[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success with your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:12.6] MB: Welcome to The Science of Success. I’m your host, Matt Bodnar. I’m an entrepreneur and investor in Nashville, Tennessee and I’m obsessed with the mindset of success and the psychology of performance. I’ve read hundreds of books, conducted countless hours of research and study and I am going to take you on a journey into the human mind and what makes peak performers tick with the focus on always having our discussion rooted in psychological research and scientific fact, not opinion.
In this episode, we discuss how the experience trap and why someone who’s been doing their job for 20 or 30 years may be no better and sometimes worse than someone who has very little experience. We look at the shocking truth that 35 years of research reveals separates world-class performers from everyone else. We talk about how talent is overrated, misunderstood, and research says doesn’t even exist. We go deep on the critically important concept of deliberate practice and much more with our guest, Geoff Colvin.
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In our previous episode, we discussed how to master the universal skills required to succeed at work, the counterintuitive truth of taking more responsibility for your own mistakes, flaws and screw-ups and how that can help you succeed more quickly. We looked at how to cultivate and create accountability in your life, challenge yourself to rise up to a higher level and become more vulnerable. We talked about the Benjamin Franklin effect and much more, with our guest Pete Mockaitis. If you want to crush it at your job, be sure to listen to that episode.
Lastly, if you want to get all these incredible information, links, transcripts, everything we’re going to talk about this episode and much more, be sure to check out our show notes, just go to successpodcast.com and hit the show notes button at the top.
[0:02:52.3] MB: Today, we have another amazing guest on the show, Geoff Colvin. Geoff is an award-winning speaker, writer, and broadcaster. He holds a degree in economics from Harvard, an MBA from NYU is currently the senior editor at large for Fortune. He’s the best-selling author of several books including, Talent Is Overrated, Humans Are Underrated and more. Geoff has delivered over 10,000 broadcasts on the CBS Radio Network and has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC and many more.
Geoff, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:23.5] GC: Thank you, Matt. I am delighted to be with you.
[0:03:26.3] MB: We’re very excited to have you on here today to share your wisdom. For listeners who may not be review with you, tell us a little bit about yourself and your story.
[0:03:34.1] GC: Well, it’s in some ways, a pretty simple and short story. I’ve been at Fortune Magazine for virtually my entire career doing all kinds of things there, meaning writing, editing, pretty much everything you can do on the editorial side of a magazine. In addition, I have had this sort of long parallel career in radio. You mentioned the CBS stuff. I’ve been on the radio one way or another since I was in high school and have always loved that. I do a lot of speaking nowadays on some of the topics we’re going to be talking about today and some other ones. As you mentioned, I do write the occasional book. It's a collection of things that I just happen to like to do. It’s pretty good gig that I get to do them.
[0:04:23.6] MB: So I’d love to start out and kind of go deep into the book Talent is Overrated. That was one of my favorite books that I’ve read in the last 5 or 10 years. To start out, tell me about kind of the concept of the experience trap and the idea that for many people who’ve been doing their job for 20 or 30 years, in many cases and often times, they are no better off at that job than someone who has just started out or has very little experience.
[0:04:49.7] GC: Yeah, it’s a big surprise, but this effect has now been documented in a number of fields. Wouldn’t you think that somebody who’d been doing something for a long time would be getting better at it? In fact, there’s a lot of policy that’s kind of based on that, right? People get promoted in some organizations still, simply because they’ve been doing something for a long time. Yet the evidence is pretty clear, that is by no means an assurance that people are getting better at it.
In fact, there is evidence that people not only may not get better, in some cases they make it worse. For example, auditors who are supposed to go through financial statements and detect fraud on average were worse after 20 years of experience than somebody who was new with this. Some of the things that surgeons are supposed to like predict recovery time, they actually got worse with age. Something similar actually what people who predict whether if you’ll let somebody out of prison, how long will it be before they come back? Their skills get worse with time.
It’s a real prize but it's a serious issue, because if we’re not getting any better just by doing stuff, then how are we going to get better? In other words, we all kind of assume that what makes people good at what they do is a lot of experience doing that? In fact, I often recommend to people, “What would you tell a little kid, a son, or a daughter, or a niece or a nephew, who just said, “What makes so-and-so so great?” Whether it's a famous musician or athlete or whoever they might ask you? If they just ask you, what makes them so good? What would you say?”
One of the things you’d probably say is, “Well, they worked hard at it for a long, long time.” The truth is that's not a very good explanation as we've just been describing. People who work really hard at something for a long time, and they’re wonderful conscientious people, are not necessarily any better and sometimes they are even worse.
[0:07:09.9] MB: Let’s dig in to a little bit at why does that happen and why are people's assumptions about experience so flawed?
[0:07:16.4] GC: It happens apparently because of something that goes on inside a person's mind while they’re working, while we are working. This applies to all of us. What researchers have found is that people who outwardly appear to be doing the same thing are not necessarily doing the same thing, and the difference is that some people, while they’re doing whatever they may be doing, are thinking, “Okay, how is this going? How am I doing? How can I be doing this better?” and not just generally, “How can I be doing better?” Specifically, “What part of this job I'm doing right now? What part of it should I be focused on improving?”
The very best performers are constantly doing this. Most people are not constantly doing that. They're just going through the motions. One example that comes from the research is people who are working on singing, people taking singing lessons. You say, “Well, they’re all trying to get better because they’re going to a teacher and taking these lessons.”
Well, it turns out not. It turns out that people who think of singing is a kind of fun hobby, something that they enjoy doing, they experience the singing lesson as fun. This is enjoyable. The people who are professional singers, successful professional singers, experience the singing lesson completely differently. To them, this is hard work. It is stressful and exhausting, and it's because they are in their minds focused on how they can get better, intensely focused. In fact, it can be exhausting.
The reason this is important is if you observed the two of them, you’d say, “Well, they’re both doing the same thing.” You’d say they're both taking a singing lesson. In fact, they're not doing the same thing, and the difference is in their brains.
[0:09:36.0] MB: Before we dive into deliberate practice, which I want to go deep on, tell me about so many people have a flawed perception of the idea of talent and what talent is. How do you think about talent and why is the common conception of it so wrong?
[0:09:54.4] GC: It’s a great question, and in fact part of the experience of researching and writing that book is that I have really changed the way I think about that concept, and I’ve even changed the way I use the word. In fact, I try not to use the word talent because people have many different ideas of what it might mean.
Here’s the issue. Most of us think of talent as an inborn gift of some kind. We use the word very broadly and very loosely, but most of think that talent represents some kind of inborn gift, so-and-so is really talented at playing tennis and somebody else just really is not talented at playing tennis. What we are thinking when we say, is the first person somehow came into this world with a gift, an ability to do something fairly specific, in this case, play tennis, that most of us just don’t have.
When you look at Serena Williams or Roger Federer solely and what they're doing seems to be superhuman. It seems to be beyond the capabilities that most of us could even conceive of, then the idea of an inborn gift does kind of make sense. The reality is that the research is now quite clear, that that's not what accounts for great performance. In fact, some researchers say that talent in that sense, talent in the sense of a gift that you are born with to do something fairly specific, whether it's play a sport or fly a jet or lead a group or whatever it may be. The idea of talent as an inborn gift to do something fairly specific, that doesn't even exist some of the researchers say.
Now, I decided not to take such an extreme position, that's why I called the book Talent is Overrated and not Talent Doesn't Exist. In fact, at the very least, it is far less important as an explanation of great performance, then other factors, and that’s what we’re going to get into next.
What I would ask people to do is just stop. Every time you hear yourself saying, “So-and-so is really talented,” or “So-and-so is naturally talented,” or “So and so is a natural born leader,” or surgeon, or golfer, or accountant, or whatever. The next time you catch yourself saying that, just stop and say, “Is that really what I mean? Do I really believe deep down that so-and-so — Do I believe that Tiger Woods came into this world with a fairly specific ability, the ability to play golf, and that he just has it and most of us don't? Is that really what I think?” It's a good exercise to go through, and I hope people will at least carry that with them and think whatever they use the word talent.
[0:13:16.6] MB: What is the factor that separates these world-class performers from everybody else?
[0:13:24.3] GC: The answer is pretty clear, and this is not me giving my opinion. This is 35 years now of good research on exactly this question. What explains great performance better than anything else is what researchers call deliberate practice. That's not what most of us think of when we use the word practice. It has a fairly specific meaning.
Whether you're talking about sports, or music, or business, or teaching, or anything else, what all of the great performers seem to have in common is this particular specific activity of deliberate practice and particularly doing it a lot, doing it a lot every day for years.
To go straight to the bottom is that the idea of talent as an innate gift doesn't explain great performance very well. Deliberate practice does explain it very well. The good news is you don't need an inmate gift. The road to great performance is long and hard. Nobody says it's easy. The good news is it’s available. This is an incredibly liberating message, because it says that all of us have at least the ability to be much much better performers than we are. If we want to go all the way, we have within certain bounds that all of us may operate within, and we’ll get to that. We all have the ability to be actually great performers if we just know how it’s done. This idea of deliberate practice is in fact how it's done. Shall we go into it?
[0:15:19.6] MB: Let’s go into it.
[0:15:20.8] GC: Okay. As I said, it’s fairly specifically defined and it’s not what most of us think of when we say we’re practicing. I discovered, for example, if what I do out on the driving range at the golf course is pathetic example of deliberate practice. It’s not even close, and this accounts for a lot of the way I play golf, I’m afraid.
The specific meaning of the deliberate practice is as follows; it is an activity that is designed especially for you at your particular stage of development in doing whatever it is you’re doing. Let's think of a sport. People often talk about this in sports. However good you are right now, specific practice activity is designed for you at this moment, and that means it’s going to change, because as you get better, the deliberate practice activities are going to have to change to reflect that.
Second thing, it is designed to push you just beyond what you can currently do. It doesn't try to push you way beyond what you can currently do, because then you’re just lost. You have no idea, go after it. It doesn't allow you to keep operating within your current abilities because then you don't grow. It is constantly pushing you just beyond what you can do.
As you get better of course, it has to be adjusted to keep pushing you just beyond. It can be repeated at high volume. This turns out to be really important, and when the researchers first discovered this, they didn't understand all the reasons why it was really important. They just observed that it really was. It turns out that doing these practice activities at high volume literally changes the structure of your brain. It causes physical changes in your brain, and specifically it causes a substance called myelin to form around some of the connections in your brain, and you will even hear people now in the sports world talking about myelin because they wanted to build it up in the brains of the people they’re training. You got to do it at high repetition if you can.
Then the final element is continual feedback. You can’t get better if you don't know how you're doing. You need some kind of continual feedback to tell you how you’re doing all the time. This takes us right back to the beginning, the fact that the deliberate practice activity has to be designed for you, that feedback is going to tell you how you’re doing and therefore how the deliberate practice activity needs to be changed.
Those are the essential elements. They can be applied in virtually any real. A couple of things to keep in mind; deliberate practice is neither work nor play. It's not work and that it's not the actual performance. If you're training at a sport, you're not actually playing a game. It’s not exactly work, but it’s not play, because it's not fun either. It’s hard.
In fact, one of the things that has to be faced about deliberate practice is that for most people it's really hard, because by definition it means you're going to be failing. You’re going to be making mistakes. Because, remember, I said one of the elements, and this is really the heart of it, is being constantly pushed just beyond what you can do. If you're being pushed just beyond what you can do, you’re trying to do stuff you can't quite do yet. By definition, you're going to make mistakes, you're going to fail. None of us really like making mistakes and failing too much, but that's the essence of deliberate practice. Being pushed just beyond so that you're not quite able to do it until eventually you can. As soon as you can and you’ve got it solid, then you got to be pushed again just beyond what you can do.
That’s what it's all about, and it is remarkable to see how this has been applied in all kinds of fields and is being increasingly applied in new fields. People are realizing what this is all about and how it works and figuring out new ways to use it. Anyway, I'll stop there. That's the essence of deliberate practice, and that is what characterizes the great performers in pretty much every realm.
[0:19:55.6] MB: After reading Talent is Overrated, and this is one of the things that I spent a lot of time thinking about, how can we — I’ll ask a specific version of this, but I’m also curious about kind of a larger picture as well. Being an investor and being in the world of business, I thought a lot about how can I apply the framework of deliberate practice to something like improving my abilities as an investor or as a business person and fields where there’s very long gap between kind of action and feedback, how do we leverage those lessons to harness the power of deliberate practice?
[0:20:32.9] GC: Yup, it’s a great question, because this comes up in a lot of real-world fields. As you say, there’s a long gap between what you do and how it turns up. How can you do this? The way it’s done, and the real way to do it is the way it's been done from the beginning in sports and music and some other realms as well, which is, essentially, simulation. When a team is practicing, a lot of it is conditioning and so forth, but a lot of it is simulation. That is doing stuff that's like the game except it isn’t the game. The nice thing in investing and business is that there is now software available that enables us to simulate this so that we can speed it up and therefore do it — For example, make investing decisions at high-volume.
Furthermore, I know of examples where companies have created their own stimulation. For example, this is a real-life example. A company that makes pharmaceutical products that are what they call Biologics. They aren’t mixed up as chemicals in a vet. They have to be grown, and this is a very hot area of pharmaceuticals now, they have to be grown, they’re alive, and then they have to be shipped at just the right moment.
The difficulty is that they have to be grown, shipped at the right moment and get to the doctor or hospital that needs them at the right moment. If they don't get there at the right moment, then their value was lost and that they’re no good anymore. This is just a lot of money wasted. The company was having so much trouble getting the stuff produced and shipped on schedule that it was failing. In fact, it was in danger of going out of business.
What they did was created a highly realistic simulation of the production and shipping process where they could compress it, because when it’s in simulation, growing some of these things can take weeks. In a simulation, you can pretend that they were grown in minutes, and then go through the whole process of the order processing and the packing and the shipping and so forth, and they created this simulation, they put their people through it repeatedly, then told them, “Okay, now reflect. How did you do?” By the way, they did everything you're supposed to do in deliberate practice. They provided them a lot of feedback. They had this big digital readout telling them all along the way how they were doing so they could look up and see at any given moment. Then they would stop, the team would talk and say, “All right, how can we improve?” They came up with ideas, they’d try that. They did it over and over, getting feedback on their own performance, and they went through this for weeks. It saved the company. They figured out new ways to do this, do the production and shipping, packing and shipping, on time, and it saved the company. That how it can be done in business.
By the way, in investing, if it’s going to work on investing decisions, you can get software now that uses huge datasets to simulate how investments are going to do, and you can do it at high-volume because you can compress the times.
The larger point here, and it’s a really really important point, has to do with highly realistic simulation that is very very demanding. Since I pay a lot of attention to this obviously, I have been struck by how often this comes up. Here’s my favorite example, just recently — Or the latest example, just a few days ago, there was an article in the New York Times about the University of Connecticut women's basketball team. Arguably, the most dominant team playing any kind of basketball anywhere because they’ve gone over 100 games now without a loss, 100 and some consecutive victories.
The question is; how do they do this? It’s exactly what I just said, highly realistic simulation at a very intense level. They simulate games and they work incredibly hard at this. In fact — For example, they’ll practice with a shot — The normal shot clock in basketball is 30 seconds. They’ll practice with a shot clock set at 24 seconds just to make them faster, and they do this for hours a day, these highly realistic drills that are really really intense.
One of the players, in explaining how they win all these games said, “Because the real game is easy compared to the practice.” What struck me is, the very same thing has been said in people in completely different realms.
In the military, for example, the Army got on to this back in the early 90s, highly realistic training, much more realistic than they had ever done before. When a tank troop won a huge victory in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, a battle that’s famous among military strategists, it’s called the Battle of 73 Easting. When it was over, they said, “This battle — This was easy compared with the training we did.” If you go back even further to when fighter pilots were being trained in the Vietnam War, this was a revolution that I describe in the later book. This was a revolution that later became famous as the Top Gun school, but it was new back then.
When fighter pilots were being trained to go up against the North Vietnamese, and they dramatically improved their success rate which had been terrible previously. When the pilots would come back, they would all say the same thing, “This was a lot easier than the training we did.” You hear people saying almost precisely the same things over and over when they are explaining how tremendously successful they were. They did highly realistic simulation at a very intense level. That’s the principle to take out of it.
[0:27:07.6] MB: For the average person listening here that may not have the resources to develop a simulator or a highly realistic training simulation, how can they take some of the lessons of deliberate practice and build and design a practice or training curriculum for themselves that helps them improve?
[0:27:25.4] GC: Obviously, that’s a great question. It, of course, depends on exactly what you're doing. One of the things that we can all do is find practice in the activity itself. In other words, normally, the practice is done separately from the activity. The truth is, in the world of business, we’re not generally given too much time to practice. It’s funny, we’re expected to just go out there and perform every day. It is possible to apply some of these principles in the actual work itself.
For example, suppose you are in a sales role and you're going into make a sales call, makes a sales presentation. You want to get better at what you're doing. That's the first rule. You want to get better at what you’re doing, not just go through the motions. When you go into this presentation, to the sales call, think about it ahead of time and don't just think, “Yeah, I want to do this better.” Get very specific, “What element of this do I want to focus on today?” It could be anything. It could be anything.
Let’s suppose it’s trying to discern what the customer isn’t saying. What’s the unspoken desire or unspoken objection or whatever it is that the customer has and it’s important but they're not actually saying it out loud? “Okay, that's what I’m going to focus on when I go in.”
You go in, and then in the midst of doing it, you occasionally sort of step outside yourself and say, “All right, how is it going? Am I doing what I came in here to do? What am I learning? What’s happening?” Just look at it as if you were outside the situation.
Then, really important, afterward, take the time to reflect on this. Say, “Okay, I went in there trying to discern what the customer wanted but wasn't saying. Now, how did I do?” Reflect on it and say, “Ah! Now that I think about it, when he said such and such, what he really meant was such and such, but I didn’t pick up on it. Now, I can see that.”
Then use that knowledge to iterate what you should be focused on the next time you go in. Now, this is proven to be very effective. It’s way more work than most people do when they are going about what they do in their jobs. That’s way more work than most salespeople do, but the payoff is always worth it. I emphasize this.
In fact, this is something that we find time and again in deliberate practice. It’s way more work than most people in a given field are accustomed to doing, and the payoff is always worth it. The payoff is always just a knockout, but most people don't do it.
[0:30:30.0] MB: I’m curious. In the business context, one of the things that I’ve thought about as a possible sort of methodology to leverage the principles or deliberate practice would be looking at things like case studies. Like buying a book of case studies and going through them, because you can test your decisions in real time and know the answer and kind of have that available, but you can still sort of go through that decision-making process.
[0:30:55.7] GC: Yeah, and that’s a great way to do it. That's another great thing to do. The case method of teaching business is a great method of doing it for just the reasons you say, because now these cases are available. You can get them online pretty easily. They are a source of great value in trying to apply these doable practice principles. As long as you're disciplined enough to really make yourself think through and even write out what you think should be done at the point in the case where it stops and says, “Okay, that's all we’re going to tell you. You are now the product manager of such and such in this case. What do you do next?”
If you really stop there and don't just think, but write down so that you can’t fool yourself later, write down what you think you would do next. Then, if possible, go see what was really done next and what happened. That is a really really valuable thing to do. I always caution people though, write down your thoughts because, otherwise, when you read, what actually happened, we all have this tendency to say, “Oh yeah, I thought that,” even though you didn't. Please write it down.
[0:32:15.1] MB: That’s such an important piece of advice. In general, the whole field of decision-making, decision journaling and all that, and it's so important to write down your though t process because it's so easy to fool yourself after the fact.
[0:32:28.1] GC: Yup. It happens over and over.
[0:32:31.3] MB: I'm curious, and this is changing gear slightly, but how do you reconcile or think about the advice, kind of the adage to focus on your strengths with the fundamental conclusion of the results of deliberate practice?
[0:32:44.7] GC: Right. This comes up because it doesn't — Sometimes it seems to be a real conflict. Don't focus on your weaknesses, focus on your strengths. There's a whole big consulting practice that’s been developed around this and so forth, and deliberate practice seems to be saying focus on your weaknesses. Find the things you can't quite do and work on them. I don't think the conflict is what it appears to be. I think it's a difference in scale.
When they say focus on your strengths, I think what that means is choose something large-scale where you feel strong, where you have developed success or demonstrated success, where you don't trouble motivating yourself. It’s something you would like to do or you’re really interested or really want to get better at, stuff that you feel strong doing.
Once you've done, then what makes you great at that thing is absolutely going to be the deliberate practice framework. Tiger Woods, I don’t know if he focused on his swing. As you know, he was raised from infancy to be a golfer, but focusing on his weaknesses is what made him the world's greatest golfer. For some reason, at some point in his career, he was not good at getting out of the sand. Something that terrifies amateur golfers, but professional golfers are so good at it, generally, that they hardly worry about it. Tiger wasn't so great at it, and so he had drills that he made up and that his coaches made up to do this. He’s put a dozen golf balls in the sand, then he’d step on them to bury then and then he'd practice hitting them out of the sand, and he’d do this over and over and over. That's focusing on your weaknesses.
I guess the bottom line is large-scale; focus on your strength. Once you've done that, focus on your weaknesses, because that’s what’s going to make you great.
[0:35:03.2] MB: In essence, sort of find a field or an area that you’re strong in and then use the methodology of deliberate practice itself to improve within that area.
[0:35:12.4] GC: That's exactly it. Very well said. That's exactly it.
[0:35:17.2] MB: Let's transition and switch gears a little bit and talk about the book Humans Are Underrated. It’s a fascinating conclusion and a really interesting book. Tell me about — When I think about technology today, and you hear so many new stories about the continual displacement of workers. You look at industries, things like in the future with automated vehicles, autonomous vehicles, things like truck drivers completely potentially being replaced as an industry. With all these technical disruption, how do you feel about humans and the workforce and how people are going to be able to adapt to this?
[0:35:53.8] GC: Yeah, this is becoming such a hot topic because we’re seeing increasingly what you described, technology achieving capabilities so advanced that they can in some cases replace human beings entirely. This question of how will we humans be productive? How will we be economically valuable as technology takes over more and more work including quite high-value work, the work that people have to be educated for many years to do and work that pays very well in medicine, in law, in finance? This is happening already and it's accelerating. How are we people going to be economically valuable? That was this question that I began with. Really, the question that you set up there.
What I concluded after spending a lot of time with the research is that we will be valuable through the skills of deep human interaction, managing the exchanges that take place only between human beings. This is deep stuff. It's not all rational. A lot of it is emotional. It has to do with sensing what other human beings are thinking and feeling and responding in some appropriate way. It has to do with working together with other humans.
These skills are going to be economically valuable no matter how technology advances, but they are fundamentally different skills than the skills that have traditionally made us economically valuable, because most of those skills have been the kind you can get from a book, the kind you can learn in a classroom; calculus, accounting, engineer, law. Those are still going to be important, but they are increasingly not going to be the skills that make us economically valuable because technology does them at least as well as we do. It’s these skills of human interaction, empathy, collaboration, storytelling that are going to make us valuable. The evidence is supporting this more every day.
[0:38:27.4] MB: Tell me a little about some of the evidence that kind of supports that thesis.
[0:38:32.2] GC: Well, there are a few things. One, if you just look at what employers are asking for, it’s striking that they're saying this is what they want. A survey of big employers said, “What do you need most now from your employees?” and they’ve been saying relationship building, co-creativity, brainstorming, cultural sensitivity. It’s exactly the group of skills that I was describing.
I was talking a while ago with the chief information officer of one of the largest retailers. It’s a guy who hires hundreds of coders, software writers, every year. Now, software writers are practically the stereotype of people you think who don't need human skills, right? Supposedly, they sit in a cubicle and they tap at the keyboard and they write their software, and that's all they do. Who cares whether they can interact with another human being?
This CIO who hires hundreds of them says, “It’s just the opposite.” He says, “I need people who are empathetic and collaborative in these jobs.” Why? Because they're creating software that other people are going to use. They have to be able to feel the experience that they are creating in these users. They have to be empathetic, and they have to be collaborative because the problems that they face are too hard for any one person to solve alone. These problems have to be solved in teams. If they can't collaborate on the problem-solving, then they're not very useful.
What he's saying is the difference between a high value colder and a low value coder is empathy and collaboration, skills of deep human interaction. If it's true in software writing, it is certainly true in every other realm as well because we all interact much more.
[0:40:45.5] MB: How do we cultivate these high value human facing skills, and are they innate or can they be learned and trained?
[0:40:55.2] GC: Yeah, it’s a good question to ask, because most people kind of instinctively feel that they are innate. We say all the time so and so is a real people person, but it isn’t true. They are skills, not traits. They are skills. They can be trained, and they are being trained now in schools, medical centers, companies, even armies are training these skills now. It’s being done in all kinds of ways.
One of the most striking things is at business schools, whether it's Stanford or Harvard or any of the other top business schools, they have really revolutionized their curricula in the past few years to focus on these skills. First of all, everybody works in teams. That's been true for quite a few years. They force people to work in teams. More than that, they put them through role-playing exercises. It's funny how this connects to talent is overrated. It's the same thing. Highly realistic simulations at an intense level.
At Stanford business school, for example, first-year students are put in situations where they have to deal with a simulated board of directors and those simulated directors are alumni of Stanford business school, so they really know what they're doing imitating a Board of Directors, or they will be put in a simulated meeting with venture capitalists. Again, they’re alumni who are venture capitalists, so they’re really really realistic.
The students will be put through this and it's all skills of human interaction, it’s all the way they handle themselves in these social settings, and then they are critiqued afterward. They get the feedback necessary and deliberate practice so they will get better. They are skills. They are being trained, and they are being trained exactly according to the principles of deliberate practice. That’s how schools are doing it. I mentioned that armies are doing it. That's a whole story onto itself, but I always have to say, when it comes to appreciating the new importance of these skills of human interaction and when it comes to training those skills, I have not discovered any institution anywhere that is as advanced as the US Military, and that surprises a lot of people. That's not what they think of the military is doing, but it is what they're doing because they understand that for them, as well as for businesses, skills of human interaction are becoming more and more crucial as technology does more and more stuff.
[0:43:56.0] MB: That's a fascinating conclusion, and I think it’s so important. We talk a lot about on the show about things like emotional intelligence and how to cultivate those kinds of abilities. It's such an important thing to focus on.
[0:44:09.9] GC: I agree, and getting more so all the time, because the technology is advancing with just astonishing speed. If we’re going to compete against what the software can do, it’s obviously a competition we’re going to lose.
What you're describing, sometimes EQ, emotional intelligence, empathy is becoming a hot word. These are going to be sources of economic value for more and more of this.
[0:44:46.0] MB: For somebody who’s listening to this that wants to practically implement some of the conclusions we’ve talked about today, what would be one simple piece of homework that you would give them as a starting place to use some of these ideas?
[0:45:00.3] GC: A couple things. One; with regard to this most recent point of skills of human interaction, think about how you communicate with people, there’s a hierarchy. At one end is in-person face-to-face conversation, then we go down the hierarchy with the video call below that, a telephone call below that, email below that, texting below that, and think, “Okay, can I go up a level in communicating with the person I’m about communicate with? Can I call them and will they answer the call? But can I call them rather than text or email them? Could I video call them? Could I even go to their room or office or wherever they are and speak to them in person face-to-face?”
First of all, observe what your instincts are, and then say, “Could I go up higher on the hierarchy in communicating with them?” The reason I say that is that each step up on the hierarchy is a richer form of communication, and you will develop skills that you will not otherwise develop by going as high on the scale as you can, by communicating in the richest possible way available to you and we are all developing this tendency to go low on the hierarchy because it's fast and it's easy and convenient and sometimes it's the only way, but always ask yourself, “Could I go up higher?” and try to have the richest form of communication you can. That's really a good way to help develop these human skills as a real simple initial step.
The other thought is what I was describing earlier about the person going into the sales call or the sales presentation, do that yourself in whatever kind of activity is relevant for you. It depends on what field you're in and what your objectives are, but before going into a situation, do this before during and after thinking that I described, “What do I want to work on before? How's it going when you're doing it?” Then reflection afterword, “How did it go and what could I, should I have done better?” You can apply this to anything and it will really open your eyes.
[0:47:32.5] MB: For listeners who want to learn more, where can people find you and your books online?
[0:47:39.2] GC: Thank you for asking that. The answer is the easiest place to find it all is geoffcolvin.com, but I always have to say on a podcast, I spell Geoff the English way, geoffcolvin.com. You can get all the books there and the articles and other stuff as well. The books, of course, are all easily available at Amazon or any place else you want to look.
[0:48:09.4] MB: We’ll make sure to include all of those links and links to the books in our show notes. Geoff, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all of these wisdom. I'm a huge fan of Talent is Overrated and the whole concept of deliberate practice. I’m so glad we got to go deep into that topic today.
[0:48:25.1] GC: Me too, and thank you very much for asking about it. I really enjoyed it.
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