387: Make Better Conversation: Key Lessons To Connecting With Anyone



Everyone “knows” the importance of communication, but how many of us are actually good at it?

Having great conversations is both a science and an art. Learning to make conversation in ways that allow you to connect with anyone takes work and practice. But the dividends pay off massively in the relationships you’re able to cultivate and grow.

Fred Dust, author of “Making Conversation” shares his insights about how to have interesting conversations and build better relationships.

Fred Dust 00:00

And so I resigned, because I could not agree to conversation that was gonna make me feel unsafe, without there being some kind of rules in place to make that decision.

Introduction 0:14

This is the Happen To Your Career podcast, with Scott Anthony Barlow. We help you stop doing work that doesn't fit you, figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that's unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:38

Okay, I think everyone knows the importance of communication. But how many of us are actually great at it? I would venture to say that having great conversations is both a science and an art. But learning to make conversation in ways that allow you to connect with anyone takes work and practice. But the dividends pay off huge when it comes to your career.

Fred Dust 01:04

What I've asked him to do is to keep tracking the conversations that they felt like really worked, and what it was about those conversations, what's their hunch about? What made that conversation work? And what were the ones that didn't work and what is at hunch? And that becomes a really great inspiration source.

Scott Anthony Barlow 01:18

That's Fred Dust. Fred has done more than a few things in his career. As you'll hear about later in the episode. However, some notable points are working with IDEO. He was founder and trustee for ideo.org, which was IDEO's nonprofit that design solutions to global poverty. He lectures widely on various topics, including design methodology, future trends, social innovation. He's taught at California College of Arts, University of California, the Berklee School of environmental design, and even lectured at Parsons new school. He also writes for publications like Fast Company, Metropolis, Rotman magazine, he has a variety of books out, including his latest one called "Making Conversation", as you might have guessed, but more than that, there have been some common threads throughout every step of Fred's career. Here's Fred describing where his career began.

Fred Dust 02:16

I never believed I'd have a career at all, like I was, it's like, it never even occurred to me that a career and that a career was possible for me. I went into school really wanted to be an actor, believe it or not, like, and everyone in my school went on to like, be cast in like, you know, every single soap opera and movie and whatever, like, and I very quickly learned, that's not what's going to happen. And so I was very disappointed, 17 year old like, sure I wasn't gonna have anything. And I went to school changed directions about my schooling like 18 different times, like I was studying revolutionary politics, South African politics, I studied, I decided finally, I wanted to do art in art history, dropped out of school multiple times went to different schools, like it's like, honestly, it looked like a pretty much like a train wreck getting ready to happen. I found working cobbling together a career working with artists who are focused on diversity, inclusion and race and in the 90s, and was able to build something that I can tell you, Scott, like, I think I've made maybe $8,000 a year. And then I got paid like with artwork, which turns out, by the way, to being great in the long run, it just laid at the time. And then was about to go back to school for grad school for art, and then was like, maybe I should do something more practical, like architecture did went into architecture, hated the practice. And so then I just wrote IDEO, and was like, "hey, do you want to hire an architect ?" And David Kelly was like, "Sure, come work with us." And so that was like, that's what kind of got me to like the 20 years of IDEO that I did, but there was also a lot of transitions in that as well.

Scott Anthony Barlow 03:43

So hold on back up for just a second. What even prompted you to write at IDEO in the first place?

Fred Dust 03:51

I like many saw the nightline video and like all my other fellow students were trying so. And so, I had to work my way from colleges, all those college I actually, in Berkeley, I was a designer for Old Navy. Remember Old Navy? Old Navy's you know, like that. So everybody else was like doing really fancy stuff for like, REM cool house and famous architects. And I was just doing retail stores for Old Navy. But it turns out that when I graduated, that was like, the thing people needed and people do retailing like desperately. So my thesis advisor hired me even before I graduated from school, so I never even graduated, out of school to work on his retail. And then I kind of from the beginning was like, "yeah, I don't think..." because extra is where it's at. Kind of like, the culture is not that nice, nobody listens to their clients, like basically, like they're all kind of like trying to do their own work. And I was like, I bet this place IDEO would be pretty cool. And just to give you a sense, my boyfriend at the time was a graphic designer. His dream job was to work at IDEO and he was like, "Don't even dare. You won't be even hired. Like they're so rigorous. Like I know people have never been hired for like, I've never been hired for years." And I wrote, there's someone called me they're like, "can you come in tomorrow?" And I had the job in two days. It's actually, it's why I think I broke my first boyfriend and I broke up. He was like, cuz he applied for like years and never got in. And I'm like, they just were like, "Sure, come on in, we need you." So totally, what's so hard to realize about transitions? And I think it's important to recognize that part of it's like, just good timing, you know, and it's like, I will say that, like, I'm abnormally lucky. And people often say that people who are abnormally lucky, often it's because they face the world with a kind of stance of like, why not? What do I have to lose? And I'm sort of stupidly brave about things. But when you're going through these transitions so much, it's just like, the right time, the right place, you hit the right thing. So I'm sure you've talked to quite a few people who, who've said things that were sort of similar to that.

Scott Anthony Barlow 05:53

I have is a short answer. However, this is a fascinating topic to me, almost, in some ways, reverse engineering, what creates that luck, you call it luck. And I do think that there is a luck element to it, as near as I can tell, in my humble opinion, and just getting being really fortunate to have lots of conversations with people about their paths, and what piece different opportunities together. But I'm also curious, I heard you say, you know, I'm sort of stupidly brave in some ways, or have been stupidly brave. What do you think led up to that whole stupidly brave, or just, you know, going for anyways, there's probably something there I'm getting.

Fred Dust 06:36

Yeah, I have brave tattooed over my heart. It doesn't say stupid, be brave. I call it like, so many people, by the way, don't self identify as brave, right? It's not a common quality. And if you ask people about courage, they won't necessarily say that their courage. So I sort of say like, it's just kind of willingness to put yourself out there a little bit like, and it's kind of like an everyday kind of bravery. But what I would sort of say is that there's a theory behind luck, which is that people who believe that they're lucky have psychologically or tuned to spot opportunities in a faster way and be willing to kind of reach it. So I don't say luck is like, is magic. I do believe that there's actually, there's probably a psychology that it has made me feel lucky. And so one thing I can say to your listeners is like, start by pretending like you're lucky, that helps you, I did that. I came out by one day sort of saying to myself, I'm gonna start by pretending I'm gay, just for a day to sort of see if that makes me feel like I'm better, and it did. If some of your listeners don't feel like they're lucky, just try it on for a day, pretend like you see everything as kind of like a lucky thing and see how that plays out.

Scott Anthony Barlow 07:42

I love that concept.

Fred Dust 07:43

Sorry for me really quickly, because it just to answer your question. You know, my mom had a serious stroke when I was 24. And her father had a serious stroke when he was 30. And he died. And so I've been pretty much sure that I was on a time limit. So at 24 is when I was like, "Okay, I'm going back to grad school, you know, I can't just kind of like, play around anymore." That time limit has made me be like, move a little faster and a little more aggressively. It's also made me be like, I want to meet everyone I can meet in the world. I want to talk to everyone and know what everybody is thinking, which has a lot to do with the book why, "Making Conversation" became such a critical piece of what I do. But I think that's it, you know, I mean, here's the thing, Scott, we all have a time limit. So mine just happened to be more apparent. But it's another reason why I would say that having really thinking if you're in transition to like, Don't slow yourself down. Because you know, time is of the essence, you don't have forever. So that helped me quite a bit, and probably spurred me on to be a little bit more ambitious than I would be otherwise.

Scott Anthony Barlow 08:46

That's really interesting. It also makes me think about, I was a weird little kid, well just get that out there, first. So I remember when I was seven or eight years old, I remember, like sobbing for all intents and purposes and being like, "I only have so much time." It's not something that a little kid often is thinking about in many different ways. So what's really weird for me is to see how much that type of outlook has actually helped in many different ways for the reasons that you just described like it make being aware of that time limit or being aware of that expiration, as you call it is very motivating in many different ways.

Fred Dust 09:31

I think that's right, and it's like, I will be honest, like many of the key transitions in my life have been triggered by watched by losing somebody or losing something and realizing I had to kind of think about moving forward. As a little child, I too was like, I had a weird thing. I was afraid of the night sky. I couldn't stand what looking at stars. And the main reason was like I just couldn't handle the notion that I would never live long enough to account every star that existed, it just like it so it reminded me of my mortality. And my father was also an astronomer. And so I think I had like an aversion because I have a great voyage to my father. But I now love the night sky. And I'll tell you why I think you should be contemplating the night sky, especially right now at some point, but yes, I was a weird kid too.

Scott Anthony Barlow 10:15

Okay, so keeping going on that frame, my son who is turning 10, next week, also, it goes through those same things he has for the last couple of years, less so on the night sky, but more so on the expert, this idea of exploration, like...

Fred Dust 10:28

It's a real thing. I mean, and by the way, Scott, I was gonna pull out something that you're doing, that's really interesting. One of the principles that I have, or one of the things I've been doing a lot during the pandemic is basically, you people about who they were at 12. And I do that because it's like, let's say I'm dealing with something, or we're dealing with a white woman CEO who's like tall, gorgeous, beautiful, and there's like a black woman, head of HR who has to deal with diversity inclusion, and we're trying to get them into dialogue together by asking them, what who they were at 12, you often unpack things that you wouldn't get otherwise. So suddenly, the white woman CEO who's tall, blonde, and beautiful, she revealed that she was hoe at 12, and was made fun of viciously for her entire life, whatever. And suddenly, the black woman diversity inclusion, or the black woman CEO, or whoever it is, is like, Oh, well, when I was 12, I just discovered my hair and had so much pride. And I felt strong and emboldened. And so when you get to see each other in that way, you can have a different kind of conversation often. So you did something very skillful with the way that you thought you managed your conversation there, just wanted to call it out.

Scott Anthony Barlow 11:28

I really appreciate that. Thank you for the kind words. And also, that's, you know, just to get a little bit behind the scenes, too. I love that as an approach and technique, partially because I'm legitimately curious about your background, and it fascinates me how people kind of get to their present day, but also for, you know, knowing that other people are going to listen to this conversation, too. It helps to, like you said, it helps to go down paths that we never would have talked about. And I find that you and I have a different conversation that way.

Fred Dust 12:00

Well, and Scott, it's actually interesting, because you also, if I told you why it was a 12, it's also a transition question. Because it's interesting, I get 12 through about 14, I was like, a closeted gay kid who my father wanted the perfect child, I dated the cheerleader, and I played soccer, like that's who I was. And in order for me to kind of even explore the notion that I might be gay, I had to construct what I call a formalized running away. So I applied to a school in France, and got a scholarship to go, basically spent a year in France, essentially out as a gay kid, and then went back into the closet when I came back into the US. But so ironically, even then, there was transitioning happening, you know, let's remember, transitions aren't just work, like, sometimes they are, but sometimes they're about, "Who am I at my zone identity? Who am I as a person?" And so there's a lot in there.

Scott Anthony Barlow 12:53

That's something that, you know, when we get to help people through big career transitions and life transitions, arguably, behind the scenes, when we're working with people one on one, we get to see those changes of identity. And we talk a lot about that in our internal team. But we don't really talk about that on the podcast a lot. I have realized, as you and I are having this conversation, that it's not, when you're going through these types of transitions, one of the things that isn't sad or isn't apparent, is you're shifting identity, a lot of the time, not all the time, but a lot of the time. And in many ways to be able to make a successful transition, whatever individuals are defining this success, there's this observation that we've seen that you literally have to become a different person in some ways. And that's something that we don't talk a lot about. So I'm curious as to your thoughts on that, because you've gone through a lot of transition.

Fred Dust 13:45

Yeah, well, you know, it's funny, because I don't know, the book, love people who read it or like, it's 200 pages, but it's pretty sprawling because it covers like a lot of different lives.

Scott Anthony Barlow 13:53

It does.

Fred Dust 13:54

I just sort of feel like, I've been fortunate to kind of accumulate life after life. I feel like people are like, wait, I don't understand, like, you were an actor. Wait, I don't understand, like you were a chief political scientist, like I don't know. And, like, if you met them, they're way younger than me. And they're like, my neuroscientist, just so you know, has also been a Sovietologist, a satellite specialist. He was a Disney Channel star. He was a model. He was a producer for the Kardashians. He's a data guy. And now he's my neuroscientist. And so it's like, I just love that more is more, how lucky to have some experience. And he's been like, "I can't fit anywhere." I'm like, "Who cares? Like you're like a super genius because of what you do as my strategist you would love and shows kicked ass." So I think you're right. And I'll give you a really specific example. Like, we, when my brother died. My brother died when I was, I don't know, I think in my early 40s in a car accident, and we weren't very close. And so that was a very hard thing. I went through a pretty hard part. And at that point, my husband lived in Los Angeles. We had a house in Los Angeles. All of my work was in Washington or New York that I had a house in San Francisco, and I was driving to work that week after I he died. And I broke down. And I was like, I have to go back to LA. Like, I have to see my husband and who was my husband at the time. And at that point, I was like, you know what, this is stupid. It's like, why should I spend my life not living with the person that I love. And he was like, I don't want to go to San Francisco. And I was like, I can't move to LA, for all full time. So we picked up and moved to New York and New York, I suddenly was like, I'd always identified as California. And suddenly, I was like, hyper New Yorker, like, I was like, meeting everyone like networking, like crazy going to every party going to every gala, then that hadn't been me before that, like, it's like, I was more like, just hung out with my friends and stuff like that. And that shift and identity, which is now me, like, also fueled a lot that happened in conversation. So yeah, you can, and by the way, that's okay. Like an artist I used to work with, use once said to me, try on every mask. And she meant it, like grow a beard, grow your hair long, cut your hair short, shave your head, you know, it's like, but she also meant, like, anything you want, like trying any mask you want. So I really... and that idea of masks, Scott can help you in a transition sometimes to be like, let me just try this on, to just see what it's like. And I can always take it off again, if I want to, you know, so that's like, it's a nice, safe way to experiment.

Scott Anthony Barlow 14:37

I love that idea. And actually, that's been, it puts words to something that has been very useful for me personally, over the last 20, 25 years or so is that idea of try on every mask. I've been doing that, I didn't necessarily have a way to articulate it at the time I was doing it. But that's really what was happening. And I found that to be a very useful way to think about transition and experimenting with what could be right for you. And it also, you know, brings up a whole different idea of, well, I guess a whole different line of questions that jumped into my head for your story. And makes me curious about like, what were some of the other masks that you tried on along the way? And what ultimately led up to you leaving IDEO? Because you spent a lot period of time with.

Fred Dust 17:19

I came in as a designer, I tried on the Moscow designer was created. And then I became a project manager and I tried that on, that was great. And I tried on business development that was great. That was really fun for a while. And then I basically started building businesses. So I was like, Okay, I can be like, sort of like we CEOs, like as I started these new businesses. So we built the space design practice. And that was great. But I was just going to call with somebody who's to work for me. And I was like, senior most executive at Google. Like she's like doing like amazing stuff there. And different masks. She's like, yeah, she's wearing it really well. And then I was like, well, we have all this stuff that's like our nonprofit work and our philanthropic work, and our government work. And it was like, let's bring it together and build a business, which meant the isolate was leaving behind what I knew, which was architecture and space design and service design. And somebody was like, "Yeah, I can design government. Why not?" You know, it's like, so we built this, what ended up being one of the largest practices at IDEO, and had all the organizational change. It had all of the work that we did with the Obama administration. As my phone just went on this morning with the former Greek Prime Minister, I used to work with him on his work on during the Greek crisis. And I had to say, like, I can do this, by the way, there's some masks that I wore and some I didn't. So I was in Washington, I was all over the White House, I would have dinner and lunch in the canteen downstairs below the White House. I was in room, but I was like, Yeah, but I'm always gonna wear my jeans. Like it's like, I'll never wear a suit. I tried one day to wear a suit. And I was like, can't do it. And so basically, I was like, "Hey, I'm going to show up in jeans and clogs or whatever I feel like wearing and you're going to be okay with it." And they've been fine. Like the White House was like, "you do you", you know, it's like Elizabeth Warren was like, was a client of mine is like, "yeah, you're all good. Like wear your jeans." Even now, that's the other piece of it Scott is that try and masks, but if they don't feel comfortable, like if a suit makes you feel cold, which it actually, I would always feel cold wearing suits, like literally like I was like, it's too cold, I can't figure it out. And then don't wear one, be you too, you know, like as you know, I'm sitting here and running clothes because I haven't suit... but that's the way it's gonna show up today. So I think there you should know the things that are you but also that are kind of cool to you, but also between the time the other stuff that might be new or interesting.

Scott Anthony Barlow 19:35

I think it's really difficult to understand yourself if you don't try on those other things. So let's see how far we can push this mask analogy I suppose but it standing up really well. The... if you don't have that, if you don't have those experiences, then it's going to be really difficult to have something to stand on to say that "Oh yeah. Like everybody else is dressing them suits as they go to the White House but like I'm doing jeans."

Fred Dust 20:00

I wore a suit the first couple weeks and was just like, this is not working and you're not getting the best me. It's like being in this thing with like, the manual, I think is the manual who's doing the healthcare work. And it was in the White House Conference Center. And I was like in a suit, and I was just like, deeply uncomfortable and like, they just weren't getting and then they did another meeting the next week. And I was like, yeah, forget it. I'm gonna wear jeans. And then I got called in the White House when Biden was doing the gun violence work, right. So it was like, we were doing the stuff after attending. And for Newtown, I was like, I'm gonna wear jeans, and I was great. It was way better. And so you have to kind of tune that, by the way, I want to say some masks. First of all, culturally speaking, masks have always allowed us to kind of try on different things. It's why Halloween is such a beloved thing, right? It's that we get to summon be a different person for a different day. That's why we all become, it's actually why like, when you're single, you always get a date on Halloween, because you get to be like the person you're not like, it's like pretty much always like find the perfect person. But what's interesting about that is that's culturally speaking, masks also helped us literally, I've seen people do it in conversations where they wear masks and have different kinds of conversations. But also mask, trying to mask is a principle a book, right? So if you remember in the book, it says name things, right? Or give us a visual metaphor for things by saying trying to mask you're actually giving, you're clarifying exactly what it is you're doing. And that visual analysis and like you're fixated on a little bit as a minor, like that visual really helps us because we're basically like, Oh, it's a visual metaphor, but it's like so simple, that it really clarifies. And I really encourage us to having conversation as well. And unfortunately, some people who are really good at using visuals, let's name one, the wall, you know, Trump's wall like that, like he's a really good visual, he's really good at it. And that's one of the reasons why he's able to kind of like so essentialize, things that it comes down to these kind of really weird kind of black and white issues.

Scott Anthony Barlow 21:56

I think that this is something that, this might actually, I'm surprised that we came around to here so quickly. This might be actually my favorite concept in the book, maybe partially because I love making up words or terms or naming things is one of my favorite things to do. However, you know, I found this particularly helpful to get further in a dialogue that really is meaningful, which is one of the things that I know that you, I'm going to say almost stand for at this point, for lack of a better phrase. Here's an example, My team and I realized somewhere along the way, that when it came to not finishing things, we were all feeling apprehensive about talking to each other because we were all a little bit embarrassed in some different ways. And that we hadn't finished the thing. And we hadn't like, we've left it to the last second and you know, hadn't asked for help or hadn't done something else. And it caused us not to be able to talk or made it much more uncomfortable when we get so we started realizing like this is a real issue on our team. Like we just... we can't do business like this, we all really like each other and we all you know want to be here, but we're all having the same problem. So they're like, hey, what can we take that we all know something about that creates this visual image in our mind that we can agree upon is how we're going to ask for help. So we literally took like, the bat signal. Here's the language we're all going to agree to when I am feeling uncomfortable, and a little slightly embarrassed. But I know that I need to ask for help and be courageous about it anyways, I'm going to say "hey, I need to raise the bat signal."

Fred Dust 23:31

That's a genius example of it, right? It's naming something. It's a visual analogy. It's one that's culturally kind of well known, and his coaching and well known for like historically. So you can say that across generations, right? Like you can say that to someone you know, who the bad signal is like, in a comic book that they read, like, you know, back in the 40s, or whatever. But so what's interesting about that is that it's a great way of, it makes it safe to kind of have that conversation because you're like, Okay, I'm admitting it, I love it when groups name things together, I think was a really basic example I give them the book that I really that was fascinating for me was at some point, I took on a three year project, that IDEO to figure out why there was the volatility in the business, because it was like there's these curves up and down in the business. That's true of most consultancies. So I spent three years doing that. That's what that's one mask I wore. Like, it's like the fact that I was the one who was doing all day like everyone was like,"you're the great at it" but then I was like, doing all the data analytics and business analytics on this, are leading the team that was doing that. And I started that project by calling it business forensics. Like I was like, we were clearly dying. And we need to figure out what the forensics were that making things work that comes with very serious, quite dour, pretty much a downer, as you can imagine. As we started to get things getting with it, we were like we can fix this. I was like tons of like not called business forensics. Nobody's liking that. It's like a bad name. And so we changed it to business fitness, because that was something that people could really aspire to. And like they can really kind of think about it. But in retrospect and I only thought about this while I was writing the book is that, in retrospect, those names serve their purpose. So when we say called a business forensics, we were saying, we're gonna die, or like we're dead. You know, there's like... take serious, like, really focus, understand what happened. And so like, you know, there's like architectural forensics, which is like when a building collapses, like what, why didn't it flat. And then when we call it a business fitness, it was fun. And it was something we could aspire to. And there were clear goals, and everybody was like, we're getting business fit. And that was, and so it did both. It was like a really, really good thing. So it really didn't matter.

Scott Anthony Barlow 25:33

I'm having a lot of fun. We're going a lot of different places. I want to talk briefly about why you left IDEO. There's some pieces I'm fascinated about, I think you did a phenomenal job with the book that I want to ask you about. Why did you leave IDEO?

Fred Dust 25:46

Everyone's dream company, like how could you do it? I mean, I look for a couple different reasons. And I think these will resonate for your listeners. And I left in part because the election happened. And all of my clients, like who were big NGOs, Planned Parenthood, ARP had to focus on basic human rights. Obviously, I wasn't working with the government anymore. The last project was a surgeon general, but he got fired. And IDEO, through the work that I helped to do with business fitness had sold itself, which we needed to do and it decided to focus only on major companies. So not focus on the kind of weird work that I liked, it became less free and risk taking. And for me, at least, like people didn't like let me take the risks that they let me take all the way through the process. I unfortunate, in the process of doing business fitness became sort of known for somebody who would go in and shut down offices. So and by the way, like shutting an office, they say it makes you grow, it might, but it doesn't make you a better person to be honest. Like it's like firing 40 people, like maybe something that's like really a powerful thing, but it doesn't make you. By the way, my heart goes out to everyone who's having to do that right now because people are having that left and right. And also my heart goes out to other people have been fired. There's no good part of that process. And I have a friend who just had to do a major layoff and I was like, "you'll never feel good about yourself. Don't try to make it an okay thing." At some point. I was like, I'm not feeling joy. And also, I was feeling a little taken for granted. Like, I felt like I had done all this stuff and wasn't given the kind of freedom, I didn't global Managing Director, all kinds of stuff like that. And I was like, "I'm good. I can do this. And but at some point, I have to like, leave. Because I was like, what's me? And what's IDEO? I couldn't separate it." Everyone was like, "Oh, don't think that it's me, it's you, it's actually IDEO." And I was like, "I think it might be more than me than just being IDEO. I think it might be something in me." I found out that it was me. And so it's like, I've got a lot of IDEO on me. I love IDEO still, like I still talk to IDEO people. But it's like, this is me. And I had to find me. And that's kind of the work I've been doing for the last couple of years. Does that make sense?

Scott Anthony Barlow 27:54

It totally makes sense. It also makes me wonder, what was there in an event or a set of events that really triggered making the final decision, I get what the lead up was, that totally makes sense to me.

Fred Dust 28:11

I had a backlash when I was the managing director of New York location. It was all by light, I like didn't think that New York was gonna, was doing great. My business perspective. And I had a little there's a rebellion against me, it was fine. Everybody was like, no worries, like you can do whatever you want. Like, it's like nobody wanted me to go. But it left a really bad taste in my mouth. Because it's like it was two people in a group of like 50 that did it. And I'll tell you, I have a friend who's a white woman and a mostly an organization that she really diversified. And I hadn't talked with her recently because she decided to step down as the CEO of the organization. And I was like, you know, I did two things. I was like, this sounds a little bit more like bullying than it sounds like, which was it was kind of what I felt was happening to me. And then it feels like something else. And I said to her is like, "try on what it feels like not to go to work." They just do the same thing. It's like same what I said earlier, like playing the mask of being gay or trying to mask it. So it was like trying to mask of like, "you're not going to go to work today. And you're not going to be bullied by this person." I sat down to my career navigation meeting with my CEO and my CFO who had to work. They were like, "don't leave like stay for a year." And I was like, "you know, I could stay for a year. But then I lose a year." And so I was like, "maybe I will maybe I won't." And so I was like, "give me a month" I took a month and then I quit. But I think what's interesting about that is that they really don't want me to go and so but what was interesting about that moment was just basically oh, here's an interesting fact. So McKinsey has this interesting thing, where at 50 they're like really encouraging you to leave. And by 55 it's in there basically like we're gonna just pay you a year. And we think you should just go out, because their belief is if you don't become something different by the time you're 55, you're never going to become something different, you'll always be McKinsey person. And so I talked to a partner at McKinsey who basically told me that story and this happened to me when I was 50 when I was going to... and I was like, "wow, you know, it's like, I leave now. And I find myself, you know, I'm sitting here now, or I don't." And suddenly, I found myself at 55. And I can't get out. And all my friends were they are now at 55 or more can't get out. Like, they just can't, they can't imagine themselves and something else. So it was interesting. You know, like I said, we go through transition over and over and over again.

Scott Anthony Barlow 30:26

This concept of, I'm going to call it getting out, well, you can, getting out before you become almost too vested or can't imagine life differently. I mean, we delve into what happened to behind the scenes a little bit earlier. But I'll tell you that one of the things that we see again, and again and again, is by the time we start talking with somebody about a career transition, so many people who've been like, yeah, I've actually been thinking about this great years. They haven't done anything about it. Initially, when they started thinking about it, they maybe took a little bit of action on it, but then they stayed, and then they got into that point of no return. And then only when it got bad enough to the point where they just couldn't do it anymore in some way or another. Then now, three years later, eight years later, sometimes, you know, we just talked to somebody the other day, 15 years later, and now it's like, "Hey, I can't ignore this thing anymore." But they were in that point of no return that you're talking about.

Fred Dust 31:28

Yeah. And, Scott, that's a really interesting thing, because I sort of feel like, and by the way, this also relates back to the book, which is like, I sort of feel like that's a place where you really need to trust your gut. Like, as you know, one of the most popular commitment is basically like, commit to the conversations that you're in committed to the people you're in the conversations and that you're in. And, by the way, if it feels like it's unsafe, and nobody's actually making a plan for the conversation, don't, right. And so I'll give you another interesting, weird example. Like I was up for an amazingly interesting job, I got the job. I was literally the CEO, I flew out to the Bay Area, like this was last year, I was like a small nonprofit that I was going to do something really transformative with, like, they were like, unbelievably excited. Weirdly, I hadn't met anyone, except for like a couple people on the board. So I was like, it was a very strange sequestered little search. And I never graduated from grad school, I'm pretty transparent about that. Often, when I lecture, I'll just be like, yeah, I never graduated. And I'm fine with that. And IDEO knew that. And it's like, but the problem is that over the years, it gets slippery, because like, sometimes, like New York Times would still say, oh, Fred does, has a VA architecture. And it's like, hard as hell to get back to do so like weird stuff. So that came up, like the day I was flying out there. And they were like, "this is not okay for us with our organization." And I was like, "I get it." And they're like, "but it's okay. Just come in, meet with the board and the staff, and you're going to be so charming. They're going to let you go on this." And I was like, that's not a plan for a conversation. That's actually like you just relying on me being super charming. Unless you can guarantee me that there's a plan that we're going to put next. And if that's the plan, like that's not a plan, then I'm not going to go in the room. And so I resigned, because I could not agree to a conversation that was gonna make me feel unsafe, without there being some kind of rules in place to make that conversation.

Scott Anthony Barlow 33:15

Let me ask you about this idea of...

Fred Dust 33:17

Is it weird?

Scott Anthony Barlow 33:18

No, I don't... Well, yes, it is weird unfortunately. I would say unfortunately, that more people don't look at it that way. Because I believe that it creates far better interactions, conversations, relationships that result from those conversations. And this idea of building a conversation plan or creating a conversation plan is something that I wish I could say I always get that. However, you know, I started finding a need for a way back when I was in HR leadership, and started to recognize that, as was, I don't know if you talked about people getting fired, you know, as I was having those types of really, what should I call them? Important interactions with people that changed the how they look at their job, or how they looked at the organization, recognize that when I went in and just was charming, then it wasn't workout very well apparently, I'm not as charming as I think I am. But when I went in with a plan, when even when it started, like I'd pull out and just literally do three bullet points of what that was my first plan way back when, but I recognize now that that is so powerful planning beforehand, it changes the course and dynamic and interaction. So tell us about this idea behind the plan and what can people do to plan for conversations.

Fred Dust 34:42

Not every conversation needs a plan, maybe more medium than you think, you know, I would say but it's like, you know, gossip and chatting and all those things like don't overthink those things, those are amazing. Just do it. That's fantastic. But there are conversations and there's sometimes persons that you think are gossip and charming and whatever, they're actually not and they actually probably need a little bit more thinking about. So I feel like the really simple construct that I put in the book, which I call it a conversation notebook, which I know is it's mostly because it's like, I think a lot of people don't like the word journaling, including me and like it's so...

Scott Anthony Barlow 35:14

Feel overused now.

Fred Dust 35:16

So like journaling or like, diary didn't feel right. So it's like, it's just a notebook. What I've asked him to do is to keep track of the conversations that they felt like really worked, and what it was about those conversations, what's their hunch about? What made that conversation work? And what were the ones that didn't work? And what is it at times? And that becomes a really great inspiration source. So my book is that for me, right? It's basically a notebook of all the things that worked and didn't work. But it's like, I think it's more useful. If you have your own, please buy the book, you can definitely steal mine. But it's like, and you should, but also build your own. What are the plans? What inspires you? What feels natural to your voice? You know, so it's like, we talk a lot about like this idea in the book of using your real voice, like, what's authentic to you? Like, don't be mean, you know, or don't be you like, Scott, no, you be you, that's what you're doing is like, it's kind of thinking about what's going to feel most right to you.

Scott Anthony Barlow 36:09

Something I wanted to ask you about, it has a little bit to do with the plan, but also something that you said earlier, which is not every conversation needs a plan. Not every conversation really requires that. But you talked about this idea of picking the conversations that you want to commit to. And that's the first time I've heard that idea in that particular way. And you talk about, you know, what types of conversations those even are to define that too. So tell me about, first of all, where the idea of picking the conversations that you want to commit to came from? And then what are those conversations that you should commit to or take the time to, you know, build a plan around or declare is important, or whatever else it might be?

Fred Dust 36:53

That's really interesting, I will tell you, I made it up. And what happened is, I was giving a lecture on the book, because I often have to talk through things to kind of work out what was right for the book. And so again, the lecture was really there was sixties. There was not commitment, which is the number one, which is the first diversity. And so I could tell that every thought the 60s were amazing. And they were like, you know, everybody's got their phones and they're taking... I'm like, working and my lectures are highly visual, and like, whatever they're and they're impromptu. But at the end, somebody asked a question like, "well, what happens when I hate somebody or somebody hates me? Or there's a political divide been so deep that we can't even do it? Or how do you imagine doing this in America today?" And I was like, "Oh, right, somebody should be asking a question." And I was like, I don't have an answer. And I was like, that's when I said you need to commit. Like, it's like, you have to commit to the person and commit to that conversation, and keep your values in check, like hold them back for a little bit. And what's interesting is that applies to almost everything. So it applies to politics, you know, so it's like, I have conversations with people who are very different from me, your Trump or Biden, Biden, voting friends, whatever it is, I'm really a political though I'm not a fan of whatever. But it's like, I love us. I mean, it's just like, it's like, but what I would say is that I'm, I commit, you know, so it's like, I have to talk to a very senior state's person, a former potential president, and early on, like, tell her people in the pandemic know, she's gonna turn on her zoom, she's gonna get on zoom review, and she doesn't want to, right. And so I was here the other day, and there's like a guy bow hunting on our property. And he had the big Trump sticker on his truck, and he's out there with his son bow hunting. And I was like, Oh, I probably don't want to go talk to them. And I was like, wait a sec, if I can go, if I can tell, like a former potential president to turn on their zoom, I can talk to my Hunter. And so are like this Hunter. And so I like went down. I was like, "Hey, what's your name? What's your son's name? It's like, what are you looking for?" And like, it's like, I was like, "maybe in the future, just ask if you're in hunting property, we're totally cool with it. Maybe have some venison." You know, it's like and we had a great conversation. And it was like, it was lovely and loving. I know his name. Like, he knows my name. He knows my husband's name, my son's name. And so that's like, I'm just gonna commit. And that's that takes some bravery. And but it was a good commitment. But what I will say and I think it's actually really applies to a lot of people who you might be talking to, is that people who so often like I ask this on boards a lot, where people are like, I don't really believe in this organization. I don't really believe this organization can make it work. But it's important for me to stay on the board because I'm like the naysayer that helps people kind of realize like what the truth is. And I'm sort of like, Yeah, no, get off the board. And so I want to say that if you happen to be in a company organization where you find yourself being the continuous naysayer, that might be telling you something, it might be telling you that it's not the right organization for you. You might think you're invaluable because of that, but it might be sort of like and that's not...

Scott Anthony Barlow 39:58

That's different than committing to the conversation.

Fred Dust 40:00

That's exactly right.

Scott Anthony Barlow 40:01

That's not... compared to like that, what that means, but it sounds like that's not what you mean when you say that.

Fred Dust 40:07

That's right. And so what I would say is like, an average is like a living book. So commit to the conversation. And if you find that you're... you can't commit, then get out of the conversation, it's going to make a lot better for everybody else. And we'll make it better for you to because then you'll be in one last conversation. So I would say that if you're in an organization where you feel like you're finding yourself in a place where you're like continually grappling with being contrary, you may actually, in fact, be having an issue where you really don't feel committed to what that organization is doing. Or you feel like it's not committed to you, commit until it doesn't, but if it feels unsafe, don't like then, then get out. But if you're a voice of difference, hesitate on getting out because we might need you more, you know, so if like, you find yourself being the only, I don't know, gay man, I'm like gay man on an organization's board. Like maybe don't step off, you know, for that for the moment. I just think we have to be really careful with it's essential. Last thing I'll say Scott, is during the pandemic, if you can't commit, then it's one less meeting for you so awesome. Just like don't go. It's like, if you're not essential to the conversation, don't go. It's like you need more time.

Scott Anthony Barlow 41:15

Next week, we have a special treat coming up for you here at Happen To Your Career, we have a two part series on how to identify and find a cause you care about and make a real impact on the world. You might even say, change the world.

Mackenzie Barlow 41:32

Well, Harriet Tubman was strong, and she was brave. And she had the courage to keep fighting and keep going on her dream to freedom. I think she had the courage to keep going on even when everyone else turned back.

Scott Anthony Barlow 41:52

All that and more right here on Happen To Your Career. We'll see you next week. Until then. I am out. Adios.

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