Radical Candor Podcast: The Power of Rituals

The Power of Rituals: Transforming Work and Life with Michael Norton 6 | 16

Everyday actions, when turned into rituals, can manage emotions and create a sense of control and purpose. For Stress Awareness Month, Radical Candor shares another Bonus episode where Harvard Business School Professor Michael Norton joins Amy Sandler to discuss his latest book, “The Ritual Effect.” Norton explores the significance of rituals in reducing stress and enhancing productivity, both at work and in personal life.

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Radical Candor Podcast: Episode at a Glance

Michael Norton shares compelling research and personal anecdotes that illustrate how everyday actions, when turned into rituals, can manage emotions and create a sense of control and purpose. The conversation covers the practical application of rituals in business settings, their emotional significance, and how they can foster team cohesion and workplace wellness. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer in the power of rituals, this episode offers valuable insights into how structured routines can lead to greater emotional health and professional effectiveness.

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@radicalcandorofficial Radical Candor Podcast: The Power of Rituals at Work w @harvardhbs professor Michael Norton #radicalcandor #rituals #theritualeffect #booktok ♬ original sound – Radical Candor



Radical Candor Podcast: The Power of Rituals

[00:01:14] Michael Norton: Thanks so much, Amy. 

[00:01:16] Amy Sandler: Yeah. And so even just noting, uh, the book is apparently by Michael Norton. But Mike Norton, you are one in the same author of The Ritual Effect.

[00:01:25] Michael Norton: It would be amazing if I weren’t. 

[00:01:27] Amy Sandler: Okay. 

[00:01:28] Michael Norton: But I am. 

[00:01:29] Amy Sandler: All right. Just excellent.

[00:01:31] Michael Norton: It’s a huge mix up on the.

[00:01:32] Amy Sandler: Yeah. Um, so you are, in addition to being both Mike and Michael Norton, you’re a Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. You’ve done research on, um, what I think is a pretty impressive, uh, mix of topics. The Hazards of Humblebragging, uh, The Rewards of Matchmaking, you coauthored a book called Happy Money with Elizabeth Dunn. 

[00:01:55] So there’s actually so much else that we could talk to you about. But today we wanted to focus on your newest book, which just came out, uh, April 9th, just yesterday, is that right?

[00:02:04] Michael Norton: Yeah. 

[00:02:05] Amy Sandler: Um, awesome. So it’s The Ritual Effect. That’s what we’re talking about. And so I thought since we’re talking about The Ritual Effect, before we get into the what’s and the why’s and the how’s, um, what if we start by doing a little ritual? 

[00:02:20] Michael Norton: Great. 

[00:02:22] Amy Sandler: What might that be? Do you have an idea how we could start?

[00:02:25] Michael Norton: Super quick one is, um, uh, when something bad happens, are you worried that you tempted fate somehow and you decide to knock on wood? Everybody knock on wood right now at your desk.

[00:02:40] Okay, so when I do that in an audience, what happens is about half of people knock twice, and half of people knock three times. And no one knows why at all, but the people who knock twice look at the three-knock people like, have you lost your mind? And the three-knock people look at the two-knock people and they’re like, get the, do the third knock, you’re going to ruin the whole thing. 

[00:03:03] Amy Sandler: Yeah. 

[00:03:03] Michael Norton: And so these funny little rituals that we have, we use perfectly rational people use these to try to kind of manage an emotion in this case, it’s, oh my god, I tempted fate, we need to do something. And we have our way of doing it. And sometimes when other people have a different way of doing it, I mean, what could be sillier than the number of knocks?

[00:03:22] We care. Our rituals have a lot of emotion and meaning in them, and that was one of the starting points for the whole research, which is why is there so much emotion sometimes buried in these really simple actions. 

[00:03:35] Amy Sandler: I love hearing about that framing, almost the origin of your research. One of the things that I wanted to mention, and just you talked about how, you know, the three knockers might look at the two knockers a little bit. By the way, I didn’t hear because I was so busy focused on my own knocking. I’m a three, uh, wood knocker, apparently. Um, were you two or three, Mike? And are we going to have to end this conversation right now? 

[00:04:02] Michael Norton: I am a two and I’m not happy. I mean, I’m going to be honest. 

[00:04:07] Amy Sandler: The only thing that might get us through this is that we are both Red Sox fans, because otherwise I don’t know if we’d be able to, bridge the gap between knocking two and three times.

[00:04:18] But this is something that you actually get into in the book in terms of how we look at people differently based on the rituals that we’ve either acquired, um, or have built sort of DIY ourselves. But I thought, you know, just to, uh, kind of double click on what you were talking about with, um, why you even started writing this book. So you described yourself as a ritual skeptic. Um, so what does it mean to be a ritual skeptic who finds himself writing a book called The Ritual Effect? 

[00:04:49] Michael Norton: You know, I’m, uh, as you know, a very important Harvard Business School Professor. And so, um, there are topics that, uh, sound like business topics and there are topics I think that don’t sound as much like business, like accounting sounds very much like a business topic. 

[00:05:05] Amy Sandler: Yes. 

[00:05:05] Michael Norton: Ritual, I think we’ll get there why it’s relevant for business. But on its face, doesn’t sound like that. And so I was, when I started studying ritual a little bit, kind of from the standpoint of, let’s see what other people are doing. People seem to be doing this kind of stuff. I’ll study from my exalted perch, you know, what people are doing. And I sort of had that mind, not in a negative way, just in a nod for me. 

[00:05:27] Amy Sandler: Yeah. 

[00:05:27] Michael Norton: And, um, the biggest thing that happened to change my mind was that, uh, my wife and I had our daughter. And if you’ve ever had a child, uh, what happens is you have the child and then they say, take the child home forever. That’s what they say at the hospital. And then you have to do that. 

[00:05:45] Amy Sandler: There was no, there was no case study about how to do this child raising thing. You just had to figure it out. 

[00:05:51] Michael Norton: Exactly, there’s nothing. And so you’re faced with this human and it’s very stressful. Of course, I mean, you’re filled. It’s the greatest day of your life and of course it’s stressful. 

[00:05:59] And, uh, what I found us doing over time was for bedtime, we definitely want the baby to sleep. Everybody wants to, that’s the first question. Are you sleeping? Is the baby sleeping? And what we started to do is something we didn’t say, let’s create a ritual, but we did something like let’s read. You read this book, and then I’ll read this book, and then let’s get these two stuffed animals. And then we’ll listen to these two songs, and then I’ll sing this song, and you sing that song, then a new set of stuffed animals, then let’s take a bath, then more stuffed animals, then the bed. I mean, it was like a nineteen-hour process to get her into bed.

[00:06:29] We didn’t think of it as a ritual, but I mean, the specificity of each of the steps in the right order, if we got them wrong, we would start over. And all of a sudden it dawned on me, oh my gosh, I wasn’t trying to design a ritual to help her sleep, but this is extremely ritualistic. We were stressed, we turned to ritual naturally to try to handle the stress.

[00:06:51] Totally unclear if it helped her sleep, by the way, but it helped us feel like we had some kind of a handle on things. And we see that a lot, that in these stressful moments in life. We do lots of things to cope with, of course, with stress, but one of the things we often do is we turn a little bit to ritual.

[00:07:07] Amy Sandler: That is so interesting. I’m especially curious that you started over if you felt like you missed a step. So are you saying even in like a nineteen step bedtime protocol, if we got to step sixteen and we realized we forgot fifteen, are we going to have to take it from the top? Or was there a certain point where you were like, we’ve just gone far enough?

[00:07:24] Michael Norton: Maybe at that point we could have knocked on wood or something. Maybe we could insert another special one. 

[00:07:29] Amy Sandler: We need, uh, a new ritual. Well, I have to say, I love that story. And just as someone who did graduate from Harvard Business School in the mid-nineties, and one of the things when we were just chatting briefly about at the top was that when I was at business school in, uh, the late, uh, twentieth century, this was not a topic, um, to your point that would have been studied.

[00:07:51] And I, in fact, was kind of in the closet around studying, um, practicing yoga and meditation. And then I became a meditation teacher and then this pesky thing called emotional intelligence and things that weren’t really part of the, uh, core curriculum, I would say at Harvard Business School. And so, well, I’m interested in, you know, the actual research that contributed. At the top of the book you also talk about just kind of what’s happening in society and how we’re moving in a more kind of secular and technology based society. Like, why do you feel like, uh, that a Harvard Business School professor could actually write a book like this and that it would be kind of a valuable part of the research?

[00:08:30] Michael Norton: Yes, I think, um, I got here in 2005. So a little bit after that. But, um, you know, again, there are official business topics, you know, private equity is an official business topic. But underlying all of business is people, there’s humans involved in one way or another. And, um, humans have goals and needs in life, and they also have really strong emotions. And they’re trying to find meaning in life and find meaning in their work. They’re trying on, in general, to be happier rather than less happy. These are fundamental things, and so the idea that you’d be caring about those things at home. But then you would go to work and they’d be completely irrelevant. That’s just not how we’re built. And I think we see rituals actually at work all the time.

[00:09:15] We can talk about the many ways in which they pop up at work, but it isn’t so different from the way that they pop up at home. And so, you know, the, like the biggest thing with millennials or whichever generation we want to say is that they want purpose and meaning in their work. Well, how do you get purpose and meaning in your work? It’s not just, it doesn’t just come magically. We have to think about how we structure work to help people get more meaning out of it. And so rituals are so linked to meaning that it was a natural thing to say, hey, I wonder if there’s a link between these, not just in our lives, but at work as well. 

[00:09:45] Amy Sandler: Yeah, that’s great.

[00:09:46] And we’ll get into, um, rituals at work and give some practical tips for folks. And again, you know, one of the things that you mentioned was about we are, the human part of work, which obviously at Radical Candor is what we’re focused on, care personally, uh, as well as challenge directly. But really seeing the people we work with as real, live human beings. What are the odds? Um, it’s a strange concept. I’m glad that we’re really getting into it. Um, one of the things that you talked about, even in your description of going into sort of, oh, I was doing this as a ritual. Even in the subhead of your book, like what is the difference from your perspective and what the research shows about ritual versus habit? Can you break that down for us? 

[00:10:30] Michael Norton: For sure. I think they’re often tightly linked, but I think there’s a critical difference between them. Um, so even something like, um, if I ask, you know, when you’re getting ready in the morning or before bed at night, do you brush your teeth and then shower, or do you shower and then brush your teeth?

[00:10:47] Just like knocking on wood, about half of people shower and then brush their teeth and half brush their teeth and then shower, which is bizarre. But that’s not the point. The point is, if I say, will you switch the order? Whatever your routine is in the morning, do you mind changing up the order a little bit?

[00:11:01] And about half of people say, sure, why would I care when I brush my teeth? And about half of people say, uh, I’d rather not. And I say, why? And they say, I don’t know, but I’d feel weird. I’d feel off all day. And so if you think about, you know, silly example of brushing your teeth and showering, those are habits.

[00:11:17] You’re going to do them every morning, but they’re not really emotional. You’re just crossing them off your list. But as soon as you start to care about how they are done, including even just literally the order in which they are done. And if you do it your way, you feel good. And if you do it a different way, you feel off.

[00:11:36] You’re moving toward ritual, not ritual, like people in robes with candles, chanting that’s further away, that’s further down the continuum. But on the continuum, when these actions that in themselves don’t have much meaning, get imbued with meaning and imbued with emotion. That’s when I think the difference between habit and ritual becomes apparent.

[00:11:56] Amy Sandler: So interesting. And when you talk about kind of something imbued with emotion, um, there was some really interesting research in the book that you have around actually, you know, sort of the number of emotions and realizing there’s a much richer palette of emotions that we all experience in the day.

[00:12:15] You had a quote, I believe, “the intrinsically emotional nature of rituals gives them their animating power”. Uh, and you call rituals “emotion generators”. And so it’s interesting, do you see rituals both generating emotion as well as you also use the example of almost managing emotions like the stress of putting a child to bedtime. So let’s talk about emotions and rituals. 

[00:12:41] Michael Norton: Yeah, we, uh, did some research a few years ago. We called the concept emo diversity, which now we regret very much because it sounds like emo music, which is not what we meant, but anyway, that ship has sailed. But the idea of emo diversity was that, 

[00:12:54] Amy Sandler: We can do a good reframe here. This is why we’re here. We’re here to help. 

[00:12:58] Michael Norton: New brand, a new brand. 

[00:12:59] Amy Sandler: Yeah. 

[00:13:00] Michael Norton: The idea really, it was a very simple idea. But it was just, um, if people say, well, I’d like to be happy in my life, what we don’t really mean like on a scale from one to ten that I would be a ten happy at every minute of every day for the rest of my life, because that would be a very weird one note kind of life.

[00:13:18] A rich interesting life is one where we have all kinds of different emotions, you know, joy and fear and sadness and all of these things that come at us as humans. And what we could show in the research is that in fact that mix of emotions predicts our well-being over and above just feeling positive emotions.

[00:13:36] So we really saw that there’s something about not just being happy all the time, but going through things that are sad, that are hard for you. Those are opportunities for growth. And then the question is, well, if this mix of emotions might be good for us, what do we do to get there? And we can do all kinds of things, of course, to change our emotions. But what we see in like domain, after domain, after domain, one of the things that people turn to is ritual. We use rituals at weddings and at funerals. They’re very opposite purposes, and yet they are rituals. We use rituals to try to calm ourselves down and to amp ourselves up. The complete opposite goal using the same tool.

[00:14:17] And that’s why I refer to them almost as emotional tools, because we often deploy them in order to feel a certain way. And even things like really, really hard to get emotions like awe, which is an amazing emotion to feel. You know what it feels like to experience awe. And I could try to drive to the Grand Canyon every day and look out and experience awe, but I don’t have time. Ritual often is involved in provoking feelings like awe. So across all of these ranges of experiences, we see them really linked with this range of emotions. 

[00:14:48] Amy Sandler: Yeah. Well, speaking of awe, you know, we just had this experience this week of, you know, millions of people flocking to experience the solar eclipse around the world, and there wasn’t just the individual experience of awe, but so much of it was actually the collective experience. And you talked about that quite a bit in the book. So kind of while we’re talking about awe as one emotion, what is it about the collective nature of rituals that almost maybe exponentially, uh, advances the emotional generation? 

[00:15:23] Michael Norton: Yeah, if we think, when we think of the word ritual, often it is this kind that come to mind, the collective kind, the communal kind, with history passed down, maybe through religious tradition or cultural tradition, and they do really bond people together. We see in our research, in fact, if we take random groups of people. And have them engage in a ritual or other people don’t engage in that ritual, just having done that actually can bond people together a little bit, not the way we’re bonded with members of our faith or something like that, but it happens there.

[00:15:55] And so there’s this really tight link between ritual and feeling close to other people. Families have rituals, romantic couples have rituals, work teams have rituals. All of these are associated with this feeling that we’re not just random individuals, but we have something in common and we are a collective.

[00:16:13] Amy Sandler: So speaking of work teams, since we’re doing this sort of as a coffee break at work, and we can get into kind of individual, uh, rituals. But share a few examples for folks of some of what you learned specifically around rituals at work in these collective work rituals. And I’m especially interested in like, going back to skeptics, like how much is like a forced ritual? Like we’re all gonna, you know, say, uh, you talked about like the Walmart cheer or something like that. Where is, where’s that balance between kind of individual and collective ritual? 

[00:16:44] Michael Norton: When I go into a company and even just say the word ritual, you get the first thing people think of is like corporate retreats and trust falls and stuff like that, or rope courses. There’s, you know, it’s terrible. 

[00:16:56] Amy Sandler: Yeah. 

[00:16:56] Michael Norton: And the eye rolls are just like, eyes are falling out of heads, the eye roll is so profound. I think it’s actually funny that uh, when companies announce this sort of stuff, all the employees are eye rolling in unison. And so there, there is something funny about their bonding at your expense, which maybe isn’t ideal, but it is in fact bonding. But you’re absolutely right. 

[00:17:17] Amy Sandler: I can say as a facilitator, you know, I’m happy to be the reason why everyone’s come together to do me, give an eye roll towards me. 

[00:17:24] Michael Norton: Exactly. Parents can do this too, by being arbitrarily unfair. And then the kids bond together, you know, against the parents. We all have these little strategies, uh, I think. But so I think those can work even the forced kind, but what we see in the research is the ones that teams really seem to like are the ones that they generate themselves. And I don’t mean they generate, you know, a four-hour clapping and stomping routine. They’re very subtle things that teams come up with that show them that number one, they’re a team.

[00:17:54] Number two, they care about each other. And number three, they’re a little distinct from other teams. As well as, you know, this is the way we do things in our team or in our group and such a simple example, but it stuck with me and it always comes to mind. This person wrote on my team at work, uh, what we do is we have lunch together every day and each day one person is in charge of lunch. So, and they even mapped it out. It was like, this person does Monday, this person does Tuesday, you know, they have the whole thing. And if you think about it, it’s just lunch, we’re all going to eat lunch at work. It’s not really like a big deal. It’s just lunch. But what they’ve done is one day of the week, you take care of the entire team.

[00:18:32] And the other four days of the week, someone on the team takes care of you. It’s the same amount of money and the same amount of calories. You know, everything is the same, but they’ve created this thing that means something to them. And what it is, it’s a team that we care about each other. And we see if we ask other teams, some teams say, we don’t do anything like that. You know, they’re just, it’s like, why are you even asking me this? And when we ask these teams, how meaningful is your team to you and how meaningful is your work? We see that teams that have these kinds of practices say that their work feels more meaningful than teams that really lack these practices.

[00:19:07] Amy Sandler: It’s so interesting. And again, as someone who was the English major who ended up at business school, I say this with caution of like, correlation versus causation. But is there something around like, well, I am drawn to, you know, have lunch with these folks and I’m already invested in them. And so it’s kind of reinforcing it. What have you noticed of like, kind of that idea of almost the force meaning or the meaning kind of bubbling up from within? 

[00:19:33] Michael Norton: Yes, for sure. I think, um, almost always with rituals like this, I think the causation is bidirectional for sure. ‘Cause it’s for sure the case that teams that already like each other are more likely to then keep doing stuff together. But this is why, in fact, we do these, uh, I guess these are contrived laboratory experiments where we take random people who don’t know each other, which has very little to do with the world, but we put them in teams. And have some of them, again, do rituals and some of them not, randomly assign to see if we can produce some of the same feelings of meaning and we can produce some of the same feelings of meaning.

[00:20:10] Amy Sandler: Interesting. 

[00:20:10] Michael Norton: Now, is that as strong as the meaning that you get from your team that you’ve worked with for ten years? I strongly doubt it. But as a proof of concept, we can sometimes see that we can get the causal thing happening. We can, in fact, encourage people to have more meaning by having them do this kind of activity versus the other one.

[00:20:29] Amy Sandler: And I’m curious, you know, what’s an example of a kind of activity you would do with those sort of new folks to each other, and that might be some learnings even for people listening with You know, new, new practices for their teammates. 

[00:20:41] Michael Norton: We do really funny things. I often do this when I give a talk live as well, which I, I made up a ritual that is, it’s a clapping and stomping ritual and there’s some shouting in unison kind of stuff.

[00:20:52] And, uh, it’s, it’s meant to be in a sense, silly, you know, I don’t say this is an important ritual from history. I just say, let’s do, let’s do this thing. And what happens is, um, even if I don’t tell people to sync up, they naturally start to sync up the clapping and stomping and yelling. And when they’re done, you can see that they feel differently about each other.

[00:21:14] So it’s this action of going through this thing together. That can pull us in a way we’re going to feel differently after we do that, then if we were just sitting in our chairs. And the other thing we see there though, is that again, I made up this ritual. Nobody’s ever done it before. People will get in sync with each other. And then like the other side of the room, there’ll be a couple of people who are doing it at a different time. You know, we’re all clapping at the same. 

[00:21:39] Amy Sandler: You’re not doing the wave. You’re, their intention, you’re supposed to be doing at the same time. Okay. 

[00:21:44] Michael Norton: Exactly. And we hate them. I mean, you see rage on people’s faces, and they say, they’re doing it wrong and I say, what do you mean they’re doing it wrong? It’s brand new. Nobody’s ever done it before, but I think this does show again, the, the emotion in these kinds of things that yes, they make us feel good about each other. But they also provoke this, um, no, our way is not just good. It’s right. And other people should probably do it the way we do it. 

[00:22:08] Amy Sandler: That is so interesting. And, you know, I certainly see this even, you know, doing, uh, like an improv exercise in a group, like a word at a time. Where people are creating a story together and each person says a word and then people want to get like the perfect word and then we’re slowing it down and then you, and then somebody doesn’t quite do it right.

[00:22:26] And we’re, and there’s that, that kind of human nature. And in some ways, and you talk about this in the book of almost, um, I don’t know if you framed it as like the dark side of ritual, but there is a potential like othering that can happen with ritual. 

[00:22:42] Michael Norton: For sure. You know, we see it in research on, um, corporate mergers. For example, you know, we, we all know that corporate cultures can clash when companies merge, but one of the things that can clash, of course, is the, the practices and traditions of even how we start meetings or how we end meetings or how we handle lunch. And there is research that shows that companies that are good at restructuring rituals. So that both people from both companies are engaged in them together. That actually is a better solution to these mergers than kind of letting people just duke it out and keep thinking that’s that person from that other company that does it wrong. I wish they would do it the way we do it. ‘Cause always the good way.

[00:23:21] Amy Sandler: Well, and even in the book, you know, you talk a lot about personal relationships, family relationships. Oh, this was the restaurant we went to with mom and now it’s a new family. So, kind of based on that, what tips might you have, whether it’s, it’s a new team or you’re inheriting a new team? And how do you as a manager or leader kind of find out like, what are the rituals? What’s, what’s a new ritual we co create? What’s in a sort of, uh, vestige of a ritual we want to bring in? Like how, how should people think about that? 

[00:23:50] Michael Norton: Yeah, in fact, the research on, um, blended families is really instructive because you have, uh, you know, kids from two different families, and now their parents have married. It’s like the Brady Bunch, except for real, so it’s hard to get it together, you know? And you find that families that manage it well, what they do is they take some traditions from one family, and some from the other family, bring them into the new family, but then critically create some of their own as well.

[00:24:19] And for the kids, what they feel like is a connection to the past, which was important. That’s their family, but also a connection to the new family, because we’re coming up with new things together. And I think very similar logic can happen with teams, which is not just, uh, clap and stomp when I tell you to, but what was important to you in your last company?

[00:24:39] Well, let’s think about that. What’s important to us now? What could we do together? It’s often things, I mean, if you give, if you tell teams to do a ritual, again, eye rolls, but if you say, can you think of things that you do that are a little different from other teams, you know, that reflect who you are? Do you have inside jokes or do you have little, you know, things that you do after work?

[00:24:58] Most teams can say yes. And those are the kinds of things that can be built into team rituals. You’re there, sort of, there under the surface and teams will surface them a little bit more and own them a little bit more. 

[00:25:11] Amy Sandler: Yeah. And I’m thinking, as you’re saying that, like, it’s such a fine line between kind of taking that pride of ownership of our team does it this way versus then sort of, and the other team sucks because they don’t do this ritual.

[00:25:24] Um, have you found any teams that kind of do that well, where they both have that kind of sense of pride, but it’s not excluding other, other groups? 

[00:25:32] Michael Norton: It’s, it’s, the research shows that one thing that’s super important is, um, that the, the groups have commonalities unrelated to their practices, in other words.

[00:25:42] So this is not a good example, but you know, well, that team does it this way and our team does it this way. But you know, I like the Red Sox, and there’s two people on that team that like the Red Sox. So I have some connections still, and that can help me to tolerate difference in practices. If there’s another route to similarity or another route to a relationship, it almost is a buffer. Against the negative consequences that you just mentioned. 

[00:26:07] Amy Sandler: Yeah. And how, when, you know, it sounds like, I’m curious, was the research that you did primarily with in-person groups? ‘Cause you write quite a bit about like the shift, you know, working from home and hybrid environments, which we’ll get into in a moment, but I’m curious just even with your research, how, how did, uh, COVID and the pandemic even impact that. 

[00:26:28] Michael Norton: It is fascinating that when COVID happened, all of our rituals were immediately disrupted, you know, weddings, funerals, every single human ritual got very disrupted, including our rituals at work. And in fact, people weren’t aware that they had rituals at work until they couldn’t go to work anymore. And then they realized, wow, I feel really off. I always did this thing in the morning on my commute and now I can’t do it.

[00:26:52] And now I feel like I’m not ready. It was really a kind of a wakeup call about the role that these are playing. But with teams, what was very interesting is teams would come up with new rituals online. So there was a team that I love where they started every meeting where everyone would just click the emoji that reflected how they were feeling.

[00:27:11] So you just get a screen of how everybody’s doing. You get the average of how everybody’s doing and you get, you know, maybe I should follow up with that with that person. And what’s so interesting is they didn’t do that when they were in person. They didn’t go around the table and say, everybody quickly say how you’re feeling.

[00:27:28] They did it only on Zoom and Zoom allowed it to happen in a way that was easier than having to say out loud. I am sad because you could just click the thing and it would come up. And so it’s, for me, what’s so fascinating is people adapt and repurpose and come up with new rituals just as part of the flow. You know, we’re, we’re very, very good at changing on the fly and creating new things and adapting. 

[00:27:53] Amy Sandler: It’s so cool. You know, one of the things we’ll do in workshops is we’ll do a little check in and we either do, you know, how are you feeling? Like green, yellow, red, like green, I’m ready to go. Red, I’m stressed. Or it could be one or two words. 

[00:28:05] Sometimes we’ll do, people could put one or two words, like in a big, like in a Mentimeter and a shared whiteboard. But what you’re saying is that there’s almost a permission and a safety mediated through the technology that would feel more awkward is sort of part of our, like, original, uh, and I’m curious if the, if the team that was doing the emojis of I’m sad, then goes back to the in-person meetings. Do they bring any of that with them or they’re like, oh no, now I’m sitting next to Mike. I’m not going to tell Mike I’m sad. Like that’s, right. 

[00:28:35] Michael Norton: Exactly. Stand up and make a sad face. It’s a, it’s much harder. Yeah. So, 

[00:28:40] Amy Sandler: Even just like do a little, like a, hold a little sign, like John Cusack. And, um, now I’m forgetting that, 

[00:28:47] Michael Norton: Say Anything.

[00:28:47] Amy Sandler: Thank you. Um, together we can make it happen. I should say as an aside, um, as someone who wrote a, you know, business school book on rituals, I did a, a paper in college on the Brady Bunch and I was able to actually do a paper at business school on Party of Five. So, um, so I think, I think we are just two peas in a, in a pod on that.

[00:29:09] Um, you had mentioned, uh, about this idea of like kind of meaning and purpose at work. And I did want to spend a little bit of time there, both in terms of, uh, both as for leaders, but even for us individually, like to start to reflect on our own. Rituals that like, how do we make a workday more meaningful for ourselves, both as, as individuals and as leaders? What can you do to support that? 

[00:29:35] Michael Norton: One of the things that we’ve seen is that, um, we talked earlier about how ritual doesn’t necessarily feel like the most official business topic, but when you ask people about their days at work, you find that it really does pattern their day. So if you think about in the morning, often you have something you do at home, like coffee, and then this, and then this.

[00:29:55] People often have something they do when they get to work as well. And they’ll literally say, well, I turn this on first and then this, and then I get coffee. And then I check this, and then I do this. And that feels, makes them feel like now I’m ready to start the day. Before stressful meetings at work.

[00:30:09] Amy Sandler: So it would be, it would be a habit unless there was sort of the emotional significance of like, if I didn’t do it that way, I’d feel kind of stressed and like my day wasn’t off to the right start. 

[00:30:19] Michael Norton: Exactly. Or even the wrong kind of coffee. You’re still getting the same amount of caffeine, but it’s not right. You know, you’re not getting caffeine only out of coffee. You’re getting your, 

[00:30:28] Amy Sandler: If it only has two pumps of espresso versus three. 

[00:30:32] Michael Norton: I’m going home. That’s right. Yeah. And I mean, so then you, stressful things happen at work and people use rituals before meetings, you know, and presentations. They’ll often, very commonly go into the bathroom, check to make sure no one is in there, and then talk to themselves in the mirror, which is a funny thing that humans like to do.

[00:30:54] Amy Sandler: Did people self-report this or how did you learn? Are you, you’re not following them around like with cameras to see what’s happening there? 

[00:31:00] Michael Norton: We’re crouching on the toilet so they can’t see our feet and recording everything they say. That one’s actually quite common, oddly enough, that we go into the back.

[00:31:09] And the reason is, I mean, speaking of, I don’t want to stand up and say I’m sad. I can’t stand up in front of people at a meeting and tell myself, like, I got this. We go and hide and do it. So we do it like when we’re stressed at work. And then at the end of the day, we see people doing rituals to leave work behind.

[00:31:24] Also, how do we separate our work official self from our home self? I mean, I want to go home and be a dad, not a professor, so how do we do that? And people have very interesting things that they do to really try to leave work behind, and they’re quite ritualistic often. So if you just think across the workday, 

[00:31:40] Amy Sandler: There was a guy who rode his bike from one part of his apartment to another.

[00:31:44] Michael Norton: I love this guy. I love this guy. When he was forced to work from home, he was like a biker, you know, he’d bike to work thirty minutes, whatever it was every day. And, uh, have to work from home. So you get this thing when you work from home, which is everything’s overlapping with everything, you know, you’re a dad and professor all at the same time, and that can be hard and confusing for us.

[00:32:02] So this guy decided what he would do is he’d get up in the morning, get all his biking gear on, get on his bike, bike down his hallway, get off the bike, take the bike and clothes off, put on work clothes, end of the day, bike clothes, get on the bike, drive home, and then back to the thing. All down the hallway, which on the one hand you could say that man needs some help, but on the other hand, compared to what?

[00:32:23] You know what I mean? How else are we supposed to separate work from home when we literally are not leaving the home? People turn to these kinds of practices to say, I’m going to try to do something consistently and regularly to try to separate these two selves. 

[00:32:37] Amy Sandler: And I think there was a frame that you were using, you know, around this of like, is this something that’s beneficial, right? Like you sort of think about these rituals or like to, to what extent are they actually kind of filling my cup? And I wonder like, how do you actually define, like, is this a ritual? Like me riding my bike down the hallway? Like, how do I measure sort of that that’s actually like a net plus for my mental health and well-being.

[00:33:01] Michael Norton: Yes, we did some research with emergency room nurses which, I don’t have the official ranking of most stressful jobs in the world, but that’s gotta be top one percent. I mean, it’s, you know, incredibly long shift, incredibly unpredictable, incredibly emotional, physically exhausting as well. So we asked these nurses, what do you do at the end of the day?

[00:33:22] And a very high percent of them had something that, we didn’t say, what ritual do you do? We just said, what do you do at the end of the day? Very high percent had something very ritualistic that they did. One, one nurse said, um, that they would get in the shower and, um, as the shower, uh, went on, they would imagine the hospital washing off of them, and as it circled down the drain, they were able to let work go.

[00:33:47] Another person had a similar one, but they said they also brought a beer into the shower, which I thought was pretty funny. But in any case, you think about, you know, how do I leave work behind? And we don’t, if we had a great solution for that, you know, if we could say, um, you know what, if you’ve snapped three times, you’ll leave work behind and you’ll be fine for the rest of the evening.

[00:34:06] Then if people did this shower thing or the bike thing, I would say, what, what are you doing? You should do the three-snap thing. But the problem is we don’t have the three-snap thing. You know, we don’t have the solution for how to separate work from home. And so people turn to ritual as one tool to try to help them do that. 

[00:34:22] Amy Sandler: And also, like three snaps might work really well for one person versus another. I mean, one of the things I took away was that, you know, it’s, it’s our own meaning, our own significance. Um, there’s also something around almost the physicality of the rituals, especially for, kind of, mediated through the camera and the computer. It felt like there was something, and certainly around, you know, nature and awe.

[00:34:45] But what else more do you have to say around that of actually doing something, um, specifically, even like the IKEA effect, where just actually making something ourselves gives us a sense of, of purpose. 

[00:34:56] Michael Norton: Yeah. And if you think about something like anxiety, so when we feel anxious or stressed, we’d like to get rid of it. And, uh, we can do stuff. We can take, you know, medication and things. There’s a lot of ways to cope with stress and anxiety for sure. But the thing that we often do that does not work is we say to ourselves, just calm down. And I promise that is a very ineffective thing to do because again, that’s not how we work. We can’t just say feel this way. 

[00:35:23] Amy Sandler: Even worse if someone else says just calm down, like. 

[00:35:26] Michael Norton: Yeah, you need to calm down I think it’s one of the most, like the worst thing you could say in any relationship in the world. I’m sure I’ve done it. That’s why I know but yeah, but it’s funny we know that it’s a terrible thing to say to somebody else, but for ourselves, maybe it’ll work on me. But all it does is it amps up your anxiety even more because not only were you stressed but now you’re stressed that you can’t calm down.

[00:35:46] And so you’re right. Sometimes we need to do something in order to change our emotional state and rituals are one of the things that we turn to to say, I’m going to engage in some actions to try to change my emotional state. And one of the things that research shows is that when we are completely stressed and anxious, we start to spiral a little.

[00:36:04] I shouldn’t say we, many people start to spiral, including me, start to spiral a bit. I’m not just anxious about the talk, but I’m anxious about my job. And then I’m actually about the economy and my family. You know, we can really start going with anxiety and rituals can help us. They almost, they take up bandwidth, where it brings me right here, I’m going to do my ritual, and I don’t have the resources to spiral as much as I might otherwise. And in that alone, these actions can be helpful. 

[00:36:32] Amy Sandler: Just to really reiterate that, you know, as someone who teaches mindfulness and really, what are the ways in which, not just in a cognitive way of being present, but really absorbing ourselves in something similar to flow, where I’m, I’m so embedded in what I’m doing in the moment that I can somewhat push out those other, those other stressors.

[00:36:51] Um, I wanted to touch on a question. How can leaders in an organization promote the organic development of more lasting rituals, especially around employee bonding, which we know has really suffered the past few years? 

[00:37:04] Michael Norton: Yes, please, please don’t. Um, watch like a TED Talk or something, and come into work on Monday morning and gather everyone up and say, I watched a TED Talk. One of the managers that is most hated in the world is the manager that does things like that. You know, I heard a podcast, or I saw this thing and now we’re going to do things like this, you know, for the rest of the time. 

[00:37:24] Amy Sandler: Unless it’s radical candor, of course. 

[00:37:26] Michael Norton: At least don’t say it. 

[00:37:28] Amy Sandler: Yeah, yeah. 

[00:37:29] Michael Norton: Uh, because as we said, 

[00:37:31] Amy Sandler: It’s sort of this idea of like flavor of the month and now I’m like imposing it on the group.

[00:37:36] Michael Norton: Exactly. And we know this person is going to come in two weeks with something else. So we know it’s not lasting to the, to the question. We know that it’s not something that’s going to stick, that we’re not really committed to this. We’re just trying to do a quick fix. And see if we can get a little bit of something, you know, this week kind of thing.

[00:37:51] So first thing is just don’t frame it like that. And also typically don’t mandate. In other words, don’t say, here’s what we’re all going to do from now on. Some people are okay with that, but many employees react really negatively to those kinds of rituals. But it’s, I think, giving teams the space to think about their own practices and then think about what’s important to them.

[00:38:13] I mean, literally what do you value and what practices can you put into place that reflect those values. The team that gets lunch for, you know, each person gets lunch for the team once a week. Very simple ritual that they have, but they’re showing again, we take care of each other. My family, before dinner every night, we say something that we’re grateful for.

[00:38:34] It takes a minute. It’s not like a twelve hour, you know, ritual that we have to do, but we’re saying gratitude is really important to us. We should be grateful. And that came from, uh, it wasn’t like someone said, every parent must do gratitude for now on at dinner. We did, we do that because that’s important to us.

[00:38:51] Another family might do something different. So this idea, I think that you give teams the leeway and time to think about it and develop things themselves. And then teams often have fun with it and even get a little silly with it, because it’s kind of a silly thing to do, but not in a bad way. And that’s all fine as long as they’re building it themselves.

[00:39:10] But the thing is, I just want to say that, um, we don’t, what the research doesn’t show is like, you know what it is? It’s six claps and three stomps. You know what I mean? Or, you know, and four stomps doesn’t work. Or something like that. As you said, even three snaps might work for someone. And, and, if we had discovered that, it would have been amazing.

[00:39:29] You know, if we discovered specifically, if you turn around six times, you have meaning and work, and that is just not how these things work in the world. There is this sense of making it yourself that comes to be important. 

[00:39:41] Amy Sandler: Well, and to that point, I mean, what I hear you saying to extrapolate from the family. If, if gratitude is a value that’s important at the family. So I’m thinking of an organization, like what are your sort of top cultural values, and then how do we express it? Like, how as a team do we want to express, you know, the, the value of thank you, of gratitude. We’re going to do it this way. How do we show care personally?

[00:40:04] Oh, hey, let’s, let’s get each other some lunch. So there’s something about maybe some directional, guidance at a high level. And then really the implementation is, is individual and collective. And I could imagine, you know, a team meeting where teams come up and say, hey, here’s how we’re doing our gratitude ritual. Here’s how we’re doing our, this ritual. Um, have you seen any teams that do that where they have like meetings where they kind of share best practices to get a little, just to throw some Harvard Business School in there. 

[00:40:34] Michael Norton: Exactly. Deliverables, I think. 

[00:40:35] Amy Sandler: Oh, deliverables and implementation. Thank you. 

[00:40:38] Michael Norton: Yes, exactly. Yeah, I do think it’s, it’s always interesting to hear about other teams rituals and what, what they value. I mean, in my own lab group of, um, a few other professors and PhD students that I work with, our number one value is creativity. Not, not productivity, not something else, but, but creativity. And the way that we do that, we literally have something that’s called random ideas.

[00:41:02] And what random ideas is, people have to come in with a random idea, and we brainstorm for a couple minutes around it, and then we don’t study any of them. The point is not to study them. The point is to have random ideas and be creative and then let them go. And we do, we didn’t, it’s not as I started twenty years ago saying, I value creativity. We’re going to do this. It became very, very important for the culture, right? If we value creativity, what are the small things that we’re going to do that really show and prove that this is the thing we value? 

[00:41:33] Amy Sandler: I love that. I want to be on that team. Um, I know we have just a couple minutes. Can you share about the ritual quiz that you’ve created?

[00:41:42] Michael Norton: Yeah. So we have this, um, ritual quiz. If you just go to, I have a very creatively named website, MichaelNorton.com and I don’t know how I came up with it. 

[00:41:51] Amy Sandler: Better not tell that Mike Norton, cause he’s gonna. 

[00:41:54] Michael Norton: It’s the competition. And we have, we just developed this pretty short quiz on rituals across domains of life. So your, you know, your personal life, your life at work, really thinking broadly about where they’re at play in your life. And when you take it, you just get like a little feedback on where you’re doing them and where you’re not and how to think about it. And for me, it’s not so much, the goal isn’t so much, okay, now add nineteen new rituals for your life.

[00:42:20] And then you’ll be happy. That’s not really what we’re too busy for that, but it is almost taking an inventory of where they are in your life right now and, and owning them a little bit more. It’s an amazing first step. And if you think you don’t have any rituals, by the way, yourself, ask your spouse, ask your children, ask your coworkers, they’ll be very, very happy to tell you about all the rituals you have in a good way though, right?

[00:42:44] Like, oh, I, you know what, this is important to me. I do actually really care about that. And you can see that people almost have like a flash of recognition. And they get a little more out of it once you’ve really identified it as something that’s important to you. 

[00:42:57] Amy Sandler: Well, and I love that because even when I think about Radical Candor and building one on one relationships, like for me, that’s a real sign of care.

[00:43:04] Like I’ve observed you doing this thing and like, here’s what I think it means to you, but like, what, what does it mean to you? Like why? And, and that can also be a co creation of like, well, why? Why do I walk every day to Starbucks to get my cup of coffee? And what am I really getting out of it? And going back to that sort of emotional, emotional diversity.

[00:43:22] So I know we just have like a minute or two more. Uh, what if we, we look to kind of close this session with a ritual that I mean, we’re not going to necessarily like wash the day off of us. And, you know, well, we’ll have to reschedule that, uh, that’ll be instead of the coffee chat, we’ll have an end of a day, but even just, how do you like to close, like from one meeting to the next or as you’re ending a class? Like, do you have your own ritual of like, as you’re closing out something? 

[00:43:57] Michael Norton: Since you went to Harvard Business School, you know that what we do is we expect students to applaud at the end of every class, whether we did a good job or not. So we’ve created, in a genius kind of way, 

[00:44:10] Amy Sandler: I don’t know if I had that right. That seems like 

[00:44:12] Michael Norton: Oh, maybe it’s new. 

[00:44:14] Amy Sandler: Either that or I’ve shut it out. Are we just like cheering ourselves for being the best people in the world for having been there. 

[00:44:21] Michael Norton: Unclear. It’s typically not because the professor did something. At least in my case, the professor did anything good. So there’s this clapping.

[00:44:28] So I do think there’s these funny things that we insert. Now we’re done with that, and now we’re going to go do something else. And it can be helpful to insert. These little transitions to kind of move from whoever I was there to who I’m going to be next. 

[00:44:41] Amy Sandler: I think even just, just naming that, you know, knowing that as we’re closing this, how do we move into the next meeting and we have breaks. But for me, all of this is really bringing a little bit more intentionality to what we’re doing, a little more awareness. And then, dare I say, even having just like a little more fun in our, in our days. 

[00:44:59] Michael Norton: I completely agree. Yeah, they can be silly and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. 

[00:45:04] Amy Sandler: Great. Well, Mike Norton, author of The Ritual Effect, thank you so much for sharing this.

[00:45:11] I, I wish you, um, great joy and fun spreading the word, uh, The Ritual Effect: From Habit to Ritual, Harness the Surprising Power of Everyday Actions. Go ahead, get it wherever books are sold as well as checking out your rituals quiz. Thank you so much for joining us. Shall we give ourselves, please, everyone, give yourselves a round of applause.

[00:45:33] Michael Norton: We did it. 

[00:45:34] Amy Sandler: We did it! 

[00:45:36] Michael Norton: Thank you, Amy. 

[00:45:37] Amy Sandler: Thank you. It’s been such a pleasure. 

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The Radical Candor Podcast is based on the book Radical Candor: Be A Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott.

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Episodes are written and produced by Brandi Neal with script editing by Amy Sandler. The show features Radical Candor co-founders Kim Scott and Jason Rosoff and is hosted by Amy Sandler. Nick Carissimi is our audio engineer.

The Radical Candor Podcast theme music was composed by Cliff Goldmacher. Order his book: The Reason For The Rhymes: Mastering the Seven Essential Skills of Innovation by Learning to Write Songs.

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