Michel Hogan - Brand Counsel: Unheroic Work, Toxic Delight, Weaponized Values and the Myth of Wow

What do you and your company stand for? Is your purpose confused with marketing? What are the right behaviors linked to your values?

Matt Sodnicar 0:32
everybody, welcome to the podcast. This is Matt Sodnicar. Thank you so much for listening for your posts and your suggestions. I see them all. And I do sincerely appreciate them. And today's guest actually came from a fascinating LinkedIn post and subsequent discussion. And joining me today is Michelle Hogan from Australia. She is the brand counsel. And with that, we'll dive deep into that. But Michelle, great to see you. Thanks for making the time.

Michele Hogan 1:04
All thanks so much for having me. It's great to be here.

Matt Sodnicar 1:08
So your post a while ago was about how to make the organization's purpose personally meaningful. And you would tied that into did you say that one too many great resignation posts are right. And what really resonated with me about the article was just about someone making the organization's purpose, personally meaningful. And when I read that, it took me back to a quote from Jim Rohn, long time ago who said, work harder on yourself than you do on your job. And I wanted to start the conversation that way with you?

Michele Hogan 1:54
Yeah. Well, there's a bit of an epidemic these days of people within organizations. And I think they've been told this by a lot of media as well. So it's not their fault. But thinking that somehow the organization is responsible for their sense of meaning, that my job should deliver me a sense of personal meaning, and that that's their job to do that. And, and I take, I take exception to that, I don't think that's the organization's job. I certainly think the organization has a responsibility to, to build an environment where people can feel that what they do matters, absolutely. Where they can feel that what they do is connected and part of something, whatever that something is, I don't judge, I don't lay a virtue and judgment on what that should be. Because the guys making the widgets, right, they're not saving the world. But you can find a lot of meaning in contributing to making a really great widget that that does its job and lasts well and that people want to buy and that somehow improve something else. And and that gets lost in the conversation. I think where and people sort of fall back. I think people fall back to this idea that absent having that sense of connection, the old FedEx story. Well, people actually call it the NASA story about the janitor, right? He's asked, you know, what are you doing? He says, I'm helping put a man on the moon or the FedEx story, right, I'm making sure packages go out overnight. And I like the FedEx version, because he it ties it back really clearly to what this means is, the janitor says because if I don't clean the rubbish from the dock, the trucks can't come in. If the trucks can't come in, we can't load them. If we can't load them, they can't go out and deliver packages. Now there's a guy who understands and finds meaning in his work, because it's part of something that's bigger than what he does, which is clean up the rubbish. And that's the gap. I think if organizations are responsible for anything, and And part of what's driving a lot of people to leave organizations is that gap. Like I'm slaving away here every day, I'm doing all this stuff. A lot of it's 90% Boring. Well, that's everybody's job, sorry. Just get over it now. Because every job is part boring and mundane and frustrating. And that's not going anywhere. But if you're doing that without any sense at all, that there's something else out there. There's something else that that's part of, yeah, I'm going to get frustrated and I'm probably going to leave, but flipping that to that organization has to deliver me some deep sense of personal meaning. So my life feels worthy. No, no, that's on you.

Matt Sodnicar 4:51
Well, I think that would be a rare handful of companies that would do that as part of their mission. Because you talked about FedEx or NASA or the widget company. And I think unless somebody worked for a nonprofit that was out there doing that, that was perhaps planting trees or growing food or things like that, your your mission is going to be somewhat abstract, and it's not going to be so altruistic. And the other thing I liked about your stories is that there was no inflation of the self importance of those roles. For those people, it was, they found something that they tied themselves to a bigger purpose, but without puffing out their chest or posting selfies on Instagram about it.

Michele Hogan 5:53
I mean, most organizations sits somewhere between making money and world peace, in terms of their mission, right? That's a there's, we sit there and with the, that's part of the purpose, virtue stuff that's going on right purpose has to be virtuous. Now, it has to be this signaling thing to the world that you stand for something that's important and great, and all that. And I, I really take exception to that. Because not everybody's purpose can be like that, nor it should be, as long as its meaning as long as it has meaning and can inspire in the people inside the organization. That's what it's there for. I don't, I don't know when purpose becomes conflated with marketing a lot these days. They're just, you know, becomes this marketing message instead of like, what is our deeply held purpose? When I work with dogs? Quite often they'll say, you know, what do you think of our purpose? I said, it doesn't matter what I think, but what do you think of it? Because that's what's important. It's not there for anybody else. It's there for the people inside the organization. But somehow it's become this, like, virtue signaling device for organizations, goodness. If it stops being that really soon,

Matt Sodnicar 7:25
me too, I saw this, I think I had applied to this company or I was looking at their service. And I honestly can't remember who it was. But as part of their splash screen video background, they were showing the, for the listeners, I'm using air quotes here culture, and they were in a room and like jumping up and down. And then they had this camera shot where it went through. I'm guessing it was the employees doing one of these little tent things like little soccer kids do. And I was thinking, that would be one of my questions on the job is like, please not have to do that. If I work here. I would much rather have all the tools that I need to get the job done and feel supported, then running through the spanking machine.

Michele Hogan 8:22
Well, let's let's get starting from point one. Nobody goes to work every day wanting to do a shit job and feel bad about what they do. No one, well, okay 1% Of psychopaths, but let's leave them to the SOP. Most people go to work every day, wanting to do a good job and feeling like that in some small way. They have made a contribution to something, whatever that something is. And that's the job of the org is to help people see that connection, understand that connection. So that when they click off at the end of the day, whenever that is and they sit down and like Yeah, yeah. And when you can bring that to an organization, I think the job of the CEO, the job of leadership, is to is certainly to help that to help them to do that. But again, there's the responsibility still sits with there is still a responsibility with the worker with the person in the org to, to seek that and and to ask for that. And if you if you don't know how your role fits in the grand scheme of things, ask, right? If you're if your leader hasn't told you and you ask and they can't tell you. Yeah, okay, maybe you've got a good case for him for the exit. But, but if you're sitting there going, why haven't they told me sorry, you have a responsibility to and there seems to be this massive. Maybe the great resignation is more the cradle to the grave entitlement I'm not sure but that's gonna give me a boatload of time. saying that so probably,

Matt Sodnicar 10:01
I'm gonna back you up 100% on that, because one of the transformational moments in my life was when I was older in my 30s. And I realized that I was responsible solely for what happened to me. I mean, there's accidents, right? There's car crashes, there's the outliers, but, but in terms of the relationships that I had, or the work that I put out, or yet the choice that I made, oh, I could stay up till midnight binge watching something, or I could get to bed early, and get up and be fresh and have a better perspective. Those are all choices that I made. And so when you talk about entitlement, I think I don't know if this is all young American males because I went through it. And it certainly was not this generation. But soon as I realized that, sitting around waiting for someone to help me or tell me what to do, or tell me what I needed. The minute that I just grabbed that wheel, or took hold of it, because I was still nervous to do that. At the time, things started changing for me. Yeah,

Michele Hogan 11:18
yeah, it's that there's this I think epic taters. The stoic philosopher, basically said, The only two things that you were, that you're in your control are your thoughts and your actions. Right. So whatever happens around you is going to happen around you. You can't control that. But you can control what you think about it, and how you react and how you respond. And that's, there's this massive, that gets more usefully stated. I think Mark Manson says it is you know, it's not your fault, but it is your responsibility. Hmm. Yeah. And there's been, and there's a lot of that going around at the moment where people are refusing to take responsibility for for their own shit, basically. Yeah, the, the one of my favorite, one of my favorite things is don't make your ship my shit.

Matt Sodnicar 12:14
Yeah. Yeah,

Michele Hogan 12:18
it's a good, it's actually a pretty good way to get through the world. Because Because you've got to, everybody has to step up. And this awesome Deming that's going on where? leadership, organization bad employee, good, right? That, that really banal, binary way of thinking about it, it's just off the mark completely. Because there's good and bad on both sides. There's responsibility on both sides. And there's success and failure on both sides. And so when you get into an organization, and when I go into an org, that's one of the first things I start to look at, what's that dynamic? What's, you know, what's feeding this sort of dysfunction? And since it's really the fact that we have a ship purpose is not why things aren't working.

Matt Sodnicar 13:11
Yeah, yeah, that that one page on the website, you know, who we are right, that is now done.

Michele Hogan 13:17
If I could get organizations to take their damn purpose and values off their websites, I would be the happiest girl in Australia. I'm just like, I'm so over people using them as marketing messages because it drives a really toxic way of framing them.

Matt Sodnicar 13:33
Oh, let's talk about that a lot. Because when I would call on companies, when I worked in the training and development space, I would use that against them. But tell me about how that I'm fascinated by this because I'm a culture aficionado, I have no official culture, role or responsibilities. But so how to how to the mission and values create toxic culture.

Michele Hogan 14:00
So when you when you use your purpose and values as a promotional tools, now, I'm not saying they don't matter. And they, they're incredibly important to shaping and guiding how you do stuff. And what you do. So values are usefully just how we do things around here, effectively, and the end culture is that done over and over again. The relationship of those two things very simply. And, and the problem is when you're, when you're putting them out there for mass consumption. When you're using them to promote yourself, you're going to sanitize them, you're going to frame them in a way that makes them palatable to other people. You're not actually necessarily going to be particularly honest about what they are. And that's where you get the usual suspects. That's where you get the stuff the top 10 As I call Hold on honesty, integrity, trust, innovation, teamwork fun. And, you know, you know the list, and 90% of the time, they're bullshit. And they're bullshit, because they're there for other people's consumption, not for us to use, not usefully day in and day out. Now, this is broad generalization. And I fully acknowledge there are rules, that is not true for who have them on their website, and who do actually actively and deeply and deliberately use them. However, for every one of those, there's probably 100. That's not true for and the big driver of it is marketing gets their hands on them, and they want to pretty them up. But the process of printing them up inserts a whole other language that people don't necessarily know what it means. So the minute I say I put something in a definition of a value or use a particular word, everybody's going to load up their baggage about what they think that thing is. Because we all come to places with baggage, every single person does, we carry it with us wherever we go. And we'll dump it down. And it's gonna sit there and every time you use a word that I think I know what it means I'm going to act as if that's what it is. And there was a CEO I worked with who had a great sight, he said, I'm not afraid that people won't know what our values are. I'm afraid that they'll think they know when they're wrong. And he was, he's absolutely right in that, because if, if I don't know what they are great, you can tell me about it. You can you can share it with me, you can get me on board, you can you can enlist me to the cause, right. But if I think I know what they are, and I'm wrong, you've first got to change my mind before you can do any of that other stuff. And now we're in a world of hurt, because I'm operating in a way that's not in alignment with what we're trying to do. And this whole idea of

Matt Sodnicar 17:05
No, good.

Michele Hogan 17:08
I know, I was just gonna say it, because it and the other part of this right is that people have this thing we and it's again, it's out there over and over again, hire people who share your values. Make sure you hire people who share your values, back to that baggage thing. Every single person comes to the organization with their own value values intact, the chances that you're going to find you might find 10 people who share your values up and down. But the chances you're going to find 10,000 people who share those five values that you've chosen out of the top head is slim to none. Right? So so what we need to be asking instead is this sense of can you stand with my values? is a much better question. Can you stand beside what we care about what's important? And how we do stop? Can you step up to that and make that part of who you are for while you're here? I'm not asking you to change out who you are for who we are. Because that's never going to work. But can you stand with us? That's a that's a much more realistic and useful way of bringing people into your values than trying to do this wholesale. You have to believe this? Well, sorry, I've got my own stuff that I believe and does that mean, I'm not somebody who would who can add useful value to your organization? Maybe maybe not. It's helpful if there's one thing, and it usually only needs to be one thing, that that sort of is a deeply DNA point of how we do stuff. That's the thing, you probably want to make sure you know what that is and that you hire for that. But the rest of the stuff on the list? Yeah.

Matt Sodnicar 19:03
Well, when you said you act as if that's I would say one of my superpowers is that yeah, okay, whatever. Like we'll just roll with it. But in the in the sales and consulting world, an amazing book called let's get real, or let's not play said no guessing. When the client the prospect puts out a term. Don't guess as to what that means, define it. And so if it's publicized on the website, and it's a value, and unless it's defined explicitly, yeah, people, I'm guilty of this because I tell every manager I've ever worked for every boss. If I do something wrong, I want you to come talk to me directly. Tell me it was me telling me what I did wrong. Because in meetings or groups where they talk about so so somebody, you know, did this and did this. So this makes sure we all so I'm going to be processing their information. And not that I'm perfect. But I would process it in a way that say, Oh, well, I didn't do it that way. So that's not me. I wouldn't, I would never get it. So I need explicit, direct feedback for that.

Michele Hogan 20:24
Well, and how you like the way people go about defining what stuff stands for. And I've been doing this work now for decades, right. And my process for doing this has evolved and changed. Because asking people directly, so what does that mean to you? Again, you're going to get the kumbaya because people don't want to feel like you don't want to say something that you're going to judge them on. I people are super, super sensitive to judgment. And so there's a is a process that I use that came from, well, it came by way of a friend, apparently by way of Aristotle, but I'm not sure of the exact connection. But there's, there's three questions that you can ask when you're trying to define something. And this is incredibly useful. I use this all the time I give it to people for free. It's not my IP, I stole it. So the well borrowed better term. And I can't attribute it which really drives me nuts other than there's some connection to Aristotle. So apologies out there. If somebody is responsible for this, and I'm not giving you the proper credit. Get in touch I'm happy to. So it's you asked three questions. Let's just use the word integrity as an example. It's one of the all time favorites. People love integrity, right? What could possibly go wrong? And so we start with what is it? So we just asked, what is integrity? Do you tell me Give me some answers, like just throw it at me? What? Give me some examples of words, whatever. Then once you've got that list, what isn't it? What is what's not integrity? And you get sometimes opposite stuff, sometimes just a little bit different. It's all good. And then the last question is the kicker and I love it. When does it go too far? Right. So when does it when is it not? To the extent what is integrity? Not to the extent of being? When does it go too far? Because when values flip and become a dime a liability, and they can be a liability, they flip on them too fast stuff. They really flip they don't the what isn't it stuff is just basically we're full of shit. And we don't do stuff that we say. That's easy. But the when it goes too fast off is they think they're doing it, but somehow it's going badly. And a great example of this is I think Uber had the had the Wiebe hustlin value out of the gate, when Eric Holder came in and did his culture analysis in order to the place that when Travis was in his frat boys were out of control. He basically said, we need to change the values. And I came back, I wrote about it take know, what they need to understand is the boundaries of their values. We be hustling turned, like we'd be hustling and turned into a permission to behave badly and be arrogant as all get out under the guise of like, Hey, we're getting it done. And if they'd understood when that went too far, maybe that wouldn't have happened because we'd be hustling is not necessarily a bad value. But it's the the Jim Collins definition I love, which is it really matters that you have values and that you use them, it really doesn't matter what they are. And, and people get all uptight about that. And they're like, oh, but you could have bad, like, what about if you lie, cheat and steal your values I said, then you're not going to be in business for very long.

Matt Sodnicar 24:00
The marketplace is sorted out.

Michele Hogan 24:02
That's kind of what you're worried about. But every value can flip every value has a dark side. I don't know if you've ever worked in walked into organizations that are super friendly. Right? They have a smile on their face. Everybody's happy and bouncy. And frankly, I ever tried to have a bad day in one of those places. Like, ever tried to give them bad news. You're just being negative. We can't do just what every day you can flip and this is this is the stuff that people don't get. When they talk about this. A lot of this. It gets it gets into kumbaya territory and the toxic stuff comes out because we're trying to be good. Like we want to, we want people to think we're good. And our values become a way we can signal that we're good. And we're right and we're Gonna do good things, which, you know, as we know, any organization can do bad stuff. Sometimes they don't necessarily do it on purpose. But, yeah, so if you want to weaponize your values, put them on your website. So, seriously, do not be surprised if people turn him into a club that they beat you with?

Matt Sodnicar 25:28
Yeah. Yeah. So weaponize that I love that. Can you give me an example of an endpoint where you've worked with a customer, like a tactical, tangible example? Sorry, don't need to tell me who the company is. But a value that was not sanitized? That was functional, whether it was internal facing or external facing?

Michele Hogan 25:56
Yeah, yeah, hips. So all this is, this is ages ago. But the this, I don't even know if the company still around. I wouldn't use names anyway. I don't but so we're working with these guys. They were working with these guys. They're a tech company. They're a technology back when hardware was the thing. And, and it was a pretty aggressive culture. And we used to talk about them as like, really, we're talking about a bunch of people pretty much gone. Bottom three bottom feeders, right bellied anything. Sure it all up. It's all fodder. And it was a fairly competitive, it was a pretty competitive environment as well. And we, we re, we took, they've been trying to come by themselves, and it just wasn't working their attention was out of the outside the bounds of reality, because they kept hiring people to come by. And what I mean by that is, Let's all hold hands and get along. And everyone would come in, and they find this competitive kind of opportunistic environment, and run for the hills in about three months. And so we sort of symbol instead, let's embrace that, and understand the boundaries of that. So it became the value became take every opportunity, because that's what they did. Right? But there's a big difference between that and being an opportunity stick us. And so once we, once we flipped it, once I flipped it into something that was a bit more useful, they could then apply it within their culture and within how they made decisions. As right, what's the opportunity in this is really different than how can we squeeze every living ounce of blood out of this and stomp it into its cold dead heart rate. Not there's, there's, there's a culture shift that happens there that's within the boundaries of what the organization believes and who they are. So it doesn't feel like we're trying to be someone else. It just means where we're actually taking notice of where that goes too far. And when it becomes a negative. And let's embrace the positive aspects of it instead. And they did. And, interestingly, we knew we were getting somewhere so people started putting Dilbert cartoons up because people were getting in the spirit of it right they're starting to embrace it and embrace who they were instead of fighting it tooth and not fighting it but but just blindly like hitting people over the head with it, which wasn't working out for him very well.

Matt Sodnicar 28:39
So I have a sample set of one here but going back to the Aristotle integrity example and then this quote about you know, the the opportunity that you just mentioned, is it better for values to be phrased as a question to spur thought when they're being used

Michele Hogan 29:01
that's that's interesting. I'm I'm pretty much a I don't I'm agnostic when it comes to how value should be stated. Okay, I don't like a lot of people have their you have the word and you have the description and you have the like, they have their their if you like the model for how the state of values and I'm what works for you kind of gal if a question worked for an organization, I'd have no problems with it being a question. I've certainly used questions to help people consider how the value might play for them. So going back to the integrity piece. So the the org that I worked with on that staff. The integrity was interesting, because when it went too far was when it became rigid and dogmatic. When it was unwilling to shift in the face of something that had changed in the environment, right, so we're gonna keep our promise no matter what, even if it drives us off a cliff because we said, we do this thing, rather than actually accepting that our promises never broken until the point at which it was supposed to happen, you can always go back and reset. And so that became a really important part of how that was defined. was yes, we want to make promises, but we've got to do it in a way that allows for us to, to ship we've got to do it in a way that's agile, because we're in a city, we're in an environment and a sector that's changing on a dime. And so that's something so it was, it became their whole integrity thing became defined by that limit by that boundary. Now, how, you know, how are we making a product? How are we making our promises? You know, do we have a plan? There's, there's questions that you can build out as part of the kind of behaviors that you want people to have the goal along with the value, and that's a really useful way to do it.

Matt Sodnicar 31:16
Well, and that's a perfect segue to one of the chapters I wanted to talk about in your book, which I love the title, the unheroic work. Are you a stoic follower yourself? I mean, I know you mentioned Epictetus, but

Michele Hogan 31:34
I have a bit of a stoic follow up. But the unheroic work is from a, from a passage in a book by Jedediah Purdy, which is called for common themes. And the I won't be able to quote love the passage Exactly. But essentially, he talks about the fact that our our common, that the endeavor of the commons, effectively is always a continuing or eroding accomplishment. And that, to me felt like a lovely definition. It's unheroic work is what he called it. And I felt that that was a lovely way of thinking about actually what a brand truly is, that is a result of unheroic work done across an organization. And it's always something that continue is that you're always adding or eroding value depending on whether you keep or break your promises and what and how you do things. And, and so when I was when I wrote when I do my first book, which is called between making money and world peace, the title for that book is a line from the one of the articles. And so that sort of set me up, I'm like, Okay, well, this one, I kind of have to do the same thing. So I went hunting through all my articles to try and find the phrase that would work and the unheroic work was the obvious one, because I talk about it all the time. And everybody always get that immediately.

Matt Sodnicar 33:05
Well, that was another one of the enlightened with the smallest of ease at the front end of that word for me is understanding. It mentioned before about m the, I'm responsible for my own journey, I have to take care of myself. But then understanding that no matter what the job is, there's always going to be taking out the trash like my friend Vinnie torta rich had mentioned, or it's cleaning up your desk or something. And it was a blues music. Maybe it's Buddy Guy, I can't remember. But he said, I play for free. And they pay me to travel. Yeah, so I don't care if you're on stage at the Sydney Opera House, and you're in front of how many? How many people does that hold? I don't even know how many people's

Michele Hogan 34:03
Sydney Opera House. It's I don't know, it's not as big as people think it is. But it's 1000s.

Matt Sodnicar 34:08
Okay, onstage performing your work of art, singing music, whatever it may be. That's the joy. But the unheroic work of getting to that point is that's becoming a grownup right there and being an adult and I want to gush for just a second.

Michele Hogan 34:33
I love it. I love it.

Matt Sodnicar 34:36
So I'm going to totally fanboy on you for just a second here, because I just found Debbie Millman podcast. I don't know if you know who she is. And I've been burning through those episodes, and the nuance of the conversations and the people that she speaks to having that exact sense. that you could be a guest on her show because this, this nuanced discussion about brand and the timing. I sincerely mean it like, the more that I'm talking to you, the more that it's like, we should hang up and just get you on to Debbie's podcast as soon as possible.

Michele Hogan 35:25
We can always we can do a part two, right? I've always had for part two, but okay, this is this stuff is, yeah, this stuff matters. Like I said, I've been thinking out loud about this for for, for decades. And, and it's, and I say thinking out loud, because the way I practice I work with dogs. I certainly speak on this stuff. And I've written on it. I think at this point, I'm a nearly 600 articles and counting on on this topic over the past 12 years. And so that, like you were saying, you get you know, inspired by things from different places, and you're sort of Spark things in your brain. And that's what happens to me as well. I can read voraciously. I listen to stuff all the time, I love Debbie's podcast and to many others. And I always they spark something like, oh, yeah, that's a great way of thinking about that. And when I, when I layer it and align it to this, it helps people see it in a different way. And so I'm always interested in how that works. Because the way that I think the way that the vast majority of people work with and think about brands, I say, you know, if it's on your to do list, it's in the wrong place. And that's the way most people deal with it is they look at it as something they have to do. And we've got to do the brand, right? And I'm like, No, it's a result of everything you do. What how does, how does this other thing I'm doing play a part in keeping a promise. And in keeping that promise? It's part of people's experience experiences just where promises get kept or broken? That's it. Right? So if you have a good experience, chances are whatever was promised to you, or you thought or your expectation got kept, if you have a bad experience, it didn't. Not all that complicated. How am I going to as an organization, make sure that more people have promises kept them broken? Well, the only way I can do that is if I'm really deliberate about the promises I make. And I take that all the way back and use my identity, that stuff, that's the what matters most your purpose, how we do stuff, our values, to make promises. And when I do that, the risk that people are going to have a bad experience is way lower, and that they're going to believe me next time through the roof that they're going to come back that that thing that they think we stand for is reinforced, that value grows. And when all that happens, I can do more work with that, right, that value lets me do more work more easily, I can hire people more easily, I keep my customers, I can take money and and capital that I would have had to use to do that, if I don't have good value in my brand, and I can and I can use it for innovation, and I can use it for expansion and I can grow with it. It's a big ecosystem of how this stuff works together. And the really over simplistic way people try and bust it down to well, if you if you have these three words, and you know what they are and you know everybody can recite them by road and yay, you is largely not the way it works in the real world sorry.

Matt Sodnicar 38:59
Well this is all making the the the chapter that I started reading this afternoon values as an operating system in your book. It's clarifying what that actually means. And if I could take a stab at my homework here is that the values as an operating system are like the the actions that you do after you've done this exercise and gone through it and like these are the ways in which we demonstrate would demonstrate be the right word values or

Michele Hogan 39:42
well the way we use them so it's not even a demonstration like value as an operating system like the operate. If you use that analogy and take it forward. You'd lay a programs on top of an operating system and they work a particular way because that operating systems there. Right so You're probably thinking about your programs as the stuff you do. So if you lay the stuff you do on top of your values, in other words, the values become the way you're the stuff you do works. So if I'm, let's just say I've got a value around open communication, right? So it's something I'm doing is I've accepted that I'm going to do, I'm going to complete a task for someone by a certain date. Now, if I'm using my value as an operating system, I'm going to I'm going to be really clear with that person about what that you know what it's going to take how long it's going to take me. And the commitment I make as a result of that will reflect it. If I'm not reflecting my value of open communication, right? I might just say, all I have for you on Tuesday, whether I can or not, and figure it out later. That's not using your output that's not using your value as an operating system. And that's where having values that are actually genuine li part of how you do what you care about. And stuffing is so important. Because if you're not, and if they're not using them in that way, is impossible. It's always a retrofit. Whereas when they are genuine, that that block and tackle action and decision stuff becomes more natural and easy. Like I don't have to think about acting in a way that's about my values. Because my values are how I act.

Matt Sodnicar 41:30
Their subconscious now or unconscious, I guess, right?

Michele Hogan 41:35
They're woven, like they're part of the fabric, I don't have to try and figure out how to stitch them in later. And for anyone who's ever tried to do that, and I'm all ears as to how that worked out for you.

Matt Sodnicar 41:52
The other and I didn't read this because I wanted you to take me through it on purpose was that? Don't start with why. And I wanted to discover more about that, because I see marketing. And one of my questions is always who cares? So something will be published? I think LinkedIn is probably the the graveyard of stuff that gets pushed out that has no, I don't know if it's context or meaning or connection, at least no connection to me. And I just kind of go Why did they post this? So my, my brain is looking for the why and that but you're suggesting don't start with the why and now I'm gonna put my hand down and Professor Hogan, please take me through this.

Michele Hogan 42:46
Oh my god, if I'm being that obnoxious, you need to slap me. Um, so Okay, so don't start with why. Of course, there's a very famous book and talk around that topic that I'm obviously playing against. But when I talk about don't start with why to begin with, it's around that organizations are always, you know, became this thing of like, why we why why, why, why, why. And years ago, I stopped using when I first started doing this work, I was I was on the five why's bus, I used to use the firewall like why, why why? And just, I always found that it, it. It created a barrier that you had to climb. But I never understood why it created that barrier. Why it created why why created the barrier, right? And so I started using a different question. Absolutely. But I didn't really think about it all that much. It was just like, Okay, this one works better. So we're gonna go with it. And then I was reading, never split the difference by Chris Voss, which if you haven't read that book, it should like, slide to the top of your reading list is things you'll read. Hi, Chris. I don't know. I Chris. And it's on the very short list of books I recommend to everyone I work with that they should read. And Chris was an FBI hostage. I think FBI or CIA hostage negotiator. So never split. The difference is theoretically about negotiation, but it's not. It's actually about how to communicate clearly and get people to do stuff that you want them to do and feel good about him. And so when he was talking about he got to the section he was talking about, and he was talking about why. And he said is it why there's virtually no way to ask the question why without it feeling like an accusation. And he's so right. And so I call it it's an accusation. It's an inquiry wrapped in an accusation is how it's like so why are you here? Immediately I take two steps backwards, right? Like, why do you want to know? What is it to you? And all of a sudden, I'm defensive, it really drives people into into a sub, quite often subconsciously defensive way of being. And so that article was very much around, consider it starting with a different question. To get you where you want to go, yes. Why is what you want to know? But it's a crappy question to get you there. So start with something else, what's most important to you? What matters most? Right? There's all sorts of questions you can ask that. And he talks about them as calibrated questions, which start with what or how, then immediately take the emotion out of it. But the other part of don't start with why is and it's a different article I wrote was this, this idea, this thing that why? Nobody starts with Why? Why is always a retrofit. We figure it out later. I was years ago, when I was when I had played in the design agency space. Designer by training, though I haven't designed anything for years. But I always used to laugh at those, you know, the descriptions of logos. Yeah, this is this logo stands for and it has an FX thoughts always written after. It's like, it's like justification out the wazoo. And why can often end up being like that, in the way it's thought about, because most dogs start with what and how they just do I even see even Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, like they started with watts. Like what they were doing, the the deep driver for it became apparent to them became, it wasn't until they've been doing it for a while they couldn't even get their heads around it. Right? So So even this sort of sense of a of a startup or an early stage companies sort of coming like this, how, why in the world, it's like me, I come back and talk to me in five years. Because I want to see what you do. Like, I don't care what you say, and nobody else does. Either. They only care what you do, which is where Google got themselves in a world of hurt when they read around, trumpeting Don't be evil, and then sold out to China, like, and Nike got themselves into all sorts of trouble saying just do it and then use child labor to make their sneakers like this stuff has consequences. If you don't actually understand what it means. And back to a really good reason not to put it on your website is exactly that stuff happening is that people will use it as a club to beat you with

which doesn't give organizations many places to screw up. And they will because they're made of people and people screw up. And so we sort of expect them to be perfect, perfect fealty to this thing that they say? Because we know what it is. And that's not, that's not necessarily unreasonable that we might think that because they've put it out there. But we've lost all ability to have a bit of a gray area where okay, maybe they really don't want to be evil, and there was some really good, there was some really strong business reasons why they wanted to try this thing in China. We don't have we don't allow for that anymore, because we've bought it hook line and sinker this, this idea that this stuff's binary and specific, and it has no wiggle room.

Matt Sodnicar 48:45
Is there a size of an organization where culture just by sheer mass of headcount, it starts tailing off where the culture and the values just are impossible to get better than like a b minus or a No, I'm talking like three or four different axes on this graph. But have you in your experience, have you seen a point where x number of people, they're headed for some sort of conflict?

Michele Hogan 49:24
Well, obviously, the more people you have, the harder it gets, right? And the more stuff that you're asking him to try and think about do add that as a multiplier effect. So if you've if you've got, if you've got 30,000 people and six values, what do you think the chances are that everybody's going to do it all?

Like, yeah, if I've got three people, it's not hard. There's an eye and I'm going to use this example but like, I really must look up and write down and put it on a sticky note on my forehead who came up with it. Because I forget it every time I heard it in a Tim Ferriss podcast, it's called the rule of three and 10. So every time something expands by, by a power of three, or power of 10, everything changes. So when you've got one person, you're pretty much going on doing stuff, like you tell yourself stuff in you, if you don't do it, you feel bad about yourself for not doing it and you beat yourself up and all that stuff, right? You are your critic. When there's two people, it pretty much goes the same way. The other person just becomes the person that you're telling yourself stuff to instead of your own stuff. As soon as you have three people, everything changes, the dynamic shifts fundamentally. And then that whatever that shifts to, will hold out pretty much until there's 10 people, and then everything will shift again. And then it'll hold out pretty much till there's 30 people, then everything will shift and on up until you get to about 10,000 people or probably 3000 people, and then it really whatever is what whatever works, there is going to work no matter how much bigger you get, you go looking for other problems to solve. Or other things just change and it has a different has a different role. And in my experience, that's pretty much true be and if you look at where, particularly startups and early stage, companies getting to a world of hurt, it's because they grow so fast, they don't go through that process. So I was working with one group, they've gone from 30 people to 300 people in six months.

Matt Sodnicar 51:32
Yikes. Right?

Michele Hogan 51:35
You haven't gone through those. You're still doing stuff like you've got 30 people. Now, how many ways does that go wrong, that you can poke a stick out, like so many ways that goes wrong. And as a result, yeah, they had a bunch of problems. And they looked at us like, oh, you know, our culture is gone to crap. And we're really, you know, things suck around here. And it only did because they hadn't transitioned through the stages. And they hadn't changed the stuff they needed to change to make the dynamic work at 300. So I'm not sure it's impossible, I think it's just got to be a really deliberate thing. And the other part that I've seen is people bite off way too much. So if you've seen any kind of culture or values, indoctrination program, or whatever you want to call them in organization's culture plan, I take one look at it, like, no one's gonna do this. They've got jobs. Exactly, do you expect them to do this. And so again, like, I'm a less, and the less is more time to die, like less is more. So back to my wonderful photography teacher, when I was in design, school, less is more people's, he used to say to us, and and it's true, like pick one thing and start there. What's What's one thing that we can do, and we can do it as a group across the business, we can all and we can do it, each of us in a way that it's relevant to our particular part of the business, because it's because doing it in finance is going to look different than doing it in r&d, that's going to look different than doing it in marketing. And then once we get that going, and we've got a handle on that, then we can look at what's next. But if we then look at what's next, what's next going to be different than we thought it was going to be when we started the one thing because the one thing is going to have a effect, it's going to ripple beyond the boundaries of just that one thing. So if I'm planning out, like, Oh, we've got a 12 month culture programming a month three, we're going to do this in month six, we're going to do this, like I guarantee by the time you get to month three, it's bullshit. It's just not happening. Everything's like it's all it's so we spent both we spend so much money on that sort of stuff, only to have it end up on a shelf because everything's changed. So it's like when I talk about that, this is you know, take take this stuff, purpose and values. Use it to make promises keep or break them in experience, rinse repeat through however many people you have in your organization, how many things they do every day, how much stuff how many offices you have and you start to get a sense of how this stuff matters and where you can start just have a little thing can have a massive impact. It's really toxic this whole idea that you can that that you can consistently delight people. It because a delight you can't Delight me if I know if I'm expecting it to live is by definition, something unexpected. And so if you're setting an expectation meeting it That's great. That's going to make me happy that's going to satisfy me and guess what, that's 90% of the ballgame. Because how anybody does that consistently. Have you think of your own interactions with different companies, there's not that many of them that do that really well consistently. And so this whole delight thing, I call it the myth of well, because it can only happen in response to an opportunity that I present you with,

to do something above and beyond. So you've got to set yourself up so that you can do that when I give you that opportunity. But otherwise, you know, stick to your knitting block and tackle over and over consistent will be well every time over the long haul. And, and the other toxic thing about the delight is that whatever you did, becomes my new expectation. So be really careful. Because if you set this expectation, like, you send me flowers with my order, then if I don't get flowers next time, I'm going to kind of feel I'm going to feel bad, right? And and there's an exact there's a great example of this in in Denver in Colorado. I don't know if they still do this. So back when I when I lived there. They're a new place open called the Capital Grille, and it's a chain. But anyway, so they opened and it was sort of a bit of a New York clubby place to go to for for lunches and stuff. It's all wooden duck boobs, and so it was cool. So we went there with the electric honey, remember who I was with a couple of people and a waiter comes up and he's he's really nice. He's Hi, it's great to meet you. And what are your names? And hey, do you have business cards or anything? I'd love to you know what, that's a bit odd. Okay, so we had COVID gave him our business cards, had a nice lunch. And then a couple of days later, a little note came in the mail from our waiter, basically saying, it was great to meet you. I hope you had a lovely lunch or close to seeing you next time. Fabulous, right? I was like, Wow, that's amazing. I've never had a word that I'm so delighted. It was delightful, right? I didn't expect it. It was so delightful. And then I had a note from my waiter before. It's called on the back of the check, right? So we went back the next time for lunch because I'm like, Oh, of course, we're going back there. That's fantastic. And so now different waiter comes up and says and says Oh, Hi, how's it all nice to meet you and all the rest of it. Collected our business cards again, this time we knew what was coming. Right? It was it was still nice to get the note, but we expected it now. And then the next time we went there, that didn't happen. And I was like what I'm not no worthy anymore like and so this, this is what happened. So you got to be really careful about how so all these you know, there's all these stories out there with Netflix and the you know the customer service guy who's having a conversation with the guy like his Star Trek and the you know, Zappos sending people flowers and, and all of those things. But when you start to try and when you start to try and preempt what will delight like you really you potentially set yourself up another great stories that Zappos related is a friend of mine, ordered some shoes from Zappos and said set the shipping so when for when she wanted it. And then Zappos being Zappos before they got bought by them by Amazon said we know better we're going to delete her and send it overnight and give her her shoe she'll be so much happier if she gets them overnight rather than like two or three days or whatever she'd asked for. Except she was going away that's why she'd asked for the longer shipping and so instead of her shoes like got delivered and set on her doorstep in the snow for like three okay, they're in a box but still. So this is these things like when organizations start to feel like there's an arrogance to this some of this stuff. This really you know, we know better we know what you want. And that flows into organizations need jerky constant neediness of tell us what you want. Tell us what you like, tell us how we did it. And there's a there's an underlying desperation to that, that that actually is the flip side of this. Where they feel like they have been conditioned that they have to ask ask ask ask ask how do we do how do we do how can we improve? It's just like just do your friggin job. Good luck it's not my job to be here in Australia right now Australia pose is my favorite customer be right but they do at the moment. I love it. No So whenever they deliver me a package, deliver a package, I literally get an email from them with a survey say, how did we do? Classic example, did I get my package? Well, you know whether I did or not you friggin delivered it.

I had to sign for it. So I'm assuming you know, I got it. So, how did you do? What else? Do you want to know? I? Did he sing a song when he delivered it? No. Do I want him to? Absolutely not? I mean, it gets ridiculous at some point, what data do you collect already? That can tell you how you're doing? What stuff do you already know that you can look at instead of just constantly outsourcing your desperation on your podcast immers. In his endless search for improvement, that you should kind of be able to figure out a little bit on your own. And it largely is driven by this sort of culture of every little we've got to measure and capture every little thing about how your experience was. When was the last time you did an airport serve an airline survey? How many questions was on it? Oh, Eddie.

Matt Sodnicar 1:01:15

Michele Hogan 1:01:16
yeah, I thought, easy question. How was your flight?

Matt Sodnicar 1:01:23
Crash free.

Michele Hogan 1:01:26
I got there on time, and it landed. I'm good. But what else do you want? Right? And so there is this sense of like, what tell us how we did tell us it feels it feels kind of achy and desperate. Most of the time?

Matt Sodnicar 1:01:44
Well, I'm laughing because I can't wait to go out on a date next time and say, I'm going to work extremely hard to not delight you.

Michele Hogan 1:01:55
If you've set the expectations already for what the day is going to be and you meet that you'll probably be good.

Matt Sodnicar 1:02:03
I still doubt that. But

Michele Hogan 1:02:10
we get caught up. I was so caught up in this culture of, of everything's got to be more excellent. Except the escalation even just in language is crazy. It's not it's not good. It's not enough anymore to be good. Grades even a bit ho hum. Right. Awesome is on the downward trend. You've got to be excellent. You've got to be amazing. You've got to be out of this world. There's this massive escalation that happens I was working on. I was working with a company on on some on some purpose work. And, and we will work and we had the word good in there. And somebody came back and I said, Oh, it doesn't doesn't good. Feel a bit. Like Like, we know that we're not trying hard enough. And I said What the hell's wrong with good? Wait, did good not become good enough?

Matt Sodnicar 1:03:05
Yeah. Right.

Michele Hogan 1:03:07
And here, Jim. Yes. Collins? Yes, you have a lot to answer for. is in good. Not in. In good to gray, but but he's very much talking about how the organization performs. Right. But this whole idea that. And I think it might have been Seth Godin, who said at one point, and I can't remember in what context, it was a talk. I heard him give us something the way he talks about like, if you're shooting for B plus, and hitting it consistently, you're probably beating the competition. Yeah. Right. If you're shooting for A's or a pluses the whole time you're leaving money on the table. Because chances are you're doing a whole bunch of stuff more than you need to. And that that actually ties into this route, quite old book that I still love and recommend a lot called the myth of excellence. Oh, by a guy called Fred Crawford. And what's the other author I always forget the other guy or the poor other guy on the author is Ryan Matthews. So Fred Crawford and Ryan Matthews, right myth of excellence, and this is 20 years old. I reckon the book is that old. So the examples are a bit out of date. But the idea in it is solid. So their, their perception, their idea is that there's basically five categories of things that you can be that you can focus on your number one thing. So it's product, price, service, experience, and access are the five things. So every organization you can only have one that you're number one, you can have a second thing that's also that's important. And then the other three, you've just got to be pretty much on par with the rest of your sector, or the sort of the general low lying expectations around your sector or your Kind of going to go out backwards. And it's incredible to me how consistently that plays. And the best example that I've always used is Walmart and Target. So despite the fact that they both at face value look like they compete directly against each other, they're not. So Walmart is very much price first than product. And then if you look at service access and experience, you know, pretty much target is the flip their product first in price. And then when it comes to, you know, service access experience, pretty much the same. And it plays out this stuff plays out, so cut over and over. But that that little flip at the top means that there are people who shop at Walmart who think people who shop at Target, like self-important bankers, and there'll be people who shop at the people who shop at Target, think Walmart people, like, you know what, and so it's just that little slip is enough to just attract different people. And so like everyone is not your customer. So figure out that high level, what is our focus, and you're going to go a long way to not leaving money on the table by trying to shoot for a pluses on stuff you shouldn't.

Matt Sodnicar 1:06:22
So going back to the Walmart and Target example, and how Target has product first? How much of that is reality? And how much of that is perception?

Michele Hogan 1:06:34
Well, I mean, if you look at so target were the ones that pioneered, for example, but designer collaborations, right with, you know, people like Michael Graves, and then into the fashion stuff. And what was really interesting was when Walmart tried to copy that they failed miserably, because there's a lot of their customers can design like, I, I just care about the fact that I can buy a pair of jeans for 10 bucks. Right? That's because that's all I've got. And that's not to say that those people who shopped at Walmart, don't, the people who shop there don't care about stuff, but they have different concerns. Sure. Right. And, and people who shop at Target, they are maybe motivated a little bit differently. So it and so the product, the product piece that that Walmart has a it's not a huge shift, like product for product, what they carry is probably not that different.

Matt Sodnicar 1:07:32
Right? Right. Because there's only so many places you can source, you know, huge big box inventory from,

Michele Hogan 1:07:39
but there's just enough that's a shift to, to just nudge it the other way. Right. It doesn't it doesn't take a heap. I always I love a lot of people who complain that Apple's customer service sucks, for example, like a lot of people have that complaint about Apple. I said, When did Apple could say that they did great customer service? Yeah, where did they say that, but nowhere that they have, they promised different stuff. But in reality, they can't this service is no better than any or no worse than any other tech company. Really, you know, they're not, they're not much, they're not horribly worse at service than than any of the other technology players who they compete against. They're pretty much par for par, where they excel is in the shit that they really care about, which is product and product and experience. Right? So it's, it's an interesting thing to play with. And it feeds back into brand. Because if you don't know what that thing is that you stand for, right? You can't, you can't hold your core and stimulate progress. Again, Jim Collins has this great line where he says preserve the core and stimulate progress at the same time. And so, to do that, you've got to know you've got to be so deeply rooted in your core in that what do we stand for? What's most important? So that that isn't a construct that isn't a bell? That's a boundary not a constraint? Right? You can still iterate you can grow that you can change that and the great companies do otherwise you don't end up with the I phone and you don't Yeah, none of the stuff that is that is ever like well, Apple can only ever sell computers. Right? Okay, fine. We'll just think about what a computer is a bit differently will give you what you can put in your pocket or wear on your wrist four. That's that's how you stimulate progress while holding your core. So the defeat it like to go so to take it all the way back experience as well, that that foundation, that core is also super important to how you think about experience. And what the problem is what expectations you set what promises you make. Because without that, you can really, you can go off the rails and so much of the design, the experience, the design stuff that I see. Because it's every like literally for a while here in Melbourne, where I live. I jokingly said to some friends, I think I could stand on like the one of the main intersections in the sea in the central business in the same ad and just say anybody around here and experience designer and literally I'd have five people walk up to me his dog seemed to be lugging. That's shifting a bit, but it was the new, it's the it was the New Black, it was the hot thing, right, we've got it. But the problem is if you if you decouple it if you're just talking about experience, and you're looking at an outside lens of what is everyone else doing? And we have to do that, versus what do we care about? And how does that drive how we do stuff. Like you very easily fall into the trap of making promises you can't keep in a literal sense. It's not even you miss keeping them is that you don't have the resources, the case, the skills that take people, the technology, that of whatever, to actually keep the promises that you're making.

Matt Sodnicar 1:11:36
There was a business term, and I've actually tried to find this, so I need to either research it or stop talking about it. But it was kind of the business equivalent of jumping the shark, where a company has a very, very strong core competency. They've got a great customer base, a great product, they've got that figured out. And they went from one degree of separation from that to 90 degrees of separation, they went on a hard right turn. And there was in I don't know if it's a widespread business term, but the article I was reading said that he's figured out how to track this in terms of businesses that are going to fail because they've thought that they were I saw it in the bike industry where there's companies that were known for shoes, for example, and they decided, oh, people need helmets, we're gonna start doing helmets and get completely different. Like, yes, you're still in the bike industry tent at that circus. But you're, you're a juggler. And now like, let's, let's get some elephants

Michele Hogan 1:12:55
bringing the clouds

Matt Sodnicar 1:12:59
that's probably a much better metaphor for the business acumen there. But yeah, it's like what is wrong with doing one thing? Well,

Michele Hogan 1:13:10
yeah, there's the do lectures, guys have a whole list. They call up to do one thing? Well, they put out a list every year where they just investigate and, and do a bunch of research and and they put together this list of companies that do one thing really well. And, and, and people. And that one thing can have. There's, there's the there's the Henry Ford problem, right where originally Henry Ford did the Model T it was you could ever recover as long as it was black. And he stuck to that. And then the competitors came along and said, well, let's offer him black and white and red. And people Ooh, choice. Yay. And so that that was problematic because he wasn't set up to do black and white. It was it created some problems. And there's a lot of research in the number in where choice becomes a nerd like we're choice drives people to inertia, like there's too much choice I can't make a decision. Barry Barry Schwartz writes about this really eloquently around the paradox of choice is that there's there's a there's a magic amount where we want to have a sense that we have choice. But if it gets too fragmented too much then we kind of get frozen and we can't decide. And I'm not sure I can't remember what the magic number is but I'm pretty sure it's something like about three to five colors. Anything above that right I'm just I'm just going to get the black one. Series I think that's a little reason why blacks the most popular color in any clothing choice. I think it's because the rest of it's just a bit to get your head around but in terms of different products, you Yeah, I think there's an interesting when people become too fragmented and it feels like I love you for this, and I trust you for this and I, I have confidence in you for this. I don't know how that relates to this. And so what you're trying to do is leverage my, you know, my love for this other thing that you do and you're, you're trying to say, You love us for this. You love us for this as well. But you haven't given me any reason to love you for that. Like, you haven't actually told me this. Unless you can really eloquently tell me the story for why that? Why that crossover matter how that works. How does it fit underneath what I know of you, then yeah, I'm probably going to be a bit Sass about that. classic one is a recent one all birds the sneakers, which I love all birds. Seriously, the most comfortable things I've ever put on my face. They're like having a hug on your foot. It's so nice. Trademark, Michelle, you can't use it all birds, but they but now they're going to underwear and other clothes and other apparel, right? And it's like, I'm good with my hair. I'm good on my apparel, guys. I don't need you. I need you. I need you. And in the process. The sneakers aren't quite as, like the last ones I got weren't quite as good as the first one. Like they they change the recipe on me. I'm like, they're still good. They're still still super comfortable. Still lovely. Be different. Right? So I like that question. I posted something on the on LinkedIn a couple, I think last week a couple of weeks ago who knows when people are listening to this so it's it was an article by Vonage Pernod about why Patagonia has started selling food. Hmm. I'll link to that. Because because there's a right hand turn, right? Yes. Hey, can I can I have some seven with my hoodie. But but he makes it quite Enel, he, he, he draws the line between them. He's like wearing like, we're in business to save the home planet. Food is one of the greatest, you know, one of the greatest environmental problems of our time. And so if we bring our CES if we bow lens to, you know, the best make the best quality product, do cause no unnecessary harm use business to solve the world's best climate crisis. Yeah, we can we can bring that lens to food in a way that makes sense. And if we can do that, and in service to that, like support our overall mission, then then how can we not? And so I was like, Okay, I, I can I can get on board with that, because you've made the case for me. So what you're talking about are these guys and all of a sudden, it's like, Hey, how about some of this?

Matt Sodnicar 1:18:01
Yeah, yeah, but I like how Patagonia tied it back to their identity, there's a purpose they have. They have a process and a mindset, and what they stand for? And so in that, in that capacity, their customers should resonate with that. Absolutely.

Michele Hogan 1:18:21
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, there's not many, there's not many companies on the planet that do a better job than Patagonia does, in what I call pushing what they care about into every single nook and cranny of their business. Like you, you can poke a stick at that, at that business at just about every level. And it's hard not to find, you know, their mission, playing a role in how they make decisions. And I mean, it's one of the reasons I use them all the time as an example, when people say, who, who's your who's your number one, like, do you think does this really well, this is a pretty short list. And different companies do it? Well, in different ways. People get a bit horrified when I use Walmart, as an example, as it Look, I'm not saying Walmart's a good company, in terms of how they behave on some things, but you can't fault them for how rigorously and relentlessly they pursue their goal of lower prices. Like, it transformed how they approached logistics that transformed how they approached time management of their staff. It transformed like in quite toxic ways sometimes. Let's say those things were good. But there is a relentlessness to the mindset. And they're actually probably a good example of when does it go too far? But that idea of what is it what isn't? When does it go too far? So if it's at any cost, then you've probably gone too far. But still, there's lessons for people in that

Matt Sodnicar 1:20:00
Well, I was, I wanted to go back to the the color choice for a second because I, my my clothing company, I was, I had this goal that I wanted the part part of it to be looking less like a home craft project. And it was one of these things where I had pursued this and pursued this, but I didn't stop that from letting it get into the marketplace. And so even though I knew, excuse me, at some point, it could get better. This was a technical challenge I wanted to overcome, partially because of performance, partially because of what I wanted to make the product appear more commercial. And I did it found a wonderful partner in the Pacific Northwest to print these amazing designs, I could do full custom I can do this. And I was preparing my business taxes last year and looking at the the rundown the inventory report the sales of it. And it's, it's so there's not even a close argument that customers prefer the black. And, and I look at the the exponential overhead of maintaining different colors and different inventories and things like that, that, again, I look at perfection, and I stepped back to the functional in I see differences in the photos on the website. So I love ecommerce sites that are seamless where you click on the jacket color in the the mannequin, the model doesn't change. It's like this magic transition. And I've got some that are lit one way and the angles or the other and all this like okay, it's not perfect, but it's functional. And I've thought oftentimes, and I think you've given me the answers that I just offer black and if people email me and go, Hey, I saw that that Belgian blue that you had, like, oh, yeah, we can make it like he wants it, we can do it. But then I can simplify and consolidate. It's less things to print less things to manage. And the customers have voted unequivocally. And now it's got to be smart enough and pay attention.

Michele Hogan 1:22:29
Well, there's a way to present it right? It's like you voted, we listened. Right? And you is that whatever it is, like 96% of the of this thing that we sold last year was black, you bought 96% of you bought the black one. So you've spoken and we've listened. And so goodbye Belgian blue. And if you love Belgian blue, we're really like, let us know, we're always happy to bring it back. And and again, Patagonia did this, they did a massive rationalization of their product line. And they cut a huge chunk of it, because they will do it. They were getting into that thing. Let's, if we're doing four colors, like 10 will be better. Not necessarily, probably not. And so that's, you know, though, that's what I'm talking about in terms of the statistics, like the data that you've got, that's telling you, you don't need to go out to your customers and say you could go out and you could do a survey to your customers, right? And say, we're really interested, like, What colors do you want? What colors do you love all the rest of it. And people will come back and they'll say, Oh, we love the pink one. It's so cool. And then they buy the gray one. Because, and I do this I do this all the time where I've got to stop myself and go, I know I love how it looks. I will never wear it. Do the same thing I will ever wear it. And so you've got to be in that mode. A lot of people were wearing the moment and answering those questions like oh yeah, the hot pink could be fab and orange. Hell yeah. I want a pair of orange sneakers. No, I don't know I don't I don't want to announce my presence with a pair of sneakers like Sorry. But you've already got the data. You don't need to go out and ask them right. What they bought will tell is more honest. Right? They voted with their money instead of their eyes being bigger than their stomach right and voted with their money.

Matt Sodnicar 1:24:49
So probably in in for the rest of our relationship Michelle be the only thing we ever disagree on is that I absolutely need a pair of orange sneakers Because I'm, I've found that I love patrolling vintage and thrift stores and things like that. And I've built up a very bold and robust collection of sneakers and orange is the only gap in the rainbow that I don't have. So

Michele Hogan 1:25:18
go check out all birds. I think they have orange ones. Okay, but but they and and I was just throwing that out there because actually I quite like bright sneakers but that's but the it's it's that it's that idea of how what we come and there are people what we're comfortable with. And there are people in the world that absolutely love wearing bright colors. And I'm always more power to you because I put one on and I feel like a clown. My My. My entire wardrobe is black, white, gray and navy blue.

Matt Sodnicar 1:25:55
Yeah, I have a uniform during the week, I have these nicer black T shirts, couple of V necks and a couple of crewnecks. And then some Lulu pants. And then the decision fatigue I run in is pairing the socks and the shoes because the socks are bold colors and the shoes are bold colors. Yes.

Michele Hogan 1:26:15
This is the this seriously get a copy of paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz.

Matt Sodnicar 1:26:19
You will love Oh yeah, yeah, such

Michele Hogan 1:26:21
a good book.

Matt Sodnicar 1:26:23
So what I'll probably need to do is set out a pair of socks and shoes that are my tired brain shoes that say diesel just go with whatever,

Michele Hogan 1:26:33
diesel right, this is my deep Yeah, I don't need to think about I'm just gonna put them on. But this, I mean, and it seems some of this stuff can feel frivolous. But no, when you dry when organizations are trying to dive into building a relationship with the people they work, who buy from them, building relationships with people, they work for all of this, all of these sorts of little decisions, this little, the small stuff is gets gets a lot of short shift in people. And there's a article in my book where I say, you know, sweat the small stuff. Because we don't remember the big things. Nobody ever said, I'm never shopping at XYZ company again, because I hate their strategy, right? I'm not going to shop there. Because when I was there, they were rude to me, or they got my coffee wrong, or I bought something and it fell apart five minutes later, or it didn't work in the first place or any number of those. That's why I'm not going back. And those things going wrong. The other result of a whole bunch of small things not happening the way they should, because somewhere along the line, somebody didn't actually connect the dots for people about what mattered and what was important and what we cared about. Like what mattered most.

Matt Sodnicar 1:28:01
Yeah, I remember a commercial from a bank and the, the employee that was on there, that was the voiceover or the face of it. He said, We don't process 90 billion or 90 million checks $90 million, with a checks in one day perfectly, we process one check perfectly, 90 million times or whatever it was. And it was focused on the smallest possible thing and do that well and then move on to the next thing.

Michele Hogan 1:28:36
And, and understand what that unit is and, and build that into up. build that up and out in your processes in people's mindset. Inhale in how you do things in what's most important all the way up. So it's almost like the people have this sense of I think the other adequate there's two articles in my book about this one's called sweat the small self, the other one's called, the little things are the big things. And it's the same it's the same basic message that they have a different slightly different, different approach and stories attached to them. But but at all like we we get and part of the reason why we get hijacked into the big stuff is because really what's more fun than sitting around with a bunch of people for a day like brainstorming the blue sky like out of it. It's It's great fun, you're right, you feel smart, that's great. And everybody's throwing ideas around. And then compare that with literally sitting down and working out the nitty gritty of your of your organization's logistics process so that when you tell people that they are going to get a package in three days, it arrives in three days. And yes, the first one, yet, occasionally that's necessary, you got to do that. The second one, if you don't do that your business will fail.

Matt Sodnicar 1:30:06
I've cautioned other entrepreneurs to not fall into the the fun sexy trap. And I call that the vehicle wraps or the tent tops or the the brand logo to parallel that you were like, go back and work on your infrastructure, your shipping processes, the things that are boring and tedious. And then I would also have them break that down. Say, what's your what's your unit cost for selling something? Alright, let's say it's $30. And you make 50% profit. And you buy you have your vehicle wrapped for that's like $3,000 Like how many thing x do you have to sell to pay for that? I'm not saying you don't have marketing expenses, you don't spend money on things like that advertising, but be smart about it. Like how, you know, when's the last time you saw a vehicle and traffic, you're like, you know what?

Michele Hogan 1:31:07
I'm gonna buy from them. I'm gonna go home, and I'm going to get online and I'm going to purchase whatever the hell they have. Right? Yeah, yeah, just not and, and this is like you call it the fun sexy stuff. I call it the bright shiny objects. Perfect. Right? And it's the same, it's the same. We're talking about the same stuff, do the unheroic work. Literally just do your friggin on heroic work. And do it in it. Look at it as extraordinary that you have to do chop wood carry water, yeah, chop wood carry water, just approach the most mundane, frustrating, repetitive tasks that you have to do as if it is the most important thing you need to do. And do it with that mindset. Right. There's a I think, the article I wrote, I sent out to my subscribers my email list, the last article was was put put played at work. And there's some really good science on the on how useful that can be to transform how people approach this sort of more mundane, everyday tasks. And if you can find a way to put a bit of play in it. Because because people will play a video game doing the most mundane, crazy boring things. But hours, literally an absence of sleep. And yet, you ask them to do something that's comparable in their job and they think so that's kind of a bit boring. What. And there's an and there's an interest, there's a great hidden brain had a whole podcast on this. And one of the things that comes back on it is, is the sense of achievement that you get. So when you play a game, and you're yes, you're doing a boring thing, but you get a reward. You achieve something you level up you whatever it is. So how can you bring that into some of this more unheroic work in a way that again, ties back to what's important to you, like, it's no good just throwing stuff at stuff willy nilly. But there are ways to bring more of a sense of importance, more of a sense of presence to those to those tasks. And your entrepreneurs that are stuck in the, you know, the bright, you say the fun sexy stuff. It's it's almost presented irresistibly and not helped by the fact that people talk about a brand or something you create. Right? So here, let us create your brand for you. To which I say to agencies like no, just no. You can, you can you can help interpret what's important to us in a way that people out in the marketplace can receive and hear and be attracted to. You're not helping us create anything. We're the ones doing the work. It's the result of like, the value in that that gets held in that thing over time, is a result of our work. Of everything that we're doing of those unheroic actions and decisions, double repeat, like that one check cashed 90,000 times correctly. That's there, the people that are achieving the brand, not you guys sitting out there coming up with whatever it is. It's that you're just you're just playing at the markets, and that's fine. And it's useful, and it's helpful and it's necessary, but it's it's let's, let's let's get serious. It's marketing, and that's right. And it's useful and it's helpful, and it's necessary, but it ain't brand.

Matt Sodnicar 1:34:57
Well, I'm going back to your book, which I have Have an have been thoroughly enjoying. It's think it's gonna be mandatory reading for anybody that it's, it's so practical and so common sense and common sense is not so common. And you talked about the unheroic work. was writing the book, tedious for you How did and I'm guessing him asking more tactical or strategic questions? How was it? And do you have? What was your process to actually execute this and get it completed?

Michele Hogan 1:35:39
It's a, it's a bit of a story to this, right? Because I when I wrote it, or when I, I'll say I'll put it together, because because it got written over a decade, really. So not, um, I shouldn't say, please stop me if I say I'm I hate it when I do that. Okay, so people, so people have had said to me, the things that you just said, it's really practical. Write a book, I don't want to write a book. I really didn't want to write a book. And then a good friend, I was sitting having coffee with a good friend. And he said, What are you talking about? You've been writing a book for the last 10 years. And that was because I was writing a weekly column for an online business magazine here in Australia. And I was literally every week for 11 years, I wrote an article for them on these topics. And so I had the I had the raw material, I had the book, I just I needed to figure out a way to pack to pull it together so that it was coherent, so people could access it. So it wasn't a it was an anthology, but not a bunch of stuff just shoved between two covers. So that was really where I looked at what is the sort of the theme that through line that I want to the story that I want to tell with this content? And, and and how do I, how do I structure that in a way that people can dive in and out of it. So one of the things that hopefully is nice about the book is, you can pick it up, and you can read it from cover to cover. And, and you'll get a sense of a flow from this from the different from topic to topic to topic that comprises and that goes into how in my worldview, you achieve a brand. Or you can just pick it up and open that any any particular article and read it and walk away with something that you can use and think about. And that was really the goal, to try and capture and package that so that if I get like I think you and I talked about so I get hit by a bus. Stuff that I've been working on for a couple of decades just doesn't disappear into the ground with me. And and so the process was very was not difficult at all the discipline of writing every week of writing the

Matt Sodnicar 1:38:01
probably the better question is, how did you approach the discipline every week?

Michele Hogan 1:38:06
That was that was deadlines. Friggin fantastic, right? Because you've got a deadline. And I know a lot of people rack and stack their articles. There were people who are other people who are writing articles for them. And they say, yeah, no, I write five at a time. And then it's like, no, I actually do way better if I have that discipline. I was, I was a swimmer when I was in my youth, a competitive swimmer. And so I'm used to get up every morning go and swim, swim 10 kilometers. That that river, that discipline of that rhythm was really worked for me. So I had a schedule where I start towards the end of the week before the article was due, I I'd figure out what topic I wanted to use. And it was usually influenced or the spark came from something that had happened in that week, a lot of the time. And then I'd marry that up with what part of my thinking and framework the these days are called the formula that it that it synced with. And then I'd sit down and just write it and send it off to the editors and it'll get published and then rinse repeat the next week. It was just the rhythm that I got into and and it is true what they say you writing is. The act of writing is is not necessarily fun, although sometimes you just get in that some weeks it took five minutes. No, I'm kidding. It didn't ever take five minutes but some weeks it took an hour some weeks it took half a day. Just depending on where my mindset was at the clearer I was about what I wanted to say the easier it was to write no surprise there. And then and then once I pulled the book together and I sent it off to a bunch of people who I trusted to get their take on whether it hang together in the way I wanted it to Got an editor to properly edited. So it's not, it's actually been through multiple editing rounds, because was edited first as articles and then I rewrote a lot of the content and updated it for the book. And then we got it together and put it out in the world. And it's been out there now for a few couple of years. And in some time in the next I was hoping to get it before Christmas, but I'm not sure it will, I don't know when this is going to wear. But by the time it is, in all likelihood, there will be a paperback version available as well.

Matt Sodnicar 1:40:32
I can't recommend it highly enough. And they like most of these conversations, and most of these assets and knowledge that's in this book, I wish it had landed on me years ago. But this will be one of those that is going to make me look and sound and be way smarter than I am.

Michele Hogan 1:41:00
Well, that that is just the nicest thing to say thank you. I'll with for the listeners I'll give them I'll give them the highlight, right? Yes, the whole book can be pretty much summed up in, in the formula that the principle that I have pulled together that summarizes my brand worldview of your purpose values, and you use them to make promises that you can keep, and then keep those promises in the experience that you deliver. And your result and you will achieve a brand result that accumulates value over time. That's it. That's the secret.

Matt Sodnicar 1:41:49
Well, I'm going to put it to the test in all the responsibilities and functions and everything I'm involved in. And it I need to not be careful about how I say this. It's that I agree with everything I've read in there, not because I'm experienced and not because I'm that smart or because I don't recognize that it's like this is just, it's classic. And it's timeless. And there's zero pretension behind it and it's not. It's not talking down. It's just I read this and say, oh, yeah, okay, gravity, sunrise, sunset, like there's an elegance in the simplicity. And I say simplicity with the absolute utmost respect and compliment that I possibly can because it's very easy to create something convoluted. It's very, very hard to create something simple and functional. Oh, good. There we go. It's, it's okay, is good.

Michele Hogan 1:43:05
I'll take it, I'll absolutely take it as the highest compliment. So thank you.

Matt Sodnicar 1:43:11
Well, Michelle, it's been a wonderful conversation, and I'm so thankful to have met you, and it will be one of my life's missions to get you on Debbie Millman podcast.

Michele Hogan 1:43:27
I would, I would love it and whatever I can do to help that mission. Amen. And just, it's been a guest. I've really enjoyed our conversation. And thanks for your generosity in having me on and giving me so much time to wax lyrical about the stuff. And I hope that there is some pieces in there that people can take and use because you're right, there's a lot of complexity out there. And it's it's not as hard. It's both not as hard as people think and much harder than people think. To do this.

Matt Sodnicar 1:44:02
You're one guest Michelle, where I would love to take a cross country drive and start either in Australia or the US I drive one end of the country to the other and have just uninterrupted your windshield time to deconstruct and talk about these concepts because I think it would just be incredibly delightful and insightful and there just be so many times I would just look out the window and be like yeah

Michele Hogan 1:44:34
any anytime anytime I'm in the US and we'll we'll will absolutely make time not to drive across the country but certainly to catch up on the invitations. If you're ever out here in Australia, please. We would be my pleasure to get together and show you some of my beautiful country here. Now I live here again.

Matt Sodnicar 1:44:53
I would love that. You're an absolute delight. Thank you so much.

Michele Hogan 1:44:57
Thanks, talk soon.

Episodes of this podcast are produced and written by me Matt Sodnicar. The intro was engineered by good friend Cole Weinman. And our original score theme song. Retro funk was composed by previous guest a good friend Randy Wiafe. I have two requests. If you like this show, please share it with a friend who you think might like it. And also take the time to show them how to listen to a podcast either on Apple transistor or Spotify. And I know you know somebody out there that would make a fantastic guest. And if you do, please shoot me an email to podcast (at) the warm front.com Thanks for listening!

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