Apple Award Winning Podcast
Holly Ransom is chief executive of Emergent, a consultancy which specialises in marketing to millennials, a director of Port Adelaide Football Club and a trustee of The Prince’s Charities Australia. Holly co-chaired the 2014 Y20 Youth Summit.
Holly explains how to listen to what matters to Millennials, and why young people are missing out by leaving the wisdom of the older generations untapped. Holly shares on how to listen across cultures, both around the world and back home: how can properly listening improve the lives of indigenous Australians?
Holly shares the experience of interviewing President Barack Obama. She illustrates the importance that he places on listening, how he made it a habit of his leadership, so that every decision he made was informed by as many different perspectives as possible.
Listening makes good intentions actually effective. Holly tells the story of a trip she took in Africa, where a perfectly functional well for drawing water wasn’t being used by the local population. They would instead walk longer and further to another well, taking much needed time away. The well, though functional, had been built in a location of ‘bad spirits’. Holly expresses that listening to people could have avoided this, it’s an example of how listening can make the difference between good intentions and good outcomes.
Tune in to Learn
- How to view a different culture without imposing your own views
- The important nuances required for proper dialogue to take place
- How to engage Millennials with goal-oriented steps
- How to listen to all people great and small
- How a high-school exercise impacted Holly’s listening for years to come
Episode 42: Deep Listening with Holly Ransom
Hi. I’m Oscar Trimboli, and this is the Deep Listening podcast series, designed to move you from an unconscious listener to a deep, and productive listener. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening? Yet, only 2% of us have had any listening training whatsoever. Frustration, misunderstanding, wasted time and opportunity, along with creating poor relationships are just some of the costs of not listening.
Each episode of the series is designed to provide you with practical, actionable, and impactful tips to move you through the five levels of listening. So invite you to visit oscartrimboli.com/facebook to learn about the five levels of listening, and how others are making an impact beyond words.
One of the things that strikes me about leaders, and it’s probably something I listen for a lot, as much as people might go, “Oh, that’s a strange thing to listen for,” I listen for energy, and I listen for a sense of how convicted I believe someone is in what they’re talking about, and from there I think as well a sense of how well they know themselves, and the things that they stand for.
And I just remember sitting there going, “Wow. Not only …” Like, 500 metres down the road, 200 metres in the opposite direction, this is a well that could’ve serviced an entire village, but because there wasn’t any listening on the part of the people who were coming into help, and I believe they were doing it with the best of intentions, but because they’d imposed their version of things, and hadn’t listened to the people they were trying to serve, that unfortunately ended up so far off the mark of what they were trying to achieve, and who they were trying to help.
So what does a village in Africa, the mayor of Yokohama, Japan, and President Obama all have in common? You’ll find out on today’s episode of Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words.
Holly Ransom has achieved more by the age of 28 than most people take a lifetime to do. Whether that’s as a board director working with the United Nations, or leadership roles for the G20. Holly brings a wealth of experience, and brings a great understanding of how to connect her generation with the generations ahead of her, and the generations yet to be born.
She does great job of explaining the cost of not listening for a charity that goes into a foreign land, and foreign culture, and don’t take the time to listen to the history, the backstories, and then let’s listen out for what she learns about listening when interviewing President Obama. Let’s listen to Holly.
What do you think the cost is when organisations don’t listen?
The cost can be anywhere from minor to catastrophic, and I think it depends on how long the lack of listening goes on, and exactly what hasn’t been heard as a consequence of that. When I think of my own experience, I think probably whenever I think about listening, the one I think about is when I was over in Kenya working on establishing a micro-finance project in Korogocho.
We were working with about 22 women in Kenya who were earning probably an average of between 50 and 75 Australian cents a day, doing 15 hours worth of back-breaking work, and they were trying to feed anywhere between four and 11 kids on that, everyday.
We were in the process of doing, in the first week we were there, a lot of due-diligence. Just trying to understand the culture, get a sense of the local market economy, and we’d spent the morning with the tribal chief, and every afternoon, we would wander to this big [C-container 00:04:13] on one side of the slum where we would teach the women business skills.
We’re wandering over, and we’d come from this different part of the slum, because we’d been with the chief that morning, and about a kilometre, kilometre and a half away from the C-container, we stumbled on what looked like a brand-spanking new well, which really struck me as odd, because we’d been told since we arrived in Korogocho that the women had to walk about three, three and a half kilometres everyday to get fresh water. That was the closest source.
So I said to our interpreter, “Hold on, isn’t that a well.” And the answer came back, “Yeah, it’s a well.” And I said, “Well, is the well broken?” And he goes, “No, it’s not.” I’m sitting there going, “Well, hold on a minute.” Here’s this well that was built by an aid-development company that every single one of your listeners would know, using probably about $20,000 worth of aid money.
I just said, “Well, why aren’t they drinking from the well then?” The answer came back, “Well, the well was built on ancient battlegrounds. There’s bad spirits in the ground. We can’t drink the water from this well, or we’ll end up with bad spirits in us, and we’ll die.”
I just remember sitting there going, “Wow.” 500 metres down the road, 200 metres in the opposite direction, this is a well that could’ve serviced an entire village, but because there wasn’t any listening on the part of the people that were coming into help, and I believe they were doing it with the best of intentions, but because they’d imposed their version of things, and hadn’t listened to the people they were trying to serve, that unfortunately ended up so far off the mark of what they were trying to achieve, and who they were trying to help.
Holly, thinking about listening across cultures, what do you think Australians aren’t doing in listening to the traditional Aboriginal use of Australia?
As a young Australian, you sit there and go, it’s the definition of insanity to think that we can keep going about trying to close the gap in the way that we’ve always done it, and expect a different result. It’s a really unfortunate blight on this country, that there is an 18-year life expectancy gap between a non-indigenous Australian and an indigenous Australian.
We desperately need generational change when it comes to how we’re approaching indigenous policy, how it is we’re allocating resources, and hopefully too in the social cohesion that we can bring between non-indigenous and indigenous Australians.
I think we’re at a real struggle point, Oscar, at the moment, because we watch the most extensive, arguably, consultation process that we’d ever been on, arriving at kind of the [inaudible 00:06:56] Statement, which was pushing for indigenous recognition in parliament as part of a kind of constitutional recognition, and that conversation just got almost immediately truncated without it being entered into and having the debate at a political level around whether that could be a solution or not.
I think that’s left a lot of bad blood out there when it comes to this conversation, because I think we’d finally gotten to a point where we’d open the doors of dialogue, and then the response was so quick to shut down what was suggested in that process, that I think people are questioning whether there was ever an intent to truly listen. I think it’s really important now more than ever that we’re finding ways to listen, and finding ways to have dialogue with one another, and I think there’s a lot of perceived, and sometimes real barriers to that taking place.
Unlike most people in board rooms, you probably had more practical exposure to Aboriginal communities from your early work compared to others. What do you think board rooms aren’t listening to when it comes to Aborigines?
Well, I think to begin with, most board rooms in the country wouldn’t have an indigenous representation often. It’s the fact that that view’s not even there to be put, and to be considered, and that’s something that we could be thinking about. How do we grow indigenous representation on our boards, in our leadership teams and executives?
It is really critical, because until we can actually find ways to hear the experiences, and the opinions, and perspectives of indigenous people themselves … And maybe that doesn’t have to start for every organisation in finding an indigenous director. Maybe it’s through opening up channels of dialogue, you know? Finding ways to have an advisor that you bring in from an indigenous background that can help guide you on matters considering indigenous customers, matters concerning how you properly acknowledge country in the start of your events, or the way that you think about cultural awareness training in your place of work.
I’ve worked with organisations that have an enormous footprint on indigenous land. That then takes it too a much bigger level of how do you make sure that community feel acknowledge, appreciated, looked after, involved in the process, that they have agency in the way that conversations are taking place. It’s important that you think about how we’re considering their views, and how we’re making sure that they feel included as part of the process through which we make decisions, and the process through which we analyse issues, and the matters before us.
If critical thinking is the ability to read between the lines, and making informed decisions, Oscar Trimboli clearly explains how listening between the noise can be a critical advantage. For all the decision-makers out there, listen up, for this is the sound of change we’ve been longing to hear.
As someone who spends their time in Europe and North America, Asia, Africa, all around the world, you’re being exposed to different cultures. Are there any tips from other cultures that you think we could learn from when it comes to listening?
I was really lucky from a cultural perspective, that on a leadership programme I was on when I was 15, I had a really incredible opportunity to be challenged on the way I thought about things culturally. I went on the Sir Charles Court Young Leaders Programme when I was 15, growing up in [WA 00:10:41], and one of the things that was part of this programme, which was designed by the History Teachers Association of WA, was a number of cross-cultural learning experiences.
One of the exercises they put us through was called BaFa’ BaFa’, which was a game that was actually designed for the US Navy, off the back of some I guess cross-cultural faux pas during the Vietnam War in particular. This game was designed, you were split into two rooms, you had Alpha and Beta, and I was an Alphan.
It seemed like we were a very extroverted room full of people, and we all learnt the way that Alpha do things, which was really based on greeting one another, conversation, lots of physical touch. It was all high-fives, and hugs, and you name it. We had this card game, but it was really secondary. The way that you created a great cultural connection was through conversation, connection, physical acknowledgement of one another. The way that you culturally offended was to do the opposite of that.
Then we had this opportunity, one by one, to head into the other land. We’d go to the tribe of Beta, and were allowed to observe for as long as we didn’t culturally offend. We did anything that was culturally offensive, we were kicked out immediately, and we had about an hour to get to the bottom of one another’s cultures through these brief periods of cross-cultural exchange.
Well, I think I was the first person to go into the world of Beta, and so I was studying them from the point of view of how do they greet one another? What is the social hierarchy like? How do they talk to one another? I think I lasted about 30 seconds before I somehow made a faux pa, and we were sent back to Alpha land.
What was really interesting at the end of this hour is they’d come to us, and they were obviously studying us, and we got to the end of the exercise, and the instructor or the facilitator asked us to explain one another’s cultures, and we completely missed the mark, because Beta was a culture all about competition. All about trade, and all about this language associated with their card game that had a leaderboard. It was all about the card exchange, very little pleasantries, and it was a competitive hierarchical society.
We’d come in looking at the cultural connection, and the social warmth, and conversation, and vice versa, they’d come into us, a land of quite gregarious types, and been fascinated obsessively with our card game, and trying to understand who was winning, and what card beat what. In analysing one another’s cultures, we had completely and utterly missed the mark.
It was a really great lesson to get early, and I’ve reflected on it a lot as I’ve travelled the world over the years subsequent, about the importance of trying not to see a different part of the world through the lens of your own.
I was in Japan last week doing this, sitting down with people that know Japan really well. You know, getting a sense of what matters in this culture. What’s the heartbeat of this country? How do people interact with one another? What sits at the bottom of really deep, meaningful relationships in Japanese culture?
And trying to get of sense of what do I need to be looking for during my time in this country? What do I need to be mindful of as well, so as to not cause any offence during my time in this country? As opposed to coming in with my Australian perspective, and assuming that I can just continue to live, and operate, and conduct myself as I would at home, and that’s going to be the way that leads to positive or meaningful relationships forming in this country.
I think that lesson from BaFa’ BaFa’ early around the importance of not imposing your own cultural viewpoint, and cultural priorities on where your visiting, or on the place you happen to be a guest in, and making sure that you’re mindful enough to step back and go:
Actually, I need to view this from the perspective of the country that I’m in, or the people that I’m working with, and I need to spend the time understanding what matters to them, and then taking that lens on as I travel through my interactions, or spend my time on the ground in this country.
Yeah. Great example of listing to context, the fourth level of listening. How did you apply that in Japan?
I had the privilege of meeting the mayor of Yokohama, who’s a remarkable 67-year-old woman. It’s just understanding even protocol around little things, and part of this I’ve learned through Port Adelaide’s journey with China too.
There’s certain ways that you greet one another. For example in Japan, there’s a really significant gift exchange. Making sure that you have something to offer your hosts. Quite often ideally, something that’s significant from your home country that you can present is very important. There’s a huge gift-given culture of exchange that’s really, really important.
One of the things that I had been advised of by the people I had asked questions of early, is that Westerners in interacting with Japan, in can tend to have an ability to run rough shot over a conversation. They made the point to me that Japanese quite often will give you a lot of guidance in a conversation through what’s not said, and through pause. In those moments, what we as Westerners tend to have [inaudible 00:16:11] is we want to fill that vacuum. We want to jump straight in, we want to offer our opinion. We want to take the conversation in a new direction, whereas actually that’s often a period where we’re being given a lot of guidance as to where we should take the conversation next, or what wasn’t said in that moment.
There’s actually a softness with which we’ve got to approach the conversations, a depth in the nuance we’ve got to be picking up as listener. That was really, really important to me in navigating some of the conversations that I had, particularly with leaders in Japan last week. To be able to sit there and have that … I guess heightened sensitivity to some of that, because I don’t know that necessarily …
And I’m generalising here, but in some of our Western conversation, we’re probably as particular, sensitive, nuanced in some of the non-verbals of communication, and certainly in the sensitivity with which we regard pauses. That was really important advice.
What do you think you might’ve done differently without that advice?
It’s probably more the conversation that I would’ve missed out on, because the authenticity, and the openness, and a vulnerability that people are prepared to offer of themselves when they feel like someone is respecting them, going about the conversation in the right way, appreciating everything that’s being shared with them in that moment. They’re deeply grateful for that.
I think it’s more what we miss out on if we fail to be aware of the important nuances, and factors that need to be present for proper dialogue to take place.
One of the things that I learned when I was organising, you show up in a neighbourhood, and you’re initial instinct is to tell people what they should be interested in, instead of spending the first six months listening, and finding out what they actually are interested in.
When you interviewed Barack Obama, what were you listening for? And what do you think he listens for differently across generations?
I think one of the things that strikes me about leaders, and it’s probably something I listen for a lot, as much as people might go, “Oh, that’s a strange thing to listen for,” I listen for energy, and I listen for a sense of how convicted I believe someone is in what they’re talking about. From there, I think as well, a sense of how well they know themselves, and the things that they stand for.
One of the things that really strikes me about President Obama is he’s so grounded in his energy. There’s a real calmness to the way that he conveys ideas. That’s not to say he’s not engaging. He’s unbelievably engaging. I think what’s interesting about it is the energy with which that’s anchored, and it really is a strong conviction.
This is a man that’s kind of gone inside and out, and upside down in challenging himself to think through why does he believe one way or the other. Why does he choose to make decisions one way or another? To arrive at the point where he has a really strong sense of self, and therefore a really strong conviction in the way that he leads, and the way that he lead during his time in the White House.
That was really evident in the way that he would talk through. He made a point numerous times during our conversation of how every city he visited as President, he would sit down with the young people. He would ask them their opinions on the issues that mattered most to them. He would be really mindful when he thought about the structure of his cabinet, and the people that were sitting in a room advising him. That that had women, that had African American people, that had people of diverse backgrounds, so that he could get every angle on a decision before he chose to make one.
I think that for me was just so encouraging, to see so much of what we talk about. Not only being [inaudible 00:20:23] by Obama, he’s so passionate about it, but also talking over, and over, and over again about pragmatically how he lived in one of the most significant, if not the most significant leadership positions in the world.
I think for me, that was a lot of what I was listening for in that conversation, was actually I think it gives you a lot of sense of a person. Often the body language, they often say 96% of communication’s nonverbal, and I think sometimes we think we can’t pickup on those things unless we’re looking at someone, but yes we can. Like there’s obviously a lot that eye contact and body language will do, but I also think there’s a lot that tone and intonation, and pace can tell us about a person as well. I’m oftentimes listening for that.
What do you think the older generation are not listening to for the younger generation?
Look, I think there’s a lot of intergenerational misunderstanding, but I think probably one of the areas that I find myself in conversation with leaders a lot about is just the difference in the way that they look at the world, and particularly the way that they look at the world of work. I continually find myself almost defending on behalf of my generation, as a millennial myself, is this piece around they all want to be CEO tomorrow.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll meet those millennials. I will argue that you would probably meet those people in any generation, but there is definitely an instantaneity with which young people expect things, because they’re conditioned to being able to put something into Google, and getting an answer in a fraction of a second. The time span between input and output is dramatically shorter for this younger generation, and lot of the early studies we’re seeing from the professors, and psychologists, and neuroscientists that are looking at this generation of digital natives, is saying truly that decision-making horizons have shrunk. Neurological pathways have changed by virtue of this generation growing up with technology at their fingertips in that sort of way.
The thing I always try and say to everyone, irrespective of what generation we’re talking about, or what issue for that matter, is nobody’s born in a vacuum. There are societal phenomenon that have shaped this generation, and there are two big ones that I think are significant with the younger generation. One is the influence of technology around the career progression pace. I often say to people, you should not underestimate the enormity of gaming’s influence on this millennial generation.
They’ve grown up playing an extraordinary amount of video games. In fact, in studies that you’ll see around millennial men in particular, they say that by the time the average Gen Y or Gen Z will turn 18 in a developed country, they will have spent 10,000 hours gaming, which is on par with the same number of hours they will have spent at school. That’s sort of an equivalent amount of time that gaming has had shaping neurological pathways as their entire schooling has. The thing I always say is, “What do you know about gaming?” Well, in the world of gaming, whenever you accomplish a task, whenever you solve a problem, whenever you successfully tackle something, you get to level up. You get a new power, you get a new responsibility, you unlock a new world, you get a new title, whatever it might be. I think consciously or unconsciously, there’s a projection of a gaming reality onto the world of work. Similarly, when young people are successfully accomplishing a task, or tackling a matter, they’re turning around to their boss and going, “Alright, do I get to level up now? What’s my new title? What’s my new responsibility? What’s different now that I’ve done that?”
That’s really challenging, given that most of our work design is still structured sort of for the industrial age. It’s not that agile, it’s not that responsive, but one of the things I say to a lot of Baby Boomer and Gen X bosses a lot is it’s not so much they need to change the organisational structure, but it’s needing to be really clear about the sub-levels between the levels.
Because what we know about this generation is they can’t … They’re not going to like a Baby Boomer would’ve, who have spent 30 years arguably at one employer, or in the one career. They’re not going to hang around for five years waiting for one giant promotional step, but what they will do is hang around for five to eight tasks that are sub-levels between that big promotional step that spanned that same period of time. We’ve got to find a way of engaging their need for momentum and progress, and if we can do that, we have the ability to get them to move towards a long-term goal, which from an employer’s standpoint looks like loyalty, looks like having people for five years plus in a place of work, but we need to do that through making really transparent steps on the journey there.
One of the big ones I think we need to be conscious of with young Australians is just the challenges around mental health. We’ve got one-in-four young Australians that are in some way, shape, or form facing a mental health challenge at this moment. When we look at the way that they’ve grown up, part of what we’ve done with the schooling system is everyone got to win in a race, everyone got to be a school captain. We didn’t actually create an environment to incrementally build resilience into our young people, and we didn’t do that when it was an opportunity to fail-safe.
Now we’ve got them going out into the world of work, where the average young Australian, according to Foundation For Young Australian’s reports, takes over 3.9 years to get into full-time employment after they graduate from university. They’re really struggling, because they’re coming up against significant hurdles in real life, not in the fail-safe environment that might’ve been primary school or high school. They don’t have the capability to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and know how to move forward, and I think that’s a really significant challenge.
But I think they’re two really important ones for Boomers to know about the younger generation.
What do you think the younger generation isn’t listening to for the older generations?
There is such extraordinary experience, capability, problem-solving, insight, wisdom, you name it in the older generations, and to fail to tap into that, to fail to engage that as part of your own process is just plain silly, plain naïve I think. I think we need to foster more of those sorts of relationships. Tap into the opportunity to learn from people who have gone and done it before, because that for me is the part that young people are missing out on.
They’re going out and starting businesses. They’re falling over 10 times, whereas if they’d had the advice of people who’ve built three businesses, or who’ve gone and sat on the boards of companies before, in the form of members of the older generation. That 10 fall-overs could’ve potentially been reduced to three, or you potentially could’ve got started in six months instead of 18 months, because you had the right insight and advice, and people wrapped around you to help you do what you needed to do. We need to have a lot more sharing in that regard, and just that willingness to listen, to make the time to listen.
I think there’s an impatience amongst the younger generation that sometimes stops their ears being open, and I think sometimes there’s a perception that because the older generation may not have grown up in a technological world that this generation now live in, that their advice and insight isn’t as sound, or isn’t as relevant, and I’d really question that too.
Ultimately the generation that unifies the older generation and the younger generation is the generation yet to be born, the generation of the next century. What do you think all of us are not listening to on their behalf?
I’d be thinking that a lot of our conversations around social license to operate around needing to rapidly get our head around the collective governance of artificial intelligence, and emerging technologies, things that are going to fundamentally shape the world of the next generation would be of critical importance, and I think particularly around technology and ethics. I think that’s going to play a profoundly significant role in the lives of the next generation, where our technological capabilities are going to be, by say the 2040s, is beyond the comprehension of our world right now.
There’s a lot of big questions that we’re not asking of ourselves as an Australian society and collectively as a global community about the bounds, and the morality, and the ethics with which we want to allow that advancement to take place, so that we’re consciously doing that in a way for the betterment of humanity. I think we’d have an enormous focus on that conversation if we were thinking about the next generation.
My biggest takeaway from the interview with Holly is listening for context, and listening for meaning. The meaning in the story about the water well in Kenya is a powerful example of listening deeply enough to understand what sits behind the story.
I enjoyed the way Holly helped me make sense of intergenerational listening, especially when she talks about the ethics of algorithms. There’s a great book by Cathy O’Neil called Weapons of Math Destruction, How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Well ahead of it’s time, it was written in 2016, and it deals with the issues of listening to what’s wrong with algorithms. I use it in my work, whether I’m dealing with accounting, actuarial, or marketing executives, so they can understand what sits behind the role. What will I be doing differently as a result of listening to Holly? I’ll listen with more care about the backstory in any dialogue. I’ll spend more time to understand where the bad spirits are in an organisation. And what were the wars of the past that need to be heard so that the team can make progress for the future?
I’m really enjoying some of the questions in the Deep Listening Facebook group. You can check that out at oscartrimboli.com/facebook. I’m particularly enjoying what people are saying about when they struggle when it comes to listening, and I asked Holly that exact question earlier on today.
What do you struggle with when it comes to listening?
I think we can all always do a little bit better at suspending judgement as we listen. I think it’s really easy, and I see this happen a lot, particularly around … Perhaps around board tables, and around issues where we might’ve had papers in the lead-up, or people are coming to a conversation where they’ve had an ability to make a judgement , or arrive at some kind of preliminary conclusion beforehand.
I think one of the really important things that I certainly try and catch myself on is we’re still present in the moment for the debate of the ideas, and we’re still able to listen and take on opinions in that moment, and not be so whetted to the conclusion that we’ve already reached. That really it was done before we even started the conversation.
Here’s what some other people have said when they say they struggle with listening on our Facebook group:
If there’s too many people talking at once. When there’s distractions. Struggling with not passing judgement . What do I do when my mind wanders as I try to compare and contrast this to similar experiences? How do I give them 100% of my attention? How do I be more patient? How do I create more consistent focus? How do I pay more attention to people when the subject they’re talking about isn’t really interesting to me? I’m curious what you’d add to the list when you visit the Facebook group.
One of the other things I’m enjoying is how each member in the Facebook group are helping each other out. As I reflect on Holly’s interview, and listening across cultures and generations, I’m reminded of a story Tarin told me a couple of weeks ago, when her three-year-old daughter said, “Mummy, stop bumping my words.” And as Tarin said, that was her daughter’s way of saying, “Mum, can you please stop interrupting me?” There’s so much wisdom we can all gain from listening across the generations.
Finally, a big thank you to the team behind the scenes that listen to me. To Johnny, to June, and to Nell. Thanks for listening.
So what are you hearing in my tone, my inclination, in my energy?
Well, you’re very calm. Your tone is very … Like when you talk, it’s slow, it’s low. There’s a confidence. There’s a conceited nature to the way that you ask questions. You’re not someone that’s allowing yourself to be rushed by any stretch. I think what I sense is someone who’s truly aligned with the topic for which you’ve started this podcast, which is this notion of listening, and really wanting to get to the bottom of what makes a great listener. You’re embodying what it is that you’re seeking to share through this podcast, in the way that you ask questions, and the way that you show up in this podcast.
I think it’s such an interesting topic that you’ve taken, Oscar. It’s not one that we find ourselves in conversation around very much, or critically having the opportunity to think about. So there’s a consciousness that you’ve made me consider some of the way that I operate, some of the things that I … And by consequence, having some of that brought back to my radar, some of the things that I just want to continue to be more mindful of, and have more [inaudible 00:34:50] of minds.