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Success Story Podcast

Atif Rafiq – Executive Leader, CEO Advisor, Keynote Speaker & Author | How To Make Decisions That Matter

By July 2, 2023September 24th, 2023No Comments

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About The Guest

Atif Rafiq is a seasoned executive and thought leader with a remarkable career in Silicon Valley and the Fortune 500. With notable roles at companies like Amazon, Yahoo!, and AOL, he rose to the C-suite at McDonald’s, Volvo, and MGM Resorts. Atif’s expertise spans P&L ownership, digital transformation, and innovation leadership. He is a top management thinker with over 500,000 LinkedIn followers and a Re:wire newsletter with 100,000 subscribers. As the founder of Ritual, a groundbreaking software app, and an advisor to startups like SpaceX and Headspace, Atif is passionate about driving companies into the future. He serves on boards of public companies Flutter/Fanduel and KINS, as well as private companies ClearCover and betMGM.

Atif Rafiq is a tech innovator who has achieved the president level in the Fortune 300. With a strong product and business savvy, he has a proven track record in P&L ownership and has raised over $10 million as the founder and CEO of a venture-backed firm. Atif is a sought-after public speaker and has been quoted in notable publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Forbes. With his extensive experience and diverse portfolio, Atif shapes the industry as a board member and CEO advisor, helping companies navigate and excel in the rapidly changing business landscape.

Talking Points

  • 00:00 — Intro
  • 02:48 — Origin Story: Atif Rafiq’s Journey to Success
  • 03:51 — Navigating Digital Disruption: Changing Landscapes and Timeless Principles
  • 10:15 — Measuring Future Success for a Company: KPIs and Outcomes
  • 14:47 — Unleashing Superpowers: The Core of Transformational Thinking
  • 19:09 — Strategic Decision-Making: Prioritizing Critical Questions for Organizations
  • 29:45 — Success Strategies: A Roadmap for Achieving Excellence
  • 35:23 — Hidden Superpowers: Unveiling the Unexpected Keys to Success
  • 48:25 — Mastering Multiple Industries: Atif Rafiq’s Effective Approach
  • 51:55 — Connecting with Atif Rafiq: Building Bridges to Inspiration
  • 52:23 — Defining Success: Atif Rafiq’s Perspective on Achieving Greatness

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On this podcast, you’ll find interviews, Q&A, keynote presentations & conversations on sales, marketing, business, startups, and entrepreneurship.

The podcast is hosted by entrepreneur, business executive, author, educator & speaker, Scott D. Clary.

Scott will discuss some of the lessons he’s learned over his own career, as well as have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, notable figures, and politicians. All who have achieved success through both wins and losses, to learn more about their life, their ideas, and insights.

He sits down with leaders and mentors and unpacks their stories to help pass those lessons on to others through both experiences and tactical strategies for business professionals, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between.


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Machine Generated Transcript


company, questions, business, organization, NetSuite, decision, Shopify, put, people, input, solve, sprint, ai, process, months, part, team, silos, point, idea


Atif Rafiq, Scott D Clary


Scott D Clary  00:00

In this book, there are 13 different superpowers.


Atif Rafiq  00:03

What are superpowers versus the idea of upstream work first downs is broken down into three phases


Scott D Clary  00:10

Be my guest is Atif Rafiq over an impressive 25 year career, he has left an indelible mark on Silicon Valley in the Fortune 500. He is the man behind the groundbreaking system for problem solving that has become a game changer in the industry. How have you been so effective in so many different industries? Because that is incredibly impressive. How do you basically Excel,


Atif Rafiq  00:33

it’s very much tied to this idea of innovating into the unknown where I’m comfortable with the unknowns. I’m hungry for inputs. And so I think that just supports itself very well to problem solving.


Scott D Clary  00:48

But what does an effective innovative process oriented company look like? Welcome to success story. I’m your host Scott Clary success stories part of the HubSpot Podcast Network. Quick question before we get started. Did you ever play the game telephone as a kid you start with one message but as people share it, it gets more and more distorted sometimes work and feel that way but the last thing you want for your business is to get a distorted message across your team HubSpot helps you say goodbye to that chaos by helping you get all your teams on the same page. It’s all in one your customer facing teams will absolutely love it you track leads, deals, support tickets, and everything in between all from one spot. You need to know what your sales team is up to done want to see how your marketing campaigns are performing. You got it covered HubSpot gives you and your teams all the vital customer info they need to create the best possible experience no matter where they are. Save yourself a headache. See how powerful true connection can be give HubSpot a try your team and your customers will thank you later get started for free Today, my guest is Atif Rafiq over an impressive 25 year career, he has left an indelible mark on Silicon Valley in the Fortune 500. He is the man behind the groundbreaking system for problem solving that has become a game changer in the industry, propelling his career to incredible heights and granting him unprecedented success. As a digital pioneer. He has worked with some of the most innovative companies in the world, including Amazon, where his expertise in strategic thinking and creative solutions made waves. His keen sense of innovation led him to become the first ever Chief Digital Officer in the history of the Fortune 500 making a significant impact at McDonald’s. But he didn’t stop there. His relentless pursuit of excellence took him to top positions at other notable companies such as Volvo and MGM Resorts, where he continued to revolutionize the way we approach problem solving in the Digital Age.


Atif Rafiq  02:48

I would point to a letter I wrote, it’s a snail mail letter that I sent to the CEO of America Online, AOL and someone your audience may never remember how meaningful a company that was for the internet, and getting the consumer internet going. But I was 23 years old, I was working at a bank in New York and I wrote a letter I mailed it, put a postage stamp on it. I sent it to the CEO of the company. And I said, Look, this internet thing sounds really meaningful. Interesting, you know, is there anything I can do in your organization, this was in 1996. And he actually not only opened the letter, he gave it to another executive, and they call me back. So I got a response to a cold outreach. I started working at the company. And then I sort of got hooked on the internet and, you know, digital businesses, and that’s been the red thread in my career for about 25 years. So that was really the thing that set it off.


Scott D Clary  03:51

You’ve worked with, you’ve worked with some of the largest companies in the world. And you? I mean, yes, some people were listening to this may not know AOL. But if you think about, if you think about the internet in 1996, and then all the different companies that you’ve worked with helped transform help navigate, what are what are some of the things that you’ve seen change over time in terms of digital disruption? And what are the things that you’ve seen stay the same?


Atif Rafiq  04:22

Well, I mean, typically, you know, in the tech industry, you have a charismatic visionary founder, who gets the thing off the ground. And sometimes they you know, they strike oil and the, their invention is so material and technology lends itself to, you know, one very dominant player in his space. And that can give a company legs for a long time, you know, that can be 10 years, where if they’re well managed company, you know, let’s say Google, you know, it can be around, you know, 2025 years later and still thriving. But at some point, you know, you get quote, unquote, professional managers into the mix and then The companies that survive are those that actually have put some time and thinking around, what is their system, if that makes sense. So it’s not just about, well, you know, we’re the badass, we own the space, you know, we got a lot of profit, let’s just hire the best people and let them do their thing. I think that era has actually just come to an end in Silicon Valley, you know, here in the last couple of months, where people are saying, well, we need to get more out of the talent. And so the companies that I would point to, you know, like Amazon, for example, which has been from the beginning, very conscious about the culture is building the management system, you know, so whatever space you look at, whether it’s grocery pharmaceutical books, you know, digital digital media, that, you know, you have a common sort of way of tackling this new space, you know, they’ve been able to scale that culture of invention and their culture. And, and now they can throw 1000s of people at it, and generally, they come out on the winning end of things. So, that is, one thing I’ve observed, you know, being in tech for a long time is, you know, you can be on the roller coaster, but if you want sustain, you want to be around for a while, and you want to be an enduring company, have to invest in the culture and sort of the system of how things get done


Scott D Clary  06:19

to you feel that there have been examples, and we don’t have to, we can name names or not name names, it’s up to you. But you feel that and I am in agreement, there are companies that have perhaps not focused on the the long term because things were so good, and, and money was so cheap, and companies grew that weren’t even profitable, let alone scalable.


Atif Rafiq  06:42

Well, in the previous era, I was I spent some time at Yahoo, and I almost wrote a book about Yahoo, because quite frankly, it was so dysfunctional. And, you know, it was a bit frustrating. And really, the backstory there is, again, two founders, they really came up with a great invention, but there wasn’t enough time spent on how are things going to get done in this organization? You know, are we an engineering lead culture? Are we on product, lead culture, are we a sales, lead culture, you know, different technology companies have these different emphasis. And as a result, it was a lot of sort of chaos, if you will, but putting aside, you know, Yahoo, and the turmoil that they went through, in the previous decade, you know, it can be something where you’re successful, and you scale and you continue to have a culture of invention, that’s very effective. And, you know, I point to Amazon, just because, you know, the founder, doesn’t have to be in the room for, for them to kind of solve problems in a similar way. And, and the book, I’ve just written decision, sprint is trying to offer that if you will, do companies of all kinds, but certainly, you know, younger companies, maybe they’re hitting a growth, a growth wave, and they want to be conscious of well, okay, we’re not going to be in the room. For every big decision, how do we begin to, you know, teach our organization, the best way to think about problem solving, so that whatever we work on, you know, we can we can, we can be effective at


Scott D Clary  08:15

it, and decisions sprint that that is more or less the playbook for when you are a disruptive, fast moving company. That’s the playbook for building systems and processes that will eventually allow you to, to become the next Amazon to not, that’s more or less what this book is meant to accomplish, correct?


Atif Rafiq  08:36

Well, yeah, it’s very focused on saying that look, you know, I can introduce the big invention, maybe that’s up to the entrepreneur, but if that person, or team or organization wants to build something that’s sustain and that is enduring, right, and continue to innovate at a rapid clip, then they need to think about, you know, what is was the system that they’re going to put in place. So decisions, sprint specifically is about helping teams make the leap from a promising idea to action. And the hardest part of that is always wrestling with the unknowns. And the unknowns and making them actionable is something which can be done, but it’s really not something that’s been elaborated on in sort of other business schools or sort of in your management, kind of books, that kind of thing. But unknowns are really the heart of everything, once you have a good idea, because in the beginning, you have always had a lot more questions than answers. And how do you begin to flip the script where you begin to have more more more competence in your answers and your questions, more confidence in the in the the answers, so that you can really drive decision making in the organization. If you don’t do that? Well. Once the company reaches a certain scale, it’s cross functional and you have teams with In, you know, different corners of the organization involved in, in the innovation. You can get a lot of symptoms around, you know, misalignment and bureaucracy, and fits and starts and projects. And of course, we don’t want that.


Scott D Clary  10:15

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Atif Rafiq  14:30

It’s basically that, you know, you have non decision decisions. That’s what I refer to these app because I’ve been in, I’ve had these happy cases happen where, you know, it’s really clear to everyone in the room even though they might be sitting in a different corner of the company or a different function of the company. What is the path forward and we’re really just thinking to ourselves, how quickly can we move on to execution? Now that is much easier said than done? And a lot of people in the audience will say, Oh, Wow, I wish my organization work like that, because we spend weeks and months trying to convince each other to go down this fork in the road versus this other option, so to speak, the way to make it go well, is to really spend the time upstream. And that’s something I put emphasis on in my book. And upstream is is a body of work that people will recognize they spend weeks and months on it, sort of wrestling with the unknowns, raising the right questions, trying to get the bottom of those questions, after they do the fact finding, trying to draw the right conclusions from from from their, kind of their deep diving. And then putting recommendations together to get, you know, people will make decisions in a position to say, okay, that makes sense, let’s move forward. This is something you can have a methodology around, it’s not something you need to leave it to chance, or personalities, if you leave it to chance or personalities, you know, your your hit rate will go down in terms of the quality of being able to drive good ideas into action. And that’s really why I’ve put methodology as an emphasis in terms of what will separate, you know, the next wave of companies from from the rest of the pack. It’s not just their core invention, or E commerce or you know, something and social. It’s actually the way the how, how the collaboration works in the company, to problem solve and tackle new ideas.


Scott D Clary  16:38

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Atif Rafiq  19:04

Great. So high level concepts are basically first is the idea of upstream work. The first downstream, downstream, everybody understands, yeah, that’s where we have the decision point. We had the decisions, and it’s like, let’s go, let’s make a project plan. And let’s execute. But I think we can all relate to the fact that we spend weeks and months trying to get to the decision point, and getting our organization to say yes, and so this upstream part, you know, is broken down into three phases, exploration, alignment, and decision making. So let’s take them one by one. So exploration is a concerted effort to surface the really important considerations, especially the unknowns and get to the bottom of them. And you do this by starting with questions. Questions are very democratic. They’re very inclusive, you can give for people from a poem company, they have different roles, different jobs, and you put an idea in the center of the table, and the first thing that comes up will be all kinds of really interesting questions. To me, that’s gold. That’s not skepticism, and you know, that is actually high quality input the same? What are the unknowns around this? What seems to be a promising idea, you want to do a good job of creating space for that? And you want to collect those questions before you race ahead to anything else, like having a judgment or an opinion? Or yeah, trying to align on what to actually do. So exploration creates space for getting all the right questions on the table, and trying to get to the bottom of them. That’s phase one. The second phase is using the exploration to, to draw conclusions, if you’re standing on high quality information. And you said, okay, there was a bunch of things that we have questions around, you know, here’s the sort of the discovery that we did. And now we’re in a position to say, Well, what conclusions would we draw from this? You know, what, what makes sense? Then you look at those conclusions. And you do try and bring people together to say, do we have alignment? And generally, you’ll find that people say, Well, based on this fact, base, we’ve, you know, this is, these are some conclusions that we draw. And usually, that’s pretty layered. It’s not just oh, this is a good idea or a bad idea. It’s many things. It’s, yeah, we should do this idea. But we should also keep in mind, x and y. And so people, you know, it’s really important to spend time, say, Okay, what do what do you see in your eyes? And do we see the same thing? When once you’re complete with that, that’s when you’re ready to drive action? And you say, Well, based on these conclusions, what, what actions do we need to commit to? And that’s where you usually are parting with dollars and resources? You know, you’re walking through one way doors sometimes, right? You’re saying no to two other ideas. And yes to this one, that is the time for action. So in the book, I break this down it further into 13 workflows, where you could, you know, sort of set these up in your teamwork, and basically, create a path from, you know, idea of promising idea to the decision point. And hopefully, that improves the company’s ability to say yes to the right things, and no, to the things that deserve a no.


Scott D Clary  22:35

So ultimately, at its core, not not to oversimplify the complexity that is core for people that are, are just wrapping their mind around this concept. It’s it’s a decision making process with a built in feedback loop. And that can be executed. So my actual my question, is that, is that correct? Is that like, a good summary of it? Is that oversimplifying significantly? If it is, I’ve helped died, because nobody is somebody, some people have not gone into this level of of depth when it comes to decision making yet and I mean, you’re talking to a range of individuals, and some people are just starting to make these big decisions for their business or trying to figure out okay, at what point do I start incorporating this? Is this something that I, I work with a small vendor, this is a this is something I should incorporate, I should put, you know, put an exploration phase out to the business, to my co founders to talk to them? Or is this very specific, useful for very certain larger decisions that move the business forward?


Atif Rafiq  23:32

It definitely applies to companies of all kinds, although, you know, you know, if you’re on the smaller end, you know, five people or 10 people, probably some of this can be done, you know, very informally through through conversation. But once you start to get, if you will, functions in a company, you know, that’s or any sense that there any silos, then then then you need something, otherwise, you’re leaving it to chance and personality. The, the good way to summarize this as basically, it’s a method which promotes exploration and promotes starting with questions and suspending judgment on what to do because the human mind as you know, there have been some neuroscientists who written about and I talked about this in my early chapter, around the way the brain works. There’s system one and system two and system one is for very quick decision making. You’re in the forest and the Tigers there, do you defend yourself or run kind of thing. And there’s system two, which is much more about thinking twice about something. And which allows you to see a little bit more of a picture. And the kinds of work we do in companies especially around innovation is much more system to oriented the part of the brain where you need to think twice about it and question it in order to see more The inputs. Now human nature, and especially in companies, you know, depending upon the personalities and the culture of the company, you can be using system one. But you need to be using, you have a system to problem. Yeah, that’s a common occurrence in companies, right? Because people might think, Oh, my job is to know exactly what the right thing to do is at all times. But that’s actually not the case, the better way to look at leadership is to know how to ask the right questions or get the right questions on the table.


Scott D Clary  25:33

And another another thing that I’m thinking people would have a big, big concern with, not in terms of the process, but in terms of their own organization is, you mentioned something you mentioned, this is great to solve for this type of thinking is system one, system two thinking, but also silos, so silos pop up in organizations, I know that this is not directly related to do decision sprints, but it’s probably something you’ve experienced, do you have any tips for stopping silos from forming as much as possible is, is a process that actually improves not only the decision making, but by constantly deploying this process, you almost improve the structure of the organization because it breaks down silos before they would even start, if done properly.


Atif Rafiq  26:21

As one of my passion areas, to be honest, we just got because I think is one of the most baffling things in companies is the, you know, not initiating with another part of the organization that has some relevant input. So the way I solve for that, and this is actually part of the first workflow in the decision sprint is grouping people around a common challenge. So to look at, you know, a problem you’re trying to solve in a company or a new idea and saying, what competencies do we need to gather around this specific idea, this specific problem that we’re trying to solve? When you start with that, from the get go, you automatically melt away the silos? Because the opposite is, I think, more common, which is, okay, whose point on this and the company, and it could be a person or some function? And there’s no problem with that. If they then say, well, we’re going to do a much better job of problem solving, if we get the right inputs around, you know, what this what the picture is? And what competencies do we have in this organization that we can group around this common challenge? So to me, that’s the mindset that we need to take. And then you start thinking about structures and layers and other things like that. And you just start thinking about, you know, what is, for example, what Amazon will call a two pizza team. Not huge, but enough to feed the team with two, two pizza pies, right. Yeah, is five or six or seven? Or?


Scott D Clary  28:02

And that’s it? However you are, yeah, but that’s,


Atif Rafiq  28:05

you get, ya know, and that’s really wise. Because, you know, it’s not one or two parts of corners of a company, especially in a large company that can really solve a problem, you know, holistically, right. So thinking about, like, being hungry for input, how do we get the right inputs to really solve this problem that will melt away silos.


Scott D Clary  28:28

Another another point on that, because inputs are very important. But the larger they are, even in smaller organizations, but the larger the organization, you’re gonna have endless amounts of questions that can be put through this process. So how do you prioritize the urgent and important?


Atif Rafiq  28:47

It’s definitely a matter of relevance. And so you’re right, where, I mean, interestingly, if you ask everybody, and I have a methodology in the book, where I actually suggest people do this independently, so let’s say you have this six person team, and you want to get all the right questions, to me, that’s getting to first base when you’re trying to tackle a new idea. If you ask them to independently, you know, sit down, write up their questions, send them in to one person, you will find them a lot of common themes. So generally, you know, there’s the you can group them together and do the pattern matching. And by promote trying to get independent input, you get to see like, a little bit of the heat map of where is the headspace of the team? Where are really the the questions that matter most. So I think what I would suggest is a little bit of, of that methodology where you kind of try and promote independent thinking so you can get wide enough divergent thinking, but then bring them together. You’ll see it we’ll see the patterns and I think it’ll be a manageable list.


Scott D Clary  29:56

Interesting. So So when you’ve when you’ve run this exercise Even though you have so many different business units, so many different personalities, again, you start to see the common threads. And I’m assuming that would mean, you’d actually start to see the common threads in in the output as well. So when when a question goes through this process, you start to see the common threads in the actual answers that you’re getting. Is that Yeah, well, it’s


Atif Rafiq  30:23

the beauty of it. Right? Is that because behind everybody’s question is sort of some consideration, like a risk or fear or upside? Or, you know, is there a business case, you know? And so, if you, and the questions are very neutral, because, you know, you’re gonna get people to, if you will sort of agree that you’ve Canvas the problem, right through the questions. And what happens is that people begin to develop a lot of trust, problem solving effort, because they say, Well, I’m good if if we do a good job of this, this set of questions, I’m pretty confident there will be drawing the right conclusions and therefore executing the right decision. So you do what I call upstream as you bring that all the way up there. And it gets to be much less contentious. Where were people because it’s neutral, right? There’s no, there’s no decisions yet. So I think that’s a really important part of this methodology. And you are bringing it to a neutral point, which questions to me are very bad. So in that realm,


Scott D Clary  31:32

okay. So if you’re like me, the last time you cared about learning another language and took it seriously was in some class in high school, and there’s no way you remember anything about that language. For me, it was French, for a lot of people here with probably Spanish. But listen, there is a solution. If you’re going on a trip or whatever reason, you just want to dive into a new language. You want to culture yourself a little bit, you have to check out Babel, they have over 10 million subscribers, all learning new languages. And unlike school, especially high school, Babel is fun and easy. It is the perfect tool for a dream vacation, or just filling time learning something that could be for a job, a spouse, whatever it is, lessons are 15 minute long. They’re centered around real life situations like travel or business. And they’re designed not by AI. They’re designed by 100 language experts, people that know the language inside and out. AI is great, but it’s not perfect. So they offer 14 languages and they help improve pronunciation with speech recognition, technology plus Bibles, resources extend to podcast, games, live classes, they gamify language learning. And if you’re not satisfied, they offer a 20 day money back guarantee. Now, they’ve set up a special offer for all success story podcast listeners, you get six months of learning for the price of three. That’s right. So if you buy a three month Bible subscription, they’ll give you an extra three months, absolutely free, all you got to do is you got to head over to and use the promo code success story that is b a BB e code success story. Trust me it’s way more fun than high school friend class. You know, it’s interesting, you would you would have assumed because I see the brand’s you work with like, you know, you didn’t really you didn’t, you didn’t drop names. So I’ll drop names for you, because you’ve worked with. I mean, you have case studies from McDonald’s Hyatt MGM, Volvo h&r block, peacock, ever, like some of the largest companies in the world, that are referenced in this book. And you would assume that they have smart decision making processes smart, a smart way to solve for this, but But what you’re saying is a lot of these large organizations, not the ones reference because these are the probably the positive case studies. But there are examples of companies that are not operating efficiently, that do not make decisions with this level of detail and scrutiny. And I think that that’s it’s wild to me that that you can grow to the size that you can grow, but like you referenced before, maybe the time of growing without smart decision making is come to an end. So when you look at some of these companies, I mean, you have all these different case studies. Can you can you tell over a story or a case study that makes it very tactical, like the input the output a company going through this process? What the end result was to really frame it because it sounds amazing in theory, but then you you see somebody like McDonald’s using you’re like, yeah, definitely, like, I’ll adopt the strategy that McDonald’s is using, it seems to be working for them. So


Atif Rafiq  34:42

well, there are many examples. But I’ll use one where I was part of the company, excuse me, but that’s not necessarily part of the initiative. And I think that’s useful because well, it works for anything that just, you know, things that I was personally responsible for. So, in this example, we think about Volvo cars. And you know, people think of Volvo in really two ways. One is, of course, the 90 year heritage of safety. But also sustainability is a very big pillar for the company. And they, and they’re taking a very serious with everything in the product. So one idea the company has evaluated is the idea of vegan leather. And for those who are not familiar, you know, there’s a lot of emissions that come from cows. So if you depend less on cows for leather, and use vegan materials, you can be, you know, contributing to reducing emissions. You know, so that’s, that’s really interesting for the company. Now, it’s one thing to have a meeting and say, Well, what about being a leather and everyone get excited? It’s another thing to look into the reality of that. And in order to look at the reality, you know, you have questions around the feasibility, right, because you want to know if you can get enough materials to meet your volumes, because Bobo’s not a small company, right? There are a lot of Volvo’s sold across the world every year. So can you get enough material supply? traceability, right? I mean, there’s no sense in saying you’re doing something good for the world, or the environment, if you can verify the sexually sustainable materials, right? There’s cost factors, I mean, is there you know, enough of these type of they’re essentially plant based materials available? And what does that mean in terms of cost? And can that cost me? Are people willing to pay a premium for it? Or do they look at kind of old fashioned leather is sort of the premium thing? Right? So you need to think through, you know, the business aspects of these. So they’re questions of all kinds here. The least of which is the customer, right? And customer preferences? And is this something that’s a niche thing? You know, you’re a cool millennial, and you’re gonna bite on it? Or is this for, you know, the entire demographic that is interested in Bobo? So very multifaceted problems with a lot of questions in the beginning. And as you begin to, you know, get the right questions on the table, kind of group them by subject matter, you make these unknowns actionable. And that’s really what I’m offering here, you know, the, with the methodology is, you get the right question lists, you make it actionable. You develop, for example, FAQs, which is, you know, could be a three page document with the right questions and answers. And then you have, you know, a meeting where you say, Well, based on this, you know, the working team developed some recommendations. And they took the Kraid, you know, that connection between their, their exploration and the recommendations that they make? Well, now they’re ready to meet with maybe the sponsors of this initiative, and, and put the high quality information on the table to say, okay, the right answer is, is x, for example, let’s take our newest people will love it is very interesting. Let’s take our newest car line, the sleekest looking car, for the right demographic, and let’s introduce it and premiered in this vehicle line, and get some experience with it. So that’s an example of how you can go from a promising idea, begin to tackle and the harder harder questions here surfing, you know, by surfacing the unknowns, and get recommendations on the table for people to decide on.


Scott D Clary  38:47

I love that. And another another thing that I wanted to go into. So we’ve, we’ve alluded to these, these 13, these 13 items that are very useful to facilitate this process. And you know, you can go check them in the book, but we’ve we’ve sort of covered some of them already. We have to cover them, we go through this process, but are there some that are some of these attributes, I don’t know what you want to call them, I call them superpowers, call them attributes, call them whatever you’d like. These 13 identifiers that are not not so obvious in facilitating this process are a little bit outside, like establishing decisions, crafting workflows, that makes sense socializing knowledge within the organization. That also makes a little bit of sense as well, but other some that maybe are not so obvious.


Atif Rafiq  39:36

Probably the most. The stuff people skip most frequently is sourcing input, and viewing that as a deliberate step in the process. So we all do brainstorms, right, we say okay, well, well, great news. We’ve been charged with looking at this promising new idea, this new product opportunity, etc. And then we hold a brainstorm And this brainstorm can waver and vacillate between, you know, trying to uncover some of the important questions. And then drawing conclusions based on that going down the rabbit hole on, on one or two important considerations. Maybe someone having a pretty strong opinion on what the right way forward is, etc, etc. And then you kind of you kind of have a middling outcome of this brainstorm where you were like, Okay, we kind of pushed the ball a little bit, but we’re not really clear on where we actually stand in terms of tackling this. So making. You know, the sourcing process, I’ve really rarely seen companies that say, Where are where are you at with this idea? Well, we are currently sourcing input. Well, what in the world? Does that mean? That means, you know, we wrote down the problem statement, we said, these are the four or five main competencies or links, you know, parts of the company that need to be involved in, you know, problem solving here, as so that’s on the team formation side. And we’re sourcing info, we’re getting people to, ideally independently, say, these are the unknowns. And we’re making a list of those. And that’s all we’re doing is going to take us four days or five days. But after four or five days, we’re going to have a really good question list organized by subject matter, we’re going to share with our sponsor, or someone senior and say, any blind spots, anything we’re missing, because we’re gonna spend the next couple of weeks trying to get to the bottom of this. And that, in and of itself, is really not just good hygiene in executing or going about an initiative. But the fruits of it show up all the way through. And they help you avoid, avoid surprises,


Scott D Clary  42:04

is there and I want to I want to actually ask about a little bit of digital disruption. Because it was interesting, you know, like, when, when, when your agent reached out, I think there was actually a note about incorporating chat GBT and AI into some of the stuff that you speak about. And I thought that was fascinating, because this seems like a process like a process improvement. And, and this can be great for companies. But there is a digital disruption, there is the mindset of if, if you’re improving process and SOPs within an organization, there’s other things that can be added on and other things your company should be looking at, as just like a forward looking company, it seems like a company that focuses on process improvement at this degree is also looking at other things they can incorporate and include to literally make their company better. So you work with a ton of companies. I mean, you you’ve worked with companies that have that have innovated and disrupted and have sort of stayed ahead, even though they’re older organizations. And I want to I want to talk about that a little bit. But I don’t want to move off. I don’t want to move off, like the book and the content and that just yet. So I would say is there anything that I didn’t ask about I need like, any questions, any main points? And I’ll get don’t worry about like the you know, the links and everything that’ll go in the show notes. But is there anything that like you wanted to bring out that would be really useful from the book that I didn’t ask you about that would help somebody who’s building a business right now?


Atif Rafiq  43:35

Well, it’s hard for me not to bite on the AI piece because the last couple of champions of Sprint are on that. So if you don’t mind,


Scott D Clary  43:43

oh, that’s how Okay, so explain to me how Okay, so I don’t understand how it incorporates. Okay, so explain to me how it incorporates. So how does the last few chapters of the process sprint? Incorporate AI? I didn’t realize that was included in this. Okay.


Atif Rafiq  43:56

Well, you know, a question answer system is really very complementary to chat GBT. So let’s take an example. You know, let’s, let’s imagine a scenario where you’re a CEO of a company, you, you ask somebody or a group of people to go look into a new idea, let’s make it up a loyalty program. Two weeks later, you had a meeting, they came back, they put a document on the table, or a PowerPoint, you know, however, they’re going to handle it. And then in the middle, the CEO also was doing an AI based chat and kind of got leveled up on loyalty programs right. Now you’re in the meeting, you’re responsible for this idea. And, you know, it wouldn’t be ideal. It wouldn’t build trust if the AI reveals important factors considerations are questions that the team have not integrated into their work right. And this is the world we live in because the You know, the API has 4 billion web pages with all the existing human knowledge that’s public around loyalty programs available, and it can parse it and synthesize it and put it back and natural language. And so you’re going to have a situation that will happen if it hasn’t happened already, where the CEO will say, Well, I asked Chad GBT, and it thought, we should also be thinking about X, how did you think about that? In your proposal, and as a team, you don’t want to be in that position. So what my concept here is, we need to avoid weaponizing AI against employees. And we need to have aI enable employees. So a better outcome here or wait for this, you know, script to unfold is for the team itself, to have us chat GPT. Two, if you will, you know, do the deeper research and identify these important matters and considerations that are part of figuring out you know, the pros and cons of doing a loyalty program right. Now, the way that relates to decision sprint is, well decision sprint is based on natural language, questions and answers, right? So you can definitely, for example, take the answer you develop into decision spring and see if chat GBT gives you something different. Maybe in raises a consideration, that’s a blind spot. I call that a suggestion. If you want to take a positive, constructive view on it. So you use Chet GPT to make suggestions to improve the quality of your work, let’s say questions and answers. Then you’re on higher ground I call this bar raising. So there’s constructive ways to look at knowledge work and how we use AI to you know, make a knowledge work even a knowledge worker even better with their work product, as opposed to things like weaponizing it against people to say hey, you know, the chatter was better than you are, which is I want


Scott D Clary  47:08

to talk about the Kelly road show. I do not take my podcast recommendations lightly. But I’ve truly admired Kelly’s journey from the get go she was a fresh employee at a fortune 500 received seven promotions in eight years. All this while building a company that blossomed into an eight figure Empire Today she’s a best selling author, Top Rank podcasts are the proud owner and co owner of six thriving companies. And let’s not forget she’s an inc 500 awardee, proving that growth isn’t just a goal, it is a lifestyle. Now, her podcast, Kelly roadshow dives deep into business growth strategies, specifically targeted for those hitting the six and seven figure mark, but it’s not all business. She also explores the habits mindset and disciplines of the world’s most successful people. It’s a podcast, that’s perfect, whether you’re just getting started, or you’re trying to uplevel your success game. But here’s the deal kicker for me. She is a supermom and a wife, she embodies the truth that you don’t have to sacrifice your home life for success. She believes and shows that life changing wealth, wild success, a happy marriage and fulfilling home can coexist. That is goal. So tune in to the Kelly road show on Apple, Spotify, wherever you get your podcasts, trust me, it’s time well invest it. Does that make sense? It makes a ton of sense. I love that. And I think that. So anybody, again, anybody who is looking to, to improve their business and to and to grow their business, I think this, these are all tool sets that they should be willing to adopt. And it would be unfortunate, it’d be CanLII, very unfortunate if a CEO is weaponizing, chat GPT against their employees. I mean, that’s a toxic situation. I mean, even pre chat GPT of a CEO spoke to a board member and the board member had an idea that and that an entry level knowledge worker didn’t have and then the CEO is weaponizing that information that would also be a toxic environment. So I think that would try and stay away from those CEOs. That’s sort of like a universal lesson. But yes, I do agree. I think that chat GPT AI tools are just going to augment. And I think it’s really it’s really important to learn how to use them. It’s gonna affect every business unit.


Atif Rafiq  49:15

And it’s really about trust, right? Because, you know, it’s, it would be very short sighted to say, hey, you know, I can replace you with the chat. It’s true, trust me. But, you know, it’s really about not creating this culture of fear, because and so we need to be able to integrate, you know, things like, you know, chat base AI into the problem solving effort. And I think decisions sprint is really perfectly paired with that, because, you know, it’s not a prototype, right? It’s not metrics report that comes, you know, for the data science team. It’s its words, and it’s basically it’s problem solving through questions and answers, and that that obviously fits very nicely when I wrote this year ago, I couldn’t have scripted how the world was unfolding.


Scott D Clary  50:06

It’s working. It’s Listen, it’s working very well, but but the process and the search for better information and for better questions to have better answers. I mean, that’s, that’s, it’s timeless, right? This is always a good thing for a business to adopt. So, I guess, but the question still stands have asked before, is there something that I didn’t I wasn’t smart enough to ask about this that we didn’t go into? That would be valuable. So now I understand how the AI component plays into it. But are there any other points that you really wanted to leave the audience with?


Atif Rafiq  50:39

Well, I think, I mean, my passion is basically my passion. Previously, for a long time has always been, what are we making? In the organization we’re in? Right? Like, what is the killer product, or idea or business model for the space that we’re in? How do we rethink it, and reshape our industry and lead the pack. And along the way, I realized this eureka moment, where it’s actually the machine inside the company, you know, the how, how things, how we collaborate, how we problem solve, how we innovate, that connect, that is a thing in and of itself. So there’s the what and the how, you know, I’ve been in resorts and burgers and cars and books. And so you can pause, think about what, what’s the next iteration of that. At the same time, you know, whatever the space or industry, you know, how the machine works internally, to really get the collective intelligence out of the organization. That is sort of my passion here. And I, I’m sort of advising leaders to spend, you know, just as much time on the how the machine works versus versus the what.


Scott D Clary  51:51

And just like more on, this is just an off the cuff, personal question, how have you been so effective in so many different industries? Because that is incredibly impressive. So when you go from industry, to industry to industry, just as a professional, I’m just curious, how do you basically excel in all these different industries without the experience?


Atif Rafiq  52:14

Well, I think it’s very much tied to this idea of innovating into the unknown, where I’m comfortable with the unknowns of a question or personality. And ice is always suspend judgment, even if I’m very experienced, and I may even know the answer, but I’m hungry for inputs. And so I think that just supports itself very well to problem solving. So you know, if a company is sort of not very ambitious, and they want to grow three 4% a year and do the same old thing and take out some costs, you know, that’s probably not a good fit for me. But if they need to ignite some growth, you know, figure out how, you know, to create some more more engines, get those off the ground, have them scale really become kind of a platform for the next decade or two. You know, that’s, that’s new territory. And that’s sort of where I excel. So I’m a little bit advantaged by, you know, yeah, I was gonna get getting good at that, to be honest with you through repetition, you know, over time, but


Scott D Clary  53:17

it sounds like the mindset that you take when you when you enter a new org is very similar to this decision sprint, like, it’s almost like this plays at a company level, but it’s almost like it can play out at a very personal level, when you’re trying to upskill and you’re yourself in a new uncomfortable environment. That’s the way I see it. Yeah.


Atif Rafiq  53:38

Well, for sure, you know, like, for example, I have a newsletter called rewire on LinkedIn. And the tagline is method and meditation. And maybe people don’t understand where I’m coming from there. But you know, method everybody understands, you know, some SOP, some process, you want to improve workflow, okay, that’s all great business jargon. But meditation is what you’re talking about Scott, which is mindset. So if you come in you say, you know, I am just sort of here to help us put the puzzle together. Tell me what the pieces are, you know, what piece Do you see? And what piece Do you see? It doesn’t mean I don’t see pieces as well. But if I create that sort of environment and that space for all the right inputs to just flood in, right, and then we’re comfortable spending time saying, how do we solve this puzzle? We’re just we’re just going to do a much better job. And that’s a different view on leadership than maybe people are used to I have a story in my book around coming to McDonald’s where, you know, being in a senior position, people may expect me to tell them what to do or have the answer or share the answer from the beginning. But it’s not my it’s not the way I operate. It’s not my it’s not the mode in which I work. Even if I have a strong inclination I need to make sure we get enough input, because that’s why we have the people, right? Yeah. And then we can kind of stare at him. By the way, when you see where people are coming from, then they’re also more invested, they’re more bought in clicks in their head, it’s much more powerful. You don’t have to be in the room, then every time it’ll kind of cascade in a better way.


Scott D Clary  55:20

I love that. Okay, if people want to connect with you, if they want to go get the book, where are they going to go where you want to send them?


Atif Rafiq  55:27

Well, I have a newsletter called rewire on LinkedIn. And it’s one of like the most popular newsletters, so you can subscribe to that. My book is available on my website decisions And you can get a free preview or you can buy the book and where you can be in touch. So that’s those best ways to be in touch.


Scott D Clary  55:49

Amazing. Okay. And I asked this question of everyone, before we close it out, you’ve had an incredible career, written a book worked with multiple brand, you know, household name companies, at this point in your career, what does success mean to you?


Atif Rafiq  56:04

Success means scaling, impact. So I mean, I get a lot of gratification if, you know, you’re sort of your average sort of project manager and a company says, you know, wow, this made the workplace better. I also like to say that as we made work, suck less, you know, you know, it’s like in the workplace to me because the workplace can be very frustrating, right? And navigating the things that the companies say they want to do, and then getting them to the finish line. It’s just more complex than it needs to be. So what part of my motivation, providing this method is to reduce frustration, you know, make it more sort of flow state, if you will flow state for more teams and more companies. That, to me, creates a lot of personal satisfaction.


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