Episode: 455 |
Gaurav Bhatnagar and Mark Minukas:
Discuss Their New Book, Unfear:


Gaurav Bhatnagar and Mark Minukas

Discuss Their New Book, Unfear

Show Notes

Gaurav was a consultant with McKinsey and a leader in their Organization Practice in North America. Before McKinsey, he worked in marketing for Pepsi Cola International and Procter & Gamble in Europe, the Middle East, and India, and he has counselled and coached hundreds of senior leaders as they lead their organizations through transformation, with a special focus on coaching them on personal mastery, difficult conversations, and strategic thinking.

Mark is an engineer by training, he began his career as a Navy officer and member of the US Naval Construction Battalion. He is also a McKinsey alum and has worked across multiple industries, including financial services, high tech, biotech manufacturing, IT services, and governmental offices. Read more about their book at https://unfearbook.com/.

Key points include:

  • 05:24: Gaurav’s work in cultural transformation
  • 08:32: The art and science of achieving standing breakthrough results
  • 13:27: Identifying and moving through fear
  • 26:16: Freeing the angel in the stone

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:


  1. Unfear


Will Bachman 00:03

Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with my friends, Gaurav Bhatnagar and Mark Nukus, the cofounders of cocreation partners, who are here to talk about the new book that they just published. unfair. So Gaurav, why don’t we start with you tell me a little bit about what is you guys made up a word? unfair? What what is unfair mean? I guess it means the opposite of fear. But But, but But what do you guys mean by?


Gaurav 00:37

Oh, well, you got it wrong, man. It’s not it is not the opposite of fear. It is, it is actually, you know, often fearless is the word that is the opposite of fear. And the reason why we created a word is because we couldn’t find a word that quite described, what we were trying to communicate in the book. And so unfair is an idea that if you can reframe your relationship to fear, you can actually find learning and growth. In it. Most of us have a reactive relationship to fear, which is about trying to protect ourselves and trying to feel safe. But actually fear is often a cue for learning and growth. And that is what unfair is all about? And how do you engage with that? Because when you do that, you will actually help yourself and your organization achieve breakthrough performance and employee well being. So that’s really the thought behind the book.


Will Bachman 01:40

Okay, great. So that helps anchor us. Let’s, let’s introduce each of you, which we didn’t do. So you come both for the for both McKinsey, but with slightly different kind of training background there. Mark, why don’t why don’t you give us your, your background at the firm, and the guard can tell us a bit about his training, and then we want to get back to the book, but just to kind of anchor people to let people know a little bit about the type of work that you do together. Mark, do you want to tell?


Mark 02:08

Yeah, absolutely. And I, you know, I think Gaurav, and I come come at this from very different backgrounds and sort of life experiences, which is great, you know, so we’re, we’ve kind of merged on this, this single theme of fear as being, you know, a leverage point in an organizational system, but from very different life experiences. So my background in training is as an engineer, and I, you know, came to McKinsey out of the, the Navy. So I actually studied human and organizational factors and engineered systems, you know, just, you know, in graduate school, and so I was always taken in by this idea that it’s not always enough to get the right technical answer, you actually need to get the human in organizational factors, right, in order to create systems that actually perform and are reliable and safe and all that. So fast forward to McKinsey, I did a lot of work with, you know, in the operations practice on lean transformation. So designing and executing lean transformations. And over time, while we, you know, talked about mindsets, I was always frustrated, you know, come back to clients six to 12 months later, and despite our brilliant plans and solutions, and in all the energy that we brought to a client, I just didn’t see these programs really be as sustainable as I thought they would. And, you know, ultimately, they, you know, the reason for that was because the the mindsets and, you know, the underlying fears that people had weren’t, you know, effectively addressed. And so, it just, you know, a lot of these, this resistance within an organization was just Left to Fester. So I I met Gaurav, at some point along the way he had left McKinsey to start co creation partners, I was still at the firm. And we both ended up working at the same client, I was running a big Lean transformation, and he was doing all this will mindset stuff. And I was like, Who’s this joker who, you know, couldn’t hack it that McKinsey had to leave. And now he’s just doing this mindset stuff. So I dropped into his workshop just to check in on him and see what he was doing and make sure he didn’t screw up my my, you know, wonderful Lean transformation. And it was tremendously eye opening just to see how you know, people can really get beneath the surface of their own mindsets and help them you know, figure out what, what drives them and how that’s that’s sort of a component to creating system level change as well. And so that was sort of a missing component for me. So I started off in the technical world was always curious about the mindset stuff and you know, saw how this deep you know, mindset work could really be a compliment to all that stuff. And so I don’t work with cocreation partners now for the last six plus years and it’s been a great wonderful collaboration and we bring you know, system Change together with deep personal transformation. And that’s what we do.


Will Bachman 05:04

Great. So, gar have your, your colleague called the whoo stuff. But what tell tell us a bit more about the type of work that you were doing at McKinsey, you left as an associate partner, and about the work that you’re doing, you know, more broadly in terms of cultural transformation.


Gaurav 05:24

Yeah. So I actually, when I joined McKinsey, I was also not doing this work. I joined McKinsey in the marketing practice, to do customer insights and marketing strategy. So hardcore statistics and stuff. And three years into McKinsey, I think that was the first.com Bust. And suddenly, I was on the beach for six months. And you know, I said, Man, I’m going to get fired. And one of my mentors has just moved to South Africa to the Joburg office. And he invited me to come down there, and I fell in love with the place. So I decided to move there. And when I was moving there, he told me, Hey, God, I forgot to tell you, the office is not doing too well. And we, you know, we tried everything, nothing’s working. And there’s this stuff coming from Australia on mindset and culture. And you know, and we got to try it on ourselves. And I said, great, but why are you telling me all of this, we. And he said, because we want you to be one of the leaders of this. And I told him you want we do what, and he said, I want you to be a leader of this. And I looked at him as I don’t do touchy feely stuff, the woowoo stuff, as Mark says, but it gets so kicking and screaming, I went into a workshop. And let’s just say it was life changing. And that was 21 years ago. And you know, it transformed that office in South Africa, it transformed who I was as a person. And I basically committed myself to helping organizations achieve their potential by helping individuals achieve their potential. So I, the way I describe it, I do work in the space of human potential. In the firm, it used to be called the OG practice. And it used to be called the mindsets and behaviors, sub practice, but quite honestly, it’s all about human potential and helping people reconnect with their power, and from that place, show up in their work and their personal environment, so that they can be much more than what they ever imagined. And they can have a really powerful impact on the world and really have a powerful impact on their own lives.


Will Bachman 07:31

Fantastic. So in your book, you have it structured in two parts. Part one fear, part two, unfair. Let’s, let’s skip past chapters 123, I’ll just mention the titles are fear and on fear, chapter two biology of fear, and on fear. And chapter three is eight fear archetypes in the workplace. Let’s let’s dive in right to the middle, unless you need to give us some context there. And talk about the start with chapter four. So unfair transformation. Sounds like it’s like the core of the book here the art and science of achieving and sustaining breakthrough results. Tell us a bit about, you know, about that piece of the book. And I’m sure it’s informed by the work that you’ve been doing. You know, either one of you, like, guide me through that chapter, what what is the art and fear of the art and science of achieving standing breakthrough results?


Mark 08:32

Yeah, absolutely. I’ll jump in. Well, and it’s, I think, it’s, I’ll spend just a moment just talking about the, you know, the first few chapters, because I think it’s important, it’s, it’s helpful for people to be aware of how fear based patterns are showing up in either their own lives, their own leadership styles, and on their teams and organizations. So that’s sort of the intention with those fear archetypes. And a lot of times people think that the answer is, Well, hey, if I’m behaving in a certain way, it’s not effective, let’s just change how I’m behaving. You know, let’s figure out what you know, what those hacks are to in a change, change action and that get changes results. And what we try to get across and unfair in that chapter four that you mentioned, is, that’s not enough. You know, it’s not enough to just change your actions in order to really create a deep shift in effectiveness there at the individual team organizational level, you’ve got to get down to that that mindset level and you have to shift the deeply held beliefs that you have about your own fears. And yourself and other people in order to create you know, real sustainable changes in how you how you act in the world. And so we you know, we talk about how you know, the how you see the world is conditioned by you know, how you know yet the mindsets that we hold and so That’s the place at which you need to intervene.


Gaurav 10:04

To jump in. Yeah. So so well, let me ask you a question. What do you think are the two superpowers of human beings?


Will Bachman 10:10

Wow, two superpowers? Man, I mean, the ability to speak, and the ability to cook a great omelet. I love


Gaurav 10:33

that man. Yeah, you got one of them, right? So I think we talk about the two superpowers of human beings being the power of imagination, and the power of language. Okay. And in chapter four starts with the interesting assertion that what you imagine is what you create. Right? So the the art and science of achieving sustainable breakthrough results is to start by understanding that you have the power of imagining the future. And if you imagine it is a negative thing, it creates a negative future. And if you imagine it as a positive thing, you create a positive future. So for example, you imagined inviting us on your podcast, right? And then you use language through an email to send us that message. And we imagined that that would be an amazing thing to happen. And we said yes. And together, we then made it happen. So people often think of language and imagination as seeing things the way they are, and describing things the way they are, actually language and imagination creates the future. So the book talks about how everything needs to start inside out. First, reframe what is inside, as in terms of an individually held belief, a team held belief and organization held belief. And then when you reimagine that, then take actions in terms of communication, that allow us to make that come to life. Yeah, so that’s fundamentally at the core of the model.


Will Bachman 12:13

Well, this all certainly resonates with me. I mean, I certainly find that in my own practice, just in running my own business, that fear is a very present thing. And that it’s when I find myself with some task, or some project that I’m procrastinating on, or not getting to, usually fear is at the root of it. Fear of what you’ll discover when I start the project, or when I, like, if I get a contract from some client, and I’m procrastinating looking at it, it’s probably because, ah, I don’t want to deal with it. Or you just like, concerned, what you’ll find when you when you open it up. So. So it really does resonate with this idea of addressing fear and helping, you know, clients move through that. Tell me about some of the practical, you know, tips that you have, for companies of, you know, identifying fear, and how to get to that state of unfair of how to, you know, move through that.


Gaurav 13:26

Mark, you won’t take anyone?


Mark 13:27

Yeah, I mean, so there’s a lot of, you know, practical things we offer in the book, but let me preface, you know, anything we share by I don’t think there’s any super quick solutions here, necessarily, I think part of, you know, the, you know, in order to change your mindsets, you know, it’s, it’s, it takes some real real work. So I don’t think we offer any, any quick fixes in the book necessarily, but it does start with awareness. And then, you know, leads to choice. You know, that’s, that’s a really important part, and it takes a lot of practice. And so part of what we’re trying to do is help you people become aware of, you know, what are some of the ways in which fear is showing up in their life? And what sort of patterns of behavior does it lead to? So, you know, well, you mentioned, you know, a little bit of fear that may lead to some procrastination. You know, it’s amazing how often people aren’t necessarily aware of how fear is sort of driving those patterns of behavior. So, just becoming a little bit more aware of it, to begin with is a really important first step. And then we talk about a lot of you know, various mindsets and practices that people can apply, you know, the individual level, the team level and the organizational level. So, you know, one very practical one in particular is we recommend that people meditate you know, it’s it takes some real practice to understand how emotions show up in your body, for instance, and to not become so reactive to you know, emotions in the in the moment so You know, practice, like meditation can really help people, you know, sort of create some space between, you know, a situation and their response or reaction to it. And so that’s that’s one very practical action that we recommend. You know, there’s there’s others that we can get into as well. I’m curious what questions he sparked, but more of what what would you add to that?


Gaurav 15:24

You see real life turn him into a Google guy. He’s talking about meditation being practical. Imagine an engineer saying that.


Mark 15:31

Yeah. And that’s, that’s been a big, big change in my life. Frankly, I used to think it was kind of funny. And we will it didn’t didn’t really make sense. But it’s it’s it’s tremendously powerful practice. Yeah.


Gaurav 15:43

But but let’s let’s even get it even more grounded. So well, you talked about procrastination. But let’s take aways typical consulting situation, because I know you, you work with a lot of consultants. So one of the patterns of fear is that consultants often tend to be fault finders. I don’t know whether you’ve seen that. But we tend to be because we have a, we tend to have a deep seated fear of failure. Or in a fear of people not think we’re smart enough, we create a story that if we can point out mistakes other people do, then we will protect ourselves, because now people are gonna think that we are smart. And we live into that we live into that and we become oppositional in the way we act, we find mistakes, I can still remember at McKinsey, when the partner would rather than talking about content would tell me, Hey, on the fourth line, the font size is wrong. Right? In so so the first thing there is to help people identify what is the storyline that they are creating in their head, related to fear that makes them behave in a certain way. Right in that story, like identifying the storyline is really important. And we can do it very simply. But that’s what the first step is, then it is to help people understand that the story that you hold, is your creation. You are the director of your life, and you’re creating the story. So you have the power to change it. And then it lays out in the book, some steps on how you can go about changing that story that allows you to move from even though your fear might not change, it might change, you change the way you engage with the fear and therefore your ultimate behavior related to it. And imagine if teams are not behaving in a certain way like that, or an organization is not behaving in a certain way like that, suddenly, you will start unlocking performance that people didn’t even think was possible. Because now there is no clashes, no negativity that starts happening in the organization.


Mark 17:43

Yeah. And there’s, there’s stories that we tell about ourselves and our potential, but there’s also a lot of stories that we tell about other people, you know, we oftentimes hold all kinds of assumptions about other people that we never stopped to, you know, question or get curious about. So, you know, another practice is just understanding what those assumptions are and holding them a little bit more lightly rather than, you know, the, the absolute statement of truth about how somebody else’s.


Will Bachman 18:11

Now, I think it’s Timothy Ferriss has an exercise that I think he calls it fear setting, I remember correctly, where he, where it’s about, imagine, so if there’s something that you’ve been resisting doing, too, he says, Okay, write down what’s the worst possible thing that could happen? You know, if that, if you go ahead and take this path, right. And, and then if that happens, write down on paper, how you could possibly recover from that, like, how would you mitigate that, that response? And he did this when he was first thinking about taking, like time off from from this business that he was running before he became the four hour guy calls that fear settings? Do you have any like exercises, kind of along those lines that maybe are not just for the individual, but that then apply at the organizational level to help an organization kind of identify fears that are holding them back? And then help them be on that? Mark? Can


Mark 19:16

you thoughts go for?


Gaurav 19:19

Yeah, so. So here’s what I would say let Sublett just the fear level to return on this, what you just shared on its head and we asked people the other question, we ask people, What is fear teaching you about you? Not about your situation, not about other people. But what is it teaching you about you? And what is it making you hold back on? Or what is the weed making you over index on which may not be as helpful at a team level? Similarly, we’ll say what is fear leading what is fear creating in this team? That is holding it back? Right So why is it holding it back from having the honest conversations that need to be had? Is it holding it back from from really engaging in the difficult conversations? Is it even more fundamentally, is it creating assumptions, which may not be accurate, about what the experience of different team members or the entire team relative to the rest of the organization? And similarly, at an organizational level, the questions we ask related to fear are some ways important strategic questions, which is, if you did not have this story inside your head, what strategy or achievement would be possible for you? Right, because more important, you know, Peter Singer says there’s more important than the strategy that someone comes up is the mindset, which leads to the strategy, because the mindset is, what condition is conditioning the strategy? So we asked the question about if you did not have this mindset, or if he gave you a different mindset, what different strategy would emerge? And how would it shaped the organization differently?


Will Bachman 21:10

Okay. Can you tell me a story about a client that you’ve worked with that helped inform this book?


Mark 21:24

Yeah, definitely a few Do you want to go? I think one that’s pretty powerful that you are more directly involved with was John and the factory in the South.


Gaurav 21:34

Yeah. So yeah, that’s, that’s a fun one. It’s not a fun one. I, I sure. It was not their experience of it. But it’s an interesting story. And this is a story of a factory manager, who we call John, where it’s a real story. And John was basically told by the headquarters that he needed needed to do a headcount reduction of 250 people in a factory of about 600. Now, you can imagine the fear created in him, the fear created in the site. And all of that now, John, decided that his response to that was that he was going to focus very heavily on headcount reduction. And not only that, on every presentation, he created a thermometer, which showed how in with 250, on top, and every time, someone who’s let go, someone who’s retired, the thermometer would move up. And when when we went into work there, the John shared it with us and said, you know, this is my way of managing it. And my reaction to John was man, this is the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen in my life. And he rightly pushed back and he says, what else do you expect me to do? What else do you expect me to do? Because my job is on the line. And the future of this site is on the line. So you can understand it’s a very real tangible experience of fear. And, you know, rather than immediately gave John an answer, which would have probably not been helpful. We went into understanding what was the essence of this site and what it meant to this place where it was based, right. And what we realized was the site had been around in this in this in this small town forever, and it was probably the single largest employer of the people. And there were there were families with three generations of children, kids working in the factory. And so our conversation became about how do you reframe the fear into an opportunity. And the conversation became, and it was not generated by us, but it was generated by the people who are at the site that this headcount reduction was about, right sizing the site for the future generations, so that it could remain viable for the future generation. So suddenly, it became from a bad thing, to an opportunity to sustain the town. And it was amazing when this shift happened, how the people who were going to be let go, actually, till the very last day, when they shut down one part of the plant, delivered at their best thing when they left, it was literally like everyone was clapping as they left on that last day. And they were heroes rather than victims. And interestingly enough, post that within six months, a number of them were hired back in the now the now that plan is gotten a number of new investments in because it’s been able to right size, and now it is a growing successful plant. But it’s about reframing of that story, and helping John and the rest of the site. Together, come up with a new story about the future and about why this is happening. rather than oh my god, if you don’t cut people, these bad things are gonna happen, then.


Mark 25:06

Yeah, and what happened in that situation, we see this, you know, with a lot of our clients is leaders are stuck in this dilemma, or either they, you know, try to use fear aggressively to create results. And they know, there’s probably some, you know, drawbacks for the well being employees, but they just say like, but we’ve got to get the results. So they’re kind of using fear to make things happen. Or they get a sense that, hey, fear is not a good thing. And we need to suppress fear and kind of create a nice working environment and you know, avoid the tough conversations and all that. So, leaders are stuck in this. We call it the dilemma of fear. And what we encourage them to do is there’s a, there’s a more creative response that gets them to just reframe fear, not as a good thing or a bad thing, but just as this opportunity to learn and to grow and to do something, you know, more effective than they would have thought otherwise. And so I think that’s the the kind of Heart of Fear is making that reframe. Unfair, I should say,


Will Bachman 26:09

tell me about the phrase, freeing the angel in the stone.


Gaurav 26:16

You’ve not heard of that before. So So have you it’s a mighty Michelangelo is supposed to have said, when he called David, that I saw an angel in the stone, and I said to carve it free. Right. And that’s at the core of the eye level transformation that we talked about, which is often people see themselves and other others, other people as problems that need to be fixed. We encourage people to see themselves as the angel that is already in the stone, that all the potential already exists. And the work of organizations is to carve away the junk, so that that angel can emerge. So it’s not about fixing anyone, it’s about helping people reconnect with their potential. And from that place, not falling into a victim more of all life is terrible, and so on. And I am ineffective in things when actually from that potential, finding the ability to choose to live live from mastery, and therefore express yourself at your fullest. And when you express yourself at the fullest, well, you cannot actually judge other people, because you also see the potential in other people, which is what the angel in the stone is all about. Seeing everyone has having amazing potential.


Will Bachman 27:38

Or they’re just like a handful of exercises or questions that we should ask ourselves or practices that you want, you know, readers to really take away from this book.


Gaurav 27:51

Mark Hmm,


Mark 27:54

I think I’m the, you know, certainly with the, you know, the angel in the stone, I, you know, I mentioned meditation, I think that’s a really important one, you know, particularly for the people out there that might be skeptical of meditation, I think sometimes it does come across as kind of woowoo stuff, but you know, just just kind of tied back to the angel in the stone, a lot of times we come become so lost in thoughts, so identified with, you know, some emotional state or thought pattern, or some label that we have, you know, for ourselves, that, you know, we we kind of get stuck. And, you know, part of the, the idea with meditation or that practice is to, you know, understand that, you know, really who you are, the core essence of who you are is not any of that stuff because that stuff is constantly changing. And you know, it’s, it’s not fake, it’s not who you are. So, you know, it’s training yourself for helping yourself realize that you’re already not identified with any emotional state that’s fleeting, you’re not identified with any label that could change you know, there is some deeper essence to who you are, that just gives you a lot more psychological flexibility and much more choice to choose to change your stories and to show up in a very different way. So I think that’s I was a lead people with any like, little practical thing, it’s start that practice and, and, you know, see where it takes you. Okay, God, what would you say?


Gaurav 29:24

Yeah, I definitely give you very quickly three ideas at an at an intra personal level. It is the question is why? What can I learn from this? What can I learn from this fearful situation? At a team level, or an interpersonal level where there’s dynamic which is going wrong? Which is to say, with the question, Why am I making a different assumption from this other person? And at a strategic level, the question to ask is, which I’ve already talked about, which is What? How is my mindset influencing the strategy in what new strategy would emerge? If I did not have this mindset?


Will Bachman 30:14

What tips do you have for a manager running a team?


Gaurav 30:21

What tips do I ever imagine running a team?


Will Bachman 30:23

Yes, Manager running a team to either identify the fears that might be present on the team or to kind of surface those surface, his or her own fears.


Gaurav 30:36

So I’ll give you one very straight thing, which I think most managers get wrong. Most managers, most managers get think that that team that is reasonably good is a team that is nice to each other. And that it’s all about making everyone feel happy, you’re naive in and mellow in a team. To me, my single biggest advice to a manager running a team is your job is to engage the team, and make the team engage with each other in difficult conversations. But to engage in those difficult conversations effectively. And not to run away from emotions, but to actually understand those emotions are cues for learning and growth. So lean into the difficult conversations don’t lean away from that. Okay,


Mark 31:34

yeah, I think at the team level, there’s a couple of other important practices. One is learning how to build trust with other people, oftentimes, you know, leaders have a very limited view of what trust means on a team, you know, it’s, it’s more or less, you know, doing what you say you would do, but there’s a variety of other dimensions to trust to include, you know, being open with other people and accepting other people for who they are. And also being, you know, authentic in knowing how to share your truth in a way that is, you know, both clear, but also respectful. So, you know, having leaders not just, you know, focus on one dimension of trust, but many levels of trust, or many dimensions of trust is an important skill to have as well.


Gaurav 32:20

Yeah. And we are passionate about this one, right. So one of the we talked about is it think of a team as a jazz ensemble. Right in in a jazz ensemble, when someone goes off note, that becomes the cue for creating something new. Often in teams, if someone goes off node, the manager says, Oh, you’re doing something wrong. And to me, the job of a manager is to, to build enhance creativity on a team to create beautiful music, rather than be in judgment and create a dictatorship where everyone is doing exactly, according to the managers plan.


Will Bachman 33:01

So I want to give the I’m gonna make sure that we mentioned the, the link for the book. It’s unfair. book.com, right, one word, we’ll include that link in the show notes. It sounds like you have really brought your disparate experiences and the work that you’ve been doing on transforming organizations really pulled it together in it in a really compelling statement here. I’m gonna have Mark, thanks for coming on the show. And listeners, check out the book, and I’m sure they appreciate. Give it a review on Amazon or wherever you buy the book. help people discover it, guys, thanks for Kevin.

Mark 33:47

Awesome. Thanks for having us. Appreciate it.

Gaurav 33:50

Really appreciate it. Yeah. Thank you.

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