Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Problem Identifiers vs. Problem Solvers

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Which do you want to be, a problem identifier or a problem solver?

I’ve been reading No Magic Bullet by Joe Willmore, and it’s a good book… if you want to be a problem identifier. But if you you’re looking for a book that will actually help you improve the performance of your organization, or the people in it – if you want to solve a problem – look elsewhere. With a subtitle like “7 Steps to Better Performance” I eagerly dug into this book looking to take away specific tools and techniques that I could use. I was disappointed.

The book does do a good job of describing what the author claims “most companies and managers” do wrong. In fact, he spends most of the first 170 pages or so being a problem identifier. And he repeats himself, then repeats himself, and then repeats himself again. Finally, in the last chapter he outlines the “7 steps.”

So, to avoid only being a problem identifier myself, here’s my suggestion: If you’re looking to learn something from this book, just read the last fifteen pages – the last chapter. If you’re the author and you have a chance to do it over again, just sell the last chapter as a white paper.

It’s ironic that this book – all about improving performance – does what some managers do. It points out the problem, but doesn’t focus enough on the solution.

There is one quote from the book that I love: Some companies focus on fixing the blame, rather than fixing the problem. Again, ironically, the book tends to do that.

The next time you’re faced with a problem, ask yourself if you’re focusing more on identifying it and looking for someone or something to blame than you are on solving it. As humans, we seem to find it easier to identify the problems than to fix them.

While I’ve beat up the No Magic Bullet book, there is always something to learn from every book. In addition to a few ideas introduced in the book, I must admit that it reinforced the importance of focusing on the solution to problems, even if it did so in a rather backwards approach.

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The Myth About Natural Talent

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I’ve recently read two books that talk about similar subjects: Outlier, by Malcolm Gladwell (author of the best-selling Blink and The Tipping Point), and Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. Both books back up what I’ve been saying for years, and what I wrote about in my Speed Secrets books. Great performers in any activity, whether sport, music, arts, business or whatever are not born with more talent than average performers.

What makes superstars what they are is not what they’re born with. It’s what they’ve done with what they were born with that makes the difference.

Outliers I’d recommend you read both these books, but the simple overview of what both authors write about is that factors other than talent have more to do with success and great performances than anything else. Gladwell, in Outliers, says that cultural experiences and timing have as much to do with success than anything else, and perhaps more. He uses numerous examples that support his claim, including Bill Gates, professional hockey players, and musicians. And one of the most powerful factors that determine their success is the date of their birth! And no, is has nothing to do astrological signs.

Talent-overratedIn Talent is Overrated, Colvin counts on research from a variety of sources that support his claim that
practice plays the biggest role in great performance. And not just any practice, either. It has to be what he and researchers call “deliberate practice.”

Interestingly, both these books have been published within months of each other, and they strongly support each other’s message. It’s like both authors were on the same wavelength. And, while my theories follow directly along with what’s said in each book, and some of it was based on research that I’d read, most of what I’ve talked and written about has come from my observations of great performers, and not-so-great performers. I observed exactly what the research in these books suggest.

I’ve personally seen people with what initially appeared to be average (at best) talent rise to a point where others begin commenting about his or her “natural talent” making them what they are today. And sadly, I’ve witnessed people who seem to have something special at an early age, but who didn’t use “deliberate practice,” and who turned out to be average performers.

While reading these two books, I recognized that much of my approach to coaching, and what’s help me make others successful, is my use of “deliberate practice.” I’m “famous” for giving my coachees what I just call strategies for development. Although I’ve known that my approach has worked, it’s nice when one finds scientific research that supports what you’ve known and used for a while.

Read Outliers and Talent is Overrated.

Neuroplasticity

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

I’ve told my wife that if I ever have a stroke, or something else happens to me that affects my brain performance, make me read (or read to me if I can’t read) the book, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge.

BrainThe book is all about the latest research and development around neuroplasticity, or how our brains can rewire themselves, and adapt to all sorts of problems. For one thing, it talks about the very latest methods that are being used amazingly successfully in helping people who have had strokes. In the past, if a person had a left-hemisphere stroke, affecting the person’s use of their right hand and arm, the rehab would consist mostly of training the person to use their left hand to do what their right used to do. In other words, the thinking was that the damage was done, and the only solution now is to accept that you’ll never have full use of the hand again.

That approach is changing dramatically. In some places, rehab now consists of actually restricting the use of the person’s “good” hand, and forcing the person to work with the “damaged” side. If the “good” hand is allowed to be free, even if it isn’t used, the brain will struggle along trying to use the same parts of the brain to do what it used to, even though this part of the brain is now damaged. But – and this is the amazing part – if the “good” hand is restricted (even tied to the body so it can’t move) for long enough, while the person works with the “damaged” side, it’s as if the brain decides that it better figure out something to enable survival. In doing that, it begins to rewire where in the brain the control of the “damaged” side occurs.

As an example, if a person has a left hemisphere stroke, damaging the language center in the brain (which is in the left hemisphere), rather than just accepting that the damage is done and the person will have to live with limited language abilities, some now take a different approach. One approach is to force the person to use their left hand to write and/or use a computer mouse while speaking the name of an object in front of them. By activating the right hemisphere of the brain through physical use of the left hand, the brain begins to do some of the language work on that side. In other words, it begins to rewire the language center. The results are dramatic.

So, why would I want to read this book if I’d just had a stroke? Because it fills me with the knowledge that my brain can rebuild itself. My brain is very plastic, in that it can adapt. It can recover. And having that knowledge would inspire and motivate me – it would give me hope.

If anyone has any stories about neuroplasticity, and how the brain can rewire itself, I’d sure love to hear about them.

Mindset

Monday, July 28th, 2008

One of my many favorite books is Mindset, by Dr. Carol Dweck. I highly recommend you read it. In the book, Dweck suggests that people have two different mindsets: a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset.

MindsetA fixed mindset is one where a person sees things as set in stone (to some extent), and things are what they are. For example, a person with a fixed mindset believes that he or she was born with a certain level of intelligence, and that it won’t change.

A person with a growth mindset, on the other hand, sees the opportunity to constantly grow and improve. He or she does not feel limited by what they were or were not born with.

What I love about Mindset is that it talks about people in a variety of situations, from business to sports, and from parenting to relationships. And in each situation, Dweck provides examples of fixed and growth mindset people, and more importantly, what can contribute to each “personality”.

As I read Mindset, I recognized myself in a number of areas, both fixed and growth. Typically, I’m a very growth mindset type of person, but even so, there are situations where I realize that I have a fixed mindset to some extent.

It’s also interesting what types of things can trigger and develop a fixed or growth mindset in a person. Read the book, and I guarantee you’ll start to think more about what you say to your fellow workers, your employees, your children, your spouse… everyone. You will definitely become more aware, and that’s always a good thing. At least, that’s what my growth mindset tells me!

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TEDTalk: A Stroke of Insight

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

One of my favorite sources of inspiration, information and education are the TEDTalks. If you’ve not checked out TED (www.TED.com), you’re missing some incredible stuff! And one of the most powerful, entertaining, and insightful talks on TED is one recently released of Jill Bolte Taylor’s experience of having a stroke…

One of my favorite sources of inspiration, information and education are the TEDTalks. If you’ve not checked out TED (www.TED.com), you’re missing some incredible stuff! As their website says:

“TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

“The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).”

The TED website makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public, for free. Almost 200 talks are available online, with more added each week. I recommend you subscribe to them so you get regular updates.

“Ideas worth spreading.” That’s the tagline for TEDTalks, and I can assure you it’s dead-on accurate. You could spend a day or two just taking in the ideas spread through the talks available online.

Stroke One of the most powerful, entertaining, and insightful talks on TED is one recently released of Jill Bolte Taylor’s experience of having a stroke. What makes this so fascinating is the fact that Bolte Taylor is a brain researcher – a Neuroanatomist. Even she thought – while having the stroke – that it is “so cool” that a brain researcher could experience this from the inside. Her description of what went on in her brain, in her two hemispheres of the brain, is… well, I’m going to leave it to you to listen and watch her, as I could never do her justice in trying to explain what she experienced.

Stop everything you’re doing right now and take 20 minutes to watch. Go to http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/229 and be moved. It will be worth it – this is my way of spreading “Ideas worth spreading.”

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Addicted to Flow

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

I have a problem. I’m addicted to “flow.” I am someone whom others would describe as lucky, for I’ve known for almost all my life what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve had goals from the time I was 5 or 6, and I spent the next 45 years or so “working” towards them. Actually, I should say “flowing” towards them…

I have a problem. I’m addicted to “flow.” I am someone whom others would describe as lucky, for I’ve known for almost all my life what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve had goals from the time I was 5 or 6, and I spent the next 45 years or so “working” towards them. Actually, I should say “flowing” towards them.

Flow In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as that state where you are doing something – anything, any activity – without consciously thinking about it. You are totally into this activity, and enjoying it moment by moment – you are “lost in the activity.”

Have you ever experienced this state? I’ll bet you have. My problem is that I’ve experienced it too often – in racing, playing sports, and doing business.

Csikszentmihalyi believes flow is at the core of happiness, and that for most people, they are most happy when they are in the flow.

That certainly is the case for me. To me, there is nothing better than being lost in an activity. Unfortunately, when I’m not in the flow, I’m not completely happy.

I wonder how many other people are like me?

Like any “addiction,” the more I’ve been in the flow, the more I want it again. As I’ve been racing cars less over the past few years, my overall level of happiness has reduced. I need a fix of flow. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find it in areas other than racing.

What activities readily trigger flow for me? Well, driving, of course. Coaching, writing, certain business activities, figuring out problems, times with my family, learning, reading, and presenting workshops.

This past weekend I conducted an 8-hour workshop. Presenting to a group of 30-plus people, and making sure the energy level stayed up and the participants were learning for 8 hours can be a challenge. I was able to stay in the flow for at least 6 of those 8 hours. Every now and then I’d find myself slipping out of it – often when I recognized I was in the flow, I’d pop out of it. That’s the way it works – the second you realize you’re in the flow, you begin to think with your conscious mind, and that kicks you out of the flow. But then I’d relax and just trust myself to do what I do best in that situation, and I’d be back again. What fun!

It’s in those moments of flow where it seems I could keep going and going forever. That happens when I’m really into a fun work project – I could work non-stop, for days on end without coming up for air! I’ve been accused of being a workaholic, but I just think of it as doing what I love, and getting lost in the flow of my work.

I wonder if the definition of a workaholic should be “someone who gets in the flow when working”? Maybe we could look at workaholics (check out Workaholics Anonymous) differently – in a more positive light?

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