Setting goals, dopamine pathways, advertising and marketing, culture and society – these are some of the interesting things we are going talk about today as Thane Marcus Ringler interviews CRACK + CIDER Co-founder Charlotte Cramer. Charlotte shares so many interesting things including her path through advertising and marketing into behavior change, and how we listen to the mind more than the body, and vice versa. Thane and Charlotte also talk about dopamine pathways and dopamine fasting, which is similar to the art of noticing in many ways. Learn from Charlotte’s interesting brain as she shares her insights about the current workforce, what the culture and society are producing within organizations, and so much more.
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Fellowship ft. Charlotte Cramer: Behavior Change, Dopamine Fasting, Engaging With Your Work, And Not Setting Goals
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We have a fellowship episode with Charlotte Cramer. Charlotte Cramer is an LA-based strategy consultant leveraging design thinking and neuroscience to create products, experiences and communications, which results in measurable behavior change. After working in advertising in London selling Kit Kat bars and Krispy Kreme burgers, she shifted her career to address the social and behavioral problems advertising was all too often perpetuating. Charlotte works with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Innovation Studio where she leads strategy on solutions addressing a variety of challenges including opioid misuse, medication adherence and emotional resilience.
Prior to joining CHLA, she lived in San Francisco working with brands including Facebook and Google and was a strategy director of Plant B, a TV show and digital platform starring the Jon Stewart of the Middle East, Bassem Youssef. The show has inspired and enabled over ten million Arabs to decolonize their diets by eating more plants. She also Cofounded the award-winning nonprofit, Crack + Cider, which has provided essential items to over 40,000 homeless people in the UK and US. Charlotte enjoys speaking and writing about the subjects of design thinking and behavior change strategy at the likes of Cannes Lions, South By Southwest, Rock Health, HIMSS, University of the Arts London and The Huffington Post.
She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Applied Neuroscience. There are a lot of great things going on and I absolutely loved this conversation with Charlotte who also goes by Charley. This conversation was pretty wide-ranging. There are so many great insights and a fun conversation. We talk about her path through advertising and marketing into behavior change, which is interesting. We talked a lot about psychology and how we listen to the mind more than the body and how we need to reverse that. We talked all about dopamine pathways and dopamine fasting, which is similar to the art of noticing in many ways. We talked about the current workforce and what the culture and society are producing within organizations. She had some helpful thoughts on it that I was struck by deeply. We also talk about setting a goal and she being in a season where she’s not setting any goals, which is cool to hear her perspective on that too. All that to say, this is going to be a thought-provoking conversation. I’ll let you get to it. Please enjoy this conversation with Charlotte Cramer.
Charley Cramer, welcome to The Up and Comers Show.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
The pleasure’s all mine. We met in 2018 and the first conversation we had after we met, my mind was already thinking about how awesome it will be to have you on for a show. I’m glad that we finally made it here.
That’s very kind. I passed the first interview.
First off, I’d like to hear how you came to the name Charley off of your original name.
I thought it was cool and I thought Charlotte sounded so posh and I was picked on at school for being posh. It’s nice that in America, I don’t get that people say, “I love your accent.” Whereas when I go back to London or I meet people from the UK, that’s the first thing they say. Now they say, “You have an American accent.”
That’s the worst. You get made fun of now probably more back there than here, I’m guessing.
Yes, although I picked up the phone on a team call and my coworker thought it was an American coworker. She was like, “You’ve been here too long. I thought you had an American accent.”
How long have you been here?
I moved to San Francisco in 2016 but I’ve been in LA for a year.
Give a little bit of overview of the last 5 to 6 years of your life and where you’ve been, what you’ve done.
A few years ago, I was working in advertising in the UK and running a nonprofit with my friend Scarlet. I moved to San Francisco to move away from advertising and towards tech. Rather than the output of my work to be communications, I wanted to think about how you could create products that people want rather than creating communications to make people want products. I moved to San Francisco and after about 1.5 years, I realized very quickly that we were using the same techniques and understanding of neuroscience and psychology and behavioral economics. Rather than getting people addicted to a product like candy or burgers, we were getting people addicted to their devices. That didn’t sit very well with me. Shortly after that, I spent about a year working on a nutrition campaign for the Middle East. It was the first PSA on nutrition for the region.
They’re seeing about 75% of their population are dealing with obesity and the related co-morbidities. I advised a team on how they could change behavior in the region and change people from eating these absolutely delicious but ultimately deadly foods towards eating the foods that are grown in the region. That’s what their ancestors ate. Following that, I wanted to focus on health and thinking about how could I use my expertise and behavior change and improve people’s health with that. Now, I’m working with the Children’s Hospital in LA and I’m studying neuroscience to try and deepen that expertise.
I know that kindred spirit-ness that we feel at night. I loved that the initial conversation was around that desire for thinking about behavior change in a way that will benefit society versus harm society. It’s fascinating even in that short description of how your experience within different spaces and the growing disenchantment with each one along the way of seeing, “There’s something bigger at play here and it’s actually not that helpful.” What sparked the initial desire for behavior change for you?
I think it probably comes from having a mother who’s a psychologist, who every time I did something, would try and understand why I did it and how she could make me do something differently. It was also seeing the dynamic between parents and people around me with that lens of psychology applied to it, realizing that the way you get someone to do something isn’t by telling them to do that thing. There are 100 other ways that you get them to do that thing. Working in advertising cemented that even further. I’m fascinated by the fact that there are so much energy, attention and money being placed on getting you to do things that are for the benefit of other organizations or other people. It means that oftentimes we’re doing things that we don’t even want to do. Most people will wake up and if you ask them, “What do you want to do now?” They’ll say, “Eat healthy, go to the gym, see my friends, call my grandparents.” Is that what they’re doing? No. The reason they’re not doing it is that there’s so much energy put into stopping you from doing those things and doing other things that are ultimately harming you. I’m fascinated by thinking about how can we apply all of the knowledge and science and understanding that organizations place on getting you to do things that benefit them to help you do stuff that benefit yourself.
It is such a massive thing. Even hearing you talk about it now, it’s something that I think about constantly too because that’s my emphasis and line of work as well. You’re 100% right, we have to learn this usually early on, that it’s not about telling people something. It’s about creating an environment for them to come to those conclusions that will benefit themselves. That is a complex dynamic environment that takes a lot of strategies and a lot of facilitating to get there.
You seem like a very disciplined person. Are there any times that you do stuff that isn’t in line with what you planned to do that day?
Yes. I am human. For example, this is a funny story but willpower has a diminishing nature to it, meaning throughout the day it diminishes. That’s real because it takes energy to make conscious choices and we can train our unconscious choices, our habits and get those dialed. They still take energy to do, especially when it’s going upstream versus downstream. For example, my sister and her business partner had a party. I remember going and it was fun. It was later at night I left and for some reason, they had a bunch of Trader Joe’s sheet cakes there. I can’t remember why they had them, but all the guests could leave with a Trader Joe’s sheet cake. I was like, “Sure,” and I left. I get back home and it’s like 11:30. It was 11:00, I had to load up all my coffee stuff for the event the next day at church and I got done loading up and that sheet cake was sitting there and I was like, “This is so good.” I sat down at 11:30 after all the work and I ate half of this sheet cake.
At least you didn’t eat the whole thing.
I felt horrible. I was regretting it. I was like, “What are you doing?” To answer your question, yes, there are undoubtedly times where discipline isn’t what I would like it to be in my mind, but you bring up an important point that self-discipline is one of the biggest myths. If you look at the fundamentals of what’s missing, that’s probably one of the number one thing that have been slowly removing from each person’s lives. It’s not a personal thing. It’s a societal thing that our world is geared towards grabbing and holding our attention versus creating environments where we can foster our own ability to do that. Golf is a thing that gave me such a gift in that because I was forced to develop as much discipline as I possibly could. It was a requirement because golf is such a mentally-challenging sport. I had no other option. What do you think about the concept of self-discipline within our society? How do you see that being facilitated? How do you see it in your own life?
In my own life, I’m sure it’s the same as everyone I know and love. It’s so challenging and I feel like I go through phases of being super disciplined, so proud of myself, crushing it, doing everything I want to do and then I’ll eat the whole sheet cake. I don’t know why that’s happening and I genuinely struggle with it. For someone who studies behavior change in neuroscience, I am baffled by the fact that I can’t crack this for myself and I definitely want to spend the next few years focusing on how I address that.
When do you find discipline being the hardest? What do you see as the things or the obstacles that stand in the way?Saying no to food in partnership with someone has this deeper ramification of rejecting someone's love. Click To Tweet
Definitely the time of day is real. It’s easy to be disciplined at breakfast. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten an unhealthy breakfast unless I’ve been hungover, which happens once a year. In the evening, it’s true. It’s diminishing. It’s genuinely a hormone and it diminishes throughout the day, so that’s real. Otherwise I find social interactions make it much harder. It’s something that we talk about a lot when it comes to smoking or drinking, social drinking, social smoking. We don’t talk about social eating. That’s real for me. It’s something that I talk to my partner about a lot. When you’re brought up in a culture, and this might be true for most cultures where food isn’t about sustenance and nutrition, it’s also about sharing love in a sense, camaraderie, community and conversation. You build that bond over food. That’s something that is innate to humans. Food in itself represents your relationship. Saying no to food in partnership with someone has this deeper ramification of rejecting someone’s love or something that’s intangible that I don’t think we’ve truly explored the extent of or the impact of on health.
It is true. I love that you brought that up because growing up in the Midwest and being there, the difference between living in LA versus living in the Midwest on what you eat is massive, it’s not even funny. It shows the power of culture and the environment we are shaped by. I say this all the time, but I would not be the person I am now if I hadn’t lived in California for the last several years, for better or worse. There’s no right or wrong about that. That’s the reality. People in Kansas where I grew up, if they hadn’t lived in California, they aren’t going to act or think the way that I do because they haven’t lived in California. I wouldn’t either. That’s a cultural, environmental thing.
It is an intentional conscious design or at least intentionality around your environment and trying to shape it so that it helps us live out who we want to be. It’s that integrity piece. I think there is a measure of grace needed. There is beauty in chocolate cake. It brings joy and brings a lot of pleasure and that’s a good thing in moderation. Those are things that we can celebrate with. I’ve erred on those too far at times. It has become this robotic, self-deprecating thing that you’ll never give yourself anything that you want. That’s not living either.
It all comes down to loving yourself. Honestly, the times that I find it the hardest are when maybe for a period I’ve eaten healthily, I’ve been working out, I’m sleeping the right amount of hours, doing work, and then it comes to a point where I break and I realized that I’d been doing all of those things. There’s this voice in my head saying, “You’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’re not working hard enough. You’re fat, you need to do this, you need to do better.” Ultimately at some point, you’ll break and want to rebel against that negative hating voice in your head. I’ve been trying to recognize that and think about how can I eat healthily with love for myself rather than hatred.
That is flipping the thing on its head. That’s a complete 180. This is such a sweet thing that you brought it up because self-love is something that is trending to talk about now. People sometimes roll their eyes at it. There’s this weird response to it, but if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s the hardest thing to do. Loving yourself in a way that’s truly loving and sometimes love is hard. You love things that you don’t want. Love is not just a feeling. It’s a choice in that and loving yourself is the hardest thing to do. The easiest path is beating yourself up or giving in to the temptation of whatever it may be, but truly loving yourself, I don’t think it can be overstated how important that is and also how hard that is especially when it comes to food or any category.
When you eat out of that place, then it’s redeeming of it. It brings the true value to it. It’s funny how counterintuitive it actually is when you’re in the moment. This is fascinating because the book, Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb, he talks about this too in the realm of eating that fasting is a way to create antifragility within us. It’s saying, “I’m not going to eat so that I create a body that operates better in the midst of all the change,” because now it can adapt and be present and primed in either environment. That’s another thing that in America has been left behind. Have you done much with fasting?
I haven’t and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I have a friend who did a ten-day fast I believe in Siberia or Russia. Maybe it was two weeks without even water, which no one thought was possible. Obviously, since then I’ve become incredibly interested in it. She’s in Santa Fe doing a fast. You might know her. Another friend is suffering from severe digestive issues, so I started researching whether fasting could help him. I believe in the benefit of it. When you think about the way that our ancestors ate, they definitely didn’t eat three big meals three times a day. Our bodies genuinely do need that time to direct that energy to other parts of your body. It makes sense on a very simple level.
With that in mind, there’s something else that I’ve been thinking about and testing. It hasn’t been successful, but there might be something in it. It’s basically based on this premise that our brains are dumb. Our brains are designed to help us survive in an environment that we lived in thousands and thousands of years ago. They are not adapted to live in this environment. However, our stomachs are better at telling us for example, when we need to eat or maybe even when we talk about gut feeling or having a sense of something. I’ve been thinking in relation to food. I use this example because it’s easy for people to relate to and understand rather than listening to your brain when it says, “We should be eating now. I want you to eat,” it’s to listen to your stomach and only eat when your stomach is rumbling.
It’s talking to you, telling you that you need to eat. Often, I will eat because it’s 1:00 PM. Some people fancy a glass of wine because it’s 6:00 PM or 7:00 PM. Rather than listening to our brains, listening to our bodies can help. Fasting probably helps you reconnect with your body. I have also become fascinated by the dopaminergic system in your brain. That’s the pathways in your brain that release dopamine and they’re related to reward. On a simple level, the pathways help you do things that sustain your survival, eating, drinking water, having sex, hanging out with friends, anything that helps you and your population survive. Every time you do it, your brain says to you, “That was good. Keep doing that thing.”
We have a certain number of receptors that hear that dopamine, but unfortunately organizations, businesses, corporations have created a product that releases an unnatural amount of dopamine. Rather than, let’s say the 10% of dopamine that we would get from natural things like eating a plate of vegetables or hanging out with your friend having a hug, your brain is releasing 10x that. The result of that is suddenly that plate of vegetables or that hug doesn’t feel that great anymore because your brain adapts. Your brain physiologically adapts to reduce the number of receptors to the dopamine so that your brain is not overwhelmed because dopamine is toxic in your brain and it then doesn’t feel the same pleasure when you do those things. You have to seek out more and more. I’ve become interested in the idea of dopamine fasting or dopamine deprivation to help reevaluate or restate the things that we should have a positive relationship with. I have a feeling that fasting probably does the same and can teach us to reevaluate our relationship with food and enjoy human amounts of normal, natural foods in the way that our brains are designed for us to enjoy.
It made me think of a quote by CS Lewis because it relates to novelty. He said that novelty is of all things the most susceptible to the Law of Diminishing Returns, meaning you get that more and more novelty for it to be novel itself. It’s true for dopamine. In that sense, it is a novelty. It is a novelty that your body is experiencing in some capacity, but you have to have more and more for it to continue being novel. That dopamine fasting, I love that concept. I subscribed to a newsletter called The Art of Noticing. It’s an awesome weekly newsletter. This guy wrote a book on it. I can’t remember even the guy’s name now, which is horrible. I wish I could plug it, but I can’t because I can’t remember the name.
It’s all about finding beauty in the mundane, noticing the simplest of things and rewiring that dopamine pathway of finding the reward in the mundane, beautiful, simple things. It’s a fascinating newsletter. One of the times it was this concept of subway restaurants and what it’s like the most, mundane, designed subway restaurant, plain building you’ve ever seen in your life and you’re like, “Was this by intention or by chance?” It’s fascinating. There’s something beautiful in that and it’s going to take a lot of work because everything is the complete opposite of that.
I do think that on a physiological level, it’s the deprivation and the fasting from dopamine. We need to change those pathways. There is so much benefit that can be gained from appreciating and noticing, but we need to extract ourselves from this dopamine overload to reconfigure our brains. The research says we can do that in a span of nine days. I have no doubt that you will be able to book a dopamine detox vacation. It’s going to be the most boring vacation of your life, but that’s the goal because when you come back, everything is going to be amazing.
It’s true. It’s a family thing, but I’m going with my family on also a technology detox. No phones or computers and it’s being present in this cabin in the woods for four days, not quite nine days.
You’ll get 50% of your receptors back.
I’m excited for that. Honestly, every time I make space to meditate, my body, my mind and my soul thanks me. That’s was interesting. You were talking about, the brains are dumb, but the stomachs are much more the trusted guides in a lot of ways. I think you’re onto it there because there is so much coming out about the brain-gut connection and how much dysfunction in that connection has caused many issues for so many people and it’s super destructive. My grandfather and I were actually talking about this. In modern society we put much emphasis on the brain, the intellect and in the scientific theory and understanding things, which again is great. It’s not to say that’s a bad thing. Those are awesome, but if all our emphasis is on the brain and in understanding, we lose the intuition, we lose the feeling, we lose the connection to our gut which is probably the most trusted guide there is.
I’m excited to see the research that comes out in the next 5, 10 years on that relationship. It’s going to be fascinating.
It’s already started. It’s already begun, but there will be much more that we’ll know soon hopefully. In light of where we are as a society, if we’re pivoting back to the self-discipline side and all of these are a part of that, if we look at a parallel vein of that, the current workforce and in light of the culture we’re in has a hard time being engaged with their work. That is less personal as it is cultural and societal, so it’s not an individual problem as much as a cultural problem. What do you see as other contributing factors to that that eliminate our ability to have self-discipline or engagement in what we’re doing and also reduces the quality of our work?The concept of working from nine to five was designed for very formulaic, process-driven work. Click To Tweet
At a simple level, our jobs were very much designed for factory work and the way that we work has not evolved much since the invention of Ford’s 9:00 to 5:00. It has to. We are doing very different work. I know a lot of organizations have shifted away from that, but the majority still stands. The concept of working from 9:00 to 5:00 was designed for formulaic, process-driven work. Right now, the real value that most of the audience can contribute to the workforce is in lateral creative thinking. That does not happen between set hours, so you have a problem there. On top of that, we’re hiring managers or promoting people to managerial positions without giving them managerial training or responsibilities.
You have people who were good at the job in managerial positions and people under them who aren’t being given the tasks that they should be given to grow. This happens because it is not in a manager’s best interest to delegate work because they aren’t being judged on their managerial capabilities. They’re being judged on their outputs. If you are a manager, what is the incentive to give the biggest projects to someone who’s underneath you, who hasn’t done them before, who might mess up? If you have a project that you have an opportunity to prove yourself or to do something great, you’re going to take it on yourself. That ultimately means that unless you’re at a managerial level, those projects that will stretch you and that will help you reach your potential aren’t being given to you.
The biggest knock-on effect of that is the fact that it’s counter-intuitive. As humans, we feel our best when we’re terrified. We’re scared of messing up because the risk is there. Also, when we do our best work is when we push ourselves. From working out, you don’t grow bigger muscles if you’re lifting weights that are easy for you even if you’re lifting them every day. Nothing’s going to change. If anything, your muscles will diminish. You have to lift weights that literally tear your muscles and it’s only in the repair that your muscles grow. It’s been proven through research that the same is true intellectually and in the workplace. Managers are not giving their staff projects that tear those intellectual muscles. They’re being given too easy projects. People are not scared at work. Managers are scared that engagement is at an all-time low because there’s too much work on people’s plates. They’re overburdened or they’re working too many hours, they’re getting emails late at night. You can think about it not in terms of breadth or quantity of work. It’s the quality of in-depth work that we’re missing. That’s preventing our generation from growing and reaching our potential. It’s a huge loss.
Lack of depth, that is partly to blame for the culture that hasn’t been created from the startup world. It’s about the meteoric rise as fast as possible, which removes the foundation that sustains the depth. Maybe it’s a different model. Maybe that’s fine that the first movers always crashed and burned and the people that come behind them do it in a sustainable way and that’s the point. It’s interesting because one thing I’ve been thinking about is how much do we think about sustainability in this? The depth of work is much more sustainable than the scale of work, and one’s going down and one is going up in a lot of ways.
One of them is going to make you better over the long-term and over that long-term be able to optimize your output and quality of the output. Whereas if your job is to make a thousand-item long list of easy tasks, which has the experience of most people in mid-level positions, then you’re never going to get better at doing that. You can only write an email in so much time and computers will do that for us very soon. Gmail is already pretty good at guessing what I’m going to say. We need to be intellectually-challenged and deepen our expertise there. For the foreseeable future, for the next 10, 20 years, at least the rest of our careers are things that humans will have an advantage of a machine.
It’s interesting because even coming back from a trip, I had a long list of to-dos and I end up leaving feeling like I didn’t get that much accomplished because I got a lot on my task list then, but I never moved the ball forward. It’s funny because when I’m planning it out, it seemed like it makes sense. While I’m doing it, it seems like it makes sense. Looking back on it, it only makes partial sense. These needed to get done and I got them done, but what did that accomplish? Not that much. It’s humbling to think about that. It applies to all of us, whatever the role, whether you’re self-employed or you’re within the organization or you’re managing other people. What you mentioned was profound on all levels. I love all the points you brought up. The 9:00 to 5:00 framework, to start there, it’s funny. To think that something has been in place for that long because it’s always been in place. It is mind-blowing and we all assume that it’s correct nationally.
I can’t remember the name, but it was interesting to see the organization that’s trialing the four-day workweek in Japan. Is it Google or Ford? I don’t know but they’re trialing a four-day workweek in Japan and they’ve seen an increase in productivity of 48%.
I saw a stat on that too. Think about how much productivity is found when you instill things like siestas. The reason why they have an afternoon siesta, part of it is that their ultradian rhythms are facilitating that. Our bodies are wired for a rest period between 1:00 to 3:00 PM naturally, so it’s not even rocket science. It’s more physiological science.
Listen to your body.
It’s not that hard to think differently about this. It’s an understanding that that can be changed. You’re going upstream so it’s going to be hard to do that in light of your peers or your other organizations that may be in a similar space. I get that there are obstacles, but I do think that is a very outdated thing and does need to be changed. I love what you brought up the lateral creative thinking and that only comes when there’s space to do it. It goes back to the task list again.
The reason I moved to LA is primarily that I felt as though in San Francisco, there was no space for creative thinking because people who are earning $150,000 feel broke. That has an impact on the mental space that you feel in your day-to-day to think outside of the tasks that you have to accomplish in order to survive in that city. It has such a knock-on effect on culture. Whereas you feel in LA, there’s physically more space, but there’s also more space mentally to be creative and the creativity here is phenomenal. It gets mind-blowing.
In the same sense, it is completely different than when I’m in the Midwest. It is probably a ten-step down function of load that I feel in the Midwest versus here from the pace of the environment, the inputs, the noise, the stressors, the financial stressors, the time pressures, all those things are reduced much lower and it’s amazing how much more clarity even there I have. It’s a different environment in the sense of it reduces the urgency that facilitates a lot of the creativity out of here, but it creates even more space for the lateral thinking, which is interesting.
It brings up two things. Firstly, maybe I misstated this about solely mental space days, creativity. I think you also need input. If you’re in a place that you have mental space, I don’t even know if that’s a phrase that other people use but we’ve been talking about it a lot and intercept it with input from as many diverse sources as possible, then that’s where creativity is fueled. What was the last thing you said?
It was about the pressures, the noise, attention, the load that’s on you in versus in LA versus the Midwest comparatively. That space creates more room for lateral thinking, but it is different in that there’s not the sense of urgency that is out here. It’s interesting because there are trade-offs in all of that. When I think about the Midwest, while I do have the lower load, lower stress and lower inputs and I have more room to think and more peace and clarity around that, I also have less desire for it. You’re also actually having to work harder in some senses because it is counter-cultural to think progressively or to act and create things that are new versus going with what’s in place.
Back to that dopamine story, if you’re not getting rewarded for investing in creative thinking, then you wouldn’t do it. Maybe that’s our third factor, you have to be rewarded.
That’s real. One of the things that you mentioned too, the lack of managerial training, that’s fascinating. It’s partly because of the transiency found in the workforce, there’s no longer this big vocational pathway. It’s hopping from here to there. That’s not good or bad. It’s the way it is. It provides straight-offs again but because of that, we’ve lost the understanding that a position of management has very little to do with the actual functions of the role itself and more about human management, human performance and understanding how humans are wired and then bringing the best out of them in. We’ve lost that process because it’s not as much of a ladder anymore that we’re going up.
To the same point, I didn’t think it’s rewarded. You’re rewarded much more by culture and monetarily by your organization for executional work rather than the management of people. It’s treating people like humans and understanding subtle cues and working with them, promoting them. That’s exacerbated by a broader, very individualistic culture.
Have you read High Output Management by Andrew Grove? I read it and it’s been highly recommended by a lot of people as a staple. It’s one of those staples for management. It’s written by a person who was the Intel CEO for a while. It’s a beautiful description of what a manager’s role is and how to think about it in a complete but simple way, which shows mastery in many ways. What you hit though is so important is that it’s all about incentives. There’s a podcast I heard on Tim Ferriss’ podcast with the guy and he was talking about how in companies, there’s a CEO and COO, there should then be the CIO, the Chief Incentives Officer that is completely focused on strategically using incentives to leverage humans because that’s what we need. Incentives drive us. If we aren’t optimizing it, we’re losing a lot of potential within our whole workforce. A lot of times this is not like, “If you do this, you get a bonus. It’s a weak incentive.”Genuinely taking a moment to take a step back and processing at a different brain level what's going on around you can be very helpful. Click To Tweet
It’s a terrible incentive. We know it doesn’t work. According to Dan Ariely’s research, he found that it’s more effective if a manager sends you a text message in the evening to say you did good today rather than guessing a 10% bonus at the end of the year when you look at productivity. That research was done in a Nissan factory. Take that with a pinch of salt, but that shows that the way that we incentivize doesn’t reflect what we know about human behavior. I would be interested in evolving the idea of an incentive officer to a motivation officer and understanding what is an individual’s motivation in accomplishing a particular task and thinking about how you can improve upon that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It’s thinking about what someone wants for themselves and is driving them to mastery, but then also thinking about some of those extrinsic factors, whether it’s a free lunch, a text message or a pizza party.
The order is super important because if you don’t understand the intrinsic, there’s no way that extrinsic matters and it has to be connected to it. It always has to start with the intrinsic motivation. That’s something that I’m working on too in the company. It’s a program around engagement and creating intrinsic motivation within individuals because I believe that part of the problem is we’ve lost our ability to understand what we’re motivated by it in the first place. That’s self-awareness. It’s seeing ourselves objectively enough to know this is what’s motivating me to do this and putting the dots together so then we can start having some conscious thought around it versus being unconsciously controlled without us even knowing.
Why do you think we’ve lost touch with our intrinsic motivators?
Overstimulation can be number one. It’s the wiring of our dopamine system that’s hacking the system for financial gain or harm to us, which goes into overstimulation in many ways. At the end of the day, it’s noise, which is the simplest way to say it. There’s a great quote by Wynton Marsalis, “The difference between noise and music is that noise is two sounds not related to each other and music is two sounds related to each other.” That’s such a small difference. The only way we can create music within ourselves and within life is if we first eliminate the noise so that we can start understanding how to create the music. Once we eliminate the noise consciously and start sitting with ourselves and understanding ourselves, we can then create music out of that. There is a lot of fear that people have around that silence, around the process of sitting with themselves and understanding themselves because there are always things that we don’t want to see in that. What are your thoughts on what is keeping people from understanding their intrinsic motivators?
I think it’s probably the same as what you said. There are so many extrinsic motivators that give us short-term gratification that we forget about what the more long-term impact could be and how good that feels over time. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, the short-term gratification of your sheet cake is much better, more accessible and easier than the long-time gratification of feeling not bloated and feeling great when you wake up the next day. Why would I make a decision for my future self? I want to make a decision for me now. There are so many easily accessible solutions that address you now.
That’s the individualistic society too, the autonomy of self, that’s a real downside of it. There have been benefits of it for sure, but that is a thing that is as a society is probably one of the greatest detriments to our nation and to our society as humans. It’s the loss of a sense of a connection to a greater whole. We’re one piece of the puzzle that is America, the UK or whatever it may be. That you have a role within the larger whole to preserve and protect it and provide for the future. It’s not just about our generation. What about the five generations to come or 120 years down the road? That changes our way of thinking, but we’re so in the now and we’re so focused on the self that we lose what’s ahead of us and what we’re preserving for others in that sense.
Something that’s helped me and it’s not something that I’ve used often, but there are moments that it can be powerful is to answer the question of what could we potentially do now that will still have an impact 100 years down the road. It’s something that I picked up from some architects who were talking at South by Southwest and they said they love being architects although it’s a huge responsibility because what they create will potentially or has the potential to be that in 100 years. The stuff we make, we never think about that. We never think about our industry in 100 years because we’re not going to be there. There are other cultures that are more connected with that intergenerational narrative who do think about what they’re providing their great-great-great-grandchildren. In my last job in advertising, we had an extensive conversation about what will be the impact societally of the advertising industry in a hundred years. Do we want that to be a good thing or a bad thing? We have it as a decision that we have to make now in order to determine what’s the answer to that in a hundred years.
It brings more responsibility to it. I wrote a blog post on this, that taking on responsibility is one of the greatest keys for being an intrinsically-motivated person because ultimately what that is saying, “This decision doesn’t just affect me. It affects those around me or the people depending on me or the people to come.” We’ve lost our emphasis or desire on taking responsibility and seeing responsibility as a good thing and also instilling that in the younger generations from a societal level. College doesn’t accomplish that. It probably prevents that or prolongs that. Things like inserting a couple of years between high school and college to either work or be in the world to figure out who you are, what you’re about and how the world works is so helpful. Israel does it with military service. That’s actually helpful for discipline. There are a lot of ways to do it. It’s hard to change the system that’s in place always.
That reminds me of one of my favorite ads. I hate to say ads because I’ve been telling you about leaving advertising, but it was in a swimming pool. I used to be a swimmer. I used to compete. It was in a swimming pool and in the lockers, they had a sticker from Speedo and it said, “Swim for the person in the lane next to you.” The interesting thing about swimming is that your personal best is always going to be tied to the person who is swimming in the lane next to you. There’s such a tangible ramification of the speed at which you swim, having an impact on the people around you like what you were talking about. I loved that.
That is a beautiful framework of thinking and it’s so true. I say this all the time, but I was born on third base and thought I hit a triple. It’s an understanding that we didn’t choose the family we’ve grown in, the place we are born, the people that were in our lives, the opportunities we were given, those were given to us. I interviewed this guy, Lanny Hunter. He brought up the bootstrapping myth that we pull ourselves up around bootstraps and that is a complete myth and a lie. You never do. There are always people that facilitate that from top to bottom. We are never our own maker of anything. It’s always supported by those around us in that process, whether we’re conscious of it or not. It takes a level of humility that is foundational for building something that lasts and that isn’t helpful for you, but for those around you. The last thing to mention before we’re done is last time we talked, you talked about being in a different season in life and it’s this period of rest where you’ve consciously stopped obsessing over goals and creating goals for yourself. I’d love to hear you share a little bit more about how this came about and what it’s brought.
It was interesting. You’ve probably got some feeling for now of this anti-capitalist sentiment. I think that’s founded upon like this background in advertising and ultimately recognizing that what we are doing through selling you something is saying that right now at this moment you are not as great as you could be. You are not enough, but if you buy this thing or do this thing, you will be enough. You will be closer to being your best self. I had this realization probably on a drive or swimming, which is where most of my realizations happen, that setting goals wasn’t dissimilar. There’s a part of setting a goal that is saying to yourself, “I’m not happy in the moment, I’m not enough right now, but once I accomplish this thing in the future and once I’ve checked these things off my list and once I get press coverage in this newspaper or landed this interview on this show, I’m doing it, then I will be enough. I’ll be happy and then I’ll have accomplished the thing.” We all know what happens as soon as you have accomplished that task, you don’t even take a moment to celebrate it and you move on to the next thing on your list.
I felt this sickening frustration with that, always having a goals list and what I wanted to do next. I looked around and I thought, “I am lucky and happy to be where I am and grateful. I want to take some time to enjoy where I am now rather than focusing on what’s next or what potential goal I could accomplish.” It was challenging because a lot of that thought process involved me questioning whether maybe I’m doing that because I’m being lazy. Maybe this is a cop-out because I am scared of accomplishing my goals. These were conversations I had but I have to say after maybe three months of consciously forcing myself not to set goals, not to think about what was going to be my next interview I would do or panel I would speak on, which is ridiculous, but to enjoy life as it is and being in LA, working at the hospital, studying, seeing friends, making deeper relationships with those friends.
Interestingly, it was in that period that I felt like I gained the most clarity over what I want to do next. That was powerful for me. It wasn’t something I planned. I didn’t think I need to take a step away from this that I gained clarity, but it came by accident and it was around not obsessing over it. I recommend it. Stop setting goals. Enjoy what you’re doing now. You probably got to this place by setting lots of goals there. Maybe take a break, look around, get off the train. You’re halfway there. Enjoy it.
That’s the best advice there probably could ever be given. It’s funny as it goes back to what we were talking about is that there’s the self-critic versus self-love. The self-critic is the voice in the head saying, “I’m being lazy. This is a cop-out.” It’s funny how that starts speaking when we’re often on the right path. That can almost be a good indicator that we are on the right path if we’re hearing those louder like, “I’m on the right path. These are trying to get my way.” We know when we’re being faithful and that’s the key. Are we being faithful? That’s a much different thing than, “Are we achieving, accomplishing, acquiring something?” I don’t think that’s the point. It’s about being faithful to what’s in front of us, to taking that next step, to doing the best we can with where we’re at and what we’re given. That’s always within our grasp. That’s always something that we can do.
This echoes a lot of the conversation that we’ve had. Someone said to me, “If you’re finding something difficult, slow down. That sounds simple and ridiculous. How is that a piece of advice? When you think about it on a neurological level or a personal growth level, it’s so powerful, even in appreciating those moments on a neurological level. I’ve seen it on your bookshelf, so I know you’ve read it. For the audience, if you’ve read Thinking Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman, you understand the neuroscience basis of that advice. Genuinely taking a moment to take a step back process at a different brain level, quite literally what’s going on around you can be very helpful. I’ve decided to slow down a lot in life. It feels good. It’s scary because I’m like, “Should I be going faster? This is much nicer.”
That’s loving yourself. I posted a quote by Beethoven, “To play a wrong note is insignificant. To play without passion is inexcusable.” There are going to be times where we mess up and there are going to be times where we were playing a wrong note. That’s okay. That’s life. Don’t beat yourself up about it, as much as there are times where you go fast and there are times when you go a little slower. To do it without passion or excellence at that moment and going slow is harder than going fast. Going slow well is the point.
Maybe if the world around you is going fast, the most counter-cultural thing you can do is sit and be still. A friend asked me what did I want to manifest for my 29th year? It was my birthday. I toyed between stillness and groundedness. Groundedness turns out isn’t a word, but you know what I mean. I was only allowed one word, so there we go. That feels right and it reminds me of something. You’ve clearly seen photography of someone standing still with a long exposure of people rushing around them probably in Tokyo. It’s about feeling that power and deciding to stand still in one place. That might be more revolutionary than fighting these days.
I have two last one-off questions for you. The first question is what’s a belief you formerly held that you no longer believe to be true?
That you need to eat meat to look hot.
The last question we ask every guest that comes on. If you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you send and why? This would be a text they’d get every morning as a reminder from you.
Breathe, with no period.
I like it. Let it go. It’s good. Charley, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people find some more about what you’re up to, the work you’re doing or connect?
We’ll love for people to check out and connect with you there. Until next time, we’re going to have round two. This was too much fun. Thank you so much. We hope you have an up and coming week.
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- Charlotte Cramer
- Crack + Cider
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About Charlotte Cramer
Charley Cramer is an LA-based Strategy Consultant leveraging Design Thinking and Neuroscience to create products, experiences and communications which result in measurable behavior change. After working in advertising in London selling KIT KAT bars and Krispy Kreme burgers, she shifted her career to address the social and behavioral problems advertising was all too often perpetuating.
Charley currently works with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Innovation Studio where she leads strategy on solutions addressing a variety of challenges including opioid misuse, medication adherence and emotional resilience.
Prior to joining CHLA, she lived in San Francisco, working with brands including Facebook and Google and was the Strategy Director of “Plant B”: a TV show and digital platform starring the ‘Jon Stewart of the Middle East’, Bassem Youssef. The show has inspired and enabled >10 million Arabs to decolonize their diets by eating more plants.
She also Co-Founded the award-winning non-profit CRACK + CIDER which has provided essential items to over 40,000 homeless people in the U.K. and U.S. Charley enjoys speaking and writing about the subjects of Design Thinking and Behavior Change Strategy at the likes of Cannes Lions, SXSW, Rock Health, HIMSS, University of the Arts, London, and The Huffington Post. She is also currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Applied Neuroscience.
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