Why It’s Better to Ask for Help

I actually think the same things do make most people happy. The differences are extremely small, and around the margins. You like peach ice cream; I like strawberry ice cream. Both of us like ice cream much better than a smack on the head. – Dan Gilbert

Let’s say you are weighing a big decision like whether to quit your job, or move to California, or get engaged to your boyfriend. Or it could be a small decision, such as what to order on the menu, or where to visit on your next vacation. Someone else can make a better prediction of whether you will enjoy that decision than you can, and you should trust their advice.

People regularly overestimate how happy they will be if they win the lottery, get a promotion, or even exact revenge on someone. We also overestimate our unhappiness. The think we will be miserable if we lose our job, or have a bad accident. The truth is we aren’t very good at predicting how we will feel in the future, and therefore aren’t very good at making decisions.

Dan Gilbert, of Harvard University, has some advice for you. Ask someone who has been through it, who has taken the vacation to Boise, quit the job, eloped with their girlfriend, or eaten the banana walnut ice cream. Their advice will be a more accurate predictor than your own judgement. Here’s the catch: you probably won’t believe them. If you ask for advice, your likely reaction will be that you are unique, you are special, your situation is different, and after all, how could they possibly know what’s best for you?

In a study entitled, “The Surprising Power of Neighborly Advice,” Gilbert and his colleagues demonstrated repeatedly that the advice of others, who had experienced what the participants were contemplating, was consistently a better predictor of happiness.

Here’s an example. In one part of the study, 33 women were asked to go on a 5-minute blind date. To identify who they were about to go on a date with, they were offered either a document profiling the height, weight, interests, background, favorite songs, movies, etc. of the man they were about to meet. Or they could choose to read a review from another woman who had been on a blind date with him, and read her opinion on how much fun she had on the date.

After choosing one of these background sources, they were asked to fill out an “enjoyment scale” and predict how much they thought they are going to enjoy the speed date that was about to happen.

Those who chose to read the background document, instead of the opinion of someone who had spent time with him, were almost 50% more likely to be incorrect in their prediction. Even more surprising, those who chose to read the background documents, instead of the opinion of someone else, rated their confidence in their own enjoyment prediction at over 84%. In other words, they were not only wrong, but also wildly confident in their bad prediction.

The reason we are such poor predictors of what will make us happy, and ignore the advice of others, is because we think we are special, and unique. The truth is we are all more alike than we often admit. We have the same hopes, fears, longings, and joys as many other people in the world, particularly those friends and family who are close to us.

Give trust. Ask for help.


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

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

Invest in Learning, Invest in Your Future You

This is a world of immediacy, a world of now. It’s a world of deadlines, stress, and constant demands. We have to not only deliver results at work, but also take time to read with our kids, be present and mindful with our loved ones, and get to the gym. It’s exhausting.

These demands lead us to cut corners, and get it done whatever it takes, whatever the cost. If we inflate our sales for a quarter, we can gain earnings. If we cheat on a test, we can boost our trimester grades. We’ll make it up later.

Taken too far, the quest for immediate gratification leads to lying, cheating, and unethical behavior. Quality takes time, excellence demands thoughtfulness, and building skill takes patience. The thing is, we often underestimate our ability to learn, and grow. The truth is, we will change much more than we think we will.

Just look back. Remember you ten, or fifteen, years ago? Wow, if only you knew what you know now. And to imagine what you were worried about then. As they say, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

Dan Gilbert, of Harvard University, told the New York Times, “Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin. What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh — and at every age we’re wrong.”

Looking back we can easily recognize how much we have changed, and grown, as individuals, but we never imagine that we will grow or change that much in the future. We think we’ll be the same in the future, when in fact, we are likely to be very different. And the choices we make now will have a much bigger impact on our future selves than we believe today.

“At every stage of our lives we make decisions that will profoundly influence the lives of the people we’re going to become, and then when we become those people, we’re not always thrilled with the decisions we made.” – Dan Gilbert

One effective way to trick yourself into stronger learning habits, and better exercise habits, is to think of you now and your future self as the same person. It doesn’t come easily. We often think of ourself of twenty years ago as a distant, and separate, version of ourselves. We can recall who we were and what we were doing in a nostalgic, and reminiscent way, but not in the way of imagining that we are indeed that same person. And we think of our future self in the same disconnected way.

Loran Norgren, at the Kellogg School of Management, did some experiments with his colleagues to find out if they could get participants to make better decisions today by helping them connect with their future selves.

In one part of the study, participants were asked to write letters to their future selves called, “Dear Future Me.” In those letters, participants described who they were now, what they thought and cared about, and how they felt about the quality of their life. Half of the participants were asked to write to their future self who was only three months older, and the other half to write to their future self twenty years older.

Afterwards, everyone was asked a series of scruples questions to evaluate their willingness to commit morally or ethically suspect activities such as purchasing items of questionable origin, or illegally downloading movies or music. Consistently, those who were asked to connect with their future selves twenty years down the road, were much less likely to engage in questionable behavior.

In another portion of the study, participants put on virtual reality glasses and were presented with a mirror reflecting a digitally aged version of themselves who was about twenty years older. Following this disconcerting experience of being confronted by their own, older self, participants were asked a series of trivia questions. Again, those connected with the experience of encountering their future self were less likely to cheat on the quiz – 6% versus 23.5%.

What you do today matters, and it matters more than we think. Our behavior today sets the path for who we become in ten or twenty years in the future – a future often too distant to realize in our day-to-day lives.

Invest in learning, invest in your future you.


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

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

Why Is It So Hard to Live Up To Our Values?

I’ve known communication experts with dysfunctional relationships, professional speakers who decline events because they are horrified to go on stage, and time management gurus who are late to meetings. I’ve met renowned thought-leaders who fabricate some of their work to get published, and personal change advisors who are terrified of change.

Why is it so hard to live our values? Why is it we can consume so much new information and knowledge and yet do nothing new in our daily life? We watch TED talks about how the mere presence of a smartphone on the table between us detracts from the quality of our conversation. Over 80% of us know this, and yet we do it anyway.

We read studies on the importance of grit and perseverance, and yet we are quitting our jobs and hopping to new opportunities at record levels because we feel we aren’t making an “impact” quickly enough to satisfy our ego.

We are constantly reminded that multitasking is a myth and only leads to decreased work quality, slower learning, and decreased attention spans, and yet we have numerous email and message alerts active on our computers and devices.

We know we can accelerate our learning when we try new things at work, and yet we go along with idiotic ideas, hide our opinions, and mask our true identities, because we are scared of being fired, or are desperate to fit in.

We know that the quality of our sleep is directly related to the quality of our health and well-being, and yet we take our smartphones to bed, and even check them in the middle of the night. And we know that the first five minutes when we walk in the front door can set the tone for the entire evening, and yet often our first reaction is dismay at the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink. That dismay is a mood killer.

Excellence requires work, impact takes time, leadership presence requires being present, and meaningful relationships need kind conversations.

Make it easier on yourself. The expression “activation energy” was coined 150 years ago by a chemist. The term refers to the minimum amount of energy required to stimulate an interaction between available reactants.

In other words, we should minimize the amount of energy it takes to get us in motion, and remove all the hurdles to taking action that we can. If we want to start jogging more, we should lay our gear and our shoes by the bed before we go to sleep. If we want to become better public speakers, we need to block off a doable amount of time — perhaps thirty minutes each day — to actively write and rehearse our material. And if we truly want opinions and new ideas at our meetings, we should make our meetings psychologically safe for honesty.

When we make it easy to begin something, we lower the amount of energy it takes to get started. And if it takes less energy to get started, we are more likely to do it. The slow, intentional approach to learning something new, overcoming fear, and leading with confidence requires guided mastery toward self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is not self-esteem. Self-esteem is how good you feel about yourself. Self-efficacy is the strength of your belief in your own ability to complete the tasks you set out for yourself and reach your goals.

Make it easy on yourself. Start small.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Three Ridiculous Myths About Leadership

This article is excerpted and edited from my new book, Small Acts of Leadership. Enjoy!

As one of the most revered coaches in American history, John Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood,” coached his University of California basketball team to an unprecedented ten national championship titles in twelve years. This remarkable winning streak included an astonishing run of eighty-eight undefeated games in a row, and back-to-back 30–0 seasons.

If you had been lucky enough to play basketball for the great John Wooden in the 1960s and early 1970s, you would have been surprised on your first day of practice. Instead of the opportunity to show your passing, shooting, and dribbling skills in front of the esteemed coach, your first lesson at your first practice would have been to learn to put on your socks, and lace and tie your shoes, properly.

Describing the first practice of every season, Wooden would ask his players to take off their shoes and socks. Explaining that these were the most important pieces of equipment each player possessed on the court, Wooden taught his players how to carefully pull on each sock, making sure there were no wrinkles, particularly around the heel and toes, which might cause a blister.

Then, advising each player to hold his socks up firmly while lacing his shoes, he told the player to pull the laces securely from each eyelet, not simply yank the laces from the top. And always, always, double-knot the laces, Wooden said, having no tolerance for shoes that became untied during a practice or a game. Ever.

This is how the greatest basketball coach of all time started his first practice of each season. Leadership isn’t about how to put on your shoes and socks, but it is about doing little things that can lead to big impact. Small, consistent efforts, practiced over time, can yield big results for you, and the people around you.

Here are three of the biggest myths of leadership that simply are not true, yet are constantly shared and reiterated over and over.

Great Leaders Possess Great Confidence.
Stanford University is one of the greatest academic institutions in the world, and every year it produces some of the finest leaders. To get into Stanford requires not simply good grades, but also a record of demonstrating leadership, ingenuity, community service, and an aptitude for continuous learning.

Each year, Olivia Fox Cabane, who teaches at Stanford, asks her incoming group of freshman, “How many of you in here feel that you are the one mistake that the admissions committee made?” Each year, more than two-thirds of the students raise their hands.

Academy Award winner Jodie Foster told an interviewer on 60 Minutes she feared she would have to give her Oscar back after winning best actor award for her role in The Accused. “I thought it was a fluke,” she said in the interview.

Meryl Streep has been nominated for more Academy and Golden Globe awards than any other actor in history. She told the documentary film maker Ken Burns, “You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”

Pressure often creates stress. In a typical stress response, heart rate 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.

Embracing 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 challenges arise. That’s the first secret of great leadership.

Middle Management is a Becoming Irrelevant
This myth has been propagated as recently as April, 2016 by Josh Bersin who writes:

One of the senior execs I talked with the other day told me “I don’t have time for mid-level managers any more. I can get the information I need to run my business through our digital information systems. If our leaders aren’t hands-on experts in their business areas, I don’t really need them.”

I disagree. Middle managers are the cultural lifeblood of organizations. They guide the mood of the organization, attract and retain top talent, and become the lens through which every employee sees the company. They also serve as an interpreting bridge between individual contributors and executives. If they are good, managers provide context, tone, and cultural glue.

In an interview with Tom DiDonato, Senior Vice President for Human Resources for Lear, a global technology and innovation company, he told me:

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.

Leaders Can Always Recognize Wrongful Behavior
The term “deviance” has long been associated with behavior that is harmful, dangerous, or perhaps immoral, such as lying, cheating, stealing, and other dishonorable acts. But sometimes organizations slip into unethical behavior, and going against the norm in a positive way, through “positive deviance”, may be more honorable behavior.

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

Earlier in 2016, the fallout from the Volkswagen deceit reached global proportions. The systemic deception by Volkswagen has been called the “diesel dupe.” As a BBC News article explains, Volkswagen was found to have installed a device that defeated emissions testing, effectively changing the performance results of the emissions tests on its diesel vehicles. This “defeat device” was actually a piece of software designed to recognize when the vehicle was undergoing emissions testing by recognizing test circumstances. VW has admitted to installing this device on eleven million cars worldwide.

Beyond the mechanics of the deceit and the politics of the scandal lies the question, “How could the people and the culture within Volkswagen have permitted this?” The device was too integrated and sophisticated to have been a mistake produced by lack of oversight, confusion, or even ineptitude. The device, and the deceit, had to be carefully engineered and intentional. But were the engineers working on the software truly aware that they were committing an unethical act?

Daniel Donovan, an information technology engineer in Auburn Hills, Michigan did recognize that Volkswagen was doing something very wrong, and he filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen after they terminated him for attempting to reveal the truth.

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

As she wrote about in her book The Challenger Launch Decision, Vaughan studied the infamous 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion and discovered that faulty O-rings, linked to the disaster, were identified as fallible long before the disaster occurred, they were simply tolerated as an acceptable flaw in the design.

“No fundamental decision was made at NASA to do evil,” Vaughan wrote. “Rather, a series of seemingly harmless decisions were made that incrementally moved the space agency toward a catastrophic outcome.” The O-ring damage observed after each launch was normal. The culture had simply drifted to a state in which that condition was also considered acceptable.

In the NASA example, the existence of the damaged O-rings after each launch was deemed acceptable. It became an implicit, and accepted, rule that everyone simply tolerated and believed to be quite normal. But if we step back for a moment and study the situation, as Vaughan did in her analysis, that acceptance of damaged O-rings seems pretty crazy.

Only a day before the fatal launch of Space Shuttle Challenger, engineers Bob Ebeling and Roger Boisjoly strenuously argued to NASA officials that the O-rings could stiffen and fail to properly seal the joints of the booster rockets because of the cold January temperatures. These arguments were not persuasive to NASA officials because, after all, they had the original detailed engineering report stating that the risk was acceptable.

The lesson is that the greatest leaders know what they don’t know, and seek out the truth from all corners of the organization.

Edited and excerpted from Small Acts of Leadership with permission from Taylor and Francis Group Publishing. Copyright 2016. ISBN-13: 978-1629561363


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

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

The Science of Controlling Your Own Destiny

Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better?
– Carol Dweck

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can change our brain.

There is a scene in the new movie Dr. Strange in which a character describes how he healed an impossible injury through the strength of his own thinking. True, that’s a Marvel Comics movie, but growing research suggests this isn’t entirely fiction, and that it’s possible that the words we use not only affect those around us, but also affect our mind and body.

Joe Dispenza shattered several vertebrae after getting hit by a car while on his bicycle. As a chiropractor, he knew that the recommended solution of fusing vertebrae together would lead to a lifetime of limited mobility and pain. Instead, he thought his way to healing.

Nine months later, he was able to walk and function as well as he had before the accident, and he credits a large amount of that recovery to the power of his own mind.

Every time you learn something new, your mind physically and chemically changes.
– Joe Dispenza

Where we place our attention and focus defines who we are. The words we choose to speak, the thoughts we visit and revisit over and over in our mind reinforce those ideas and affect the words we choose to say out loud. Those words and ideas not only affect those around us, but they affect who we are and how we think about the world around us.

Feelings of unworthiness, or ineptitude, can creep into our consciousness. It’s easy to recognize those same thoughts over and over as we repeat and again reinforce them. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe how the brain continues to reinvent itself, constantly changing over time depending on what we focus on, while older, unused pathways shrink and become abandoned, and new ones, with repetition and focus, emerge.

Not that long ago, many scientists believed that our brains were fixed, hard-wired, and unchanging. Not we know instead, that what we think about actually rewires our brain.

“Angry words send alarm messages through the brain, and they partially shut down the logic and reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes.”
– Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman

Our brain is an artifact of our past experiences and emotions. If we do the same routines, and spend our time with the same people, who push our same emotional buttons, we can not honestly expect anything to change. In order to truly change the way we think, and the way we interact with the world, we need to exercise new neural pathways in our brain.

To create new neural pathways requires that we envision a new and powerful future experience. Our minds will then begin to change, and form new neural pathways, to align with the envisioned future. And when we practice those envisioned outcomes regularly, our brain will begin to believe these dreams are not simply possibilities, but destiny.

Right now in Sao Paulo Brazil, the Walk Again project is using virtual reality therapy, working with paraplegic patients to help build new neural pathways which can reactivate dormant fibers in their spinal cord, and miraculously allow them to move and feel their extremities again for the first time in years.

Eight patients, each with a long-term spinal chord injury and no lower extremity sensation, performed 2000 hours of virtual reality brain training. Results varied with each patient, but for the most part they all went from a total absence of touch sensation to some capacity to sense pain, pressure and vibration. One patient has progressed to walking without the aid of a therapist, using only the aid of crutches and braces.

Try envisioning a better version of you and your world. Over time, your mind will begin to build the language and habits which will make it destiny.

To learn more about adopting a growth mindset, and reinventing your future, take a look at:


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

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

You Can Reduce Election Stress and Up Your Game

Your value to an organization is not in the hours you clock, the number of emails you flip, slide decks you build, and it’s certainly not in the air miles you punch to get in Zone 1 boarding.

Your value is in the creative energy and impact you bring to the table. The only way we can consistently and effectively bring our best ideas, and our greatest impact to work is if we believe our work matters, and if we believe our actions make a positive difference.

But it’s a stressful time right now. What with the election looming, it’s easy to get distracted and compulsively check the poll numbers (link not provided, check it later).

Over half of Americans are more stressed out now than a year ago. Fifty-two percent of Americans claim that the election is a “very or somewhat significant source of stress,” according to the American Psychological Association.

And when we are compulsively checking social media, we are creating yet more distracted anxiety, which in turn reduces our ability to think clearly, deeply, and coherently on our work. It’s a self-defeating downward spiral.

It’s well understood that high levels of chronic and acute stress impair our ability to think creatively, solve complex problems, and generate meaningful ideas. Stress is a response to a trigger, a circumstance, a rapidly changing environment, or a negative thought. How we react to these triggers can be the difference between positive or negative emotional states.

We can insulate ourselves against these stresses, and increase our effectiveness and impact. For example, public speaking is widely known to be one of the most stressful circumstances we encounter. It’s such a reliable way to induce stress that there is a test named after it called the Trier Social Stress Test.

Here’s how it works in one experiment:

Eighty-five people were asked to prepare a five minute speech on “why I would be a good candidate for an administrative assistant position at __________ university.” Then, they had to deliver their speech to a panel of stern, unwelcoming evaluators. And finally, if that wasn’t quite enough stress, participants were asked to count backwards from 2,083 by 13s for 5 min under harassing conditions. The evaluators would frown, and constantly ask them to go faster.

After the experience, researchers measured the saliva of participants for cortisol, and other stress markers. Those who were asked, prior to the test, to thoughtfully reflect on their own most important personal values, had lower levels of stress during, and after, the experience.

Lower stress also improves our creative impact. In another study, David Crewswell and his colleagues worked with seventy-three people between the ages of 18 and 34 and gave them a series of creative tests that go like this:

Read these three words: flake, mobile, cone. Now, think of a word that, when combined with all three, make a new word. The word “snow” works, because we can now create snow-flake, snow-mobile, and snow-cone. The task requires creative thinking. It requires a little focus and thoughtfulness, which is the kind of thinking we need every day in our work.

Before each small creative task, half of the group was asked to reflect on values most important to them such as family relationships, artistic ability, independence, religious values or other aspects of their life that they valued deeply. These reflections of self-affirmation had a stress-protective effect on their performance.

Every meeting we have, phone call we place, report we prepare, or presentation we deliver, is a performance opportunity. It’s an opportunity to bring our very best ideas, and impact to our work. When we take a moment to reflect on the values and relationships we hold dear to our identity, it reduces our stress, and increases our impact.

To learn more about adopting a growth mindset, and upping your game at work:


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

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

Stop Being Afraid of Getting Fired

Yes, you could lose your job for being inept, incompetent, missing deadlines and milestones, or simply failing to do the work. But you will not be fired for taking chances, and embracing risk and then accepting the responsibility that goes along with it. And if you are fired for taking an honest chance, with positive intention, and then owning the outcome, your boss is a coward, and your company is on the brink of irrelevance.

So most of us don’t take chances at work. Instead we take crap from management, accept workplace bullying, go along with idiotic ideas, follow unethical orders, hide our opinions, and mask our true identities. We even accept lower salaries. All because we fear losing our job, or because we are trying desperately to fit in.

Fifty years ago only experts worried about cigarettes, drunk driving, and wearing seat belts. The rest of the general public was more alarmed about nuclear attacks, Russian invasions, and asteroid impacts.

Today you are more likely to be struck by lightning (1 in 960,000) than you are of being killed in a terrorist attack (1 in 20 million). You are far more likely to be killed by your own furniture, or drown in your bathtub, than from a terrorist attack. And you are 200 times more likely to die in a car accident than a plane crash. We fear the wrong things.

Risk equals probability multiplied by consequence. In other words, smoking cigarettes or driving while texting is waaay more risky than worrying that you are going to be kidnapped and held for ransom. But risk is different than fear. Risk is quantifiable, it’s something you can calculate, while fear is perception.

The difference between risk and fear is, of course, control. When you are smoking or driving a car you are in control. When you imagine being attacked by a bear on vacation in Yellowstone Park (1 in 2.1 million), you have no control whatsoever. It’s a terrifying thought. It could stop you from taking a nice walk in the woods.

After September 11, 2001, 1.4 million people changed their travel plans to avoid flying, choosing to drive instead. Driving is far more dangerous. The decision to drive, instead of fly, caused an estimated 1,000 additional auto fatalities.

There’s a number of other criteria that also affect our perception of risk. Timing is a big one. When we believe that the risk is imminent, we perceive it as more dangerous, and longer term risks are viewed as more moderate. This explains why we postpone exercising and order another glass of wine. There’s no immediate risk, right? But habits build, and pretty soon the couch potato routine turns into very real health disabilities.

Familiarity is also one of our biggest barriers to attempting anything challenging and difficult. When we are familiar with the challenge, we view it as less risky. Yet statistically safe activities, which we have never done before, are viewed as terrifying.

Just last night our family watched a show about big, scary waterslides around the world. Waterslides are among the safest, and most controlled recreational environments, complete with professionals who are monitoring the entire experience. But as we saw in the TV show, time after time, people would balk at the last minute and refuse to participate in the waterslide.

Another consideration that halts our ability to accept risk is considering how reversible the consequences are. Losing your job is an irreversible experience, therefore we view the risk as higher.

All of these factors – familiarity, control, reversibility, and timing – contribute to our sense of risk and fear. However, here is one thing we know to be true. Great leadership, remarkable innovations, and outstanding service, begin with initiative, and embracing risk and the accountability that comes with it.

Initiative and conscientious risk-taking are the hallmarks of great team members and great companies. Yet, this learned behavior only happens when people feel psychologically safe at work. If you work in the kind of company that respects the psychological safety of teams, you are more likely to speak up, share ideas, ask for help, and take initiatives.

If you are a leader responsible for a team, you likely have deadlines and objectives for your team to accomplish. The best way to get team members to step up is to make them feel psychologically safe to take chances.

To learn more about adopting a learning mindset and driving innovation see:


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership is a Washington Post #5 Bestseller. You can order a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

A Small Shift to Ask More Powerful Questions

Typewriters with ribbons, developed in the 1950s, were excellent at speeding up typists, but not so good at erasing their mistakes. Bette Nesmith Graham was a typist by day, and a painter by night. She wondered, “What if I could cover up my typing mistakes the same way I cover up my painting mistakes?”

She mixed up a batch of quick-drying white paint, and used it to wipe out her typing mistakes. Almost immediately, she was handing it out to everyone in the typist pool. That product later became Liquid Paper, which she sold for almost $50 million.

In 1965, Dwayne Douglas, a football coach at the University of Florida, watched his players run and sweat and drink gallons of water for hours in the hot Florida sunshine. Squinting into the sun, he wondered, “Why aren’t the players peeing more after the games?” He asked a kidney researcher at the university that question, who then developed a drink to replenish electrolytes. The result became Gatorade, named after the Florida Gaters.

In 1943, while on vacation in New Mexico, Edwin Land took a family portrait with his camera. His daughter asked immediately, “You took the picture. Can I see it now?” Which led Land to ask himself the question, “What if you could somehow have a darkroom inside a camera?” The answer to that question became the Polaroid Camera.

When you think about it, everything starts with a question. I have been collaborating for the past year with Marilee Adams, Ph.D., author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. She has poignant stories of how simple questions, when reframed, can change the course of history.

Consider the subtle question shift, from “How do we get ourselves to water?” to “How do we get water to us?” That question shift is the difference between nomadic cultures moving themselves to reach water, to civilizations using technology to bring water to the people. Roman aqueducts, irrigation and indoor plumbing are the cornerstones of modern infrastructure, and all an answer to the question, “How do we bring the water to us?”.

“A paradigm shift occurs when a question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered outside it.” – Marliee Adams, Ph.D.

Here is an idea from the work of Eric Vogt and this colleagues, start by reframing questions from Either/Or to What If.


A powerful question will generate curiosity, stimulate reflection, invite possibility, and focus attention. A more powerful question will also stay with you much longer, and touch something deeper inside. Powerful questions such as, “What would you do if you were not afraid?” and “If you were dying, would you worry about this?” make us rethink our priorities, and give us courage and purpose.

In Germany there is often a professional called Director Grundsatzfragen, which translates to Director of Fundamental Questions. It’s their job to be asking questions that have the power to drive systemic innovation and change. To the most experienced, shaping better questions becomes a true art.

Einstein said much of his breakthrough thinking in Relativity came from wondering, “What would the universe look like if I were riding on the end of a light beam at the speed of light?” That might sound like a crazy question, but it’s also the kind of crazy question that brought about breakthrough thinking.

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