Stacking the Bricks Podcast EP35 - Debugging Humans with Michele Hansen and Colleen Schnettler
31 min

In this episode…

Over the last few weeks, I have been visiting podcasts all across the internet, talking with entrepreneurs and creative people, just like you.

We'll not necessarily JUST like you, because you might have noticed that these last few conversations have been visits to podcasts hosted by dudes!

Thankfully, I was able to end this white-male-podcast-host streak by visiting with Colleen Schnettler and Michele Hansen on the Software Social Podcast.

Among a sea of white dudes talking about how awesome they are, Michele and Colleen's show stands out as something...special and needed. It feels less like an interview, and more like two smart professional friends offering weekly stories and support about what's going on in their respective businesses.

I love shows like this, that feel more like a human conversation that we, the audience, just get to listen in to.

So if you're into software and business, and like me want to hear more diverse voices talking about the things we're interested in, I highly recommend checking out their podcast backlog after you're done tuning into this one.

So, about this episode!

Like the last several podcast hosts I've visited, Colleen and Michele have recently read my new book The Tiny MBA, and true to form we had a great time going deeper into their favorite lessons from the book to help you get an even better understanding of how these lessons might be valuable for you.

I found it especially interesting how Michele and Colleen both took valuable lessons from the book, even though they are at very different stages of their businesses!

So in this episode, we talk about:

- Why education is the most effective marketing you can create
- How psychology can be thought of as "debugging, for people"
- And why one question in The Tiny MBA left Colleen feeling TERRIFIED.

Don't worry, by the time we were done with the conversation, she wasn't feeling terrified anymore, and maybe even excited to take on the challenge I proposed.

So with that, let's get into this...maybe my favorite episode of The Tiny MBA podcast tour to date.

I hope you enjoy this in depth conversation I had with Michele and Colleen on the Software Social Podcast. Here we go!


Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: What is up brick stackers! Welcome back to a brand-new episode of Stacking the Bricks. As always, I’m your host, Alex Hillman and this is another edition of the Tiny MBA Podcast Tour.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been visiting with podcasts all across the internet, talking with entrepreneurs and creative people just like you. Well, not necessarily just like you, because you might have noticed that these last few conversations have been visits to shows hosted by dudes - all dudes.

Thankfully, I was able to end this white-male-podcast-host streak by visiting with Colleen Schnettler and Michele Hansen on the Software Social Podcast. Among a sea of white dudes talking about how awesome they are, Michele and Colleen’s show stands out as something special and needed. It feels a lot less like an interview show and more like two smart professional friends offering weekly stories and support about what’s going on in their respective businesses. I love shows like this. They feel more human and the conversation feels more like talking with the audience rather than at them.

If you’re into business and software and like me want to hear more diverse voices about the things that we’re interested in, I highly recommend checking out their podcast backlog after you’re done tuning into this one. You can do that by heading over to

So, let’s talk about this episode. Colleen and Michele have recently read my new book, The Tiny MBA, and true to form we had a great time going deeper into their favorite lessons from the book to help you get an even better understanding of how are these lessons might be valuable to you. I found it especially interesting how Michele and Colleen both took valuable lessons from the book, even though they’re at very different stages of their respective businesses.

In this episode, we talk about why education is the most effective marketing that you can create, how psychology can be thought of as debugging people and why one question in The Tiny MBA left Colleen feeling terrified, but don’t worry, by the time we were done talking, she wasn’t feeling terrified anymore.

So, with that, let’s get into this - and maybe my favorite episode of The Tiny MBA Podcast Tour to date - an in-depth conversation with Michele and Colleen on the Software Social Podcast.

Here we go!

Michele Hansen: Yeah, so let’s dive in.

Colleen Schnettler: Alex, you talk a lot about psychology in the book, one of the quotes is “the most valuable books aren’t business books, they’re books about human psychology”. So, you know, my background is engineering and development, and I know a lot of your audience I believe is as well and I was just like, man, now I gotta learn about humans?! That sounds really hard!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yeah! I’m curious, like why does that seem hard to you? Because I hear that and I feel that and look, people are freaking weird, so I get it.

Michele Hansen: I love how weird they are!

Alex Hillman: I do too, but Colleen, how does that read for you? What actually makes it feel hard to you?

Colleen Schnettler: Well, I already feel like I’m better with humans than most developers, but still they’re just – humans are tough – I mean, they’re just irrational and they don’t make logical decisions. Trying to get in someone’s head and find out…what I took away from the book is I really need to figure out how I’m providing value to my customers and, you really just want to make them happy, which is something I’ve talked about with Michele before too. You want them to feel like they’re winning, but man, I just really struggle with understanding human psychology when you get people who really aren’t logical thinkers.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yeah. Well, I think there, to your point, there’s the rational behavior and the irrational behavior and which one someone’s going to be deploying at any given moment is not always consistent.

One of my favorite ways to think about psychology, because I come from a software development background as well – I kind of said that in the book, I guess – but one of the reasons I find psychology fascinating is it’s kind of like having a debugger for people.

People break in wildly unpredictable ways, but they do it at wildly predictable times, or sometimes it’s the other way around. For me, programming kind of clicked when I realized, oh, this is about patterns. Patterns and systems. If you start thinking of people as patterns and systems also, I think you can get pretty far into the weeds with psychology and things that are useful, but maybe not instantly deployable if you really just think about what are people’s behaviors as patterns?

It’s not just, what do they do, it’s also why do they do it? Is there any consistency to why they do things or is there inconsistency? If there’s inconsistency, is there a consistency within the inconsistency?

You can start to see how, when you sort of pull apart the layers, it really does start feeling like debugging a person. I think one of the other pieces, is sometimes you’re debugging yourself. Am I making a decision or not doing a thing because of my own psychology? I think that in some cases is even harder, however, one of my favorite books – and it’s recommended in The Tiny MBA - is a book called Just Listen by an author named Mark Goulston and Mark is a clinical psychologist, but the reason he’s famous enough to write a book that I would be recommending and a business book, is he’s a lead hostage negotiator trainer for the FBI.

In the book he talks about the neuroscience of why it’s hard to listen and why it’s hard to get other people to listen to us in a really, really systematic way. He teaches you some really specific techniques and he uses these techniques to hostage negotiators. He also uses them in his private practice with husbands and partners and wives and families who aren’t talking to each other. It’s all the same basics, brain science, but he does this interesting thing - it’s not a good idea to teach somebody a psychology tool and then have them go use it on their friends and family! Bad things are likely to happen. Instead he teaches you how to use these tools on yourself.

By practicing them on yourself, you start recognizing your own internal voice, your own internal conflict when you’re not listening to yourself and you get to sort of practice the techniques in the book on yourself before you ever take it to your partner or your kid, or your teammates or a client – whatever it is.

He really treats it like debugging. He frames the process. It’s a ten-step process called “from oh fuck, to okay”. Step one, before you do anything with the other person is figuring out where on that process of conflict they are, and you can’t get somebody from ‘oh fuck to okay’ is ‘oh fuck’ is a ten – you’ve got to get them to a nine, then from a nine to an eight, an eight to a seven.

If you don’t through those stages it becomes difficult - if it’s possible at all, to get somebody to do a thing; you can’t get somebody to do a thing they don’t want to do, you have to figure out what they do want to do and align your interests with theirs. That’s where I think things come back to business. You can’t make somebody buy something they don’t want to buy. What you can do is figure out what somebody’s interests are, what they care about, how they think about it, how they communicate it. Earn their trust and prove to them that you’re aligned and then you’re not convincing them to buy anything, you’re showing them that you are going to help them do a thing that they already want to do, and these are the steps to do it.

Michele Hansen: I’m totally going to have to read that book.

Colleen Schnettler: I was just thinking that - I’m definitely reading that book.

Michele Hansen: So when I was reading the book, I also highlighted that quote, Colleen, but when I saw that there was a reference for a book in it, my first thought was, oh, I wonder if this is going to be Thinking Fast and Slow, which is one of my favorite books about irrational thinking and understanding when people are making these sort of rational, irrational decisions. How contextual those are and the psychology of it. I flipped to the end of it being like, oh, this is totally Thinking Fast and Slow, and it wasn’t, and I was very surprised. Now I’m delighted and definitely going to go and check out that book. I’m curious, Alex, if you’ve read that?

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I have, Thinking Fast and Slow is an absolute favorite. I was kind of intentional about picking my book recommendations to try and give folks stuff that they might not come across in another setting.

Thinking Fast and Slow is a common recommendation among business books, Just Listen, I don’t think is positioned as a business book at all. My favorite interaction, I recommended it to my brother-in-law who is in advertising sales.

Maybe – and he would be okay with me saying this – maybe some of the slimiest sales that exist some on the planet. He’s an honest guy and he’s really good at his job and he loved the way this book broke down the psychology of what he experiences in building sales relationships. So, I think it’s an uncommon business book, but I think it’s useful to lots of different kinds of business people.

Michele Hansen: Speaking of sales and marketing, one of the quotes that I find myself thinking about is “if done well, teaching and marketing can be nearly indistinguishable from one another”.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: What does that show up for, for you? You said it resonates with you and you think about that. Is that how you approach your marketing? What about that quote landed for you?

Michele Hansen: I think there’s a lot of truth in it. Earlier this week I came across a tool for the first time called Bubble, which Coleen might be familiar with since it’s a no-code tool. What was so impressive about it was, I went to their site, and a lot of their marketing is tutorials on how to create other sites: how to create Uber with bubble and no code or how to create Netflix or how to create Hulu. All of these different things that you didn’t even think would be possible. It’s just a tutorial guide on how to do it. It was so cool because I came to that site for the first time and I was like, well, what is this? What can I even do with it, this seems really powerful, but it’s kind of intimidating?

Getting to that point with all of those different use case tutorials, it was like, wow, this is super cool! I could do this if I wanted! It really was education as marketing and meeting someone where they are. Marketing - not having to be this slimy-thing that some people to engage in, but it really just being a genuine education about a tool helping you do something you already want to do, but do it better.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yeah. That’s such a really great example for a couple of reasons. The first thing that stands out to me is any time I buy something new - a new piece of software, a new piece of technology, a new, really anything, or if I’m trying to do home repair, l almost never go to Google anymore, I go to YouTube because YouTube is the biggest searchable compendium of how to do literally anything. I needed to diagnose a problem with my dryer.

I was able to find a video, not of how to fix it, how to figure out what was broken. I was able to learn that in seven minutes on YouTube and that was a DIY person doing it, but if you think about it - that is a really common pattern for a lot of people is to look up how to do a thing. If I’m looking at how to do a thing, I’m not necessarily looking for a product, but if I learn a thing, if I have a problem and you teach me how to do it, the next time I have a problem, even kind of like it guess who I’m going to think of - you, because you helped me last time.

I built a deck this summer in quarantine. I’ve never built a deck before. I’m not as handy as I might be making myself sound. Before we built the deck, I was doing some research on YouTube, techniques, process, materials. I watched somebody who - there’s no way that person was smarter than me - built a deck in a very similar scenario with uneven ground.

Here’s the thing, Home Depot and Lowe’s also had videos about how to build a deck. I watched these very polished professionally shot videos showing me how to build a deck in perfect conditions with all the right tools and everything comes out perfectly. I watched them and I go, “no way! I just don’t think it’s going to work that way”.

So, I went looking for others, and meanwhile, I find another video from a person who runs into problems, solves those problems. I get to watch them go through it. I trust that video more. In fact, if I was selling a guide or have referral links to products, I would click those links because he earned my trust. When I think about what is the job of marketing, why do we do marketing? I think there’s two reasons. One is to get the word out about our thing. That is the top level, the top line goal. But once somebody’s heard about your thing, is that enough? Not to make a sale, even if they really want the thing.

People are looking at their money. They’re looking at their bank account. They’re looking at the thing going, how badly do I want it? Do I want to spend that money? Is this really going to do the job? But if you’ve earned their trust with a tutorial video, that makes them believe, oh, I’ve now seen it done by someone who’s not any smarter than me. If they can do it, I can do it. If you’ve got somebody in the mindset of, if they can do it, I can do it right, and their wallet is anywhere nearby you’re so much closer to a sale than if they simply knew you existed. The last piece about that is we’re sitting here talking about it.

So when somebody learns something and they get a win, they trust you, they feel good about themselves and they’re going to talk about that experience. That’s that elusive word of mouth marketing that people want. How do you generate that? You get people to talk about their wins, not your product.

That’s kind of counterintuitive to figure out how you engineer that. There’s no shortcut to earning trust in making that happen, but the closest thing to a predictable path to make it even possible, I think is teaching people something that they already want to learn.

Michele Hansen: Yeah, absolutely.

Colleen Schnettler: Still talking about people - I feel we’re doing a lot of talking about people, which is an interesting outcome of this book. You have this question about money psychology, and I know we already talked a little bit about human psychology but you said if I give you this same assignment to make $5,000 in the next seven days, how would that make you feel? I read that and I thought, how is that supposed to make me feel?

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Well…

Colleen Schnettler: It makes me feel terrified Alex!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I think the goal of the question is not to make you feel terrified. The goal of the question is to make you aware of how you feel, however, that is. So, somebody read The Tiny MBA and said, “this was really great, but I have a question. I paused for quite a while on page 12, where you said money psychology - how does that make you feel?” They said, “it would terrify me”. Literally using the exact same word you did. “Do you have any advice for how to go about learning about my money psychology?”.

That’s the reason for that question. It is not to teach you a thing that’s free to identify what your money psychology might be and interrogate that and go - why does that scare me? The feeling, is that an irrational feeling? Is that something that fear is keeping me from doing, something that maybe could help me make those $5,000, whatever it is?

I gave him the following assignment. I said, try to spend some time - just you with a journal or whatever it is and answer these questions. The first one was, what exactly are you terrified of? Is there something that happened in the past that would make you feel that way?

The second question is what’s the worst-case scenario if you tried?

The third question is what are the facts about your situation? What resources do you have that you might not be thinking of in that moment of terror? But if you step back and go, I actually have these resources. I have knowledge. I have the email list. I have professional relationships. I have the ability to create things. What resources do you have that could be useful in reaching that goal?

The fourth question was, what resources could you create now so that next time you get this challenge it’s less terrifying?

There are no right answers to any of those. It’s more of a self-evaluation and exercise. I’m curious as I was asking those questions, are there any of them that made your brain go to a place or now that I’ve kind of explained the goal of sort of of interrogating that terror, do you have an idea of why that’s terrifying for you?

Colleen Schnettler: My initial instinct is based on my hourly rate, if I work this many hours, I could do that, but that sounds miserable. I would just be working, working, working and so it kind of made me try to reframe it into, I should try this and I should not work my consulting hours. I should do something else. One of the cons – I guess there are a lot of pros to starting a little bit later in that you already have an established network and you already have established skill sets, but one of the cons is there’s a huge opportunity cost for me to take a week off.

That’s been a consistent challenge for me. You talk about this in the book - about being comfortable. You get really comfortable, even though you know you want something else, you know you want to diversify your income streams and you know you want to have a different life experience in your business. Man, when you’re working as a developer, it’s comfortable.

That’s challenging for me. This time I’m not going to fall back into that comfort, but I’ve kind of been on this journey for many years and I keep just kind of falling back when it gets hard or when it gets scary. I think scary is a good word, which I haven’t thought of before this conversation

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I want to sort of pick apart one other thing there. I think your point about the opportunity cost of taking that week off is real and calculatable. I look at a problem like that in a couple of different ways. One of them is what if I don’t need to do a week in order to get started? What could I do in a day? Or maybe I can’t do the whole thing in a day, but if I were to take four Fridays in a row, if not Friday, whatever day it is. Now I’ve got time booked so what could I do over those four Fridays?

That’s where that fourth question is, what could you do now with that week so that the next time it’s a little bit easier? That’s where the business that Amy and I run, it’s called Stacking the Bricks, and that’s kind of the metaphor. If you don’t have an advantage now, what can you do now to build the advantage for the next time through?

Your point about comfort, I think is a real one, especially when it comes to these kinds of business income streams that are not trading your time for money. Time for money is super powerful because to your point, it’s easy when you’re doing it, but the trade-off is, as soon as you stop working, there’s nothing happening. You are not building any sort of asset; you can’t resell the time.

Where the things I think get kind of interesting is where you’re starting to look within your work. Obviously, you can’t sell work that you’ve done for clients, but are there things that you’re learning on the job that is sellable?

I think people with software skills think that in order to start a business, I need to sell software. You can if you want, but that is one format, one mode. Starting software and having $5,000 worth of sales at the end of the week is not a hill to climb. That’s a vertical line. I don’t want to say it’s impossible because some folks have certainly done those sorts of things, a tiny app or something like that. But if you’re starting from scratch to use those constraints and say, if I’ve only got eight hours every Friday for the next four weeks, what could I be doing over those times to build advantages that I don’t have yet.

Could that be trying your hand at scoping a really small workshop to teach some skill? That could be a technical skill. It could be, if you are a freelancer that could be a business skill to teach other programmers, some client-related thing. If you were in a job, it could be a team related thing.

I think it’s widening the scope of what it could be and narrowing the scope of how big it needs to be in order to be a thing that starts to allow things, to take a little bit of a different shape and sets up an opportunity to build what you can with the time that you have, rather than building the idea in your head with the time that you have. That’s a road that stretches off into infinity a lot of times for a lot of people and it’s where it’s easy to get discouraged and feel that this is hard, consulting work or a job is easy. Why am I doing the hard thing again?

I’ll say one last thing on that is everything comes in difficulty modes as well. I think choosing to build software as your first product is on hard mode. The analogy I use in one of the lessons in the book, you play a video game on hard mode, it is way harder to beat. You can beat it. And the game’s going to award you extra points for it.

But when it comes to business, if you make a choice that has you playing on hard mode instead of easy mode, the tradeoff becomes, is the game going to give you more points? Whether it’s internet points or real money? No, it’s not. The game doesn’t care how hard you’re working. It’s how well you are serving them. I think choosing a difficulty setting when it feels hard, I think that’s a real feeling and it is a real reality. Is there an easier version and believing yourself that an easier version is not a lesser version, it might just be the best version that you can do now to set yourself up for the advantage you need to do the slightly harder version in your next pass through.

Michele Hansen: That’s great advice. Thank you.

Colleen Schnettler: Alex, I feel like my main takeaway of the book, if I had to distill it down into one, was it’s really not that hard if you just get out of your own way.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I’m glad that that’s the takeaway for you. I think a large portion of difficulty and failure are our own doing. Sometimes that’s just because we don’t know better and sometimes because it’s variations of pride and perfectionism and self-sabotage, and I think the mistake is to feel guilty about it.

The professional move is to acknowledge it and try something new. Even if it is a little terrifying and uncomfortable. I think you, to your point before Colleen, about being a professional who’s been doing what you’re doing for a while, and you’re good at what you do, to trust yourself enough to do a thing. You’re good at what you do, you’re used to feeling good at what you do, to trust yourself enough, to do a thing that doesn’t feel good instantly, I think is a gift we can give ourselves that maybe we don’t give ourselves often enough. This happens to be a gift that quite literally pays. It’s a good one, but no, I’m really happy that that’s your takeaway.

I would be super interested to hear if that takeaway changes or what that takeaway looks like in six months or a year. You come back for a skim through when the product is out, you’ve got some customers you’re working on the next… wherever you are in six or 12 months. How does the book look differently then? I mentioned before I like email. I would love for you to email me and tell me what that looks like.

Colleen Schnettler: I will.

Michele Hansen: Yeah, I think, I mean, talking about how it resonates with us - it’s something about the book, right? It’s very small pieces of wisdom. I sort of whipped through it on a lunch break and then it was a week later, I was thinking about that marketing quote, or I was thinking about the ones about psychology. I think that’s something that’s really, really interesting about the book and about the short format is that you’re not taking 200 to 300 pages to make a point, you’re giving yourself one page for each point and it’s interesting to see what sticks out with individual people at different points.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yeah. I think your point about something kind of worms its way into your brain and shows up again later. You read 400 pages book and then you hope that that lesson is useful now, or that you remembered in the future when it will be, but the ability for, I don’t know I feel like I kind of get a chance to plant some seeds. Even if you don’t know exactly what it means yet or how you’re going to use it or even how you feel about it, it’s in there and it will show up at some point, you’re going to be like, where’s that damn book? What was he talking about again? For me, that’s really exciting to hear. I love hearing that a few days after you read it something is still resonating in your brain or a question that you’re still asking yourself. To me that’s yet another version of the book doing its job. That’s super cool to hear. Thank you.

Michele Hansen: This been really fun talking to you about it. I really enjoyed reading the book. I love how you’re trying to make business education accessible for more people. I think that’s one thing about an MBA, is that it is not accessible to everyone, but there’s value in systems level thinking and challenging your own thinking and I really like how you are approaching that even in a tiny way in this case.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Brilliantly said, thank you. One of my hopes for folks to read through this, even people who are brand spanking new. There’s a bunch of folks that I got a message from, somebody who they said, “I just started my LLC yesterday and I’m signing my first freelance client tomorrow. I did not expect this book to be useful to me today and it was so useful”. So that’s the coolest and for somebody to read it and feel a sense of confidence going into their first client project, that confidence is much more valuable than a lesson I can teach you because you’ll build on it and you’ll make mistakes anywhere because that’s unavoidable. But when you make a mistake, it could be, oh, that’s what Alex was talking about! Instead of thinking that you are an idiot, or something is wrong with you. You’ll be like, oh, that’s the thing that happens when you do this other thing.

Michele Hansen: This is something that every business owner experiences, and you are not wrong for experiencing that.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Exactly, and to your point Michele, it’s all systems, right? Businesses are systems, not magical boxes where you put in effort and money comes out. I think some people are just confused about what that is and to get people an idea of, oh, there are systems here and I’m a normal person and

I can understand them. I can practice them, and I can get good at them.

This book isn’t going to teach you all the things, but it gives you those shapes for you to grab onto and go, okay, now I know what this is. I’m going to go find an expert in that thing, go deep on that and find your areas of expertise where you need to grow and find that expert on the internet, go search YouTube for the how-to video, find the podcaster or the writer or the other independent author and fill in those gaps.

It’s been a blast and I’ve super enjoyed talking with the two of you as well. The different places that each of you are in your businesses. It’s been fun to hear that myself, but it hasn’t all been in one conversation, it’s neat to have that all packaged up and I hope that’s useful for people to hear.

Thank you for taking the time to read it, I’m glad it was helpful. And thank you for inviting me into your coffee chat show. I feel very honored to be here.

Colleen Schnettler: Great. Thank you so much, Alex. We loved having you. You can find us on Twitter @SoftwareSocPod, and we’d love to hear your feedback and comments on this week’s episode.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: If you enjoyed that episode – and I hope you did – I’ve got a couple of quick things before you go. The first of course is making sure that you have your very own copy of The Tiny MBA. If you haven’t ordered it, I’d love it if you did, and you can grab a paperback or ebook at Tiny.MBA.

I also hope you’re subscribed to this show. We’re going to be releasing more episodes like this one with other creators and entrepreneurs, just like you and I’m going to be talking with them about their favorite lessons in The Tiny MBA, learning what’s going on in their world and sharing it all with you. You can search for that by looking for Stacking the Bricks wherever you get podcasts.

And one last thing, check out the Stacking the Bricks website, we’ve got a great newsletter with new articles coming out every week or two following on a lot of the same topics and themes that we talk about right here on the show. You can do that by going to

I hope you have a great rest of your day and don’t forget to keep on stacking those bricks!

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