5 norms to get the best out of your team: Learnings from Google’s Aristotle Project

As unbelievable as it may seem, Google has discovered the secrets to get the best out of your team #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

Teamwork_Google_Aristotle_Project

Teamwork is essential… it allows you to blame someone else 🙂

Four years ago (2012) Google launched a project called Project Aristotle to find the answer to one of corporate world’s biggest existential questions – How to build a team which has perfect dynamics to ensure maximum productivity?

Google being Google, they gathered some of the company’s best statisticians, organizational psychologists, sociologists, engineers and researchers (since they didn’t have access to Deep Thought).  What they discovered, after a Google amount of research, was that the answer definitely wasn’t 42. What they also discovered was that it was almost impossible to find patterns, or any evidence that the composition of a team made any difference or what made a team successful.

What they did discover was that understanding and improving group norms were the keys to improving teams. (Aside: Norms are traditions, behavioural standards and unwritten rules that govern how people function when they work together or collaborating gather)

The one norm to rule all norms: Create psychological safety

Teams need psychological safety. It is the one norm, more than anything else, critical to making a team work.

Harvard Business professor Amy Edmundson defines psychological safety as an environment that “Gives a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up. It describes a climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves”

To create psychological safety, team leaders need to model the right behavior. Google’s checklist for that is –

  1. Leaders should not interrupt teammates during conversations because that will establish an interrupting norm.
  2. They should demonstrate they are listening by summarizing what people say after they said it.
  3. They should admit what they don’t know.
  4. They shouldn’t end a meeting until all team members have spoken at least once.
  5. They should encourage people who are upset to express their frustrations, and encourage teammates to respond in non-judgemental ways.
  6. They should call out intergroup conflicts and resolve them through open discussion.

Bonus material: 4 more norms that come a close second are:

  1. Teams need to believe that their work is important
  2. Teams need to believe that their work is personally meaningful
  3. Teams need clear goals and defined roles
  4. Team members need to know that they can depend on one another

Bonus bonus material: 5 myths discovered from Google’s Project Aristotle

  1. “We need superstars” (Truth: You can take a team of average performers, and if you teach them to interact the right way, they’ll do things no superstar could ever accomplish)
  2. Sales teams should be run differently than engineering teams
  3. Best teams need to achieve consensus around everything
  4. High performing teams need a high volume of work to stay engaged
  5. Teams need to be physically located together

For the more devil hunters, details of the research and methodology are here.

A lesson in execution through communication

Communication without an organized feedback mechanism to check on the execution of the order is Japanese for ‘Lost in Translation’ #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

When General Eisenhower was elected president, his predecessor, Harry S. Truman, said: “Poor Ike; when he was a general, he gave an order and it was carried out. Now he is going to sit in that big office and he’ll give an order and not a damn thing is going to happen.”

Peter Drucker’s theory of why Harry Truman concluded that “not a damn thing is going to happen” is, however, not that generals have more authority than presidents. It is that military organizations learned long ago the futility in most orders and organized the feedback to check on the execution of the order. They learned long ago that to go oneself and look is the only reliable feedback.

All a president is normally able to mobilize—are not much help. All military services have long ago learned that the officer who has given an order goes out and sees for himself whether it has been carried out. At the least he sends one of his own aides—he never relies on what he is told by the subordinate to whom the order was given. Not that he distrusts the subordinate; he has learned from experience to distrust communications – which generally have a propensity to get lost in translation.

I’m sure there’s a parallel in here to startups and corporate organisations alike. A lesson in execution. Don’t hold the illusion that communication will lead to execution.

To go and look for oneself is also the best, if not the only, way to test whether the assumptions on which a decision had been made are still valid or whether they are becoming obsolete and need to be thought through again. And one always has to expect the assumptions to become obsolete sooner or later. Reality never stands still very long.

Trying vs Doing. And the winner is…

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

Trying_vs_doing

Better than do… just be.

Doing wins hands up, hands down, hands over and around. In fact doing kicks trying’s ass till there’s no ass anymore.

Bernard Roth in his book The Achievement Habit explains it super succinctly. “There is a big difference between trying to do something and actually doing it. They’re two totally different actions. The difficulty arises when people conflate them. If you try to do something, it may or may not happen. If it does not happen, you might try using an altered strategy, and again it may not happen. Although this could go on indefinitely, usually it lasts until you luck out and succeed, get tired of trying, or get distracted by something else. Clearly this is a very unproductive way to go about your life.

If you are doing something, then no matter how many times you hit a barrier, or how frustrated your original strategy becomes, you intend to get the job done, and you bring to bear on it the inner resolve and attention necessary to fulfill your intention. Doing takes intention and attention.”

To demonstrate this in his class, the professor asks for a volunteer to come to the front of the room. When he is standing in front of him, he holds out a water bottle (or other object) and say, “Please try to take it away from me.” The volunteer will tug at the bottle—at first tentatively, because he’s older and looks weaker, and then more forcefully when he realizes the professor has it firmly in his grasp. Eventually he asks the student to stop trying.

The professor then asks the volunteer to listen carefully to his next instruction. This time he says, “Please take the bottle from me.” What follows is essentially the same action as before, with more force and maybe some twisting added. Sometimes he’ll decide to change tactics and ask me to hand it over. The professor always refuses.

Finally he asks the volunteer, “Do you have a younger sibling or cousin?” He then asks the volunteer to imagine that the professor is that younger sibling or cousin, they’re both kids, and there are no parents around. Furthermore, he tells the volunteer to imagine the situation has gotten very annoying, and it is time for him to reclaim the bottle from the professor. Then he repeats the instruction, “Take the bottle from me.”

Participants who get what he’s driving at simply whisk the object out of my hand, leaving him no time to resist. He is overpowered by their intention to take the object. They have manifested a dynamic, elegant flow of intention to do, which is in sharp contrast to their previous static, tentative attempt at doing. Even better, in taking the object they usually actually exert less force than they did before.

He uses this exercise to show that when you do, you are using intent, there’s an inner resolve; when you try, you are merely attempting.

Simply put, trying is ‘half-hearted doing’, a veil to hide indolence and disappointment.

Which doesn’t mean that all roads of doing leads to ‘success’ in whichever way you choose to define success. It rather means trying is ineffective. Don’t try your best. Do your best.

Reasons are bullshit!

Obviously the truth is what’s so. Not so obviously, it is also so what. – Werber Erhard #MondayMorningWakeUpcall

The problem with reasons is that they’re just excuses prettied up. Which in simple Sanskrit means, reasons are bullshit!

It just boils down to what is a high priority in your life. If it’s important to you you’ll find a way, if it’s not you’ll find an excuse. It’s that simple. And it’s that difficult. This is one of the 1st ideas Bernard Roth, the founder of Stanford’s course called “The Designer in Society”, a course, to encourage students to think differently about how they achieve goals in their lives-to get them to stop thinking wistfully about possibilities and start actually doing.

In the course, the professor often drives home this point through a sarcastic “That’s a goooood reason” response whenever a student offers an explanation, which leaves the students a bit embarrassed along with the student understanding that the reason is not really the reason.

But we are faced with a paradox: Reasons exist because if people didn’t explain their behaviour, they would seem unreasonable. We need reasons so we appear reasonable, yet when we use reasons we are not taking full responsibility for our behaviour.

In his book, The Achievement Habit, he explains his twofold approach to the problem: One for the external persona, and one for the internal self. Externally you use reasons in everyday conversation when you need to, and thus appear to be perfectly normal and reasonable. Internally you look at the reasons your external self offers, and question each of them. The internal self also looks at the reasons given by the people you are interacting with.  Simply by noticing how reasons are used, you can gain insight into your own behaviour and your relationship with others which can make you aware of which of your actions you might want to change.

8 most productive ideas linked to improving productivity

“Never mistake motion for action” – Ernest Hemingway #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

‘Productivity’ is often interpreted in different ways by different people. One person might spend an hour exercising in the morning before heading off to work consider the morning productive while another might use that time meditating and a third might consider an extra half hour of sleeping in productive.

Charles Duhigg, in his latest book, Smarter Faster Better, defines productivity, simply as, “the name we give our attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort.” Smarter_faster_better_book_summary

And in his attempt to deconstruct why some people are more productive than others, his conclusion, through extensive research, is that “productivity is not about working more or sweating harder. And it’s definitely not a product of spending longer hours at your desk or making bigger sacrifices. Rather productivity is about making certain choices in certain ways.”

His book Smarter Faster Better explores eight ideas that seem most important in expanding productivity and is about how to recognize the choices that fuel true productivity through these eight ideas.

Here are the eight ideas, and the choices you can make around them, to help you become smarter, better and faster at everything you do (if you apply them).

  1. Motivation
    1. You are more likely to be motivated if you are given the opportunities to make choices that provide you with a sense of autonomy
    2. If you can link something hard to something that you care about, it makes the task easier. Make a chore into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge
  2. Teams
    1. Teams need to believe that their work is important
    2. Teams need to believe that their work is personally meaningful
    3. Teams need clear goals and defined roles
    4. Team members need to know that they can depend on one another
    5. Most important, teams need psychological safety. To create psychological safety, team leaders need to model the right behavior
  3. Focus
    1. To be able to stay focused and calm amidst chaotic environments, develop the ability to build mental models, envision what will happen before hand. Get in a pattern of forcing yourself to anticipate what’s next.
      1. Think through what will occur first? What are potential outcomes? How will you preempt them? Telling yourself a story about what you expect to occur makes it easier to decide where your focus should go when your plan encounters real life
    2. “The key is forcing yourself to think. As long as you’re thinking, you’re half way home”
  4. Goal-setting
    1. SMART goals need to be combined with ‘stretch’ goals
    2. SMART goals force people to translate vague aspirations into concrete plans.. it’s the difference between hoping something comes true and figuring how to do it. However, they can cause
      1. Person to have tunnel vision, to focus more on expanding effort to get immediate results
      2. You get on a mindset where crossing things off your to-do list becomes more important than asking yourself if you’re doing the right things
    3. Stretch goals are defined as “If you do know how to get there, it’s not a stretch target”. Numerous studies have shown that forcing people to commit to ambitious, seemingly out-of-reach objectives can spark outsized jumps in innovation and productivity.
      1. Stretch goals serve as jolting events that disrupt complacency and promote new ways of thinking rather than the tunnel vision of SMART goals
      2. Important caveat to stretch goals: If a stretch goal is audacious, it can spark innovation. However, it can cause panic and convince people that success is impossible because the goal is too big. There is a fine line between an ambition that helps people achieve something amazing and one that crushes morale

5. Managing Others

  1. Push decision making to whoever is closest to the problem
  2. Lean and agile management techniques tell us employees work smarter and better when they believe they have more decision-making authority and when they believe their colleagues are committed to their success
  3. People need to know their suggestions won’t be ignored and that their mistakes won’t be held against them

6. Decision Making

  1. Envision multiple futures (probabilistic thinking) to make better decisions and
  2. Develop your Bayesian instincts (intuition)

7. Innovation

  1. A method to jump-start the creative process – taking proven, conventional ideas from other settings and combining them in new way is remarkably effective. Most original ideas grow out of old concepts and the building blocks of new ideas are often embodied in existing knowledge (previously known ideas mixed together in different ways…in a manner no one had considered before) especially transferring knowledge between different industries or groups
  2. Be sensitive to your own experiences. Pay attention to how things make you think and feel. That’s how we distinguish clichés from true insights. (Steve Jobs – “Best designers are those who have thought more about their experiences than other people”)
  3. Create a little bit of chaos. A little disturbance can jolt us out of the ruts

8. Absorbing Data

  1. You can absorb data better by forcing yourself to do something with the new information you’ve just encountered
    1. Write yourself a note explaining what you just learned
    2. Figure out a small way to test an idea
    3. Graph a series of data points onto a piece of paper
    4. Force yourself to explain an idea to a friend

So move over citius, altius, fortius and make way for smarter, faster, better.

And God said “Let there be light”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr. #MondayMorningWakeUpCall #HappyDiwali

Let_there_be_light

When there is light, there is no fight

Darkness is simply the absence of light. If you just put on the light, there is no darkness.

Although finding the switch in the dark I admit can be quite difficult (I’m still looking for it). According to Osho’s interpretations of Buddha, you can bring the light in by becoming silent, thoughtless, aware, awake.

Till then maybe this can help – https://sandeepburman.com/2016/03/07/the-secret-to-chasing-away-the-dark-in-you/ until you “be a light unto yourself” (“Appo Deepo Bhava”)

Happy Diwali!

Learnings from OlaCabs: “How NOT to build brand trust”

All that glitters is not gold. All the fancy promos you see is NOT the whole truth told #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

I got a notification from Ola a few mornings ago (Screen #1, Exhibit O.a). The notification made me a wee bit extra happy than what I usually am on any mad Monday morning. Not 100 times happy, but just a wee bit extra happy. Happy like when my grandparents would give me Rs. 100/- whenever I used to visit them.

OlaCabs Marketing Gimmicks

Screen #1, Exhibit O.a

The reason for my superfluous happiness by Ola’s unassuming kind gesture was because I was scheduled to travel to Colaba from my workplace in Goregaon West one of the days in the week for a work-related meeting. And I was sans my Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the week. A regular cab ride would easily be north of Rs. 666/- in non-peak hours (11am to 5pm). I could now get to Colaba using the 100 bucks I earned from my granny, just for showing up. I wouldn’t even have to contemplate braving the local train (even though in ‘non-peak’ hours they are usually the best mode of transport if you consider the benefits of time and money put together.. it’s just that the definition of ‘non-peak’ hours in Mumbai can be quite unpredictable)

I tapped on the notification to learn more about it. Mostly to check if I was reading it correct, that it wasn’t a Rs. 100/- discount but that it was truly a ride for a FLAT FARE of Rs. 100/-.

I was presented with (Screen #2, Exhibit O.b). I did a little dance. Colaba I’m coming, for just 100 bucks. Woohoo! I resisted tapping on the seductively luring ‘Book Now’ text, just for a joyride for 100 bucks, and noted down the code to be duly applied.

HAPPY100_OlaCabs_Marketing_Gimmick

Screen #2, Exhibit O.b

Couple of days later I embarked on my Rs. 100/- journey to Colaba, mentally humming We Are One Ole Ole Ola, who needs Uber when have an own Indian brand so super-duper.

My bill was a nice auspicious Rs. 444/- coloured with a merciful yet devilish looking discount of Rs. 66/- (Screenshot #3 – Exhibit O.c)

OlaCabs_marketing_gimmicks

Screenshot #3 – Exhibit O.c

Waaaaaat! I double checked if I applied the code. Check. Double checked myself from screaming at Mr. Balram Jha the uninformed driver. Check. Double checked myself from immediately calling up Ola Support and ranting at a pre-programmed robot cos I had a meeting to attend in the next 3 minutes (note to self – evaluate later if meditation is helping or not helping)

Post meeting call Ola I did.

Ola Support: Hello Sandeep, one-who-shall-not-be-named here. How can I help you?

Me: Hi.. I received a promotional notification HAPPY100 a couple of days back. It said Rs. 100/- for all rides between 11am to 5pm. I’m calling to clarify if that’s correct, if I’ve understood it correctly?

Ola Support: Yes Sandeep, but only for rides between 11am to 5pm

Me: Yes, but Rs. 100/- right?

Ola Support: Yes, it says “All rides between 11am – 5pm at just Rs. 100/-“

Me: Great! So I took a cab ride today around 3pm and I was charged Rs. 444/-. Can you look into this please.

Ola Support: Yes, I see you have been charged Rs. 444/- and have been given a discount of Rs. 66/-

Me: Ya.. but it says Rs. 100/- for the ride, right?

Ola Support: Yes. Ummm… may I put your call on hold while I check with my supervisor?

Me: Yes… (meanwhile fantasizing there might be a glimmer of hope of an error and I get my ride to Colaba for Rs. 100/- only, after all, Mr. Ola Support just verified the coupon information)

Ola Support: Hi Sandeep, I just spoke to my supervisor and he informed me that it’s valid ONLY FOR RIDES UPTO 10KM

Me: (Breathe in breathe out, don’t scream, don’t shout, it’s not worth fighting about… once again, is meditation helping or not helping???). But you just read the coupon. Even you said it’s Rs. 100/- flat

Ola Support: Yes Sandeep, but there’s also conditions apply

Me: But where, it doesn’t mention anything. On tapping on the ad, it takes me straight to ‘booking a cab’, you didn’t see it either. You would have taken the cab ride thinking you’ll pay only Rs. 100/-, right?

Ola Support: Yes Sandeep, but there’s also conditions apply

Me: (I figure he’s now switched on to pre-programmed robot mode, it’s pointless trying to get my money back without spending more time and energy than its worth). So tell me one-who-shall-not-be-named, don’t you think you’re conning and cheating the customer?

Ola Support: I understand what you’re saying, but there’s also conditions apply

Me: Don’t you feel ashamed working for a company that cons customers like this? (Which dream world am I living in, fanatsizing about an employee creating a mass exodus because of his company’s marketing gimmicks)

Ola Support: Err..

Me: Chill, it’s not your fault, but then maybe you should think about how you feel working for an unethical predator company (Hmphh.. that should make you feel all shamefaced!… in my imaginary Wonderland)

Definition of a brand:

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.” – Seth Godin

There are umpteen other definitions of brand from various marketing visionaries. Here are some – http://heidicohen.com/30-branding-definitions/

Most of the definitions can be summarized into one critical word.

TRUST

To paraphrase Metallica, “Trust I seek, but I don’t find in thee dear Ola.” It’s “Sad but true.” Ola, thou shalt remain “Unforgiven”

But my guess is no one at OlaCabs does really care. So my fellow Ola passengers, beware and please do share, if you think this is unfare.

2 tips to making better decisions

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” 
― Peter F. Drucker #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

Decision_making

Better decision making is directly linked to better productivity. Duh!

We don’t need anyone to tell us or even remind us that indecisiveness and consistent poor decisions can not only effect professional growth but also impact personal life undesirably.

However, we could do with a couple of tips, backed by scientific research, on how we can learn to make better decisions.

In his new book Smarter Better Faster, Charles Duhigg just does that (apart from talking about seven other ideas linked to productivity, book summary coming soon). Here are excerpts from his research and conclusions on better decision making.

To make better decisions…wait for it…wait for it…wait for it…

  1. Envision multiple futures (probabilistic thinking):

Probabilistic thinking is thinking of the future not as what’s going to happen, but rather as a series of possibilities that might occur, holding contradictory scenarios in our mind simultaneously. Then add probabilities of each of these future outcomes and take an average. By pushing ourselves to imagine various possibilities, some of which may be contradictory, we’re better equipped to make wise choices

Warning: We’re not accustomed to thinking about multiple futures since we live in only one reality, so it takes a bit of conscious effort (it can also be unsettling for people because it forces us to think about things that may not come true or we don’t want to envisage)

  1. Develop our Bayesian instincts (intuition)

We can develop our Bayesian instincts (intuition) by studying statistics, playing games like poker, thinking through life’s potential pitfalls and successes et al, fundamentally, seeking out different experiences, perspectives, and other people’s ideas. By finding information and then letting ourselves sit with it, options become clearer

Warning: Making good predictions relies on realistic assumptions, and those are based on our experiences.

So how do we get the right assumptions? – By making sure we are exposed to a full spectrum of experiences. Our assumptions are based on what we’ve encountered in life, but our experiences often draw on biased samples. In particular, we are much more likely to remember our successes and forget about our failures (We hardly notice empty restaurants, don’t experience empty cinema halls and more likely to read about the success of a unicorn startup, etc). However, accurate forecasting requires exposing ourselves to as many successes and disappointments as possible. Many successful people spend an enormous amount of time seeking out information on failures. If we pay attention only to good news or only to bad news, we’re handicapping ourselves

The people who make the best choices are the ones who work hardest to envision various futures, to write them down and think them through, and then ask themselves, which ones do I think are more likely and why?

And of course, you’ve got the option of not making a decision. After all, not making a decision is also a decision.

15 tips to achieve excellence in any discipline

“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.” – Josh Waitzkin #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

Art_Of_Learning_Book_Summary

Learning is an art, not fart

Few people can be the best in the world in one discipline. Even fewer can achieve this rare repute in 2 different disciplines. Josh Waitzkin is one such wonder who has become world class in 2 distinctly diverse disciplines, chess and Tai Chi.

Josh won the U.S. Junior Chess championship in 1993 and 1994. He is the only person to have won the National Primary, Elementary, Junior High School, High School, U.S. Cadet, and U.S. Junior Closed chess championships in his career. The movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is based on his early life.

Added to his chess accolades he also holds several US national medals and a 2004 world champion title in the competitive sport of Taiji Push Hands (Taiji Tui Shou).

Josh however believes that what he is best at is not chess or Tai Chi – what he is the best at is The Art of Learning, and his book by the same name is the story of his method.

Here’s my interpretation and summary with excerpts of the key points to his method. Feel free to adopt, adapt and apply to become the best, or better than the rest of your circle of musicians, dancers, designers, actors, athletes, scientists, writers, philosophers and professionals, whichever your chosen discipline.

  1. LAY A FABULOUS FOUNDATION

Josh’s first lesson with Bruce, one of his earliest teachers, was anything but orthodox. They hardly studied chess, it was more about getting to know one another, to establish a genuine camaraderie.

Bruce’s core focus in the first months of study was that he nurtured Josh’s love for chess, and he never let technical material smother his innate feeling for the game.

Despite significant outside pressure, his parents and Bruce decided to keep Josh out of tournaments until he had been playing chess for a year or so, because they wanted his relationship to the game to be about learning and passion first, and a competition a distant second

  1. LOSE TO WIN

Entering the ‘Primary School National Chess Championship’ when Josh was 8, he was the ‘man to beat’. However, he lost in the finals to a little known rival and was devastated at coming so close to winning his first national championship and then letting it go.

His learning was that confidence is critical for a great competitor, but overconfidence is brittle.

He took a break and at a ripe young age of 8 questioned everything and decided to come back strong with a commitment to chess that was about much more than fun and glory. It was about love and pain and passion and pushing himself to overcome… and the following year he went on to become National Champion.

  1. DEVELOP THE CORRECT APPROACH TO LEARNING

The wrong approach: The entity theory of intelligence – Children who are “entity theorists”… that is, kids who have been influenced by their parents and teachers to attribute their success or failure to ingrained and unalterable level of ability, see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve. Example, kids or people who are prone to saying “I am smart or talented at this”.

The right approach: The incremental theory of intelligence (learning theorists) – Children or people who are more prone to describe their results with sentences like “I got it because I worked very hard at it” or “I should have tried harder”. A child with a learning theory of intelligence tends to sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped and step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the zot (master)

Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field of developmental psychology, has shown that when challenged by difficult material, learning theorists are far more likely to rise to the level of the game, while entity theorists are more brittle and prone to quit. Hence the advice to parents and teachers (and even to yourselves) to praise the effort and not the outcome.

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long term learning process.

  1. LOVE THE GAME

After Josh won his first National Championship, his chess life started gathering momentum. His passion for the game fueled a long ride of unhindered learning and inspired performance. From nine to seventeen, he was the top ranked player for his age in the country.

However, there were plateaus, numerous periods when his results leveled off while he internalized the information necessary for his next growth spurt, but he didn’t mind. Josh’s had a burning love for chess which helped him push through the rocky periods with a can-do attitude.

  1. ATTAIN YOUR SOFT ZONE: “LOSE YOURSELF”

Like all regular mortals, Josh had to deal with distractions in his game. This was compounded by the fact that from a very early age he had to stay focused under intense pressure on a game that could sometimes last as long as six to eight hours. A catchy tune could be enough to haunt him for days and throw him off balance.

In 1993, at sixteen, Josh had travelled to India to participate in the World Junior Chess Championship in Calicut. He was finding the surroundings difficult to acclimatize to and was struggling to find his flow in the first round match. Somewhere during the course of the match, he did find it and immediately after, there was an earthquake. While the earthquake shook everything, including his opponent, Josh experienced a surreal synergy, pure thought and awareness of a thinker. When play resumed he immediately made his move and went on to win the game.

The incident was the launching point of his serious investigation of the nuances of performance psychology. Staying calm amidst an earthquake had helped him reach and discover a higher state of consciousness. By systematically training yourself, you can do this at will.

The soft zone is the initial step along the path of achieving your state of creative flow. The nature of your state of concentration determines the phase of your reaction to the task at hand whether it be a piece of music, a legal brief, a financial document, driving a car, anything.

Through performance training, you first learn to flow with whatever distraction comes. Then you learn to use whatever distraction comes to your advantage. Finally you learn to be completely self-sufficient and create your own earthquakes, so your mental process feeds itself explosive inspirations without the need for outside stimulus.

With systematic training you can learn to flow (lose yourself) with the distractions and embrace the difficulties that come your way, no longer letting them affect you detrimentally.

  1. BE COGNIZANT OF THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Games, deals and life battles are lost because of a shift in psychological advantage. The crucial trait that needs to be developed is regaining presence and clarity of mind after making a serious error.

This is usually a hard lesson to grasp for all competitors and performers. The first mistake rarely proves disastrous, but the downward spiral of the second, third, and fourth error creates a devastating chain reaction.

Musicians, actors, athletes, philosophers, scientists, writers understand that brilliant creations are often born of small errors. Problems set in if the performer has a brittle dependence on the safety of absolute perfection or duplication. Then an error triggers fear, detachment, uncertainty or confusion that muddies the decision-making process.

  1. FIND YOUR NATURAL VOICE

There was a period when Josh was training under a Russian Grandmaster who urged him to become more conservative stylistically. While Josh found this approach interesting, the effects of moving away from his natural voice (a creative, attacking player, who loved the wild side of chess) as a competitor disturbing. His strengths were moving out of reach and chess no longer felt like an extension of his being. This also resulted in his performance being uneven and, at times, self-defeating in competition

Josh believes that one of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a conscious high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in harmony with your unique disposition.

In his experience the greatest of artists and competitors are masters of navigating their own psychologies, playing on their strengths, controlling the tone of battle so that it fits with their personalities. He has found that in the intricate endeavors of competition, learning, and performance, there is more than one solution to virtually every meaningful problem. We are unique individuals who should put our own flair into everything we do.

  1. HAVE A BEGINNER’S MIND

Josh was at the zenith of his chess career when he left to pursue Tai Chi. The accolades he had earned in the chess arena meant nought in the Tai Chi arena. He was a beginner, a child learning to crawl all over again. Without the openness of a beginner’s mind to learn and an egoless attitude, it would have been impossible for him to scale the zenith in Tai Chi as well.

Even at the pinnacle, mastery is a constant learning experience. When aiming for the top, your path requires an engaged, searching mind. You have to make obstacles spur you to creative new angles in the learning process.

  1. INVEST IN LOSS

Josh transitioned from a world class chess competitor to a novice Tai Chi artist. During his initial days of training he got smashed around particularly by another more experienced training partner, Evan. But soon a curious thing began to happen. First, as he got used to taking shots from Evan, he stopped fearing the impact. His body built up resistance to getting smashed, learned how to absorb blows, and he knew he could take what he had to offer. Then as he became more relaxed under fire, Evan seemed to slow down in his mind. He noticed himself sensing his attack before it began. He learned how to read his intention, and be out of the way before he pulled the trigger. As Josh got better and better at neutralizing Evans’ attacks, Josh began to notice and exploit weaknesses in Evans’ game, and sometimes he found himself peacefully watching Evans’ hands come toward him in slow motion.

Not much different from fighting life’s battles with the universe I guess.

Great professionals are willing to get burned, invest in loss, time and again as they sharpen their swords in the fire… and of course, they don’t give up on the way to becoming The Greatest

  1. EMBRACE ADVERSITY

During the All Kung Fu Championships Finals in 2001 Josh had broken his hand. He didn’t show the injury, instead he fell into the rhythm with his opponent’s attacks and quietly fought with one arm. The National Championship was in 7 weeks. Against all odds of recovery, he trained with one hand during this period while his other hand recuperated before the championship which he went on to win

He says that in the finals, his broken hand made time slow down in his mind and he was able to reach the most heightened state of awareness in his life.

He says, “If I want to be the best, I have to take risks others would avoid, always optimizing the learning potential of the moment and turning adversity to my advantage.” And “let setbacks deepen your resolve.” Throughout his career he sought out opponents who were a little stronger than him which made losing a part of his regular experience and helped maintain a healthy perspective even while he was winning all the championships

He says, “The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.”

  1. MAKE SMALLER CIRCLES: DEPTH BEATS BREADTH

While honing his Tai Chi techniques, Josh focused on small movements, sometimes spending hours moving his hand a few inches, then releasing it back. Practicing in this manner he was able to sharpen his feeling for Tai Chi, he could translate it onto other parts of the form, and suddenly everything would start flowing at a higher level. The key was to recognize that the principles making one simple technique tick were the same fundamentals that fueled the whole expansive system of Tai Chi Chuan

The essence of this learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick

This principle applies to all fields. Players and professionals tend to get attached to fancy techniques and fail to recognize that subtle internalization and refinement is much more important than the quantity of what is learned.

  1. SLOW DOWN TIME

Once Josh’s broken hand healed and the Nationals were over, the question on his mind was: how can I make time slow down without breaking a limb, recreate the control and experience of All Kung Fu Championships Final?

Focus on a select group of techniques and internalize them until the mind perceives them in tremendous detail. After training in this manner, you can see more frames in an equal amount of time, so things feel slowed down and you can control the situation better to your advantage

  1. DICTATE THE TONE OF THE BATTLE

One of the most critical strengths of a superior competitor in any discipline—whether we are speaking about sports, business negotiations, or even presidential debates—is the ability to dictate the tone of the battle.

Cultivating the last 2 principles help to control the intention of the opponent by being able to zoom in on very small details to which the others are completely oblivious

Josh’s experimentation with intentionality began during his early chess years. Even as a seven-year old boy in scholastic tournaments, he sometimes lured his young opponents into blundering by 1) making a move that set a trap and then 2) immediately groaning and slapping his head. This over-the-top display would usually inspire a careless moment of overconfidence from his opponent which Josh would be quick to capitalize on. Over time, Josh gradually honed the art of mastering the ability to read his opponents by reading subtle nuances like breath patterns and blinks of the eye. The more you can understand a series of movements more deeply, in more frames, with more detail, the better you can manipulate your opponent’s intentions without him realizing what happened, thereby dictating the tone of battle.

  1. BE A MASTER TO YOUR EMOTIONS, NOT A SLAVE TO THEM

Anger. Fear. Desperation. Excitement. Happiness. Despair. Hope. Emotions are part of our lives. We would be fools to deny such a rich element of the human experience. But, when our emotions overwhelm us, we can get sloppy. If fear reduces us to tears, we might not act effectively in a genuinely dangerous situation. If we seethe when someone crosses us, we may make decisions we come to regret. If we get giddy when things are looking up, we will probably make some careless mistakes that turn our good situation upside down.

Josh often had to encounter opponents who would cheat, right from chess opponents who would try to distract him by going even as far as kicking him under the table or martial arts opponents who would play dirty. After losing the first few times to them he figured that getting angry was getting him nowhere. The first step was to recognize that the problem was his. That there would always be creeps in the world and he had to learn how to deal with them with a cool head. Getting pissed off would get him nowhere in life.

Once he recognized this he continually nurtured his mental resilience, arguably the most critical trait of a world class performer. He looked for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable, not by denying his emotions, but by learning to use them to his advantage.

Once you are no longer swept away by your emotions and can sit with them even when under pressure, you will probably notice that certain states of mind inspire you more than others. For some it may be happiness, for others it may be fear.

  1. CULTIVATE THE POWER OF PRESENCE

After intense periods of practice and competitions, especially during his chess years, Josh with his family, would often head off to the sea for a break, no matter what was happening in their lives. The boating life was a wonderful training ground for cultivating presence and the release of control. He learned at the sea that virtually all situations could be handled as long as presence of mind is maintained. On the other hand, if you lose your calm, when crisis hits seventy miles from land, or while swimming with big sharks, there is no safety net to catch you.

This also ties back in to mastering the ebb and flow of stress and recovery. The physiologists at LGE had discovered that in virtually every discipline, one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods. Players who are able to relax in brief moments of inactivity are almost always the ones who end up coming through when the game is on the line. This is why the eminent tennis players of their day, such as Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras, had those strangely predictable routines of serenely picking their rackets between points, whether they won or lost the last exchange, while their rivals fumed at a bad call or pumped a fist in excitement.

The more you can let things go, the sharper you will be in the next drive.

In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire, is much what separates the best from the mediocre.

In the end…

We cannot calculate our important contests, adventures, and great loves to the end. The only thing we can really count on is getting surprised. No matter how much preparation we do, in the real tests of our lives, we’ll be in unfamiliar terrain. Conditions might not be calm or reasonable. It may feel as though the whole world is stacked against us. This is when we have to perform better than we ever conceived of performing. Josh (and many other great minds like mine J) believe the key is to have prepared in a manner that allows for inspiration, to have laid the foundation for us to create under the wildest pressures we ever imagined.

Feel free to adopt, adapt and apply these tips and methods to your own professional and personal life to be better prepared.