Dr Jason Fox is sailing the high seas, making CLEVER happen. Here, he shares why EFFICIENCY isn’t actually a good thing, the danger of default THINKING, and the TRUTH about doubt.
For a guy who was in the midst of completing his PhD in motivation science, losing three months in the throes of an online roleplaying computer game might not exactly have been the best look. But focusing all his attention on World of Warcraft turned out to be the best thing for Jason Fox.
Back then he was lecturing at three universities, teaching people how to stay motivated – and yet, instead of beating himself up over falling prey to the aforementioned significant distraction, he looked at why it happened.
“I got really curious as to the sophisticated psychological design behind video games and how we could extract those lessons and combine it with other elements to make more meaningful progress for real work,” recalls Jason, who shifted his focus and wrote his bestselling first book, The Game Changer: How to Use the Science of Motivation With the Power of Game Design to Shift Behaviour, Shape Culture and Make Clever Happen, as a result.
If it was a computer game that set Jason on his path, it was a technical glitch that cemented it. After publishing his book in 2014, Jason was booked to do a keynote speech in front of his then largest audience yet when, labouring over his slides, he was completely thrown when the projector wouldn’t work and he had to improvise.
“That was probably the moment where I more tapped in to my own thoughts, rather than relying on the slides as a bit of a default. I found it incredibly freeing,” he says. Until then he’d been “that” motivational speaker because he “thought that’s what you had to do.” Turns out, it isn’t.
“Personally, as a raging introvert, I find the world of motivational speaking is often so extroverted and fraught with alpha males talking about big, hairy, audacious goals. A lot of my work is looking at, ‘How do we tap into the benefit of self-doubt and how do we make progress without setting clear goals and without having clear conviction? How do we take an approach that’s much more meandering and embracing the fuzzy sense of where we’re going, rather than a clear sense of where we’re going?’ Jason has learnt to capitalise on his introverted nature by scheduling catch-ups in advance with people he wants to connect with, focusing more on one-on-one conversations and building plenty of time to recharge into his schedule. In a world of ‘just do it’, here’s a guy who espouses the hidden benefits of doubt. As a result, Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Pepsi Co, McDonald’s and a swathe of others regularly hire Jason to speak to their staff.
“I work particularly in the space of companies that are looking to progress through uncharted territory. You’re looking at leadership development where you can’t set a specific goal. You can’t just follow work that’s been done before and increase performance on past results. You’re looking to do something that’s completely new. The zero-to-one stuff,” explains Jason.
“One of the first things I help businesses see is where default thinking is getting in the way of meaningful progress.” >
“I refer to this as the Curse of Efficiency. We become so good at finding these time-saving efficiencies that it actually robs us of the ability to think deeper, to think more thoroughly, to build in space for curiosity and empathy. What happens instead is we have a whole heap of templates and defaults that we refer to that save us time and are a lot easier – we don’t have to think as much – but in the process bring us closer to irrelevance.
“A great example of this is someone who builds a highly automated email campaign for new clients and invests time to get all the efficiencies sorted out and has this goal of being able to set and forget. And so you have these efficiencies established but because you’re not thinking about it actively any more, you’re possibly losing empathy with what the client’s needs are. And you’re not actually pioneering any more; you’re stagnating or at least being complacent in the work that’s already being done. And that can lead you closer to irrelevance if you’re not careful.”
As Australia’s 2016 Keynote Speaker of the Year, Jason is often booked more than a year in advance. And though it’s a principal he has long held, he recently became part of an initiative to boycott all-male panels.
“People have been congratulating me about the panel pledge thing, which we’ve been doing for a while anyway,” muses Jason. “But it feels to me like being congratulated for not being a short-sighted, ignorant person. It’s just ridiculous to run a panel session where there is no diversity. The quality of thinking goes down, it’s just an absolute anathema to meaningful progress.”
It’s clear there’s a lot of thought and research behind everything Jason does; even down to the clothes he wears. This is a man obsessed with timeless fashion items: think pocket squares, waistcoats, etched leather Alexander McQueen shoes. Yes, he cuts a dapper figure, but it’s not just because he’s partial to the odd three-piece suit. He cites a psychology paper that talks about a concept called enclothed cognition, and how “the clothes you wear influence your thinking and how you interact with people.”
And once you think about it, it ties in nicely with Jason’s bigger-picture philosophy (including the wonderful illustrations in his latest book).
“In my world I’m dealing a lot with the future and these emerging technologies. My branding could easily be really futuristic; all digital and lots of blues and technology based. But I like the Renaissance thinking. The Leonardo da Vinci-style thinking. That curiosity. That wonder. The kind of old-school science where we’re asking big questions about the universe and our role and the meaning of life. That spirit is what I try to bring in to the very modern context of the future of work.”
One of the FIRST things I help businesses see is where default THINKING is getting in the way of MEANINGFUL progress.