Yes, Life is Crazy but You Don’t Need to Be Alone

Hi there! Sorry its taken a while to write you back. My life is insane right now. I can’t focus on anything and sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe. But you know how crazy life is these days!
My commute is a white knuckle mess and my work is a disaster. I swear any second I’m going to get fired. Then what?! I can barely pay my bills now. But the weekends have been gorgeous, right? We took the kids hiking on Sunday to make up for my total meltdown in front of them. I’m convinced I’m a horrible parent. I know I only screamed at the kids because I can’t sleep. Anyway, enough of that. Let’s have coffee soon. I miss you.

We don’t tell the whole truth. We conceal ourselves because we’re scared of humiliation, or shame, or burdening others with our stories. Or maybe of appearing weak. Yet when we consistently conceal our feelings, we also alienate ourselves from those around us. We start to check out. And that sense of personal isolation is increasing year over year. The result is that we are all feeling a little more detached, alone, and polarized. There is a strong correlation between that feeling of isolation and decreasing empathy around the world.

The strength of our society, our communities, our companies, and the collaboration which drives our innovation, is all based on the power of us to connect, communicate, and ideate together. Our shared imagination is, indeed, our most powerful human trait. Our complex language allows to talk about things that do not exist at all – except in our collective imaginations.

Things like currency, the United Nations, or Roman Gods exist only in our minds. Two lawyers who have never met, can still collaborate on the civil rights of someone arrested, because of their shared belief system. Karl Benz patented his first Motorwagon in 1886, and Mercedes-Benz today employs about 145,000 people – most of whom are complete strangers to one another, yet all united in one shared vision and goal.

An important place to connect with others is in our communal settings, like coffee shops and grocery stores. But even simple things like grocery shopping can be outsourced and automated. The result is that our world is becoming more and more transactional and anonymous.

It’s time to start paying attention to our social relationships the same way we pay attention to our diet and exercise.
– Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD

Urbanization is increasing. Now, over 82% of Americans live in urban settings. People are migrating to cities and leaving the countryside. In a strange irony, cities have a much higher percentage of people claiming to feel lonely than rural environments.

Loneliness makes our lives shorter, our bodies more subject to disease, our minds vulnerable to depression and mental illness, and our lives generally less joyful.

Empathy is a simple term but a complex idea. It’s about how one person responds to the emotions to another. It’s about recognizing what someone else is feeling and catching their joy, fear, or pain. Empathy is a concern for another person and desire for them to have greater well being.

We are all leaders somewhere, in some capacity – in our book clubs, in our town halls, on our sports teams, in our families, or at work. As leaders, we all have a responsibility and opportunity to guide the culture of that environment to be more connected, more empathetic.

Here’s a quick and fun exercise to deepen empathy on your team. Think of someone on your team and finish a sentence below. It’s not only an affirmation of the other person, it’s also an empathetic thought process.

  • Something I learned from you recently is . . .
  • I like your personality because . . .
  • I know I can count on you when . . .
  • I really appreciate it when you . . .
  • Some adjectives that describe you are . . .
  • I always am impressed by the way you . . .
  • I look forward to seeing you because . . .
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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

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

The Source Code of Grit

A couple weeks ago I was out doing my favorite thing – riding a bicycle on the local roads I know so well. It was a gorgeous afternoon. Blue skies, light air, 80 degrees. Descending a hill at about 30mph, I heard a loud crack on my right and looked up to see a 20 foot dead tree falling directly in my path. With no time to touch the brakes, and barely time to acknowledge what was happening I crashed into the tree less than a second later, before it even came to rest in the road. I vaulted over the bars, and catapulted, spinning majestically through space, to land on my back in the middle of the road.

Cars stopped in both directions blocked by the tree, and I lay in the middle of the lane, staring up at the sky, taking inventory. I was gently touching my collarbone and thinking, “It feels a little funny, but I’m sure it’s fine,” when I heard footsteps running toward me. A woman appeared above me, blocking the sun, looked down and said, “I’m Jill! We’re visiting from Florida! That was incredible! Are you OK?”

Oddly enough, in that moment all I could think about was that I was going to be late to pick up our daughter. She was having a play date with a friend. I needed to get home and go pick her up. I asked if I could call my daughter. Jill paused and said, “How about we call 911 instead.”

The next few hours involved EMTs, an ambulance, the Sheriff, a fire truck, hospital technicians and doctors to finally arrive at the conclusion that I had a nasty collarbone fracture. Have a look.

Of course the following days were painful and frustrating. Every physical movement alarmed my shoulder, every gesture was measured. It took hours to find the nerve to take a shower. Sleeping was horrid. But all I needed to do was be a little grittier, a little tougher, right? And then I could push through the obstacles, push through the frustration, be a better patient. C’mon suck it up. Just choose a better attitude, right?

Here’s the point I’m getting to. A lot of the contemporary literature in popular psychology has co-opted this notion of grit to apply to everything from parenting to coaching to managing. If only our students could be grittier, our players tougher, our employees more determined – everything turns out better. Here’s another article about all the magic that comes with grit.

The more you examine this idea, the more it seems like a gross simplification. Even Angela Duckworth, who popularized the notion of grit, has reservations that the idea has been over-applied and misunderstood.

When I reflect on my bike accident, and think about how to persevere through my own setback, I find the work of David DeSteno much more relevant and applicable. His basic argument is that grit is difficult to summon, and even harder to maintain on its own. Grit alone, demands self-reliance and willpower, which is lonely and difficult. Willpower wanes over time, and when it does we are more likely to succumb to self-disappointment and frustration.

Instead think about the origins of grit. DeSteno’s research demonstrates that you can set the conditions to become grittier, but those conditions are more social in nature. Compassion, Gratitude, and Pride of a job well done, are the engine of that grit we’re all striving for. The operating system of that flinty stick-to-itiveness is social reliance, not self-reliance.

In a series of experiments, researchers demonstrated that self compassion – not self-esteem or even happiness – was a stronger influence for high work performance, ethical choices, and overcoming personal weakness. The root of performance, morality and personal mastery starts with compassion.

And think about gratitude for a moment. Gratitude for what someone did for you encourages us to think about what we will do in the future, to aspire to a better version of ourselves, to imagine ourselves delivering a meal for someone in need.

On the deepest, unconscious level, gratitude is really about being grateful for the actions that are yet to come.
– David DeSteno
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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?

The Magic of Bill Murray

“If you can consciously let yourself get taken and see where you go, that’s an exercise. That’s discipline. To follow the scent. Let yourself go and see what happens, that takes a bit of courage.”
– Bill Murray

The comic legend Bill Murray has created decades of urban folklore by simply showing up in odd, random places and interacting with people. Did he really take a french fry from someone’s plate and whisper, “No one will believe you.” Did he really ride a bike in a Walmart wearing a fireman’s uniform, squirting a water pistol? Who knows for sure.

But there is video of him washing dishes at a party in Scotland, playing tambourine at a house party in Austin, and crashing a private karaoke room in New York. And there is a beautiful story from a father who met Bill outside of a hospital and watched him spend half an hour on his knees in the cold, comforting and talking to his son in a wheelchair after brain surgery.

Or this story. Bill gets into a cab in San Francisco and starts chatting with the cab driver, and discovers the cab driver is a saxophone player. Bills asks when he gets to practice his instrument, and the taxi driver says he doesn’t get to practice much because he drives the taxi all the time. So Bill finds out the saxophone is in the trunk and tells the driver to pull over so Bill can drive the car while the taxi driver gets to practice his saxophone in the back seat. They wander the streets of San Francisco with the taxi driver blowing saxophone in the back, and then cross over the bridge into Oakland after midnight to have barbecue together at a diner, and play saxophone for a crowd in the parking lot.

Whether Bill is dropping in to a game of kickball or reading poetry at a construction site, he is showing up to be present, not to entertain. He’s not there to juggle, tell jokes, or get on stage. He’s there to be alive in that spontaneous, inventive moment. In his own words, Bill says when it works best he finds a way to wake people up in their lives. He says he might encounter someone sleepwalking through their life, and hopefully he can help create a moment to wake them up. He also says sometimes he gets lucky himself, and wakes up to a new truth or new understanding.

Universally, everyone who tells these stories describe him as kind, present, and able to bring levity and joy to a moment. But the moments are fleeting and unpredictable. He’s famously impossible to track, or pin down. Even Sofia Coppola who wrote and directed Lost in Translation said that Bill told her he “might think about it” without ever actually committing to doing the film. So Sofia sent him the production schedule, flew to Tokyo to start filming, and then just hoped that Murray would show up, which of course he did.

Katie Calautti, a reporter for Vanity Fair, was asked to do a story on Bill Murray at the Toronto Film Festival. She said he was impossible to coordinate with because he has no entourage, no people, no team to interact with. He just shows up, and since you don’t know when or how he is going to appear, it’s pretty hard to write about his comings and goings. She said she spent most of her time at the film festival chasing a ghost. She said later that reporting on Bill Murray is like reporting on jazz. You just have to show up and see what happens.

It’s easy to be inspired by, and learn from Bill Murray. Show up, listen, give kindness, don’t seek the spotlight, look for opportunities to ease pain, or provoke new ideas. And when it works right, maybe something will happen to transform the moment, and allow an awakening.

“We’re in this life, and if you’re not available, the sort of ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it. But if you’re available, life gets huge. You’re really living it.”
– Bill Murray

If you have a quiet hour, I recommend the documentary The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man.

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I founded Mindscaling, a company 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.

Don’t Let Your Grit Become Workaholism

What comes easy to you? What do you love? After you’ve sat through 4 meetings, done the dishes, taken out the garbage, or stood in line at the Division of Motor Vehicles, what are you excited to escape to?

I have friends who find solace in yoga, escape into reading, or immerse in deep conversation. Their version of self-reward is to get a group together and share ideas over lunch. I also have introverted friends who dread the idea of hosting a big meeting. My friend Chris’ idea of joy is to curl up in a chair and knit and knit and knit. She says they will find skeins of yarn untouched after she’s gone. She can’t get enough. My friend Jeff clocks whole afternoons lost in his workshop shaping cabinets. Hopper can spend an entire week swimming in the open ocean.

In order to get good – really good – at something we have to work at it, put in the long hours, maybe even ten thousand of those hours. And if you’re going to put ten thousand hours into something, you deserve to enjoy it. So start with something you feel drawn to, something that comes easy.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
– Richard Bach

If you start with what comes easy, the work becomes passion. “Grit is the combination of perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Angela Duckworth goes on to say, “It’s not simply working really hard and being resilient, it’s working toward something that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning.”

Workaholism, on the other hand, is working compulsively at the expense of other pursuits, and possibly at the expense of physical or psychological health. A work-obsessed individual pursues power or control until it becomes a compulsive addiction to gain approval or public recognition of success.

The primary difference here is that workaholism is work for work’s sake. It’s also work for external validation – like getting affirmation or money or power. Grit involves the pursuit of a higher calling, a striving to achieve something of meaning beyond the work itself.

Choose what comes easy. Then the work becomes joy.

May you and your loved ones have a joyous holiday season, and a wonderful new year.

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My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? 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 this 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.

The Astonishing Ignorance, and Brilliance, of Henry Ford

Henry Ford is heralded today as a technological genius, a brilliant capitalist, even a kind and generous moralist fighting for the rights and wages of commoners. He is often referred to as the inventor of the modern age.

Quotes from Henry Ford are plastered on notecards and in boardrooms everywhere.

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

Great quotes from a great inventor.

Look again. The remarkable things you know about Ford are true. What you may not know is that during his lifetime, Henry Ford was famously ignorant. There was no end to what he didn’t know. As historian John Stadenmaier put it, “he was revealed to be pathetically inarticulate and ill-informed. The stuff he didn’t know was amazing to people.” He lived his entire life near Detroit, and showed little interest in the world outside the walls of his mind.

Ford was ridiculed by the Chicago Tribune for his shocking idiocy. The world became enthralled by his obtuse ideas. Ford believed the earth could not carry the weight of skyscrapers. He believed Benedict Arnold was a writer. He had no sense, or interest, in history whatsoever. As he put it, “I don’t know much about history, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition.”

Ford was oddly eccentric. He refused to vote, citing complete lack of interest in politics. He became infatuated with soybeans, and would wear suits made of soy, and serve nothing but soy meals to his guests. He attempted to purchase a tract of land in the Amazon and name it Fordlandia, with the sole purpose of supplying his company with rubber for his tires. He created a newspaper based on the notion of assembly-line writing, in which one writer contributed facts, another writer the opinion, another writer the humor, and so on. It was ghastly boring, prompting one critic to call his paper, “the best weekly ever turned out by a tractor plant.”

Henry Ford certainly did take action. He got things done. Early in his career, young Ford launched a car manufacturing company with a paltry $28,000 sourced from a variety of private investors, but ran into opposition from bigger manufacturers who claimed Ford was infringing on their patent. A few years earlier, in 1895, George Selden applied for, and was granted, a patent for the basic design of an automobile before the car industry even got off the ground.

Ford and his investors contested that patent for eight years, and finally won the right to produce their own automobiles. Ford’s final testimony included the comment, “It is perfectly safe to say that George Selden has never advanced the automobile industry in a single particular…and it would perhaps be further advanced than it is now if he had never been born.”

And with that legal win, Ford and his investors set off to build the Ford Motor Comapny empire, which made automobiles affordable and accessible to middle and lower-class Americans, and cemented his iconic name into the history books as a master capitalist, and brilliant inventor. He is even attributed a social and economic theory known as “Fordism” which, among other things, professes to create unskilled employment, adaptive assembly-line construction of goods, and – perhaps most importantly – the notion that the workers themselves could afford to purchase the goods they created.

Ford did indeed make remarkable contributions to our modern lives, and helped to transform industrialized economies. But my point here is that there is always more to the story. It’s worth a second look, a deeper dive.

Question what you know. It’s how things change.

Want to change the way you see the world? See Stephen Shapiro’s fast track course on Innovation. It will question everything you, and your team, think you know about how innovation happens. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

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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
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Vulnerability Is Courage, Is Impact

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Here’s an idea that might be slowing you down. Do you ever think to yourself, “I can’t try that, it’s already been done before! I need to find something new to show, something that’s never been done before, something that has never been seen before.”

This is the inner voice trying to please others, trying to fit in, get invited to the party. The truth is that authenticity creates stronger human and emotional bonds. And while being authentically yourself is closer and easier to access, it is also sometimes more difficult to reveal. Authenticity is scary, but it’s ultimately the most honest and sincere way to connect with people in the world.

The myth about vulnerability and honesty is that it’s a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite.

Recently the elder, transgender, comedian Julia Scotti brought down the house on America’s Got Talent and received a standing ovation. Judge Howie Mandel gushed, “You’re funny, you’re talented, and you’re brave, and I am so glad we got to see you.” She was amazing by being unapologetically herself.

Contrast that with the America’s Got Talent routine of Gary Sladek and “Broadway” Jim. Their first appearance featured an astonishing feat of scaling a towering stack of carefully balanced chairs. The act was daring and human. They were invited back on the show.

Their follow up appearance was an absurb and chaotic skit which involved them tumbling around a trampoline in goofy clown outfits. It was so bad, when they finished the audience sat quietly dumbfounded at their ridiculous antics. It was clear they were reaching for originality, and it fell flat because they were so obviously trying to be something they were not, trying to be someone else for the judges. In that instance, Gary and Jim were performing not for themselves, not to advance their act or their skill but instead performing simply for approval.

Here’s a secret: the greatest performers, writers, musicians, and artists create the work that they love, not the work that they think others will love.

I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.
– Brené Brown

Our culture is shifting quietly away from identifying people as representative of a particular demographic, and instead respecting and appreciating the unique and varied experiences they may have had, shifting away from tolerance and acceptance and instead toward a culture of connection, shifting away from a sense of fair opportunity, and moving toward recognizing contribution to business impact.

And the best way to connect, and make an impact, is to share who you authentically are with the world.

To learn more about finding your authentic self, and adopting a growth mindset see:

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

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

You. Put It in Your Work.

girl-dance-music

Are you funny? Sarcastic? Witty? A dog lover? Maybe your passion is coaching youth sports. Or maybe it’s a cup of tea and a sci-fi novel on the couch. Maybe it’s Downton Abbey or maybe it’s The Walking Dead. Maybe it’s snowboarding with your kids. Whatever it is. Whatever gets your groove on, put it in your work.

People have passions and joys in their life, yet do stale, tired work. We get stuck trying to do the work we think someone else wants, instead of the work that inspires us. We get trapped thinking that if we hide who we are, we will fit in better, and be more likable. The opposite is true. When we conceal valuable parts of our identity we begin to feel alienated from those around us, and alienated from our work.

Some people come alive Friday night on the dance floor when the lights go down and the beats go up. And yet give boring, sad, sales presentations on Monday morning. They’re not boring, sad people, they just switched off their true self when the time came to work.

Here’s a challenge. Take what you love and put it in your work. Yes, you might alienate a few people. You might turn some people off with your basketball analogies, or comparisons to cooking, or your stories about hiking in the Swiss alps. (Please no more cat videos.) But you will be understood. People will get you. They’ll understand where you’re coming from, what you value, and what you hold dear in your life. And because of that, they will respect and appreciate your work more.

What if writing good clean code is similar to your passion for gardening. What if building a marketing plan is a lot like a carefully planned hike with friends. And maybe killer graphic design is a lot like a great conversation with an old friend. Put it in your work.

Emerging generations are increasingly more assertive in expressing their identities, proudly, openly. And that’s a good thing. According to a recent study from Deloitte, when people within a diverse and multigenerational workforce begin to express their whole self at work, they begin to look past differences and start to focus on business results.

Millennials are refusing to check their identities at the doors of organizations today, and they strongly believe these characteristics bring value to the business outcomes and impact.
– Christie Smith and Stephanie Turner, Deloitte Leadership Center for Inclusion

When people within the organization become less concerned with concealing who they are, they start to become more interested, and active, in developing deeper and more meaningful collaborations with those across the organization to drive innovation and business results.

The result is an environment of psychological safety. In psychologically safe teams, members feel accepted and respected, and as a result feel safer to take risks, to be more audacious in their work.

Bring more of you to your work, and encourage those around you to also.

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

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

Believe in Your Goals, but Earn Your Gifts

jump_goals

You’ve probably heard of the Pygmalion effect. It’s when people start to escalate their performance because of the expectations others have of them. It’s named after the Greek myth of Pygmalion who fell in love with an ivory sculpture he created. He loved his sculpture so much that he wished her alive as his wife, and so it happened.

That, of course, is a myth. But the phenomenon of willing high performance in others is real. In classic experiments over forty years ago, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson demonstrated that teachers in classrooms can elevate the performance of their students simply by believing that the kids are destined to be high performers. In the study, researchers gave fake IQ tests to elementary students, and then lied to the teachers that 20% of their students were identified as “intellectual bloomers”.

It worked. The teachers began to hold a false belief that specific students in their classroom were intellectually gifted, and destined for high performance. As a result, the teachers started to create a more nurturing environment to help those “intellectual bloomers” excel. The lie created a false belief that 20% of their students had elevated IQs and were poised for intellectual greatness.

The teachers believed in the potential of their students and intentionally created circumstances to enhance their success.

The teachers did this by deliberately “creating a warm and friendly environment for students, providing students with opportunities to practice their skills, and providing students with performance-based feedback.”

More recent studies find the same is true when it comes to building high-performance cultures in the workplace. When leaders hold high expectations of those around them, they tend to offer more learning opportunities, provide more consistent feedback, and hold people to a high level of accountability.

There’s one critical factor in all of this high-expectations business: Never tell them they are great. Don’t tell the kids they are brilliant, and don’t tell your colleagues they are inherently gifted and destined to thrive.

When we tell someone they are brilliant, gifted, and remarkable, we create an illusion that they have some inherent, hard-wired advantage over others. So they start to self-evaluate and compare themselves to others and try to identify their edge. That comparison and self-scrutiny can be crippling.

The world is littered with stories of those who choke in the face of high expectations. Remember Michelle Kwan, the American skating prodigy? Having won four world titles heading into the 2002 Winter Olympics, critics universally picked Kwan to wear the gold medal before the competition even began. Any threat would certainly only come from rival talents Irina Slutskaya and Kwan’s own teammate Sasha Cohen.

But they all skated tight, self-consciously. They skated as if they were obligated to win. Instead it was no-name Sarah Hughes, who barreled on to the ice and delivered a vibrant, unrestrained, and confident four minutes of joyous choreography to the deafening roar of approval in the stadium. Sarah never believed that she deserved to win, or was expected to win – only that with pluck, dedication and work, a win was an achievable goal. Her coach, Robin Wagner said in the weeks leading up to the Olympics, “Our feeling is, you go for the gold,” Wagner said. “It’s a feasible expectation.”

It turned out to be Hughes’ one, and only, big time win. Only a year later Hughes retired from skating on her own terms, satisfied and elated with her short career.

Believe in your goals, earn your gifts.

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

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

2 Small Things that Make the Biggest Difference

bethany_hamilton_2

Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul. – Douglas MacArthur

Imagine a race in which you don’t know where the course is, what you might be asked to do along the way, or even how long the race will last. Imagine that when you sign up for this race, you are told, immediately and repeatedly, to quit before you even start.

You are warned you might die. And even if you don’t die, you don’t have what it takes to finish anyway, so you shouldn’t bother showing up. The emails from the race director say “Stay home. You don’t have what it takes.”

The brochure reads:

A positive outlook on life is mandatory. Whiners and complainers need not to apply. This is not the race for you. Awards will be presented to those that finish. We don’t plan on handing out too much. No refunds.

During the course of this “race” which has no finish line, you may be asked to dig up a tree stump with your bare hands and then drag it ten miles to the top of a mountain, where you will be greeted by someone who asks you to memorize poetry. You then drag the tree stump down the mountain six miles to somewhere and recite the lines. You get it wrong. You hike six miles back to memorize it until you get it right.

The 2013 version lasted three days. Less than 15% finished. Genius, talent and education are the least of the discerning factors.

Why do some people accomplish more than others of equal intelligence? This was the question Angela Duckworth and her colleagues posed when embarking on a study in 2004 to measure people’s level of “grit.” Surveying the available research regarding traits beyond intelligence that contribute to success, Duckworth and her colleagues found it lacking in the specific area regarding the influence of possessing this quality, which they defined as follows:

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.

Grit is the combination of two characteristics:

  1. consistency of task
  2. perseverance through adversity

The researchers initiated their own study to develop something they call the “Grit Scale.” After generating a series of questions intended to measure “grittiness,” (for example, “I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge,” “I finish whatever I begin”), the researchers set up a questionnaire on their website, www.authentichappiness.com. Their results reveal higher levels of grit correlate with higher levels of education. The results also showed that grit tends to increase with age. Those individuals with high levels of grit also tend to have fewer career changes. Yet more surprisingly, those identified as possessing high levels of grit often had high grades in school yet scored more poorly on Standard Achievement Tests, suggesting that, despite lower scholastic aptitude, their perseverance and tenacity yielded stronger overall academic results.

The study gets even more interesting when the researchers decided to apply their Grit Scale to the 2004 incoming class of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Just getting into West Point is famously difficult. Entrance requires a nomination from a member of Congress or from the Department of Army. Once accepted, each entering cadet is evaluated on the Whole Candidate Score, which takes into consideration school grade-point average, Scholastic Aptitude Test results, physical fitness, class rank, and evidence of demonstrated leadership ability.

This comprehensive evaluation process for those applying to the academy is necessary to help the academy predict not only the graduation rate, but also the likelihood that entering freshman will finish an arduous summer entrance session known as “Beast Barracks,” or more simply “Beast.” Nearly 100 percent of the freshman cadets also took the Grit Scale test in 2004, and its results proved to be a better predictor of whether or not a cadet would survive Beast Barracks than the military’s own sophisticated and complexly designed evaluation tests.

It is these two small simple things: perseverance and passion for long-term goals, plus a willingness to remain tenacious in the face of adversity that can make all the difference.

[photo: Bethany Hamilton photographed by Noah Hamilton]