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.

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.

If You Commit to Nothing, You Will Be Distracted by Everything

For 100 days, the monk wakes at midnight, prays, and begins his 18-mile trail run around Mount Hiei. The following year, he does it again. The third year, he does it again. The fourth year he runs for 200 consecutive days, on the same trail, at midnight, as always stopping briefly along the way to pray.

In the fifth year, after 200 days of running, the monk must sit in a lotus position before a raging fire and chant mantras for seven and a half days without food, water or sleep. Two monks watch to ensure he does not stop or fall over. On the fifth day, he is permitted to rinse his mouth with water, and then spit it out.

In the sixth year, the monk runs 37 miles per day, for 100 days. In the seventh year, he runs 52 miles per day, for 100 days, and now faces the final 100 days of running.

Up until this point the quest has been voluntary. The monk may continue, or quit, at any time. Once the monk begins the final 100 days in year seven, legend is they must either complete the quest or kill themselves.

The practice is called Kaihōgyō, and evolved into its current form in the 14th century. Literally translated it means ‘circling the mountain’, and is performed by Tendai Monks in Japan. It’s a commitment you and I cannot conceive of.

Dave Ganci is an ultrarunner, and has trained U.S. Special Forces, and Navy Seals. In an interview with the New York Times, he said, “I have been out on the thin edge of heat, cold, fatigue, starvation and dehydration stress many times and to the point where I had to play mental games with my body to keep it moving.

“I still cannot identify with the marathon monks’ regimen and how they accomplish their feats by any physical definition. It has to be a mental quality that carries them through the pain, fatigue, thirst, hunger, heat, cold and whatever dragons they meet on the trail.”

Ganci has studied the marathon monks and discovered something interesting in the early days of following the seven year pilgrimage. In the first few days and weeks, the pilgrim will be wracked with pain in their hips and legs, their feet and toes blistered and beaten, and will alternately suffer through hemorrhoids and diarrhea. But by day 30 or so the discomfort will start to ease. After 70 days, the monks begin to adopt “a smooth gait, head and shoulders erect, back straight, nose and navel aligned.”

The ultrarunner Adharanand Finn traveled to visit a Tendai monk just completing his own seven-year epic quest, and found his feet to be smooth, soft, and clean “as though he had been floating over the ground.”

It’s an extreme example, but the point is nothing is as hard as you think it will be, and the key to accomplishing anything at all is to simply get started. Most great books in the world were written in less than an hour at a time. Our teenage son and I bicycled across America one pedal stroke after another.

No, I don’t recommend attempting to run a marathon every day for 1000 days, but I do recommend starting that one inconceivable project you’ve been putting off for quite awhile. The most common protest is not that you don’t have time, but that you just don’t have time right now.

So instead you tell yourself that pretty soon, after you deliver that big project at work, or finish remodeling the kitchen, or get the kids through elementary school, or clean out the garage… then, finally, you’ll have that time you need. The time will open up to start yoga again, or write that novel, or learn Japanese, or skydive, or take your kids to the county fair, or visit your parents.

Pick one thing. And get after it.

The trouble is, you think you have time.
– Jack Kornfield

Start one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.


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.

Last summer, my 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.

When Cultures Start to Drift from Values

Diane Vaughan is a social scientist who coined the term “normalization of deviance” to describe the way organizational cultures can begin to drift morally and then rationalize that drift over such a slow time horizon that they aren’t even aware of it themselves.

As she wrote about in her book The Challenger Launch Decision, Vaughan studied the infamous 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion and discovered that faulty O‑rings, linked to the disaster, were identified as fallible long before the disaster occurred. Engineers knew they could fail, it had simply become “normal.”

“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”
– Steve Gruenter and Todd Whitaker

NASA, from the beginning of the space shuttle program, assumed that risk could not be eliminated, according to Vaughan, because the ability of the shuttle to perform in a real launch could only be mathematically predicted and tested in simulations. For that reason, the engineers expected anomalies on every mission, and disregarding danger signals, rather than trying to correct any problems, became the norm.

“Social normalization of deviance means that people within the organization become so much accustomed to a deviation that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for elementary safety.”
– Diane Vaughan

For example, after space shuttle Discovery launched on January 24, 1985, and then returned safely to earth, engineers performed an autopsy on the vehicle, which included carefully examining the O‑rings. In disassembling the Discovery’s O‑rings, the engineers discovered an alarming amount of grease that was blackened from exceedingly high pressure and temperature.

The O‑rings in the Discovery launch held but were more damaged than they had been in previous launches. Engineers calculated that the O‑ring temperature at the time of Discovery liftoff was approximately 58 degrees Fahrenheit. “[Challenger] could exhibit the same behavior,” the engineers reported after the examination. “Condition is not desirable, but is acceptable.”

They also recommended proceeding with the next launch of Challenger. In fact, they not only recommended proceeding with the next launch, engineers painstakingly argued their position regarding the tolerable O‑ring damage in a formal report. At the eleventh hour, only a day before the fatal launch, engineers Bob Ebeling and Roger Boisjoly contradicted themselves and strenuously argued to NASA officials that the O‑rings could stiffen and fail to properly seal the joints of the booster rockets because of the cold January temperatures.

These arguments were not persuasive to NASA officials because, after all, they had the original detailed engineering report stating that the risk was acceptable. It’s important to understand that the engineers were not simply acting or pretending that the damage was acceptable. Up until the engineers made their final plea to officials to halt the launch of Challenger only the day before, they actually believed that there was nothing wrong at all with that classification. “No fundamental decision was made at NASA to do evil,” Vaughan wrote. “Rather, a series of seemingly harmless decisions were made that incrementally moved the space agency toward a catastrophic outcome.”

The O‑ring damage observed after each launch was normal. The culture had simply drifted to a state in which that condition was also considered acceptable. In the NASA example, the existence of the damaged O‑rings after each launch was deemed acceptable. It became an implicit, and accepted, rule that everyone simply tolerated and believed to be quite normal.

But if we step back for a moment and study the situation, as Vaughan did in her analysis, that acceptance of damaged O‑rings seems pretty crazy.

To avoid groupthink, encourage debate and populate your team with different personalities and areas of expertise. And recognize that speed can kill. When we are rushing to deadlines, and racing to complete projects, it’s much easier to overlook mistakes and rationalize errors in an effort to get it done.

As the great John Wooden once said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

Check out our new micro-learning series Small Acts of Leadership to begin making cultural shifts one small act at a time. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

What’s Possible If We Ignore What Other People Think?

“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.” – Lao Tzu

On March 2 1962, Wilt “the Stilt” Chamberlain had the highest scoring NBA basketball game of all time. He scored 100 points in that game, a feat likely never to be repeated. Chamberlain was the number two highest average scoring player in history, behind Michael Jordan. He would have easily been number one, had it not been for his free throws.

Wilt Chamberlain was terrible at free throws. Terrible. He was so bad that the coach wouldn’t play him at the end of a close game, since the opposing team only needed to foul him, and send him to the free throw line, where he would surely miss.

Meanwhile, Chamberlain’s teammate on the Golden State Warriors, Rick Barry, was the most accurate free throw shooter in the league. By the time he retired, Barry was the most accurate free-throw shooter in NBA history, averaging 90.0 percent of his free-throw attempts. In his final season, Barry hit over 94% of his free throws. Rick Barry shot all of his free throws underhanded. That’s right, Barry shot “granny style.”

You might think since both Chamberlain and Barry were on the same team, Chamberlain would learn a thing or two about shooting free throws. Well, sort of. For a short period, Barry convinced, and taught, Chamberlain to shoot underhanded also. He improved his free throws remarkably. But it didn’t stick. Chamberlain said he couldn’t do it. He said he felt “like a sissy” shooting underhanded.

Read interviews with Rick Barry, and it’s pretty clear he never gave a damn what other people thought of how he shot the ball. In his mind, the point was to get the shot in, so he never cared what other people thought.

What other people think of us – or what we think other people think of us – means so much that we would often rather fall back on old habits, or abandon new thinking and new ideas, in favor of simply fitting in.

The difference between those who succeed, and those who sit comfortably in lackluster positions, is they are willing to fight the gravitational pull of mediocrity.

“The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.”
– John Stuart Mill

A study from Duke University back in 2006 revealed that over 40% of what we believe are conscious choices every day, are actually habits. Chamberlain just couldn’t make a habit out of shooting underhanded because he felt embarrassed by it. He was too concerned about what the world thought of him. He was the greatest basketball player of his era, and still he couldn’t get over what other people thought of how he shot free throws.

There is an important, and distinct, difference between trying, and failing, at something, and being a failure. The key difference is how we think about it.

Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran lost nearly everything in her first failed marketing campaign. Bill Gates’s first company, Traf-O-Data, was a complete bomb. Milton Hershey’s famous company, Hershey’s, was actually the fourth candy company he founded, after the first three failed.

Failing at an effort is not the same as being a failure. The most important mindset shift is to think of our work as experimentation, not as either successes or failures, but instead simply experiments, which we can constantly improve upon. It’s the shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. And that reframing is a small act of leadership.

To learn more about turning failure into constant experimentation, and reinventing innovation, take a look at:


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Speed up to Slow Down. And Other Secrets of Great Coaches.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
– John Wooden

In 1974 Ronald Gallimore and Roland Tharp were psychology students on the campus of UCLA. On the other side of Westwood Boulevard, across from the academic side of campus is Pauley Pavilion, where John Wooden coached his UCLA Bruins basketball team. Gallimore and Tharp spent every afternoon of the 1974-1975 season on the other side of the street studying the habits of one of the greatest coaches of all time.

At the beginning of the 1974-1975 basketball season, John Wooden’s teams had won an astonishing 9 NCAA championships, including 7 in a row. During the season Gallimore and Tharp studied him, coach Wooden’s team won their 10th NCAA championship.

Over the course of the season, researchers Gallimore and Tharp recorded every word John Wooden said, and observed everything he did. These small acts of leadership apply to all aspects of building a successful career and life. Here’s what they found.

Use Every Minute
Afternoon practices were held from 3:29pm – 5:29pm every weekday afternoon, except holidays. The times were exact and unvarying. Each practice consisted of precisely timed exercises and drills, each drill with its own specific purpose. Wooden prepared practice plans for each session, which he wrote down on index cards and distributed to assistant coaches so everyone understood what was expected. A practice plan might read, for example, “3:30-3:40 Easy running floor length, change of pace and direction, one on one (cutter), one on one (dribbler). 3:40 – 3:45 five man rebounding and passing”

“I kept notes with the specifics of every minute of every hour of every practice we ever had at UCLA. When I planned a day’s practice, I looked back to see what we had done on the corresponding day the previous year and the year before that.” – John Wooden interview, 1997

Love him or not, Gary Vaynerchuk is one of the most successful and prolific writers, and business people alive. And he plans the first three hours of his day down to the minute. Actually, he claims “down to the second.” Yes, he takes time out to reflect, to exercise, to check out mentally and emotionally. You should too. But when he’s on, he maximizes every moment. Which also means single-tasking. Do one thing at a time.

Speed Up to Slow Down
One of Wooden’s signature drills was known as a “hustle.” The point of a hustle was to accelerate the drill and practice such that the players were right at the edge of their capability, just a split second from dropping the ball, or missing a pass.

The goal of a “hustle” is to speed up a practice drill incrementally to maintain accuracy, yet increase speed of play, through constant repetition. By preparing this way, when they played the actual game everything seemed in slow motion because everything they did in practice was so much faster. The players had much more time to react because the play felt much slower than what they were accustomed to.

Be Specific. Be Brief.
Over 65% of everything John Wooden uttered in practice was specifically what to do, and how to do it. Only 1.6% of his actions were to demonstrate how not to perform. Instead he almost exclusively focused on the proper way to execute each action. John Wooden had such a unique and specific pattern of correcting behavior, the researchers named it a “Wooden.”

A “Wooden” was a specific expression combination of scolding, correcting, and then instructing. For example, during play he would blow the whistle and say “I have been telling you for three years not to wind up when you pass the ball. Not like this. Like this! Pass from the chest!”

John Wooden also never, ever, gave grand lectures or locker room speeches. In fact, he rarely spoke for more than a few seconds at once. Typically he would speak for only about 4 seconds at a time.

Practices at UCLA were nonstop, electric, supercharged, intense, demanding . . . with Coach pacing the sidelines like a caged tiger, barking instructions, positive reinforcement, and maxims: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
– Bill Walton, former player for John Wooden and NCAA Player of the Year

Provide Solutions, Not Simply Evaluations.
Once I was coaching our U14 soccer team at a tournament against bigger, stronger opponents. We had the skill to compete, but our boys were intimidated by the size of the opposing team. At one point during the match I shouted from the sidelines, “Believe boys. Believe!” My intent was to inspire them to summon the strength of belief that they could win. Later my son came off the field and said, “Dad, it’s not helpful when you yell ‘Believe’. You need to tell us what to do.

My son was right. As Coach Wooden described in an interview, if his corrective strategies had been merely positive (“Good job”) or simply negative, (“That’s not the way”), then the player would be left with an evaluation of their performance, but not a solution going forward of how to correct their behavior, and improve their skill.

Elevate Individual Quality
Although formal practices started at 3:29pm, individual practice started at 3:00pm. At 3:00pm individual players were expected to arrive and work on specific things they were working on. Sometimes shooting, sometimes quickness and speed, sometimes dribbling, but each player had their own personal work-out tailored for them before the team practice.

“Every time I’m stumped with a business problem, it doesn’t matter what it is, the answer is always ‘increase the quality.’ Always. And that’s not very common in business.
– Yvon Chounaird, founder of Patagonia

This is an important message for aspiring leaders. Although only the strength of the entire team can execute on a vision, it’s the quality of effort of each and every individual, and the precision of their work, when combined with the collaboration with the entire team, which can help to achieve what one person alone can not.

To learn about how build a culture of continuous learning see:


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October, 2016. You can pre-order a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

How to Recognize the Mindset of Your Company


Think of a time in your life when you were doing something new, and exciting, and fun. Maybe you were learning a musical instrument, trying a new sport, learning to paint, or even solving a sodoku puzzle. And then, after the thrill was gone, it got hard. It got difficult, and not easy, and not fun. What did you do? Did you quit? Did you press on?

Individuals adopt different types of mindset – sometimes a fixed mindset, and sometimes a growth mindset, which you can identify by their language and behavior. Those with a fixed mindset believe their skills and talents are locked in, immutable and unchanging. Those with a growth mindset believe that, with work and effort, they can grow and learn and develop.

I say sometimes, because both of these mindsets exist within us, at odds with one another all the time. The fixed mindset inside us whispers, “There’s still time to get out of here before someone notices I’m a failure,” or “I can always blame that guy if things go wrong,” or “See, I knew I couldn’t do it.”

The growth mindset within us replies, “True, but I think I can figure this out, or find someone who can help me.”

Here’s an extreme example of a growth mindset. On April 5, 2010, Dan McLaughlin quit his day job as a commercial photographer, and started a journey to become a professional golfer. He had never played golf in his life. Intrigued by the suggestion that 10,000 hours of deliberate and intentional practice could transform him into an elite player, he has set off on a quest to go pro. He’s at 4,000 hours now, has a trainer, a swing doctor, a chiropractor, and his handicap is down to 4. In his photo on twitter, he has “Persistence” written on his forearm.

Growth mindset people tend to work harder on identifying, and correcting, their mistakes. Fixed mindset people often cover, and hide, their mistakes. After all, if they can’t learn and get any better, why not hide their weaknesses?

“I think it’s really important for people to know that almost all of the great people that they admire, fabulously successful people, have had major, even monumental, setbacks that they’ve had to overcome. And that that is part of the human condition, it’s not part of being incompetent.”
– Carol Dweck, Ph.D., author of Mindset

Companies have mindsets too, and you can identify the mindset of an organization, or team, if you know what to look for.

People talk about how smart they are
When team members inside an organization start to talk about how smart someone is, or how talented someone is, look out. That language builds up heroic personalities – people who need to be called in to save the day. Have you ever been in a meeting, and the meeting can’t start because a certain someone hasn’t shown up yet? It’s that palpable feeling that nothing can happen until the hero arrives.

People get defensive about feedback
When you start to see people get defensive about hearing feedback, hiding their mistakes, or assigning blame, you may be in the midst of a bozo explosion. When you hear people object immediately with, “But that’s not true…” or “That’s going to be too much work”, you’re in a place where people believe in protecting their reputation, not growing their capabilities.

People dwell on failures instead of celebrating experiments
A sign of a growth mindset culture is a constant, urgent discussion about conducting, and studying, efforts like small experiments. Up until recently Facebook had a mantra of “move fast and break things,” which was an invitation to their engineers to rapidly prototype, ship, and then study the results. When you see a culture reciting folklore about taboo activities because of some past experience, you know you’re walking in an innovation wasteland.

Most of all, listen for language that describes people as passionate and enthusiastic, instead of brilliant, or gifted and talented.

To learn about how a learning mindset can change your life and your work see:


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October, 2016. You can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Why the Best Leaders Reward Defiance


In 1959 the Revolutionaries finally forced the Cuban president, and United States ally, Fulgencio Batista into exile. Fidel Castro and his insurgency had taken over. Two years later, John F. Kennedy, the golden boy in the White House, initiated the Bay of Pigs invasion. Surrounded by advisors and cabinet members who believed Kennedy could not possibly make a mistake, Kennedy heard not one objection before launching the failed invasion.

The ill-conceived, poorly-executed, and completely bungled operation to invade Cuba and take over lasted only 6 days, and was an international embarrassment to the United States.

From 1996 through 2001 Enron had been named by Fortune Magazine as “The Most Innovative Company in the World.” Innovative indeed. In 2001, Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, former CEO Ken Lay, along with top executives, cooked the books by underreporting debt, and inflating profits. They are in prison now.

Enron had been consistently ranked near the top in quality of management, talent, and innovative products and services. According to one top executive, “We got to the point where we thought we were bullet proof.”

As Carol Dweck describes in her book Mindset, when advisors to the former CEO of General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan, were in unanimous agreement over a decision, he would say to them, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement…”

Irving Janis, of Yale University, coined the term “Groupthink” and published a book under the same name in 1972. In his research groupthink most easily occurs when three circumstances are present:

  • A strong, persuasive group leader
  • A high level of group cohesion
  • Strong external pressure to make a good decision

Here is a small, yet simple, practice to avoid groupthink, and to spur ingenuity and innovation.

Reward Creative Defiance
David Packard, cofounder of Hewlett-Packard, had a favorite story of a junior engineer who was asked to abandon work on a new type of monitor he was working on. Instead of dropping the project, the young engineer instead took the monitor to show to customers, and developed an enthusiastic support base for his innovative idea, which convinced the company to proceed developing the product. The company made over thirty-five million dollars on sales of that monitor, and the engineer was awarded a medal “for extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty.”

One more example…
In the early 1990s, Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks, was then acting as vice president of sales and operations to help expand Starbuck’s store locations. Dana, one of his store managers in Santa Monica, showed Howard a new drink their store invented. Howard agreed the drink was excellent, but the management team back in Seattle was hesitant to adopt it, and asked Dana to stop making it.

Howard called her up, and privately told her to keep making it and monitor sales. That was the birth of Starbucks’ Frappuchino®, which turned out to be one of their most popular—and profitable—drinks.

Creativity, and innovation often occur more rapidly when people are encouraged – rewarded even – by their acts of constructive defiance.

Go. Try something new. Take a risk. What would you do if you were not afraid?

To learn about how questions can drive Innovation and Transform Mindsets see:


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October, 2016. You can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

The Work of Confidence

People are rewarded in public for what they practice for years in private.
– Tony Robbins

In an interview, Jake Gyllenhall once described his acting preparation as accessing a parallel world through grinding determination and hard work. For example, to prepare for the movie Southpaw, he spent five months at boxing clubs, talking to boxers, watching boxing matches, training with boxers. Not so he could understand them, but so he could become them.

He described these parallel lives as simply different rivers of energy, and that if we give enough time and enough focus and enough belief in those worlds, we can slowly abandon our usual lives, and adopt an entirely new consciousness. In his words we can access “an entirely different molecular structure”. But it takes work and determination to leave the comfort of our habits.

Not all of us are willing to abandon our comfortable habits and pick up activities so far removed from our understanding. But remarkable things can happen when we try. And who knows about accessing parallel rivers of consciousness. But I do know this: Nothing builds confidence quite as quickly and powerfully as building competence. Competence begets confidence.

As the legend goes, in 1937, on stage at the Cutting Room in NYC, the drummer Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Charlie Parker’s feet. The gesture was clear. It means “You don’t have what it takes. Get out of here.” Humiliated, Parker worked even harder at the instrument and famously secluded himself that summer at a resort in the Ozark Mountains to work on his playing. He emerged from that self-imposed seclusion to introduce an entirely new and rarified version of jazz known as be-bop.

The interesting thing about the story is that it wasn’t Charlie Parker’s first impulse. A couple years earlier the same incident had happened to him on stage at the Cutting Room. He was asked to leave the stage because he didn’t have the chops. When it happened the first time Parker felt not only humiliated, but also incompetent. He threw his horn in a closet and refused to play for a month.

When it happened the second time, he rose to the challenge. Known in jazz circles as “going to the woodshed” or “woodshedding,” the term means secluding oneself to develop virtuosity through practice and hard work. It’s the path to innovation, and it’s the path to confidence.


Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 2.45.37 PMShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful elearning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October but you can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Do You Have a Job or a Calling?

There’s nothing quite so inspiring as seeing someone embrace their work in the pursuit of excellence, or in service of a greater mission. And there’s nothing quite so moving as witnessing small acts of excellence, generosity, and kindness. Often the most moving and inspiring stories are about competitors who become comrades, or everyday people taking deep pride in their work.

There’s this beautiful story of high school runner Meghan Vogel, who helps her fallen competitor, Arden McMath, cross the finish line of the 2012 Ohio State Track meet. And then there’s this story of quiet dedication and inspiration Martin Seligman recounts in his book Authentic Happiness…

Years ago Seligman was visiting a dear friend in the hospital. His friend Bob Miller was a vibrant, joyful man, and at the age of eighty-one still an avid runner, tennis player, and gregarious person. Miller had been hit by a truck while running, and now lay in a coma for the third day in a hospital bed.

The neurologist gently asked Seligman to consider Miller’s “advance directive” order, and consider removing the life support system. Seligman was distraught considering the possibility that his friend would never rise again. He asked for a moment of quiet, the doctor left the room, and Seligman sat down in a chair to watch the orderly working in the room.

The orderly was quietly rearranging art on the walls. He took down a calendar, pinned up a Monet print, and then took two Winslow Homer prints from his bag and placed them with consideration on the walls. Next to Miller’s bedside he taped a photograph of a Peace rose.

Seligman gently asked the orderly what he was doing, and the man replied, “My job? I’m an orderly on this floor. But I bring in new prints and photos every week. You see, I’m responsible for the health of all these patients. Take Mr. Miller here. He hasn’t woken up since they brought him in here. But when he does, I want to make sure he sees beautiful things right away.”

In Martin Luther King Jr’s “Street Sweeper” speech he said,

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry… if you can’t be the sun, be a star. It isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best at whatever you are.”

Some people have jobs, some have careers, and some have callings. A calling is a pursuit of something greater than oneself, and often the path which creates the greatest inspiration for others.


Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 2.45.37 PMShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful elearning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. He is also the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes and his new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion, October 4, 2016).

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com