CEO Exercise

One useful tool is a thought exercise: You have fifteen minutes with your CEO. If your idea is good and evidence is strong, she’ll pick up the phone and call anyone. What do you ask for? I’m going to give you a second, do you have an immediate answer? I didn’t, the first time I tried.

That’s because it’s really hard! For two main reasons:

  1. It’s easy to think of ourselves as powerless because we don’t have the authority to make anything happen directly.
  2. It’s easy to keep our ideas in the abstract. Human brains don’t like getting concrete. The problem with that is, your brain doesn’t like it, but nobody else’s does either. These difficulties lead to what I call the “Somebody should DO something!” syndrome. This takes hold easily, where it’s tempting to just gesture vaguely at everything going on that is completely wrong, and just want someone else to fix it. Sure, but who? What should they do?


Kalil, Thomas. “Policy Entrepreneurship at the White House: Getting Things Done in Large Organizations.” Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, vol. 11, no. 3–4, July 2017, pp. 4–21. (Crossref),

Exercise: You have fifteen minutes with the president. If he thinks your idea is good and your evidence is strong, he’s willing to pick up the phone and call anyone. This teaches people to have a sense of agency and to value concreteness. p. 10