4 approaches to learning a new discipline

The US Aikido master George Leonard in his book “Mastery” speaks of 4 approaches that we take to learning new disciplines.  It scares me that I might be a regular Hacker…  how to shift my approach and push through “good” and reach “better” and one day “expert”?:

  1. The Dabbler – The Dabbler’s learning curve rises very quickly, meets an obstacle and then drops to zero, since the dabbler gives up the activity and goes on to another; repeating the same curve on different activities.
  2. The Obsessive – The Obsessive’s learning curve rises quickly, meets obstacles, which The Obsessive tackles by redoubling his effort, getting more books and tools and trying to figure out ways to get better results faster and cheaper, and then burns out in a short while when he finds that the curve is not a straight line upwards.
  3. The Hacker – The Hacker’s learning curve rises quickly, meets an obstacle or two and then plateaus out on a straight line. The Hacker doesn’t consider the need for more instruction or rising above that level. He is content with level reached and plans to stay at that level.
  4. The Master – The Master’s learning curve rises quickly, plateaus for a while, and with consistent practice, rises again with some regression and plateaus again for a while and so on. The Master knows that Mastery is a lifetime path. The Master enjoys living on the plateau. The Master knows that while he is on the plateau, learning is happening and practice will inevitably raise him to a higher level.
How do we make the journey of learning a journey towards mastery?  George outlines five keys to mastery:
  1. Instruction – get an instructor.
  2. Practice – learn to love the plateau and practice for the sake of practice.
  3. Surrender – surrender to the learning process and the learning curve.
  4. Intentionality – bring all of your willpower and the mental game to the learning.
  5. The Edge – focus on the fundamentals and the leading-edge.
Have a great weekend.  Looks like spring is here.

How you do Anything is How you do Everything

Two months ago, I was at IESE business school with Verne Harnish and his wife Julie.  We were talking about entrepreneurial success and achievement.  He shared with me a quote that comes from his father-in-law:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Detail from the Alhambra Palace in
Granada, Spain credit Pim Fijneman

Verne’s father-in-law has apartments that he rents out.  What criteria does he use to identify good tenants?  How does he decide to whom he will rent out his apartments?

When somebody comes to view one of his properties, he takes the time to look at that person’s car.  Are the tires in good condition?  Is the paintwork in good shape?  Is the inside of the car in good condition?  Is it clean?  If the person takes good care of their car, he knows they will take good care of his apartment.  He rents his apartments to those who take good care of their cars.

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Coach John Wooden, the most-winning-est coach having led the UCLA basketball team to 10 championships in 12 seasons, has 3 rules for his players:

  1. Show up on time
  2. Show up properly dressed
  3. Show up shaved
His view is that if you can keep these simple things under control, you have the discipline to master the big things.

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

My brother Aidan worked in investment banking for a decade.

When he first started he joined a team led by a gruff senior banker.  This senior banker gave my brother one simple task that he was to complete every morning before the 7:00am team meeting – he was to send out an email to the team with 6 market indicators calculated for the day.  My brother delivered this email before 7:00am every day for 2 years.  One day, the whole team had a late night.  Everybody was out late celebrating.

The next morning, my brother’s email didn’t arrive til a few minutes after 7:00am.  The gruff senior banker immediately said to him “Never let this happen again.  How can I trust you with clients, with million dollar trades, if I can’t trust you with this task.  Never again. Understood?”

I would have felt cruelly treated in this situation – “I deliver 400 times successfully and the one time I deliver 3 minutes late I get beaten up!”  But the message was very clear:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Sweat the details.
The little things count.

“We can do no great things, only little things with great love”

Mother Teresa.

Have a great weekend.

8 Disciplines of Leadership

I read Conversations on Leadership by Lan Liu when I was sitting in the IESE library recently.  He interviews some of the big thinkers and identifies 8 core disciplines of leadership.
  1. Connecting with People
  2. Learning from Failure
  3. Reflecting on Experience
  4. Thinking Deeply
  5. Storytelling
  6. Being a Teacher
  7. Knowing Yourself
  8. Becoming Yourself
Further reading
Lan Liu is a rising star in Chinese leadership studies.  Lan Liu wrote a HBR blog post recently titled “Beyond the American Model of Leadership

Video: 5 Aspects that Give you a Powerful Speaking Voice

I have prepared a series of short videos for my IESE courses this year. This is a 3 minute video describing the 5 aspects of a powerful speaking voice.  A powerful voice will transmit authority to your audience and allow them to engage with you as a credible leader.  

The five aspects of a powerful speaking voice

The five aspects of a powerful speaking voice are:

  1. Breathing
  2. Resonance
  3. Silence (and vocal variety)
  4. Articulation
  5. Downward Inflection

You could subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It has over 300 educational videos.

Over to you

How do you warm up your voice before speaking?  Do you have any exercises that work for you?  What would you most like to change about your voice?

Would you like to see more videos on this blog?  Is this a helpful format?  What questions would you like me to address via videos?

Have a great day.

Plant Acorns. Grow Oaks.

This post is inspired by a talk “You and your research” by Richard Hamming.

One life to live

Richard Hamming

“Now, why is this talk important? I think it is important because, as far as I know, each of you has one life to live. Even if you believe in reincarnation it doesn’t do you any good from one life to the next! Why shouldn’t you do significant things in this one life, however you define significant? I’m not going to define it – you know what I mean.” Richard Hamming speaking to Bellcore, 7 March, 1986.

My summary of Hamming’s lessons for success (as a scientist, but I believe easily applicable to any profession) are:

Hammings 13 Lessons for Success

  • Work hard
  • Accept ambiguity
  • Work on important problems
  • Plant acorns to grow oaks
  • When opportunity appears pursue it fully
  • Keep your door open sometimes, closed sometimes
  • Do your job in such a way that others can build on it
  • Even scientists have to sell (learn to speak well)
  • Educate your bosses
  • How you dress matters
  • Be good to secretaries
  • Let others fight the system (you can do great work or fight the system, not both)
  • Always look for positive not negative
  • Know yourself, your weaknesses, your self-delusions (we all have self-delusions)

All the talent, but don’t deliver

Richard Hamming says about people who have greatness within their grasp but don’t succeed:

  1. they don’t work on important problems (Bad work, good work, great work)
  2. they don’t become emotionally involved,
  3. they don’t try and change what is difficult to some other situation which is easily done but is still important, and
  4. they keep giving themselves alibis why they don’t. They keep saying that it is a matter of luck.

How success and fame can ruin you

“When you are famous it is hard to work on small problems. The great scientists often make this error. They fail to continue to plant the little acorns from which the mighty oak trees grow. They try to get the big thing right off. And that isn’t the way things go. So that is another reason why you find that when you get early recognition it seems to sterilize you.”

How to keep it going for life

“Somewhere around every seven years make a significant, if not complete, shift in your field. Thus, I shifted from numerical analysis, to hardware, to software, and so on, periodically, because you tend to use up your ideas. When you go to a new field, you have to start over as a baby. You are no longer the big mukity muk and you can start back there and you can start planting those acorns which will become the giant oaks.”

“It is better to solve the right problem the wrong way than to solve the wrong problem the right way.”

Thanks to Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator for sharing this talk on his blog.  The full text of the talk is here.

What do you think?

Are you planting acorns?  Are you fighting the system? or doing great work?  Is it true that you cannot do both?  (sometimes the system is wrong…  what should I do?)  Join the discussion here.

4 Lessons Learnt on Entrepreneurship (plus 1 for life)

  1. You have to sell.  Yes, you.  You have to sell. You have to get good at it. (7 steps of the sales process, how to pitch a brilliant idea)
  2. You need lots of help.  More than you can imagine. You need to learn to ask for it. (Ask better questions, 17 habits for a fulfilling life #13)
  3. Incremental Improvements always win. (Deliberate PracticeLean startup philosophy, Eat that frog)
  4. Learn to Motivate yourself.  Self-Discipline first. (The Magnet and The Hammer – tool 3, Who would Warren Buffett bet on?, Writing to Reflect)
  5. Listen. Not just to the words.  To the emotions of the other.  To the real reasons underlying her position.  To the hidden messages in their communication.  To yourself. To how you feel.  To your unconscious.  It is a very very clever beast.  It just doesn’t do directness very well.

The New Laziness

Busy-ness (on the Wrong Things) is the new Laziness

“What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?”

Paul Graham

Richard Hamming suggests that you ask yourself three questions:

  1. What are the most important problems in your field?
  2. Are you working on one of them?
  3. Why not?

Paul Graham suggests that you can summarize these three questions into “What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?

Seth Godin says that there is a new laziness.

Years ago, laziness was about shirking from physical labour. Avoiding chores.

The New Laziness

Today’s laziness is more insipid. It doesn’t look like physical laziness. In fact, only the individual self can know that they are being lazy. The new laziness is fear based. It is procrastination. It is self-sabotage. It is avoidance of standing out. It is taking the tested path. It is doing what everyone else does and then being frustrated when you get paid the same as everyone else, of how you will be let go when you are 40 and a 20 year old will do the same work, with more energy, and for less money.

“There are different species of laziness: Eastern and Western. The Eastern style is like the one practiced in India. It consists of hanging out all day in the sun, doing nothing, avoiding any kind of work or useful activity, drinking cups of tea, listening to Hindi film music blaring on the radio, and gossiping with friends. Western laziness is quite different. It consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so there is no time at all to confront the real issues. This form of laziness lies in our failure to choose worthwhile applications for our energy.” Sogyal Rinpiche

Busy-ness on the wrong things is the new laziness.

Performance Excellence: Deliberate Practice and 3 Models of Mastery

This post includes additional detail to support my post at ActiveGarage blog: Origin of Leaders Pt 3: Learning – Growing through the Crucibles in your life.  It is worth reading that post first for the background and context for this post.

How do we achieve mastery?

Gary Kasparov, Grandmaster

An entrepreneur friend recently commented to me an early conversation he had with a mentor:

“Alex, you have great potential”.
“Do you know what great potential means?”
“You ain’t done nothing yet”.

What does it take to turn potential into mastery?

Malcolm Gladwell has made famous the concept that 10,000 hours of practice leads to world class performance in his book Outliers.  I say this is not true.  There are plenty of people who have amassed over 10,000 hours and they are still poor or mediocre at what they do.  The truth is that these 10,000 hours need to be “Deliberate Practice” in order to achieve excellence.

What is deliberate practice?

“For starters, it isn’t what most of us do when we’re practicing” Geoff Colvin. The key piece of scientific literature on this subject is “The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance” by Anders Ericsson.

There are five things that characterize Deliberate Practice:

  1. It is designed specifically to improve performance
  2. It can be repeated a lot
  3. Feedback on results is continuously available
  4. It is highly demanding mentally
  5. It is not fun

There are three fields of human performance where methods for becoming world class have been developed and honed over hundreds of years.

Musicians, Sportsmen and Chess players have found practice models that lead to world class performance based on the inclusion of the 5 aspects of deliberate practice. We can bring these styles of practice into the world of business and leadership.

The Musician Model

Barry Douglas:
Ireland’s top Pianist

Great musicians become great by repeatedly copying others and comparing their results with the results of previous great musicians. Musicians spend much of their life reading and practicing music that is written on sheets.

How does the Musician Model apply to learning to lead?

  • Get to know inspiring community leaders.  How do they live their lives?
  • Read biographies and personal accounts (and blogs) of leaders you respect.
  • Practice reading speeches out loud and get a feel for how great speakers use words and structure

The Chess Model

Excellent chess players play lots, have deep knowledge on openings and expert play, have studied extensively the decisions taken by grandmasters – “what was he seeing that I don’t see?”. It is important that you not only copy, but also reflect on why the master followed this series of moves, what was the underlying strategy?

How does the Chess Model apply to learning to lead?

  • Review the decisions taken by great leaders.  What were they thinking?  Why did they take this particular decision?  What other options did they consider?
  • Always ask a question when in a conference or formal presentation.
  • Formulate your opinions on everything – news, stocks, impact of the iphone on society, most important values for children, role of the MBA, etc
  • “War games” Practice scenarios, what if? How would I respond to X, Y, Z? Prepare.

The Sports Model

Sports success requires intense physical and mental conditioning – keep your mind and body fit. Sports people repeatedly practice the basic physical skills; but this is not enough.  It is vital that performance on the big day of the competition is as high as during the practice.  Sports people need to work on their mind so that their performance under the glare of lights and pressure of competition does not reduce.

There are 4 ways to handle anxiety – top sports stars need to use the mature 2 methods: tolerate or enjoy – in order that their performance is not impaired by pressure.

How does the Sports model apply to learning to lead?

  • Enjoying anxiety or high pressure situations requires a belief system that sees your life as a continual journey of growth as a human being – whether you succeed or fail each pressure moment is an opportunity for growth.  Do you treat pressure moments and critical decisions as opportunities for reflection and growth?
  • Performance under pressure requires that you have practiced the basic moves to a degree to which you can trust yourself to perform – if reading financial statements and making quick judgements is important to your job – practice making these judgements on a daily basis – don’t just wait for your boss or client to ask your opinion.
  • Keep fit – athletes need to be fit, leaders need all the energy they can get.
  • Eat well – fruit and veg better than pizza and beer.
  • Sleep enough – I need 7 hours. I need to read 20 minutes to calm my mind to sleep.


What will your 10,000 hours be?

I take decisions every day, every hour. The decision to play it safe. The decision to be like all the others. The decision to copy how someone else would do it. The decision to work hard at being the same. These are perfectly fine decisions, but they have consequences. The least safe decision in the long term is to seek comfort now. The world will keep changing. Web 2.0, globalization increase the pace at which change is driving through all of our lives. My grandfather’s competition were the other males living in his town. My competition is every Indian, Chinese, Brazilian, Spaniard in the world. There will always be somebody able and willing to do the simple, commodity tasks for less pay. This is inevitable. There is no escape. A sinking ship will eventually sink. I can bail a little. I can pray. I can put up bigger borders. But I cannot stop that the boat will eventually sink. The effort that I put into delaying the sinking is effort that could have gone into making myself not a commodity, into being valuable for me.

What do you want to be doing 20 years from now?  In what domain are you going to accumulate 10,000 hours of deliberate practice?

My free (as of December 2012) Speaking As a Leader Program can help you begin a disciplined practice around public speaking.

How to be more Confident

Fake it.

Yes, pretend.

There are three benefits that grow from you “acting” confident:

  • Attitude follows Behavior: Over time, you become more like you act—self-assured, confident, and convinced of the truth of what you are saying.
  • Emotional Contagion: Walk down an airport corridor and smile, and watch people smile back; change your facial expression to a frown, and you will be met with frowns. Act confident, people respond with confidence in you.
  • Self-Reinforcing Emotions: if you smile and then others smile, you are more likely to feel happy and smile. You may have to act confident and knowledgeable at first, but as others “catch” that feeling, it will be reflected back, making you more confident.
The research is laid out in detail in “Power: Why Some People Have It—And Others Don’t” by Jeffrey Pfeffer.  Pfeffer says that in order to be Powerful it is vital that you appear Powerful.  In the words of Peter Ueberroth: “Authority is 20 percent given, 80 percent taken.” 

Try acting confident for an hour.  How does it feel?  How do people respond?  Try smiling.  Do people respond with smiles?  How do you feel?  Have a great weekend.

    The Origin of Leaders Part 2: Ambition

    On 9th August 2010, Ed Stafford arrived at the sea, having walked the length of the Amazon river. Over 860 days of walking, 20,000 mosquito bites, 5,000 leeches, poisonous spiders and snakes. No boss told him to do it. Nobody paid him for it. Why did he do it? How did he keep going for almost 3 years?

    My 2nd post in the series “The Origin of Leaders” is now live at ActiveGarage.com.  I welcome your reflections and comments.

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