Episode: The Upside of an Experimental Mindset

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt, and this is Lead to Win, the weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. In this episode, we’re talking about how to develop an experimental mindset and why that’s important. Megan Hyatt Miller is on parental leave. She’s home with her newly adopted daughter Naomi. She’ll be back shortly, but today we’re going to help you solve a problem every leader faces: resistance to change. I’m joined as always by Larry Wilson. Hey, Larry.

Larry Wilson: Hey. You are right. Every leader faces this. If you’ve been in any leadership situation, you’ve run up against this. How many times do you hear the same old things? Right? “We’ve always done it this way. It’ll cost too much. It’s not worth it. So-and-so is never going to go along with this. We can’t change. I would do it, but they won’t.” Then you get the stall tactics…slow-rolling it and undermining or just outright ignoring the things you try to implement. This is a pain in the neck.

Michael: It is a pain in the neck, and I think change is oftentimes hard to sell to ourselves. Regardless, I was thinking about a change we implemented about two and a half years ago that revolutionized our business, but at the time it didn’t seem that significant. It really came about as a result of me hating email.

I was frustrated with email, especially when I was trying to collaborate with the team, because you forward the email to your teammates, and then you kind of lose the thread, and, “Oh, I should have included somebody else.” It’s just a mess. Then how do you get somebody up-to-date who wasn’t part of the conversation? Do you send them all of the previous emails? You know, all that kind of stuff. So, I found this tool called Slack. Slack is one of the fastest-growing companies out there now, but two and a half years ago it wasn’t. It was a brand-new tool.

What it enabled you to do was what email couldn’t do, which was to have these threaded conversations in one software app where you could communicate with your associates in channels, and if somebody else joined the company or came into the conversation, they could see all the backlog of the conversation. They could get up to speed very quickly. You could upload files there, and all the rest.

Larry: It’s almost like a Facebook for work.

Michael: It kind of is.

Larry: You post, and then you can comment on the post, and they can comment on your comments.

Michael: Interestingly, Facebook has their own solution…after Slack. They said, “Hey, this looks a lot like Facebook for groups, so what if we do…?” Facebook calls it Workplace. We tried it for a while. We don’t think it holds a candle to Slack, but anyway, that’s just our opinion. Regardless, I knew that even though all of my teammates hated email and hated it as much as I do, it was going to be difficult to get people to change from email, because that was a known solution. It was familiar.

So, I proposed an experiment. I said, “Hey, I’ve discovered this new software tool called Slack. I don’t know if it’ll work for us…” By the way, we could have debated it endlessly. I said, “I don’t know if it’s going to work for us, but what if we do this? What if we try it as an experiment on Friday and we all agree we’re not going to communicate via email just for that one day only? At the end of the day we’ll vote, and whatever you guys decide I’m content to live with, because, frankly, I don’t know if this is the right solution either.”

So we tried it for a day. Everybody went all in, and at the end of the day, it was unanimous. Everybody said, “Oh my gosh. First of all, this is fun, and second of all, this is so much better than email. Let’s give it another week just to see if we want to stick with it and see if the initial enthusiasm wears off.” Well, it didn’t, and now we’ve been with it two and a half years. We’ve looked at some other solutions periodically, but without question, that is a core application. The key thing to note is I sold it by experimentation. I didn’t ask people to make a one-and-done kind of decision. I said, “Let’s just try it.”

Larry: That’s a good example, Michael. It probably wasn’t an earth-shattering change for Michael Hyatt & Company at the time. Sometimes you have major changes to introduce, and do you really want to present that as an experiment? Isn’t it better just to rip off the Band-Aid and say, “This is happening. You need to get on board”?

Michael: Well, sometimes, but the thing I like about the experiment is it provides an opportunity for people to buy in slowly. In fact, I have a couple of benefits to this approach I’d like to outline. First, it keeps you from procrastinating until it’s perfect. I often say that perfectionism is the mother of procrastination. Particularly for certain types of personalities (I won’t mention anybody specifically in the room, Larry)…

Larry: Thank you.

Michael: People can procrastinate until they get it perfect. When you try to cover every detail, answer every question, solve every problem, you’re going to get bogged down. It’s paralysis by analysis. The second benefit of this experimental approach is that it enables you to gather the data you would otherwise never get. You can argue all you want and never get alignment. You’re missing the data that comes from doing it. The third benefit: it lets reluctant people try it without a commitment. Here’s reality: 70 percent of change initiatives fail.

Larry: Seventy percent.

Michael: Seventy percent. Now I know on the front end, especially as leaders, we’re optimistic. We would never admit this, but 70 percent of the change initiatives that we initiate or propose are going to fail. Risk-aversion is a huge reason. In other words, people dig in their heels. They just don’t get on board, and it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But this experimental approach lowers the bar for entry. No risk. That’s why they let you test drive cars.

Larry: You’re right. As soon as you drive it, usually you want to buy it.

Michael: Okay. Just a story about buying my BMW. I’d never had a BMW before, and evidently BMW knows that once you lock into a BMW, you’re probably never going to get any other car. So they said to me as I test drove it, “Did you like the test drive?” and I said, “Yeah.” They said, “Why don’t you take it home for the weekend and tell us what you think? If you don’t want to buy it, it’s fine, but you get a little bit more experience. You can take your wife out for a test drive and see what you think.”

Larry: Amazing.

Michael: I’m on my third BMW. This is the same approach when people say, “Hey, why don’t you just take the puppy home for the weekend and see what you think?” Does anybody ever take the puppy back? So, fourth, it lets you change your mind. That’s a fourth benefit of this approach. This past summer, I decided to grow a beard.

Larry: I remember.

Michael: I hate to say this, but we did an entire Instagram photo shoot with the beard. By the way, I don’t have a beard right now, so that entire photo shoot was wasted. At first, I thought, “This is going to be my new look. There’s something about this that’s a little bohemian, a little avant-garde, a little cutting edge.” I’m kind of going through my tenth midlife crisis, and I thought this would be a cool thing to do, but I wasn’t sure, so I presented it to myself, to my wife, to my family, and to my social media followers as just an experiment.

After six weeks (predictably, some would say), I was over it, but I didn’t really have to back out of a lot, because I said… I reminded everybody, “It was just an experiment.” So, one day I went in and shaved. That was it. It was easy to change my mind, because I hadn’t committed to this for the rest of my life. It was just an experiment.

Larry: We have for you today four situations in which you can benefit by using this experimental mindset to overcome resistance. So let’s get to them. First situation: when you find yourself procrastinating.

Michael: One of the reasons we procrastinate is because the decision seems so big, but if we propose it as an experiment, it makes it easier for people to say, “Oh, okay.” Just less resistance. So, for years, I knew I needed to do strength training. Especially as you get older, your muscle mass just depletes automatically, and you have to keep it up.

As it turns out, having some strength and muscle mass is important as you grow older. It keeps you from falling. A lot of good benefits to it. So, I kept procrastinating this. I was doing cardio fine, but no strength training. I happened to have a conversation with…not to be a name dropper, but with Henry Cloud. We were at a conference together. Henry probably doesn’t even remember this conversation.

Larry: He probably is doing the same thing. “I was having a conversation with Michael Hyatt…”

Michael: I was telling him about this problem. He said, “What’s happening in your life?” and I said, “Man, I’m just really struggling right now with trying to do strength training.” He said, “Why don’t you hire a strength trainer?” It was one of those moments where I want to slap my forehead and go, “Yeah. Why don’t I do that? It’ll give me some accountability.”

So, to kind of get over the cost, frankly, and the size of the decision, I proposed it to myself as an experiment. I said, “Okay. I’m going to try this for 90 days and see if it works.” Loved it. So here we are seven years later. I still have a strength trainer. I’m in the best shape of my life, but it all started as an experiment.

Now, people have all kinds of reasons to procrastinate…maybe fear, fear of change, cost, what’s going to be expected of them, whatever. The secret is to disarm the fear by proposing it as an experiment. It lowers the threshold of risk so it’s easier to get into the new behavior without feeling like you’re expending a lot of energy or a lot of cost or making a big commitment you can’t get out of.

Larry: I think a lot of leaders face this not just on a personal level, but when you have a big initiative to roll out, it’s easy to procrastinate because it’s going to require a lot of emotional energy. There’s going to be a lot of disruption in your business. So it’s easy to procrastinate on something you know you really want to do. When you have that out, so to speak, “It’s just an experiment,” it’s a game changer.

Michael: And if it doesn’t work, no problem.

Larry: Let’s get to the second situation when an experimental mindset can help you introduce change: when you’re trying to sell a reluctant audience.

Michael: Yes. So, about 10 years ago, Gail and I were on our first ever sabbatical. We were sitting out on this dock on this beautiful lake one morning, both having our quiet times, and she’s journaling. She had become a zealot for journaling, so she said to me, “I really think now that you’ve left the corporate world and you’re starting your own business that you should start journaling.”

I was immediately resistant. I said, “Babe, I have tried that before. I am not a journaler. It’s not what I do. No.” She said, “Okay. Why don’t you try it as an experiment?” The way she proposed it, she said, “How about a seven-day experiment? While we’re on the rest of this sabbatical, why don’t you just do it for the next seven days? If you don’t want to do it after that, fine, but I think you have to give it an honest chance. I think you might find real benefit out of it.”

I resisted a little bit more, and she said, “I’m just talking seven days.” So I was like, “Okay.” Well, now I have journaled not every day but almost every day for the last 10 years. Why? Because she proposed it as an experiment. I was reluctant, but I bought into it, because I only had to buy into the experiment.

Larry: And you bought in for just seven days. It has turned into at least seven years of consistent practice.

Michael: It’s like a cornerstone or a keystone habit for me. I can’t even think of my morning routine or my morning ritual without journaling. It’s that important. I go back to those journals. One of the things I try to do every morning is read what happened on this particular day in the previous years, and it’s amazing just to revisit those memories and see where I was at a couple of years ago.

Larry: Well, this works, and I know that from personal experience, that when you’re trying to sell a reluctant audience it really works. Do you want to know how I know that?

Michael: How do you know that?

Larry: Because you pulled this on me.

Michael: I did?

Larry: You did.

Michael: I’ve pulled it on everybody I know.

Larry: We were talking about making some change around the company, and now, honestly, I don’t even remember what it was. It probably had to do with the podcast, because I work on the podcast. I was reluctant to do it. You were suggesting it, and I was like, “Well, I don’t know. That’s going to cause some disruption. We might lose some listeners if we do…” Whatever it was. I was just afraid there would be a negative impact.

So I wrote a Slack thread to you about that, and then I’m thinking, “All right. Now there’s going to be an argument. Not an unfriendly argument, but there’s going to be a little bit of friendly conflict over this. I’m going to have to try to sell people. Let me think. I think Nick agrees with me. I think Joel is on the fence.”

Michael: I love this.

Larry: “If I can’t sell him, we’re going to have to go to Courtney, our chief marketing officer.” I’m thinking like I’m the minority whip.

Michael: Right. “Where are the votes?”

Larry: About 30 seconds later, you wrote back. I clicked on the thread, and you said, “Hey, Larry. Why don’t we just try it as an experiment?” I thought, “Oh. Well, yeah. We could do that. I mean, we’re not locked into anything. If it doesn’t work, then I just get to say, ‘I told you so’ and we move on.” And we did it, and whatever the change was, we haven’t gone back. I don’t even remember it now because it was that easily adopted and the change that easily made. But then I was reading over a blog post you wrote about a month or two ago about how to adopt an experimental mindset, and I thought, “That son of a gun! He pulled that on me.”

Michael: Now you know my trick.

Larry: And it works. We perhaps had better move on to the third situation when an experimental mindset can help you introduce change: when you face open resistance.

Michael: Some resistance is not reluctance (and probably the example I just gave fits in this category); it’s outright opposition. That can happen with major change especially. When people are invested in the status quo, they will fight change. Examples might be changes to a product line. People are committed to the existing product line. Somebody proposes something different, and everybody just knows that won’t work. Well, try it as an experiment.

Larry: Yeah. Inside the company, it affects a lot of people’s jobs, probably, and then they fear the reaction in the marketplace too.

Michael: That’s right. This lowers the threshold of risk. Here’s another one that happened at Michael Hyatt & Company. I proposed to our team probably two and a half years ago that we institute as a benefit unlimited PTO. In case you don’t know what PTO is, paid time off.

So, instead of saying to our employees, “You get two weeks off in the first year of employment, and then you get another additional week after you’ve had service of 55 years,” or whatever it is, we said, “How about from the get-go unlimited PTO? You’re an adult. We know you’re committed to your work. We know you love your work because we’ve put you in a position where you love your work. We want you to take time off. Why don’t you be an adult and take the time off that you need.”

There was a lot of resistance from our leadership team, because people were like, “Oh my gosh. What if people abuse it? I’m not so sure that would work.” By the way, I checked with my friend David DeWolf who runs a company in Virginia. He had instituted this with 600 employees. I was kind of hedging my bets here, so I said, “David, I want you to assure me that that worked and it hasn’t been abused.”

He said, “Absolutely. We’ve done it for three years, and nobody has ever abused it.” It made me feel a little bit more confident. Still, the leadership team was like, “I’m not sure.” I said, “Well, why don’t we try it as an experiment? Let’s go into this and try it for a quarter and see if it works.” Nobody abused it. We tried it for a year. Not one person abused it. In fact, I would say we still have to push people to take time off.

Larry: Two things about that. First, when you hire high-achievers, if you hire right, you get people who are bought into your mission, and they’re self-motivated and responsible. The other is that’s what people who have implemented that find. Yeah, people take about the same amount of time off as they would if they had 15 days PTO or whatever it is. They take about the vacation they need. That’s the way it works.

Michael: The funny thing about it… I heard an interview this last week. I think it was on Donald Miller’s podcast. He was interviewing somebody who was a specialist in Millennials in the workplace and said that a lot of companies have implemented unlimited PTO, but Millennials don’t like it. They feel guilty about taking the time off, and they would like to have more defined time off so they can do it guilt-free.

So, I’m going to go back to our team who thinks this is a huge benefit and just say, “As an experiment, why don’t we give people the option that they could either have a defined period of time off or they can have the unlimited PTO option?” Whatever floats their boat, because it’s designed to be a benefit. I don’t care one way or the other.

Larry: Would you like my vote right now?

Michael: Yeah, I would.

Larry: I’ll stay with the unlimited PTO.

Michael: I would too.

Larry: Not because I take so much time off. I think I probably take about the same as I have in all recent years, but because I love knowing it’s there.

Michael: It creates the illusion of autonomy.

Larry: Yes. Just that. You know, one of the things I learned in doing some reading on this subject… Do you know that people will not take a bet unless they stand to win more than twice as much as they stand to lose?

Michael: That doesn’t surprise me, but I like where you’re going with this. I’ve never thought about applying this to the workplace.

Larry: They’re more motivated by the fear of loss than by the hope of gain, so the gain has to be a lot before they’ll risk any loss at all. I think this feeds right into what we’re talking about here today.

Michael: I do too. It reduces the size of the loss, because if you try the experiment and it doesn’t work, it’s not a big deal. You really haven’t lost any ground.

Larry: Well, let’s move to the fourth situation when an experimental mindset can help you introduce change: when you’re afraid or someone on your team is afraid of making a mistake.

Michael: As we said before, there are certain personality types this afflicts more than others. Right?

Larry: That’s very true, Michael. Thank you.

Michael: I would say this is pretty much our MO at Michael Hyatt & Company. There are people who are afraid of making a mistake, and one of the things you can do is roll it out as an experiment. You could prototype it. You could distribute it to a limited audience, if we’re talking about a new product, for example. Certainly, we did that with the second edition of the Full Focus Planner. The first edition, total experiment. We put that out into the marketplace. We thought it would work.

We knew it wasn’t perfect. We knew we’d likely have to tweak it, and, in fact, the moment we launched it we began work on version 2. But version 2, people were reluctant to change it. Internally I’m talking about, because it had worked so big. It was like, “Hey, don’t mess with the recipe. We don’t want this to be New Coke. People loved the first Coke. We don’t want to change and have a new improved version. There’s no reason to change it.”

So I got the idea… I said, “What if we create a private Facebook group?” which we called the Full Focus Planner Think Tank. I said, “We’ll run every change by these people, give them a chance to experiment with it, and give us their input.” Now the crazy thing was 10,000 people, almost like that, joined that group. They were that enthusiastic about the planner, and, boy, did they give their input. I was actually doing the design on this, because I just love this product, and I literally designed every page in that second edition of the planner.

So, I would create a PDF of a new page design, put it in the Think Tank, and people would go to town. I thought it was perfect. I thought, “Man, I’ve thought of everything on this page. Nobody is going to have any improvements.” Well, I had a blizzard of improvements, and it was awesome. It was feedback we couldn’t have gotten any other way, and it kept us from making a huge mistake by rolling out changes we thought made sense but people were like, “Why did you do that?”

By the time we released the second edition of that planner, it had been beat up, battle tested, and still not perfect but nearly perfect, and we had the confirmation or the validation from thousands and thousands of users who really co-designed it. By the way, all of those people shared the ownership, so it was an easy sell to them, and they became evangelists for the new edition.

Larry: Yeah. Knowing you have an opportunity to make adjustments is so powerful. This doesn’t have to be the last word. I discovered this (I didn’t have this language to put around it) when working with authors in the publishing industry who would never surrender their manuscript because it wasn’t perfect. I finally put as a part of my regular spiel to authors, “After your first submission, you’re going to see this again, and you can make any changes you want after the first edit.” That freed them up to say, “All right. Well, I think it’s pretty good, but if I want to make it better later, I know I still have the chance.”

Michael: Perfect. Great example.

Larry: Well, today we’ve learned you can overcome change-aversion by adopting an experimental mindset, and that’s particularly valuable in these four situations: when you find yourself procrastinating, when you have a reluctant audience, when you face open resistance, and when you’re afraid of making a mistake. Michael, final thoughts today for our listeners?

Michael: I would say there are two contexts in which you can use this experimental mindset. First of all, when you’re trying to sell yourself. I find that sometimes I’m the most reluctant, risk-averse person ever. So if I can use this as an experiment with myself… I approach everything now this way. Everything is an experiment. Secondly, when you’re trying to sell somebody else. It works in either one of those situations, and it’s my go-to technique for selling anything.

Larry: Well, very practical and extremely helpful for leaders, so thank you, Michael, for sharing this today.

Michael: Thanks, Larry, and thank you guys for joining us today. Until next time, lead to win.