  Enemy attacks plummeted from thirty to fifty a day throughout much of 2006 to an average of one per week in early 2007, and then one per month.  The city was stabilized and the area secured.
Jocko oversaw Task Unit Bruiser’s contribution to the Ready First Brigade’s efforts.  His SEAL platoons fought shoulder to shoulder with U.S. Army Soldiers and Marines to remove insurgents from enemy-held parts of the city.  Bruiser SEALs spearheaded many operations in the most deadly and contested neighborhoods. 

“We secured buildings, took the high ground, and then provided cover as Soldiers and Marines moved into contested areas,” Jocko writes.  The mission was accomplished “through much blood, sweat, and toil…  The violent insurgency was routed from the city, tribal sheikhs in Ramadi joined with U.S. forces, and the Anbar Awakening was born.”  

2: How did this happen?  According to Jocko and Leif, the answer is leadership.

Extreme Ownership “is about leadership.  It was written for leaders of teams large and small, for men and women, for any person who aspires to better themselves,” Leif and Jocko write.  “Though it contains exciting accounts of SEAL combat operations, this book is not a war memoir.  It is instead a collection of lessons learned from our experiences to help other leaders achieve victory.”

It starts with a team.  “Without a team—a group of individuals working to accomplish a mission—there can be no leadership,” they write.

“For all the definitions, descriptions, and characterizations of leaders, there are only two that matter: effective and ineffective,” write Jocko and Leif.  “Effective leaders lead successful teams that accomplish their mission and win. Ineffective leaders do not.

The only relevant measure for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails.

3: To be successful, Jocko and Leif outline three key lessons: high standards, small victories, and dealing with failure.  
Leaders “must recognize that when it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.  When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable—if there are no consequences—that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards.

Next, success is the result of a series of small victories.  To succeed, leaders “focus their efforts not on the days to come or the far-distant finish line they couldn’t yet see, but instead on a physical goal immediately in front of them—the beach marker, landmark, or road sign a hundred yards ahead,” Leif and Jocko write.  “If we could execute with a monumental effort just to reach an immediate goal that everyone could see, we could then continue to the next visually attainable goal and then the next.”

Lastly, leaders must deal with failure and loss.  “Every leader and every team at some point or time will fail and must confront that failure.  That too is a big part of this book,” the authors reflect.  “Tragically, Task Unit Bruiser paid a tremendous cost for the success of these operations: eight SEALs were wounded and three of the best SEAL warriors imaginable gave their lives.” 

Yesterday’s post [hyperlink] detailed the arduous training SEAL candidates undergo and the high standards for SEAL leaders.  Jocko and Leif refer to this responsibility as “burden of leadership.”  

The expectations in training are so high because “as combat leaders, the pressure on them would be immense, beyond their imagination,” Leif writes.  “Death lurked around the corner at any moment.  Every decision I made carried potentially mortal consequences.”

The authors write about the immense tragedy of the three SEALS in Task Unit Bruiser who sacrificed their lives for their country: Marc Lee who was shot during a furious firefight; Mike Monsoor, who jumped on a grenade to save the lives of three teammates, and Ryan Job, who was shot in the face by an enemy sniper.  

As SEAL leaders, this “crushing burden” is the price of leadership. 

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  What stands out here?  What lessons will I take from Extreme Ownership?  What must I do or change to become a better leader? 

Action:  Do it.  Today.

No bad teams.  Only bad leaders.

1: It was night three of the infamous Hell Week of SEAL training.  

The Navy SEAL candidates were exhausted.  They had slept less than one hour over the previous three days.  They were shivering from the cold ocean water and cool wind.  Their camouflage fatigues were “soaked to the bone and covered in gritty sand that chafed them until they were raw and bleeding,” Leif Babin writes in Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, the book he co-wrote with Jocko Willink.

Hell Week was not a physical test.  It was a mental one.

Nearly 200 young men had started in the class.  “Within the first forty-eight hours of Hell Week, most of those young men had surrendered to the brutal challenge, rung the bell three times—the signal for DOR, or drop on request—and walked away from their dream of becoming a SEAL. They had quit,” Leif observes.

The students were assembled into teams or “boat crews” of seven men, established by height.  Each boat crew was assigned an IBS, or inflatable boat, small.  Small when compared to a ship perhaps, but large and heavy when carried by hand.  These large rubber boats weighed about 200 pounds and became heavier still when filled with water and sand.

“Success resulted from determination and will, but also from innovation and communication with the team,” Leif reflects.

On land, the teams carried the boats upon their heads up and over twenty-foot sand berms and ran with them for miles upon the beach.  On water, the crews paddled their boats through huge, crashing waves, which often capsized the boats and sent wet students and paddles everywhere.

The senior ranking man served as boat leader.  This individual received orders from the instructors and was responsible for directing the six members of the boat crew.

“During SEAL training (and really, throughout a SEAL’s career) every evolution was a competition—a race, a fight, a contest,” Leif writes.  

The instructors constantly reminded the students, “It pays to be a winner.”  Second place was simply “the first loser.”

“Bad performance—falling far behind the rest of the pack and coming in dead last—carried especially grueling penalties: unwanted attention from the SEAL instructors who dished out additional punishing exercises on top of the already exhausting Hell Week evolutions,” Leif recalls.

2: Boat Crew VI was floundering.  They had placed dead last in virtually every race, often lagging far behind the rest of the class.  

Their poor performance earned the ire of the SEAL instructors who berated them and dished out extra punishment.  Their misery multiplied exponentially.

The leader of Boat Crew VI, a young and inexperienced leader, was receiving even more attention from the instructors.  SEAL officers were expected to perform like everyone else, but more importantly, they were also expected to lead.

“Let’s swap out the boat crew leaders from the best and the worst crews and see what happens,” suggested one of the SEAL instructors.

The leaders were given instructions for the next race and reported to their new boats.

Only a single individual, the leader, would change.

“Stand by …  bust ’em!” came the command.  And they were off.  The boat crews sprinted across the beach and into the dark water, jumping into their boats and began paddling fiercely through the crashing waves.

As the race came to an end, “a miraculous turnaround had taken place: Boat Crew VI had gone from last place to first. The boat crew members had begun to work together as a team, and won,” Leif remembers.

3: It was an incredible turnaround.   

“Boat Crew VI, the same team in the same circumstances only under new leadership, went from the worst boat crew in the class to the best.  Gone was their cursing and frustration.  And gone too was the constant scrutiny and individual attention they had received from the SEAL instructor staff,” Leif writes.  “Had I not witnessed this amazing transformation, I might have doubted it.

“It was a glaring, undeniable example,” he observes, “of one of the most fundamental and important truths at the heart of Extreme Ownership: there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  What surprises me about the SEAL story above?  What lessons can I take from it?

Action:  Journal about my answers to the questions above.

What is the ultimate leadership trait?

1: Yesterday, we analyzed a “blue-on-blue” or friendly fire incident that happened in 2006 in Ramadi, the deadly epicenter of the Iraqi insurgency, involving Navy SEAL Task Force Bruiser and its commander Jocko Willink.

Today, we look at the principle Jocko demonstrated in the wake of what had happened.

Extreme Ownership.

This principle is the title of the book Jocko wrote with fellow SEAL Leif Babin.  It is also “the fundamental core of what constitutes an effective leader in the SEAL Teams or in any leadership endeavor,” he believes.  “The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.  That is Extreme Ownership.

“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader,” Jocko writes.  “The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”

2: But what about when a subordinate messes up?  Aren’t they to blame for their mistakes?

“When subordinates aren’t doing what they should, leaders that exercise Extreme Ownership cannot blame the subordinates,” Jocko writes.  “They must first look in the mirror at themselves. The leader bears full responsibility for explaining the strategic mission, developing the tactics, and securing the training and resources to enable the team to properly and successfully execute.”

Extreme ownership requires action.  “If underperformers cannot improve, the leader must make the tough call to terminate them and hire others who can get the job done.  It is all on the leader.”

The key to being successful?  Embracing reality.

“Extreme Ownership requires leaders to look at an organization’s problems through the objective lens of reality, without emotional attachments to agendas or plans,” Jocko observes.  “It mandates that a leader set ego aside, accept responsibility for failures, attack weaknesses, and consistently work to build a better and more effective team.”

Extreme ownership is what makes great leaders great.  “Not just of those things for which they were responsible, but for everything that impacted their mission,” Jocko writes.  “These leaders cast no blame. They made no excuses. Instead of complaining about challenges or setbacks, they developed solutions and solved problems.” 

3: The final attribute of extreme ownership?  Keeping their egos in check.  “Their own egos took a back seat to the mission and their troops. These leaders truly led,” Jocko explains.  “They’re also humble—able to keep their egos from damaging relationships and adversely impacting the mission and the team.”

The extreme ownership philosophy applies to life both on and off the battlefield.

“Once people stop making excuses, stop blaming others, and take ownership of everything in their lives, they are compelled to take action to solve their problems,” Jocko writes.  “They are better leaders, better followers, more dependable and actively contributing team members, and more skilled in aggressively driving toward mission accomplishment.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  What stands out to me about extreme ownership?  How can I use this principle in my career and in my life?

Action:  Do it.

Why extreme ownership is the answer

1: “Pushing open the heavy armored door of my vehicle, I stepped out onto the street.  I had a gut feeling that something was wrong,” writes Jocko Willink in Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win, which he co-wrote with Leif Babin.

Jocko’s mind was racing.  A veteran Navy SEAL, he had risen through the ranks to become commander of Task Force Bruiser.  It was his unit’s first major operation in Ramadi, the deadly epicenter of the Iraqi insurgency.  The situation was total chaos – “thick with confusion, inaccurate information, broken communications, and mayhem,” Jocko recounts.

The enemy insurgent fighters called themselves mujahideen, Arabic for “those engaged in jihad,” Jocko writes.  “They subscribed to a ruthless, militant version of Islam and they were cunning, barbaric, and lethal.  For years, the Mala’ab had remained firmly in their hands.  Now, the U.S. forces aimed to change that.”

Jocko’s Humvee rolled to a stop immediately behind an Abrams tank, its turret rotated and its huge main gun pointed at a building at point-blank range.

“What’s going on?” Jocko shouted at the Marine gunnery sergeant.

“Hot damn!” he shouted back.  “There’s some muj in that building right there putting up a serious fight!”

The Marine gestured at the building.  “They killed one of our Iraqi soldiers when we entered the building and wounded a few more.  We’ve been hammering them, and I’m working to get some bombs dropped on ’em now.”  He was coordinating an airstrike of U.S. aircraft to wipe out the mujahideen inside the building.

Jocko looked around.  The building was riddled with bullet holes.  “Now the Abrams tank had its huge main gun trained on the building, preparing to reduce it to rubble and kill everyone inside.  And if that still didn’t do the job, bombs from the sky would be next,” recalls Jocko.

“But something didn’t add up,” he recalls.  “We were extremely close to where one of our SEAL sniper teams was supposed to be.  The sniper team had abandoned the location they had originally planned to use and were in the process of relocating to a new building when all the shooting started.  In the mayhem, they hadn’t reported their exact location, but I knew it would be close to the point where I was standing,” Jocko writes.

“Hold what you got, Gunny, I’m going to check it out,” Jocko told the Marine commander.  He nodded at the senior enlisted SEAL, who nodded back, and together they moved across the street toward  the enemy-infested house.  The door was slightly open.  Jocko kicked it in.  

Staring back at him was one of his SEAL platoon chiefs.  In a flash, it all became clear.  “It was a blue-on-blue,” Jocko said calmly to the SEAL leader.

2: What had happened?  

In the early morning darkness, the SEAL sniper team had seen  the silhouette of a man armed with an AK-47 enter the building where they were setting up.  The area was crawling with enemy fighters.  There were not supposed to be any friendlies in the vicinity.  The SEALs had engaged the man with the AK-47, thinking they were under attack.

The only problem?

The silhouette was a “friendly,” an Iraqi soldier who was part of a team of who had strayed outside the boundaries.  When gunfire erupted from the house, the Iraqi soldiers called in reinforcements, Jocko writes, “and U.S. Marines and Army troops responded with a vicious barrage of gunfire into the house they assumed was occupied by enemy fighters.”   Meanwhile, inside the house, the SEALs were pinned down.  They returned fire as best they could to prevent being overrun by what they thought were enemy fighters.

The Marine commander was minutes away from directing airstrikes at the house from which the SEALS were fighting for their lives.

“The rest of the mission was a success,” Jocko recalls.  “But that didn’t matter. I felt sick. One of my men was wounded. An Iraqi soldier was dead and others were wounded. We did it to ourselves, and it happened under my command.”

Blue-on-blue, friendly fire, fratricide, “the worst thing that could happen,” Jocko explains.  “To be killed or wounded by the enemy in battle was bad enough.  But to be accidentally killed or wounded by friendly fire because someone had screwed up was the most horrible fate.”

Back at base, Jocko opened an email from his commanding officer.  “SHUT DOWN.  CONDUCT NO MORE OPERATIONS.  INVESTIGATING OFFICER, COMMAND MASTER CHIEF, AND I ARE IN ROUTE.”

“All the good things I had done and the solid reputation I had worked hard to establish in my career as a SEAL were now meaningless,” he remembers.  He wished he had died on the battlefield.  “I felt I deserved it.” 

Frustrated and disappointed, Jocko began gathering information and putting together his report.  “I assembled the list of everything that everyone had done wrong. . .  But something was missing.  There was a problem, some piece I hadn’t identified, and it made me feel like the truth wasn’t coming out,” Jocko remembers.  “Who was to blame?”
Then it hit him.  Like a ton of bricks.

Jocko stood in front of his Commanding Officer, the Commanding Master Chief, the investigating officer, and his entire SEAL team.  

“Whose fault was this?” Jocko asked.  “After a few moments of silence, the SEAL who had mistakenly engaged the Iraqi solider spoke up: ‘It was my fault. I should have positively identified my target.’”

“No, Jocko responded.  “It wasn’t your fault.  Whose fault was it?”

“It was my fault,” said the radioman.  “I should have passed our position over sooner.”

“Wrong,” Jocko responded.  “It wasn’t your fault.  Whose fault was it?” he asked again.

“It was my fault,” said another SEAL.  “I should have controlled the Iraqis and made sure they stayed in their sector.”

“Negative,” Jocko barked.  “There is only one person to blame for this: me.  I am the commander.  I am responsible for the entire operation.  As the senior man, I am responsible for every action that takes place on the battlefield.”  

“It was a heavy burden to bear,” Jocko recalls.  “But it was absolutely true. I was the leader. I was in charge and I was responsible. Thus, I had to take ownership of everything that went wrong.”

Then, the team then debriefed the entire operation, piece by piece.

“While a blue-on-blue incident in an environment like Ramadi might be likely, if not expected, we vowed to never let it happen again,” Jocko writes.  “We analyzed what had happened and implemented the lessons learned.  We revised our standard operating procedures and planning methodology to better mitigate risk. As a result of this tragic incident, we undoubtedly saved lives going forward.”

3: Looking back years later, Jocko believes, “If I had tried to pass the blame on to others, I suspect I would have been fired—deservedly so.”  Instead, “it is clear that, despite what happened, the full ownership I took of the situation actually increased the trust my commanding officer and master chief had in me.”

Reflection: What do I make of this event?  Are there any situations where I need to take full ownership?  What’s blocking me from doing so?

Action:  Journal about my answers to the questions above.

Week of September 13, 2021

“The most reliable way to change your life is by not changing your entire life.If you try to change everything all at once, you will quickly find yourself pulled back into the same patterns as before. But if you merely focus on changing one specific habit and work on it until it becomes part of your normal day, you will find your life changes naturally as a side effect.Improve the whole by mastering one thing.” -James Clear

Why the new has to be separate from the old 

Getting better at getting better is what RiseWithDrew is all about.

Monday through Thursday we explore ideas from authors, thought leaders, and exemplary organizations.  On Friday, I share something we are doing at PCI in our quest to earn a spot of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.  

Our new business idea Running is Life is live on Kickstarter.  It’s been a fun and interesting journey so far.

At PCI, we have developed a new capability while serving the higher education market: the ability to collect stories at scale.  

The next question becomes: Outside of our core markets (education, associations), are there other people or groups of people who might like to tell and preserve their story?  

The answer?  Likely, yes.

Last February, we decided to find out.  Our experience so far has been impacted by the great management thinker Peter Drucker.  Entrepreneurship is not “natural,” Peter tells us in The Essential Drucker.  Entrepreneurship is not “creative.”  It is work.

“Entrepreneurial businesses treat entrepreneurship as a duty,” Peter observes.  “They are disciplined about it. . .  they work at it. . . they practice it.”

Peter believes innovating within an existing organization poses a specific challenge:  “It is not size that is an impediment to entrepreneurship and innovation; it is the existing operation itself, and especially the existing successful operation.”

For an existing business to be successful with innovation, it requires a structure which allows people to be entrepreneurial.  

“This means, first, that the entrepreneurial – the new – has to be organized separately from the old and existing,” Peter writes.  “The best, and perhaps the only, way to avoid killing off the new by sheer neglect is to set up the innovative project from the start as a separate business.”


Because: “Whenever we have tried to make an existing unit the carrier of the entrepreneurial project, we have failed.  One reason is that the existing business always requires time and effort on the part of the people responsible for it, and deserves the priority they give it.  The new always looks so puny–so unpromising–next to the reality of the massive, ongoing business,” Peter observes. 

“The people responsible for the existing business will therefore always be tempted to postpone action on anything new, entrepreneurial, or innovative until it is too late…  The new belongs elsewhere.”

Simply put: “Do not make innovation an objective for people charged with running, exploiting, optimizing what already exists.”

Following Peter’s advice, we created a separate team to bring our new venture to life.

As CEO, I decided to dedicate a certain amount of my time to the project and brought on someone with experience and passion for storytelling.  Next, we hired an innovative marketing firm to help with strategy and execution of our plan.  

Initially, we explored a broad, umbrella approach where we would collect stories from different types of groups.  Then, we decided to begin by going “all-in” on one specific area.  We considered a number of alternatives before deciding on running.  Once that decision was made, we looked at different brand names and identities before deciding on Running is Life.  

I’ll check in periodically and report on our progress.

If you love running or know someone who is passionate about running, please check out our Running is Life  Kickstarter Campaign.  

We’d be honored to include your running story in our first Running is Life book — where it will live amongst hundreds of other powerful stories which show how and why “running is life.”

More next week!


Reflection:  Think back on efforts to launch something new.  What worked?  What didn’t?  What lessons can I learn from these past experiences?

Action:  Journal about it.

How we can use the “rule of three” to connect and persuade

1: Pope Francis has spoken to some of the largest audiences in history.  In July 2013, he spoke to more than 3 million people on the beach in Rio.  Only to outdo himself two years later during his visit to the Philippines where he spoke to a crowd of 6 million people, Carmine Gallo shares in The Storyteller’s Secret.

No matter how large the audience, Francis often relies on one of the oldest and most powerful rules of storytelling: the rule of three.  The technique is straight-forward: he introduces a list of three and then provides details on each point in the body of his talk.

“First of all, I will talk about three things: one, two, three, like old-timer Jesuits used to do, right?  One, two, three!” Francis once told an audience as they laughed and cheered.

In his first talk after being elected pontiff, Francis summarized his faith in three bullets: journeying, building, and professing.  

During his talk in Manila, he said, “God has created the world as a beautiful garden… man had disfigured that natural beauty with social structures that perpetuate poverty, ignorance, and corruption.

On Ash Wednesday 2015, he remarked: “Today’s Gospel indicates the elements of this spiritual journey: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”

2: So, why do we find “three” inherently satisfying? Carmine asks.

“For example, movie directors say, ‘lights, camera, action.’  Sprinters are conditioned to listen to the command, ‘Ready, set, go.’  What should you do if you caught fire? Hopefully you’d remember to ‘stop, drop, and roll.’  If you had to recall 18 steps, you’d be severely injured before you completed the progression,” Carmine observes.

Our minds think in patterns.  Three is the lowest number of units that can establish a pattern or progression.  And, it is relatively easy to remember three items.

“The rule of three makes any story more effective because audiences are more likely to recall the content.  Great writers follow the rule.  Thomas Jefferson changed the course of civilization with three ‘unalienable rights’: life, liberty, happiness.  

“Our favorite children’s fables are grouped in threes: the three little pigs, the three bears, the three Musketeers, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, etc.,” Carmine writes.

We are wise to take note.  Our clients don’t want to know all 200 features of our product or service.  Better to explain three features they will care about the most.  They don’t want 75 different marketing ideas; we’re smart to offer our three best ones.

3: When telling a story, we can utilize the Three-Act Story Structure which dates back to Aristotle.  Almost twenty five hundred years later, most movies and television shows are structured into three acts.  Act I is typically about the first 30-minutes of a two-hour movie and creates the setting for what is to happen.  We meet our hero and the villain.  There is often an “inciting incident” or attention-grabbing scene which disrupts the hero’s world.  

Act II is the longest of the three acts, about 60 minutes.  Characters are developed and obstacles must be overcome.  There is conflict and tension.  The bigger the challenges, the more satisfying the climax.  Act III is the final 30-minutes where the hero and the villain square off and the story is resolved.

The Storyteller’s Secret?

Carmine tells us: “The world’s greatest storytellers stick to the rule of three because it accomplishes, well, three things: 1) It offers a simple template to structure your story. 2) It simplifies your story so your audience can remember its key messages. 3) It leads to the ultimate goal of persuasion—action!”

More tomorrow!


Reflection:  How can I incorporate the rule of three into my next communication or presentation?

Action:  Analyze the next movie or television show and break it down according to the three act structure.

What we can learn from Winston and Martin

1: The date was June 4, 1940.  Nazi Germany was on the verge of victory over France.  The situation was desperate.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to prepare the British people for a momentous challenge ahead.

“We shall fight in France.

We shall fight on the seas and oceans.

We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.

We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight on the beaches.

We shall fight on the landing grounds.

We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.

We shall fight in the hills.

We shall never surrender.”

Winston Churchill’s stirring speech that day is widely held to be one of the finest oratorical moments of the war and of his career.  His oration is an electrifying example of the power of anaphora, where we communicate using a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses and sentences.

This week we are exploring some of the ideas we can use to become more powerful communicators as outlined in Carmine Gallo‘s The Storyteller’s Secret.

“Anaphora is effective in the building of a movement because it increases the intensity of an idea, and intense ideas sear themselves into our brain,” Carmine writes.

2: The “master class” in anaphora?  Martin Luther King‘s Dream Speech.

Eight times Martin thunders the phrase “I have a dream…”  

Eight times he contrasts the difficulties facing the nation with his dream of a better future.

As he wraps up his iconic speech, he wields an anaphora once again.  This time speaking the phrase “Let freedom ring.”

“And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

3: Incredibly powerful, we think, but what does this technique have to do with me?

The Storyteller’s Secret?  “Actually,” Carmine observes, “anaphora can be seamlessly and comfortably incorporated into business presentations meant to inspire audiences to see the world differently.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What can I learn from orators like Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Action:  Experiment with anaphora to transform an otherwise functional presentation.

How to win over an audience

“Show me an MBA and your sales numbers, that’s fine.  But tell me a great story about how you got started and your vision, and we’ll talk.” —Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank

1: Bryan Stevenson  was nine and playing with his cousins.  A small gesture was about to set him on his path to becoming a prominent civil rights attorney, Carmine Gallo writes in his book The Storyteller’s Secret.  

Bryan’s grandmother pulled him aside and said, “Bryan, I’m going to tell you something, but you don’t tell anybody what I tell you.”  She looked at him and said,” I want you to know I’ve been watching you.  I think you are special.  I think you can do anything you want to do.”

She then asked him to a make her a promise he would never drink alcohol.  Being nine, he willingly agreed.

About five years later, his promise was tested.

“One day my brother came home and he had this six-pack,” Bryan shares in his TED talk.  “And he grabbed me and my sister and we went out in the woods.  And he had a sip of this beer and he gave some to my sister and she had some, and they offered it to me.  I said, ‘No, no, no.  That’s okay.  You all go ahead.  I’m not going to have any beer.'”  

His brother became agitated and insisted he tried it.  “What’s wrong with you?  Have some beer.”  

Then, he looked at Bryan and said, “Oh, I hope you’re not still hung up on that conversation Mama had with you…. Oh, Mama tells all the grandkids that they’re special.”

“I was devastated.” Bryan pauses.  “I’m going to admit something to you,” he tells the TED audience.  “I’m going to tell you something I probably shouldn’t,” he pauses.  “I’m 52 years old, and I’m going to admit to you that I’ve never had a drop of alcohol.  I don’t say that because I think that’s virtuous; I say that because there is power in identity.”

2: To win over an audience, most speakers fail to think about how stories move people.  Instead, they spend a majority of their presentation providing facts, figures, and data.

“The world’s most inspiring educators do just the opposite, devoting 65 percent or more of their content to stories that establish trust and build a deeper, emotional relationship with their audience,” Carmine writes.  Only then, “once they’ve connected, can they educate.”

Two-thirds of Bryan’s TED talk is narrative.  Facts, figures, and statics make up about 25 percent and information intended to bolster his credibility is about 10 percent.

Bryan establishes his theme: the power of identity, at the outset of his talk.  He then tells his first story about the day his grandmother had him swear off alcohol.

Next, he begins his second story: the day he met Rosa Parks.

“Ms. Parks turned to me and she said, ‘Now Bryan, tell me what the Equal Justice Initiative is.  Tell me what you’re trying to do.’

“And I began giving her my rap. I said, ‘Well we’re trying to challenge injustice.  We’re trying to help people who have been wrongly convicted.  We’re trying to confront bias and discrimination in the administration of criminal justice.  We’re trying to end life without parole sentences for children.  We’re trying to do something about the death penalty.  We’re trying to reduce the prison population.  We’re trying to end mass incarceration.’

“I gave her my whole rap, and when I finished she looked at me and she said, ‘Mmm mmm mmm.”  She said, ‘That’s going to make you tired, tired, tired.’

“And that’s when Ms. Carr (Ms. Park’s friend) leaned forward, she put her finger in my face.  She said, ‘That’s why you’ve got to be brave, brave, brave.’”

3: As communicators, we are at our most powerful when we engage people’s hearts rather than just their minds. “Remember,” Carmine tells us: “Data delivers information. Stories educate by adding soul to the data and, by doing so, force people to reconsider their closely held beliefs.”

Educating audiences on complex topics—topics that face habitual resistance—can feel overwhelming.  

“Storytelling not only helps; it’s essential,” Carmine observes.  

“Most people who watch a presentation with compelling stories and narratives are at loss to explain why the presentation inspired them,” Carmine notes.  “They just know they were moved. They want to be ‘friends’ with the speaker. They want to be part of the journey.”

The Storyteller’s Secret? “Facts are a necessary component of persuasion, but facts must be balanced with the skillful use of narrative to transport listeners to another time and place,” writes Carmine. “Once listeners are figuratively walking in the shoes of the protagonist—the hero—they feel as though they have a stake in the outcome and are willing to do whatever is necessary to help the hero reach his or her final destination.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  Prior to my next meeting or presentation, think about what stories I can tell to help others understand my point.  

Action:  Do it.  Today.

Week of September 6, 2021

“Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”-Dr. Howard Gardner, professor Harvard University

Why Running is Life

1: Yesterday we launched a brand new offering called Running Is Life

We’ve been working on it for seven months.  In my experience, doing something brand new is a bit of emotional roller coaster.  There are definitely highs, moments when it feels like we are destined for success.  Other times, it seems like nothing is working.

Overall, the word I would use to describe the process is humbling. 

Two days before the launch I woke up at 3 am.  My mind was racing.  I thought about a series of decisions we had made.  Wrong decisions, I decided.  

After tossing and turning for about an hour, I decided to get up and start the day.  I was in a dark mood.  Pushups and situps are first up on my morning routine.  I didn’t feel like doing them.  At all.  

I did them.  But I wasn’t happy about it.  

Next up is my gratitude journal.  This wasn’t a typical entry.  More like a stream of conscious rant.  Next, I worked on a Rise With Drew post.  My sour mood seemed to fade a bit.  Then, Carey got up.  We did our Bible study and I finally starting to feel like me again.

One of the many benefits of a morning routine it creates space to be intentional about the day ahead.  How do I want to show up?  Choosing vs. reacting.  

2: As the leader of our company and the point person for the Running Is Life initiative, I realize my attitude is contagious: If I’m down and in a dark mood, it influences others.  I decided to be to be upbeat and positive.  To lean into this day. 

I looked at our Kickstarter website where the product launch was getting ready to happen.  It looked better than I had convinced myself at 3 am.  I reached out to my colleagues on the team.  They were getting stuff done.  Crossing items off the list.  They were excited for the launch.  So was I.  

Over the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve benefited from the biggest innovation in our company’s history: the Oral History Project.  Since we collected our first story in June of 2019, we’ve now interviewed and captured the collegiate experience of more than 500,000 alumni.  Incredible.

Why has this innovation worked?

For starters, there is tremendous overlap between the Oral History Project and our classic directory business.  Same clients: universities, service organizations, and high schools.  Same contract signer.  Same alumni or membership we interact with every day.  Even the final product is similar: a print and/or digital publication and branded apparel.

Now, what’s inside the publication is completely different.  Our core business is all about data.  Biographical and contact information.  Where people live and work.  By contrast, the Oral History Project is all about people’s stories. 

Learning how to capture these stories, lay them out, and publish them are all new capabilities we’ve had to develop.

Our new initiative Running is Life benefits from our new story capture and publishing capabilities.  What’s different here is from whom we are collecting the stories.  Our educational and service organization clients send us a list of their alumni or membership.  We market to that list.  

With Running is Life, we are creating the list of people we will market to using social media and event marketing.  And, instead of selling on the phone, we’re experimenting with selling using digital marketing.  All new. 

Our goal with this initiative (and with our business generally) is to show up as learners, not knowers.  We are running experiments.  Seeing what happens.  Reflecting on the lessons learned.  Then, applying those lessons and running another experiment.  Watching what happens.  Reflecting on the lessons learned.  Rinse and repeat.  

The goal is to keep learning.  To keep getting better.  Getting better at getting better.

3. If you love running or know someone who is passionate about running, please check out our Running is Life Kickstarter Campaign.  We’re in the “soft launch” period so your order is especially important as we want to create some *action* on the site before starting our social media marketing next week.

We’d be honored to include your running story in the book — where it can live among hundreds of other powerful stories that show how and why “running is life.”

Reflection:  Think back on an experience where I was creating something new.  How would I describe that experience?  What did I like about it?  What didn’t I like about it?  Do I want to do it again?  Should I do it again?

Action:  Journal about my answers to the questions above.

How recovering from stress spurs learning and growth 

1: Many of us view our sweaty palms, our need for moral support, or our rumination after a stressful experience as excessive “stress symptoms.”  Perhaps we see these signs and believe we aren’t handling stress well.   And, we think stress is something we need to recover from. 

As with so many aspects of stress, we are wrong, Kelly McGonigal writes in her powerful book The Upside of Stress.

“The last stage of any stress response is recovery, when [our] body and brain return to a non-stressed state,” Kelly writes.  Hormones are built into the stress response to help us recover physically and mentally.  “The body relies on a pharmacy of stress hormones to help [us] recover.  For example, cortisol and oxytocin reduce inflammation and restore balance to the autonomic nervous system.  DHEA and nerve growth factor increase neuroplasticity so that [our] brain can learn from stressful experiences.”

2: The stress recovery process takes time, Kelly notes.  “For several hours after [we] have a strong stress response, the brain is rewiring itself to remember and learn from the experience.  During this time, stress hormones increase activity in brain regions that support learning and memory.”

Even though our body is calming down, we still feel mentally charged.  As our brain processes the stressful experience, we often are unable to stop thinking about what happened.  We might feel an impulse to talk with someone about it, or to pray about it.  

If things went well, we “might replay the experience in our mind, remembering everything [we] did and how it worked out.  If things went poorly, [we] might try to understand what happened, imagine what [we] could have done differently, and play out other possible outcomes,” Kelly observes.

3: Emotions often run high during the recovery process.  We may find ourselves too energized or agitated to calm down.  As we recover from a stressful experience, it’s typical to feel fear, shock, anger, guilt, or sadness.  

We may also feel relief, joy, or gratitude.  

“These emotions often coexist during the recovery period and are part of how the brain makes sense of the experience.  They encourage [us] to reflect on what happened and to extract lessons to help us deal with future stress,” writes Kelly.  “They also make the experience more memorable.  The neurochemistry of these emotions render the brain more plastic – a term used to describe how capable the brain is of remodeling itself based on experience.  In this way, emotions that follow stress help [us] learn from experience and create meaning.”

Our brain is processing and integrating the experience.  The process helps our brain to learn and grow.  This is how we learn from stressful experiences.  Our stress response teaches our brain and body how to handle future stress.

“Stress leaves an imprint on [our] brain that prepares [us] to deal with similar stress the next time [we] encounter it.  Not every minor irritation will trigger this process, but when [we] go through a seriously challenging experience, [our] body and brain learn from it.  

“Psychologists call this stress inoculation.  It’s like a stress vaccine for your brain.”  

This is why putting people through “practice stress” is a key aspect of training for NASA astronauts, emergency responders, elite athletes, and others who have to thrive in highly stressful environments.”  [Note: It can also explain the findings of scientists like Stanford’s Karen Parker.

The research shows when we view a stressful situation as an opportunity to learn and improve our skills, knowledge, or strengths, it makes it more likely we will learn from the experience.

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  Think back on a recent stressful experience.  Identify the process you went through afterward.  How does your experience fit into Kelly’s process described above?

Action: Take a few more moments to journal about it.

Stress at 36,000 feet?

1: Reva and her husband, Lakshman, took Kelly McGonigal‘s New Science of Stress course together.  After the last class, they flew to Australia to see one of their daughters, who was expecting a baby.

“Lakshman suffers from heart disease, and one of the symptoms is obstructive sleep apnea,” Reva explains in Kelly’s powerful book The Upside of Stress.  “He needs to use a continuous airway pressure machine on flights to maintain adequate oxygen.  The machine has to be plugged in, and it takes up a lot of space—something that makes flying a very stressful experience.

“On this flight, the power outlet was on the ceiling, and the connection kept coming loose. Because it was a night flight, the plane was dark, which made it hard to see,” Reva recalls.  She had to climb on her seat to reconnect the cord.  Trying to maneuver in the cramped row was painful, especially because Reva was recovering from knee replacement surgery.  “She felt her whole body responding to stress,” Kelly writes.

2: But Reva and Lakshman remembered the stress response is more than just fight-or-flight.

First, they talked about the stress they were feeling.  “Instead of stressing about the stress, they imagined their bodies releasing oxytocin to help them support each other and to protect Lakshman’s heart,” Kelly shares.  “Knowing about the social side of the stress response, Reva befriended the woman in the seat next to her.  Connecting with the row mate made the rest of the long journey much easier, as Reva no longer worried about disturbing her with her movements.

“Reva and Lakshman also made a conscious choice to shift their mental focus from trying to fix an uncontrollable situation to thinking about why the flight itself was important,” Kelly writes.  “They talked about how this ordeal was part of something meaningful—going to see their daughter and soon-to-be-born grandchild. This helped them appreciate the journey, even with its discomfort.”

3: Kelly loves this story because it is a simple example of how remembering the many aspects of a stress response can help transform our experience of stress.  In this case, focusing on social connection and meaning was the perfect strategy for enduring a long and uncomfortable flight.

“The stress response is more than a basic survival instinct,” Kelly writes.  “It is built into how humans operate, how we relate to one another, and how we navigate our place in the world. When [we] understand this, the stress response is no longer something to be feared.  It is something to be appreciated, harnessed, and even trusted.”

When we believe that stress is harmful, anything that feels a bit stressful feels like an intrusion on our life.  The takeaway is to change our relationship to the everyday experiences we perceive as hassles. The same experiences that give rise to daily stress can also be sources of uplift or meaning—but we must choose to view them this way.

When we feel our body responding to stress, we can ask ourselves which part of the stress response we need most.  Do we need to fight, escape, engage, connect, find meaning, or grow? Even if it feels like our stress response is pushing us in one direction, focusing on how we want to respond can shift our biology to support us.

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What are my beliefs and assumptions about stress?  What interests me or surprises me about Kelly’s research?

Action: Talk with my spouse, colleague, or friend about this material.