My guest today is Dom Price. Dom is the Head of Research & Development and also the resident Work Futurist at Atlassian, one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing tech companies. Dom has responsibilities spanning 5 global R&D centres, and is the in house “Team Doctor” who helps Atlassian scale by being ruthlessly effective, all while keeping one eye on the future.
I’ve known Dom for a few years now and one of the things I like most about Dom is that he is so contrarian in his views and he is not afraid to share them. We cover a lot of different topics in this chat ranging from:
- Dom’s four L strategy to help make decisions on which projects to take on and when to say no
- Dom’s rhythm for goal-setting and staying focused on what matters
- The three questions Dom uses to find great stories
- How Atlassian use OKRs – and why Dom cares more about his team’s OKR’s than his own
- How Dom removes his own personal bias when trying to solve customer problems
- Dom’s “deep work” ritual around disconnecting from digital distractions.
- Why music helps Dom do better creative and focused work
- How Dom uses his mood to decide which task to focus on
- Dom’s method for building a great presentation
- The two questions Dom asks when he is booked to deliver a presentation
- Dom’s favourite question to ask in an interview
- Why Dom prefers negative feedback to positive feedback.
- What happened when Dom deleted every single meeting from his diary.
- Why Dom prefers to get his information from podcasts and books, not websites
See below for a full transcript of the episode.
Dom: I don’t know if I’m a glutton for punishment, but I got some feedback this morning from an event I did in the US recently. I ignored all the four and fives out of fives and went straight to the ones and two because I wanted to know what people hated about it. So I don’t know whether it’s a sign of madness of maverickness, but I actually now go looking for some of that detractor statements, because the enables me to say, “I’m in charge of this.” So all I can do is continually improve myself, and listen, and adapt, and adopt. If I do that, I’ve got a chance. The minute I shut down and try and be a singular version of me or stop listening, or get so arrogant and so bought up in my own story that I don’t actually take account of others, then that’s when all the wheels fall off.
Amantha: Welcome to How I Work, a show about the tactics used by leading innovators to get so much out of their day. I’m your host, Dr. Amantha Imber. I’m an organizational psychologist, the CEO of Inventium, and I’m obsessed with finding ways to optimize my work day.
My guest today is Dom Price. Dom is the Head of Research and Development, and also the resident Work Futurist at Atlassian, one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing tech companies. Dom has responsibility spanning five global R&D centers, and is the in-house team doctor who helps Atlassian scale by being ruthlessly effective, all while keeping one eye on the future.
I’ve known Dom for a few years now, and one of the things that I like most about Dom is that he’s so contrarian in his views and he’s not afraid to share them. We cover a lot of different topics in this chat, ranging from Dom’s deep work rituals, through to his favorite interview questions to ask people, through to how Dom still experiences impostor syndrome, and how he uses this to his advantage.
Over to Dom to find out about how he works.
Dom, welcome to the show.
Dom: Thank you very much for having me.
Amantha: Very excited to be talking to you. I can imagine that there’s no such thing as a typical day for you given your very varied role, but I’d love you to pick one day, from maybe this week, and talk me through what happened, what you did, a day in the life of Dom.
Dom: A day in the life. I think there’s two parts to any day for me. So there’s internally-focused Dom, which is where I get to massively geek out with all of the teams across Atlassian and do stuff to help them. Help them make themselves more effective, help them get over some blockers, help them challenge the way they think, play off-site.
This week we’re actually flying out, [inaudible 00:02:45] flying out this week to Barcelona for our customer summit in Europe. We’ll have a few thousand people along, and we had a brainstorming session about the things we can do to delight our customers as part of that experience. So it was internally-focused, but working with some of our teams.
Then the other half of any typical or non-typical day is then outside the four walls of Atlassian. I’ve got this fortunate role where I get to spend a lot of time outside our four walls. It enables me to tackle that challenge of insularity that I think a lot of organizations struggle with.
So I get to go and flirt and spend time with all types of organizations of all shapes and sizes, and actually go and help them, go and listen to their challenges, whether it be scaling, whether it be innovating, whether it be distributed or remote teams. Anything that companies are struggling with and just having a conversation around what we’ve tried that works for us and what might work for them, because I’m a firm believer that we’ve not got solutions, we’ve got ideas. When we share those ideas, we end up building things that uniquely work for ourselves.
So that’s the two parts of the role, and the weird bit in between is whatever I learn internally I go and tell externally, and whatever I learn externally I go and tell internally. The two actually feed other.
Amantha: I love that, that the two parts are feeding off each other and that you’ve got such two disparate and yet complementary parts of your role. How do you structure that in terms of a day or a week? Do you try to batch those two different types of roles and ways of thinking, I guess? How does that work?
Dom: I’d love in the utopian world that that question actually was true. I love that if there was a way of batching, and planning, and kind of architecting. It ends up honestly being very opportunistic. So it’s very hard for me to determine when a specific customer or specific connection or contact has a challenge, and it’s in that moment of that challenge is the best time for me to go and speak to them because you want to get it while it’s fresh, while you’ve got the feeling. Before the logical part of the brain kicks in and rationalizes it. You want to have that conversation when you’ve got the pain, or the excitement, or the angst. It’s the heartburn moment that gets you truly motivated to go and fix it.
So what I tend to do is I have objectives that I set over a 4 and 8 and 12 week period, and every now and then, whatever that frequency be, I just do a quick sense check, “Am I balanced?”, because there is not given day. Some days are all customers, some weeks are all customers, and some weeks are all internal, so I just have to roll with it. Then because my role is international, I really don’t have working hours. I don’t have 9:00 to 5:00 Monday to Friday, I have outcomes I want to achieve and I have an amount of energy that I have available in a given time period. I try and plot that energy to those needs. Sometimes that means I do a bit of work on a Sunday and I won’t come in on a Monday, and sometimes I’m working in the US or Europe. It all balances out.
The challenge for me, and I think this is a challenge we’ll face in the future of work, is how do I maintain the discipline of not burning out because I haven’t got regimented working hours? So I think as we lose that structure, we need to build the discipline.
Amantha: How do you do that, how do you avoid burning out? Obviously it sounds like you love your work, you speak to passionately about it and I think that can make it even harder to have discipline and boundaries. So how do you avoid burnout?
Dom: A couple of ways. One, I’ve surrounded myself by people that are way more focused than me, so I know that I can get distracted in less than a millisecond and I love shiny new things. So when I think about the team that I work closely with, I have some of the best people in the world who can call BS on me, who can go, “Dom, no. You’re not going to go and start a new thing, we’re going to finish this thing.” I sulk for about 30 seconds and then I get on with it, but that focus really helps.
When we plan our quarterly goals, we also have a conversation about what we’re not doing. They’re the popular misconceptions, they’re the things that you might think we’re doing in the consumer bit of time, but we’re like, “No, we’re purposely not doing those.” So to be focused, you not only need to know what you’re doing, but you need to be conscious of what you might accidentally do that you shouldn’t be doing.
Amantha: What’s an example of that, of something that you won’t do? Is that like, “We won’t build this particular feature”? What does that look like?
Dom: It tends to be time for us, it tends to a time investment. Our biggest constraint is hours. We’re a people business. People go, “Oh, Atlassian. A technology company.” Our product is largely technology-based, but if you think about our assets, if you think about our IP, it’s all people, and people have time and energy available. So for us it’s around saying, “How can we make sensible investments?” It’s better to do less things and do them really well.
An example for me right now is I love doing stuff with customers, and every customer that calls up and says, “We’d love some time with you,” I have this tendency to say, “Yes.” We made a decision last quarter that we were only going to work with the people we were already working with for one quarter, so we weren’t going to add any new in there. I was a bit sulky because I wanted to go and do some new shiny things, but the depth that I’ve got to go into by working with the same people on repeat has paid a way higher dividend for us and for them.
So it’s one of those things that we have a simple rule set, we use the four Ls: Loved, longed for, loathed and learned. You can’t add in a longed for until you take away a loathed. You have to take something out before you add something in because we’re all full. Whether it be hours or cognitive load, we’re full. I’ve yet to meet a professional that’s twiddling their thumbs because they’ve got so much spare time on their hands. So we have to be honest with ourselves and say if we’re full, we have to take something out before we add something in. I try and follow that practice as much as possible.
Amantha: I like that. That’s really cool, I haven’t come across the four Ls before.
I want to pick back up on something you said earlier around how you’ve got your own objectives, I think it was 4, 8, 12 week objectives, and you’re constantly checking back in on those. Talk to me about that rhythm and how that works practically.
Dom: Yeah, so it works in two directions. As an organization, we’re very good at regularly communicating our overall strategy. We have a 12, 18 month rolling strategy, and as part of that we have company level OKRs. So for those that aren’t familiar, it’s objectives and key results, made famous by Google but also run by many other tech companies around the world.
But in producing those company OKRs and developing our strategy, we also do bottoms-up, because we’re aware that we have people all over our organization, not just in different locations but in different functions of our business who have got different proximity to customers and technology, and potential trends and solutions, and industry movements.
So by doing top-down and bottoms-up together we end up collectively agreeing on our goals. Then in a company level, we share those and we regularly discuss them. Then at a functional level we do the same thing, which is we’ve already contributed to those overall company goals, what does that mean for us? What does success look like in a year? Then how do we break that down into quarterly OKRs? What are our objectives and our key results? Then we score them monthly.
But the idea behind OKRs is a score of one, which is the best score, means that you’ve absolutely hit it out the ball park, all moons aligned, this was the best result ever. .7 is a good result, a one is like, wow. So we’re constantly looking at stretch objectives and stretch key results to make sure that we’re pushing the right boundaries.
Our teams on the whole find that very motivating because you can call out what absolutely amazing looks like and you can swing for it, but if you miss, you’re not going to get punished. We accept that .7 is still a really good score, and so it just builds that momentum around continually pushing boundaries and wanting to exceed expectations, and not just kind of mediocre, run-of-the-mill, business as usual stuff.
Amantha: Mm-hmm (affirmative), I think OKRs are really interesting. I love John Doerr’s recent book, Measure What Matters, that goes into a lot of detail around it. I know at Google they’re quite famous for saying, “Look, .7,” as you say, “That’s a great result.” If you’re getting too many ones, you’re possibly not stretching yourself enough.
I want to know if for you Dom, how do you think about your own personal OKRs and having the right amount of stretch in those?
Dom: So I’ve actually skipped having my own personal ones for the last couple of quarters, just as an experiment, and I still don’t know the answer on this one if I’m brutally honest. I went probably nine months or like three quarters with having my own and having team-level ones, and I found there was either duplication or conflict and it didn’t actually help me. So for the last probably two quarters I’ve not had any personal OKRs, but there are objectives in the team-level ones that I care about more than others, and I’ve put my name against them as being the owner or the drive.
That for me’s working better because it’s enabling me to still be a team player first and do my individual thing second, which for my personality type of way of working is the most effective way. I’m not sure that’s the right way for everyone, but it’s interesting that now when we gather as a team we have really healthy and heated debates mainly about the objectives, because they’re the things we really want to get right, because that’s the directional stuff. The key results we’re more flexible on, we’re more willing to change because as you learn, those things will change. But we want to be confident that we’re approaching directionally the right objectives.
So the experiment we’ve been doing for the last two quarters with the team I’m part of, is we’ve been phrasing the objectives in the words of the person we’re delivering to, which is a nice little twist. So again, to stop ourselves being insular, instead of saying, “We want to ship X% of things,” or it’s not about on time, and it’s not about scope, it’s about delighting the customer. So if you want to introduce empathy into a team, make your objectives about the person you’re delivering to because then you’re measuring success through their lens and not through your own.
That’s really enabled us to push on outcomes rather than outputs. So instead of looking at what are the things we did this week or this month, we’re looking at what are the seeds we planted, how do we nurture those seeds, and what do we think those seeds will return in three or six or nine months time?
Amantha: Can you give me an example of how you’ve translated the wording of an objective from Atlassian language into customer language? Just an example of that?
Dom: Yeah, so one of them was with our playbook, which I know you’re familiar with but for those that aren’t, we took Atlassian’s way of working, which we’d codified into something called the Atlassian Team Playbook. Then about two years ago we published it. Now if you look historically, as we were going through our OKRs, we were looking at traffic and clicks and a whole load of stuff. We’re like, “Hey, they’re all our metrics. That’s how we know, but what’s the impact on a customer?”
So suddenly we started to talk about, instead of the volume of customers, we started to talk about how a customer actually used it, and what experience did they have, and what follow through did they have, and what happened with that follow through and how did they feel? Suddenly we then went and did a journey map to understand what is the flow from that customer’s perspective, because we were looking … It’s really natural to do this, by the way. We were just looking through our lens. We forget that the people outside our four walls see a very different world to us.
So it enabled us to say, “Hey, if we didn’t have the implicit knowledge and context we had, and we are this persona in another organization struggling with this, how would they approach it and how can we help them?” So we decided to make that persona, the person we’re delivering to, it’s a generic person that doesn’t exist, but we actually had a two-hour workshop this morning. One of our personas is called Daniel, and so we all sat in the meeting and we all dialed in, and we did a journey map for Daniel. We were helping solve Daniel’s pain points.
Now Daniel doesn’t exist, but we’ve got a page that describes Daniel, his role, the type of company he’s in, the things he struggles with, the things that goes well. So that just enables us to say … it’s so easy for us to put our personal bias into these things, and we all know seek first to understand, we know we should walk in someone else’s shoes. Very easy to say, bloody hard to actually do. So we’ve been using that persona and the objectives around that persona to say, “Let’s have a two-hour meeting for Daniel.” That two-hour meeting was all about helping Daniel.
Amantha: That’s cool. I like that idea of, “Let’s have a meeting for Daniel.”
I want to shift gears and I’m keen to know, your week’s obviously very varied, but are there any daily or weekly rituals that help set you up for a great week, or keep you on track?
Dom: Yeah, I think rituals definitely. Because with my travel, because timezones are so choppy, I have to be quite flexible, but there are certain rituals that come into play. There’s one that I actually copied from you that I’ve never thanked you for, which is the disconnecting from email. So I make sure in any given week, and certainly in any given day, I’ve got me time. It’s not me time to go and do yoga or get my nails done, it’s me time to just get through my work, right? Some personal time.
People often get confused because at Atlassian we talk a lot about teamwork. People ask, “Oh, so everything’s about collaboration and teamwork?” I’m like, “No, no, that’s part of what you do,” but there’s also deep work that I do where I just need my time to do my tasks, my activities, my thinking, get my thoughts in order. So what I realized was with technology and being connected 24 by 7, I was getting distracted and it was taking me a lot longer to do those things. Maybe my quality was starting to drop and my presence wasn’t entirely there.
So one of the things I’ve copied from you is making sure I’ve got a couple of hours where I just turn off that connectivity to the world and I just get through my tasks and my work. That’s enabled me to really focus in on them and, I think, do them to a better standard, do them in the right sequence. I do the things that are both urgent and important, and not panic, because I carve out that time to go and do that.
Then the other one is actually the complete flip side, which is an entirely selfish and selfless thing, which is I realized I absolutely love mentoring and coaching. With my travel schedule that’s a lot harder, but what I’ve managed to do is connect with a few people in our offices around the world who they have things that they’re looking for in a coach and mentor that I can help with. So I’ve carved time out for that. I find that a great leveling exercise for me, I find it very rewarding to give back, and also it’s a great pulse check for me, on the organization, just to see in the detail what people are struggling with and what they’re not struggling with, to help direct me with my work. So yeah, that’s another ritual that isn’t really directly correlated to me, but it really helps me keep connected to the organization.
Amantha: I’m curious about your deep work ritual. Can you tell me what are the ideal conditions that you construct for yourself to have those really great couple of hours, and also how many times a week is that happening?
Dom: It’s probably three or four times a week. It’s a very similar ritual. If I’m at home, if I’m in Sydney, then I will work from home. Often I’ll do the early morning calls with the US, and then I’ll have a good couple of hours where I’m just in my office at home, in the zone. The Beatles are playing in the background, I’m wearing really tragic clothes. I will alternate between work and singing, and I’m drinking too much coffee. It’s me, immersive time.
But the stuff I get done, if I’ve got the right soundtrack in the background, and I’ve got a fresh cuppa, and I’ve got my comfy jumper and my comfy pants on, all my energy’s going into my work because I’m not having to think about anything else. I’m not having to think about the other people around me.
I absolutely adore and love facilitating workshops, but they’re exhausting. So when I’m not in that zone I know that I need complete emersion in almost like solidarity so that I can just solely focus on one thing, because otherwise I go back to default Dom who is facilitating the workshop.
So if I’m in an open-plan office space and there’s other people around, that is the biggest temptation for me to go and engage with them, because I want to help them, I want to do stuff. So for me, I have to switch off those stimuluses and just give myself time to go deep. Then it’s a case of just picking one thing at a time, which is a hard discipline for me. I like to think I’m a multi-tasker, I’m not. So being honest with myself and going, “Pick one thing, finish it and then do the next thing.”
Amantha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
A couple of questions on that. What role does music play for you in this scenario?
Dom: A couple of roles. One is I actually have a deep love for the creativity side of music, but also the simplicity, which is we all know that when we listen to a song that there was hours and hours of turmoil and versions of rework and challenges, and yet all we ever hear is the three minute thirty second version, right? We only ever see the end products. It’s a great reminder that actually there’s a whole load of stuff happen behind the scenes before that was consumed.
Then the other thing is I just love some of the … it kind of triggers a different part of my brain which isn’t logical, because the thing I love about music is it’s entirely illogical. The number of songs that I sing along to because I think they’re happy, and then someone explains the lyrics to me and it’s actually a really depressing song. I’m like, “I like it anyway. It’s a good rhythm and I bop along to it.” Then you listen to the words, you’re like, “Wow, that’s pretty dark.”
But just the moment and the visuals that that creates almost gives me permission to go and explore, because I don’t think anyone … and I’m a big Beatles fan, I can’t imagine any stage where anyone wrote any lyrics to a Beatles song and said, “That makes sense,” because they don’t, right? They’re stories, and they’re emotive, and they create different visions in your head, but they’re not logical.
So for me, a lot of what we do on a daily basis, a lot of the volatility, the uncertainty, the complexity that we’re dealing with needs us to occasionally be illogical and be okay being illogical, and sometimes just trust our instincts and our heart that what we’re doing does make sense and will work. If it doesn’t, we’re open and vulnerable enough to admit that and change it. Whereas I think occasionally we look for the perfection of a finished album or record, but we don’t realize the amount of imperfection that went into creating that. So I think there’s a good analogy for me there that it just reminds me that it’s all right for us to make progress, and maybe perfection is often the wrong goal for us.
Amantha: That’s nice.
I want to also understand, like you said, you’ll pick one task to do during this deep work time and then you’ll maybe move onto the next. How do you decide which task to focus on?
Dom: It’s very opportunistic based on mood. So a lot of my work requires very different types of energy, so I do a fair bit of writing. I have a regular column, I write blogs, I generate content. That, I know requires a very different mood or zone for me that I can’t create. I can’t say, “Oh, it’s 3:00, it’s writing time,” because if I do, nothing will happen. I will sit there and stare at an empty screen for an hour, and just get upset with myself. So it tends to be a very quick reflection of what am I in the mood for and what’s on the backlog.
I have a little Trello board of all the things that are in my backlog that I know I have to get done, and it’s like a to-do list but a little bit broader and a more macro level. I go to that and I’m like, “Ah, pick one thing off.” I normally have in there what is my simple definition of done. So for my articles, often my definition of done is 70% baked, because I have the amazing content writer based out of one of our locations in the US. She can perfect and polish an article in a way that I never can. So my definition of done for a lot of my articles is 70%. Once it’s at 70, I can ship that off to her and I know that within 24 hours I will get something back that’s infinitely better than I wrote, so that’s cool and I know about that.
Other things, if I’m doing a … like you, Amantha, do a lot of presentations, if I’m building a Keynote deck or a pitch for a presentation, that’s normally something that I want to get polished, reviewed, double checked before I send it off. So very much depends on the mood and what’s on the backlog, and so to compensate for that I always keep a variety of things on the backlog. I just pick off the things that actually work for that phase of day, for that moment, for that time, whatever that might be.
Amantha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
I want to delve a little bit deeper into your presentation. So I’ve heard you speak a few times, and sometimes at Inventium’s own events. You’re really great at telling stories and also creating great analogies. I want to know, what’s your process for finding stories, and how do you craft them? Because you make them sound so spontaneous, but I imagine there’s a lot of work and thinking that goes on behind the scenes, or maybe there’s not.
Dom: There’s not. I mean, you’re grasping for a golden nugget that might just not be there.
I’ve a very, very simple approach. So first of all, because I’m absolutely useless at Keynote and PowerPoint, I go for very bare slides. Part of that’s because I’m not good at it, the other part is I used to hate those lectures, certainly in university, where there was just 100 bullet points, and the slides were so noisy that there were no takeaways. You just couldn’t remember anything.
So what I like to do is keep them brief, and then I have a goal that for every slide there should be a story and a point. There should be a so what. So the stories tend to set context. The point, whether it be a call to action or just a key takeaway, I think part of my job as a storyteller is to share my insight that I took from that story. It’s not that that’s the insight the listener should take, that’s just me being honest about how I read that situation. Then all the stories are just real life situations.
So whether I’ll be facilitating a workshop, visiting a customer, running an off-site, doing a team event, whatever it is, I’m just a curious little bugger. My eyes and ears are constantly open, and watching what happens and what’s going on. So I just consume all of that and I keep it in a bank.
So for me, I like to represent speakers that I like to listen to, and the speakers that I like to listen to are the ones that they don’t necessarily challenge your logic, but they make you feel different. They make you want to act different or they make you want to do something. For me, they’re the speakers I love to listen to, and so my goal is to try and mimic as much of that as I can because I think it’s relatively easy to tell people stories and get them to nod, but it’s a lot harder to get them to change the way they think or change what they do.
That’s the goal I always set myself there, is I want to leave them with a story that is authentic, that they can resonate with and understand, but also enable them to go, “I could do that. I could have a go at that,” because what I talk about isn’t life or death situations. We tend to have this barrier of, “It’s too hard,” or, “I can’t do it,” or, “What if?”. Regularly look there and go, “I could try that and if it went wrong, I wouldn’t get fired and no one would die, so I should just try it.” That’s the only way I’m going to learn, is to try it.” So I like to try and share some of those stories just to get people over their own personal barriers.
Amantha: How do you construct a presentation to maximize its chance of creating behavior change?
Dom: I have two questions I ask and two only. This you can have for free because it’s worked for me so far. Question number one is how do you want people to feel when I’ve finished? So I’m doing an event with a large consulting company in a few weeks and we had the briefing session, I was like, “What do you want people to feel? What do you want people to say to you afterwards? What kind of response do you want?” You tell me how you want me to leave them and that’s one point of the story.
The second question was how resilient, ready, and self-aware are they? Like, what state are your people in right now? Essentially what I’m trying to understand there is how hard can I push, because it’s very easy to achieve organ rejection and it’s very easy to deliver platitudes. Those two things are at the end of the spectrum and they’re dead easy. It’s dead easy to be controversial, stand on stage, be really aggressive and assertive, alienate everyone. You could be right, but you’ve not impacted anyone because they’ve all shut off.
Similarly, it’s easy to stand on stage and say, “Trust is important, and respect. You should like people and people are assets,” and all the same platitudes we already know.
So neither of those things work for me, so what I’m trying to do is land in the middle. But to land in the middle, I have to know how ready the audience are. So it’s an understanding in where are they at in their progression and evolution, how traditional are they, how stuck to their heritage are they, what challenges are they facing, because I want to make them feel uncomfortable enough with the reality so that they’re motivated to try something new, but not so uncomfortable that they shut down.
Amantha: I want to come back to your story bank. Is your story bank where you’re collecting all these stories, is this a physical or digital thing, or is this just in your brain? Tell me about that, because I think there’s a real art to collecting stories to build into presentations, or to build into even just trying to persuade people in a meeting. The application is so broad. So what does this story bank actually look like?
Dom: I firmly blame my mother. So it’s all in a very strange format called Dom’s brain. I blame my mothers and my sisters. So I come from a family of … I’ve got two older sisters and two younger sisters, I’m the only boy, so when people ask me where I learned resilience from as a leader, I suggest to them to grow up in a household with five women. It was the best resilience I could ever achieve because they used to beat me not physically, but mentally. The torture as a teenager, it was great. At the time it wasn’t, but they taught me a whole lot about the world and how tough the world is in reality, and how you roll with the punches and how you get on with stuff.
We also were a very strong storytelling family. So whether it be the grandparents or the aunties and uncles, or whenever family came over, we didn’t spend huge amounts of time in front of the TV. We’d sit around, the kettle is always on in my mom’s house, there is a cup of tea in one’s hand for every moment that one is awake. So we would just sit around and tell stories.
But to get a story in when you’ve got that … I’m the quiet small one in my family. To get a story in, you’ve got to have a story. You’ve got to have a story, you’ve got to be able to make the point. You’ve got to be snappy, you’ve got to be emotional or funny or authentic. It’s got to be real. I never even realized that was a skill until later in life.
So for me now, storytelling isn’t something I necessarily do in work, it’s something I just do in life. When someone asks me what my hobby is, I love hanging around with people at the weekend and at nights and just sharing stories. Sharing is listening to as many as I tell. When I get to travel the world, I get to sit with these random people in random places and just listen to stuff, and it just adds to that memory bank.
So last year I was fortunate enough to do an event with Red Bull in America for their leadership team, their top 100 leaders in the US. They’d flown in an elite Navy Seal, a guy from Singularity University, a lady who’s a neuroplasticity surgeon, and someone who is an expert in sports psychology. I was one of the presenters as well but I didn’t care about delivering my session. I sat there for three days and absorbed. In between the keynotes and the sessions, I would grab a coffee or a wine, or go for a stroll with that person and just say, “Tell me more. How did that work? How did that feel?”
It’s all the power of the question. I think if you ask someone, as you’re doing now, if you ask someone the right question, what you get in return is a story. So it was the fireside, literally, campfire conversations and the unstructured conversations where I really got to learn about those people. Thankfully, all four of them I’m now still in contact with because we’d built enough bonds over sharing those stories whereby now we continually do that. We still share we still catch up, we still connect.
So I think, yeah, that for me is probably the most meaningful way of connecting to people, is to genuinely hear when they tell a story from the heart about them or their life or experience, that’s when you really learn about what makes someone tick.
Amantha: What are your go-to questions for extracting a great story?
Dom: Well before a question, I have to actively listen. I must say, I was a bit late to the party on active listening. I’ve been a dysfunctional listener for the vast majority of my life because I used to just listen for pauses so that I could jump into the conversation. That was-
Amantha: When did that change? Like [inaudible 00:33:49]-
Dom: Like last week.
I think it happened slowly as I just realized that me telling the same stories on repeat was kind of boring, and I wasn’t going to get any new stories because I wasn’t listening. Then just hanging around with people where I’m like, “Wow, their stories are amazing.” Like, “Dom, just shut up for a few minutes and listen.” This is the kind of material that you garner from those things is just brilliant.
But in doing that and just letting yourself be challenged, it gave me this whole new realization. So I now just make sure that when I go to events or conferences, or if I want some meaningful challenge, I want to go and find someone that’s going to violently disagree with me and hold me to account for what I say, because it’s that discomfort that I learn from.
Amantha: So it sounds like obviously active listening is very important. So once you’re listening and you’ve got that engagement with the person, do you have questions that you really like to ask, that you find get really interesting answers or stories?
Dom: The three go-to questions for me are why, what for, and how did it feel? The why and what for seem the same, but they’re slightly different because when you ask the why question, a lot of people, I find, get defensive. They’ll almost say, “Why not?” Then what for is what is the motivator behind it? So, “Why did you do something?” “Oh, I had no choice.” “Okay, what was it for?” “Oh, right. I was trying to save this or I was trying to save money,” right? Or, “I was trying to do something else.”
So the why and what for I use in combination. The, “How did you feel?”, I use because when I hear stories from people, I think I naturally translate them into my world. The “How did that feel?”, forces me to not make assumptions about how they felt through that experience, but actually hear their view because sometimes …
So this happened with one of the Navy Seal guys, he’s telling me this story about a battle they were in and I’m like, “That sounds awful,” because to me in my safe, privileged world, what he was talking about sounded absolutely horrific. I’m like, “How did you feel?” He’s like, “Great, everything went to plan.” I was like, “Ah, cool. Okay, so your world is fundamentally different to mine.” Then it’s more about the whys, and the what fors, and how do you feel, and just go deeper on those.
I’m more of a fan of trying to find one key thing that fascinates me when someone tells me, and just saying, “I’d love to know more about that. Can you go deeper on that one for me?” That’s just my way of saying, “That thing resonated with me, but I still don’t understand it. Can you just kind of double-click, double-click, double-click?”
Then my favorite interview question of all time right now, which I think I shared with you over dinner a few weeks ago, is, “What’s the most popular misconception of you?” I only use this in certain circumstances, but I love the idea of getting someone to talk about a popular misconception because it enables me to, first of all, see if they’re self-aware and are they comfortable to articulate that kind of thing. But also if it’s a popular misconception, it’s probably true. So it’s one of those things where perception eventually meets reality, and you get to explore what is the shadow version of you, and are you aware of it and can you tap in to it, and what impact does that have? That, it can be a dangerous conversation, but it can be a fun one.
Amantha: Mm-hmm (affirmative), I like that. The popular misconception. It actually reminds me of an article I read of your recently which was about impostor syndrome and using it as a driving force. I think in the article you mentioned that impostor syndrome was something that you experienced, and that really surprised me because you come across as this very, very confident kind of person. Is impostor syndrome something that you still experience personally?
Dom: Oh, every single day. I do an amazing job of hiding it. I’ve the best mask of anyone I know, and I use my confidence and my outgoing nature, and a lot of things I have in my artillery to handle that.
But I was on stage, I did an event with Amazon earlier this year in ICC, and even though I knew it was in the convention center, I didn’t realize it was in the main hall. I arrived and there’s 10,000 people filtering into the room and I’ve got a 20-minute keynote. I’m like, “I have no right to be here.” There’s 9,000, 10,000 highly technical C-suite senior leaders who really know their stuff, the people who went on before me had invented artificial intelligence and robotics. There’s young geniuses, there’s young entrepreneurs, and I’m like, “I’m a fraud.” All those thoughts go through, and you’re like, “You know what? They’ve asked me to be here, I’ve got my 20 minutes and I’m going to deliver it. I’ll own it, and if it doesn’t go well, I’ll listen to the feedback. If it does go well, I’ll ignore the feedback.”
It went amazingly well. Of course it went amazingly well, it was always going to, but that sort of feeling of, “I’m out of my depth, I’m going to get caught out. Someone’s going to knock on the door and say, ‘Your time’s up mate. You’ve had a good run, you’ve been caught out.'” I think it’s a weird one because it’s part of … I think when you acknowledge it and you embrace it, it’s actually a massive intrinsic motivator to continually push, and evolve, and listen deeply to feedback. It’s ironic that I think a lot of people see it as if you’ve got impostor syndrome, you need to stop listening to the devil voice, or to the negativity. Actually, I go seeking that out now.
I don’t know if I’m a glutton for punishment, but I got some feedback this morning from an event I did in the US recently. I ignored all the four and fives out of fives and went straight to the ones and two because I wanted to know what people hated about it. So I don’t know whether it’s a sign of madness of maverickness, but I actually now go looking for some of that detractor statements, because the enables me to say, “I’m in charge of this.” So all I can do is continually improve myself, and listen, and adapt, and adopt. If I do that, I’ve got a chance. The minute I shut down and try and be a singular version of me or stop listening, or get so arrogant and so bought up in my own story that I don’t actually take account of others, then that’s when all the wheels fall off.
So I think as long as the mindset’s there, it can be managed and it doesn’t need to be something that causes paralysis. It can be something that actually motivates and spurs you on.
Amantha: How do you do that? Reading through those ones and twos, and feeling excited almost to read through those as opposed to completely demoralized, what strategies are you using so that you don’t just fall in a heap? Is it self-taught? What’s going on in your head then?
Dom: Yeah, there’s a couple of things. One is the generic platitude of, “I’m never going to be someone … with my style and the stories I’ve got, I know it’s highly unlikely for me to be a large room and for everyone to like what I say.” If I wanted that as an objective, I probably shouldn’t be doing the job I’m doing on the topic I’m talking about, because I’m talking about things that often make people uncomfortable.
I talk about robots and automation and changes in roles, I talk about diversity and inclusion, I talk about privilege, I talk about innovation and how we don’t actually do it well, I talk about the future of work and all the change that we’re not ready for, and all these heritage businesses that are going to be dysfunctional or just not exist because they’re so stuck in the past. People find that challenging. They internalize it, it’s confronting, and I know it’s always going to take a few people over the edge.
So I’m not aiming for five out of five. I think in theory I could change my style and my delivery and get a five out of five. I don’t think that’d make me any happier, I think that would make me generically worse. So once I’ve accepted that I’m not going to sit on the fence, therefore my audience won’t sit on the fence, I have to accept that I’m going to get that mixture.
So the trick for me is I’m actually looking for the constructive comments which are actionable. So if someone just writes … and I had some of these today, someone just writes, “I don’t like what you talked about,” I’m like, “Oh, nothing I can do about that. That’s your view, my view, they’re different. Jog on.” What I’m looking for are the people saying, “Here’s what I wanted to take away, but here’s what I got instead.” I’m like, “Okay, cool. My bio and brief didn’t match what I delivered in the talk. I can go back and look at that.” Or someone who said that I spoke to quickly or I confused them with one of my points, I can go back and improve on that.
So what I’m looking for there are the insights that help me get better, not the negative Nancys or negative Noras that are just sat there going, “I didn’t like it,” because you’re always going to get a few people who fold their arms and just say, “Computer says ‘No.'” I’m like, “That’s okay, I’m going to choose to ignore those because that’s not actionable. You’ve had your vent, good on you. We’re actually going to focus my time on the people that put their energy into giving me a constructive comment, and that’s something that I can work on.”
Amantha: Mm-hmm (affirmative), I like that. That’s a really helpful way of looking at things.
Now, you mentioned a question that you love asking before, but you also told me another one that you love asking, and I’m going to ask it of you right now. What is something that you used to do but no longer do, that’s no longer serving you?
Dom: So probably the funnest exercise I did, I did this about a year ago now. I suddenly started to feel a little bit overwhelmed with just the amount of stuff I had going on, so I was doing my four Ls. Why love, there were some things I was doing that I loved, and I’m like, unapologetically, “I’m going to do more of those because I think we should love what we do for work. We spend too much time doing it not to love it.”
Then when I looked at the longed and loathed … the longed for, I longed for the mentoring and coaching time, and I loathed the sheer amount of meetings I was in. I was drowning in meetings, forums, committees, catch ups, councils, groups, squads, tribes. There was just … everyone was pawing at a little bit of me, and I have really bad discipline.
So I sent a … No, I deleted every single meeting out of my calendar, and it went with a note that said one of three options: This is a boomerang, so it comes back, but when the boomerang comes back it comes back with what is my role and responsibility in the meeting, what’s the purpose of the meeting, and what specifically do I add, like why is this me.
Option two is a soft boomerang, so it comes back but not to me. So the meeting should still exist, it still needs a role and a responsibility, but one of my team or someone else could do it, some I’m going to sub out and they can sub in.
Option three is it’s not a boomerang, it’s a stick. See, sticks don’t come back when you throw them, and so they’re the meetings that probably shouldn’t exist and they just kind of do. Over a third of the meetings never came back. People were messaging me saying, “Hey, when you challenged us on that meeting, we looked at it, we’re like, ‘Yeah, that doesn’t need to exist anymore. It only exists today because it existed last year, because you never kill a meeting, you only ever add a meeting,'” so there was just mass duplication.
Just the deliberation and the freedom that clearing that much of my calendar gave me, but also then having meetings where I knew what my role was. I promise you, 80% of them I was turning up and thinking I was performing a very different role in that meeting. So just getting the person to clarify that was a great reduction in my cognitive load. I was like, “Oh, do you want me to here to challenge? Am I here to contribute? Do I own this? Am I the provocateur? Am I here to spar with you? Do you want me to help you finish it?” If you’ve not articulated my role, I’m going to guess and the chances are I’ll get it wrong, and I had. I’d got them wrong because I was in auto-pilot because I had too many meetings.
So I now have less meetings, and the ones I have I find are really focused on something specific. I believe that my contribution in those meetings has now increased. Then I’ve carved out that free time for doing the thing which I love, which is coaching and mentoring.
Amantha: That is brilliant. What a great story.
I want to finish with some rapid fire questions around what you’re consuming, because I imagine … part of your title is work futurist, and I’m very keen to know your go-to sources of information around various things.
So firstly, what are some go-to websites that you have for finding great information?
Dom: Now, this is going to sound really archaic. I’m not a massive website consumer because if I try and consume on a website, I’ve got 500 other ways of distracting myself and I’ll never get below the fold. So I’ve gone old school with most of my consumption; I am either a podcast person or a book. With my traveling, I love the fact that in Australia we’ve not yet discovered wifi on planes, so when I’m flying to the US I get like 15 hours of uninterrupted reading time.
So I will download a few podcasts; I’ve been listening to some of yours, Holly Ransom. I love the ones on scaling, I love the Stanford ones, Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao on scaling excellence and understanding friction. Then I love, every now and then, just going and finding a random podcast, the Intercom podcast is one I regularly listen to. Sometimes on product development, sometimes on agility, sometimes on innovation, a complete mix.
Then reading-wise, there’s three books that I’m working through separately right now depending on my mood. One is General Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams. I’ve actually read it once already, I’m reading it again because I want to soak it all in. I actually got to meet Jeff Eggers who worked for General Stanley McChrystal on those missions, and so I got to learn a lot about the context around that.
Patty McCord, Powerful. So Patty is the ex-chief talent officer from Netflix, and she talks about the fact that we should stop using the word empowerment and use power instead because we only use empowerment because we took people’s power away, so let’s just give it back to them. An amazing story of her lessons and challenges, and the highs and the lows of not only Netflix, but a lot of the work she’s been doing with startups afterwards.
Then there’s an amazing book by Sophie Wade on the future of work, which looks at all the meta-level changes around the [inaudible 00:48:48] talent, distributed and remote teams, working hours, workplace, changes in skills.
So they’re the three that are keeping me challenged and provoked right now.
Amantha: Fantastic, I will link to all of those in the show notes.
Finally Dom, how can people find you if they would like to connect, or know more about you, or read your ideas?
Dom: Yeah, so they can hunt me down on Twitter, I’m @DomPrice. On LinkedIn, Dom Price as well. We publish all my stuff across those two mediums.
Then anyone who’s got any level of fascination about teamwork or struggling in a team, if you Google the Atlassian Team Playbook, that’s our free site where we post all of our resources on both assessing yourself as a team, so the mirror we shine in front of teams, and then we’ve got about 31 plays or exercises that you can do to improve how your teams work.
They’re all free of charge, it’s not a sales pitch, there’s no signup required. We believe that knowledge isn’t power, it’s the application of knowledge that’s power. So we think it’s our duty to the world to share that stuff, and everyone gets to unleash their potential together.
Amantha: Wonderful. There’s such great stuff there, again I’ll link to all of that in the show notes.
Dom, thank you so much. I’ve learned so much. Thank you so much for your time.
Dom: Thank you for your time.
Amantha: Hello there, that’s it for today’s episode. If you liked it, there are plenty of others that you might also enjoy, such as my chat with Mia Freedman about her trick for overcoming procrastination, and my interview with Rachel Botsman, who shares her one minute alternative to mindfulness.
Finally, it’s great getting feedback from listeners such as yourself, so feel free to give this podcast a review in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like this episode, make sure you hit the subscribe button so that you can be alerted whenever new episodes are released.
See you next time.