1 Big Idea to Think About

  • Uncovering what’s essential to other people is the key to having transformational influence.

2 ways You Can Apply This

  • Stop doing the things that cost you a lot but don’t make a big deposit to other people
  • Look instead for what those five-minute favors are that can help others a lot, but are inexpensive to you in time and an effort

3 Questions to Ask

  • What is the salt in my life?
  • What size of a deposit is it when I do X or Y?
  • Am I spending a lot of effort doing things right now that my family, friends, or customers don’t value?

Key Moments From The Show 

  • What is the salt? (2:50)
  • The key to transformational influence: Understanding what is essential to others (14:27)
  • The emotional bank account (15:36)
  • Making emotional investments (18:07)
  • The relationship superpower (20:59)
  • The relationship investment 2 x 2 (22:13)
  • How to evaluate your emotional deposits and withdrawals (23:27)

Links You’ll Love From the Episode

Greg McKeown (00:02):

Welcome. I’m your host, Greg McKeown. And I’m the author of two New York Times, best sellers, Effortless and Essentialism. This is the newly minted Greg McKeown podcast. And I am here for this journey to learn how to understand the people who matter most to us, and what matters most to them. Have you ever tried to make a relationship better only to have it stay the same? Have you ever made a relationship worse in your attempt to make it better? Now, what if you could make your relationships much better by just doing those vital few things that have a disproportionate impact. Today, I will share a story, something I’m learning, and some actionable advice. By the end of this episode, you will be able to find out what’s essential to other people so that you can make small investments that pay big dividends. Let’s get to it.

Greg McKeown (01:26):

Remember to teach the ideas in this podcast to someone else within 24 to 48 hours of listening. It will help you learn faster and increase your influence in the people who matter most to you. More than 20 years ago, I was staring at a piece of paper in my hands with all these scribbles and answers to a question. What would you do if you could do anything? And what I was struck by was not what was written on the piece of paper, but what wasn’t written on the piece of paper. Studying law was not on the paper. And I was at the time at law school. Through a series of events, I ended up quitting law to pursue teaching and writing for doing this. For writing books, for teaching, and it’s been a great bargain, but I want to begin today’s episode talking about someone who did become a barrister in London, England, and might have stayed a barrister, but ended up being influenced by family challenges of one kind or another.

Greg McKeown (02:35):

As a result of that, he ended up traveling to South Africa. While he was there he bought a first class ticket on the train. But the conductor told him he was not allowed to be there. He pushed back, “I’ve bought the ticket. I’m allowed to be here.” Let me share what happened next. It’s from his own autobiography. The train reached Marburg, the capital of natal at about 9:00 PM. Beddings used to be provided at this station. A railway servant came and asked him if he wanted one. “No,” he said, “I have one with me.” And so he went away, but a passenger came next and looked him up and down. He saw that he was quote “a colored man”. This disturbed him. Out he went and came in again with one or two officials. They all kept quiet. When another official came in and said, “Come along. You must go to the van compartment.” “But I have a first-class ticket.”

Greg McKeown (03:38):

He said, “That doesn’t matter,” rejoined the other. “I tell you, you must go to the van compartment.” “I tell you I was permitted to travel in this compartment at Durban. And I insist on going on in it.” “No, you won’t,” said the official. “You must leave this compartment or else I shall have to call a police Constable to push you out.” “Yes, you may. I refuse to get out voluntarily.” The Constable came, he took him by the hand, and pushed him out. His luggage was also taken out. He refused to go to the other compartment and the train steamed away. He went and sat in the waiting room, keeping his handbag with him and leaving the other luggage where it was. The railway authorities had taken charge of it. It was winter and winter in the higher regions of South Africa can be severely cold. Maritzburg, being at a high altitude.

Greg McKeown (04:36):

The cold was extremely bitter. His overcoat was in his luggage, but he didn’t dare ask for it unless he was insulted again. So he sat and shivered. There was no light in the room. The passenger came in at about midnight and possibly wanted to talk to him, but it was in no mood to talk. He began to think of his duty. Should I fight for these rights or go back to India? Or should I go onto Pretoria without minding the insults from return to India after finishing the case? It would be cowardice to run back to India without fulfilling his obligation he thought. The hardship to which I was subjected was superficial only a symptom of the deeper disease of the prejudice in the country. He should try, if possible, to root out the disease and suffer hardships in the process. If necessary, redress for wrongs. He should seek only to the extent that would be necessary for the removal of the prejudice.

Greg McKeown (05:35):

So in short, he stays in South Africa to take on the laws that made such an encounter possible. It was in the middle of apartheid, so the laws and customs were completely against him. And he stayed to address the issues and stayed for something like 23 years and were successful in helping to overturn some of the laws. Eventually, he went back to India, and there, people who had been following his story in the newspaper were inspired by him and crowds of people wanted him to do for India what he’d just done in South Africa. They wanted something from him, run for office, maybe. And I think if he wasn’t clearer about what his own mission was, if he was less disciplined in his decision-making, he might well have said yes to that. But he said no. And the no, because he didn’t know how to help them yet. And if you just put him in a political position where he has the power, that doesn’t actually mean, he’ll know how to change the system. So, instead, he went on an understanding tour. He travels all across India in an attempt to understand really how it is that so few British can control so many Indians so effortlessly.

Greg McKeown (07:14):

He sits with people in their villages, in their poverty. He is out in the patty fields with them, and he does it for a whole year. But in that journey, he finds an answer it’s infinitesimally small but infinitely important. What is it? Salt. Britain’s Salt Act of 1882 prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt, a staple in their diet, of course. Indian citizens were forced to buy the vital mineral from the British, who in addition to exercising a monopoly over the manufacturer and sale of salt, also charged a heavy salt tax. And if you can control the production of salt, you can, therefore, affect the production of bread and the entire food chain. So defying the Salt Act, Gandhi reasoned, would be an ingeniously simple way for many Indians to break a British law, non violently. And armed with that insight, Gandhi decides to walk across India in a demonstration of civil disobedience to make salt at the beach.

Greg McKeown (08:33):

Now, you know that if you decide to go somewhere and nobody follows you, you’re not being a leader, you’re just going for a walk. But what happened to him? People followed him. He had planned to work the salt flats on the beach and crusted with crystallized sea salt, every high tide, but the police had stalled him by crushing the salt deposits into the mud. Nevertheless, Gandhi reached down and picked up a small lump of natural salt out of the mud and British law had been defied. That sparked civil disobedience across all of India. Soon, millions of Indians were involved. The British authorities arrested no less than 60,000 people. Gandhi himself was arrested on May 5th, but the movement continued. On May 21st, 2,500 marches went to the salt works some 150 miles north of Bombay. And there several hundred British-led Indian policemen met them and viciously beat the peaceful demonstrators.

Greg McKeown (09:43):

The incident was recorded by American journalist Web Miller, and it prompted an international outcry against the British policy in India. Salt created the momentum needed to win a seat at the negotiation table. Salt sparked the British to stand back. Who is this little man? And where does his power come from? Mohandas K Gandhi could have stayed embarrassed in England, but he became the father of a movement. Independence for the largest democracy in the world. Then, and now. 300 million then, 1.2 billion now, depending on the different estimates. And when he died, the heads of state from around the world went to his funeral and the masses came in India. In the marvelous movie, Gandhi, the story begins at the end with the following description. The object of this massive tribute died as he had always lived as a private man without wealth, without poverty, without official title or office Mahatma Gandhi was not a commander of great armies nor ruler of vast lands.

Greg McKeown (11:00):

He could boast no scientific achievements or artistic gift. Yet men, governments, and dignitaries from all over the world have joined hands today to pay homage to this little brown man in the loin cloth who led his country to freedom. Pope Pius, the Archbishop of Canterbury president Truman Chan EK. The former minister of Russia. The president of France are among the millions here and abroad who have lamented his passing. General, George C. Marshall, the American Secretary of State said, “Mahatma Gandhi has become the spokesman for the conscience of mankind. A man who made humility and simple truth, more powerful than empires.” And Albert Einstein added, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth?” Well, here is what I’ve learned: Understanding uncovering what’s essential to other people is the key to transformational influence. What about you?

Greg McKeown (12:12):

What is the salt in your relationships? What small thing matters disproportionately to the people who matter disproportionately to you? What would happen to your return on efforts, your ROE, if you could invest it in the things that are essential to them. Or on the other hand, what happens if you don’t know what the salt is in your relationships and you become like the politicians in India at the time? You’re screaming into the wind. You can put in enormous effort and yield no results, no progress, no momentum. To the point, again. Uncovering what’s essential to other people is the key to having transformational influence. In 1978 in an article called “Emotional Climate in the Family and Therapy”. Thomas S Fogarty used a metaphor that has become hugely popular. He describes the metaphor of the bank account to describe the health in relationships. He wrote: “The emotional climate in any family or relationship reacts like a financial bank account.

Greg McKeown (13:34):

If one gets an unexpected bill, it can be very small in the context of a positive bank account. This is not so with no money in the bank or if one is already in debt here, it could become a straw that breaks the camels back, a disruptive emotional climate of jealousy, bitterness hurt, and so on, a rising from some incident becomes less prominent if played against a substantial emotional bank account, built up over many years. It has less duration and is more easily absorbed into the emotional system. It becomes worthwhile to build such an account of fond memories, warm experiences, shared feelings.” That’s what he wrote. And the metaphor Fogarty uses here, uh, is a rich one, excuse the pun. Now, of course, at one level, what it means is that we need to make deposits of trust into our relationships so that they can absorb the shocks of unexpected withdrawals that happen in the normal day-to-day of life.

Greg McKeown (14:41):

And, I write something about that in chapter 14 of Effortless, which is all about trust. But there is another point being made here. And it’s the idea of disproportionate deposits, disproportionate withdrawals. In Fogarty’s description of it, if the bank account is low, then a single withdrawal, even let’s say a hundred dollars, withdrawal is hugely stressful. It’s a massive problem because of the existing climate. So that’s one way in which what appears to be a relatively small withdrawal can cause huge problems. And that’s a very clever use of that metaphor, but there are other ways in which what looks like on the surface to be a small withdrawal can actually make a massive withdrawal. What I’ve found is that the relationships aren’t just like an emotional bank account, they’re a bit more like an emotional investment firm. Investment firms, of course, are looking for opportunities where they can make relatively small investments for large returns, for huge dividends.

Greg McKeown (15:56):

They’re not looking like a traditional bank account where you put in the money and you get, depending on the inflation rate, you know, for 20 years you get like 1% back. It’s almost nothing. They’re looking for, of course, at least a 10% return, but hopefully much more than that, a huge return on their investment. And that’s what I’ve found relationships to be like. Stating this clearly, not all deposits are made equal. Have you yourself ever invested a hundred dollars of effort into a relationship and founded only made one deposit into the relationship bank account? That’s a fool’s bargain. Let me share what that looks like in my life. Ever since I was 10 years old, when I had my very first job, an entrepreneurship endeavor, cleaning cars. I like to have cars that are clean. It’s a thing I still like to achieve.

Greg McKeown (16:57):

Having our family cars clean. I have also felt like it was a win-win because it shows my family, and especially my wife, Anna, that I care about them as well. Surely I think it will make a positive trust into our relationship bank account. However, even though Anna will thank me for doing this, sometimes she won’t even notice. And we talked about this recently and she told me that sometimes it can actually make a withdrawal from the relationship, especially if I’ve become obsessed about it. Okay. Saturday morning, we’ve got to make sure that this happens. So what should I think from my perspective, making a deposit can actually make a withdrawal? That’s the fool’s bargain. That’s the fool’s bargain. You put in the effort, but not only do you not get the result you want, it actually makes the relationship worse. It’s a bad investment. But it also works the other way around. Have you ever invested a dollar of effort into a relationship and found it made a hundred dollars deposit in that relationship bank account? The key to the difference is understanding the other person. It’s understanding what the salt is to them.

Greg McKeown (18:28):

If there is a superpower in this world, it is the ability to understand what is essential in any situation. That’s the productivity superpower to know what’s essential. The vital few, amidst the trivial many. But it’s also the relationship superpower to work out what’s essential to them. That sort of precision understanding leads to precision action. And that’s where you get this disproportionate impact. If you can understand what’s essential to the other person, you can achieve 10 extra results, but without burning out. You can think of everything we’re talking about right now as a sort of Essentialism evolved if you like. It’s Essentialism, as it applies to relationships, explore, eliminate, execute. Explore to figure out what’s essential to them and to you to get real clarity about that. Eliminate to therefore together, stop doing the things that are non-essential to them. And of course, to you. So that execution becomes more effortless in reaching and maintaining a great relationship.

Greg McKeown (19:42):

Somebody listening to a previous episode turned this idea that we’re describing into a two-by-two. It’s a brilliant addition to the conversation. On one axis you have value to them and on the other cost to me. So that gives you four quadrants. The worst-case scenario is something that comes at a high cost but is received as low value. The next two options are similar. They’re low cost, but low value. And then of course the other scenario is something that’s high cost and high value. But the beautiful opportunity is to identify through understanding something that is low cost to you and high value to them and vice versa. What can they do that is low cost to them, but high value to you. This creates the kind of emotional, private equity environment where suddenly a relationship can go from bad to good or from good to great, but without significant increases in resources from either part. Concretely, one thing you can ask is what size of a deposit is it when I do x?

Greg McKeown (21:01):

What size withdrawal is it when I do Y? On a scale of one to 10, how much of a deposit is it? When I clean the cars on a scale of one to 10? How much of a withdrawal is it when I don’t come and find you before leaving? And of course, it’s not just relationships at home, this is relationships in the business as well. Are you doing things right now for your customers that they don’t value at all? Are there things that you are doing for your customers that actually make their lives more difficult, even though your intent was good? Are there things you are providing to your internal customers that they don’t even care about? I remember working with an executive one time who took over an important role at a major tech company and his predecessor had spent perhaps 50% of the resources of the entire organization creating a report that was sent to the executive team once every two weeks.

Greg McKeown (22:07):

And as he did some evaluation on this, he found that people did not really care about that. So he just stopped doing it. And he found that actually no one even noticed he had stopped doing it. This was something that cost a lot but produced almost no value. It was a big withdrawal from his organizational bank account that made no investment whatsoever in theirs. So you want to stop doing the things that cost you a lot, cost your team a lot, but don’t make a big deposit to other people. You want to stop wasting time doing what doesn’t matter to your customers, your internal customers, or your external customers. You want to stop doing things that are a big withdrawal for you, but don’t make a big deposit to other people. Look instead for what those five-minute favors are that can help others a lot, but are inexpensive to you in time and effort.

Greg McKeown (23:10):

I mean, what happens if you habitually do something you hope is making a deposit, but really is making a withdrawal? That’s relationship bankruptcy. What happens if you habitually make a big effort that leads to only a small deposit? Well, you’re going to be bankrupt again, but it might just take a little longer. Contrast that with what happens if you habitually do something small, that makes a huge deposit. That is the game-changer. That’s how you can increase, influence significantly without increasing significantly, the effort and time required to make those deposits. So I’ll leave you on that question. What is the salt in your life?

Greg McKeown (24:03):

Thank you for listening and thank you even more for teaching what you are listening to, to others. Who will you teach the ideas in this episode to? When will you teach it to them? If you have found value in this episode, please write a review on Apple Podcasts. The first five people to write a review of this episode will receive a signed copy of Effortless: Make it Easier to Do What Matters Most. Just send a photo of your review to info@gregmckeown.com. That’s I N F O at GRE G C K E O w n.com. Also, would you like to be part of a live session where we can practice negotiation and conflict resolution skills? If so, sign up at essentialism.com/negotiation. And I’ll let you know, as soon as I’m ready to run the first one. Remember to subscribe to this podcast now so that you can receive the next episode. New episodes come out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My final thought again is that I didn’t just create this podcast I created this podcast for you.