“To do philosophy is to explore one’s own temperament and yet at the same time to discover the truth.” – Iris Murdoch.
Joining Aoife on the podcast this week is Dr Brennan Jacoby. Brennan is a philosopher and founder of Philosophy at Work, a collective of philosophers that ignite individuals, teams and organisations to think and perform their best through the help of their highly sought-after training workshops, thinking labs and keynote speaking sessions. Brennan has worked across multiple global industries, assisting giants including Facebook, Capital One Bank, Sony Music, Nike and Deloitte, to name a few.
Get ready for a fascinating and insightful conversation as Aoife and Brennan discuss cultivating a mindset for success, the key to understanding your mindset, and how to overcome the fear of speaking up and asking questions. Brennan also explores the pathway to self-awareness and how our mindset is our worldview. Key points throughout the episode include:
– An introduction to Brennan Jacoby.
– The great reassessment and post-pandemic mindset shift.
– The key to making effective decisions.
– Recognising patterns in the process of decision-making.
– An introduction to mind-mapping.
– Handling what you can control and coping with what you can’t control.
– Power dynamics in the workplace and changing organisational behaviour.
– Moving away from workplace hierarchy models.
– Growth through discomfort: allowing time to sit in the tension.
– Removing the fear of asking questions.
– The time is now for a self-check-in.
– What Happier at Work means to Brennan.
THE LISTENERS SAY:
Do you have any feedback or thoughts on this discussion? If so, please connect with Aoife via the links below and let her know. Aoife would love to hear from you!
Book: Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke
Connect with Brennan Jacoby:
Connect with Happier at Work host Aoife O’Brien:
Aoife O’Brien 00:00
Are you looking to improve employee engagement and retention? Do you struggle with decisions on who to hire or who to promote? I have an amazing opportunity for forward thinking purpose-led people first organisations to work with me on the first pilot Happier at Work program for corporates. The program is entirely science backed and you will have tangible outcomes in relation to employee engagement, retention, performance and productivity. The program is aimed at people leaders with responsibility for hiring and promotion decisions. If this sounds like you, please get in touch at Aoife@happieratwork.ie. That’s A O I F E at happieratwork.ie. You’re listening to the Happier at Work podcast. I’m your host Aoife O’Brien. This is the podcast for leaders who put people first, the podcast covers four broad themes, engagement and belonging, performance and productivity, leadership equity, and the future of work. Everything to do with the Happier at Work podcast relates to employee retention, you can find out more at happieratwork.ie.
Brennan Jacoby 01:09
What I found is that just by practicing that, I’m faster at noticing stuff that’s going on inside of myself and what’s going on in the world. And then when you’re in meetings, you’re just that bit faster to go, do you know what? I feel this thing in me or I’ve got this question I need to ask because it is like a muscle.
Aoife O’Brien 01:27
Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Happier at Work podcast. I’m so delighted for you to join me today. And I have a really inspiring guest today. We met I think originally through LinkedIn, but we’ve had some wonderful conversations over the past couple of years. My guest is Dr. Brennan Jacoby and he is a philosopher and the founder of philosophy at work. As you can imagine, the discussion gets quite philosophical in parts and I really enjoyed it. I found it challenging and inspiring in equal measure. Philosophy at work is a collective of philosophers, business psychologists, authors and practitioners teaching the skills professionals need to think their best and I love this whole idea of helping people to think at their best Brandon holds a BA and MA and a PhD in philosophy and his doctoral work analysed trust in the context of interpersonal relationships and corporate character. Now I think that’s how we first encountered each other we talked about trust at work and building psychological safety. Such an interesting conversation. With philosophy at work, he helps businesses and their people to develop the psychological safety and cognitive confidence they need to think their best as they navigate an ever changing professional landscape. Recent projects include helping Deloitte UK cultivate a growth mindset, supporting the Welcome Trust to explore trust in healthcare, and enhancing curiosity across Sony music’s global community. As always, I will be doing a synopsis at the end, I would absolutely encourage and invite you to join in the conversation. Anything that sparks interest for you today, any insights that you have to share, I’d really love to hear about them. So you can connect with me on LinkedIn, AOIFE O’Brien, or through the website happieratwork.ie, or also Instagram happieratwork.ie. I really hope you enjoy today’s episode. Welcome, Brennan to the Happier at Work Podcast. I’m delighted to have you as my guest today. We connected originally a couple of years ago and I know we had a wonderful conversation. And it’s really great to reignite that conversation again today. Do you want to give a little intro about yourself and how you got into doing what you’re doing, for the benefit of listeners?
Brennan Jacoby 03:51
Thank you so much Aoife, it is an absolute pleasure to join you. I love what you’re doing with the podcast and all of your recent research is so, so so insightful. So it’s a real pleasure. I’m so honored to get to get to be a part of what you’re doing. So yeah, my name is Brennan Jacoby. I’m a philosopher by training. And I’m the founder of philosophy at work, which is a collective of philosophers and business psychologists that work with corporates on how they think. So we teach nine thinking skills that connect up with the kind of lifecycle of a team, of a business. We look at the specific skills that teams and individuals need to be able to really do their best in the way that work is now, so things like critical thinking, strategic thinking, curiosity, decision making some really practical stuff, but also things that sort of create the right environment for thinking. So you know, I did my PhD on the topic of trust, and we work a lot with groups quite early on in the journey. Things like trust and psychological safety. Because we know that we don’t think our best unless we feel safe. So, you know, a lot of times we’ll come in and work with a team, maybe a sort of their regular sort of together time or something like that. And we’ll we’ll say, you know, why don’t we start with the space in which you’re working the way you’re working? And then think about some of the way you collaborate. And then notice, okay, what are some of the assumed ways of working? What are some of the beliefs that have been really running in the background of the work and and let’s pick up some really helpful tools to sort of constructively together or by yourself, process that and think through it, so that we can get off kind of the busyness and actually make time to, first of all appreciate what’s going on, but then also make make better decisions and think through it more properly. So yeah, that’s that’s what we do. And it’s it’s a real, I don’t know, I’ll be honest. It’s a real joy. I love doing.
Aoife O’Brien 05:59
Yeah. Well, that’s, that’s that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Like having that kind of impact, I think, is really, really important. There’s loads to kind of pick apart there, there’s loads to dive into. But where I would like to start is the difference that you have noticed between pre pandemic and let’s face it, we’re still kind of in the pandemic risk. We’re kind of going through that flux that change, Coronavirus is still about, what’s the big difference that you’ve noticed between pre and let’s call it during for want of a better expression?
Brennan Jacoby 06:32
Yeah, yeah, definitely. So for this, for this one, I probably need to dip into like philosophy 101. The thing that the thing that first really drew me to philosophy was Dr. Charles Campbell, and philosophy 101, when I was doing my undergraduate degree, over in Michigan, so I’m currently sat in the UK, but I’m originally from Michigan. And he told this story that was written by Plato back in ancient Greece, but really grabbed me. And I think that what happens in the story is, I think something that has happened during the pandemic. And in a nutshell, it’s the allegory of the cave. So maybe maybe you’ve come across this before, the idea is, you It’s you sort of imagine that there’s this cave, and in the cave, there’s a wall, that sort of in the middle of the room in the middle of a cave, it’s about, you know, it doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling, it’s I don’t know, maybe six feet tall or something like that. And there’s people sat on the side of the wall, where they’re facing the back of the cave, it’s a little bit complicated. They’re, they’re chained up. So they’re chained to the wall, it’s, it’s a little bit dark, the story, but they’re chained up, their their heads have changed their arms, and everything’s changed. So that all they can do is look at the wall, they can’t really do anything else. So all the perception, all the sort of content they’re getting in their lives is just whatever shows up on the wall. And so there’s light coming from behind the wall and casting shadows on that screen from so it’s almost like they’re in an ancient theater, and they’re just, you know, watching what’s what the shadows are on the wall. And Plato says, these people think they’re living real life. But actually, all they’re seeing is is shadows of what’s actually going on outside the cave in reality, and he tells the whole story, because he’s trying to make the point that philosophy, which if you go back to ancient Greece just means the love of wisdom, Philosophy as a as a thing is like this person who goes into the cave and and unlocks the people and says, hey, look, what you’ve been doing, instead of just the shadows get out and sort of feel you know, the real stuff. Right. Yeah. And this came to mind in the day, because I think something that’s been going on in I would say, the, the pandemic, because that’s the frame of the question. But I think it’s not just about COVID. It’s not just about I don’t know, having to go into self isolation, or work from home or something like that. I think it’s also some of +++++ And it’s kind of like, we used to get up in the morning, you know, for me, I’d get on the train, go to London, and, and I still loved what I did. But I think there’s a lot of people that maybe really, really loved it, but we weren’t very engaged with what was really going on or have we felt like we were Yeah, but I think now there’s this sort of awakening or go, gosh, I’m really alive to it now. You know, so So I think we were you know, stuff was okay. Before in some ways, but I think there’s been this. It’s, you know, there was there’s been a lot of talk during the pandemic about everything being accelerated. That’s kind of what I’m talking about. But I don’t think it’s just right to say acceleration. It’s this like, enlivening of noticing and this of what’s really going on. And this is why I think people are talking these days about, you know, not just the sort of great reshuffle the great resignation, but the Greek great like reassessment. I think that’s, you know, in Plato’s allegory that people get unchained. And actually, at first they don’t like it, they go like, this is pretty uncomfortable to try to stand up and move because they’ve been chained. They don’t like it, and they kind of beat up the philosopher, but aside, it’s, it’s this reassessment of okay, well, I thought that was real, what else is going? So that’s at a high level, I think what that looks like, in practical terms is, there’s been a real recognition that, gosh, we were taking some stuff for granted, here are some poor, poorly thought through assumptions, the way that we think is really important, our mindsets are really critical. And so you know, stuff like curiosity, and, you know, checking our thinking before might have felt like a quite a soft skill, whereas now it’s feeling quite business critical.
Aoife O’Brien 11:00
It’s really interesting, if we were saying that before we started recording that it’s something I see a lot in the entrepreneurial world where there’s their, you know, mindset. It’s kind of make or break when you’re in business, you really have to understand how you think, but it’s not something I hear all that often in the corporate world, and but it is something that I’m hearing more and more about, do you want to explain for listeners? Like, what what do you mean, when you talk about mindset? And what are some of the mindsets that people might be stuck in? Or what are some of the shifts that they could go through?
Brennan Jacoby 11:34
Yeah, definitely. So I think sometimes a lot of a lot of the work that comes to mind for me, when I think about mindset, is specifically growth mindset, and the psychology of Stanford University, in California. And a lot of times when we’re working with, with groups on sort of how they navigate change, and how they ask what ask better questions in a meeting, let’s say for the purpose of the work and spotting opportunities, spotting the threats, it goes back to, why are we not asking the questions? Sometimes it’s because we’re uncomfortable, you know, our mindset, which I would just say, a mindset. So I, I, I’ve adopted Carol Dweck sort of account of what a mindset in general is. And she says that a mindset is a set of beliefs. So you can say, worldview. And it is just the things that you say are true about life. And sometimes the things that we say that are true about life, stop us from saying what we are the good ideas we have, or asking the questions that really need to be asked, because maybe somewhere in the background, is this, this premise, that belief that if I ask a question, and people don’t, like, love me for it, then it was bad, you know, or if I make a decision, and the outcomes are not the ones that I wanted, it was bad. And that’s not, you know, in the light of day, we sort of know that’s not true. But in the moment, it sure is really easy to get into that.
Aoife O’Brien 13:08
Yeah. When you’re experiencing that firsthand the result of let’s let’s call a perceived poor decision, when you made the best decision, you could given the information that you had.
Brennan Jacoby 13:20
Yes, yes, exactly. And that makes me think of Annie Duke, I don’t know if you’ve come across her work. So she’s a professional poker player, okay, has a, but she also has a background in psychology. And she has this great, great book called Thinking in Bets that we use a lot in our workshop on decision making. We’ll use it at the start, because she has this great point where she says, when you’re making, you know, when you’re playing professional poker, you’re making high stakes decisions, you know, in succession. And it’s very tempting to get into what she calls resulting. Now apparently, that’s a term in the poker world, I don’t know. But apparently, this is a thing. And resulting is when you, you, you quantify the value of a decision, you say that a decision is good or bad, based on the results that came after the decision. So she says, say that you’ve got a hand and you play, I don’t know, whatever, it could end this card in this card, right? And you win, you win big. The next time, you’ve got those same cards, you might think, oh, that worked well, for me last time, we were producing cards, expecting to win big, equally, if you you know if the results are bad. You think that’s a bad strategy in the game. And she says, that doesn’t really work in life. Because life, just as poker is not a closed system. So there’s, there’s bluffing and there’s chance and there’s all sorts of things. And so what what I think is a good example of the kind of stuff that we try to do with groups is to say, let’s notice the assumptions that we bring to our work, whether it’s management or collaboration or decision making whatever it might be? And then let’s sort of step back and check those assumptions. Is it right to think that the outcomes determine the goodness of a decision. And Annie duke says, Well, when you’re playing poker, the best your good decision is not one that makes you lots of money, as tempting as it would be to think that a good decision is one that is based on a a well formed process. You’ve done the sort of probability of what cards are going to be in other people’s hands, you’ve done the hard yards of, you know, doing the science of the job, basically, you’ve done your research, and based on everything you could possibly know, as a human in an uncertain life, you made a decision? And you know, maybe you lost, maybe it didn’t go well. But you can hold your head high, because that was a good decision based on the structure.
Aoife O’Brien 15:51
Of a process that you followed. Yes, yeah.
Brennan Jacoby 15:54
That’s the only way to really learn to be making better decisions. Otherwise, you’re just trying to like court fate the whole time, and hope they like you, you know. And so I guess, to circle back to what we were saying it’s in, in the workplace as a as in contrast to the entrepreneurial world that you highlighted, I think mindset a lot of times is how we, how we frame I’ll say that how we frame though the work that we do, in our, in our minds, which informs how we talk to people, what decisions we make, what we do. And, and it’s, it’s, it’s a collection of beliefs. And if we slow down enough, we can notice it, and we can get better at noticing it, even at pace. So that’s what we try to help people do.
Aoife O’Brien 16:40
Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think that it’s not talked about more. And I think for me, it’s it’s pretty fundamental to how you get stuff done, you know, especially in this day and age of burnout, and people being the perception I have is people are just super busy. And they’re they’re doing a lot of stuff. And yeah, I’d love to come back to this concept of the growth mindset, because it’s probably the one that is familiar to most people, this the idea of a growth versus a fixed mindset. And I have read the book, and I loved the book. But something, again, that begin becoming aware of a growth versus a fixed mindset. Something I noticed about myself is that it’s not just black and white. For me, it’s I have a growth mindset in some areas. And I have a fixed mindset in other areas. And I think that’s something that she didn’t completely address in that book. But it’s something that I’ve noticed myself in in thinking about, Oh, yeah, I know, I can improve in that area. And then there’s other areas where I’m like, Oh, well, I’ll never be good at that, you know, those kind of beliefs that I have.
Brennan Jacoby 17:49
Yeah, that’s a great point, I also have that critique of the work. And I think, where I think maybe it’s, it’s more helpful, is also a probably a lesson that I take from, like, historical philosophy. And that is that it’s, you know, we’re trying to assess, and pay attention to each sort of moment of thinking now, I mean, that sounds really overwhelming. I don’t mean that we always have, like, we have to be conscious of everyday. I mean, if we’re, if we’re sort of, you know, I’m a fan of mindfulness. But if we’re mindful all the time, it can be a bit scary, maybe. But so I don’t just mean like noticing everything all the time, but taking, you know, a question or something that someone says in a meeting, looking at a value that a team has come up with, and recognising it, you know, putting it in the context of the bigger story. But part of what I hear you articulating is, well, either I’ve got a fixed mindset, or I’ve got a growth mindset. And that is like, that’s, that’s sort of that conclusion is actually very contrary to the concept of growth mindset. Right? It’s, it’s sort of our identifying. And, you know, when I started trying to do this kind of work, I was thinking, like, you know, philosophers have a big problem, because what I didn’t want to do is put philosophy like historical philosophers, historical characters that we file under philosophy. I didn’t want to put them on a pedestal, because, you know, they’re human, and they’ve got caught up in some bad stuff throughout history. And, you know, I don’t think it’s something about philosophy. It’s something about people I suppose. But I, I, I’ve been really careful to, I don’t really care that that people leave the workshops we do and things being able to talk about philosophy are talking about philosophers. Yeah, I want them to learn the, the approaches, the sort of nuts and bolts of thinking that those people are famous for and try to do that. And I think this is related to what you’re saying, because instead of being like, you know, Socrates was this great person, and I’m gonna try to be just like Socrates. Well, that’s kind of like going, you have to either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset all the time, you’ve got to be like Socrates all the time. And that’s just not not possible. It’s not accurate. But if we can go, Well, what was he doing there? You know, he was, he was trying to pay attention to what people were saying. And he was really curious, he was asking questions to try to unpack like, what was really going on about, I don’t know, power or decisions that we’re making. And, and if we can bring that in, in in a, in a case by case kind of way, then I think that’s really positive. But yeah, I mean, if it was, if philosophy was only good, because philosophers are good all the time, then then it would, it wouldn’t, it’d be a non starter.
Aoife O’Brien 20:53
So. And the other thing that that kind of coming up for me is this idea that, and maybe this is tied in with the idea of having a growth mindset. But is that a case of becoming aware of how you make decisions of how you think of how you? Yeah, like really boils down to how you process information, how you actually think about things? And are you able to teach people how to notice when they’re thinking is maybe and I suppose for me, it goes back to this idea of it’s only? And I don’t Yeah, I’m kind of reluctant to use the word bad, but it’s only detrimental, let’s say if, if it’s causing harm, or if it’s if it’s causing us to not perform at our best because of how we’re thinking, have I articulated that in in kind of a roundabout way. But it’s, it’s, it’s first of all, isolating whether or not we can teach people is that through big first of all, becoming aware of how we think, and then noticing it and implementing changes based on what we notice about ourselves. So tying in with this idea of self awareness.
Brennan Jacoby 22:09
That is a brilliant question. I love that. I feel like that there’s like, there’s a few books in. Okay, okay. Yeah, I love it. Because you’re right, I guess if I’m hearing you, right, question is, do can we kind of can we can we teach this stuff? And if so, what’s the first what’s the journey that you go on to become better at thinking, right? And it reminds me of I mean, I said, it’s not about quoting historical philosophers, but I’ve got a quote another one. There’s a 20th century Irish philosopher, Iris Murdoch. So a novel that straight and she has this great quote, where she she’s, she’s articulating what in her view, philosophy is, and she says, something. I’m gonna paraphrase, but she says something to the effect that philosophy is an attempt to uncover the truth, while at once trying to understand yourself.
Aoife O’Brien 23:02
Wow. A mystery wrapped in an enigma.
Brennan Jacoby 23:07
Yeah, but it’s not just it’s not just sort of big words. And it’s not just sort of something aspirational. I think what she’s on about is that when we’re, if we’re doing so I think philosophy is not just this like, thing and ivory towers, where that we might associate with with, like, thinking big thoughts, but I think it’s, it’s this. It’s done. It’s a, it’s something that you do. I mean, I don’t mean, it’s over. It’s done. Yeah. I mean, yeah, something that is that is that you do and it’s worth pursuing wisdom. We’re trying to work out how should we live? And when Murdoch says that, I think what she’s saying and why it matters to the kind of work that we’re we’re both concerned with and business is in work is, is she saying, you can’t really work out? Like what is right and true? What counts is a good decision or who you should hire? Or like, what’s the right way to live? And what is good thinking, and have you arrived there, you can’t really work out stuff about what’s good, without encountering yourself, because we all have subjectivity. And we all experience everything through our own lenses. So you’re at once pursuing the truth and trying to work out yourself. And they kind of happen in tandem and so. So I think, my sort of perspective is that yeah, the way that we start going on the journey of, of like flexing our thinking muscles and toning them and trying to do good thinking is often by raising awareness about ourselves. And that can be the self as an individual, you know, me, you, but it can also be raising awareness of ourselves as a team, or ourselves as a business. And while I guess that looks like is if it’s us as an individual, then maybe it’s going I’ll just stick with decisions because it feels nice and practical, but you know, how to have I in the past, how have I made decisions so one of the axes as we do in that workshop is will, will get people to map some of the biggest decisions they made in their life and track. Okay, I chose this thing. But what was my process was I like, you know, we talked about being an interviewer where we go and ask other people what they think we should do, or being a biologist where we get into the details or an astronomer, where we sort of zoom out and look at the big picture. You know, what was your process? What did you decide? And in, in hindsight, would you say that was a good one or a bad one? Then when people go through the exercise, there’s oftentimes a bit of an aha moment to say, Oh, well, actually, there’s a pattern here. I didn’t realise that. And so a lot of times the moves that we make in our, our work that we’re doing is to first say, let’s recognise the pattern, and then step back and go, do you think that’s a good pattern? Yeah. And that’s not that’s not like, loaded, it’s not, you know, I’m not assuming that it’s a bad pattern, it might be a great one, but we’re just going to keep doing it. Unless we at least, you know, the first step to changing it for one too, is to notice it. And so yes, a lot of times it is noticing what happens when we think and and we do that by getting carried by picking up these sort of tried and tested ways of being good thinking partners, like, you know, Socratic dialogue and asking each other questions and, and doing a lot of mind mapping and trying to say, okay, when I think of the word so for example, I did a session this morning with a law firm, where it was out of curiosity, and I said to them, you know, in English at least, Curiosity is loaded. Like, you know, we have the same curiosity killed the cat.
Aoife O’Brien 26:36
Yes, yeah. It’s kind of maybe associated with nosiness.
Brennan Jacoby 26:40
Right? Yeah, exactly. Or even like strangers, you might say, oh, that’s curious, you know, art or something. But at the same time, there’s so many articles and things coming out saying, oh, Curiosity is great. And you know, I’m certainly a proponent of curious inquiry and questions and all that stuff. Yeah. So to start, we said to them, why don’t we take a moment and try to just map the connotations to around curiosity. And so we got them to write the word curiosity in the middle of a page and circle it and then go, now what comes to mind? And so for me, you know, I’m, I’m from Detroit, originally. And so when I wrote curiosity, one thing came to mind was Wonder. And then when I thought of wonder, Stevie Wonder came to mind, and sort of music and other Okay, that’s, that’s an interesting, like, link in the neural map of my brain, but that’s not very helpful. So you go back up to and go, Well, what else comes to mind? Okay, curiosity makes me think of questions. When I think of questions, I think of challenge. When I think of challenge I think of like, conflict and stress. And and I guess the reason I’m telling this story is there’s a helpful, like, teachable moment, if we go, okay, I came along to this workshop or this topic of curiosity, let’s say, and I’m thinking, I’m here thinking, Oh, this is great. We should all be more curious. But I’ve only got to go like three steps in my neural map, to get to something like stress and conflict, which is quite dark. And so it’s worth me knowing if I’m going to try to cultivate my curiosity, that actually running in the background is some of this, these difficult concepts? I’m not necessarily, I’m not the expert to say like how you change and change some of that I’m not the one to say like, Let’s do neuroplasticity, and make it so that when you think of questions, you don’t think of challenge? I actually don’t think that would be good. I think it’s the awareness is the key point. So we go okay, okay, yeah, I have some connections between curiosity and stress. That’s what it is, maybe I can try to change those, maybe I can. But it’s good to know, because I’m in a workshop right now about curiosity. And so if I’m feeling out of my comfort zone, maybe it’s because of that thing, and is when we name it, we can get better at sort of filing it, you know, and, and filing it away sometimes, and go, Okay, that’s what it is. That’s why I feel a bit uncomfortable. Maybe it’s not there in the world to be uncomfortable. I’ll keep going, you know, so. So I guess what I’m saying is, and that person is then thinking better. They’re, you know, they’re thinking better about curiosity. They’ve got a tool that they can use to think better about whatever the thing is, they want to write in the center of that page. Maybe it’s not, curiously its values or something else. And so it’s, yeah, it’s awareness, and it’s techniques that help us notice and then choose, I suppose how to respond.
Aoife O’Brien 29:23
Yeah, there’s so much coming up for me in that. And if I kind of take a step back to this idea of patterns, first of all, when stuff keeps happening in your life, and it’s the same to me, you kind of notice that it’s the same things happening again and again in your life, because it’s not something that you’ve addressed. So the universe or whoever you want to say is, you know, your subconscious is bringing you into these situations so that you will address something in yourself. So that’s something that’s kind of coming up for me when I hear about patterns and repeating patterns, and it’s almost like a smack in the face. You’re like this happened to me the last time I tried to do X, Y and Z and It’s because it’s something that you haven’t addressed.
Brennan Jacoby 30:02
Exactly, exactly. Yeah. I mean, we, you know, we live in, we have habits. And that’s a good thing, some ways, you know, our brains fill in gaps and make assumptions. And we need that to survive. But it’s not always helpful when we’re hiring or making decisions or, you know, collaborating and things. And so yeah, I think noticing those patterns, and then being able to choose, I mean, that’s, you know, I’m I don’t think that all of philosophy is ancient philosophy, but there’s a lot of great stuff going on now. And ever since then. But another thing that that some of the ancient stoics would argue, was that the whole like ball of wax when it comes to trying to live and live well, was two things. The first thing they said was, you just got to, you got to notice what’s going on, like, notice where you’ve pitched up, you know, what is the where are you now? Right? What’s the landscape, okay, we’re all trying to like, navigate this new, normal, whatever is going on, you know, where have you pitched up? And then secondly, what can you control or at least influence and just like, put your efforts there. And, and that goes back to the founder of stoic philosophy, being a merchant, who was in a shipwreck and lost, like, everything at sea washed up in Athens, I was browsing a bookshop, apparently are the equivalent, as you do when you’re at a life transition, and found the writings of Plato and read about Socrates and was like, Oh, this is something. And and so what you can see if that’s, that’s their story. They’re going wherever you wherever you washed up, and what can you do about it? You know, and I guess the reason I say that is, to your point about noticing the patterns, it’s what are the wherever you washed up? Or the patterns that are going on? And then what can you do about it? And don’t waste your energy on, on the stuff that you can’t control? Or that’s just gonna happen anyway?
Aoife O’Brien 31:48
Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I like this. I’m a big believer in and that that, you know, maybe that’s part of this whole mindset thing as well is, knowing what you can control versus what you can’t control, because I think a lot of people are stressed about things that are completely 100% out of their control. And it’s bringing it back to thinking like, what what is genuinely in my control, and exactly as you said, What’s then within my sphere of influence, as well as my sphere of control, but but those things that are completely out of our control how other people behave, what are the people say, and the global pandemic that that was happening and kind of, to a degree a little bit still is around us, they’re not things that we can control, but we can control how we react to those things, and kind of being aware of that, I think, is really, really important.
Brennan Jacoby 32:35
And in there, I think that’s a huge question, the one of what can I control, what I can’t, or the, you know, for the Stoics, they, their, their mindset, or their worldview was one that was quite like, interwoven with an ancient spirituality and religion that said that basically, the only thing you can control is your, your mindset. And everything else is like up to the gods and stuff. And, and so that’s pretty cut and dried. But I think in the world of work, is a big question about Okay, so, you know, I’ve just listened this conversation between Ethan Brennan. I’m, I’m now working on this project, the deadlines are blown out, again, the suppliers, you know, not playing ball, budgets are problematic. So should I just go? Well, I can’t control that. Because that sounds tempting, you know, or, you know, and therefore not worry about it. But of course, we couldn’t probably not worry about it. And so where should I, you know, I agree with you that we can’t control. You know, I mean, you me personally can’t, couldn’t have controlled COVID coming into the world. But, but there’s a real blurriness about what’s out of my control or not in the world of work. And that’s why I think it pushes me back to like, the skills, and we get better at, you know, critical thinking and going okay, well, and self awareness, Oh, I feel like I can’t control that. But then if you’re sort of, if you’ve been working on self awareness, you might go now, you know, I think that’s me copping out, I can sort of feel that, you know, actually, there’s probably a bit of something here, I can control. And you sort of might grasp your agency again, and have a go. But also, you know, all the other stuff that trust and psychological safety, we need each other, because we need people that we feel safe enough to pull us up and go, do you know, I think actually, you could influence that, you know, don’t give up. And, you know, we need important feedback. And so I think it’s the right premise, but it’s there’s a lot, a lot of work to be done there to go. What can you control, you know,
Aoife O’Brien 34:34
Wow, that’s Yeah, it’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. Because you kind of see, I haven’t seen it necessarily in the work context, but you see, you know, the circle, like what can I control of and, you know, it’s things like breathing, but then you say, but, you know, if you hold your breath, you can’t hold your breath forever. So can you really control your breath, as well, you know, so there’s all these kinds of funny things coming up. But, interesting what you were saying about this idea of people’s self awareness. And is it a cop out to say, actually, I can’t control that and just kind of wash my hands over completely. And it’s maybe this sense of learned helplessness which I know, a lot of people might have as well, where you’re so used to not doing something or you’re not taking responsibility for something. So you kind of, you’re like, Oh, well, that’s, you know, that’s, that’s theirs to deal with there. I’m not dealing with that. But there’s probably too extreme, you know, this is a whole other podcast episode probably was two extremes, where you’re dipping in and you’re trying to control everything that you can’t control. And then there’s the other extreme of completely exactly the same, like, you know, it’s it’s a cop out, and I’m not touching that. And it’s finding that balance or that awareness, or are you are you really am if you’re trying to control too much, maybe taking a step back and saying I can’t control everything that other people do, I can only control myself on my own behavior. Versus understanding. Am I just being really helpless now? And I can at least influence this project in some way?
Brennan Jacoby 35:59
Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Right. I mean, there’s, there’s so you know, you’ve just shown there’s so much going on, there’s so much running in the background. And when you layer on to that, like, the power dynamics of work, where relationships Yeah, you know, as friendly as colleague, collegial relationships can be, there’s a different, you know, this different dynamics, because it is employment, or it’s Yeah, at least like gig working or something. Yeah, there’s money involved. And so it’s like, there’s all these things happening. And, and that’s what really struck me, I suppose, when I when I started doing this kind of work was, you know, there was bubbling away people going, Gosh, we need to like this is happening, and we need to think carefully about this. And I’d be like, Yeah, so what did you know, what are you doing to help you people, like, think through stuff? And? And understandably, it was like, Well, I don’t know, because how do you do that? You know? And so it’s, you know, I don’t? I don’t know, I think it would be unfair to say, you know, silly to the leaders or something, it’s, it’s hard to know where to start because it is such a web and stuff. But I think that, that, you know, and we’re not we’re not going to solve everything in, in one like in one workshop or something. But I think planting some of those seeds are ongoing. Well, let’s notice what’s running in the background. And let’s know what is going on inside ourselves. Yeah, the sort of psychological move, but then that’s also do something that I think is distinctly philosophical as well and say, let’s understand what’s happening outside ourselves. And, you know, to the Iris Murdoch point, you can’t really tease the two apart. It’s, you know, it’s interwoven. But But Well, I think there’s a lot of a lot of emphasis on, say, behavioral economics, and going well, let’s look at how we can influence behavior change in organisations, there’s not as much going on at the point of, well, what’s what direction should we nudge behavior in, you know, what is good? And that’s, that’s, that’s the remit of philosophy. And that’s, that’s looking outside of people and, and critiquing morality, and thinking about the landscape. And so that’s why I guess I’m, I’m trying to encourage as many groups as possible to go yes, you know, do the do the psychology pieces, which I know is your work. And I really appreciate everything you’re doing around around personal happiness, and all the research that you’ve done. And I love to see that connected up with, how does that how does that impact how you think, or how does it intersect, I suppose you could say, with how you’re thinking about the world that you’re navigating as well.
Aoife O’Brien 38:38
Yeah, yeah, really, really interesting, really interesting point. And, you know, just to kind of before we wrap things up, to come back to this idea of the power dynamics like that is that’s, I mean, again, that’s a probably a whole other podcast episode on I am really fascinated by this concept of power and how people get power. And it’s, there’s, you know, there’s if you have knowledge, then you have power, if you have unique skills, you have power, if you’re given a label of a leader, then you have power. So there’s all of these dynamics that are happening in the workplace. And, you know, when it comes to dealing between people when there is an imbalance of power between them and as an individual dealing with someone who’s a leader, for example, and you’re being told to do something, but you blindly follow that and you don’t question it whatsoever. But then it’s having that self awareness to a question it and see if you can question it, or be this as a leader who doesn’t like to be questioned, or they don’t like having their authority questioned. And therefore you just need to think about it, digest it, put it into your own way of thinking and approaching things and and get on with it and make sure it gets done. Any kind of thoughts on the whole power thing?
Brennan Jacoby 39:50
Yeah, I mean, that’s, I love that point. I think that’s right in the money. Again, and actually it’s kind of a nice, it’s a nice analogy of the whole thing. I think we’ve been discussed Seeing, there’s the first move, which is like notice what’s going on second move, like, analyse, and where it’s, you know, people and power involved. I think part of that is going, you know, I love how you put it up. Is this, is this person safe? Like, should I? Should I challenge them? Or is that? Is that just a really bad move? And again, there’s a thought process there. And and then there’s the choice of sort of noticing, analysing action, and reflecting afterwards. Yeah, learning and moving forward. And I suppose the only other thing that comes to mind for me is there’s, you know, there’s been a lot done around, like, the philosophy of power, you know, and okay, and how we understand power dynamics. I guess, there’s a lot of interesting work at the moment in the professional space, trying to play some of this out where we’re going, what happens if we have, like self organising teams? And if we, you know, because, you know, going back to the question before, of, what are some of the changes in the pandemic, and one of them certainly has been a lot of power has shifted from the traditional hierarchical model of a, you know, business, to the people, you know, to the employees. And to some extent, it seems like that’s, that’s there to stay. And, and now, just kind of, like, the historical times of transition, where there were new systems of government, and it’s always been messy and working out like, Well, okay, we think there’s some there’s a lot of really good reasons to, to democratise the power within the business and within the organisation and ask people, What are your preferences? How can we empower you to work in ways that make you happier that aren’t good for you? But gosh, that scary for people who have the power? Maybe? I mean, it would seem, you know, yeah, I’m not one of those. But you know, I’ve heard there’s so many, so many stories, and so many leaders that I am working with who and they’re not, you know, they’re far from the very, very far from being bad people. It’s not like they’re like, we’ve got a,
Aoife O’Brien 42:14
Dr evil you’re talking about.
Brennan Jacoby 42:15
Yeah, it’s not that and again, it I think that that characterisation that there’s like, good people and bad people, it’s it’s really messy.
Aoife O’Brien 42:24
It depends on the context, I think, for some people, yeah. Yeah. Or for probably for everyone, actually, should I say? It depends on the context, the environment that you find yourself in?
Brennan Jacoby 42:33
Yeah, yeah. And I guess I’m kind of dancing around it, because I don’t think there’s one answer. I certainly don’t have one answer for like, how to deal with power in organisations. But you know, but I do think that what’s really positive and constructive right now, is the dance that’s happening, right at the moment, in a lot of places, not everywhere, but in a lot of places. There is a give and take and conversations and a narrative going on. And there’s been things discussed around well, how should we do this? And, and, you know, a lot of the businesses that I see out there are going, yep, we’re sitting with it. There, I was speaking at an event last night, and someone made this great point, they said, it’s really tempting to want to have an answer right now for how we’re going to be working in our team. But I think there’s so much value if we can just like sit with the tension a bit longer, because some things are going to get worked out. And that’s really uncomfortable or can be, but it’s so fruitful. But it’s, you know, you can’t do that without or you can do without thinking well, but if you know how to process it, we’re going to, I think, get to a better conclusion. Because if we just go right, I’m just going to sit with attention. But I don’t know what to do with this. That’s kind of like, I want to, you know, I want to write a book, I’m gonna get a sharpened pencil and a nice coffee. And just like do it and I mean, I need to sort of like learn how to start and how to think through writing a novel and this was, so it’s not just sitting with attention. It’s sitting in it, constructively processing it going out and asking questions and thinking.
Aoife O’Brien 44:05
Yeah, I think this is it’s the key, isn’t it? It’s asking questions, but maybe the fear is the answers that they’re gonna get from those questions that they asked people. You know, and maybe be be clear about that. You’ve listened, you’ve heard, but you’ve made maybe an alternative decision, compared to what you were going to do, you know, things like that, to bear in mind as well. Any any thoughts on you know, if someone was to take one thing away from our conversation today? What do you think that that should be? Or is there one tip that you would leave people with to start the journey on on thinking differently?
Brennan Jacoby 44:46
Yeah, that’s a great question. I would, I guess one thing that often suggest because it’s so practical, and makes such a difference, is trying to make a practice of having 30 seconds, not between every call or every meeting or task or something, but like, you know, just try once a day, where you literally switch away from the stimulation. And, you know, I sometimes just like, when I’m going from thing to thing to thing, I notice I’m not, you know, we said, the first step of thinking, well, it’s like noticing what’s going on, and noticing your thinking and starting to bake in some agency and some choice and see, we want to do about it. And we’re never gonna get there, if we’re so busy, that we don’t notice what’s going on. And I, you know, I’m, this is what I do for a living, and I struggle with that. So I have to, you know, each day make myself go, right, I’m just gonna sit like, you know, when I’m in London on the tube, I can get away with shutting my eyes for 30 seconds, or in a left or like, sometimes, you know, if I’m working from home, I can just just sit comfortably, close my eyes, you know, not have any music or anything like that. And there’s this, the phenomenon of it, that physical experience of it is like, I almost feel my cognition, like catching up to myself, you know, because so much of my, my lived experience is like, in the screen, in the tech in the stuff or on the page, or whatever I’m trying to work on. And I feel like I take a break, and I go make a coffee. But really, I’m listening to a podcast, or I’m doing all these different things. I’m looking at the news.
Aoife O’Brien 46:17
Yeah, your processing, you’re thinking about something that they have to do or Yeah, something that you have to action, or Yeah.
Brennan Jacoby 46:25
Yeah. And I’m not saying that, the only way to get better at thinking is to go on a silent retreat and do this massive thing for like, a week or something, that would be great. But but I think by what I’ve noticed in my own life is by sitting for like, and it can just be 30 seconds. I mean, five minutes is great. That’s quite painful, actually at the start, but like 30 seconds is great. And just notice some of the stuff, some ideas might come up to mind them, and you go, Oh, that’s interesting. Oh, yeah, I forgot to do that thing. Or like, just notice what’s happening in yourself. Notice what you’re feeling what you’re doing. And that might be a prompt to go? Or do you know what I’m thirsty? Or I didn’t notice that or I’m feeling a bit like stressed. That’s interesting. Maybe I need to do something. But what I found is that just by practicing that, I’m faster at noticing stuff that’s going on inside of myself, and what’s going on in the world when I’m not.
Aoife O’Brien 47:16
Yes,without the need to actually take that time. Yeah, to notice more.
Brennan Jacoby 47:21
It is like a muscle. So it’s not that you only get insights, when you’re being mindful or something, it’s that you practice that. And then when you’re in meetings, you’re just that bit faster to go. Do you know what? I feel this, this thing in me? Or I’ve got this question I need to ask, okay, I’m going to be courageous and ask it. And so, so I think, you know, as a great place to start. I think anyone can, can sit still, hopefully, well, maybe not, you know, walking might do it as well. But I think it’s important to try to shut down as much stimulation as possible.
Aoife O’Brien 47:49
Yeah, really interesting. So we’re so busy doing that, we’re kind of the thinking is on autopilot. So if you take that 30 seconds to notice what’s going on in your body, how are you feeling? You know, really connecting back in with what’s going on for you download can make a huge difference and build that muscle over time. Love that. Love that approach? Now the question I ask everyone who comes on the podcast, what does being happier at work mean to you?
Brennan Jacoby 48:14
That is delicious, I love it. Great question. You know, I knew you were gonna ask this because I’ve listened to the podcast. And I guess when I was thinking about it, it’s a hard it’s really hard to answer. But where I landed was, I think being happier at work is knowing that the effort I put in, it’s not a waste.
Aoife O’Brien 48:38
Yeah, okay. Yeah.
Brennan Jacoby 48:42
I think that’s the simplest way I can put it. Because I mean, after that, you could get into a what, what counts as a waste and what’s worth it?
Aoife O’Brien 48:47
Yeah. But if you’re having a positive impact, let’s say, on those around you.
Brennan Jacoby 48:53
Yeah, yeah. Right. And, you know, if we dig into that, we could say, well, there’s a there’s like, outcomes matter. There’s, you know, how it’s developing my character matters. The intentionality behind it matters, matters. And those are actually like four schools of thought of ethics. Okay, yes, is deontology, which is all about the intention with which you make something good. Utilitarianism is all about the outcomes, ethics of care, and people like Karen Jones, working in Australia at the moment, are doing, you know, that’s an ethics of, of caring relationships. And Aristotle is all about how you’re developing your character. And so that’s also kind of what’s running the background. But I think that’s, that’s kind of a mouthful. And so that’s why I sort of go I think it’s about knowing that you’re not wasting your time or your life.
Aoife O’Brien 49:45
Yeah, that it hasn’t everything hasn’t been a complete and utter waste of time. And if people want to learn more about what you do if they want to reach out to connect with you, Brennan, what is the best way they can do that?
Brennan Jacoby 49:59
I’m on LinkedIn, that’s Dr. Brennan Jacoby. Then also the website is www.philosophyatwork.co.uk. And we’re on Instagram as well at PhilosophyatWork. And yeah, just just reach out that way. Drop us drop us a note. It’s always great to chat with people that are, are wrestling with, I think, you know, meaningful work and trying to understand.
Aoife O’Brien 50:31
Yeah, absolutely. And I always love to encourage people to get involved in the conversation both on LinkedIn and on Instagram, you know, just by commenting or just sharing their own, you know, sharing their own experience of what, what came up for them when they were listening to this specific podcast episode. So, you know, hopefully, people will will have some insights, some light bulb moments from what we discussed today. And thank you so much for your time. Really, really appreciate it.
Brennan Jacoby 50:55
It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much Aoife, I really love what you’re doing. And it’s, it’s great to get to dip in and be a part of it.
Aoife O’Brien 51:06
That was Dr. Brennan Jacoby and I really hope you enjoyed that conversation that we had. And I would love to hear any thoughts or insights that you have coming out of that discussion. And I’d love to know what action you’re taking as a result of listening to today’s episode as well, you can reach out and join the conversation on LinkedIn, I go live every week with my podcast guests as well. So, feel free to join in that conversation, typically a few days after the podcast is released. If we’re connected on LinkedIn, you should get a notification that I am going live and what I’m talking about as well. So do feel free to connect there Aoife O’Brien, I always feel like I need to spell it out for those who are non Irish speakers and how to pronounce it and how to spell it as well. You can also reach out on Instagram happieratwork.ie. That’s also the website. So do feel free, I would love to hear your thoughts on what we talked about today. So we started the conversation really talking about the shifts in mindset that have happened as a result of the pandemic, I’m not going to dwell too much on that I want to kind of dive into the the really meaty parts of the podcast and illustrate a lot of the really, really interesting points. But this idea of like how we think is really, really crucial, it’s really fundamental to how we behave and how we show up at work and how we actually get our work done as well. So it’s really, really important, he did mention some of the fifth different thinking styles that that he addresses in his workshops. So things like curiosity, decision making, and critical thinking, we didn’t go into a huge amount of detail on specifically what he does, but more talking around the different concepts that can be addressed, when we look at our thinking and how to actually do that. So really, I want you to understand the concept of mindset in the context of when we’re at work, because I do hear an awful lot about it in the entrepreneurial world, less so in the corporate world. But I do see more and more people starting to talk about it and to recognise the importance of, of really understanding how we think and how important that is to to how we do for you know, if you want to put it that way. So our mindset really is our worldview, it’s a set of beliefs that we have about the way things are thoughts it in a nutshell, really. And I love this concept that a good decision isn’t necessarily one that has the best outcome. But it’s the one that is based on a well formed process. So it’s not focusing on the result. It’s focusing on the process of how you arrived at the decision that you made. And to put mindset and into the context of work a little bit more. It’s how we frame the work we do in our minds. And really, it’s about teaching us how to think differently because of the subjective nature of right and wrong and good and bad and things like that. It’s like we’re living in this. So we are at the same time he’s trying to understand what the truth is. And I put I’m putting truth you can imagine me putting truth in inverted commas and trying to understand the world around us and try to understand our ourselves as well and raising self awareness. So we’re trying to do both simultaneously. One of the other things that stood out for me as well is recognising patterns. So recognising patterns in the decisions that we’ve made in the past or it can even be recognising patterns in our thinking. My belief is that, you know, if it’s detrimental, if it’s holding you back in some way, if it’s making you underperform, then you can change your thinking you need to be able to do something about that. We talked about the first Step being to notice it. So just noticing how you’re thinking about things, what’s causing you to think that way. And once you notice, and once you learn this, I think you can find it easier to identify that in the first place. And I love the approach of mind mapping. So you know, going from what is the word association? And what do you think of when you think of specific types of words that might lead you to understand more about how you think about things, we had a great philosophical conversation about what you can control versus what you can’t control. So what you can control and what you can influence versus what you can’t control and how maybe that’s different in the workplace versus in our personal lives. I love this idea. You know, we went into a good bit of detail on this, around, being able to control your mindset and how you think about things. But also having that critical thinking, having the self awareness, but also making sure that you’re not just copping out so you’re not just washing your hands or something, because it’s a form of learned helplessness. So you’ve just decided that things aren’t going to change. So you’ve washed your hands of it, or you can’t control something. And we went in then to in a bit more detail to the idea around power dynamics, because the fact that there’s money involved there is that dynamic between leaders and an individual contributors in organisations. And there’s a note again, another philosophical, philosophical question posed about, well, what direction should we be nudging behavior in? So if we are to change our behavior in an organisation? Which direction should that go? Putting it out there as a philosophical question, I would love to get your thoughts on that as well. We talked about this shift from hierarchical model into more self organising teams as a way to democratise power, and asking people what their preferences are. So you know, we went down this road of sometimes when you ask, and maybe the answer isn’t what you wanted to hear. But you need to be prepared to take action. And that action might be explaining why you’re not going down one particular route or one particular Avenue, because that’s what the feedback has said. But if you’re not prepared to go down that road, at least you’ve shown that you have listened, you’ve asked the question, and you’ve listened to what people’s preferences are. And I love this idea as well of setting with the tension. So really, kind of allowing the tension to be there. And another point that came up earlier in in the conversation was this idea of being comfortable and noticing when you’re in discomfort, but I’m also a firm believer of you know, growth happens when you are feeling uncomfortable. It doesn’t happen when you’re doing things that are easy when you’re feeling really really comfortable. So I think it’s important to to acknowledge that that it’s in discomfort where we find the most growth and as humans, again, another belief that I have is that we do constantly want to be growing and be developing and be evolving and reaching our potential and and really being true to our ourselves as well. Is there something that you’re going to do differently as a result of listening to today’s episode? I’d really love to know, as I mentioned, do get involved in the conversation on social media. Feel free to drop me a message personally and let me know what you thought of today’s episode. Thanks for tuning in. That was another episode of the Happier at Work podcast. I am so glad you tuned in today. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, I would love to get your thoughts head on over to social media to get involved in the conversation. If you enjoy the podcast I would love if you could rate, review it or share it with a friend. If you want to know more about what I do or how I could help your business head on over to happieratwork.ie