On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Dorie Clark discuss the power in saying no to things that don’t make sense for you, and how to strategically position yourself as a long game thinker for the benefit of your agency.
Episode 119: Are You Playing the Long Game? with Dorie Clark
Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource, the only podcast for creative, media, and technology leaders who are ready to dive deeper into conscious leadership and agency growth. I'm your host, Kelly Campbell. Thrive is brought to you by accessiBe, the leading web accessibility solutions provider. Join thousands of agencies that are already incorporating web inclusivity into their service offerings, visit accessiBe.com today. So welcome back to Thrive. Last time, I was talking with Melanie Chandruang about the future of agency operations. I hope you enjoyed that episode. And today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Dorie Clark, renowned consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author of now four books, the newest one being The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World. Hope you can see that if you're watching. Dorie is also represented by consciousness leaders, and I'm really excited to have her in that collective. She was actually named one of the top 50 thinkers in the world. And you're about to find out why. So, Dorie, thank you so much for being on the show tonight. I'm really, really grateful to spend some time with you.
Dorie: Hey, Kelly, thank you. Great to be here.
Kelly: So, I love this book. I hope everybody who's listening or watching goes out and grabs a copy. Early on in the book, you talk about this concept of whitespace. And obviously in the creative realm, we all understand the importance of whitespace. But in this context, you're talking about saying yes to everything means being average at everything, which I think is a really insightful way to think about that. And I think what I'm hearing in the book is that you're suggesting that a lot of people just don't have a checklist or a filter by which they gauge what to say yes or to what to say no to. So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. And then maybe the correlation with our perpetual calendar cramming that we all suffer from?
Dorie: Yeah, absolutely. So, part of what inspired this line of thinking was actually a book I read about a decade ago, by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss called Uncommon Service. And it was really interesting. It was a book about service industry businesses, so everything from airlines to banks, and they were really trying to explore the question of why is it that most businesses are just so mad? I mean, it's pretty rare that there's anybody that's like, oh, I'm so excited about my airline, let me tell you about them, right. Like, that just doesn't really happen. And so, why is it that despite, clearly every business would love to be exemplary; they would love to have viral chatter about them, but it just doesn't really happen. And what they realized at a very fundamental level, is that companies, and I will argue this is true for individuals as well. But in this case, companies are just so reluctant to make choices, to make strategic choices, that they just try to do everything, but it does not work out well. They have this fantasy in their head that like, oh, we're going to choose to be great at this. And then we'll just be average and everything else. But this is where we'll be great. And what they said, which I think is very true is no, it doesn't work. That way, you have a finite amount of energy. If you're going to be great at something, you have to choose to be bad at something else. And the strength is in understanding what to be bad at. So, we do have to really plow down and make the choices. And so that inspired me a lot as I was thinking about us as individuals in our own careers. What are we going to choose to be bad at? We have so many things clogging our inboxes and we get our attention grabbed and waylaid and we need to become a little more ruthless about prioritizing.
Kelly: Yeah. And so, I think that as this correlate for me, and obviously what you said in the book about the idea of jampacking our calendars saying yes to everything, right? It's not just saying yesterday, we're going to offer all these different services, although that's clearly part of this as well. But it's even on that kind of more microlevel on the day-to-day level, where we just cram and cram, say yes, say yes. And there is really very little filter. Part of me thinks that it comes from a trauma response of people pleasing and not wanting to hurt someone's feelings. And maybe your argument in the book is that, saying yes to everything, maybe there's an element of like, fear of missing out, or fear of losing some opportunity. But there's got to be a checklist. There's got to be a filter, right?
Dorie: Sure. I mean, ultimately, it's all of those things, right? I mean, nobody wants to be a bad guy. Nobody wants to miss that out on anything. You don't want to leave money on the table. There are a million reasons why we might justify saying yes. But ultimately what I've come to discover and part of what is so powerful to me, honestly, when I think about strategy and just the concept of strategic planning, I mean, it might sound kind of like nerdy or arcane, but ultimately, it strikes me is really, almost a modern place where we actually have the ability to show courage, because it is about making decisions and cutting off options, just saying no, this is the plan. This is the way that we're going to do this. This is the hypothesis. I am going to test it. And, we all know ultimately that, not deciding is a form of decision. But frankly, it's a weak form of decision. It's just, oh, well, let's see what happens. There is strength in making a call and being willing to accept the consequences of that call. And I admire that in people.
Kelly: Right. It's interesting because as you're saying that, I'm thinking about one of the practices that I have, and I've talked about this on the show before is, I have these five post it notes that I tried to write one thing on each day, and each post it note stack has a different question on it. And one of the questions is, what did I say no to. And I would need to write something on that every single day. And the other day, I was asked to be on a board, like a local nonprofit board. And this is the second year that I've been asked, and I was like, you know what, at this point, it's not about timing, it's just not a good fit. And the response that I got back was, we’re so disappointed, and I was like, that's not about me, like this is a very clear choice. I feel good about it. And it is courageous. And I like that I used that word. It's courageous, because it does take courage and strength to say, this might be a great opportunity for someone else.
Dorie: Or it might have been a great opportunity for you five years ago, but not now. And I think sometimes there's a lag in how we think of ourselves or how we understand ourselves. And so sometimes we're kind of drawn back to like, oh, but this would have been so good. I wanted this so much. But now we're in a different place. And we have to recognize that we're in a different place.
Kelly: Right. So, there's another concept that I love in the book, and you call it thinking in waves; it's kind of this four-part—learning, creating, connecting and reaping. So, let's dive into that a little bit as a framework, because I think it's actually pretty hard to argue against, like, it's philosophy at the core. So, I'd love to talk about that.
Dorie: Yes, definitely. So ultimately, kind of similar to what we were talking about before the fact that we can't do all the things, this isn't, in some ways, a kind of refinement of that, which is that we have the things we're choosing to do. We have to also recognize we can't do all the facets at one time. We have to understand that there are phases, I call it, think of them or call them waves, where we're in a different place in the cycle of whatever it is that we're doing. And it becomes really helpful, I think, because for a lot of people, there's a tendency to beat ourselves up, that we're not doing more things, that we're not doing them faster, that it's not happening faster. But the truth is like, you can't plant a tree, and then just be so mad, like, why did he grow a foot. It's like, you know what, it will grow a foot, just like you have to wait a little bit. And similarly, for all of us, there's really kind of four stages that we're in, in almost any skill that we're learning in almost any business that we're cultivating. And they are as I identify them, learning, creating, connecting, and reaping. And briefly, I mean, the learning phase, in some ways is kind of self-evident, which is that before you start doing your own thing, it is really useful to kind of know what sphere you're operating and how does this work? Who are the people? How do they fit together? What's the culture here? What have other people done before? These are really important things for you to know before you start mucking around. But then, once you do, and this is a transition that many people actually fail to make. You need to start creating yourself. You need to start raising your hand and sharing your ideas, contributing in some capacity, whether it's writing articles or just speaking up, but oh, well, what about this? What about that? It's very easy for a lot of people, just continue to be the wallflower that takes it all in, but you're not adding much value at that point. So you start creating, adding your own genetic quoi to the mix, and then at a certain point, you get to connecting because no matter what you're doing if you're the only one speaking up, if you're the only one that knows what your ideas are, they're inherently not going to travel very far. It's not going to be very useful. You need to amplify that. And you can do that by building your network, getting even more and better ideas by connecting with other folks. And then finally, once the wheels are turning on all this, you get to reaping mode, which is the great part where you're feeling successful, you're making a contribution, you're making a difference. But this is also a potential trap as well, that we have to be mindful of, because sometimes people just get into reading mode and are like, well, this is great, I'll just stay here. But if you do that too long, you eventually wear out, you're welcome. The world changes, the industry changes. And all of a sudden, it's like, no, sorry, we don't want you in your blast faxes anymore. It can become very disrupted and disruptive. So we need to be thoughtful about how to move into the new wave. We go back in to learning so we don't become obsolete.
Kelly: So, it's cyclic, essentially.
Dorie: Yes, exactly.
Kelly: I love that. And I think it's true that some people can go through the first three waves. They get to reaping and then they become like, that guy in the networking event who's just like not connecting with anyone on a personal level, handing out the business card saying the spiel. And then looking at the room as like what's in it for me, as opposed to how can I add value here? Yeah, nobody wants to be that guy.
Dorie: Totally. Okay, no, that makes sense. I like it.
Kelly: And so I would imagine also, like, as you're in this process of thinking in waves, and maybe you're going from learning, you're transitioning into creating and connecting, I think maybe between and you can see if this is true, or not between connecting and reaping. Could there be a moment or months or years where you're like, it's not happening fast enough? Like I should be somewhere else at this point? Like, what about that point? I mean, I know that it kind of, it fits in between that transition, but is that where what you call strategic patience kind of sits into the chronology?
Dorie: Well, the main thing Kelly is it never happens fast enough. I mean, like, literally all of us at every stage. I mean, I, in part, was inspired to write the long game, because I work with so many clients, where almost all of our sessions would basically start with him just venting and being so frustrated because I did this, and I did this, and I did this, and then then Ted isn't calling yet. Right? It's like, okay, I get it. I totally get it. And it’s just this process where we, unfortunately, typically have to keep plowing the fields far longer than we thought or wanted or expected. So that is a big piece of it. But yes, you're exactly right. In the long game, I talk about a concept called strategic patience, which is basically it's sort of my version; it's my way of helping to make peace with this for myself, for my clients. Because so often, I come up with my own name for it, because regular patients, I think, it often has the connotation, which I don't love of passivity, right? Like, I remember, like, as a kid, whenever I sort of wanted to do something or whatever, my mom would be like, just be patient. And basically, that's kind of code for like, please shut up. Please stop asking about this. And it's so frustrating, like, nobody wants to be told that we want to be forward moving. And so strategic patience is kind of my way of navigating this because the truth is, I mean, there's certain things you just can't speed up, like there's only so much control we have in the universe. So yes, we do kind of have to be patient, but it also doesn't mean that we just have to sit back and do nothing and kind of wish and hope because that's not good either. You want to have a kind of active patience, strategic patience, where you're trying things, you're testing things. You have a hypothesis. You say, okay, well, I think this might work. I think this might show some progress. Let's see, let's investigate. If you're at least doing something positive to move toward your goals, rather than just sitting back and creating your vision board or whatever. I'm curious how do you think about this in your own life Kelly?
Kelly: Well, it's interesting, because the way, so after I sold my agency in 2016, I was like, well, we were working with nonprofits and foundations and corporate social responsibility initiatives and things like that. So I thought, oh, well, naturally, I'll just go and be like a nonprofit consultant from a marketing perspective. And that, I think, was not getting so much traction. Probably mostly because I wasn't really wanting to do that. It was just the thing that naturally felt like, well, this is the thing I should be doing because this is my expertise. And then, when I felt like and, I had the opportunity to work on some great projects, one for NASA. So it's not like it didn't work. It just my heart wasn't in it. And then I thought about, probably what you're talking about cutting out everything else. And looking at well, what are the things that I'm really passionate about, like, essentially developing, using myself as a client or a test case for really strong positioning? And so, when I started with messaging and understanding what fellow agency owners wanted and needed, and were looking for, and what their challenges and pain points were, I would start putting creating. So creating content from the place of like, I've been in your shoes, here's how I could potentially help. And I think it took a little while for that content to catch on. And then it took me a little bit longer to start talking differently than some of the other agency growth consultants out there who were just about scalability, profitability. Bottom line, I was like, no, it's actually about the people. Why is no one talking about that? So yeah, but it took a while for that flywheel of content to catch on. And so strategic patience definitely came in at that point. And now, I’m definitely in that whole circle or cycle that you're talking about.
Dorie: It's great. It's such a good example. Thanks for sharing that.
Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. So for viewers and listeners who are kind of like, okay, well, I get the idea of strategic patience. I really liked that it's active. I also would imagine there are some questions that they might be able to ask themselves, just to kind of take that away, and maybe implement that pretty immediately. What are some of those questions?
Dorie: Yeah, well, I think one useful thing to keep in mind, first and foremost, is we often, I think, this is a human tendency. And I see it in a lot of my clients, we often are so afraid that we're going to be the sucker, that we're going to be the laughingstock that is holding on too tightly to a thing that's not working. We tend to veer to the opposite extreme. And instead, we give up too quickly on a thing that actually might work and might have potential, but we have not given it enough room to run and enough room to actually develop into what it could. And so, I certainly understand, no one wants to be victim to the sunk cost fallacy or what have you. But it the tendency really is for people so often the opposite. And so I think what is useful to keep in mind is a few things. The first is to the extent possible at the outset. It's really useful to develop hypotheses about what are the metrics of growth that we should be looking at, because presumably, it's going to take a while for something to reach full fruition, but there may be certain signs that we can be looking for. So, okay, maybe we don't have signed contracts yet. But maybe, we're tracking the number of leads, we're tracking the number of click throughs, we're tracking the number of calls and meetings we've had or whatever. But what are these intermediate metrics? And are we showing signs of positive growth there? I think another thing that's really important, and I talked about this, in the long game, is doing sufficient research so that we actually have a sense of what's realistic. Now, it's not impossible, that your results will be wildly different than other people's. They might be, but more likely, statistically, it will probably be in line with what other people have done. Right? And so if something has taken somebody 10 years to build, you're probably not going to build it in a year. You might build it in eight years or something like that. But we just have to scope it out. And it's actually crazy to me the extent to which we often are flying blind and don't even realize we are. There's a story that Jeff Bezos tells in a 2018 Amazon shareholder letter, where he talks about some friend of his who hired a handstand coach for yoga. And the handstand coach tells the story and says that the average person if you ask them, hey, how long do you think it'll take to do a yoga handstand. They think it takes about two weeks of practice; it actually takes six months of practice. And so, this is not like being off by 10 or 20%. This is being off by 12x. And so often, we are making those mistakes ourselves. So doing the research upfront, and then tracking those intermediate metrics, I think can be incredibly helpful and prevent a lot of heartache.
Kelly: Yeah. Handstand coach, okay.
Dorie: Yeah, right. I mean, I hired a musical theater coach. So I feel like there's a coach for everything.
Kelly: There is a coach for everything. I have a shadow work coach. I have a Buddhist psychology coach. I've hired a stylist coach at some point
Dorie: Wait, did you say, a shadow coach? Is this like some union thing?
Kelly: Yeah. Shadow work.
Kelly: We'll talk about that another time. That's a whole another show Dorie.
Dorie: Oh, I bet.
Kelly: So yeah. So just finding that support, that you're looking for maybe, that you're not looking for that could be kind of unexpected. I mean, it's why people hire all different types of coaches and things like that. But I want to actually kind of wrap up the conversation, talking a little bit about what I think is really important, and what I really appreciated about how you ended the long game, which was this kind of overarching idea of celebrating the wins. And you call it savoring the success, which is just as nice. And you told a little bit of a personal story about being invited back to the college where you did your freshman and sophomore year undergrad. Can you kind of reshare that story for the audience, just because I think it's a good corollary for how we might look at some of the ways in which success takes a long time. And celebrating that is super important.
Dorie: Yeah, thank you. So what you're alluding to is, in the long game, I shared a story about how kind of unexpectedly I got an email back in early 2019 from my alma mater, Mary Baldwin University in Virginia, I did my first two years at Mary Baldwin as part of kind of early college entrance program that they had. And I had not been particularly active at all in terms of alumni things. I really didn't even think they knew who I was, or that I was on their radar. But they reached out and asked me if I would be willing to be their commencement speaker for that year, which was really exciting and kind of an honor, of course, but it was, especially satisfying, because I think for anybody, if you're able to find a way to kind of come full circle in your own life, it has a lot more meaning. It would be nice if any college invited me to be a commencement speaker, like, that's a great thing in general. But when it has that kind of personal salience, it means a lot more, and it's kind of that personal sign of success. And I think that for me, what I take from it is a few things. I mean, one is that success really does look different for all of us. And we need to get clear about what we want, what is special for us as compared to the so called, societal version of success. Some people are super into boating, and they want to spend their money on boats, and some people want a vacation home or whatever. These are great things, but it's not one size fits all, for me, taking the time to be able to speak at the school, which, it's this little school in this little town, but it was extremely meaningful to me because of my personal connection there, and just the sort of message in my own life of like, oh, wow, okay, now we're coming full circle. I have made enough progress that I am, essentially doing my teenage self proud, which is kind of a nice thing for any of us to be able to do. But it is very true that as we think about the long game, I think mistake, sort of systematic mistake that many of us make is on one hand. Of course, there's the mistake of just not devoting enough time to strategic or long-term thinking in general because we're so overwhelmed. We're so busy with the day to day which is kind what we were talking about earlier about the need to create more whitespace. But there's a second mistake, which is for the people who do the long-term thinking, their thinking is so long term; they create the narrative of like, we'll all be happy when, and it's always like this sort of super final state. I'll be happy when I have the Lamborghini, or I'll be happy when I get to be the keynote speaker at South by Southwest or whatever. And I mean, these are like, super long-term goals. It's like, okay, if you're gonna, like, hold off on your happiness for 25 years, that's really a long time. Like you don't have to wait until you're the keynote speaker. Getting to be a workshop presenter, you should celebrate that, frankly, getting your email returned by the conference organizer that celebrate that, because that doesn't always happen, either. So it's understanding that there are milestones and that we can and we should be tracking them. And at every point along the way, we can say, you know what, good job, because what the me of five years ago, would have been happy even for that day new, right? But now it keeps getting better and better. And if we can appreciate that and recognize that I think it leads to a lot more overall life satisfaction.
Kelly: 100% I agree with that. And I think it also leads to or is a reflection of how present we are. Right? Because if you're always thinking about well, that's fine, like great that that happened. Let me kind of shove that to the side. And what's the next thing, clearly you're not maintaining that presence, which is so important for satisfaction and purpose and fulfillment and all of those things. So, great point to end on. Everybody, go pick up a copy of this book, The Long Game. You will thank me, you will love it. Dorie, thank you so much for being on the show. I really, really appreciate you.
Dorie: Great to speak with you, Kelly. Thanks for having me on.