Everyone I know has some struggle with distraction. We all have challenges in this area. As a team, we tend to have cultural dysfunction when we are not intentional about focus. Today, we look at what gets in the way of attention and causes cultural dysfunction. Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked and Indestructible. Nir shares with me how to increase your focus. We look at this as a way to overcome cultural dysfunction. Nir gives you frameworks and stories that help you control your attention and choose your life.
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Nir Eyal: The Transcript
Target Audience: Nir Eyal is the bestselling author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” and “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.” Nir is also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his past investments include Eventbrite, Anchor.fm (acquired by Spotify) Product Hunt, Pantry, Kahoot!, Refresh.io (acquired by LinkedIn), Happy Bits, Presence Learning, 7 Cups of Tea, and Pana.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
You have probably have not experienced the joy, the utter elation of living a life where you simply do what it is you say you’re going to do. I have I didn’t start experiencing that until I went down this path of research over the past five years writing this book. And let me tell you, it has completely changed my life. I’m in the best shape of my life at age 42. I exercise consistently for the first time in my entire life. I used to be clinically obese. I spend more quality time with my family, my friends, I’m more productive at work than ever before. There is no facet of your life that is not touched by the ability to live with personal integrity and become in distractible.
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [0:55]
Distraction’s a symptom of cultural dysfunction. When I say those words, Does it ring in your ears? Does it resonate? Do you understand what I even mean? being distracted in a normal way of work really keeps you from playing at your fullest level. And if you can’t play at your fullest level when you’re distracted, then your team can’t either. If you tune in to this podcast to get insights about how you can take things to the next level, Well, you’re in luck. Today, we’re going to talk about distraction and what that means inside your leadership, but also your culture. My special guest today is Nir Eyal, he is the author of Indestructible, so great book about how you can understand what distraction is doing to us. The research behind it is very powerful. And the examples within it, like slack and BCG, Boston Consulting Group really are powerful. There are many more examples in there, but we talked about some of those elements today and some of those very specific things you can do as a leader to create a culture That is not distracted or it is in distractible if you will. This conversation is powerful. So don’t tune out. Make sure you stay focused here is near. Before we dive into the interview, I wanted to remind you that you can actually get a tool that I’ve been working with clients with for the last couple of years, I’ve refined this tool has gone through several iterations. Now we have it completely automated, you can actually go online and fill out the leadership quiz. To get the leadership quiz. Just go to theleadershipquiz.com that’s pretty easy, right? theleadershipquiz.com. What you will get when you do that is you will answer a few questions. You will see where you rate based on the core principles of fast-growth companies. If you’re ready to grow your company or you want to see where you are, then make sure you go to the leadership quiz calm inside it you will get insight to where you are, understand where you want to improve and you will get them mapped into the 10 areas that are most specific To fast-growth companies, again, go to theleadershipquiz.com, and you can get that right now.
Gene Hammett [3:05]
Hi Nir, How are you?
Nir Eyal [3:06]
I’m doing great. How are you?
Gene Hammett [3:08]
I am fantastic. It’s been a while since we’ve talked. I wrote an article about you Inc magazine a few months ago. Happy to have you on the show.
Nir Eyal [3:18]
Yeah, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Gene Hammett [3:20]
I know the book is doing well. I always ask every author this one question. So I want to start this with you. Why did this book have to be written?
Nir Eyal [3:29]
This book had to be written because I had to write it. I was struggling with this problem in my own life that, you know, I know, there was one actually seminal moment in my life where I realized I had to reconsider my relationship with distraction, which was a few years ago, I was with my daughter, one afternoon, I had this you know, just time to set aside to just be with her. And I remember that when we were playing together. We had this activity book of things that daddies and daughters could play together with your different activities in this book, make a prayer. Playing, you know, the very you know, tic tac toe all this stuff that you could do with your daughter. And one of the activities in the book was to ask each other this discussion starter this question, and I remember it verbatim. The question was if you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want? And while I can tell you the question word for word, I can’t tell you her answer. Because at that moment, I decided that it was a good time to look at my phone, and whatever was on my phone, distracted me. And my daughter got the message that whatever was on my device was more important than she was. And she left the room. And by the time I looked up and realized what I’d done, she was gone. She was playing with some toys outside. And so that’s when I realized I really had to reconsider my relationship with distraction because it wasn’t just technology, and it wasn’t just with my daughter, I would sit down on my desk and say, Okay, I’m going to focus, I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do, I’m going to not get distracted.
Nir Eyal [4:56]
Here I go, I’m going to get to work. And I’d be putzing around on email instead of a big project, I would say I was going to exercise and yet didn’t make it to the gym. I would say I would eat right, but wouldn’t and so time after time, these things I knew I wanted to do, I didn’t get done. And this is not a problem. I think I faced it alone. I think a lot of people have this problem. And we are struggling to find excuses, as we often do, right. So it used to be you could say, well, I don’t know what to do. Right. I don’t know how to lose weight. I don’t know how to have better relationships with my family and friends. I don’t know how to succeed at my job. With our generation, we don’t have that excuse anymore. Just go into Google, for God’s sakes. It’s all there. Right? Who can honestly say they don’t know the basics of how to lose weight you eat right? That’s all you have to do. It’s not rocket science. We don’t need to buy books that tell us we know. Why don’t we do it? Imagine the power we could all have. I mean, to me, it made my head spin. If I just thought you know what, if I could have any superpower.
Nir Eyal [5:57]
I just want the power to do what it is. I Say I’m going to do what I say I’m going to write right when I say I’m going to work out, when I say I’m going to be fully present, people do that, when I say I’m going to work on that big project, do it. If you can do that, that is the skill of the century as a business leader, as an employee, to kind of as a partner, right as to your spouse, to as a father or mother, to be the kind of person that lives with personal integrity. That’s the kind of person that people want to do business with. It’s the kind of person that people want to love. It’s the kind of person people want to befriend. We love people who have personal integrity, who do what they say they will do. And so I think this is the skill of the century because there’s never been a time where it’s been easier to get distracted if that’s what you’re looking for. And so, that’s what this book is all about how to live with personal integrity, choose your attention and control your life.
Hold on for a second, near just talked about personal integrity. When you really understand that you are the creator of your world. You have alignment with your personal integrity, but the problem is too many times. You will promise yourself that you will do something and you don’t do it, you will promise yourself that you’ll get up early and workout, you’ll promise yourself that you have to spend more time with your employees. And you let something else have more importance over that. Your personal integrity is about how you have this relationship with yourself. And about you actually doing what you say you’re going to do. Nir said it many times in this interview, but I wanted to remind you, if you have the highest personal integrity, the standards that you set, really do guide your leadership, which impacts everyone in the company. Back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [7:36]
I absolutely love that. My story is very similar to you about this. Where did you realize it? It was when my son was about two years old. And I was running a business and I had two cell phones. So I only have one now but I at the time I needed to because of the way the business was running. And he had picked up the cell phones and was had you know two to eight years. And I thought it was cute. And my wife goes, really? Do you think that’s cute? That’s the way he sees you. And that means you’re, you’re showing up not present for him.
Nir Eyal [8:13]
Gene Hammett [8:14]
Right. It caught me off guard. I said You’re right.
Nir Eyal [8:16]
Let me add one more story to the mix. It’s really gonna make your heart bleed here. I had a friend who I told this occasion when I was with my daughter, and I told them what happened. And so he said, Hmm, that’s interesting. I want to ask my daughter what superpower she would want. And so he asked his daughter, what superpower would you want if you could have any superpower? And she said that she would want the power to talk to animals. And he said power talk to animals. Why is that honey? And she said, so that when you and mommy on your computers, I’ll have someone to talk to.
Nir Eyal [8:51]
And that’s it’s so true. It’s not just with our kids. Even if you don’t have kids, you know that this is a problem, right? Unless you’re the kind of person who does everything they say they’re going to do every day that finishes all the things that Their to-do list. You do not, you have probably had not to experience the joy, the utter elation of living a life where you simply do what it is you say you’re going to do I have I didn’t start experiencing that until I went down this path of research over the past five years writing this book. And let me tell you it has completely changed my life. I’m in the best shape of my life at age 42. I exercise consistently for the first time in my entire life. I used to be clinically obese. I spend more quality time with my family, my friends, I’m more productive at work than ever before. There is no facet of your life that is not touched by the ability to live with personal integrity and become indestructible.
Gene Hammett [9:41]
I know I’m gonna champion this again love it because I felt it within my own work. I know my clients feel it. I know that everyone is feeling that pressure of there’s so much stuff going on that they can’t be in distractible, but I know what works for me is when I can do that. So I want to kind of go deeper into this specifically as leaders. Most of the people listening to this Nir, as I’ve already explained, are founder CEOs or leaders within companies that are growing fast. And I want to kind of focus our conversation on how do we as leaders create that space for in distractible culture?
Nir Eyal [10:24]
Yeah. So the best thing you can do to build an indestructible workplace is to become distractible yourself. Yeah. And just like with parenting, right, you can’t be a hypocrite. Children and employees come built-in with hypocrisy detection devices, they have these little antenna that you can’t see that are constantly looking for how you are being a hypocrite. So you can’t tell your kids to stop playing fortnight while you’re checking email. You can’t tell your employees about the importance of focus work stop multitasking, stop checking Facebook, stop watching YouTube, when you’re At a meeting, I can’t tell you how many times you know, I get hired to do these, you know, 10s of thousands of dollar consulting projects. And time after time I go to these meetings, and we sit down around the table. And guess who is the person in the conference room? That’s checking their device? Guess who it is? Is it the intern?
Gene Hammett [11:20]
Yeah. Already in the room.
Nir Eyal [11:21]
It’s not the millennial. It’s not even the Gen X sir. It’s the person who says I’m so important. I must check email all the time. And they don’t realize that doing that it has a secondhand smoke effect. It really is a cancer of productivity, because what you’re doing is you are showing everybody else how to behave. And you’re showing them that you’re a jerk because you’re telling them that your time is much more important to check email right now than everybody else’s time around the table. And it’s always the boss. It’s always the hippo, the highest-paid person that’s who tends to not have gotten the message, that this is inappropriate behavior. So let’s all acknowledge I mean, the research is unequivocal the evidence that we do our best work when we are in a focus state is not even arguable anymore. We all know this because there’s really fundamentally two types of work.
Nir Eyal [12:12]
There’s reactive work and there is reflective work. Reactive work is reacting to the pings and dings, right? It’s attending those meetings, it’s responding to email, phone calls, that’s reactive work. And if you work in a call center, that’s 100% of your job. But if you’re a leader, what the heck are you doing reacting all data things? Right, you need time for reflection. And I don’t know any business leader in any industry that can steer their companies straight by simply reacting to stuff. Because if you don’t have time for reflection, reflection is where the problem solving occurs, where the strategic planning occurs, where we make plans for the future, it has to only happen without interruption. We need that reflective time. And yet so few people up and down the hierarchy, make that time are even capable of knowing how to have that reflective time, they’re constantly reacting to stuff. And that is death for your organization. Because if you don’t make time to work without distraction, you are letting distraction trick you into prioritizing the urgent at the expense of the important. And so none of the important stuff gets done, only the urgent stuff gets done. And then if a crisis strikes, or your competition does something you didn’t expect, or there’s an opportunity that you missed, oh my gosh, you know, that’s when real disasters happen. And so it’s imperative that we set up these types of companies where people can work in an indestructible fashion.
Now hold on, near just talk about reacting to stuff. I talked to leaders all the time, where their common mode of operation is a reaction. They have a list of things that they’re going to do they plan it out, and they react to it. They feel more Like firefighters and they do CEOs, I’m going to tell you if you want to play at the next level, then you’ve got to look at your own schedule, your own way of being. And if you’re reactive by default, you have an opportunity to grow to be more proactive. It’s a term I use within my clients. It’s one of the things I’m really looking at. I have a piece of paper right here on my desk that talks about being proactive. It is something I believe, has served me really well and served a lot of the people I’ve seen that are highly successful to the highest degree. So if you’re reactive, you’ve got to look at your own schedule, and figure out how do you make the transformation to being proactive back to the interview.
Nir Eyal [14:38]
But let’s dive into I think that you know, there are two parts here. So in my book in distractible, there’s two really two parts of the book there’s the four steps that you can take right now to become indestructible yourself that every one of your employees can take to become an industry. It was only four steps to becoming indestructible. We can talk about how to do that in a minute. The second half of indestructible is About this larger context of the environments we are in because environments shape our behavior. So there’s a whole section on how to be an indestructible parent how to raise indestructible kids. There’s a section on how to have indestructible relationships, about friendships, and spousal relationships. And then there’s a section on how to build an indestructible workplace, which I think addresses your question. So let’s dive into that. First, let’s start by understanding what is not the cause of the problem. You see people today.
Nir Eyal [15:27]
Love blaming technology for just about every that technology is doing this to us. Right? That it’s it’s the email’s fault. It’s the iPhone’s fault, it’s Facebook’s fault. It’s slacks fault, that we’re so distracted. And I’m here to tell you that That’s rubbish that in the research I did, talking to dozens of companies, what I found is that there is no correlation between how much technology a company uses and how distracted people are. That in fact, what I found is that in the modern workplace, there are three conditions that Make an indestructible workplace three conditions.
Nir Eyal [16:03]
The first condition is that people have what’s called psychological safety. psychological safety is when we can raise our hands and say, you know, something isn’t right here. Can we talk about this problem that we’re having in the workplace, whether that problem is about how we can service our customers better, whether it’s about a workplace harassment issue, whether it’s about the problem of distraction? And it turns out that companies that don’t provide their employees with psychological safety, this feeling that we can talk about our problems, without fear of getting fired. Those are the companies lo and behold, that have the most distracted workforce because here’s the thing. If you can’t talk about this problem of distraction, your biggest problem is not a distraction.
Nir Eyal [16:46]
Your biggest problem is that you can’t talk about the problem. Right? And let’s let’s remember, prove to you that it’s not technology that’s doing it to us. Let’s say you get a phone call from your boss at nine o’clock at night when you’re sitting down to dinner with your family. Now that boss calls you up and says, Hey, I need you to do this and that at nine o’clock at night. Now, is it the phone’s fault that that happened? Is it the technology? Or is it the boss that works in a company culture that makes that kind of behavior acceptable. So the first criteria of a company that is distractible are that people can talk about this problem. And I profiled two companies in the book.
Nir Eyal [17:24]
One of them is the Boston Consulting Group, which I actually used to work as my first job out of college. And this was about 20 years ago, where the culture in this workplace was horrible, horrible. at a very high employee turnover rate people left including me after my two years, I was out of there was a very difficult work environment. And they completely changed that culture. It started with one case team, they got together a group of eight people, and they wanted to give them the psychological safety to talk about this problem of distraction. And it turned out once they talked about this problem, they actually solved it in no time, right. They didn’t just borrow somebody else’s solution. They just talked, they talked about the problem. And I see this, by the way, with all the time with CEOs, they say, Oh, yeah, distraction is totally a problem, we need to work in a more focused fraction. So let’s all do email free Fridays, or no meeting Wednesdays doesn’t work. It doesn’t work, because that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that you can’t talk about the problem with your employees. So that’s criteria number one, psychological safety.
Nir Eyal [18:20]
The next criteria is a forum to talk about these problems. So at BCG, Boston Consulting Group, the Institute these weekly meetings, which they still do, where every week we get together, and we talk about these types of issues. And what they find is that when they had the opportunity, the forum to talk about these problems, the floodgates opened, they could talk about how we could serve our customers better and how we can, you know, decrease employee turnover and what kind of problems they were facing. And once they opened the floodgate, they could solve all these issues. Another company, by the way, that I profiled in the book is a company that so many people blame on distracting them, which is A company called Slack, right? So a lot of people know slack. It’s the world’s largest group messaging platform. And so everybody says slack is so distracting. It’s constantly pinging and dinging them. And they blame the technology for making them distracted. So I went to slack headquarters, I knocked on their door. And I went to see for myself what this company looks like. And I expected if the technology was the source of all this distraction. Well, nobody uses slack more than slack. And so they should be the most distracted people on earth. But that’s not what I found at all. That in fact, at [6:30], the office was empty, everybody went home.
Nir Eyal [19:36]
And if you use Slack, after hours at Slack, you’re reprimanded, you are not allowed to use it on nights and weekends. That is not what they do there. Because they have established this workplace culture, that prioritizes working without distraction, it is part of who they are. And they’ve given people the channel, believe it, believe it or not, this is so interesting. The channel they use To give people the forum to talk about these problems is actually slack channels. So BCG does it with weekly meetings. At Slack, they do it with a Slack channel where company management will actually use emoji to tell people that their problems have been seen and addressed. They’ll use the eyes emoji to tell employees Yep, we saw that problem or a checkmark to say, okay, we did something about it. And they actually have a Slack channel called beef tweets where it’s all about posting your beef about the company. So having that channel, not just a suggestion box, but a forum to talk about problems is incredibly important. The third criterion and we talked about this a little bit earlier is that management exemplifies what it means to be distractible themselves. Because people emulate what the boss does culture flows downhill like water. And so when I walked in the slack headquarters, here’s what shocked me. When you walk into slack headquarters, you will see at this you know how hard-charging Silicon Valley startup you will see on the wall written in Right pink neon letters, it says, work hard and go home, work hard and go home. It says it on the wall of the company. And the company is killing it. They’re doing great because it is part of their company culture. And they do better because they give people a workplace that enables them to be distractible by giving people psychological safety, a forum to talk about these issues, and management exemplifies what it means to be in distress.
Gene Hammett [21:29]
When you talk about this, it just makes me excited because I know organizations, most of them don’t operate this way. And yet know that I’m on a mission. You’re gonna get a lot, a lot of work to do. That’s right. But there’s some little things they can do like a Slack channel like that’s free. If you’re already using Slack, you probably other tools, but that doesn’t cost money to listen.
Nir Eyal [21:55]
No, none of this costs money. None of this costs money. In fact, it will make you money. We know for a fact that people are more productive. They have a greater sense of well being and lower employee turnover when they are focused when they have the ability to control their environment. Here’s the thing. There has been researching out for over a decade now there are two researchers from Oxford by the name of Stansfield and candy. And they discovered a causal relationship between workplace culture and depression and anxiety disorder. Okay, that there’s a certain type of work that literally causes this is very rare in the social sciences, you see, oftentimes a correlation, but rarely a causal relationship. But in this case, what Stanfield and candy found was that you can actually find a causal link between a certain type of workplace environment and depression anxiety disorder, there’s a certain type of workplace that is literally making us sick. It is driving us crazy, literally. And that type of work environment is one Where you have high expectations and low control? Okay, high expectations of control.
Nir Eyal [23:07]
If you have high expectations and high control, no problem, people rise to the occasion. Okay, so I’m not telling I’m not advising you to work less Let’s all go to France and work a 35 Hour Work Week No if you want to work a lot of hours are you you know, your employees know what they’re going to get when they come and work for you that you’re, you know, you have a demanding type of job and that’s what employees know they’re going to get no problem. But if you give people the kind of work environment they have high expectations and low control, this literally leads to depression, anxiety disorder, and what do people do when they feel depressed when they feel anxious when they feel out of control?
Nir Eyal [23:41]
Do you know what they do? They send more superfluous emails they call more stupid meetings that don’t need to be called they to enter more crap on slack channels that waste everybody’s time so it’s not as bad as if you know I kind of wish people would go on Facebook and just check that for a while. But they don’t many times high performing. People don’t do that and they don’t really realize what they’re doing. Because they don’t feel in control because they feel anxious because they don’t feel like they can actually, you know that they don’t control their environment, right because their environment always wants them all in always want them connected because things feel out of control. Not only do they distract themselves with all this superfluous, unnecessary work, but they also distract everyone else as well. And so we need to get to the root cause of the problem. The root cause of the problem is that distraction is a symptom of cultural dysfunction. Let me say that, again, distraction is a symptom of cultural dysfunction. If you struggle with distraction, your workplace if you feel like you are always on and employees are constantly connected like they’re burning out. This is a bigger problem than you realize because there are all kinds of other stuff that people aren’t telling you because they can’t talk about this problem of distraction.
Nir Eyal [24:50]
I’m writing that down because it’s such a beautiful element, that distraction is a symptom of cultural dysfunction. We’ve been talking about this, this Nate, we set up with the whole why it’s important, and everyone understands it focus is really important. We’ve talked about, you know, technology is not the problem, because everyone wants to blame, you know, we’re on and, you know, the bangs and the emails and the slacks and the text and everything like that. So that’s not the problem. But the real issue is, you know, US leaders, really understanding what’s going on. And I think you laid out a very well researched thesis here, but I’m going to recommend to the audience, I don’t say this much, but go buy this book. I’ve read it. It’s powerful. It really is a great way for you to look at your own distraction. And that’s where you start first. Anything you want to add to that here. Well, thank you. I appreciate that ringing endorsement. And I think this is really a problem that we can do something about and I think as leaders, it’s really up to us. I mean, this is how we start to not only change our work life, our families This is how we change the world. I mean, this is going to happen.
Nir Eyal [26:03]
You know, it’s kind of like with smoking. You know, I remember when I was a kid, I was born in the 1970s. But I grew up in the 80s. I clearly remember most of the 80s. And I remember in the early 80s, we used to have ashtrays in our house, right in our living room. My parents didn’t smoke, and yet we had ashtrays in the living room. Why did that happen? Why was that the case? Because back then, when people came to your house, they just expect it to smoke. They just expect it to light up in your living room. Can you imagine someone came to your house and lit up a cigarette in your living room? No, that would be unimaginable, right? That would be incredibly rude. But what changed? Was it some regulation that said we can’t smoke in someone’s private residence? No, there’s never been such a law. What changed is that people stood up like my mom, and took away the ashtrays one day and when someone lit up a cigarette in her living room, she said, Oh, I’m sorry. We are nonsmokers. Right?
Nir Eyal [26:53]
If you wouldn’t want to smoke, that’s no problem. Please go outside. And at the time, this was so rude, right? This was unthinkable to me. Ask someone to go outside to smoke. Of course, now it’s commonplace, it would be rude to do otherwise. And so that’s what’s happening to society today when it comes to our distraction. We’re just now starting to realize that we have to spread what we call social antibodies, that when societies have these harmful behaviors, we need to inoculate each other from these rude behaviors by calling each other out. And so what I’m looking for is to start this movement of people who say, look, I am in distractible, I control my attention. I control my time I control my life. And those anyone else who’s not in distractible, this is what’s going to happen. You’re gonna have a bifurcation of people who let their time and attention in their life be controlled by others. And people who say Nope, I control my time and attention in my life. I am distracted. Well, powerful work.
Gene Hammett [27:50]
I love the research. I love the simplicity that you’ve brought it down to you make it look easy. I know it’s a lot of work to write books like this. So thank you for being here on the show.
Nir Eyal [28:00]
My pleasure, thank you so much.
Gene Hammett [28:02]
Now you have context, you don’t want to have a business that is filled with people that are unfocused or distracted. You want to have your leadership focused on the distraction that’s going on in the business. You want to be proactive about making some changes so that you create everything that near talked about creating psychological safety, creating a forum for people to talk about the things that are going on so that they can remove that distraction, and so that management and leadership can understand and tune in to a great example of what we must do, and how we must operate as leaders if we want our businesses to go to the next level. Now, if you are a leader that’s challenged with your own growth, there’s something that you can’t put your finger on. I’d love to have a conversation with you. This is what I do. I talk with founders and CEOs of fast-growth companies. I help them create teams that are growing, have that sense of ownership, and really help those leaders go beyond what they think is possible. If you have any questions Make sure you reach out to me [email protected] as always leave with courage. We’ll see you next time.
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