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.

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