NYC Recap: Changemaker Chat with Sheena Iyengar

iyengar chatThis May we explored the theme of choice, and who better to discuss the topic than Sheena Iyengar, a world-renowned expert on choice and author of The Art of Choosing?

Born in Toronto to Sikh parents who immigrated from Dehi, and raised in New York, at an early age Sheena discovered she had rare form of retinitis pigmentosa that progressively caused blindness. Sheena described how expectations of her were drastically altered as a small child and how this became a driving force in her life: “My disability gave me the freedom to choose my own future…I didn’t suffer from expectations because there were fewer.”

From a young age Sheena learned how to stand on her own. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University, and is now a professor at Columbia Business School. She has been featured in the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Today Show. Her Ted Talks have amassed close to 4 million views, and her book The Art of Choosing was #3 on Amazon’s best business books in 2010. Sheena is also the mother of an 11-year old and an avid biker, having just completed a 40-mile ride through the five boroughs of New York.

We were lucky enough to sit with Sheena for a Chat, and learn how her research can help future Changemakers address both big and small choices.

A quick tip for assessing the choices you make
Sheena explained that big choices are a culmination of smaller ones that come before and after. When approaching a choice, think to yourself, “Will this choice improve my status quo?” If so, choose it. Sheena encouraged the group to use the 10x10x10 rule: How will you feel about your choice in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years from now?

Remember to reflect
“We are not alone in facing choices and change, and we also can never really have it all together… so instead focus on what is most important to you,” noted Sheena. How do we do that? She recommends that twice a year, in each domain of your life, ask yourself, “what are the three to four most important things to me?” and then set goals. Where do you want to be in six months, a year, five years? Understand that it takes concentrated effort to achieve them.

Take an honest look at your options
Sheena encouraged anyone making a career change to keep a diary about what you learned about your options and yourself.

  1. Decide what you want
  2. Identify where you add value
  3. Rule out obvious no-fits
  4. Gather info: What are the skills you need? Who is in your network? What is the narrative you will create?
  5. Spend at least 5 hours a week on this until you find your best match.

Networking: Quality over Quantity
Networks are important for several reasons, both professionally and personally. They help establish happiness and wellbeing, and provide new information and ideas. So how much time do we spend investing in them? The rule of thumb is 70% of your time with close connections and 30% with new people. Networking is about quality not quantity. Take time to get to know a few people who you connect with and maintain those relationships.  And remember that networking is like a muscle; we have to train the skill to facilitate its growth. Rather than dreading a networking event, Sheena urged us to change our mindsets and think more positively.

Flip the script on womanhood
Since Sheena was used to being the only blind person in the room, being the only woman in the room or the only minority in the room never fazed her. This taught Sheena an important lesson, which she passed on to us: “Don’t get bogged down in the baggage of womanhood. Stop buying into the scripts.” 

Thank you choice guru, Sheena Iyengar. We can’t wait to hear about your new focus on authenticity. Visit Sheena’s website to learn more about her work.