[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than a million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode we discuss the groundbreaking research behind the ancient molecule that fuels peak performance, the foundations of the neuro-economics, how our brains react during social interactions. We examine how our brains are designed to connect and build to work cooperatively. We dig into the power of oxytocin and how you can increase it in your life, and much more with Dr. Paul Zak.
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In our previous episode, we discussed how to use mind control techniques to create any habit you want. Why we’re driven much more by pain than pleasure. We looked at the Hook Model for describing human behavior, talked about how to hack your reward to change your behavior, and the power of tiny amounts of friction and much more with our guest, Nir Eyal. If you want to hack your behavior to make or break any habit, listen to that episode.
[0:02:30.8] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show; Dr. Paul Zak. Paul is the founding director of the Center for Neuroecoomics Studies and a professor of economics, psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University. He was also among the team of scientists who are the first to use brain imaging to identify the role of oxytocin as they key driver of trust, love and morality that distinguishes our humanity. Paul is the author of the new book Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performance Companies and has appeared on ABC World News, CNN, Fox Business and more.
Paul, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:04.4] PZ: Matt Bodnar, great to be on with you.
[0:03:06.5] MB: We’re super excited to have you on today. For listeners who may not be familiar with you and your background, I’d love to go back and start with kind of your story and some of the early experiments that you did that really uncovered the power and the role of oxytocin.
[0:03:22.5] PZ: Sure. I’m a very confused person. I have spent both the economics and neuroscience in both my training and my research help start this field called neuro-economics that we could talk about a bit.
Anyway, one of the kind of deep questions that I’ve been studying for almost 20 years now is the role of interpersonal trust in explaining why countries perform better, why companies perform better, why individuals have more friends, are happier. As part of this quest, I was looking for a signal on the brain that would tell us essentially why we can live around strangers all the time. If we think of our closest genetic relatives; chimpanzees, they don’t like other members of their species they don’t know.
I just came back to Atlanta a couple of days and I spent six hours on a metal tube with 150 other humans being dowsed around. You put chimpanzees on a metal tube, don’t even bounce them, put them in a metal tube and you see fur and blood to be all over the floor. How do we do that? How do we get a sense that you met wonderful human being, fun to hang out with you and your producer are often clearly a sketchy dude, don’t want to be around him. We have to have something in our heads that say, “Matt is safe. Austin, not so much.” Otherwise we can’t live in New York City or any big place we don’t know people all the time.
Basically, the punch line is the secret to my success has been to read research and animals and figure out a way to apply that to human. We began running experiments in which we could have people share money with each other, and that money would grow if they shared it, but then they would lose control over it. Animals have been shown that when an animal encounters another member of a specie that it recognizes, usually by smell, think of this in a burrow. I ran into Matt in a burrow and I sniff and I can say, “Oh, that’s Matt. I know him. He’s awesome.” And so my brain makes this chemical oxytocin and it motivates me to affiliate with you so we can — I’d love to stay warm, we can protect each other, we can hangout, we can dig in the burrow, whatever we’re doing. Then if I smell an Austin coming in, then I’m like, “Oh, no! Fear response, aggression. I’ve got to battle this guy.”
It turns out that the same signal works in humans. In fact, it works in overdrive in humans that when someone intentionally trusts us or more generally shows us a kindness, our brain make this chemical, oxytocin, and it motivates us to invest effort into helping that person.
If you think about this from an evolutionary perspective, the cost and benefit of being around strangers are not always clear. The cost of being around a stranger is that person might hurt me, might steal from me, could be dangerous, but the benefit is that I might find a project to do with him or her or I might be romantically attracted to that person or I might have that person join my circle of friends.
Our brains are constantly balancing the benefits that come with building more social relationships with a cost of having the wrong person or people in those relationships. Oxytocin seems to be a key part of that signaling mechanism in the brain.
[0:06:43.4] MB: I love the focus on looking at the animal kingdom and trying to understand how do these parallels play out in human behavior. One of the things that we talk about all the time on the show is how evolution has shaped the human brain, and it’s done a lot of good but it’s also baked in these cognitive biases and traps that we fall into. Tell me a little bit more about how that drove your research.
[0:07:11.0] PZ: Yeah, I guess the major focus of my research in the last 20 years has been — I’ll just tell you that in a second, but I just had this socialization for talent development big HR meeting in Atlanta and I gave a keynote there and I started out by saying, “None of us will be ever out of a job, because the humans are complicated.”
My talk was about how to understand some of that complication. By complicated I mean that if we run an experiment and we have people do a particular task and you put 20 people doing that task, you’ll get 15 different brain responses, not just behaviors, but brain response.
As you sort of suggested, Matt, the selection pressure for higher cognitive abilities evolutionary has been very weak and so we see high variation in how people respond to different environments, and those manifest as cognitive biases, the use of heuristics. Our brains live in this super chemicals none of which we’re aware of consciously.
A lot of the work we’ve done changes that chemical soup and then we can map out how that changes responses to a particular choice, and I do think choice is an interesting place to focus on because eventually all the information you take in — Not all of it, but a lot of it, boils down to doing something with it, which ends up being a choice. Much of my work has focused on where that variation in decisions comes from, and there are sort of trivial variations, male, female, young, old. There are also super interesting weird variations like I test you, Matt, today, and then I test you a week later to do the same thing and your brain and your behavior are totally different. I want to know why that’s the case.
[0:09:05.3] MB: I think that’s another really important point, which is that this chemical soup as you called it or super chemicals is something that’s taking place in our brains that we are not consciously aware of.
[0:09:16.4] PZ: Yet because our brains produce language, there’s this expectation that we have kind of insight into the brains inter-workings. In fact, what [inaudible 0:09:27.7] we always ask people, “Why do you do this? Do you think this was an interesting choice?” The whole reason we started measuring brain activity, honestly, was because people’s modal response to most experiment stimuli was, “Oh, I don’t know why I did this.”
It’s pretty hard to build a theory of human behavior on I don’t know. Other than that it’s like having you eat a hamburger and saying — Asking your liver how it’s processing that beef. Your liver can’t tell you. Honestly, your brain can’t really tell you. I can force you to say something to me, because I know you can create some language. It doesn’t mean it has any insight into what is going on.
Most of what your brain does, perhaps 99%, is in fact unconscious, and there’s a good reason for that that we could talk about. We’re not just aware of what we’re doing, and that’s okay. It just means that people are complicated.
[0:10:21.0] MB: Let’s bring this back. Tell me about — You mentioned some of the early experiments that you did with trust and with money, what were the results of that and what did that teach you about Oxytocin?
[0:10:33.1] PZ: Right. In humans prior to the experiments we started running around 2002, the brain was only known to make oxytocin when humans gave birth, breastfed or had sex. All three of those activities are way too messy for me to run in my lab. I don’t want to get involved.
Based on the animal literature, we thought that if someone intentionally trusts you, your brain would produce oxytocin, maybe, and maybe that oxytocin would impact your behavior. In fact, that’s we found. We found that the more someone intentionally trusts you with money, but with other stuff we show subsequently, the more your brain produce oxytocin, which is a very rapid signal in the brain. It has about a three-minute half life, so it’s like a quick on and off switch. It says, “Oh, this guy is cool. He wants to play nice. I’ll make this chemical.” And oxytocin predicted how much money people would reciprocate to someone who trusted them.
It’s not only that we respond to positive overtures from strangers. It’s that this chemical motivates us to engage with them in a cooperative way. I think of oxytocin as the biological basis for the golden rule. If you play nice with me, most of the time I’m going to play nice with you. Of course, most of the time is where the rubber hits the road. We spent about 10 years classifying the factors that inhibit or promote oxytocin release, and we really, really know this, because we also developed a way to shoot synthetic oxytocin into living human brains safely, and in that case we can erratically increase the amount of trust, generosity, cooperation that people have.
[0:12:09.0] MB: Tell me about some of these factors that inhibit or promote oxytocin release.
[0:12:13.4] PZ: Let’s talk about your producer, Austin. Why is he a sketchy guy? Because he’s a young alpha male. I’m looking at his picture right now. Look at that guy. He’s a specimen. He’s got a very high testosterone, and testosterone has been shown to inhibit oxytocin synthesis. Indeed, when we run experiments, when we give men synthetic oxytocin, we create a bunch of Austins, and sure enough they are more self-focused. They are more entitled. They demand more from others. They offer less to others. It’s all about them.
I can tell you a nice evolutionary story on why between 15 to 25, young male should be aggressive and think only about themselves, but nonetheless that’s the factor. You have pretty reliable markers for testosterone levels, hairiness, deep voice, long chin, but we don’t know second to second how much testosterone is in our system, because like every other neuro-chemical system in the body, it’s adapting second by second to help us survive or reproduce.
Other factors we find in women, estrogen levels which vary twice over the course of a month over a women’s menstrual cycle. Estrogen increases the uptake of oxytocin. For listeners who are female or who have girlfriends or wives, when you go to the movies with them and every once in a while for seemingly no reason they cry at the Bambi movie, they could be that they’re just more sensitive to oxytocin, which increases our sense of empathy and caring, and that may be driven by changes in estrogen levels. Progesterone, which increases when women are ovulating or pregnant, inhibits the action of oxytocin. High stress inhibits oxytocin release.
Again, normally, I maybe want to affiliate and meet with Matt and hangout, but if I’m under high stress, then I’m in survival mode and I’m less interested in hanging out with new people and more interested in getting to the next 10 minutes. Anyway, whole variety of factors that we’ve been able to characterize, affect the way we are. Again, I may run into you down the street, Matt, and not know that you’re super stressed out and you treat me like a jerk and I say, “Oh! Matt’s a real jerk,” and what I didn’t know was that your dog just died or you just got in a car accident or something stressful really happened to you and you’re just having a bad day.
I think for listeners, the punch line I’ve learned for doing this for 20 years is that not only are people are complicated, but it’s important to have a lot of acceptance for the degree of complication that the people around also aren’t even aware they’re giving off. We’re complicated and we’re unaware that we’re complicated. I think the only way to go through life is just to be accepting and just to say, “Hey, it’s not that Matt is a bad guy. He might have just had a bad day or a bad week, and that’s okay. I don’t want to rule him out from ever interacting with him. There’re maybe a lot of good things that I could do with Matt.” So I become much more accepting and tolerant of people around me. How about that?
[0:15:23.5] MB: If I’m somebody that cries all the time at a movie, does that mean that I have a higher sensitivity to oxytocin or that I have higher sort of natural oxytocin levels?
[0:15:33.1] PZ: Yeah. Oxytocin, it’s a really on-off switch, so it’s not a level of response. It’s a change from baseline. I’ll tell you something embarrassing about myself. I’m going to answer that question with a story. We’ve done a lot of work on persuasion and storytelling, and I know you’ve worked a lot in marketing, Matt, so we could talk about that.
We started doing this work because I was on an airplane coming home from Washington, D.C., and my kids were little — I have two little girls, and I was tired and I couldn’t work, because it was turbulent. So I was watching The Million Dollar Baby, this Clint Eastwood movie, which I had never seen, and it’s a father-daughter story, has a very sad ending. The next thing I know, the guy next to me on the plane is poking me saying, “Sir, do you need some help. Is something wrong with you?” Not only was I crying, like every orifice in my face was shooting out goo. It was really embarrassing.
When I got back to my lab, I mentioned that to some of the people I worked with, and I said, “You know, I was cognitively attacked. Maybe I was a little tired or lonely, but I knew I where I was. I knew this is a fictional story and yet I was so absorbed in that story that I couldn’t help but cry at the movies.” It turns out, since I had children, I become much more of a movie crier, and there’s a reason for that. As you age, your testosterone goes down, so the relative effect of oxytocin goes up. When you commit a relationship, your testosterone falls. When you have children, your testosterone falls. I don’t have data for this, but in my personal experience, if you have girl children, you pick out little dresses everyday of your life, your testosterone goes to zero. You become a big girly man.
Again, there’s probably a good adaptive story evolutionary and why that’s the case. For the guys listening, if you’re in a relationship or have children or have girl children, don’t worry, all of us men have this high octane version of testosterone, which has the initials DHT. It has a long name behind it. DHT, you can turn on in a second. I’m making a joke, because I’m 6”4’, 205 , I’m not a girly man, but I am very sensitive now because I have kids. I wasn’t before I had kids. If you want to mix it up with me, I’m happy to do that. I can turn on the DHT like nobody’s business. Anyway, I’m kind of making jokes here.
It does mean that our brains are helping us adapt to the environment we’re in, and the part of that is the social environment. Again, if you’re around children, if you’re around women and you need to be more sensitive, a lot more oxytocin and less sort of testosterone-driven, your brain will adapt to that. These systems are very adaptive even in adults, and so the more able you are to connect to people, the more you release oxytocin, the more you are in tune with the emotional state of people around you, which is also a very effective tool to have.
I don’t know about you guys who are young, Matt and Austin, but when I was — Under 30, I couldn’t tell you the emotion of anybody around me. I didn’t really care. I was just like driving a thousand miles an hour in everything that I did. Now, I’m much more socially aware and I think that I’m a better social creature to people around me. Anyway, it’s a kill you can develop. If a big stupid jock like me can do it, then you guys can certainly can do it.
[0:18:46.7] MB: I think you’re maybe the first guest to challenge the listeners to a fight, which I think is pretty funny.
[0:18:52.7] PZ: I’m ready, man. Come on! I like, Matt, that you talk in your blog about performance. I think one of the most interesting things — I’m cutting you off. I’m sorry. I love high performance. I think that’s — The current work I’m doing is really focusing on how do we get people in groups to perform at their highest levels? I think it’s a really interesting and hard problem. I don’t know if you want to go there, but maybe that’s the pitch for why I’m still a — Like all of us who are men. We’re still kind of like 18-year-old doofusses, because we just want to do super cool stuff all the time, right? Let’s be honest.
Women too, and a lot of women are really high performers. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be sexist there, but I don’t know. I can’t think of anything more interesting than knocking a baseball out of a park or jumping out of an airplane. I don’t know. I just love that stuff.
[0:19:42.8] MB: I definitely want to dig into that. Before we do, I want to dig out a little bit more about oxytocin. Tell me what are some things — You mentioned kind of dosing people with oxytocin in your lab. What are some ways we can naturally increase our oxytocin levels. Is that something you would recommend, or would you even recommend potentially trying to take oxytocin?
[0:20:03.5] PZ: On the later, it’s a no. Oxytocin is a prescription drug. You cannot get it without a prescription from a physician. There are homeopathic versions sold on the internet, which are of course are just bogus. Don’t waste your money buying Liquid Trust or some other company that claims that there’s one part per bazillion of oxytocin. There’s nothing in there that have an effect.
In fact, when we do experiments, we’d put about two teaspoons of oxytocin up your nose to get into your brain. It turns out the nose is a good portal to the brain for physiologic reasons. Two teaspoons of fluid up your nose is not really pleasant. Yeah. Really for research only. There have been a number of clinical trials that have looked at Oxytocin infusion for things like autism, schizophrenia and basically the effects are really, really mild, because the larger brain system that oxytocin activates is just regulated or damaged in these patients.
Taking oxytocin, not a good idea, but training yourself, training your brain to release more of it, probably a good idea, because it will make you a better social creature, it will make you more empathic to people around you, which means you can read the key source of information, which is their emotional state.
Again, when I was 18 or 30 or something, I wasn’t really good at reading people’s emotional states and I ran over people a lot. As you can tell, I talk fast, I have high energy, I move fast, and a lot of people, that’s not an effective to interact with them. Now that I’m a little older, and this saying in psychology that all research is me search, so maybe I had issues and that’s why I studied this chemical that makes us better social creatures.
Now, I’m much more in tune with people around me — How they’re responding to me, how they are responding to the environment. I’ve trained myself to release more oxytocin, and I know that because I do a lot of experiments on myself, because I have a lab.
Some things you can do are — Gosh! There’s so many that we’ve shown experimentally. One of my favorites is called listening with your eyes. I’m actually looking at your picture, Matt, even though we’re only on audio. When I’m talking, I’m actually making eye contact with you. Next time you’re with some friends or with your romantic partner, if you put down your phone, there are no screens in front of you and you gave that person in front of you your full attention. If you listen with your eyes, you’re giving this person the gift of being fully present in that conversation, and we’ve shown that when you do this, release oxytocin, that person becomes more in tune with you.
Dogs actually do this to us. Dogs make eye gaze and cause our brains to make oxytocin. Other things you can do include things like touch. If people have ever seen my TED Talk, at the end of that I gave a person, the audience a hug. I got outed as a hugger, and now I just hug everybody. I go into a business meeting and if people want to shake hands, I say, “Hey, I hug everybody. I’m a connection guy.”
Boy! People’s faces light up and all of the sudden I’ve got a ton of information from you. It’s almost an evil trick for listeners. If you hug somebody, you get smell information, you get touch information, you’ve invaded their space for 10 seconds or whatever, 5 seconds. It’s a great way to accelerate the connection that you’re trying to build somebody. What I do is I pre-announce. I just say I hug everybody.
Maybe 1% of humans I’ve interacted with in the last seven years were refused a hug, because they’re socially anxious or they’re super old or whatever, but everybody else is happy to get a hug. Yeah, touch, really important.
Sharing a meal, actually eating with another person will release oxytocin. There are tons of things. I will go through more, but I certainly have a top 20 list I can go through.
[0:23:51.7] MB: No, I think those are some great resources. I love the evil trick of hugging people. I’ve even heard something sort of similar on a scaled on version, which is that you should never fist bump, you should always do a hand shake, because a handshake releases more oxytocin for both people and kind of forms a deeper connection.
[0:24:08.3] PZ: I don’t think that’s even proved, but presumably. If you’re shaking my hand, I’m going to do a two hand and I’m going to pull you in anyways. Here’s the thing. It seems weird in a way like, “Oh, that’s just a funky, weird dude in California.” In fact, our brains are designed to connect. We want to be connected. We’re really open to touch.
Like when you play sports when you’re younger, I think the only place you can hit a guy in the butt and not get punched in the face is on a sports field, right? There’s a sense of teamwork that goes into — Or team building that goes into touch. I want to just accelerate that process because, again, I’m interested in high performance and anything I can do, any hack I can use to get the people’s brains around me to connect better to me, it means we’re going to form a more effective team.
[0:25:00.4] MB: Let’s dig into that now. Tell me what has your research uncovered around how we can build more high performance teams.
[0:25:07.7] PZ: Yeah, the short back story on that, Matt, was that, as you know, we got kind of fair amount of media attention around this work on trust and oxytocin because it was brand new. No one had shown this before. We’ve got protocols to measure oxytocin in humans and, as I said, infuse into the brains.
Eventually, companies started coming to my lab saying, “Hey, we think trust is important in our organization. Could you tell us how to build trust?” My first response, because I’m a nerd, was, “Yeah, we have this protocol. I can draw blood from your employees and I’ll measure their oxytocin,” and these executive’s faces turned white, they’re like, “There’s no way you can take blood from our employees.” Then I started thinking, “Gosh! If I’m such an expert on trust, how come I can’t advice companies on what they can do to build trust?”
We started running experiments in my lab on teams. We eventually got permission to actually go in and take blood from companies like Zapos and Herman Miller and measure brain activity and measure productivity, innovation. We really got objective data on the conditions within organizations that allowed them to build trust, and we showed that high trust organization perform better using multiple measures. Then we went back and developed a tool and actually spun out a company called Ofactor so that companies can measure and manage their culture for high trust and high performance. Now we have a survey that identifies or both measures organizational trust and identifies these eight key building blocks that leaders can influence that create higher trust.
The sort of punch line of that work is once I can measure trust within your organization, then you can manage it for high performance. If you can’t measure, you can’t manage. Because humans create culture whenever you put them in groups, if leaders on organizations don’t manage their cultures, those cultures are going to manage them.
The humans are going to work out norms of behavior, and either you can let them go and just figure whatever it is it is, or you can manage that culture for high performance in a consistent way using the way our brains respond to each other.
I think thinking about people that work as brains at work, embodied brains, in which our brains are built to work cooperatively, I want to use neuroscience again to optimize how I’m deploying resources and getting the most out of these individuals. It turns out that people want to perform in high levels, almost everybody, and if you put them in situation in which they can’t perform which they have the freedom to execute as they see fit when they get a lot of coaching so they can hit performance goals and then are recognized when they achieve those goals, people dig it and they perform better, they stay at their jobs longer, they’re happier, they’re healthier. That’s the work I’ve done in the last 8 years or so, and it’s fun for me because I get to work at scale now.
The clinical work we’ve done is really exciting. It’s great to help patients, and it’s very rewarding, but if we go into a company and we change the work life for the better for 10,000 people or 20,000 people, that’s super exciting to me.
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[0:29:48.0] MB: I love that point that our brains are designed to connect with each other and they’re built naturally to work cooperatively.
[0:29:55.6] PZ: Yeah, and if we don’t inhibit that, it will happen. The question is it doesn’t happen in a way that is sustaining. It think if you remember like econ 101, we were sold this bill of goods from — I don’t know, like the 19th century or something that work provides this utility. The reason you have to pay for them at work, is because work sucks so much. But I know, Matt, that you dig what you do. I can tell, because I read your bio and we chatted beforehand.
We’re recoding to Memorial Day. I’m all about doing cool stuff. I don’t care if it’s Memorial Day. I want to talk to you. I think it’s awesome. Why am I “working” on a holiday? Because it’s not work for me. It’s the coolest thing on the planet to measure brain activity, for me, to measure brain activity and use that to solve real problems that humans have.
Yeah, if you understand that we’re set up to work in teams or we’ve done this for eons, don’t screw it up. Try to create an environment where people can really deploy that passion, that energy in an effective way.
By the way, in my new book Trust Factor, as you mentioned, there’s a ton of ton of Peter Drucker in there. I was on a faculty with Peter Drucker at Claremont Graduate University for 10 years before he passed away, and Peter really influenced me, and Peter was all over this stuff, like in the 50s and 60s. It’s really about empowering the humans within an organization to be their best selves in groups, to get them stretch goals, to challenge them, go give them a chance to grow.
There’s a ton of Drucker in the book as well and it’s just super practical. Every chapter ends with — In homage to Peter Drucker who famously said, “Don’t tell me what a great meeting you had. Tell me what you’re going to do differently on Monday.”
I have a Monday morning list after every chapter. There’s a list of five things to do on Monday, and I say these are all experiments. No one knows for sure if these principles, even though they’ve been worked out in lots of different companies. They worked on my laboratory. If they work in any particular organization, because every organization had its own little weird quirks. They’re just experiments, and if you pitch it to people you work with and say, “You know what? I read this book.” We think it’s going to be awesome if we move to a four 10 hours a day instead of five eight-hour days. We’re going to try it for six months and see what you guys think and you give us feedback. If that helps marshal your energy so that you can do your other crap you need to do on a Friday or whenever and not take up a work, I want you to be all in.
For example, I talk about this in the book, the importance of sleep is just really been shown clearly from a neurologic perspective. In a bunch of companies, you use something called firm 40. That is office opens at 8. At 5:05 the parking lot should be empty. I want you to be full bore for eight hours and then get the hell out and take a rest, see your family, go recreate, whatever you want to do, versus places I’ve worked, for example, where the boss is late for 8 p.m. Yeah, you screw around during the day, because you know you’re working a 12-hour day and you got to — Whatever, get your laundry or go on Facebook or whatever people do at work.
I want people to be in 100% or as close to 100% as like Dan, and culture is a way to do that, to set up these normal norms where people are challenged and can respond with their best selves.
[0:33:17.6] MB: There was a recent HBR article that talked about — I think it was something about how people who worked more than 40 hours a week actually started at some point to become less productive than people who just worked 40 hours, which I thought was really interesting.
I also love your perspective as viewing everything as an experiment and just trying it out. I think that’s a great framework for implementing any change in your life and especially it changes in business, but I think that’s a really insightful way to view all of these potential strategies.
[0:33:48.7] PZ: I think so, and I think if you’re honest with people that you work with — By the way, I don’t like the word worker or employee, I never that use that — Colleague or teammate. If you talk to your colleagues and say, “Hey, you know, we did this survey and we found that the culture isn’t as good as we like it to be, and we’re going to try a couple of new things for six months or 12 months as an experiment, but I think it’s going to be awesome for you guys. If it’s not, look, we’ll try something else. We just want to make your time here as engaging and as valuable to you as possible. If it’s valuable to you, it’s going to improve the performance of the company.”
I have to suppress the name of this company, but we did a kickoff of a — Once you have the data, you can intervene. We’ve created culture interventions for companies to use and I did a kickoff at a company recently, and I was talking to the employees and I said, “Look, you may not think this is going to make your work-life better, but please give it a try. You’re going to get some little animated videos, we’re going to ask you some questions, we’re going to do this for 60 days, which is what about it takes to change a habit.
It’s basically a habit change. It changes the way you interact with people at work. Guess what? If you actually try to change your behavior, it will improve your home life as well, because all these behaviors are good for all the humans around you. If you want to be happier at home, if you want your relationship, romantic relationship to be better, if you want your kids to be performing better and your workmates to be a more effective teammates to you, here are some behaviors you can do to make that happen.
It’s got to be like a win-win space, right? If it’s like so many times at work, right? You know there’s some issue, they have to change something and employees get it right away. You want to pay me the same and get me to work harder. Doesn’t sound like a good win for anybody, but if we’re in this world in which labor does not provide this utility and which I have an integration with my work and life. I’m working from home, I’m working remotely, I’m doing stuff I think is super cool, I get choice over the kind of assignments I take. Then you can — If I’m a good leader, I can help to focus your energy and passion on stuff that you really enjoy doing. If you do that with a group of people that you rely on, that you could trust — Boom! Then you’re in high gear and it’s super exciting.
[0:36:09.0] MB: Let’s dig in a little bit. I want to hear some of these building blocks. Tell me about the various different building blocks that you specifically recommend to kind of integrate trust into and help develop high performance.
[0:36:21.9] PZ: Right. I’d be happy to. Somehow, Matt, as you know, magically they spell out the acronym OXYTOCIN. I don’t know how that happened, but I’ll list them and then I‘ll just discuss one or two briefly. The OXYTOCIN acronym stands for ovation, expectation, yield, transfer, openness, caring, invest and natural.
Really quickly, ovation is recognizing the higher performance. Yield is crowd sourcing processes by delegating responsibility. I left out the E, sorry. The X is for expectation, which is designing challenges for people at work. The T is for transfer, which is enabling self-management. O is for openness, which is reducing stress by being clear about what the company is doing and why. C is for caring, which is intentionally building relationships with people at work. The I is for invest, which is helping colleagues grow personally and professionally, and the last letter, N, is for natural, which is being your authentic self at work and including being vulnerable.
Some of these things, people have happen to cross, because we’ve tried everything at work for the last 500 years, but what I like is that the neuroscience, my lab has done and other labs have done, show you how to implement these culture changes to get the biggest impact on branded behavior. Let’s take the first one, ovation. Recognizing high performance. Hey, that’s not new. Yeah. But what’s the science say about this?
Recognition comes from peers when it’s close to when the goal is met, when it’s unexpected, when it’s tangible, when it’s public. All those things are reinforced the importance of achieving high performance within this community that we call work. When my community members go, “Matt! You killed it. You worked on this project for three months. Your team was just killing it. You thrilled the client. You hit these milestones, under budget, on time. Everybody is thrilled. We as a community want to recognize you, so we’re going to give your whole team a trip to Disney World. You guys are going to take three days off. We’re going to send you down to Orlando. Knock yourselves out. You just killed it an we’re thrilled to have you be part of our team.”
Because the number of high performance in the world is in fact limited, I want the best people not only at my work, but performing at their best. Doing things like recognizing tangibly people who are just knocking it out of the park is the way to say, “It’s not about money. You got to pay people fairly for sure. It’s about doing stuff that’s super cool in a community that values that.” That’s just one example, and the book has many, many more examples for all these components on how to create really high engagement by essentially tapping in to intrinsic motivation.
[0:39:14.1] MB: I’d love to dig into the power of vulnerability as well and hear some strategies you’d recommend for how to bring that into the workplace, or maybe how listeners could potentially bring that to a workplace even if they’re not necessarily a manager.
[0:39:28.8] PZ: Yeah. All these applies to people at any level of the organization, from the lowest level, and in the book I spent a lot of time talking about how even entry level people at work can do amazing things with their work team and for the organization.
The last component I call natural, which is just being yourself at work. If you have to put on some kind of mask that your work persona, that’s just extra wasted energy that doesn’t go into performing at the highest levels. It turns out, many experiments have shown, that people who come off as too perfect, too beautiful, we kind of hate those people. Yeah, I’m talking about Austin, again.
If you show that you don’t know everything, if you ask for help from people around you, if you let your imperfections show, it turns out that induces oxytocin release, and people want to help you.
If I said, “Look, Matt. We got this big project. Our client wants to do machine learning on this dataset we’re collecting for them. I read about machine learning. I don’t know how to do it, but I know you do. Can you help me out? I really need two weeks of your work life to do this machine learning thing and teach me about it. I want to learn from you. Even though I’m the boss, I don’t know how to do everything, for sure, that’s why we have an organization. That’s why people specialize.”
Just being who you are, letting your work show, it’s okay. We actually trust people more who let their imperfection show. It’s okay to be imperfect and then ask for help.
[0:41:02.0] MB: What’s another one of these that you think could be really relevant for our listeners and maybe something that — As a concrete, one of these strategies that they could really benefit from understanding?
[0:41:12.5] PZ: I forgot one more. The caring component is straight down the trust building oxytocin runway. Sometimes, at least when I was in business school, they sort of had this implicit or explicit statement that fraternize with the people you work with, they will respect you. You don’t want to be friends with people at work. Again, our brains are built to form connections.
If you’re at work and you’re forming connections, again, you’re inhibiting your national responses and you’re not going to be able to have strong relationships and count on people, trust people to do what you need them to do, particularly in crunch times.
One way you can intentionally build relationships is to articulate the emotions you see in others. Normally, when you walk in at work you’ll say, “Hey, Matt. How are you?” “Good. How are you?” “Good.” I might go as far as to say, “How is your weekend?” “Oh, it was great. Fine. Whatever.”
If you replace that hey what’s going on with the emotion you see in that person’s face, then you have a much different conversation. Matt walks from the office and I say, “Hey, Matt. You look tired, happy, sad, joyful, worried,” then we have all different conversations. “Why do you look so worried today?” “You know what? My wife has been really sick. We went to the doctor last week and it looks like it’s something really bad.” “Okay, let’s talk about that. How do we now modulate your work-life relationship? Do you need to be at work today? Should you take some time off? Is your team working effectively?”
Once you actually can recognize the emotions in others and if you just articulate them, it’s like a booster to build relationships with them, and other things. Like in my lab I have a lot of graduate students, so I buy beer out of my own pocket every month. I think the beer budget is the best money I spend, because we have a nice patio behind our lab. You’re done with work and you want to have some bees and hangout with the people you work with, awesome. Build that relationship.
[0:43:12.6] MB: I think it’s so vital and it underpins all of the research that you’ve worked on over the last — However long, 20 years or however long. I think that, just fundamentally, it’s about building relationships, and oxytocin underpins much of that, but at the end of the day if you care about people, if you invest in them and you really genuinely want to develop relationships with them, it yields tremendous benefits for yourself sort of at a biological neuro-chemical level, but also in the results in your life and in the results you see in your workplace as well.
[0:43:50.3] PZ: Yeah, and I think Peter Drucker said that every knowledge worker, which to me is everybody now, needs to be their own CEO. If you’re your own CEO and I’m in an organization that treats me like crap, “Dude! I got skills. I can go elsewhere.” I’d rather have you have a lot of say over your career, to give you opportunities to grow, to have you be in a place that recognizes the amazing things that people do every day at work. Yeah, I want those people with me.
I should say. I always keep my scientist head on, Matt. I’m always skeptical of anything I do, so that’s why I spent eight years doing this work before writing the book. We looked at all the business outcome measures we could capture, like energy at work and chronic stress and productivity and retention, all those things — Trust, substantially improves.
Even objective measures like sick days or life satisfaction, the people who work in high trust organizations take fewer sick days and they’re more satisfied with their lives outside of work, because when you come home, instead of being beaten down by some — Sorry, bad word, asshole boss, you’ve been working with people who respect you, who value you, and if you’re something cool for the world at the same time, you’re energized when you come home. Yeah, you’re a nicer person to be around. That’s the world that we can create at work, which improves employees lives, improves organizational performance and really strengthens societies by focusing on relationships.
[0:45:28.8] MB: We’ve touched on it, but we haven’t even really hammed home at this point, which the fundamental thing that underpins all of these high performance is trust itself. We’ve talked a little bit about and talked about a lot about oxytocin and how that helps build trust, but it’s really all about trust fundamentally. Once you’re able to cultivate that using these various strategies that you’ve recommended, that’s how you yield these incredible dividends.
[0:45:56.5] PZ: Yes and now. I want to push out a little further. I think it’s really about relationships. There’s almost all humans that can survive on their own. There must be some permit living in some mountain somewhere, but it’s extraordinarily rare. We only survive in groups. If we survive in groups, then we’ve got to understand how to engage the groups of people that we’re always around. We’re in many different groups over the course of our day or week or life.
Again, I’m just a really super boring person and I just want to make the groups I’m in and my own performance better, because for some reason I’m obsessed with performance. The nice thing is the science predicts and our data strongly support that when you’re in a high performance group, you enjoy what you’re doing a hell of a lot more. A lot of focus on happiness at work and giving employees, I don’t, Taco Tuesdays or something, and that’s not what the science shows. It shows if you’re doing something important for the planet, we’re talking about purpose, if you know your organization’s purpose and you’re doing it with people that you trust and you can rely on that treat you well and you treat well, now you’re in high gear and now you are making a dent in the universe. It’s really that joy, that satisfaction of doing something important with people that you trust. It’s really about relationships.
I think for guys in particular, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about building relationships who are younger, partially because of testosterone, partially because we’re more aggressive than older guys are and then women are in general. I think this is a bit of a call to say that relationships matter a ton. I want the 3 a.m. friend. This is a guy that you can call up at 3 a.m. and say, “Don’t ask questions. Just bring a couple of shovels and supply. Something bad went down.” I want a couple of guys like that in my life who just they don’t ask, they just show up at 3 in the morning and help you fix some nasty problem.
In the best case, I’m like a 3 a.m. employee. I’d like to have an employee not that I can call at my house at 3 a.m., but occasionally emails me at 3 a.m. going, “Hey, Paul. You know this problem we worked on for a month? It just came to me. I couldn’t sleep tonight. I fixed this damn thing that’s been bugging us that’s been holding down our performance.”
You can’t pay people to do that. You have to love what you’re doing. You have to care about the people you do it with. Anyway, that’s my claim at least. Relationships matter.
[0:48:33.9] MB: I love the phrase that you used. I forgot if it’s on the cover of the book or not, but why isn’t work an adventure.
[0:48:40.7] PZ: Yeah. You know, we always adventures. Certainly, if you look at the way the world is evolving in terms of business, which is people will pay for experiences. I pay a lot of money for experiences. Why is that experience only for the customer? Why are the employees not having that experience?
I think work should be an adventure. Not every second of the day maybe. There’s still some stuff. Still got to clean up the floors or whatever you got to do, but — I don’t know. What about you? Isn’t your work an adventure most of the time?
[0:49:09.9] MB: Most definitely. Yeah, as you said, even adventures have boring parts potentially. Yeah, I try to make every single day an adventure. Absolutely.
[0:49:19.0] PZ: And you can’t do that by yourself, because you got to work with a team. I think empowering the people around you to have cool ass adventures is — I don’t know, man. That’s a true leader, I think. When I’m helping the people around me be successful and allowing them to create adventures for themselves, what could be better than that?
[0:49:42.4] MB: What would be kind of one piece of homework or actionable advice that you would give to somebody listening to this podcast that they could use to either implement some of the strategies that we’ve talked about to make their lives more of an adventure or to build trust relationships and develop kind of more oxytocin, I guess, in their lives?
[0:50:05.0] PZ: It’s a broad question. I could do that. I work quite at home. Let’s do it at home. It holds over. Again, I don’t think there’s any — For most of us, there’s no hard line between work and home anyway. Oxytocin is a really, really interesting and ancient molecule and it’s very difficult or perhaps impossible to have make your brain make it yourself, but you can give that gift of oxytocin release to others by connecting to them, touching them, giving them a gift. Almost always when their brains make oxytocin, they want to reciprocate and give you the same thing.
If we think about the best social behaviors, it’s really about giving the gift of connection, of empowerment, or love or whatever that person around you really needs. Think of this as effective social behaviors are surface behaviors. I want to serve the people around me.
I try to end every conversation with the word service and I’ll do that with you, Matt. Matt, I want to be of service to you. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you, and I hope that we find a way to do something in the future, so I want to put myself out there and say when you’ve got an idea, when you’ve got a crazy neuroscience question, when something you’re doing, I want to continue to be of service to you. I think if I end every conversation with service that I want to engage with the people around me, and it turns out that if you serve other people, that comes back to you many fold. If it doesn’t, that’s okay, because I still feel good helping other people.
Think about being of service to the people around you as supposed to what’s in it for me? Think about what I can do to make you happier, perform better. I don’t know. I think that’s a pretty good way to go through life.
[0:51:53.2] MB: What a great idea and what a great framework, and I’m pretty sure I felt a little boost of oxytocin when you said that.
[0:51:59.9] PZ: Bingo! We’re in good shape now.
[0:52:01.5] MB: Exactly. It reminds me of the old — It’s probably before him, but Zig Ziglar, “You can have anything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
[0:52:11.5] PZ: Man, it’s so true, isn’t it?
[0:52:13.0] MB: I’ll do a small act of service for you. For listeners who want to dig in more, where can they find you and find the book online?
[0:52:20.9] PZ: All your online sellers; Amazon, Kindle, Audible Habits, Trust Factor, the science of creating high performance companies, the company we’ve spun off to do that work is ofactor.com, O-F-A-C-T-O-R.com. Lots of free tools and assessments there that you can use, and you can find out more about me at pauljzac.com.
Reach out listeners. Let me know what I can do to help you.
[0:52:47.7] MB: Paul, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all these incredible wisdom. Your work and research and fascinating and there are so many relevant conclusions for everybody, so thank you again.
[0:52:59.6] MB: Thank you so much for listening to the Science of Success. We created this show to help you, our listeners, master evidence-based growth. I love hearing from listeners. If you want to reach out, share your story or just say hi, shoot me an email. My email is email@example.com. That's firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you and I read and respond to every single listener email. In fact I responded into a number of listener emails this morning from across the globe.
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