Oh, There You Are!

David Sedaris wanted to quit smoking. So he moved to Japan for three months. It worked, and it only cost him $23,000. He read a book that told him the best way to change a habit is to change the environment. The author suggested that if you wanted to stop doing something difficult, perhaps addictive, you should move to another location temporarily. Change the environment, change your surroundings. Either that, or the author suggested move your couch.

We know that willpower can only take us so far. Willpower is so fragile, that the people who are best at self-regulation seldom use willpower as a lone tactic. Two researchers at the University of Toronto did a series of studies and concluded that willpower didn’t even help participants achieve their stated goals, it mostly just exhausted them from the effort of resistance.

Which explains why David Sedaris moved to Tokyo, where everything was not only strange and new, but also officials have banned almost all smoking in the city, except in specifically designated areas (which don’t look very inviting…).

Sedaris didn’t have to use willpower. He removed the temptation. Just like avoiding the bakery section at the grocery store. And while you should always be wary of your triggers, also seek out your glimmers. A glimmer is a sign, a cairn, you may find on the road to Future You. It could be a thoughtful conversation, a beautiful sky, or a quiet walk. It’s something that is representative of where you are going.

Changing your environment is similar to the advice of pruning your social environment as well. You may have to do some careful peer de-selection, at least for the short term. If you have a goal of losing weight, its hard to have a group of friends who want to go out for pizza and beer every Friday night. You could go, but then there you are having water and a salad with your friends and their pizza and beer. For some people that works, but likely not at the beginning when the goal is still fresh, and the temptation still strong.

Stopping something, or avoiding an ingrained behavior is also harder than starting something, particularly if you make that new something very easy. James Clear calls this the Two-Minute Rule. If you want to stop sitting on the couch and start running, a Two Minute rule might be “pick out what to wear for my run.” That’s it. You don’t even have to run. Or if the goal is to do more cooking, in two minutes you could probably read a couple recipes. That’s it. It’s about getting on the path. It’s about slowly becoming the kind of person who goes for a run, or cooks a meal.

Change your mental landscape, show yourself more self-compassion, and recognize that your gratitude practice is only partially about expressing thanks, and more about committing to an enhanced version of a future you. Your gratitude toward someone else is an expression of who you want to become in the future.

All of which – if you’re still reading – brings me to the point I’ve been trying to get to. When we get on the path, the path of starting something, pushing through, persevering, finishing the thing, or perhaps stopping some poisonous relationship or detrimental habit, we should do so in plain sight, out loud. And the reason for living out loud with your progress open for your friends and family to see, is because then they will see what you see.

When you can envision your future you, and you tell those you love, they will see it too. They will recognize who you are becoming.

In the movie Hook, there is a scene in which Robin Williams goes back to Neverland, and tries to convince the lost boys that he really is Peter Pan. No one believes him, until one small boy goes up to Robin Williams, takes the glasses from his face and starts to smush, and stretch Robin’s face and look deeply into his eyes, until he finally exclaims, “Oh, there you are Peter!”

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences to drive the human change that propels your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

And if you want to learn to apply some of these ideas and be an effective coach for your team, we wrote a course on that too. It’s called Coaching for Managers available over at UDEMY for Business.

Every Big Thing You Have Ever Done Required This

Hello and welcome back to my newsletter! Last week I was musing about ultrarunning Japanese monks. How they can possibly fathom their own astonishing goals? Not to oversimplify it, but basically they don’t. They just take it one step at a time.

This week I’m thinking about how our attention is fracturing. Our eroding focus is not only robbing us of our own big goals, but our loss of attention is making it harder for us, as a community, to collectively solve some of the big problems we face together.

While writing this post, I’ve started, stopped, then started writing again, many times over the past week. I took a break to clean the kitchen, got distracted by a news article on the counter, distracted again attending to the dogs who wanted to come in, then go out again, then my phone rings, then I wonder what to cook for dinner, then forget what I was thinking about, and then start listening to another podcast with Johann Hari, discussing his new book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention.

At this moment in time, the average office worker focuses on one thing for just 3 minutes, before switching to some other shiny distraction. Often the narrative we tell ourselves is that either we are suffering a personal failure of grit and tenacity, and if only we could muster the discipline, we could maintain our focus. In other words, we tell ourselves that we are failing.

Or we tell ourselves that it isn’t really our fault at all. It’s just the ubiquity of technology and devices which overwhelms our ability to focus. But the truth is that our willpower is no match for an army of engineers focused on designing systems that prey on our limbic brain response. Programming techniques like pull-to-refresh act like a slot machine to keep us “playing” even when nothing’s there. Infinite scroll designs remove natural stopping cues and breaks so users don’t realize when to stop, because there is no end. Which is the point of the design.

“You can try having self-control, but there are a thousand engineers on the other side of the screen working against you.” – Tristan Harris, Center for Humane Technology testifying to U.S. Senate

As Johann Hari points out repeatedly in his book, and interview discussions, we aren’t simply surrendering our attention to facebook, snapchat, tiktok, etc., our attention is systematically, and intentionally being stolen from us. We all know this. On “free” social media platforms, we are the product being sold. We the humans are the commodity being sold to the highest bidder, who again is advertising to us in order to, yet again, steal our attention.

Every click, every scroll, every like and post is scraped by artificial intelligence and algorithms to form a profile of us, which is packaged and sold to advertisers. When Google released Gmail, they were scraping your email content with artificial intelligence to form a profile of you. In order to sell to you. It’s the business model.

 — But here’s why this really matters. Here’s why our focus and attention is so critical. —

Think of any major accomplishment in your life – a business you started, a degree you earned, a promotion you worked for, a book you published or a big project you delivered. Or even consider your strong relationships with your partner, your children, your friends and family.

The one single thread among all of these accomplishments and strong relationships is that it required your sustained attention. You had to focus. You had to stay on task, on message, on point. You had to write the content, rehearse the presentation, read the material. And with your meaningful relationships, you had to slow down. You had to listen.

If your attention breaks down you are less able to achieve your goals. Period. Accomplishing anything momentous or valuable, requires your focus and attention.

People who can’t focus, will be drawn to simplistic, authoritarian solutions, and less likely to see clearly when they fail. – Johann Hari

The problem compounds when the task of problem solving requires the collaboration of many people. In this era of distracted, segmented attention, we are less able, as a community, to focus collaboratively on big problems which require the sustained attention of many people.

An example Johann Hari uses is the ozone layer degradation first discovered in the 1980s. Susan Solomon led a series of expeditions to Antarctica in 1986 and 1987 to take readings of the ozone and discovered that a hole was rapidly expanding because of chlorine dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. The principle culprit was CFCs commonly used in aerosol spray cans, and refrigerants.

Her work expanded the scientific understanding of CFCs and the importance of the protective ozone layer in shielding us from ultraviolet radiation. This was all patiently explained by scientists to global communities of government legislators, business leaders, and consumers. We, common non-scientist people listened, understood the problem explained to us, and then collectively decided to cease use of CFCs and to ban their use in consumer products.

It worked, and since then the ozone layer has been healing to continue to protect species.

Hari worries about our collective ability now to focus on scientific truths, and respond rationally, and in unison, to the realities of climate change, threatened democracy, misinformation, and more.

Hari argues that if we were confronted with the same ozone dilemma now we would fracture in the same ways we do today. As he believes, “You would get people who would film themselves spraying CFCs into the atmosphere to own the libs and make them cry. You would get people saying, ‘How do we even know the ozone layer exists? Maybe George Soros made the hole in the ozone layer.’ We would become lost.”

We would not be able to summon the collective attention required to solve this dilemma that requires critical thinking, sustained attention and collaboration.

How can we solve the world’s most urgent problems if we’ve downgraded our attention spans, downgraded our capacity for complexity and nuance, downgraded our shared truth, downgraded our beliefs into conspiracy theory thinking that we can’t construct shared agendas to solve our problems? This is destroying our sense-making at a time we need it the most.
– Tristan Harris, Center for Humane Technology

Well, if you’ve read this far – even while perhaps checking your email or texts – you must be wondering what to do about it. Johann Hari has a lot of advice and hacks to take back your attention and focus, but I’ll give you just one I use which works.

Do something every day which requires your total attention. Go to an exercise class. Shop and prepare a new recipe. Go for a run. Schedule a coffee with a friend and leave your phone in the car. Engage in an activity which demands your total attention. In other words create situations in which you know you will have total presence. It’s called “pre-commitment”.

Another way to ensure you won’t check your DMs and likes is to lock up your phone. Seriously. Grab yourself a K-Safe and set the timer. The research backs it up. You’ll have your focus back for that duration.

Here, just for you, have a micro-learning course we recently published on Being an Agile Critical Thinker.
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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences to drive the human change that propels your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

And if you want to learn to apply some of these ideas and be an effective coach for your team, we wrote a course on that too. It’s called Coaching for Managers available over at UDEMY for Business.

Why Successful People Don’t Focus on Success

Hello and welcome back to my newsletter! Last week I was writing about how gratitude is more about defining our future and who we will become, not only celebrating the past. This week I’m thinking about a mind shift to focusing on projects we can control, instead of big successes we can’t control.

Here’s my question this week: If most successful people say they never predicted their own successes, what did they do to get there?

You know the 1973 song “Ooh La La” by The Faces. Yes, you do. With that famous refrain:

I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger

It’s a great song. But there’s something wrong with that lyric. No, you don’t really want your younger self to know what you know now, do you? Right now, I don’t want to know what 80-year old me knows. Not yet anyway.

We persevere on projects because we don’t know yet what is going to stick and what isn’t. And even if we try to predict what’s going to work, how do we know it wasn’t the series of projects that came first which set the stage, built our experience, honed our craft? We don’t want to skip to the end. We want to live the best version of our life that’s happening now.

Stick to Your Short-Term Choices

We don’t know what we don’t know. And not knowing is both the angst, and supreme joy, of being 10, or 20, or 30 or __ years old.

My Dad had this bit of advice I always remember: When you think of where you are right now, you can easily trace it back in time. At school I met this teacher, who gave me a job, where I met Andre, who I went camping with, and we met those travelers from New Zealand…

It’s like cairns in a forest, breadcrumbs on the path. It’s so obvious from where you stand now. The opportunities and situations of your childhood, the choices you make in your teens and twenties, the schools you attend, the clubs and sports you participate in, the teachers, coaches, pastors, and mentors you listen to, all lead to the long line of choices that bring you to now.

And while each choice takes you down a path, you can’t really foresee where it will go. You don’t know who you will meet, what you will learn. So see it through – the adventure, the school, the class, the project you’re on at the moment. Commit. Or at least micro-commit to the experience.

Dan Gilbert and his colleagues did an experiment years ago at Harvard. They created a photography course, and invited the students to go around campus and take 12 black and white photos of their favorite people and places – faculty, buildings, classmates, etc.. Then they set up a dark room and invited the students to develop their own photographs and enlarge just two of them into big beautiful prints.

Then the teacher said, “OK, one of the photos you can take with you to keep. The other photo stays with the school and goes into the archives.” Half the group were told they had to decide immediately, and the choice would be final. The other half of the group was given fours days to think about it, and they could change their mind at any time. If they wanted the other photo instead, no problem. They could switch if they wanted to.

Those who had to make an immediate, irrevocable choice, reported that they were much happier with their choice than the other half of the students who had the opportunity to change their mind over the next few days.

If you can bail out, change your mind, second guess yourself, you can rationalize that decision and it can make you crazy. Stick with your choice, and see it as a small project, an experiment, a building block for something bigger to come.

You Can Control Projects, Not Outcomes

Instead of focusing on the goals you want to accomplish, start asking who you want to become.

Reframe the story you tell yourself. Stop focusing on running a 4-hour marathon, instead become a runner. Stop focusing on publishing a bestseller, instead become a writer. Goals aren’t a bad thing, but set it aside. Instead of focusing on the end result, focus on becoming the kind of person who can accomplish that goal. Ask yourself, what are the types of projects this person would take on?

“Habits are not a finish line to be crossed, but a lifestyle to be lived.” – James Clear

Neil Gaiman, the fabulous writer, said once that when he sits down to write, he gives himself just two choices. Write, or look out the window. That’s it. There’s no choice called scroll through twitter, check email, call Mom, or clean the kitchen.

The control he sets on his writing process is: Write, or look out the window. That’s it. It’s what he can control. He wrote great books by becoming a writer, not by focusing on writing a great book.

Stop focusing on the goal itself. Become the kind of person who accomplishes the goal you envision.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences to drive the human change that propels your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

And if you want to learn to apply some of these ideas and be an effective coach for your team, we wrote a course on that too. It’s called Coaching for Managers available over at UDEMY for Business.

It’s OK, You Should Ask. They Will Say Yes.

Welcome back! If you prefer, you can receive this newsletter when first published over here on LinkedIn. This week I show that you can – and should – ask for help, along with a few tips on how to ask from the research of Vanessa Bohns.

Recently my wife and I wanted to visit our son, a first year student at a university about a 7-hour drive away. He had only been there a few weeks, and we thought it would be nice to visit him at school for parent’s weekend, meet his new friends, and take in the fall college scene in New England.

In the end, we didn’t go. We have two dogs who would not have enjoyed 14 hours in a car, and a younger daughter who would need a place to stay for the weekend. She certainly wasn’t interested in a getaway with her parents on a long car ride, just to visit her brother. Yuck.

So what happened? We didn’t ask for help. It would have been easy. When I explained this to some friends, every single person said they would have taken our dogs for the weekend, including our old sweet yellow lab who we couldn’t bear to leave at a dog boarding kennel. Our daughter could have easily spent the night with friends. It would have taken two phone calls. We just didn’t ask.

In general, people hate to ask for help, or ask favors from other people. Our aversion to even interrupting someone else can be so strong, Vanessa Bohn has demonstrated in her research that we don’t like to approach strangers just to give them compliments (“Your sweater looks great on you!”), because we are concerned we might not express ourselves well to others. We believe we might appear awkward, strike the wrong tone, or be misinterpreted. So we say nothing. We ask for nothing.

But we shouldn’t be so worried. People will agree to requests more often than we think, particularly if the request is benign, or well-intentioned.

There’s a guy named Jia Jiang who tested this theory by spending 100 days asking random people for pretty benign, but often unusual requests. He called his experiment Rejection Therapy, and during the experiment, he made many requests of strangers. He went to a high school track and asked a random person to race him (yes), asked a police officer if he could sit in the squad car (yes), asked a Wal-Mart greeter if he could hug her (yes), asked a Subway sandwich maker if he could go behind the counter and make his own sandwich (no), asked a car salesperson if he could test drive an $80k BMW (yes), and even asked if he could give the flight safety announcement on a SouthWest flight (sort of).

The point is that people are more agreeable, and more willing to say Yes to our requests than we think they are. And because of this fact, we should be careful of the requests that we do make, and ensure they are well-intentioned, and designed for positive outcomes.

So, once you’ve figured out what you want to ask for, that comes from a place of good intent, here are a few tips from Vanessa Bohn’s research on how to make a successful ask.

Be direct: A mistake we often make is that we think it will be more polite to hint at the request, or drop clues that the other person is supposed to understand and interpret, to allow them to intuit our request, and volunteer to help. So instead of asking outright, we suggest or hint at it. People don’t always pick up on our hints. Be direct, and plain, in your requests instead.

Don’t overthink the ask: We often think we need to craft the perfect email, with compelling arguments, and carefully selected words, to gain their attention and get someone else to Yes. Actually, you don’t. The most compelling asks are direct, simple, and in-person.

Ask in-person, or at least by phone: It is very difficult for people to say No to someone else in person. Our default response is to agree, mostly because we don’t want to create conflict, adversity or disappoint someone else. And emails are easily ignored.

Don’t water down your request: In a series of studies at Columbia Business School, participants engaged in negotiations who thought they were being too assertive, or too pushy in their requests ( the “line-crossing illusion”), were more often viewed by the other person as being appropriate, and fair, in their ask. So don’t ask for half of what you actually want.

It’s OK. You can, and should, ask for help. Asking strengthens relationships, expands connections, and gives someone else a chance to give. Because giving someone an opportunity to give is a good thing.

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Still trying to figure out what you want? We wrote a 5-minute microlearning course on that. Enjoy!

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences to drive the human change that propels your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

And if you want to learn to apply some of these ideas and be an effective coach for your team, we wrote a course on that too. It’s called Coaching for Managers available over at UDEMY for Business.

Are “Should” Statements Ruining Your Life?

This kind of thinking will destroy your motivation, and make you less likely to actually do these things.

  • “I should work out more often.”
  • “I should figure out how to meditate.”
  • “I should hug my kids more.”
  • “I should make more healthy dinners.”

The last time I posted something here was May 4, 2020. It was fairly early in the pandemic. Those were the days of warily touching doorknobs and railings, then saturating your hands in disinfectant until they were red and dry, the days of wondering if COVID was somehow lurking on our groceries or on our mail. You never know.

Back then I wrote about Victor Frankl and Michael J. Fox, and themes of hope and resilience, and spiritual growth through crisis and adversity. And then I went silent. I read expert interviews about the virus, the distant hope of vaccines, the increasing death tolls. I made meals for my family. I focused on my growing company. I went for bike rides. I turned off the news.

I also expended energy thinking I really should write something publicly. I should keeping connecting through this blog. What I didn’t know is that berating myself with shoulds is demotivating energy. It’s a cognitive distortion that only compounds the external pressures that make us anxious. So on top of worrying that humans are under attack by a novel virus, our democracy is in peril, and our planet is suffering catastrophic climate change, I decided to worry about all the things I should be doing, but aren’t doing. It’s not useful energy.

It’s no surprise that stress is up across the board – from teens to parents – and includes professionals from pretty much every industry segment. Anxiety, stress, substance abuse, suicidal ideation are all up.

Now, people are suffering from something experts are calling COVID Anxiety Syndrome, a condition in which people, who have been vaccinated, still won’t venture out into the world. Post-pandemic stress disorder is real.

And if, on top of all that, we start to layer in I should or I ought to self-talk, it can paralyze us. According to behavioral therapists, there are straightforward solutions to help us change our language, change the way we think, and move toward meaningful action.

Should statements typically only make you feel more hopeless about your situation. Should self-talk reinforces your sense of procrastination and lack of agency. Stop it. Become aware of your shoulds, oughts, and musts and try to replace them with thoughts about what you CAN and WILL do.

Reframe your should statements. Turn I should into I want to, or I can, or I would like to. The expression I should conveys to your brain something that you feel is an obligation you aren’t living up to – an unfulfilled promise to yourself or someone else. I want to and I can are more powerful statements of intention. They convey power, agency, and choice.

Finally, be aware of others who use similar burdening language. When someone says to you, You ought to or You should… they are probably talking about themselves anyway. Let it go.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Your Idea Wants to Live

“There’s a rule they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School: if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess.”
– Edwin Land

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak famously started Apple Computer on April 1, 1976. It’s hard to imagine, but Jobs had his own innovation hero. If Jobs was the wiz kid of the 1970s and 1980s, that was Edwin Land of the 1930s and 1940s. At 17, Land enrolled at Harvard but quickly became bored after discovering it was populated with wealthy kids without ambition.

Edwin Land had no patience for idleness. His mind was racing constantly. One of his early employees said of Lamb, that he could “see into my head. It was really a kind of interesting sensation of having your head briefly searched for content.”

Since he was a child at summer camp, he was fascinated with optics and light. He slept with a copy of Physical Optics under his pillow, and spent his teenage years fixated on creating a man-made polarizer. A polarizing lens today reduces glare and significantly increases your ability to see in bright conditions – on water, on snow, or even blinding oncoming headlights. Polarizing filters help pilots see in the clouds, anglers see fish in the water, and photographers capture beautiful color in stark light.

But in the the 1920s polarizing filters only existed in nature, discovered by accident when holding tourmaline crystals up to the sunlight and watching the filtered light shine through. Edwin Land believed he could create such a filter in a laboratory.

He persisted and eventually synthesized his own polarizer by embedding millions of fragile tiny crystals within lacquer (the shiny gooey stuff you spread on guitars that makes them shine) and then aligning all of the crystals in the same direction using magnets. Voilà! Polarized light streamed forth. He was 19 years old and described the moment as “the most exciting single event in my life.”

That was in 1928. Fifteen years later, in 1943, he would have his famous epiphany while taking a family photograph at the Grand Canyon with his family. It was in that moment, after taking a family photograph, that his daughter asked, “Can I see the photo now?”

The question stopped him. He mused, “What if we could build a darkroom inside a camera?” That question led him to conceptualize the Polaroid camera, which was released only four years later in 1947.

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?”
– Jack Sparrow

Often we are halted by our doubts, hesitations or comparisons to others. But remember, your competition is not your competition. Your competition is yourself, your ego, your procrastination, your lack of discipline, your indecision, your eating choices, your lack of follow through, or that person in your life who is living rent free in your head.

Dispel your fears. Your idea is yearning for life. Stay in motion.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Yes, You’re Smart. Don’t Let It Make You Crazy.

You’re smart. It’s normal. Most people think they are better than average. But have you ever ordered the chocolate brownie sundae explosion for dessert, and then when it arrives you realize you’re too full. And then eat it anyway because you paid $12 for it? That’s your “sunk-cost bias.” It’s the same reason a lot of really smart executives spent 27 years and 1.3 billion on the Concorde Jet before finally pulling the plug.

We like to praise smart people. She’s sooo smart. He’s brilliant! But intelligence doesn’t insulate us from our own crazy ideas. And sometimes we use our own smarts to simply reinforce our own biases. And our biases can be pretty loco.

Kary Mullis died recently in August, 2019. He was known as an “untamed genius”. With a brilliant and soaring mind he won the Nobel Prize in 1993 for his work developing a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, which is the same technology that allows for the reality of Jurassic Park (DNA cloning), designer babies (gene manipulation), predicting Alzheimers (hereditary gene monitoring), and paternity testing.

PCR has numerous applications across a broad number of fields from agriculture to archeology, and was named “one of the most significant scientific inventions of the 20th century.” Clearly Mullis was a heavyweight egghead.

He was also a little nuts. He believed the ozone hole in the atmosphere was an illusion, climate change was a hoax, the HIV virus had nothing to do with AIDS, and astrology was a much better predictor of human behavior than the entire discipline of psychology. He liked to experiment with LSD, and once described his own personal alien encounter. The morning he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he got drunk and went surfing. Clearly, some of his ideas were untethered from reality.

For years we have popularized a myth that sheer intelligence is one of the primary predictors of success. We laud the mercurial genius and praise our kids’ SAT scores. Yet that same intellectual horsepower can handicap rational thinking. Smart people can, of course, do stupid things. Smarter people tend to drink more, for example.

IQ tests measure analytical thinking – the kind of thinking that requires deduction, reasoning, and comprehension. It’s the ability to break down complex problems into simple, solvable elements.

But what about creative intelligence? This is your ability to conjure up a science fiction story about time travel and sorcerers. It’s your ability to imagine alternatives, see through the noise, connect the dots, write compelling ad copy, or perform a jazz solo.

Or what about cultural intelligence? This is our ability to pick up on subtle social cues, be empathetic listeners, and notice cultural differences. Are you confident you know when to shake hands, bow, or kiss on the cheek when you greet someone from another country? Wait, is it a kiss on each cheek or just one? And do you start with the right cheek, or the left? Well, it matters because if you don’t know you might pick the wrong cheek, meet in the middle and…

You know what practical intelligence is. It’s your “genius” neighbor who can’t screw in a lightbulb, or clean his own gutters, or put together an IKEA cabinet.

And what happens when there is no right answer? When the answer isn’t clear. When there are many ways to solve the problem, and the decision is subjective. This requires creative problem-solving, not finding one right answer. Arguably, that genius next door with the 1550 SAT won’t be able to use her analytical intelligence when a complicated issue comes along because there are lots of ways to solve the problem, and a good answer requires thinking laterally.

These kinds of dimensional intelligences are critical to avoiding irrational mind traps. An irrational mind trap is when we get so fixated on a particular notion that we bring our singular analytical intelligence to bear on propping up that crazy idea.

It’s the same reason roughly 5% of us can still argue the moon landing was a hoax, and about 1.5% of us believe the world is flat.

Argue as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong. When you listen with humility, you’re more likely to hear the other person more clearly, and more likely to allow new ideas in your head.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Small Acts Video: Change the Environment

Transcript:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has an attraction called Kilimanjaro Safaris. It’s one of their premier attractions. And if you take the 18-minute safari in the propane-powered Jeep, you’ll be awed by the sight of black rhino and cheetah, elephant, flamingo, gazelle, giraffe, hippo, lion, even wildebeest. And when you come around a corner near the end of the safari, there above you on the side of the mountain are two lions laying majestically, looking out over the savanna.

It is awe-inspiring. It looks like a scene from “The Lion King.” And so you take a few photos with your son’s mouth gaping open. But if you think about it, how in the world do you get a lion to sit majestically on a rock when maybe it’s 98 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of the summer, or maybe it’s a chilly 40 degrees in the middle of winter even in Florida? Well, the designers of Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro, they’ve engineered that rock to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. That’s right, they engineer the rock to be more attractive, more enticing, in the same way that buildings are designed to redirect people traffic and roads are designed to manage car traffic.

Sometimes to build innovative solutions, we need to change the environment, chance the circumstances to find new insights and create new kinds of conversations.

Passion Doesn’t Appear. You Create It.

Do you know anyone who has been called ‘gifted’? Anyone ever call you a ‘natural’? To begin with, being called gifted or a genius at anything can be a curse. It can also set you up for a nasty case of Imposter Syndrome.

I’m suggesting that not many people start out being “gifted” at much of anything. We develop interests. Interests lead to dedication and work. The work pays off. We get skilled. We deepen our focus. We get even better. Now we’ve developed a passion that someone else starts to call a gift. But the passion started with work.

Some studies designate only the top 3% as actually gifted. But even among those identified as gifted and talented, there is quite a bit of debate about how to handle them, and guide them in development.

The one thing that is clear is that ‘giftedness’ presents itself in different ways. IQ tests alone can benefit students from particular backgrounds and be biased for cultural specificity. For example, you could take a highly intelligent person from the Amazon rainforest who can identify and correctly use medicinal plants, and yet they might be baffled by a standard IQ question such as: “4, 9, 16, 25, 36, ?, 64. What number is missing from the sequence?” (Answer and explanation here.)

Back to the point: While people might start with a mental or physical attribute that allows them to be more inclined toward excellence at something, the truth is that almost all of the excellence you may witness is generated by hard work and showing up day after day to put in the hours. Passion doesn’t often arrive fully formed, but instead is cultivated over time.

Evidence also suggests that we learn what we are passionate about not through dogged persistence of one singular goal, but through experimentation, failure, learning, and then moving on. David Epstein chronicles the story of Roger Federer who, unlike the Tiger Woods story, did not specialize in tennis at all. In fact, Federer bounced from swimming to badminton to soccer to skateboarding before finally deciding to pursue tennis. Epstein calls this a “sampling period” and argues it’s much more common that the heralded stories of Tiger Woods.

Not only is the sampling period important, but the simple fact of allowing the child to choose the sport, or the instrument, or the academic area, or the profession, or whatever – is critically important to maintaining and developing that passion. This allowing-my-kid-to-quit debate has certainly struck a nerve with some people. I have some thoughts on the matter as well.

There is some evidence to suggest that if you’re on the fence, maybe you should take the leap and quit. Steven Levitt, the author of Freakonomics, conducted a study online in which participants who were considering a career change could flip a coin, heads for quit and tails for stay. He found that six months later, those who flipped heads and changed jobs reported that they were substantially happier. (The more consumer friendly podcast version is here)

We know Vincent van Gogh as a famously gifted artist. But he didn’t decide to paint until he was 27. Prior to that he studied theology, worked as a clerk, a bookseller, and aid to an art dealer. It seems the strongest path to finding your passion is not determined specialization, but instead intentional exploration. Consider that Nobel laureates in science are 22 times more likely to have artistic pursuits outside their field, than their less recognized colleagues.

Stay curious my friends.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Small Acts of Leadership: You Can Ask for More Than You Think

Transcript:
– [Narrator] Have you ever asked for more and then instantly regretted asking? Like asking for more responsibility or promotion and immediately feeling like you are not worthy? Try to move beyond it. Research suggests you can ask for more than you think.

– People who are seen by others as getting assertiveness right often mistakenly think they’ve gotten it wrong. In 2014, there was a study by some students at Columbia Business School and they’ve found that 57% of those who believed that they were appropriately assertive in their requests, their negotiations, their conversations, they were actually seen by the other party as not really very assertive at all and not really very demanding at all. In other words, more than half didn’t ask for enough. On the other hand, those who believed that they’ve been overly assertive, overly demanding in their requests, they often fall victim to believing they’ve crossed the line, they’ve gone too far, they’ve overstepped their bounds, and the result is that they backpedal. They try to smooth things over. They try to acquiesce. They accept a lesser deal, and that’s a bummer, because in the study, those who were assertive and demanding were often then interpreted by the other party as being very fair, very appropriate. According to the research, we should go for it. We should ask for a little more. We should not back off, and we should not feel badly about what we do ask for. The research tells us you can ask for more, and you are probably more valuable than you think.

– [Narrator] Terry’s team is under a lot of pressure to meet tight deadlines. He has noticed many team members are stressed and overtired. Terry decides to ask the client for some extra time in delivering a project deadline. This request seemed perfectly logical to the client, and Terry’s team felt relieved and grateful. Take a small step in learning to ask for more. Maybe something simple in a coffee shop, a store, or a hotel. Identify something that would greatly improve the quality of your experience. Make the request reasonable, but don’t apologize or backpedal. If you ask for it and get it, be grateful. And if you ask for it and get turned down, think about what you can do differently next time.