A Case Study - Does Designing For Strengths Really Work?
So you might be wondering now, if you're watching out there or you're here in the room, you're like, "Alright does this really work?" You're an anecdote, you're a weird, strange person that like turns circles all your life, this doesn't work for real life, it's not going to work for me. Doesn't work for people in real jobs. I'll give you a case study now. So, this is Mike Walden, and he is what I would call a Master Coach. Mike, like great coaches, said very few things over and over. So he didn't say a lot, he just said the same things over and over and over again. Not long phrases, short, pithy utterances intended to guide you and correct you when need be. This is the thing he said to me the most, sadly, still hear that in my head. (audience laughing) That's what I heard about 30, 40 times a day. But the other thing he said over and over was, "Race your strengths." Now Mike also had short pithy phrases that were targeted to each person on the team. The cycling and speed skating team, ...
I can still hear mine in my head, it was, "Coyle, you gotta win it at the line!" Now, as an 11 year old, I can remember thinking, "No duh, where else am I going to finish it? Like, do I need to hear this from you 40 times a day?" But Mike was a genius, because buried in that short pithy phrase that I heard literally 20000 times in my life is a very complex analysis of my strengths and weaknesses. I'll translate waldeneese for you, "Coyle, you have no aerobic motor, you're only an anaerobic athlete. You have no endurance, so all you have at your disposal is a sprint, so what you need to do is time your sprint to barely win races by the smallest margin possible, because if you go too early, they're going to pass you and you'll blow up, and if you go too late, well it's too late. So you have to time it to just barely win." That's what win it at the line meant. And I'd heard it 1000 times before I figured it out. And I mastered it, I got really good at timing my sprints, staying out of the wind, staying right at the right place to sprint at that last 200 meters and win races. I won over 400 races during my career and of those 400 I figured out my total margin of victory was 18 seconds. Frankie Andreu was also on my team. This guy was in nine Tours Du France, was Lance's team captain for two. Fourth place in the Olympic Games for cycling. And Frankie's phrase was, "You gotta drop Coyle." So what that actually meant was, "Frankie, you're an aerobic athlete, you don't really have a sprint." And he didn't really mean me, by the way, Coyle just meant sprinter in general, it was just more fun for him to name me. So you gotta lose the sprinters is really what it meant. You gotta breakaway, you gotta be off the front by the end of the race, because if you're not off the front the sprinter's going to pass you every time at the last minute. So you've got to break away, and breakaway he did. Boy I hardly ever saw that guy in races. You'd get to the start line and that was the last time I saw him. And he went on to have this incredible career. And so forth and so on, so here's what Mike did. 12 world champions, 10 Olympians, 6 Olympic medals, 28% of all post-world war two cycling medals for 45 years came from one club. There are thousands of clubs in the country, and there are millions of cyclists. And this club of 70 families, nobody was from somewhere else, we were all local, we didn't draw talent. Mike created this incredible legacy by doubling down on everybody's strengths. 28% of all medals for 45 years. In the eighties, when I was competing, we had the podium more than half the time. So more than 50% of people standing on a podium at the nationals were from my club. It's crazy. But that's what it created, the best legacy I know. They did a movie at him, he's pretty super famous in the cycling world these days. He passed away in '96, and you know, and I didn't go to the funeral. He'd been my coach for 15 years, but I was busy, doing something. And the next summer, I showed up to Mike's house cause that's where our training rides left from. I mean, they always had, they still did. And I got there a little early, and I pulled in to the driveway, and Harriet, his widow was out getting the mail, and she said, "Hey John, I want to talk to you, come inside." So I went inside Mike's home, I'd never been in there. And I was sort of struck by how normal it was. You know, cause this guy only yelled, right, he only yelled. The first time I won nationals, I was 12 years old, I was firmly expecting finally some congratulations from Mike. Right like so I finish, I got the medal on, he stomps over, he sticks out his hand, he shakes it, and then he says, "It's just another race, don't get cocky." (laughing) And then he stomped off. That's Mike right, super challenger right. But the thing about challengers is, they appear in our lives when we need them most. And if I was to poll you or anybody in our audience, about 90% of people would name a challenger as the person that impacted their life the most in terms of trajectory and how they've become successful. Because those are the people that say the right words, as tough as they can be, at the right time. And that was Mike for me for sure. But, here's the thing, I mean 15 years, I didn't go to the funeral, and I never once in those 15 years said thank you. Not one time. So if you have a challenger in your life you haven't said thank you to, don't wait too long cause I missed my opportunity.