The Happy Engineer Podcast

099: The 4 Mandatory Mindsets of Peak Performance with Dr. Ruth Gotian | #1 Emerging Thinker in Management Worldwide by Thinkers 50

In this episode, meet Dr. Ruth Gotian, Chief Learning Officer at Weill Cornell Medicine. TEDx Speaker | Author | Coach

She has studied the most successful people of our generation for decades, including Nobel laureates, astronauts, and Olympic champions, in order to understand what they do when the world isn’t watching.

What did they do that ultimately put them in an elite class?

The answer is built on 4 key mindsets that are mandatory if you want to reach your own peak performance. Once you have these, the skills and strategies come easily. We cover all 4 in this conversation.

In 2021, Ruth was recognized by Thinkers50 (the Oscars of Management Thinking), as the world’s #1 emerging management thinker. In 2022, she was ranked one of the Top 20 Mentors in the world. Her powerful insights appear regularly in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Psychology Today.

So press play and let’s chat… because Dr. Ruth Gotian is about to hand you the key to your success factor!

Join us in a live webinar for deeper training, career Q&A, and FREE stuff!  HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach

Get access to bonus content and live coaching as growth-minded leaders build careers together. Join our Facebook Group


The Happy Engineer Podcast




Previous Episode 098: Create Belonging and Inclusion with Genesis Amaris Kemp | Author and DEI Advocate




Copying habits alone does not work. 

While it’s essential to model successful habits of those who have achieved the level of success you desire, without a foundational mindset shift, those habits won’t stick. 

A client of mine named John, a great leader, struggled to install the habits he had read about in personal development books. He felt lost and unhappy. But after three months of working with us to shift his mindset, John’s life changed completely. He started exercising daily from a place of intrinsic motivation and no longer dreaded Mondays.

Here are four takeaways from our conversation. 

First, connect with intrinsic motivation daily. If you’re not doing this, grab the resource that Dr. Ruth has shared, or join me at Happy Hour for coaching. 

Second, persist until you succeed. Write the word “yet” on a sticky note to stay in the mindset of persistence. 

Third, go back to basics and pick one foundational skill to practice intentionally this week. 

Finally, connect the dots around new knowledge by having a conversation with someone and applying that knowledge to a different domain. 

These mindsets will make a significant difference in your life and career. Don’t forget to follow Dr. Ruth, and if you want direct support, join us at Happy Hour.



Dr. Ruth Goatian has personally coached and mentored thousands of people ranging from undergraduates to faculty members.  As Assistant Dean for Mentoring she oversaw the success of nearly 1,800 faculty members at Weill Cornell Medicine. Currently, she researches the most successful people of our generation, including Nobel laureates, astronauts, CEOs and Olympic champions, in order to learn about their habits and practices so that we may optimize our own success.

Dr. Gotian publishes on topics ranging from networking, mentoring, leadership development and optimizing success and has given keynote talks on these themes all over the globe. She regularly publishes in such journals as Nature, Scientific American, Academic Medicine, Psychology Today, Forbes and Harvard Business Review. She is the co-editor of a book on medical education, won numerous mentoring awards and is the author of The Success Factor – Developing the Mindset and Skillset for Peak Performance.

Recently she won the Thinkers50 Distinguished Achievement “Radar” Award, ranking her the #1 emerging management thinker in the world.





Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Happy engineer, welcome back. And Ruth, I’m so excited to have you here today. I told you before we hit record prepping for this was making me just giddy with excitement cuz there’s so much to your work. Thanks for making time to be here. Awesome to have you. 

[00:00:17]Ruth Gotian: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. 

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:19]Yeah, so. I wanted to dive right into a subject that when I saw it in my preparation for our conversation, I was like, oh my gosh. Every engineer I’ve ever coached needs to hear Ruth’s answer to this. And I’ll preface it with a story that when I was a senior manager, my last big engineering job before I left my career to do coaching full.

[00:00:41] I had an opportunity, I mean, I’m using air quotes for those who are just listening, can’t see the video. An opportunity given to me by my senior director to take on leading an entirely separate team of engineers and essentially double the scope of my responsibility because the other senior manager left the.

[00:01:04] And it was gonna take some period of time to backfill the role. so I was given this opportunity to, take that over for an unknown, undisclosed period of time. with of course no pay, no title increase, nothing at all. just, you know, Zach, you’re doing such a great job. You’re the top performer on the team.

[00:01:20] You’re the best manager on the team. We wanna give you this. It’s a natural fit and it’s gonna help you be so great. And I was reward. For my success, good work is rewarded with more work, extra work. And I of course saw an article from you on Psychology Today where you said like, how do you politely yet firmly turn down extra work when you’re rewarded for being an outstanding performer?

[00:01:42] So if you were coaching me right now, and that was the situation I was in, what do I do? 

[00:01:49] Ruth Gotian: Yeah, definitely the reward for good work is more work that happens over and over and over again. But the problem is when we start doing more and more work that pulls us away from what we love doing, our work product will not be as good, and our motivation will plummet.

[00:02:07] Mm-hmm. And when our motivation plummets, that really shows up in how we show up to work. And What we are producing is not nearly as good as it should be, right? It doesn’t have all the love and all the flavor and all the spice in it. So first of all, ask yourself if you wanna do this, because maybe you do, but before you say yes, I want you to think about why you’re saying yes to it.

[00:02:31] Before we get to know, let’s, let’s think about why. Yes. Are you doing it because you really are interested in the project? If so, great. If you’re doing it because you think it’ll get you closer to the right people, you really need to take a step back and wonder, will you actually get to be in front of those people?

[00:02:50] Yeah. Will you actually get to present your work in front of those people? Are you being asked to go to more meetings? Will anyone notice if you’re not even there? These are all the things to consider. Now, if after all of this you wanna say yes, then fine. If it’s not right for you, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to articulate the issue that there’s only 24 hours in a day.

[00:03:14] Not all of them need to go towards your work. Mm-hmm. If you’re going to do this, what is it that you are saying no to? Yeah. So you can either say, I’d love to do this, but I need to finish this project first. I can work on this project in around two weeks from now, or I’d be happy to take this on. But because I still have my regular responsibilities, I will need additional resources so that the work doesn’t suffer.

[00:03:43] Right. It’s not about you. Yeah. It’s about the work That is what is so clear and if you can help explain that Right, and take it off the burden of it’s not you, it’s the work you want to still do good work, that is becomes a much easier 

[00:04:00] video1657841925: conversation. 

[00:04:02] Zach White: So. Exactly what happened for me. The thing you said about how your energy, your, your excitement for the work can wane quickly.

[00:04:10] You would think I’d be honored and thrilled, but I remember vividly Ruth thinking, oh no, this would be terrible to take this on because the systems and the teaming model and the people and the meetings and it’s like this is set up to fail from day one. Yeah. There’s no way for me to, without literal.

[00:04:29] Putting 50% or 80% more time in that I would be able to cover that, which means a lot of stuff’s gonna fall through the cracks and not happen. And I felt like I was really being set up to fail at this and it really crushed my motivation at my current job, let alone the idea of taking on this other team and doubling the scope in that way.

[00:04:51] Yeah, especially with no reward. they’re not gonna pay me anymore to do all of this versus do this. Why would I give. My whole life. Loyalty has its limits, right? Opportunity. Yeah. And so, mm-hmm. It’s so interesting you say that cuz you’d think, oh, you’d be so energized by this reward. But it wasn’t that at all.

[00:05:06] It was the exact opposite. what’s interesting is I did go have the, exactly the conversation you suggested, I told my senior director, I am encouraged and excited that you believe that I’m ready for this challenge. When I look at the scope of that, it looks like a director job to me. And if you’re willing to promote me to director and give me an open headcount to hire another manager, and here’s how I would envision restructuring the org.

[00:05:32] This sounds like a great win. If not, then I’m not interested in taking it on. Yeah. How’d that go? And you would’ve thought I hit him between the eyes with a, a baseball bat, Ruth, it was like complete silence. He. He was not impressed. Let’s just say he was not impressed. Um, and, and he told me as much, he said like, wow, I’m really disappointed in you.

[00:05:54] I, I thought that this would be a situation where we’d just be able to step up and, you know, it’s temporary and everything else. Ruth, it was the best decision I ever made. They never backfilled that position. Of course, they gave someone else that responsibility and the poor guy got buried and he came to me like a week later and said, why did I not do what you did?

[00:06:14] Mm-hmm. And about six months later, they reorged the team. I actually moved to a new job and they did make it a director role with someone else. Here’s what I wanna ask you though. The only thing that almost made me say yes is that I was afraid of what it would mean to my career if I said no.

[00:06:32] Ah, and I didn’t want that to be the thing where Zach said no to the big growth opportunity and he didn’t. And so let’s take him off the list, off the short list for people who we extend growth opportunities in big roles to, and I really did struggle with that. I’m happy with the outcome, but I would be curious, how do you help people with dealing with that fear of saying no or like, what if this ends my momentum in my career?

[00:07:02] Ruth Gotian: I think sometimes we have a false perception of what that reality is, and people are so afraid of failure. That they are afraid to even try. And you know, I, I wrote the book, the Success Factor, and when I sign books for people, the quote I always put in there before signing my name is Fear Not Trying More Than You.

[00:07:24] Fear Failing. Ooh. Because all of the extreme high achievers whom I’ve spoken to, the astronauts, the Nobel Prize winners, the Olympic champions, N B A champions, CEOs, All of them fear not trying more than they fear failing. And when I was in grad school, I had classes with officers from West Point, and we were talking about this fear of failure, and they said to me, well, what would failure look like?

[00:07:51] So I, I gave some, you know, not great answer. And they said, failure is if somebody dies. If nobody dies, you could pick up dust off and try it. Wow. That really put things into perspective for me, and I share that story in the book. it made me realize that if nobody’s dying, that’s the one thing we can’t get back is somebody’s life.

[00:08:17] But if nobody’s dying, we can just reiterate and try again. So failure did not become all consuming. Once I was able to name what failure would look like, it was a lot easier to start trying. The other thing I had to do was identify what success would look like. Most people don’t identify that either.

[00:08:38] and I’m no longer worried about that end product of what success looks like, but it’s all about the next step. What would the next step look like? Because that I can control makes a big 

[00:08:49] Zach White: difference. This. big shift in terms of moving the goalpost of what failure means in our lives. That, yeah, I’m really encouraged and empowered by, but can you just describe maybe for yourself, or as you see other people go through the mental gymnastics of like, oh, okay, no, it’s very unlikely that this will kill me or anyone else.

[00:09:11] So failure’s almost impossible here, but there’s still a lot of the. Pathways in our minds of how fear affects us and these things, what is the journey to actually, not just intellectually agreeing with you that, oh, okay, cool, fear is death, and anything less than that, we can iterate versus believing that in a way that it changes my response to challenge or potential, won’t call it failure, but setbacks or miss.

[00:09:40] To worry. We don’t feel that resistance as much or do you feel what I’m saying? Like the difference between just, I do, I kind of get it, but I don’t feel it yet. Have you ever 

[00:09:48] Ruth Gotian: watched the Olympics? 

[00:09:50] Zach White:

[00:09:50] Ruth Gotian: love the Olympics. Wow. Um, a junkie for the Olympics. I watch the Olympics all the time. And you’ll notice that one of the first thing the athletes do when they finish their meet, their swim, their race, whatever it is, who do they run?

[00:10:04] If they’re first or if they’re last, they run to their coach because the coach will give them these tweaks to make it better. Right? Here’s what you can do to make it better. It’s not about failure. It’s about moving forward. It’s not feedback. It’s what Marshall Goldsmith calls feed forward.

[00:10:26] Mm-hmm. Here is what we can do to constantly get better and we need to open our minds up to that. We’re so afraid of feedback because feedback is critique in our minds. But what if we started looking at it like an athlete of, I could make this tiny change and be better, be more impactful. That tiny change can be the difference between getting on the podium and not getting on the podium or becoming from second place to first place, right?

[00:10:56] Tiny, tiny changes. So if we started to look at that as data, we need to start looking at failure as data. Yeah. Not as the end all and be all. And let’s look at the data. Let’s reevaluate this data. What do we learn from this data? And how can we improve upon it? And that’s what you’ll see that every time, right?

[00:11:17] It’s compounded. You’ll start to get better and better and better. And just by doing it over and over and over again, it becomes muscle memory, love. It’ll become the most natural 

[00:11:27] Zach White: thing in the world. Really perfect way to describe that for my engineering mind as well. It’s like every opportunity or experiment in life is a chance to.

[00:11:38] New data. Yeah. Either data through failure where I can improve or data through success and yeah. I think most of us have experienced the failure. Data’s usually more useful. We can actually grow faster. A lot more useful. 

[00:11:51] Ruth Gotian: Totally. Yeah. Michael Jordan wanted to know all the shots he missed. Not all of those that he made.

[00:11:56] Right. So good. I’m an academic and as an academic you need to publish a. And publishing academic papers is painful and brutal and constricting, and there’s nothing really joyful about it except the day it gets published. But getting it published, it’s easier to get things passed through Congress than to get a paper published sometimes and faster.

[00:12:22] Wow. and very often it gets rejected and sometimes it’s what we call desk rejected. It doesn’t even go out for what we call peer review. Peer review is when your unknown peers review it and give you feedback, and sometimes it gets rejected after peer review and the first dozen or so times I was rejected.

[00:12:44] I was looking my wounds for a very long time. It took me a long time to compose myself and reformat the paper and submit it elsewhere, and there were a few times I never resubmitted it. Now, Because I’ve been rejected so often at this point that I have such a thick coat of armor on. 

[00:13:07] Zach White: Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:13:09] Ruth Gotian: if I get rejected within 24 hours, it’s reformatted and sent elsewhere, and people ask me why I publish so much and how I have gotten so many things published.

[00:13:21] It’s because I have given myself a timeline of if it gets rejected. lick your wounds. You’ve got 24 hours to reformat and resubmit. Most people don’t do that, and as a result, they publish so much less. Mm-hmm. Now, getting rejected is just part of the process 

[00:13:37] Zach White: for me. coming from an academic perspective, your credentials, your doctorate, your everything.

[00:13:44] Like we could go all day just talking about everything you’ve accomplished in that world. It’s unbelievably significant, the body of work that you’ve already created and still producing so many amazing things. But a lot of times I get curious how much of that is from you as a, as a scientist, as a researcher, learning and discovering through the interviews, through the interactions with these top performers versus.

[00:14:08] I went through it, I experienced it, and my own journey informs the data set. Is this something for you where there was a moment or there was a point that flashed? We said, wow, not only am I seeing it in these Olympians, but. Here’s where it showed up for me personally. Yeah. Look, 

[00:14:28] Ruth Gotian: we know this about adult learning, is that adult bringing their experiences into their learning, their life experiences, that which is why adult learning is so different than a child’s learning, right?

[00:14:38] We have these lived experiences. Yeah. So of course I brought them in. Um, and it’s why we have to account for bias in our research. Right. But it was that lived experience that started me on this path of this research I was seeing. I was running what’s called an MD PhD program where my students were getting the dual degree.

[00:15:00] Okay. And, Nationally, people were leaving this pipeline, we called it the leaky pipeline, and it’s so you have a three and a half percent chance of getting into this program. It is so competitive. Why would people leave? This was the precursor to the quiet quitting we saw. Now, I didn’t know I was ahead of my dime.


[00:15:17] Ruth Gotian: and we had papers written about books, written about at conference, talks about it, and the needle hadn’t moved in 20 years. So instead of focusing on those who were leaving, Because we had plenty of people doing that and nothing changed. I was more interested in those who were staying and doing exceptionally well.

[00:15:34] Okay. So I started focusing on that, and that was even the topic of my doctoral dissertation and continued that research over time. And once I realized what they were all doing, the mindsets that they had in common, I started seeing if it would work and I said I was patient. Okay. I wanted to see if it would work.

[00:15:56] So I started whatever I noticed and the implementation practices starting it on myself and I noticed my career just really improved. and from there it just, the book came out and, and everything else. So yeah, I was patient Zero. 

[00:16:14] Zach White: Before I unpack the book, cuz I know I wanna go through this, it’s such an interest.

[00:16:19] Framework and the, the things you’ve discovered. But you mentioned, you know, your career took off. Was there any moment or a particular success that happened where you sort of had that, like, you know, you lean back in your chair and think, wow, it’s working. Like I, this is awesome. Is, is there anything that stands out for you?

[00:16:37] Maybe a recognition or promotion of some kind would really even surprised you at how quickly it came or the magnitude of that success? 

[00:16:44] Ruth Gotian: I think there. Two things that really stood out. One was, um, thinkers 50, uh, tracks the top management thinkers in the world. Yes. a year and a half ago or so ago, they ranked me as the number one emerging management thinker in the world.

[00:17:04] And I didn’t believe it when I heard my name. Somewhere out there. There’s a YouTube video of that. you know, it’s like those big awards ceremony. It’s called the Oscars of Management Thinking. Okay. Okay. I have no idea what I said. How I said it. I was, my heart was beating out of my chest. I thought, this can’t be right.

[00:17:24] This can’t be right. Yeah. That was a big moment. And of all the awards I have, I don’t have any of them on display except for the Thinkers 51. As a reminder. This is it. This is the big one, man. That’s cool. Um, and I think the other one actually just happened this morning. No way. Uh, yeah. I was quoted for the first time in the Wall Street Journal.

[00:17:48] Ah. Congratulations and Thank you. And it was an article you have quote about success. Oh, it is. It’s a paragraph. 

[00:17:56] Zach White: It’s a paragraph. Okay. Well, it’s a paragraph. There’s a lot. Maybe, maybe we can put a link to that article in the show notes for folks to read. But congratulations. That’s tremendous. Thank I really Thank you.

[00:18:04] I’m happy 

[00:18:05] Ruth Gotian: for you. you know, it wasn’t even about the quote as much as when the journalist reached out to me and said, I’ve been following your work. I was waiting for the right opportunity. I’m writing this article on success. you’re the go-to person. I was like, 

[00:18:23] Zach White: thank you. Okay.

[00:18:24] Okay. Amazing. I worked hard for that. Alright, Ruth. So I wanna know, and every happy engineer I know wants to know how to one day wake up, surprised that we are. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal or our equivalent in our vision of success. So your book, the Success Factor, and I love the subtitle, developing the mindset and skillset for peak performance and big believer in the importance of that.

[00:18:52] What we coach at oaco is built the foundation of this house. That is our model is mindset. And so, Walk us through. I know we don’t have time today to go super deep, but there’s these four attributes that you highlight in the book. Yeah. Let’s get a quick peek at those if you’re open to it, and maybe, yep.

[00:19:08] Whatever you would say is the starting point or what we need to know just to take our first bite into this, this work. Yeah, 

[00:19:16] Ruth Gotian: so what I will preface is by saying we have been told too often that we need to copy habit. Wake up at 5:00 AM read for three to eight hours a day, make your bed before you do anything else.

[00:19:27] That doesn’t work. We know it doesn’t work, so we needed to find something else. And that’s when I realized it wasn’t about habits, it was about mindsets. And that shift really changed everything. So there’s four of them. The first one is that intrinsic motivation. What would you do for free if you could?

[00:19:46] What causes that fire in the belly, right? You need to find the answer to that question. You can’t let it go. It’s the reason you jump outta bed in the morning. It’s the reason you can’t quiet your mind at night. You don’t do it for the awards, rewards, promotions, bonuses. You do it cuz this is why you were put on this earth.

[00:20:06] You would do it for free if you could. Mm-hmm. When you talk to someone about what they do and their whole face lights up. Yes. That’s their intrinsic motivation. Love you have tapped into it. 

[00:20:18] Zach White: I love that. Right. If I take that attribute and take this idea of don’t copy habits, copy. Mindsets is emulate, mindsets can.

[00:20:28] Thank you. Copy them either. Thank you. Fair. is the emulation. maybe I should say the engineer in me is asking right now, how do I know if I’m, if I’m there, if I actually have the answer to this for myself? Yeah. Is it truly that I can on my own clearly articulate this and tap into that emotion of that intrinsic motivation?

[00:20:49] And I can share it with you, Ruth, and my face does light up. And if that’s the case, I have it. Or what would be the. To know if I have a clear answer to that question. Everyone has 

[00:21:03] Ruth Gotian: an intrinsic motivation. They haven’t always tapped into it. Okay. And very often it changes over time. Just because we studied engineering when we were 18 doesn’t mean at 45 this is still what we wanna do, right?

[00:21:15] Woo. Uh oh. And we know very, we know that these things, right? Yeah, that’s, but we know that our passions change over time. They change when we have a new job, a new partner, a new home, a new child, a pandemic. That’s why so many people reevaluated their priorities and made that big shift during that pandemic.

[00:21:35] When I coach people, I take them through what I call a passion audit to differentiate between what it is you’re good at. And what it is that you enjoy doing, what you don’t like doing, and what you would do for free if you could. And if all your happy engineers want to download their own passion audit, they can for free.

[00:21:56] It’s right on my website, 

[00:22:02] Zach White: as one word. Okay? Okay, perfect. We will absolutely put that link in the show notes and happy engineer. Go, go do it. This. Sounds really important. excellent intrinsic motivation. If there’s more you wanna share, go for it. No, 

[00:22:16] Ruth Gotian: no, no. Move on. You ready for number two, please?

[00:22:19] Yeah. All right. Perseverance, grit, resilience. You’ve heard all of those sexy words, right? Really what it means is how you approach challenges. Do you question the challenge of, this is a challenge, this is just too much, it’s not for me. Or do you say, There’s a solution here. I just haven’t figured it out yet.

[00:22:43] Hmm. And do you ask yourself, what is the strategy? I haven’t thought of yet. When you start doing that and adding the word yet, at the end, you put yourself in the driver’s seat. Now you are in control. Yeah. And when you are in control, you can decide how things are going. This is why most of the Olympians, when the Olympics were postponed, a year most continued.

[00:23:08] They did not quit. Even though they couldn’t go to the gym. They said, I can’t go to the gym. We have a pandemic, but the Olympics will return at some point. What can I do to keep in 

[00:23:18] Zach White: condition? Yes, I did. I like how simple the frame is of, you know, how do you approach problems. And again, I mean, Ruth, I don’t know if you doing this just cuz you know I’m an engineer, but you’re speaking my language here because problem solving, you ask most engineers, what do you love?

[00:23:36] Solving problems? Mm-hmm. Is part of that intrinsic motivation? Certainly more specific than that, but the question of do you believe fundamentally in this idea of yet? Mm-hmm. That no matter where you stand today, there’s always still. Way to take a step forward, no matter how stuck you feel, there’s something you can do that is a really unique quality to develop and I’m curious if you could back it up for us, for the people who just feel that that’s natural to them, they always have thought that way, versus somebody who really struggles with this idea is that something we’re trained and.

[00:24:16] At a young age, is this something you would say? It’s more nature, it’s kind of a hard wiring thing. How do people land on one side or the other of that coin? 

[00:24:24] Ruth Gotian: Well, no matter where you land, you can always flip the coin over. Right? Cool. Yeah. And you can learn to start strategizing and think of what can you do to control what you can.

[00:24:38] What are the things within your control mm-hmm. That are worth worrying about? What’s out of your control that’s not worth worrying about? And once you’re able to focus on those things that you truly can control, you see, you start coming up with a plan. I mean, this is what engineers do best, right?

[00:24:55] There’s always an answer. You just haven’t figured it 

[00:24:58] Zach White: out yet. It’s funny, my wife is a brilliant graphic designer, brand designer, uh, brand experience designer, all these different elements of branding and this morning, She presented a challenge that she’s been chewing on for almost six months, and she was feeling discouraged, kicking off the week, like, man, this still hasn’t resolved.

[00:25:19] And we had this exact conversation, putting the word yet. I said it actually, you haven’t solved it yet. Yes, it’s all good. Like six months of learning and you just, you’re one day closer, like, you got this and yeah. Uh, so. That creative mind that she has, she looks for those sparks and those moments of incredible, uh, ingenuity to come to life.

[00:25:39] And when that doesn’t happen for a long time, gets, you know, yeah. Kind of tuned out of it. And I’m more the opposite. That systems process engineering, like, grind it out, doesn’t matter. Let’s just do another day. So together we make a good team on this, on this second 

[00:25:53] Ruth Gotian: point. Well, you know, speaking of time, I, I share this story, both in the book and on the TEDx of, Somebody who applied to be an astronaut and was rejected for a decade.

[00:26:04] She applied over and over again and she was rejected, and she knew she was gonna be an astronaut. That was never a question in her mind. The question was how? It wasn’t a question of if it was a question of how. Yeah. And she kept using everything she knew from working as a biochemist at nasa. To make her a better applicant.

[00:26:25] Ultimately, she was accepted as an astronaut, and it’s a good thing she didn’t give up because she became the, this is Dr. Peggy Whitson, the first female commander of the International Space Station, which is a role she held twice. She spent more days in space than any American astronaut of any gender, and ultimately this woman who was rejected for a full decade, went on to become NASA’s chief Astron.

[00:26:50] Zach White: Ooh, I mm-hmm. Love stories like that. Okay. Persist until you succeed. Grit. Perseverance. Point two. It’s not if it’s how. Yes. What’s three? 

[00:27:04] Ruth Gotian: Three is you need a strong foundation, which you’re constantly reinforcing what you did early in your career you’re going to do later in your career as well. And this doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, there’s still these basic techniques that you always need to do, right?

[00:27:20] So if you think of an engineer, Who then went into management and is doing all administration all day long. If they’re not doing some of the basic engineering work to keep their skills sharp, they might be a great administrator, no longer a great engineer. Yes. Right. Um, so it’s about keeping your skills sharp, um, to the point that it just becomes muscle memory.

[00:27:45] And I share the story of, for example, Neil Catal, who’s argued now 48 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, and I share the story of Bonnie Blair, the long track speed skater. How, because of going back to her techniques and her original coach, she beat out what was then the East Germans and that’s how the United States won the gold medal in long track speed skating.

[00:28:09] And I share the story of Nobel Prize winners who are still designing their own experiments and refused to take on any dean or president’s role, even though they won the Nobel and it’s been offered to them. all of these stories always go back to the technique and it’s not just. Preparing. It’s over preparing, as they say in the military.

[00:28:30] Train hard, fight easy. 

[00:28:32] Zach White: That’s really good. This is becoming a bigger challenge in engineering for my clients, people that I coach who are building these, pathways to executive leadership. you know, used to be you looked at a y career ladder, you know, you got a few promotions and there was a split to the technical tracks, the management tracks, and you just moved up from there.

[00:28:52] To your point, that management track, I think people are realizing directors of engineering in these big tech companies must have that foundation. Yeah. Still. And the technology’s changing so quickly. It’s even more important that they understand to be able to make the strategic decisions for those, what are the next moves?

[00:29:10] How do you see around corners if you don’t still have the fundamentals? And I, I also agree with you in coaching the work that I do, a lot of times people. Who’ve already done some coaching or personal development work. Maybe they’ve looked at their, their values before. You know, 10 years ago I did a core values exercise, you know?

[00:29:30] Mm-hmm. So I don’t need to do that again. And I remind them of the same thing. You know, a lot of cases in terms of elevating leadership, you have to go back to leading yourself again. Yeah, that’s right. That’s And strengthen those fundamentals. So I, this is really awesome. Okay. Strong foundation. If there was one failure mode, Is it just ignoring the foundation completely?

[00:29:52] Is it that simple? Or where do people go wrong when it comes to this foundation? 

[00:29:56] Ruth Gotian: They rest on their laurels. They said, been there, done that. I don’t, I don’t need to do that anymore. I’m beyond that stage. you know, I, I’ve interviewed Tony Award winners. They are never gonna go on a Broadway stage without warming up their vocal chords.

[00:30:08] Yeah. And they have done the same vocal exercises for decades. Right. But that’s what made them so. Celine Dion with all of her. And I didn’t interview Celine, you know, but maybe she’s listening and maybe I will with all of her accolades. You know, she warms up every time before 

[00:30:28] Zach White: show. Yeah, I love that. And secretly, I really do hope Celine Dion hears this.

[00:30:32] That would make me really happy. So Celine, if you’re out there, please send Ruth and I a note. We’d love to hear that. That’s it. Okay. Strong foundation. And then, what is that fourth? A. Last, but 

[00:30:44] Ruth Gotian: not Lisa. This is the one that surprised me the most. We talked about, uh, the reading three to eight hours a day, and that’s what Mark Cubin and Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and all of them do.

[00:30:54] Right? But it’s not reading that made them billionaires. What made them billionaires is that they open their minds up to new knowledge and they made connections that other people don’t yet see. That’s the difference. I went back to school at the age of 43 to get my doctorate. That’s not normal.

[00:31:14] Adults at that age, after a full day of work, going to a classroom is really, really, really, really hard. Yeah. Um, you’re exhausted, you’re depleted. You have so much reading, so many papers to write. But there are other ways that you can open your mind up to new knowledge that don’t require you to go back to the formal classroom.

[00:31:32] You certainly don’t need to get another degree for most things. So you can read books, you can read articles, you can watch Ted Talks, you can listen to podcasts. Hopefully listeners are learning something new here today. Yeah. Um, listen to books on Audible, talk to people, all of. Extreme high achievers surrounded themselves, not with one, but with a team of mentors who believed in them more than they believed in themselves.

[00:32:01] And if this is good enough for the astronauts and Nobel Prize winners and Olympic champions, I don’t know why the rest of us think that we don’t need it. 

[00:32:10] Zach White: Ruth, I’m, I’m a special snowflake. I don’t need all of that. Uhhuh. No, I, I agree with you. It is fascinating to see how somehow we. This distortion of reality.

[00:32:22] Maybe it’s from fear, maybe it’s from ego. we have some block of finances or time and we create an excuse. I, I don’t know, but I’m with you. So how would you describe this mindset, this idea of opening your mind to new knowledge, seeking out sources of new information, but also connecting dots?

[00:32:43] Is there a, a word or a phrase for this or that it. It’s just this idea, you need to wrap your head around it. I think the 

[00:32:49] Ruth Gotian: more you can surround yourself with new information, the more you can surround yourself with people who know more than you do If you’re always the most interesting and smartest person in the room, go find yourself in another room.

[00:33:01] You are definitely in the wrong room. You want to learn from other people, whether or not they’re senior to you at your level or junior to you. And you can learn a lot from people who are junior to you. I mean, walk around some of the college campuses. There are some brilliant people walking around with these great ideas.

[00:33:18] They just don’t know how to implement it. Right. But we can also copy ideas between industries, which is why I don’t want you just to focus on your industry. Mm-hmm. So I share that the checklists that are used in every hospital, in every operating room, the safety checklist before surgery, That idea for a checklist came from the aviation industry.

[00:33:39] It’s what pilots use. Now, if there were medical errors and doctors only talked to other doctors, they wouldn’t hear that the aviation industry already solved this problem with a checklist. 

[00:33:49] Zach White: Mm-hmm. Great example. That’s why we need to talk to people. Kwane, No engineer’s gonna have a problem with applying a checklist. We’re, we’re very aligned with that, but it’s a great example. so Ruth, tell us. What is the difference between someone who simply consumes the knowledge? you know, I love podcasting, but I have met a lot of people who are podcast junkies.

[00:34:09] They just listen. Yeah. And they’re constantly absorbing or they think they are, but they’re not actually connecting the dots or implementing. Yeah. What creates that catalyst? Yeah. To taking it all over the finish line, so to speak. So there’s 

[00:34:22] Ruth Gotian: two parts. There’s taking in information and then there’s processing information.

[00:34:27] Two different skillset. We all take in information differently. Some people like to read on their own in isolation, totally acre, okay? Some people wanna talk to other people or watch videos or whatever it is, but that’s taking in the information. How do you process the information that you’ve just taken in?

[00:34:47] Now in adult learning, this is very clear. You need to reflect on what you just heard or learned. Right. And some people can reflect on it on their own. Other people like me need to talk it out with people. Mm-hmm. Right. Who will challenge my thinking said, okay, I’m thinking that it should go this way. And someone will say, well, why that way?

[00:35:07] Right. and then the true learning occurs when you’ve reflected and taken action based on that reflect. It’s those last two pieces that are missing for most people. They’ll take in the information, but they don’t process it. And we call that the banking theory, which was developed by Palo Fryer, a Brazilian theorist who said, for example, in traditional academic lectures, you have the professor professing from the front of the classroom just depositing information in your.

[00:35:46] But you don’t know how to file it. You don’t know where to put it, which means when you need to retrieve it, you have a hard time retrieving it because you have a big mad pile in in your brain. You haven’t processed anything. You haven’t figured out how these ideas and concepts fit together. So getting the information.

[00:36:06] Is half of it. You still need to process the information and find the way to process the information that works best for you. Sometimes it’s thinking about it quietly while you’re taking a walk or driving or in the shower. And for other people it may be talking with other people. That’s why book clubs are so popular.

[00:36:24] Zach White: Mm-hmm. This is really good. I’m glad you said it cuz it reinforces what we do in our coaching program and now I’m feeling especially like, yep. Let’s keep going hard on this. One of the biggest things I do is help people accelerate. The pace of that loop, you know, new piece of information. Let’s reflect quickly.

[00:36:43] Don’t overanalyze it. Let’s, you know, put, put the key piece into the right folder in your mind. Yeah. And then immediately tell me what action you’re gonna take. Not tomorrow, tonight. Like right after we get off this coaching call. What will you do with this? You know, it’s just accelerating action, uh, for this benefit of rapid learning loops.

[00:37:03] Um, I love it. I love it. Ruth, the idea of mentors was mentioned, and I know we don’t have the time today to go into all of what you share around mentorship, but in relation to this fourth point and surrounding ourselves with the tribe of mentors, I was curious about two things, your process of selecting who would be the right people.

[00:37:26] Yeah. And also if you’re open to sharing, who are your mentors these days? 

[00:37:31] Ruth Gotian: I have a lot of mentors. there is a process and I talk about it in the book that has three levels of people. Okay. senior to you at your level, junior to you both one-on-one and, a one to many model. and there’s a structure that I take people.

[00:37:47] To put their own mentoring team together. And I’ve written about this amazing, quite 

[00:37:51] Zach White: a bit. Um, is that in in the success factor or is that a different It’s in the 

[00:37:55] Ruth Gotian: success factor, but I’ll, I’ll actually give the, the Happy engineers a link where they can download a worksheet if they wanna start tinkering with their own.

[00:38:04] Okay. Um, they’re awesome. All these things are, are on my website. So if you go to Ruth Goan, r u t h g o t, like Tom, i a n like Nancy ruth team. One word. Okay. It’ll give you a worksheet with instructions of how to think about who should be on your mentoring team. Awesome. You can do this in five to 10 minutes and actually have names of people, which I think will be incredibly helpful.

[00:38:29] Yes. Who’s on my mentoring team? I have a lot of people. I have, uh, doctors, scientists, educators, finance, military law. Multiple industries. I, I am lacking somebody in the arts. Hmm. I think I need that in order to get a full picture. We’re getting there. Okay. 

[00:38:49] Zach White: So if anyone is connected to a brilliant thinker, a top 50 thinker in the arts, make sure Dr.

[00:38:56] Ruth hears from them. That sounds amazing. I subscribe to this same, you know, Tim Ferris might call it the tribe of Mentors idea. Yeah. Really surrounding, and I also then branch. The vocation, are my mentors in health and fitness and nutrition and marriage and yeah. You know, relationships.

[00:39:12] And just take this exact concept and expand it to my whole life picture. Yeah. Because if you want success in any area, follow the mindsets and principles of success across that area. It seems like it’s, that’s right. Simple copy paste. I say simple for some reason. Maybe this will be my last question before we wrap up.

[00:39:30] It does sound simple as you and I sit here and talk about it. Yeah. And yet, it were that easy, everybody would have a million bucks in a six pack abs. Right? And we don’t. So what is for you, the thing you see that’s the number one barrier to implementing these mindsets? 

[00:39:46] Ruth Gotian: It’s getting started, which is why the book has broken up into three parts. And the last third is all about implementation. Okay? And I offer what I call a buffet of options for each of the four elements because I know what works for you today may not work for you in six months from now because you’ve had a transition in your life.

[00:40:05] So you need to be able to. Pick the ones that are right for you. And also it’s not a one size fits all model. What works for you is not gonna work for me. So there’s different things you can do to tap into your intrinsic motivation to figure out how to approach challenges, to figure out how you can open your mind up to new learning.

[00:40:25] Um, and I try to offer many of those 

[00:40:27] Zach White: strategies. Brilliant. So let’s take that opportunity. Dr. Where can we get connected to your work? Grab your book, everything we need to know to take this conversation further. 

[00:40:40] Ruth Gotian: I can be found all over social media, just my name, Ruth Gutian, G O T I A n. It’s also my website, ruth The book is called The Success Factor if they wanna sneak peek into it.

[00:40:53] They could look at the TEDx talk by the same name. what I am finding is that, people are having a very hard time initiating conversations with people who, whom they don’t know, and also people who they do. it’s not just because you’re introverted or extroverted, it’s, we just don’t know how to talk to people in person anymore.

[00:41:16] and we’re sometimes kind of awkward about it online as well. So I developed, 13 of my favorite conversation starters to kick off conversations with Oh, brilliant. Strangers, and with people whom you know that could really get a conversation going beyond, what do you. Or how’s the weather 

[00:41:36] Zach White: be? Still my engineering heart.

[00:41:39] So that’s an amazing resource. I love that. It’s, it’s 

[00:41:43] Ruth Gotian: become the most popular one. it’s ruth 

[00:41:50] Zach White: Ruth, I appreciate this so much and I’ll just speak very boldly that everybody needs to go get a copy of the book. We’ll put the link directly to that so you could purchase it on Amazon or elsewhere.

[00:42:00] Write in the show notes and download these resources and take the time not to just have listened to this conversation. To reflect on it, to connect some new dots and put an action plan together for yourself from what you just heard, because it’s no good if you only do half the medicine. Let’s take, take the whole, all the medicine, the full course.

[00:42:20] Take the full course. So, uh, Ruth, thank you so much for your generosity today. It’s been amazing and. I love ending in this same place. I’m excited to hear where you take us that you know the work you do in leading thought and coaching and training and speaking. Just like great engineering, it has in common that the questions lead, the answers follow, and if we want better answers to experience more success in our careers, we need to ask better questions.

[00:42:49] So what is the question that you would lead the happy engineer with today? I pretend I’m 

[00:42:56] Ruth Gotian: two years old, and everything starts with why. Why are you doing this? Why this question? Why this process? Why this way? Why this answer? Why these people? Why this manner? And as you ask why it’s peeling the layers off of the onion with the tweezer, and by asking the question why over and over and over again.

[00:43:21] We get to the core root of the problem or solution. Hmm. So I would always start with why 

[00:43:27] Zach White: permission granted to be a two-year-old from Dr. Ruth goin. Go and do it. Ruth, thank you so much. This has been awesome. Would love to have you back. We didn’t even get into a fraction of all the things we could cover, but just wanna acknowledge you for your amazing work, your book, which is changing lives and helping yourself and all of your amazing fans get incredible results.

[00:43:49] So thanks for being here today. It’s amazing. 

[00:43:51] Thanks