David Burkus | Under New Management (Episode 532)

David Burkus (@davidburkus) makes it easier for good ideas to leave the ivory tower of academia and get adopted by the people in the corner office who need it. He is the author of Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Why are smaller companies with limited resources better poised than giant corporations to work with potentially game-changing experimental policies? 
  • You may be the average of the five people you spend the most time with, but nobody ever said it has to be the same five — especially when project teamwork comes into play.
  • Why former colleagues are some of your most valuable network connections — and how you can keep in touch with them.
  • Research shows that who is on your team and the company you work with have far more influence on your performance than just your skills.
  • Do you hate your job? Science tells us why. But the good news is: you can do something about it at any level.
  • And so much more…


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Lots of discoveries are made in academia. The problem: they often get buried in stuffy journals that are read only by other academics and never make it to a wider audience for practical use.

In episode 532 of The Art of Charm, we talk to David Burkus, author of Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual. His goal is to take academic discoveries that pertain to business and make sure they reach the masses who can benefit from them.

More About This Show

A lot of business ideas look good on paper, but flounder when brought to the real world. Open office spaces, for instance, won’t work in every scenario. Flexible scheduling and time off require boundaries that are only discovered when policies are put into action. But for all the bad ideas that come to light, there are good ideas that never make it outside the realm of academia for practical application — and potent connections between disparate ideas that never get made. That’s what David Burkus, author of Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual aims to remedy.

On the surface, Under New Management is a book about the crazy-sounding office policies that actually work — Zappos paying people to quit, LinkedIn funding a huge network for ex-employees, etc. Deeper than that is the fact these policies seem weird because they depart from business as usual — but business as usual is depressing for a vast majority of people.

“There are good reasons based in social science why you hate your job,” says David, “and there is something you can do about it whether you have the power of a boss or not.”

The Adaptable Average of Five

As David knows, disrupting a traditional (some might say stagnant) business model in the right way doesn’t just benefit the disgruntled within that model, but the whole of the business itself. He gives the example — supported by science — that building teams addressing the needs of a project instead of just relying on a static office hierarchy is a more efficient use of the company’s talent and resources. Additionally, it ties in with what business philosopher Jim Rohn once said (and we often repeat here at AoC): “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

“The research side shows that the best teams are actually better to sort of come together, work on a project, and then go back into the network in the ether,” says David. “So you might be the average of the five people you hang out with most, but it shouldn’t be the same five people for this project as it is for this project as it is for this project. You need those kind of refreshing old and new connections.”

Admittedly, it’s easier for a smaller company with fewer employees to experiment with these kinds of changes than it is for giant corporations with a workforce of thousands. This is why it takes people like David to be the bridge between innovations made by smaller companies, the academics who study them, and the larger companies that don’t have the same wiggle room to experiment with untried methods.

Networking with Former Colleagues

When people move on from one company to another, a lot of them lose touch with their former colleagues — and David says this is a mistake. We want to make sure we keep good people in our network — especially when they’re in the same industry.

“It doesn’t take much,” says David. “It takes maybe a quarterly check in, maybe an annual thing, depending on the nature of the relationship. But it’s hugely important. I know at AoC you’ve talked about the idea of finding jobs from weak ties — because the people you’re with and close to don’t have any more information than you do.”

Some people use software like Contactually to remind them to connect with old contacts, but David even recommends using social media to keep track of what those contacts are up to — and then responding to them in a more personal way than just “liking” their status updates or leaving a four-word message. “An email, a text, a call…whatever,” he says.

Or send them your favorite David Sedaris story.

Influence Vs. Skills

When David wants to sound smart, he’ll mention Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi or Harvard Business School professor and author Boris Groysberg in conversation. These are the kind of academics who bury their nose in research so David can publicize their findings for real-world application (everybody winds up happy — it’s a win/win).

In one study, Groysberg discovered that high performers who were hired from one company to work at another didn’t continue performing as well as was expected. The conclusion: the cumulative influence of the workplace and surrounding team on one high performer held more sway than that individual’s skills, alone.

There were two notable exceptions:

Women: Perhaps by not benefiting from the perks of belonging to the Old Boy Network, women have to take more deliberate steps to build their network and resources to do the job. So when they’re they’re uprooted and transplanted into a new environment, they’re more prepared to operate independently than men who are used to a support system.

Liftouts: When not just one high performer, but a whole team of high performers is lifted from one company to work at another, the symbiotic influence those team members share among one another isn’t lost in transition.

“Behavior is a function of personality and the environment,” says David. “So at work, behavior’s a function of your individual personality, talents, things you bring to the table, and the environment that you’re in.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about how to deal with people on the Internet who forget you’re a real person (no matter what Ray Kurzweil has to say about it), why David didn’t narrate his own audiobook, the value of bridging your gaps by networking, and lots more.


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AJ Harbinger - author of 1161 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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