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Pragmatic, science-backed insights to improve your focus: Corporate Dojo interviews Kognitive Founder

Ethan Glessich
May 31, 2023
43 mins

Video transcript


Karen: Welcome to Work Savvy and thank you for joining us for another dose of inspiration and insights on leadership and self mastery. I'm Karen Gately, the founder of Corporate Dojo. And joining me is my co-host, Madeleine Cook.

Madeleine: Thanks, Karen.

Karen: So on the show today, we're going to be kicking off, talking all about using cognitive science to transform business performance. That's a mouthful. It is very excited to be joined by Ethan Glessich. Did I say that correctly, Ethan? You did. Well done. Thank you. Feeling proud of myself. It doesn't happen very often. Ethan is the founder and managing director of Kognitive, and I recently had the pleasure to hear Ethan present at one of my CEO Institute meetings, which was extremely insightful. So I've asked Ethan to come hang out with us today and have this conversation. So thank you.Yeah Ethan, welcome to Work Savvy, and thanks for being here.

Ethan: Thank you very much.

Karen: So let's start off by understanding a bit more about what you guys do. What's the focus that you guys bring to businesses and what are you passionate about?

Ethan: Sure, so I guess every business is built on two key pillars as the pillar of strategy and what they're trying to do and how they're going to compete and win in the marketplace. And then there's the pillar of execution, if you will, and we're exclusively focused on the execution phase. So once the strategy has been developed, how do we then set up the organisation or help individuals execute as effectively and productively as possible? And to do that, the business is called Kognitive, because one of the core pillars that we focus on is cognitive science and looking at the business or the person through the lens of the brain and understanding how they can better make decisions, focus, concentrate, etc., manage high workloads from the brain's perspective, and then from there start to optimise the tools, the processes and the culture moving outwards.

Karen: Yeah, one of the things that we are passionate about as well as Corporate Dojo is, is that whole focus piece. You know, obviously we come from in part a martial arts background and a big part of that martial arts journey is developing that capacity for focus in moments and having discipline and, you know, executing effectively when we need to, irrespective of how we're feeling, we might be really anxious. We might be in a threatening situation, but how do we cut through that noise and continue to actually think clearly and make decisions that we need to? So I was especially curious when I heard you talking and just that lens that you brought to productivity, how do we actually be focused? So yeah, excited to be having this conversation.

Ethan: I'm really passionate about focus as well, apart from having my own focus tested a few times in some extreme environments, some near death or near life, or whichever way you look at it, experiences. But outside of that, I'm also just incredibly passionate about focus because it's, it's the channel that we experience life through, like all of the beautiful experiences with family and friends and sunsets and all of those things that are meaningful kind of come through focus. So I'm really passionate about, about learning about it and, and seeing what's available in there to explore.

Karen: Yeah, I love that a lot because I guess what that makes me think of is in order to truly focus, we've got to be truly present. And I think there are many moments in life where we're not fully there in that moment, giving our full attention to what's in front of us, whether that's our loved ones, whether it is that beautiful sunset, etcetera.And if I'm remembering correctly that near-death experience for you was when you fell out of the sky.Did I remember that correctly?

Ethan: That's right. That's right. What  just happened? Yeah, there was, there was two actually, I was training for many, many years ago when I was young, I was trying to turn pro in paragliding acrobatics. So a little paraglider flicking around the sky and I was in Bright Victoria. I lost control of my wing and started to fall and had a reserve parachute malfunction. And then a second one got tangled in the equipment and I fell 1,000 meters to the ground. And ironically when that happened I blissed out, I couldn't focus. I was literally unable to concentrate. There were things I could have done. But there was nothing I did do. And I was only saved by a gum tree that literally caught my equipment and like a big elastic band suspended me sort of 20 meters off the ground. And that was a really interesting insight into focus. And in my say the inability to focus at that moment in time, which it was the gum tree that saved my life. And if it wasn't for that gum tree, I wouldn't be here today.

Karen:Maddie's, Maddie's just having a little bit of a freakout here.

Ethan: Ironically, ironically, though, six months later, I was training again in Europe this time, and I had the good fortune of my profile exploding in the sport. And after that incident, I got a bit of publicity and sponsorship and I was training just as intensely and had a similar situation occur where I lost control of the wing, which is not uncommon when you train and push the limits. But my first reserve parachute malfunctioned and then my second reserve got tangled in the first reserve and I started to fall. But this time there was one sort of key difference and I could focus. And I did focus and I fought and I focused and I fought and I focused and I fell a long way. But I eventually got my reserves opened and gently came down to the ground. And that kind of gave me an insight into focus of, hey, when you can't focus and you can focus, then the impact can be very different. And if there was no gumtree, I wouldn't have had a second chance.

Karen: Are you still doing this crazy, crazy sport?

Ethan: I am, but I'm not pursuing to be pro anymore. I just do it for love and have a very different perspective on pushing the boundaries. I've got two small kids now and it's a different philosophy, a different outlook. It's the same sport. It's just that I'm not intensely pushing the next frontier.

Karen: Yeah do you now have three reserve parachutes?

Ethan:  I do. I do. And I've studied why those reserves didn't open in that configuration. And now have a completely different configuration of reserves. So it wasn't some random malfunction. There's some flight configurations where reserves in paragliding don't function very effectively. And now I have a different structure that allows me to avoid those flight configurations.

Karen: Yeah, good idea.

Ethan: Exactly.

Karen: Thank you for sharing that. It's absolutely relevant to what we're talking about today. But, you know, let's talk about cognitive science. So, you know, how does it or, what does cognitive science tell us about our capacity to focus?

Ethan: For, for me, it tells us everything, because the irony is I don't know about you, but for me as a kid, I was growing up, being told, pay attention, concentrate. And the irony was that nobody actually taught me how to concentrate. And everybody just took for granted that this is what happens. This is just supposed to know how to do it. And I mean, I think we all intuitively know on some levels. I mean, we're living through our attention and our concentration, but that doesn't mean we organically become masters of it. Yeah, and so through the science, we were able to really study and understand well, what are scientists? What a neuroscientist, what a brain scientist, what a neuropsychologist, what did they know about focus? And by understanding the science lens, we're able to sort of decode it and better understand it and then put it back together in the context of falling out of the sky in a paraglider or, you know, being overwhelmed at work with so many different things to do or working collectively in organisations that are sort of evolved to have ADD and as of a cultural norm these days. So the science really gave an insight into understanding the why and how the brain works, and then from there allowed us to span out into sort of practical application or tools that can make a real difference.

Karen: Yeah so in layman's terms, what is it about our brains that have that impact?

Ethan: Ironically, if you think about the information that the brain can process or the amount of things that the amount of tabs that you can have open and keep working through, it's actually a remarkably small amount of information. So there's a little bit of debate in the scientific community. But most scientists seem to sit with about 60 bits of information, which is sort of like three to four words per second, if you will. Which is why if you've got three people talking at once, you can't understand the conversation because it's just superseding that processing capability. And so if you've only got this tiny, tiny bandwidth of focus and then we start splitting it to multiple activities through multitasking or having it bombarded with lots of stimulus in our environment, then it becomes incredibly difficult to do great work. Because we're using those 60 bits. We're using that tiny, tiny amount of focus to concentrate deeply and do our best work. And if the environment, you know, that's the first dimension that we're often looking at and the sort of four dimensions that we move through. But the first dimension is, is looking at that environment going well, does that environment help me focus or does it hinder my focus? Is it empowering me to use those 60 bits effectively or is it the opposite? Is it making it more difficult? And more often than not, we find the environments are making it more difficult to get the most out of those 60 bits.

Karen: Yeah and what you reminding me of though it's take me back to is, you know, into the martial arts world. And why does something like the martial arts enable focus? Because it's one of the things that we absolutely saw in teaching children in particular.You know, it's really common to get feedback from parents or school teachers even that, you know, the children who are doing the martial arts, their capacity to focus was just on a whole other level. And stories of kids who really struggled with focus just getting so much stronger in that space.Yes so when I think about some of the training that we were doing ,you  know, one activity that immediately comes back to my mind is I would be sparring with an opponent, but then I'd also have two other people whose job it was to distract me. So they be pushing me over or pulling on my belt or pulling on my, my GI or my, my uniform. And, you know, the whole point of the exercise was to maintain my focus on the person that I was fighting and to practice actually cutting out the noise, you know, actually being able to exclude that other stuff. And so you talk about that, you know, I can imagine that what that was about was prioritising what stimulus or data I was actually processing.

Ethan: Yeah, well, this in essence is sort of four main dimensions that we step through. And in terms of a journey of mastering progress and what you're really talking about there is the inner dimension.So in the external dimension, when we're optimising the environment, I mean you can create the perfect environment for focus. But what the science is showing is, is that even if we've created this perfect environment, an external environment internally, we're still going to distract ourselves more than anybody else could possibly distract us.

And that's what I really love about the martial arts analogy is as we journey inwards to our inner focus and understanding how to control that wandering mind that's drifting all over the place, to really strengthen our attention span, to understand how our energy or our mental energy or our sort of attention cycles throughout the day, and then tapping into that to make it easier to get things done or less stress or less overwhelmed as you move into that inner dimension, that's where you start to see a lot of the sort of filtration through to things like wellbeing as well as other areas of life that are less sort of productivity focused, but more widespread across the organisation.

So that inner dimension is really I'm extremely passionate about because often when you go and perform, so I'll give you an example, you go and when I was doing some competitions in acrobatics, you know, the manoeuvres inside and out, but then when you go to do it in front of an audience, you know how to do the tricks, you can do them, but part of your mind is now focused on the audience and not the trick. Yeah and so the trick all of a sudden isn't performed as cleanly or as effectively as you could. Or sometimes you can't even do the trick because you don't have your full focus. And that inner dimension for me is sort of really fundamental to mastering focus.

Karen: And the other part that it's reminding me of in the martial arts is and I don't think I've ever made this connection before, but the importance of focus in order to have courage. So one of the things that we learn is that our body will respond to being under threat, right? So if we're competing in the world championships and we're super nervous, one of the things we're trained for is to actually ignore that physiological reaction and to look past it and to focus on the opponent and to not tune into the anxiety running through our body. And that then helps us to actually step past that anxiety or that fear that so often holds people back. So it's really about focusing in the mind.

Ethan: Bingo Yeah. For me. For me, it underpins I mean, focus is a core cognitive function in it that underpins so many areas of our day to day behaviours and habits and decisions. And in that context, you know, if we're stuck focusing in this reactive space and we're stuck focusing on this state and these emotions, we're not able to let them go or make the room for them so that we can then focus on what we really desire to focus on at that moment to enable optimum performance.

Karen: Yeah, because we sighted people who are struggling with overwhelm. We'll just focus on what you can control, you know, and that is way easier said than done. So if your internal dialogue is still freaking out and you're investing energy and your brain is actually tuning in into those things, then it's super hard just actually look through that noise and to see what matters most and to make decisions around, well, what is within my power?So again, a big part of prioritising. What thoughts am I actually entertaining?

Ethan: Yeah, and it can be really difficult because, you know, imagine that you're sort of hooked up to a lie detector machine or more than a lie detector, like an anxiety detector machine. And, you know, I said to you, OK, look, if at any moment you feel anxiety, this gun, which is now pointed at your head, is going to pull the trigger. So don't feel anxiety. And so all of a sudden, what happens is you can't control that. I mean, your body just responds and now you focus on the gun and all of a sudden the anxiety spikes. And it's not something that's easy to control. Like it's these emotions surface, you know, as and when they surface. But the broader context around that is some things that we can start to control, and that's where we look like.

The third dimension that we're often looking at is this inter dimension and that's, you know, like does sleep impact your ability to concentrate does movement, does food, does breathing. And some of these other things are much easier to control. And they can have sort of transformative effects on our ability to focus and provide, like the ground level, the base, the foundation, if you will, that maybe in that moment with that gun, that's still going to obviously be major challenges that we're all facing. But when we have the guns in our sort of corporate worlds. And there's these deadlines or things or someone barges into your office and all of a sudden throws all of these things at you, when that foundation is there, it also becomes much easier to respond and react and redirect our focus to where it's going to have the biggest ROI for us personally.

Karen: Yeah and as soon as you gave us that example of the gun and don't feel anxiety where my mind went to, what would I do as a martial artist? I would focus on my breathing and I would focus on not buying into the thought that this gun is going to go off, you know, reserving judgment, leaving that over there, focusing on my breathing to keep my body in a calm state.

Ethan: And that's a beautiful, trained, trained experience. That's a trained mind. And I guess you've likely been through many trained experiences or trained that strength to be able to respond in that way. But if it's the first time that the gun is held to your head, it's the first time you're experiencing a significant threat situation, or it's the first time you're falling out of the sky towards the ground, then that intuitively is often not the response. And for me, first hand it was not the response. I died, you know, and that trigger went off. And if it wasn't for the tree, I wouldn't be here. And then I eventually managed to learn to control my focus in these extreme circumstances, but it didn't happen by itself.

Karen: That's the key point, isn't it? These are actually capabilities that we can develop. But as you pointed out, it takes experience and it takes discipline and doing it 10,000 times because again, in the martial arts, the way we learn to do that is to put ourselves under stress, is to actually train at a level that our philosophy is if we train like it really is a combat scenario in the Dojo. And when we're in a street situation and all that anxiety is flowing and the variables around us are less known, then our performance will at least be good enough. It's not going to be as strong as it is in the dojo, but it will be enough to survive.

Ethan: Yeah, it'll be much better than the alternative.

Karen: That's right. But again, you don't get to be able to do that by going to comfortable classes where everything's easy and safe. You've really got to be pushed.

Ethan:It's a workout. I mean, if you go to the gym and you're not feeling some level of discomfort when you're pushing the weights up and down or stretching or it's not going to have an improvement effect. And focus is exactly the same. If we're not pushing, then if we're not experiencing that those challenges or those limitations, we're not going to strengthen those muscles. And in many ways, they are just like muscles. And they do require strength training and focus training and that if you don't strengthen them under experiences of stress, if it's a comfortable, relaxed environment, then they're not going to get stronger, just like at the gym. So yeah, I can completely, completely empathise.

Karen: So other than throwing ourselves off the edge of cliffs on dodgy equipment or putting ourselves in the line of being punched in the face, you know what? What are some of the ways that we can actually improve that ability to maintain focus and optimise our productivity in the workplace?

Ethan: Well, it depends on what you're training for.So if you're training for a high stress environments like the police or military or extreme athletes or sport, the crux is we want to move it out of.So we spoke about those 60 bits, that tiny sort of amount of processing capability that our conscious focus has, but our subconscious has enormous capabilities for parallel processing and particularly around focus. It can process sort of 10 million bits of information a second through the sensory input. And so what we want to try and do is move that activity from the conscious area, from those 60 bits where we're going to, it's going to be very difficult and very limited into a deeper subconscious realm.So the classic example is, is learning how to drive a car, particularly a manual car. And I don't know if you remember when you learned or if you've taught somebody recently, but generally you've got like five or six tasks changing gears and clutches and accelerators and steering. And when all of those things are being done together at the same time, consciously the car bunny hops or installs or the interference that's created decreases the quality of control or the quality of output at that moment in time. But over time, as they're practiced, then the changing of the gears gets taken out of this, this realm of prefrontal cortex or the 60 bits area, and that tiny processing capability of focus and gets put into deeper brain networks. And it frees up some of those 60 bits that was previously being used.So as we can start to train some of those elements deeper into these subconscious areas into where there's the 10 million bits, then we can really start to free up those 60 bits to focus on what it is we're doing. And if you had, if you're teaching someone to drive a car for the first time and you say, hey, change the car stereo, they'll have a heart attack. Yeah, but in three months time, once the majority of those activities, those tasks of driving, those subtasks of driving have been put into the subconscious, they'll start texting and doing all sorts of crazy things automatically, simply because they have the confidence that, hey, I've got more than enough processing capability here to be able to do all of these other things.And that's an analogy. We can take to other areas of life that's outside of driving a car. But depending on the context of what it is that you're trying to achieve, that's one way that you can go about achieving it, which is what you're kind of doing in martial arts as well. You know, you're training your punch, you're training the move, you're training the defense to such a point that it gets pushed down into the subconscious, the brain just takes over. And those the ability to then control your focus sort of surfaces if you're strong in other brain networks as well.

Karen: And that was a big part of the focus, was getting to a place where we were unconsciously competent as opposed to consciously competent, you know, so when you're a white belt, a red belt, a yellow orange belt, whatever it is, there is an active thought process in executing the technique. So if someone attacks me, for example, there's far more thought process in choosing to block, whereas you get to a place by the time, hopefully when you're a Black belt, where you actually react before you think, you know, there is something in your unconscious mind that does causes that to happen. Yeah because again, you've done the practice, you've done the work, you've just done it so many times. As you pointed out, your unconscious mind just knows what to do.

Ethan: Yes and it's super fast.So if you think. What's that saying? I think it might have been in Maverick or Top Gun, if you think you're dead. And it's ironically true because those 60 bits that conscious processing is incredibly slow where the subconscious is incredibly fast, it's unbelievably fast. And if you've ever gone, if you've ever almost stepped on a snake, for example, you might have been walking in the bush somewhere and you almost stepped on a snake and then your heart stopped. And there was this sort of instant reaction. And then maybe two seconds later you realise, oh, it's just a stick. Yeah, that's highlighting the difference in processing speeds of those two different brain networks. So if those 60 bits were super fast, if your ability to consciously focus was super fast, it would have processed that information and realise it was a stick long before you froze or reacted. But the deeper regions are so quick that they're instantaneous that is so much faster than thinking.

Yeah and that's why if you think you're dead. And that's why in martial arts, I imagine you're experiencing similar elements. But the difference in the corporate environment is we are often not in that state of think or die. It's not that, it's not that direct. The corporate environment, we've got more time to respond. And it's more about creating the pillars around focus and necessarily training that immediacy that you would in martial arts or in flying a Top Gun plane or something like that.

Karen: So let's break it down into some practical strategies or tools. So if I'm a professional listening to this and think, OK, yeah, I definitely need to be more focused and more disciplined, and where do those priority lies? What do I need to do?

Ethan: So it really depends on the environment, the challenges and what you're hoping to achieve, but sort of generic things that you can start...I generally encourage you to start, if we talk about in the outer dimension first, start by doing a bit of an audit and having a look like. Where is my focus going at the moment and what is fracturing my focus? is it? You know you can do that with a little focus journal, a little table that you create just for a couple of days. You can just note down what fractured my focus. And if you find categories of things like colleagues and technology and Slack and whatever it may be. You can then, that'll create a little bit of a map where you can start to go and orientate to where you want to give some attention to improve some strategies.Often one of the biggest culprits is email, which is constantly pinging at us. And the simplest thing you can do, simply turn that thing off. Yeah, tiny, tiny little action. And all of a sudden that ping, which was maybe 100 times a day at 30 seconds or 60 seconds, I think it's 60, 67 seconds from memory, it's the average time, it takes a person to respond and get back to what they were doing after the ping of email. That's, that's all of a sudden hundreds of those per day that automatically disappears. And if we find a couple of those leaky taps for us as individuals, or maybe as teams or organisations or some changes that can be made, then that's sort of a way to just start the process in the external environment.

In the, in the internal and the second dimension of inner space these two real areas that sort of practical ways that I would suggest at the surface level that I can give away in 30 seconds to start to kind of dial into. One is focused training and I guess you're doing a type of this with martial arts and that it's not as deep is as mindfulness or meditation. But it's just bringing your focus back to a key object for a specific period of time. And that's going to start to strengthen some neural networks around focus. You're doing the same thing in mindfulness or meditation. You might go deeper into deeper states, but that's a sort of a deeper exploration. But simply just bringing your focus back to an object.I love stones, for example. So I've got stones all over my desk and all over the place. And that's an item that I really like. But breath is another really common item that's used in a whole variety of different contexts, but that's just a focus training.

Another item in the sort of inner space is understanding how our focus organically changes throughout the day because we don't wake up like a computer and we're not constantly performing at the same level. So as we start to decode those cycles, we can tune into them and leverage them for our advantage.So there are some sort of examples in the inner space and sort of a 30 second snap away in the, into dimension would be, I think one of the most powerful things is, is sleep. So over, so underrated. So we take it for granted as the first thing we sacrifice when we need to get more things done. It's the first thing we sacrifice as students when we have exams coming up. But the impact that focus has on all cognitive functions. So the impact that sleep has on all cognitive functions that it has on focus, on memory, on decision making, on decision quality, like all of these things are impacted by sleep and really prioritising and optimising and building an environment or processes that really help you sleep, is and sleep well is an area that pays, in my experience, big dividends. Even when companies help staff sleep, it can pay big dividends back to the company. Because all of their cognitive functions are boosted as a consequence of it. So in terms of a quick snapshot of things that can be done at the practical level, there's a few that might be useful for some of your audience.

Karen: Yeah, I love that. I've always had a philosophy. We don't work in an office since covid, but when we did work in an office, I was very comfortable as the director of the business. If people wanted to have a nap under their desk, it's like, go for it. You know, I would rather you have that power nap and feel a bit refreshed and be able to, you know, get back to it when you're ready.

Ethan: Yeah the interesting thing about power naps is depending on what you're trying to optimise are different types of power naps, that will have a different impact. So for example, at 20 to 30 minutes it's a great space to recharge focus. But if you go into 90 minutes, then you actually end up in sort of a laggy lolly. You move into a deeper and a deeper brain state, and to come out of that takes much more time. So your focus is actually hindered in the immediacy of waking up, but the impact that deep sleep has on memory is extremely beneficial. So if you're studying for exams, you might want the 90 minute sleep because you're actually going to encode a lot more information than you will. Then in a 20 to 30 minute nap, you're not going to go into those deeper sleep states, so you're not going to get the benefit of the encoding of memory, but you are going to get the boost of attention. So depending on what it is that what cognitive function or what performance you're trying to achieve, specifically understanding the various mechanics of napping or sleeping, you can start to optimise those based on what you're trying to achieve.

Karen: Love it.

Madeleine:  That's awesome. All right. I reckon it's time.

Karen: Literally I'm sorry, Mads, but we could literally talk all day, couldn't we?

Madeleine: Yeah, we could. I know. I didn't want to interrupt you because everything was so good, but I was like, we need to move on. But also, I feel like I'm learning so much, I need to go have a nap.

Ethan: Like, well, we do have extra resources if you do want to learn more. There's e-books and video series and we unpack lots more tools than we can in 30 minutes. So they're all available for after this chat today.

Madeleine: Yeah so I reckon it's time to move on to our next segment. We can just plant these out quickly, but Mojo in the Dojo. Mojo, the libido, the life force, the essence, the right stuff. What the French call a certain... I don't know what.In my Join the Dojo, we talk all about energy and confidence and influence and stuff. So Karen what have we got today?

Karen: Well, today we're talking about maintaining our mojo when we are sleep deprived. You know, we are really tired. How? you know, other than getting more sleep. How can we actually maintain, again, that focus and.

Ethan: So what does mojo mean for you for you in this this kind of, you know?

Karen: We're in our rhythm. We're in our sweet spot, you know.

Ethan: So there was I'd have to look up the specific research, but from the top of my head, it was for I think it might have been the Pentagon who was doing research in preparation for the Cold War with soldiers. And they wanted to know how well that they could perform over what time period. And that will specifically looking at attention span in this context. And they found that because at that moment in time, it was believed that the attention span was sort of 8 to 10 minutes long. And there was a lot of literature that highlighted that, particularly from universities. But they found that under extreme circumstances, such as war-like circumstances, without food, without sleep, the soldiers attention span could dilate literally to days. Under extreme levels of motivation. Of intrinsic motivation of connected to I really need to pay it. Like this is a deep motivational element. It could expand, it could dilate to days. Where when that was taken away, it would literally dissipate in a second.So the question is, you know, obviously, we don't want to push the employees to war-like circumstances, but how can we emulate this sort of deep connection to heart? How how can we emulate this deep connection that people are incredibly passionate about? Because passion and focus are deeply connected.In fact, as we move into a state of flow, state of flow is what I get. It's one of the reasons I'm so passionate about paragliding acrobatics, because I move into a state of just being in the moment and a state of flow can oversleep that can like the whole Pomodoro Technique of 20 minutes. I don't agree with in totality because if you're in a state of flow, you don't want to be taken out of that because there's an alarm that's going off saying take a break. Because that flow can take you for hours or days. And when you're so intrinsically connected and motivated in your one with the activity and time dilates or disappears, then it doesn't necessarily matter how tired you are or what's going on.There's something else that happens is this optimum brain chemistry that starts to evolve. And, you know, many things, many things as you move into these circumstances will change in your body and your brain that enables you to focus in these levels. And there's certainly not from a perspective of life threatening and war and those sorts of things. That's not where we want to be. But in a state of tapping into that flow, it's tapping into that deep motivational element. There's a way that we can really start to help people harness and enjoy those experiences and focus to a level that they previously thought was not possible.

Karen: What a brilliant answer, because I asked the question for all of the sleep deprived parents of the world. I was running a workshop recently and you know, we were talking about the importance of sleep. And I acknowledged that if any of the new parents in the room, you know, I get it. I understand. You know, you're just in this perpetual state of sleep deprivation. And what I just to sum up really briefly what you just said, I just heard well, if you're deeply connected with your passion and you have a strong sense of purpose, then that's going to make a massive difference to coping through those stages of your life.

Ethan: And it also depends on what you're doing. So, for example. You might not be overly connected to the ironing, you know, but it's something that needs to be done. But the question is like, what's the impact if this isn't done to perfection? And if the impact is not that significant, then don't worry about it. Like, you can have creases. And as long as you're not confusing the iron and the telephone, you know, it's going to be fine. So there's literally nothing that you really need to worry about in that context. Your performance can drop and you can allow yourself to, you know, to care for yourself and say, look, it can drop in all these contexts, but in these other contexts,  I don't want it to drop. And I'm going to work really hard to or find that deeper connection or to find the way. And that intrinsic connection is one way that can really help in those other contexts.

Karen: Brilliant.

Madeleine: Love it. All right. So now it's time to move on to our last segment of the day, which is WTF at work. Say what? The tape at work is where we unpack crazy workplace stories. So I've got one today from Reddit. And basically this person, this person has written in and said, am I the asshole for not staying at work late after my boss said, no more overtime. So they go into say that they're obviously working in a customer facing role. The boss had sent out an email a few weeks before saying, no more overtime, we can't afford it, blah, blah blah. Then someone's come in to this shop store, whatever it is, and they've left. And then their boss, the next day was like, well, why didn't you stay and serve them? You know, we could have lost money, blah, blah, blah. But they're like, well, you told me not to do overtime.So who's in the wrong?

Karen: This is one where there's layer upon layer, right? Because I think every successful relationship there has to be a degree of give and take. Yeah so we would need to understand why the boss said no over time. Because one of the real issues that leaders have is people slow down their productivity during the working day, do more hours to get more income. Right so it gets to a point where there is an affordability issue. To just bluntly say no more over time as a boss, I think is a little bit naive as well. You know, it really depends. We need to build in some bandwidth that if we do want people to go above and beyond in those customer moments, then, you know, we need to be fair about that and set clear expectation around it. But for the individual just to go, no, I'm out and not to take a degree of ownership for they influence or impact on that customer isn't ideal either. Ethan what are you thinking?

Ethan: I'm thinking moving forward from that experience, what can be done. And the key question is, what does the business owner want to achieve? Like, what's the angle? Is it, is it reducing costs? Is improving profit? Is it improving customer service? What is the end goal? And I think if that business owner can get really clear about what they're trying to achieve and then help the staff take ownership over those outcomes and sharing and whatever that may be.So let's just say it's profit. And if the business owner wanted to improve profit or reduce costs and that's been behind the overtime, then if there might be other things that can be done in the business that the staff know about, because their day to day is connected to so many elements that the business owner is not, that could shave off 15% of costs out of the business immediately. But because they don't know that the business' owner just made a decision. while I believe reducing costs is going to reduce the overtime. I think if the business owner can get really clear about what they want to achieve and then sharing that and empowering staff to take ownership over the initiatives and then when they are achieved, sharing that, then whatever was driving that, might be able to be avoided and help the business owner get the outcome that they want.

Karen: I totally agree. Totally agree. And that's about, again, that conscious connection with what are we trying to create? And that's obviously the outcome, but it's also, what are the mindsets and behaviours? do we want to actually influence in our people and how do we actually make that happen?

Ethan: Exactly, Yeah.

Karen: So it's another one of those. Go on.

Ethan: Even for me, it's when the outcome becomes so clear, then the staff will often just figure out what needs to be done to make it happen. And particularly if they're incentivised to share in the positive outcome associated with that, then the behaviours will flow from that, providing that.The only flip side to that, is that I've seen if, depending on how the incentives are set up, you can sometimes have it backfire and you can have one team that's incentivised to generate sales, but another team incentivised to hit KPIs associated with delivery of services. And they don't always necessarily connect. You might have the sales team selling things that is really difficult for the delivery team to achieve. So I say that with a footnote that providing that it's structured in a way that can avoid those sort of challenges of conflicts, I think has the potential to have a positive impact.

Madeleine: It just reminds me of working in retail when it would be like, you're at the end of the day and the floors all mopped, everything's clean, the door's like half down and someone would be like, can I come in? And it'd be like, you know, maybe if we'd already made budget for the day, I'd be like, we're closed. But then if you hadn't, you'd be like, Oh yeah, come in just to see if you can try and get one last sale. So I guess it's like, what can you get out of it?

Ethan: Yeah, yeah, sure. You can come in if you're going to mop the floor when you leave.

Madeleine: Literally,

Karen: That's my mind as well. What sort of customer do you need to be to do that? Oh, can I just come in? Because apparently I'm especial.

Madeleine: It would happen all the time and it's like the doors closed and they like knocking and it's like, no, just stop.

Karen: Don't they have jobs? Don't they realise that people want to go home?

Ethan: Actually, I have. I have been guilty of that. Once you're running, you know, maybe more than once running to the store, I've got to get there to get a present before. And all of a sudden you see the doors coming down. You're like, no, no present.

Karen: And you're looking like Indiana Jones, just like diving under that door as it's coming down.

Ethan: Exactly. Throwing your whip in.

Karen: Yeah, exactly. That's right. Absolutely fantastic. Ethan, you know, I thought it would be a great conversation, but it's been a brilliant one. I really appreciate you joining us.How can people find you? What's the best way to reach out to you if they want to?

Ethan: The easiest way to reach out is through Kognitive. That's Kognitive with a "K", My email is ethan at LinkedIn is another great way to reach out, it's just Ethan Glessich.

Karen: And as you mentioned earlier, you've got other resources like ebooks and videos, etcetera. I've checked out some of those online, so encourage others to do the same if that's what they want to do.

Ethan: Beautiful.

Karen: Yeah, but Yeah. Thank you again. So thanks to everyone for listening. If there are topics you would like us to explore, please get in touch via our website at corporatedojo dot com or, of course, any of our social media channels.

Madeleine: Thanks again Ethan for joining us. Thanks, Karen, as always. Thanks, everyone, for listening. We'll see you next time. And don't forget to work savvy.

Looking to improve your focus?

Gain pragmatic insights and tools from an expert who has been helping people and businesses improve their focus and performance for over a decade.

Have you ever wondered why you struggle to focus at times? In this podcast style interview, Corporate Dojo’s Karen Gately and Madeleine Cook interview Kognitive founder and managing director to delve into the topic of focus and key strategies to improve it. You’ll discover the four key dimensions of focus, practical tools and techniques to regain full control of your concentration, and valuable insights to improve cognitive performance in the workplace.

Interviewee’s biography: Ethan Glessich

With a background in aerospace engineering, business development, people and culture, performance improvement, and venture capital, Ethan founded Kognitive to help individuals and businesses maximise their potential. Over the past decade, Ethan has continuously pushed the boundaries in enhancing organisational and personal performance. His innovations have been recognised by prestigious organisations such as PwC, MIT, RMIT, and Smart Company.

In his free time, Ethan enjoys spending time with his family and practicing paragliding acrobatics. His passion for the skies has led him to become the first Australian to compete at the World Aerobatic Championships and fly off five of the world's largest mountain ranges.


  • Bachelor of Engineering (Aerospace) • RMIT University
  • Bachelor of Business (Business Administration) • RMIT University
  • Certificate IV (Small Business Management) • RMIT University

Interviewer’s biography:

Karen Gately

Karen is the founder and chief sensei at Corporate Dojo. She is a successful author, speaker, advisor, and educator in human performance and leadership. She believes in leveraging talent and energy for inspiring, results-based leadership to drive performance. She has authored two books: The Corporate Dojo and The People Manager’s Toolkit. Karen's down-to-earth approach sets her apart from others. She is a regular contributor to CEO magazine,, Inside HR Magazine, and Huffington Post. Karen is often invited to share her insights in both print and broadcast media, including regular pieces on Today Extra, weekly segments on PowerFM, and expert advice and insight on Sky News Business, ABC Radio, and 2UE.


  • Master of Business (Human Resource Management) • Charles Sturt University
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (Physical Education) • RMIT University
  • Diploma of Education • RMIT University

Madeleine Cook

Madeleine is the marketing coordinator at Corporate Dojo. She is an seasoned marketer with a demonstrated history of working in the human resources industry. She has a broad range of skills which includes content marketing, communication, marketing strategy, social media, and brand awareness.


  • Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing) • Australian Catholic University

Show Notes

  • Introduction. [00:00]
  • The two key pillars of business and how Kognitive helps. [01:17]
  • Focus as the channel for experiencing life. [02:08]
  • What falling a 1000m to the ground taught Ethan about focus. [03:50]
  • What does cognitive science tell us about our capacity to focus? [07:05]
  • Why does martial arts enable focus? [10:05]
  • The importance of working on the internal or inner dimension of focus. [11:20]
  • How does emotion impact focus? [13:08]
  • The foundational or inter dimension transforming focus. [15:52]
  • The importance of training focus. [16:37]
  • Ways of training focus and the unconscious mind. [19:30]
  • Practical tools and strategies to improve focus in the workplace. [24:46]
  • Closing remarks and extra free resources. [30:23]
  • Mojo in the Dojo: How to maintain our focus and motivation when we’re sleep deprived. [31:19]
  • WTF at work: Who’s in the wrong, the business owner or the employee when overtime clashes? [35:59]
  • Contact details. [41:36]

Keen to learn more about how to unlock the full potential of your focus?

Check out these resources:

Karen Gately
Madeleine Cook

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Utilising cutting-edge cognitive science to transform business performance


In the last ten years neuroscientists have learnt more about the human brain than in the last one hundred years. See how leading organisations are using these discoveries to optimise their internal operations and transform their performance. Includes over 17 practical tools you can immediately implement to revolutionise your business and personal productivity.

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