How to Gain an Edge When Hard Work Isn't Enough with Professor Laura Huang

How to Gain an Edge When Hard Work Isn't Enough with Professor Laura Huang

Dr. Laura Huang discusses her journey from engineer and management consultant to her research in business and leadership dynamics. We dive deep into Laura's book "Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage" and discuss the essence of gaining an edge in life. Laura also gives a sneak peek into her upcoming work on harnessing one's "gut feel" for effective decision-making.

Sep 10, 2023
Dr. Laura Huang
dr laura huangdr laura huang
dr laura huang
How to Gain an Edge When Hard Work Isn't Enough with Professor Laura Huang

How to Gain an Edge When Hard Work Isn't Enough with Professor Laura Huang

Dr. Laura Huang discusses her journey from engineer and management consultant to her research in business and leadership dynamics. We dive deep into Laura's book "Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage" and discuss the essence of gaining an edge in life. Laura also gives a sneak peek into her upcoming work on harnessing one's "gut feel" for effective decision-making.

[00:00] - Introduction to Laura Huang

[02:30] - The Premise of “Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage”: The origins of Laura’s first book; unpacking the EDGE principle: Enrich, Delight, Guide, and Effort

[08:40] - The Importance of Adding Value Beyond Just Hard Work

[18:30] - Conceptualizing the Second Book: Exploring the concept of 'gut feel'

[22:00] - Utilizing Personal Experiences and Backgrounds to Hone Gut Instincts

[28:55] - Making Research Actionable

[29:59] - Differentiating Between Gut Reactions and Limiting Beliefs

[31:19] - Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practical Applicability

[32:05] - Community Outreach and Project Emplify

[33:26] - Conclusion and Connecting with Laura

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Sep 28, 2023
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  📍  It's really around how do you gain an edge in any situation that you're going to be in, especially when the odds are against you. How do you flip the perceptions and the attributions and the stereotypes, how do you flip those in your favor, so that you can. actually accomplish, um, you can actually get closer to those outcomes that you're looking to, to accomplish.  


Welcome to Human Science, a podcast exploring the human element behind the science that shapes our everyday lives. We're powered by Labfront, the go-to tool trusted by researchers looking to automate their studies and transform real-world data into health insights.

I'm your host John Drummond and today we're talking about the intersection of adversity Intuition and success with Dr. Laura Huang distinguished professor and faculty director of the Women's Entrepreneurship Center and Northeastern University and the brilliant author behind the book Edge. In our conversation, we'll explore what inspired Laura to enter research, how she developed her EDGE framework, her initiatives to empower the next generation, and the strategies you can use to turn adversity into your advantage.

So everyone, please welcome Laura.

 Hi, thank you. Great to be here.

Yeah. Laura, you know, we were talking a little bit. before we started, this is our first show. Yeah. We don't really know exactly what it's going to look like. So for everyone watching, please bear with us.

And we didn't even plan our attire. I just happened to wear black, so I don't know if black is going to be a theme in, in your podcast, but it's, you know, now you're ready, ready to go.

Ready to go. Got to be Huberman now and wearing black sleeves every single show. Yeah.

So I was thinking though, maybe we could start with a little bit of kind of the backstory of who is Laura, why does Laura care about all of the research that Laura is doing today?

Yeah. I think from the research point of view, it, it was something very much later in life that I, that I got into.

Background in Finance and Research on Decision-Making

So who is Laura?  

Yeah, I mean, I think from the research point of view, um, that came very much later in my life. So I had been working for a number of years. I was an engineer by training, um, and worked first for about a decade before I even got into the research side of things. I was getting my MBA, was doing some research with a professor, um, you know, didn't, didn't go right into research after that.  

I had all these student loans that I had to pay off, so did that first. So it was really much, much later that I decided to go back and get my Ph. D. Um, and look into research. But once I did, I found that it was actually really useful that I had worked for so long before in consulting, in general management, in finance, because a lot of the things that I was seeing day-to-day were things that I was curious about that I wanted to later test.

 So, for example, you know, I saw when I was at the bank working in finance that a lot of times decisions were being made that were seemingly very quantitative and analytical in nature. So, for example, We're trying to do a merger and acquisitions deal. Should we acquire Company A or should we acquire Company B?

And we had put together extensive algorithms and, um, metrics and numbers all around that. But, you know, what I found was that even though we had all of this extensive analysis done at the end of the day. A lot of times things were being chosen, deals were being done based on intuition or gut feel

And it's something that we all kind of do. We make the decisions that we want to make. And then we post hoc rationalize or post hoc find the data to support what it is we wanted to do anyways. And so that was something that I studied when I became a researcher. You know, how do we quantify these decisions that we make?

How do we try to explain intuition and gut feel,   how do we take those signals and perceptions and cues and understand them so that when outcomes may not go our way, that we're able to subtly influence them in a way that can give us that advantage or that edge.  So those were the sort of things that I started studying early in my career, um, which led to the projects that I'm still doing now, um, and the ways in which my  academic research, has informed the, the ways that I interact with  companies and the outside world.

It's, it's Beautiful summary there. First of all, I think that concept there of the subtleties of you have so much data, you have so much analysis, but you're still like, I didn't really get a good vibe from that guy. You know, it's just like, we're not doing the deal.

Right, right. And I mean, even just the ways that others perceive us to if we, if we understand, um, those underlying perceptions that people have about us, that goes a lot further and helping us to interact with people in more effective ways.

Personal Experience and Research on Accents

So, for example, you know, one of the earliest research projects that I did, um, was on the role of People's accent or the ways that they communicate. And this was sort of inspired by, you know, growing up. I saw both my parents, my mother and my father were immigrants to the United States. Um, and I saw them getting turned down for promotion after promotion after promotion.

And I remember during one of those turned down promotions that the person who became my father's boss, the person who was promoted instead of him, that my father was actually doing that person's job, um, because everyone in the organization sort of knew that he was more qualified to be doing that. that job.

Um, but for whatever reason, he did not get that job. And so I remember asking my father, you know,  why is it that you didn't get that promotion? Why isn't that you didn't, you didn't get it? And he said, I don't know. It's probably because of my, my accent or the way I communicate or something like that. And so I remembered that.

And so later on, when I became a researcher, I wanted to study. Was it in fact that someone's accent or the way they communicate could lead to these sort of outcomes. And I found through dozens of studies conducted, you know, dozens of studies with 40 different accents,that yes, in fact, someone's accent controlling for all other factors, controlling for experience, education,   all, all sorts of things that If someone had a non standard accent, non standard American accent if you were in North America, non standard Asian accent if you were in certain regions of Asia, that you are less likely to get promoted, less likely to get a raise, less likely to get hired into a top management team position, less likely to get picked for certain plum projects, less likely to get funding if you're an entrepreneur, all sorts of different things.

Current Research and Finding Solutions

And so, you know, that was really. I think that's how my research has really evolved, is first from experiences that I've had that I've wanted to test, um, and now, um, you know, a bit later in my career, it's been not just identifying those disparities, but also finding solutions. So how do we level the playing field?

How do we inoculate against these sorts of things that may be based on perceptions and attributions. So, you know, happy to talk about that a little later too as well.

Yeah, I want to actually dive into that a little bit later because it sounds like there was a story back, I don't know if maybe you were in college at that time or if this was even earlier.

Oh, it was, I was so young. I didn't even, I was so young that I didn't quite understand, you know, I didn't quite understand bias or meritocracy or any of those sorts of things yet. Yeah. I think, um, Chris was telling me. Okay. Yeah, you know and I was thinking about something, potentially a little intrinsic motivation you had, and I don't know if this was in college or when you were in high school, but it seems like there was a teacher along the way that did discriminate against something in your world.

Do you want to share a little bit about that? Yeah, it's so funny that you bring it up because I completely forgot about that. Um, but, but it's, it's certainly related, um, in the, in the sense that, Um, you know, it was, it's sort of the other, the other half of that, right? It's, there is, there are people who actually have accents and how do we, how do we sort of turn that to an advantage, right?

How do we not let that, um, encumber people? But then certainly there's the other piece of it, which is just the, the pure perceptions piece where, um, I was in, I was in college, I think this is the story that you're referring to where, um, in. At the university that I attended, there was a mandatory university writing course, UWC, which every student had to take.

So regardless of who you were, um, in order to graduate, you had to take this university wide writing course. So I took this writing course, um, and we had to submit an essay every week. And the first essay I submitted, I got a C. Um, Oh, no, sorry. I got an F. I got an F on that. Yeah, yeah. Even worse than that.

I'll get to the C part. No, no, no. I'll get to the C part later. So, I ended up getting an F on this. And I remember being like, What? How did I do so horrible on this, on this essay? And so I, I asked the professor, you know, very timidly, right? Because I was just starting out. And so I go up to the professor and I say, Yeah, can you help me understand like how did I and he said, Oh, you know, it's don't worry about this.

It's just your first essay. You're not a native language. You're not a native speaker. So it's understandable that you're that's what this course is designed for. And I remember thinking, but but but I am a native speakerbut not knowing how to say that or how to push back

I kind of said, Yeah, yeah. And, and, you know, went along and then submitted the second essay where I then, you know, wrote the second essay kind of saying like, Oh yeah, like this course is going to be great. It's going to help me, you know, almost a little sarcastically, but he didn't pick up on any of that sarcasm.

Um, around, and you know, then guys see on the second, on the second paper, and it was just, I remember thinking like, Oh, well, the perception is because I, because I don't look like I'm a native speaker. The assumption is that I'm not a native speaker. And so, um, there was very much that dynamic. embedded in that too.

And so these are all the things that later on when I wrote my book to kind of summarize some of my early research findings, I really wanted to show all of these dimensions, all of these dimensions of perceptions and attributions and how we can flip them to our advantage, how we can actually do something about it, that we're not sort of just bystanders, bystanders in what happens with, with things that are evaluations that are placed upon us.

Yeah. And Um, he didn't catch the sarcasm. No, he did not. Did you go on to continue writing like that too? Well, you know, what's interesting is because I was an, because I was an engineer, um, you know, that may have had something to do with it as well. Like I wasn't really sort of in that, the liberal arts, the writing, that kind of thing.

But, Oh, as the class went on, I just realized, and he actually, incidentally, this professor was a non native English speaker as well. And so, you know, for whatever, for whatever that's worth, um, that was, that was a part of it as well. So, yeah, I mean, as the course evolved, I realized this is just something that I have to get done.

It's, it's a course that's a requirement. Um, I certainly don't. don't want to fail this class and, and being confrontational in this, this case is not going to help anyone. So the more that I sort of just adhered to his perception, but did it in my own way, the more that it kind of made it, it then made a difference.

So yeah, and then incidentally, later on, I became a writer. So I think, you know, had never intended to become a writer, but But that's, that's where, that's where life took me. So, yeah. It's fascinating. A little story there too. And thinking then a little bit about the concept of your writing now, but with data, as you were developing your research thesis, really for edge.

What, what is the data required to really prove that this isn't just kind of a subtlety? This is actually now perceptions that are happening throughout the world.

Multi-Method Research

Yeah, so the data I mean,  so I'm I'm basically what's called a multi-method researcher so when When researchers or when scholars do their work, they're everything from the purely qualitative Which is they're doing interviews.

They're They're talking to people or they're ethnographers, they're out there and they're observing phenomena that might happen. Everything from that to, um, the very, very, very quantitative where you're taking huge archival datasets and you're looking and you're doing statistical analysis on, on that data and, you know, and everything in between, including, um, field studies, including, um, questionnaires, all sorts of things.

And... I'm a multi-method researcher, which means I do sort of a little bit of everything. So, um, and that's really because of the nature of the questions that I'm trying to answer. So for example, if you're trying to answer a question like, what is gut feel? Right?   You, you, you have to sort of be a multi-method researcher because of the nature of the question.

So when I was doing my dissertation on intuition and gut feel, I would do everything from interviewing investors. to talk about and ask them how they made their investment decisions. So I would say things like, well, tell me about a time when you invested in someone, even though you had a negative feeling about them.

Or tell me about a time when you didn't invest in someone, even though you really found them trustworthy and committed. Um, and so you do a lot of probing. You, you ask them, okay, and then what happened? And then what happened? And tell me more. And then what you do with that qualitative data is you will either do cluster analysis or you'll do, um, you know, you'll code the data.

You'll code, you'll take out certain quotations and you'll code it for various measures. You'll do lots of processing of that, that qualitative data. But in addition to that. So for example, from that I found that there were certain characteristics that people cared about, like trustworthiness and commitment and mentorability and things like that.

I also do field studies, which is where I will then, um, observe things, um, but also collect data while I'm out there. So for example, I've been to hundreds of pitch competitions where I will. Um, go to those pitch competitions and I'll record those pitches, um, and I'll know the outcome whether or not they got funding or not.

And so from those pitches, I can now have other people say, okay, well, how trustworthy do you think this person is? How committed do you think this person is? And correlates those perceptions with those outcome measures. Um, so you are out there, you're collecting data. Um, you have. variables that you're collecting information about, um, and you're able to do correlations, you're able to do regressions based on that kind of information.

And then I also do, um, more look at more archival data. So I will look at data that comes from TechCrunch or CrunchBase or, um, I will take, I'll follow companies, for example. So I have a set of 90 companies that I've followed since. 2013. And you can collect all sorts of things around them. So I know every single iteration of websites that they've had.

I know their growth over time in terms of employees, how their revenue has changed over time, which of them have survived and which ones have not. So you can take like early, um, gut feelings about that entrepreneur from 2013 and be able to see how it might be related or correlated with outcomes that you're measuring all throughout the last 10 years or so.

So, um, so, you know, all sorts of different ways. And then what you do is you triangulate and you look to see if there's commonalities  and be able to make, draw conclusions from them. So that's an example of the type of research that I do.

But there's also, you know, for, There's lots of researchers that run the whole gamut of that. Yeah. Yeah. So, um, you know, and it really depends on the nature of the question, right? So there's definitely researchers who may be looking just at the effect of certain tax laws on, um, on innovation and there it may be looking at certain sets of data that the government might issue census data, um, and that's very large and archival in nature.

Um, and then there might be researchers who are studying, you know, something very, very new that, that might. Need to be much more qualitative, um, uh, and, and, and almost like looking at how it evolves over time using something called grounded theory where you take the theories that are out there and you're grounding your perceptions in that theory, but you're using the data and the observations to try and understand some new phenomenon.

It's, it's fascinating, really. I love the triangulation of it all. Yeah, yeah. And so thinking then, too, back to, this was early research for you, but was this setting out to write the book or did, as you gathered more data, you started kind of hypothesizing like, actually, there seems like there's something deeper here and I would love to flesh this out.

Flipping Perceptions: How Edge Came Together

Yeah, so I hadn't, in the earliest days, I didn't really intend to write a book. book about it. It was more just research projects based on questions  that I was interested in answering. But then as I started doing this research and as I started evolving in terms of what I was studying, it really did come together in a way where I wanted it to be.

I wanted the findings to be out there in a way that it was much more applicable and that there was  these practical findings that were very actionable that I wanted people to sort of have. So,  for Example, I mentioned earlier that research on accents where I found through dozens of studies that yes, people with non standard accents were less likely to get funding, less likely to get the job, less, so on, so on.

But what I then did, you know, years later, was that I wanted to try and understand, well, was it really about their ability to communicate? Because my father sort of thought it was about his ability to communicate. Um, and so then the question became, well, is it that people who have accents are not able to communicate something that they should be able to?

Or is it that it's purely based on erroneous perceptions? So then I would run studies, for example, where I would take four entrepreneurs with an accent and four entrepreneurs without an accent, and I would have them pitch to a panel of investors, and I would randomize the order in which these entrepreneurs were pitching to these investors.

Um, and what I would do is that I wouldn't tell the investors, I wouldn't ask the investors who would you invest in? Because I already knew from all of my prior studies that they were more likely to invest in those who did not have accents. That they were more likely to be biased against those who did have accents.

Instead, this time what I would do is I would just say, write down three things that you learned from each of these entrepreneurs, or three things that you recalled, or three things that you remember. And I would have them do this at the very end, right? and what I found was that these investors were just as likely to have learned things or remembered things or recalled things from those who had accents as those who didn't have accents.

In fact, sometimes they learned more and remembered more from those who had accents. And so I was able to piece together that, you know, it wasn't actually about their communication skills at all. It wasn't about them being able to communicate because these investors were just as likely to have learned things and remembered things from those who had accents.

But what I found was that there were, those who had accents were more likely to get rated Lower on things like how mentorable is this person? Um, how conscientious is this person? How interpersonally influential is this person? Um, how creative and out of the box thinking is this person? So it just so happened that all of those people with accents were getting rated lower on these underlying things that actually had nothing to do with accents.

So, you know, once I realized that, that there was these underlying perceptions or biases that were being attributed to those who had accents, well then I was like, okay, well then the next question is, well, what do we do about this? So then I started doing research where I would, for example, take those people, Those, those individuals with accents, and I would say to them, the next time they went into pitch, I would say, the perception they have about you, person A, is that you're not as creative and out of the box thinking.

The perception they have about you, person B, is that you're not as interpersonally influential. Um, the perception they have about you, person C, is that you're not as mentorable. And then I would send them in, they would do their pitches, and what I heard them saying was pretty astounding. I would hear them saying things like, Let me tell you about a time when I fought for resources for my team.

Or let me tell you about a time when I needed to close this deal, and I did it in a really innovative way. And I didn't stop until I had closed that deal. Or let me tell you about a time when I took advice from someone and I really executed it in a way that, Got me to this outcome. So they were telling examples, real authentic examples and.

What I found was that not only were they more likely to get the funding, but they were something like 70 to 75% more likely to get rated higher in terms of how strong of a communicator is this person. And it was like, 60 to 65 percent, they were getting rated in terms of how strong of an accent does this person, like, lower.

50 to 60, I don't remember exactly, but it was something significant, where they're getting rated significantly lower, in terms of how strong of an accent does this person have. So these are things that they never, talked about it all. They never talked about their accent. They never talked about their communication skills, but just by virtue of addressing those underlying perceptions, they were able to flip those investor attributions of how strong of a communicator they were, of how strong of an accent they had.

And so, you know, when I started doing studies around not just accent, but around lots of other different perceptions that people have about others, you know, based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education. Um, but not just the typical cast of characters either, right? I found that everyone has something, um, for example, Ronan Farrow was someone that I interviewed for my book, who, he's a Pulitzer Prize winning, um, journalist, and he was telling me how You know, every time he walks into a room, perceptions are being bestowed upon him.

You know, they're thinking, oh, you don't even deserve your Pulitzer. It's only because of your mother and who you are that you, you got access to these people. You know, there's all sorts of ways that. It doesn't matter who you are, everyone has something.  And so when this sort of came together, that's when the book started coming together where um, it was really around, it's,  the book is called Edge, Turning Adversity into an Advantage.

But it's really around how do you gain an edge in any situation that you're going to be in, especially when the odds are against you. How do you flip the perceptions and the attributions and the stereotypes, how do you flip those in your favor, so that you can. actually accomplish, um, you can actually get closer to those outcomes that you're looking to, to accomplish.

It's beautiful. And, you know, the, the flipping on the head there too of, it's almost a concept of coaching, right? It's like they, you give them a little insight into what the criteria really is, and then you can create this authentic story around ways that they can get better viewed. Yeah. And thinking of, of that.

This seems intuitive now, as here you are, you're presenting it, it's like, of course, yeah, like, wow, accent, right? But I imagine it wasn't that easily digestible when it was coming out. I mean, do you remember stories where people are, like, rejecting this data, rejecting your findings? Are they challenging you in that way?

Yeah, I mean, like, a lot of, I mean, nowadays we know a lot more about... We know a lot more about sort of the stereotypes and the perceptions that are, that are, that are out there. Um, we even know a lot more about implicit factors. Um, but I think there was a bunch of counterintuitive things that were embedded in this that, especially as I was writing the book and continuing to, to do research around this, that started to come out.

I mean, I think, so for example, we're seeing lots of, um, solutions. Um, where we're trying to address things structurally. We see companies that are trying to do more implicit bias training, they're trying to address the leaky pipeline, they're trying to get more women and people of color in positions of power.

Um, but what I found was that when I started interviewing and doing research within these organizations that a lot of these macro level outside in structural solutions were actually leaving people more frustrated. And I was trying to understand, well, how could it be that people were more frustrated by these solutions?

And it was because people were starting to feel like, it was like they were being told, just wait. We know that There's a myth of meritocracy. We know that things need to be addressed, but just wait as we try and fix things from the outside in. And there was very little that individuals felt like they could be doing to affect their own situation.

In parallel, even while we were waiting for organizational and structural solutions, there was very little that people felt like they could be doing from the inside out to empower themselves, that they could be doing. And so, um, A lot of the consulting work that I do for organizations, when I'm in companies, when I'm in organizations, is around this.

It's not just around implicit bias training, which actually doesn't work very well. Um, it's actually around how do we help individuals. Even while we're structurally trying to change things, helping them understand. So a lot of high potentials, a lot of employees, employee training, leadership training, um, I do around, around this.

How do we, how do we help everyone find an edge so that they're. Not only feeling like they have an edge individually, but also within their teams and also within organizations and when they're able to do this, they're actually more creative. They're more innovative. They come up with alternative ways of doing things.

Um, they question routines. They question things that. actually lead to bottom line savings and earnings because they're the ones that know their jobs and know the organization's the best. And then they now feel like they have permission to really flip things on on its head to to affect progress in different ways.

It's beautiful. And do you mind sharing a few? Obviously, without charging us a consulting fee, do you mind maybe sharing some questions that our audience can take away? Things that they can maybe think about, as you said, routines, maybe,  or just ways that they can begin to kind of shift their perception?

Tips to Shift Perception

Yeah, yeah, of course. So, for example, um, one of the things that I... studied in, in my research was, um, you know, in addition to those static perceptions that we talked about before, like you meet someone, they have an accent, here's the perceptions that we bestow upon them. Most of the time when we interact with people, it's through interactions, right?

I might ask a question of you and you'll respond in turn, or you'll ask a question of me and I'll respond in turn. And what I found is that, um, through these questions and answers, um, there's actually two buckets of questions, two large categories of questions that any question you get asked would fit into.

So you could largely separate any question that's being asked into one of two different types of questions. One is called promotion-oriented questions, and one is called prevention-oriented questions. And largely what that means is promotion-oriented questions are those that are expansive in nature.

They're about the vision. They're about how big you could take something. Um, They're about the opportunity. And prevention-focused questions, on the other hand, are more about the limitations. They're about the risks, the constraints, the obstacles around something. And so any question that's out there, even regardless of whether it's positive or negative in nature is either promotion-focused or prevention-focused.

But what I found was that based on who you are and what you look like or. Your gender, race, ethnicity, education, your communication style. You're more likely in life to either get asked prevention-focused questions or promotion-focused questions. And so there's a couple of things that happen. So when you get asked a promotion-focused question, you're more likely in turn to respond with a promotion oriented answer, and vice versa.

If you get asked a prevention-focused question, you're more likely to get answer with a prevention oriented response. But those who are getting asked promotion-focused questions are more likely to get the job. the raise, the promotion, the funding, and so on and so forth. And absolutely, in any sort of instance, we see that this is happening.

So, one really quick example is that in one of my papers, I show that women are more likely to get asked prevention-focused questions. And women also are only getting 2% of all of the venture capital financing that is out there. So, women are more likely to get asked questions like How many daily and monthly users do you have?

Um, where's your break even point? Did you Turing test this? Um, did you develop this technology in house? Whereas male entrepreneurs are more likely to get asked questions like, um, You know, where else do you think you could take this technology in this, in the future? Uh, what other use cases can you envision for this product or service?

Uh, what other customer segments do you think you could expand this to in the future? And so at the end of the day, because the Those who are getting asked promotion oriented questions are talking about growth and expansion, and those who are getting asked prevention questions are talking about, you know, the details and the number of users and the constraints and the obstacles.

The investors are much more likely to be invest investing in those who are male and getting asked those promotion oriented questions, right? So, What do we do about that? Well, what I found is that when you recognize that you're getting asked a prevention-focused question, you do want to answer it, but you want to do so quickly, and then flip it to a promotion oriented response.

So let's say someone says something like, Well, boy, there are a lot of competitors in this industry. How are you ever going to compete? That's a very prevention oriented question. It's about the risks, the constraints, the obstacles. You do want to answer the question. You want to say, Yes, there are a lot of competitors in this industry, including competitor A, and competitor B, and competitor C.

But what our product or service is able to do is All of these things that will allow us to go after new customer segments and expand to different regions and to et cetera, et cetera. So you take that prevention oriented question, you answer it quickly, and then you flip it to a promotion oriented response.

And I find that when you do that, not only are you able to get more funding, but you get more funding than those who were only ask the promotion oriented questions. You gain an edge over those who are only asked the promotion oriented questions. And so this is an example of how we can take something that's very implicit.

We're not always even recognizing the types of questions that we're getting asked, but we can take something very implicit, um, acknowledge that, start to recognize that, and be able to impact how those outcomes are decided just based on. Subtly switching, um, how we respond regardless of the types of questions that we're getting asked.

And so I work with a lot of companies and organizations to think about, um, the types of questions they're asking themselves when they're doing strategic planning, right? Are you focusing it very much on a promotion orientation? And if so, might you need to? Switch gears and think a little bit about, well, what are the first two or three steps that we need to take in order to achieve that five year vision?

Um, or working with hiring departments and thinking about the types of questions you're asking in interviews. Um, the types of questions you might be asking for technical candidates versus sales candidates versus marketing candidates and operations candidates, for example. And thinking about how you might more effectively do hiring.

Um, it's working with the candidates themselves to think about how they're responding, how they're engaging with interviewers. Um, it's working with sales teams within organizations, thinking about how they interact with clients and the ways that they. Are answering and interacting with those clients so that they can make the sale, um, or partnerships or, um, you know, so it could be anyone from employees, customers, um, potential partners, potential investors, um, board members, it all dictates and is very salient and relevant how we think about something as simple as the promotion oriented versus prevention oriented question.

So you Can take something very simple, um, but the research really helps to inform how we take this simple concept, just the regulatory focus of a question, um, and be able to practically. Uh, do lots of things with that to, to give us action items. And so that's that translation piece that I really wanted to take my research articles, which, you know, quite frankly, not that many people read because they're like 30 pages of statistics.

And then translating that to a book that you can actually say, here are the things that are very actionable. Here are the two or three things that you can do today, um, to. to change how you approach a situation and increase your chances of being more successful.

What I am really appreciating about you, Laura, is you do seem to be able to take such a macro view of statistics and all the data and give action and it seems to be such a strong suit of yours.

So thank you so much for sharing that.


Thinking about all of this adversity into advantages as this kind of subtitle of your book Edge there. Do you remember maybe? Pre, you as an author, pre management consultant, pre researcher, was there moments of adversity where you were able to actually flip it into an advantage?

 Oh, totally. I mean, so, in the book, I mean, I give lots of... I give tons of personal examples. I actually give, you know, I try to be very purposeful in not having just examples about, you know, super famous people that we all know, like the Steve Jobs and the Elon Musks of the world. I have probably about 20% where I talk about You know, very well known, successful, successful people.

But there's a couple of things there, right? Number one, I talk about success in a very broad way. So I studied success not just from the traditional definitions of success, things like, um, People who are, you know, I interviewed people who are world record holders, people who have won gold medals, people who are CEOs of companies, entrepreneurs who had taken their companies public, right, the traditional definitions of success.

But I also went, you know, along the entire continuum. So everything from that to non traditional definitions of success, but still Successful people, right? So formerly incarcerated individuals who were in prison, but now are trying to find their ways, their way back or get back on their feet. Um, women who had been out of the workforce for 20, 30 years raising children and now are trying to get back, right?

So everything from the traditional to the non traditional. Um, everything from that 20% who are very well known to the 80% everyday people, everyday people that you and I would, would, would encounter, um, because I really wanted to be very purposeful in understanding all different types of adversity. So that 80% is adversity that we would experience on an everyday basis.

And that includes the adversity that I had experienced, which is what you sort of mentioned. So, um, lots of personal stories in there to the extent where. At one point, I remember the book was, um, already in, I think it was already in press or it was being, it was close to being in press and I was sort of reading one of the final versions and I remember thinking, Oh my gosh, this story is so still in here.

How embarrassing because when you're writing the book, right, you're just trying to Yeah. Yeah. For me, anyways, I was writing the book and just trying to get 70, 000 to 80, 000 words down because that's what, you know, the first draft is, right? So getting that 70 to 80, 000 words in and then you think, oh, well, I'm going to do a bunch of editing and, you know, my editor is also going to cut a lot out and it's going to be this iterative process till, we get to the final, the final manuscript.

But I was reading that final manuscript and thinking, Oh my gosh, like, how did I not cut this story out? Or how, how did this, this story still end up there? And it was just, there was definitely some of those super embarrassing stories. Um, you know, there was this, for example, there's this story of how I was interviewing this one investor and, um, and could tell very quickly that he was sort of writing me off.

Um, because You know, I often get written off when I'm doing, I'm studying, you know, these major financial deals or I'm interviewing, you know, the CEOs of companies that, you know, Raytheon and Boeing and Lockheed and all of these different companies. And, you know, I, I stroll in there, this young Asian female who's trying to to collect all of this data.

And I remember I was just getting written off and, um, and very impatiently, you know, he was trying to, like, see me, see me out the door. And then I realized, I recognized that he had a, um, a baseball, an autographed baseball on his shelf. And You know, I grew up this lifelong Yankees fan, grew up near New York, um, in New Jersey.

Um, Yankees, the Knicks, the Giants, right, all, being a huge fan of all of the New York teams, and had, um, all these just weird statistics memorized. Like, I grew up with, in the whole Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettit, that whole era, and so knew all these sort of things. And so I looked at his baseball, and I was like, Is that autograph from Andy Pettit?

And he's like, kind of looked at me strange, and  was surprised that I even knew who Andy Pettit was, let alone recognized the signature. And so realized that that was sort of a way in, that he saw me as this, young Asian female. And so I started talking a lot more quantitatively right around the statistics of the baseball and  this batting average and this number of RBI is and all sorts of things and  form this connection with him.

And all of a sudden I realized, Oh, it makes sense, right? Asian engineer knows a lot about statistics. Um, and, and like then Kind of, he saw the value in me, and we were able to have a much more enriching conversation, and so, you know, I tell stories like that, I tell stories about, you know, and all of it sort of, I should, I should pause here and say all of it kind of goes towards the Thank you.

This overall framework that I was trying to present in the book where edge it's about how to gain an edge, right? So it's about getting an edge when you're getting written off by this investor who sees you as just some dumb  Floozy who doesn't know anything about the investment world and the way you do that is through this This framework that I developed over the course of the research that I had been conducting where the e d g e Stand for the components of edge, right?

So edge is not just about getting an edge. It's about understanding how you enrich Delight guide and make your effort go further, right? So the e d g e effort sorry enrich delight guide and effort and so when I speak about that example You can work really, really hard. You can put a lot of effort in, but unless you, unless that other, that counterpart sees how you enrich and provide value, that meeting's not going to go anywhere.

And so it wasn't until I was able to form that connection Delight by impressing him with Oh, I know whose signature that is. He's also a Yankees fan. I'm a Yankees fan. So that delight piece cracked the door open for me to then be able to enrich and show the value that I could provide. Not only to that baseball conversation, but also to what he was working on with his investments and so on and so forth.


I love it. I grew up a Yankees fan as well.

Oh, you did. Oh, my gosh.

My dad is in Connecticut, but they were all Yankees, right? It's nice to hear. And you think about that, too. And I mean, we're just talking about the subtleties of that, right? But that is the delight aspect of and it's genuine, though.

Yeah. So maybe if you could, if I could add a little Asterisk of like try to make it genuine like you probably care about baseball and yes really cool that you could

and I think that's so important that authenticity piece of it because a lot of times it almost starts to sound like it's being strategic that you're trying to manage impressions and we've all had that example of like we see someone kissing up to the boss and we're like that just feels gross like I don't want to be that person I don't want to be like managing impressions and trying to be strategic and And, and like, but this is actually the opposite of that.

The whole premise of gaining that edge is that it is authentic. It's about the authentic ways in which you delight. It's the authentic ways that you bring value and contribute that. Um, It's about how to guide based on those impressions that they have about you versus who you really are. Those underlying impressions that might be leading them astray to who you really are and the value you provide.

So when I gave the example of, um, those individuals who had accents. They were giving real examples of times when they closed deals. They were giving real examples of times when they were mentorable or innovative. Um,  when I spoke about those questions, the promotion and prevention-focused questions, you're giving real, you're giving the real basis for why you are able to expand or grow or um, it's just that you're also able to address those.

Those obstacles in a real way as well. And so the reason why those who were asked prevention-focused questions and flipped it to a promotion oriented response gained more funding than those who were only asked promotion-focused questions. Why they gained an edge was because not only did they address those questions, those risks, the question marks that the investors had, they were also showing how their company was responding.

hugely scalable and that they had growth opportunities. Um, they were able to, in a very benign and safe way, address both the risks as well as the opportunities. Whereas the ones who only spoke about the promotion orientation talked about how expansive and how much they could grow, but there was still these sort of question marks that were in the investors heads.

It's beautiful. You know, Laura, I, I picture you as right now because you know, you, you basically have to go out and do a press tour for your book over the years now. And it might feel a bit boring for me to be asking you these questions. So thank you for being a great sport, but I, I frame it this way because If you are able to just talk freely about this book, has there been any ways that maybe you've evolved with your definitions or, or changed your thinking or, or if you could play like a, a remix to it, would there be anything that you, you share now?

Hard Work Plus

Well, I think the remix for, for sure. I think, um, you know, it's, Part Of What I realized the more that I talked about this book is this notion of like hard work alone is not enough and what I mean by that is  we're all sort of taught that hard work is the secret to success and it is I would never say that hard work is not critical but hard work alone is not enough and that's why that last E is effort and hard work it comes last because when we know how we enrich and delight and guide that's when that effort and hard work would actually, actually worked harder for you.

So I think the remix would be, you know, instead of edge turning adversity into advantage, maybe it's edge when hard work alone is not enough. You know, I mean, I, I definitely think that piece around flipping that adversity in your favor is important, but I also think that That the importance of being able to understand that hard work is critical, but there's ways to give yourself that hard work plus To give yourself that tailwind So that your hard work does work harder for you Is also super important But you know I think a lot of those ideas and that that piece of it is going into the second book which we talked a little bit briefly about earlier, but You know, I think the second book is much more focused on I would say some of it's a combination of like the fundamental ideas that I started with but also a lot of the future research that I had been doing after this book came out.

Second Book and Gut Feel

So the second book is purely based on gut feel. It's around how do we hone and harness our gut feel? How do we take the experiences that we've had, the background, the cultures, even the trauma, all of the negative things that we've experienced, how do we harness that in a way that allows us to recognize our gut feel, recognize the signals that our gut feels trying to tell us, allow us to take action on that gut feel, diagnose it and take action in a way that will make all of that hard work that we've put in, um, I think, you know, Allow us to just take it in a different direction in a more valuable more effective effective direction So that's the book that is sort of the sequel but also the remix.

It's super cool And if we can't talk about it too much Let me know but a question that comes to my mind thinking about my own gut and intuition. I struggle to sometimes understand what is my gut reaction versus maybe what is a limiting belief that I have on myself. Have you seen anything yet in the research that indicates what is a gut and maybe what's a limiting belief?

Gut Reaction vs Limiting Belief

Yeah, so, um, part of what I am currently still like in the process of writing is like, Our gut feel comes to us as certain sensations. And so how do we recognize those sensations as, this is, this is my experience trying to tell me something. There's something about, um, what I'm experiencing now in the outside world and it's telling me something about my priors.

It's telling me about something I already know. And so, When we recognize that, we're able to do exactly what you're saying. Is this actually a limiting belief? Is this actually, or is maybe this is a bias that I'm trying, that I need to collect more data about? Or maybe this is, um, a situation that reminds me of something else, but then I would go astray if I, I did the same thing.

So it's really about recognizing that. And so what I'm hoping to do is really provide this comprehensive way that we can say, okay, here's what. Um, here's what it looks like for me. Here's how, here's how it presents itself to me. And then here's what I, I can do with it. And it's a very personal thing because it's going to present itself differently to different people.

Um, so that's what I'm hoping this, this will be able to do based on, um, these stories and anecdotes and the research that I've continued to do. It's beautiful. Well, let's just pause here for a sec.

Yeah, and, and so it makes me think too, as you are working on book two, but the focus of really your mission seems to be empowerment, especially people who are disadvantaged or they're kind of written off, as you say, and, you know, so what, what can we, how can I frame this? Let me think about that. So thinking about all this, as you are working so hard now on the second book, trying to write daily, but what are the future implications of all of this, whether it's Edge or the second book with Gut Feeling?

Have you noticed this in academia or with organizations and companies? What are you seeing can people really use? How can they use their adversity?

Making Edge Actionable

Yeah. I mean, I think the piece of it is really like, how do we continue to make this actionable and how do we continue to get this, this out there more than just, cause the research is being done, but we don't always translate the research in a way that makes it, you know, makes it applicable.

And so. Um, I think that's the, that's the reason why, you know, I've taken on this faculty directorship, you know, with a bunch of the Women's Empowerment, Women's Entrepreneurship Initiative. Um, what I realized is, you know, a lot of times, The people who need these messages are not the ones who are actually getting it.

And what I mean by this is like, there are, well, actually, there's a bunch of different ways that we can think, like,  so, for example, parents will always come to me and they'll say, like, Hey, what's, how do I, like, how do I give my kid an edge? How do I get them into this college, right? And I always say to them, you know, it's not about, Giving them an edge.

It's about teaching them how to cultivate their own edge, right? You can always give your kid an edge by paying for private coaching or paying for extra tutors But when you teach your children to cultivate their own edge, they're going to get be able to find their edge in any situation they're going to be in.

When you give your kids an edge, it's in one dimension. It's either just getting them into that college, or just getting them into that sport, or just getting them into that job. But then you change them to a different industry, or a different geographic region, or a different school, or a different mix of people that they're interacting with.

And they need to be able to Read others. They need to be able to understand the different types of perceptions that are now being bestowed upon them because they're in a different industry or they're with a different mix of people. And so I think as we, in my work, I want to continue going to. You know, different, different populations, different underserved populations.

Project Emplify

Um, a couple of years ago I started a non profit called Project Emplify, so Emplify like E M P L I F Y, so it's empowering and amplifying. Emplify. So kind of combining the empower and amplify to make it amplify. And it's really meant for K through 12 Children who wouldn't have an opportunity to get these messages.

They wouldn't have an opportunity to understand empowerment or to understand financial literacy or to understand the entrepreneurial mindset. And so it's, um We we donate books. I do boot camps. Um,  and there's  a capstone project that they can work on. And all of this sort of goes towards what you're asking about is how can we continue to do this both earlier in different populations as well as in organizations?

Because in organizations. That's, um, that's my consulting work, uh, that's helping organizations to continue thinking about this more effectively, um, in the, for the K through 12, the earlier populations and the underprivileged populations, that's with my nonprofits, um, and then with university students, um, and aspirational employees, that's with these centers, um, with, with the entrepreneurship centers and with.

Um, the various leadership types of initiatives. So yeah, I'm hoping that this continues to, to get out there. Thanks so much for great questions around this that really dug into what, what this research is and where it could go.

Yeah. And it's, it's really wonderful just to feel your passion for all of this is, you know, this is something that you found your why, you know, for the cliche Simon Sinek right there.

And I wish you continued success. Thank you. Yeah, and Laura, do you mind sharing where people can maybe pick up the book? Where can they learn more about your research?

Yeah, sure, sure. The, the first book, Edge, Turning Adversity into Advantage, is available pretty much anywhere.   Um, it's, You read the audio book too, right?

Oh, I do, I do. So you can also get the audible version. Yeah, it's in, translated into many languages. So you can get it in Mandarin, Italian, Spanish. Are you reading it in Mandarin? Oh, so no, that is not me. And actually, you know, the English version is the version that I would actually suggest because that was, those are actually my words.

The translations, some of them are a little dodgy. I'm not quite sure. Like, you know, the direct translation is not always the same, the same meaning. But, um. But yeah, that's the book, and then I'm very findable on social media, um, I'm on Instagram, Twitter, my website is ProfLauraHuang, so like ProfessorLauraHuang, ProfLauraHuang, my Instagram handle is the same, ProfLauraHuang, Twitter, um, YouTube, all of the sort of Normal things and then the non profit is projectemplify.Org.

Love it Yeah, the amplify and empower and you're doing all that thing. Well, Laura Thank you for being our first guest  📍 on the human science podcast and bringing the true human to the science Thank you so much for joining us and we'll talk to you next time everyone. Thanks Bye. Bye

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