This is the full transcript of Commonplace Expertise #4: Eric Nehrlich on the Art of Executive Coaching and Forecasting. It was produced with the help of Guan Jie Fung.
Cedric Chin: Hello, welcome to Commonplace Expertise. This podcast is about expertise in the real world and the people who have them. Today, I'm talking to Eric Nehrlich.
Eric is currently an executive coach and in fact, the main context that we decided to do this podcast is his executive coaching experience, because we connected over the judo experiment that I did fairly recently, and he pointed out certain things that I thought more people should know about, which we will get into later in this conversation.
But before we do that, Eric has an interesting history. He was the chief of staff on the Google search ads team, if I'm not mistaken. And when he was at Google, he did something pretty interesting. He was in charge of Google's revenue forecasting and managed to get the prediction, the forecasting for that revenue, down from 10% error rate when he started, all the way down to maybe 2% to 3%. And we'll talk more about that as well, I'm probably getting the numbers wrong.
So Eric, hello and welcome. I guess it's not morning on your end, but it's morning on my end. How are you?
Eric Nehrlich: I'm doing well. Thanks for getting up early, Cedric. But yeah, it's late afternoon here in California where I live. Just to quickly jump in and say, I did not get the error rate down. It was very much a team effort. It was a lot of people involved.
Cedric Chin: I have many questions about that. Because forecasting in a team plus what bits of it was intuition that you held in your head, but before we get into that, maybe you can tell us a bit about yourself. Like how did you eventually shift to executive coaching and do what you do now? And where did you come from? Where did you grow up?
Eric Nehrlich: I'll try to give the short version. You can ask questions if there's anything you want more information about. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and was a science nerd early and often as a kid. I read Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, the autobiography of Richard Feynman, when I was 12 years old. And I'm like, that's what I wanna be! I wanna be Richard Feynman when I grow up.
So I went to school, I majored in physics. I then went on to grad school. I gotta follow the plan, gotta get the PhD, go become a professor, just like Richard Feynman. And there was only one problem. I didn't love physics. Like he just did physics because he enjoyed it and he would do it sitting in the cafeteria.
There's one great story in that book where he is sitting in the cafeteria looking at plates and he was just doing it. That was not me. I did not love physics. And it turns out it's really hard to get a PhD in something you don't love because you really got to spend all your time thinking about it.
So that was kind of a problem. I gutted it out for two, or I think I made it three years into grad school before I was like, this really just is not working. But I was fortunate that I'd always been good at programming computers and a buddy of mine from college was running a software consulting company. And he was like, "hey, come work for me. You know how to program computers and I can teach you the rest." And I was like "okay." And then of course, this is 1998, this is the dot-com boom. Everybody programming computers is making millions of dollars. I wanna make millions. So I dropped out and joined the gold rush.
I did not make millions. But what I call my origin story of my executive coaching experience was my second job at a biotech startup that had a great engineering team. I would call it a world class engineering team. We did stuff nobody else in the world could do. Then based on that, the strength of that team, we raised 40 million dollars just before the market crashed.
And somehow we went bankrupt a year later. Despite having a product that worked, that was later released by another company. We went bankrupt because of just terrible terrible decision making by the CEO and the leadership team.
I was so incredibly frustrated. I was like, we are doing everything right as engineers and it all goes to nothing because there's these idiots in charge making decisions. What's up with that? I have to understand what's going on there because it doesn't matter how good of an engineer I am, if it all can be thrown away by a bad leader.
So that was the start of a pivot in my career where I was like, huh, maybe the engineering thing is – I mean, I was an okay engineer, I wasn't spectacular, but I was okay. But I was like, I really wanna understand this management and leadership thing because what's going on with that? So a couple jobs later I managed to get a job transitioning to that, more of a product manager kind of role. And I started taking classes at Columbia to get a master's in technology management.
So a degree that was specifically designed for technology people to kind of learn to speak the language of business and executives. And the most memorable thing from that was a class where one of our professors said, if you want to understand how executives think, you have to understand the money.
And I'm like, I don't understand the money. Like part of that class was learning to read a balance sheet so you can look at so many statements and go, okay, I understand the cash flow, I understand the assets, the liabilities, and how it all fits together. And that was the first time I'd ever seen any of that stuff.
So a couple years later, I'm looking for a job and I see this job in Google for a revenue forecasting position. And I'm like, I bet if I forecast the revenue, I'm really gonna understand the money. So I managed to talk my way into that job even though I didn't quite have the requirements they were looking for. Because they were looking for somebody with quantitative background, which I was, I'm a physics major, I know how to do quantitative analysis. They're like, somebody that understands technology. I'm like, I've been an engineer, I know how to program computers, that part I got. They're like, somebody with a business experience. I'm like, yeah, I don't got that. I got a couple classes. Is that good enough?
So they gave me a chance. And the funny thing is, I joined in September of 2008, just when the entire economy melted down. So Google had been riding high for many years. They never had a revenue forecasting because you didn't need revenue forecasting when all the revenue did was grow 50% year on year, every year.
And so I joined and the bottom falls out of the economy and the numbers start tanking. And then six months after I joined, our lead analyst, one of our other analysts, and our manager all left the team. So out of a team of seven, we were down to a team of four. While the CFO, the CEO, the VP of Product and everybody else in the company was asking us, what the hell's going on with revenue? What's gonna happen? Tell us what's gonna happen.
And we're like, we don't know! So it was high stakes for me. Literally six months after I started Google, I'm presenting monthly to Eric Schmidt the CEO, Larry and Sergey, the CFO Patrick Pichette, and standing up in front of them going, this is what's happening with revenue, I think.
It's definitely a trial by fire, but I learned so much. I learned very quickly. And because we had some great analysts on the team, that was when we learned to really get far more rigorous about how we forecasted revenue. Far more understanding of — to some of your recent blog posts — what was true variation, what was random, what was controllable, and really understand that to a much greater degree. And so I did that for a few years and then a few years after that was, I was done with being on thefinance side and forecasting revenue. So I was looking for a new job.
Cedric Chin: Just for context, what was the percentage error rates when you started and then when you ended?
Eric Nehrlich: 10% to 20% was not uncommon when we started. And when I left the team, I'm not sure. But certainly by the time I left Google, like that team, their error rates were down to, if it was more than half a percent, something major had changed in the world.
It was like, the forecast is accurate, the world changed on us.
Cedric Chin: I'm gonna ask more questions about that, but go on. What happened next?
Eric Nehrlich: I'll just quickly finish off and say around that time I was looking for a new job and one of the VPs I'd worked with on the revenue forecasting team — because we met weekly to talk about revenue — the VP of product management of search ads was like, I want a chief of staff to help me think about my business.
And I'm like, I don't really know what a chief of staff is, but I know your business. He's like, well, come help me! So that's kind of how I became a chief of staff, and I ended up being chief of staff for six years running business strategy and operations for the search ads business. So I like to say I helped run a business as it grew past a hundred billion dollars a year in revenue.
That was a great job. I will never have a job with that kind of scale again. But at some point I decided I was looking for what's next and decided to go the other direction of really going more personal, connecting to my passion, which is really helping people succeed. And that led me to executive coaching.
The way I talk about it is, my favorite part of being a chief of staff was the hour each week I sat with my VP and we go, what should we do? What's going on? Where are we gonna go? Where are we gonna place our bets? What should we do? That thought partnership was probably my favourite part and I did the other, 50, 60, 70 hours each week of strategy and operations to get that one hour a week.
Now as an executive coach, I just do the one hour week of thought partnership and somebody else does all the other stuff. So this is my ideal job now.
Stories of Google's Revenue Forecasting
Cedric Chin: All right. So I wanna dive into a couple points in that story. Let's start with the forecasting team stuff. When we talked over email, you had a couple wild stories from that time. Could you tell one or two of them?
Eric Nehrlich: Sure. I don't remember which ones I told over email, but I'll start with one that was kind of funny when I started. So, before I got there, I got there in September 2008. So in March of 2008, the team noticed they were tracking revenue per query as one of their key metrics. And that started declining. The growth rate started declining and actually was declining year on year. And that had never happened before. In all the years they'd been tracking it. And they're like, what's going on? What's wrong with our ad system? Their revenue per query is declining. And they called it code red — or maybe code yellow — I can't remember, but they spent the whole summer tearing the whole system apart, trying to find everything that could be going wrong. And around about the time I joined, when Lehman Brothers collapsed and Bear Stearns collapsed, they're like, oh, the problem isn't with our ad system, the problem is the world!
Cedric Chin: It took that long.
Eric Nehrlich: Well, they just hadn't quite realized that. At that point it had been a long time since the last recession, and so they just hadn't realized that when you have a dynamic auction system, it responds immediately to conditions. And so that was kind of the discovery. But it is like their system noticed what was going on long before they figured out that what was going on. Which is one of a funny story.
Cedric Chin: You know, if maybe the regulators or the Fed should ask Google for access to like, "oh, can you tell us when there's a code yellow or code red?" Because this is months right before the bank failures.
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah. It's funny though because at the time Hal Varian was our chief economist. And Hal's an economics professor, one of the leading thinkers on auction theory. So at our revenue meeting one day, we were trying to figure out what was going on. Hal stopped and said, "I was talking to Ben last week and here's what he had said."
We were like, Ben? Ben who? Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. I was like, oh, right. One of his former PhD students it turned out. So we were being consulted.
Cedric Chin: Okay. Very good. What other stories do you have from that time?
Eric Nehrlich: So another good story, is just after I started. One of my first projects was actually — this is gonna be hilarious — defining what the heck revenue is.
Cedric Chin: What?
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah. You would think that'd be obvious. It's not.
Cedric Chin: Why?
Eric Nehrlich: So I started around that same time we got a new CFO, Patrick Pichette, who I adore.
He's an amazing leader. And he came out of 20 years at McKinsey. He'd been the chief operating officer of Bell Canada and had to run a very tight ship there because in telecommunications, it's very tight. So, when he first came in, he was like, "I can tell you what my revenue's gonna be to the dollar on the first day of the quarter. Why can't you do that?"
And we're like, it's an auction. We just don't know. He is like, that's unacceptable. So that's part of why we got a lot better is because he held us to a higher standard. But one of the things he looked at was, he was like, "wait a second. So I've got a financial forecast over here that we're using to set our plan and our costs and things like that. We've got a sales quota plan over here that is not related to the finance plan. And we've got the product team making adjustments over here, which is using their own definition of revenue. I don't like this. There should be one definition of revenue." Then we ran the numbers and the numbers didn't make make sense. They didn't match.
The number for Q4 for sales, the number for Q4 for product, the number for Q4 for finance, were three different numbers. So one of my first jobs at Google was to figure out how to resolve them. And so we actually put together a spreadsheet that we called the Rosetta Stone that could translate from finance to product to the sales numbers. And it has to do with accounting intricacies and what's billable versus non-billable. There's quota bearing versus not quota bearing. Like certain revenue didn't count for the quota and all sorts of very subtle things in the system that you just wouldn't know unless you cared about this stuff.
So somewhere at Google, there was a shortcut saying, go slash what is revenue, which was a page I put up to say, here's all the different definitions of revenue, here's how they translate to each other. This is gonna be the way we define revenue from now on.
Bringing Down the Error Rate
Cedric Chin: And then many, many years later, you start writing about coordination problems in large organizations and org design. Because your very first project is figuring out what the definition is when talk to each other.
To dig into that experience a little more. So you come in, the world is going through a crisis. You can't forecast anything. Your team is basically— like half the team quit. And then now you have the really hard slog of— I don't know how many years was it where you were trying to bring down the error rate? Could you talk a bit about that slog? How did you eventually get forecasting to work? Given that Google is such a large business, it's in so many areas of the world. And then, trying to figure out seasonal variation versus routine variation versus exceptional variation. It boggles my mind how you can even wrap your head around the problem. What was that like?
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah. I mean, first of all, I wanna be very clear, it wasn't just me. There was a huge team of people. Even on that revenue forecasting team, there were four of us that were still around, and we hired four or more people immediately. So even in 2009, there were eight of us working on this. Not to mention the product teams, not to mention the other, the sales teams looking at this stuff. So it's a big cross-functional effort.
But to your point, we learn to break it down. Different countries have different seasonal patterns. This may not be obvious to everybody, but it turns out holidays in Japan are not the same as holidays in Italy, are not the same as holidays in America. So there's a huge holidays file somewhere at Google, which tracks which regions have which holidays and what kind of effect we expect them to have.
And so, one of the things that our team did — again, I didn't do the actual coding on this, other people did — but they broke it down to do forecast by region, by country, so that we could break it down to that level of detail and have much smoother trends.
Our big tool is just looking at year on year growth rates. So if it's seasonal, then the year on year numbers should stay the same for the most part. You get into some trickiness when it's a date, not a day. Like December 25th is on a different day each year, and there's a different pattern from Monday to Friday. So you have to take that into account.
So there's variation throughout the year, like January, February, March, et cetera. There's variation within the week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. There's variation by day because it's holidays and you have to build your forecasting algorithms to take into account all of that, which people did.
You also have to, as I mentioned, with what is revenue. You have to make sure you're forecasting the right kind of revenue. Are we looking at the right numbers that are the thing we care about? The thing we actually want to measure. One other thing that we did was, you analyze revenue by its components.
So one of my interview questions was, how do you think about revenue? I think it was — it's long enough now, I can say this — we see cost per click declining and declining. What's going on? How would you analyse that problem? And fortunately, I had a friend who was working at Google, so she gave me some inside information on how to answer it.
But I was like, okay, so the revenue equation is, revenue is revenue per query times queries. Revenue per query is cost per click times clicks per query. Clicks per query is clicks per ad and ads per query. So those are your building blocks. So we start looking at that, and then let's break it down by country.
And then, in the thing it was like, okay, CPCs are actually going down in London and then we tie it to the banking industry. And something like that was the actual question. So that's part of it as well. You start looking at these underlying trends.
It's not just revenue, it's like, is the deviation happening in cost per click? Is it happening in clicks per queries, ads per click, or clicks per ad, click-through rate. Or it's just queries. Is queries going up and down?
So there was one memorable time in 2009 — you'll be able to look it up — where all the alerts went off. All the revenue per query alerts, ads per query, like all of them went outside their bounds. Varied by 10%. And the engineer team was like, what the heck is going on? And we bring up the analysis tool we had and queries said skyrocketing. And we're like, what is going on? And the answer was, Michael Jackson had died and everybody in the world was searching for Michael Jackson songs, which didn't have ads on it. And so all of our global numbers were tanked. We're like, okay, that seems reasonable. But these are the kind of stories that I can still remember vividly 14 years later because it was this moment of panic, like, what the heck is going on? All the alerts going on, we don't understand it.
Cedric Chin: Right. And then somebody eventually says, oh, you know, Michael Jackson has died, and that's why the queries are spiking.
Eric Nehrlich: Well actually funnily enough, it was the other way around. We saw the query spiking and somebody did an analysis, what is the number one query happening right now? And cause we have the logs, and they looked at the logs and said, "oh, the, the queries are all about Michael Jackson." And then somebody thought to check the news like, oh!
Cedric Chin: Oh my goodness. It's like a pinhole view of the world, what the world's interested in. And when you told me that story, I remember thinking that's a remarkable story of exceptional variation. But, I guess maybe clarifying question first.
You said there were alarms when there was variation that broke certain bounds. But what was the level of sophistication, just for the sake of listeners, when you were trying to figure out the relationship between each of these components. How much was baked into the code to surface like, "oh, this is exceptional variation." Or how much was human eyeballing and then building this intuition and then eventually telling a programmer, "oh, can you encode this intuition into this particular graph?" What was the split between math — I don't know if you use correlation variables or correlation calculations anywhere — or it was intuition, eyeballing, and then developing a sense like, this looks wrong.
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah, so certainly when I got there, it was no math, no correlation, it was all eyeballs. We had this tool internally, which was great because it was effectively a pivot chart in Excel, so you could split by different variables and graph it in different ways. So I was like, okay, let me look at revenue. And then it would break it out. Revenue per query, cost per click, all the sub metrics. And that was one set of graphs.
And I wanna see what's happening in the UK versus the US. Let me compare those and see if one of them is different than the other. And so we had a weekly revenue meeting where we'd basically look at the trends last week and we'd literally bring up this interactive tool and go like, what the heck's going on? We'd be clicking together, clicking around together. Like the VPs and me and the finance team to really understand what was going on. This was again, 2008, 2009. A few years later, all of this was encoded. We had a lot of this incorporated into a regular fact pack that was created before the meeting so that all these sources of common variation were accounted for, before we got into the meeting.
But in those first years, we were just developing the intuition because we don't know what to code until we have a better sense of like, what are the things that we should be watching out for? What are the splits that matter versus the splits that don't? And things like that.
Cedric Chin: And was it very difficult to communicate later? Like when you have a fact pack and you have different variations, how do you communicate the fact to somebody coming in that, "hey, this is seasonal variation, or this is the holiday." I think you mentioned in email that it turns out that Easter had a bigger impact on Eastern European countries or something like that because they were more Christian or something.
Eric Nehrlich: Southern European. Italy and France and Spain are very Catholic. So it turns out Easter really matters.
Cedric Chin: Right.
Eric Nehrlich: And actually Eastern Europeans are on the Orthodox Easter, so they're a week later. Anyway, just random details that I know!
Cedric Chin: How do you encode all this and communicate it to somebody who's coming in on the team and is new to this? Like is it encoded in the software? Do you have to have a briefing and sit them down and go like, "okay, so Easter's a big deal, by the way."
Eric Nehrlich: It's a little bit of all. Some of it is encoded. I mean, like I said, we had this holidays file. The forecasting algorithms were just used. But a lot of is word of mouth and apprenticing almost. Like, okay, look at this, look at this here, let's figure this out together.
And that may have changed. Again, I left this team in 2012. So it's been over 10 years I was actually on the revenue forecasting team. But it was kind of this funny thing when I became chief of staff, I still sat in the revenue meetings. And I'm still talking to the team because they're showing up or presenting and now I'm on the other side being the consumers of their analysis rather than one of the generators of the analysis. So this one weekly revenue meeting, I was part of it for basically 10 straight years, which was a pretty cool experience.
Cedric Chin: Wow. And at some point you told me that a huge amount of it had been turned into intuition or tacit knowledge in your head. Where people were just like, "oh, go ask Eric." Revenue is acting weird. Should we be worried? Is this seasonal variation or normal variation or exceptional variation? Go talk to Eric. How did that happen? Was it something due to your role and the number of years you've been there, or was it the fact that you were there in the beginning right? From eyeballs to algorithms.
Eric Nehrlich: A little bit of both. Yeah, at some point, probably 2010 or so, we wrote up a little email that would report on the previous day. So 6:00 AM every morning it would run the numbers for yesterday saying, this is what we forecast, this is what actually happened, this is the breakdown among a few key variables. And it would just send it out to all the key stakeholders, the VP of product, the CFO, the various executives that needed to know about this. And so when I was chief of staff, like my VP would read it and it's like, "Ooh, there's a lot of red here. Like, we were way below our forecast. Should I be worried about this?" And at first, when he first started, he was like, "oh, we gotta figure out what's going on, Eric, go do this! Go do this!" I'm like, "calm down, it's fine. This is not a big deal. Here's why it's not a big deal." And I would talk him off a ledge or I'd be like, oh no, it is a big deal. I'm working with the finance team. We're on it. We'll get an answer to you later today. And so over time, before he reacted, he would just pick me and like, should I be worried? No. He's like, okay.
Cedric Chin: This is really interesting. So basically he had to rely on your felt sense of the numbers to be able to tell if this is exceptional variation or this is normal variation. And then eventually what happened?
Eric Nehrlich: I mean, eventually he developed his own sense. We've worked together for six years, so after, a year or two, he got his own clearer sense of how the numbers worked. Once you've been through a few years, you just see the common things that happen and you get a better sense of what to worry about basically.
It was like what you were talking about, how do you learn this stuff? Well, you sit next to somebody who knows how to do it and you kind of develop your intuition based on theirs. And over time, that's kind of how it works.
Cedric Chin: In terms of the answer, it's osmosis, right? All the stuff that I've been writing about tacit knowledge, the answer to "how do you tell between variation" is osmosis of tacit knowledge from somebody who built up the tacit knowledge through trial and error.
Eric Nehrlich: I mean, I would hope there's a better way to do it. I mean that's part of why I've been so fascinated by the things you write about. You're trying to explore it, how to make this more systematic, how to make this more process driven. And I'm just an intuitive thinker, and so it's very hard for me sometimes to go like, "well, it's just the right thing." I don't know how to explain it. And that's just kind of my brain, how it works.
Limitations of XmR Charts
Cedric Chin: For listeners who are listening and wondering what we're talking about. I'm currently doing — I think for a couple months now — a series on how to be data driven in business. And the thread that I've been pulling on was, I did a project for Colin Bryar and Bill Carr from Amazon, and interestingly enough, Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, they wrote a book called Working Backwards. And in Working Backwards, they talk about the importance of being able to tell between routine variation, exceptional variation, seasonal variation. But they themselves don't use the tools from process control, which is really the mindset and the worldview that Colin Bryar comes from. And in statistical process control, there's this tool called the XmR chart or the process behaviour chart, which allows you to very quickly tell, by drawing bounds on a time series, whether this particular data point is something worth investigating.
But the interesting thing to me was that when I was talking to Colin — or when we were working on this project together, which was trying to explicate the whole Amazon metrics process — the process he described was very similar to yours. Metrics owners were expected to really dig into the metrics and develop this felt, intuitive sense of whether this is exceptional variation or normal variation. And then during the weekly business review, it's their job to say, nothing to worry about here. Or, yes, there's something going on here and we don't know why yet. Or there's something going on here and we've investigated and here's what's going on.
So I thought that was really interesting. I wonder whether there's something wrong with the XmR chart approach, the process behaviour chart approach, that, Amazon doesn't seem to use it widely — I don't know for sure, I should probably check — and that probably explains a lot of my interest in your building of intuition, this felt sense of the numbers that you had in your head.
Eric Nehrlich: I actually read that essay on XmR chart and I was kind of like, why didn't we do something like that? And I think the answer is, the world was changing too fast. You need a dependable process for that to be effective and when literally — not literally — but almost everything in the world affects Google revenue.
Cedric Chin: That's true.
Eric Nehrlich: There's too many variables to do that. And that's just the external events. We also have a product team that's releasing things on a regular basis and each time they release something, it'll make things happen. And so, oh, we did this thing that made cost per click go up, or our click-through rates go up, or whatever it is. And that's affecting our things as well. So one of the first algorithms that somebody on the team I was on built, was basically an edge detector. When you see the trend line change, take that out of the forecasting trend line, so that we can actually forecast. Otherwise it would just predict next year there'd be a step change like that. And you can't do that obviously. So the algorithm had to learn to take out all those step changes. But then you had to make sure it was a real step change that was actually due to a product change and not something else. So it's all these complications that required really understanding the system and everything affecting it to be able to make sense of it.
It's like the XmR chart is a really cool idea, but it really depends on no exogenous variables, which just was not the case for the stuff I was working on. And I imagine for Amazon as well.
Cedric Chin: Or fewer exogenous variables, right? Like with certain company processes I imagine you can put an XmR approach on it, but because it's not completely affected by the macro environment. But something like Google's revenue, I could imagine there's too many exogenous factors.
One example that I encountered in trying to put this to practice was to figure out traffic spikes on what to investigate. So what I had to do was, I had to actually separate out my traffic from Hacker News versus my traffic from SEO, normal sources, or direct sources.
And the reason for that was because Hacker News was this spiky thing that was completely random because Commoncog would go viral once every month or so. And, that's basically a random process. I, can't control that. There's no way that I can figure out how to make my articles more viral, more consistently.
It just totally depends on who submitted it to Hacker News, so I had to separate that out because otherwise I can't do any analysis on figuring out like, hey, has my SEO changed? Has certain changes that I made to my website format affected my rankings or my direct visitors?
And so I guess that there are real limits to that approach, but I can imagine it maybe working for something more internal. Maybe you are trying to figure out some process control of your latency or some computer system thing, which I'm sure they already know.
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah. I mean that's why this came out of manufacturing where it's in the factory where you control all the variables. So it's much easier to have that kind of approach. But yeah, your example is great, because the Hacker News spikes are so big it can overwhelm all of your SEO. So it's like, well, I'm just gonna ignore that. I was like, but then you're ignoring the thing that's one of the biggest drivers. So that doesn't seem right.
Cedric Chin: It's not controllable though. So if it's not controllable, you're supposed to put it aside and then focus on the thing that's controllable, which is the more SEO, direct traffic, which should trend up over time, but you want to make sure that that's actually happening.
Eric Nehrlich: I would say like, it's not controllable, except there are things you can experiment with being more viral. I haven't figured out how to do this, but I listened to an interview with Mark Manson. He wrote the books, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck and before that he'd been writing essays on his website and he had figured out a way to go viral basically every month or so on Facebook. And he was like, yeah, I spent days obsessing over the wording of headlines to figure out exactly what's gonna make something go viral. And he had that particular title, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. He was like, yeah, I spent a year crafting that title. It went viral. It became a book. It set up my whole career. And so he took it as like, no, this is not random. I will figure out how to reverse engineer virality, and yeah you don't get it every time, but my hit rate went up when I studied this.
So even things that feel something like, oh, that's not something you can do anything about, but to our other theme of what we're gonna talk about, deliberate practice, he was like, I'm gonna experiment and try things and see what I can do to drive things.
What a Novice Would Get Wrong in Forecasting
Cedric Chin: To close this off, this piece about your really interesting — to me at least — history in Google's forecasting revenue, what would you say to somebody who was a novice and was trying to get into revenue forecasting? Maybe on Google's side or maybe on another global business, which is very complex, exposed to the macro economy sort of situation. What advice would you give to a novice who's trying to start down this path?
Eric Nehrlich: Oof. I think it's gonna start by really understanding what are the components that matter and the components of revenue.
One of the things I also did at Google is a little bit of business modelling for some of our emerging businesses, which we didn't have the data for. And I had to come up with my theory as to what would be the key metrics that we were gonna try to manage to. And so it's really like, okay, in any kind of revenue equation, it's whatever price times quantity, right? It's like, how many do we sell and what do we pay for it? So let's start with that.
Like what are the things that go to revenue? And then what are the things affect how many do you sell? What are the things that affect your price? And you start breaking it down like that, and you don't wanna go too deep. Or I should say, I don't think it's a good idea to go too deep.
My bane of existence was these ex-McKinsey consultants that would come in and they'd have a 500 line spreadsheet. 495 of the lines were made up. And I'm like, I cannot get any insight from this. It does wonderfully, everything ripples through, but I don't know how to gain insight from this.
Whereas I think one of the things my VPs and my stakeholders liked about my spreadsheets were like, I would clearly label, here's the five assumptions and I put them in yellow. And if you change these, then they'll ripple through. But let's look at how these five things, that I think are the key things, affect everything else in the model.
And this is another teaching from Patrick Pichette, the CFO. Because that was his key question, what do I have to believe for this to be successful? And he would ask that in every single meeting where somebody was asking for funding. So I was like, okay, if this business is gonna be successful, what do I have to believe is gonna happen? And I didn't know what that question meant the first time he asked it, or the second.
Cedric Chin: Yeah, I don't understand. Maybe you should dig into that a bit more.
Eric Nehrlich: Well, it's what I was just saying. Do you understand the key numbers that are gonna drive the success of your business? And do you have a sense of how realistic those numbers are? So if it's price times quantity and you're like, oh, we're gonna charge this much, we're gonna sell this many units, and you look at the units and you're like, you're gonna sell five units for every person on the face of the earth? I don't think that you're gonna get to your numbers.
Cedric Chin: Right. You're holding them to the standard of, if you have numbers, what's the basis behind them? Is it realistic?
Eric Nehrlich: Yes. What do I have to believe? Can I tie this back to some real numbers where we have a real world data that we can justify that we're gonna get to this number. And if so, then he'd be like, okay, here's some funding for six months. Come back and measure those numbers in the wild. Do the experiments and come back and then you'll get more money. And it's very simple. It's what any VC would do. It's the lean startup, build, measure, learn kind of model. But that's how I learned it was from Patrick Pichette.
And I got very good at answering that question because every time one of the teams I supported was going in front of him, like I knew we need to have an answer to the question, what do I have to believe? And if we couldn't really distill it to like, here's the three numbers that matter, here's our comparison points that we think are reasonable for us to achieve, and this is how that's gonna translate into this kind of revenue.
The other funny thing around that time was if the number wasn't a billion dollars in three years, it wasn't gonna get funded. Because Google's numbers were just so big that if it was not a billion dollars in three years, it's not gonna move the needle enough for us to care about.
Cedric Chin: No, no, this is 100% true. When I was talking to Colin as well about the PR/FAQ process, he was saying that one of the big questions that killed a lot of proposed projects was, is this enough to move the needle? And the answer to most proposals, most PR/FAQs were no.
Eric Nehrlich: And it's funny. I got really frustrated with this at Google because back in 1998, Larry and Sergey tried to sell to Yahoo for a million dollars and they were turned down. So it's like things that don't look like a billion dollars right now, could easily turn into something much bigger and we aren't smart enough to predict that. Or venture capitalists would've a much easier job. So it got very frustrating that we'd apply this lens and threshold and it's like, well, we don't know! If we knew enough to do that, we'd all be venture capitalists and able to predict every startup, but nobody can do it. So let's stop pretending we can.
Cedric Chin: That's true, hmm. One of the questions that I actually like to ask, which is sort of tied into expertise, — which we're gonna talk about in a second — is what would a novice get wrong here? So if somebody was going to start out and they came to you and said, oh, you know, I'm starting out this forecasting role in some company. What would they get wrong? Within the first year or so.
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah, I think the main thing people would get wrong is panicking when the number is below the forecast. So what's gonna happen is, you're gonna have a forecast, the CEO's gonna look at it, and they're gonna say, we're below forecast! Something must be wrong! You have a big fire drill that everybody has to go into alert mode to figure it out.
It's like, okay, if we are trying to make an accurate forecast, one that is actually trying to predict it, we should try to be 50% above, 50% below. We should expect to be below the forecast 50% of the time.
Cedric Chin: Right.
Eric Nehrlich: And if we're not setting that expectation, if we want to make it a forecast that we always beat, then we need to make a different forecast. And so this gets back to the question of what purpose is the forecast meant to serve? If it's meant to be accurate, you have to be prepared that there's gonna be negative days. And sometimes big negative days because, as we know from variation, one out of a hundred days is gonna be three sigma away.
Cedric Chin: Yeah.
Eric Nehrlich: That's just math. But if you don't have that intuition that you've developed, or that I developed — if it's like 5% below forecast a week in a row, then I start to worry. Like okay, there's something going on. Maybe there's some exogenous factor we're missing. Something's going on.
But if it's one day below, one day above, it's generally not worth worrying about. So I think that's kind of the point. It's educating yourself on that and then educating your stakeholders. Like this is what we expect. We expect some above, some below. Or if you want to have it always be above and it'll always be in the blue, then we're gonna set a lower forecast and be less ambitious. But that has consequences as well, because the revenue forecast was used to set the financial plans. So if you set a lower revenue forecast that means you can't spend as much money because the costs that are allocated is a function of margin.
So this is your revenue, there's your margin, this is the cost we're gonna have. And then it's like, okay, we didn't fund things that we otherwise would've funded. So that was something that people didn't get either. They're like, oh, it's a good thing when I beat my forecast by a lot. It's like, no, it's a bad thing.
They're like, why is it bad to beat forecast by a lot? It's like, well because if we knew you were gonna beat forecast, we would've funded these three other projects that we said no to. Because we didn't think we'd have the money. So that's why accuracy matters in this stuff. And again, this is not intuitive unless you sit in the finance department and sit with this stuff for a couple years, which is what I did.
What an Executive Coach Does
Cedric Chin: And I think that this is useful for other people listening to this podcast to know. But switching gears a bit, when you switch to become an executive coach, maybe you set a stage, but for people who don't know — and they are people who don't actually know what an executive coach does — what is an executive coach and could you describe that transition? What do you find easy? What do you find enjoyable? What do you find difficult about that shift? Now you're an executive coach, you've been doing this for a couple years, but before that you were completely in forecasting for 10 years. And then you switch completely to this more squishy, qualitative people focus thing.
So maybe talk through that, talk about what an executive coach is, and then like how did you make the transition?
Eric Nehrlich: Sure. So I like to say that my job as an executive coach is to help leaders grow their impact. And the first question is like, well, what does that mean? And you and I talked about this in an email. It's like the first question I always ask with the client is, what does success look like? If I work with you as your coach and we look back at this in the year and you're wildly successful, what does that look like?
And it's a different answer for everybody. It might be, I got promoted, I got more scope, people listen to me more, I make more money. It could be a lot of different things. I got a new job, I got this title, I had this impact. There's all these different motivations that people have.
So the first thing we have to agree on is where are we aiming? Because if we don't agree on that, we're not gonna make any progress. And then my job is to help them move in the direction they're trying to go. And in particular, to our point about exogenous versus internal factors, like I can't control the economy. I can't even control what's happening with other people. So the thing I've worked with my clients on is their own behaviours. So what are the things they are doing themselves that are blocking their progress towards their goals? And that's the thing we could control.
So I will never promise, I'm gonna get you that promotion because I'm that's not something I can control. That's dependent on politics and a bunch of other exogenous factors. But if they told you in your performance review, this is the thing that's holding you back from the promotion, you're too aggressive or you need more influence or you need better executive presence. Okay, we can work on that. And we focus on the things that they control.
And the way I do that is we look at their current behaviours. We look at their default reactions to situations. And in a lot of times one of my favourite go-to moves is they say, I want more executive presence. Okay, who is somebody you know that has that executive presence you want? And they think of a couple people like, oh yeah, this person, that person.
Okay, what do they do that you don't? What is observably different about their behaviour? And they're like, oh, well they're calmer when they talk to rooms or they spend more time cultivating relationships or whatever it is. I'm like, great! Now you know what to work on. Let's go figure out how you can try that.
So if it's emotional regulation, okay, let's work on breathing exercises. Let's work on trying to notice when you're getting excited and learn to channel that. If it's networking, okay, let's find time to build time in your schedule to reach out to other people and build those relationships outside of your core job.These are just some examples. I do all sorts of things because it varies on a client to client basis.
How Eric Switched to Executive Coach
To answer your other question about how I got into this, the Chief of Staff job was great. Like I said, I ended up doing it for over six years, which was very unusual. Most people at Google at that time took chief of staff for two years as kind of a learn about the business kind of role, and then moved on. But I really liked my VP. I thought he was an amazing leader. And I'm like, I get to be in the room with him. If I care about leadership, this is the best education I could get. Because I'm literally in the room with some of the best corporate technology leaders in the world. So I loved that.
But I was starting to get stale. I was starting to feel like I wasn't learning year to year. I was kinda like, okay, I know what to do. I know how to do my job, I do it well, but it wasn't engaging me as much anymore. And I had a bit of, I'll be honest, a crisis of meaning.
The search ads business job and my job in particular was to make Google grow revenue. That was my job. Grow revenue at over 20% year and year endlessly, forever and ever. And when you're talking a hundred billion dollar year business, like 20% year and year growth means you have to find $20 billion in new revenue. And just think about the challenge of that. Like, this is getting hard. This is hard!
Cedric Chin: And you did it for six years!
Eric Nehrlich: We did it a long time. We did it longer than we expected.
Cedric Chin: A long time, wow.
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah. I joke that when I took the job in 2012, I was like, yeah, the game is up in 2016. We're not gonna make it past 2016.
Cedric Chin: Haha, and then…
Eric Nehrlich: Well, because I could look at the internet penetration lines and the demographic lines and we are going to max out internet penetration, which was our main driver of growth in 2016. That was just the math. And the thing that changed was smartphones.
Cedric Chin: Right.
Eric Nehrlich: Everybody now knows in 2013 or 2014, Google did a big blitz on mobile first. And that changed our trajectory. Like in 2014, we were not in a good trajectory and we changed everything to be mobile first. And that gained us another several years of revenue growth. Because we got involved in mobile, and then mobile became the gateway to emerging markets. The Indias and the Chinas and the Southeast Asias of the world, because they were all mobile first.
Cedric Chin: Talk about the world changing under you right? Sitting in the forecasting seat.
Eric Nehrlich: Right. So the job was just getting harder and harder. And I just was like, I don't want my legacy to be, I am making the world's richest company richer. This is not what I want on my tombstone. I hit my 10 year mark at Google. And I had just gotten married, I was becoming a father. I'm like, what do I want the meaning of my life to be honestly?
For me I came back to the things that brought me energy, the things that brought me joy was always helping other people be successful. I am a helper by nature. I want to help other people and especially help them get unstuck. It's funny, I didn't recognize this at the time, but one of my directors on the revenue forecasting team, he took over the team during a hard time because I mentioned we lost our manager and then we didn't have a manager for like six months. And then this guy came in and he didn't do anything when he started, which I thought was weird. I was like, what is this guy doing? He's not telling us what to do. He just sat and watched us for two weeks because he is like, you guys are doing great. I'm not gonna try to mess up a good thing. And after those two weeks he came to me, he is like, Eric, do you know you're the person that everybody else goes to when they're stuck?
I'm like no. He's like, yeah, you are. So you're my new number two. And it's funny, in a year at Google, nobody else had figured this out. And he figured it out in a week of watching the team. It's like, oh, Eric's the guy that everybody else goes to when they're stuck. And because the talent apparent I've always had is, understand where people are and help them see a new perspective or see some new possibilities that would get them unstuck. And that's basically what I do now as executive coach.
Leaders come to me when they're like, I'm stuck in my career. I want to get to the next level. I don't know what's stopping me. I'm like, oh, let's look at it. And we take a look together and I can see possibilities they can't. So yeah, when I was starting to figure out what's next, I sat down with a friend and I was telling them — actually I remember that I had a conversation with somebody that was talking about my Chief of Staff role, and I was like, they don't measure me on the things that matter.
Cedric Chin: What do you mean by that?
Eric Nehrlich: Well, I was looking at my performance review and I had gotten kind of an average performance review because they were looking for like, have you instituted this process? Have you built this structure? Have you done this documentation?
I'm just like, that's not what I'm good at. I'm good at this other stuff of helping people figure out what to do. And they're not measuring me on that. And so my friend was like, if they're not measuring on the things that matter to you, what do you want to be measured by? I'm like, oh, I've never thought about that.
And I came back to this idea of like, oh, I like helping people figure out what to do. Help getting people unstuck. And my friend was like, that's called coaching. Have you considered coaching? I'm like, wait, that's a job? You could do that?
So I started exploring coaching and I started coaching some friends as practice. And then I enrolled in a coaching program, which is a yearlong training program at an institute called New Ventures West here in San Francisco.
And even after that, I'm like, I'm not quite ready because I'm a cautious person. I wasn't ready to just go for it. So I started a coaching business on the side and after a year of building up clients on the side and building a website and all that kind of stuff, I had five or six coaching clients and they were referring more to me. And I'm like, okay, it's time.
And I just had my first kid, so I was ready to leave Google and spend more time with my kids, my new kid. So that's kind of how I made the transition. What I love about it is, like I said, I sit with people when they're stuck and I help them sort through their thoughts. It's funny the number of times when somebody comes in, it's like, blah, blah, blah, this and this, and what about this? And I can't understand this! And they kinda get it all out of their heads and they look at it and they're like, oh wait, you know what? I could do this. Okay, cool, great. That was really helpful! I'm like I didn't do anything… Great, I bet it was helpful.
The Difference Between Mentor and Coach
Cedric Chin: Yeah. So part of why when I was listening to you talking about the shift to helping people — I think it's more profound right now where I'm sitting, given that I've just come off this former judo experiment where I developed a really close, trusting relationship with my coach.
And coming off that, I think I may have said to you in the email that I don't think many people, unless they're in a sports context, have this kind of profound relationship with their coach, where it was total trust. Like if my coach told me to jump, I will ask how high. Because I know that he had my best interests at heart. I truly trusted—
When I came back and I started telling my friends about my experience, one of the things that I reflected that I could get from my coach that I couldn't really get in a career context was, he was always looking out for ways in which I was failing or not doing as well. And he could be brutally honest with me due to the trust that we had. He didn't need to sugarcoat it. In the beginning he did, but then over time, as he understood that we trusted each other, he could be very brutally honest with, like, Cedric, you're not good at this. Or Cedric, you need to work on this. And very rarely do you have this in a career context.
And a friend of mine was reflecting on the fact that he has had multiple mentor relationships where, it's a mentor who gives him advice, but he doesn't need to take the advice. So that's slightly different from me with my coach, where I would really seriously, to like 95% level of seriousness, consider the advice that he was giving me. And one of the things that I then started to think about is, what's the difference between a mentor and a coach? Maybe you can talk a bit about that and I have a whole bunch of follow up questions related to the coaching relationship and this trust sort of thing. And why it's weird and rare in career context.
Eric Nehrlich: Sure. First of all, I want to say if you haven't read Cedric's article on Be Good to Your Mentors, I highly recommend it. I actually send it to people every now and then. The thing that's gonna get you a mentoring relationship is: you take their advice. If you go and ask them a question, take their advice and do something with it. And if you don't do something with it, don't expect them to keep answering your questions.
But to your question, the way it's often explained is that mentoring is saying, I know how to do this. I'm the expert. Let me tell you how to do it. And so on revenue forecasting, I could be a mentor because I have this internalized, I know what to do. I will tell you how to do this. There is a right way and a wrong way. And I will tell you what the right way is.
Coaching is different because right is subjective, success is subjective. And a lot of times — I mean not a lot of times, all ofthe time — I don't have the full context. I'm meeting somebody for the first time. I don't know their whole life story. I don't know everything about them. And one of the principles of coaching is that the person has everything they need. They can figure it out if you give them the support they need and the space they need to figure it out.
And so, I'll say that as executive coach, I kind of dance between them sometimes. Like, sometimes I do know better. Like, no, this is really what you need to do and I'm just gonna tell you. But I've even gotten much more careful with that because there are things I got away with in my career because I'm a tall, white passing dude. I could be more aggressive. I could be more brusque and brash because I had more room to fail.
If a black woman tried the same thing as I did, they might have been fired. And so if I say do this, that doesn't take into account that context and those biases and things like that. So I'm always pretty careful when I'm coaching to say, here's what I might do in your situation, or here's what I might have tried. What am I missing? Help me understand what's different about your situation. So I'm always leaving that opening of, I don't have the answer, I have an answer.
I guess another thing I'll say is, I once heard an interview with Jerry Colonna, who's known as the CEO Whisperer. He's a famous executive coach. And he said, yeah, my CEOs come to me and they want me to give them answers. And I know if I give them the answer, I am reinforcing the worldview where they can't figure it out themselves. And I never want to be that coach. And that hit me in the heart like [sighs]. My job is not to give them the answer. My job is to develop their capabilities to figure out the answers themselves. So that's coaching versus mentoring.
Cedric Chin: That's really hard. Is that the hardest thing about coaching? What would you say is the hardest thing about coaching?
Eric Nehrlich: It depends. For me, I've gotten better at this, but challenging people is one of my things. I want people to like me, so I sometimes struggle to challenge them and get in their face and say what they need to hear. Your judo coach is the opposite way. Obviously that was not his problem. He was on the opposite end.
Cedric Chin: Haha, yes!
Eric Nehrlich: There's no generalization here. And the other one I've mentioned is I wanna be a know-it-all. Like I wanna have the answer. I wanna get the gold star. And so there are times when I have to really watch myself and say, am I giving an answer because it's gonna help the person in front of me? Or am I giving it to show off? And I have to be very, very clear for myself. I do it when it's in service of the client and no other time. And that's the self-awareness training that we go through as a coach, is to be really, really clear and pure in our intention. Cause if we could do that, we create the arena, the space, for our clients to develop their own capabilities.
Cedric Chin: Right. So one of the misunderstandings that maybe other people might have — I don't even know if this is a misunderstanding — but in my head, one of the pieces of value that an executive coach will be able to bring in is, if you are a senior IC and you're trying to become an executive or moving into a more executive leadership role, a person like you would've seen more patterns and be able to pattern match against certain tricky— maybe it's an internal political scenario that you don't really have to deal with if you're IC or a low level manager. But if you start hitting the executive levels, there are certain patterns that I suspect you would've seen that most people who are new to the role would not have seen. And so, part of the value that you give in my head at least, is that you can sort of like, hey, this is a common pattern and you need to be careful about this. But from what you're describing, this sounds more like a mentorship. You have knowledge kind of thing, instead of a coaching relationship. So maybe talk a bit about that. Is that a misunderstanding on my side?
Eric Nehrlich: No, that's an entirely accurate presentation. And that's where it gets fuzzy. In those situations, yeah, I have seen the patterns. I know what's holding them back. The number of times I'll meet somebody for the first time on an intro chat and they start talking and I'm like, ah, here's some guesses I have about your situation. I list off like three things, they're like yes, yes. Get outta my head! How do you know this about me? I've coached 20 other people going through this exact transition. I know exactly what's going on here. So that's the situation where, yeah, I am mentoring. Because there is a clear path to follow and I can help them get on it. But again, I'm always trying to be very clear that that's what I'm doing in that moment. Like I'll say, here's the pattern I'm seeing, here's the story that I'm making up, does that fit your situation? What's different? And so I'm not saying, let me tell you what your reality is because that's where I feel mentoring crosses the line to being unhelpful.
I'm being very sensitive to, here's what I think might be happening. What do you think? And it's a partnership. And then the other thing that I think is different between coaching and mentoring is like a mentor will say, and therefore you need to do X, Y, and Z.
And I'll say, here's the pattern I see. What do you think are some things you could try to do things differently.
Cedric Chin: Oh, that's interesting.
Eric Nehrlich: And I have them come up with options rather than me telling them, do this, do this, do this. Because like anything else, if they come up with the idea, they're much more committed to it than if I tell them, you should do this. Because then people get defensive and they're like, oh, who are you to tell me that? I don't wanna do that. That doesn't work for me. But if you're like, this is what you say you want, here's a pattern, what would you do differently? They're like, well, I could try this. Great, let's go try that. Then they're more likely to do it.
Cedric Chin: But what if they suggest something that you think isn't going to work? Due to your pattern recognition.
Eric Nehrlich: Then it depends. Sometimes if I think it's gonna have consequences, I will warn them. I'm like, here's what I worry about in that situation. Sometimes if I don't think it's gonna have serious consequences, I'll just let them go do it and they'll say, that didn't work.
Will, Skill and Structure
Cedric Chin: Right. Okay, that makes sense. So I'm getting a better idea of the differences between mentorship and coaching and there's still value in both, and you can switch between the two with your clients.
Maybe we can talk a bit about will, skill, and structure a little. I'll let you explain what that is so people can follow along.
Eric Nehrlich: Sure, yeah. In my training program, we talked about this a lot because at the beginning of the coaching program, we're like, okay, this is where we're going to agree on these outcomes they're gonna drive for. These are the behaviours we want. Here are some practices you can take that'll move you along in the direction you say you want to go. And then the client comes back two weeks later and they're like, okay, what did you do? Nothing.
But you said you wanted that. Oh, I really want that. And we said that these are the things that would help you get there. Yeah, I know. But you didn't do them? No.
It's a very, very frustrating situation. And so my coaching program offered this structure of, okay, let's identify what might be causing that "no". It's called a breakdown. What caused the breakdown in follow through here?
So, let's start with skill. Sometimes they just don't know how to do it. You're like, oh, I want to go do X, Y, or Z. And they think they know what they're doing, and then they start trying to do it on their own. They're like, actually, I have no idea how to do this. And they get frustrated and they give up.
So I had this happen when I was in this coaching program. We had to take practice clients and submit our recordings to our mentor coaches for feedback. And I was talking to my mentor coach, I'm like, she said she wants to do it.
She doesn't do it. Like, what am I missing? She was, well, I listened to the recording, and you're assuming she knows how to do something she doesn't know how to do. How does she not know how to do it? She's like, she doesn't. So what you're gonna do is at the next session, you're gonna do it with her in the session slowly and walk her through it, step by step, so she can see it and feel it and understand it. I was like, huh. And sure enough we did it and she was like, oh, I thought you wanted me to do this other thing. And that was really hard. I didn't know how to do it, but I could do this.
So skill is part of it. It's like if you have a personal trainer at the gym, you can't just go lift weights, you might hurt yourself. You actually have to learn the proper way to do things. And so sometimes it's a matter of, okay, we need to actually teach you how to do the thing in an effective way. So that is where the mentoring can come in, like there is a right way to do this. Let me show you how to do this.
Cedric Chin: Right.
Eric Nehrlich: Structure is both physical and social and environmental patterns that get you to do things. So you're more likely to do things if they're easy to do in your environment. I mean, most of us have read James Clear's Atomic Habits. You gotta make it easy and visible and fun if you wanna make it a habit. And so his book is a great example of how to build a structure that makes it easy to do something new.
So that's kind of the whole idea there. Make it easy and visible or you could also design your social structure. So if you hang out with people that do something, you're more likely to do it. So if you have a group that's always goes, like in my case, one of my examples was I got into biking for a couple years and then at some point I joined a biking group and they met every Tuesday and Thursday morning. And when I started riding them, I was like, man, a 40 mile ride is like as far as I can go. And a year later I was doing a hundred mile rides through the mountains because that's what those guys did and I just was following them and I'm like, oh well, if they can do it, I can do it. It was like, oh, this is a really easy way to change yourself. You just change who you're hanging out with. So that's structure.
And then will. It's a little bit tricky because will is, do you really want to do this? And it's like, well of course I wanna do it. But the real question isn't, do you want it? The real question is, what are you willing to give up to do the new thing? Because your life is already full. You're doing something 24 hours a day, seven days a week, your time is full. So for you to do something new, you have to give something up. So that's the will question. What are you going to give up to make space for the new thing you want to do? And that's where people often miss the curve. They're like, well, if I want something, that should be enough. It's like, no, you have to design what you're gonna give up to get to the new thing.
Cedric Chin: That's pretty profound. I think when you send me— so there's a blog post that I'm going to link in the show notes, so if anybody listening to this wants to go read Eric's post on this. He uses slightly different terms. I quite prefer this term that we're using right now. Will, skill, and structure, I think you use competence…
Eric Nehrlich: Commitment, competence, and…
Cedric Chin: And structure. Yes.
And I found this quite profound because I thought that this was a generalizable framework, not just for coaching breakdowns, but for anybody who wants to change their own behaviour. They want to do self-improvement, it's not just learning a new skill, being a new person. Trying something to be a different kind of person. And I think the way you broke that down was really helpful.
It's clear that sometimes the problem is the structure. You need to change who you're hanging out with or you need to change the habits that you have. So that's where James Clear's book comes in. Sometimes it's, you really don't know the skill and so you need to grapple with deliberate practice and things like that. And then sometimes it's just the will thing.
Of the three, given all the clients that you've talked to, which one is the most problematic that you've experienced?
Eric Nehrlich: I mean, oftentimes it's the will aspect. So to give credit where it's due, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey have a framework called "immunity to change". They say, we basically have a psychological immune system that blocks change.
Cedric Chin: That sounds very familiar, haha.
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah. So the example they gave in their training, which blew my mind, is like, you talk to heart attack patients, people that have had a heart attack and are told by the doctor, if you don't change your food habits and your exercise habits, you're gonna have another heart attack and probably die. That is as strong a motivation as you could imagine. You will die unless you change. Do you know how many people actually change their diet and exercise? One out of seven. Six out of seven stick to what they're doing.
And so these Harvard psychologists looked at that, they're like, this is not just a matter of willpower. If it was willpower, it'll just be like, well I'm going to die. I'm just gonna do it. There'd be no question. People would always do it and yet they don't.
So their hypothesis was this psychological immune system that blocks change. And what they talk about is there's a conscious commitment. I wanna change my diet, I wanna change my exercise. But there's also an unconscious commitment to something else that's more important to them. I want to have dinner with my family and my family has these big meals and I love that and that's more important to me. Or I want to hang out with my friends and my friends don't exercise, so I'm not gonna exercise. And the way they describe it, which is a lovely visual metaphor is like, you have the conscious commitment, like I want to change! It's like that's putting your foot on the gas pedal of the car. But you have this unconscious commitment to not change it. That's putting your foot on the brake pedal. So it's like you have both feet jammed to the ground, putting a lot of energy going nowhere.
And the answer is not push the gas pedal harder. Like, I want to change more, I'm gonna push harder on the thing I want. The answer in their mind is, find the unconscious commitment and pull up on the brake pedal and then you'll shoot forward because you really want the other thing. You just need to let go of the things you were doing before. Your previous identity in some sense.
Switching from Individual Contributor to Exec
Cedric Chin: In this particular case, the previous identity might mean giving up the awesome large dinners with family. Is that the right conclusion here?
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah, that would be an example. Let's bring it back to my executive coaching context. You mentioned the senior individual contributor that wants to become an executive. A very common example of a client of mine is exactly that situation. An engineer or a marketer or a salesperson they're a senior individual contributor. They have built their career on taking on the hardest problems and solving it themselves. They are a doer. They take on the work and they put in the work to get things done, and they did that in college. They did it as an individual contributor. They've done it for 10 or 15 years in their career.
Guess what? It's a terrible trait if you're gonna be an executive. If you're the one solving problems as an executive, you're doing it wrong. Because you can't scale.
Cedric Chin: Yes. So what do you do?
Eric Nehrlich: Well, you have to change. You have to let go of that identity. You're no longer the problem solver. You're no longer the domain expert. Your job is to set up the people who are now the problem solvers and the domain experts, but nobody tells you this.
I have many conversations a year where I tell somebody this and they're like, so the job is different? I'm like, yes, it's a different job now. You're being judged on different criteria. I literally had a client a couple months ago who came to me and they're like, I just got the first performance review of my life that I wasn't "exceptionally exceeds", I don't know what I'm doing wrong. And I listened to her story…
Cedric Chin: Right, and then you explain this to them.
Eric Nehrlich: And then I explained this to them. They're like, oh, that's a totally different job. I'm like, yeah. Why didn't my manager tell me that? I'm like, because they probably thought it was obvious. Because they went through it and they figured it out.
Cedric Chin: If you explain this to them and then they change automatically. But what you've told me as well is that certain people, and I can totally imagine myself in this situation, they're resistant to change because you just described, I've derived my self worth, my value from my mastery, and this is what I've done for 10, 15 years and it's gotten me this far in my career. So you're saying that in order for me to change, I have to give that up. How do you do that?
Eric Nehrlich: Well, that's what makes it hard. If it was easy, everybody would do it. But that's the challenge of these phase shifts in your career is letting go of that previous identity and embracing a new identity. The woman I was talking about, she's like, oh, I'm not the problem solver. I seek out problems. My job is to go find problems for my team, sell them to the stakeholders, and market them, and then set my team up for success. And as far as like, how do you do it? This is where I come back to this idea of experiments. Yeah, you can't change a decade's worth of habits all at once. It's literally built in your nervous system. But what you do is you're like, okay, notice what it feels like—.
So this is where I'll get a little more concrete, is I use a lot of — and most coaches use a lot of body work, of being aware of the body — it's like when you see a problem, and you don't immediately jump in to solve it, what does that feel like?
And most people are like, ooh, I feel anxious. I feel tension in my shoulders, or I feel dryness in my throat, or whatever it is. There's some feeling. They can bring up a physical sensation of what it feels like. Like this feels really uncomfortable for me not to jump in and start solving the problem. Great! When you feel that feeling, your job is to go do this instead. Go tell somebody else to do it. Go teach somebody else to do it. And they're like, ooh, that doesn't feel good. I'm like, I know it's not gonna feel good, but this is how you're gonna change. And then they go try it and they'll say like, oh, actually the other person can do it. And I thought I had to do it.
You know, one example, I had an engineering director who was like me. He knew all the answers. He wanted to share what he knew. He was trying to be helpful. And I was like, what would happen if you didn't? He was like, I have to be in all these meetings. I have to show up. I have to tell them what's going on.
I'm like, let's test that. Let's run an experiment. Do you have to speak up? So I want you to pick two meetings this week and instead of speaking up, I want you to stay silent until the end of the meeting. He is like ugh, okay, I could do that for two meetings. And he tried at one meeting and his team freaked out. Because every time they said something they looked over to him and he didn't respond. Is he mad at us? What's going on? Why isn't he saying anything?
So then he actually had to speak up and explain to them that his coach had told him to try to experiment because it was freaking them out that he wasn't talking. And that gave him one clue that maybe he was talking too much, when his team couldn't handle him not talking. And then he tried a couple more meetings with that caveat and then he was like, they got to what I would've recommended. Took them a while. That took them some discussion, but they got to the right place. I'm like, huh, isn't that interesting? So you weren't as necessary as you thought you were.
He was like, I guess not. But for him, the thing that made it viable was that he had too much on his plate. He's like, how do I do it all? I'm like, you let go of something. He's like, well, I can't. I'm like, let's try it. He was like, oh, I guess I can let go of some of these meetings and I could trust my managers to do more than I thought they could.
And then with that knowledge, and he is like, oh, and that means I could go take on this big, company, cross-functional project I didn't think I had time for. And that's how you level up, you let go of things you were doing so that you can do bigger things. But it's not intuitive because if you deliver your whole self-worth from solving problems, it's like, well, I've gotta be indispensable. It's like, no, that's the trap.
Coming Up With Experiments for Self Change
Cedric Chin: So talk me through this. If a huge problem that people face with regards to will issues is trying to change— it's uncomfortable to change, right? And this probably gets at the heart of why people have will issues. And your solution to it is to make small experiments. How would you talk someone through coming up with these experiments? This gets a bit at the whole pedagogical development thing that we talked about over email, which is necessary for deliberate practice. But how would you come up with a good small experiment for somebody who is holding very tightly to a self-identity or derives huge amount of self-worth from this set of activities that's now holding them back. What's a good experiment? How would you come up with one?
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah. I would first start with— I often ask my clients to do an energy audit. Like make a list of everything you're doing at work and then which of them bring you energy? Which of them drain your energy?
And people are pretty quick to know what's draining their energy. Great, let's pick one of the things that drain your energy and find somebody else to do it. They're like, well, I can't do it, I have to do it. Like, really, there's nobody else in the entire company that could do that job? They're like, well, maybe this one person. Well, what would it take? They're like, I don't know. I'm like, well, let's work it out. And that's one place to start. Let's get one thing off your plate that is draining your energy. And the nice thing about that is it's a positive feedback loop. Because if they get one draining thing off their plate, then they have more energy and they have more capacity, which means that they have more energy to get the next thing off their plate. And then it kind of becomes a self-reinforcing process. So that's one example, good for draining things off the plate.
Another experiment I often use— because I mean, a very common thing for a lot of my clients is because they're good, they're experts, they're competent, and they like saying yes to work, they just end up with more work they can do. That's very common. Work flows to competent people. So if you're competent you just get more and more work until you say no. And this is the trap I fell into and one part I didn't talk about my story was where I burned out at Google. Because I kept on saying yes to more and more things until I was working a hundred hour weeks and just literally my body gave out at me. Because I didn't know how to say no. So one of my experiments is stop saying yes And instead, I tell people—
Cedric Chin: That's difficult.
Eric Nehrlich: It's difficult, but I was like, here's what you should say. When somebody asks you to do something, say: let me check my commitment and I'll get back to you. And you write it down on a list. At the end of the day, you look at the list of all the things people ask you to do that day. And now with all ten things in front of you, you can decide, what can you actually commit to doing?
Because I'm gonna tell you, you probably can't commit to doing all ten successfully. But each one in the moment feels attainable. Cause it's like, well this isn't that much. This is a couple hours of work. I could do that. But if there's ten of them and they're two hours of work each, you're going to do 20 hours of work each day. The math just doesn't work. So just getting a list of here's the commitment I'm making, is a huge start for people just to see why they're underwater, why they feel stuck, why they feel overwhelmed.
Cedric Chin: Huh. I wonder if what you're talking about — I know that this definitely applies to senior ICs who are trying to shift towards an executive — but say if you're an executive and you're trying to get your organization to change, does the same framework apply to organizations if you're trying to get—
Eric Nehrlich: Yes.
Cedric Chin: Okay, so the answer is yes. Could you talk a bit more about that?
Eric Nehrlich: So Claire Hughes Johnson, who was the Chief Operating Officer of Stripe as it grew, recently published a book called Scaling People which I think is a great manual. I highly recommend it to people who want to understand how to do operations as you grow a company. But I was at the fortune to work with Claire earlier on when she was at Google, and she was brought in to take over a completely failing project, which I happened to be the finance lead for.
This was Google Offers, which was Google's Groupon competitor. It did not succeed, let me tell you. It was a disaster. But Claire came in and she was like, we are trying to do too many things. So she took the leaders, we went into huddle mode for two weeks and came out and she's like, okay, these are the three numbers that matter.
These are the three metrics we're gonna pay attention to. And then she started having weekly all hands. And she literally would post them. They put a graph up with those three metrics and she'd say, if you, anybody on this team is not working on improving one of these three metrics, come talk to me because you need to change.
And she just made extremely clear, there's only three things that matter and we're gonna do whatever the hell we could to move those and everything else we're gonna let go for now. And so bringing that clarity and focus to the whole organization, it was just inspiring. It was like, oh. I mean it ended up not working, I was like, man, she gave it a good shot though. Like if anybody could have done it, it would've been her. Because she brought that clarity. She was like, we're gonna let go of all the other things. We're gonna let go of all these other plans. We're just gonna focus on moving these three numbers, and that's what matters.
Cedric Chin: Right. Was there identity issues though? Maybe that doesn't apply to organization. Maybe I'm stretching the analogy a bit too far?
Eric Nehrlich: So I guess the organization version of it, I mean, that's where you get into like Clay Christensen Innovator's Dilemma kind of stuff.
Cedric Chin: Yeah, okay. That's fair.
Eric Nehrlich: It's like, we're really good at doing this. Well, you don't do this other thing. Well, that's not really what we do. Our best customers do this.
Cedric Chin: That's true.
Eric Nehrlich: You know, it's hard. There's a famous story about Andy Grove. When Intel was in the memory chip business and they were getting their butts kicked by Japan and Korea and other places. And he was sitting around with his office with the COO and he is like, you know, when we get fired by the board, if a new CEO came in, what would they do?
They were like, yeah, they'd get out of the memory business, go to the microprocessor. And he was like, why don't we just do that? Why do we have to get fired to do that?
Cedric Chin: Yes. And I remember that story was very striking because they symbolically fired themselves by walking out of the office and back in and say, okay, now let's get out of the memory business.
Eric Nehrlich: Exactly, exactly. So that's part of it as well. That's some of the things you can do. It can be really powerful to have a ritual of some sort like that, symbolically letting go of the old identity and like, this is what I'm gonna do now. And I haven't actually played that much as a coach, but it's an interesting idea.
Well, I guess I do things like that, but I haven't done it that explicitly, but now the wheels are turning. I might wanna play with that.
More Examples of Self Improvement Experiments
Cedric Chin: Could you explain what are some of the examples of things like that that you've done in the past?
Eric Nehrlich: Well, so the one that came to mind was an engineering VP at a startup who was, again, a domain expert. He knew his territory. He knew engineering. He knew how to run a engineering team. And I convinced him, yeah, you have managers now that are gonna run the engineering.
Your job is to work with your peers at the VP level to make the company successful. So your job is not engineering. Your job is working with sales and marketing and finance and people, to make the company successful. He's like, well, I don't know that. I'm like, yeah, you gotta learn. And so he is like, oh, so learning is more important than knowing. Like, yes… And he put a big banner— he put a big Post-it on his monitor, "learning is more important than knowing."
So in every conversation he had, he was like, instead of, let me jump in and tell you what my idea is, he started asking questions. What can I learn here? What could I understand? What am I missing? And in a few months of doing that, he developed a really strong trust with the other executives because they realized like, yeah, he's not here to tell me what to do. He's not gonna tell me what I'm doing wrong. He just wants to learn and help me. And that was kinda an identity shift for him.
The funny story I like to tell with him is, in his first intro chat, he came in like, engineering is my turf. Nobody gets to go on my turf. I want them to stay outta my business and I'm gonna stay outta their business. We gotta stay outta each other's way. And that's how this is gonna work. Okay, let's talk about that. Because I mean, you guys are all the same team. You guys are trying to make the company successful.
So four months later he comes into one of our sessions and he's like, I cannot believe these other VPs, they're so protective, they don't wanna work with me on anything. They're so defensive. They don't wanna collaborate. Why can't they see that we're on the same team? I just burst out laughing like you did. I was like, really?
Cedric Chin: Wait, since this is so fun, let's talk about a few more experiments. What are some memorable or interesting experiments you think might be useful? Because I find these very useful to hear.
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah. Let me think of another one.
Well, this is an experiment, but this is more kind of in the realm of insight. But there is one client I had who was a C-level executive at a startup, and he was working with a very demanding CEO, like very direct, very demanding. And he found himself getting a little intimidated by the CEO. He was felt small, felt like, oh, I gotta back down. I can't challenge this guy.
And that's not the way to success as executive. You gotta be able to stand on your ground and stand as the representative of your function. So I asked him, how does this feel? He's like, I feel small, I feel little, I feel soft. I'm like, huh. What else does that remind you of? What does that feeling remind you of? He stopped, he thought, he's like, I feel like when I was a little boy in front of my dad. I was like, oh, tell me more…
And turns out his dad was that kind of big dominant personality. And as a kid he'd learned to be small and do whatever his dad said. And just seeing that connection, he was like, oh, I'm not the little boy anymore. It wasn't instant, but it gave him more insight into the previous identity he was holding onto. It was the little son not confronting the dad. And it's like, well that was what I did then, but that doesn't have to be me now. That certainly doesn't apply in this work context.
And so, then he tried the experiment. He's like, what if I talked back to my CEO. And the CEO loved it. He's like, that's what the CEO respected, somebody that pushes back.
And that was a kind of a breakthrough moment for him was realizing— but if I had just told him, well talk back more, it would've been hard for him because he wouldn't really understand what he had to let go. But once he made the connection to, this feeling is coming from this childhood experience, then he could have a little more insight into what was holding him back.
Reading Books for Improvement Experiments
Cedric Chin: I think one of the things that you told me that, at first was surprising, but now looking back and thinking about it a bit more, it wasn't that surprising, was that you very often pick up experiments or exercises for your clients to do from books. And I was like, oh, okay. So it's actually possible to pick up some of these very useful action oriented exercises or experiments from books, which normally I would not think about in the coaching context, because I don't know what contexts, or what kinds of books that, you find useful.
And so maybe you could talk a bit about that for those people who are big readers who are listening. And would like to find techniques that are useful as well, maybe in their self-improvement journeys or maybe if they're looking for a coach.
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah. First of all, you can look at my background. You see, I love to read. I've read pretty much all the books behind me. I love to read, so that's part of what I do. And one of my clients was like, yeah, I read all the books, but I don't know what's important. I don't know what's relevant to me. So it's a little bit overwhelming, the books out there. Because it's just too many books. They have all this different advice.
And what I try to do as a coach is, it's really like matching an exercise to where the person is right now. The thing they need to work on. And it's like, what kind of books? It's all kind of books. That's why I read all these different books. So Claire's book, Scaling People has a lot of specific things about, hiring and metrics and meeting cadence and how do you run your week and things like that.So if somebody's having trouble with their schedule or keeping their team focused, I'll give them something from there.
I'm reading a book right now called Buy Back Your Time by Dan Martel. And that one is talking about, as an entrepreneur, you gotta focus your energy and invest your energy back in yourself. So let go of the draining low value things and invest it in doing high value productive things and energizing things. So if somebody's struggling with their energy, I'll give them an exercise from that book. So that energy audit was something I was already doing, but something he recommends as well.
Another common one, especially for executives is effectively relationship issues. Like relationships with their co-founders or their other executives. And so I recently read this book called Us: Getting Past You and Me by Terrence Real, who's a family therapist. And so the book's actually about marriages falling apart and divorces, but at the core it's about relationships. And I was like, there's a lot here that co-founders could learn from too.
One sentence that really stuck with me from the book is, "functional actions in a relationship are those that allow your partner to come through for you. Dysfunctional actions are ones that leave your partner completely frozen with no options." And that really came through for me. If you're stuck in a relationship with somebody like your co-founder, and you're like, I'm just gonna do it for them. I'm not even gonna consult them, you're leaving them frozen. There's no more relationship. You're not giving them an opportunity to step up.
And so I shared this with several clients. I'm like, so what's something you could give them a chance to step up? What's a request you could make of them to say like, hey, here's where I could really use your help. And to see if they step up. And that's how you start rebuilding a relationship instead of making it get worse and worse.
So that's three examples off the top of my head, based on books I've read in the last few months. But basically, each of these books, I'm looking for things that catch my attention. Like, ooh, how can I apply that to a client? Sometimes it's not even a advice book, it's like a biography. Like the Andy Grove story. What would you do if you fired yourself? If you fired yourself and you came in new, what would you do? That's a great exercise. It's a great experiment.
So there's material everywhere. It's just a matter of— as your coach did, try to figure out, what am I trying to teach this person? Or what do I want them to practice? And then figure out something that seems aligned with what that is.
Cedric Chin: I want to dig a little into the example that you gave on functional relationships. What happens when you allow someone to step up? Why does that work?
Eric Nehrlich: Well, it's in the title. It's us, not you and me.
Cedric Chin: Oh, okay.
Eric Nehrlich: Because if it's you and me, who's to blame? I'm gonna get credit, you're gonna get blamed, I'm gonna succeed, you're gonna lose. It's you and me facing off as competitors. And that's the attitude we fall into with a lot of people, especially when we're stressed, especially when we're overwhelmed. We fall into what I would call a scarcity mindset. Like either I win or you win. And if you win, I lose. And then we get into this very scarce mindset where it's very competitive and very cutthroat. And so the whole book is about how do we let go of that mindset and get into an us mindset. We're on the same team. We're working together here. Let's face this problem together.
So the engineering VP I mentioned before, he came in with that you and me mindset. I've got my engineering, you've got marketing, we're in competition. And if you succeed, I fail. So we're going to face off against each other. And as I mentioned, he adopted this "learning is more important than knowing" attitude.
And four months later, he had really adopted this us mindset. Like, no, we're on the same team. Our job is to make the company successful. That's the problem. It's not our individual success that matters. If our company goes to IPO, we all win. So what are we fighting with each other for? That's stupid!
But it's that mindset shift from you and me, to us. We are on the same side of the table working together on the problem. Not your fault, my fault, who gets credit?
Cedric Chin: Okay. I really like that. I really like that. So we're nearing time. To close up, Eric where can people find you?
Eric Nehrlich: Easiest place to find me is my site: Toomanytrees.com.
I picked it partially because it was available, but I like to say I help people see the forest. There's the English saying that I can't see the forest because of the trees. And so I help people get out of the trees that are blocking them and see the whole big picture of the forest. I thought it was a fun analogy and it was a memorable name, so I grabbed it.
So toomanytrees.com is the best way to find me. And from there, there's a newsletter signup box that you can sign up for, and I'll send you something every couple weeks with what I've been reading and writing and thinking on these topics of leadership and personal development.
Cedric Chin: So I just signed up before, because I didn't realize that I hadn't signed up. You also mentioned that you're working on a book. Do you want to talk a little about that?
Eric Nehrlich: Sure. Talking about pattern matching, I found that— I left Google four years ago now, and I've worked with dozens and dozens of clients, and I find myself offering the same advice and the same experiments to a lot of people. And so I was like okay, I now feel like I have enough of a pattern here that I can kind of articulate and write it down. So I'm working on writing a book right now. Going to self-publish it later this year. And the tentative title is you have a choice. And what I mean by that is, in any situation, you can't control everything. We talked about the exogenous factors, but you can control your own behaviour and your own reactions. And in that moment you have a choice. How are you gonna respond to whatever's happening?
And the other principle in the book is, how are you the problem? And what I mean by that is, we often blame things on other people and we don't see how we're contributing to the situation.
So the example I give is a director who complains about her VP. My VP does this, my VP does that. She should support me and she should help me with this. And she's making my life harder. A good manager would be doing X, Y, or Z.
I'm like, okay, when have you seen your VP act like the good manager you want her to be? Uh, I haven't. So what does she act like? Well, she's covering her own butt and doesn't care if she throws me in trouble. Okay and then how many times has that happened? She's like, I can't even count. And I'm like, so why do you keep expecting her to do something different? If I have something here and I drop it, it falls. I drop it, it falls. I'm not mad about it. That's just what happened. It happens every time. You're telling me this happens every single time and you're still mad about it. That's not her fault. That's not her problem. That's your problem.
So that's an example of how are you the problem. The problem isn't the other person. The problem is your expectations are not updating to meet reality. If she had actually been able to say like, no, my manager's gonna screw me, then she'd do things differently. She would take different actions in response to that reality. That's when I say you have a choice, do you wanna keep acting as if your manager is the manager you want them to be? Are you gonna start acting as if she's the manager she is and take different actions in response?
Cedric Chin: You know, it's really late in this podcast, we are nearly at time. But it strikes me that a lot of the things that you talk about are, they're very easy to say, but it's only when you tell the stories, the actual concrete instantiations of these principles, then you realize, oh, it's actually not that easy. It's not easy to put into practice. It's not easy to see it in yourself. It's not easy to see it in the moment when you're in that moment and when it's your company, when it's your job on the line. So I really hope that your book has lots and lots of examples because the principles are so easy to just, oh yeah, that's obvious. I know about that.
Eric Nehrlich: Yes, I am. That is part of why it's taking a while. I'm trying to collect a lot of real example stories from my clients to make this real.
But yeah, the principles are easy. None of this stuff is new. Like Buddhists have been talking about this for 2000 years. Every spiritual tradition has variations. Buddhism is like "suffering is the gap between expectations and reality." That's a Buddhist saying. It's still true. The problem is not the reality. The problem is your expectations.
So I'm not saying anything new here. It's all well known wisdom, but I'm trying to make it very very applicable to people who are hard charging tech executives and tech people that know only one way to do things, which is work harder, solve problems, and do things yourself.
And I want to point them at like, there's other possibilities. You have a choice. And part of the reason I'm the right person to write this book is because I had a choice. I was the Chief of Staff at Google. I was making really good money. I was on a prestigious track. The VP I was chief of staff to, he's now the general manager of all ads at Google. He's running a 15,000 person organization. If I was still there, I'd be at his side. That was the path I could have had. And I took a different path.
I made a different choice. I chose to become self-employed. I chose to do something that I found energizing, something I was passionate about something that allowed me to set my own hours so I could be around — cause I have two young kids now. That was the choice I made. And that's part of what attracts my clients to me, is that I made that choice. Like I had one guy — I always offer a free intro chat for people to get to know me. And we were chatting about his situation. I was giving him some ideas and, he stopped me.
He was like, are you satisfied with your life? I'm like, yeah. He was just like, couldn't believe it. How does that happen? He's been so driven. Driven by fear and driven by anxiety. That's what made him successful. He's like, what does satisfaction feel like? And the funny thing was like I said, yeah.
And I was like, wow, I didn't know I was that satisfied that I could even answer it that way. It was this moment of like, oh man, that is different for me. I could not have said that three years before that.
Cedric Chin: But you have a choice.
Eric Nehrlich: But you have a choice.
Cedric Chin: And you want to tell them that, you have a choice. So I guess the right way to end this is you have a choice.
And sometimes in order to see this — you can go buy Eric's book when it comes out, I'm definitely gonna buy the book — but also, sometimes you need someone else to help you see that you have a choice, and maybe that person's a coach or a peer or a mentor. But sometimes you're in the moment and you can't see the very obvious truths or lessons that apply.
Eric Nehrlich: Yeah, absolutely. In addition to you have a choice, it doesn't have to be this way. Like, oh, I'm stuck. It has to be this way. Like, no, it doesn't. Come up with 10 ways it could be different. Well, those aren't realistic. Well just name them, name them. And then you start saying, okay and pick one, like what would it take to get to that? And then people start plotting out new possibilities.
But yeah, I mean, a coach, a friend— it's pretty funny because the number of times I will be talking to somebody in one of our intro chats or one of our first sessions and I'll be like, so it seems like this is the behaviour that's keeping you from the next level of leadership you want.
They're like, my wife has been telling me that for years. I'm like, maybe you should listen to your wife. It turns out we are the same person at home and at work and the things that are blocking us in one place are often blocking us everywhere. So it is kind of funny. I mean I'm not a marriage counsellor by any means, but it's the same principles apply because it's all people in the end.
Cedric Chin: Alright, so on that note, thank you very much, Eric for the conversation. We're at time.
Eric Nehrlich: I've really enjoyed this Cedric. Thanks so much for inviting me on.