Laura Huang // Ep 55 // Finding Your Edge

Welcome to Episode 55 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Laura Huang on this week's episode.

We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
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Laura Huang is a professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Laura’s research examines interpersonal relationships and implicit bias in entrepreneurship and in the workplace. She is the creator and co-founder of Project EMplify, an initiative dedicated to addressing inequality and disadvantage through personal empowerment.Her award-winning research has been featured in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, and Nature, and she was named one of the 40 Best Business School Professors Under the Age of 40 by Poets & Quants, and to the Thinkers 50 Radar list as one of the leading management thinkers in the world. Previously, she held positions in investment banking, consulting, and management, for organizations such as Standard Chartered Bank, IBM Global Services, and Johnson & Johnson.Laura holds an MS and BSE in electrical engineering, both from Duke University, an MBA from INSEAD, and a PhD from the University of California, Irvine. Her first book is entitled EDGE: Turning Adversity into Advantage.

About Project EMplify:

Project EMplify teaches soft skills to unprivileged communities, bridging the gap between what is taught in schools and what is needed in the workplace. Project EMplify provides provide books, mentoring, and education to high school and college students as well as teachers working in these underserved communities. Globally, we are partnered with organizations including CW Foundation, Dress for Success, KIST, Teach for Taiwan and The Parent Venture.

Project EMplify was co-founded by Olivia Chen and Harvard Business School Professor, Laura Huang.

About EDGE:

When Hard Work Is Just Not Enough, How to Find Your EDGE

So You Can Give It Your All

Many of us sit back quietly, hoping that our hard work and effort will speak for itself—only to be left frustrated and discouraged. Or we try to force ourselves into the mold of someone we think is “successful,” stifling the creativity and charm that makes us unique and memorable.

I’ve experienced both. I’ve had to constantly find ways to turn adversity into advantage. I’m determined to bring my research and experience to the table to advocate for an inclusive workplace, inoculate against unconscious bias, and empower each of you to take control of how others perceive you—so that you can find your EDGE.

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Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan. 

And my name is Maggie 

And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals.

We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

Maggie: (00:00:23) Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest. With us, her name is Laura . Laura is the MBA class of 1954 associate professor of business administration at the Harvard business school. Laura’s research examines, interpersonal relationships and implicit bias in entrepreneurship and in the workplace. She is the creator of. Find your edge and initiative dedicated to addressing inequality and disadvantage through personal empowerment. Her award winning research has been featured in the financial times, the wall street journal USA today, Forbes and nature, and she was named one of the 40 best business school professors under the age of 40 by poets and quants previously, she has held positions in investment banking, consulting and management for organizations such as Standard charter bank. IBM global services and Johnson and Johnson. Laura holds an MSM BSC in electrical engineering, both from Duke university and MBA from NCN and a PhD from the university of California. Irvine. Her first book is entitled edge turning adversity into advantage. Laura, welcome to the show.


Laura: (00:01:30)  Thank you such a, such a pleasure to be on here with you guys,


Bryan: (00:01:35) or so we’ve been wanting you, wanting you to come on the podcast for a while now, and we’re super excited to have you here.

Laura: (00:01:40) I know it took us a little while to get the scheduling under, under control, but, um, but I am here and I’m super excited and love what you guys are doing.


Bryan: (00:01:49) Thank you so much. She has hop reigns here, Laura LA where’d you grow up? What was your childhood? Like? You want to hear more about your story?


Laura: (00:01:55) So, I mean, yeah. Mike childhood. I had a really happy childhood. I mean, I can’t no, no big complaints. Um, you know, but I think a lot of it was because I was super naive. Like I didn’t realize all of the things that were going on around me. Um, I, I grew up in a town that was. Predominantly all Caucasian. There was only two Asian families. Um, there was our family and then there was my best friend Deepa her family. So it was us and Deepa who was Indian American. Um, and we. You know, it was, it was really happy, but I think we, it was only way later that I sort of recognized how sheltered of a life that I I had and had to sort of really understand my identity in a really different way, because growing up, I just. You know, I wanted to have blonde hair and blue eyes and didn’t think any differently because that was what I had seen all around me. Um, and you know, so I tell lots of these sorts of stories in my book around how there was lots of discrimination. There was lots of implicit bias, uh, but it was only way later that looking back, I, I sort of identified it for what it was. So. Um, but, but yeah, I think, um, you know, I, I grew up as the child of immigrants. Um, both my parents are from Taiwan and, you know, I don’t know how, how quickly you want me to launch into like stories. Okay. um, but no, I think like, you know, lots of little stories of things growing up. And, um, what I talk about in my book is how I say often, like life rhymes, And what I mean by that is like, we have these experiences as, as, as kids and later on, and we might not know exactly what’s happening, but there’s certain feeling that we have, or like it leaves, uh, you know, us feeling slightly uncomfortable and we don’t know why or slightly frustrated and we don’t know why. And then later on in life, we have another  experience that we have that same emotion. And it might be a completely different context, completely different people. And over life, we build up these situations where our life kind of rhymes. And I feel like that really leads us to who we are and what our identity ends up shaping up to become. Because I think my identity was always. One of this balance between fitting in and completely being on the outskirts of, of things. And, um, on the one hand, like, Trying to, uh, like being a cheerleader in high school, because that was what gave you power and status. And in like in this town that I grew up, but then like shuffling back and forth between cheerleading practice and like, you know, practicing, uh, doing, doing like problems for my AP calculus exam and, you know, these, these sort of different pieces of identity that,


Bryan: (00:04:57) wow, that’s awesome.


Maggie: (00:05:00) That’s very powerful Oh, yeah. I was just going to say, I really relate to that as well. I think growing up, um, you know, I have always been petite and so I always wanted to kind of look similar to how, you know, white girls looked like they were tall, they were skinny. And I also, you know, resonate in the fact that I wanted to do cheerleading as well. So yeah. Very relatable.


Bryan: (00:05:21) I mean, it’s so cool. Like, just hearing about your story and yeah. You know, let’s talk a little bit more about your college career, you know, like you measure as a, as an engineer and you worked in finance forbid, how does your path to here to where you are today and what did you drive yourself to be here?


Laura: (00:05:36) I’ve had some that I’ve had the creative craziest path and people like, if you look at, or even sort of describing the things that I’ve, I’ve done, it’s either like, this is a person who has like no clue what, what she wants to do, or this person is like, I mean, it’s, I really. I just have never known what I want to be when I grow up. Like, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I don’t know that I want to be a professor when I, when I grow up. I just, you know, when you’re, when you’re younger, you only see a couple of different professions. Right? All I saw was like pediatrician, um, teacher, there was only a certain couple of things that were, were sort of all, and then you would hear, I would, you know, What’s probably very similar amongst all of your listeners or amongst many of your listeners is that there were other occupations that were like thrown at me, like be an engineer, be a doctor be right. And so I think I just never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. And also I was managing so many different parts of my identity, right. Things from, you know, pretending to be my parents when I was calling the electric company or flipping out my own permission slips. Um, pretending to be my mother. And so being like this kid and an adult, being someone who was Asian, but also Western, um, being someone who is told on the one hand that you could be anything, but yet. Being told you had to be certain things. Um, and so I think, but the, the common thread is that I was always really curious, like I was always curious about what was going on. And so I just tried lots of different things. And so I was an engineer by training, worked in engineering for a couple of years. Um, worked in sales and marketing, uh, worked in management consulting, worked in investment banking. Um, am now a professor. I’ve just had lots of different careers and, and so who knows where that’ll take me? I mean, maybe someday I’ll decide that I no longer want to be a professor anymore and I’ll try out something else.


Bryan: (00:07:41) Yeah. I love your career path so much. And I think to me, it’s like, it shows that you can do anything and anything is possible, you know? And I think, um, I just, my own experience too, like I started out as an engineer. And became a real estate investor and that’ll be key. Then I got into venture and now starting in community, which is like completely different from everything I ever thought I could do. But out of curiosity, too, like where did your, I read through your book at Dre? What is your sense of analysis come from? Like, was it something that you were taught with by your parents or something that you are always extra aware of your surroundings growing up? That makes sense.


Laura: (00:08:21) Yeah, I was, I feel like I was always extra aware of my surroundings just because there was always things thrown at me that were unexpected. Um, you know, I think the common theme is I just always felt like I didn’t really belong. Like I was never, I was never American enough to be in the U S I was never Taiwanese enough when I was in Taiwan. And so there was always this, like this, this, this risk of, of making missteps. Of making, um, sort of these like errors and, and not knowing what would, what would be come of that. And always having to be attuned to other’s reactions, analyzing the situation. Um, and a lot of that has gone into my research and my work, which is so much around perceptions and attribution’s, and, and the underlying perceptions that others have about us and how we can sort of float that in our favor. I mean, I remember when I was little. There was this situation like when you, when you, when I was growing up and there was this thing where, when it was whenever it was your birthday, um, they, the, the big thing is like, you would bring cupcakes to school. And, um, and I was always, like, I thought it was so cool because. And you bring, you bring cupcakes and everyone would bring cupcakes and they would be frosted with this thick frosting on top. And all of the teachers would give you stickers and you’d put it on your shirt. And you would know that everyone would know is your birthday. But my mother never really knew how to like big cupcakes. Right. She didn’t, she didn’t know it. Wasn’t a part of. Her sort of culture. And so I remember like I would always sort of just not tell people when my birthday was and just sort of pretend, let them assume that it was in the summer or sometime when, but it was actually in January. Right? So one year my mother finally figured it out. She realized that that children would bring cupcakes to school and their birthday. And of course she was sort of like embarrassed because she wanted to do to give me that experience as well. And so she baked these cupcakes and brought them to school. And I was so excited that that, that my mother was, was doing this and I was getting this sort of experience. And then she took the, you know, The covering off the cupcakes. And all of a sudden I looked at them and I was like mortified. Instead of that thick frosting on top, my mother had made these cakes, but she had like put raisins at the top of them as like decorations. And I remember sort of. Scanning the room quickly and like seeing all of my classmates like about to like laugh hysterically and like start taunting me for these cupcakes that had like raisins in them instead of the ethic frosting. And I sort of had to like, Own the room in a second, like very, very quickly. And so I was like, Oh, this is like the most. And I told this like, elaborate story about how these are like the most special cupcakes and like all of these sorts of things to kind of, because I didn’t want my mother to kind of be embarrassed and, you know, so, so I remember just like, even from a young age, having to, having to kind of manage the way that. That. And I didn’t always manage things quite as, um, as, as like effortlessly, as, as that, I can say that there are lots of experiences that I wished I had done differently that I had not embarrassed my, my parents, but just so many of those, those sort of stories of, of growing up. I mean, the story of like when I was in third grade and, um, in this public school where, um, a teacher came to me. And said like something really odd has happened. And I was like, what what’s going on? And she said, you, we had to take these standardized tests every year. And the, the teacher said to me, well, you scored really high on the skin standardized test. So you should be in our gifted and talented program, but we’ve never had anyone test into the program. It’s always been teachers who have had to recommend. Kids into this program. And so, um, I, the teacher was like, there must be some mistake. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to have you take more tests. And so I had to take more tests and then again, I scored high enough. They had my parents come in and they said, there must be some mistake. So we need you to sign these papers. Just sort of say that your daughter shouldn’t be in, in gifted and talented. And I remember that. I like, you know, it didn’t handle that situation very, very well. My parents had no idea what was happening. Um, anyways, long story short, I ended up, um, getting put into only gifted and talented for math. It was the first time that they split somebody, like I would get pulled in and out of classes because they were like, there’s no way you could be in gifted and talented for English. And so like, there’s all of these sorts of situations that. That come back to you around your identity and having to do perspective taking, but I think it also gives you empathy. And, and so something that I tell my students often is like, we were all striving for something, but make sure you also grow where you’re planted. Like grow where you’re planted and what that means is that like, we, we, it, even if we want to go, like we might be like, we might be planted or our original soil is like clay or like dirt or not very nutritious dirt or whatever, but, and we want to uproot ourselves and put ourselves in another condition or another circumstance in another environment. And that’s totally fine, but make sure you first grow your plant and get really strong, grow those roots. Because then you can actually move yourself to any sort of soil and continue to thrive and grow. But if you do that too quickly before you’ve had a, had time to actually understand like the nutrients in your own soil and grow and grow strong and get those roots. You actually do yourself a disservice, so grow where you’re planted so that you are strong. And you do understand where you come from so that you can put yourself in any sort of circumstance or any context, and understand that perspective and understand that new environment, and really continue to thrive based on where you came from.


Maggie: (00:14:43) Wow. That is extremely powerful.


Bryan: (00:14:45) I really liked that a lot because


Laura: (00:14:47) I hope my students like it as much as you guys do sometimes,


Bryan: (00:14:54) because I think he really so much to, to our culture in general. Right. It’s like, It’s, I don’t know, just there’s the same Vietnamese growing up where mom was like, you changed too often. You’re going to break in half or something like that. So it comes back to like the fundamentals too. And it’s just really knowing who you are before moving to any type of environment, because once you know who you are, Your perception actually increases your awareness increases. Now you kind of see the world fitting into your strengths and weaknesses, and you kind of, I don’t want to say this manipulate situation because you understand the situation so well because you know yourself really well. It’s the way,


Laura: (00:15:31) I mean, the way I see it is exactly you really can guide situations. You can guide them redirect in a way that is very authentic, um, because. You, you don’t forget, like when your roots are strong, you don’t have to be afraid of the wind or whatever. And so, um, I think it is really important that, that we hold onto that and we embrace that piece of ourselves too.


Bryan: (00:15:53) Definitely. So I read that, that piece in your book as well, but also reminds me of Steve Jon’s book of when he talks about his dreams and passion, they call it like the. Uh, distorting reality or something that he does. It’s the world around him that this is a reality that we can do it. We can bill like an I pad or something or iPhone. And I feel like what’s your books. There’s a lot of similarities with the way you guys perceive the world. And think, um, quick question though, I feel like a lot of what you mentioned is a lot of EEQ base. So out of your own personal opinion, would you say. Is, or more important to success or I came more to success. And this is a big loaded question. Sorry about that. I was just curious.


Laura: (00:16:36) I mean, what I always talk about, I say it the other way that I say it, I say like the most important thing is hard work plus. So, and what I mean by that is I definitely think, or, you know, I also, I think about in terms of like IQ and EQ book smarts works like book smarts, street smarts, hard work, hard work. Plus I think that it’s all really important, but it comes down to, I think. What, what a lot of Asian and Asians and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, like we are highly empathetic people because we’ve had two people who have had to, um, they put themselves in and out of situations in and out of uncertainty, in and out of things that are not always the pre prescribed norms of how things should run. You do develop these, you do develop a different type of perspective. You do develop an empathy for others. You do develop a different way of looking at the world and. I think that that’s a really important skill to continue to cultivate. Um, I, but I do think that the hard work piece is, is, is critical. Um, I do think that, but the hard work piece, which, you know, just to give you a little bit of preview, like, well, I’m sure we’ll talk about this, but, um, my, the book, my book that I wrote is entitled edge. Um, and it’s all about how hard work. Is is really what we’ve been taught from a young age. And you know, that the secret to success is hard work and that, but yet even though hard work is critical. And I would never say that it’s not critical hard work alone is not enough hard work is what leaves us frustrated. And we have such a love affair with hard work and grit and these sorts of things that. We’ve been told, you know, put your head down, work twice as hard, even if it’s just for half the amount of benefits, but that leaves us frustrated that leaves us burnt out. And so it’s not the hard work at all. Hard work is critical, but there’s so many other things that dictate success and outcomes. So it’s perceptions. It’s it’s attribution’s it’s. Subtle signals and cues it’s stereotypes. And so we have to be able to understand these underlying perceptions and signals and cues so that our hard work actually worked harder for us. So to kind of give a clear answer, because I, I hate when people like hedge and they’re like, it depends. It’s sort of both, um, I would say it’s the EEQ piece, but. I, I needed to give that whole preamble to explain that obviously, you know, the hardware pieces is critical. It’s just that the hard work, plus those perceptions, those guiding those perceptions is, is really what makes our hard work, work harder for us.


Maggie: (00:19:28) Yeah, thank you for bringing that down. And I think that’s so important, especially in Asian culture. I think that a lot of our parents had told us, you know, hard work, as long as you work hard, you’ll be able to be successful with things will break out, you know, and just like you said, Laura, even if you don’t get as many benefits, the harder you work, you know, everything will be okay. And when you say hard work, plus, you know, this goes back to your book edge as well. I know you mentioned that, you know, there is. So much more than hard work. Can you talk a little bit about what edge means to you? And,


Bryan: (00:20:01) and before we dive deep into that question, I want to hear about how you met Elon Musk. One of the first chapters I read.


Laura: (00:20:08) Okay. So I’ll, I’ll actually do those two together. So I’ll explain, I’ll dig a little bit into the book and then I’ll tell the Elon story, um, as like an example of how, of like, of why it says why it was such like a, an example that, that, that resonated when I was writing, writing this book. So, um, the book, as you mentioned, is entitled edge, but edge actually stands for the framework that I’ve developed over the last decade or so of my research where the E D G and E actually stands for the components. So. The the first East stands for enrich. The D stands for delight. The G stands for guide and the final IE stands for effort, effort, and hard work. So enrich is really about how do we enrich and provide value in any sort of circumstance that we’re going to be in. So what are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? What are our underestimated strengths? But the, the important piece of this is that it’s. So much more than just self-awareness right. A lot of times we say, what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? And we think this is about being self-aware. But this enrich section of my book, this entire section is around not just the value you provide, but understanding that in any sort of context, you change one variable, right? You change the industry that you’re operating in, or the mix of people that you’re interacting with. And those perceptions of how you enrich or provide value are going to be really different. So it’s about understanding who you are, but also how you are viewed and what are those underlying perceptions and stereotypes that people have about you based on who you are and the context the D stands for delight, which is really around how do we delight individually? Like how what’s our. Unique ways in which we delight our counterparts, whether it’s a customer or a supplier or our boss or our counterparts or whoever it is. And the reason why it’s so important to discover how we delight and the ways in which we surprise people, or the ways that we catch people off guard is because we don’t always have the opportunity. To show others how we enrich and provide value. And when we don’t, it’s sort of like it’s often because doors are close to us or we don’t belong to the right networks, or we don’t look the right way. We don’t speak the right way. Or we don’t have the right education that these bores are close to us that we don’t have the opportunities. We can’t show others how we enrich and provide value, but when you’re able to delight others, And really almost just develop this intuition around how you delight others. It’s the equivalent of cracking the door open a little bit. It’s the, it’s the equivalent of that because it gives you opportunities. You can actually form opportunities and create opportunities for yourself to give yourself these chance to show how you enrich and provide value. So the whole second part of my book is right. How do you delight others? How do you discover your unique ability to delight? The D the G stands for guide, which is around how do you guide perceptions of others, even when you know how you enrich and delight, you need to continue to guide the perceptions that others have about you. And this is where I was speaking a little bit before about, you know, when you understand those perceptions and you understand the stereotypes. You can actually flip those stereotypes in your favor. You can take adversity and obstacles and constraints and flip those in your favor to give you an edge. And so I talk lots about different tactics and strategies and tips for how to actually flip circumstances and turn and read, redirect things in your favor. And then the final ease stands for effort and hard work. Because as I mentioned before, I mean, it is critical. It’s one of the four components of my framework, but it comes last. Right. It comes last because when you know how you enrich and delight and guide, that’s when you get those tailwinds, that’s when your effort and hard work actually work harder for you. And so that’s sort of the, the, um, the book in a nutshell, I know it’s sort of long, but I’m also, you know, I summarize 200 and something pages 270 pages. In, in sort of that, but, um, but yeah, that’s, that’s kind of the, the pieces of this framework and how, how I sort of think about, um, you know, my research and the ways in which we can inoculate against biases and how we can really flip things in our favor to create our own advantage and our own edge. Um, so yeah. Okay. Do you want me to do, do you want me to take a break and you can ask something else? Or do you want me to tell you the Ilan story now?


Bryan: (00:24:54) Yeah. I mean, I think you break it down really well in your book. And I dunno, I just feel like your book resonate with me resonates in me so much you know, after I read your book and I’m like, Hey, like we should reach out to Laura and have her, the pot shots, you know, it’s because I think, um, what you mentioned, like your edge, which is for, has I’ve been using that throughout into our life. And the reason being says, you know, I didn’t go to the best school. I wasn’t actually their perception of what people thought of me all the time. You know, like just breaking to where venture partners are now. All right. Hi, everyone. Our team is for MIT, Harvard, you know, like how would I break into this? You know, it’s all about perception. It’s all about controlling your narrative. It’s all about offering value at the same time. Once you’re again, that’s where the hard work comes into play. Right? Can you back it up? Are you who you say you are


Laura: (00:25:43) totally. I mean, I was rejected from Harvard three times. A lot of people don’t know that, but I was rejected from Harvard three different times. And so, you know, it is sort of funny that now at way later, they called me and they’re like, Hey, do you want to join our faculty? And I’m like, yeah, You, you do realize that you’ve rejected me three times. What makes me qualified to, to teach your students


Bryan: (00:26:04) deep inside later, it’s here. And like, I know you mentioned that briefly in your book, but we want to get to new one part and also interesting.


Laura: (00:26:11) Sure. Yeah. So, yeah, the, um, so the story that, that you’re sort of referring to, um, is, uh, I tell this story about the first time that I met Elon Musk, right? So he Elon one of the richest, um, individuals in the world. Um, I had very much lucked my way into this meeting with him. Um, I was doing research at the time on the emergence of the privates. The space industry so much. Most of my research looks at entrepreneurship and disadvantage and disparities, um, in entrepreneurship as well as in the workplace. And one of the contexts that I was studying this in was private space. Um, so looking at these companies who have to compete with. NASA and Boeing and these behemoths and the disadvantage that they’re sort of the, that they sort of face. Um, and so I had this meeting with Elan because he wanted to learn about the emergence of private space. Of course, he had started a company called space X. Um, and so we had this meeting to kind of talk about, um, different dynamics. Uh, and so I definitely had a way of enriching and providing value, right. This was a meeting that he wanted with, with me and one of my colleagues. And so we had knowledge, we had a way of enriching. But even, so I had put in tons of hard work going into this meeting, right? So we had, we, we basically, you know, spend so much time looking into all of his companies, not just space X. So we knew everything about Tesla and PayPal. And we knew everything about him and his education and, and Canada and his. Family and his personal life, everything, if you’ve been prepared, a small gift for him because you know, I’m Asian and we never show up at someone’s house or someone’s office empty handed. So we even had like prepared a gift for him. We just put in all of the hard work. And so we show up at his office and he takes one look at me and he literally says, Get out of my office. He like looks at me and he says, no, get out of my office. And I had not even said a word at this point. So I’m met this man’s office and I don’t know what to, I’m sort of shocked because like, yeah. You know, I had worked so hard for this meeting and like, I’m so excited about this meeting and then Elan looks at me and he’s like, get out of my office. Like, no. Um, and so I start giggling because I was nervous. Like, I don’t know, I was just nervous. And I started like laughing, cause I didn’t know what to do. And so I’m sort of like laughing at Ilan and he’s. All of us. He’s like, he just like pause it. And he sees sort of like shocked for a second. Cause I think he’s like, why is this like young, Asian woman laughing in my face? And, and so then he started laughing at me and I have no idea why he then started laughing at me, but there’s really spiritual. I’m like when people are faced in situations of uncertainty, they like mimic the behaviors of others because they don’t know what to do. So maybe that’s why, but so now you want, and I are both laughing at each other. We’re like both nervously laughing at each other. And in that instant, I re I realized that he’s not actually looking at me. He’s looking at the gift that I’m carrying, which was this unwrapped gifts. And I realized, so you sort of like these underlying perceptions that I talked about, I realized, Oh my gosh, he thinks I’m an entrepreneur. And that this is a prototype. And then I’m trying to like, get his money or like his investment or something, or like, maybe he thinks I’m an employee and I’m trying to like pitch him on something. Or like, I have no idea. Like why would he know who I was? Right. Like, I don’t know why. I would’ve thought he would’ve known who I was. So, but, so I realized all of this. And so I sort of sputter out, like through my laughter. I’m like, Oh, Oh, you think I’m an entrepreneur? And he’s like, Orange juice. And I’m like, no, and you think I want your money? And he’s like, don’t you? I get in my nervousness. Like I insulted him. I was like, you don’t have any what you have, so you have money. Why would I want your brother? You don’t have any money. Um, so I basically like insult his wealth and tell him that he has no money. And why would I ever like want his money? And he thinks that’s so hilarious. That he then is like, he lasts even harder and he’s like, please come into my office. And he invites me in. And so I tell this story of like, how was I, you know? Well, and before I kind of go into like the, the explanation of his, we ended up having an amazing conversation. Like we were talking, we were laughing for real and we, and by the end of the meeting, he was. He was sort of offering all of the very things that he was so adamantly saying no to like, without things that I didn’t even want. Right. He was like, Oh, you know who else you should talk to, let me introduce you to this person. And you know, what I can help provide you is like the things that I didn’t even, but things that he was so adamantly saying no to, he was now freely offering up. Right. And so I tell this story because. How was I able to gain an edge over one of the richest, most powerful men in the United States and you know, in the world. Right. And I, and I’m talking about how there, it wasn’t about hard work, right? The hard work piece came way later. It was the fact that I was able to, that I had understood his underlying perceptions. That I was able to sort of guide those perceptions that I was able to turn it in his, in my favor, that I was able to delight him in this surprising way that he didn’t, that he didn’t expect. Um, so there was this enrich and delight and guide piece that. That did make the hard work, work harder for me. And I was able to gain an edge, you know, where he was offering all of these resources that, that I had not even expected. Uh, and, and so that’s, that’s the Ilan story.


Bryan: (00:32:09) Yeah. When I read that the party, like right off the bat of your book, I was like, all right, this is a book I need to read. And you hear that guys, your biggest takeaway for opportunity is laugh at a rich person.


Laura: (00:32:21) That’s the funny thing. A lot of people like, so this, so the, so the takeaway here is that you should like nervously giggled, like a school girl at like these fortune 500 and these top, you know? So the point is part of it is also like, it was a weird, like delight thing, right. Where it wouldn’t have worked. Like if I was anyone else. It probably wouldn’t have worked, right. It was, it was something around the nature of the contacts and what we were there and what we were doing. And that I was like awkwardly holding this gift and that he was throwing me out of his office. And I was sort of like giggling at him nervously. There was something about that. And, and that’s the, that’s the piece of delight that I think is so important to recognize. And the more you authentically make it about how you delight. The more, you’re able to gain your own unique edge. And so I talk about like, what does delight actually mean and how do you cultivate it? And I guess. The the quickest way to sort of explain, cause it’s a really hard like emotion. It’s a hard thing to sort of bottle. Like how do I delight others? And again, I have lots of like exercises and ways that you can think about like cultivating how you delight. But I explained it as like, think about the very first time you were in an Uber, like the very first time you were in an Uber. So for me anyways, the first time I was in the Uber and I was sitting there and I was like, Whoa, what is going on? Like, this is so cool, but so terrifying also, like I’m in this stranger’s car and they’re just going to like, take me to where I need to go. And they know where I live and they, I’m not going to give them any money and I’m in their car. Like, this is terrifying, but also like, What is happening. I think it was this momentary, like couple of seconds where I stopped and you’re sort of on alert, right? You’re like on alert because you’re like, what’s going on and you want to either learn more or you want to like ask a question to figure it out just a little bit. Like that’s delight. It’s not necessarily positive or negative, but when you’re able to instill that feeling in someone else, It doesn’t matter if you just met them or if you’ve known them for 10 years, it like they see you in a slightly different fashion, it’s sort of like stops the music and it gives you a new, a new canvas or a new opportunity or a new way to enrich and provide value. And everyone has a unique way or unique ways in which they do this. In sort of improvisational ways and it’s about honing that in yourself so that you can stop the music when you need to, like, you’re getting kicked out of an office. How do you stop the music and like be able to redirect, um, and it’s such a critical skill to, to hone that. I think we don’t pay enough attention to and how powerful it can actually be.


Maggie:  (00:35:27) Yeah, that’s really powerful. That is extremely powerful. I mean, I would love to know, you know, during that Elon Musk story, did you know, you know, obviously you were nervous at that time, right. Did you kind of know that you were actually, you know, putting these actions into place of, you know, enriching. Delighting and guiding or, you know,


Bryan: (00:35:44) there’s another part that happened in your book too, is when you got hired by Harvard, you come in as professor. Right. And I think that as the burning question, that when we brought up the, Hey, we’re gonna have Laura on our podcast and greedy, it was like, Hey, look, we want to ask Laura, like, how has she applied the edge thing to getting Harvard a Harvard? Cause you did Elon Musk at the very beginning, beginning of the book. And then. Talking about your Harvard story. So we want to see how these two tied into each other.


Laura: (00:36:10) Yeah. I mean, I think like it’s not something where it’s not something where like, I’m consciously saying, okay, step one, do this step two, because there are people who are like, what are the five steps that I need to, I need to take, it’s not the perspective, right? So it’s this framework, right? This framework around enriching, delighting and guiding and effort. And, and this framework is more of a person. Spective that the more that you, you, you do make it yours. Um, it, it, there’s still going to be failures. There’s still going to be drawdowns. There’s still going to be like periods where. Things aren’t going to work out, but it gives you that, plus it gives you that hard work, plus it gives you more of those, those sort of opportunities to understand. And, and it really is like building a new muscle, right? It’s building this intuition, this new mental model. Schema or prototype for how to approach situations so that you do give yourself those kinds of benefits. Um, and I think that’s kind of where I’ve been able to, um, yeah, like go from getting rejected from Harvard three times to becoming a professor where they were calling me and saying, please join us. In fact, the first time they called me, um, I said, they said, well, would you be interested in moving here? And I was like, moving where? And then they’re like, okay, Moving here to Harvard and I’m like, no, I’m not interested. I liked my family is very settled. We’re not. Um, and they said, okay. And they actually call me back. Four weeks later and they said, what would it take to actually get you? What would it take to get you to move here? Right. So there’s like lots of different nuances to, to how things end up panning out. Um, and I think, you know, I tell lots of stories and give lots of examples, but I think one of the things that would be probably the most helpful is. To talk a little bit about like, how we think about this perspective. And, um, early on in my research, what I found was that there are all of these perceptions out there, right? So there’s these positive perceptions like this person’s really conscientious and ambitious. And then there’s like negative perceptions. Like this person is really shallow and, you know, um, an arrogant or whatever. And what I found was that. These positive and negative perceptions. There are certain positive and negative perceptions that cluster together. So meaning just like there’s a thin line between love and hate, right? So you might love someone. And then all of a sudden you it’s like, these are really strong emotions. So like you love someone and then like all of a sudden you hate them and you love them, right? Just like there’s a thin line between love and hate. There’s actually a thin line between these positive and negative perceptions that cluster together. And so what I started studying was how we could take these negative perceptions and stereotypes and actually flip them to the positive manifestations of those. Right. So, um, for example, like let’s take someone with an accent. Right? Accent was something I studied because growing up, I realized that both my parents were getting turned down for promotion after promotion, after promotion. And during one of these promotions, The person who got promoted over my dad, the person who became his boss, that my dad was actually doing his job for him. And everyone knew it because everyone knew that that person wasn’t qualified. And so I asked my father, I said, why is it that you think you got promoted? I mean, you didn’t get the promotion. And he said, I don’t know. It’s probably because of my accent or my, the way I communicate or something like that. So I wanted to study accent. And so what I found was that, yes, Based on someone’s accent, having a non-standard American accent, they were less likely to get a raise, less likely to get a promotion, less likely to get hired into top management team positions, less likely to get funding for their ventures. But what I found was that it wasn’t about communication, which was what the lay perception of what my father thought it was. Right. And I tested this because I would take. For people with accents, for people without accents, for example. And I would randomize the order in which they would present to a panel of investors, for example. So they would be entrepreneurs. And I wouldn’t ask the investors. Who would you invest in? Because I already knew they were less likely to invest in those with accents instead, I would say to them, Just write down three things that you learned from this person’s pitch or three things that you recall, or three things that you think are really interesting. And I found that the investors learn just as much from those with accents, they were just as interested. They were, um, Just as likely to remember things. So it wasn’t about communication, but what it was about was that for some of these entrepreneurs or these individuals, they were rated much lower in terms of things like how good of a team player is this person? How interpersonally influential is this person, um, how creative or out of the box thinking are they? And so then I run ran another series of studies where I would have these individuals, for example, before they would go into an interview, I would tell them the perception they have about you is that you are not as interpersonally influential or that you’re not as creative or that you’re not as good of a team player. And then over the course of the interviews, I heard them saying phenomenal things. They would get asked questions, like, tell me about a time when, or if I was your man, the questions we get asked during interviews. And 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 had this really tough deal that I needed to close, but I did it in this really creative way and I didn’t stop until it was closed. And here’s the thing that was so interesting is that not only were they more likely to get the job and not only were they more likely to get rated higher in terms of things like interpersonal influence and thinking outside the box and being a team player, they were also rated. Significantly higher in terms of their communication skills, they were rated much lower in terms of their acts, in terms of how strong their accent was and all of these other things that had nothing to do with anything they talked about during the interview, all of a sudden these people were deemed as having, not that big of an accent, being great communicators. All of these things that they didn’t address. They never said like my accent or the way I communicate, they address these underlying perceptions. And so they were able to flip from these sort of positive manifestations to these, sorry, from these negative manifestations to these positive manifestations and really. Flip the stereotypes and flip this adversity in their favor. And so I talk about lots of different ways in which we do this in, in terms of these perceptions and these signals and cues that can actually give us an advantage and level the playing field, or give us that edge. Okay.


Bryan: (00:43:18) I love the explanation. I love how passionate you are too. I’m totally passionate. I love it. Take,


Maggie:  (00:43:25)  get down just so eloquently and it makes so much sense. It’s, it’s one of those things that we normally don’t really think about, but you know, just hearing you talk about your study and your research, it, it helps us visualize it so much better.


Bryan: (00:43:38) Yeah, it makes me want to apply to a Harvard MBA program now,


Laura: (00:43:45) like Whoa, all of this research. Yeah, it does get over. I’m trying to tell it, not like, you know, without like all of the statistics and all of like the, the findings and everything, but, um, but yeah, there’s just, and, and so that’s really, what I’ve been studying for the last couple of years is how we can, um, really empower ourselves. Because the thing that I found that was missing, like I had been studying disadvantage and inequality and people who are underestimated for a really long time. And I was presenting these findings and what was happening was that I would present the work and afterwards people would come to me and they’d be like, this is so depressing. Like what can we. Knew about this. Like, are there ways that we can level the playing fields and, but all of the solutions. That were out there were like these structural solutions, right? Or like systemic solutions, things like, Oh, well, like as organizations let’s try and have checklists to help us do hiring better, let’s even have algorithms to help us do blind hiring or let’s try and have more like women and minorities in like top management teams or address the leaky pipeline or the bamboo ceiling or glass ceilings. And, and the thing is that these are all. Like things that are, these are all steps in the right direction. Like these are all great things, but it was also, I found leaving individuals, super frustrated, even more frustrated because it was as if we were telling them, yes, we know that it’s an imperfect system. We know that there’s a myth of meritocracy, but just wait. Right. Wait until we try and fix the pipeline, weight and child, until we try and fix hiring things like just sit and wait. We know that there’s a problem. And there wasn’t a lot from the inside out that we could be doing. These were all outside in solutions, but it wasn’t a ways that we could from the inside out, be empowering ourselves or by. Or, or flipping these stereotypes or redirecting these perceptions in a way that even within an imperfect system, there were things that we could be doing. Uh, and so that’s why for like the last couple of years, um, I’ve been all of my research and all of my studies have been around, like, what can we do? Like, what are the ways in which we can empower ourselves? And even while we’re sort of waiting, or even while these things are still imperfect, So that we can authentically be B B navigating and creating, um, sort of success and positive outcomes in ways other than just like putting our head down, working twice as hard for half the amount of benefits.


Maggie:  (00:46:31) Yeah, that’s a really, really good point. Yeah. And so I have, um, I, I have one last question for you. Well, one last question, but I do want to ask one thing before that, um, you know, just personally on your personal journey, we’ll let you know like how you have grown personally. And is there anyone that you have looked up to that really helped you kind of, um, grow into this mindset?


Laura: (00:43:45) Yeah, that’s a great question. Um, I think, I think I have grown. I think I’ve grown in like, There are some ways that I wish I have, I had grown, but hadn’t, but, and there’s some ways that I’m glad that I have grown. There’s this cool by Joan Didion that says, you know, I I’ve lost many different versions of, of who I used to be. Right? Like there’s something along the lines of like losing touch, like losing touch with people that I used to be. And I think that sort of summarizes a lot of what. I think about when you’re, when you’re asking that question is that there are definitely people that I have lost touch with that used to be a part of me, um, that I, I really want to actively Regaine contact with. And then there’s pieces of myself that I have lost contact with that I think are really good that I’ve, I’ve lost contact with. And I think another way to answer this is. Something that I always say, or that I often think to myself is like, you have to always remember to keep the main thing. The main thing. And what I mean by that is like, what is the main thing in your life? Is it your family? Is it your relationships? Is it your mission? Is it your goals? It can be all of those things. It could be multiple things, but so often we get led astray by what’s. Urgent rather than what’s important. And we lose touch of what’s the main thing, because we assume that the main thing will always kind of be there, but as years go by and as time goes by, it does start to ebb and flow and wane and. And so if we, if we try and concentrate on, on, on those sorts of things, um, I think, um, you know, I think it, it brings so much, so much more, more, more value to, to what we do. And then I guess in terms of like people, Oh, there’s so many people that I respect and admire. Yeah. For so many different things. I can’t say that there’s a single, a single person that I’m like, I want their entire life, or I want their entire, and this is actually something that I tell my students too. And I think it’s something that’s really helpful. We tend as a humans because we’re such socially connected individually individuals to like envy others. Or to, to be like jealous of others, or like to have something where like, Oh, that person achieved that. And I want that too. And I tell my students, I say, you don’t have permission to be jealous of envious of someone else. Unless you’re willing to trade entire lives with them. Meaning if you want that one thing that they accomplished, you can get it, but then you have to have everything else because they only got that because of who they are and their family and their personality and what they’ve been through. So you can’t just admire. One dimension. You can’t just envy that one dimension of what they’ve accomplished. If you’re not willing to take everything else that they have to grapple with and deal with. And that sometimes puts it into perspective of like, Oh yeah, like, you know, they may have that, but they also have to deal with all of these other things and I would never want, um, those other pieces. So I say that because. There are lots of individuals that I really respect and admire, not all of their dimensions, but certain dimension. So, you know, Jeremy Lin, I so respect how he is able to so tenaciously fight for what he, what he believes in and what he’s striving for, but in a way that. I don’t know, he’s like a better man than I am. Like he doesn’t let things get to, or maybe he does, but he has mechanisms for, for dealing with like, he doesn’t name names. I would totally be naming Bates. Um, like I, you know, there’s like, there’s just something around there. There’s such a noble, there’s such a noble aspect to, to how he lives his life. And I really respect that. I really respect. Nelson Mandela. Um, my father’s name was Nelson, so he was named after his, uh, his us name was, he was given the name after Nelson Mandela and just sort of his character. Um, definitely parts of both my mother and my father. I respect, you know, things about my brother. Like there’s just, there’s dimensions of, of lots of people, um, uh, of that, that I really respect and admire and try and model myself after.


Maggie:  (00:51:24) Amazing. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that, Laura. And our one last question for you is how can our listeners find out more about you and your book edge? How can they support you?


Laura: (00:51:35) Yeah, thanks so much. I mean, um, like I thank you for that. I mean, I think it’s really hard. I have to be honest, I didn’t think it was going to be this it’s been really hard as a. As a first time woman, Asian author. I mean, so many of the authors out there of business books or books that are in my genre are white men who, and so there is this, I didn’t realize that even though my book is about disadvantage, I didn’t realize that there would be such a hurdle in my words and getting my words out there and the messages and who actually would listen. And, you know, I think the. The Asian and Asian-American community has been so supportive. So thank you for your continued support. Um, you, my book is entitled edge turning adversity into advantage. I’m on all social I’m on Instagram. I’m on Twitter, Laura, Hong LA. Um, I am. Uh, you know, my website is Laurel Huang dot nets. And I also recently started a health kickoff, this nonprofit, which is called project amplify, um, which is really about bringing the messages, uh, and my work and the research to underprivileged underserved communities. It’s really trying to it’s understanding that not everyone is going to have access to. The things that I teach and, um, these messages and these soft skills that bridge what we learned in school and what we learn, what we need in the workplace. And the thing that really bothers me is when I see kids who have been told from a young age, like you’re not smart, you’re not good at math. You, you don’t have potential because there’s so much potential that, um, and so it’s about empowering these, these children. And so there’s a, um, there is, uh, we offer free workshops and education to teach about like soft skills, edge, how to. Cultivate your edge. We offer mentoring. Um, so personalized mentoring, um, and there’s a book matching program. So any support in terms of people who were always looking for people who are willing to be mentors for these, for these kids? Um, yeah. We’re always looking for, for partners, people that are willing to support this in any sort of ways that you’re, you’re able to, um, just so that this message gets out to more than, than, than the people that we wouldn’t necessarily directly be, be getting this message to.


Bryan: (00:54:06) Wow. That is amazing. And we’ll also include your nonprofit and links to purchase your book inside our show notes as well.


Laura: (00:54:14) Thank you. Thank you guys. It’s so, I mean, you’re, you’re doing such phenomenal work and, and I’m such a fan, so thanks so much.


Maggie:  (00:54:21) It’s amazing hearing your story. I thank you so much for sharing with us or appreciate you. I’ll see you at the next meeting. You get to see you the next meeting. Take care. Bye.


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