We're all on the journey.
May 25, 2023
Deflecting - How to Breaking Free from Blame and Taking Responsibility for Our Actions

Today we look at BLAME with author Dustin Staiger, and why we frequently deflect our sense of responsibility in order to avoid our emotional interactions. Tune in to find out how, when we return To The Light Inside .

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We’ve all heard that somewhat childish joke. You the one  - about how ‘it’s not just a river in Egypt’. Yet, when it comes to why we blame others, we often find ourselves swimming in a river of it. 

And when things truly fall apart, and our ability to navigate conflict floats south…

Sometimes, as things go wrong, we're often quick to point fingers. And We frequently find ourselves deflecting responsibility; offering, instead - tons of denial. When it comes to blame, many theories exist as to just why we do it. Yet, seldom does blaming others, or even ourselves - come without consequences. 


In this episode of "The Light Inside,"author Dustin Staigerdiscusses his book"Blame This Book:Rescue Your Workplace Culture From Toxicity and Scapegoating" Host Jeffrey Besecker and Dustin discuss t the cultural phenomena of blaming and why it matters. Dustin explains that his research on creativity and innovation in the workplace led him to the conclusion that fear of blame is what often keeps individuals and teams from taking risks and reaching their potential. The conversation touches on how blame is a cultural phenomenon and how it affects personal and professional relationships.


Dustin and Jeffrey explore the topic of fear of failure, identifying it as a significant factor that can hinder individuals and organizations from reaching their creative potential. Staiger suggests doing a blameless pre-mortem to identify potential issues before taking on a challenging task.


By doing this, we can turn around from a "death spiral" of biased and filtered thinking and project healthier outcomes for ourselves. The importance of naming and identifying core emotions is also discussed as a helpful tool in navigating difficult situations. The episode emphasizes the importance of recognizing and addressing biased perceptions and filtered emotions in order to surrender ‘faultfinding’ and achieve healthier outcomes. 


However, the guest also notes that some highly creative and innovative organizations are able to shift our relationship to this fear of failure by creating an environment of psychological safety. This allows individuals to emotionally regulate and take risks without fear of blame or adverse consequences. 


Overall, the episode suggests that overcoming the fear of failure is crucial for individuals and organizations to reach their creative potential and achieve success.


Key Discussion Topics:


  • The Power of Naming and Owning Our Emotions
  • Breaking Free from Blame: Taking Responsibility for Our Actions
  • The Three P's of Failure: How to Avoid the Death Spiral
  • The Physical Manifestations of Suppressed Emotions
  • Shifting from Deflecting Patterns to Healthy Coping Strategies


Today look at BLAME with author Dustin Staiger, and why we frequently deflect our sense of responsibility in order to avoid our emotional interactions. Tune in to find out how on this episode of To The Light Inside.





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Featured Guests:


Music Score by Epidemic Sound

Executive Producer: Jeffrey Besecker

Mixing, Engineering, Production, and Mastering: Aloft Media Studio

Senior Program Director: Anna Getz

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00:00 Jeffrey Besecker Dustin, thanks for joining us today on the light inside. I'm excited to have this conversation with you today, exploring the concept of blame and how we often experience that in our day to day lives. Your book blame this book begins to examine why we frequently utilize the cultural phenomena of blame when managing conflict within our personal day to day interactions. Going to frame that a little bit with the fact that it is somewhat of a cultural phenomena. We'll soon learn from you why that culture matters. So from that perspective, Dustin, can you share

00:39 Dustin Staiger with our listeners what circumstances led to you authoring this book? Sure. Thanks, Jeffrey. I appreciate you having me on today. And I'm really excited about having this conversation as well and seeing where you're able to take this topic with me. So, and just kind of maybe to set a little bit of the stage, but my background is more around culture, organizational culture, and branding, a business perspective. And a lot of this comes from me doing more research on the side of creativity in the workplace, innovation, those kinds of things. And then kind of narrowing it down to the conclusion that a lot of what happens in these organizations that keeps us from being able to fulfill that and for individuals to kind of reach their creative potential and for leaders to really pull that out of their employees comes down to this fear of blame. And I think a lot of times we kind of stop short and we stop short with either fear or we stop short by fear of failure. But it's really what comes after that failure that I think a lot of people are worried about and what keeps them from taking any risks basically as an individual or as a leader of a team. It's like really any relationship that you might have that this crops up basically. From that aspect, why do you think blaming others is such a common phenomenon in society? What we're really talking about is overcoming this tide of blame, this addiction that we have to the blame habit as individuals. And the reason why I went to this topic that can seem on face value very negative is that I come from a background where I've worked in the creative industry for most of my career. I've worked in marketing and advertising for a large part of my career. And then at a point I worked as when I was working in marketing for a commercial interiors organization, we had a partnership with Steelcase, which is the global leader in office furniture. And they had a lot of research around creativity in the workplace and how that is tied, creativity is tied to your physical environment. And so I started looking at that and I thought, you know, this is something that I can get behind this kind of message around how can you organize your work environment in a way that it helps support creativity and innovation. And I started looking at that. I started looking at the data and Steelcase is a research led organization. And I was helping them from a marketing perspective, helping them communicate a lot of that research that they had. And so looking at it, you know, they shared a lot from Gallup and it talked about how one third of the global workforce is actually considered engaged employees. Right. And that meant that two thirds were disengaged or actively disengaged. Right. And so that was an alarming statistic. And over the years, that needle hasn't moved very much. It's pretty much stayed at about that where you got about twice as much of the workforce that is disengaged versus being engaged in the work that they're doing. And leaders are really concerned with this statistic and they're really struggling with finding ways to get their employees to engage in the work that they're doing. And at the same time, when you would talk to the employees and the research that was done on that as well would show that employees were equally frustrated because they felt like they weren't fulfilled in the work that they were doing. And a lot of that was feeling like they couldn't bring a lot of their own abilities. They weren't able to express their own ideas and creativity. And it made it difficult

04:16 Jeffrey Besecker for them to actually own the work that they were doing. So in this way, it feels like because of a fear of blame, we're often reluctant to show our best selves. Am I correct in my assumptions? Yes.

04:27 Dustin Staiger So you had this chasm in between the employees who really wanted more fulfilling work that they were doing, something that felt like they're bringing more authenticity to the work that they're performing and being able to bring their full creative potential to it. And then you've got the leaders who are really frustrated because they feel like their employees aren't doing that. So why is it that from both ends of that spectrum that they're unable to cross that chasm? The real simple response to that is that people are afraid from a leadership perspective and from an individual employee perspective as well. And so that is highly simplistic. And then at the same time, when you go a little step further and you would say, okay, well, it's fear of failure, right? It's almost a cliche, right? That people go to that. They say it's fear of failure that keeps people from taking a risk. And it's true, but it's not necessarily helpful when we think about it that way. When we start to look at this fear of failure, it's almost if we're instilling that sense of unhealthy anticipation, would you agree? Right. When I started looking at it and say, okay, well, why are people afraid of failure? So it's kind of peeling the onion back an extra layer now. And we've gone from fear, fear of failure. Well, what happens? What is the result of failure? It's like there's all these organizations that are highly creative, highly innovative. And part of the reason why they are is because they accept that failure. In their case, they're

05:52 Jeffrey Besecker able to overcome that fear of failure in some way. Dustin, psychological safety plays a huge role in our ability to emotionally regulate. In this regard, what factors were you able to begin noticing as a cultural differentiator for these organizations under these circumstances?

06:09 Dustin Staiger Well, part of the reason is because they're able to create this environment where they've got psychological safety, right? And so people aren't afraid of that failure because they're not feeling like they're going to be blamed for that failure. That failure can be accepted into the organization if certain parameters are met, if you feel like you're striving for success, if they feel like you're attempting things for the right reasons, and they want you to experiment because that's where that innovation happens. New ideas are fostered out of it, but people won't do that if they feel like in the end they're not safe to do that because they're going to get blamed for the result of that failure. And so that led me to, okay, so what is happening in these organizations? And so there's this blame habit, there's this blame culture that's in so many organizations. And I started looking at what are organizations doing that's causing this blame habit? What are individuals doing? Why are we addicted to it basically? Because of this blame habit and this blame culture, what is it doing to our workplaces? It's creating this toxicity within our work environments, and what are the results of that? And then what can we do to then move beyond all of that, move beyond that blame habit, move beyond that blame culture? What does that look like? And what are the hurdles that we have to overcome in order to get there? All of that led me

07:30 Jeffrey Besecker to writing this book. I think it's interesting that we look at that core aspect of how we address negativity so often throughout our lives. That very thing that we so often run from yet can be such a valuable asset in our perspective and how we view everything. Culturally, we tend to be programmed away from that. We almost verge a lot of times on that toxic behavior pattern of positivity. Let's ignore that. Let's turn away from that. Let's avoid and deflect away from those things that make us feel uncomfortable that we're somewhat fearful of. So I think that's a great point for us to launch in today. Let's begin, if we may, by looking at the definition or from your perspective, the definition of blame, also known psychologically as deflection.

08:18 Dustin Staiger Yeah. So the definition that I use in my book specifically is that blame is the resentment that we feel towards someone or something that we hold at fault for a misfortune. And so when you just stop there right at the beginning, what is blame? It is resentment. And so when you identify it that way, I think if there's anything that anyone can take away from my book, that is the number one thing that I want them to take away from it, is that definition of blame, because it helps us to identify how hurtful it can be, how detrimental it is to our organizations, and how pointless it is for us to cling onto it. And I think a lot of leaders, when I talk to them about blame, their initial response is that, okay, but somebody has to be responsible and somebody's got to be accountable. And I agree with them. I say, yes, you need to be responsible. You need to be held accountable. You need to be able to hold your people accountable for the results that they're getting, for the actions that they're taking. But that's not the same thing as blame, because blame simply is resentment. Responsibility is owning your own actions, and accountability is allowing others to enact consequences for those actions. But then where is resentment in all of that? And how does it help with any of that? And it really doesn't. And so I think that the number one thing that is people can have clarity on what blame actually is, how it's detrimental, and how it actually just isn't even necessary in how we operate in our lives, and how we operate at work, and how we engage with other people, then I think that's a huge takeaway in and

10:00 Jeffrey Besecker of itself. I think it's such a pertinent point to make today how that tends to become such a defensive coping mechanism from simply owning that act of authority and responsibility at its core. Perhaps the most basic shift from my perspective we can name when taking ownership of this action is to acknowledge when we are deflecting things away, when we're avoiding, when we're running from anything, whether that be the emotional interaction, whether that be the actual

10:29 Dustin Staiger interactions. And people utilize blame for different reasons, but in the end, it doesn't solve anything. And so we might be using blame to avoid that responsibility or accountability, because we're fearful about what might happen if we're actually held accountable for our own actions. And so it's maybe a little bit of a cowardly response on our own part to avoid our own consequences sometimes. And then there are times where even at, especially as a leader, where you're in a situation where, okay, a failure has happened. We didn't meet results, basically, that expectations weren't met in some way. And so because of that gap between expectations and reality, leaders feel like they have to take some sort of action. There's this pressure that builds up within the organization. And as a leader, you feel like I need to be a leader of action. But sometimes that action can be even more detrimental to your organization, because you're just simply blaming or scapegoating. And in the end, you're avoiding the actual problem that exists. And so a lot of times these organizations, they'll end up firing an individual in the wake of a mistake or a failure. And then six months, a year or so down the road, they end up having the same mistake, same failure occurred, because they never address the root cause of the issue. They simply used a pseudo solution of blaming and scapegoating. And then there are some people who will just simply use it as a bully tactic. And there are other people who will use it as a victimization tactic. They want to be seen as the victim, and therefore they try to skirt the blame and put it off on somebody else as a result.

12:13 Jeffrey Besecker I feel like that kind of connected us with my next question, which was Dustin, why do you feel we utilize these defensive coping mechanisms specifically when we're faced with conflict

12:25 Dustin Staiger from your perspective? Yeah, so blame has been used throughout history. And so, you know, one of the things is if you even look at the creation story that so many religions use, right, there's within the Judeo-Christian culture, within the Jewish culture, and within the Muslim culture, they all have the story of the Garden of Eden, right, and Adam and Eve. And the story of man and woman falling short, they were told that, you know, there's one fruit that they cannot eat, one tree whose fruit they couldn't eat. And they actually, of course, just, you know, almost like a teenager in a way, right? The one thing you can't do is the thing that seems to draw you to it. And they end up eating the fruit from the forbidden tree. And then God calls them and asks them about it and tries to hold them accountable. And then, okay, so Adam says, yeah, I did it, and I'll take responsibility for it, right? No, he doesn't. And so the story is that he then blames Eve. And he said, this woman gave me the fruit and tricked me, right? And so then Eve is like, okay, well, you got two people, it's got to be one of these two people that takes responsibility for this, right? And no, she doesn't take that responsibility either. And so you got two people, based on this story, and all of creation that exists, and they both try to skirt the blame for their own actions. And she blames the serpent. It says the serpent tricked her, right? And so there is this habit within all of us. And it shows that, you know, you've got, I think it was 55% of our global population belongs to one of those three religions. So you've got more than half of the world's population that at the core of their religious foundation is a story of blame. And it just shows that it is part of our human nature. It is something that we want to skirt that responsibility. We don't want to identify ourselves as being corrupt in some way. Maybe it's something that we want to deny our fallibility in some way. Maybe it is because we're fearful of what the results may be, that the consequences that we may have to live with in the end. And then we have a willingness to view others in a different way. There's this attribution asymmetry that researchers have identified. And it is something where we give ourselves a little bit of credit in that when we do something, we understand our own motive, right? So it's a motive attribution asymmetry. We understand our own motive. And so we know what we're actually trying to accomplish whenever we failed in some way or made a mistake or hurt somebody else, right? And so we don't want to blame ourselves for what happens in that situation. But with other people, we give them a different set of motives where when we are hurt by them in some way, we experience a failure because of somebody else, we attribute a different motive to them and see them as somebody that didn't necessarily have the altruistic motives that we had. And so it makes it much easier for us to avoid blame and to push it off on other people because of that motive attribution asymmetry. And so we give ourselves credit and we view others detrimentally and assume the worst from them. And so I think that's a few things. I think it's part of our nature. And then at the same time, just because we don't know the intrinsic motives of others, we assume the worst in those cases, and we give ourselves more credit than we give

16:13 Jeffrey Besecker to other people. Yeah, I think it's interesting to reel that back a little bit and look at the aspect that we're merely reflecting a conditioned pattern of belief for thousands and thousands of years. I came across an interesting kind of mathematical equation yesterday to illustrate just within our own family lineage, how going back just 12 generations within our own family line, we share an interconnected interaction with 8,190 individuals going back 14 generations. That number increases to 32,766 relatives we share a history with who share our family lineage of conditioned patterns and beliefs, conditioned habits, conditioned interaction, even down to our very DNA, we carry that same core fiber. This is an interesting question to me to reel back and say, how much of that do we just adopt as habit? And how much of that do we bring into our conscious

17:19 Dustin Staiger awareness? It's an interesting fact to sit with. And I think that's one of the reasons why for me, you know, a big thrust for me is to create that awareness, right? It seems like every time I introduce this topic to someone, they have a misconception of what blame actually is. And so even just being able to give them that definition is helpful, but then also giving them some context and how the book plays a part in that is giving people a way to speak about it, right? A language that they can use around blame. And so when you're able to create clarity by defining blame, responsibility and accountability clearly, and then you're able to talk about it in a way that you can actually start to identify and create that awareness, I think it helps to short circuit that blame habit and allows you to then start creating a stronger culture within your relationships

18:20 Jeffrey Besecker and your organizations as well. Brings to mind to me, you know, what I've been taught in shown to be the core of deflection, the form of emotional coping mechanism utilized as an avoiding coping defense mechanism from simply feeling our natural emotional cycles. We suppress the painful interactions that arise from our triggered emotional reactivity. Those things we maybe fear, those things that we view as challenging, those more negative aspects sometimes that we've been sometimes conditioned to. We even hear you can't have a positive life with a negative mindset, yet without being open to more critically and objectively look at the negative aspects of

19:10 Dustin Staiger anything throughout life. We often inhibit much of the pertinent data. Yeah, and kind of a story to illustrate that when my daughter was probably four or five years old, we had noticed that on her dresser, there was a bunch of kind of etching, scratching in it. And we looked at it and her brother's name was on her dresser. And so there it was in big all caps letters, G-R-A-N-T, look at it been carved in there with a pencil, basically, it was a kind of a soft wood dresser. And so someone was able to kind of carve into it. And so you think, okay, well, then Grant is going to be in trouble for this, right? It's like, no, no, no, Abby is in trouble for this. And the reason why was she made a slight tactical error in that her brother was not even two years old at the time and was unable to write his own name. So she got somebody she was doing in the midst of doing something she knew was wrong. She literally assigned her brother's name to it in that and tried to pass off the blame at that point. So you can see even at an early stage, this is something that we're struggling with very early on.

20:23 Jeffrey Besecker That brings me to two key points. And I'm just going to briefly touch on them, the burden of proof, which, you know, ultimately, especially from that legal aspect, what we've been kind of shown is falls upon the accuser, right? And that other aspect of plausible deniability. In this case, it typically isn't real plausible for the two year old to take that action. Right. So often we rush to that judgment that we deny that data simply being admitted as evidence, very much like

20:55 Dustin Staiger a legal proceeding. Yeah. And so that kind of you say, okay, well, this is something that we're struggling with as as kids, but what about as adults? And so one of the stories that I share in the book, and I kind of go back to it often is the story of Amanda Knox. And so here we've got this American college student who's in Italy and her roommate is murdered and she ends up being accused of the crime. And they actually tried her for this crime twice and she ended up being acquitted both times. But in her case, one of the things I talked about is she was actually a great example of what I would call like the perfect scapegoat because she was an outsider, right? She was an American in Italy. And so she was seen as an outsider. So she kind of initially got the blame placed on her, maybe partially because she wasn't one of them, right? As the authorities were investigating the crime. Number two was there was lack of clarity. And so the police investigation was sloppy and later it got a lot of criticism for the way that they handled the evidence. And that led to some inaccurate conclusions. And then also, Knox, because she was an American and Italian was not her native language, she got confused during the interrogation and she didn't speak Italian very well. And that confused the investigators as well. So there's this whole lack of clarity that was happening. And then third was they created a pre-existing narrative, right? So they thought that the investigators assumed that there was some sort of sex game that occurred and that Knox, they labeled her as a femme fatale. Well, with the media, that's something that is very sensational. It's a sensational story. They latched onto that very quickly. And that became the driving narrative because of the way the media and the authorities latched onto that. And then as the investigation continued, new evidence would come into play that contradicted that narrative of Knox being a femme fatale and the sex game that occurred and all that stuff. And the authorities disregarded that evidence because of their own cognitive bias. And so you can see four things that can be associated with this scapegoating is that we typically do it to somebody that's an outsider, that we have our pre-existing narratives that come into play and cloud our judgment, that there's a lack of clarity that occurs in a lot of these situations. And because of that, the wrong person ends up being blamed for something. And then our cognitive bias continues throughout and we refuse to accept evidence that contradicts that narrative that we accepted early on. And so all these things come into play whenever we scapegoat.

23:57 Jeffrey Besecker It's interesting to look first and foremost at that in-group, out-group dynamic. We often feel like that's something out there beyond us, something beyond our family unit, something beyond our friends and our acquaintances, our work associates. Yet that same dynamic is always at play. We're constantly measuring, is this a safe culture or environment? I'm sure you would agree with

24:21 Dustin Staiger that from many perspectives. I do. And one of the things that in doing my research, I ended up studying René Girard. And he talks about, he starts with a foundation of what he calls mimetic theory, where we've got the things that our peers desire, we also start to desire it too, simply because our peers want it. And so then, especially in the case of it's something that's a rare object or it's a unique object in some way that we're desiring or a status symbol or something like that, that it's like only one person can really have it, that creates conflict. And sometimes that conflict can even escalate into violence. And so then he said that when he looked back throughout societies, all the way back into ancient society, that practically every one of them, the way they had to deal with this escalating violence, that violence would come up in that way, based on his mimetic theory, and then it would become something that was reciprocated. And one group would enact violence upon another group. And so then that would create a widespread violence within a society that would cause it to crumble unless they had some way of dealing with it. And he said, practically every society created what he called the scapegoat mechanism. And this was a way for them to actually take all that violence that was occurring widespread and instead place it on one individual. And kind of in a way, it would put all of that on one individual. And if they were, a lot of times it was that outsider scapegoat that we talked about. And because of that, then everybody else views themselves as the insider. And in a way, it puts the rest of society all on the same side. And it kind of clears the slate. And then, oh, we got that person out. They either ostracize them or even sometimes would kill them, basically, in order to remove that blame from their society and then remove the violence as well. And so it's something that societies have been using since ancient times. And then only more recently, when we've actually been able to have a well-structured judicial system, a system of justice in some way, is it that people have been able to get away from using that scapegoat mechanism as a society. But we continue to use it within areas where we may not have a well-structured justice system. It sometimes could be within families, can be within our workplaces, or pretty much anywhere

26:56 Jeffrey Besecker that we have a relationship. From that perspective, it's interesting to look out the psychology of how that interjection is coming into play and how that then becomes culpability or that accountability that we try to thrust upon another. From that perspective, it reveals a lot to me why people deflect instead of taking responsibility for their own self-regulation. What are the many factors? We can classify most of these actions from my perspective, especially studying those core procedural processes of our human interaction. They become unconscious a lot of times because we're simply unaware of what processes are transpiring. Emotional being one of the core things. So often we attribute that to only the aspect of the brain, yet we discount all of those other somatic systemic embodied. I'll put all three of those big words in there. Simply what all is going on inside of us. There's more than just that brain that's at work with it. So often we're intimidated by that fact that we don't necessarily get trained in the skill of discerning some of that. We don't necessarily get trained in that sense of volition that becomes our sense of authorship and ownership. That word in and of itself, we throw that out to most people and it's completely foreign, which simply triggers this unfamiliar, uncertain reaction. What role do you feel that blame plays from that angle of the need to control and create certainty throughout our

28:35 Dustin Staiger lives? I'll frame that question. Yeah. So it's interesting because when you look at blame as resentment and you see how destructive it is, it seems like it is like a self-destruct mechanism that we use. But sometimes it feels like we don't want to deal with that uncertainty of failure. What we do instead is we guarantee it sometimes. So we push that self-destruct button because we don't like the teetering on the edge of is this going to result in success? Is it going to result in failure? But we can push it in the direction of failure, have that certainty of we know where this is going to go. And at the same time, if we're going to do that, we will want to make sure that we don't have to deal with the dire consequences of that failure. And then we use blame in that situation to push it off on somebody else. And I think part of the reason why we do that also is because we have lack of an understanding of the concept of grace. And that one of the things that I propose is that the greatest anti-toxin that we can use within our society, I propose, is grace. And what that allows us to do is when somebody harms us, instead of responding with blame, we have the opportunity to then respond with grace. And we have the opportunity. That doesn't mean, I think, that people are fearful that if I don't respond with some form of blame, with some form of resentment, then other people are going to take advantage of me. And they're going to continue to take advantage of me. And sometimes our response of blame is because we feel like they did take advantage of us, and we respond with that resentment because of that. But that's where grace steps in. And that's where we can actually look at, okay, and the grace isn't to let somebody continue to do that, continue to make that mistake, continue to harm people in a negative way. Instead, it is to look at, okay, instead of responding in like kind, if somebody hurt me, instead of trying to turn around and hurt them in a similar way, I'm actually going to look at what actually occurred in this situation, try to use objective standards in that situation, and actually analyze it and look for what would be a positive solution. Because when you think about it, resentment isn't going to help in that situation. But there may be some actions that can be taken. It may be something that has to change within the system or environment that we're in. It may be something procedural that has to happen. But in all those cases, you don't necessarily have to use resentment in that process. And people can still be held accountable in that situation. And so there's a story that I share, which is from a company called Twilio. And Jeff Lawson is the CEO of that company, and they create software tools for developers. And he talked about how they had a large business account with Uber that they had, that was their largest client. And Uber called up and said, we're going to have to scale back. And the amount that they had to scale back whenever Twilio revealed it to Wall Street, they caused the value of their company to their stock value to drop 40% in one day. So it was a huge, huge hit for the company to take at that time. And as the CEO, Lawson felt like he needed to take some sort of action. And so his immediate response was, I need to fire whoever is in charge of the Uber account. And so he caught himself in that moment of being reactive to the situation and said, okay, I don't fully understand what happened here or what the solution is. So instead, let's take a look objectively at what occurred. And when he did, he understood that the account manager was overwhelmed. They had too much work to do, and therefore they weren't able to be responsive to Uber and really to service them well. And so he realized firing somebody is the absolute opposite of what I need to do. I need to hire more people. And so when he did that, then he saw that they had their largest client had cut back, their stock valuation had dropped by 40% in one day. But then over the next few years, they were able to grow their company 5X of what it was previously. And he said what he felt like he owed that to was their process of doing what he called blameless post mortems. And so they're able to objectively assess the situation instead of reactively blaming somebody and scapegoating. And so that's from an organizational perspective. But I think that's something that we can apply also in our own interpersonal interactions as well, is how can we short circuit that immediate response, that automatic response that we have, that habit of, oh, when somebody hurts us or something, a failure happens, we're going to instantly scapegoat and blame and instead say, oh, what actually happened? And is the action that I'm getting ready to take, is it actually a remedy for what's happened? Or is it actually just a relief valve that I'm pressing because I just want to feel like I'm doing something

34:12 Jeffrey Besecker in this situation? That's such an amazing example to look at how so often, rather than opening that broader window of tolerance, that is grace, where we are vulnerable, where we are trusting in others. So often we dive through that narrow eye of the needle that becomes indignation, where we simply rob people of that grace and that opportunity to be open and vulnerable, where we start to say, I am not going to extend you the decency of having the ability to be responsible.

34:46 Dustin Staiger Yeah. And in a lot of cases, you're dealing with somebody that's already experienced a hurt, right? So you think of the case in that account manager, right? Like they just have their largest account pull back. Well, they're feeling probably some responsibility for that and feeling hurt in that situation. And then to be fired out of it would be insult to injury. And so there's a story about the Buddha where he has a student that he's talking to and basically is saying that, you know, if a person is shot with an arrow, does that hurt the individual? And the student responds, yes, it does. And the Buddha says, well, if a second arrow is shot at them and they're hit with it, does that hurt them even more? And the student responds, you know, almost like obviously, right? Yes, it does. And the Buddha said, well, this is when somebody fails, that is that initial hurt, right? That is that initial arrow being fired into them. He said the second arrow basically is our response to it. And so we have an opportunity in that moment. And we have to realize that is when these failures are going to occur, mistakes are going to happen, people are going to hurt us. It's just part of living in this world today. But we sometimes don't have the choice of whether or not somebody's hit with that first arrow. But we do have the opportunity to make a different choice with the second arrow. And are we going to add that insult to injury? Or are we instead going to view people with a humanitarian response, view them as people, realize that they've already been hurt in this situation and recognize that we have the opportunity instead to give them grace. And a lot of times that grace is just recognizing them as a person

36:26 Jeffrey Besecker who's already been hurt. We discussed that in a past episode, simply relating that to that act of equanimity, or simply seeing each other for who we are, seeing equals seeing that I for an I, you know, we're I me and I you seeing each other just for the people we are and accepting being open and vulnerable. I think that's a great connection here. I'm going to take a little bit of a left turn if we might. What part from your perspective then considering this state of grace, do you feel learned helplessness and victim mentalities might play, not only in laying blame, but then when we also take that next step and lean into that scapegoat? All right. Think about that. That's another broad left turn.

37:14 Dustin Staiger Yeah, that is that is a that is a big left turn. And just trying to shift that that mentality, right, of moving to the victim mentality is a little bit different.

37:27 Jeffrey Besecker Let's frame that maybe with a cultural perspective. Let's look at the aspect of politics. This is a broad branch. But let's look at that framework of politics, how often we, to a degree, especially here in the States, give some of that power naturally to that entity, the overlording aspect of our governments, that what aspect do we give them authority over to and what aspect do we take to ourselves? How might we often within that framework oversell some of our power, give away some of that grace and say, now I'm a victim to that. Now I've learned to be reliant

38:07 Dustin Staiger on those kind of systems and structures. Yeah. So I think a lot of what happens within politics is that politicians have become very addicted to using the bogeyman. And so instead of there's very few politicians nowadays that will stand up and tell you this is my vision for what we can be as a society. This is my platform. These are the positive things that I'm going to be doing. Instead, a lot of what they do is they point the finger across the aisle at their opposition. And they'll talk about this is what they're trying to do to ruin, on a national level, it is here in the US, this is what they're doing to destroy our vision of the USA. And they will foment a lot of anger and fear and use blame basically to try to get people to take action, to show up and to vote for them basically. But in the process, we're kind of using that motive attribution asymmetry, right? Where we view other people in a very negative way. And there was a lot of research that was done based on the Palestinians and the Israelites that showed that that is exactly what's happening in their situation, where they view themselves as being much more loving than hateful people. And then they view the opposite side as being much more hateful than loving. And so whenever anything would happen, any actions or any perspective that they took of the opposing side was based on that. And so it creates that anger and it creates that fear. And politicians use that as a way to just bait us into supporting them as individuals and supporting their policies. But in reality, it's not creating the kind of society that we're all wanting and striving for to begin with. I mean, if we call ourselves the United States of America, right? And we're becoming very much the opposite of that at the same time. Yeah. And earlier, you were talking about victims and this sense of victimhood. And it really comes from this sense of perceived oppression, right? That we feel like we are oppressed in some way. And a lot of politicians will utilize that as well, make you feel like you're helpless other than maybe voting for them. That is their only way. It's like, I am a person of power and a person in a position that I can actually take action. And the only thing that you can do is support me. And that's the only thing that you can do in order to save us from this awful evil that's on the other side of the aisle. And that sense of victimhood that we have in that process is that we're denying our own agency in that process as well. All right. And we're saying there's nothing that we can do, that basically all the bad that is happening is happening outside of our ability to do anything about it. And this allows us to, at the same time, have a sense of moral superiority. We're like, well, all these bad things are happening. I didn't have anything to do with it. I am not in power. It's this other person that we're blaming that is the person that's in power. And they're the one that's causing all of these bad things to happen. And so you end up blaming, it's kind of a reversal where you think that, okay, with a bully, then the bully is pushing off blame onto the victim. And when you have that victim mentality, you're pushing the blame off onto somebody that you're trying to paint as a bully. And at the same time, you're creating a perception that you have no agency of your own,

41:47 Jeffrey Besecker that you have no power. No, it's interesting to look at that, again, that act of deflection and how that might signal deeper psychological or core concept issues of our sense of self. Looking at some of our other character or personality traits that a person might be dealing with, we often don't see a lot of that on the surface. Even when somebody's being what we feel is completely authentic and genuine, so much does go on under the hood, so to speak of things. Looking to me at that five factor model of personality is big. Agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, openness, and neuroticism. Five core characteristics that we can look at to build how we see things through our personality, through our lens, so to say, of perception. You feel ego development then falls right in line with that. Typically, yet that monistic view of ego is something either or, either you've got an ego or you don't. The core fact is we all, by the Levinger model or looking at Susan Cook Gunter, at a more evolved model of ego that simply sees that as a lens or filter much like our emotional interaction. Simply a measuring device of how our character and traits are interacting with others, interacting with the environment, interacting with our behaviors and our responses.

43:23 Dustin Staiger Yeah. What Esther Perel said about victims and bullies is that they both share a similar, what she called grandiosity. In one situation, they're also, what she said, fantastic. Then the others, you are terrible, but they both share a hint of narcissism, basically, which I think plays into what you're saying about the ego as well.

43:47 Jeffrey Besecker In that regard, we've done a few deep dives on that act of narcissism or that label of narcissism and trying to find that more expansive understanding. Each and every one of us have core traits of narcissism, narcissistic characteristic traits. We like to run from that. We like to avoid that. Often, it seems now that we're becoming more culturally aware of narcissistic traits and even narcissistic personality disorders. Kind of a broader gap of perspective, there's a lot of room for uncertainty, a lot of room for insecurity to creep in. We start to somewhat weaponize that sometimes. We start to leverage that as a form of blame. Yet, when you look at our core characteristics and traits, we all hinge on those levels of extroversion, openness, and in this regard, conscientiousness and neuroticism. Kind of a back and forth progression of, here are some of our more enhancing characteristics. I'll say enhancing, because I like to try to see that level of positive and negative. We form a lot of very subjective views of what it means to be negative and positive. We have a lot of healthy attitudes about it, a lot of unhealthy attitudes about it. We have a lot of beneficial attitudes about it. We have a lot of adverse frames in a little bit broader light, hopefully, when we start to see it. The less of that black and white we start to see. Rather than just looking at two aspects, now we're looking at four aspects. We're increasing our ability to form a broader view, yet also exponentially potentially creating

45:27 Dustin Staiger more weight of anxiety if we allow that avenue to open up. Yeah, it's multifaceted, right? I think a way you see some of this narcissism playing out with blame, like one example would be back in 2016 with the Cincinnati Zoo, they had an issue with a gorilla. I don't know if you remember Harambe, the gorilla. Yeah, right next door to us. Yeah, so I mean, it is still a thing, right? There are still people that are looking for what they call justice for Harambe, right? And so what happened was this family was visiting the zoo, mom had children with her, and she had a three-year-old boy that wandered away from their group, and he slipped into the gorilla habitat. And when he was in there, some commotion started up. One of the gorillas, Harambe, ended up going over and finding the boy, and all the people were getting very excited about this because they were afraid of what this gorilla might do to this small child, justifiably so. But their excitement and the clamor that they were making created a little agitation with the gorilla, and possibly in order to protect the child, he grabbed the child by the foot, started dragging him across the habitat through a moat that they had in there. And so they saw that, oh my gosh, this is a very dangerous situation. The zoo tried to assess what to do, and in the end, they ended up having to shoot and kill the gorilla. And so then people came out of the woodwork to say either they blamed the mother because she wasn't being careful enough with her child, or they blamed the zoo because, well, why didn't they do something else, or maybe they should have built the habitat differently, or all these different things. But it was a very unfortunate set of circumstances that occurred. And then you've got Jane Goodall, who came out, and Jack Hanna, who also came out. Both of them, like people that love these animals, like their whole lives are dedicated to it. And they said, this is an unfortunate situation. And they did not put blame on the mother. They did not put blame on the zoo. They said, this is what the zoo needed to do. Jack Hanna explained that if they try to use a tranquilizer, it could have taken five to 10 minutes on a gorilla that size for it to actually sedate him. And there's no one knows he could have become very agitated and harmed or killed the child in the process. And yet groups still are very upset that this happened to the gorilla. And so you've got people that are narcissism comes out in some way, because we start looking at, oh, they should have done this and they should have done that. And maybe we don't understand the full context of the situation whenever we start to use this blame. And we don't have empathy for the individuals that were involved in that. And that woman, like she had other children with her at the time. There was a director, one of the investigators came out and basically said that if you think that it's easy to keep track of small children in a zoo and that the mother should have been able to prevent this from happening, you probably don't have children. And so at a level of try to kind of develop empathy for her at this time. And so there was a CNN commentator that said, the parents didn't throw the kid into the enclosure. The crowd didn't mean to agitate Harambe. And the zoo didn't want to have to kill him. And so, but in our narcissism, we use that we attribute malice to them, right? And so we attribute a different motive to them. So that motive attribution asymmetry comes into

49:02 Jeffrey Besecker play as well. And we assume better of ourselves and we assume worse of others. That reminds me of that cultural phrase, parochial empathy, where we simply see each other in that common eye. We feel those common emotions. We can at least relate to one another from that perspective. We can all at times very much feel like that monkey in a cage as we wrestle with our emotions, our psyche, our circumstances and conditions. How might from that personal perspective then might we start to lean into some of our own personal biases and heuristics and tend to scapegoat or deny when we're looking to rationalize or blame for circumstances or our actions or the

49:49 Dustin Staiger actions of another? That's a broad question again. Yeah. So we oftentimes have this tendency, you know, that when it's an eye for an eye and it's a tooth for a tooth, right? That's our response whenever somebody wrongs us in some way. And it's a habitual reaction, right? That we have in those situations. And so I looked at Charles Duhigg and his, you know, the power of habit and how he identifies, he breaks down a habit into its components basically, right? And that we have a cue and response and a reward, right? And so when we start to, like, it's not enough just to have the awareness of our blame habit, but it's identifying what can we do differently going forward. And so when you start to identify and you start to become aware, number one, of what blame is and the number two, when are you using it? Then you're able to identify, okay, then there are certain areas where something cues you, right? When somebody, you know, when a certain kind of mistake happens, when a person hurts you in a certain way, you know, whenever you experience embarrassment, maybe that you have that kind of response as well. And so you can start to look at what are those cues that occur and then what is my response to that, right? And so, you know, is there a way for you to actually change your response to that cue? So you identify, I'll become aware not just of the blame habit, but I'm aware of what those cues are that are occurring and triggering me. And then being able to change my response and maybe even realizing that, okay, what is the reward that we're getting, right? And so it allows you to start to identify and start to think through, okay, why am I doing this? Okay, when somebody, you know, hurts me in this way, and then I turn around and hurt them, then I feel like my reward is having some sense of vengeance, right? And feeling like I've solved the problem in some way, but have you actually done that, right? And then you can start looking toward, okay, then what would be a better reward? And is that, is vengeance really the reward that we want? Or is it that we really want a sense of justice in this situation? And if you identify that's the reward that I want, is a sense of justice has been restored, then that could

52:10 Jeffrey Besecker change what your response will be whenever those cues come up next time. Ultimately, at the core of that, we're all simply searching for validation of self and struggling with an insecurity. How safe and secure do we feel with improbable uncertain circumstances? We look back at that scapegoating in that situation specifically with the child in the gorilla. Scapegoating involving singling out people and groups because of the problem as the cause of the problem, and then externalizing, referring to attributing the personal shortcomings of anybody involved ourselves to external circumstances or other individuals. From that perspective to me, it brings the mind, the take the best heuristic. Take the best heuristic is a simple biases where we start to form that common denominator based on whatever awareness or data we have. We start to look for one characteristic or one alternative to compare and contrast rather than choosing between multiple possibilities, multiple alternatives, all the what ifs and what ands. We start to narrow that down into black and white thinking and it's either war. We start to limit the potential. We start to

53:26 Dustin Staiger limit how we accept each other. We start to limit how we accept ourselves. To me, that begins to form that core genesis of fault finding. Yeah, and there is a lot of times, there is that, and it is like blame is a shortcut. It's a heuristic that we use. A lot of times it's because we do view it as a binary choice. It's either or, either I blame someone else or I get blamed. We're not looking at the spectrum of possibilities. One of the things that I identify in my book for organizations to use is to do that blameless postmortem, to actually look at what happened in this situation. What did I want to happen in this situation? What actually happened in this situation? What's the delta between those two? Why did that delta occur? What can I do differently next time? Organizations use this. It's actually like in the military, they call it an after action review. There's a couple of things. We can take that, we can use that within our teams, our organizations, our relationships to assess whenever something ends, could this have been done differently? Could this have been better? When a failure occurs, why did it occur? What did we expect? What happened? Why was there a difference basically? Then what can we do differently next time? There's also the opportunity that when you're getting ready to take on something that's challenging, is to have the foresight to say, okay, I'm going to actually do a blameless pre-mortem instead. I'm going to look at what could go wrong. Especially if you're working with a team, or you have a relationship that you're working with, is to say, okay, we're going to actually put yourself into the future and assume that whatever that challenging event is, that it failed. Right? Then to ask, why did it fail? You're doing this before ever taking it on. You're thinking through the possibility, you talk about avoiding those negative thoughts earlier, right? How we want to cling to the positive. I think when we project into the future and imagine the future, we tend to imagine what success will be. We tend to avoid thinking about what could potentially be the failure, and what could create that failure, and then to preemptively address those issues beforehand and avoid it. It's not just about our response to failure, it's also about our preparation

56:03 Jeffrey Besecker for avoiding it in the first place as well. I think that to me kind of illustrates that need to kind of defuse that emotional interaction without, again, avoiding it or averting it. We acknowledge it, we embrace it, we welcome it, we vulnerably allow it for others. You've experienced that in a number of ways, as you mentioned with the Cincinnati Zoo incident that you work with, and also when working with the historic Deepwater Horizon environmental crisis with helping to manage that conflict. What role then, from your perspective, does that element of emotion play

56:42 Dustin Staiger when we form that pivot in dealing with conflict management? Yeah, so emotion, it is inherently a part of the process of dealing with any kind of failure and the results of a failure. We do have to acknowledge that, and we do have to realize how it comes into play. I think that by identifying, I think I keep coming back to this, but to me it's kind of a core thing, is to recognize that what role does resentment play? I was there after the Deepwater Horizon incident occurred, I was working within the communications team, then BP, and we were putting together communications packets on really the response to the whole thing, what are potential solutions? And the engineering team, I was in with the lead engineering team at the time as they were going through decision trees and doing root cause analysis and really trying to deal with the root cause of the issue and to find a solution. But at the same time, they were dealing with an emotionally wrought situation as well, where they've had government who was getting involved and sometimes making it even more difficult for them to find a solution. And then they're dealing with PR responsibilities. And so then you've got executives. So the communication packets that we were putting together had to address things for the executive team and it had to address things for the government as well. And they had competing issues that they're dealing with. And so for lack of a better term, it created murkier water for them to try to navigate, right? To find the solution. And so there are a lot of things that they viewed as, okay, this is what we need to be doing in order to rectify the situation. But then they had to wade through all the red tape of executive decision-making, PR responsibilities and government oversight at the same time. And politicians kind of inserting what their biases were at the same time. And these are the things that kind of, they occur in all kinds of situations. That's just one that's like very, very dramatic and on a huge stage for everyone to see. But it was interesting for me to see the intricacies of what was happening internally. And then also to be able to see the media and how they spun everything in different directions as well. And it was that finger of blame that was continuing to be pointed back and forth. BP was pointing it out to the contractors that were involved. The contractors were trying to point back to BP. And then politicians were getting involved in it and placing responsibility in areas that made it most beneficial for their platforms as well. But at the same time, all of that created interference in actually creating a solution. And that's part of the reason why it took so long for them to cap that well. I mean, it was a tricky situation with a lot of difficulties mechanically and logistically, but then just the emotional component was a huge driver as well because of the stakes that were in place, the people that were in power, and a lot of the power plays that then were enacted because of

59:58 Jeffrey Besecker that. I think it's such a great example of oversight and how we sometimes get sucked into that vortex. I think we've covered most of the core aspects from my perspective we hope to touch base on today. Is there anything you feel between you and I right now that we've maybe missed from this

01:00:17 Dustin Staiger conversation or that we might touch upon before we kind of wrap things up? Yeah, I guess maybe one thing I would mention that we haven't touched on or haven't dived into as much, but maybe we could address from a high level is like in my book, as I talk about this, I also share my own story and how going through a business failure and the consequences of that business failure and the blame that I placed on myself, the blame I placed on others. And as I talk about resentment, viewing it as a poison that you drink, hoping that the other person dies, as Susan Cheever put it poignantly. And that, in my case, it very much was that kind of situation. And that poison really coursed through me, built up inside of me, and resulted in a situation where I had my wife and I were dealing with this convoluted situation that occurred. And we ended up actually, our house ended up flooding shortly after the business failure. So then we had more financial struggles on top of that. And we're at the carpet store and trying to get carpet to replace what had been ruined by the flooding. And all of a sudden my foot falls asleep. And it was odd because I was standing up at the time. And then it ended up working its way up my leg and up to my thigh over the course of just a few minutes. And I told my wife, I said, I think I need to call the doctor and find out if I need to go in. And I call the doctor's office and I'm like, do I need to make an appointment to see the doctor? And the nurse on the line said, no, you need to go to the nearest emergency room at this time. By the time we got to the emergency room, one half of my body was completely numb. The other half was not. And so, kind of that polarized paralysis that you hear about that happens sometimes with a stroke. And at the same time, we pull into the hospital parking lot. And I noticed that right by the ER doors, there was a parking spot available. And I tried to tell my wife about it. And I just garbled the words that came out of my mouth. Just blah, blah, blah. I don't even know what I said, but it wasn't even a word. And I realized at that moment, I'm like, oh my gosh, I think I'm having a stroke. And I realized, I may not live to see the end of this day. And without going into too much detail, they held me overnight. They did all kinds of tests. I ended up having to be put on a morphine drip that ended up between the pain that I was going through and the medication that I was on. I ended up passing out. And the doctor sent my wife home that night thinking that I had a mini-stroke, basically. And so, she went home. She cried herself to sleep, not knowing what she would experience the next morning when she came back to the hospital. Well, overnight, I woke up and just got up out of bed and started walking around. And my father, who stayed in the room with me, woke up and was shocked that all of a sudden I'm walking and I'm talking and I seem to be acting normal again. And the next morning, the neurologist takes a look at all of my tests. And she said, no, you did not have a stroke. There would be signs of that on these tests that were performed. And instead, identified that I had what they called a hemiplegic migraine that, yeah, so it paralyzed half my body. It presented just like a stroke because my body was reacting very similar to what a stroke would react to. But it was an incredibly severe migraine at the time. And so, what I believe happened was at that moment, all that stress, I was under intense stress. And at the same time, an intense sense of blame, self-blame and blaming others. And that poison that was within me basically manifested itself physically in my body. And so, I think that this is not just an emotional thing. It's not just a sociological event, but I think in a psychological event, but I think it can manifest itself. And I think it is manifesting itself in us physiologically as well. And I think there's a lot of things that people are dealing with between the stress of our work environments, the toxicity that's there, a lot of it having to do with that blame culture and the blame habit that we have that is creating physical stress upon individuals that manifests itself in all kinds of ways. So to me, this is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. And because of the way that I had to deal with it and the challenges that it presented to me and putting me into the hospital and something that probably could have created a stroke or a heart attack or other physical manifestation like that, that I think it's important for us to address this issue today.

01:05:06 Jeffrey Besecker You know, that's such a startling and shocking illustration to me how non-processed suppressed emotions can lead to so many somatic outlets, so many different ways we experience what we simply turn away from, what we simply seek to avoid, sometimes what we seek to nullify or quiet with that blame. So I'd love for you to come back and maybe talk about that story specifically a little deeper someday with us. I feel there's so much weight that we could potentially explore within that conversation. I'd be glad to do that. That would be awesome. So looking at how we can begin shifting our deflecting patterns as a coping strategy toward more healthy and beneficial patterns where we start to release some of that blame. How might we go about that?

01:05:55 Dustin Staiger Henry Cloud talks about this a bit in his book Boundaries for Leaders, and he talks about the three P's of failure. And he talks about, he calls it the death spiral of a leader. And I think we all do this. You don't have to necessarily view yourself as a leader, but in the wake of a failure, we start to see that failure is personal. It's because of me, a characteristic of myself, that this failure occurred, that it's pervasive. And so it's something that failure is in every area of our lives. We fail to recognize that there are other areas that aren't failures, and that it is permanent. And so I'm going to continue failing. I'm not going to pull out of this. And so one of the things he talks about is basically identifying that the failure isn't personal. There are other aspects that occurred, circumstances, other people involved, different things. And that's just the reality of the situation. And when we objectively assess it, we can see that. When we're being honest also, we can see that it's not necessarily pervasive as well. There are other things like, you have a business failure. Well, are you necessarily a failure at home as well? Has all of your business dealings been a failure? Have all of your personal relationship? No. In reality, there's a mixture of failure and success for all of us. And so when you recognize that, then you're also going to recognize that this isn't something, failure is temporary. And so you're going to experience success again at some point. And so then you're able to turn around from that death spiral. And he talks about logging. So logging those negative thoughts, right? Write them down. When you start to hear some of these things around the personal, pervasive, and permanent, write it down and log it, and then go in and refute them one by one and look at it and assess the reality of that situation, that this is a lie that you're believing. And then what is the actual reality of this circumstance? And write that out as well. And then you're able to see a different present circumstance for yourself and able to project a new future for yourself as well in order to turn around that

01:08:04 Jeffrey Besecker situation. I feel that's such a great point to make in naming those emotions, naming those experiences, naming those things that we're able to identify and connect with. Sometimes that act can be very challenging, especially if that's a new skill or trait we're just learning to get our feet under. That's something we're going to address coming up very soon in an upcoming episode, looking at how we name and identify core emotions. So thank you for bringing that to light today. I want to thank you because this has been such a successful episode in my eyes today. We have covered such ground today, and I feel this has been such an impactful conversation. Thank you very much for sharing it with me today, Dustin. Thank you, Jeffrey. Enjoy the conversation. I appreciate you having me on your show. I appreciate you so much, my friend.






Dustin StaigerProfile Photo

Dustin Staiger


I am a published author of a book on blame, why we're addicted to it, how it makes our workplaces toxic, and how we move beyond blame (Blame This Book).

I started my career as a graphic designer and illustrator, and became an award-winning marketer who has made creativity my hallmark. The highlight of my career was helping a struggling retailer transform their failing business into one that thrived while branching into new locations, reigniting the owner’s passion and vision that had nearly been snuffed out.

I developed communications for the recovery effort to the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, serving on a team with Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu, and producing reports for President Barack Obama. Later, I helped develop a program to verify the competency of oil and gas companies to avert similar future disasters.

In addition, I worked with global commercial furniture giant Steelcase to share their research regarding the impact of workplace design on innovation and productivity.