Jinny Uppal is no stranger to driving contrary and innovative thinking. Uppal’s 20+ years of experience driving transformational growth by challenging existing norms in business is key to her success working with Fortune 500 telecom, eCommerce, and retail companies.
In her new award-winning book, IN/ACTION: Rethinking the Path to Results, Jinny Uppal explores the downside of the prevalent cultural bias for action even when it’s unnecessary or counterproductive. Her book is the 2021 Gold winner in Business Nonfiction books from Reader Views.
Listen to this informative Publish. Promote. Profit. episode with Jinny Uppal about using a book to challenge existing business norms.
Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:
– Why businesspeople should take occasional moments to strategically pause.
– How going full speed doesn’t allow for people’s creativity to flourish.
– Why taking a pause doesn’t necessarily have to be a long one.
– How people write about topics that intrigue them or confuse them.
– How not every entrepreneur needs to be set to go, go, go all the time.
Connect with Jinny:
Guest Contact Info:
Hey, welcome everybody. It’s Rob here for another episode of the Publish. Promote. Profit. podcast. I have a great guest for you today. We were just having a really cool conversation, I wish I recorded some of that, but hopefully we’ll be able to repeat some of those things.
Jinny Uppal is no stranger to driving contrary and innovative thinking. Uppal’s 20 plus years of experience driving transformational growth by challenging norms in business is key to success in fortune 500 telecom, e-commerce, and retail companies, and we’ll talk a little bit about that. In her award-winning book, In Action, or Inaction, Rethinking the Path to Results, Jinny explores the downside of the prevalent cultural bias for action, even when it’s unnecessary or counterproductive. Her book is the 2021 gold winner in business nonfiction books from Readers Views. Congratulations on that, Jinny, and thanks so much for being on the podcast today, excited to have you on.
It is such a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me, Rob.
I love your contrarian approach. I love the title of your book. I love that it creates some mystery around, is it Inaction or is it In Action? Which clearly it’s more inaction, but it’s a combination. Talk to me about, maybe first just set the table a little, what do you primarily do right now? Are you primarily consulting to fortune 500’s? Give me a little vision of who you’re serving and what you’re doing, both yourself and with your book.
I’ll tell you my background, I originally am from India, and I moved to the U.S. for grad school and my background predominantly is working for companies, a corporate. I’ve always described myself as a corporate type. However, within these larger corporations, I’ve always been the person to disrupt things, because I’m a technologist.
There was this word that came into fashion a few ago, that of an intrapreneur, somebody who does startup and innovative stuff from within a large company. I was that person. I also have a background in eCommerce retail, which is a world where I don’t know if you’re familiar, but Amazon, which is the largest companies, one of their values is to have a bias for action. Two years ago, I would’ve been the person to describe myself as action oriented, I have a bias for action, and I’m the action gal. Everybody’s worried and I’m the one, “No, let’s do it.” In fact, I wrote an article and the title of the article was, just do it. I had drunk the Kool-Aid on why action is the way to progress.
Clearly, I have a slightly different view right now. I’m not dismissing the role of action, but this book started as a question in my mind, because in the middle of the pandemic I found myself without a conventional job, didn’t like it. And I thought I was wasting time because I wasn’t doing what I usually do. And in reflecting in my own career where I’ve had a few pivots, I’ve made some big moves, I realized, normally my story is, I did this, I took this action, which is why I got the result. I failed to notice until then that before that period of action there was always a period of reflection.
It’s difficult to talk about because there’s nothing happening, right? I’m thinking, what does that mean? People like me, we love talking about the action we took. It’s hard to acknowledge those moments of pause. I wrote the book as an answer to the question, what really drives progress? Tangible action or reflective moments of pause? And here I am, in terms of what am I doing now? I’m talking about the book, planning my next move in my career, which I know involves working with corporate America in some way, shape, or form. I’m still in the middle of the transition so we’ll see where this goes.
You’re in the inaction phase of the next iteration then, right?
I’m in the strategic inaction. I’m doing something. There’s some thoughtful pausing and then thoughtful doing, and then pausing.
Well, I’m excited about reading it and I’m looking forward to learning myself. But maybe set us up, tell us a little bit about what the steps look like. I imagine that there’s a secret sauce within it or steps of strategic inaction. Can you talk about that just a little bit? What does somebody need to look for?
That’s a good question. And because a lot of your audience are either authors, or going to be authors, I wrote the book more as a descriptive book and not a prescriptive book. It’s not a formula for success.
I’m making a claim that even though most of us think that action is what leads to results or success, I am saying, occasional moments of pause, stepping back every now and then, will get you a bit better results. Because, when you take that pause or when you step back a better idea’s going to come up. That’s the idea to take action on. It isn’t about twiddling your thumbs or doing nothing.
It’s, our tendency’s to keep going, going, going, we don’t allow creativity to come through because we are on this hamster wheel of action. The book cover was designed to indicate that most of our lives we are not taking action, we are reacting, we are in reaction.
The book is to raise awareness of the behavioral tendency. At the same time, I have stories because I interview people. Through the stories of people there are examples of what that might look like. It could be a pause, a verbal silence, of a few seconds in the middle of a meeting, a negotiation, a confrontational conversation. It could be as short as that. It could be as sabbatical of a year or two, and both these stories are… It’s all in the book. What that looks like, it’s a way of being rather than a way of doing. But there are stories, and maybe we’ll talk about some of them or what that might look like.
Well, I’m glad you mentioned that, because that was exactly the next question I had was, tell me what this looks like and give me your favorite story. I don’t care long, short, but the one that for whatever reason impacted you the most and kind of sets this in stone.
I’ll tell you a story that has become a favorite I think for others, because I get asked about it a lot. Is the story of a CEO of a medical imaging company, which is global, and he was informed about the death of a child on a machine made by his company. And normally… And it’s a crisis, and especially when it comes to the role of a CEO or a business leader, the idea is when a crisis happens, you need to spring into action, right? You don’t want to run away from the problem. You got to show up, face it, you got to be in front of everybody.
This CEO, I’ve known him for about 10 years, he shared with me that in my industry there is a playbook. When something like this happens, what is a CEO supposed to do? Lawyer up, call an emergency staff meeting, issue a gag order. What this person did, instead of all of that, he went walk, for a two hour walk. And he shared with me, I knew that my brain is going to get contaminated with all sorts of advice of what to do. But before that happened, I wanted to become conversant with what is a once in a lifetime experience for a CEO.
I won’t get into details of what happened. Clearly, it was a great success. He did take some steps afterwards, which were unexpected, he saved money, there were quality improvement programs, they were absolved of any responsibility for the child’s death, amazing results came out of it.
The interesting thing out of the story, which I find interesting is, we convinced ourselves that, you know what? Sometimes you have to take action. I have to, because I am in this role or this is the situation. And my contention is, no, you can always take a pause, and the pause doesn’t have to be a long one. In the bigger scheme of things, a two hour walk for the CEO was nothing. He actually had a financial gain, which he’s like, I could not have spent enough money to get this benefit.
That’s an example of what you asked, what does that look like? It could be a few minutes of stepping away in the middle of a crisis so that you just reconnect with your principles, with yourself, and then take the right action from there.
Probably even good that you didn’t really tell what happened, because I’m very intrigued to find out what happened and I’m hoping that he acted in humanity and love.
He did, yes. He connected with his principles. He was like, on the walk I asked myself, what would I do if this were my child? What would I do if this was my family? And it’s interesting how healthcare companies, or any company, in their brochure will say, we’re there for you. And this person took actions until it’s a crisis and I’ve got to cover my bases.
This person walked the talk. I’ll share a little more, I asked him, “What was the reaction of your leadership?” Because the fact that he did some unusual things, he actually flew to the scene of the incident. And I’m thinking to myself, because I’ve had senior corporate roles, I’m like, you could be identified as a rogue leader, because you didn’t follow the playbook. You did something completely different. Did you get into trouble? He took some risks.
He said, “The general counsel gave me a slap on the wrist, but my leadership was aligned with me because I acted from principles. Our principles were aligned.” All the more reason… And I feel it’s it substantiates the idea that when we take action under duress, under stress, we are likely going to detach from our principles. Take that pause, if nothing else just reconnect with your principles and your value system.
Well, when you hear that story, you’re envisioning… At least I was envisioning that the walk was thinking about his values, thinking about if I was the… I have three children myself, if I was the father of that child, what would I want? How would I feel? I wouldn’t want a playbook, right?
I would hope that there’s humanity in the response. And it’s good to hear that things worked out so positively, because there is the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished. That old negative adage, it’s there for a reason, right? It’s been said because that does tend to happen sometimes. It’s good to hear that it didn’t happen in this case and that his reflective time was really positive. Great point. Thank you.
Talk to me about the why of the book. I assume that because you were one way for so long that either something happened or transformed within you, and then that led to motivation to write these things down, but I would rather hear that from you. What happened within you and why did you decide to write it?
I think it is true, you’ve spoken to a lot of authors, people write about subjects that either intrigue them the most or they struggle with it the most. In my case, frankly, this topic is a struggle for me. Like I said, I’ve always been the action oriented it person.
I also have a meditation practice going back to 2008, and meditation is all about reflecting and being in observation. I don’t know, this has always been a bit of a contention within me. The side of me that wants to jump into action, move fast, break things. I’m from a tech world, fail fast, break things, was a mantra. And then there is this other side of me that has always instinctively known, now it’s not the time. And then there’s a struggle and it happens even now.
Interestingly, when I speak to people about the book, a lot of people tell me back that, I know I should take a pause, I should take a break, but it’s very difficult or I feel guilty in giving myself a break. Or I feel like I’m going to miss out. Apparently the struggle that I have, I’m not alone. We all instinctively know that now is not the time to do something. To take that action, but we struggle. I wrote the book, I guess, for me to understand what the heck is going on here in my mind.
The specifics of how it came about, I never meant to write a book. It wasn’t on my list of things to do ever. I had enrolled for a public speaking training class to help me in my future corporate career, and because I wanted to learn storytelling. I’m good at communication, but maybe not so good at storytelling. I wrote a speech out of that training as an academic exercise, send it to a friend for feedback, and he said, “Jinny, why isn’t this a book?” And I said, “Where did that come from? Who said anything about a book?”
And at that time, I didn’t have anybody in my close set of circle, like friends or family, who had written a book. My first reaction was, no way. I don’t have time. I’m not a storyteller. I’m not a book writer. But I decided to do research into what goes into writing a book, so I can make an informed no. And as you probably can imagine, when you do research on something that is very intimidating or foreign, it becomes familiar. It’s like, oh, okay, now I understand. And then the rest I think is good luck. I found the right book writing program, the right publisher, and well, boom, here I am.
There’s an element of the book, and your book may not address it at all, so if it doesn’t just say, nah, that’s not really what it is, but when I saw the kind of contrarian approach and the rather than getting inaction, being in action or having inaction, I thought of Gary Vaynerchuck, and a bit of the kind of hustle environment and culture that a lot of people live in. Do you address that at all in the book? That whole, I don’t know, like subculture of hustle.
Right. Interestingly, when I was writing the book, I wasn’t thinking about it, but since then, the great resignation hustle culture, mental health, has become such a big topic that very often I do get asked the question. And let me respond to you a little bit this way, I did used to follow Gary and I have lived and worked in Bay Area so I’m very familiar with the Silicon Valley, Bay Area, culture as well. The putting everything at stake, working 80-hour weeks, and putting every penny into the startup, sleeping in the basements of your parents or friends and becoming rich one day, becoming a billionaire.
And those stories are very glamorous, the stories of the hustle, but I have for years, and I follow these stories the last 10 or so years, I always felt that this is representing a very small cross section of society. People who are wired, who have that kind of energy level, they’re almost crazy obsessed. It doesn’t follow, to me, that you have to live that life to be wildly successful.
In the book, I shared the story of a different set of entrepreneurs which lived very contrarian, there behavior was in complete conflict, and I’m going to share the story with you. This story is told by Adam Grant, who is an author. You know him. And he shared this in his Ted Talk that two of his students came to him asking him to invest in their business idea. This is post 2008 crisis, I forget the exact years, all of that is in the book. And he’s like, “Oh great. Have you guys been working on this all summer?” And they said, “No, we were doing other things.” And he said, “Okay. When you graduate, are you going to go all in? Is what you’re going to do.?” And they said, “No, we’ve lined up backup jobs.”
The way they were talking about their startup idea, it made Grant rightfully think, they’re not serious. They’re not bullish. They are not obsessed. They’re not crazy people. They’re not going to live in their parents basement and do this, so he declined to invest. The business those two people started is called Warby Parker.
And it went public last year in 2021 to a valuation of many billion dollars. And these people, do you know what their names are? Most people don’t know. I know one of them and I always forget the other, Neil Blumenthal. I forget the other, David something. These are not glamor people. These are not on social media declaring their lifestyle like Gary V. I am hoping that I’m one of the few who’s presenting these other stories where they de-risk themselves. Nothing wrong with de-risking yourselves.
What Gary V. is talking about, and I think nowadays he’s also started talking about a break and not killing yourself. Not to burn out.
But he’s the best example I could think of for the hustle culture.
The hustle line, yeah. Not that I’m against hustling, but I think hustle culture, which is a lifestyle. Years and years of working 80-hour weeks, it’s not sustainable. Don’t kill yourself.
Well, let’s shift gears. Let’s talk about the book. I know that it just came out a few months ago. And as we said, what has happened in the last few months versus what’s going to happen in the next couple of years, as you use the book, probably going to be very different. But I always like to talk about, okay, what is your plan? How are you using the book? What good things have already happened, perhaps, from your publishing of the book? Not the least of which is being on a prestigious show like this one. But what good has come and what is your hope?
I now think of this as one of the best personal development things you can do. It’s almost a spiritual development. It changes your inner wiring. You will not publish a book without having changed forever. You won’t get to the finish line without… And you speak to authors all the time, you know this.
In terms of more material gains, it’s still a recent thing for me, but I’ll tell you one thing I’ve noticed, people who would not have been interested in me taking my call or talking to me seem to be more interested. In book writing world or story writing world, there’s this concept of hook writing. You start the chapter with a hook, which gets the reader involved. The fact that I’ve written a book is a hook. I remember this woman I wanted to reach out to for career advice, she wouldn’t respond to me, but when I wrote and said, “I’m writing a book, I’d like to interview you.” Of course she did.
And there are people who have coffee with me now because something about book writing was intriguing, or the subject matter is intriguing, like you said. Again, I don’t know what will happen in the next couple of years, but I don’t have words to describe how grateful I am that I have become a different person because of it, and in some cases that is going to make me an interesting person for other people to do business with, and I would not underestimate the power of that, even though I couldn’t tell you tangibly where it’s helpful.
Well, it sounds like eventually you’re going to dive back into some of the consulting in the fortune 500 world. And for those that don’t know you, your book will go ahead of you. All you have to do is send it on ahead of you and it will do the work. It will open the doors.
I mean, we have clients that sign multi six figure consulting gigs just because they sent their book in advance and then followed up, and it is still about the relationship and making sure that there’s a connection there. But yeah, I would assume that a lot of that is going to happen and I look forward to hearing about it.
Thank you. That all sounds very promising.
Tell us, where can people learn more about you? Where can they perhaps get the book, et cetera, connect with you?
My first and last name is pretty unique so I’m easy to find. My website is probably the best way to contact me. Jinnyuppal.com. The book is available everywhere you buy books online, amazon, Barnes and Noble. I am what is known as an indie author. Bookstores will carry it. If you ask them they’ll get it for you. And some bookstores have it, but for the most part it’s an online play.
Jinny, thanks so much for being on. Great to talk to you, really intrigued. Can’t wait to read your book, which I’m looking forward to getting a copy of it and going through it. I love your contrarian approach. I love your hook. You did a great job with it, so thanks again for being on and congratulations.
Thank you so much for having me. This was such a nice conversation.