Thomas Steenburgh, PhD is a senior professor of Business Administration and Senior Associate Dean at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. Tom spent a good portion of his career in the corporate world and before he departed for academia, he held senior positions at Xerox Corporation, ending his work there as head of the US Direct Incentive Strategy with a budget of $140 million budget for 4,000 salespeople Tom has partnered with Mike Ahearne, PhD from the University of Houston (featured in a June 2018 episode of Behavioral Grooves) on extensive research related to the performance and management of sales reps.

Recently, the two of them developed ground-breaking research on how to help sales reps be more successful when they are asked to sell new products. Tom and Mike invested 5 years in gathering data from sales managers, salespeople, and even customers. The insights they gained were especially valuable for those working in sales leadership positions.

There were three primary discoveries we discussed with Tom. The first is that the best asset for a sales rep to have when it comes to selling new products is a learning mindset. A learning mindset, as described by Tom, is what comes from a sales rep’s innate curiosity about customers, their environment and their needs. As intuitive as that sounds, it’s a lot less common that we imagine.

Reps with learning mindsets spend more time discussing the market trends affecting the customers as well as the situations and the specific needs their customers have before they start into selling new products. This deep investigation into each customer’s situation contributes to increased success when they start selling. The downside is that it takes more time and reduces output while they’re doing that investigation. Sales managers who are anxious to keep the numbers up from month to month may struggle with this. Tom highlighted a few ways to work around this in the short term.

The second big discovery was the disconnect between sales reps and their customers in how they perceive the strengths of the reps. In other words, customers were asked to rate reps on a variety of scales and reps were asked to the same of themselves. When considering the rep’s strengths, customers tended to rate sales reps very differently than reps rated themselves. The only dimension the reps and customers agreed on was on the sales rep’s product knowledge. Customers were more likely to give reps lower scores on reps’ learning mindsets, adaptability and openness than the reps gave themselves. This revealed big blind spots.

The third big discovery was the role of the rep’s emotional wellbeing in the selling process. We recognize that selling new products can be hard on the reps, but it’s vital to the company’s long-term success. Tom’s research revealed that sales reps need to become change agents within the organization as well as masters to change their own selling methods. These changes, along with saving face with clients, can cause significant emotional challenges – a component that has been undervalued in the past.

It turns out that reps were surprised by the stark contrast between how easy it was to get customers to take meetings and how difficult it was to close deals after the initial interest. Unfortunately, most sales reps failed to do the deep investigation to understand who the best target for the new product would be, so many of their meetings were wastes of time.

We also talked about the importance of strategic account reps with their broader viewpoints and longer-term orientations and how they can be leaders in new product introductions. And we discussed Neil Rackham, the creator of SPIN selling and author of books on consultative selling.

Of course, we also discussed Tom’s eclectic tastes in music. Apparently, he has seemingly equal interest in the works of Philip Glass, great American contemporary composer of minimalist orchestral music and John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards, who are responsible for some of the greatest covers of Ornette Coleman’s classic sax tunes. But Tom also listens to the sweet and simple Americana melodies of Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch. Not to be outdone with another left-turn, Tom paid special note to Kurt Weill, the early 20th century composer of The Threepenny Opera which featured the song “Mack The Knife” (lyrics by Berthold Brecht). It was popularized by Bobby Darin in 1958, then Ella Fitzgerald in her 1960 performance Live in Berlin, which we’ve referenced before as one of the greatest live recordings – ever. Our own notes included references to The Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

In our grooving session, we expanded on Tom’s mention of learning mindset and we brought up Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. The intersection of these two concepts is very cool.


Finally, Kurt and Tim help companies with sales compensation, sales incentive structures and the selecting the most motivational rewards, don’t hesitate to start a conversation with us. You might be a sales leader with questions, and we can help answer them. We’d love to help your organization improve your bottom line with a behavioral lens.

Kurt Nelson, PhD: @whatmotivates 

Tim Houlihan: @thoulihan



Web site:



Robert Cialdini, PhD is counted among the greatest psychological researchers alive today and his published works have been cited thousands of times. His New York Times best-selling book, Influence, from 1984, is considered a classic for classroom and corporate use alike. He is an ardent author and a passionate professor, and his work has impacted millions. In short, Bob Cialdini has shaped the landscape of how sales and marketing workers do their jobs and how researchers frame their studies.

In this episode of Behavioral Grooves, Bob took a few minutes to discuss some of his most underappreciated research and some of the new things he’s working on. We began with a study that used littering as a way to predict, before the polls closed, the outcome of an election by watching how voters treated candidate fliers left on their cars. One of the very elegant aspects of this study was that it required no surveys – merely the observation of behaviors in the parking lots of the polling places. The question the researchers sought to answer was this: How do voters treat the fliers of candidates they favor and of those they oppose? More specifically, do voters keep fliers from candidates they like and litter with the fliers of candidates they dislike?  

Then, our conversation moved to a line of research that he’d investigated for over a decade: the motivations for pro-social behavior, such as giving to those in need. Bob reminds us that there are many motivators at play when one person helps out another, as when a passerby gives money to some asking for money on the street, but there is one motivator that stands out: egoism. Many of us believe that being charitable is an obligation or is driven by guilt, and while that is true to some degree, Bob’s collective research over more than a dozen years revealed that egoism, that selfish desire to feel good about ourselves, is at the heart of helping others.

Then we went a step farther. Bob noted that helping others is more likely to occur when the person in need appears to be in-group or in-tribe. In other words, we’re more likely to be charitable if it appears the person asking for help is “like me.” The primary way we decide if someone is like us is to look at how they’re dressed. What kind of clothes are they wearing? In his studies, Bob found that soccer (football) fans were more likely to assist someone on the street if they were wearing the jersey of their favorite team. It’s unnerving to think that the clothes you wear could determine whether someone helps you or not.

In our grooving session, Kurt and Tim discussed the impact of social identity and self-identity. We discussed articles by Michael Hogg and Roy Baumeister. We brought in books by Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile and Dan Levitan’s great treatise on the neurological effects of music. And on music, we chatted about how music makes us feel and we cited Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as examples.

Lastly, Bob is interested in hearing from YOU! He’d like listeners to send reports on how the principles of influence are being used in the real world to be included in his next book. If you’d like to be considered for his next work, please send your stories to

We hope you enjoy our discussion with Bob Cialdini.

Sponsor: The Creative Group, Inc.

This episode is brought to you by Creative Group Inc.  Kurt and Tim have worked with CGI and have found that their process of co-creation of incentive program provides clients with more robust solutions.  Because their incentive and employee engagement programs are co-created, they reflect the truest aspects of the client’s organization and culture. CGI shares our belief that incentives and rewards shouldn’t be used to create brand mercenaries – but instead, should be about creating brand missionaries.  Check them out at

A Note of Gratitude

We are grateful to Bob for sharing his insights with us in this very fun conversation. However, it wouldn’t have happened without the concerted effort of Bobette Gordon. We thank her for her coordination and support to make put make our conversation with Bob a reality.


Robert Cialdini, PhD and Influence at Work:

The Principle of Continuation in Gestalt Psychology. The Continuity Principle:

Daniel Levitin: This is Your Brain on Music.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). “The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation,” Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.

Festinger, L. (1954). “A theory of social comparison processes,” Human Relations, 7, 117–140.

Hogg, M. A. (2001). “Social categorization, depersonalization, and group behavior. In M. A. Hogg & R. S. Tindale (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Group processes (pp. 56–85). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Walton, G., Cohen, G., Cwir, D., and Spencer, S. (2012) “Mere Belonging: The Power of Social Connections,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,, Vol. 102, No. 3, 513–532.

Amabile, T., Kramer, S., Williams, S. (2011) The Progress Principle, Harvard Business Review Press.

Aretha Franklin: “Think”

Semisonic: “Closing Time” 

Ludwig von Beethoven: “5th Symphony”

Cassette tape:

This episode is first in a series called Exploring the Principles of Influence, named for Robert Cialdini, PhD’s principles in his 1984 book, Influence. During this and the next 5 mini-grooving sessions, we will discuss Dr. Cialdini’s principles in light of events that are making headlines.

In this episode, we tackle principle #4: Consistency. Dr. Cialdini describes consistency in this way: “Once people make a decision, take a stand or perform an action, they will face an interpersonal pressure to behave in a consistent manner with what they have said or done previously.”

Consistency impacts how we view ourselves and how we are viewed by our familial, social and work communities. Consistency is the foundation of trust, a central element to the success of humankind.

Kurt and Tim discuss how consistency plays a role in two political stalemates in the headlines: one in the United States with the government shutdown and the other in the UK with Brexit. We discuss how politicians are known for flip-flopping without impacting the support of their base enthusiasts. But, we ask, how many times can politicians forego consistency before the base supporters begin defecting? And how does context impact a politician’s need to be consistent? 

Listen to this mini grooving session to get a quick snapshot of these two political stalemates through the lens of Robert Cialdini’s 4th principle of influence: Consistency.

In this episode, we had a discussion with Ori Brafman about decentralization and how our brains respond to cash and cocaine. Ori is a multiple New York Times bestselling author and is the founder and president of Starfish Leadership as well as the co-founder of the Fully Charged Institute with Tom Rath. He is a Distinguished Teaching Fellow at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and his specialties range from organizational culture, employee engagement, business transformation, leadership, to emerging technologies.

More than many of our guests, our talk with Ori touched on a very wide range of topics. We rambled from from distributed trust, gaining power through ceding control in decentralized industries, making a new blockchain currency – called Groove Coins (which would be cool!) – to how being born in Israel and growing up in El Paso, Texas impacted his life, how communities and tribes impact us, how we do or do not imply intent, and to how we use technology, in many ways, is a huge behavioral science experiment.

We also discussed a new podcast that Ori has launched with his brother Rom called “Psychological Mysteries” and how they’re attempting to wrap up some loose ends in the world of psychology. Sort of a fraternal myth-busters approach to solving some common misconceptions of our minds.

Of course, we discussed music and how Ori’s love for serious music (classical and baroque) became evident at an early age, but he didn’t find enough traction to pursue it professionally. Ironically, he discovered some of his baroque heroes at Burning Man while EDM music (EDM = electronic dance music) played in the background. Burning Man, if you are not familiar, is an annual festival of sorts, that attracts nearly 80,000 people to a playa in the middle of the desert near Reno, Nevada in the western United States. Burning Man promotes principles such as radical inclusion, radical self-expression, radical self-reliance and gifting among their top 10. These make for a unique experience according to friends who have attended the week-long cultural experience.

Our time with Ori passed quickly and was filled with lots and lots of laughter. We found that his intellectual rigor lifted us up with new ideas and fresh perspectives and we are grateful to have had a chat with him.

In our grooving session, we started out discussing Richard Mowday’s book, Employee – Organization Linkages: The Psychology of Commitment, Absenteeism, and Turnover, published by Academic Press in 1982.  We also discussed the Psychometrics of Decentralization, from an article in Psychology Today, from June 14, 2018 and some of Rachel Botsman’s interesting work on trust.

Before you listen, we would like your help.  Stars and written reviews help move us up in Apple’s (and other pod services) algorithms for ratings and rankings.  On Apple, all you have to do is click on “Shows” find Behavioral Grooves, scroll down to the bottom (past all our episodes) to rate us AND write a review.  We would greatly appreciate it.

Please enjoy our discussion with Ori Brafman.

Ori’s Books include:

  • Radical Inclusion: What the Post–9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership
  • The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations
  • Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior
  • Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do
  • The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success


Ori & Rom’s Podcast “Psychological Mysteries” can be found at

To subscribe to Behavioral Grooves, you can do so at any major podcatcher or at Podbean:

In this special edition, we sat down with Barry Ritholtz, a Wall Street investment maven, host of the podcast Masters In Business, a regular contributor to Bloomberg TV, CNBC and The Street, as well as an author whose pieces appear in The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post as well as his blog, The Big Picture.

To say that our conversation with Barry was unconventional is an understatement. We talked for well over an hour about the application of behavioral science in his investment firm, predicting market downturns, Steely Dan, behavioral science researchers, great investors throughout history and personal anecdotes… all of which were as entertaining as they were insightful.

This episode strays from our regular format by including our grooving commentaries as we go through the interview. In other words, we talk about the concepts that our guest brings up as interludes to the live discussion with him.

Barry lets us know – right off the bat – that he is not your average Wall Street investment-firm guy. He is insightful and data-driven. He noted one of his earliest influences was Jack Schwager, author of Market Sense and Nonsense. Schwager’s data-driven position was instantly appealing to Barry. Then Tom Gilovich, PhD brought research into Barry’s purview and fueled a deeper dive into behavioral science. Tom is known for his work on biases and heuristics as well as the enlightening research he contributed to on the hot-hand fallacy, which has recently been challenged.

In Barry’s career, he became aware of small differences in his coworker’s approaches making big differences to their results. It was the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a common cognitive bias in which people of low ability mistakenly assess their cognitive skill as greater than it is. We’ve all had the experience of hearing a friend make grand predictions about something we’re pretty sure they know nearly nothing about.

Barry was also impressed by the research-based Fama-French model and how it addresses three critical basics of investing using data. The model uses three factors to describe stock returns:  1. Market risk.  2. Small company stocks tend to provide better returns than larger company stocks. 2. High book-to-market companies perform better than low book-to-market companies.  

Barry also noted how he has been influenced by Ray Dalio, author and investor, and how much Barry’s science-based college education helped him appreciate and focus his investment approach by using data.

Our musical discussion began with Steely Dan and headed into Steely Dan’s co-founder’s first solo effort, The Nightfly. Donald Fagen recorded and produced The Nightfly in 1982 with audiophile-perfect recording techniques.  We also discussed Barry’s quest to discover the Greatest American Band and the constraints he put on the title. Without constraints, we lack focus, he says, so eligibility required that each band be (a) American born and (b) a band, not an individual with a back-up band.

If you like listening to this episode and the way we edited our conversation with Barry, send us a note! We’d love to hear what you think.

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