Strengths and Natural Talent?… Or 10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice?

Thought leaders hold conflicting views on strengths. On the one hand, research from Gallup (Now, Discover Your Strengths, Strengthsfinder 2.0) suggests that our innate strengths create the best route for growth and success. On the other hand, studies and stories from authors like Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) Daniel Coyle (The Talent Code), and Geoff Colvin (Talent is Overrated) suggest a different approach: that “diligent practice” and the 10,000 hour rule form the path to success.

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So which is it? Natural strengths or practice?

The answer lies in the interaction between the two. The reality is that we all DO have natural strengths and talents that we were either born with or developed at an early age, that we tend to have corresponding mirror-like weaknesses, and that these traits are unique and specific. Deliberate practice overlaid on a natural strength leads to breakthrough performance. 10,000 hours of deliberate practice at a weakness leaves to “lives of quiet desperation.”

Want to learn more about finding your strengths and designing a life for them? I would be so pleased if you would join us for our Strengths 2.0 Summit February 13th in Chicago – details below:

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Join John K. Coyle and Dr. David Rendall Feburary 13th in Chicago for our Strengths 2.0 Summit, a half day workshop to use design thinking to find your strengths and design through your weaknesses. Click the link below to learn more and register.

Strengths 2.0 Summit

Subject: I’m Quitting…

> Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 12:41 PM
> Subject: I’m quitting

> I took the day off work today and turned on the tv… Connected to YouTube And looked for your first TED talk…..

> It’s been two years since I started working for ******, and I have accomplished many things…. But inside it quite feels like something is missing…. Perhaps the intrinsic satisfaction has not happened the way I expected and like you mentioned it is not as cool as it was supposed to be.

head

> So I am quitting, of course not today but like in two months, I have been looking for other horizons and I want to work on my strengths. I am so stubborn that I have tried so hard not only to be good in what I am weak, but to be perfect in overcoming my weaknesses, of course that is not only stupid but exhausting and pointless and it only took me 16:58 minutes to realize it (that’s the duration of your speech).

> No wonder I feel mentally, emotionally and physically fatigued, wanting to get away and be somebody else, and not because I don’t like who I am ( I love who I am) but I don’t like this person I am forcing myself to be.

> Did I make any sense??
> Thank you so so very much
> Thelma

quitting

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Want to learn more about your strengths and how to leverage those of your team? Join John K. Coyle and Dr. David Rendall Feburary 13th in Chicago for our Strengths 2.0 Summit, a half day workshop to use design thinking to find your strengths and design through your weaknesses. Click the link below to learn more and register.

Strengths 2.0 Summit

Stop Playing Whack-a-Mole With Your Weaknesses

What happens when you let go of your weaknesses and focus on your strengths?

Naturally with any change in direction in life that involves “letting go,” there is an associated feeling of failure, of “giving up,” of being a “quitter,” words trained into us since we were young children as BAD. An entire future post will be focused on how to know when to quit, but today’s post is about what happens when you finally make the decision to let go of a weakness and move on. Maybe that weakness was in the form of a sport, a career path, a job, a relationship, a hobby: whatever it was, odds are there will be a lot of hand-wringing and anxiety before you finally decide to let it go. But then what happens?

For most people, the first feeling is one of relief. Indecision is a major hidden stress and just the act of deciding is a major release. The second feeling that emerges is a sense of additional willpower, bandwidth and energy emerging. It is a well published fact that human willpower is in limited supply: we use it up. Relentless focus on weakness eats up willpower like Pac-Man eats glowing dots. Letting go of a weaknesses and designing around them can feel like getting half your brain back. Third, refocusing on strengths creates greater resiliency. When less and less of your day is spent playing whack-a-mole with weaknesses and instead is spent building momentum on areas of passion and capability then when the inevitable obstacles emerge, a strengths focused individual will be better able to clamber up and over them.

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Examples: David Rendall was a high strung kid who found himself regularly in trouble with school teachers and officials because he couldn’t sit still, talked too much, was the class clown and didn’t like to be told what to do. Years of remedial discipline and training to “fix” these weaknesses had little to no effect. Later, however, David decided to let them go… as weaknesses, and instead embraced these same traits for what they are in the right environment: strengths. Now Dave’s career is spent talking incessantly, telling jokes along the way, while never sitting down or sitting still, and working for himself as a highly regarded public speaker.

When I (John K. Coyle) was an aspiring olympic athlete, the coaches had me focus incessantly on my weaknesses.  In so doing I went from 12th in the world to not even making the team in two short years. After I let go of my weaknesses, and instead began “racing my strengths,” a year later I not only beat my own personal record by more than 5 seconds in a sport where improvements are measured in 1/100ths of a second, but skated faster than the world record and earned an Olympic silver medal.

Gillian Lynne was labeled as having a learning disorder – as artfully told in his excellent TED talk by Sir. Ken Robinson.

She couldn’t concentrate, was fidgety and a poor student. Fortunately someone intervened and recognized a hidden strength, “Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer. Take her to dance school.” And they did. Gillian went on to become a dancer for the Royal Ballet and a choreographer for shows including Cats and Phantom of the Opera, becoming a multimillionaire in the process.

Letting go is never easy, finding your strengths is no small task, and finding the right environment for your strengths to have natural resonance may be the hardest part of all. But… when the rule of (Strengths X Environment(squared)) plays out, world changing performances result.

Have you ever let go of a weakness? Is it time to “quit” something and place your energy elsewhere?

Stop Trying to Be Well Rounded…

“If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything”

“Although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be.”

(Tom Rath, “Strengths Based Leadership”)

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Want to learn more about your strengths and how to leverage those of your team? Join John K. Coyle and Dr. David Rendall Feburary 13th in Chicago for our Strengths 2.0 Summit, a half day workshop to use design thinking to find your strengths and design through your weaknesses. Click the link below to learn more and register.

Strengths 2.0 Summit

Strengths-Based Leadership: Creating the Right “Enclosure” (Guest Post by Stosh Walsh)

Strengths-Based Leadership: Creating the Right “Enclosure” (Guest Post by Stosh Walsh)

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As I read John’s last post, my first thought was, “An important part of a leader’s job is to decide what kind of ‘enclosure’ to create.”

But before we get to that, we have to understand the 2 factors that inform the decision.  First, direction—where are we going?  And second, culture—what kind of environment must we have to ensure we arrive there?

Leaders can do this in one of two ways.  They either build their team according to the desired direction and culture, or shape the desired direction and culture according to their existing team.  In both cases, a consideration of strengths is paramount.

This reality gives birth to change management, evolution of teams, building and perpetuating a legacy—in short, these things happen over time, not instantly.  Leaders who elect to build a team according to the desired direction and culture have greater margin when selecting the team, but must face the stages of team development.  Conversely, leaders who pursue a new direction with an existing team might enjoy a greater understanding, but face changing the status quo and all that endeavor entails.

Though they face unique obstacles, both approaches can work if the leader employs a strengths-based perspective.  For the leader who chooses to build a team toward a new or existing direction, selecting the right strengths is paramount, after which those strengths can be shaped, over time, into culture.  For a leader with an incumbent team, the key is to understand the team’s strengths and then choose a direction that will see those strengths maximized.

For example, if a basketball coach wants to play an up and down the court transition style, he must select athletes who can perform the tasks associated with that style.  He will likely prefer players who possess the strengths of speed, agility and passing, as opposed to patience, decision-making or rebounding ability.  However, if that same coach has a team full of tall, strong, patient players, he is better served to understand the existing strengths and choose a more methodical style based on ball control and scoring close to the basket.  If, in the first scenario, the coach fails to select the right strengths, his direction will fail and his culture will deteriorate.  Similarly, if the coach tries to take the team in a direction that does not suit their existing strengths and culture well, he will lose games even if his players are more talented.

Why?  Enclosure = Culture + Direction.

Now, if at this point you are thinking, “That sounds too easy,” you are right.  But most of the difficulty leaders face in trying to determine the right enclosure is self-inflicted—they insist on a direction that does not suit their team’s strengths, or they choose teams full of people who are talented in the wrong areas, and therefore unable to further the direction.

So how can leaders avoid this?

They can GEAR UP for strengths:

Grant autonomy—people who are working in an area of strength will exceed your expectations.  Give them the why of their work, and let them figure out the how.

Encourage effort—tell people what you’ve seen them do well and ask them to try it again, or in a different setting because of your confidence in them.

Assess—discover the strengths of people around you by asking, “When was the last time you lost track of time?” or “What do people come and ask for your input or guidance on?”  The answers will provide clues to their strengths.  Put people through assessments that can help them put vocabulary to what they do well.

Reward and recognize—few things on earth feel better than doing something we enjoy and then having someone acknowledge it in a way that is meaningful to us.

Understand motivations—some people work for money, others for enjoyment, still others for mission—whatever their motivation, it will be informed by their strengths.

Position for success—help people do less work in areas they don’t perform well, and more in places where they excel.  We all have to do some things we aren’t very good at or don’t like, but we shouldn’t have to do more than is absolutely necessary, as that serves neither direction nor culture.

As a leader, what strategies have you employed to choose the right direction, shape the right culture—create the perfect enclosure?

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Want to learn more about your strengths and how to leverage those of your team? Join John K. Coyle and Dr. David Rendall Feburary 13th in Chicago for our Strengths 2.0 Summit, a half day workshop to use design thinking to find your strengths and design through your weaknesses. Click the link below to learn more and register.

Strengths 2.0 Summit

Finding Resonance: Strengths x Environment(squared) = Performance

Finding Resonance: Strengths x Environment2 = Performance

What’s Your Frequency? A good number of entries in this blog have been about how important it is to find your strengths, and for good reason – only by knowing your true talents can you design a life to maximize them. That said, strengths are actually a relatively small part of the equation for peak performance. Clearly identified, strengths are just a data point unless they are utilized in an environment where they are needed, wanted, and resonate. We have all known a talented co-worker – engineer, accountant, creative director – who just wasn’t “a fit” with the people, work or culture of a company and floundered, eventually leaving or being “exited.” Yet, we all know of situations where a few months later in a similar role in a similar company, this same person with the same skillset is suddenly flourishing. What gives? I would assert that the subtle and unique combination of skills, talents and capabilities of this employee (or leader, athlete, or musician) were out-of-tune with the resonant frequency of their environment. To explain, let me introduce a metaphor from the world of audio.

I have a fascination with subwoofers. For me, there is something compelling about the super-low, even subsonic, bass notes from the kick drum, tympani or pipe organ that cause standing waves in milk, and your insides, to curdle. Sadly, my neighbor, Dolores, does not feel the same way, and these days I have to switch the subwoofer off unless I’m sure she’s not home.

I used to have a 3000-watt subwoofer that was capable of 95 decibels at 20 hertz (the low end of human hearing) which would rattle the windows in the living room. Now, I have a 300-watt subwoofer that is capable of 105 decibels at 20 hertz. By way of comparison, the lower the frequency, the exponentially greater the power required to create the same volume level. 10 additional decibels requires exactly 10 times more power. Yet, this new subwoofer has 1/10th of the power. So how is it possible to achieve 10 times the volume with 1/10th of the power, a 100-fold performance improvement?

Resonance.

The old subwoofer was crammed into a tiny cabinet to save space. The new subwoofer has a large (5’) cylindrical enclosure that allows standing waves to build inside before escaping through a specially-tuned port. Now, I can rattle the windows of the neighbor’s house 100 feet away without even turning the volume up half way.

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The subwoofer came disassembled and it was a fascinating experiment to run a low bass tone through the speaker absent the enclosure, and to hear essentially nothing other than a rubbery whooshing as it emptied its power into the cavernous emptiness of the room. The contrast upon moving the speaker into proximity with the enclosure was startling, as the whole house would begin to shake with the bold power of resonating bass.

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To complete the metaphor: Your strengths are the power driving the speaker (yes more power is better), but your environment is the enclosure that can either amplify your strengths 100-fold, or stifle them to nothingness. Of the two, the enclosure/environment is exponentially more important in determining output and performance.

Are you in the right “enclosure” to amplify your strengths? Are you vibrating at a resonant frequency with your career, your home, your hobbies, your friends, or your relationships? Or are you out of tune with your environment, wasting all your power vacuously shaking in place with no impact on the world?

What about your teams, your children, your family and friends – what kind of environment are you creating for them? Are you helping them find their resonant frequency, and designing the kind of space, culture and environment that allows them to achieve peak performance and output? Or are you cramming them into the predetermined architecture of your world, traditional schools, traditional rules and expectations, stifling them in the process?

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Want to learn more about your strengths and how to leverage those of your team? Join me and Dr. David Rendall Feburary 13th in Chicago for our Strengths 2.0 Summit, a half day workshop to use design thinking to find your strengths and design through your weaknesses. Click the link below to learn more and register.

Strengths 2.0 Summit

Guest Post by Michael Ziener: If You Had Superhero Powers…

If You Had Superhero Powers…, Would You Need to Ask What Am I “Supposed” to Be Doing For The Rest Of My Life? - by Michael Ziener

In a recent article, John Coyle asked a very good question: what are your superhero powers? I want to echo that question. To clarify, I am not asking if you can morph into any shape to camouflage yourself from the evil villain or leap tall buildings in a single bound. Rather, what differentiates you from the group? Every single one of us is unique. I can quickly think of some people who had incredible “superhero” strengths that altered the course of history. Who was the first person that popped into your mind?

  • Michael Jordan
  • Mozart
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Einstein
  • Ben Underwood

You’re probably asking yourself, who is Ben Underwood?

“Ben Underwood was diagnosed with retinal cancer at the age of two and had his eyes removed at the age of three. He was able to detect the location of objects by making frequent clicking noises with his tongue. He used it to accomplish such feats as running, playing basketball, riding a bicycle, rollerblading, playing football, and skateboarding.” http://www.benunderwood.com

Ben Underwood’s superhero strengths of listening and making sounds gave him the amazing ability to see with no eyes, no guide dog and no cane. But, he had to lose his sight before he could find his path.

So, how did I find my superhero strength? When I was in my 30’s and owned a marketing firm, I thought “This is it! I made it. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.” I had a wife, a son, a home and my own company. Nope. I was the furthest away from where I was “supposed” to be, and I had no clue what was about to happen. My superhero strength was about to present itself.

First, some background. I had lost my entire family to cancer: mom, dad and grandparents. I had suppressed those emotions so deep; it was preventing me from realizing my own strength. Not strengths like being extroverted or empathetic, but something I possessed which ultimately turned into a reinvention of my career and myself. I figured out what I was supposed to be doing: why I am here.

Ziener Family

In 2007, I was looking through the lens of a video camera recording a documentary for “my company” at a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Chicago. I was filming a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer telling her story. As I was watching and listening to her take every breath in my headphones, a flood of emotion came out of nowhere that overwhelmed me. I was mentally taken back to the exact moment my father walked into my bedroom when I was 9 years old to tell me that my mother, age 39, in 1982, had died of stage 4 breast cancer. Drop video camera….

I decided to sell my company and in 2008, I became the CEO of that very same chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure©, charged with driving that organization through massive growth over a 4-5 year period. Through collaboration and my newfound strength of HELPING OTHERS, we went from $700k in annual revenues to $4m in revenues in under 5 years. These increased funds allowed women who did not have insurance to receive mammograms. I was helping. I was making an IMPACT. My pain became my passion.

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I have an undeniable ability or superhero strength to help others. To give more of myself than what I used to believe I could offer. I have found that I possess the ability to give hope and aid through a newly identified “servant heart.” My career serving others was born. I am no Michael Jordan. I may not impact the world like Martin Luther King, Jr. but, that is not the intention of this article. I want each of you to realize that you are unique and possess a strength that is non-traditional.

What differentiates you from the group? What is your remarkable ability that could potentially alter your life and bring you to a place of fulfillment that you never thought was achievable? What undiscovered superhero strength might you hold? What are you supposed to be doing?

-Michael Ziener

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Are You Missing Your Hidden Strengths? What Are Your Superhero Powers?

Are You Missing Your Hidden Strengths? What Are Your Superhero Powers?

The popularity of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, and  similar assessments, has given a great deal of exposure to the idea that “discovering strengths” can enhance  productivity, success and happiness.

A quick scan of the field, however, suggests that most  assessments that help people find their natural strengths and talents, tend to focus on cognitive or interpersonal capabilities. Characteristics like “analytic,” “empathetic,” “competitive,” “organized,” “intuitive,” and “extroverted,” have become the language de riguer to describe strengths and talents. Yet, these terms ignore a whole host of other characteristics that clearly play a role in the successes or failures of individuals.

Perhaps we need to expand the strengths playing field.

We know from ample research that people generally make “blink” or intuitive judgments about others based on a host of factors, many of which have nothing to do with their cognitive ability. For example, we know that height is a seriously influential predictor for deciding the next president.

What “non-traditional,” unnamed, or counter-intuitive strengths might you have? Think of other categories of talent and capability:

  • Physical characteristics: height, weight, presence, shape, posture, voice
  • Kinesthetic skills: balance, touch, fine motor control, spacial capability
  • Artistic talents: rhythm, tone, pitch, color sensitivity
  • Physical abilities: lung capacity,  fast twitch muscles,  eyesight, smell, taste

And then there is synesthesia – the mixing of some or all of these elements, where smells or sounds have a color, and people can see feelings or hear a silent activity.

When I think of my super-talented friends and acquaintances, I tend to find a weird intersection of common and uncommon capabilities melded in a counter-intuitive way. For instance, Tina DeSalvo is a tiny, tiny woman. Her physical presence is so diminutive that she could easily be dismissed and marginalized in the business world. Instead, she matches this non-threatening physical aspect with a calm, yet steely, confidence to lead boardrooms of men through exercises of vulnerability that would be nearly impossible with another facilitator.

Steve DeCaspers is the opposite – a large man with a round head and kind features. Steve can make any room in the world laugh and is one of the best MC’s I have ever seen.

Matt Stutzman has no arms, but through his stubborn refusal to consider himself handicapped holds the world record for the longest accurate archery shot, thanks to the strength, flexibility and stability of his legs.

David Rendall was repeatedly rebuked as a child for being a) unable to sit still, b) unable to stop talking, c) being the class clown, and d) unable to take direction. Now he travels the world where he a) never sits down, b) talks for a living, c) tells lots of jokes, and d) runs his own successful business as a public speaker.

Chris Callis was an average student in the classroom. But, one day, when I asked him to help me pack my moving truck, I saw spacial relationship genius of the finest order. It  would have taken me 3 trips to stack, pack and rearrange all my furniture and boxes in that small truck. Yet, Chris managed to reverse, rejigger, scissor and jigsaw into place all my worldly belongings in one trip in a small moving truck. Chris grew up assisting his father, who was an electrician, so he naturally had a talent with 3-D spacial relationships.

I could go on with story after story, but the point is that each of us was born with a series of talents, and has developed a set of skills across multiple spectrums. If we could weave a thread through ALL our superhero strengths and find an environment where we could use them, it would be like being superman on earth – we’d be unstoppable.

What are all your superhero powers?

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Is your current environment full of kryptonite?

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How To Maximize the Non-Linear Nature of Experiential Time and Live (almost) Forever

This is my life’s passion, please comment and let me know your thoughts.

-John

Looking for Your Strengths? Examine Your Weaknesses… (pt. 2 – Guest Post by David Rendall)

By David Rendall: The Rudolph Principle: Discovering Uniqueness by Embracing Weakness

Last year I was watching the classic TV version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my daughters and I realized that the story has a lot to teach us about strengths and weaknesses.

Just let the song run through your head for a minute . . .

“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.”

The Rudolph Principle

Rudolph was different. He had a major obvious flaw. This is the same for most of us. We are too impatient or too messy or too silly or too serious.

“All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph, join in any reindeer games.”

Rudolph’s flaw made him unpopular and led to his rejection and isolation. No one wants to be rejected. So what do we do? We often try to hide our flaws and fix our weaknesses. We become ashamed. We wish that we could just be normal, like everyone else. We want to be accepted, so we try to change. This is just what Rudolph and his parents tried to do. They covered up his nose with a black rubber cone. It didn’t work. The red nose still shined through. It looked like Rudolph was destined for a life of pain and misery, but then the situation changed.

“Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight.”

Rudolph’s nose was a weakness, but it was also a strength in disguise. In the right situation, a “foggy Christmas Eve,” Rudolph’s nose was an irreplaceable advantage. That is why he got the call, from Santa himself, to save Christmas for the whole world.

He didn’t succeed in spite of his weakness; he succeeded because of his weakness. What would have happened to Christmas that year if Rudolph had gone to Beverly Hills for a nose job?

“Then all the reindeer loved him and they shouted out with glee, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, you’ll go down in history.’”

Rudolph’s legacy, his enduring fame, was a result of his uniqueness.

Do you want more happiness, fulfillment, success and energy? Find your red nose. Look to your apparent weaknesses and flaws. They offer clues to your greatest strengths. Don’t try to hide them or fix them. Just look for the right situation, the one that offers a perfect fit between who you are and what is required. This takes courage, to wait, to endure ridicule, to be rejected by others. But remember the end of the story. Santa called on Rudolph and he saved Christmas.

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