Four Actions That Will Truly Motivate You


What drives you at work? Is it the quarterly bonus? Is it simple praise and recognition from your colleagues and boss?

Maybe it’s a sense that your colleagues have your back, that you’ll get the support and resources you need in your work. Wait, maybe it’s a clear sense of direction and goals, that your team knows where the heck it’s going. Or maybe it’s a sense that day by day, you are making measurable progress in work that is meaningful to you.

I asked that multiple choice question last week to a room full of executives at a leadership retreat. No one budged. They knew it was a trick question. It’s a trick question because organizations have to get all of these factors right. Without fair pay, there is a deep sense of inequity and loyalty erosion. Without clear goals, people feel adrift and without purposeful direction. Without praise, people feel neglected.

But one factor outweighs the rest. Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile and her colleague Steven Kramer analyzed 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees in 7 companies to come to the qualified conclusion that the most valuable work motivator is a sense that we are making progress in work that is meaningful to us. When you signed up to run that marathon, you definitely had a clear goal in mind, but it was the daily grind of making incremental progress that kept you going. That quarterly bonus is nice, but it’s not going to make you stay.

When Amabile and her colleagues conducted that research about five years ago, only 5% of leaders surveyed understood that meaningful progress is our most powerful motivator. I interviewed Ms. Amabile when her book came out, and she said her goal is to tip that figure over 50%.

It’s important to point out that while praise, incentives, equitable pay, interpersonal support, and clear goals are all important, they are also all extrinsic motivators. These motivators come from the outside, from someone else. A sense of satisfaction in making progress in meaningful work is an intrinsic motivator, it’s a sense of joy and satisfaction that comes from within.

“Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.”
– Jim Collins

Creating a sense of meaningful progress is something that’s within our control. It doesn’t require external validation or reward. Here are a few ways to stoke your sense of meaningful progress:

Express creativity: Go ahead, add a flourish. Put your signature on it. Make it your own. When you dig a little deeper and put your own creative accent on a project or situation, you will take personal pride and ownership of it. It becomes meaningful to you personally.

Revitalize dormant relationships: Nothing is so marvelous as gaining new insights from old friends to fuel your efforts. When you take time to proactively reach out to those people in your work and life whom you haven’t connected with in a while, it revitalizes both of you. Because while you probably have a rich history you can catch up on, you can also share your ideas and projects over the past year and accelerate each other’s work.

Assume leadership: Take responsibility. Step up. Assuming leadership can be terrifying. You may feel scrutinized, uncertain, and out of your element. And that’s a good thing. Pushing yourself to the edges of your capacity in leading meetings, projects, and interactions will help you grow as a leader. Just remember that people are cheering for you. It may feel like you are being evaluated and dissected, but the truth is most people in the world assume best intentions, are grateful you stepped in to lead, and are cheering for the success of you and the whole project.

Be of service: Remember, the other motivators must come from the outside, from someone else. Your most powerful motivator comes from within, so the real question to constantly be asking is not what can I gain, but what can I contribute. Not what can I get, but what can I give. Not how is this person hurting or even helping my goals, but rather how can I help this person achieve their goals.

Above all, avoid comparisons. If you wish to be smarter than anyone else, then you never will be, because someone will always have more degrees, accolades and a higher Mensa score than you. And if the goal is to be rich, you will forever feel poor. And if the goal is fame you need only look to the Kardashians to agree there is no amount of personal disclosure to keep up with them.


Shawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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You Almost Choked. Don’t Choke, Learn.


A few years ago I was the invited keynote for a private conference in Toronto. It was one of my first big events. I knew the event director and was deeply grateful for the invitation. I prepared diligently. The ballroom was packed to the walls. I had published my first book and was just starting my work seriously to share ideas on stage. I was knowledgable, rehearsed, confident, and relaxed. On stage just before me was a professional comedian. She was disarming and fun. She even sang. She was killing it. The crowd was totally enjoying her opening.

I was sitting near the stage next to the technician who was handling the audio-visual stuff. The comedian started to introduce me. She was warm, vibrant. She made a few jokes about me being American. Everyone laughed. She was just finishing my introduction, when the techie guy next to me said, “Uhh, hang on, your remote and the slides aren’t working. Mmm, just go. Go and I’ll fix it in a minute.”

Good lord. The room was clapping for me. I gulped. My opening set piece was an in-depth story choreographed with a cascade of photographs and rich imagery. I designed the first few minutes to immerse the audience in a tale that would be a metaphor for my key points. But now I had no visuals.

I smiled. I walked the length of the stage to burn a few seconds, and said some ridiculous nothing comment about the wonderful comedian. I had no idea what I just said. My head was clamoring. I could feel my field of vision start to close. I glanced at the technician, who clearly did not have his shit together yet. Or maybe that was me.

I took a deep breath, smiled, found some friendly eyes in the audience, and launched into my story anyway. It was probably only a few seconds of dead air but it felt like an eternity. It worked. As I built the story, I warmed into it. I opened up, revisiting and punctuating each step of the journey. I started to own it. People leaned in. I had just jumped off a cliff and somehow found the rip cord.

I once had an interview with the magnificent speaker, writer, and marketing guru Seth Godin, who said if he ever gets that rising panic feeling, he takes it as a reminder that he’s in exactly the right place. He knows he is in a high-opportunity moment for learning and growth. What he means is that when your palms get sweaty, when your heart rate jumps, when your hair stands on end and you get nauseous, these are all symptoms of panic. And also the conditions for challenge, opportunity, and growth if you choose to see it that way.

It’s true. The first thing to do to lower your heart rate, calm your nerves, and open your mind again, is to breathe. Breathing is the body’s built-in stress reliever. It’s ground zero to rebuild your calm. Simply breathing deeply can do everything from resetting your heart rate to changing the chemical composition of your blood. In the practice of yoga, focused breathing is called pranayama, which literally means “control of the life force.”

Rehearse Excellence
greatestcatchDid you see this last year? Odell Beckham, Jr. made, what many argue, the greatest wide receiver catch of all time. It looks like a magic trick out of Cirque du Soleil. But here’s the thing: he worked on that exact type of catch over and over and over in practice. He didn’t just summon that move on the spot, unrehearsed. He spent many, many hours preparing for that exact moment.

Competence Creates Confidence
Want to summon confidence? Power posing certainly helps. Amy Cuddy, the TED goddess of Wonder Woman posing has dedicated the last few years of her life to spreading the gospel of striking a power pose. And it does work. When you stand like Superman, you get a shot of dopamine and oxytocin, which spreads a warm cocktail of confidence throughout your brain. But it’s a stop-gap. It’s the duck-tape of confidence. Go ahead and use it, but real, sustainable confidence is found through developing competence. Tough love, but nothing substitutes for hard work, perseverance and dedicated practice.

And when in doubt, get pronoid. Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia. Pronoia is the belief that the world, and everyone around you, is conspiring for your success.

[Originally published here for Huffington Post.]


Shawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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We See the Company Through the Lens of Who We Work For

Whatever industry you are in, you have competition. The only thing that differentiates you from anyone else in the long term is the people inside the company.

I recently started a new business building beautiful eLearning courses specifically so thought-leaders, authors and speakers could scale their minds. I thought it was unique, one-of-a-kind. I thought no one had ever thought of this idea. Of course I was wrong.

I only had to start talking about our new company and service to someone in the industry, and sure enough they would say to me, “Oh, that sounds a little like so and so. Have you heard of them?” And it’s true, we do have competition, but our secret sauce is our people.

And the bigger and more successful your business is, the more likely you are to have competition. You probably have a slightly different product, slightly different pricing, and maybe slightly different service. But ultimately what makes your brand X different from brand Y is the people in the company.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Generation Y is expected to keep their jobs for just two years, only about half the amount of time spent in professional jobs by the current American worker. According to, seventy per cent of recent college graduates reported leaving their first job within two years. “For millennials, it is more a matter of career exploration than climbing the traditional ladder,” said Emily He, CMO of the talent management company SABA.

But why do they quit? According to a new survey by Ernst & Young of 9,700 full-time employees in the world’s big eight economies – the United States, Brazil, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, China and Japan – the top three reasons are:

  1. Stagnant wage growth
  2. Lack of career development opportunities
  3. Excessive overtime and inability to escape work

But the data suggests that retaining top talent is more complicated than simply giving aggressive pay raises, installing ping pong tables, or offering to pay for night classes. The entire system is creating stressful environments around the clock. From the time we wake up to check email at our bedside smartphone, to marathon meetings, lack of sleep, and “finding time for me,” professionals today are under more duress than ever before.

Consider, almost half (46%) of managers globally are working more than 40 hours a week. Millennials (64%) and Gen X (68%) have the highest levels of spouses working full time as well – doubling the stress of balancing home and child obligations.

Almost 70% of Millennials and Gen X claimed that “getting enough sleep,” “finding time for me.” and “balancing work and home life” were becoming problematic. And it’s not just the American white collar worker. According to the study, things are even worse in Brazil, India, UK, Japan, and Germany.

I had an interview with Tom DiDonato, Chief Human Resources Officer at Lear Corporation. He says it takes constant tweaking, and adjusting. He says there is no magic formula for balancing pay, flexibility, special benefits, supporting educational opportunities, or early-release Fridays.

He says there is only one secret weapon to attracting and retaining top talent.

“Ultimately people view the company through the lens of the person they work for. They don’t say ‘I work for Company XYZ, and even though my boss, and their boss aren’t role models for me, I really love the company.’ I doubt you will ever hear that…

If you view your boss as a role model, you probably think really well of the company. I believe that to my core. That’s the one thing you don’t have to tweak… keep getting great leaders. Keep developing great leaders. Keep having those people in your company that others view as role models, and you’ll have that sustainable culture that attracts the kind of talent that everybody is vying for.”

Grow the greatest leaders from the inside, and the strongest talent will come knocking to work for them.


Shawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Go ahead and ask. You can be more assertive than you think.

Recently our daughter Annie and I were at the store picking out a card to for her to send to a friend. In the card display was a big section dedicated to Taylor Swift. We examined each card – Taylor Swift looking dreamy, sassy, alluring, or even defiant. Taylor can certainly strike a pose. I asked Annie to pick one.

“I can’t decide,” she said. Then, “Wait, what about that one!”

It was the display poster, the marquee advertising the Taylor Swift section of the greeting cards. “Well, that’s not for sale sweetie. It’s just the banner. You know, the poster for all the Taylor Swift cards.”

Annie says, “Yeah. Can we get it?”

There was also a little sign saying the Taylor Swift card collection was being replaced in a few days. I shrugged, “Let’s ask.” I took the poster from the wall and Annie carried it to the checkout counter.

“I can’t find a price on this,” the clerk said.

I replied, “Yeah, well, it’s..ah…the display poster. But the sign says you are getting rid of the cards in a couple days. Can we have it?” The clerk frowned. “I need to talk to the manager.”

We waited and the manager arrived, looked at the poster, and said. “I’m sorry but we don’t own those banners. The card company does. We can’t give them away.” I turned and saw Annie’s face wrinkle in confusion. “But why not?” she asked.

For a second no one moved. Then the manager said, “Tell you what. If you give us your phone number, we’ll ask the card company and call you if they say you can have it.” I was pretty skeptical, but Annie’s face lit up and she carefully wrote down our phone number for the manager as I said it out loud.

We drove home and I forgot all about it. But Annie didn’t forget. Sure enough about ten days later, the drug store manager called and asked if we still wanted the poster. Within the hour, that Taylor Swift poster was hanging in our daughter’s bedroom.

When in doubt, ask.

People seen by others as getting assertiveness right, often mistakenly think they’ve gotten it wrong.

In a study by doctoral students at Columbia Business School, 57% of those who believed that they were appropriately assertive in their requests and negotiations, were actually seen by the other party as under-assertive, and under-demanding. In other words, more than half didn’t ask for enough.

On the other hand, those who believe that have been overly-assertive and overly-demanding in their requests and negotiations often fall victim to a belief that they have “crossed a line” and gone too far in their requests. The result is that they backpedal, try to smooth things over, and acquiesce to a lesser deal. In the end, both parties often accept a worse deal.

That’s a bummer, because in the study often those who were assertive and demanding were actually interpreted by the other party as being fair and appropriate.

According to the research, you should go for it and ask for a little more. And not back off or feel badly about what you ask for.


Shawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Who is Doing What? The Secret of Great Teams.


The crew of the USS Vincennes was particularly edgy that morning. Early in the morning hours, one of the Vincennes helicopters had been deployed to investigate some boats trafficking in their area of the Persian Gulf. The helicopter pilot reported receiving small arms fire from the boats. Captain Rogers retaliated by firing upon the small vessels, which heightened the tension in the darkened “Combat Information Center,” a small war room inside the USS Vincennes lit up with control panels and computer screens. Much of war these days is done staring at computer screens.

On the morning of July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes was stationed in Iranian waters and captained by William Rogers. The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser had been hastily deployed from San Diego, CA only a month earlier and rushed to the Persian Gulf to increase security. It had also been outfitted with the new state-of-the art Aegis surveillance system. More on that later.

Meanwhile, at 10:17am Iran Flight 655, a civilian Airbus carrying 290 passengers and crew, took off from Bandar Abbas Airport to fly a short 25 minute flight across the Strait of Hormuz and land in Dubai. Many of the civilians on board were making a sacred journey to Mecca.

Shortly thereafter, tacticians on board the Vincennes started tracking flight 655 as it approached their location. At that moment, the sophisticated Aegis surveillance system provided a critical piece of misinformation. Even though the airliner was accurately broadcasting an identifier as Mode III, or civilian, the system falsely identified the Airbus as instead Mode II, a military combat F-14, a plane more than two-thirds smaller.

The second error was human. A tactician monitoring the plane’s approach toward them incorrectly stated that the plane was descending toward the Vincennes, possibly as an act of aggression, when in fact the plane was ascending to a cruising altitude of 14,000 feet. Strangely, the fancy system was not designed to provide information on changes in altitude, so to compute altitude changes of aircraft being monitored operators had to “compare data taken at different times and make the calculation in their heads, on scratch pads, or on a calculator — and all this during combat.”

Captain Rogers radioed the nearby friendly frigate USS Sides Captain Robert Hattan, and asked him to confirm what they identified as an approaching F-14. Captain Hattan disagreed. All operators and monitoring systems on board the USS Sides correctly identified the airplane as a commercial jet ascending, not descending, in a standard commercial flightpath.

Captain Rogers listened to the conflicting identification coming from the USS Sides, and decided that the superior technology and monitoring system of the Aegis outclassed the information from the USS Sides. The fancy Aegis technology gave Rogers a superior sense of confidence, and the willingness to disregard Captain’s Hattan’s warning.

At 10:24am that morning Captain William Rogers ordered two missiles to be deployed. One hit the airliner which killed all 290 passengers on board. The USS Sides and crew were later awarded a Meritorious Commendation for “outstanding service, heroic deeds, or valorous actions,” in part, for their efforts to dissuade the attack.

“Cooperation increases when the roles of individual team members are sharply defined yet the team is given latitude on how to achieve the task.”
– Tammy Erickson, Harvard Business School

There are many mitigating human factors, technology factors, and situational factors. There were lengthy congressional hearings and investigations. But let me point out just one decision-making factor that contributed to this disaster. Team performance and team decision-making can often be flawed, particularly under pressure situations, when there is lack of role clarity. Had the two crews built redundancies or decision-making processes to question or confirm the information from different angles, the disaster might have been avoided.

It’s hip to talk about flattening companies, destroying hierarchies, and that large-scale holacracy experiment going on over at Zappos. But here’s the thing: whatever the team situation, or project you’re trying to solve, role clarity is critical. You don’t necessarily need a “boss” but you do need a decision-making process, and you need understood roles of expertise on each team.

It’s true on soccer teams, and it’s true on high-performing expert teams like media crews or Emergency Response Teams. And certainly true of those ad-hoc innovation teams that come together in your company to be the “Voice of the Customer” or whatever you may call it.

I had an interview with Tammy Erickson of Harvard, and regarding teams she said role clarity was often the most overlooked characteristic in building high-performing teams. Often the team, or the boss, makes the assumption that if they put super talented people together, they will change the world.

They will, but only if they know who is doing what.


outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Does Your Company Have a Mental Dress Code?


noun, North American, informal
Meaning: incomprehensible or pretentious language, especially bureaucratic jargon.
“the smooth chairman had elevated bafflegab to an art form”

If we took a time machine back to the 1990s and visited American corporate culture, in addition to wide ties and blocky cell phones, we would also see the Apple Newton in action, and fax machines widely in use. There was the Netscape IPO of 1995, Japan was the king of semiconductors, and the NASDAQ tipped over 1000.

We would also find people talking differently. They didn’t use the word “business model” widely. That term wouldn’t make it’s way out of MBA classes for a few more years, and people were still largely thought of as resources to be applied against goals, objectives and strategies. According to Harvard business historian Nancy Koehn, people weren’t talking about “energy” or “passion” or “purpose” in the way we do today.

Language certainly matters a great deal. The words we use when interacting with one another say a great deal about what we believe and value. But I’ll argue that repetition and overuse of insider language can balloon into an enormous crutch. It’s the reason business bingo exists.

In the 1980s, Pacific Bell publicly abandoned a failed $40 million “leadership development” effort based on the work of former aspiring-mystic-turned-management-consultant Charles Krone. The training program attempted to get everyone in the organization to adopt new, and often fantastical, language to gain efficiency and speed.

During this expensive and failed experiment of confusion and lost productivity, “task cycle” was an invented term to describe a system of managing a problem. Even the word “interaction” had it’s own impenetrable 39-word definition that employees had to understand.

Pushing people to speak and interact all the same way is the equivalent of enforcing a mental dress code.

There are plenty of annoying popular business phrases out there. “Let’s not try to boil the ocean” means let’s not waste time on something that will take forever. Rowing to Australia would take a long time too, but we don’t say that. Incidentally, the expression “boil the ocean” supposedly came from the humorist Will Rogers when asked how we should deal with German U-Boats during WWI. His answer was to simply boil the ocean, and added that the details of how to do that are up to someone else.

“Out of pocket” sounds silly. It means unavailable. The original intent was to explain a reimbursable expense, as in the cost came out of my pocket. Lord knows how this became reinterpreted to mean I will be unavailable. I searched and searched and found no satisfactory answer.

“Over the wall” needs to be canned too. It means to send something, like a document or a proposal, to a client or a vendor. But metaphorically it’s alienating. The expression suggests we’re dealing with someone foreign, even hostile. Why does it need to be a wall?

“Low-hanging fruit” came out of 1980s restructuring at General Electric. Peter Drucker had been hired by Jack Welch in the early 1980s to help get GE out of a down-cycle (damn, I did it myself!), and they worked together to try to remove corporate jargon from the conversation. Ironically, along the way they created more new terms in an attempt to destroy the old language. In addition to “low-hanging fruit,” that exercise also brought us the terms “rattlers” (meaning obvious problems) and pythons (meaning bloated bureaucracy).

“Burning platform” conjures images of Gandalf and the dragon Bairog fighting over a crumbling bridge above a cauldron of fire. Stop it. Try using the word “urgent” instead.

It goes on and on. Let’s keep this one: “ducks in a row.” I like that one. It’s cute. It comes from the days of pre-automated bowling alleys when humans had to place the bowling pins upright.

Whatever the common bafflegap in your organization, I encourage you to simply your language. If the expression needs explanation to anyone outside your company, you should probably slow down on use of it.


outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Your Sleep is Your Secret Weapon. All-Nighters Don’t Scale.

Captain Joseph Hazelwood was the centerpiece of the Exxon Valdez spill. He was allegedly drunk and incapable of operating the oil tanker competently. But evidence later revealed Hazelwood wasn’t even at the helm at the time the ship struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. In fact, he was asleep in his bunk and had left third mate Gregory Cousins at the helm. Cousins, along with most of the crew, was deeply sleep deprived. Recent layoffs and overtime scheduling had left the crew exhausted.

Testimony before the National Transportation Safety Board revealed First Mate Cousins had been awake for “at least 18 hours” prior to the impact on Bligh Reef.

chernobyl-nuclear-radiation-110420-02Many experts believe Chernobyl to be the worst nuclear accident in history. 81 miles north of Kiev in the Ukraine, Chernobyl exploded on April 26, 1986 after workers spent the day attempting routine maintenance procedures to adhere to safety guidelines. Two explosions in quick succession blew the nuclear plant apart killing two workers instantly. Over the following hours more died due to acute radiation sickness. While the official count is 28 deaths due to the incident, experts believe thousands were impacted. The site and surrounding area will uninhabitable by humans for 20,000 years. Reports show workers had been at their stations for 13 hours or more prior to the explosion.

Forty-six year old William Rockefeller says he “nodded off” as the train he was piloting entered a 30mph turn at over 80mph, promptly derailed and nearly shot into the Hudson River.

The latest sought-after company perk turns out to be the forty-hour work week.

Having been lost for the last few years in the always-on digital leash economy, many companies are bringing back the old-fashioned forty-hour work week. The latest of company culture changes is a focus on limiting the amount of hours people are expected to work. The Center for Creative Leadership recently did a study recently showing that professionals with Smartphones (like, everyone) are connected to their work up to 18 hours a day, often checking their email during the night.

Ryan Sanders co-founded a staffing company called BambooHR about five years ago. Tired (literally) of the go-go workaholic mentality he saw in the 1990s, his company now enforces a 40-hour work week. That’s right, they have specific policies to enforce 40-hour weeks. If you are still at your desk at 5:30pm Ryan will probably visit you and ask what’s up. But if your work problem persists, you could be fired. One of his software developers nearly lost her job after putting in a few 60 to 70 hour weeks.

And it’s not just small start-ups. Big organizations are following suit, recognizing that sleep and health precedes quality work. Volkswagen has turned off employee email when their work hours end. The gesture was blunt and direct. To avoid employees constantly checking their smartphones, Volkswagen simply turned them off. Goldman Sachs has turned to hiring junior analysts not as temporary contractors any longer, but as full time employees to indicate their faith in a long-term relationship.

The reason is clear: when you are exhausted your work quality detoriorates and your decision-making ability falls off a cliff. There’s a reason why sleep-deprivation is a form of torture. Psychological effects include hallucination, disorientation, recklessness, over-optimism, apathy, lethargy, and even social withdrawal. There is clear empirical data showing that health-care professionals make a higher number of errors when sleep-deprived.

NTSA estimates up to 100,000 traffic accidents occur annually due to fatigue. Turn it off. Shut it down. It’s not as urgent as you might think. And your sleep will be a better performance-booster than poring through spreadsheets until 11pm again. Or as Russ Cohn, CEO and serial entrepreneur likes to say, “All-nighters don’t scale. Just because you’ve done two or ten all-nighters, it doesn’t make it a sustainable strategy for growth.”


outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Do You Panic or Thrive?

On January 29, 1981, Steve Callahan woke abruptly from a dead sleep in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on his little 21-foot self-made sloop. There had been a mighty crash. In the seconds before he could stand into action, the boat was already starting to list and fill with water.

Quickly, within a minute or two he was able to deploy his self-inflating life raft and gather a few items as the boat sank. He leapt to his inflatable to discover a couple small airtight compartments within the sailboat were keeping it afloat for a few moments longer.

He made a small joke to himself about how lucky he was, and calmly used the opportunity to swim inside the sinking boat to retrieve some valuable items – a flotation cushion, a sleeping bag, an emergency kit, food, a spear gun, a solar still, and a few other things.

Over the next 76 days, as he drifted 1800 miles west, and as his body became covered in saltwater sores and sunburns, and as his raft was set upon by sharks, and as his radio failed to signal rescue, and as his body deteriorated, each evening he took time to admire the beauty of the night sky.

According to Laurence Gonzales’ Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, when disaster strikes, the difference between those who succumb to panic and those who don’t is this:

“They immediately begin to recognize, acknowledge, and even accept the reality of their situation… They move through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance very rapidly.”

One thing Steve Callahan remembers vividly from the episode is that he was very calm, hyper-aware, and focused throughout the sinking event from first impact to minutes later as he watched his boat slide under the waves. He can recount his every action. He can play the tape in his mind of every nuance of the event.

Al Siebert, in his book The Survivor Personality, continues this thought:

“The best survivors spend almost no time, especially in emergencies, getting upset about what has been lost, or feeling distressed about things going badly….”

When things go badly, those who survive move away from emotion and toward a state of resolve.


From Paralysis to Resolve

Stress is a response to a trigger. That trigger can be a challenge, a circumstance, a rapidly changing environment, or even a negative thought. But the extent to which the trigger induces distress or positive challenge is largely up to us. How we react to these triggers can be the difference between negative stress and positive challenge.

As Shawn Achor, researcher on positive psychology, puts it “stress is the extent to which an individual believes that the effects of stress are either enhancing or debilitating.”

In Kelly McGonigal’s research over an eight-year period, those people who experience high levels of persistent stress had a 43% higher mortality rate. BUT that was only true for those people who also believed that stress has negative health consequences. For those who embrace stress and use it as fuel to convert into positive pressure, stress has little or no negative health consequences.

Pressure can yield excellence. The difference between those who become paralyzed and succumb to stress, and those who interpret obstacles as something to overcome, is Resolve. Resolve is a mindset.


In 1985 Joe Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates decide to climb the massive Siula Grande, located in the Peruvian Andes.

They didn’t climb the conventional route, but instead chose to ascend the never-before-attempted West face of the mountain, which is nearly vertical and covered in nothing but “a sheer layer of ice, loose dirt, flat rock, motorcycle grease, melted butter and used cooking oil.” (thank you Ben Thompson)

They triumph in the climb, but on the decent Simpson suffers a broken leg. Yates belays him down the mountain for hours, and then in a rising blizzard mistakenly lowers him over a cliff into a fathomless crevasse. After an hour, Yates cannot hold the rope any longer and believes his partner is irretrievable. It is impossible for Yates to physically pull Simpson back up to safety. In a moment of personal torment, Yates chooses to save his own life, cuts the rope, and allows Simpson to fall to his death.

But Simpson doesn’t die. He awakens to find himself on his back having survived the 50-foot fall with a crushed knee and destroyed leg. He crawls, limps, and drags himself for three days back to camp.

While hanging on the rope for an hour, in the void, as night was turning to dawn, Simpson recounts:

“A pillar of gold light beamed diagonally from a small hole in the roof, spraying bright reflections off the far wall of the crevasse. I was mesmerized by this beam of sunlight burning through the vaulted ceiling from the real world outside… I was going to reach that sunbeam. I knew it then with absolute certainty.”

The opposite response to stress is confusion and panic. M. Ephimia Morphew, a psychologist and founder of the Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments, spent some time with her colleagues puzzling over why some novice scuba divers drown while still having plenty of oxygen in their tanks.

The reason, it turns out, is that in a stressful and unfamiliar environment, people often start to hyperventilate because they feel like they can’t breathe. The instinctive response is to remove any obstruction from their mouth. So in a moment of panic, they rip the regulator off their face and suck in a deep breath of the ocean. It’s similar to why those suffering from extreme hypothermia often take off all their clothes in a snowstorm.

The analogy is extreme, but today’s workplace can be stressful and overwhelming. We can often feel as if we are drowning.


A March 2015 survey of 160,000 employees around the world found that 75% of today’s workers experience “moderate” to “extreme” stress. An April 2014 survey of more than 7,000 employees found that 42 percent even left their jobs because the workplace was too stressful.

In that electrifying August, 2015 New York Times articleInside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace – which was later rebutted, and is still today deeply argued for it’s validity – Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld write:

“Bo Olson was one of them. He lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he said. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

In a typical stress response, heart rates and breathing increase, and blood vessels constrict. But those people who rise to challenges with the belief that stress is a positive opportunity have an opposite physiological response: the blood vessels open and relax as if they were in a state of elation or preparation for physical test.

Or to put it in Kelly McGonigal’s language, to embrace adversity and challenge with a positive mindset is another way of saying that you trust yourself. It’s another gesture of confidence. And that confidence and resolve will make you much more resilient for whatever arises.

Keep your knees bent my friends.


Shawn Hunter is Founder and President of Mindscaling, and the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Three Simple Secrets of High-Performing Pro Teams


Next time you’re standing at the gate waiting to get on a flight, watch when the crew shows up. Watch how they interact with each other. Do they laugh? Do they ask questions they don’t know the answer to? Does it sound like they are listening well to one another? Or do they ask questions out loud – to no one in particular – and answer themselves?

They are all pros, and they work at the same airline, but there’s a very good chance they have never met each other. Yet, it turns out that how these professionals interact in the first few minutes will tell you a lot about how effective as a team they are going to be up in the sky shortly.

Mary Waller, a researcher at York University in Toronto, has been studying something she and her colleagues call “swift-starting expert teams.” Swift-starting teams of experts are everywhere – TV news crews, Emergency response teams, event organizers.

These are teams comprised of highly-specialized professionals who assemble for a specific job or task, and often have little or no prior interaction with each other.

Specifically members of swift-forming experts teams:

  • Are competent and familiar with complex work environments
  • Work quickly under situations of time pressure
  • Have a stable role on the team but ad hoc team membership
  • Have complex, interdependent tasks that rely on interactions with teammates

“The first 15 minutes of interaction predicted the entire flight performance.”
– Mary Waller

It turns out that how they interact with one another during just the first 15-20 minutes is highly predictive of how they will perform as a team for the entire duration of the job. The reason is that interaction patterns established early in these relationships usually persist throughout the operation.

Waller and her colleagues tracked each piece of dialogue uttered and identified the patterns in which they develop. For example, “Input the coordinates” is a command. “We have good weather today” is an observation. “Maybe we should ask tower control” is a suggestion and “What should our heading be?” is an inquiry. They categorized communication to include disagreement, humor, anger, small-talk, etc.

Secret #1: Simple and Consistent

What they discovered is that patterns of interaction often emerge quickly and persist throughout the relationship. And the highest-performing teams established patterns that were simple, consistent, reciprocal and balanced with one another. The lowest-performing teams had greater variety of conversational patterns, more unique communication patterns, and members who showed a lack of reliance on other team members.

Secret #2: Short and Targeted

While big locker room pep-talks or command-center speeches look good on television, they aren’t terribly effective in driving team excellence. The most effective teams kept their communication short, precise and targeted to a specific task or job sequence.

Secret #3: Balanced

In the study, the researchers measured what they called “reciprocity.” That is, to what extent the team members relied on each other and balanced the participation of communication. For example, if a team member showed “mono-actor” behavior of asking and answering their own questions, it demonstrated they showed less reliance, and less reciprocity on other team members.

Here’s an interesting twist in the study. The researchers hypothesized that any “mono-acting” behavior (when someone asks and answers their own questions) would be on that part of the pilot currently in control. They thought that the person with command of the airplane would be the one offering the least reciprocity.

Nope, it was the PNF (pilot not flying), who lacked control of the plane who exhibited the greatest amount of mono-acting behavior – in other words, was the least team player.

The truth is we are all pros. Our jobs are likely specialized and specific to our own unique talents. And that trend is continuing. Increasingly, organizations are hiring specialists, and job tenure is shortening – meaning we are all working more and more in swift-starting expert teams.

Keep it simple, targeted, and balanced, and your team will soar.


outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Performance Goals are not Learning Goals


“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
– Stephen King

A performance goal is when you want to perform well. You want to shine. You want to be brilliant. You want to people to applaud. You want to be amazing. You want the medal around your neck and the beaming joyful praise from those around you. A performance goal is tied to your ego.

A learning goal is an aspiration to learn something new or improve at a particular skill or task. Learning something new requires experimentation or hard work or studying something at length, or collaborating with others in new ways. Learning goals are hard.

Sometimes a learning goal involves staring intently at someone else who is more skilled in order to visualize, and then develop, a particular skill yourself. And sometimes a learning goal involves spectacular failure while attempting something new.

But these are two different goals.

Carol Dweck led a fascinating study in which she and her colleagues worked with 128 5th graders and gave them a series of tests – mostly puzzles – and then praised them in two different ways with eight little words.

Round 1: For the first round of puzzles, the kids were given a test that everyone did very well on. The researchers knew they would do well.

With half of the group they said, “You must be smart at these problems.”
With the other half of the group they said, “You must have worked hard at these problems.”

The first word set praises intelligence, and innate talent or skill. This is similar to how many parents and coaches get trapped into talking about our kids. This is sometimes how we speak to kids in performance situations. We tell them how smart they are, or how naturally gifted they are. We tell them they play soccer like Messi, or paint like Picasso.

The second word set praises effort, determination, preparation, grit. It’s a message that reinforces hard work. It’s a message that says You rocked it because you preserved through adversity. After delivering two different kinds of praise, the researchers were interested in:

  1. how would the kids view their own abilities?
  2. what kinds of challenges would they choose for themselves?

Round 2: Then they gave the kids another round of puzzles. But this time the kids were offered a choice. They could try harder problems or easier ones. You guessed right, the kids praised for hard work chose to attempt the harder problems. After all, they were just told they did well because they worked hard. Why not go for the harder problems.

The kids praised for their natural talent, and innate brilliance, selected the easier problems. Why? Because when you praise for innate talent, you create a form of status. If someone believes they have special talent and they are expected to perform well, then the thought of failing becomes scary. So to protect ourselves as a “gifted and talented” individual we will choose easier tasks to ensure we have high performance. After all, no one wants to be revealed as an imposter.

Round 3: Time for tough love. In the next part of the study all of the kids were given harder problems. And all of the kids performed poorly. Yes, the kids praised for hard work spent more time on the test, and did a little bit better. But next came the interesting twist. After the test, and the scores were given out, the researchers invited the kids to share the results with their classmates. After all, it was just an experiment. It didn’t really count as part of their school work. Who cares, right?

When the researchers asked the kids to share their results, the kids praised for talent lied just a little bit about their scores. They told their friends they did better than they actually did. Presumably this was to maintain their social status as “talented.” However, when the other kids praised for effort were asked to tell their peers how they did on this set of questions, only 10% of them exaggerated their performance. They felt no loss of self-esteem from doing poorly on difficult problems.

Round 4: Here’s where it gets really interesting. In the next phase of the study, both sets of kids were given problems comparable to the original set of problems. In terms of difficulty, this set of problems was just as challenging as the first. Remember the first set of problems was easy. Everyone did well.

The group praised for their genius and innate talent had just had an ego setback in the earlier round. They did 20% worse than they did the first time around. They were told they were smart, then they performed poorly, and now attacking the same level of difficulty with decreased confidence they did 20% worse.

The second group did 30% better the second time they took the same difficulty test. The difference was just 8 words.

Performance Goals vs. Learning Goals

Finally, Carol Dweck and her colleagues looked at the choices the kids made after receiving the two different kinds of praise. I’ll skip right to the punchline:

  • 69% of children praised for intelligence preferred performance goals
  • 88% of children praised for hard work preferred learning goals

That’s right. When we praise for intelligence we reinforce a predisposition to protect a “gifted and talented” status by choosing tasks which we are more likely to perform well at. And when we praise for hard work, perseverance, tenacity, and pluck, we reinforce the notion that learning is a good thing – that choosing difficult tasks for the sake of continuous improvement is something to be sought-after.

Next time you see excellence, praise the effort, the grit, the patience and hard work it must have taken to get there. You’ll not only be rewarding excellence, but also reinforcing the idea that continuous growth and learning is a good thing. Because it is a good thing.


outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: