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How To Get Clarity In A Noisy World

Two men discussing how to get clarity in a noisy world on a podcast
Jim Vaselopulos (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss how to get clarity in a noisy world

When was the last time you really felt like you had clarity at work or at home? That feeling of knowing what you're doing and why you're doing it. That you're focusing on the things that really matter in life and everything is fitting into place and working as a result. Well me neither! But don't worry we're not alone.

Why is clarity so elusive for so many of us today? Well, the world is an incredibly noisy place, that's for sure. We are constantly bombarded with stimulus and distractions that either aid or hinder our ability to think clearly, make good decisions and direct our effort and energy to the things that matter most. Emotions, goals, problems, belief-systems, other people, world events and that car driving by your window right now can all pull us away from getting clarity. But it's not a problem for some people. So what are they doing that the rest of us aren't?

Well, I spoke to Jim Vaselopulos, Founder of Rafti Advisors, host of The Leadership Podcast and author of the book "Clarity: Business Wisdom to work less and achieve more" about why clarity can be so elusive for so many people, and what the keys are to achieving it and then using it effectively when you find it. His answers which covered everything from understanding the symptoms of missing clarity, the common things that get in the way, why curiosity is a super-power and how prioritisation, sequencing and patience are perhaps your most important tools in the quest to get clarity, are all contained in the latest episode of my podcast Sticky From The Inside, which you can listen to below. Underneath that player is a full transcript of our conversation too. If you're missing clarity at home or at work, Jim's advice might just be what you're looking for.

Podcast Introduction

00:00:10 - Andy Goram

Hello and welcome to Sticky from the Inside, the employee engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing consistently successful organizations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone. You this podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode, we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.So if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

Finding Clarity In The Noisy Work Environment

00:01:11 - Andy Goram

Okay, in another attempt to peel back the layers of what truly makes workplaces thrive and us more effective, today we're navigating the often murky waters of the noisy, modern work environment. A place buzzing with endless notifications, with a barrage of decisions to be made, and the constant hum of change in the background. It's like trying to find your way through a dense fog with nothing but a broken pen light and a dodgy compass. It's challenging, right?

But fear not, because today we're flipping on the high beams and cutting through the fog with the help of my special guest today, Jim Vaselopulos. He's the founder of Rafti Advisors, the voice behind the popular Leadership podcast, and the author of the enlightening book “Clarity: Business Wisdom to work less and achieve more.” In a world where the only constant is change and our choices seem as fast as the cereal aisle in a supermarket, Jim's insights are more than just timely. I think genuinely, they may just be a beacon of hope, guiding us to some safer, clearer waters, maybe.

So, think about it for a second. When was the last time you felt truly clear about your direction, both in life and at work? Now, if you're a bit like me and you're scratching your head, you're not alone. So today we're diving into why clarity seems to play hide and seek with us at times, especially when we may need it the most. So, with Jim's guidance, we're going to explore how recognising the symptoms of confusion and sparking our curiosity can lead us to those, “Aha Moments” of clarity that feel as refreshing and life affirming as that first sip of coffee in the morning. So, strap in, because we're on a quest to find that elusive clarity and make more sense of the noise, confusion, change and choices that bombard us daily. By the end of the journey today, I reckon you'll have a clearer map to navigate the complexities of the modern world, but also the tools to turn that map into a properly working compass that actually points north. Anyway, enough of my rubbish, broken metaphors and analogies. Welcome to the show, Jim.

00:03:23 - Jim Vaselopulos

Andy, thank you and please continue. That was maybe the best intro of all the podcasts I've ever done. That was just like, just masterful. I so enjoyed that. Your preparation is really top notch. That was fun. Thank you.

00:03:42 - Andy Goram

Oh, bless you. Well, what's really lovely is having a fellow podcaster join me today. Just for my own selfish understanding. how's that been? How has the leadership podcast been for you? What's your experience been with doing that? What have you got out of it?

00:03:58 - Jim Vaselopulos

It's one of the best things I've ever decided to do, and I wouldn't even say it's a business endeavour. I mean, I'm pretty sure we've lost more money doing that than made money.

00:04:09 - Andy Goram

I know how that feels.

00:04:11 - Jim Vaselopulos

But it's kind of like a hobby, like golf. I mean, it's expensive, but you enjoy it. I've gotten to meet so many wonderful people. I've had kind of the pressure to read more books than I probably would have otherwise. And I think just that added pressure allows you to kind of dig a little harder. It's like setting a goal for, let's say, a workout routine instead of just working out. And I've learned so much, and you learn how much you don't know, and you expose yourself to so many different perspectives. I mean, for me that's the reward. If people find it interesting to listen in on our conversations, that's just an extra benefit.

00:04:50 - Andy Goram

I empathise and I connect to so many of those things that you've said. I think the opportunity to speak to some wonderful people I would never have met and force myself… I think your point about reading, I love the idea of it. I'm just rubbish at it. It takes me forever, but with a bit of pressure behind you, I've read some amazing things I've never met, and you can never assume what you take for granted somebody else knows or vice versa. It's fantastic. It's been a great experience for me, and I'm really enjoying having somebody who's, I guess, sitting in the same sort of seat doing the same sort of thing, but we're going to have a conversation today. So that’s nice.

00:05:25 - Jim Vaselopulos

Same here, same here. Let's have some fun.

Introduction to Jim Vaselopulos

00:05:27 - Andy Goram

Well, let's look forward to it. Before we get started, Jim, just do me and the listeners a bit of a favor. Can you give us a sort of a potted history of you, your experiences, and what you're up to today?

00:05:37 - Jim Vaselopulos

Yeah, I think this is the worst part of the process for me because I hate talking about me. I'm one of these guys that I got an engineering degree, just barely. I went to a really good school and realised just how dumb I was compared to all the really smart people that attended. Got out, got a really cool job. The job afforded me exposure to a few things that I didn't plan on, namely one being the Internet very early and ended up seeing opportunities there. I kind of always had an entrepreneurial spirit and saw some opportunities to kind of branch out there and started some businesses. Made a bunch of mistakes with them, but learned a lot.

And that kind of informed kind of the book I wrote, even to many degrees, but was successful enough to build and sell a few businesses along the way and do okay, and then decided to get into this world I'm in now, which is executive coaching, advising businesses on trying to help them grow and scale. Our journeys are always so strange, and they never quite go the way you plan life to go when you start. But they culminate in something that usually gives you a set of experiences that I think at a certain point in life, you say, I have this unique set of experiences and I'd like to share what I've learned, and that's kind of where I am now.

The Importance of Clarity

00:07:00 - Andy Goram

Yeah, I think this is what's so great about this medium is that we get to sort of share a lot of this stuff with each other. And I think it definitely comes back to life experience and human interest. Right? People love to hear what other people have been up to. And I think some of the best learnings for everybody, not just yourself, come from mistakes. I mean, those are the things where we really find out why things have gone the way they have, how things tick. And actually, hey, if I had my time again, don't do what I do. Do something different. Let me be that guide. I love that. And I think that's what people relate to the most. Just picking up on what you said there about the book, why has the topic of clarity become so important to you? Important enough to sit down and write a book?

00:07:42 - Jim Vaselopulos

Well, I think through all my years, because some of the companies I have were consulting companies, and now I do a lot of advising with people. And so many times I see people somewhat directionless. And they think they've got direction, but they really don't. And they've got a lot of clouded thinking. You and I, Andy, have clouded thinking where we're thinking about ourselves. It's so much easier to see someone else's clouded thinking. And so I said, what's the process by which I use to help demystify that, to add clarity to the situation? And as I've done probably at other times in my career where I've just said,

“Listen, I'm having success here, I don't know why.”

So I wanted to dig deep into why am I successful at this? So that then you can teach it, you can relate it to people. Once you understand the mechanics of something at a very detailed level, you can actually even improve it further. And so that was kind of a process of curiosity for me, was also something that I think is so important and embedded in kind of the human condition. To relate that, I'll just say, like, if you're a parent, there's probably been a moment in time where you're driving the car and you and your partner are driving the car, and you've got kids in the backseat, and at some point, you kind of get a little lost. And the kids are in the backseat, and they're kind of paying attention. They might be playing a game or doing something, but they pay attention. And as soon as they get that whiff that the parents may be lost, they say, like,

Are we lost?” They pipe up from the backseat and they say, “Are we lost? Do we know where we're going?”

As if they're questioning whether they're in the wrong car with the wrong people. Is the leadership here doing their job? Because if they're not, I might start looking for a different car to be in. But it's so embedded in our psyche to say, like, hey, do we know where we're going? I think a lot of us go through life, a lot of us go through our business efforts and, like, somewhat directionless, flowing with the way the sea takes us. But that's not necessarily the way to work less and accomplish more. So that's why I wanted to focus on this book in particular.

Recognising a Lack of Clarity

00:09:55 - Andy Goram

And I think listening to what you say there, there's a whole bunch of us who, when fronted with that question, do we really know where we're going? Will find it really hard to say, “No, I'm lost.” Yeah, we just don't want to do that. We don't feel like the idiot in the room. No, this is what we're doing. We plough on head down. This is the direction. Before we know it, we're in a swamp and we've really, really lost our way. And what I think is really important, what I really want to explore today, is that. I don't know, this may sound a bit daft and a bit meta, but researching the book and stuff, it's almost like having a lack of clarity is actually the very issue itself that spawns loads of other issues ploughing on in the fog, driven by an idea that you think is still valid, but actually you don't really know what that is, is half the problem for people, right. To recognise the fact that I haven't got clarity.

00:10:52 - Jim Vaselopulos

Yeah, it's so apparent. And there are people I'll work with, and they come to you and they say, like, well, I think I got a marketing issue. I got this issue, I got all kinds of other issues. And I told someone this last week, I was just like,

You have no business strategy. Like your monetization strategy... You're going to go out of business. You don't know it yet, okay?”

Unless you fix this, you are going to go out of business because the math doesn't add up on what you're doing. And it was such a shock and surprise to them, but it was so absolutely apparent to me. And then what I had to do is break it down and just say, here's why, and let's take a look at this. And let's take a look at that. And she's like, oh my gosh, now it kind of makes sense. And once again, I'll preface this by saying it's easy for an outsider to see this stuff. I'm not some magical person who has better insights than anyone else, but I think it's the effort of saying, how can you as an individual, help yourself by taking yourself out of your own head trash. And here's where I think the meta comment comes in and just saying, like, step above yourself, look down upon what's going on, and maybe try and see a few of these things on your own. And then perhaps that helps you understand who to seek to get additional help, to say, “I'm probably not seeing this area clearly. Maybe I need help with marketing, maybe I need help with pricing, maybe I need help with something else.”

But the reality is, the more you can self diagnose, the more you can step back and assess with a clear mind, the better off you're going to be, and the easier it's going to be for someone else to help you, because none of us are going to get there on our own. If there's one thing I've learned in business, like you think you're going to get there all on your own with no help from anyone else, it's like, yeah, good luck with that. It's going to be a tough slog for you.

00:12:47 - Andy Goram

That snowblindness thing, I think is real, right? Just can't see the wood for the trees because you're just so in it, your head down, your backside up, you're ploughing through when I do the same. Maybe it's trying to do some positioning for a business or something, right? Some sort of brand positioning. What do you do? And ten minutes later someone's still trying to describe what they do and you think, well,

Are you communicating in that way to people who are trying to buy stuff from you?”

It's much, much easier for us coming in from the outside to see there's no real clarity. There's a lot of stuff you do, but what do you really do? And actually, what do people buy from you and why do they buy from you? And let's get some real clarity on some of these things, because you're carrying so much stuff with you, right. It's easy for the outsider to come in, I guess you say, clear away the junk and see where the heart stuff is. But sometimes that's really, really hard when you're stuck in it yourself. In all of your experiences, Jim, what have you found that has people, I guess, stumped the most with getting clear or finding clarity? What are the biggest kind of hurdles that you see them kind of faced with that they either unaware of or just can't cross?

The Power of Curiosity

00:14:07 - Jim Vaselopulos

It's so interesting because I can probably say there's one characteristic that helps you avoid that more than any other.

00:14:18 - Andy Goram


00:14:18 - Jim Vaselopulos

And that would be probably curiosity. But if we were to go back to the obstacle that keeps us from doing that, it's probably fear of just asking questions and the ease with which we slide into assumptions. Okay. And so we make all these assumptions because it's easier to make an assumption than to actually potentially ask someone and hear something we don't want to hear. And so we just assume. And back to your other statement about pricing. We get people that have negotiations with themselves about pricing before they ever even ask a customer. It's like,

I think this is price too high. I think we should lower our price.” And I'm like, “You could be right, you could be wrong. Let's not just assume it's priced too high. Has anyone said no to the higher price?” “Well, no, I just don't think we should risk it. I think we should lower our price.”

It's like now you're having a full on negotiation with yourself in your mind. That's just completely ineffectual. Because the reality is, let's just go ask someone. And if people start telling us no a bunch, great, we can always lower the price, but let's just not lower it before we have a conversation.

And why do we feel that way? Is it our lack of confidence? What is it? And really the sunlight that kind of fixes a lot of these problems is curiosity. And that's kind of a big theme because curiosity says, like, I don't know, let's ask the question. And with curiosity, there's kind of like this innocent level of acknowledgment of something that's as old as Socrates. The only thing I know is I know nothing. And so I think there's something really pure about that. And the more we can return to curiosity, the more we ask the questions that illuminate us and prevent us from making assumptions that give us that confidence that says, I can ask a tough question and hear the tough answers and responses without fear. I think that's probably didn't answer your question great. That's kind of like the soup that I see around that.

00:16:24 - Andy Goram

I think that's right. I think a willingness to hear what comes back is really, really important. Right. Because I think that's one of the biggest blockers, is scared of what the answer might be and maybe what work that entails if I hear something. If I can continue to fool myself that this is the solution, then I can just carry on the way we are, which doesn't ever really get to the answer. I also think your point around curiosity is fantastic, because even with a group the other week, I muck about in sessions with clients or with emerging leaders, and on occasions, we'll do something, we'll think about ourselves for a bit, right. We'll do a bit of self awareness stuff.

We'll talk about the circle of life and the influences on life, and we'll try and have some conversations with a group that perhaps don't know each other, and they're already kind of lowering their water level trying to understand each other. And you'll pick out something on, like family around the circle of life. And, okay, so what's important to you about work? Oh, yeah, “I do it for my family.” And that's the same answer for five people on the table. And so I'll go, okay, well, we're going to play the five why game and you're going to have to ask the question why five times. Because I think that curiosity helps you go deeper, deeper, deeper, deeper. And if you can get to five, you've done a great job. Right. Because that, aside from being annoying for someone like a kid, like a two year old, just saying why? Why? If you can get like two, three layers down, all of a sudden, what meant family for one person means belonging for another, which means responsibility for another, which means love for another, we're finding very different answers to the same kind of headline. So that curiosity tool, I think, really helps you get under the layers and get some, going to use overuse this word today, I guess, some better clarity about what really is at the heart of the issue that you're facing.

The Importance of Listening

00:18:08 - Jim Vaselopulos

Yeah. And I think going back to, let's say, love for other people, I think if you really care, you need to be asking more questions. You need to be asking why. It's when you just take the surface level response and just like, okay, check. I've checked my box. I'm moving on to the next thing. And we've all had that help desk experience where it's just like,

You're not listening to me. Stop asking. You're not hearing what I'm saying.”

And I go back to a story, and I think this might be the most powerful story in the entire book. And I don't mind ruining this for people. I'm not ruining anything. But I think one of the lessons I learned early on, I was probably maybe five years into my professional career and got a call from my parents that I needed to come home because my dad was sick. And as they relayed this story to me, I thought it was just so fascinating.

My dad had a history of ulcers. He was an entrepreneur, an immigrant to the United States. And he worked really hard at kind of crappy jobs because that's all you were afforded as an immigrant. And he did that for years. And so he had ulcers and stress that went with that. And so he had a first name basis relationship with his primary care physician about these ulcers. And so he was having some stomach issues. And he said, let's go to the doctor. And my parents, like the cute old couple, go to the doctor together. And he was expecting a new prescription of some new medicine and maybe a handshake. And it's like, okay, be on your way, Mr. Vaselopulos. Good luck with your ulcer.

And so they went in for this appointment, and the doctor talked to him and very easily could have taken that surface level response and just said, “Yes, let's try this new medicine that just came on the market, and call me in two weeks.” But instead of just assuming that his relation of the symptoms was accurate, what she did is say,

Okay, I've taken what you've told me, now I'm going to confirm it. I'm going to confirm it with some empirical data, and I'm going to look at this and make sure that what you're saying matches up with maybe what I'm intuiting, but I need to make sure.”

So here's like the second set of whys, okay? So she's asking questions, questioning his narrative. She puts him on the table, pokes her fingers into his abdomen, that thing that. What are you really doing? Are you just trying to make me giggle? I don't know what the deal is. And she comes back and she says, “Well, good news, Mr. Vaselopulos. It's not your ulcer.” He's like, oh, relieved. You know, that's fantastic. And she says, “But the bad news is you have something that's called AAA, abdominal aortic aneurysm. And it's rather large. I can feel it. And if that busts, you could be on the steps of the hospital and they won't be able to save you. So it's very likely you're going to be in surgery before the day is out.” And my parents are like, “What? How can this be?”

Literally, he was in surgery by the day, by the end of the day, and they repaired it. And a wonderful team of physicians saved him from what would have been an early death, most likely, okay, and we had him for 25, 30 years more. But the reality is, had the doctor just done the minimum and just said, yeah, try this new medicine, it might not have worked out the same way. She was thorough, she was curious. She wanted to know more. Something wasn't adding up. And rather than just ignoring it and making an assumption like, it's probably this, it didn't add up. And that was incongruent enough for her to pursue and go further. And because she was good at what she did, she provided clarity of the situation and allowed him to see his grandchildren, to see his kids get married, to see so much more in life.

The stakes aren't as high when we're running a business, but for the parent that's looking to put their kid through college, for someone who's looking to buy their first home and start a family, the stakes are high for us to be responsible, what we do at work. And so I think being curious and asking those questions and following incongruencies with five whys or whatever it takes to get to the bottom of something so you can be clear on what's going on is really important.

Addressing the Symptoms

00:22:34 - Andy Goram

Yeah, I think this is now clicking into place because you've used curiosity. We've talked about that. And then listening to the story. You use symptoms a lot right within the book to think about this process to get clarity. Can you build on that for me? Sort of like, I can really see the link with the story, with your Dad now, but as part of the process, the framework, the way that you work with clients now to help them get clarity. What is that symptoms thing? How does that really play a part?

00:23:08 - Jim Vaselopulos

Yeah, I think the symptoms, I'll preface this and say, is my book revolutionary? No, I'm probably regurgitating things people have written about for 2000 years. I think the way I choose to communicate it is the difference. And so what I look at is so many times in business, and even with things that are more personal, like medical issues, we get caught up in the symptoms and the symptoms derail us. I have a headache. Okay. I have a fever. I have chills. Okay, great. We all know from our personal experiences that chills isn't the problem. The fever isn't the problem. There's an underlying root cause, which could be an infection, could be COVID, could be all kinds of different things. Okay? Addressing the root cause is what's important.

In business, though, we get so jammed up on the symptoms, okay? We get so caught up, and then we try and treat symptoms, just like with a bunch of analgesics. We try and treat the symptoms and hope the problem goes away. But it's really not going to go away. Okay? So let's take an example, like conflict. Okay? We've got conflict in the workplace. I would compare conflict to left arm pain. Okay? I've got this strong pain in my left arm, and I'm, like, winded when I go upstairs. You might be headed for a heart attack, like, momentarily. Okay? That's a serious issue. The problem isn't left arm pain. The problem is you've got a serious heart issue. You've got something. You need to see a cardiologist, stat.

Well, when we have conflict in the workplace, we go, it's like, “Well, let's get some training on conflict management.” Okay? That's like left arm pain management. It doesn't address the root cause. Why do we have conflict?

The same thing can be said, for the just absolute crazy busy lifestyles we have. Like, we're being too busy. Well, we need time management. Maybe you don't need time management. Maybe you're not making decisions. Maybe you're saying yes to everything instead of not being responsible as a leader and saying no to things. That's our main responsibility in many cases as a leader is deciding what not to do. It's easy to lead when you say, let's do it all. But we have scarce resources. We're managing the resources of time and personnel and money, and so we have to be judicious with the decisions we make. So we manage our scarce resources efficiently.

And so there's so many of these things, and I detail, I think, about ten symptoms that I think are the most common. They're not all the symptoms, but they're the most common in the book. And I try and walk through them in ways that allow people to identify with maybe a medical condition and how this is what it's like. And so you can kind of personally get a visceral feel for what it's like. And then what we try and do is put real stories in to say, you've probably been in a situation like this where you can identify with it. Like, here's what you think the problem is, but that's not the problem.

And one of those keys is we have a turnover or a retention problem, okay? That's a symptom of something else. That is not the problem. That is showing up as a symptom of something else. And what we need to do is solve that other problem, the real problem behind that, so that we can actually improve the situation. Getting more employee gift bags or things out to say, like, “Oh, I've got my coffee mug with the employee logo on it. That'll keep people around longer. Not if we're micromanaging them.” I think symptoms derail us, but we're better about that at a personal level, understanding in a medical framework. So that's why I make the comparison, so that it's easier to make the jump, to see how that we can't extend that silliness in business into our medical life, or we see consequences immediately.

Breaking the Self-Justification Cycle

00:27:11 - Andy Goram

100%! I think it's really interesting as well, because I can hear and feel myself thinking about what you've just said and hearing experiences, my own, certainly of things I've done and maybe some clients that I will have worked alongside. But it's so easy to get into that self-justification cycle of, oh, I've got left arm pain. So therefore, it's going to be, I'm going to convince myself it's this. It's this. You don't know, mate. You might feel more comfortable convincing yourself that that is the case. The reality could well be something different. And that happens every day in business, too. We convince ourselves that, oh, yeah, I know what this is. This is going to be this fine. I've done that before. Everything will be fine. Often that's not the case. Right? But I think that's quite a dangerous cycle, that self-justification cycle. Right?

00:28:00 - Jim Vaselopulos

Well, and it's back to the whole thing we were talking about earlier, which is you're having a conversation with yourself instead of really looking at the situation and trying to gather some information, some facts, having tough conversations with people, we can have entire soliloquies within our own heads trying to kind of rationalise the situation, but it never goes anywhere positive. The one thing I like to laugh about is in sales, a very powerful thing to do is engage people's imagination. Okay? And one thing I got pretty good at in my career was sales. But the funny thing about imagination is it never goes to the rational middle. It always goes to unicorns and rainbows or, apocalyptic situations. Your imagination never goes to like, hey, here's the rational, boring answer.

And so I think a lot of times when we're having these conversations within our own head, we're imagining a future. It's not going to be accurate. Like, when does your imagination go to that completely rational point of view that's centred and grounded in data and facts and analytical parts? It doesn't. And so conversations within your own mind are a bad place to be, which is why I say you can't get there alone, because otherwise you're having a lot of conversations with yourself.

00:29:25 - Andy Goram

And I guess behind the scenes in all this sort of stuff, I maybe touched a touch on emotions and their hindrance, sometimes at finding clarity, but there's a whole bunch of belief system in that as well. Right? So trying to find clarity when you're dealing with your own belief system, your own value set, and then a whole bunch of emotions, how do you successfully help clients kind of see through that fog, that mush?

Assumptions, Emotions and Decision-Making

00:29:55 - Jim Vaselopulos

And I think let's lay it out like peeling back layers of an onion. Okay, so the first layer we talk about in the book is the symptoms. Okay? So we peel back the… see what symptoms are. It's important to recognize them. Peel back those. Then we get to what I would call, like, your real business problems. And it could be like, you have a leadership issue. You've got a business model issue, things like that, some other things that play into real problems we've got with people. But then the next set is kind of this area where a lot of information, this is where the real power comes in, is we have issues like context. People are always looking for the right answer. And every article you read on the Internet is like, five ways to do this. And what all those articles, those listicles, as they call them, lack, and I'm guilty of being involved in some of those articles, so just bear with me on that. Know, someone will call out, (Andy: You're a work in progress, Jim). It's funny, but what they lack is context. It's like, here's the right way to do this. It's like, well, in some situations it is, but we typically don't have enough time and space in an article to have it be 10,000 words. So there's context. It's important. So context is important.

Assumptions. And knowing when we make assumptions is important. We talk about doing the math. And one of the thing I like to comically articulate in the book is how bad we are with math. Okay? I can sit in meetings. I can just listen to people talking and throwing out numbers as if this is a fact. But then if you actually sit with a calculator, and this is something I'm kind of famous for, is like, I'll sit with a calculator and I'll do the math real quick, and I'll be like, yeah, your math doesn't add up. There is no way that your math adds up. And watching TV is great. If you watch any network news channel that's, like, on 24/7 on cable news, it's like the math is almost universally wrong. It's comical, but I think that's important.

But then we get into probably the most severe case, which is emotions. As you talk, we're peeling back the layers of the onion. We get into emotions and emotions, our cognitive biases, the logical fallacies we use, they're so embedded in who we are as humans. And this gets back to kind of like research that was done by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tvrsky in their famous Nobel Prize winning work, and Kahneman's book, Thinking fast and slow, that he's the godfather of behavioural economics. Like, our brains are wired to make decisions emotionally. We layer facts on top of them afterwards. But understanding those emotional impulses we have that are so hardwired into our behaviour, our decision-making systems, is important. They're hard to overcome, but they're important to recognise, so we know when they are influencing us. And for anyone who's listening to this saying, you know,

Jim, this is garbage”, you know, “I don't believe you. I'm a CFO, and I think logically”,

and blah, blah, blah and all this other stuff, you know, there's enough neuroscience out right now, and if you don't buy it, you haven't read enough books on this.

And the most extreme example, which I think is very powerful, is for people who've had traumatic brain injuries. And if people suffer traumatic brain injuries that irreparably harm the emotional centres of their brain, they find it difficult to make even the simplest decisions. Like, they can't decide what to do next. Just so executive function disappears, which you would think is very logical. They can't decide what to eat for dinner. They can't decide like, should I do this or this next. So purchasing anything in a store becomes an exceptionally, almost impossible task. And the cognitive, the logical prefrontal cortex, may be fine, but if the emotional centres are damaged enough, you can't function as a human. And you sit there and you go,

Holy Cow! Our emotions drive much more of our behaviour than we think.”

And anyone who's an effective seller, whether they're conscious of it or not, is irrelevant. They know how to tap into the emotions of people, because we're asking people to make a decision, and that means we need to be really good with understanding emotions. If you want to have a clear picture of what's in front of you and what your future may look like and what options you have at any given moment, you have to be aware of how your emotions affect you and how they affect everyone else around you. Because if you're not, you're really operating it as a disadvantage. And it's unfortunate.

00:34:49 - Andy Goram

Yeah. I mean, emotions, this is an ex-marketer speaking, right? None of my logical marketing campaigns really did much. Right? But the emotional ones are the ones that got people off their backside to go do something. I mean, that's just the reality of the world, right? The emotions are the final game. Brands spend billions on finding an emotional connection between their brand of Jean and people at home. Right? That's true. I also think it's really interesting when we're dealing with business and we're dealing with the tough stuff of business, people will often sort of say, “Well just park the emotion, just focus on the logic." I don't know many people that can just park the emotion successfully. Right. I think you have to process that stuff. I think, to your point, being aware of the emotional stuff is really important. Processing it and understanding that thought is also really important if you want to be able to try and make a logical decision off the back of it. If you try and ignore it and just suppress it, it's going to be there like a nagging little wotsit in the back of your head for goodness knows how long?

So emotions influence us on this stuff. I think they can really, really cloud us. I think to your point, it's excellent about just recognizing that trigger when you're thinking in a certain way. Well, what's that saying? Why is it trying to protect me or influence me in a certain way? What baggage have I got to kind of get rid of to help me make this decision? I think that stuff's absolutely fantastic.

Prioritisation, Sequencing and Patience

One of the other things I know that you're keen to try and help people with is the prioritisation of what to do and focus on the things that actually really, really matter. But also I think you use sequencing, timing. So the combination of prioritising, really focusing on the things that matter in that sense, but then knowing when to kind of do something with them.

00:36:45 - Jim Vaselopulos

That's exactly right.

00:36:46 - Andy Goram

Talk about that to me because I reckon we sometimes we just leap to conclusions, oh, we've done a bang, we'll go do this and then we'll shoot off and go and do something like that. This is a different kind of approach.

00:36:56 - Jim Vaselopulos

I think this is really where the magic happens. And I think a lot of times people sit there and they'll say, “Well, this is a good idea or a bad idea.” I think there are a lot of great ideas out there. Most of the time it's not, this is a bad idea, it's just not yet. Okay. I think that's a term we need to use more in business. This is great. Not yet. When's the right time? The amount of effort that you need to put into something. A lot of times we're conditioned to say, like, well, just work harder. And I'm by nature a pretty lazy person. I'm like water. I'm always going to find the path of least resistance. And I think that could be… but no one ever accused me of not being a hard worker, but I was always trying to find the easiest way to get something done. I didn't want to work harder than I had to. And so I think that comes down to these three elements that work together well, which are sequencing, timing and patience.

Doing something at the right time is important, but understanding when the right time for something is, is to know the sequence that matters most. You can say that the most important move in a game of chess is when my queen takes out your king. Okay? But that can't be your first move. It's not your first move. There are a lot of other moves that set that up that are important. And so when we take a look in business, there are a lot of things that just have to happen first. Okay. One of the more comical things, I think, in our dialogue today, in our global dialogue, is like, “Hey, we want to move to electrified vehicles.” And I'm not against that. I think that's great. Where are we going to charge them? Yeah, we may need to solve that first. I'm just saying it's just something. I'm not saying I'm against electrified vehicles. All I'm saying is we may need to figure out some of these other problems first. Otherwise, we create new problems that might be harder to solve.

And so getting things done in the right order is important, but it often requires patience. Patience is what I call the truest form of confidence, to be patient in the face of imminent threat. Like you see in most war movies, whether it's about trench warfare and World War I or gladiators fighting in ancient Rome or Greece, there's always some scene in those movies where they're saying, “Hold. Wait. Hold.” But the reality is there requires a tremendous amount of confidence and trust and faith to hold fast in situations like that, and that's patience. And so you have to have patience in your plan and your strategy. I think the essential components of a well-formed strategy that supports a business model are sequencing, timing, and patience. Knowing the right time to do things for the appropriate effect. And while this is kind of maybe a poor example for your audience, who's probably not US based, but the difference in American baseball between a home run and a foul ball is timing.

00:40:06 - Andy Goram

A little bit ahead, little bit behind the ball.

Attaining Clarity

00:40:08 - Jim Vaselopulos

Yeah. Same amount of effort, and you could say the same thing in golf. It's something that's down the middle of the fairway or shanked out of bounds is a little bit of timing, and so it's same amount of effort. And so what we're trying to do is say, how can we use timing to work less, achieve more? How can we get the timing right? And that requires often an amount of patience. That requires a lot of confidence in what we're doing. And confidences can be rational, but don't forget that confidence is one of these things that's very emotional, too. You kind of either feel confident or you don't. We can do a spreadsheet and rate the pros and cons of something and say, here's why I believe I should be 43% confident this is going to happen. But confidence is a feeling, and that gets back to this whole thing and emotions.

But sequencing, timing and patience. Knowing the right order to do things, knowing the right time to do things, and having the patience to stick with that as a plan is essential to kind of the subtitle of the book, which is the business wisdom to work less and achieve more. Those three things are what give you that. And the ability to know when the right time is to do something goes to something I call conscious competence, which is really understanding something so deeply that, you know, the little things that make the big differences.

00:41:33 - Andy Goram

And is that in the process that you kind of go through to help people get clarity, is that the endpoint? Because once they've got clarity, is it about then? Is that where the timing and the sequencing comes in? Or do you still find people even when they've got the clarity?

Well, actually, now what do I do with it?”

They've gone through that process and they found something. Do you ever come across that situation? “Oh, great, now I know, but now. So what do I do?”

The Journey to Conscious Competence

00:42:02 - Jim Vaselopulos

Yeah, I think the book is kind of structured in a way that is almost like a university kind of level kind of things. Like you've got your 100 level classes and your 200 level classes, then you've got your more senior classes. I'd say, like part three is like your 300 level college courses, and then part four is maybe a little bit of a graduate degree. The sequencing, timing and patience. And then the part five is like your PhD, which is, we want to really understand the nuances that make the big differences. The conscious competence. When you have conscious competence in the topic, you're not just good at what you do, you understand why you're good. You can actually go forward and teach. You can say, like, here's why this small little insertion of this word right now will make an enormous difference in your sales pitch. Or why just being silent and being patient and not continuing to speak is your best tool towards getting to your objective. And so that conscious competence is really great.

And then what I kind of try and tell people at the end is like, the business wisdom is putting it all together. It's putting it all together to understand how these elements work together. And I think that's what I really hope to convey to people. It's a journey. It's tough, it's not easy, but I will tell you that it's so worth it how I know it's worth it is because when I reluctantly got put into a role where I had to sell, I didn't want to sell. I didn't want to learn how to sell. I hated salespeople, and selling everything about it just made my skin crawl. But I had to get good at it for the sake of our business. And I had some skill, but I was not conscious of my skill. And as I leaned in and became very conscious of what I was doing so that I could actually teach others, I found I could work so much less and accomplish so much more than I ever imagined. So I actually got pretty close to that. Tim Ferriss four hour work week. By the end, what I was doing was I could do what I used to do in like 50 or 60 hours a week, in 6 hours a week.

00:44:14 - Andy Goram


00:44:14 - Jim Vaselopulos

The rest of the time I was just using to learn more, do fun things, do start a podcast, all kinds of other crazy stuff. And I never imagined I could get down to that little amount of work to keep the flywheel moving. But I did. But it was because I became very conscious of what moved the needle and what didn't. Anyone can do that with any discipline. It just takes a level of humility and curiosity that aren't common.

Sticky Notes Wisdom

00:44:44 - Andy Goram

Yeah, I love that. I mean, that's a strong link to sort of self-awareness for me. I think you can really, once you've got great self-awareness, go do something with that. Right. And everything else really starts to kind of fall into line beautifully. Jim, this has been like the quickest episode in my life. It feels like it's just kind of like, flown by. And so we've come to the part in the show I call Sticky Notes. Right. I'm a lazy man. I'm looking for you to summarize all the learning. I'd like you to try and summarize for me. So if you're trying to help somebody, really bring some clarity to a situation, what three bits of advice would you give them that you could stick on? Three sticky notes, my friend.

00:45:27 - Jim Vaselopulos

Yeah. I'd say, based on our discussion today, I'd say, always be curious, okay? Always be curious and recognise the limitations of what you know. I think that's one strong point there. I'd say another strong point is don't have conversations with yourself. The conversations with yourself are going to not bring you clarity. Okay? You need to have conversations with other people, especially customers and clients, consultants, advisors, people, your peers, but have good conversations with other people, because if you try and develop clarity in a vacuum, you are developing a clarity for some imaginary world that does not exist. And I think the last one is, don't feel intimidated, as though like, oh, I don't know what to do. You probably do know what to do. Maybe you don't know the right order or the right exact time to do something, but you can figure that out, too. There's nothing magical about guys like me. Okay. The reality is you probably know a lot of this stuff. You just have to be open minded and willing to ask yourself and ask others tough questions and really be observant about your world and in somewhat of an analytical way. Feel free to measure cause and effect. Look to develop your conscious competence because the benefits are exceptional once you get there.

00:47:05 - Andy Goram

I love that. And I've loved this conversation. And I have to disagree, because for me, this has been a magic conversation. I've really, really enjoyed it, Jim. Really enjoyed it. Before I let you go, where can people find out a bit more about you and about the book and stuff like that?

00:47:19 - Jim Vaselopulos

Thank you. This has been a lovely conversation as well. I really do appreciate it. You're a kindred spirit. So I really do appreciate this. I've got a terrible last name that's hard to pronounce, hard to spell. I've got a company name that most people get wrong. So I made it easy on everyone. There's one website, if you go to If you go to, it's got links to our podcast, got linked to my company, Rafti Advisors, got links to the book, clarity and all kinds of other information. And that's one place to go. And I've tried to make it as easy as possible on folks.

00:47:55 - Andy Goram

Brilliant, Jim. I've loved speaking to you, my friend. I hope it's not the last conversation I ever have with you. And thank you for coming, and do take care.

00:48:03 - Jim Vaselopulos

Thank you, Andy. It's been, the pleasure has been entirely mine. Thank you.

00:48:07 - Andy Goram

Bless you.

Podcast Close

00:48:08 - Andy Goram

Well, okay, everyone, that was Jim Vaselopulos. And if you'd like to find out a bit more about him or any of the things that we've talked about today, please check out the show notes.

So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting, and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please, like, comment and subscribe, it really helps.

I'm Andy Goram, and you've been listening to the Sticky from the inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world. 

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