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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Sean Pillot de Chenecey interviews the strategist, digital anthropologist, and best-selling author Rahaf Harfoush.

Rahaf focuses on the intersections of emerging technology, innovation, and digital culture. An engaging and passionate speaker, Rahaf has been sharing her insights on technology and innovation since 2006 and has spoken at over 70 keynotes worldwide.

In her New York Times best-selling book, “The Decoded Company: Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers,” Rahaf explored how big data and predictive analytics can be used proactively to improve recruitment, learning and development, and organizational culture.

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Episode #133

Productivity Culture and ‘Performance Protocol’

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:11): Hello this podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the business world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders founded in 1999. Today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot de Chenecey author of The Post-Truth Business and Influencers & Revolutionaries, which are being followed by The New Abnormal. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialist areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (01:03): So today I’m really pleased to be joined by Rahaf Harfoush a strategist, digital anthropologist and bestselling author who focuses on the intersections of emerging technology, innovation and digital culture and engaging and passionate speaker Rahaf has been sharing her insights on technology and innovation since 2006 and has spoken at over 70 keynotes worldwide in her New York times bestselling book, the decoded company know your talent better than, you know, your customers. She explores how big data and predictive analytics can be used proactively to improve recruitment learning and development and organizational culture in her most recent book hustle and float Rahaf shifts her focus to the societal implications of our contemporary work culture and explores the pressures being faced by knowledge workers as market conditions demand an increasingly innovative and agile workforce. Finally, as a digital anthropologist and the executive director of the red thread Institute of digital culture, Rahaf explores how technology and being constantly connected is impacting our ability to con consume and process information and what this means for workforces. So RAAF welcome. And how are you?

Rahaf Harfoush (02:22): I’m great. Thank you so much for having me

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (02:24): Fantastic. Well, last time that, that we spoke actually was a, actually only a couple of weeks ago now which is for the speaker’s associate’s recovery summit, which was a fairly epic series of talks. I think eight and a half thousand delegates were sort of viewing those to the talks around the world and another, you know, you give a fascinating presentation based around the, the theme of overwhelmed, overloaded, and overworked, creative recovery for high performers and times of crisis. So I suppose as a, as a way of kicking this podcast off, perhaps it’d be, be brilliant. For anyone who perhaps wasn’t there for that summit, or perhaps would like a, sort of a refresh on it, perhaps just take us through what you were presenting at the recovery summit.

Rahaf Harfoush (03:12): Yeah. So at the summit I, or before the summit, I was kind of trying to, to decide what would be the most useful thing for, for people to hear it. And I realized that we were speaking in the media and you know, just in, in general, we were always talking about recovery through the lens of the economy, right? Everyone wanted economic recovery, economic recovery. And then on the other hand, people, I was also hearing a lot of researchers and psychologists and experts talk about the impact of large scale societal trauma that this pandemic was having. And as many of us I think have experienced firsthand the stressors of economic instability of having the kids at home of sharing spaces, with noisy roommates of not having any certainty about what your job’s gonna be like, but not being able to go out, not to mention the fact that the virus, at least for me, is just this very scary development.

Rahaf Harfoush (04:09): And I thought, well, you know, you can’t talk about economic recovery in terms of GDP and dollars and cents without trying to talk about emotional labor recovery, how are we, the people that are supposed to be coming up with ideas and solutions and helping these businesses keep running, how are we gonna recover and how can we be expected to bring the economy, you know, back if we are not taking care of our own performance. And so I decided to apply the work that I have done around, you know, the cultural impact of, of being very obsessed with productivity of digital culture of understanding, kind of these macro trends and saying, look, before we can start talking about the economy, we need to start talking about creative recovery, especially within the context of high performing knowledge workers, because they’re the ones who are bearing, you know, the brunt of having to keep some of these companies sort of online.

Rahaf Harfoush (05:06): And that’s not to say, and I just kind wanna clarify. That’s not to say that the essential workers, the frontline workers and the healthcare workers are, are not also struggling, but I think what was interesting about knowledge work is that it was often overlooked because it didn’t feel that urgent, right? Like as knowledge workers, many of us have been quite lucky and quite fortunate to be able to work from home, to have the luxury and privilege of working from home. And so many people were focusing on the more urgent aspects of society, the people that didn’t have that luxury, but you still had a large group of people who were still experiencing psychological stress and trauma. So it was kind of just aimed at them, the people in the middle that might kind of be overlooked because I think they’re, we, we not, they, we are going to play a very important part in helping to shape what the world’s gonna look like for the next 18 months to two years

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (05:59): During that talk, you, you spoke about making it better, fast is a bad move or a bad strategy. And you, and you had, you had a really interesting analogy. You talked about, you know, you like the Netflix analogy as well. Which was, I thought really interesting which also linked to the, what you termed the entirety of performance. So perhaps system unpack that as they say,

Rahaf Harfoush (06:22): sure the talk ended up being about how in a very strategic, very practical way, can you, as an individual start to create a system of recovery and also a system of working that reflects your own unique conditions, because what I’m finding is in productivity culture, there’s no shortage of you know, frameworks and 10 step programs and you know, theories and there’s all these groups. There’s the GTD group. There’s the 1 35 group. There’s the yester boxer. There’s all these like methodologies, but we are living in such strange times. And I thought, well, you know, it’s so strange that we go to Netflix and we expect Netflix to know what to watch and Amazon to know what to read next. And, you know, Spotify to know what songs we wanna hear. But when we look at our own creative performance, our own creativity or our own productivity, we kind of expect these one size fits all methodologies to help us do our best work.

Rahaf Harfoush (07:21): And that seemed like a really strange gap. So then the question became, okay, well, if I was to build a system of performance, a system that was designed to help me produce my best work, either for my team or as an individual or as an entrepreneur, you know, what would that system look like? And how, what would the steps in building a customized system look like? And for me, it was I think it was about, you know, four steps that people could take in order to start to get to a zone or get to a place where they could design a system that worked for them. Because I can’t tell you, Sean, you know, the nuances of your life and what you respond to and what you’re dealing with and your capacity and your creativity. But what I can do is I can help you look at your own creative performance, look at your own creative rhythms, look at your own needs for work, look at your own parameters and put those inputs, plug those inputs in so that you make a system that’s just for you.

Rahaf Harfoush (08:19): It’s the productivity system for Sean, which is gonna look completely different than the productivity system that I use or that our friends use or that somebody else uses. And that’s the point, the point is, is like, why do we have a world where everything is so customized, but yet the most important thing, our performance is just kind of, we’re, we’re being shoved down these productivity holes that don’t really make a lot of sense. And then the second part which we’re gonna dive into is those productivity methodologies are in themselves. I believe incredibly problematic based on the context of the work that we’re doing today.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:53): Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And on that point about the, sort of the work that we’re doing today, I thought it was also really interesting when you had the, when you sort of, you know you jus the, the the, the industrial revolution version of performative work versus as you were just saying, the, the, the, the, almost the, the trust element that, that links into working from home. So perhaps again, you can just talk about that a bit.

Rahaf Harfoush (09:17): Yeah, sure. So one of the things that we, that we have to understand, especially for those of us that are working at home or who are remote working and who are seeing our companies in our workplaces use these technologies that are now being put into place is to understand that each one of these technologies has inside of it, an ideology, a philosophy, every technology that we use today has a philosophy embedded in it, of what that technology believes the world should look like. And unfortunately, for many of us productivity technologies, the one that measure, you know, the minutes that you’re working, the time trackers, the performance metrics, like many of those were just ha like inside, once you peel back the code, you start to see a perspective on work that is directly pulled from the industrial revolution. And during a time when it was very easy to see who was working and who wasn’t because every stage of the working process was visible.

Rahaf Harfoush (10:17): So if you were working on an assembly line, I can physically see that you are at the assembly line. I can physically see you putting together whatever it is that we’re building. And I can physically count the number of widgets that you built, which makes it very easy for me to say you work today. You know, you were productive today. You performed at the appropriate level. Mm-Hmm the challenge is that many organizations have just taken that, that, that has just taken that type of, of labor, that type of work. And they have just tried to apply it to creative knowledge work. And as many of us know you can’t, you know, making an idea is not the same as standing on an assembly line. You can’t watch me come up with an idea. You can’t watch me produce X amount of ideas per day.

Rahaf Harfoush (11:01): I might come up with an idea when I’m walking my dog, I might come up with an idea when I’m taking a shower, I might come up with an idea what, right before I fall to, you know, I’m about to fall asleep, but we have created a work culture where we emphasize visibility. If I don’t see you working, I doubt that you’re working. And the result on a cultural level, that everyone, when they’re working from home, especially I’ve seen the spike up is desperate to show everybody else that they are indeed working. Like, look at me, I’m sending emails. Look at me, I’m in calls. Look at me. I’m, I’m, I’m doing deliverables. Look at me, I’m look at me doing all of the work. And so the emphasis then becomes over, like, we’re, we’re, over-emphasizing the visible part, the output part, like the parts that you can see, and we’re completely discounting the essential part of the process, which is the thinking time that often happens behind the scenes when you’re just like not actively working.

Rahaf Harfoush (11:57): And so what’s happening is that we expect people to be innovative. I hear C-suite leaders all the time. Talk about the importance of strategic agility, the importance of innovation, the importance of strategic foresight, the importance of having a talent that is creative. And that’s constantly coming up with new solutions, new products, new services. And yet we’re designing systems that are only, that are only supporting one half of that process, the visible half, and we’re ignoring. And we’re actually making it harder for people to take the time to think, which is often I call the intangible part of the process. You can’t see it, but it’s just as important. And in fact, what many people don’t realize is you can’t get to the output. You can’t get to the visible part. If you don’t spend that time thinking and daydreaming and have your mind wandering. And if you’re not actually, you know, away from work in an interrupted and undistracted way,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (12:52): Mm-Hmm absolutely. And I remember talking about that. The term you used at the time was, you know, it’s all about, you know, intentional recovery, not being a diversion, be being, as you’re saying an absolutely essential part of that recovery. I also thought it was really, really interesting when you, again, you use the analogy of sport and of teams and of athletes and indeed of corporate athletes. just talk about that. That was really interesting.

Rahaf Harfoush (13:19): Yeah. So, okay. So to follow on the first part, if, if we understand that, you know, there’s an intangible part of creativity that has to happen in order for the tangible part to take place, in order for us to create the thing, then we also have to understand that on a creative level, we have a limited amount of energy and attention and that after. And I mean, as the people listening, like tweet me, like, talk to me, let me know if I’m wrong about this. But so far every person that I’ve spoken to has a certain number of time that they can spend being focused and concentrating on something before they need a break. And we all need a break and we have to take that break because it’s that pause, that acts as a replenisher, it actually helps us recover. But if you think about how we look about productivity and productivity, any time that’s not spent working is seen as a waste of time.

Rahaf Harfoush (14:09): So we don’t value this recovery time, but without recovery time, you get burnt out. So my approach, my answer to this is, well, we have to reframe how we look at performance to understand that creative performance requires recovery period. And we have to be intentional about that recovery. We have to value that recovery. We have to prioritize that recovery because without recovering our energy without replenishing our attention, how can we expect ourselves or our teams or our colleagues to high quality work? And the analogy that I used is that so many people often, it’s really funny in business literature, borrows a lot from like sports, right. We borrow a lot. I, I, I know a lot of CEOs read like coaching books and that, you know, look at, look at the incredible stamina and performance and skillset of professional athletes. And they say, well, you know, we’re kind of like corporate athletes.

Rahaf Harfoush (15:02): In fact, the idea of the corporate athlete has been around since the eighties, believe it or not. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s this approach that it’s this idea that, you know, you’re gonna, you’re gonna approach your work with the same intensity and focus and skill as a professional athlete or as yeah. As a professional athlete. But the problem yeah. Is that, you know, professional athletes have entire off seasons and they have rest days. And if you watch the documentary on Netflix, the one about Michael Jordan that just came out a little while ago called the last dance. He talks about how he understood that being in the gym was important, but that the recovery days, the days when he wasn’t in the gym, the days when he was giving his body a chance to rest and recover, that was just as essential as the time he spent in the gym.

Rahaf Harfoush (15:49): Because if he didn’t give himself that time to recover, then he wouldn’t be able to play his best when he got out onto the court. And so if you look at that, you say, well, we all look at ourselves and we all wanna see ourselves like the Michael Jordans of our industry, but yet we don’t treat recovery the same way. We, we treat nonstop pro productivity as though it is like a signal or a metal of how hard we’re working when in reality, like that doesn’t make any sense because it’s not helping us perform better. It’s not helping us produce the best quality of work. And that’s what I’m interested in. I’m not interested in just helping people optimize their to-do lists or helping people plan their day differently. I’m interested in designing systems that’s made for creative workers, for knowledge workers that actually help level them up that take their work to the next level that take their creativity to the next level that take their performance at the next level. But you can’t do that. If the systems that we’re currently using are actually undermining their ability to do the, that type of work. The current systems we have in place right now are hurting our creative performance instead of helping our creative performance.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (17:02): Mm mm-hmm and again, on that last point, you talked about actually actually having a sort of on a formal basis, literally having as part of your daily calendar a section, which is, you know, highlighted as, you know, time to think and you talked about the, sort of the, the tangible and intangible sort of element of that also thought really, really dynamic was the, the point you were the point you’re talking about almost having sort of an energy, what you term yeah. An energy and attention audit you looking at sort of the, you know the return on attention, perhaps. Yeah. Just talk about that. Cause I found it really fascinating when he went through that, the, the summit.

Rahaf Harfoush (17:40): Yeah. So I believe that the work that we do that lemme start that again. I believe that everything in our lives is governed by the two most important resources that we have, which is our energy and our attention. And there are things that replenish those two stores and there are things that deplete them. And so what I do and what I encourage people to do in their own lives is to take a very hard look at everything that they’re consuming and how they’re spending their time and, and how those activities are impacting these two variables, your attention and your energy. And maybe I’ll start with energy because energy is the one that can be applied to everything. Energy is really like the, the, the motor that kind of keeps the entire, the, the fuel that keeps the entire engine running, which is everything that you, so when you think of your energy, you think of your performance.

Rahaf Harfoush (18:31): Many people like tend to separate it from their personal life. Like, oh, you know, my, my performance at work as though that’s not tied to you as a person. So everything impacts your energy. The news that you read, the social media that you consume, the friends, you talk to your relationships, your to-do lists, your family, like all of that always impacts your energy. And sometimes what you’ll find is if you actually go down the list and you make an audit, you know, how does, does this activity replenish me or does it deplete me? You start to notice that there might be some things in there that you weren’t even aware were depleting this precious amount, this precious resource. So for example, for me, I discovered that there were certain accounts on social media that I followed that left me feeling anxious or stressed out or depressed or upset.

Rahaf Harfoush (19:28): And I just thought to myself, okay, well, these accounts are depleting me. What would an experience on Instagram look like if it was more replenishing? Like what would, what, what if I turned Instagram? Because don’t forget, I was looking at Instagram as a break between my tasks. Right? Mm-hmm and yet that break was actually diminishing like further diminishing my energy, which was like, wow, I didn’t even realize it. I was like, well, this is crazy. This is silly. And then I thought, what would, what, what would it, what are my goals with using this platform? And it’s not just Instagram, this can be anything, this can be, this can be Twitter. This can be Facebook, whatever. And I thought, okay, well I wanna be replenished. Which means I, the things that replenish me, the things that always make me feel good are meeting interesting people, reading well, researched documents, being exposed to new ideas and perspectives, being around people who are kind and who are who are knowledgeable, who are curious.

Rahaf Harfoush (20:22): And so I went through my whole list and I basically said, okay, well, does this fit the criteria or not? And I just did a huge audit. I did a huge pur. And then I found out that, like, after I did this, when I would go on Instagram, the experience emotionally was completely different. I felt great. I would feel motivated. I would feel inspired. I would learn something new. I would yeah, learn, you know, I followed a lot of writers. I followed a lot of journalists. I followed a lot of people that I felt were creating a really rich and diverse ecosystem that was inspiring and helpful to me. Whereas before I just wasn’t giving much thought to who I was following or how it was making me feel. So, yeah. Yeah. You can go through all of this. There are, I mean, and like real talk, you might find that there are certain friends in your network that when you think about it, they actually deplete you instead of replenish you.

Rahaf Harfoush (21:13): And that’s something to think about who are you letting into your, you know, circle, what information are you, are you consuming? And you have to be so careful because how can you be really creative or how can you be producing your best work if there are all these ways or all these things that are depleting you and you don’t even know. So my, this audit is less about like telling you what’s replenishing, what’s depleting. And it’s more about just making you aware and you being intentional about what you’re consuming, because if you are very intentional, then you can manage your energy. And if you can manage your energy, then you’re less likely to burn out because you know that when you need to recover, you stop, you replenish, you do things that actively replenish you, right? Mm-Hmm, , that’s not intentional recovery. So for example, I made a list of all of the activities that I do and I ranked how good they made me feel, walking my dog top that list being in my garden, top that list, as replenishing as when I finished doing these activities, I came back with more energy and a, a more Des like a bigger desire to get back to the work that I was doing.

Rahaf Harfoush (22:19): So, okay. Well, once you know that you can strategically put that in place. I will work for a couple of hours. And the second I start to feel like I’m hitting a wall, like I’m not performing, like my energy’s gone. I stop. And I go and I take my dog for a walk, but that’s, I don’t consider that as stepping away from work or, or, you know, me not working. I consider that an essential component of managing my creative skillset.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:45): Yeah. Yeah. Excellent. Wow. And then the element of attention, the other part of that equation.

Rahaf Harfoush (22:55): Yes. And then the other part was the, the attention part, which is there you’re, you only have a limited amount of attention. So if you understand how to manage your energy, then you can focus where you wanna put your attention. And if you’re putting your attention on things that are distracting you on things that are draining your energy on things that are not important on things that are actually taking you further away from mm-hmm, , you know, your goals, then that’s really dangerous. And one of the things I talk about your attention is you have such a limited window, but your attention and where you put your attention is actually very important as part of your creative process to get inspired. So you have, like, I, I joke around with my husband and I say, I have like, you know, 20 energy points. And I have to be really careful about where I put those points because they’re not unlimited.

Rahaf Harfoush (23:43): Right. So to make sure that you’re putting your attention on things that educate you, challenge you that connect you on things that are helpful to you on things that can teach you things, as opposed to just this mindless scrolling that we do. And this mindless endless clicking that we do. Mm-Hmm , that has become a regular part of the way we interact with technology. So it’s about, again, going back to intentionality, like be intentional, if you’re gonna open up Instagram, be sure that Instagram is going to serve you something valuable that you can then carry on in your day. If you’re gonna read a new story, be sure that that new story is going to inform you about something. And then don’t just fall into these black holes where you end up losing 45 minutes an hour, 25 minutes here, 25 minutes there on Instagram.

Rahaf Harfoush (24:33): And I say this because from the digital anthropologist side of me, we also have to understand that these apps are specifically designed to addict us. They are specifically people, entire teams that are constantly thinking, how can I get Sean to spend more time on Facebook? How can I get Sean to spend more time on Instagram? And that’s they want your attention? So you can’t just use these platforms and expect the platforms or the algorithms to have your best interests at heart. You have to be very careful and say, I’m going in with this mission, with this goal. And once I’ve done my goal, once I have my timer, my parameters I’m out because what people are doing. And I notice this even myself, when I started doing these experiments is I would, I would lose hours in a day, but in like seven minutes here, 12 minutes there, have you ever, have you ever done that thing where you’re like, I’m gonna check this email and then suddenly 20 minutes later, you’re on social media and you don’t even remember opening the app, but like there you are and 20 minutes are gone and all of that really adds up.

Rahaf Harfoush (25:35): So you have to be very intentional with where you’re spending your time. I will now put a timer on my phone. I swear to God. And it’s like, I’m gonna be on Instagram for 15 minutes, cuz it’s endless. Right. They make it purposely confusing so that you never feel like there’s an end. So you’re constantly scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, I’ll put a timer. I will go on Instagram, the Instagram feed that I’ve curated. That makes me feel good. That makes me feel nourished and rep replenished. And then after that 15 minutes, I’ll get back. I’ll get back to the things that I have to get done my strategic priorities for the day.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (26:07): Mm well, and then just the final bit of that talk before we then talk about something else. Cause it’s talk was so great. You then finished off by I thought was what, it was a fascinating point at such a high profile business event, which was, you were very clear about saying, you know you talk about, you know, beware of sort of, you know, productivity, propaganda. And when it comes to things like the world of LinkedIn in particular, you are not just inverted com your job. So perhaps talk about that. The fact that, you know, we are not our LinkedIn profiles.

Rahaf Harfoush (26:43): Well, we’ve talked about sort of creativity and the creative needs. We’ve talked about performance, I guess the last natural step is this idea of understanding the value or the story that we tell ourselves about success through the way we talk about productivity. And if you take a step back, you’ll see that every time we talk about productivity, it’s not just like, oh, here’s what you can do. Or, you know, here’s a to do way to hack your to-do list. It’s actually goes much deeper. We actually have this underlying ideology. That’s tied very much into the idea of the American dream, which says that if you work really hard, then you’ll be successful. And the problem with that is that if you really think about that sentence, it also means that if you’re not successful, it must mean that you’re not working hard enough. So we have created a culture where we are constantly telling people that if they’re not successful, it’s because they’re not working hard enough.

Rahaf Harfoush (27:40): And you see this in the media, we have profiles of CEOs that get up at four 30 in the morning. We have people that work 160 hours a week. We have. And all of these are sort of subtly given to us as aspirational standards. Like, oh, this is how this person is, is successful. It’s always through the lens of how hard this person worked. And what I’m saying is that success hard work is an important variable in the equation of success, but it’s not the only one. There are other things. There’s the birth lottery. There is timing. There’s serendipity. There is all sorts of things that also play a role. So yes, hard work will influence that, but it’s not the only thing like income, inequality is a thing. And wage stagnation has been a thing and fighting against automation has been a thing. And all those things are gonna impact your work, your life or performance.

Rahaf Harfoush (28:30): Instead, we tell people all the time, if you’re not successful, you’re not working hard enough. And we keep telling them here’s how to do more. Here’s how to do more. But by telling people how to do more, we’re kind of always subtly insinuating that they’re not doing enough. And the result is that we tell people that what they do is as important as who they are and how much they do is gonna be a, a, a, a signal, a signal to the level of success they’re gonna attain the problem with this is that we’ve told it entire generations, multiple generations that who they are and what they do is linked. And that’s not true. Like that’s, that’s such a weird thing to think about. Like, and I always tell people, you have to kind of deprogram. And my book hustle and float talks about really in, in more detail, the history of how we came to this point, how, why is it that this is the way that our evolution of how, of who gets to be successful developed in this way?

Rahaf Harfoush (29:31): . And so we have to kinda take that back because, you know, you step outside of this and you say, wait a minute, like my job and what I do and my to do list. And my productivity actually have no bearing on my worth as a human being, but we have become so obsessed by productivity that now we measure people’s worth to society based on their economic contribution, based on their productivity. And I think that’s really sad. And I always tell people you know, the, the joke that I tell is like, if you even look at your LinkedIn profile, it always says like, you know, rah half is just the way that you read my bio at the beginning. Right? Yeah.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (30:11): Yeah. Very

Rahaf Harfoush (30:12): True. RHA is, but really like, you know, we say, I am a digital anthropologist and said, maybe we should be, we should be saying, you know, I work as a digital anthropologist because I am as a complete sentence for half is period. Yeah. And who, even if tomorrow I stop being a digital anthropologist and I don’t do anything else, it’s like, that will not diminish my value and my worth as a human being. And I have a problem because we’re linking people’s performance to their self worth and our jobs have become a source of validation, a source of you know, our identity. And what does that mean once you’ve tied all of this in, like you’ve said to people who you, what you are, and, and, and sorry, what you do and who you are is the same. Well, then what happens to them psychologically during a global pandemic where so many people are out of work, what is the message that we then sent to them that the subliminal message as well, you should have worked harder.

Rahaf Harfoush (31:08): You should work hard enough. You should do this. You should do that. Where’s your side hustle. Where’s your gig economy, job, where’ this, but the underlying message is it’s your fault that this is happening. And so you take all of this, like weird, like cult-like productivity, propaganda, and then you combine it with a global pandemic where people are already stressed and you have a lot of depression, anxiety, uncertainty, like really big issues and mental wellbeing that aren’t being addressed because subtly, you know, there’s a part of us that feels that, you know, oh, well, like they’re not working hard enough or, oh, they just need to do this as though it’s not like something that’s completely out of everybody’s control.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (31:47): Mm. And also it’s taking that last point forward. When we spoke a couple of months ago before the before the recovery summit, I thought it was really interesting. One of the points you’re talking there, and this is really looking at the issue of society and culture, you know, during the, during the so-called great pause, you know, whatever, however one wants to term the sort of a global, sort of a psychological experiment. We’ve all been through during the sort of a the lockdown. And one of the points you were talking about there was how it surprised you that when it comes to things like stress, anxiety, whatever, and obviously around the world, people have been under an immense level of stress and anxiety during our over the last sort of few months in particular. What you’re talking about was when you were having those sort of daily briefings that we all saw governments giving and officials giving around the world in different societies, different cultures. There was, I think, just about with the exception of the German government there was virtually nobody that would have someone like a psychologist standing as part of that sort of, you know, of the, sort of the rank of officials behind the sort of, you know, the president or the prime minister or whatever, to talk about the impact on society of the stress and anxiety that people were going through, which seemed really extraordinary.

Rahaf Harfoush (33:11): I mean, we are just starting to understand even what the first wave of lockdowns is doing to the development of children, for example, who aren’t getting socialized, who are absorbing the stress of their parents, who are you know, all sorts of things. And it’s like, I don’t think we fully understand in general sort of the, the, the issue of trauma. And I’ll tell you, when I started hearing all these journalists and all these scientists talking about collect collective trauma, I was like, well, you know what? I don’t really understand trauma. I, you know, I don’t know a lot about it. I always thought it was something like you had to go through a war, right. Or you had to, yeah. Something really horrible had to happen to you. And I recently decided to educate myself about the subject. And I read a book called the body, keeps the score by besel Vold.

Rahaf Harfoush (34:04): Who’s a doctor who specializes in trauma. And one of the things that really struck me that I wanted to share is that, you know, trauma, isn’t just somebody who’s in a war. Trauma is something that really shakes your world view that shakes your feeling of safety, that shakes the parameters that you have said of how the world should be. Right. It’s when, you know, and then when he went into it, I realized like the psychological impact, it’s not just emotional. We’re talking about like neurological, like we’re talking about shifts in the brain shifts in neurotransmitters shifts, in neurochemicals that are impacting us right now that will have an impact on the way that we live our lives in the future. So we might not actually see the impact of this trauma for years, but we might have a generation of kids that grow up that maybe have certain behaviors the same way after, you know, world wars or after big traumatic events.

Rahaf Harfoush (34:57): People change their behavior. Like certain things kind of happened. Right. And so I feel like, I feel like we need to talk more, especially considering that in many societies, mental illness and mental wellness is already stigmatized enough. Like it’s not considered appropriate or it’s, you know, it’s, it’s considered an act of weakness. And it’s interesting because productivity culture for so long has almost been like a weird endurance sport. The way we talk about hyper productivity, we talk about pulling all nighters, staying really late. There’s a couple of hashtags that I’ve noted in this movement. That’s like last one out, you know, last one to leave. Yeah. team never sleeps team never stop grinding team constant grind. So when you think about all of that, you know, that has, that wears your body down, but there’s also this idea of endurance of stamina.

Rahaf Harfoush (35:53): Like, look at me. I deserve to be successful because I can work so hard and I can work nonstop. Now that comes into play with trauma, because what happens is it makes it, it, you know, we look at people forget like mental illness for a second. We, we look at people who take breaks or who aren’t quote unquote, working as people who like don’t want their success hard enough. So I’ve heard from people that have emailed me and that have said, you know, I worked. And then even during my burnout, I was beating myself up because I thought, you know, why was I so weak? Why wasn’t I strong enough to keep pushing through? So we, we also have to acknowledge that with the trauma and like, with the way that people are engaging with this pandemic, they’re also being shamed from a work perspective.

Rahaf Harfoush (36:36): Like, oh, you can’t keep up. Oh, you’re having a hard time. Oh, like there’s also shame. And it’s not just for mental illness. There’s also like work shame. It’s almost like a double whammy of shame. You have one part where it’s like, yeah, you’re struggling mentally, cuz you’re not strong enough. And then there’s another one that says, oh, well, like you’re, you’re tired and you’re not working hard enough. You must not want it enough. And those two things are like, I think are creating wreaking havoc with a lot of, a lot of people and they’re not talking about it enough.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (37:04): Mm mm. Also linked to that which also links to your earlier point about should we say going right back to things like just revolution and performative work, et cetera. One word that you haven’t mentioned, which I know is an area of great interest to you and that is privacy because with regards to things like AI, I mean, again, we spoke about this before and we spoke about things like, you know the great, you know, Shahar zubo book, the age of surveillance capitalism. Yes. Just to perhaps just talk a bit about that, where you are on, I mean the world of privacy now is just appears to have been building and building and building. From a only a couple of years ago, it was really centered around facial recognition and it just seems to have now become an all-encompassing issue. So perhaps just talk about that in terms of where we are now and where you see things going.

Rahaf Harfoush (38:00): Well, one of the things that concerned me was the speed at which certain measures were passed particularly around tracking movements

Rahaf Harfoush (38:12): Facial recognition, even under the guise of, of public safety. And you know, I, I know that this isn’t how the world works, but what I would’ve loved to see is if a government says, okay, well, we’re going to pass this bill, right? But we’re gonna revisit this bill in three months or six months to see if it’s still necessary because what’s happening is that we’ve created a lot of precedence in terms of bills from around the world of being able to access people’s cell phone data access. As, as you were saying, the facial recognition to track people’s movements, to do all of these things in order to prevent the spread of COVID 19. But like once, hopefully once we have this under control, those, the ability to track people will remain there and especially, so that’s one part. The second part is I’m incredibly troubled by social media and by some of the companies that are in the space who have shown over a period of years, a disregard for consumer privacy.

Rahaf Harfoush (39:13): And that’s becoming, again, going back to the point about how they addict you. I think that many people are not aware of how much they’re sharing about themselves and what is being done with that information and how that information is being used to manipulate them, to influence them, to change their behaviors. And you know, it’s funny cuz when you talk to people, they’re like, well, I haven’t done anything wrong, so I don’t have anything to hide, but it’s like, what if it’s not about getting you for doing something wrong? What it’s, what if it’s about changing how you think and you, you’re not even aware of it. Yeah. What if it’s about that? Like, you know, and they’re like, oh, well I never thought of that. And it’s like, I think the, the, the need for privacy is one of the biggest issues because privacy is the biggest threat to privacy is data collection and data collection and micro segmentation, I think are the biggest threat to democracy that we’ve seen in a long time, because if you have enough information about a person that you can change their behavior as was with D Cambridge Analytica scandal, as with many of the experiments that have been done, then how can you have a democracy?

Rahaf Harfoush (40:25): If you are controlling how people are thinking, what people are seeing, who they’re interacting with? Like how can you have an informed public, if you, if the pub, if the public is no longer receiving neutral information and the only way to do that is with privacy, but we have sort of made this deal with the devil where many of us have decided that in exchange for, in, in exchange for free services, we’re gonna give our data not actually recognizing the incredible price tag and the cost of what that move would do.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (40:56): Mm yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s certainly that is about you sort of a microtargeting sort of, you know, hyper targeting around psychographic profiles we saw, as you mentioned, you know, all of that activity around, I mean, where we are now 20, 20 you know, we saw it way back in 2016, very much linked into the presidential elections then in terms of the cam Analytica scandal linked into Facebook. I mean on that one, obviously we’ll be seeing what happens over the next few months as we move up towards the presidential elections.

Rahaf Harfoush (41:28): I mean, it’s already, it’s already happening. It’s literally already happening. And the thing is, is like, when you think about, you know, microtargeting, some people think it’s the technology, but I would encourage people, even if you put the technology aside to do some reading about like pricing psychology, right? Like we all think that we’re these rational people that are purely motivated, biological decision making. And then I’m really interested in pricing psychology. Cause I find it fascinating. It’s like when you go into a store in the before times when we could go into stores, but like when you go into a store, it’s like, there is an entire strategy put into place that is being used to influence what you think is expensive. What you think is cheap, what is willing to pay, what you’re willing to pay. Like there’s all these things and that’s just in the real world and that’s been around for 50 years.

Rahaf Harfoush (42:14): You know what I mean? Yeah. And so if you think about that, you think, wow, like I remember reading about that and reading about, for example, I’ll give you a really quick example. When you go into a store, if there’s like a display on the window, there’s always an item. That’s an anchor item that say, you’ll see a sweater for like a hundred dollars and then there’ll be other items that are significantly lower, but it’s like the anchor item acts as the measuring stick. Because if you see a sweater for a hundred dollars, you might see another t-shirt for $12 and you might think, oh, the t-shirt’s a good deal because compared to the hundred dollars sweater, the t-shirt is cheaper. Even if the store never intended to sell the hundred dollars sweater, the store wanted you to buy the t-shirts and they’ve just sort of guided you towards that product.

Rahaf Harfoush (42:57): So if you think about that example, but now think about it where companies have information, not just about what store you might walk into, they have information about who your friends are, what you’re reading, what sites you visit, where you go, where you live, how you vote, where you travel, the products that you purchase, and then think about how they can use all that information to just kind of guide you down a path where you think, oh, I’m forming this opinion as a logical, rational human being. But in actuality, you’re just being ushered down a specific path. Like that’s the danger. And some people say, oh, it’s the technology. The technology is just taking advantage of weaknesses in our own brain, not weaknesses. Maybe that’s not the right word of, of how our brain works and the ability of our brains to be influenced. They’re just hijacking psychological processes, but they’re doing it at a scale.

Rahaf Harfoush (43:49): They’re doing it to billions of people at once. So that’s where I get really concerned because I mean, look at the look at the conspiracy theories that used to be fringe that are now being shared on in mainstream. Look at Q Andon, look at the recent Wayfair scandal, which is absolutely bananas. Look at the coronavirus and 5g and bill gates and all of these things like these things a couple of years ago, would’ve existed on the margins of the internet on like little tiny forums. And now it’s like your aunt on Facebook is sharing them and your cousin on Instagram. And that influencer that sells makeup is suddenly an expert on 5g and on sex trafficking and on all these weird things. And it’s like, it’s just so dangerous because there’s no way to counteract that unless you tweak that base algorithm, but they won’t do that because that’s what makes the money.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (44:39): Yeah. Yeah. And as you’re saying, the person retweeting, all of that could well be along, along with your neighbor and your aunt, it’s also the head of strategy to your agency or the financial director of your corporation and all the rest of it.

Rahaf Harfoush (44:51): Absolutely. Absolutely. Or even worse like a bot. I, I saw a recent study. Yeah. I think, I believe it was by the Oxford internet Institute that said the majority, they did an analysis and it was like the majority of tweets about coronavirus were being done by bot networks. So not even by real people, so, you know, but we see, we retweet, we think, and we get influence, we get influence on all these hidden ways.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (45:13): Yep. Yep. Absolutely fascinating. Well, I mean, as we begin to finish off and it’s been absolutely well, I keep saying fascinating, but it really has been as expected. What about, I mean, so next year as we’re looking, say towards things like okay, so 20, 21, I mean, I know it’s been announced this week. I saw a great piece that was put out by class Schwab CEO of the world economic forum and talking about, you know the, the great reset is there you know naming, if you like the or ti the world economic forum next year in terms of, you know, where we go from here and how you see things playing out. I know it’s the the billion dollar question, but I mean, do you have a view that U venture on how, how things will play out over the next six months to to a year?

Rahaf Harfoush (46:01): I mean, it’s so funny. I, I always people get really upset when I see this, but I think it’s gonna be equally awesome and equally terrible. I think there’s going to be segments of society that are going to do great, that are gonna prosper that are going, we’re seeing, we’re seeing businesses now that are prospering. We’re seeing innovations in events, in education, in entertainment in media, like necessity always drives innovation. So like, I think we are gonna see good. You can’t just be like, it’s gonna be terrible. There’s gonna be things that are happening that are, I think interesting. For example, telehealth has gotten a much needed boost. Yeah, I know that. I don’t think in the future, I will ever go to the doctor if I just need like an allergy medication renewal, or if, you know, unless they really physically need to see me.

Rahaf Harfoush (46:48): I, I thought to myself, well, I did a couple of, I had to actually renew my allergy medication. And then I thought, you know, in the old days, and the before times I would go into the office and I would see my doctor and he would give me the prescription. But like I would be sitting in a waiting room where people have whatever. I could actually get the flu or something like, why wouldn’t I do that on my phone? And so that was a really big thing for me, where it changed the way that I even, you know, I thought about telehealth. I was like, well, you know what, unless my doctor physically needs to see me. I’m totally fine just doing that online. So I think we’re gonna see great innovations. At the same time, we’re gonna see a lot of people struggle.

Rahaf Harfoush (47:25): We’re going to see, I think, more unemployment, more economic uncertainty. I feel for the people that are in, you know, travel and tourism and aviation and restaurants and hospitality, like that’s gonna be, that’s gonna be a kicker. I still don’t think that we’ve fully embraced the reality of what the next couple of years are gonna look like. To be honest, I, I think we had this three month lockdown. I think people, if I look at just how, I don’t know how things are, where you’re at, but in Paris, like people are just like over it. They’re like Woohoo, back to normal life. And so considering what’s happening in the Asian countries right now, I think in a couple of weeks, or a couple of months were due for a few flare ups. It’s just, you know, a matter of when I think we need to go through that second or even third wave of like, you know, lockdown, the, the dance and the hammer as it was called before people start settling into what this type of what this type of life looks like.

Rahaf Harfoush (48:26): And so I think it’s gonna be great for some people terrible for others, what I would encourage and some things that I’m seeing, we talked about the impacts of this pandemic. Yeah, one of the things that I’m seeing is in my generation, in the people around me are, is an increasing demand for resilience and looking at how I’ve been starting to call it the resilience portfolio, like looking at okay, if there’s so many different variables coming in and I can’t predict the future, what do I need to do today so that I can maximize my ability to respond to these uncertainties? And I’ve heard this from my friends that run businesses. I’ve heard this, for example, from a friend that has a, has a full-time job, they’re working from home and they’ve decided to launch a side business because they want the resilience of another income stream.

Rahaf Harfoush (49:16): I’ve had another friend who has had, you know, so things like that, I’m always thinking about, okay, well, you can’t really predict the future. All you could do is like maximize your ability to move when something unexpected comes up. And I think that’s gonna be a generational thing. I think we’re going to see this COVID generation come up and be very much aware of how to like, make sure that they’re giving themselves the maximum flexibility. So that’s something that I would encourage people to think about in their own lives. You know, how can you maximize your resiliency? Are there skills you can be learning? Are there new types of work you could be taking on? Is there like a different way to design your life so that you are a bit more prepared for all of this like crazy waves that I think are coming down the line?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (50:03): Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Well, how interesting and inspiring and sort of sort of horrifying and equal measure. But just so everyone is clear about how they can track you down. So go on then. Exactly. Where are you on the Social media, et cetera.

Rahaf Harfoush (50:19): I’m on pretty much every social media under Rahaf Harfoush I’m @foushy on Instagram feel free to connect with me over Twitter, email, Facebook, whatever it is, whatever you fancy.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (50:35): excellent. Well, it’s been absolutely brilliant. So so yeah, so Rahaf Harfoush the brilliant Rahaf Harfoush who also works as but is not defined by her job as a strategist, digital anthropologist and bestselling author and fantastic keynote speaker. Thank you very much.

Rahaf Harfoush (50:54): Yes. Thank you so much for having me.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (51:04): Thank you for listening to the speakers show podcast. Please leave a rating on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. And also it’d be great. If you could subscribe to the podcast itself, you’ll find it also on Google podcasts, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast app. Thank you.

Podcast host

Sean Pillot de Chenecey speaker

Sean Pillot de Chenecey

Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.

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