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"The Power of Or" With Joe Thornton, Author and COO at HMSHost

My friend and former colleague Joe Thornton is often the calm in the storm, staying steady in even the most disruptive conditions. It's ironic that he recently moved across the country to be the COO at HMSHost (one of the largest airport food and beverage concessionaires) in the middle of a global pandemic - it doesn't get much stormier than that.

But one of Joe's strengths is deciding what to do and what not do, guided by his values and top priorities. He has harnessed his wisdom in his first book called "The Power of Or" and graciously shares his thoughts in this week's In My Network article.

How and when did we first meet?

It was at Starbucks and I think I was the Regional Vice President for South Central and you were in Operations Services.

You just published a book titled "The Power of Or." At a high level, what is it about and what inspired you to write it?

I led a store operations engineering project many years ago, and we worked with consultants who always talked about the power of "and”. I recall that it never set well with me, but I couldn't really articulate why. As the years have gone on, what I've realized is that most companies work with the premise that everything can be done all at once. What I realized as well, is that most of us live very practically in our personal life and we cannot do everything at once. In fact, we are making tradeoffs every day. I believe the same discipline is necessary in the workplace. So, the book is about simplification, prioritization, self-discipline, discipline and lots of storytelling.

You've had some very senior level positions at Starbucks, Jamba Juice and Blockbuster to name a few. Can you share a story where you've had to exercise the "power of or" at work?

My first year working for Jamba Juice as the COO. We were in the midst of a full-scale business turnaround and the work far outweighed the resources to get it done. I had to learn to say no. I was saying yes to every project and then trying to figure it out and adding stress to my team- what I sign up for, they sign up for, they just didn’t know it. A year in role, I said no, and it changed the job.

I've heard the idea that multitasking is dead and it's actually counterproductive even though we're living in a generation of second and third screens. What tips do you have to reduce or eliminate multitasking?

Make a concerted effort to check your phone at the top of each hour instead of responding to every ding or vibration. I believe you will be surprised at how much multitasking activity you will eliminate. If it is impossible to resist the urge, consider taking your fingerprint unlock off and go back to the 2015 old-school-way of unlocking your phone with a passcode. After the past few years of the quick fingerprint access, you may find the passcode quite frustrating... good—it could be effective.

Perhaps the ultimate test. Try watching your favorite show without using the DVR and watch it all the way through without pausing or rewinding. It may give you some insight into how distracted you are and how much multitasking has taken over your life.

I believe that social media and technology has done wonders by providing us access to information and one another in unprecedented ways. That said, all that additional context can increase the amount and complexity of decision making. How can one apply the principles in your book to our daily lives when there seems to be so much more going on?

Demonstrate self-discipline, be decisive, don’t make tradeoffs you will regret, have the courage to say "no", and please stop multitasking. Be able to articulate where and how you are doing something different.

Saying "no" can be so hard as there is so much I want to do and experience and I also don't want to let people down. Can you share a framework or some guidance on how to say "no"?

Think of it this way: saying no may stop just as much additional work as the amount of extra work that is created when you continue to say yes. Said differently, there could be a double benefit to productivity by saying no.

Saying no to the easy things is not what I am talking about. It is about saying no when it is difficult, when it is unpopular, when it feels wrong to say it.

For those of you that are parents, think about how many times you may have cleaned up your child’s room. If you cannot say no to a five-year-old, you must think about what chance you have of saying no to your boss or someone else at work heaping an unrealistic amount of work on your plate.

What is one difficult but profound personal or career decision you had to make and what impact did it end up having?

Leaving Starbucks to go to Jamba Juice. It opened doors that I could not have envisioned and accelerated my learning

What's next for Joe Thornton? What decisions are you in the process of making?

Well, I just started my COO role at HMSHost. I also have more books I want to write. My second book is called The Hostility Of Change: Breaking Through Deep-Seated Barriers; my third book is called The Depths Of Mediocrity; and my fourth book is called The Benefits Of Neglect, Project Prosperity and Operations United States.

Thanks so much Joe and thanks for not saying "no" to my interview. I know you choose how you spend your time wisely and I'm grateful for being on the other side of your "or".

It's time for your rapid fire round so, go!

  • Your "go to" leadership book: The Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

  • Favorite sport to watch: Football

  • Favorite sport to play: Basketball

  • Where you live: I just moved to Washington, D.C.

  • Favorite family activity: Bowling

  • Favorite holiday to decorate your house for: Christmas and Halloween

You can find The Power of Or on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

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