Friday, November 11, 2016


I like solving problems because of the satisfaction I feel once the issue or challenge is completed. But I had no organizing consistent method to solving problems; my system of solving problems was ad hoc.

There are two reasons why we tend to see a problem as a problem. First, a problem has to be solved and we're not sure how to find the best solution. Secondly, there will probably be conflicts about what the best solution is.

Keep mind that problems and conflicts are not unique and they happen all the time. Seeing it from the glass half full perspective - problems are opportunities! Opportunities to improve a situation or issue or an opportunity to improve a relationship. Problems are actually providing us with information that we can utilize to do a better job.

The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to find a solution instantly. That's a mistake because it tries to put the solution at the beginning of the process, when what we need is a solution at the end of the process. I have come across the S.O.L.V.E. model to help me have a more systematic way of approaching and undertaking a problem.

·  S stands for state the problem, clearly and simply.
·  O stands for outline the problem in more detail by giving a complete picture.
·  L reminds us to list as many solutions as you can no matter how unusual the solution might seem.
·  V tells us to view the list and make a decision about which one to follow.
·  E ask us to evaluate the success of our solution before and after using it.

At first I thought this was a very simplistic model to solve a problem but then I used it to make a decision about repairing my used car. I decided to go ahead and repair the car because that was the best option after I viewed my list of possible alternatives.

Hopefully you don’t have a lot of problems in your life, but if you do I recommend this model to solve it and remember – a problem is an opportunity!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Book Review: Now Discover Your Strengths

As part of the curriculum for a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs leadership course, I was required to read the book, Now Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, published in 2001. The authors of this contrarian book say that we should not focus on improving our weaknesses to excel in our workplaces.

Buckingham and Clifton say, “Most organizations take their employees’ strengths for granted and focus on minimizing their weaknesses.” Instead the authors present evidence that organizations and individuals should direct their energy and time to practicing and refining strengths in order to find enduring job satisfaction. They conclude that “The real tragedy of life is not that each of us doesn’t have enough strengths, it’s that we fail to use the ones we have.”

The book’s seven chapters are divided into three main sections: The Anatomy of a Strength, Discover the Source of Your Strengths, and Put Strengths to Work.

The Anatomy of Strength focuses on presenting examples of famous individuals such as billionaire investor Warren Buffett, golf professional Tiger Woods, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and song writer Cole Porter and also narratives of ordinary individuals who play to their strengths.

Strength is defined by Buckingham and Clifton as, “consistent near perfect performance in an activity.” There are three core principles of playing to your strength. First, you must perform your strengths on a consistent basis. Secondly, you don’t have to be well rounded at everything in order to succeed at your strengths. Finally, you will outperform others by increasing your strengths, never by obsessing on your weaknesses. The authors emphasize us to play to our strengths and manage effectively around our weaknesses. 

In order to build our life around our strengths we need to distinguish our intrinsic or natural talents from things we can learn such as knowledge and skills, identify our dominant natural talents, and lastly utilize a common language or assessment tool (the authors created The StrengthsFinder Profile to reveal 34 major talent themes) to describe your talents.

Buckingham and Clifton make some very interesting claims about knowledge, skills and talent. Knowledge will not assure success, but success is difficult without it. In order to excel in your chosen field, you will need to ascertain and practice all the necessary skills but there are two flaws in skills. The first flaw according to the authors is that skills will help you perform but they will not help you excel. Secondly, when you learn and practice a skill correctly you will improve but it “will not cover for a lack of talent.” Learning by repeating an action may result in an improved outcome or behavior but “without underlying talent, training won’t create a strength.”

Discover the Source of Your Strength gives the reader insight into how you can identify your natural talents. The authors provide the following three cues to discovering your natural talents or strengths. First is yearnings usually revealed early in life but not always. Next is rapid learning or “eureka moments”. If you are able to pick up an action or behavior quickly – look beneath this eureka moment because you may be able to identity your strength or strengths that made it possible. The last cue that you are discovering a natural strength is the satisfaction you achieve when you are accomplishing an activity. The authors says if you find yourself looking forward to the activity and ask, “When can I do this again?” – then that a good indication “that you are enjoying it and that one of your talents is in play.”

The authors created the StrengthsFinder Profile online assessment tool to assist individuals discover their “greatest potential for a strength”. The profile measures thirty-four themes of talents that Buckingham and Clifton uncovered during their many years of research into excellence. Once an individual completes the profile they will receive their five most dominant themes of talent or “signature themes”. There are over 33 million possible combinations of the top five. The themes may not be your strengths but they represent your dominant “recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior – the promise of a strength.” The authors caution that “a theme in isolation is neither good nor bad. It is simply a recurring pattern that can either be cultivated into a strength or squandered.”

In the last section of the book, Put Strengths to Work, the authors give practical advice on why many people avoid focusing on their strengths and why you should focus on your signature themes in order to turn them into strengths.

I took the StrengthsFinder Profile online assessment and my five most dominant themes are: Restorative (love to solve problems), Discipline (routines are important), Developer (see potential in others), Responsibility (emotionally bound to follow through) and Relator (like being around people that are familiar). I agree that these five themes are dominant areas of my life and career but I don’t focus on them to the exclusion of other areas of my life that I want to improve. But I fully agree with Buckingham and Clifton premise that by focusing and utilizing our energy on our strengths and intrinsic talents instead of trying to incrementally improve areas that we are not good at can substantially reduce frustrations and anxiety we feel about our weaknesses.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Another View of Deliberate Practice

According to the Wikipedia entry about deliberate practice psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, has been a pioneer in researching deliberate practice and what it means. According to Ericsson:

People believe that because expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance the expert performer must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults. [...] We agree that expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance and even that expert performers have characteristics and abilities that are qualitatively different from or at least outside the range of those of normal adults. However, we deny that these differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

This Wikipedia entry also cites criticism of deliberate practice. It states the following, “Two recent articles in Current Directions in Psychological Science criticize deliberate practice and argue that, while it is necessary for reaching high levels of performance, it is not sufficient, with other factors such as talent being important as well.”

I wanted to added another source to the Wikipedia’s entry about criticism of Ericsson’s theory of deliberate practice. My edited post is below and can be located at

Malcolm Gladwell’s point-of-view about deliberate practice is different than Ericsson’s view.  Gladwell, staff writer at New York Magazine and author of five books on The New York Times Best Seller list including Outliers: The Story of Success said in a May 2016 Freakonomics podcast interview that, “He’s [Ericsson] a hard practice guy, and I’m a soft practice guy.” Gladwell says that talent is important with intentional dedication to practice and having a support system is vital to produce superior outcomes. It not all about methodical effort as Ericsson claims.

I agree with Gladwell that raw talent combined with deliberate practice is not enough to become a superior performer. The myth that hard work alone will get you to the top of your chosen field is a fallacy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Grit: Born or Nurtured

Grit has two simple meanings as defined by Merriam-Webster online dictionary. The first definition of grit is very small pieces of sand or stone. The second definition of grit is mental toughness and courage. Grit is also defined in psychology as a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their objective.

According to Merriam-Webster, grit is in the top twenty percent of words used. Perhaps the word is more popular because Angela Duckworth.

Ms. Duckworth, professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and founder and Scientific Director of the Character Lab, whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development. When Duckworth was in her late twenties, she left her job as a management consultant to teach math to seventh graders in the NYC public school system. During her experience in the classroom she noticed that effort not talent was enormously central in success outcomes.

In a 2009 paper, she and co-author Patrick Quinn developed a “grit scale” for 1,218 new West Point cadets. Duckworth and Quinn used the cadets answers to the grit scale and reached the conclusion that grit was highly predictive of the chance of completing “Beast Barracks.” This West Point program for freshman cadets consisted of 17-hour days for seven consecutive weeks of classroom instruction and physical training.

In her 2013 seminal six minutes and twelve seconds TED presentation, which has been viewed over 8 million times, Duckworth was propelled to prominence as she explained how grit plays a role in success. Her first book published in 2016, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, was a New York Times bestseller. The book wanted to explain why some individuals succeed and others fail. Her research found that talent is not a guarantor of success and that grit—a combination of passion and perseverance for an important goal is the foundation of high achievers in every field.

What distinguished high performers, she found, was largely how they processed feelings of frustration, disappointment, or even boredom. While some individuals took these as signals to quit and move on to some easier task, high performers did not. It was as if they had been conditioned to believe that struggle was not a signal for alarm.

Is grit overrated when it comes to predicting success? In Marcus Crede's report, Much Ado about Grit: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of the Grid Literature, says that, “My overall assessment is that grit is far less important than has commonly been assumed and claimed and it doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know.”

One key aspect of Crede’s analysis is that the impact of grit is exaggerated, especially when considering wider populations of individuals—not just high achievers in Duckworth’s initial studies. Secondly, grit scores and conscientiousness scores are very highly correlated. This is important because Duckworth’s research concludes that grit is a skill.

But, psychologists have determined that conscientiousness isn’t a skill—it’s a personality trait. According to the field of psychology, a trait is driven by some inexplicable combination of genetics and ecosystem. Thus, one’s grit is not necessarily changeable, especially in adulthood, however Duckworth in her writings suggest that grit is.

Duckworth also came to another interesting observation about effort and talent. She says people don’t like “strivers” because then they start questioning themselves and why they don’t have the success like others. Strivers invite self-comparisons. Most people like to think that some people are just naturally more talented than others.

Duckworth says that grit is hard work, tedious and not attractive. The majority of individuals like to keep their failures private and their successes broadcasted to the public. Thus, the “hidden” practice among successful people is costly to society because it hides the amount of failure that goes into success. We think we don’t have what it takes to succeed and give up. The struggle should not be a signal to give up!

Duckworth is the first to say that the essence of grit remains a mystery. Even if the origins of grit are difficult to source I believe that stick–to–itiveness does play a role in the outcome of an individual’s success towards a significant and meaningful goal. I would rather have grit than be without it!

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Other "F" Word

I want you to remember that failure isn’t permanent!

Believe it or not, success is often the byproduct of repeated failures. The difference between long-term success and failure is our reaction to it. Do you know about spectacular failures of the following individuals?
  •  James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner magnate, made 5,126 prototypes of his namesake upright bag less vacuum cleaner before getting it right on the 5,127th time. Each time he erred, he reminded himself that he was learning how to make a better device.
  •    Fashion designer Vera Wang failed to make the 1968 U.S. Olympic figure-skating team. She later became an editor at the fashion magazine, Vogue, but was passed over for the editor-in-chief position. Today she leads a fashion empire and is known for her designer wedding dresses.
  •  Albert Einstein had difficulty communicating and learning in a traditional manner. His communication and behavioral challenges were not suggestive of a lack of intelligence. Einstein said he wasn’t necessarily any smarter than most, but he “stayed” with problems longer. For one experiment it took him eight years before it was successful. He famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  •  Walt Disney was fired from the newspaper, Kansas City Star, because his editor felt he lacked imagination and had no good ideas. His first business landed in bankruptcy because he was unable to manage money and wound up heavily in debt. When he formed the Walt Disney Company, all of his past failures paved the way for a very successful business.
  •  Steven Spielberg, award winning movie director and producer, was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts multiple times.
  •  Colonel Harland David Sanders was fired from dozens of jobs before founding Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
  •  J.K. Rowling was a single mom living off public assistance when she began writing the first Harry Potter novel. She became the first billionaire author in 2004.
  •  Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, had his first book rejected by 27 different authors. His books have sold over 600 million copies.
  •  Jay-Z couldn’t get any record label to sign him. He and his friends sold this first single out of the trunk of their car. He co-founded his own record company called Roc-a-fella Records with his two partners. According to Forbes magazine, he is worth about $550 million.
So how exactly are we supposed to rebound from failures without getting discouraged?

According to Noa Kageyama, Ph.D., in his article, "The Upside of Failure, the Downside of Success, and How to Keep Improving No Matter What":

After a failure, we should focus on the specific errors we made PLUS the specific things we did well. Focusing on both the good and bad seems to result in the most learning and performance improvement.  Presumably, if we focus only on our mistakes after failures, we’ll get discouraged and spiral into that unproductive dark place.

Ryan Babineaux, Ph.D. and lecturer at Stanford offers five suggestions from his book, Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win.

(1) Identify Your Fear: Find something that you would like to try but have hesitated to do because of your fear of failure.

(2) Reverse Your Thinking: Come up with a way that you can fail at it as quickly as possible.

(3) Do It Anyway: Get out there and give it a try. Make mistakes and have fun doing it. Ask others for help and feedback.

(4) Fail Forward: Use your exploratory actions as a means to learn and discover what you need to know.

(5) Find the Next Challenge: Seek out the next opportunity to do things at the limits of your abilities.

Don’t let set-backs paralyze and demoralize you. Failures truly are “learning opportunities” to re-evaluate what you may be doing wrong but also what you did well. With each opportunity you are learning what to do and what not to do.