World Reimagined

The Power of Connection with Dr. Vivek Murthy and Dr. Tsedal Neeley

Published
Feb 8, 2021

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New digital tools can allow us to combat loneliness as the world transitions to a predominately remote workplace. But can technology create an experience where people feel a deeper source of connection with one another? Can it mimic the face-to-face environments of the past? One thing we do know: The only way we will be able to overcome this pandemic is if we do it together. But in a time of such intense isolation, how do we reclaim togetherness to solve the problems that plague us?

In this episode, host Gautam Mukunda is joined by President Biden's nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and award-winning author, Dr. Tsedal Neeley to discuss how humans will thrive in the post-pandemic, new world of work.

Deep human connection is built not through grand gestures, but through those small moments when we stop by and look into someone's lives, allow them to glimpse into what is happening in our lives, and through those moments of authenticity, of transparency, we forge a deep connection.
Dr. Vivek Murthy

Follow @GMukunda on Twitter

Books Referenced:

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, by Vivek Murthy

Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding From Anywhere, by Tsedal Neeley

The Language of Global Success: How a Common Tongue Transforms Multinational Organizations, by Tsedal Neeley

Competing in the Age of AI: Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World, by Karim R. Lakhani and Marco Iansiti

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger

Braving the Wilderness, by Brené Brown

Trust: America’s Best Chance, by Pete Buttigieg

Guest Info:

Dr. Vivek Murthy was confirmed by the Senate in 2014 to serve as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States and currently serves as co-chair of the President-elect's COVID-19 Advisory Board. A renowned physician, research scientist, entrepreneur, and author of the bestselling book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, Dr. Murthy is among the most trusted voices in America on matters of public health.

As “America's Doctor,” Dr. Murthy helped lead the national response to a range of health challenges, including the Ebola and Zika viruses, the opioid crisis, and the growing threat of stress and loneliness to Americans' physical and mental wellbeing. Prior to his tenure as Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy co-founded VISIONS, a global HIV/AIDS education organization; the Swasthya Project, a rural health partnership that trained women in South India to become community health workers and educators; TrialNetworks, a technology company dedicated to improving collaboration and efficiency in clinical trials; and Doctors for America, a nonprofit mobilizing physicians and medical students to improve access to affordable care. His scientific research has focused on vaccine development and the participation of women and minorities in clinical trials. And as an internal medicine doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Murthy cared for thousands of patients over the years and trained undergraduates, medical students, and medical residents.

Raised in Miami, Dr. Murthy received his bachelor of arts degree from Harvard, his Master’s in business administration from the Yale School of Management, and his MD from the Yale School of Medicine. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Dr. Alice Chen, and their two children.

Vivek Murthy

@vivek_murthy on Twitter

Dr. Tsedal Neeley is the Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Her work focuses on how leaders can scale their organizations by developing and implementing global and digital strategies. She regularly advises top leaders who are embarking on virtual work and large scale-change that involves global expansion, digital transformation, and becoming more agile.

Dr. Neeley heads and teaches in the first-year required Leadership and Organizational Behavior course in the MBA program that focuses on how to lead effectively; the curriculum addresses group behavior and performance, organization design, change, and how to align people behind a common vision. With Bill George and Krishna Palepu, she co-chairs the executive offering, Leading Global Businesses, which helps top leaders develop emerging and mature market strategies in a global and increasingly digital economy. She also teaches extensively in executive programs such as Harvard Business Analytics Program. Dr. Neeley is a recipient of the prestigious Charles M. Williams Award for Outstanding Teaching in Executive Education and the Greenhill Award for outstanding contributions to Harvard Business School. She serves on the Board of Directors of Brightcove, Brown Capital Management, Harvard Business Publishing, and the Partnership Inc.

Her forthcoming book, Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere (2021, Harper Collins Business), provides remote workers and leaders with the best practices necessary to perform at the highest levels in their organizations. Her award-winning book, The Language of Global Success: How a Common Tongue Transforms Multinational Organizations chronicles the behind-the-scenes globalization process of a company over the course of five years. She has also published extensively in leading scholarly and practitioner-oriented outlets such as Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, Management Science, Journal of International Business, Strategic Management Journal, and Harvard Business Review, and her work has been widely covered in media outlets such as BBC, CNN, Financial Times, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist. Her HBS case, Managing a Global Team: Greg James at Sun Microsystems, is one of the most used cases worldwide on the subject of virtual work.

Prior to her academic career, Dr. Neeley spent ten years working for companies like Lucent Technologies and The Forum Corporation in various roles, including strategies for global customer experience, 360-degree performance software management systems, sales force/sales management development, and business flow analysis for telecommunication infrastructures. A sought-after speaker with extensive international experience, she is fluent in four languages. She holds a patent for her software simulation on global collaboration and is a member of Rakuten’s Advisory Board.

Dr. Neeley received her Ph.D. from Stanford University in Management Science and Engineering, specializing in Work, Technology, and Organizations. Dr. Neeley was named to Thinkers50 2018 On the Radar list for making lasting contributions to management, honored as a Stanford Distinguished Alumnus Scholar, and was a Stanford University School of Engineering Lieberman award recipient for excellence in teaching and research.

Tsedal Neeley

@tsedal on Twitter

Transcript

Gautam- Host:

COVID-19 sometimes seems like the villain in a superhero movie. Why? It takes our greatest strength, our ability, actually, our profound need to be with other people, and uses it against us. Even the Avengers only win when they're together.

Speaker 2:

10, nine, [inaudible 00:00:20].

Speaker 3:

The reality can no longer be ignored.

Speaker 4:

We stand today at the threshold of a great event.

Speaker 3:

That we live in an interdependent world.

Speaker 2:

Two, one.

Speaker 5:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world.

Speaker 6:

I want there to be peace everywhere.

Speaker 7:

We look for integrity, we look for intelligence, and we look for energy.

Speaker 8:

Every country, including the United States, is going to get impacted.

Speaker 5:

An original podcast from NASDAQ.

Speaker 9:

Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity?

Gautam:

For many of us, this has been the loneliest year on record, but even while we're alone, we're also connected, linked by new technologies and ways we're only just beginning to explore. We're all going through this hard time at the same time, although it's far, far harder for some of us than others. The one thing we know is that the only way we can overcome this pandemic and the loneliness it's created is if we do it together. In a time of such intense isolation, how do we reclaim togetherness to solve the problems that plague us?

Gautam:

Hi, I'm Gautam Mukunda. Today, I'm excited to be having a conversation with two people who are uniquely able to help us answer these questions. Dr. Vivek Murthy is president Biden's nominee to be surgeon general. He was previously the 19th surgeon general under President Obama. His book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, speaks more powerfully today than even he could have predicted when he wrote it.

Vivek:

When I think about going back to a post-pandemic world, I don't think of it as really going back. I think of it as trying to create a new world, the kind of world that we perhaps have always wanted to live in. But part of that new world is a deeper source and sense of connection with one another. I think fundamentally this starts with a simple but difficult question, which is, do we truly prioritize people in our life? And I can tell you that in my own life, for many years, I don't think I did. I think I wanted to, I think I probably thought I did, but what I was really prioritizing was work, because it is where you put the bulk of your time, your energy, your attention, that's what we prioritize in our lives.

Gautam:

Dr. Tsedal Neeley is the Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. She's the author of Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere, and The Language of Global Success: How a Common Tongue Transforms Multinational Organizations. Much of her work is concerned with how we can better navigate this virtual world.

Tsedal:

I couldn't agree more, this idea that our Post-pandemic world will be a new world and it's not going to be going back to a certain before. One of the things that people have said, I'm talking about hundreds of people that we've talked to, is the isolation that they've experienced during this pandemic has been crushing, painful.

Gautam:

We're in the middle of the worst public health crisis since 1918, so I wanted to hear from America's doctor. What about the response up until now has gone well, and what hasn't?

Vivek:

So many things that I think worked well in the response over the last year were actually advances in science. We were able to bring a vaccine to clinical trials in a much, much shorter period of time than we otherwise would have been able to do. That's quite extraordinary. I think the other piece of the response that really shined was the human response, was people and communities all across our country. There was a lot of the human spirit that we saw that was encouraging and reassuring and reaffirming during this time.

Vivek:

But there were things that didn't work so well. I think we never really were able to pull together a cohesive national strategy to address the pandemic and then actually follow through and implement that well. I think we have an opportunity and I think an obligation now to think about how to move forward with clear plans, with transparency, and with true partnership. And true partnership is two way.

Gautam:

Vivek is no stranger to this kind of two-way work. During his tenure under President Obama, he went on a listening tour across the nation, hearing firsthand people's biggest health concerns and searching for the best way to address their needs. What he discovered was simple, but profound. He saw again and again a devastating health problem that stretched far beyond cancer or heart disease or opioids. It was something every one of us has likely felt at some point, loneliness. Loneliness kills, literally.

Gautam:

Diseases of despair, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide have been rising. In 2017, they killed 150,000 Americans, a number so large that it actually decreased the country's life expectancy. And that was before COVID. But what was an awful burden before the pandemic has become something much, much worse?

Vivek:

One of the great tolls that takes on us is it erodes our sense of self-esteem, it convinces us that we're lonely because we're not likable or because we're not worthy.

Gautam:

Now we're in the early stages of vaccine rollout, there are a lot of questions among the public about what safety measures to keep in place as more people become inoculated. And many of us want to know, once I'm vaccinated, can I please see my friends again?

Vivek:

Gautam, the vaccine represents a triumph of science, but also an opportunity for us to start down this path of getting back to a life where we can see one another, where we can get together for events, where we can go to work and have our kids go to school. But getting there is going to take a little time.

Vivek:

Right now, because you receive a vaccine doesn't necessarily mean that you can go out without using a mask and not socially distance with others, because while the clinical trials from the two vaccine candidates that have been so far authorized by the FDA seem to indicate a high level of efficacy, what that really means is that you're much less likely to develop symptomatic infection, infection that comes with a fever or with a cough or shortness of breath or other symptoms, and you're less likely to die compared to people who did not get the vaccine.

Vivek:

But what is not entirely clear yet is whether people who get the vaccine can still be infected asymptomatically but shed the virus and potentially infect others. We hope to understand more about that in the coming months. And there are still, despite not having clarity on that, are plenty of reasons to take the vaccine, again, because of the benefits to your individual health. But what that means is that for the time being, even if you get vaccinated, you still need to follow the precautions that we've been hearing about. That doesn't mean that we'll never get back to a place where we don't have to wear masks all the time and where we have to distance.

Vivek:

As more people get vaccinated, and most importantly, as our numbers come down in terms of number of cases, number of hospitalizations and deaths, as we see COVID recede, then we'll be able to start getting back to a more normal way of life. We'll have to take precautions as well, and from a public health perspective, build up enough testing and contact tracing capacity so if infection does spike again in any community, we can identify it and throw a net around it and contain it. But all of this will take many months. So I would assume that we would at the very least for much of 2021 be looking at a scenario where we'll still have some level of precautions that we'll have to take.

Vivek:

But things will get better. As more people get vaccinated, hopefully fewer people will get sick, fewer people will be hospitalized, fewer lives will be lost, and that will be a major, major step forward.

Tsedal:

May I ask a question about some of the disparities that the coronavirus has unmasked in the US and that certain populations have been disproportionately affected? Do you think about those things?

Vivek:

All the time and for multiple reasons. One, because these disparities that we're seeing in who is affected by COVID, the extraordinary death rates that we're seeing in the African American population, our native American population, the Latino population, these remind me so much of the disparities I saw as a doctor practicing medicine at Birmingham Women's Hospital. It reminded me that there's certain people who come in more often who have fewer supports when it comes time for discharge, for them to go home and rehabilitate. And the bottom line is... and this struck me so often as a doctor, it felt so unfair. As a doctor, I felt helpless so often, because I sure I could make diagnoses and I could offer treatments, I could listen as empathically as possible and try to be supportive.

Gautam:

We're seeing it now as underserved communities bear the brunt of COVID. So yes, there's a problem. What is President Biden going to do about it?

Vivek:

He set up a equity task force on the COVID response team that's being led by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a colleague of mine for many, many years. This is somebody who has done research in this space for a long time, who's a wonderful clinician, and I who I think will help us to take concrete steps toward closing that equity gap.

Tsedal:

That's really encouraging. One of the things that I think COVID-19 has also exposed is how interconnected we are. It's a physical manifestation that we live in porous and interconnected worlds and as vaccines have come to be available, if everyone is not safe, no one is safe, is one of the things that really keeps me up at night.

Vivek:

I don't think we can underscore that enough. That is one of the most powerful reminders that has come out of COVID, a reminder that we fundamentally need each other, that we are an interdependent species. And the notion I think that many of us have been raised with in modern society that individual effort is the sole determinant of outcomes and that you've got to take care of yourself primarily and everyone else responsible for their own wellbeing, but at the end of the day, I didn't know what to do about the fact that there were these deeper, structural issues around housing and poverty and transportation that fundamentally affected people's ability to get care, but also their risk for developing illnesses in the first place.

Vivek:

So COVID 19 and the disparities have been yet another powerful wake up to us that we have profound disparities that we have to address, and not just so that people can have better health outcomes, but because these disparities in and of themselves tell us something about our values and about the gap that we have between the values many of us hold, which are values deeply rooted in equity and the notion that everyone should have a fair shot at a good and healthy life. But there's a gap between those values we hold and the values that are being lived out and that are on display and we've got to close that gap.

Gautam:

Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, It's the only thing that ever has." There are plenty of recent examples of how people working together can make big changes; from protests, to elections, to the fastest vaccine development in history. They're proof that enough voices and values can make a difference. By the same token, what we've seen over the course of the pandemic is that individual's ability to control their own faith or even protect themselves from disease varies widely because of the social context they inhabit. The pandemic has cast a stark light on just how divergent our circumstances have become, which we often don't acknowledge.

Vivek:

While we do we want to prioritize individual effort, I think that sort of notion I think is on the extreme and I think he does not acknowledge the reality that over thousands of years, we have evolved to be an interdependent species such that we are better when we are together. There's an old African proverb that says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." But that proverb is rooted in thousands of years of evolution and experience and we forget it at our peril.

Gautam:

That might be the best way to summarize what I took from Vivek's book, Together. Being human is a team sport. We are so dependent on community that we feel real agony in its absence. John McCain said that when he was a POW in North Vietnam, the worst part wasn't torture, it was solitary confinement. I was moved by the way Vivek's book spoke to this sense of loneliness. I asked Vivek how he's thinking about helping people deal with pandemic isolation.

Vivek:

There are ways that we can focus in on and strengthen our connection with one another even if it's virtually. One, just by putting 15 minutes aside each day to connect deeply with somebody we care about, a friend, a family member, and doing it that by calling them, by video conferencing with them, by writing them just to say, "Hey, I'm thinking of you. Wanted to know how you're doing." That, when done consistently, can be a very powerful way to foster a deeper sense of connection in our life. The second is by focusing on the quality of our time with one another.

Vivek:

We are so distracted these days when we interact with one another and our devices play a role in that, a key role. I've been guilty of slipping my hand into my pocket and pulling out my phone in the middle of a conversation I'm having just to refresh my inbox or to check a score or something. And I feel terrible about that, I feel embarrassed to even say that, but that's, I think, the reality for many of us. Lastly, I'll mention this, that service, it turns out, is one of the most powerful antidotes to loneliness. We can pick up the phone and check on people who may be struggling, we can drop food off to a friend who might be having a hard time.

Vivek:

We can offer to virtually babysit for 10 minutes for a friend who has kids and is struggling to homeschool their children and telework at the same time. These small acts of service not only forge a connection between us and someone else in a positive context, but they remind us that we have value to bring to the world.

Gautam:

When you can't see people in the flesh, it's easy to forget that they're still out there. It's easy to forget, and I realized I might sound cheesy here, but it's easy to forget that being physically alone doesn't have to mean that you're on your own. It's important that we factor this in as we consider how to approach our socially distant lives because we're going to be physically distance for at least a little while longer. And while maybe a one-size-fits-all solution isn't the answer, Tsedal has found a number of ways to help us combat our particular brands of stress with a little help from our friends.

Tsedal:

We find that millennials were affected more than others, particularly if they lived in places where they didn't have others around them, like complete and total isolation. And in other scenarios, parents with small children who they were homeschooling felt isolated because they had to do the work of parenting and didn't have access to other adults around them. Single mothers, crushing isolation. And the thing to do is to actually build in the informal contact that we have lost in addition to the formal contact that we need to proactively create.

Tsedal:

And sometimes, we've entered an era of hyper productivity and hyper conferencing and edge-to-edge communication, we're doing meetings upon meetings, upon meetings, but the informal contact which we know from 50, 60 years worth of evidence is incredibly important to build people's connection; water cooler conversations, or some people call it cappuccino conversation, or teakettle conversation in the UK. But losing the informal contact is very problematic. Schedule a virtual lunch with someone and plan not to talk about work.

Tsedal:

I think this particular world that will probably last much longer than people anticipate, and perhaps Vivek has a sense of this, but I think the next year will have a good deal of remote existence for many people. And so, working to get out of the isolation and to find ways to connect with others in the way that I think of Vivek has mentioned and other ways that I've outlined like virtual lunches, virtual happy hour, whatever it may be, it's going to be really important because the type of isolation that we've experienced in 2020, and I'm pretty sure we'll experience in 2021, it's just not sustainable.

Vivek:

Can I pick up on one thing Tsedal said which I thought was deeply insightful? This notion that it's in the informal moments that we forged strong connection, I think, could not be emphasized more. And I'll tell you a very practical and common way that this comes up in people's lives. When you lose touch with a friend and you think, "Okay, I need to catch up with my friend," many of us have postponed that catch-up session because we figure, "Oh, we need an hour at least to have a real conversation."

Vivek:

Even if the friend calls and we only have five minutes, "I'm busy right now, but I'll try them back later." But what I've realized is exactly like Tsedal said, which is that it's those one-minute, two-minute conversations, which can actually be a much more powerful glue that connects us with one another than we realize. And partly it's because when you pick up the phone for example and hear somebody's voice, that's very powerful. And as beings who are hardwired to connect, we respond to those cues, to the expression in someone's face, to the sound of their voice.

Vivek:

So one of the things that I've started trying to do more of now is when somebody calls, instead of silencing the call and then just texting them, I just pick up the phone and even if is for 10 seconds and just say, "Hey, I can't talk right now, but it's really good to hear from you. Can I call you back later?" And I find I feel so much better just hearing their voice.

Gautam:

Having that small moment of contact, however digital, is imperative. In the workplace for example, Tsedal's research with Paul Leonardi shows that digital communication tools can help to increase engagement and cooperation under the right circumstances. But it only happens if those tools allow for the sort of spontaneous interactions that normally happen when we're face to face. It's not easy to do and it's best seen as a supplement, not a replacement, to normal social interactions. But that doesn't change the fact that there's a vacuum where most of our face-to-face contact used to be, and nature, particularly human nature, abhors a vacuum.

Gautam:

If we don't figure out how to fill it, we'll keep feeling empty. In his effort to fill that void for himself, Vivek does this other sweet thing too.

Vivek:

The other thing I've started doing more because I was taught this by a good friend, my good friend Mark in California, is I started leaving voicemails. And I know that feels like super 20th century to actually leave somebody a voicemail, it's like unthinkable.

Gautam:

Before the pandemic, when my friends left me a voicemail, I would tease them by replying with a text saying I had no idea these things could be used to make phone calls.

Vivek:

But my friend Mark started doing this. He would leave me like one or two-minute long voicemails when we were just playing phone tag and he would just update me on his life. He was like, "Hey, what's going on. I've been thinking about here and this is something that's been bothering me and I'm really joyful about a thing my daughter just did yesterday." And it was so beautiful just again to hear his voice. And so, like what my business school professor, Sigal Barsade, said to me, she said, "Deep human connection is built not through grand gestures, but through those small moments when we stop by and look into someone's lives, allow them to glimpse what's happening in our life, and through those moments of authenticity, of transparency, we forge deep connection."

Gautam:

When the pandemic began, business leaders, teachers, and workers from all walks of life suddenly had to change everything about the way they did their jobs. And many of us weren't prepared to make the most of the digital tools and platforms we needed to engage or the opportunities to connect that they might afford. Tsedal might be the best teacher I've ever met, and I watch in awe the way she creates a sense of community in the classroom. For anyone struggling with this right now, Tsedal should be your go-to expert on making remote work work. I wanted to know more about her vision for this revolution. What does she see going on in remote workplaces?

Tsedal:

What COVID has done is it has accelerated the virtualization of work, it has accelerated the technology advancement across many, many places. I remember around March, April, 2020, when a senior colleague said to me, "I'd never even heard of Zoom before now and now I'm on it all the time." So the world has changed, and along with it, we all need to develop the skills to repertoirize the ways in which to connect with one another virtually, and it can be done. It really can be done.

Gautam:

If we're all going to be living in a remote world, even after the pandemic, then we need to know how to use the digital tools that make remote work possible and how to implement those tools smoothly and maybe even when not to use them. Digital contact can be just as overwhelming as in-person meetings. In fact, it can be even worse because you can't pick up subtle signals that someone needs a break through a computer screen and because meetings at the office happen at the office. Digital contacts follow us home.

Gautam:

Tsedal has always told me she is an introvert, and while anyone who's seen her teach might find that hard to believe, I wondered how that has impacted her experience of the pandemic. Has introversion made it easier to withstand the absence of in-person contact?

Tsedal:

It's interesting because yes and no. It made it easier from the standpoint of working from home, setting up a studio here, and having less need to verbally think and connect with others in the process of work. The way that it didn't make it easier is that particularly early on, people thought that work meant you would take whatever you did in the in-person format and bring it over to a remote work so we would all need to meet constantly for as long as we did and always using some form of video conferencing. And this is where people had tech exhaustion.

Tsedal:

So that was overwhelming in a way, that I was literally meeting and talking with people more than I'd ever done before because that's what people thought they needed to do. But I had to scale back dramatically and use some of the deep research that's been done over the last 40 years around the use of digital tools, synchronous, asynchronous, lean media, rich media. I don't need to have a live conversation about something that's just knowledge transfer. You can use internal social media to be able to do that kind of knowledge transfer asynchronously. I don't need to have a video conference call when I can actually have a phone call.

Tsedal:

I don't need to have this edge-to-edge scheduling without the in-between to do time; you have to put together your to-do list, you have to actually create time to execute the actual work. So I scaled back once people were getting used to their remote environment to a place that my introvert heart could be satisfied.

Gautam:

So what are the solutions you found that you think people should adopt?

Tsedal:

Well, the reality is, and I write about this in the book, Gautam, there's an entire chapter on digital tools; just because all of these digital tools exist doesn't mean you need to use them all and we need to use the mall all the time. So the way I think about it is, you can't be a business school professor without having a two-by-two. So let me introduce a quick one.

Gautam:

Let's have a business school throwback moment. Two-by-twos are simple, but they can be incredibly powerful. Eisenhower used one that compared urgency and importance. On each axis was the binary; urgent, not urgent, and important, not important, helping him sort his actions into four quadrants. Urgent and important got his immediate, full attention. Not urgent, but important, were scheduled. Urgent, but not important, were delegated. And not urgent and non-important just ignored. He used that simple two-by-two for everything from D-Day to the presidency. If it was good enough to beat the Nazis, then it can help anyone. Tsedal gives us her own two-by-two to use when considering how to match digital tools to tasks.

Tsedal:

On one dimension, we have to think about synchronicity. Does this interaction have to be synchronous or not? And that's a simple answer. On the other dimension, we need to think about lean versus rich media. Meaning the leanest medium would be something like email. I can send an email and the communication has occurred. Richest is either in-person or video conferencing, so lean versus rich. And so, depending on the work and the task that you need to accomplish, you can actually map out what digital tools you need to engage with others. So collaboration is different than coordination, is different than knowledge transfer, is different than complex knowledge transfer. So depending on the task itself, we have to be quite intentional around the digital tools that we use.

Gautam:

But whether you're new to the world of virtual work or not, figuring out how to effectively use those digital tools can be hard. This is especially true when you're a leader. I asked Tsedal if she had advice for Vivek as he prepares to lead what might be the most important remotely managed team in history, the Biden administration's war against COVID-19. Just like with Eisenhower, best practices for him seem like they could be useful for all of us.

Tsedal:

Yes. I mean-

Vivek:

I'm so eager to hear what Tsedal has to say. Thank you Gautam for teeing this up for me.

Tsedal:

So, listen, I love your leadership instincts though. So when you have work that you have to do with a group, you have to do what's called a launch or a relaunch. This is a formal meeting, could be about 90 minutes, where you talk about four key things that will establish your work together and that you will revisit periodically to make sure that everyone is aligned. The first thing is being clear about your shared goals and your shared purpose. Have a conversation about it and be clear about it. Document it, have agreement around that. Talk about your norms and talk about how we will interact, psychological safety included.

Tsedal:

Then you have to talk about people's constraints. What constraints do people have? Understand those. You can actually pose the question. And what are the contributions that you think you can make so that we all explicitly understand them and can leverage them as we move forward? So, in a sense, two things are happening; one is, we figure out, how are we going to work together remotely? The second thing is, we talk about, how do we ensure that over time these things that we need to ensure we achieve fast, high stakes, public are things that we feel incredibly comfortable together as a team to engage in?

Tsedal:

And the trust component, the psychological safety components, are going to be incredibly important. Then this other thing that I'll say is, you have to have this conversation regularly. So a month in, Vivek should check in with his team and say, "Okay, how are we doing with our shared purpose? How are we doing with resources? How are we doing with the manner in which we're working?" Just to check in and not assume that one launch meeting has done the trick.

Vivek:

Wonderful tips. I took copious notes and I imagine I will be referencing that often, but I appreciate the advice.

Gautam:

But I can't get enough advice, so I asked Tsedal if there was a book she would recommend to all of our listeners.

Tsedal:

So, the book is by Marco Iansiti and Karim Lakhani, and it's called Competing in the Age of AI. This is a book that actually has been very close to me for the last several months because I'm working on yet another book. You told me I would, Gautam, and it's happening. But this book is truly a book that gives us a clear sense of the changing world of consumption of the workplace, of organizations, such that we're going to increasingly move in AI-centric organizations. So our operating architectures have to change, the way we deliver values have to change, and how should we think about data? How should we think about scale? How should we think about artificial intelligence and machine learning to the future?

Tsedal:

So this is a book that I think I've now memorized. It's a fantastic book and it's a book that's going to give people a blueprint into what the world will look like in the next five years. So highly recommended it and it's very well done.

Gautam:

Awesome. And last question, I love to ask this one. Tsedal, you've gotten to meet amazing people over the course of your career. So, of all of the people you've met and who you've gotten to know, so people... Well, I define gotten to know as if you sent them an email, they would answer. So you actually have a relationship with them. Who did you find the most impressive and why?

Tsedal:

This one is difficult in a way because I want to name a couple of people, but I will choose the former CEO of Vodafone, Vittorio Colao. First of all, the intellectual horsepower is extraordinary; incredibly smart, incredibly thoughtful. In fact, he led the task force for the Italian government. The prime minister of Italy actually tapped him to think about, how do you reopen Italy after their COVID-19 outbreak? And he led Vodafone for 10 years very successfully.

Tsedal:

But what I love about him is that he's clear about his values as a leader and it is something that cascades through in everything that he does; the notion of trust, the notion of, how do you think about a global organization and how do you make sure that you give parts of organizations autonomy and freedom while in fact ensuring that they'll follow the values that you've set as an organization? He is curious, profoundly curious, and consumes a lot of information from all sources, so you can talk to him literally about anything.

Tsedal:

He is also someone who thinks about impact and contribution with his time and has made material difference in many parts of the world. Today, he sits on several boards, significant boards, and contributes in that way. He's no longer the head of Vodafone, but he would be someone that I sometimes when I'm thinking about something, I'll say, "What would Vittorio say about this?"

Gautam:

Maybe we can all take something from Vittorio, this profound sense of curiosity in our approach to the ever uncertain, new normal. It may not make our transition easier, but I think it's possible that it may present us with a richer opportunity to grow in ways that most of us hadn't really imagined before now. And there's no denying that our situation demands growth. America is in need of a lot of healing from the virus, for sure, but from problems that stretched far beyond the virus too. It remains to be seen what normalcy will look like in a world that, however reluctantly, has been forced to embrace virtual life. Tsedal shows us that, yes, there are changes we need to make, tools we need to learn in order to rebuild the sense of community we've lost. And it is possible.

Tsedal:

You have to do things differently, but we've been quite successful in figuring out how to create an experience where people feel not only connected but they can communicate with one another through this remote environment.

Gautam:

I asked for Vivek what books he'd recommend to our listeners.

Vivek:

Well, They're a couple of books that have made a real impact on me. One is Tribe by Sebastian Junger. The other is Braving the Wildernes by Brené Brown. There's a third that actually connects in here which I just started reading, which is Trust by Pete Buttigieg. And they actually all, even though they're very different books, they all touch on a very, I think, important and common thread, which is that it has to do with community and belonging and how we foster that both for our individual wellbeing as well as for the health of our neighborhoods and the health of our country more broadly.

Vivek:

And what both really depend on is trust, is one building trust with ourselves, with the people around us, and with people we don't necessarily know but with whom we may share a common bond like our neighbors and our colleagues at work and the people with whom we share our country.

Gautam:

Goodness. So that's right on point for your own work as well and I will toss in a plug for your book which all of our listeners should go read immediately. I found it to be deeply moving and profound. But thank you for that. Vivek, one final question for you. You've gotten a chance to meet some extraordinary people in the course of your career and just the course of your life. Over that span of time with the people you've gotten to know, right? So what I mean by that is you could actually exchange emails with them, not you've just shaking their hand once. Of the people you've gotten to know, who would you say most impressed you and why?

Vivek:

Such a question. I mean, I have been truly privileged to meet a lot of inspiring and interesting people who have touched me in different ways, like I remember meeting the president of Liberia when I was a surgeon general during the Ebola crisis and President Sirleaf and she deeply impressed me with her humility, her calmness, but also just her sort of steadfast devotion to her country during a time of extraordinary crisis. But when you asked your question, people who actually come most to mind are people who are not necessarily famous, but who I've been deeply impressed by as I've gotten to know them, those are actually my parents.

Vivek:

I mention them in particular because during this pandemic, I've actually been living with my mother and my father and my sister along with my wife and my two kids and my grandmother who's 90 and two cats as well. So it's been a full house here. But as much as I had known my parents over the 43 years of my life and as privileged as I've been to have good conversations with them, I have not lived at home since I was 16 years old. And I've made as many efforts as I could to visit during weekends and during vacation times to stay close to family.

Vivek:

But there is really something special about sharing the same physical space without the pressure of trying to make it count because he only had two days together. I mean, we've been now together for nearly 10 months during this pandemic. And just having the incidental conversations, they were the ones who inspired me to go into medicine when I was a child watching them serve patients. But they've continued to serve their community in one way or another, whether it's through building nonprofit organizations, contributing to existing projects, or most importantly, by being there for their friends.

Vivek:

And as I hear these conversations that they're having with friends because I just happen to be in the house or as I see how they stay up until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning despite the fact that they don't have to, just because they want to get work done on a service project, it continues to just deepen my appreciation for them. So I would say they're the two most inspiring, wonderful people that I've gotten to know and who I realize even at this age, I'm still getting to understand and know them in the fullest sense.

Gautam:

People are hurting. Many of us are hurting. Too many of us are impossibly lonely. And maybe that isn't new, but it is worsened by the pandemic. And Vivek, well, he has a message for us.

Vivek:

I want everyone who may be listening who's felt lonely before to know that just because you are lonely does not mean that you are the only one and it does not mean that you are broken in any way. To be lonely is to be human, it's to recognize that we are lacking something we need for survival, and it is how we respond to that loneliness, it's how we acknowledge that that loneliness is not a sign of a flaw, but it's a sign, a natural signal that our body is sending us, that is how we move forward and ultimately start building what I hope we will ultimately build, which is people-centered lives.

Gautam:

The science fiction author, Lois McMaster Bujold, wrote that all true wealth is biological. If your life isn't centered on people, then in the end it's likely to be a poor one. Because what we've seen is that even from home, many of us are spending more time at work than with our loved ones. The single thing I say to students that they most often quote back to me at the end of the semester, "Don't tell me about your priorities, show me your calendar. Your priorities are how you spend your time." So what does that say about most of us?

Gautam:

We can't say for sure what the coming months will bring; whether we'll see a big move back toward our offices, our dinner parties, and our in-person gatherings, or if we'll stay tucked away in our respective corners of the world. Whatever happens, it's going to take some time and there's going to be a distance travel. But here's the thing about journeys. You get at least some say in where you're going and how you're getting there. A lot of us hope that the journey we're on now will take us to a better place, one that's far from where we were when this pandemic started.

Gautam:

The one thing we can say for sure about that journey, whatever happens next, whatever steps we take to restore our sense of wellbeing, however socially distant we may continue to be, if we're going to go far, we need to do it together. How are you maintaining community? I'm @gmukunda on Twitter, tell me how it's going.

Speaker 5:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world, an original podcast from NASDAQ. Visit the World Reimagined website at nasdaq.com/worldreimaginedpodcast.

 

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