It has been a busy summer of high performance – in particular the Tokyo Olympics. There were 2 interviews with athletes that really struck me for the perspectives they were taking towards their performance and results. The video below shares these two healthy mental approaches to life.
Pressure vs Stress
The first interview was with US swimmer Caleb Dressel. The journalist asked how he coped with the pressure. His answer “Pressure… there is nothing wrong with pressure… there is something wrong with stress” (just after winning gold in 100m freestyle.)
Performance vs Results
The second interview was with GB rower Helen Glover. She had retired… and then came out of retirement to train for the Tokyo Olympics. She and her partner had just finished 4th in the final. The journalist said “you must be so disappointed to finish 4th… so close… but no medal. Helen’s answer “this was our best performance. I am extremely happy with our performance today. We were close to a personal best.” Her performance is under her control… the results of the race depend on other factors.
These two interviews reminded me that I have been distracted recently and paying more attention to (and worrying more about) results, not focussing on my own daily contribution.
Pressure is a good thing, it helps us grow. Stress is not.
Author T.H. White on learning as a cure for sadness:
“The best thing for being sad… is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
This is the recording of a session I did yesterday with IESE Business School on the topic of writing as a tool to help your career. In this context, writing is not so much about writing for magazines or in a blog… but writing to set goals, to stay focussed, to identify what is important, to gain clarity, to track progress, to plan…
Do you need Motivation? …or do you need Clarity?
Many people say they lack motivation, when what they really lack is clarity. They are not de-motivated, they just don’t have any clear sense of where and how to place their energy and their time.
If you don’t have a plan, you can’t procrastinate. If you didn’t have a plan, procrastination is your plan.
If your goals aren’t written down, it is hard to refocus on them when you get distracted.
PS My friend Christophe took this so seriously that he tattooed an intention on his arm. Tattoos are a big step… maybe start with a piece of paper.
Adam was speaking of the loss of rationality in many public domains. Politics, gender, science, global warming, race relations… are all domains where it has become dangerous to ask questions or engage with open curiosity.
As Adam was speaking about this he gave us a question “what evidence would change your mind?”
If I can’t answer this question, it is possible that I have become too emotionally attached to my position.
I asked myself: what beliefs do I hold to such a degree that no evidence would change my mind?
It is not a bad thing to hold strong beliefs… I believe it it a vital ability to develop faith in the universe. I decided to believe that the universe is a good place. I decided to believe that people are trustworthy. These are decisions of a stance I take towards the world.
The problem comes when I pretend to be rational when my belief really doesn’t come from reason. You could prove to me that people aren’t trustworthy and I still would prefer to act towards the world as if people are trustworthy. I don’t really care about the evidence. As long as I recognize this as a “stance towards the world” rather than an evidence-based rational decision, I will be ok. However if I want to convince others, it’s important to realize on what basis I hold the belief.
Adam Grant on Advice
Adam shared a story of someone asking him for advice… and as soon as Adam started sharing his opinion he realized that the other person didn’t want to hear it. Since those early days of his career, Adam has become much more careful in offering his opinion.
When someone comes to Adam for advice:
First: Ask them for their Pros & Cons? Their Risks & Rewards? Get their perspective on what is important and what challenges they see. Get this first.
Next: Ask “Why did you come see me?”
Did they really come for Validation? Or Approval? Or are they really open to have you test their thinking?
Be careful about offering help when the other is not open to another perspective.
Did you come to visit this blog to challenge your thinking? Or to confirm your existing beliefs? 😉
I recently heard Sadhguru share 3 ways that people approach life and work:
Idiot – these people don’t enjoy what they do each day
Smart – these people have created a life where they do enjoy the activity and the people that they spend time with each day
Genius – these people have learnt to love what they have to do. They know how to connect all important activity to their personal purpose and make it feel meaningful.
A couple of comments on youtube suggested that this was an “arrogant statement” and that not everybody has had access to education and opportunities. I don’t believe any of these 3 approaches are necessarily only accessed through formal education… in fact I see many well educated people from wealthy backgrounds who really struggle to get out of the “idiot” category.
Another comment on youtube suggested that we each operate at these 3 levels in different areas of our lives… it may be that you are a genius in health and exercise, but an idiot when it comes to personal finances… or a genius in your professional career and an idiot as a family member.
The route to genius involves having clarity on your purpose and a set of practices or rituals to connect necessary action to that sense of meaningful purpose.
What do you think? Where do you operate most of the time?
“On many occasions I have seen presenters who thought that displaying a great memory was more important than punching home a well-crafted message.”
This is a guest post by my father Terry Neill. It is an edited version of 2 emails that I was cc'ed into recently.
Christmas 2019. We were in St Patrick’s cathedral (where Jonathan Swift was Dean) waiting for the start of the service.
A friend of one of our friends stopped by. I was introduced. He said “Oh I remember you for a terrific after dinner speech at the Strollers Club last year” , and then he said – with a laugh – “Even though it was all written out.”
I remembered the occasion. Speaking at the Strollers dinner was an important event for me. They invite excellent speakers. You have to be at your best – and funniest.
In every similar circumstance, I have a script. I know I will be nervous (it’s a source of energy). Opening and closing need the right words with the right cadence. Every punchline must have the words in exactly the right order. As the chair thanked me, he felt the need to tell the audience that “Terry had it all written out”. It was hard to know whether it was compliment or criticism. I suspected the latter.
For me, having the script means I can focus on ‘the theatre’ …. The pauses … the ‘chapter headings’ …… the changes of pace … the key repetitions …. The body language ..the big points of emphasis ….. the build up to punch lines …..
There is a prevailing belief amongst after-dinner speakers that using a script or notes of key points is ‘un-macho’. Often times, the memory failed and key messages got lost or forgotten – or stories fell flat as the punchline got mangled.
We have to get over the embarrassment of being prepared. With some few – irritating – exceptions, ‘winging it’ is always high risk. In my experience, every great speaker or presenter is always superbly prepared – and practised. Notes or full script are a matter of individual choice. I regard them as a measure of professionalism and as evidence of a commitment to excellence.
Golfers will know that Gary Player was/is one of the great sand bunker players. When he was asked why he seemed so lucky, he said “It’s amazing. The more I practice, the luckier I get”.
It often happens that the unplanned, informal moments provide the most powerful opportunities to deliver a message or make an impact. I know that a newly appointed CEO is generally not ready to listen – as they, usually over optimistically, take on the challenges of their new role. My role as a consultant required me to be well prepared to communicate, when that CEO was prepared to listen – which could be anytime.
In about 1997, I stepped into an elevator on a high floor of the Rhiga Royal hotel in New York. I recognised the one person in the elevator was Marvin Bower – the founder of McKinsey & Co. He said good morning. I said ‘good morning Mr Bower’. He was surprised … and asked me what I did …. ‘Accenture’ (in those days Andersen Consulting). He said tell me about your firm. I had the 3 lines and he said ‘have you time for a coffee’.
I was late for my meeting, but got to spend nearly an hour with one of the great icons of professional services/consulting. I hope that his opinion of Accenture rose as much as my opinion on him and McKinsey.
I was on a zoom call today with Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. Here’s my lessons from the call…
How do we learn Entrepreneurship?
The best way of learning entrepreneurship: play boardgames… Settlers of Catan is good – there is trading, there is ambiguity, there are multiple strategies. Chess is good but no ambiguity… we all know all the information all the time. Monopoly is too simple… roll dice, buy everything… not really learning to make strategic decisions. Poker has the aspects of taking decisions under ambiguity that are so important as an entrepreneur.
Sun Tzu on entrepreneurship: no business plan survives contact with the market. Entrepreneur needs a plan, but needs to know what is truly important in order to rapidly and flexibly change the plan based on market response.
Entrepreneur is open minded that if I can’t make it work today, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work… maybe in a year or two things have evolved and you now have an important business.
How do you do so much?
“I choose great CEOs.”
Why can Elon Musk do so much?
Poor competition. Electric cars and Space exploration… very difficult… and there was no serious competition. That allowed Elon to do hard things in parallel.
If there is strong competition… you’ll need to focus.
The Role of Entrepreneurship
Society needs entrepreneurship – creative ideas getting tested, and what works growing. If nothing new can start, society is stagnant. Ask for permission in Europe vs Ask for forgiveness in US and China. Experimenting on the edges of banking is illegal in EU, but allowed Paypal to begin in US.
What was Hard in starting LinkedIn?
On founding Linkedin – “professional” social networking was resisted strongly at the beginning. Initial tagline: “We are friendster, but for business”. Journalists “oh yeah, you are the job seeking application.” It was a real struggle and lots of people thought I was mad.
As a CEO in an early stage company, you are focussed on building the product, extending the product.
As a CEO in a late stage company, your entire focus is on scaling up the business. What will accelerate our growth?
Why has half of the NASDAQ come out of Silicon Valley?
Region of 3 million people… why so much impact?
“There is a learning network. There is an intense local learning of how to build these tech business and scale them up. “
Today Silicon Valley, there is so much money going into the area that so many ideas can be tried and tested… and the entrepreneurs share their experiences. It is like a “Cambian explosion” of tech business.
Reid wrote Blitzscaling to share the best ideas from Silicon Valley out with the rest of the entrepreneurial world. These are the techniques by which the technology companies of the future are being built.
Early Investor in Facebook and AirBnB. Lessons?
Being contrarian and right is a wonderful place to be as an investor and as an entrepreneur.
Facebook – “its for college kids with too much time on their hands…” well, I think there is something important here. Contrarian… and right.
Yahoo offers $1B… should we sell? what is upside, what is the downside? we didn’t have a business at the time… but I believed there was something big and we would be able to find a business. Contrarian… and right.
AirBnB – we are the market for space. Liked the founders. First meeting: lets get down. to business… I know I am going to make an offer to invest, lets work together on the big questions. Contrarian… and right.
Big thing at AirBnB – taking control of the full experience… not just the web design. Dirty windows = bad. Clean windows made such a positive impact on airbnb rental locations. The founders really worked on designing the whole experience.
“Every challenge is a design challenge” AirBnB
The future of work?
“Crisis always begets opportunity.”
Phone calls will become video calls
Remote is a real option. Some companies have gone completely virtual and will never go back.
Co-working will be important.
Travel… for 1 meeting? we can zoom.
Look at Entrepreneur, Market, Product
The most important: look at the entrepreneur. A good entrepreneur will find a market and will find a product. A great market and a great product… but doubts about the entrepreneur… we won’t invest.
Whats the most important human capability for the next thirty years?
The Ability to Pay Attention
To hold your attention on what you decide is important. to stay focused as it becomes boring… and to stick with something through boredom to the insights that only emerge on the other side of boredom.
Today I am waiting to receive my first dose of the Covid vaccine. The Barcelona conference center has been turned into an industrial scale vaccine delivery system. It’s well organized and I am impressed.
Line for vaccines. A thousand people. Nine hundred face down to their screens. Fifty reading a book. Fifty looking around and seeing where they are, what’s happening and who else is here.
50 years ago information was scarce. That made it give power to those that had access.
Today information is so abundant that it gives little power. It is so abundant that it has created another scarcity: The scarcity of attention.
What is the true cost of an hour scrolling on Instagram or Facebook? The life I could have lived, the deep conversation I could have had, the goals you didn’t pursue, all the actions you didn’t take… all the possible yous you could have been… had you attended to those things.
“Attention is paid in possible futures forgone” James Williams.
The title of this blog comes from a session in a course that Professor Paris de l’Etraz teaches about Life. I met Paris at a dinner in Madrid 4 years ago hosted by another inspiring teacher.
Stand in the Traffic: I love the simplicity of this life strategy.
Whatever you want in life, there are places where opportunities are flowing… and there are places where opportunities are not flowing. Abundant places… and stagnant places.
Stagnant: There are very few opportunities passing the person sitting on their sofa watching Netflix.
Abundant: There are many more opportunities passing the person out there in the world engaged in conversation… on a university campus, in industry conferences, in associations, online via youtube and blogs and writing articles.
If you have any idea what you are looking for…
If you have any idea about the types of things that you want to come into your life, the next step is to ask yourself “Where is the traffic?” Where are relevant people, resources, ideas, activity flowing?
Go stand there.
Put yourself where opportunity will pass you by.
If you are at an industry event and it is coffee break time, where do you stand?
If you stand by the wall with your mobile phone in front of you… you are not “in the traffic”.
If you stand by the coffee machines or the food service area, all the traffic will pass by you.
If you know how to smile and ask a few questions “hey, how are you doing? what brings you here? what has impressed you so far?”… now you can engage with the traffic.
Check out Paris’ TEDx talk on how Uncertainty affects the Professional Mind.
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