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On this week's Motivational Mondays episode, we're joined by Jay Acunzo: a 6x podcast host, author of Break the Wheel, and the creator of a fascinating new docuseries called Against the Grain. Jay's impressive career includes creative leadership at household brands we all know and love like Google, HubSpot, and ESPN.
We sat down to hear Jay’s thoughts on the importance of pushing back against conventional thinking, challenging best practices, and creating content that truly matters.
“BEST PRACTICES" AREN'T ALWAYS THE BEST FOR YOU
You’ve heard this phrase before “Let's just follow best practices." But did you ever stop and ask “who is it the best for?” So many of us go along with how things are usually done without asking is it really the best for me?
Jay says “If you work for a company, the competitors' customers are slightly different in some ways than your customers, even though you compete for the same market. The resources you have are different than the resources they have. There’s not an exactly identical, replicable approach.”
In Jay's perspective, blindly following best-practices and not choosing to push the envelope can limit growth, but caveats it with "that's not to say you should reject all best practices, or never follow a trend." Not all conventional thinking is wrong. But a blanket industry best practice—though successful in general, may not be the best for you and your situation.
Jay stresses the goal should always be to find the "best approach for you, because best practices are not always the best for everyone."
DRIVING CHANGE IN THE FACE OF RESISTANCE
Very often, when we start a new job, we’re coming in fresh with new perspectives and bold ideas. But, in many instances, we encounter team members who are content with doing things as the company's always done and are resistant to change.
Unfortunately, the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach can lead to stagnation and diminished productivity. Even when you are entirely convinced you have the right idea for a project, it will go nowhere if others don't see your vision.
Jay points out two ways of tackling these situations.
One is to realize you are perhaps just in the wrong job, one that’s misaligned with the core of who you are—where your ideas will never get traction or support. In that case, Jay advises, "life is short; go find a better boss, a different client, a new role, a new challenge, a new project."
On the other hand, you might be convinced that you are in the right job but still having trouble selling your ideas. In this case, there may just be an "informational divide."
"You're putting that other person at an information disadvantage, where you have gone through the cognitive process to arrive at whatever idea you have—even if it felt instant to you. It was from all the inputs in your life that arrived at that moment "oh, here's the idea." They have not done that. And so they're trying to piece it together on the fly as soon as they hear your idea."
This creates a disconnect. But the solution is not to dig-in, or get frustrated, or simply try to convince—but instead take the time to lay out all the pieces of information that you’re working with. This is called the “green smoothie problem” (jump to 06:08 in the episode to learn more).
According to Jay, first, be aligned with the end goal in mind. Show that you understand the matter at hand and that you’re both solving for the same vision. Make the assertion, "I know where we're trying to get boss/client/teammate/friend, here's your goal… we want to go there. Because if you're not aligned on that, no idea matters. So start there, and then acknowledge their belief about what it takes to get there."
BE THE BEST AT TELLING YOUR STORY
For people in the job market, especially college students just starting in their professional careers, the interview process can be challenging. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is telling your unique story—authentically—so your interviewer understands what you’re all about.
As Jay explains, "I think we need to start with what a story is and use that to our advantage. The carbon element in a story is tension. If you don't have tension, you don't have a story. Just like you don't have any life without carbon, you don't have a story without any tension."
It's all about “the hook”. Capture their attention by building tension, including any obstacles and challenges you overcame. Jay used a famous nursery rhyme as an example:
"The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout"—that is not a story, it's a description of something, a statement of fact, the status quo. But if I introduce some tension, now you're intrigued, now it's memorable, now you want me to continue, "Down came the rain, and washed the spider out...Again, it's not rocket science, right? We've been learning this since we were literally kids. That's not a finished story, but it's starting to look like one—there's a narrative arc to it because the tension causes your intrigue to rise..."
In Jay's observation, most people are terrible at using tension in their stories. But if you’re memorable, people will understand who you are and what you're all about.
Listen to the bonus episode to learn how one mistake changed Jay’s career path forever and why putting people over profit is a better way to build businesses.
Get Jay’s new book “Break the Wheel: Question Best Practices, Hone Your Intuition, and Do Your Best Work”
Subscribe to Jay’s Unthinkable podcast
Hear the stories of businesses who put people over profit in Jay’s new docuseries Against the Grain