Amy Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, and is recognized as one of the top 10 thinkers on business and management in the world, specializing in the areas of psychological safety, teams, and organizational learning.
Before entering academia, Amy worked as the Chief Engineer for visionary architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller, and then became fascinated by the interaction of people and systems thinking, leading to her work on organizational change and eventually earning her PhD from Harvard.
A globally sought after thinker and speaker, Amy is the author of six books including her 2019 award-winning work, “The Fearless Organization,” which we go deep on in this conversation and which I highly recommend you get a copy of if you are interested in this conversation.
In this conversation, we talk about…
- the anxiety that people perceive in the workplace and school, and how to relax around it
- what it was like to work with Buckminster Fuller and why, in his words, we don’t belong to ourselves, we belong to the world
- clarify several key misconceptions about psychological safety and missteps putting it into action
- the wrong ways to build psychological safety — hint, a “psychological safety initiative” is not it
- how to apply different leadership practices depending on the context
Also, I tried something new in this episode and included several questions from listeners, so if you send in questions and comments about what you’re curious about to connect [at] enliven dot fm and I can work them into episodes and also get back to you with what I’m learning!
Without any further delay, please enjoy this conversation with Amy Edmondson.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES
- Amy Edmondson (@AmyCEdmondson)
- Buckminster Fuller – his moment of great despair in his early thirties and his moment of insight: “you belong to the universe”
- Geodesic domes
- Ford, Alan Mulally & Mark Fields
- Kristin Neff & Self-Compassion
- Growth mindset
- Flow & Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Steven Kotler
- Kim Scott
- Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – associated with self-focused metacognitive evaluation
- Simon Wardley – value chain mapping overview talk & writing
- Stanford – Designing Your Life
- Nilofer Merchant – Onlyness
- Process Knowledge Spectrum
- Jerry Colonna – Reboot
- “You don’t belong to you, you belong to the universe.”, Buckminster Fuller [0:03:00]
- “You might not be in the best position to know why you’re special. It’s not up to you to decide if you’re good enough to be here. You are.” [0:05:16]
- Amy’s first day working for Buckminster Fuller [0:06:38]
- “Work is a place where you learn and grow”… [0:11:07]
- Guidance for dealing with anxiety [0:14:06]
- “I think sometimes a feeling of connectedness is THE most important thing you can have in the workplace.” [0:15:30]
- “It’s so much more fun to be curious about someone else and what they bring than to be tense about being found out.” [0:16:36]
- Why did “The Fearless Organization” strike such a chord in the world right now? [0:16:58]
- Why psychological safety is peaking right now [0:17:40]
- What is psychological safety, and what is it not? [0:19:19]
- Psychological safety is a sense of felt permission for candor [0:19:42]
- Psychological safety is NOT about being nice [0:20:18]
- “Being nice is code for, ‘I’m not going to tell you what I really think.'” [0:20:33]
- Psychological safety is NOT the goal [0:21:31]
- What’s the relationship between psychological safety & courage? [0:24:37]
- Psychological safety vs culture fit / belonging [0:27:02]
- “The job is to deliberately reframe reality so we can be more learning oriented.” [0:30:11]
- What are cognitive frames? [0:30:22]
- How does Amy create psychological safety in the classroom? [0:31:45]
- What is a “good” question? [0:32:33]
- The leaders toolkit for psych safety [0:36:43]
- How psych safety helped turn around Ford between 2006-2009 [0:37:55]
- Concern: won’t psych safety take too long? [0:43:46]
- Why is psych safety worth it? What’s the ROI? [0:45:07]
- Parallels to self-compassion [0:47:11]
- Psych safety & Flow [0:49:26]
- How do we implement a psychological safety initiative? [0:50:30]
- Using the work itself as the laboratory for culture change [0:53:02]
- Common failure patterns? [0:54:03]
- “A culture of nice can often mask a culture of fear”… [0:55:08]
- How do you measure psych safety & tell if you have a problem? [0:57:34]
- How to pulse check if your team has psych safety [0:59:12]
- Does psych safety differ across intra/extraversion, or personality types? [1:01:59]
- How does psych safety affect hiring processes? [1:04:52]
- Everyone is different: how adapt building psych safety to this variety? [1:07:58]
- What is work for, to you? [1:09:54]
- What ONE thing would Amy have a leader do to build more psych safety? [1:12:37]
- What happens when leaders apologize for safety violations? [1:13:37]
- CONTEXT MATTERS [1:16:05]
- I’m not the boss, what can I do? [1:25:30]
Transcripts may contain typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew 00:01:55 Amy, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for taking the time and being here. It is a real privilege to have you with us. Andrew, thank you for having me, Amy. Yeah. You said two things. Are I heard you, I’ve heard you say two things elsewhere that I just really loved and I thought it would be a great place to start. And one was, um, that resonates deeply with me and, and the, really the mission of this show, which is really as a show, this is an exploration of how do we make things that make things better, right? How do we make organizations and make things better? How do we make products that make things better? And then what does it take for people as, you know, caring leaders and people in the world to actually do that? That’s what this show is about. And so there was something you said, um, I heard you say that we all yearn to develop and express ourselves in the service of something greater than ourselves. And there was another phrase I heard you say elsewhere, where you, you said you don’t belong to you the world. And I was just hoping you could expand on that a little bit and tell us what that means to you on the second one or the first one, whichever one’s resonating. Well, the second one
Amy 00:03:00 Who said you don’t belong to you, you belong to the universe. And the point of that statement is, is that, um, I mean, in many ways it, it takes the pressure off, right? If it’s, instead of having to worry so much about who am I, and am I good enough? And I am, I am, I I’m sort of accomplishing enough. You can relax a little and just say, I have a role to play in this, in this grander scheme. Now the context for Buckminster Fuller saying that, which was in the, in the late twenties, was a moment of great, um, despair for him, where, where he had felt that he was in his early thirties. And he felt he had made a real mess of everything. And, and, uh, let’s see, 60 years later, I worked for him as his chief engineer. So this is how I, um, really how I got my, my professional start.
Amy 00:04:03 I mean, my first job was a very strange job. I worked as an engineer for a boss who was four times my age, um, who had a grand, um, sense of, of excitement about, about life and what each of us could contribute. So it was a very, very great, uh, way to start one’s career. I assure you, uh, wait, so let me, let me be clear. So his, in this period of, in his early thirties of feeling like I’m a failure and that he’d let his family down and let his wife and his wife’s family down, we’d contemplated taking his own life and says he was struck by a very profound sense of insight of a, almost an external voice saying you do not have the right to do away with yourself. You don’t belong to you. You belong to the universe. Now the insight there was, you might not know why you’re here, but you’re here for a reason and the particular. And I think this is true for all of us. The unique experiences that you have had, um, can and must be translated into something meaningful going forward, right? It’s you might not be in the best position to know why you’re special and why you have something to contribute, but rest assured you do. And it’s, so it takes the pressure off. It’s not necessarily it’s up to you to be here and look forward and, and want to contribute, but it’s not up to you, uh, to decide whether you’re good enough to be here. You are.
Amy 00:05:45 Exactly, exactly. And you’re unique. And there is a, you know, Nilofer Merchant talks about Onlyness, which I think is very much along the same lines. It’s that each of us has a sort of unique role to play. And the more we can find what that is, and not feel like a cog in a larger system, the better off we and the larger system are.
Andrew 00:06:12 Mm, wow. I love that. Thanks. So thank you. First of all, for sharing. I’m so curious. So you originally the source, as you said, was Buckminster Fuller, but what was it like working with him? I mean, you worked with him, right? I love the story where you effectively just wrote him a letter out of the blue and he wrote you back with a job offer. But tell me a little more about that. Like what, what was that actually like? What do you remember your first day?
Amy 00:06:38 I do, I do very much remember the first day because, um, I showed up in the Philadelphia office and I, I didn’t know it at the time, uh, Bucky was there. Um, and he had a small office. There were about seven people who worked there and he was there. And I didn’t realize at the time how unusual that was. I mean, he, he just traveled a lot. He traveled three weeks out of four, maybe, maybe more. It was in the office, you know, three or four days a month, um, at most. So I didn’t realize that I’d just gotten a little bit lucky. I showed up and there he was. Um, and, um, he didn’t have a clear sense of what he wanted me to do. Um, and, um, the, his, his, uh, executive office manager, the person who really ran his life in the office, um, didn’t know what to do with me either.
Amy 00:07:30 And so very quickly I was making photocopies. Now that that’s the kind of, that’s the kind of task that ages may, because nobody makes photocopies anymore. You know, now we everything’s PDF or we printed or whatever, but we, um, back then there was a lot of work in a lot of offices of making photocopies and, you know, so he was writing a new book and I was photocopying the manuscript to go to someone else. You know, it was, it was really boring, um, work. So it was, it was a motivating, uh, to quite quickly try to get into doing something a little more. Interesting.
Andrew 00:08:08 I love that by the way, actually, one thing I wanted to ask you, I love that you’re your moniker in this chat. So instead of you’ve wrote self-disciplined astronaut, did you write that or did it AutoCheck
Amy 00:08:21 I thought that was your, that was you.
Andrew 00:08:23 I thought it was,
Amy 00:08:25 I just don’t know where that came from, but I love it.
Andrew 00:08:27 I was like, what a cool moniker.
Amy 00:08:30 Well, it does a bucket, you know, I don’t usually talk about Bucky anymore, but he was, he called us all astronauts on spaceship earth.
Andrew 00:08:37 Exactly. I was like, Oh, maybe it’s I was thinking maybe it’s a Bucky reference.
Amy 00:08:42 Yeah. And self discipline. He also had his self disciplines of, of, anyway, it’s amazing. The spirit of Bucky. I might keep it. I might have it.
Andrew 00:08:52 Yeah. I can screenshot it and send it to you that way you have like, look, I am in fact, a self-discipline astronaut. So there you go. The spirit of Bucky is alive and well, and with us now it’s official. Um, what a funny, what a fun coincidence, I’m curious, you must have had such a range of experiences working with him. When you reflect back on that, what has stuck with you? Do you think whether it was the lesson from him directly, or just something you took from your time there carry with you?
Amy 00:09:21 I think, um, in many ways, I think that’s an easy question for me because the meta lesson, which was loud and clear, I mean, not on the first day, but almost, um, was, was the experience of being trusted to do, you know, some of the most important and central work. So within a pretty short time, I was doing engineering drawings and calculations for the development of new geodesic solutions for simpler geodesic, dome configurations. That could mean larger without exponential complexity. So I’m, I’m doing that. And I’m doing that with a calculator and a pencil and, and various things cause it’s right before personal computers came in and, um, and nobody’s overseeing my work, I’m doing it. I can see if it works when I build things I give, I give it to, I give the work to Bucky periodically. He’s always very, um, pleased with it.
Amy 00:10:30 And, uh, he treats me as if I’m a genius, which you know, I’m not, but it’s, it’s an amazing experience to be given, to be told in a sense you’re being given very, uh, important work and then to be appreciated for doing it trusted, um, to be without real, uh, oversight, um, you know, with coaching and guidance, but no oversight and control, if you will. Uh, so it was, um, it was, uh, it was, it, it led me to, um, experience and then almost take for granted that work is a place where you learn and grow, where you feel good about what you’re doing, where you believe that what you’re doing matters some small way to making a better world, um, where you are, where your colleagues, um, aren’t frightening. Uh, in fact, they’re the opposite of frightening, you know, they’re interested in what you have to say. They’re appreciative of what you do. Um, I got to control most of my own work. I mean, I got to just decide in the morning what I would get done today. And so I, uh, I work incredibly hard. Uh, so that little list that I just said is really what I think work should be like, um, what I think work can be like, I love
Andrew 00:11:54 That, right? It’s such like, what if the vast majority of workplaces were like, Holy crap, like what could be possible? I don’t, I don’t even know, but I know it’s
Amy 00:12:04 Right. There were the trust, the respect, the sense of mission, absolute intrinsic motivation. I, you know, I basically started this job. Not knowing if I’d be paid or not figuring out, I just will, you know, I’ll do something on the side. I’ll figure it out. I’ll get a hat. Yeah. I mean, he was such a hero. I really wanted to be there, but within a few days I learned I would be paid, which was good. Um, not very, not very much. I was paid very little. Um, and, uh, I didn’t care at all.
Andrew 00:12:36 That’s, that’s the best, right? It’s like when the money’s an afterthought, you’re like, yeah, great. But why I’m here?
Amy 00:12:42 I saved money. I mean, I didn’t, I had a bicycle and a bunch of roommates in a nice house in West Philly. I mean, it was who, who, what did I need money for nothing. Yeah.
Andrew 00:12:53 We’ll move on from Bucky here. Was he intimidating at all? Like I just imagine showing up, I’d be, I might feel so intimidated. Yeah.
Amy 00:12:59 Yeah. But no, you would, he would immediately, you might show up feeling intimidated. I certainly did. But within three minutes he would have had you off that and, and, and onto something else. I mean, he was just, um, he was joyful, he was appreciative, he was cheerful. He was, you know, he was, um, always sort of, um, interested and curious in what was going on and what other people were bringing. Uh, so I also in, uh, you know, the sideshow here was also this idea that, Oh, you know, here’s a man in his, in his late eighties, who’s perhaps the most joyful human being I’ve ever met. Right. So that’s, that was a new thing. That was a new possibility.
Andrew 00:13:45 Yeah. Like, Holy crap, look, look at this. Here’s someone flourishing.
Amy 00:13:49 Yeah. Yeah. And such a, you know, it’s just so full of love and, and, and excitement.
Andrew 00:13:56 I love that. That’s so cool. Well, thanks for sharing that. I really appreciate it. You know, being, working where you work, right. Working at Harvard, one of things you said right in the beginning of this conversation that really struck me was this idea of it came out of that quote of, you know, you don’t belong to you, you belong to the universe or to the world. And this idea that, um, you can relax a little bit. And I was just imagining that, that seems like the kind of, it seems like a really positive influence that if I was a, you know, high stressed type, a grad student at HBS would probably be a really good thing. And I’m curious if you notice that that being an especially needed set of guidance for people these days, whether at what other at Harvard or in, in where you engage outside of Harvard?
Amy 00:14:38 I do think so. I think an awful lot of young people starting out in various careers are deeply anxious. Understandably. Um, and I mean, it’s a, it’s not necessarily a character flaw. Uh, the anxious I was anxious. Um, but, but anxious in a way that creates a sense of loneliness because you’re, you can’t, um, you can’t let your guard down, you can’t let your mask go aside. And that is a vicious cycle. It’s counterproductive because the, that anxiety, um, can so easily be lessened, um, with a few small things, you know, sort of a recognition you’re not alone, that everybody pretty much is in the same boat, feels like you do. You know? So that, I think sometimes that a feeling of connectedness is the most important thing you can have in the workplace. You know, that sense of, I, yeah, show up. I work hard.
Amy 00:15:44 I’m anxious sometimes about making a deadline or doing great work, but not about my colleagues, not about being found out when we first logged on today, we taught, we had some problems with the technology and, you know, at one point you said, Oh, it was all my fault. Um, I did something wrong and, and I jokingly said, Oh, that makes me feel so much better. Cause it’s usually me. But there is a, you know, it’s all it was in good humor, but there’s a way in which we’re so afraid to be found out or less than perfect in any way, rather than just realizing it’s funny and fine when we screw up, we’re gonna do it or to err is human, right. That’s going to happen full stop. So get over yourself. Right. Lax and it’s so much more fun to be curious about someone else and what they bring then to be tense about being found out.
Andrew 00:16:47 Yeah. I, I could almost not the interview right now, except we have a lot of other cool things to talk about, but that app’s, I mean, absolutely. Do you think that’s why this struck such a cord in the last year, or if you notice it’s like, why do you think your, your timing was basically perfect if this book and I’m curious, did you plan it? Was it luck or what do you think, why did this strike such a chord right now?
Amy 00:17:09 I know, I don’t know really, but my best guesses are that, uh, there’s that people really have. I mean, we have finally recognized that we do knowledge work, right. You know, that even in the most routine tasks, it’s usually knowledge work and knowledge work means gotta use your knowledge. And that means we’ve got to be, and the knowledge that we use is in constant state of flux. So, so I think there’s sort of a recognition that wow, if people are holding, if we’re not hearing from you, if you can’t bring what you know, forward or at risk. So there is a kind of, um, growing recognition finally, that the pace of change and the reality of expertise and knowledge and uncertainty requires us to be a different way, right. It requires us to be willing to speak up, to take interpersonal risks and that’s not normal. I think also some of the less positive aspects of the workplace that have come to light over the last year or so, including, uh, the me too movement, um, and you know, various other corporate scandals and problems have, have led people to be more aware that people are holding back and awful lot and that it comes out eventually it’s so, so what are we doing wrong? You know, how, how are we creating environments where this movie script is playing out over and over and over again,
Andrew 00:18:57 Just to set a grounding for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet. So the book is the fearless organization came out last year. It is really a treatise in a very practical way about building psychological safety in the workplace. But I think it also is broadly applicable to families, to, you know, volunteer organizations, to teams, to really anywhere you’ve got groups of humans collaborating to do something, um, or just live just to set up, set up baseline. You know, I’ve heard you describe it as, um, psychological safety that is as sort of not getting tied up in knots about interpersonal risk. How do you, how do you like to describe it for people now? And, and I guess related to that, what is it not?
Amy 00:19:35 Oh, great. Well, I like to describe it cause I think it’s conveys what I really mean as a sense of felt permission for candor. This is I just look around and I feel like this is a place where I can be candid. I can ask for help where I can say, oops, I made a mistake where I can, um, say, I don’t know. Um, or I can suggest a wacky idea, right. That that’s, um, and I, it just feels possible. Right. It’s easy. So, um, so that’s, that’s the best I can do, I think to define it. And yet when, even when I do my best, I will still inadvertently imply. Um, people will think, Oh, it’s about being nicer to each other. Like, no, and the reason I’m not against being nice, but the reason why psychological safety is not about being nice is that oftentimes at least at work being nice is code for, I’m not going to tell you what, I really think I’m going to go along.
Amy 00:20:39 I’m going to nod. But then in the hallway, I’m going to tell my other colleague who I trust. And like, when I really think it’s also, I also want to say, it’s not sort of touchy feely. It’s not, um, absence of conflict. In fact, if you really get this right, it’s, it’s the presence of conflict. I mean, we’re, we’re going to disagree. We’re going to have different views. We’re going to, we’re going to have sometimes have to really get into it. Um, it’s not, um, permission just to whine, like, okay, your psychological safe, psychologically safe. You can just sit there and whine about what you don’t like around here. Um, I mean, that might be fine and come along with the territory, but it’s not, that’s not what I’m talking about per se. Um, and it’s not Nirvana. Right. And, and you know, it’s also not the goal. The goal is learning or excellence or contribution for the mission. Um, and all I’m saying is that if you don’t have this kind of climate where we’re permission to speak up, feels easy, then you won’t be able to do the work as well.
Andrew 00:21:57 Yeah, no, it’s, I think you said that very well. And it went to how we actually originally came and came and got connected was I had some misconceptions of my own about what did this term mean and what is the psychological safety thing? And I think I had two really critical misconceptions that, um, I have heard now from other people, as I’ve been talking about this, getting ready for this conversation. And the first one was that it was the same as, um, belonging or a sense of fitting in. Right. And as we, as I explored it, it seems like, and feel free to please correct me where I’m getting this wrong. Um, it seems like this is really about, it’s about voice. It’s about candor. It’s about the, the conditions that provide a easy opportunity to speak up about anything work-related. I think there was a reference to you used a lot or a phrase you used a lot about any work-related idea work relevant. And I thought, Oh, that’s very interesting because you’re not saying, I think you’re not saying it’s about anything on your mind or about, you know, what you had for lunch two weeks ago or your random personal hobby. Right. So say a bit more about that, because I think that, that there’s something there.
Amy 00:23:00 I think that’s, it’s so important too, to realize we’re not talking about, I’m not talking about just unleashing every thought that flows through your head. Um, whether that sounds fun or horrifying is, uh, I I’m talking about work relevant information. So if you, if you suddenly feel all your colleagues should be interested in what you had for lunch today, you need a second thought it’s it’s. Um, so, and this is in fact where the discipline comes in. I mean, I think psychological safety is the sense of freedom that I can bring my full self forward, but I also have an obligation to be thoughtful and disciplined about what I bring forward. Now it’s okay to err, on the side of inclusion, like if I’m not quite sure that something’s relevant, I probably should check. Right. But there are many things that are obviously not, not relevant and not helpful for the here and now.
Amy 00:23:58 And so learning and engaging and, and sort of contributing to the shared work is a process that requires both a sense of psychological safety or, and, or discipline, or it’s sort of disciplined to, to get it right. And to be thoughtful, there’s been a lot of talk recently about, uh, about courage and people are, and I’m, I’m all for it, right. Starting to write about, uh, courage and courageous cultures and the, the immediate questions that come to mind are okay, well, if you have a, you know, if you have a courageous culture, does that mean we don’t need psychological safety anymore? Or if you have psychological safety, does that obviate the need for courage? And I think the answer to both questions is no, that, that in fact, I think psychological safety and courage are two sides of the same, very valuable coin, right? That, that, um, it’s no matter, no matter what, there will be things that are going to be challenging for me to say, or I’ll worry, they won’t get this quite right.
Amy 00:25:09 So I need to sort of, you know, screw up my car is just a little bit to, uh, you know, to jump in there and try. Uh, but meanwhile, there will be co you can easily imagine workplaces where I don’t care how much courage you. I mean, you’re just not gonna do it. You’re holding back. It doesn’t feel appropriate. It feels that it’s not your place, et cetera. So whether you think of this as a need for more courage or as a need for more safety, almost doesn’t matter too much. I think the only real difference is that the emphasis in the term courageous cultures is on the individual. Just speak up, you ought to speak up right. In the emphasis on psychological safety cultures is a little bit more on the combination of leaders team and otherwise, and the collective, like it’s up to us, it’s up to us to draw each other out. It’s up to us to do what we can to make it easier for people to express themselves.
Andrew 00:26:08 Yeah. I think the key word was, you said it’s easier, right? Not zero effort. Right. You know, it, so maybe it lowers the threshold or the bar of courage required, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for, for guts.
Amy 00:26:21 Exactly. And in fact, I sometimes think about the question to a hypothetical question, but where do we put the threshold, right? Where do I put the threshold? Because clearly there’s you put it somewhere of what I, what I will and what won’t speak up about. And my primary argument is that most people, most of the time, and most workplaces are putting the threshold voice too high. Right. They put it up here when it should be down here, not at the floor. Uh, but, but it should be lower than your instincts. Tell you.
Andrew 00:26:55 Yeah, totally. So, yeah, this is so, so useful. Cause I think really going back to that belongings, that one of the places where originally I, and a few other people I’ve had the conversations with about this got tripped up, was thinking, Oh, okay. Psychological safety means, um, we sort of combined the factors of being able to have voice and, you know, speak up about a work-related idea with the sense of, um, I think you have a good friend of mine, a sense of, he basically didn’t feel culture fit. Let’s put it that way. Right. Whereas like this person felt safe to say work related things. It just didn’t really feel like I’m in the right place. Right. A sense of tribe for lack of a better word. And it’s like, Oh, those are just different things. Right. And one doesn’t invalidate the other.
Amy 00:27:38 Right. Right. In fact, you could easily imagine the possibility of four conditions, right. One with low on both one very nice place to work with high on both. Like, I feel like I really am. I belong here. I fit in. I’m included. I feel psychologically safe. You know, that’s kind of, that’s the kind of workplace most of us want, but you certainly can imagine a place where I absolutely feel my voice is welcome. Um, but this isn’t really my tribe. You know, I don’t, I don’t feel, um, people are, um, are like me or that this is a place for people like me. That’s okay. We could also imagine a place where if you look around and you sort of say, yeah, the, this is a great deal. Um, the type of place where I belong. Um, and maybe you just feel overly nervous or anxious. You don’t want to screw it up. So you, um, either because of cues in the environment or because of what you tell yourself, you don’t feel psychologically safe to voice.
Andrew 00:28:37 Yeah. Right. You see that a lot with group thing, I think right. Where it’s the sense of almost like, Oh, you almost like you fit in so much that it’s either, it might even be harder to be psychologic to have psychological safety. Cause you’re like, well, I fit in so much that if I risked something, now I’m actually more at risk. Cause now I might get pushed out a little bit. And you know, that fear of exclusion runs deep in humans.
Amy 00:28:56 You bet. Absolutely. And so that’s a, it’s almost, it’s a, it’s a, it’s faulty thinking in a way, because it’s, I don’t want to disrupt the harmony of this marvelous in-group so I won’t say, I won’t say anything dissenting when in fact your colleagues might be assuming that if you had something descending to say, you say it, and that’s how you’d add value, and you might be the only person who sees some real important risk that’s not being discussed. And you hold back for fear of this.
Andrew 00:29:27 It reminds me of the story in the book. I think about the, um, the exec who, who was afraid of being the, I think it was the phrase, it was a skunk at the party. Was that the right phrase? The picnic picnic, the picnic. Yeah. So he’s C you know, so it was
Amy 00:29:42 A senior executive, relatively new to the executive team from the outside. The team is discussion discussing an acquisition, a plan, you know, planned acquisition doesn’t sound like a good idea to him. But as he said, he didn’t want to be the skunk at the picnic. You know, I’ve used that example to convey the idea of a frame too, because sometimes I talk a lot and I talk in the end of the book about the job of, of leaders and meaning anyone can be a leader, but the, the job is to deliberately reframe reality so that we can be more learning oriented. Um, but it’s, uh, it’s a good illustration of, you know, what’s a frame, you know, cognitive frame is a, it’s a structure that, um, through which you see reality largely, you know, unaware. But if you think about it, framing an executive committee meeting as a picnic is wrong. Framing, a descending view as a skunk is wrong and it shapes the behavior. It led him to hold back. And, and I think he held back because he had the wrong frame at the right frame is you’re a, you know, a smart and by the way more objective colleague, because you came from the outside fresh eyes might very well see some, you know, you have fresh eyes, that’s an ice cream who might see something important that others have missed and it’s your job to share it, right. The very different frames.
Andrew 00:31:16 Absolutely. Absolutely. So, so one of the things I want to sort of shift now that we’ve got a bit of a theoretical foundation here and we, you know, we’ve got psychological safety, we know what it is now that we’re talking about. I want to talk a little bit more, I wanna explore a bit more territory, which I think is what if I understood from some of my research where you’re looking to now, which is really about like the action, how do you put this into action? How do you make this real, the tools, the techniques, et cetera. And I thought it would actually be fun too. And I’m just especially curious to hear how you actually do this. So I’ve heard you say elsewhere that I think you said how we teach is what we teach. And I’m curious, how do you go about creating this environment? What do you do in your classroom with your grad students or when you, you know, maybe engage with, with the company outside of, outside of the university?
Amy 00:31:59 Both in fact, so how we teach is what we teach, um, primarily refers to are at Harvard business school are very heavy reliance on the case method. So the case method involves, um, everybody reading the same case, which by the way, the case itself doesn’t have a lot of analysis in it. It’s the, it’s a pretty factual telling of a particular managerial situation, you know? And, um, we convene in the classroom and the professor starts to ask questions, right. And I wouldn’t call the questions. Good questions. Um, according to the following definition, which is that they focus some issue, right. They don’t just say, Hey, what’s on your mind, Andrew. They say, um, what do you think about, what do you think are our protagonist should do? Right? So they focus on a particular issue. They give the person room to respond. Um, they invite careful thought.
Amy 00:32:56 And, and so in the process of, you know, over a class session asking good questions, um, I am hoping that that students will internalize the art of the good question, as well as the content or the frameworks or the various other, other things that that case is designed to teach. And, and if that can become habitual for managers, um, even for members of, of any team whatsoever, you know, the habitual to be, to act as if, cause that’s what I’m doing as if, which of course it’s true, I’m genuinely interested in what you have to say. I asked that question and then I listen and I look like I’m listening. And I’m hoping by doing that, that others are doing the same thing at the same time and that they’re thinking and, and ready to respond. Right. So I can, then I should then be able to turn to anyone whether they expect it or not and say, Hey, what do you think of what Andrew said?
Amy 00:34:06 You know? So that sort of your teaching process of being curious, your teaching, the process of being, following the dialogue, interested in what others have to say of being expected to react to it, not just say, yeah, I agree. But to say, um, to an interesting point, and I, I wonder about this or I completely see it differently, right? That’s the class is more fun. In fact, sometimes I have to deliberately say, and because if I just say, I call on you, you say something, I then randomly call on someone else. There’s a 50, 50 chance at least. And sometimes it seems higher that they’ll just build on what you said and agree. And sometimes that’s happening three or four comments in a row. And I have to say specifically, ask the question who has a different view. I call out call out the sound a little bit because I want, now I only am asking for a narrower set of hands.
Amy 00:35:06 I don’t want just any old hand, I want only hands who are willing and able to speak up with a different view. So another thing about how we teach us what we teach is, you know, good questions, good listening, building, going somewhere. Um, and, and, um, ultimately, um, ensuring diversity of voice, right? Diversity of opinion, diversity of expertise, sort of insuring. So I’m, I’m doing, it’s important to do that anyway, but I’m not always doing it just because the case needs it doing it because that’s what we’re trying to teach, that what we do takes process help. It doesn’t, it doesn’t happen. A group thing happens spontaneously, no problem. It will happen, you know, but really good conversations they take.
Andrew 00:36:06 Yup. That’s so, yeah, I love that. And it’s interesting because I, you know, I, so I spend most of my time, like I love the podcast, but it’s something I do is sort of a, you know, an outlet learning journey as, as, as someone who spends the vast majority of his time, really trying to apply these ideas, um, mostly in the world of technology and innovation. That’s where I spent, you know, 95% of my time. Um, and it’s really interesting as I’m listening to you, I’m, I’m sitting here thinking, okay, how, how, how might, how might this be brought into those types of environments right into say, I work in product development. So when we’re, you know, beating our heads against the wall on solving a new problem, that we don’t know how to solve, how, how does this help? And I think I was curious, you know, you talked about the leader’s toolkit on, I think it’s page one 59 in the book where you talk about setting the stage, inviting participation and responding productively sort of know, before, during and after categories. Yeah. Yeah. These sort of three buckets of actions that a leader can take, uh, before, during and after, you know, what you’re doing. And, um, I was hoping you could maybe walk us through an example of, of, you know, whether that’s, you know, if you want to talk about maybe, um, Malali and what’s happened at Ford about how, like, what did that look like actually to set the stage and the frames like you were describing and then to actually move into the activity and then to sort of loop through this cycle.
Amy 00:37:22 So I was, um, this is sort of an aside, but I was T I was taught, I was speaking at a conference at Stanford with, um, sort of women business leaders in the, in the area. And I was telling that story and this one woman, uh, um, commented, she said she used to work for him. And she said, it’s Malali Valley. It’s very, it doesn’t look like that in writing. So I’ll write, I still work on that. Um, but, um, what, when, when Alan Malala came in from the outside to lead Ford, Ford was bleeding red ink. I mean, it was, it was the, the company was in real trouble. This was, Oh, I want to say, um, I should look it up, but I want to say around 2007, but it might’ve been a little, it’s probably a little earlier than that actually, because, um, one Oh six Oh six.
Amy 00:38:21 Okay. So it’s not that bad. So, Oh six Oh six. And um, and three years later, they were the only one of the big three automotive companies in the U S to not need a bailout. Right. I mean, so they went from being probably worst performing to being best performing. Um, and, uh, when, when Malali took over, he essentially, he didn’t sorta change out the whole team. He inherited a senior team and they brought them together and he introduced to kind of traffic light, short cuts for how we talk about, you know, what, we’re, what we’re up to. We’re red is bad news and yellow is caution and green is all as well. And, uh, as he tells the story, first couple of, uh, executive team meetings, everything’s green. Right? And, and so finally he turns around and says to the team, listen, he says, on track, we are on track to lose 30 billion.
Amy 00:39:23 Now that’s a be the dollar, you know, that’s a staggering amount of money. Right, right. We’re on track to lose $30 billion this year, which by the way, I think is a pretty good example of setting the stage. I mean, he’s essentially in a way making it miserable to say, yeah, we’re in trouble. Like, you know, we can’t be doing everything right. And losing $30 billion, right. If something has to be wrong, right. That’s kind of like table stakes, I’m setting the stage. Um, and then he said, says something like, is anything not going well? You know, everything’s been green and that’s also invite input, you know, invite engagement, he’s reaching out and saying, tell me what you’re seeing out there. That’s not working. And as the story goes, there’s a definitely pause. And finally Mark Fields who is head of all of the Americas, raises his hand and proceeds to describe a very serious problem with the new Ford edge, you know, new vehicle launch.
Amy 00:40:30 And it’s, it’s got serious production problems and they’re kind of accumulating, um, work in progress, faulty inventory. And, um, the stunning thing about the story is that everybody else in the team reported later to a fortune magazine reporter, um, that at that moment, their thought was okay, he’s outta here. Oh, they thought he’s about to get fired. He’s about to get fired. Like they literally thought he would get fired for speaking truthfully to right. Which is crazy in a, you know, an evolve, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world. It is crazy that anyone would think of that way. You know, maybe a hundred years ago I could run a company that way maybe. Um, but clearly that’s not gonna work in, in today’s world. There will always be things that aren’t going well, because, because none of us have a crystal ball and there’s so much complexity and uncertainty.
Amy 00:41:30 So, um, what happened, um, in instead of being fired, of course, um, it was that Malali in that moment, uh, put his two hands together and started to applaud and he then said, and that, so that’s a symbol, right? That’s, uh, a very, um, powerful symbol of appreciation I just applauded. Um, and then he said, um, Mark, thank you so much for that clear line of sight. Um, which I love because it’s, I think it’s mission critical to express appreciation and notice it’s not Pollyanna talk, right. It’s not happy talk. It’s not, Oh, that’s great. No, that’s not great. I mean, this is a serious problem, right. But, so it’s an honest statement. Thank you for that clear line of sight, because a clear line of sight is always a valuable thing. And, and then almost, you know, without a pause, he says, now, what can we do to help?
Amy 00:42:32 So to me, the essence of a productive response is that it’s appreciative and forward-looking when there is very likely a need for a postmortem, right? There’s very likely a need to take a look at what happened and why not now the most important thing to do and say right now when someone has brought bad news forward or a concern, um, is to, is to say, how can I help? What, what should we do? And then, um, you know, uh, stunningly, um, within about the next 12 seconds, three executives spoke up with ideas of how to fix it with offers of engineering talent, to send up to, uh, to the plant. I mean, it was, it was sort of remarkable that, that one moment of courage on the part of Mark Fields, but inviting engagement on the part of Allen Malali, they were often running the problem solving process was now underway. Um, and so I also liked that story for the following reason. Oftentimes when I start talking about psychological safety and more voice and more candor, people have a worry, which is it’s gonna, okay, I get it. I can see why it might be productive and it’s gonna take too long. Right.
Amy 00:43:57 It’s going to take meetings will take forever. So I like to say 12 seconds, right. And then step back and think how much time was wasted because that problem was not reported. Yeah. Dancing around it. Yeah. How much time is wasted day in and day out in meetings around the world, dancing around issues, not being truthful, not being candid. And I would posit that that time wasted is much higher than whatever time it takes to actually get to the bottom of it and start to come up with solutions. And I want to remind people that problem solving is a team sport. It’s, we’re rarely able to solve really tough problems on our own problem. Recognition is something we’re pretty good at like each and every one of us are good sensors. We can see problems. Um, but we need our colleagues to help solve them.
Andrew 00:44:56 For sure. You know, it’s two to the concern that people have raised you, right? About like how long is this going to take, or is this all going to be touchy, feely or whatever. Right. It seems like then there’s always the question in the back of people’s minds, especially in the business world of like, well, why is it worth it? Right. What’s the ROI here? It seems like one, one way overly simplistic that I would answer that question. Just listening to you the story there about Ford and, and Malali is it’s like, it seems like what it really, one of the things that enables you to do is that psychological safety, it enables you and everyone here to play to win instead of playing not to lose.
Amy 00:45:29 Oh, that’s exactly right. That’s, that’s exactly how I think about it. Because playing, playing to win is kind of, let’s go for it. Don’t get bruised and scratched along the way, but we’re going for it. We’re, we’re all in. We’re not. And when you’re playing to win, you’re not caught up in, you know, how do I look? And you know, what do people think of me? You’re going for the gold, right? You’re going, you’re going for the prize. And collectively, whereas playing not to lose is a very natural state, a very natural psychosocial state, which is, um, I I’d rather not fail, you know, then take the risk of really going for the win. Right? So playing not to lose is key. I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to step outside the bounds. And, and when you play not to lose, you generally succeed and get your goal accomplished. Like you don’t lose, you don’t look bad, you kind of manage impressions carefully. Um, but you lose out on the opportunity to go after the, the bigger win, you know, the opportunity to do something new with your colleagues that, um, that required you to sort of bravely jump in. And
Andrew 00:46:44 Yeah, it’s almost like you you’ve reduced the spectrum that you’re willing to tolerate to this very like safe, narrow zone, safe, like air quotes, right. It’s not really safe, it’s it just feels less risky. It’s like, you almost like you don’t want to tolerate the feeling of anxiety, vulnerability, whatever. But as a result, you’ve traded. Yeah. You traded away the lows, but you also traded off the highs. Exactly. Exactly. Do you notice any parallels or does it comp at all in, in your research, um, do you find any parallels to the, to the topic of self-compassion?
Amy 00:47:17 You know, I haven’t thought about that a lot, but that term specifically, but as soon as you ask it, the answer is yes. Part of what this is all about is, um, is self-compassion right. I mean, I think it is about, um, reminding yourself that you’re, you’re, you’re fine. Just as, you know, flaws in. All right. Yeah. You don’t have to get every answer right. In the classroom or have every thing you do be perfect to be okay. I mean, you have to have that, um, have to be more generous with yourself and, and probably with each other as well.
Andrew 00:48:02 Yeah, no, cause I was, I was thinking about it. I came across the other day, um, a book I read a long ago, which is, I think it’s called self-compassionate is by Kristin Neff. Who’s sort of the leading researcher on the topic of, of self compassion and, and sort of the intersection with that and mindfulness, and it occurred to me as I was prepping for this conversation. I was like, Oh, it’s interesting. Because in the same way you were just describing psychological safety is almost like, it seems almost like an external version of self-compassion. Right. It’s it’s like the same conditions that enables you to be resilient and go for it. Right. Cause when you’re, when, according to Kristen F’s work, when you really have developed, self-compassion you actually, um, you go for things more because you’re able to bounce back. Right. You can deal with it not working. Right. And it’s just seemed, Oh, that seems a little bit related almost in like an inner outer way.
Amy 00:48:49 And it’s also related to the growth mindset that, you know, that sense that, um, I don’t, I don’t have to get everything right. All the time. I have to in fact, keep giving myself harder challenges in a good way.
Andrew 00:49:04 Yeah. Which then that idea of seeking harder challenges and finding one’s a sense of self esteem in the act of being a learner. Right. Almost it’s interesting as we were, I think a lot about, and I’ve talked to people a lot on this show about, you know, human performance and what are the factors that unlock it. And it’s funny just as you said, that that idea of escalating laddering up challenges, it almost seems like, well, there’s your, there’s your Lincoln to flow there’s tricks at my highest work right there. Because without that, like, if you can’t, you can’t ratchet up challenge and go for that ride, you can’t actually sustainably have flow in your life.
Amy 00:49:37 Right. And it’s that, you know, the flow state is that state, you know, you can’t be, you can’t be in the panic zone. Right. But you don’t, you don’t want to be in the comfort zone either. You want to be in that zone where the magnitude of the challenge is well balanced against the capacity you bring, uh, to do it. But you realize that’s a, you can keep developing that capacity. You can keep getting better at something. Totally. You can only do it by being willing to take that risk. I also think the flow state is one in which you’re less self conscious, or you might be self aware, but not self conscious. And that doesn’t relate to psychological safety.
Andrew 00:50:16 Yeah, no, it’s interesting. Like a future guest on the show actually is working directly with Steven Kotler and all the flow research out there and that they found that that’s actually one of the key bits, uh, key things that happens in flow. Oh God, I’m blanking on the part of the brain. I think it’s the latter, a lateral dorsal, prefrontal cortex. I think something like that. I will find it and put it in the show, but basically it’s the part of you that gets self-conscious and it just goes offline in flow, which is super cool. Um, so it’d be really interesting actually to explore the link between flow group flow in, in psychological safety. Um, that might be a fascinating area to look at. So as, as a product, um, so, so kind of coming back around, one of the things you said early on, I thought was super important.
Andrew 00:51:01 And I remember bolding this in my notes to come back to was this idea that, um, I want to explore, where does this, where does implementing this go sideways? Right? Cause I think most people who encounter your ideas probably like them, they want to do it, but I’m guessing they’re not all successful in implementing it. And one of the things I heard you say, um, elsewhere was that, you know, it’s not just, it’s not just about like doing a psychological safety initiative, right. It really, it has to be in service of something. It has to be formed around a goal where it’s like, we’re going to explore this together. And we, you know, we don’t, we know we don’t know the answers and it’s critical. There is no blueprint. Um, so we’re gonna have to figure it out together. And so I’m curious, you know, what else do you see about where this works or doesn’t work when people are trying to make it real?
Amy 00:51:46 Well, I think what you just said is the most important thing to me is that, um, and of course I’m, I’m
Andrew 00:51:53 Deeply,
Amy 00:51:55 Uh, appreciative of and admiring of anybody engaging their organization and the psychological safety effort of some kind, right. I think that’s, that’s comes from a good place and is a good thing to do. And I think it’s, I’m far, far, far more likely to be successful if the initiative is on the work, right. In other words, what, what is it that we are trying to do or be that we’re not yet we need to become, we need to launch a digital strategy or we need to, um, turn our financial performance around or whatever, you know, something that’s really truly, um, mission critical. And then the recognition that we won’t be able to do this, unless people are able to sort of bring their full self to the, to the effort. So, so then the journey and the change is being produced by working on the thing, working on the real goal and using though that work as the laboratory for also checking in on how do we become, um, how do we create a better climate?
Amy 00:53:09 How do we take small risks? How do we, how do we, um, you know, it’s a, there’s a kind of, um, chicken and egg problem here around collaboration and candor. It’s like, which comes, you know, you need candor to collaborate effectively. Um, but you need to collaborate to have candor. And, and I think that self self-reinforcing, uh, but you have to have some substance to really work on. And I don’t think, I think most companies are not going to have a whole lot of patience for sitting around and talking about psychological safety or any aspect of the culture is that’s not the business they’re in, right. The business they’re in is whatever it is. And psychological safety is the servant of
Andrew 00:53:55 Yeah. Yeah. And it, you know, and not only does it help your business, it actually helps everyone’s experience in your business too. One thing I’m curious about, so is, are, other than that, do you see any common failure modes? Are there any patterns you’re noticing where this just goes sideways? Like one example that I could imagine is, um, and this is a actually riffing from a listener question that somebody submitted. Um, they, let me find it really quick. Um, ah, there it is. So I’m gonna read you this question, uh, and I think it might be a failure pattern. I’m curious to hear if you think so. Um, so the, the listener said, I’ve noticed a pattern where leaders who highly value niceness and harmony are talking about psychological safety a bit as a reason for not giving or wanting feedback or avoiding address that avoiding addressing issues head on. I’m curious, how do, how does Amy see the concept being misused or used in almost a, a shadow culture kind of way?
Amy 00:54:47 Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a really great question and I, I do see evidence of that. I want to make sure to say it’s, I don’t think it’s deliberate. I think it’s, um, I think it’s inadvertent. I think it’s a failure mode, but not a, not a malicious.
Andrew 00:55:03 Yeah. It’s not like a nefarious evil plan,
Amy 00:55:06 Um, because you know, um, nice, you know, culture of nice can in fact mask a culture of fear because you know, oftentimes in, in cultures, um, there’s a lot of companies I’ve been in where they’ll say, Oh, we have, you know, fill in company name here. Nice. And, and it’s so funny. Let’s see, let’s say the company’s name is Edmondson, right? So they’ll say we have Edmondson nice around here. And, and it’s almost as if they think nobody else ever had that, you know, and there’s so many, so many companies that have that same, um, have that same problem and it it’s, they understand, you know, when people tell you that they understand, it means we can’t be disagreeable and real. Yeah. We can’t be real. And, and what that means is they have framed or coded, uh, descent or input as, um, as being disagreeable or even disrespectful and a nice culture. You don’t want to be disrespectful that, that doesn’t fit with a nice culture. So, um, it’s a, um, it’s, it’s a very real risk. And so I think it starts with being, I mean, the making sure you don’t fall prey to that failure mode is to be very clear and explicit at the, at the outset that, um, we’re not, this isn’t about being nice, right? This, this is about, um, being passionate about the customer
Andrew 00:56:36 As, as one of my favorite coaches of all time. So she said, don’t be, don’t be nice. Be great. Right. It’s like, this is about being great as great as we can be as a company, a team.
Amy 00:56:46 Yeah. And I used to define, I mean, I used to say psychological safety is kind of a blend of trust and respect. You know, it’s a, it’s a sort of, um, uh, I trust your intentions. I think you’re also your, your capabilities. Um, and I respect you, you know, I respect you enough to not hold back.
Andrew 00:57:07 Yeah. It’s like, it’s like, it’s almost like you’re caring enough to say the hard things,
Amy 00:57:11 Right. Because if I don’t care, if I’m indifferent to your future, then why would I exert effort?
Andrew 00:57:19 Why, why pay the emotional tax? Right. You just skip it. Right. So I want to transition into a couple, a few more of some of the listener questions. I think there’s some really fun ones in here. Um, so one, one that came up was, and I know that you covered this in the book on page 20, there’s a, there’s a scale, but it basically, it was, how do you measure safety? You know, I know in, in your surveys you talk about using like a five or a seven point Likert scale. Um, is, is that what actually works for people who are operating a business or is there another way that they can, if I’m a team leader, how can I tell if I have a problem or not,
Amy 00:57:54 You know, it’s, it is, um, it is the case that more and more businesses are using this survey. I don’t think very many would do a survey just of this, but if they, they throw this into their all employee survey, um, then, then they get some useful data. And one of the most, I mean, I don’t think that data is useful for, um, you know, it’s not an end in itself. It’s, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a mirror to say, okay, we should have some conversations in every organization I’ve ever studied. The, the following is true. Psychological safety varies across groups, right? So it’s, it’s not a variable that’s just uniform throughout a company like Ford or general motors or you name it. It’s it’s this group and that group. And so another might be differences in average across companies, but there’s a, so to me, the important part about using the survey, if you’re interested in those kinds of things is to, is to see where the gaps are so that you can help.
Amy 00:59:03 Right? So then you can go to those groups where, where, where they might need a little bit of help and, and turn them around. Um, but I, I, I don’t think you need to use a survey in most, in most cases you can, um, in your own team, for example, step back and yourself, how often am I hearing about problems in the stakes and concerns, and especially relative to successes are fine. All’s well, right. So if you’re, if you’re not hearing the negative stuff, um, it’s very unlikely that that’s because things don’t go wrong ever. It’s probably a red flag, probably red flag, right. You probably have to sort of, um, get, get into some of these techniques, like asking good questions and setting the stage and all of that. Um, so that’s one, if you’re not, if, if, if most utterances are positive, you may have a psychological safety problem.
Amy 01:00:06 Um, both seem just, you know, kind of tied up in knots are a little bit too formal and not, not, you know, there, there, isn’t a kind of, um, positive, warm sense of humor. And, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re able to kind of laugh about ourselves, you know, as you and I, this conversation, we laughed about getting the technology wrong and making mistakes. And, you know, neither one of us felt a need to say, Oh, couldn’t have been my fault, but you know, it’s funny, but in real life, often people really don’t. They do not want to be associated with the problem of failure or a mistake of any kind. They, they feel that that would be, you know, career ending, which of course is rarely the case. But so just force yourself to step back and ask those kinds of questions and say like, what, what, what is, you know, it’s palpable, what is going on here?
Andrew 01:01:06 It reminds me of, um, Oh gosh, what’s it called? Um, Kim Scott’s work with radical candor. Right. And, and before she gives advice to, to managers of, of any place in the hierarchy of like, when you’re having your one-on-ones, for example, how do people feel basically, do people feel safe enough to criticize you? Right. If, if your direct reports never tell you like how you are, could be, do your job better, or have, you know, never tell you the impact of things you did that did work. Like that’s a red flag, right. If it’s all sunshine and roses, like, no, it’s not, something’s missing here.
Amy 01:01:41 Exactly. That’s the same thing. Yep.
Andrew 01:01:43 A related question, um, in this idea that if we know we’ve got it right, if people, if we can see that people are speaking up, they’re using their voice, um, in whatever ways are appropriate. I’m curious in, in a, another listener asked about, does this differ at all? Or how does it differ across sort of the introvert, ambivert extrovert spectrum? Like there are certain people or personality types that are just quieter, they, or, or less comfortable in certain situations. How do you, how do you think about that?
Amy 01:02:13 Well, you know, I, I I’ll, I’ll answer that in two ways. One is I do have some data that suggests that introversion extroversion is not correlated with psychological safety or that there’s an equal chance that you can be an introvert and an extrovert and be in a psychologically safe environment or, or lack thereof, um, at work. And the main difference of course, between introverts and extroverts, um, is the energy it takes or that if I’m an introvert, it takes more out of me to share. I get recharged by being alone and thinking and so on. And if I’m an extrovert, I actually get my battery charged by engaging. I almost have to think aloud. So it would seem like, but that’s, it’s the energy thing is slightly different than the do I feel my voice is welcomed thing. Yeah. So it may still be the case that that extroverts are talking more. That doesn’t mean they’re more psychologically safe. Um, and so that’s sort of the, the data side of it, but, but if it is a reality that some people need a little more space. Um, and I think it’s probably the case that introverts are going to be more dependent on the leadership practice that I described as inviting engagement. Like if you, if you ask an introvert a good question, that introvert will happily answer.
Andrew 01:03:45 Yep. It seems like it would also be about, um, having, if you’re trying to create this environment in foster, this environment, having sort of a, you know, a number of tools in your tool belt to, for how to, for example, solicit feedback. So not necessarily expecting yeah. You could ask for feedback in the all hands meeting, but it, introvert is a lot less likely to speak up there, but having other channels where it’s like, Hey, you know, a written forum or a one-on-one or, or something like that seems like it would let you go more broadly there.
Amy 01:04:12 Exactly. I mean, the core emotion that psychological safety is about is fear or lack there, you know? So it’s, it’s, it’s it’s um, I think what I hope is that people can understand that it may, it may not look like it, but more often than not, people are afraid, right. They’re afraid to speak up or they don’t want, they don’t want to get it wrong. They don’t want to look bad. They don’t want to intrude. Um, now it’s not big, you know, big tiger saber tooth tiger, fear, it’s little interpersonal fear, but it can be crippling. Um, and it is addressable.
Andrew 01:04:51 A question that came up was, uh, about how this affects in interviewing process, right? A hiring process within an organization. What have you noticed there, like, do you, does this, do, do companies need to change the way they’re hiring to promote more psychological safety? I know I’m asking you two questions at once, which is a terrible thing, but do you, um, how should a company think about designing an interview process that will actually find people source people who are willing to challenge the status quo of a company? Like maybe a company is not that safe, but finding people who are willing to do the work to promote it, you know, to the right, to their left, to the people below them and to whatever extent they can up the hierarchy.
Amy 01:05:29 Are you, are you saying, how do we hire people who are able to, to help create this kind of environment? Or how do we hire in a way that, how do we do interviews in a way that it’s
Andrew 01:05:43 I see, yeah, I sorta did ask this, both those questions. Um, I think I was actually asking the latter more, but feel free to respond to whichever ones are interesting to you.
Amy 01:05:51 Okay. I, you know, I think I haven’t thought directly about either, either one before, but I think the latter question of sort of, how do I, what can I do to bring people in who will, um, help create a more safe rather than a less safe, um, environment for, for all of us to collaborate. Um, and I think that’s a really good question. Um, and it reminds me of, of the efforts they make at Southwest to kind of bring people in who are really team players. Right. And that, um, one, one of the techniques they use is that they’ll actually have a group interviews, you know, they’ll have, they’ll have people come together and they, they might, um, and what their, when they’re in a team in a group and they’re sort of having conversations and questions and discussions, one of the things they’re really looking at is not what you’re saying when you’re speaking, but what you’re doing and what you’re like when someone else is speaking, do you have empathy?
Amy 01:06:54 Are you curious? Are you, you know, are you interested? Are you present? And, and so that might be, you know, sort of the opportunity to observe someone more in situ, uh, with other people is, is going to be very valuable. I think for understanding who’s going to be a good member of the team, if there’s a way to assess, um, curiosity. And perhaps there is, you know, when people, if you’re interviewing someone, do they have questions? Do they ask you questions about, about you about the place? You know, if they have no questions now that could be fear. It could be. But that curiosity, I think, is a fantastic enabler of psychological safety. Because if you have by large people who are curious, then you have people who will ask questions. And when you have people or ask questions, you have people who are indicating that they want to hear other’s voice.
Andrew 01:07:48 Um, here’s one more. And then we’ll kind of start to wrap up, um, one, one idea that is that. And I’m going to read you this question as well. Cause I think it’s very well phrased. So different people have different life experiences, work experiences, family, history, backgrounds, et cetera, all of which contribute to how they perceive reality, what is safe for them. Um, and the question is really what is universal about what makes people feel safe, independent of those varying factors and how should you adapt your, your, your toolkit, um, to create a sense of safety based on these differing needs.
Amy 01:08:26 That question. It’s such a lovely question. It makes me want to go back to the beginning here, where we started you. And I started by talking about, um, this idea that everybody wants to work in an environment where, where they can appreciate be appreciated and be contributing to the greater good in some way, we all want to be a part of something larger than ourselves. And we want, um, we want our unique gifts or experiences or skills to be put to good use. And, and so, you know, I, I just think, I think that’s what, what it’s all about. If we have, we’re going to have differences, we’re going to have different ways of expressing ourselves. Um, we may need different things to bring ourselves forward. Um, but if we start with the premise that this is what we all long for, and then we’ll, we’ll figure out ways to get there.
Andrew 01:09:27 Yeah. I know. I love that. It’s a, I couldn’t agree more with what you just said. Actually, it’s someone asked me once. Um, it’s actually was, uh, at a thing. I, I experimented or little workshops, sorry. I workshop I did, uh, near Stanford and there’s a group at Stanford that does a really great the class, I think, called designing your life. Um, and they turn it into a really good book called I think also designing your life. And there’s a very interesting question in there where they ask you people to personally reflect on what is work for, to you. Ha ha. And I’m curious if this is totally out of the blue, you’re not prepped for this at all. I’m curious when you hear that question, what comes up?
Amy 01:10:10 I mean, to me, I don’t want to be a broken record, but it’s, it’s for making a difference. Work is making a difference and work is a forcing function for learning and growing. So work is work is both for me to make a difference out there, but also for me to get better, right. For me, for me to get more, more, more, yeah. To grow, I mean, to become more, more capable and possibly more fully myself. I mean, if I’m just, if I’m doing fun or leisure, that doesn’t require me necessarily, it depends on what it is, um, you know, to, to learn and get better. Uh, there’s some leisure things like playing golf or, or, or something where in fact, you are forcing yourself or trying to force yourself to get better, but there’s, um, you know, some things like watching a movie where you get to just watch the movie and enjoy it and relax. So, um, work for, um, making a difference and work is for developing your own abilities to do that.
Andrew 01:11:23 Yeah. I love that. I love that. My answer was very, very similar. My answer was, um, that work is a place we go or a platform, um, for us to develop and express who we are in service of something greater than ourselves.
Amy 01:11:36 So. Perfect. Did you say develop and express? Yes. Perfect. Yeah. Who we are in service of something greater than ourselves. I love that.
Andrew 01:11:48 I don’t, I never connected these dots until right now that actually ended up being one of the foundational kind of ideas behind doing this podcast was how do we make more organizations like that? Because I think as you said, that’s what, on some level we all want, we all want, I mean, we all spent most majority of our waking hours at work, so that’d be pretty great.
Amy 01:12:07 Sure. Would and, and not enough organizations are doing that as well as they should.
Andrew 01:12:15 Yeah. Which, which is back to your work. Something I’m very grateful for, for what you’re up to. And I definitely am trying to do my part as well with this, with the show and, and the things we’re building in the world. Um, one of the, so we’ll start to wrap up here. One question, um, and I’m sure you get this question a lot and I apologize if, um, if it’s trite, but if you could, if a leader is listening to this, right. They’re bought in, they’re like, yes, Amy I’m signed up and you could only have them make one change or take one action, install one new habit. Like one thing, what’s the, what would you have them do?
Amy 01:12:49 Ask questions, ask more questions, right. It just get interested. Um, it’s I wanted to say two things, right? It’s go first. And first, I mean, I don’t mean go first in sort of pronouncing truth, but go first and, you know, doing the scary things, like admitting a mistake or saying I got that wrong or saying, I’m worried about this. So, you know, that sort of, if you want other people to do those things, you better do it first. But I think if I have to say only one thing, it’s forced yourself to ask more questions and of course, listen to the answers.
Andrew 01:13:31 You talked about how powerful it is when someone particularly someone in a position of authority, and I’m using that distinctly than saying a leader, because leadership is distinct from authority, um, how powerful it is when someone apologizes for not having made it safe in the past. Do you find that people can, it would seem that there can be a real, um, the word that comes to mind is healing process. That when, when that kind of openness, when that kind of space is opened up, that something new can emerge. Do you find that happening and do you, or first of all, do you agree? And second of all, do you, are you seeing that happen?
Amy 01:14:08 It’s incredibly powerful when someone says anything along the lines of, I am so sorry for what I did that put you in a position where you felt you couldn’t speak up, honestly to me, or fill in the blank, lots of other things, but I, you know, to own the impact you have had, which was not your intention. Right. But to own the impact and, and, and be willing to own the impact is, uh, I mean, it can just unleash so much.
Andrew 01:14:45 Absolutely. So a couple of rapid fire questions here, uh, the questions are short. Your answers don’t have to be
Amy 01:14:51 Okay, good. If you could go,
Andrew 01:14:53 Is there, if you could go back in time knowing what you know now, is there anything you’d change about this book or your previous books since you’ve kept on learning, based on everything you’ve learned since they came out
Amy 01:15:05 In the, in this book? I would, I would do a better job of saying what psychological safety is not earlier on. Right. So that no one could have that. Oh, it’s about being nice a misimpression for, at all, or, um, um, prior books teaming, like my book teaming, how organizations learn innovate and compete in the knowledge economy is probably, um, I think it’s a good book. I think it’s a pretty good read. I think it’s a little bit more academic than is, is ideal. Um, although it does, at least it does have stories in it and so on.
Andrew 01:15:45 Yeah. I’m actually in the middle of reading teaming right now. And one thing I just wanted to say that I have found that just for the listener and also feedback for you that I found especially useful in there was you gave language to something I’d been trying to find the words for it. Cause I think if I were to summarize one of the big lessons I got from your work, getting ready for this conversation was that context matters like a lot. And, and there are principles here that, which is a lot of what you’re uncovering, but the ways in which those principles are enacted matters tremendously and varies tremendously based on culture, location, power, distance, you know, fill in the blank variable here, certainty uncertainty,
Amy 01:16:27 Are we doing innovation or are we doing production?
Andrew 01:16:30 Yeah. And that, and that was exactly the thing. There was something that I think is called the knowledge process, spectrum process, knowledge, spectrum,
Amy 01:16:38 Process, knowledge spectrum.
Andrew 01:16:40 And I remember re I remember I was like, Oh yeah, okay. This is helping me understand when to pull which tool out of the toolbox, because you have that idea of there’s like routine work where it’s super well understood. Then there’s complex systems and there’s, God knows there’s a lot of those now. And then there’s, you know, really discovering innovative work or innovation type work, where there are no blueprints. And the fact that these tools, um, the application of these principles varies across those, that spectrum. I was like, Oh, okay. Got it. So it’s, I could have had
Amy 01:17:12 It’s so obvious, right? It’s such a duh that I felt embarrassed putting it in there, but a lot of people have said what you said, which is that was like a huge source of, you know, insight or priority for them. So it’s like, yeah, I know I’m in, I often found myself doing it in front of a classroom because of a question would come. It would make me realize, Oh, I better step back and say, well, it depends. And, you know, just for instance, it depends on this. What will, you know, how much knowledge we have at this moment to get the result? We want very high in the automotive assembly plant very low in the pharmaceutical R and D lab. Right. And it matters doesn’t psychological safety is important in all three domains for different reasons. And it manifests in different ways.
Andrew 01:18:00 Yeah. I learned this the hard way. About two years ago when I took over, um, a large, uh, product initiative that involved, um, hardware and software and cutting edge machine learning. And we were trying to fit all three in one product. And we were trying to figure out a lot of really hard problems. And we realized very quickly, uh, or I realized in about three months after beating my head against the wall. Wow. My playbook isn’t working. Like I have to throw out my entire playbook. Cause it doesn’t something about it does not apply here. And what I eventually figured out with a lot of help and conversations and coaching was that, Oh, it’s interesting. All of those plays were for a domain where the links between activities and outcomes are, are well understood right. In this domain. That is not true. Like we don’t know what’s going to happen when we do X and it’s like, Oh right, okay.
Amy 01:18:47 Right. Duh. And yet there you bang your head against the wall for some period. Exactly. It’s kind of stunning. Really.
Andrew 01:18:55 Yeah. It’s a thing. It’s a thing I’m curious. Uh, you know, as you go through you’re, you’re up to a lot and I’m curious, uh, this is a question I like to ask everybody, what are some of the rituals, the personal practices, habits, routines, et cetera, that, you know, in live in you that, that give that nourish, you support you, that supports you in doing what you do and making the difference you are seeking to make.
Amy 01:19:22 Don’t have a good answer. I run, I mean, not very fast, but I do like getting out there and moving. Um, I like also, um, to be, uh, you know, to have time, I don’t have enough time to sort of sit and think and scribble. I have to scribble. I often when I’m writing something, I often have to start with a pen and drawing lines and arrows between things. Cause it’s hard to figure out what comes first and if you just start typing it, doesn’t, it’s, it forces it to be in some sequence that might not be right.
Andrew 01:19:55 I’m curious. You seem like someone who really thinks in systems, like it seems like a lot of your work is really at the intersection of humans and systems and are curious, um, if, uh, are familiar with the work of a guy named Simon Wardley no. So I think he might, I’ll send you the link after the show, but, um, there’s a guy named Simon Wardley who has a technique that, and I’m dying to get the kids guy on the show. If I can, if anyone listening to this has a connection assignment, I would love to talk to Simon. Um, anyways, the reason I bring it up is he has a, what I consider to be a novel method for, um, I would call it almost ecosystem or strategy mapping is what he describes it as in exploring the links between things and uncovering or sort of surfacing, um, non-obvious connections put it that way.
Andrew 01:20:45 And I I’ve just, it came to mind listening to you like, Oh, wow. That might be an interesting tool for you as you’re doing your work exploring as you’re exploring into the unknown. I think you might find it. I think there might be something there for you. Absolutely. And I will, I will send you that link for sure. Great. Um, okay. So one or two more and we’ll just wrap up is, um, I’m curious if there are any, uh, what was the last small change you made that had an outsized impact on whether it’s your productivity, your sense of satisfaction, happiness, fungi, whatever, but what’s a small change in recent memory that has had a surprisingly big impact for you. Oh God,
Amy 01:21:22 Gosh. You know, um, Very different things came to mind. One is just turning off, you know, using airplane mode when you’re not on an airplane, it can really, it can help. That can help me think. Um, and the other is to just the resolving to be kinder. Um, um, and, and I’m kind of with strangers, but to be kind with, um, to be kind with family members, um, I think it’s working
Andrew 01:21:51 Good. All right. That’s awesome. Um, I’m curious if, uh, if there’s any books, particularly recent ones that have, uh, you know, whether it’s an idea or a book you encountered or think or whatever, just something like that that really took hold in your brain and re impacted how you see things in recent years
Amy 01:22:14 Leadership. And self-deception, do you know that book? I do not know it’s magnificent. I mean, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s, it’s not magnificent in the sense of being great writing. It’s magnificent in the sense of being great philosophy. It’s, it’s a kind of, it’s one of these rare business books, that’s a novel. Um, and, and the novel is telling, uh, the S uh, you know, has a character who’s sort of learning, um, how not to be a jerk, um, and, and learning that, um, many of the things that he’s been blaming on other annoying people in his life, you know, boss’ wife would have, you are in fact, uh, things that he’s manifesting and creating. Um, and it’s got a, uh, it’s, it’s got a sort of a wise character who kind of leads him through this journey of discovery, um, of how, in a sense, I suppose, the quickest way to say it is how your own frame produces the results that you almost reliably are blaming others for, but that really STEM back to you. Um, and it’s a very powerful book. I read it a few years ago, and then I read it again, not so many years ago.
Andrew 01:23:29 Well, that’s going on my reading list for sure. It reminds me of that last thing you said there reminds me of a, um, a question that, uh, there’s a, there’s a guy named Jerry Colonna, Collin. I’m not sure how to say his last name, who wrote a really good book called reboot. And there’s a question he likes to ask people in his coaching engagements, which is something to the effect of how am I complicit in creating the conditions I say, I don’t want
Amy 01:23:51 Exactly right. That’s exactly right.
Andrew 01:23:53 These are really good questions that goes in your category of good questions.
Amy 01:23:57 It does. It does. And it’s not one that people are going to easily be able to answer because the first instinct is not at all like automatic things out there are out there. And it’s, so it can take a little bit of work to get to a good answer, for sure.
Andrew 01:24:15 For sure. Um, so what’s, what’s caught your attention lately. What are you reading thinking about lately now that the book is out, you’ve got a little space from that what’s what’s top of mind now. Well, maybe you don’t, I, I assumed you did.
Amy 01:24:26 I think top of mind is getting more concrete, useful tools and techniques and ways, ways to help people practice and make a difference in, in their own workplaces.
Andrew 01:24:40 Perfect. I love that. So is there anything we didn’t cover that you wanted to say?
Amy 01:24:45 No. I mean, what was great about this conversation is it really did, as you promised, um, take us in entirely different directions. I don’t think I said anything that I’ve said before. Right. So that’s quite a big accomplishment as I can. I didn’t want to, you know, it’s, it’s good. Not to be just a tape recorder.
Andrew 01:25:05 Yeah. That’s a lot of fun. So just in wrapping up, um, are there for the people listening to this? Is there anything, any asks you have of the listener? Anything, if they’re listening and they want to help, they want to engage?
Amy 01:25:15 Well, it’s read the book and then go take it and talk about it with your own team, your own work group. A lot of people ask, well, wait a minute, I’m not the boss. Can I do anything? And the answer is a resounding yes, there’s so much you can do just by expressing interest in, in others and listening carefully. You have, you have the opportunity, you know, a dozen times a day to give someone else a moment of feeling safe to engage.
Andrew 01:25:45 Absolutely. That’s beautiful. And we’re, uh, if people are curious, where can they connect with you with your work? Um, is there anywhere you would direct people online or things like that?
Amy 01:25:53 Well, I do have a faculty page on the Harvard business school website, and that shows you things like what I have written and what I’m up to, um, in, in terms of general research aspirations and so on.
Andrew 01:26:10 Perfect. Well, we will put all of that in the show notes. So, uh, Amy, thank you so much for the time. It has been an absolute pleasure and thanks for coming on and sharing your wisdom with all of us.
Amy 01:26:20 Alright, thanks for having me.