Dan Szuc - Making Meaningful Work

Dan Szuc - Making Meaningful Work

My guest in this episode is Daniel Szuc, co-founder and principal at Apogee and co-founder of Make Meaningful Work, as well as the co-founder of UX Hong Kong. In this episode, we talk about making meaningful work and enabling each other to be our authentic selves in the workplace.

Dan has been involved in the UX field for over 20 years, and has been based in Hong Kong for over 20 years. Dan has lectured about user-centered design globally. He has co-authored two books including Global UX with Whitney Queensbury and The Usability Kit with Gerry Gaffney.


Andy Polaine 00:09

Hi, welcome to Power of Ten podcast about design operating at many levels zooming out from thoughtful detail through to organisational transformation and onto changes in society in the world. My name is Andy Polaine. I’m a service design and innovation consultant, coach, trainer and writer. My guest today is Daniel Szuc, co-founder of principal Apogee and co-founder of Making Meaningful Work, as well as the co-founder of UX Hong Kong has been involved in the UX field for over 20 years and has also been based in Hong Kong for the same amount of time. Dan has lectured about user centred design globally, and has co authored two books including Global UX with Whitney Queensbury, and The Usability Kit with Jerry Gaffney. Dan, welcome to Power of Ten.

Daniel Szuc 00:51

Thank you so much for having me, Andy.

Andy Polaine 00:54

It’s a pleasure. We had a really good chat the other day, I told people when I when I started this podcast that it was basically because I’d had often interesting chats with people and thought, I wish I’d recorded that. And I wish I’d recorded that. So let’s, let’s see where we go with it today. First of all, though, you’re not from Hong Kong originally, tell us a little bit about your pathway to where you are now.

Daniel Szuc 01:16

I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and enjoyed the 70s as a kid, and then into the 80s in Melbourne and then into the 90s where I went through no study there and growing up in Melbourne and Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia is just a fantastic place to grow up. And I think I had a pretty regular sort of childhood in going to school and playing cricket in the in the driveway and then going to the park to play kick to kick football because football Australian rules football was very, very popular with with me and my friends. And then when I graduated uni, I went into my first proper job, which was at corporate telecom Australia at the time.

Andy Polaine 02:11

Is that what became Telstra?

Daniel Szuc 02:13

Exactly. Yeah, I went up, I went through some of that while I was still there as as I was rebranding and moving from government to a semi privatised, I guess a public offering. And I was just really lucky to have discovered human factors. I was working at the research labs and there was a small Human Factors time. And then applied from working in a very small systems team and sort of doing Human Factors just to sort of thing on the side to then finding out that there was a job posting for a new usability team working on customer support systems at Telecom Australia, Telstra, and I knew I knew really nothing about usability at all. All I knew is I kind of liked. I liked UI design. And that was the that was the graphical interesting, visual and graphical interesting part of human factors applied for that. worked in a usability team where I met Jerry Gaffney. Actually, we work together on that team. And very again, very, very lucky because I felt we were we really were pioneers, because they the usability field, user centred design was in its very early stages in Australia. But I think got got, I don’t know, got got interested to see more of the world and so decided to go travelling. The What was it - 1998, 1999? And have been pretty much in yeah, in Hong Kong ever since.

Andy Polaine 03:42

Right? And and what kept you in Hong Kong?

Daniel Szuc 03:45

Ah, so much. I think the the comical answer would be Dim Sum Yum Cha dumplings. So it’s a big part of it. But I’d say the primary reason would have to be my wife and my business partner, Josephine Wong. I feel very fortunate in having known her for Melbourne University and then reconnecting with her in Hong Kong, and man, and having apart from embarrassingly not being able to speak fluent Cantonese, or fluent Mandarin, or should be fluent in at least one of them. But I feel extremely lucky that I, pretty much apart from when we’re separated through through travel. We’re pretty much 24 x 7 together. And what’s marvellous about that is, I feel as a as a Westerner, I’ve had, I’ve had a very deep and immersive local experience. And I think that’s the best thing you can do when you go to another culture in another country is open yourself up to immersing in that locale because I think you’ll get an order of magnitude, better experience as a result of it.

Andy Polaine 05:00

Talk about walking in someone else’s shoes, every day. So I didn’t know that I didn’t know you’d met in Melbourne and I thought you’d met her in Hong Kong, before we get on to the meaningful work. So it’s been a, you know, turbulent, well for everyone, it’s been a turbulent, what year and a more year and a bit now, but obviously Hong Kong had turbulence going on before that, and what’s that meant for for you? And particularly, I guess, UX Hong Kong.

Daniel Szuc 05:28

In connection to us, Hong Kong, we had to take a break, because the there was just really no way. We could have ran it in 2019. When we did run it. Yeah, I think early in 2019 was the ninth mix Hong Kong, but then the troubles and the riots and the unrest started to happen here. And it was just, it was just getting progressively worse and worse and worse, leading up to 2020. And we just had to make a call on it, we usually make a call on it about three quarters of the way through the year before we decide to decide to run it the next year. And so this is no way we can do it. For one, we’re not in a position to do it logistically because of all the troubles that were happening in Hong Kong. And number two was just, it would be terribly unfair to try and invite people to come into what was what was turning into without dramatising. But what was turning into a very risky and at times dangerous situation. So I was really pleased when national security law was announced. And things have settled down as a result of that. And hopefully, hopefully, we’ll start to see Hong Kong settle down and see its place in what’s called the greater Bay Area and see a different Hong Kong but towards perhaps economic, social and economic opportunities that some people might not be able to see, but I’m very bullish about so I’m looking, I’m looking, I’m looking forward to that, to that evolution. I think transcendence is probably a stretch. But I’m certainly looking forward to the evolution and what’s coming next. I’ve certainly got no issue in staying here. And I’m kind of excited about what’s next.

Andy Polaine 07:17

So we started talking, because I’ve been writing quite a lot, especially since I’ve been coaching that stuff I’ve been sort of thinking about and writing about in one way or another for a while about, obviously, my experience as a coach is on the other side of the couch or Zoom or whatever it is, you know, where I’m seeing the kind of ramifications or the of a kind of work culture and overworked culture, and people feeling lost burnt out, especially right now, of course, frustrated, and you know, definitely a feeling of you know, I’m feeling all of these things, and there’s all this stuff going on in the world. And yet, I’m being expected to just perform ever faster kind of levels ever higher levels. And I think, you know, the global pandemic has obviously made a lot of people go through a kind of sequences roughly along the lines of, I’m not really looking forward to going back to the office. And if I’m not looking forward to going back to the office, you know, what am I doing? You know, and if I’m not doing what I’m doing, who am I and you know, this this kind of natural kind of chain of events that happen there. But you’ve been you’ve been talking about, we’ve co founded making meaningful work, and you kind of wrote this piece about it. And maybe you could just sort of take us back? What was the genesis of that? And tell us about what the kind of fundamental, I guess philosophy behind it is?

Daniel Szuc 08:35

Oh, I guess it’s a great question that there’s a, there’s kind of an implicit part to it, and is an explicit part of it. I think if I, if I go back, all the way back to when I was a kid, I think I always responded well to spaces where I could express safely and be involved in projects that felt energising and creative. I was always feeling involved involved in the actual doing of that project doing of that work. But I was also as a kid, I think somehow, I had this sensory perception of what was actually going on here that made the environment delightful, that felt different to a classroom, or felt different to being at home. So I think implicitly, although I wasn’t using this language as a kid, I was only experiencing it. I think when I was outside of school or outside of home and going to places like you know, four years of, of professional theatre training, you know, at the National Theatre in Melbourne, and just, you know, just going into a completely different third space and feeling the energy of that or being involved in amateur or professional theatre. When I was 16. I actually was very lucky to be in a play for the Melbourne theatre company which is a professional theatre company in Melbourne. The probably the the top professional theatre company in Melbourne. So that was an amazing experience, but having a major role in a theatre pace being on the Melbourne stage with actors that I’d seen on television and, and all of that, so, and then having to go back after being involved in spaces like that, and then having to go back to what felt a little bit like the drudgery of of like high school back into sort of form five, form six, and then preparing yourself for victory, you know, the Victorian certificate, and what was called VC, the Victorian Certificate of Education, and then preparing yourself for union and suddenly, I implicitly felt Oh, God, I’ve I’ve somehow step back onto the production line. And well, what about all this fun stuff that that I was experiencing in in theatre and ending in other creative pursuits. And sort of fast forward, you know, that went into, you know, having my first job at Telecom, Australia, Telstra. And, again, being being immersed with a fantastic usability team at the time, but it still felt, I still felt that it wasn’t enough, it just it I was yearning for something else. And I think that’s why I think some people go travelling because they go searching for something searching, I wouldn’t say it was like searching for meaning at that time, but searching for something else, searching for that third space, which I wasn’t saying at the time. And I’m very lucky to meet Jo get involved in in business, forming our own narrative in our own business and being part of a wonderful community of practice, and generically user experience and all the bits and bobs of that and look at, I’d be pretty sure Andy, we could agree that we’re very lucky to be in this community, because it’s made up primarily of some really lovely, smart, caring, compassionate people. And then consulting in that four out of our 21 years or so in business, 2122 years or so, about 15 years really focusing on UX and focusing even more specifically in user research and understanding people. And then in about 2013, I just hit another one of those roadblocks, I hit a bit of a wall. And I felt like I wasn’t learning as much as I would like to have been learning within the various communities of practice within UX. And I thought, I started to get a bit jaded about it go through a little bit of an angry period. You’ve had some looking for something that just isn’t, isn’t there. And so, the explicitness then became our let’s just turn this into a sort of a self imposed Masters or PhD. And we spent probably a good couple of years even coming up with the three words or the question of how can we make meaningful work. And then it’s sort of it sort of propelled forward from there going from framework to you know, we’ve written a, Joe and myself have co authored and written a book, we’ve created a mega meaningful work guided practice journal, we’ve developed a programme we have, we wanted to, you know, begin to think about what it might mean for work conference would look and feel again, suddenly, as we’re pulling all of these different Lego pieces together, it actually starts to feel like I’m sort of hesitant to use this word. But nonetheless, I think it applies, it all starts to feel a little bit like a platform a little bit like a movement of sorts. And what’s lovely about it is you start to feel explicitly “Well, what’s interesting is, let’s say we were to publish that book, it’s really not about entirely about john myself, it’s it’s about creating the space to answer the question.” And so in conclusion, I think what’s become the culmination of it has arrived, I think we’ve arrived at what we call the mate meaningful work studio. And we’ve arrived at a place where we want to just including out advisory and also people we want to invite in, we want to be able to create a learning and development environment to actually be the representation of 21st century work. So what what you don’t I’m speaking to the converted here, I mean, what better way to actually describe an experience than to live the experience? Yeah. And have other people leave that experience. So that’s kind of that’s kind of where the sort of, I guess, the shorter path of where we’re at now and where it where it came from.

Andy Polaine 14:35

So you know, tell us, tell us a bit about those sessions. And you’ve… Well, maybe let’s wind back a little bit, and what did you discover about what meaningful work actually is? Because you, you sort of you’ve asked that question of, well, how can we, how might we, as we would say, as proper designers, you know, make meaningful work? And then you obviously have to unpack that and, you know, what does that act of making really mean? What does it mean? For me in any deed, what is kind of work mean? And you’ve talked about, you know, how people feel work is, you know, wasteful and unhealthy or purposeless and stressful, which I think, you know, a lot of people aren’t absolutely experienced. But you talked about this idea of sleepwalking. And I’m wondering if that’s a reflection on how you felt at the time, that hang on, you know, in that moment of you know, that, I guess there must be more to this. There, there was a sort of awakening from sleepwalking. So can you unpack a little bit about what meaningful work is and what sleepwalking is? Or what it can feel like at work?

Daniel Szuc 15:30

Absolutely. So I think you’re right, about the sleepwalking, I mean, I think we needed to come up with a way to describe a journey, or what we might call an adventure. So I think the the observation, which I think, in many respects, is has got worse because of the pandemic. And because of things related to social isolation around having to work remotely from home. And, you know, the actual mechanics of work haven’t necessarily changed. Just because people have worked from home, it’s like, the workplace May, in some instance, ask even more of people, which adds to the toxicity. But I think the sleepwalking would be where you have those varying degrees of just not feeling engaged or energised in the work that you do. It can be all the way to depression, like just, you know, struggling to wake up in the morning and go to the workplace and see the people that you work with. It’s got elements of varying degrees of politics involved in all all the things that I think people can very easily talk to. Because I think, unfortunately, that’s still the predominant state of work in varying degrees. We had to pick it up and opposite state to that, because it’s not not all bad. So what would be the opposite state? Well, the word kind of cringing a little bit as I say this, but the opposite word that we use is called sparkle. And I’m really open to other suggestions on that word. Yeah. But it’s, it’s just the opposite of that. It’s where you feel, can’t wait to get involved in the project know my role really quickly, I love working with my colleagues have a really clear idea on what we’re trying to do here, how that connects through to my own values and beliefs and my own motivations and intentions and what that means for the people that I’m working with. So that’s kind of the sleepwalking to sparkle pace. I think if I were to unpack the key key parts of make meaningful work, it will probably be the following. I think one is that, and I think this, this is tied in part to our user research roots, is I think we always start with stories, every person has a story to share. And that’s the, I’d say that’s the work part of making meaningful work, the work part is you have to break it down into a unit of analysis that people feel comfortable in sharing, which is stories. So always start with a story. Step one. And then step two is we use practice spotting. It’s a tool that we’ve developed. And it’s a way of using different lenses, to look at a story and through the different lenses be able to look at the different perspectives of people time and place in the story. And then through that, what you’re looking to do using these lenses, so a lens example lens might be enabler or barrier or mindset and attitude, or characters in the story. And what you’re looking to do, the the output you’re looking for is a practice, practice cards and example, practice would be curiosity, active listening, I mean, there’s adaptability. There’s literally hundreds of them. But it’s the recognition of the practice. It’s very, very clinical. Because you’ve got to unpack it too. You got to unpack the story to enough depth, that the person who’s told the story is arriving at a practice that resonates for them. And then the third step is you’ve got to turn those practices into exercises, very simple exercises that you can try in the context of your work. And then the fourth step is we’re coming towards the end and nice is the really important part of it. is you want to connect and contextualise and for actually, a lot of what I’m sharing with you is absolutely full credit to Jo Wong, Josephine, since I’m often just the mouthpiece it’s Jo’s the genius behind a lot of this is the connecting contextualise to say meaningful work is not about looking or searching for meaning in the way that people might read someone like Viktor Frankl in his book in The Search for Meaning. It’s actually and I’m not saying Viktor Frankl was necessarily saying that, but it’s it’s the it’s the where we’re saying the opposite, which is you want to be able to take the practice that you and the exercises that you’ve created that have come from a story and you want connect and contextualise it. So you can insert meaning into what you’re doing. And the inserting meaning is basically moving the words into action. And by doing that almost implicitly, again, you’re creating leadership opportunity for people, you’re developing character for people within that you’re helping people understand the connection between practice, habit, and culture. And you’re turning the responsibility onto people to take responsibility for inserting meaning, rather than waiting for it. And then finally, Andy. So we’ve discussed kind of the work part of it through the unit of analysis, the meaningful part of it, I’ve touched on in reference to inserting meaning. And the make part I don’t have to go into too much detail with you or perhaps some of the audience. The make part was a deliberate use of, of language there to say not design. But to make because we didn’t want this to be seen as a design centric practice. Although design obviously isn’t important, or designers are an important player within the studio. Yeah. But the make parts is that actually, it’s a holistic practice. It’s a multi and interdisciplinary practice. And the intersections of those practices is actually where we find the sparkle. Now, often, people, unfortunately, people don’t have necessarily a lot of those spaces to find those intersections at work. And the second most important part of it, then I’ll hand back to you is we don’t often have within those spaces, because they that’s like, the third space I’ve been describing, is we don’t often have the opportunities to do deliberate practice in those spaces, because we’re all we’re all too busy in 2021, being busy.

Andy Polaine 21:50

Right, yeah, this is I there was a little note I just made actually around speed and drift. I think one of the things that sleepwalking state you were talking about I’ve been talking about is a kind of drift, and it’s a it’s paradoxical is probably counterintuitive, perhaps it’s better to say that everyone can is working very hard. There’s a lot of kind of busy work going on, I see people’s calendars, they are either back to back absolutely full. You know, one of the classic coaching questions is, so when do you actually do your work? “Well, you know, evenings and weekends and stuff?” You know, and also that thing of, I’ve experienced myself where I’ve come home, and my wife said, so, you know, what do you do today? And I’m not sure, I don’t really know. I know, I was in lots of meetings, I don’t really know what I actually did. And so, you know, there’s that thing, why I think what’s happening, I think that’s what the pandemic kind of put the brakes on and brought everyone up shortly about was felt like I was working really hard that feels like or at least we’re in I’m gonna say indoctrinated to believe that that is progress. And that is kind of moving forward. And yet, I’m actually I’m kind of drifting, because I’m just, I’m not really sort of going anywhere. I’m just kind of processing a lot of stuff. Now I have a longer rant about, you know, this, for me, it’s a bit of kind of product and service thing about this idea of, you know, the well known Marshall McLuhan phrase of, you know, “we shape our tools. and thereafter, they shape us” that the forms of management and corporate structure that we still are mostly in arose from the Industrial Revolution. And so still companies are kind of seen as a machine to be optimised so it can run faster and faster, and therefore, sort of people working in them are on the assembly line. And so it feels like I always think it’s like, if you’ve seen Metropolis, there’s a bit in Metropolis where the you know, the guy is just moving the clock hands and the light to go on is like a clock thing like a clock face, I’ll try and describe it verbally, for those, it is like a clock face with light bulbs around where the numbers would be. And the lights change, and he has to move the hands to the light. It’s completely pointless, but he’s just kind of doing it to the point of exhaustion, and then someone else steps in and takes over. And so it feels like there’s kind of a lot of that going on. And I was interested by yourself cringe at the word sparkles because I kind of get where it’s coming from, at least that sort of I hear myself cringe. But I think it’s also interesting that why should we cringe at that it’s a it’s a you know, energy might use the word energised or something like that. But I get the feeling it’s bit more than the kind of energised it’s it’s sort of energised with meaning perhaps. So, but it’s again, I feel I was so influenced by the idea that work should be this kind of hard edged thing. There’s something like sparkles, which in a theatre environment, you would you might talk about a scene having a real moment of sparkle or you know, a scene having a kind of moment of magic or something much softer, because you know, where somehow the chemistry and the improvisation or whatever, yeah, just worked. Everyone be comfortable about that language. And yet when we’re talking about it in in a kind of air quotes in a “business environment”, sparkles, just seems, you know, soft, right?

Daniel Szuc 24:51


Andy Polaine 24:52

So it gets me to the last bit, which is all the things you’ve talked about. So far. You talked about these practices and these kind of mindful, there’s a lot of sort of mindfulness, they’re, they feel very personal, you know, they feel like they’re a thing that is – and they’re very, very good practices for people to do – and yet, I feel like structurally the work environment that people are in and the organisations that people didn’t really prevent that from happening, and you kind of touched on it at the end. So, you know, ever greater, you know, copying the kind of Silicon Valley VC funded kind of, it’s like a business on steroids, right? It’s, it’s, you know, which causes harms of excessive growth too quickly causes harm, right? Where you’ve got really, velocity is everything. And yet that seeps into everything. You know, it’s understandable in a startup who has a specific kind of runway of money, but the funding, but in a kind of larger corporate, I would question whether always going as fast as you can, is necessary, and also whether it’s, it makes sense. So how can leaders of organisations or teams in organisations create structurally the space for this? And how do people is mostly the other way around? Who are members of these teams? How do they sort of manage up words to try and fight for or or ask for that space?

Daniel Szuc 26:07

It’s a great question again. So I look at it into two ways we’ve got in terms of, of an offering the, I think the Easy, easy one to create is the public, the public space that we’re creating. And, and that’s, that’s, it’s super intriguing, because the public space is the MW studio, public space. And that will be currently it’s going to take the form of more of a digital experience, like we’re in now, you know, you’re you’re where you are, physically, and I am where I am, physically, but we’re meeting in a digital space. Yeah, and I think I think within the digital space, there’s a hell of a lot more that we can do. To make that more representative of more sparkle. The cringing re sparkle just to touch on that briefly is I think we have to, it’s, it’s it’s like any, it’s like when you’re you’re you’re guiding people to different types of adventures, or you might be guiding people to different types of holiday packages or experiences. There are some people that love really, really wild adventures, or it might involve late night dancing.

Andy Polaine 27:19

I’m too old for that now.

Daniel Szuc 27:20

Yeah, well, there you go. So and there’s other people that, that just like a quiet villa, by the beach, and just a nice walk in the evening after dinner, different experiences for different people. I think what’s interesting about learning and development environments, within a space in the public space, firstly, that we’re looking at, is, it all just feels very, it all just feels very same-ish. You know, you get on a video conference platform and if you’re at a learning and development event, it might still be operating in the same way that it would if you were there in person, I think there’s just an opportunity to do a lot more and to make it a lot more fun. And generically, I’m using this word generically a lot more creative, and certainly have heaps more heaps more a lot more sparkle. But we I think, for the executives, for the people that would be buying these, I think we we have to get them there step by step, and introduce them that introduce them to the idea, especially the executives who’ve gone through traditional MBA training or have or get or get can get consulting advice from the usual suspects of management consultants who are measured measuring very different things. We have to say, look, we can’t we can’t overly critique that. Yes, I mean, we might be able to do that over time. But we also have to introduce other things within the studio space that can be measured, that are equal to, let’s say, an energy index or a sparkle index. So there’s that. So the public, I think we have a lot of more room to play publicly for inside the organisation. I think what we have to do is introduce the same thing, but then probably offer them some sort of handbook, so that we can teach them how to run their own MMW or Sparkle Studio, and then introduce the roles to be able to do that and sustain it over time. So what would be some examples of roles? Well, it depends on the type of learning and development event that you’re running in the studio. Let’s say it’s like the Sandy, let’s say one of the learning and development events could be you’re facilitating it through a show. And people go, Oh, great. I, I’ve always wanted to be part of the show what’s involved in making a show in the studio? Well, you’ve got a host and you’ve got a guest and you’ve got a sort of a script that you follow. And you might have a camera, a camera person, and you might have an audio person, you might have a producer or a director. And each of those roles for that type of learning event within the studio space will do exactly the same. They’ll still be moments to reflect around the product. Have that there still be the sharing of stories, there’s still be practice spawning, they’ll still be practices. And they’ll still be meaningful ways to measure that. It’s just happening within the adventure, of making a show all sorts of things we can make in the studio, as long as it’s returning from an executive standpoint, as long as it’s returning some sort of learning and development outcome that’s working towards improvement. And I’ll finish with this, I’d say, in terms of what a lot of people still talk about, in reference to learning and development, which is performance, I hope we can get beyond just looking at performance. A lot of people tend to, I tend to look at that as two parts of the ledger. The first part is just the functional aspect of a person’s job, they would often be described as the technical or the functional aspects of the job description. And that’s fine. But I think we’re also looking at the softer part of the job description. The problem at work today is often the softer part is often executives might look at that and are that can be measured, or that’s not important or that’s not valuable, I’d venture to say, in reference to leading or building character to lead healthy and to energise, 21st century organisations. If you follow any of the majority of the business publications, and a lot of the ones I follow, there’s so much being written about the softer practices now. So I think what we have to do is we have to ensure that when we package these and we pitch the studio, let’s assume that’s what we’re going to be doing, I think we have to be able to pitch it in a way that executives in the buyers within organisations will understand that there will be a sustainable value in doing that. But probably the thing we can’t escape is, there needs to be both the inside the studio inside people like that, that where they’re driving their own learning and development without having to wait for it. But there’s also equally potentially a space inside the organisation where they can get that deliberate practice. And also there’s a public offering there where they can join a larger community of practice. And that’s the mission. That’s the vision, that’s the quest that we’re on.

Andy Polaine 32:18

Yeah, I think I was going to ask that question, which you’ve somewhat answered, which is, you know, I can see on it again, on a kind of personal level and on a sort of mid kind of senior manager leadership or director kind of level, why you might want to do this, but I can also see how that higher up, there’s always that so what question right, which is, okay, well, this all sounds great, but so what? Tinged with this idea, again, I go back to this idea that work is not meant to be enjoyable. You know, this is work this is in’t play. What’s your kind of view on that? I mean, I have really strong opinions on that. But what’s, what’s your view on that sort of dichotomy?

Daniel Szuc 32:58

Look, I think, if we were to, let’s ground this in language that we’re more familiar with Andy and looking at, say, CX - customer experience - the wanting to improve experience for the people outside of an organisation that we would call customers, we might even say there’s a PX there’s a partner experience. What I’m interested now in one framing of make meaningful work might be to look at it through the through the lens of, of employee experience, or EX. And I think the smarter companies now the more switched on companies, globally are saying, look, EX is just as important as CX. And we have to get that right, because happier, more engaged, interested, employees will just make better experiences for customers. There’s another part of this too, which is the the to the attraction and retention story, which is… I’m 51, if I look at some of the younger generation coming into the workforce, some of them are just rejecting, rejecting the whole idea of even going to work for like a big corporate or a big org. And for those that have gone into it, they’re like, well, this isn’t particularly fun or satisfying experience. And, and they’ll leave. And so I think it’s not saying this because it’s self serving. I’m saying this because it’s evidence based. It’s in the interests of executives to say, How can I make a great employee experience where people feel like they’re not being treated as a widget, and they’re being treated as a human being and that we’re investing in you because I we want you to be sparkly, and we want you to be great and we obviously want you to perform well at your work, but we’re also invested in your learning and development? If you look at - just to offer one more example - if you if you look at great sports stories or football clubs, like I am a big Aussie Rules fan. The clubs that are often performing better - there’s a great documentary called Making Their Mark on Amazon Prime, which followed a couple of clubs during the 2020. Very challenging year, in 2020. And as I was practice spotting that and looking at the the cultural element of the of the clubs, the character element of the clubs, the leadership element of the clubs, the learning and development aspects of those programmes within each club, it was it was just clear as day why the clubs that were finishing on the top four, were finishing on the top four. They were finishing on the top four, because it wasn’t just about the performance, it was about all the other stuff around it, that made the players want to not only succeed on the field, but you could almost describe it as a love. Like they have an absolute love for each other. And that comes with success. But it’s also other things that have been set up very deliberately to attract and retain talent. So that’s, that’s what it’s all about. And I think the more switched on companies globally, will begin to understand this and hopefully be interested in least some of what we’ve got to offer in that with the with the studio.

Andy Polaine 36:13

I’m going to agree and I kind of want to come back to it in a second. But before I do, I wanted to play devil’s advocate, there. One of the responses to that is, well, you know, these entitled kind of snowflakes, I mean, it used to be entitled millennials, but actually, it’s now it’s actually the group after that, you know, there’s plenty of other people who are willing to work hard and you know, be more resilient. If they can’t hack it, then you know, we’ll hire someone who does. What’s your response to that?

Daniel Szuc 36:41

You mean, if that’s coming from, like the management or executive position? Oh we’ll just hire?

Andy Polaine 36:47


Daniel Szuc 36:48

Well, it depends what angle or what lens we want to apply. I mean, I’ll I’ll start with one, which is, you know, it’s, if I look at it through my own perspective, I would just say, I’m not sure the success I would have in converting, or being able to change the mind of that type of person. And I’m not entirely sure, that’s where, with the time left, I’ve got on the planet where I really want to be spending my time, I guess it comes down to character. And if I would have simplified it says, within a character that we’re talking, it’s why we talk a lot about this sort of connection between character, this idea of a learning and development space where you’re investing yourself towards a learning plan. The character, part of it is paramount. And it comes down to are the traits in the character of the people that we’re speaking to where they are indicating that they have a receptiveness to our story. And and if they if they really die, and if they, if they’re rejecting it, or it just seems like the type of organisation that isn’t ready to make the type of improvements they were offering, then I probably wouldn’t, I wouldn’t spend my my time trying to convince them otherwise, in reference to the behaviour being demonstrated, or we can just replace this widget with another widget. I think it’s a I think it’s incredibly dehumanising, it’s terrible.

Andy Polaine 38:16

It is. It is indeed. Well, look, we’re coming up to time. We could go on for a long time on this. The Power of Ten is named after the Eames’ film Powers of Ten. We’re kind of looking at lots of different zoom levels. And you know, we’ve kind of been moving through them in our conversation. One of things I ask each guest is what, one small thing do you think either has an outsized influence, you know, already and it’s underrated or if it was redesigned or rethought would have an outsized influence on the world?


I was talking about it with Jo today, actually some bias here, perhaps, but we we talk a lot about, like with within the studio, like, what would be what is the studio as a character, if the studio itself was a character? What character would be or what different characters would the studio be and represent? And I think what what the studio is, is it’s a mix of, kind of a mix of brain, heart and body. And, and I think, I think within that, if I were to synthesise it, I would say probably what I would like to see change is that people gain I, that they can see through the space and the sustained, meaningful impact and outcome from the space that people just gain a sense of confidence in themselves, a sense of understanding of who they are, to feel that you don’t have to spend energy on trying to be something else that you can recognise what’s great about your character. But that’s not about holding firm and saying, Look, I’ve got nothing to learn from other people or I can’t continue to learn, but it’s sort of his baseline idea that you’re comfortable in yourself, you’ve got a really nice story to be able to tell about yourself and that you’re bringing that you’re bringing that authenticity, into everywhere that you interact and, and relate in, in your life. And anything else just seems to be like as a, as a person that has played very different roles and different characters in theatre and immerse myself in those roles and enjoying that I can, I can take that role off, I can take that skin off, and then I just become, I become Dan, again, I just become who I am. And I think the sooner you can discover that about yourself, and any third space, first, second, third, fourth, fifth spaces, anything that you can get involved in, that helps you discover and open that up and allow you to calibrate on that. The sooner you can do that in your life, I think the better because then you can just get on and be energised in whatever pursuit you want to want to have full representation in. It’s really sad. And I don’t want to finish on a sad note, but I just think it’s sad when you meet people who are well into their 60s or 70s, or in some cases, their 80s. And they just never, they’ve never calibrated on that in reference to their own character.

Andy Polaine 41:22

Yeah, yeah, it’s absolutely, you know, I’ve my, the heart of my coaching practice is really that of, you know, first of all people understanding they have been playing a role. I mean, and having that realisation that’s the first one. And then once they start to put that aside with enormous amount of anxiety, often and you know, sometimes it’s forced on them, the reason why I coach sort of people moving into leadership is because it’s slightly forced onto them, because they’re kind of changing roles, which is, of course, you’re left with what who is down, then? You know, I’m not really sure anymore, because I’ve been playing this so long. I don’t you there’s a very famous actor, it was someone you would know, that someone like Patrick Stewart or something, who was saying he had been in a theatre production. And his friend who was another very well known actors that came to visit him in the in the greenroom and said, you know, chat, hi, how you doing? And I was great performances, and then he stopped and went, “Are you? Are you doing like, kind of reset at the end of the, your performances?” And he said “What do you mean?” He said, “I can tell that you’re not you at the moment. You’re still on the character you’ve been playing?” And he said and explained, “what I do is I look in the mirror and I, you know, literally say, you know, I’m Andy Polaine and I’m bring myself back to being me.” So just kind of fascinating little things, because you can kind of see in the acting world, I think, where people sort of start to conflate or actually start to conflate with the characters that they’ve been playing and don’t have that ability to reset. And the thing I think, probably that’s true of, you know, pop stars and all the rest.

Daniel Szuc 42:50

I think that i think that’s right, in real real quick any, and then I know we need to wrap this up is I think, I feel like I’ve been reasonably good for a long time now at I think one of the one of the nice things say about comedy, or laughing at yourself, not taking yourself too seriously. That’s not to mean that you you’re not professional, and you’re not good at what you do. But this idea of just not taking yourself seriously. And I do enjoy making other people laugh. And I do i’d least made hope at least made Josephine laugh at least once a day. I think one of the beautiful things about laughter is that it makes people relax. And it creates a very comfortable environment. And I think that’s a really important part of the studio, which is this idea of, you know, that you can be comfortable here. It is all the usual suspects of safety and, and trust and expression. It’s, it’s just, it’s just, I think, I think what’s going to be really interesting for us is being able to get that out enough and to feel that that’s compelling enough for people to come into and then offer them the right adventure, journey or path to take that will suit where they’re at now and where they where they want to be and and for that space to feel you know, hopefully wildly different enough to just regular a regular conference or a training or a webinar or a seminar with our go geez that that looks interesting. might give that give that a go. Yeah.

Andy Polaine 44:20

And and hopefully they will thrive and they’re thriving, contributes to the organisation. They’re working for thriving. Or, I mean, I think it’s another successful outcome is for people to have a moment of awaking from sleepwalking go oh, you know what, this isn’t for me at all. And, and then do something else. So where can people find you and and your work online?

Daniel Szuc 44:43

I think we’ve got our Apogee website, which is Apogeehk.com. But I think you’ll see more of what we’re doing now on makemeaningfulwork.com And where we’re only presenting a very small part of, of what’s going on backstage. But less you can go there, watch a couple of videos and get a sense of what we’re about more from a framework perspective and watch this space as the, as the studio starts to come alive between now, April 2021, and into 2022. It’s very, very exciting. I feel like we’re, we’re approaching the peak after a good ideas of R&D. So it’s a good view

Andy Polaine 45:28

Yeah it’s been brewing for some time. And what about in the on the, you know, social interwebs? Where do people find you?

Daniel Szuc 45:34

Okay, well, there’s not many Dan Szucs so you can look me up on LinkedIn and or follow me on twitter @dszuc you see or depending on where you’re from D S Zee U C.

Andy Polaine 45:52

Thank you so much for being my guest on Power of Ten.

Daniel Szuc 45:53

Andy, thanks for having me. And all the best.

Andy Polaine 45:56

You too and send my regards to Jo.

Daniel Szuc 45:58

Will do.

Andy Polaine 45:59

As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve been listening to Power of Ten. My name is Andy Polaine. You can find me at @apolaine on Twitter, or polaine.com, where you can find more episodes and sign up for my newsletter Doctor’s Note. If you like the show, please take a moment to give it a rating on iTunes. It really helps others find us. And as always get in touch if you have any comments, feedback or suggestions for guests. All the links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and see you next time.