This transcript is from Episode 30 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/30
This transcript consists of the interview only
Tom: Folks, I’m on the line with Shelley Row today. Shelley, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to join us here on the podcast.
Shelley: Thanks, Tom. It's a pleasure to be here. I look forward to it.
Tom: I’m looking forward to this week. We've been talking about this for a while. It's great to finally be able to talk with you in person. I'd like to start by telling our listeners a little bit about your background if you can.
Shelley: Of course, Tom. I have a little bit different background than some of your guests. I’m engineer by training and I've spent 30 years in the transportation engineering practice and ran a research program for the US Department of Transportation most recently on connected talking cars which is the forerunner of the Google Autonomous cars. It's been really interesting. So, people ask me why did you go from that to being a speaker and consultant on decision-making. And that really is basically what I talk about. I found through my executive experience as an engineer that I was overthinking everything and that didn't work. And I had to learn to stop overthinking and learn how to use other parts of my brain and intelligence, and that's actually what made the difference. And long story short, I made a huge career change few years ago and now I work with organizations and associations for effective decision-making.
Tom: Fantastic. What led you from the engineering and making these…coming to this realization, how did you transition into the event industry and speaking at different events?
Shelley: Yes. I hear that question a lot, Tom. And the story is I was working as an engineer and very happy at what I was doing. But I actually have always had this dream of living in France and it was crazy actually at the time to think about giving up my career. I was at the top of my career. My husband's career was going great. And we started talking about this dream. It was a completely illogical idea and completely impractical for a lot of reasons. We didn't have the money. We didn't have the time. It just didn't make any sense logically.
But what I had learned through my experience is that logic isn't the only answer and that some of the best decisions are actually a balance between cognitive processing, logic, and intuition. And I call that balance point “infotuition.” So, I had to trust my own infotuition. We set a goal to live in France. We saved money for five years. It was quite a long journey and in 2010 we moved to France. As well that was great, it actually changed everything for me. It gave me time and space to think about who I was, who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do and I realized I've always had a passion for speaking and working with organizations and associations in a speaking format.
And this message of thinking and feeling, cognition and intuition was a game changer for me, for decision-making. And so I decided that that's what I wanted to do and I again, completely illogically, left my great position with the government and started this business three years ago to bring this message to other organizations because I feel so strongly in it.
Tom: Now, you have brought this to a number of organizations because before we started recording, you mentioned some of the associations that you have spoken for and shared this information with. Can you share with our listeners couple of the organizations that you worked with?
Shelley: Of course. I've had the real honor of working with a number of associations. Last year I had the opportunity to speak at the ASAE Great Ideas Conference. They invited me back this year. So I am looking forward to being there. I recently spoke at PCMA in the Washington D.C. Chapter and quite a number of other associations. Some technical but a lot not necessarily technical, The Food Distribution Association, Texas Counsel Family Violence. That’s coming up next week. So quite a number of them and the Education Association as well. It's just a pleasure to work with the association environment.
Tom: And you bring these people information on how to make more effective decisions. As I was reading through some of the notes that you sent over before the interview, something just jumped out at me and I've got to ask you about this. You mentioned there are four types of decision-making. And to me, I've always been like make the decision. So, I have to ask what are these types? What differentiates the different types?
Shelley: Well, there's a lot of different ways to think about decision-making. The framework that I came up with and then I derived from my research, and by the way Tom, what that research is I interviewed 77 executives on how do they make decisions and how specifically they use intuition into their decision-making. And of those 77, all but one said that intuition was absolutely essential skill for their executive leadership. And so, I said, ”Wow, that's really important.” And in working with them and talking with them, I came up with a model of these four different decision types. One of them is a no-brainer decision. Those are the easy ones. We can make them all day. There's very low risk. There's a very simple decision. So, those are the easy ones.
They’re also imbalanced. They’re very cognitive usually because you can figure them out. At the other end of that spectrum are those aha decisions that aha moment when you probably have really complex decision and you need to get to that aha place to make the decision. That turns out to be again a very balanced decision-making process between cognitive processing and intuitive processing. It's imbalanced. The other two are out of balance and you might recognize one of these. One of them is overthinking decisions and that's out of balance. We've got too much thinking and not enough of that intuitive processing for that complex situation. That was my specialty as an engineer. I can overthink anything.
And the last one of the four is a major decision. Also out of balance. Those are those situations when you just fly of the handle. Something gets on your nerves, it's a hot button issue and before you know it you've set something, you've done something, make a decision and it doesn't have so much thought behind it as it would be wise. So those are the four. The two primarily ones are the once that are out of balance and that's what I talk about the most.
Tom: The overthinking, let's go into that. What are some of the signs that you are overthinking a decision?
Shelley: Yes, the early warning signs. You recognize these, most people recognize these because you hear yourself telling things like, ”We’re just taking way too much time with this.” or ”We've been over this again and again, and again.” And you feel like you are a dog chasing its tail. Or making pro and con list incisively, right? So it's when you know you’re just spinning your wheels. You are just turning and it goes on and on, and you have exceeded the amount of time that it would be productive in which to make that decision.
Tom: Now, on the opposite end of that, you've got the kneejerk reaction and your notes were talking about some of the techniques that can help you slow down making these types of decisions. Can you share those with us?
Shelley: Of course. And the thing kneejerk decisions is you need to know what triggers it. So, I talk about know it, slow it, probe it, so you don't blow it.
Tom: I like that.
Shelley: So for example, different things will trigger us and some of them are very repeatable. They might be things, and you’ll hear yourself talk about things that get on your nerves, those hot button issues, stuff that get under your skin. Sometimes it’s a situation, sometimes it’s a person. So, for example, a very repeatable one for me is when something goes wrong with my computer. It's not pretty here. It gets, it really is a triggering event for me and I can feel myself reacting to it. Another thing that can be very powerful triggers for us is when something or someone crosses our value system.
Another example for you. One of my values is about self-sufficiency and that's very important to me. So when I see someone who is overly dependent or they don't read the instructions, or they don't take their own initiative, that can be a real trigger for me because it crosses my value system. Once you know how to see it in yourself, then you’re able to recognize it more quickly. It also Tom very importantly, it first happens in your body. So, in my case, when I get triggered, I can feel my chest tightening. My breathing gets really shallow. If I get very angry, I'll feel my jaw clinch.
So how that happens in your body is different or everybody. But the more you know those things, then you can catch them before you say something you’re going to regret later on. And at that point, then you can take some steps to slow down your reaction. There are some things that you can do to help rebalance the nervous system because it has gotten out of balance, to rebalance the nervous system, calm down that reactive part of the brain and that's what enables you to think again because it actually takes your brain offline. And you have to calm yourself first in order to be able to think clearly and come up with a more moderated, thoughtful response rather that that kneejerk reaction.
Tom: So Shelly, is there a perfect balance? I guess it’s going to be different for everybody but is there a perfect balance or some type of balance that we can create between overthinking our decisions and coming to that kneejerk reaction?
Shelley: I think there is Tom because you’re looking at the balance for that situation. And the situation can be very simple decision or can be a very complex decision. So, a simple decision might be something that you've done over and over again, you've been in the same situation before. Or perhaps if you’re an event planner, maybe you've worked with this property before, you know the person. It's very simple to make some of those decisions because there's not a lot of risk and you’re very knowledgeable in that area.
But there are other decisions that we're called on to make that have a lot of variability, perhaps a lot of ambiguity. They have a lot of variables and a lot of those variables might not be known or might not be data driven or quantifiable. So, it's a lot more risk. It's uncertain. Those are the decisions that are highly complex. And in that situation, what I recommend is that you want together the data that you can. Whatever is available out there, get the data to make as logical a decision as possible. But it's probably not enough. Then you might want to get some input from other people, to hear different prospectives because we all have our own biases that we don't necessarily know about.
So it's helpful to get perspectives of people who think differently. And then, at that point you want to tap into the wisdom that's buried very deeply in the brain. To do that, what the leaders tell me, what's worked for me in my experience is you take what I call brain break. Just step away from the problem, sleep on it, go for a run, sit quietly, do something different that will take your mind off of it and let your brain put all those pieces together. Come back to the decision later and look for that decision that both makes sense and just feels right. And that's the balance point.
Tom: Okay. Now, there's a bullet point on one of your notes where it talks about the process of enabling the aha moments, the aha decisions that you've talked about earlier and how the organization or the event planner can benefit from that increased innovation or creativity. What is the process behind an aha moment as you've come to understand through your research?
Shelley: Yes, and that's important for both aha moment and what we’ll talk about is also important to stop overthinking it, because it's the same situation. Let me just tell you a little bit of background of what's going on in the brain. There's different pieces of the brain. We don't need to go through any of that. But the problem child is the part of the brain. It's called the neocortex. That's the newest part. It's where the logic and language live. It's also the executive control function working memory. It's basically the thinking part of the brain. We're in love with the thinking part of the brain and it's great but it can actually get in the way.
So when you are overthinking it, you are processing information with only that part of the brain, and you might even not notice sometime that you are thinking so hard, you're trying so hard that you might get a little feeling in the back of your mind and you shove it away. That's the other part of the brain trying to get through. So when aha moments you want all of the information that's stored in your brain to come together in new ways and the researchers and neuroscientists actually can see it in MRI studies and that sort of thing. And what happens is that the energy in the brain begins to shift at that aha moment and the brain recombines information from across the brain into new, creative ideas. And it's great but you have to allow the brain to get those subtle signals to come together with the thinking part of the brain. So you actually have to stop thinking so hard.
What I suggest to people is that you want to recognize that you need to stop thinking so hard and allow the subtle signals to come through. The research tells us that it helps if you are in a good mood; watching a funny movie or just doing something. I have a client that will call and talk to their kids when they’re trying to make difficult decision because they love talking to their kids, and then take a brain break again. Take step away, give yourself some open space, whatever that means for you. Walk away from the desk, set it aside, do something that takes your mind off of it and give your mind that chance to work its magic and combine the information into that aha moment. And you can feel it. Is that thing that arrives out of the blue like a flash of insight? And it's right there. It's like, “Ah, why didn't I see that before?”
Tom: That is an amazing description. And as you're describing and I'm realizing I often using the same thing when I am writing comedy. I have to step away from the paper, step away from the screen and do other things. And then suddenly, those synopses just fire and you go, “Why didn't I realize that thing before?” So, that's great inside there.
Shelley: That's exactly right. And writing comedy, that would be the perfect example. And you can do that…if you were an even planner and you’ve got to find the right speaker for your particular audience and it needs to click for the audience, and work for the members of the association. Working with different speakers and seeing what they bring to the table, those are complex decisions because you don't know people necessarily, you don't know how it's going to click. So getting that information, getting background, listening to their experience, talking to people who have used them before, but then also letting yourself trust that gut a little bit. It's a big part of it because that's a big decision.
Tom: Most certainly is. Now, Shelley, there was a segment on your website, had some bullet points and I’m going to ask you about these. We might have already covered them but I thought they were so interesting. When I read the bullet points, I wanted to bring them out. You talked about the pitfalls of overthinking and one of them was overanalyzing decisions. The second one really hit me. Overreliance on rules, processes or decisions. Can you talk about that briefly?
Shelley: I can talk about that a lot. I worked for the government for 30 years. Those things, Tom, I've identified five, what I call pitfalls of overthinking. And there are behaviors that we find ourselves doing when we're in that overthinking place. The one that you just brought up, overreliance of rules, processes, and procedures. I saw that a lot in the government because we have just a few rules, processes, and procedures. However, when I interviewed some of the senior leadership in the government, they're very clear that we have to understand what box we work inside. So if you think about in the government, if you think about the boxes that we work inside.
So for example, the biggest box that we worked inside of was legislation. That defined our boundaries of operation, but inside that would be policies that we have formulated. It's a smaller box. Inside that box were written procedures that we have developed about the policy. Inside that box were the unwritten procedures, the way we've always done it before. And what we would find is that people would try to stay inside the smallest box because it was safe and it was comfortable. But leadership is getting out into those bigger boxes, even questioning those boundaries and letting yourself work a little bit more on the edge of what's possible because we tend to limit our understanding of what's possible based on artificial boundaries that we've set to ourselves, artificial boxes we've drawn for ourselves and that keeps us in a much more constrained place.
Tom: On another bullet point, you had overly protective thinking. Talk to me about that.
Shelley: That's when we fall in love with our idea. And we see that too in situations with people where if you imagine being in a meeting and perhaps you have a number of people who are working in association, you're working on an event and it's got a lot of moving parts when you’re putting on an event. And someone comes up with an idea for a new way to do, to run part of the event let's say. And everyone says, “Wow, that’s a great idea.” And then, somebody else comes up with another idea and you've got ideas all out there. But the first person can't let go of their great idea.
They can't see passed it, they can't move beyond it. They have fallen in love with that idea so much so that it's a part of their self-esteem. And that's where it gets really difficult. When you’re that attached to your way of thinking, then you can't see other opportunities. You can't be open to other ideas. And you have to be able to recognize, “Wow, I’m way too attached to this. What's that about? Why can't I let this go?” And usually, it’s because it has become tied to something that we really care about and you have to figure that part out in order to be able to let it go and move on.
Tom: Now Shelley, you shared a lot of great information on decision-making and I believe that applies to even planners. Not just making decisions about their events, but also making decisions about their business or if they are part of a company, the decisions they need to make there. Now I am going to turn tables a little bit and I am going to talk to you about your role as a speaker. You attend a lot of events. Are there any that have really stood out in your mind?
Shelley: Oh, that's a good question. I went to ASAE Great Ideas Conference for the first time last year and I was impressed with their willingness in that event to try new technology. They were experimenting with some new apps. They were very clear. They wanted different formats for their speakers. They were very much focused on engagement and they used different kinds of events to mix it up a bit. And I thought that was really good. And in my study of neuroscience, Tom, I've come to appreciation that the brain does like to have variety. So if you have an event an if you have the same kinds of session over and over again, and I will have to confess as an engineer I've been to so many engineering conferences and all the sessions are the same, and it really gets a little monotonous. And it's monotonous for the brain and you don't remember it as well. So that mixing up the variety, the formats, I think it's a very good practice.
The other thing Tom, I would say I've learned from studying the neuroscience is no one wants people to come to their event, and then it's gone the minute they walk out the door. You want it to be memorable and value-added, so the attendees are walking out will go, ”That was really useful.” Some of the things that neuroscience would say about that is that follow up is really key. The brain rarely remembers something that it only hears one time unless it's just really impactful. So one of the techniques that I've started incorporating into some of my work is some kind out of a takeaway from the event, so literary, they're walking out the door with a reminder that they can put on their desk, they can put and see the next day that helps remind their brain of what they just learned. We do a seven-day follow up email. So seven days after the event, an email lands into the inbox that is just a summary of the main points, it's just a reminder that something in there likely will click with them.
Then in some events, I have a card, and many speakers do this. It's certainly not just me. But I have a card that I hand out and it's blank. They get to fill it in with their three to four takeaways. There's and envelope on the table. They put the card in the envelop, seal it, self-address it. I collect them and mail them back 30 days later. So now, they walk out the door with something physical that’s reminder for them right now. They are going to get something seven days later and something 30 days later. So, there's built-in reminders in the system. It's a much higher probability that whatever it is that they took away is going to stick with them. And of course, the other nice thing is, it's not only a reminder of that session, it's reminder of that event.
Tom: That is a wonderful, wonderful gift that you've just gave our listeners. Great follow-up advice. Now, let's go back for a second. When you were talking about the event you attended, you mentioned that you used different types of format to mix things up. Can you share some of the different types and how they did that?
Shelley: Yes. And now you’re testing my memory.
Tom: Yes, I am.
Shelley: So they had concurrent sessions, of course. But again, they selected their speakers on their ability to do interactivity. So some of them were doing polling questions if you have Wi-Fi access which is still increasingly important in events. And I’ve done that as well. We can do real-time polling to get feedback from the audience. And again, that's helping them personalize it. So the questions that I use are about what are they taking away and it helps them begin to internalize that. But it is also interactive. So it's something they are doing with those real-time, online, polling questions. Someone else had stuffed toys that they were using as a part of their event and a part of their speaking engagement. A lot of people were dong interactive things. So you pause in the middle of the program and have people work at their tables or work with their partner. In my case I do what it's called somatic exercises, their body exercise. So they stand up and they're actually interacting with each other and noticing what happens to them in their body. It's very powerful, very memorable.
The other thing that ASAE they did, they had plenary sessions, they were also excellent. But they had also those little, short programs, five minutes. So, one speaker right after the other would speak for five minutes. And they were very rehearsed, very tightly timed, and you just went from one to the other. And they were all different topics. Not necessarily on the same thing, but you get a lot of different variety and real creative. We creative little events in five-minute chunks. It was one of the highlights for me of their program.
Tom: And again, that is an even planning gold. I know that our listeners can take that and run with it, and maybe, hopefully make some decisions on using it.
Shelley: Decisions, exactly.
Tom: Now, you Shelley, you wrote a book called, Think Less Live More: Lessons from a Recovering Over-Thinker. Tells us a little but about your book and how people can find it.
Shelley: Of course. Yes, that book came out this past February, so it's not even been out of year yet. That book is about my journey, the things that I learned in this process of trying to stop overthinking everything, and be not such an engineer about it all. And I learned like six or seven key things that made a huge difference for me in my life and my career and that literally changed the direction of both my life and my career. And I have talked about each of those in a separate chapter. So for example, I talk about the importance of knowing your value system. This book is designed also as a workbook. So there is a space in the book for the reader to take notes and apply it directly to them.
So they, in that chapter on values, can go through my process and then spent some time thinking what are my values and how do I use them. I talk about setting goals and I do it a little differently. A lot of people talk about smart goals. But I found those to be too narrow and too limiting. They are very specific, measurable, actionable, time-bound, reliable, I forget what the five things stand for. But I believe in tapping into your heart, tapping into what you care about to set those big goals, and then you can work your way through action steps using a specific, measurable, time-bound action steps.
So those are two examples of the chapters in here. Again, it's designed as a workbook, so then as you read it, you can apply it directly to your life, to your work, to your professional career. And it's available on Amazon. I have, I actually have four books. Three of them were written when we lived in France and so they're more about travel stories. But this one is also under Shelley Row under Amazon.
Tom: Okay. We will make sure to link to that into the show notes. And Shelley, if somebody is interested to finding out about you for a speaking event or following up more with you on decision-making, how can they reach out to you?
Shelley: Absolutely. You can go to my website which is www.shelleyrow.com and it's S-H-E-L-L-E-Y-R-O-W-.-C-O-M. There's “Contact Me” form on there. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and be more than happy to talk with anyone, and I work very hard to make sure every program is tailored to that audience, and we meet their needs and provide a high-value content and experience.
Tom: Well, I think you've definitely achieved that today. Shelley, thank you so very, very much for taking the time and sit down and talk with me here on the podcast. I really appreciate it.
Shelley: You’re very welcome. Thank you for the opportunity to be with you and your listeners.
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