Category Archives: Personal Improvement

Talent Outs

There was an extensive article in the International Wall Street Journal a few days ago about talent. And it cites research that refutes the “practice 10,000 hours” nonsense. It shows that in some pursuits, very little practice (or none at all) still provided for top performance.


I’ve always thought speakers who claimed they practiced the same (boring) speech they’ve given for 20 years regularly before they delivered it yet again were either lying or had a severe learning disability. When you’re really good at something, you can do it regularly and easily “cold.”


The amount of practice I put in (with my coach’s evil glare presiding) to shoot free throws (then “foul shots”) didn’t improve my average. On a “cold” day with no practice, I could still shoot 90%. No amount of guided practice made me into a decent baseball pitcher, but I made the all-star team as a lousy shortstop who could hit like crazy. An observer told me, “You have the most natural swing I’ve ever seen.” Still do. Don’t ask me why, I never had a batting coach.


I’m not saying that practice doesn’t help many people. I’m sure it aids concert pianists and maybe some golfers, but no amount of it could help me master the simplest of songs or hit a ball on the ground by swinging a club. A great deal of practice hasn’t helped a lot of speakers, from clergy to executives, yet I can speak extemporaneously and galvanize a room.


If it were only as simple as “practice” then everyone would master whatever they chose. There is improvement possible, no doubt, but not guaranteed.


Talent outs.


© Alan Weiss 2014

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The Power of Personal Worth and Fulfillment

There are 10 days remaining for the deep discounts for this series beginning in September. It comprises very brief videos, podcasts, and electronic print techniques and boosters each week to continually build and nurture self-esteem.

I’ve found that poor self-worth is the primary reason for less success in one’s endeavors than one’s talents should provide. People allow themselves to be “beaten down,” fall prey to peer pressure, and accept all kinds of unsolicited and destructive feedback.

Esteem can atrophy, like a muscle. This is your weekly strength training. For what amounts to almost pennies per item, receive these three boosts and pragmatic insights weekly. You’ll find the improvement in your self-image and your performance amazing.

You can see videos and details as well as register here:

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Alan’s Truths

1. You create your own truth. State what the reality is. “You are wrong about attrition.”

2. Friends can kill you. Choose them carefully, and don’t regard them as permanent.

3. Behaviors are consistent. Always act correctly, not just “when it matters.”

4. “Someday” is not a day of the week.

5. Drive-by learning doesn’t work. Appearing somewhere once a year with a bundle of news or two dozen posts and then leaving again isn’t impressive.

6. If you really want to learn, try coaching someone else.

7. IP is silent without the amplification of leverage. How can you expand your visibility and reach?

8. The deeper you go, the slower it gets. Hawks are faster than moles.

9. The hotel doorman is the key. What is the first and last impression people have of you?
10. Don’t ask “how,” ask for critique. Tell me how you’d do it, don’t ask me how I’d do it.

11. Invest in yourself first. If you can’t do that, don’t expect dividends.

12. Do it without preparation. Experts are easily extemporaneous.

13. Look around in awareness. Don’t look back in nostalgia or ahead in fear.


© Alan Weiss 2014

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I Gotta Be Me

The extraordinarily talented Sammy Davis, Jr. used to sing this rather treacly anthem and make even it sound wonderful: I Gotta Be Me.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of working with ten top consultants in an improv class (assisted with great talent by my son who teaches these skills to other actors) and then applying the skills to office and meeting settings.

Next to us in the hotel was one of these conventions of 500 name tags, multiple meetings, and boring, droning speakers. All of these people did the same kind of mind-locking analytic work. And they sat throughout this scripted, regimented day gaining credits, or getting their ticket stamped, or just escaping the office for the time being, I don’t know.

All of us were extremely grateful to be doing what we’re doing, and having the opportunity and courage to do it.

We gotta be us.

© Alan Weiss 2014


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I held my first group session in our new retreat facility last week, and midway though the morning  a huge boom at one of the windows overlooking the pond startled all of us. We looked up to see a hawk recovering its bearings, and flying back across the water into the woods.


A red-tailed hawk can reach about 25 MPH in level flight (120 MPH when diving—a peregrine can manage 150), and it must have been doing that when it collided with the class. A smaller bird would have killed itself, but the hawk’s beak must have absorbed the impact, and it looked fine albeit somewhat confused flying off.


I think we often collide with things we don’t see, yet, unlike the hawk, we’re sentient beings and should be able to surmise and predict. We collide with surprising buyer responses, with non-supportive stakeholders, with unexpected information, and with dilatory payment and deadlines unmet. If we’re small birds, these impediments can kill us. But even as large birds, they’ll give us quite a headache and force us to reverse course with even more dire results.


There’s nothing criminal about being surprised on occasion, but there is something negligent about being continually surprised. There’s nothing unique about encountering an unforeseen obstacle, but there is something reckless about charging full steam ahead into the unknown.


If you see what is clearly a buyer and are certain of no traps around that buyer, then by all means go to diving speed. But if you’re pursuing your own ideas in your own perspective and in duplication of what you’ve always done, you may want to slow down and reconnoiter. That clear sky you see might just be an illusion.


© Alan Weiss 2014

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The Esteem Regime

“Democracy demands that all of its citizens begin the race even. Egalitarians insist that they all finish even.” — Roger Price (Class)


Recently, a school nearby had to reverse its decision to discontinue awards night for academic achievement, because parents—to their credit—were overwhelmingly in favor of acknowledging those whose performance was laudable. (School authorities are still thinking about whether they should hold the athletic achievements awards night.) The original decision was based on the belief that those who did not receive awards would not feel good about themselves (rather than want to do still better in the future, I might point out). This is an odious philosophy.


Many years ago, the Oakland, California school system contemplated formalizing “Ebonics,” which legitimized vernacular and incorrect English (“axe” for “ask”) on the basis that so many inner city kids used it. Only a public uproar moved them back to the position of trying to teach the English that might actually result in acceptance to college or qualifying for a job. As Bill Cosby pointed out, no one is getting hired as an air traffic controller who begins the interview with, “Whassup?”


This isn’t a gender or race or ethnicity issue today, because the current movement toward a crazed egalitarianism is gaining momentum all over. Kids are awarded simply for showing up or trying (or trying to show up). In an attempt to build everyone’s self-esteem, we’re actually undermining it, because in the competitive world of capitalism the people who are actually rewarded are those who do the best. You might get a watch and modest pension for showing up for 30 years, but you don’t get a very nice life style if you’ve performed in a mediocre fashion. An “A” in attendance does not equate in importance with selling, creating, or leading better than others.


When I taught MBA and PhD candidates in 600-level courses at the University of Rhode Island, an assistant dean told me quietly in the hall, “We give everyone an “A” or “B” here, unless there is some very strong reason not to.” I promptly flunked a kid the first semester who had claimed ADD as an excuse to do no work, but didn’t have a shred of  medical evidence and was clearly just a slacker. A full-time faculty member told me, “You’re the only one with the guts to do that because you’re not a permanent professor here.”


I believe in a fair start and a level playing field, but where does is say that we should all be guaranteed an equal finish? Do we want an airline pilot who is barely competent, or a doctor who couldn’t pass the boards, or a bus driver who has emotional problems? Do we want help from people who achieved their status by merely being “present”? Trying is nice, but succeeding is better. (“Coach, I should be the starter, I struck out but I was trying to hit a home run!”)


Why are we so intent relatively recently on not rewarding the best, but rewarding everyone and actually subsuming the best?


One might ascribe it to a radical, liberal philosophy of not only redistributing income but also redistributing talent (or the recognition thereof, despite the actual amount). Or one could make the case that people insecure about themselves are pushing this agenda to atone for the credit they never received because others were better, or faster, or stronger, or smarter.


But it just might be that people are hungry for what others have, and are seeking to shortcut The American Dream instead of work to attain it. I remember when airlines invited only their best customers to use their air clubs (early 70s and prior). But then someone filed suit, and now everyone who pays the tab must be admitted. I recall when the best athletes started the game and, in tough competition, played the entire time. But now, some contests have rules that everyone must play. (Legendary basketball coach Adolph Rupp at Kentucky once said, “If playing the game is what’s important and not winning, why does anyone bother to keep score?”) Of course, that doesn’t apply in professional sports, where people are paid to win, not merely participate.


The American Dream’s access road was once one that required hard work, discipline, resilience, and the realization that one might fall short of one’s goal, but the attempt alone would still be an improvement. Today it seems as if no one wants to wait on line, everyone wants immediate entry into the ride at Disneyland. I’ve seen people board a plane early when the agents call “those who need some extra time boarding,” with a limp and a groan, only to watch them race out the jetway when we disembark, miraculously cured. People sprint into stores from reserved spaces, having affixed a handicap sticker to their windshields. Everyone wants to cut the line, to cheat the system.


The problem is that we’ve substituted rules for judgment and crazed egalitarianism for freedom. Just recently a boy was sent home from school for bringing in a small toy soldier carrying a rifle. That’s not zero tolerance, that’s zero intelligence. Do we really believe kids will be better able to cope in the world faced with that kind of witless, insensitive reaction? Do we want to create a nation of unthinking rules on the one hand, and guarantees of equality despite talent and achievement on the other?


Here’s William Graham Sumner on the topic (The Challenge of Facts and Other Essays):


“Let it be understood that we cannot go outside of this alternative: liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest; not liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members.”


When I was graduated from high school, I was named “Most Likely to Succeed.” No one protested that only two dozen of over 200 seniors received awards, and no one had a problem with a king and queen of the prom, nor that some kids were more popular than others.


I’ve succeeded so well because I learned early what I had to do in a highly competitive world. (In an inner city school, we were bullied all the time! We either gave the kid a quarter to leave us alone, or we fought him. If we had tried to complain to school authorities, there would have been a line two blocks long. I learned that I had to take care of myself, and that I could.) And I had to learn to read, write, and speak English correctly just to pass the course, let alone excel. I don’t recall any of us being cut any slack in high school or college. You did the work and were given a grade (not pass/fail) and if you didn’t, you received no credit.


Self-esteem is a vital trait for success, perhaps the absolute key. But falsely created esteem will always eventually collapse, because the world isn’t run by people assuring an equal finish, it’s run by people who reward excellence and results at the finish. We need to stop pretending that poor performance is still a fine job and that showing up is the equivalent of doing well.


Take it from the guy who received that very prescient award, which probably couldn’t be bestowed today without hurting everyone else’s feelings. At the time, I never thought about whose feelings might have been hurt, I was simply happy that I merited the recognition. And I’ve tried to live up to it.


© Alan Weiss 2014

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Sensitivity Vs. Self-Absorption

We’re having dinner with a friend of my wife’s who also once belonged to the same gym the both of us use. We asked why she had changed trainers and gone to a new gym.

She went on to cite perceived sleights (which no one else even noticed) and then said, “Who would continue to go to such an out-of-date, poorly equipped, terribly run facility?” Well, I guess we would! Her husband stared into his drink, and I’ve since called him “The long suffering Ralph.”

This is classic self-absorption. The world is about you, everyone else be damned. (Enough about me, what do you think about me?)

Sensitivity to others is rather important if you want to win friends and influence people, let alone create business with clients. You need three elements:

1. A true interest in and appreciation of others.

2. A strong enough ego that you don’t have to nurture it 24 hours a day.

3. People who care enough about you to confront the behavior and not try to escape it.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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The Million Dollar Solo Practice

What my communities help develop, from The Daily Stat of the Harvard Business Review, courtesy of Cliff Eslinger:

May 07, 2014


Yes, You Can Have a Million-Dollar Business with No Employees


Census figures show that the number of one-person businesses in the U.S. with revenues between $1 million and $2.99 million rose 10% year-over-year in 2012 to more than 29,000 firms, Forbes reports. Most are professional, scientific, and technical-services companies, but retail and construction firms are well represented too. Still, such companies are rare: Firms with sales over $1 million make up far less than 1% of the nation’s 22.7 million nonemployer companies, for which the largest revenue category is$10,000 to $25,000.

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Anyone who has ever seen and heard me speak (or perhaps even merely conversed with me) knows that I use stories to illustrate my points. In a typical keynote, I’ll use about 10. The “story index” I maintain on my computer (so that I don’t repeat any for the same client or group) is now at 126.

Stories help people to identify with you and with your point. They enable the listener to think, “I’ve been there and done that, I know exactly what he means.” They may add humor, or pathos, or texture—but primarily they add understanding. They are the short cut to comprehension, avoiding dreary narrative and explication.

However, they also create something more subtle and surprising, in that they slightly “rewire” the listener’s brain.

At Princeton, neuroscientist Uri Hasson posits that the patterns in one brain are often matched by another. Think speaker and listener. After the speaker tells a particularly engrossing and relevant story, the brain patterns in the listener tend to match those of the speaker. His research validates his point.

I’m not quite talking about Spock and Vulcan mind melds, but I am suggesting that effective stories create an empathy and even synergy between listener and speaker. We’ve all seen fascinating works about influence and persuasion, and the techniques and tactics to create them. Perhaps, however, the real secret of influence is a carefully crafted story.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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How Do You Begin Your Day?

If you begin your day worried about paying bills, finding business, and meeting “quotas” you’re going to behave as if you’re trying to get money from people and be hesitant about calling them because they don’t want their money taken.

If you begin your day confident that you have tremendous value that can help others you’re going to behave as if you’re obligated to contact others in order to help them and they’ll be happy to hear from you because they appreciate value and help.

The way you begin your day is your choice. It’s not about competition, the economy, technology, demographics or any other factor. It’s about how you see yourself and what you believe about yourself.

Your success is dependent on how you view your worth, and whether you see yourself as a “taker” or a contributor.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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