Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas And Talent Theme Dynamics

In response to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Willie Nelson and the Rebuild Texas Fund produced a once in a lifetime “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas” benefit concert to help those affected by the costliest tropical cyclone in United States history.

Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, Jimmie Vaughan, Leon Bridges and many other standout artists performed almost five hours for the sold out crowd at the Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. The concert raised an astonishing $2 million, part of a larger $100 million goal established by the The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and OneStar Foundation.

One aspect of the show that struck me was the unstrained collaboration of the all-star lineup.

The artists on the show bill hold over 150 combined Grammy nominations comprising some of the most popular music of the past 50 years. Yet, each artist found inventive ways to create distinctive renditions of their well known recordings.

How did they deliver such extraordinary results and create so many unique moments from such a familiar body of work?

Moreover, can we harness this same secret to improve our own performance?

Theme Dynamics—Here, There and Everywhere

In strengths-based development, “theme dynamics” describes how our personal talents enhance, modify or regulate each other.

A good analogy for theme dynamics is the Periodic Table of Elements.

The famous chart, created in 1869 by Dmitri Mendeleev, contains the 118 chemical elements that make up our world. Each element has its own atomic weight, electron configurations and chemical properties.

Hydrogen and oxygen are pretty cool on their own, but unite them and we get water.

In a similar way, the CliftonStrengths 34 talent themes represent our specific patterns of thought, feeling and behavior. Each talent theme has its own power and usefulness. However, just like the chemical elements, we can expand and enhance our results by combining our talent themes for greater effect.

Back to The Show

It may surprise you to hear that your small business, favorite non-profit or local PTA has just as much talent as the “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas” show bill.

Unfortunately, I’m not referring to sheer musical ability here. Sorry about that. Feel free to keep singing your lungs out when “Free Fallin'” comes on the car radio…

I’m referring to any of our natural talents that help us execute tasks, influence others, build relationships and think strategically.

Used wisely, our individual talents help us achieve our goals. Yet, a powerful force multiplier effect kicks in when we begin combining these individual talents.

This is the essence of theme dynamics.

See what theme dynamics you can spot in the highlights below and complete the two minute exercise to put your own theme dynamics to work.

7 Show Highlights, Many Theme Dynamics

• Bonnie Raitt and Jimmie Vaughan teaming up on Billy Emerson’s 1950s blues jam “The Pleasure’s All Mine”
As the band started up, Raitt shouted, “I can’t wait to play this song with you, Jimmie!” Our talent themes are like that—they can’t wait to “play” with each other.

• Willie Nelson and Leon Bridges playing “Funny How Time Slips Away”
Two different vocal stylists, two different genres. By combining Willie’s 1961 classic with Bridge’s soulful vocals, a new creation was born—a country classic with a twist. 9:55 mark)

• James Taylor and Raitt’s perfectly blended harmonies on “You Can Close Your Eyes”
Raitt’s harmonizing with Taylor transformed his original version into a duet. In the original, Taylor is singing to someone else. He’s encouraging another person in a time of need. By adding Raitt’s vocal contrast, the original composition is enhanced. It becomes a new thing— two people singing to each other. 33:08 mark

• Paul Simon and Edie Brickell on “Waltz Across Texas” and “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”
Simon and Brickell, married since 1992, gave these songs an extra dose of humor, grace and informed marital charm. Lots of Empathy, Harmony and Positivity* talent themes at work here! 50:01 mark

• Nathaniel Ratliff and the Nightsweats covering “Delta Lady” with Bonnie Raitt
The Joe Cocker version of this Leon Russell number has always been my favorite. Until now. Ratliff + Raitt = Pretty cool.

• Bonnie Raitt, Ruthie Foster and Martie Maguire uniting on “Angel From Montgomery”
Foster’s gospel-seared vocal power and Maguire’s fiddle gave this Raitt standard by John Prine a heightened urgency.

• Charlie Sexton, long time Bob Dylan band member, was the evening’s musical emcee and band leader.
Watching him pull together so many different performers on so many different numbers was an exercise in leadership, musicianship and talent arrangement. Incredibly impressive. 53:33 mark

Two Minute Talent Takeaway

Before you go create a monster High Fidelity Barry Judd-certified Spotify playlist, do this quick exercise.

Grab a pen and piece of paper. Write down two or more of your personal talents.

If assessing your talents makes you slightly uncomfortable, it’s easier than it sounds. Simply describe the different ways you think, feel and behave to deliver positive results.

Use your own words. Be specific. Note how you use these talents. How you feel when you use them. What you accomplish when you use them.

Then, answer this question: How can you combine these talents today to deliver superior outcomes in your work, life and relationships?

Your answer is your first step into the life-changing world of talent theme dynamics.

Martin N-20 Guitar + Stradivarius Violin = A Martivarius

Peter Drucker said, “The great mystery isn’t that people do things badly but that they occasionally do a few things well. The only thing that is universal is incompetence. Strength is always specific! Nobody ever commented, for example, that the great violinist Jascha Heifetz probably couldn’t play the trumpet very well.”

Isn’t that great? Who cares if the world’s great violinist can’t play the trumpet?

He’s the world’s greatest violinist.

This same life-changing mindset is harnessed by world famous musicians every day. Artists like Jascha Heifetz and Willie Nelson learned how to combine and deploy their natural talents for maximum effect.

We can all make our greatest hits into distinctive, one of a kind compositions. Not in spite of their familiarity, but because of it.

If you’re struggling to list two of your natural talents, you need to change that.

Here’s one way to start that journey.


By the way, thank you, Willie and Friends.

We deeply appreciate your time, commitment and compassion. What a show. What a state.

#TexasStrong #RebuildTX

For the broadcast live stream of the show, click here. Enjoy.

To help with the estimated $200 billion recovery efforts, please consider contributing to Rebuild Texas Fund.

Want to receive more insights on turning your natural talents into true strengths? Sign up here.

Aiming Your Strengths With Mind Mapping

Last month I had the privilege to speak to 175 executives, educators and strengths advocates at the CliftonStrengths Summit about leveraging the power of mind mapping to focus our natural talents.

Here are the key takeaways from the workshop to help you aim your unique strengths on your personal and professional goals.

What Is Mind Mapping And Why Is It So Effective?

The human brain is constantly using associations and triggers to connect information and ideas.

X-ray, potato chips, the stethoscope, microwave ovens and even the hypnotic slinky were all invented because someone connected an association—sometimes vague, sometimes explicit—with an idea.

Mind mapping is a simple and effective visual diagram used to capture and organize ideas and information. It’s a brain-friendly tool to help you get the unique brilliance out of your head and into the world.

Moreover, mind mapping is effective because it mirrors the way our brains function—in a radiant way rather than a linear way.

Plus, it’s really easy.

Here’s how you do it.

Mind Mapping In 3 Steps

Take a piece of paper and turn it horizontally so your mind map is in “landscape” orientation. This gives you plenty of space to let your brain rapidly expand on all of your unique associations and triggers.

1. Write the central idea, issue or challenge in the middle of the paper. Keep it simple, preferably one word.

For my example below, I mind map the Input talent theme from Amazon’s #1 selling non-fiction book of all-time, StrengthsFinder 2.0.

2. As we reflect on our central idea, our minds naturally begin connecting insights and information from our lives, work, relationships, hobbies, travel, education, training, and personal experiences and insights.

Quickly capture each new association by drawing branches extending out from the central idea. Each new branch begins forming a “map” to the central idea.

This radiating process is natural to how your brain already processes information.

Let the randomness of these connections flow on to the paper, even if they may seem arbitrary in the moment. This is part of the beauty and power of mind mapping. Our mind can render hidden solutions we didn’t even know we had if we let it.

3. As we extend these initial branches out from the central idea, more ideas and information will collide, combine and emerge. Keep expanding on these secondary ideas by adding sub-branches onto your main branches.

Here’s what my initial talent theme mind map looks like using iMindMap software on my iPad.

StrengthsLauncher Talent Theme Mind Map

Pretty simple, right?

Simple, yet powerful.

Just The Beginning

This one mind map gets many different insights (talent theme balconies, basements, brings, needs, ways to maximize, etc.) into a structured but fluid format.

Plus, it took less than ten minutes.

No, I haven’t completely unpacked the depth and richness of the Input talent theme yet. However, I now have a dashboard display full of burgeoning associations, triggers, ideas and information. I can continue building and expanding on this central idea as much as I want.

Here’s where mind mapping gets really cool.

There are hundreds of ways you can use mind maps to brainstorm and create better outcomes.

Here are just a few:

• Plan, organize and prioritize events, initiatives and strategy
• Boost memory and enhance learning on any topic
• Encourage critical thinking and problem-solving
• Prepare classroom curriculum, improve academic performance and executive education
• Enhance writing and presentation preparation
• Streamline processes and procedures
• Promote collaboration and teamwork

From Knowledge To Action—Summit Mind Mapping Prompts

Part of the secret power of a good tool is how creatively you deploy it.

Do yourself a favor. Take fifteen minutes and mind map the same prompts we explored in the workshop in Omaha. Give yourself at least five minutes on each prompt.

By harnessing the radiant way your mind naturally works, I guarantee you’ll come up with new insights about yourself, your work and your life.

Prompt #1 — Consider one of your dominant talent themes you feel you may not be fully maximizing.

Why are you not fully leveraging one of your signature talents? What barriers, if any, are preventing you from using it? What actions can you take today to begin addressing this?

Mind map how you can better use this specific talent to achieve your goals.

Prompt #2 — What is your biggest coaching, work, or business challenge at this very moment?

Mind map it. Explore why you may be struggling to address this challenge. What steps you can take to begin resolving it?

Bonus points for discovering creative ways to use your natural strengths to address the challenge.

Prompt #3 — Mind map your most pressing current personal challenge.

Use your mind map to untangle this personal challenge. Get to the real root of the issue, and establish a path forward.

If you need some thought starters, revisit Tom Rath’s 5 Elements of Wellbeing (Career, Social, Financial, Physical and Community).

I’ve had a blast hearing about all of the workshop attendee mind map discoveries since the summit. If you discover any super cool insights from mind mapping these prompts, please feel free to drop me a line at hello@strengthslauncher.com.

A few focused minutes of thoughtful reflection and mind mapping can illuminate any topic—personal or professional—and help you achieve better results.

Good luck!

Final Mind Mapping Tips and Resources

• Feel free to draw quick sketches instead of using text or words. Think stick figures and simple icons, not Louvre-worthy portraiture.
• Use curved lines for your branches and sub-branches. Straight lines are boring to the brain.
• If you want to use color, go for it. Again, quick doodles, curved lines and color make the mind map more interesting and engaging to your brain.
• Don’t get bogged down in too much self-editing. Just get the ideas on the page. We don’t need perfect penmanship or design symmetry here. We’re aiming for speed and volume.
• Have fun, use your imagination and boost your productivity!

iMindMap software* – I personally use this software. The premium version I have on my iPad costs around $20 annually. It’s pretty user friendly, and the controls are intuitive.

Biggerplate – Large mind map library and community.

Why mind maps are key to mindfulness and idea generation

Beautiful mind map examples

*I do not and have not received any payment to mention, recommend or link to this product.

If you’ve never taken the StrengthsFinder assessment, do yourself a favor and check it out here. Discover your natural talents and put them into action today.

If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for future tips and insights on turning your talents into strengths at StrengthsLauncher.

2017 CliftonStrengths Summit Highlights

It’s hard to believe the first international CliftonStrengths Summit was held only 12 short months ago. What began when Donald O. Clifton asked, “What if we focused on what is right with people instead of what’s wrong?” is now a worldwide movement.

The second CliftonStrengths Summit hosted over 1,100 strengths ambassadors from 27 nations. The energy, passion and coaching expertise felt like a second College World Series had descended upon Omaha—a human development World Series.

Here are just a few of my favorite highlights.

Jim Clifton, Gallup CEO – What The World Needs Now
  • Changing the very practice of management, of how the world believes in how humans develop, is crucial to our future and our children’s future.
  • A major problem is that leadership has not changed with the will of the people. Old command-and-control hierachies, forced rankings, annual reviews and focusing on employee gaps only enable employee disengagement, higher turnover and lost productivity.
  • Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace examines these trends:
    • More than half of employees (51%) are searching for new jobs.
    • Most employees (91%) say the last time they changed jobs, they left their company to do so.
    • Only 21% of employees strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
  • What gave people meaning in their lives one and two generations ago has shifted. However, the old ways of people management are completely out of sync with the modern worker.
    • Past: My paycheck, my satisfaction, my boss, my annual review, my weaknesses, my job
    • Future: My purpose, my development, my coach, my ongoing conversations, my strengths, my life
  • What the world needs now—leaders who communicate frequently with their employees, offer development opportunities, deliver quality coaching, focus on strengths, provide cultures of flexibility and autonomy, stability and purpose.

Angela King Smith, Chief Engagement Officer, Atlanta Public Schools – Moving From What’s Wrong to What’s Strong
  • Focusing on strengths is a proven path to better results in the corporate world. Atlanta Public Schools has taken the same strengths-based mindset and applied it to the education realm.
  • Imperative for educators to move away from the narrow scope of testing.
  • Focusing on student strengths means more learning, better engagement, higher energy and purpose.
  • Superintendent Meria J. Carstarphen and her team launched the new strengths-based culture for all 6,000 employees of the school system on the Georgia Tech campus.
  • Teachers, administrators and employees must take care of themselves first before they can take care of Atlanta’s children. A strengths-based culture helps achieve this. In turn, teachers are now better positioned to help students grow their strengths.
    • Old way: too often focused on adult issues instead of student issues
    • New vision: a mission-driven organization built around trust and collaboration with strengths as the guiding theme
  • Aristotle: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”
  • Strongest indicator of college success? It’s not GPA, SAT or class rank. It’s hope. Hope is free. It’s found when students understand how they can be successful through their own unique strengths.

Joshua Marcuse, Executive Director at Defense Innovation Board – Our Greatest Power Is Our People
  • Many organizational cultures are based on uniformity. However, this philosophy leads to treating people with an industrialized age (outdated and wrong) approach to human beings.
  • He received ground truth feedback that officers felt they needed to be interchangeable because they were expendable. This prompted Marcuse and his team to begin building a strengths-based culture. This focuses on each service member’s innate talents.
  • Each individual who receives strengths coaching gains a durable understanding of how they lead, communicate, influence and deliver results. Strengths appreciates all the qualities that are unique about each service member. This helps reinforce the incalculable value they bring to their jobs, families and communities.
  • A Navy Seal officer and strengths ambassador carries his team’s talent map in his briefcase wherever he goes. This ensures he knows how to lead, understand, and get the best out of each member of his team.
  • “What do we mean when we say, ‘our people are our greatest asset’, but we don’t understand our greatest asset?”
  • “What will it mean for the U.S. to care about the strengths of their service men and women not just during their time of service, but after rejoining the private sector?”
  • “If the military is grappling with the question of how they are using strengths to succeed with their mission, how are we doing the same in our ogranizations and communities?”

Mary Rosai, Senior Vice President, Charles Schwab – Investing in a Strengths-based Culture at Schwab
  • The foundational elements of talent development: Leadership, Strengths, Engagement, Performance and Collaboration.
  • 380 strengths coaches at Schwab helping make strengths accesible to create strengths-based culture.
  • Compelling case study of how strengths-based corporate cultures deliver tangible results.

Mike Ritz, Executive Director, Leadership Rhode Island – All Aboard: The First Ever Strengths-based State
  • In 2013, Rhode Island had the highest percentage of actively disengaged workers in the U.S.
  • Disengagement costs $3,400 per $10,000 in annual salary. Thus, a disengaged employee with $50,000 annual salary, equates to $17,000 in lost productivity.
  • Through smart public and private partnerships, Leadership Rhode Island has helped Rhode Island become the #1 state (up from #49) on Gallup’s workplace performance measurement: “I get to use my strengths every day.”

Deepak Chopra, M.D. Founder, The Chopra Foundation – You Are The Universe
  • Hard to forget Deepak’s anecdote about Prime Minister Nehru, his mother’s carefully chose pink sari and one red rose!
  • “Great leaders commit themselves to a cause bigger than their own ego.”
    • Attention: deep listening
    • Appreciation: being recognized for your strengths and gifts
    • Affection: caring
    • Acceptance: not trying to change someone
  • “Humans are not rational. We justify our emotions with what we call rationality.”
  • “Good luck is simply opportunity meeting preparedness. It comes when we’re in touch with ourselves.”

Tom Rath, Bestselling Author, Research and Advisor – Strengthening the Workplace of the Future
  • We must learn to put our heath and wellbeing first. Too many people are currently dying for a paycheck.
  • “Focus on what you can do, on what is possible.”
  • “The single greatest strengths is uncovering a talent in another person they didn’t know about.”
  • “Life is not what you get out of it, but what you put into it.”
  • “Instead of following your passion find your greatest contribution.”

Paul Allen, Senior Advisor, Gallup and Jim Collison, Strengths Community Manager, Gallup – Called To Coach: One Global Language
  • Strengths movements are strong and growing stronger in Mexico, Kenya, Australia, United Kingdom and dozens of other countries.
  • Strengths unites people across different cultures, time zones and languages.
  • “Be a more effective leader by being a more authentic leader.”

As of this morning, over 16,619,021 people have discovered their natural talents using the StrengthsFinder talent assessment. If you’re unfamiliar, check it out, find a coach and embark on your own strengths journey. It’s one of the best personal and professional decisions you’ll ever make.

Jeremy Pietrocini opened the 2017 CliftonStrengths Summit with a crucial question: “How do you change a life?”

Check out next year’s summit if you’d like to know the secret.

Hint: You start with talent and you finish with strength…

If you enjoyed this post, please sign-up for more talent development insights at StrengthsLauncher.

If you’re seeking a Gallup-certified strengths coach in your area, here’s a good place to start.

3 Reasons Why Innovation Begins With “Creative Confidence”

Innovation isn’t a mystical process reserved for Silicon Valley visionaries, think tank futurists or teams in white lab coats. Tom and David Kelley’s “Creative Confidence” shows us anyone can discover how to hone and focus their creativity.

It just takes learning a few new tricks and debunking some age-old conventional wisdom.

The Heart of Innovation

If you’ve ever organized a garage, tinkered with a workout routine or optimized a weekly carpool route, you’re already an innovator.

Key question: How do we organize, tinker and optimize to innovate and improve our lives in deeper, more meaningful ways?

Roger Martin, Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, describes what excellent designers do differently.

They always act with intention.

As the Kelley brothers explain, “While others may go with the default option, design thinkers make everything a conscious and original choice: from how they arrange their bookshelf to how they present their work. When they look around the world, they see opportunities to do things better and have a desire to change them…Everything in modern society is the result of a collection of decisions made by someone. Why shouldn’t that someone be you?”

First, we need to demystify the whole notion of innovation. Innovation is not abstruse alchemy. It’s something we do every day. We just don’t think of it as innovation with a capital “I”. We call it “organizing the garage” or “training for a half-marathon”.

Second, we need to think, live and work more intentionally. Modern life is full of distractions and non-emergencies. If we’re not careful, our days and weeks get swallowed up by a tsunami of notifications, text alerts and emails.

However, as we practice living with greater intention, our life filter becomes more and more refined. We begin seeing what truly matters versus what doesn’t.

It takes practice, but we eventually begin seeing hidden solutions in unexpected places.

From Fear To Courage

What other barriers prevent us from living out our full creative abilities?

For starters, we must address and eliminate the failure paradox.

Over time, we’ve mythologized and romanticized history’s great inventors. In pop culture, their discoveries are often misrepresented as made-for-TV eureka moments.

The intelligence and creative talent of Leonardo DaVinci or Thomas Edison goes without saying. However, they all had something in common much more mundane.

They failed as often as they could.

As Edison said, “The real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded into twenty-four hours.”

Constructive learning through rapid failure is as essential now as it was when DaVinci invented ball bearings or Edison created the light bulb. Our greatest inventors knew this. Every failure removed a variable that blocked the road to success.

Unfortunately, this wisdom has been derailed and diverted.

Compare Edison’s definition of success with our traditional education system.

As Sir Ken Robinson describes in his famous 2006 TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, our modern education system functions in almost direct contradiction to Edison’s advice.

“We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. Education is the system that’s supposed to develop our natural abilities and enable us to make our way in the world. Instead, it is stifling the individual talents and abilities of too many students and killing their motivation to learn,” Robinson says.

Our schools breed timidity and perfectionism.

Foster creative confidence? We actually penalize it. Nurture students to explore and discover? We actually muzzle the exhilaration of learning.

These learned behaviors cripple creative confidence.

Conversely, by understanding the difference between the growth zone and the performance zone, we begin appreciating the interrelation of risk, failure and innovation.

We can’t grow if we don’t risk. We won’t achieve peak performance if we spend our lives cowering under a perfectionism blankie.

Eliminate the failure paradox and replace it with a new mindset.

Let the magic happen.

As Emerson reminds us, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”

From Blank Page To Insight

We spend more time working than almost any other activity. In fact, career wellbeing is one of the five essential elements of overall wellbeing.

Yet, Forrester research shows technology will displace 16% of all U.S. jobs by 2025.

The good news is 9% of these jobs will be replaced. This still means a net loss of 7% of U.S. jobs over the next eight years.

How do we maintain our balance amidst such uncertainty?

How do we seize and create opportunities when everything around us seems to be growing and dying and growing again at such a rapid pace?

Dr. Amanda Sammann, IDEO medical director, suggests adopting a new mentality. We must do a better job of reframing our challenges.

An accomplished surgeon, Dr. Sammann used to begin patient conversations that involved treatment plans and patient backgrounds. However, after witnessing the power of establishing an empathic relationship with her patients, she has changed her strategy.

Today she approaches patient conversations as more of an anthropologist instead of a surgeon. Her conversations focus on the human element of each patients’ situation. Dr. Sammann now asks patients to show her how they interact with objects and tools or to draw her a picture or diagram of their experiences.

This shift helps her better understand the true needs and concerns of her patients.

As chapter three in “Creative Confidence” concludes, “If you let go of what you “know,” you can start to look at things with fresh eyes—and with more questions than answers. But the real insights come from getting out into the world and gaining empathy with the people whose lives you want to improve.”

Seek the human need first. Reframe the challenge with better observation and better questions. This helps us get to the true heart of the matter.

As a result, we innovate more thoughtful and novel solutions that make a real difference.

Live more intentionally. Eliminate the failure paradox. Focus on the human element.

Remember, we’re all innovators. Sometimes our creative confidence just gets a little rusty.

A little practice and a little focus and we can recapture the creativity that’s always been there.

If you missed out on that super cool hammock or solar-powered electric toothbrush on Amazon Prime Day, treat yourself to a copy of “Creative Confidence”. Well worth your time.

Also, if you enjoyed this post, please sign up for more talent development insights at StrengthsLauncher.com.

Thank you for reading.

Ping Pong, Prop Bets & The Performance Zone

Mastering the difference between the growth zone and the performance zone is critical to your productivity, development and success.

Here’s how one rogue gambler applied his mastery of both zones in one of the craziest prop bets of all time.

Dealer’s Choice

Bel Air Country Club. Los Angeles, California. 1973.

The wager: One game of Ping-Pong. First player to 21. Winner gets $10,000.

The players: A skinny Stetson-wearing Texan named Thomas Austin Preston, Jr. versus the 1939 Wimbledon champion.

One stipulation: Mr. Preston gets to choose the paddles. They have to be the same type of paddles, but he gets to choose.

After some shrewd pre-bet give-and-take, both men shake hands. Challenge made. Challenge accepted.

The lanky man in the Stetson? Amarillo Slim, one of the greatest prop bettors and poker players who ever lived. The tennis champ? Bobby Riggs, once the world’s number one tennis player.

As you can imagine, buzz about the wager traveled fast. Word spread quickly among club members—get to the club house tomorrow.

$10,000 is a lot of money now, but it was worth $55,000 in 1973. That’s a lot of gas for one of these sweet rides.

The next day at the appointed time, onlookers crowded back into the luxury club’s table tennis room. Loitering turned to speculation as the growing audience began asking different versions of the same questions: “Does he really think he can win? Is he crazy? What are we about to witness here?”

Both men had a reputation for eccentric gambling tastes, but this

The Reckoning

Slim entered the room at match time right on queue carrying a large satchel. He placed the satchel under the green playing table, just out of view.

The two men exchanged brief pleasantries. The bet was restated for the benefit of the crowd. They shook hands one last time.

Game on.

The middle-aged poker player slowly made his way back to his end of the table. He bent down and began rummaging around in the satchel. Whispers turned to chatter. The chatter turned to sporadic hoots and shouts. What did Slim have up his sleeve and what was in that bag?

Slim gleefully milked each passing second of suspense. When he finally stood up and presented his paddle selection, the crowd gawked. Stunned most of all, however, was Bobby Riggs.

Slim’s chosen paddles for the $10,000 wager?

Two oversized iron skillets.

What happened next may surprise you even more than his choice of paddles.

Slim beat the tennis champ 21-8.

How did the gambler in the cowboy hat beat a Wimbledon champion at his own game and walk away $10,000 richer?

When To Hold ‘Em, When to Fold ‘Em

Imagine the grade school student who’s asked to draw a portrait of a classmate. The drawing turns out more stick figure than Cézzane. The frustrated child permanently dismisses his or her artistic abilities into adulthood with this self-accusatory broadside:

“I’m not an artist—I can’t even draw.”

This, however, is not true. Anyone can draw.

In fact, with just a few hours of intentional practice, anyone can dramatically improve their drawing skills.

Doubt it? Try Betty Edwards’ best-selling “Drawing On The Right Side of the Brain”. Your finished work may not be Lourve-worthy, but your illustration skills will improve markedly.

How To Play A Better Hand

Here’s the problem. It’s easy to muddle the growth zone and the performance zone.

We attempt an activity for the first time, but it doesn’t go well. We then make a permanent false judgement based on insufficient evidence that may hinder our joy, fulfillment and wellbeing for a lifetime!

Like the grade school art example, we often hold ourselves to a performance standard instead of embracing our time in the growth zone. This is the exact opposite of what Amarillo Slim did.

He knew he could never beat Riggs straight-up at his own game. Not on raw skill alone. He needed an edge. Slim was a poker player, not a former Wimbledon champion.

But, Slim did have an edge. It was just less obvious.

After years of hustling in smoke-filled pool halls and all night card games, he knew how to invest in the growth zone. Crucially, he also knew when to make the transition from growth to performance. By the time Slim committed to a higher stakes performance zone opportunity, succeeding at the performance itself was almost a formality.

You see, before Slim even made the bet with Riggs, he had already invested time in the growth zone honing his ping pong skills with, you guessed it…an actual oversized iron skillet.

Riggs spent the first several points furiously trying to wield the heavy skillet like a regulation-sized paddle. By the time the tennis champ got the hang of it, Slim was too far ahead.

Match point.

From A Pair Of Clubs To A Royal Flush

The growth zone is where we give ourselves the freedom to hone our skills, build our knowledge base, innovate unexpected solutions and make lots of judgement-free mistakes.

The performance zone is when we harness and apply our investment in the growth zone and put our training and preparation to a higher stakes test.

Sustainable success depends on intentional growth zone investment in preparation to deliver optimal results in the performance zone.

The trick is making it very clear when you are investing in the growth zone. This draws an important boundary around your time, focus and energy.

By granting yourself the freedom to truly experiment in the growth zone, you make better mistakes which leads to smarter growth which leads to better performance results.

Think of any master-level athlete or performer. Extreme sports athletes spend hundreds of hours practicing tricks before actually attempting their physics-defying stunts in competition.

Similarly, Slim spent an afternoon dinging ping pong balls off of the rounded rim of a skillet before he finally got the hang of it.

What’s one way you can invest in your growth zone today that might payoff in your next performance?

The House Always Wins—So, Become The House

Before you attempt your next project, clearly define your own growth and performance zones. Determine how much time and energy you plan to commit to each zone.

A few examples:

• Writers: “How long will I research ‘issue XYZ’ (growth) before I write and publish an article about it (performance)?”

• Speakers: “How many hours will I prepare and practice my speech (growth) before delivering my actual presentation to a live audience (performance)?”

• Athletes: “How many times do I practice the Crane Kick (growth) before I use it in a tournament to defeat the evil Cobra Kai dojo (performance)?”

This little exercise helps you differentiate between the two zones of any goal or project. The skill building, experimental phase and the official performance phase.

Reframe your personal and professional development mindset. Move away from a cluttered view of growth and development. Give yourself grace, freedom and clarity in the growth zone so you can crush the performance zone.

Remember ol’ Amarillo Slim and the fry skillets.

When we give ourselves the proper liberty in the growth zone, we clear the way for life-changing discoveries, smarter improvement and superior results.

Own the growth zone and you’ll own the performance zone.

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If you or your team want to learn more about how to turn your natural talents into true strengths, please send an email to hello@strenghtslauncher.com. My workshops don’t involve ping pong or skillets (yet), but you will have fun, gain loads of actionable insights, and learn how to deliver immediate improved results.

Best of the World of Work — Q1 2017

Hello StrengthsLaunchers!

Flow, success, entrepreneurship, talent management and how to make weekends more awesome.

A few of my favorites reads from the last 90 days. Enjoy…

Regardless of what you’re striving to accomplish, if you’re not consistently achieving flow it’s much harder to achieve your goal.
Is There a Flow State of Leadership? by Evan Sinar, PhD. – DDI

From an old 1995 Writer’s Digest in my files—Tom Clancy on success

Nothing more fun than the kid who has an idea, starts a company and is now living the entrepreneurial life. Love this stuff.
Buy Started Business At 13 Now Making Millions

Investing in employee development, even if it seems counterintuitive.
Retaining Today’s Young Managers by Leslie Brokaw – MIT Sloan Management Review

Pursue “mastery experiences” during the weekend. Happiness increases and is maintained for the entire next month.
How Can You Make Your Weekends More Awesome? by Eric Barker (Bakadesuyo)

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Need A Role Model? Try Dabo Swinney

Dabo Swinney, head coach of the 2016 National Champion Clemson Tigers, overcame multiple life challenges before reaching the heights of coaching success.

How did Swinney conquer his circumstances when so many others are defeated by life’s misfortunes?

Imagine: Your older brother is injured in a devastating car accident. He spends two weeks in a coma and suffers severe memory loss. The aftereffects from the head trauma lead to a lifetime battle with alcoholism.


Around the same time, your father’s business begins declining. He tries in vain to keep his business afloat and care for his growing family. In the process, he amasses $250,000 of debt. He, too, turns to alcohol. Your once average American family life is now filled with daily tension, distress and domestic abuse.

Some nights you escape to the roof of your house for a few minutes of peace. You even sleep in the family car to avoid the turmoil.


The abuse takes its toll. Your parents divorce. The family home is foreclosed. Your older brothers have moved away and are now on their own. You and your mother are forced to bounce between motels, your grandmother’s small apartment and charitable friends for lodging.


Resilience Can Be Learned and Mastered

“A lot of kids would’ve gone the other way and not dealt with it,” Dabo’s mother, Carol McIntosh, said in this 2016 article about her son. “Dabo was a very positive person, always saw the good and thought he could make it work. He was no different then than he is now. He kept me laughing and motivated me, even in my darkest days.”

An optimistic outlook doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It also doesn’t take away the heartache we face during life’s disappointments. However, optimism is a skill that can be developed and honed.

Minda Zetlin, Inc.com columnist and American Society of Journalists and Authors Board Member, discusses four excellent tips on developing an optimistic mindset.

The first point is my favorite—reframe your mental energy from the problem itself to solving the problem. Doing even one thing to improve a situation moves you from passive participant to active player.

Practicing optimism, even if it doesn’t come naturally, builds resilience. In turn, resilience helps us overcome life’s twists and turns, even when our understanding is foggy from the emotion of the moment.

Swinney seems to have mastered this at a young age: Be positive. See the good. Become a creative problem solver. Keep laughing. Stay motivated.

The Obstacle Is the Way

“You just do what you’ve got to do,” Swinney said. “When you’re in the middle of situations in your life, you just make the best of it. That’s kind of how I’ve always lived my life. That’s, to me, what true peace and happiness is all about.”

It is tempting to point to external circumstances when we suffer setbacks. We can let a broken relationship, a disappointing health diagnosis or other misfortune deal a death blow to our plans and dreams.

Yet Swinney personifies the Japanese proverb “Nana korobi ya oki”.

Translation: “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

Our challenges pave the way for our triumphs. They mold us into the people we become. We only succumb to them when we give up, when we quit.

While there are certain times we should thoughtfully and intelligently quit (see Seth Godin’s, “The Dip”), we often raise the white flag too soon. Don’t do it. Stand up that eighth time.

Nana korobi ya oki.

Who’s On Your Team?

A piece of wisdom that has stuck with me for years: “We become the average of the five people we spend the most time with.”

It’s a spin on another old saying, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”

Despite the disappointment of Swinney’s early years, there was still tremendous love in his life. He had a core group of people who supported and encouraged him. His mother was one of the strongest.

“When you go back and talk about those things, it churns up so many memories because it was hard and our hearts were so broken. But those were some of the happiest times of my life because we were together, we were safe and we were peaceful,” McIntosh said. “We didn’t have much, but we had everything we needed: We were together.”

Having the right people on your life “team” will make or break you.

The energy vampires? Cut bait—immediately. The authentic supporters, encouragers, friends and advocates? Seek them out and cherish them.

Do the key people in your life love, support and encourage you? Even better, do they admonish you in love if you get off track?

From what I know of him, Swinney would be the first to tell you he didn’t achieve his success alone. There were mentors, friends and family who all played a part, and still play a part, in his story.

It’s a story that deserves to be shared and modeled because the world needs more Dabo Swinneys.

For more on Dabo Swinney’s formative years and life story, check this out.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to send me an email at hello@strengthslauncher.com, or feel free to connect on these platforms: @WilksDoug or StrengthsLauncher.

7 Reasons Leaders Are Readers

He never graduated from college, but he claimed to have read every book in his hometown public library. On April 12, 1945, this humble Missouri farm boy would later be sworn in as the 33rd President of the United States.

What did Harry Truman know about leadership we can learn from today?

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” — Harry S. Truman

Here are 7 reasons on why you need to read if you aspire to lead.


“Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”

Every book we read expands our understanding of other people, places, ideas and cultures. It gets us out of our own head and into someone else’s. Out of our own time and into the sights, sounds and struggles of another era.

Research even shows complex biological changes in the human brain when we read—days after we finish reading.

While we can’t personally experience the grandeur and ethos of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Erik Larson reveals it to us (and its hidden horrors) in “The Devil in the White City”.

Reading lets us walk that crucial mile in someone else’s shoes without ever leaving the house.

A Gift Unopened

The literacy rate is 99% in the U.S.

If you can read, you are very, very blessed. Millions of people can’t.

Choosing not to read is a gold gilded gift you’ve left untouched and unopened. That gift has the potential to enlighten your mind more than almost anything else in the world.

“Upon books the collective education of the race depends; they are the sole instruments of registering, perpetuating and transmitting thought.” — Harry Truman

We may never travel to Afghanistan, but Khaled Hosseini takes us there in “The Kite Runner”.

Dismissing the gift of reading is to insist on living a 2D life in a 3D world.


It’s been said that a reader lives 1,000 lives—the non-reader only one.

Lonesome Dove helps us understand the dangers and hardships of an 1870s cattle drive and life in the Old West.

Moneyball shows us the commitment required to innovate and upend conventional wisdom in an industry permeated with groupthink.

War and Peace lets us relive the devastation of the Battle of Borodino and taste the sting of a lethal Russian winter in wartime.

If two people are stranded in the dark in a power outtage, but one of them has a flashlight, who has a better chance of finding a way out, a way to safety?

Books are our flashlight.

Stress Buster

Feeling overwhelmed?

Good news: You don’t need to visit a day spa or go full Willie Nelson to lower your stress.

Reading lowers stress better than taking a walk, sipping a cup of tea or listening to your favorite music.

Most of us won’t experience working in the high-stress, high stakes culinary world of a Mario Batali restaurant, but Bill Buford wryly revisits his adventure in “Heat”.

Speaking of stress…

Reading can help lower stress in a less obvious way than the act itself.

Humans need at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Yet, the average American only gets 6.7 hours of sleep. Establishing a consistent bed time routine helps us mentally prepare for a good night’s rest.

By adding reading to our sleep routine (real books only, no tablets or screens), we decrease our accumulated stress levels and create a pathway for consistent quality sleep.

Almost any P.D. James is worth a spot on your nightstand. Start with “Children of Men” (even if you’ve seen the movie) and move on to the Det. Adam Dalgliesh series.

Strategic Thinking

There’s a rhythm to reading that trains the mind.

Readers acquire the stamina and focus to process words and ideas over days, weeks and months. This skill extends to other areas like long-range planning and strategy.

“The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.” — Harry Truman

Every word, every page, every chapter is a building block. Over time, those blocks create rooms, those rooms become houses. The houses turn into a mansions and then bloom into entire estates.

Readers accumulate mansions on Boardwalk and Park Place.

Non-readers are left collecting rent from Baltic Avenue.

Want a primer in strategic thinking? Founding Brothers is well worth your time.

CrossFit For Your Brain

Dr. Natalie Phillips, assistant professor of English at Michigan State University, compared fMRI results from two study groups reading two different passages—deep reading and quicker, pleasure reading.

The deeper reading prompted more activity and blood flow to the regions of the brain known for executive function. However, even the pleasure reading showed an increase in blood flow to other parts of the brain.

Phillips proposes that different styles of reading may create patterns of brain growth and development that are “far more complex than just work and play.”

Reading is CrossFit for your brain, without the kettle bells and physical therapy appointments.

Are you a dog lover? Try Alexandra Horowitz’s “Inside of a Dog”. You’ll learn, you’ll smile and you’ll realize just what exactly is going on in your favorite pet’s mind.

Reading More in 2017

If you want to live a richer life, form deeper connections and begin future proofing your career, commit to reading more books in 2017. It’s a great way to start the new year.

However…if you’re firmly in the “I’m not a reader” camp, email me. I’ll wager I can find a book for you that will expand your horizons and, most importantly, one you’ll enjoy.

Try me: hello@strengthslauncher.com

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