Add Gratitude to Your Grit. Stir.

We’re told if we can only be a little grittier, a little tougher, we can keep our promises to ourselves, go to the gym more, finish the book, and generally be a better version of ourselves. “Stick-to-it-iveness” can be an excellent predictor of achievement and success for some people. Just look at Michael Phelps, Shaun White, or Lindsey Vonn. Hours upon hours of quiet toil at their sport. And then they win.

Must be the grit, right? Who *wouldn’t* expect these superstars to have grit? But willpower alone is demanding and exhausting. Willpower will likely wane over time and can be harmful to our emotional and physical well-being.

Stress, anxiety and loneliness are increasing globally, and in those circumstances, emphasizing grit can have a negative effect. When you tell someone who is stressed-out to simply work harder, and lean in to their work, you’re telling them to rely on their internal willpower. And when that gives out, they often wind up telling themselves that they aren’t good enough. That’s where a good dose of self-compassion comes in.

David DeStano has been studying the intersection of grit (self-focus) and gratitude (social-focus) for years and has discovered there are some powerful side effects when you combine the two. Grit is your own perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Gratitude is appreciation and thankfulness for others. When you combine the two, you get individual excellence plus generosity and collaboration.

Gratitude is not only an emotion experienced in the past, it’s an emotion that guides future action. The reason you go over to your friends house on a rainy Sunday at 8am to help move their furniture into a truck is because you care for them. Over the years your friend has made numerous gestures of kindness and generosity. You feel grateful. And the reason you want to help is to maintain the strength of your relationships.

In a series of DeStano’s studies, he found that when you feel a sense of gratitude towards someone, you don’t just want to help them in return, you want to help just about anyone – even complete strangers.

In one amusing study, he and his colleagues took a group of graduate students and divided them in pairs. Each pair had to go into a quiet computer room and perform a difficult and tedious task on a computer. It was an awful task that took half an hour.

The two of them were left alone to chat and get to know each other while they performed the task. However, one of the two people in the room was a confederate, secretly an agent for the researchers.

While they both worked on the task, the confederate would finish first. As they were leaving, the computer of the research subject would crash and go blank, ruining all of their work. The confederate would then offer to help “fix” the computer, claiming they had some IT expertise. After working on the computer for several minutes, the confederate would strike a secret set of keys and *surprisingly* reset the computer, saving all of the long and arduous work.

The research subject is grateful of course. And later, when the confederate asks for help on a separate school-related project, the person primed for gratitude was more likely to be helpful, and help for a longer period of time. That’s no surprise.

The surprise came when the researchers introduced complete strangers who then asked for help on a school project. In that circumstance, research subjects primed to be grateful were almost twice as likely to help a complete stranger, and spend more time helping them.

In DeStano’s work, he has discovered that a sense of gratitude is linked to achieving longer term goals because gratitude is a social emotion. It’s a feeling that comes from experiencing, or thinking about, others in our lives. And when we reflect on our gratitude toward others, we reinforce our commitment to them and want to strengthen those bonds.

That sense of community and gratitude then strengthens our own resolve to persevere toward our own goals. It’s a reinforcing cycle.

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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.

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.

Small Acts of Leadership: Choose Learning Goals, Not Performance Goals

Transcript
– [Announcer] Do you sometimes praise people at work for being brilliant? Do you praise your kids for being naturally gifted? Instead think about praising the hard work that lead to this success.

– Carol Dweck, at Stanford University, has been writing and teaching about how the mindset we choose in every interaction, either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset largely determines whether we continuously learn and grow, or whether we believe we are locked into a fixed level of intelligence, or creativity, or similar ability.
What she discovered is that when we tell our kids or our coworkers how smart, or naturally gifted they are, we reinforce a world view that these things should come easily, that they should always perform well, that they should always shine. Because when you praise for innate talent you create a form of status.
If someone believes that they have special talents and they’re expected to perform well, well then the thought of failing becomes really scary. So often those labeled as gifted and talented will then choose easier tasks because they want to ensure that they have consistently high performance. I mean after all, nobody wants to be revealed as an imposter.
In Carol Dweck’s studies she discovered that those who are praised as brilliant, but then perform poorly on a test are also more likely to lie a little bit about their own results. So in sharing their test scores with other partners, other kids next to them the kids told their friends that they did better than they actually did. Well presumably this was to maintain their social status as talented.

“What’s so alarming,” Carol Dweck says, “is that we took ordinary children “and we made them into liars, simply by telling them that they were smart.”

– [Announcer] Paula is very good at organizing events. Whenever there is a social occasion people volunteer her to manage it. Paula learned how to be hospitable earlier in her life and was held to high standards. She’d like to learn to enjoy more casual entertaining, and asks her easygoing colleague Mitch to partner with her in planning the next event. Complete this sentence. People think I’m really good at blank, so I’m usually on guard to be sure I perform. Then complete this sentence. What I’d like to learn is blank. Ask yourself, can you use some of your natural talents to help you learn new behaviors or skills? If so, what are they?

Win or Lose, Never Stop Learning.

The USWNT is exactly as unapologetically spectacular, or arrogant, as you perceive them to be. If you find team captain Rapinoe to be brash and cocky then you can find lots of articles out there that might agree with you. And if instead, you find her and the U.S. Women’s team to be confident, cohesive, joyful, and magnificent in their success, there’s an even bigger cheering section out there. As Alex Morgan and many others have pointed out, there’s quite the double standard when it comes to goal celebrations.

Yes, the U.S. Women’s National Team won the World Cup. It was tense, competitive and beautiful to watch. The Netherlands side held the U.S. team to a scoreless first half. Something that hadn’t been done throughout the entire tournament. Up to the final, the U.S. team had scored in each match within the first 12 minutes, sometimes within the first 5 minutes. In the end the U.S. side prevailed, and has not lost a match in the World Cup tournament since 2011 (They are 13-0-1).

But look deeper. The Netherlands did lose, but they played with excellence and determination, and lost with dignity. The cover of the Netherlands Times sports page today reads, “Disappointed, But Proud After World Cup Loss.” Proud they should be, because not only did they play with heart and tenacity against a U.S. side favored to win, they had sensational chances with Lineth Beerensteyn through the U.S. defensive line, and spectacular saves from keeper Sari van Veenendaal.

Van Veenendaal went on to win the Golden Glove award for best keeper at the tournament for save after save after save. And despite being dominated on ball possession by the US team in the first half, 62%-38%, the Dutch came out in the second half to gain time on the ball with 46% possession.

It wasn’t enough to win, but remember we will all lose at some point. I know it’s sacrilege to say, but the USWNT will eventually lose. Even the New England Patriots will lose. We’ll all lose eventually – an interview, a contract, a job, a promotion, or maybe even a date. The most important thing, of course, is to understand that the landscape is always changing. There is always a chance to learn, to change, to win.

Look at women’s soccer. The game has changed dramatically in just 15 years. In the 2007 World Cup semi-final, the USWNT lost badly against a Brazilian team and the dazzling superstar Marta. In the 79th minute of the game, Marta received the ball on the left side of the field with her back to defender Tina Ellertson. With Marta’s first touch she flicks the ball over her left shoulder, over the defender, while spinning right around the Ellertson. She gathers the ball, cuts right across another defender and strikes to the back of the net. You can see it here.

Today’s solution to Marta’s move would be to foul the attacker and concede a free kick. Ten years ago no one had seen such a move, and were flatfooted by her brilliance. The USWNT of that era played a simple, long ball-oriented game which relied mostly on simply having better athletes than their opponents. The plan was to play the ball deep and outrun your opponent. It worked, up until Marta.

“That was one of those moments where as an opposition player you were devastated because it was likely our worst loss in the history of the national team, but on the other side, recognizing that you just saw a glimpse of brilliance.”
– Heather O’Reilly, who started that match for the USWNT.

Enjoy the wins, but when you do lose, study that loss like a scientist. Because you can always change, and come back stronger.

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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.

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.

A More Powerful Way to Build Habits

I’m trying to play more guitar. So I took the guitar out of the closet, tuned it up, and keep it by my desk, within reach. It works. I play more. It’s a small, simple habit stack that helps me achieve a small goal. But what about longer term goals, bigger goals – the kind which require persistent effort, and the outcome is unclear and far away? Like saving monthly for retirement, or eating kale?

Previously I wrote about the notion of activation energy – which is basically the idea that if you make something bad for you harder to do, you will be less likely to do it. And inversely if you make something good for you easier to do, you will be more likely to do it.

So, for example, if you want to go running tomorrow you place your running gear next to your bed so it’s the first thing you see in the morning and it’s easily accessible to put on. Or if you want to stop eating ice cream, you simply stop buying it, so in order to eat ice cream at 9pm it would require you put on go-in-public clothes and drive to the corner store and buy it. You might, but it would be a hassle.

The ability to delay gratification, and value the future more than the present, seems to be the holy grail for better health, better relationships, and better careers. But the prevailing themes we keep hearing in the media are about grit, tenacity, and perseverance. And often the advice to be grittier comes across as the importance of being more robotic, more cerebral, and more disciplined.

This is an argument in which we try to remove temptation, remove emotion, and take away the stress of dealing with temptation and bad choices, and create better habits simply by applying some self-discipline, and some cool tricks and life hacks. James Clear has lots of habit tricks that I greatly enjoy and apply.

David DeSteno, professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, has different ideas. His research suggests that the disciplined habit-tweaking approach described above is basically a form of impulse control. If our impulse is to do something that has long term negative consequences, then we need only change the environment and circumstance, and be a little mentally tougher, to help control that impulse.

DeSteno argues that exercising self-control as a rational, logical approach to solving an emotional self-control dilemma is another way of suppressing our immediate desires. It’s not really human, and it’s not our instinct. DeSteno suggests that we may get more powerful results not by rejecting, controlling or diminishing our emotions, but instead by activating the right kinds of emotions and leaning in to those, and using emotion as fuel instead of denying it.

Let me explain. We do have self-control, but our self-control did not evolve to maximize our 401k. Self-control evolved to make us better collaborators with other people. Because if you are viewed as sharing and compassionate and generous, then you are trustworthy and others will work with you, help you and share with you. And when you can figure out how to be a trustworthy collaborator, you are more likely to be part of a tribe and survive longer when the hyenas come around.

The kind of self-control to avoid buying a new car in order to maximize our 401k is an intellectual, rational kind of control. It’s not always easy to simply will ourselves to not eat the ice cream, or not have another drink, or to go to the gym after work. This is because we naturally devalue the impact of our short-term choices and we have a hard time imagining the long-term impact on our future selves. Basically we have a hard time envisioning our future selves because we think we won’t change.

Yes, we recognize that in the past we did change. Look at those photos of young me. I was so silly and naive. But now that we’ve evolved into who we are today, we think we’re all done changing.

It’s easy to look back on our past selves with a kind of bemused, slightly embarrassed recollection, because we can see how far we’ve come, how much we’ve learned and developed. But at the same time we are terrible at imagining our future selves. We think who we are today is who we will be in the future. Wrong. We are always changing.

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you have ever been.
– Dan Gilbert

The key to envisioning a positive and healthy future version of you is to tap into those emotions which activate future thinking. Gratitude is a powerful emotion for envisioning a positive future self. We often think of gratitude as a reflective emotion, as in “I’m so grateful Sally and Barbara helped me through my difficult break-up with Marcus.” But gratitude is a powerful emotion for guiding our future actions. If we’re so grateful for Sally and Barbara, we are likely to envision ways to reciprocate. We’re likely to imagine who we will be in the future when we are helping Sally and Barbara because of our sense of deep gratitude.

The emotion of gratitude relies on our connection to others. The emotion exists to ensure that we reciprocate and continue building our relationships. If Sally and Barbara help us out, and we never reciprocate because we don’t care or we don’t understand empathy, then the relationship dies.

DeSteno argues that the right kinds of emotions to drive the choices and habits that create a better version of ourselves are the morally-toned emotions of gratitude, compassion and authentic pride of a job well done. Morally-toned emotions are the kinds of emotions that make us feel connected with one another, and help us envision a shared future together, and therefore help us value longer term benefits.

In DeSteno’s research they asked participants to place values on immediate versus future rewards, and found that on-average, people valued $17 right now as roughly equal to receiving $100 in a year. In other words, almost everyone would rather have a little bit now instead of a lot more later.

Then they primed their research participants to think of something they are grateful for, and found that participants began to almost double the value of future benefits. After priming for gratitude, it would take nearly $33 right now in order to have the same value as $100 in a year. Gratitude and compassion seem to have the capacity to encourage people to place a higher value on their future selves, and thus encourage people to make better long term decisions.

But don’t get lost in focusing on just future benefits. Gratitude and compassion have been demonstrated to reduce blood pressure, increase immune responses, allow people to sleep better and a whole host of other immediate mental and physical benefits.

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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.

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.

Achieve Your Goals by Focusing on This One Idea

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

What is something you want to accomplish? Maybe give a great presentation? Write a book? Start a new business? Now think about who that person is who achieved that. That person is a public speaker, or a writer, or an entrepreneur.

Stop focusing on the goals you want to accomplish, and start asking who you want to become. Reframe the story you tell yourself. Stop focusing on running a marathon, instead become a runner. Stop focusing on publishing a book, instead become a writer. Goals aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but instead of focusing on the end result, focus on becoming the kind of person who can accomplish that goal.

Ever since Jim Collins coined the acronym BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), it gets floated around strategy meetings and sales departments, and then drifts over to personal goal conversations about completing triathlons, getting 6-pack abs, or becoming a yoga master.

It’s fairly easy to draft a spreadsheet and lay out the incremental steps to accomplish goals. So, for instance, if you want to run a marathon, you can search for marathon running plans and easily pick a plan that will get you there. But all that careful contemplation and planning to get to the starting line of a marathon doesn’t make you a runner. It’s the habit of running that makes you a runner.

So, instead ask the question, what would a runner do? Well, a runner would have a habit of stretching. A runner would run when it’s raining or cold (or both). A runner would learn how to hydrate for long runs. A runner would lay out their gear the night before.

Or if you want your sales team to reach a quarterly goal of X dollars, you can create a plan that requires Y number of phone calls and Z number of proposals submitted. Your team could execute on the plan, and you might make the financial goal that quarter, but that occurrence doesn’t make a great sales team. You aren’t magically transformed into a great sales leader. It takes time, and it takes building small incremental habits over time by practicing them every day.

Instead ask, how would a great sales leader behave? Well, a great sales leader would lead by example, would be an active listener, would be empathetic to individual styles of team members, and become good at providing specific feedback and coaching.

Life isn’t lived in a singular future achievement, life is a collection of moments lived one day at a time. Who you are is the accumulation of the habits you have been practicing over time.

James Clear says one of the most common questions he gets is, “How long does it takes to build a habit?” And your google search will tell you it takes 18 days, or 21 days, or 66 days, but the honest truth is that it takes forever. Because the moment you stop doing it, it’s no longer a habit.

Change starts 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.

Why You Should Surprise People Sometimes

Remember that weird feeling when you’re in 5th grade and you see your teacher at the grocery store, just picking out bananas like a normal human? And it’s really strange because she doesn’t belong at the grocery store. She belongs in math class. Like, what’s she doing here?

Or you see your mean, yelling gym coach hug his crying daughter in the parking lot after school, wipe her tears, and bend down to tie her shoes. Wow, he can also be kind?

When we think of goofball Jimmy who wears a bowtie and suspenders, we think he’s a clown looking for attention. And when we see Hector, the science nerd wearing a bowtie and suspenders we think he’s an eccentric intellectual. When Gertie, the class valedictorian, sits quietly alone for lunch we think she is ruminating on her world peace essay. But when Jackson, the terrorist of 6th grade, sits alone, we think he’s planning his next nasty trick.

I have a friend who works at the bank drive-through window. We laugh and tell jokes. She gives biscuits to my dogs. She’s a great friend. But I saw her in the cereal isle the other day and for a full three seconds I blinked and all I could think was, “I know this person! I like her, but who is she?

It’s both surprising and confusing when people confound our expectations of them. When we see people out of place or out of character doing things we don’t expect of them. People often fulfill our usual expectations of them. We don’t get to see our taxi driver play saxophone in his blues band, and we don’t get to see our boss read bedtime stories to her children.

We seek predictability in others and try to be predictable ourselves. Which is why when we get invited to a barbecue, we hate to say no. Keeping social harmony relies on our own willingness and ability to allow others to reliably predict what we’re going to do. Social consistency keeps the peace.

But sometimes it’s good to surprise people. Sometimes it’s good to bust out something new, something different, something unexpected. It’s not only how we grow, it’s how we develop others’ expectations of what we’re capable of.

You may likely be aware of the small ways in which we can change our environment and surprise and delight ourselves. Driving a different way to work, for example, will likely make you more present and attuned to your environment. Varying your routines can achieve the same effect.

So long as we fear vulnerability, we play it safe and stop ourselves from exploring.
– Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger, authors of Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected

In order to reframe the expectations others have for us, we need to surprise them in delightful ways. Here are a couple ways you can engineer surprise from Luna and Renninger:

  • Initiate an activity in which the outcome is uncertain. Invite a colleague to dinner you don’t know very well. Or better, invite a small group of people unlikely to know each other. Recently we attended a dinner for twelve hosted by friends who were the only couple who knew everyone at the table. It was a fun and memorable night.
  • Delight someone by over-delivering. Tell her you will empty the dishwasher, then also clean out the fridge. Say you’ll prepare the slides, then actually deliver them rehearsed in the meeting.

Workplaces where managers actively encourage experimentation, and lead by experimenting themselves, make us feel more comfortable with being imperfect, with taking chances, with making mistakes. These are the kind of leaders who make us feel like we can be ourselves.

By embracing and engineering surprise you can make our whole world richer. You can inspire wonder, connection, vulnerability, growth, and creativity.
– Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger

Change starts 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.

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.

Want to Create Something Cool and Innovative? Box Yourself In.

William Shakespeare is widely known as one of the most prolific, and greatest writers in the English language. But consider how he created, and for whom. He wrote specifically for live 16th century theatrical performances, when it was common for audiences to stand up, wander in and out, go find something to eat, yell their displeasure at the actors, or even yell at each other to shut up and listen. It was often a chaotic and rowdy affair.

With these specific audience constraints, Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays that are celebrated and studied today. He also invented over 1700 words that are actively used in the English language. All kinds of words. “Elbow” for example, was merely a noun until Shakespeare decided to use it as a verb and allow a character in a play to elbow his way into a room. Other words he wholly invented, like the word “puking”. Here it is as written in the play As You Like It.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
– William Shakespeare As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7

In 1960, Theo Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) accepted a bet with with his publisher Bennett Cerf. Cerf challenged Geisel to write a book using only 50 different words. The result was the acclaimed Green Eggs and Ham, which went on to sell over 200 million copies and is one of the best-known children’s books of all time.

In 1996, the innovative skier Shane McConkey was sitting at a bar in Argentina with some friends complaining that there wasn’t a really good powder ski in existence. He sketched his vision of a powder ski on a napkin which had almost no side cut and no camber. Side cut is what gives skis their hourglass shape and are fantastic for carving on hard, packed snow. Just lean them on edge and they bite into the snow. But they’re terrible in powder. If you design the narrowest part of the ski to be directly underfoot, in soft powder you sink.

The other change he sketched on that napkin was to reverse the camber. Camber is…, well how about a visual to explain it. See here:

Traditional camber creates a tendency for the ski tip to dive in deep powder. And if your tip dives in deep powder you’re likely to fly over the handlebars on your face into the mountain. Instead, skiers had to lean back uncomfortably to keep their tips from diving. Reverse camber allows a skier in powder to center his weight comfortably on the ski, providing more control.

While designing the ski, McConkey borrowed from water skiing. In his mind, powder and water were similar in that they were dimensional. In powder you ski in the snow, not on top of it. He simply imagined using a water ski in deep powder. That ski he sketched on a napkin took two years to be produced. As he describes, “Over the course of the next two years I would talk to people about how cool it would be to have skis with decamber and reverse side cut specifically for powder. Almost everyone I mentioned the idea to would either laugh or politely smile.”

A lot of presentations are boring. Amiright? The speaker drones on while staring at his pie charts with his back to the audience. Some of the most exciting and innovation presentations have come as a result of practicing PechaKucha. In Japanese, PechaKucha literally means “Chit Chat.” It’s a style of presentation in which the presenter gets exactly 20 slides, to deliver in 20 seconds each, for a complete 6 minute and 40 second presentation. Oh, and the slides auto-advance in exactly 20 second increments. That will make you tighten things up, and practice. And practice.

Shakespeare wrote to entertain a loud, rowdy, and distracted live audience. Theo Geisel attempted to write an entertaining book using only 50 words. Shane McConkey designed a ski to only be used in very specific snow conditions. PechaKucha exists to kill boring presentations.

These are all examples of using constraints to create innovation. According to Stanford Professor Bob Sutton, “Research on creativity and constraint demonstrates that, when options are limited, people generate more, rather than less, varied solutions — apparently because their attention is less scattered.”

Innovation isn’t rocket science. It can be deconstructed and learned by anyone. Try our course Out•Innovate the Competition to build measurable innovation in your workplace.

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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.

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.

You Can’t Build a Reputation On What You’re Going to Do

A little northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona is a desert of volcanic ash and rock from an eruption near the year 1065. It’s now called Cinder Lake. It’s a desolate, barren landscape with porous, ashen soil, pockmarked with divots and potholes.

In July of 1967, NASA engineers “improved” the landscape by blasting over a hundred craters in the middle of Cinder Lake to make it more accurately look like the moon. It was here for a couple years thereafter that NASA conducted a series of lunar training trials with Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and other astronauts and engineers. They brought in their space suits, vehicles, and crazy-looking apparatus to conduct experiments and stress tests on the lunar buggys.

One day they encountered a Navajo elder who inquired what they were doing. The astronauts explained that they were practicing and training for a trip to the moon. The Native American man was astonished at what he heard, and then fell silent, quietly contemplating what the astronauts told him. After a few moments he spoke.

“The people of my tribe believe that there are holy and sacred spirits that live on the moon. Would you please pass a message to them?” And then he uttered a few sentences in his native language, carefully repeating each line until the astronauts memorized and repeated it back accurately.

“But what does it mean?” the astronauts asked.
“That I cannot tell you. It is a sacred message for only my people and the moon spirits to know.”

When they returned to the training facility they found a Navajo translator who listened to their secret message, and then laughed and laughed. He said, “It means, ‘Don’t believe a word these people tell you. They have come to steal your lands.'”

We would all like a reputation for generosity and we’d all like to buy it cheap.
– Mignon Mclaughlin

It’s a cute story. It’s not true, but illustrates the point that your reputation precedes you. Like it or not, people talk. And your actions say much more about who you are than any marketing brochure you write about yourself. Which is why one of the most important things you can do to generate good will among those you have worked with, and high expectations for those who are interested, is to actively live your values.

It’s hard to live up to our own expectations. We know that mobile devices detract from the quality of our conversations, but we look at them anyway. We know that waiting to talk isn’t the same as listening, and yet it’s hard to quiet our inner dialogue. We know that self-compassion is important, and yet we beat ourselves up over the silliest things.

Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who received a Nobel Prize for his work on memory, was once pressed to say how much of the mind works unconsciously. He guessed between 80 to 90%. The broader point is that real change is difficult since much of our thought process is unconscious.

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.
– Henry Ford

Pick one thing. About ten years ago I was so consumed with my work I would prattle on to anyone who would listen about what projects we were working on, what fabulous things we were trying to accomplish, what we were excited about. Some people were interested, but many weren’t. Many people would just tune out. So I started asking questions instead. It made a big difference in the quality of my relationships when I led with questions instead of statements – particularly more powerful kinds of questions.

Reinforce the change. Whatever small change we choose to act on, when we see it elsewhere in the world, reinforce it. In my own example, I wanted to lead conversations with questions instead of statements. Now, when I see other people around me begin conversations with questions (for example; “How are your kids?” or “You just went to Detroit. What did you learn about the city?”). I point out their considerate questions and say “Thank you for asking.” Or even better, “That was a thoughtful question.”

Build your reputation one small act at a time.

Building cultures of leadership, trust and innovation starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to move the needle a little in your workplace.

    ____________________________________________________

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. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Keeping Score is a Losing Game

Maybe it’s a function of the age, of being 12 years old. I donno. But a few years ago, our son would keep score of everything. If I asked him to empty the dishwasher, he would say it’s his sister’s turn. If we’re stacking wood in the shed, he lets me know how many more pieces he stacked than his brother. If we go out to buy shoes, he would let me know he picked the ones that cost less, or were cooler, or some other metric of comparison.

Everything was counted as points for, or against. Nothing was out of bounds, “I ate more carrots“, and nothing was beyond his calculating gaze “He’s a faster runner, but I worked harder.”

If you are ever wondering whose turn it is to take out the trash, then it’s your turn. And you’re better off to do it without even knowing whose turn it might be. At work, if you’re keeping score on whose turn it is to proof-read the marketing copy, draft the proposal, assemble the meeting agenda, or edit the upcoming presentation, then you’re likely to feel ripped off when you do it, because making contributions based on reciprocation is always going to make someone feel like they aren’t getting a fair deal.

A workplace of zero-sum, scarcity thinking creates an environment in which there aren’t enough jobs, isn’t enough credit, and isn’t enough opportunity to go around. When work relationships are built on the basis of scarcity, we monitor the contribution of others, hoard credit, and harbor frustration at our work. Then we talk trash about our colleagues after work.

To counteract the negative effects of constantly keeping score at work, try hosting a Reciprocity Ring. Developed by sociologist Wayne Baker and his wife Cheryl, the exercise works like this: Assemble a group of people – anywhere from 8 to 50 people – and ask each person to come to the meeting with a request. It could be something as simple as an introduction, or as wild as a lifelong dream. The object of the group is to try to fulfill each person’s wish using their knowledge, resources and connections.

It’s also important to do this live, face-to-face, together. Research shows that requests made in-person are 34 times more likely to be effective and responded to.

The wonderful part about a Reciprocity Ring is that the team goal is to fulfill someone’s personal or professional wish, so it’s a great exercise in giving. The other wonderful part about the exercise is that it normalizes asking for help – everyone must arrive with their own wish. Wayne and Cheryl Baker say they see gender differences at work when it comes to giving. According to Baker, “Women are more likely to suffer generosity burnout. They help but don’t ask for what they need, hence, burnout. Men give and ask for help.” In a Reciprocity Ring, everyone has to arrive with a request, so it creates an environment in which it’s safe to ask for help.

Wayne and Cheryl Baker have tuned the exercise to try to achieve higher rates of granted wishes. They encourage participants to arrive with a wish that meets their SMART criteria – specific, meaningful, action-oriented, real, and time-bound. When a wish has these parameters, it’s more likely the group will come up with a solution they can deliver on.

Go on, give it a try. It’s an easy exercise in creating a culture of trust and giving at work.

Building cultures of leadership, trust and innovation starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to move the needle a little in your workplace.

    ____________________________________________________

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. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.