Box of Crayons Blog


Dr. Jason Fox Takes a Stand against the Delusion of Progress

Dr. Jason Fox is a smart, savvy Australian who brings together insights on  change management and making a difference, self-management and being strategic. And he does it all with a kind of Dungeons & Dragons swagger and pirate sensibility. He’s the author of How to Lead a Quest: A Handbook for Pioneering Executives, and he is taking a stand against the pantomime of productivity in which we’re ticking all the boxes, we’re busy, we’re putting in effort, but the question is, is this meaningful progress, or are we indulging in a rich delusion of progress?

I think you’re going to enjoy this interview, as Jason and I dig into:

  • How hacks and shortcuts rob us of the ability to engage in a slower, more thorough type of thinking.
  • Why curiosity is vital as we move into the era of AI.
  • The shortcomings of trait-based language — and what to do about it.
  • Three rituals to move you closer to meaningful progress.

Be sure to follow Jason on Twitter @DrJasonFox and check out his website

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Full Transcript

Michael:     So, I got this email from my friend, Sandra, down in Australia, and she said, “Have you heard about this guy called Dr. Jason Fox?”

And I’m, like, “Actually, I never have heard of Dr. Jason Fox.”

She said, “Well, you should check him out because he’s pretty interesting.  I just saw him speak.”

It turns out Jason had just won Keynote Speaker of the Year down in Australia, and he is this smart, savvy Australian who brings together insights around change management and making a difference and being strategic and self-management.  And he does it all with a kind of Dungeons & Dragons swagger and a pirate sensibility.

His book, How to Lead a Quest, is a truly fantastic book, not only because of the really robust content in it, he taps into a number of thinkers that I really admire, but also just because of the wonderful style he writes it in.  He doesn’t just talk about, you know, the crushing status quo, he talks about the kraken of doom, and that’s just a little taste of it.

So, this truly was one of my most enjoyable interviews.  I think we’re kindred spirits.  He has a much more impressive beard than I do, and I really do think you’re going to enjoy this conversation with Dr. Jason Fox.

Jason, I’m excited about this.  I don’t get many Australians on my podcast.  That’s a gross dereliction of duty on my part, I understand, but here we are.  And you know that we start every interview by asking this question: what are you taking a stand against?  So, what made you grow that beard, write the book, get on stage; what are you taking a stand against?

Jason:       Oh, wow.  Okay.  Well, currently, I would say I’m taking a stand against the delusion of progress.  It’s this notion in which we kind of play this pantomime of productivity where we’re doing all the things, we’re ticking all the boxes, we’re busy, we’re putting in effort, but the question is, “Is this meaningful progress or are we indulging in a rich delusion of progress?”

And to answer this question actually takes a bit of curiosity and some time to think and engage in richer conversations, because we’re essentially asking ourselves, “Are we moving closer to future relevance?”  And if we’re not doing that, then I would suggest that we’re not actually engaged in meaningful progress.  And in most of the work that I’ve done with organizations, this delusion of progress is running rampant.  People are so busy, obsessed with ticking boxes that probably don’t really matter, or not as much in terms of moving closer to future relevance.

Michael:     Okay, that’s an interesting phrase, “future relevance.”  What do you mean by that?

Jason:       Mm!  Well, if … Allow me to go on a little short tangent.

Michael:     Sure.

Jason:       One of the after-effects of academia.  So, well, I like to think of it in terms of coherency.  And you asked me some interesting questions, too, about the beard and what got me started in writing a book.  There’s a couple of other things there.  But looking at this notion of future relevance, if you were to—and for those listening, if anything is working perfectly for you at the moment, it could be said that in your business, your business model, your activities, your modus operandi is coherent within its context.  So, what that means is the things you’re doing make sense in its current context.  If you were to be advertising using the telephone book today, that activity probably wouldn’t make sense in this current context because of the Internet, but a couple of decades ago it would have made complete sense.

Now, the thing is there are plenty of things that you and I and many people are doing in organizations that just will not make any sense whatsoever in the very near- to mid-term future, and the question is working out, “Okay, well what are these incoherencies?  And what are these potential incoherencies?  What are these activities that we’re doing that just won’t make sense, that won’t really be relevant into the future?”  And then, that means that we need to actually get curious around, “Okay, what are the emerging trends?  What’s the intersection of trends?”  We also got to be careful not to blind ourselves by just monitoring the same trends that everyone else is monitoring, because then you’re working from the same data set as everyone else and there’s no advantage in that.

So, we need to start imaging possible futures, multiple possible futures, and find where the common incoherencies lie, so that then we can make efforts today to actually move ourselves closer to a state in which our activities are relevant within the context that emerges.

Michael:     Well, here’s the challenge with that, Jason.  Everybody is terrible at that.

Jason:       Oh, yeah.

Michael:     I mean, they’re terrible.  Even the people who go, “No, no, I get what you’re saying, Jason.  I get that where we are now is not the future and the trends will point us to the future.”  But even, I mean, one of my clients for a long time was Nokia.

Jason:       Mm-hm, yeah.

Michael:     You know, they went from being the biggest cell phone manufacturer in the world.  They’re, like, a 180-year-old company.  They started off as a coal mine and then moved to making rubber boots, then moved to something else.  They somehow got to making cell phones.  And then with a puff, they vanished because they hadn’t picked it, even though they had people who were, I’m sure, sitting in places going, “Trends, worrying, future relevance,” all of that.

So, how?  One response to what you’re saying is, “What’s the point?  Even if I try to do this, I just get it wrong.”

Jason:       Oh, yeah.

Michael:     So, why not just try and milk the cow while I’ve got the cow, and then just figure out what to do with it once it vanishes, five years or ten years down the path?

Jason:       Yeah, yeah, and that’s a good thing, and I think it’s important to highlight that this is not an either/or scenario.  Sometimes I get swept up talking about the curse of efficiency, this state where we’re constantly finding shortcuts and quicker hacks and ways to do things, that robs us of the ability to engage in a more slower, thorough type of thinking where we challenge our assumptions.  But the reality is 80% of the work that we do relies upon default thinking.  This is the ‘business as usual’ stuff that drives the machine.  I think it’s very much an augmentation.  I call it pioneering leadership, as distinct from operational leadership, but the two go hand in hand.

Nokia is a great example, and this is a thing that happens with many companies.  Nokia had a rich history of being able to explore new opportunities, to be able to go beyond the default.  But then, what happened is success kicked in and a certain arrogance may have crept into things, in amongst all the business.  And what happens with enterprises that are growing really well and that survive all the pangs of the culture change that happens when you go from a small team to a large team to a multinational team, is that it gets to a point where it becomes inefficient for you to be curious.  It becomes inefficient for you to do anything but the default, with all the established evidence that suggests that this current way works, so why would you do anything differently?

Michael:     Right.  To interrupt, it’s almost as if when you’re in start-up or when you’re in early phase, everything is inefficient so you don’t notice that the curiosity is just another part of the inefficiency.  But once you’ve got your groove on, then that curiosity piece really starts out as going, “Well, that’s kind of wasting time and effort and resources.”

Jason:       Exactly.

Michael:     When, “Look, we’re minting it over here by being super efficient.”

Jason:       Exactly.  And this is interesting.  So many large and multinational organizations at the moment are trying to tap into this type of start-up thinking, this new thinking.  They’ve got incubators, accelerators, start-up hubs, entrepreneurial hubs, labs, all sorts of things to try to create this environment where curiosity can thrive.  Very tricky for them to do in many existing cultures, but this is where they’re going, because they know that if they don’t tap into curiosity or the empathy for the emerging needs of the market, then there’s a chance that we may busily work ourselves into a point in which we’re no longer relevant.

Michael:     So, is this something that … I can understand that if I’m the CEO of a big company or in the C-suite of even in a start-up, this is something I should be thinking about and worrying about.  You know, if you’re in a start-up, you’re like, “Must pivot, because this thing I thought was relevant?  Not relevant anymore!”  Pivoting to something completely different.

Jason:       Yes, just agile, yes.

Michael:     Exactly.  But if I’m just a normal person, like, I’m an ordinary, mid-level manager, I’m trying hard to live a good life, to lead a good team, to have impact and make my bosses happy, is this something that I should worry about?  Or is it, like, “Look, somebody else will figure this out.  For now, keep your head down and do the best you can”?

Jason:       Ha ha!  Yeah, I love this question.  Well, this is really interesting.  Given that AI is such a topic nowadays, we’re looking at the amount of work that will become automated, I think it’s on all of us to have a bit of curiosity around what we’re doing and is this going to be relevant into the future.  I think it’s also helpful to recognize when we find ourselves in our own pattern.  When we become a little bit stuck in a predictable pattern, we start to form our own defaults around how we do things, and if we’re not careful, these defaults, the default thinking that we have—and by default I mean the options we choose automatically in the absence of viable alternatives—if we keep on making the same choices and occupying the same defaults and living out the same patterns, there’s a risk that not only will we wake up to find that we’re no longer employed or no longer in a role or no longer fulfilling relevance, but we’re not actually fulfilled.  We’re not actually feeling motivated about what we’re—and we’re not moving closer towards self-actualization.

I feel that this question is really relevant for all of us, but the big challenge for us to actually engage in time to think about this is the fact that we’re all so busy.  We’re almost too busy for meaningful progress.

Michael:     Yes.

Jason:       And this links to this fascinating research by Professor Teresa Amabile and Professor Steven Kramer.

Michael:     The Progress Principle, right?

Jason:       That’s right!  Yeah, yeah.

Michael:     Yeah, she’s been one of our guests on the show here.

Jason:       Oh, she’s wonderful.

Michael:     Yeah.

Jason:       And it’s kind of funny: my first book, when I wrote that, Game Changer, I was so obsessed by The Progress Principle and how you see it manifest in game design and how people almost become addicted to progress.  There’s always more that could be done, always betterment to pursue.  But this is what—after I wrote that book, I noticed that a lot of organizations, a lot of senior leadership teams, were looking for a quick fix.  Because they’re so busy, they didn’t have time to really explore the challenge and the root causes or explore viable alternative options.  And so, they thought, “Well, gamification, here’s a buzzword.  Yes, let’s do that.  Let’s gamify this.”

And I got frustrated by it, by just the shallow, quick, almost stagnant thinking that perpetuated, you know, this desperate grasping for solutions, which was what led me to write How to Lead a Quest.  Because the thing about The Progress Principle is our activity will naturally gravitate to the things that provide the richer sense of progress.  The idea is these things can be the very things that are getting in the way of meaningful progress.  So in my world, it’s very easy for me to lose a day answering a heap of emails and doing meetings and having coffee catch-ups with people.

Michael:     Although not my email, apparently.  Answering other people’s emails but not my email.  But that’s okay.  We’re moving along.  I’m fine with that; I’m getting over it.

Jason:       Oh, I … No, I have this weird thing.  When there’s a really important email, when I want to put some effort into it, I’m like, “I’m going to put a star on this one, and when I get time to do this properly I will do that.”  And so, one month later …

Michael:     Okay.  Dear listener, do we think that’s actually true or is it just Jason blowing smoke up my whatever just to stroke my ego as a way around it?

Jason:       Well …

Michael:     I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.

Jason:       Yeah, it’s how we operate.

Michael:     But moving on, you can lose a day doing kind of miscellaneous busywork.  I mean, I think of it like this.  And you know, we talk about this with good work and great work all the time, which is you have a to-do list, a hundred items.  In a day, you tick off 97.  You don’t get to the three ones that actually matter, but look, you’ve done 97 to-do things: it must have been a good day.

Jason:       Yeah, and we pat ourselves on the back for this effort and it gives us a sense of progress.  Even if it’s a bit of a delusion of progress, it still feels good.  And you know, your book was actually one of the things that spurred me on to write my very first book, and I’m very grateful for that, because I’ll tell you: when you’re writing a book and when you’re alone, isolated with your thoughts and your own inner editor and you’re self-flagellating and nothing seems good enough and stuff, it’s so easy to find other things that will give you a sense of progress.  Whether it’s meaningful progress is another question.

Michael:     Okay, so you’ve been talking, or you’ve talked about your first book but you alluded to your most recent book, How to Lead a Quest: A Handbook for Pioneering Executives, and it is a great read.  I mean, you get the full force of your … I’m going to say your Dungeons & Dragons background, but there’s a real sense of playfulness, but kind of … How would I put this?  It’s like you take, you know, Scott Belsky and Roger Martin and Alexander Osterwalder and Danny Kahneman, and you kind of put them through a pirate lens meeting a Dungeons & Dragons lens, and it’s a great read.

Jason:       Oh, thanks.

Michael:     But I’m curious about the title, How to Lead a Quest, because you know, most books written for senior and mid-senior business executives talk about how to win at strategy and how to be very winning and how to be very strategic, and they kind of use the business buzzwords so that people know what it’s about.

Jason:       Mm-hm.

Michael:     Why quest?  Why did you pick that as the governing metaphor for the book?

Jason:       Yeah, there’s probably two reasons.  One, I don’t … I feel I couldn’t write a book with—even though there are probably some other titles that would sell better in terms of the clickbait or having the right buzzwords inset(?) there in the short term, I think that my experience with folks, when I actually bring in metaphors, so I talk about something like the inevitable kraken of doom which feeds upon the sweet nectar of your impending irrelevance, people in conferences, they really latch onto it.  They get excited about it.  They get excited about the archetype of pirates and exploring uncharted territories.  And it’s so refreshing compared to just talking about disruption, talking about whatever the standard buzzword flavour of the month is.

But “quest” works for me in the sense that, you know, one of our favourite authors, James Carse, who wrote a book called Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Plain Possibility.  He has a wonderful quote: “Only that which can change can continue.”  And I like the notion that with a quest, there’s not really necessarily an endpoint.  You’re working from a clear premise, but you don’t know what the promise is, whereas from a mission or …

Michael:     Well, wait a second.  Unpack that for me.  You’re working from a clear premise, but you don’t know what the promise is.  Is that what you said?

Jason:       Yes, exactly.  So, you don’t have a specific endpoint in mind with a quest.  You’re exploring alternative options.  You’re seeking viable alternatives to the current defaults, things that move you closer to future relevance.  But we know that—and I’m about to insert a buzzword that I really love; it hasn’t been corrupted yet, but I love yet.  We know that we’re leading in a VUCA world at the moment: things are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.  And I think it’s a little bit naïve and optimistic and possibly short-sighted to latch onto a very specific outcome in the distant future or to adopt—you know, the classic sporting metaphors of playing to win.  I think that, you know, the winning and the competition stuff, that might be fine in the short term over three to twelve months, but it’s not really where our focus ought to be if we’re looking to secure enduring relevance.  So, a quest can …

Michael:     I have to say, I mean, I’m just going to insert here, because actually, the Playing to Win book, which is Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley, I actually love their questions around strategy and you’re like, “I’m not sure this …”  And when I think about reading about it in the book, you actually go, “Look, I’m not sure the metaphor works.”  And maybe the questions still work because there’s a way of trying to figure out how what you do is integrated from kind of top to bottom, soup to nuts.

But yeah, it’s an interesting point you bring up about the metaphor because one of the things that drives me crazy about organizations, thinking about their evolution, their change, is this assumption that it’s a kind of linear process.  You know, you pull a lever and then you push a button and this stuff pops out.  And everybody knows that that’s the last thing that happens.  These are complex systems, and if you know anything about complex systems it’s like there’s no—you press something and then you wait and see what the hell happens because you don’t know what happens.  Something triggers something else that triggers something else, and you get a result that you weren’t fully expecting.

And what I like what you’re pointing to is I’ve seen people think about OD and change management in this way, but not thinking about what’s the point of strategy when we live in a complex world where there is no finish line that we can point to?  Because as soon as we start running towards it, it slides away and something else appears instead.

Jason:       Mm-hm.  Yeah, yeah, very much.  Complex systems, their sum is other than their parts.  It’s really hard to get a grasp on all the emerging phenomena within a complex system.  And I feel that with … What was I going to say?  I had a really cool point lined up.

Michael:     I’m sorry.

Jason:       No, it’s great.  No, it’s cool.  You triggered something.  This metaphor around playing to win.  Oh, yes, that’s it.  Transformation.  Every organization at the moment seems to be going through some sort of transformation, and it’s subtle but I think there’s something dangerous in the concept of transformation, that the linguistics around it imply that there will be a state in which we are transformed and that has this inherent endpoint.  It’s just like a finite game.  It’s a game that you play to win.  But the reality is all these changes, they’re not going to go away.  There’s not going to be a point in the future where all this change has stopped and we’ve won and we can kind of, you know, pat ourselves on the back and say, “Victory.”  It’s constant.  It’s the Everquest.

Michael:     Alright, Jason.  So, here we are, the three questions.  I love these three questions.  They really have such interesting and different answers.  The first question is this.  What was the crossroads you came to; what was that moment of truth where you went, “Do I go this way?  Do I go that way?”  You made a decision and it changed things for you.  What was the crossroads?

Jason:       For me, it was taking a chance on myself and transitioning from academia, which was comfy.  I was working at three different universities.  I had a thing going on.  And to actually move from—I was in Perth at the time, to move to Melbourne and to see if I can make this thing work.  And I’m so glad I did.  I’ve been thoroughly hipsterized by Melbourne.  I’ve got a wonderful appreciation for coffee.  But more so, it’s seemed to have worked.  And the situation I was in back when I was working at the university is I realized I’d gotten myself into a comfortable default and I wasn’t challenging myself as much as I am nowadays.

Michael:     Love it. Second question is this.  Whose work has influenced your work?  Now, this could be a writer.  It could be a speaker.  It could just be a mentor or a person in your life that’s influenced you in some way.  So, whose work has influenced your work?

Jason:       Can I choose three people?

Michael:     You may choose three people.  Yeah, for sure.

Jason:       Great.  So, Jane McGonigal, the author of Reality is Broken.

Michael:     Love that, yeah.

Jason:       And someone who’s done a few TED Talks.  She is phenomenal.  I love the way that she thinks, the way that she unpacks the phenomena of game design and translates that into meaningful applications for the real world.

Michael:     And she’s been a guest on our podcast as well, so that’s cool.

Jason:       Oh, fantastic!  Oh, she’s amazing, yeah.  James Carse, who we’ve spoken about, the author of Finite and Infinite Games.  Opened my mind to a new way of thinking about life and philosophy.  And Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.  I really appreciate his incredibly subjective, but therefore very honest and true style of writing.  Many find him quite abrasive; I find his ideas quite provocative in a really good way.

Michael:     Yeah, he takes no prisoners.  I love his kind of ‘elbows out’ style of writing.

Jason:       Yeah.

Michael:     I could do with books having, like, 15% edited down.  They can be a bit rambling at times, but I do like his point of view around and his intolerance of soft thinking.  I really appreciate that.

Jason:       Yeah, he’s very Socratic.  Yeah.

Michael:     So, third and final question is, you know, and this would be an easy question for you.  At Box of Crayons, we talk about helping people do less good work and more great work.  Very aligned to the work that you’re doing.  Very sympatico to that.  But what do you think of as your great work these days?

Jason:       For me, it’s working with leadership teams to unlock greater curiosity and richer conversations, to kind of get them past the tepid trappings of convention and to venture beyond the default, so we can have the types of conversations that take us into kind of new and uncharted, unprecedented territory, and therefore, then to lead meaningful progress through all the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, paradox, and doubt that comes with this.

Michael:     You need to add; you need that acronym to be VUCA plus paradox and doubt.  I’m not sure what that would turn into.

Jason:       I know, I know.  I need another vowel between paradox and doubt.  It could be VUCAPAD or something.

Michael:     Yeah, exactly.  But honestly, VUCAPAD doesn’t sound that great, so maybe just stick to what you got.

Jason:       Yeah, yeah.

Michael:     Alright, that’s great, Jason.  Let’s get back to the main interview.

Jason:       Super.

Michael:     You know, there’s an influential writer in change called Williams Bridges and his simple change model is freeze, unfreeze, freeze.  But I think what you’re saying, and I think I agree, is actually we’re all just …

Jason:       Oh, I like that.

Michael:     Well, I feel like we’re all just wading through icy slush for the rest of our life, going …

Jason:       Yes!  Yeah, that’s a good way to think about it.  Yeah, I like that.  It’s kind of like—I sometimes think of it as, you know, there’s the fog.  It’s almost as if you play with this VUCA concept, which I still like—consultants are going to corrupt it soon, but I’m still loving it—the volatility is almost like a rough sea, and you know, the uncertainty, the ambiguity of the fog and the uncertainty of the storm, and the complexity of all the currents and everything going on around you.  That’s what I feel the landscape is at the moment, and there’s this desperate need to cling onto something stable, to almost kind of seek the opposite of VUCA, to seek stability, certainty, simplicity, and clarity, and these are natural urgings.  And anyone who promises that carrot or dangles that, you know, it’s an effective thing and it makes sense.  But I think …

Michael:     I mean, our brain craves it at a very fundamental level.

Jason:       Yeah, yeah.  And so, you know, you’ve got books there and people, they’re busy and they’re looking for answers and they’re wanting this thing.  And so, it kind of makes sense.  You know, “Let’s win this.  Let’s find the stable.  Let’s get the victory.”  I’m just not sure if that’s a useful philosophy to hold onto in the mid- to long-term.

Michael:     How do you take the senior leaders with whom you work to a place where they can sit with paradox and ambiguity rather than going, “Look, I’ve got a vision, I’ve got a mission, I’ve got objectives, I’ve got tactics, I’ve got that plan”?  Because it’s not enough to go, “Look, I’m giving you metaphors, man.  Just take them and use them.”  You’re actually asking people to change a very foundational way that they’ve been thinking and acting for years.  How do you shift that way of being at a senior level?

Jason:       Yeah, it’s really hard.  I find that things—so, the sequence that often works with the work that I do is that things often start with a keynote, and that introduces a new language, a new metaphor.  We start, people start recognizing where default thinking may be getting in the way of meaningful progress.  They have language around the delusion of progress.

But I think a lot of work actually happens—oh, is that your cat?

Michael:     Mm-hm!

Jason:       That’s so cool!  That’s so cool.

Michael:     Her name is Flora MacDonald.  I don’t think our listeners have ever met Flora MacDonald.

Jason:       Oh, lovely.

Michael:     Our first cat was Ned Kelly.  He died a couple of years ago, sadly.  And Flora MacDonald is both the woman who spirited Prince Charlie away in Scotland.

Jason:       Yes.

Michael:     But also a Canadian politician who was a great champion for the first big wave of refugees coming into Canada.

Jason:       Oh, fantastic.  Oh, fantastic.  Oh, wow.  Well, it’s nice to have her join us.

So, I think that after that thing, I think things really catalyze when you can do some sort of strategic off-site or leadership immersion and you just get past the kind of trait-based language.  I think that senior execs …

Michael:     What does trait-based language mean?

Jason:       Okay.  So, I mean using words that aren’t actually specific to which no one can disagree.  So, to walk up to a meeting and say, “You know what?  We need to be strategic.  We need to be proactive.  We need to be agile.  We need to be collaborative.  We need to be authentic.”

Michael:     “We need to move to mobile.”

Jason:       Exactly.  “We need to think digital first,” you know?  And all of these things, right?  And no one can disagree.  And so, what you have is these teleconferences, you have these rushed strategy meetings, and everyone is perpetuating the same language but it doesn’t really do anything to shift things.  And I think we need to get to a point where we can create a safe environment and ask the question, “Yes, but what does that actually mean in our context?  What does that look like?”

And it starts to get—you know, we switch from abstract stuff to stuff that’s frustratingly concrete.  You know, we start looking at some keystone behaviours that seem almost simplistic, yet speak to or hint at the heart of how we do things, or how we need to do things.

But then, you know, in answer to your question, when we’re looking at things like paradox, you know, volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, doubt, and things like that, I think the formula, it’s so hard for us to hold both of these states in mind, to kind of hold two equal but disparate truths.  And I think the pathway for many leaders is one that looks more like oscillation.  So, the tendency is to kind of collapse into one of two binary states.  “Well, it can’t be this, so it’s either this.”  And in order to get closer to a point in which we’re holding those two truths in play at one time, we need to oscillate between the two.

So, this might be in relation to that freeze, unfreeze concept that you talked about before.  I think that there may be times where we need to actually be relentlessly focused on productivity with the really specific outcomes that we’re striving towards.  But likewise, they need to be balanced with that slower thinking where we challenge our assumptions, where we actually have meetings with no agenda, only a clear context where emerging conversation can happen.

 I encourage—I mean, I think there’s beautiful rituals that have become lost in large organizations, things like having a long lunch with the team, going for a walk, having drinks at the end of the week to reflect on things.  These things just seem to have eroded away because of busyness.  And so, the result is we have these meetings jam-packed with agendas that we don’t really need to attend that are full of buzzwords and trait-based language.  We send emails, and many organizations now—sorry, I’m about to insert a pithy line.  I’m trying to catch myself.  So, you know when how you as a speaker, you’ve got these lines and you think, “Oh, this sounds …”?

Michael:     Yeah.

Jason:       Now’s a good time to deploy this.  Anyway, in some organizations, it’s much more of a career advancement strategy to broadcast that you’re doing the work than it is to actually do the work itself, which is where we get all these emails and all these meetings.  And sometimes, the best work doesn’t actually look like hard work; it’s people immersed, thinking, exploring, having conversations.

Michael:     Well, that’s just—I mean, I talk about this regularly, that whole, you know, “When did you last catch somebody actually thinking?  What did that look like?”

Jason:       Yes.

Michael:     And did you look into their cubicle or their office and go, “That’s awesome: they’re staring distractedly into space”?  Or did you go, “What the hell are you doing?”

Jason:       Yeah.

Michael:     “Why haven’t you returned my email, Jason?”  For instance.

Jason:       Exactly, yes.

Michael:     Hey, Jason, our time is almost done, but I did want to touch just briefly on rituals, and you’ve got an interesting way of thinking about how the how, the what, and the why about you think about corresponds to different periods of time, and I’m wondering if you could kind of speak just quickly to that and maybe talk to maybe one ritual. Give us a little more depth around one ritual that you think might be useful for people to consider.

Jason:       Okay, sure.  Okay, I think of rituals as sacred routines wherein we carve out time against the grain of busyness in order to progress the things that matter.  And that sounds cute and lovely, and I think when we actually start thinking about, “Okay, what does that look like daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, and even decade and beyond?”  And to know that the more proximal the times, the closer it is, the shorter the time period, the more specific you are, and the further into the future, the more fuzzy things are.  So, you may not know exactly where you’ll be in ten years’ time, but it would be good to know what meaningful progress looks like today in fairly specific ways, or at least this week.

And so, I think a really useful ritual for folks is to really think about what they do before they check email in the morning, before they enter the world of reactive work where they’re responding to other people’s urgencies.  And this is not rocket science.  In fact, I’m now regretting this example, but I know time is pressing.

So, three things.  Think about what three things—what does meaningful progress look like today?  Not the delusion of progress, but meaningful progress.  This is not my IP to, you know, ‘fight for three before three’ or ‘be true before two.’  Work out how you can actually get that stuff happening before 2 p.m. in your day rather than just leaving it to the end of the day with hope.  And then, I think it’s really important that we feed our curiosity in the morning before we check emails.  There’s wonderful social media aggregators.  There’s great tools.  I think can be useful.  You can start to curate a feed, your information feed.  So, instead of consuming information and ideas by default, which is largely fed by mainstream media and it’s pretty much junk food, we can actually start to tailor our information diet, making sure it’s broad and diverse, and this fuels the type of conversations we have with people and it keeps us curious and open-minded.

Michael:     You know, I signed up to an email just the other day called Polar News, P-o-l-a-r News, and what I love about it is it curates two different sides to a specific argument that they’ve picked.

Jason:       Oh, yes, yes, I heard about this!  That’s great.

Michael:     And I’m just, like, “What a brilliant idea,” because we do have this confirmation bias where we tend to seek out and hang out with all the opinions that already agree with ourselves.  So, we live in our own echo chamber of, “See, I must be right, because look at all this news that I’ve selected: it’s agreeing with me.”

Jason:       Exactly.

Michael:     But Polar News gives you a way of looking at two different sides around that, and that’s a great one I’d recommend for people who are looking to build their feed.

The other, I’m going to recommend a couple of others that I really love.  Shane Parrish does Farnam Street.  His thing is called Brain Food, but his whole thing is about how to think better and understanding the core principles of how to think well.  And you know, in your book How to Lead a Quest, you talk about a bunch of our neurological biases, kind of picking on the Danny Kahneman work about thinking fast and thinking slow.

I would say Shane Parrish’s news editor is really the one that kind of keeps that alive and interesting, so I’d really recommend that.

Jason:       Fantastic.  Yeah, I’ll check that out.  Thank you.

Michael:     That’s alright. Jason, it has been a lot of fun.  I know you and I are going to hopefully see each other a little bit later on in the year, which I’m really looking forward to.

Jason:       Definitely.

Michael:     But for people who won’t have the pleasure of hanging out with you like I will, where can they find you on the Web?  Where can they find your book?  Where can they find out more about Dr. Jason Fox?

Jason:       The best place to go is  That’s d-r-j-a-s-o-n-f-o-x dotcom.  And I have a Museletter as well.  It’s probably the one thing I do with some degree of consistency, about once every month or two or so.  And that’s

Michael:     Perfect.  Jason, it’s been an utter pleasure.  Thank you.

Jason:       Thanks so much.

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