Hope is Good, Clarity is Better




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“You’re reading that quote from Larry Fink saying there’s never been more fear, what we need now is hope. As a business leader you may think, yeah, I’ll go in with more hope – that’s better than despair. More hope means better outcomes. But the truth is, hope alone doesn’t give an accurate picture of reality. There is opportunity in reality. What you need is clarity.”

Jeff Hunter, Founder and CEO of Talentism

BlackRock’s Larry Fink sees pervasive fear and says we need hope. Talentism’s Jeff Hunter says hope isn’t enough – leaders need clarity.

Read below or listen to learn tangible steps leaders can take to understand the root of fear, reorient with purpose, and turn unprecedented challenges into opportunities.

Full Transcript

Angie D’Sa 00:07

In this week’s episode of The Clarifier, I speak with Talentism Founder and CEO, Jeff Hunter, about the distinction between hope and clarity. Recently, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink was quoted as stating that he has never seen as much fear among consumers and businesses as he does at this moment. He believes that what is most needed is hope. However, in our conversation, Jeff provides an alternative perspective. He shares that while hope may be helpful, it’s not a strategy; what is actually needed is clarity.

Jeff Hunter 00:40

When you read that quote and think, “There’s never been more fear, and what we need now is more hope,” and as a business leader, you contemplate having more hope, that’s certainly better than approaching situations with despair. It’s more likely to lead to better outcomes if you come from a hopeful standpoint. However, I believe what you can truly do is pause and ask yourself some questions that can guide you toward clarity. The thing about both despair and hope is that they don’t provide an accurate picture of reality.

Angie D’Sa 01:15

I invite you to listen to this episode if you are navigating your business through today’s uncertain economic times. If you sense fear in the markets you serve, in the teams you lead, or even in yourself, this episode will provide you with practical steps to understand the root causes of that fear and how to transform it into clarity.

Jeff Hunter 01:43

Hello, Angie!

Angie D’Sa 01:44

It’s great to have you back! So, we’ve taken a bit of a detour as we interviewed other guests on The Clarifier, but this week, you’re back because you just couldn’t resist.

Jeff Hunter 01:56

I couldn’t!

Angie D’Sa 01:59

Alright, this weekend, you sent a message to several of us at Talentism, prompted by an article you read, where BlackRock CEO Larry Fink is quoted as saying that what our economy needs most is hope. He argues that hope, or more accurately, optimism, is what motivates people to spend and invest, while fear of a recession can trigger behaviors that actually create the recession. But I think you have a different perspective; you believe that hope alone is not sufficient. Can you share what you believe we truly need?

Jeff Hunter 02:41

Certainly. It’s wonderful to be back. Larry Fink mentioned something else in that quote, which is that he’s never witnessed as much fear in his career, and that’s quite a statement considering Larry’s long and varied experience in the financial world. He’s been through significant events like the OPEC crashes of the 70s and the tech wreck of the late 90s. Assuming he’s not exaggerating, this indicates that there’s an extraordinary amount of fear in the business world and beyond. The reason I sent that message is because our business revolves around dealing with confusion. When I read that quote, I immediately thought of a graph, which I’m going to share now. This graph was used in our fundraising presentation back in March 2022. It illustrates that confusion, the topic of today’s discussion, is the ultimate growth market.

The graph portrays a classic upward trend, indicating that over time, we experience increasing levels of confusion. The x-axis represents time, and the y-axis represents confusion. I arbitrarily chose to start the curve at the time of the tech wreck, a significant event in my career. We could have gone back further, but the point is that confusion has been on the rise throughout human history. I then highlighted various events that contributed to this trend, including the Great Recession, the #MeToo movement, the pandemic, George Floyd’s incident, the January 6th insurrection, the great resignation, and the impact of AI. These events have added complexity, chaos, and speed to our lives, resulting in heightened confusion. The future is uncertain, but we can anticipate more disruptions to come.

Certainly, here’s the copy-edited version of the podcast transcript for the given segment:

Angie D’Sa 08:53

I find this graph intriguing. I’d like to put myself in the shoes of our listeners and viewers and share some observations as we discuss this. One thing that strikes me is, do these moments on the graph represent confusion or do they signify a significant reckoning? It’s worth noting that when you mention confusion, Jeff, you’re referring to it in the Talentism definition of the word, which denotes the experience of a gap between one’s expectations and reality. In these moments, individuals, companies, leaders, and society as a whole were grappling with changes that challenged implicit expectations about how we interact, who holds power, and how that power is wielded. So, movements like Black Lives Matter might not be confusing in the everyday sense of the word, but they are confusing in the broader Talentism context. They shake up established expectations and usher in a new reality, creating a profound sense of confusion. Is my understanding aligning with yours?

Jeff Hunter 10:14

Absolutely. I appreciate your translation. It’s a profound realization for me because I discuss confusion in the Big C Talentism way regularly. I tend to assume everyone understands it, which isn’t true. Thank you for clarifying. Personally, I see these reckonings as positive, albeit painfully so. They unearth biases deeply embedded in our world, offering a chance to expose them to a wider audience and facilitate improvement. Take AI, for instance. It could redefine our human journey or lead to our destruction. Confusion, when dealt with correctly, can be a net positive. This is something we’ll delve into further.

Angie D’Sa 11:33

Another observation I made while examining the graph is the increasing frequency of these events, bringing them closer together. This trend triggers growing anxiety and prompts the question: how do we cope with this escalating uncertainty? I presume you’re about to address that, so please continue.

Jeff Hunter 11:57

Certainly. The core premise of this slide is that we are in the right industry at the right time. While this may be unfortunate for humanity, it presents a genuine opportunity for us to channel our passion for guiding people through confusion towards clarity. Now, let’s delve into why this matters. Mr. Fink asserts the need for hope, but hope alone falls short. To clarify, hope can be both a positive and detrimental force. I was reflecting on this over the weekend, considering the perspective of Ted Lasso. Hope can keep you in the game until your luck changes, in my view. People’s faith that things will improve keeps them engaged and hopeful about positive outcomes, often more effectively than rational analysis. We, as humans, seek meaning, and hope attaches itself to meaning and the belief that relief is on the way. It’s beautiful in that sense. However, hope can also lead us to overlook current realities. The curve in the graph represents significant events with profound impacts on people’s lives. If one merely hopes that confusion will dissipate and a better future will emerge, they miss the point. While local issues may resolve, the overarching trend of living in a world filled with confusion remains. I firmly believe there’s no technological innovation or breakthrough that will radically alter human nature, magically erasing biases and divisions. Instead, what’s on the horizon are swift technological advancements that will bring about more rapid and complex changes, fostering further confusion, more “us vs. them” dynamics, and a quest for illusory certainty. Hope, as a strategy, falls short here. Wishing away challenges won’t make things better. Hope is vital, but not because I think things will miraculously improve. My optimism stems from the belief that if we handle confusion correctly, positive transformation is possible.

Angie D’Sa 15:27

From what I gather, hope, while marginally better than despair, is passive in the face of the active navigation needed to confront Talentism’s capital C confusion, set to intensify in both pace and frequency. So, if hope isn’t enough, what is the alternative?

Jeff Hunter 16:00

I’d like to clarify that the term “passive” isn’t inherently negative. Sometimes, passivity can be beneficial. Despair, too, is passive but in a negative sense. I prefer positive passivity over negative passivity. The key lies in recognizing the immense opportunity in these moments. Whenever markets face disruption, winners and losers emerge. Winners identify opportunities within the chaos, while losers lament the disappearance of what they held dear. So, passive hope isn’t ineffective; it just isn’t sufficient. We need a method to transform what we experience as capital C confusion into something advantageous. That’s why we advocate for the shift from confusion to clarity. It’s the very reason Talentism exists—to address the significant problem confusion poses for businesses, society, and individuals. We aim to bring our effective approach, honed over years, to a wider audience.

Certainly, here is the copy-edited version of the podcast transcript for the given segment:

Angie D’Sa 17:26

Let’s pause for a moment and delve into something you mentioned in your note over the weekend—a concept around the response to the escalating confusion many of us feel. One route is fear, but the alternative is to channel that confusion into fuel, leading to clarity. Could you guide our audience through the path from confusion to clarity? How do we choose this route, instead of the easier, automatic path from confusion to fear?

Jeff Hunter 18:06

Absolutely. First off, I want to touch on a famous quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” If Larry Fink is correct in asserting that there’s more fear now than ever before, it’s crucial to pay attention. The question becomes: Do we succumb to fear, both within ourselves and in the chaotic, complex, and unpredictable world around us—whether in our business, teams, communities, or the broader context? Fear, fundamentally, is a second-order consequence of experience. It’s not the primary experience. We don’t just experience fear; we experience the world, confusion arises, and then fear follows. Two people can face the same situation and experience either comfort or fear. My personal experience with public speaking illustrates this transformation. Initially, I was terrified, but over time, my mental models shifted. Fear arises from the unknown or patterns matching prior painful experiences. We can train our mental models to become familiar, turning fear into something we can manage. It’s a process of building new mental models over old ones through practice and lived experiences. Here’s a critical point: fear is the second order consequence; it’s not the initial experience. We don’t eliminate old habits; instead, we build new, powerful mental models on top of them. This takes time.

Angie D’Sa 22:15

Let me pause and clarify. It seems you’re suggesting that the experience of fear stems from either the unknown or aligning a current situation with past painful experiences. The opportunity here lies in decoupling the experience of fear from the situation itself. By engaging in the situation repeatedly, gathering real data through practice and lived experiences, we can rewire the relationship in our brain between the situation and the emotion of fear.

Jeff Hunter 23:18

Exactly, Angie. And another crucial point is the concept of time. Some fears or inadequacies might take years to overcome through practice and experience. But what happens when business leaders don’t have that luxury of time? This is where design thinking comes into play. Leaders often need to be effective today and productive tomorrow. They can’t afford to wait for years to overcome their fears. So, it’s not merely about practicing; it’s about designing solutions that allow leaders to navigate situations they fear without compromising the business.

Angie D’Sa 26:40

I see what you’re saying. It’s about recognizing the limitations of time, especially for leaders who need to be effective immediately. The challenge lies in balancing the need for instant effectiveness with the time required to overcome fears. This is where design thinking offers innovative solutions, enabling leaders to address their fears without derailing the business.

Jeff Hunter 29:31

Exactly, Angie. Now, circling back to the initial conversation about Larry Fink’s quote, the mind has a peculiar way of turning fears into reality. The more we fear something, the more likely we are to make it happen. Humans tend to shift their focus from their goals to avoiding what they fear, inadvertently bringing those fears to fruition. This shift in focus hampers the ability to visualize goals clearly. During moments of confusion or fear, it’s essential to reorient our focus on what we want, what we aspire to achieve, rather than letting fear dictate our goals. The impending recession shouldn’t limit our aspirations. Goals should remain untouched by our fears. Taking this moment to visualize our objectives, to create a lighthouse amidst the storm of confusion, provides clarity and direction.

Angie D’Sa 30:25

So, what you’re suggesting is, amidst the confusion, we must strive to define our goals independently of our fears. Instead of allowing the fear of a recession to limit our aspirations, we should visualize our objectives clearly. This process acts as a lighthouse guiding us, helping us retain focus and clarity amid the chaos.

Jeff Hunter 31:03

Exactly, Angie. By defining our goals independently of our fears, we can maintain our focus and steer our organizations toward a future unclouded by the looming uncertainties. This clarity becomes our guiding light, helping us navigate through the confusion and making decisions grounded in purpose and aspiration, not fear.

Here’s the copy-edited version of the podcast transcript with improved grammar and clarity while retaining the original words:

Angie D´Sa  36:46

I love that re-anchoring, the creation of the lighthouse. I remember in an episode we recorded together a few months back; I think it was “From Panic to Purpose.” One of the things you asked listeners to do was reorient to meaning. When I hear you talking about resetting on what you actually want, inside of that, I think, “God, let’s, I mean, like I want a bag of chips, but is it going to be that meaningful to me? What is actually going to carry me through the storm?” That is the future reality that I can create that is most meaningful to me. And that is meaningful to me, regardless of what today’s problems are. So that’s what I hear when you say, you know, what do you actually want? Reset on your goals. Yeah.

Jeff Hunter  37:31

Yeah, I think if you spend time talking to people about their regrets, which obviously I do, that’s a big part of decoding a human being. A lot of the regrets, there are the regrets of the things you know I did. But the bigger regrets that you hear more often are the things I didn’t do. And things like an impending recession will fade. But that regret will not. So, like, I am sure I had good reasons for not starting that business. The good reasons will be forgotten, but the regret of not starting the business will not. So you want to practically orient, do what you want, and not let the “Oh my gosh, here are all the reasons I shouldn’t do that” take hold. And then the second thing, I think, you know, at least for me, I was reflecting on over the weekend is, where am I? And that’s not just because I’m getting older; it was also because I was like, well, what’s the reality of my situation? Okay, recessions are terrible, and they affect real lives, and they reduce earning power and all those things. But where am I? Like, what’s the reality of my circumstance? Not what do I fear? Because, of course, even for me, all sorts of things come up, like, “Oh, can we sell more? Can we do this? Can we do that?” Those are, but where am I? And I did an accounting in my head, just sort of an inventory of like, all the things that are going well, and all the things I’m grateful for. In that accounting, in that inventory, I was like, “Oh, you know what, this picture? This picture is a little better than I thought.” Which, of course, is inevitable because the fear is attempting to highlight all the ways you could fail. Right? That’s why fear is an effective mechanism. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s an effective mechanism to keep you alive long enough to be healthy to procreate, right? That’s the old underlying reason you would have fear. Why would it make sense as a species? Well, because it helps you run LGB scared when the daggers right they are those kinds of things. So you want to reorient the process to your thought process to like what’s actually happening in my world. What’s actually happening around? And then is part of that, I started asking myself the question of what am I proud of? This was really powerful one for me. Because, you know, we talked a lot, and I’ve talked to a lot of people about it. You’ve got this; it’s almost like in your teenage years, you build up this edifice of your own picture of yourself, and your picture, and like the competence that comes from that. The teenage NFS is sort of like tall and boisterous, in confidence, and on Super shaky foundations, like, it’s really not grounded in anything profound, you haven’t lived a lot of experiences, you haven’t gone through massive failures, you know, marriages, all these kinds of things. So you may have this NFS of how amazing you are that extends into the sky and has every wing and every bell and whistle, but it’s on a shaky foundation. And then I think the people who are on the journey that I am on and you’re on and so many of the people we work with ran is at some point that foundation gives out; it just can’t support the weight of all that Baroque SNES of like all the stuff that we think, like we hope people you know love about us and will respect and accept about us. And at the point that a part of the foundation collapses or the whole foundation collapses, you can either throw up another weird sort of thing, where you can start working on the foundation, and the way you work on the foundation, and you know, this really sort of struck me there’s the writer on the office, and now she’s an incredible actress, performer, producer; writers incredibly talented Mindy Kaling, but she wrote this thing in Vanity…

Angie D´Sa  41:52

Personal hero; I didn’t know you were going to be talking about her.

Jeff Hunter  41:55

Oh, really? Do you remember the van was a Vanity Fair article about like how hard it is to build your confidence?

Angie D´Sa  42:04

I mean, I think I do remember that when she answered an audience question. A young girl raises her hand and says, “How do you build the confidence you have? Is this what you’re talking about?”

Jeff Hunter  42:14

Yes, yeah. Okay. And then she wrote an article as a follow-up to that. So to me, the beauty of that, and we should find that link and put it in this because I just thought it was such a beautiful answer. She was like, “Look, you’re basically acquiring experiences that cannot be destroyed. You’re just building; you’re creating a foundation that no matter how big the waves are, strong the wind, that foundation stands, and because the more you put yourself out there, the bigger the waves come, the bigger, stronger the wind, and the people are trying to knock you down and everything.” So what’s the thing that you can, you can rest upon that is unshakable that you can build the edifice of your personality beliefs, like, presentation, everything on that. And to me, the way you build that edifice is you think about what you’re really proud of? You think about the thing you talked earlier about meaning, you think about the things are like, if I was to pass right now, on my deathbed, I would think, “Yeah, I did that. That mattered.” And typically, what we know is it’ll matter in two ways. You either affected people’s lives, you were a help, or IT service to others, or you solved a problem that helped other people’s lives, helps people’s lives, right. Usually, other people oriented, it won’t be like, “I had a billion dollars in my bank account.” Most of the people I’ve read and talk to, that’s not the thing when they’re sort of getting into their later years. They’re like, “Oh, that is the big thing I’m proud of.” So I sat there, and I thought today about what I was proud of over the weekend, and I thought about what I was proud of. And it was about, you know, like the meeting we had last week about culture, where people were talking about the Talentism culture and how unique it was and stuff. And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t always feel great about my performance. I don’t always feel great about my leadership. But I don’t think that’s going away; that meeting will stand; that will likely stand the test of time. Have I worked hard for something to create a place where people can unleash their potential, and that’s probably not going to go away.” And so I can feel a little more secure in myself as a result of that. And that security itself starts to create that mental model that helps you weather the recession storm, the fear, right? It’s not saying just hope it doesn’t happen or believe in yourself, right? Those are sort of aphorisms. It’s sort of like, what should you be proud of? And what is the thing that you should believe you believe about yourself that no matter what happens, there’s a recession, etc.? That thing is still true about you. And then the final thing is, once you get to that grounded sort of spot by those questions is like, what excites you about the future? Because no matter what, what we can all say with a lot of confidence is you are probably failing to predict the thing that will be the worst thing that’s coming your way. And you’ll be equally bad at predicting the best thing that’s coming your way. You’re going to be bad at predicting both of those things. But the fear is telling you don’t worry about the best thing that’s happening your way, worry about the worst thing that’s coming your way, which, of course, is more likely to bring the worst thing into existence. So I think this thing of like orienting to like, well, what could be the best thing that’s coming my way? Again, this isn’t a hope strategy; this is like, just get to clarity, just get to understanding the probability of bad and the probability of good in a big complicated, chaotic situation maybe roughly equal, and you just don’t know. And so you should go into the future, more with a sense of an explorer of the possibility of the opportunity, as opposed to a protector of the thing that you worry might go away.

Angie D´Sa  46:22

You know, even though some of these questions feel big, spacious, potentially even existential, as I hear you work yourself through them, thank you for going through the exercise this weekend. They really do feel grounding. And so when I think about the difference between this idea of hope, which may be passive, is not the right word, but it feels a little ephemeral, right, I believe that there could be a great future, but I have no idea what it is, relative to clarity, which feels very grounded in, “What do you want? What is that Northstar? That is going to propel you through the up and the down?” Because it’s really meaningful to you. Where are you? What do you have? What resources are available that you can point to that will allow you to move forward in that direction? What are you proud of? Right? What is? What do you know is real about you and what you’ve built or what you want to build that’s actually worthwhile? And what excites you? So what’s going to create momentum and fuel in the engine? These things actually feel like a very powerful way to take this idea of hope, which is optimistic, and make it practical. Yeah. So I love the way these questions came together.

Jeff Hunter  47:31

Awesome. Well, good. Well, thank you for that validation. Because no matter how many times I do this, you and I have talked about this. It’s like speaking into the void. Y’all meet someone, like a year later? And they’re like, “Oh, I listened to that podcast.” And you’re like, “You did? Wow. Okay, great.” So thank you for being the immediate feedback.

Angie D´Sa  47:52

I know you live for my validation.

Jeff Hunter  47:55

Pretty bad. Not just yours.

Angie D´Sa  47:59

All right. Well, thank you for this. Is there anything that we didn’t get a chance to talk about that you were hoping to get across this morning?

Jeff Hunter  48:07

Yeah, you should reach out to us; you should reach out to Talentism. Did I not say that? Get that across?

Angie D´Sa  48:15

That was good. No, I appreciate that. And I think one of the things I like that you’ve been doing every time we sit down together for these conversations is offering a practical set of questions or a reflection exercise. And I couldn’t agree with you more that doing those alone. It can not only be challenging, because it can feel like a new muscle to exercise. But it can be hard to see yourself clearly in the exercise. And so what’s been so compelling to me when I sat on the client side before joining Talentism was having the support as I did this kind of self-reflection and interrogation. And designing better for myself was having someone who could help me see myself clearly in the moments when I needed compassion to do it. And in the moments when I needed to be able to own my greatness. And so that is, that is the reason I really agree with the push that you’re giving folks who might be listening, which is reach out. Because with a partner, you can see yourself more clearly and with that clearer picture of yourself. You can do more than this. You could.

Jeff Hunter  49:22

Very well stated; much better than I did. Thank you.

Angie D´Sa  49:26

All right. Thank you, Jeff.

Jeff Hunter  49:28

Thank you, Angie; great to see you again.

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