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Strengths 2.0

Lesson 3 from: Design​ ​Thinking​ ​for​ ​Strengths-Based​ ​Leadership​

John K. Coyle

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Lesson Info

3. Strengths 2.0

Lesson Info

Strengths 2.0

I grew up on a lake in Michigan and when I was 10 years old, my father noticed something. The lake froze every winter, and we'd clear off these sections of black ice and play hockey and do little races and my dad noticed that I was pretty fast, so he said to me, "Hey I think you should try speed skating" and I said, "Sure, why not, why wouldn't I?" So I went across town that weekend to this beautiful black oval of ice in Detroit, Michigan and lined up on this crisp morning day, could see your breath in the air, against eight or nine other boys and girls, a starter raised the gun and shot it, I ran across the line, scrambled towards the corner, and then I watched as these graceful figures disappeared around the corner in front of me and I couldn't even see them on the backstretch. And by the time I finished my second lap, three lap race, as I was crossing the finish line, all eight of them lapped me. So I did what any good competitive kid would do, I skated to a stop, proceeded to exit ...

the ice, the race is over of course, right? Oh no, parents and coaches, they weren't having that. You can't quit, you gotta get back out there, finish your race, don't quit now. So I finished that race, in tears, vowing never ever to speed skate again. Now for those of you who have kids, here's what I recall, is I recall that I was actually back out there later that day and the next day, and the next day and the next day, and what I don't recall was the lengthy debate. When do we lose the magic power to glower at our children and they just do what we want them to do? I don't know, I have a teenager and everything's a debate, but I digress. Regardless, I was back out there and it was a good thing I didn't quit because I managed to by the end of that year, actually come in third place in the Michigan State Championships. The next year, age 11, I won the Michigan State Championships, and at age 12 I won the Nationals for the first time, and at age 13 I made the National Team for the first time and that eventually parlayed itself to going to the Winter Olympic Games where I brought home a silver medal. Now you won't remember me, but you will definitely remember those games for three reasons which I will share with you now. Her, her, and wait for it, this. I think we should do that again. Why me? The most watched piece of TV for 16 years running until a Super Bowl beat it a few years ago, and of course, the biggest story of the 2018 Pyong Chang Olympic Games was Tonya Harding 24 years later because of the movie. Pretty funny. And someday I'll share my Tonya story, but we did run into each other there. But regardless, when you achieve some level of success in sports, academics, music, arts, what have you, people might ask you what's the secret to your success, and the easy answer is all of these things that were trained as kids. Never give up, never give in. Quitters never prosper. Good things come to those who wait. And this is all fantastic advice, until it's not. Or as Scott Adams from Dilbert puts it, persistence is awesome until it's stupid. But first, why is this great advice? Now anybody in the panel familiar with the Stanford marshmallow experiment? Couple of you. Longitudinal study by a psychologist back in 1972, I think it started, give kids the age five to eight years old the choice of one marshmallow now or two in five minutes. Well as it turns out, delayed gratification with these young kids has actually parlayed itself into a pretty significant departure from these two cohorts, the one marshmallow kids have been less successful in almost every way than the two marshmallow kids. The ability to delay gratification has led to good things. Greater financial income, greater level of education, wellness, health, well-being, relationships, you name it, that has been a great predictor of forms of success in later life. But as I mentioned, sometimes this goes off the rails. I actually think this same great advice for kids is a collective adult neurosis. So if you're thinking that I might have just called you crazy, I actually did and you probably are. It's okay, so am I. Why are we crazy? Well because when one marshmallow now or two in five minutes becomes one marshmallow now or 10,000 in two years becomes one marshmallow now for two million in 200 years, at what point are you delaying gratification against all temporal boundaries? What you're facing down is actually a weakness you'll never overcome it, and it just simply looks and feels like this. So if you've ever felt this way, don't feel bad, we're wired to do this. We are wired to bang our head against the wall. We've been trained since children that we never give up and we never give in, but I think this advice sometimes is really bad advice. So it is crazy, I'm gonna prove it to you with a little bit of audience participation from the panel here. I'm gonna give you a phrase, you're gonna fill in the end of the phrase. Are you with me? Okay, so. If at first you don't succeed, yeah, try, try, try again, apparently is how Wikipedia has it, at least in one iteration, because two is apparently not enough. So that's the childhood guidance, we've all heard it, yes? And that was ingrained in us since youth, but here is the adult wisdom, and fill in the blank. The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and over again. I added the third over and, expecting different results. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, right. You had the right spirit. So take a look at these two phrases. They are actually saying the exact opposite thing. So which one is right? Well I'd like to share with you some advice from my 40 plus years on this planet and I hope you find it valuable. If at first you don't succeed, alright, you guys have a great rest of the day, I hope you find the rest of this valuable. Alright, that's not really the end. I will actually share with you some awesome advice from a master coach named Mike Walden in a little bit, but first we'll do a little bit of statistics about the medal. As it turns out, they're actually quite rare. Our coach shared with this stat with us the day before the gold medal round. In the modern Olympic era between 1892 and 1994, my year of the games, there were about 500 million Americans that came of age, 18 to 35, that could have competed for the Winter Olympics. Of those, about 250,000 or so of those tried out for Winter Olympic Games. Of those, 2500 only had ever actually made an Olympic team as of 1994, and of those, only 52 people had ever actually brought home a medal, so they're quite rare. So that stat is one in 10 million, so very rare. How did a terrible athlete from Southeastern Michigan manage to bring home a one in 10 million sort of opportunity? And I can hear your voices from here and afar, oh you couldn't possibly be a terrible athlete. I can actually prove it to you in fairly short order. I played eighth grade basketball, I started every game because there was only seven of us. I never scored a point, not even a free throw. I have no hand eye coordination. I switched to baseball the next year, because I'm not stupid and want to keep doing that, and I not only never scored a run, the bat never touched the ball. I grew up on a lake, I can barely swim. I can't do anything that requires hand eye coordination. I am a T-Rex of a human being and I have zero endurance, I can't do anything that lasts longer than 60 seconds. So you can see my options are quite limited. So how did this manage to happen? Well I had this master coach who ignored all of that and instead designed everything for this phrase. If at first you don't succeed, race your strengths, design for your strengths, double down on your strengths, and design around weaknesses, don't try to fix them. So when I was 21 I was studying in California full time and still trying to speed skate despite being in warm weather with no ice time and no training program and no coach and I still somehow managed to get 12th place in the world at the World Championships that year in speed skating, so I was pretty sure that by graduating and joining the Olympic team full time I could go from 12th to sixth to first over the two years I had to prep for the next games, at least that was the plan. So I went to the Olympic training center and after a couple days there they put us through a couple of tests. And they didn't tell us much about them, just slipped a manila envelope under our door and then we went across campus where at 9:00 AM on the next day after the manila envelope, I showed up, put on my cycling gear, because that's what he said to do, and then right at nine the door at the end of the hallway slammed open and one of my teammates staggered through the door, he was up before me, he was breathing so hard he sounded like a horse. His legs were pink, his face was white, he looked like he had been beaten with a stick. And whatever he just did, I'm gonna have to do. He's passing me as I'm walking down the hallway, and I'm like, "Hey Chris, how was it?" and he looks at me with these bloodshot eyes and he just shakes his head, and now I'm terrified. But what could I do? I go into the room and it's a beehive of activity. There's all these people in white lab coats and acoustic tile ceilings, white tile floors, machinery around the room and a stationary bike in the middle, and nobody pays me a lick of attention except for the doctor who says, "Get on the bike and take off your shirt." So I did. So I'm on the bike and then they start slathering me with this viscous goop and then they stick these suction cups all over my chest and back and each suction cup had a wire that led across the floor to one of the machines in the room. It was strung up like a wedding gazebo. And then the coup de gras was this weird contraption out of an orthodontic patient's nightmare, they put this helmet up over my head and then they jam this tube inside my mouth, so now my jaw is wide open, I've got wires everywhere, viscous goop everywhere, and then the doctor looks at me and says, "Are you ready?" shook me head, he wasn't talking to me. The lady behind me grabs a tube and attaches it to this hose and it goes down across the floor to the last machine in the room. This is the test, how much oxygen can you breathe while riding a bike. So I'm sitting there and then the doctor looks at me again and he says, "Are you ready?" I shook my head, he was talking to me, and he simply says, "three, two, one, start pedaling." So what could I do? I start pedaling. And I got the thing rotating and then he explained. He said, "Listen, this is simple. "We're gonna put 175 watts of resistance on the bike. "You're gonna pedal at 85 RPMs for two minutes. "At the end of two minutes, "we're gonna raise the RPMs by five "and the watts of resistance by 25, "every two minutes until you finish." I quickly did that math. That's an escalator to hell. The only way out is to die. And the only way out is to look like my teammate had coming through the doorway, but what could I do? I started pedaling. And I made it through the first two minutes, it was pretty easy, it wasn't that hard, got a little sweat going, and right at two minutes, a couple of attendants appeared magically and turned the dial to raise the resistance and the other one did something odd. She pulled my pinkie off the handlebars, jabbed it with an ordinary house pin, squeezed some blood into a vial and walked away without so much as a please or thank you and she did this every two minutes, and the little vampire was just back for a finger every two minutes, it was very disconcerting, but eventually it got hard enough I sort of ignored all that because the pain from the pedals was really starting to work me. Seven and a half minutes in, I was thinking, alright, I can make eight. Now up to this point, nobody's paid me any attention. They're just all doing their things, and as my legs started to slow down at eight minutes, the doctor walked out, first time, and he looks at his watch, he looks at me, and he's like, "Yeah, you're about halfway." I'm thinking I'm done, dude, no. And then my legs start to slow down and then everybody comes out of the woodwork and they're like, "Keep going, you're gonna make it. "Make two more minutes, you can't quit, don't quit, "two more minutes." So I made two minutes, and then the game starts. "Now make one more minute, just one more minute." So I make a minute. "Make 30 seconds, make 20, make 15, make 10, make five." And they kept screaming at me, and eventually my legs, my lungs, my heart gave out. The vampire was stabbing every 15 seconds at the end, and I slowly slip to the floor after 13 minutes, 26 seconds and I was starting to walk towards the door, and by the way, my pulse had 221, and I mean, I had given it all, and suddenly the little vampire's back and she's standing in front of me, she's like bobbing up and down on her toes, she's super excited about something, it's kind of weird, and she says, "You have the best lactic acid "we've ever measured." And I said, "That's great, I don't know what that means." And then she says, really weird, weird smile, she says, "You're good at suffering." Okay is that a metric, what does that mean? So I stagger down the hallway, some guy's trying to ask me questions, I just looked at him and shake my head. Get back, I put on my shoes, I head to the dorms and that evening I got my results under the door, and I was pretty excited to open, because I did the best I could, there's was nothing left. And the guy that passed me in the hallway was none other than Lance Armstrong. 17 years old, first training camp at the OTC. When I was half done at 13:26, Lance went double as far. He went 26 and a half minutes in a test that only gets harder and I had the lowest result of anybody on the team by a pretty wide margin. This test was supposed to be the most predictive of future success in my sport. So of course I didn't want to accept this data, so I simply said there must be something wrong with the test the doctor, the bike, the vampire, something. Something's wrong because I was 12th in the world last year, but this brings me to the first point. If you're going to design a life for your strengths, a career for your strengths, a business for your strengths, you have to know and accept that you have some.

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Daniel Viscovich

This class was fantastic. I appreciate John's insights and his discussion of design thinking, a process that now that I have learned it, makes so much sense! This has been an amazing course that will impact my decisions in life and work for the rest of my career. Thank you John!

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