3 Step Creative Team Building Approach

Last night I met several high performance people in back-to-back meetings. I was amazed at their expertise and ability to shine in their sector of the marketplace. It prepared me for a surprise experience later that night that boosted my confidence. I felt like I too could shine in my own way and the test was moments away.

IMG_0142On Monday night, I gave a talk to a group of filmmakers interested in learning about how to protect their intellectual property. The speaking engagement went out on Facebook Live and allowed me to test materials from my new book that’s almost ready for release. The audience response from those in the room was better than expected and the online comments were also satisfying. That positive experience fueled my risky choice to last night’s surprise.

Dale Carnegie shared in one of his books the importance of being ready at all times to give a talk, should you be asked. I’ve heard religious leaders say something similar about always being prepared to share in season and out. Well, my surprise opportunity came last night during my last meeting.

When I entered late, due to my earlier meeting, it wasn’t possible to quietly take a seat without notice, as the host of the meeting welcomed me. I hate it when the flow of a meeting is interrupted and everyone turns from the front of the room to see the guy walking in a half hour late, especially when it’s me—which thankfully is rare.

As I took a seat, the host announced the four guest speakers and their topics. The fourth speaker’s name was CJ Powers. Yep, he announced that I was the last speaker of the night.

The woman sitting to my left leaned over and said, “I didn’t know you were speaking tonight.” To which I replied, “Neither did I.”

She was quite concerned and asked if the host was punishing me for being late. I had no idea why I was suddenly named a speaker, but I did know the host well enough to understand his motivation was not negative. I quickly raised my hand and asked what he said the title of my talk was. He answered, “How to Build a Successful Team.” Everyone in the room laughed, thinking it was a joke. At the end of my presentation, the look of amazement on everyone’s face and the hearty applause was well appreciated.

Here is a condensed paraphrase of what I shared last night…

img_0123.jpegThrough my unique experiences working for both Fortune 50 companies and small mom and pop shops, I’ve had the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to exploring the building of excellent teams that drive revenue. I’ve learned the three steps that were always prevalent in successful teams and missing in the less fortunate ones.

1. Diversity of Perspective.

One day I was asked to attend a brainstorming session in a large company’s think tank. They collected together the top creative people from two nearby corporate campuses and placed us in a room with what I’ll refer to as a widget. It was the company’s latest patented invention and no one knew what to use it for or how to promote it. In other words, it was ahead of its time.

The team leader handed us each a piece of paper with 100 numbered lines on it and asked us to list out 100 ways the widget could be used. After fifteen minutes, I had 23 ideas and peeked at a few other nearby papers, not to cheat, but to find out if I was on track. Most had 7-8 ideas at that point, which didn’t surprise me since my thought process is significantly different than most associates. But I too, soon laid down my pen before hitting 30 ideas.

Thankfully the team leader inspired us with a shift in perspective. He suggested that we probably had brainstormed based on our life experiences and should now consider the widget from our grandmother’s perspective. I immediately came up with another two dozen uses. Then he suggested we take a child’s perspective. By the time I reached 100 uses for the widget, I realized the importance diversity of perspective makes in developing a productive team.

2. Empowerment to Fail.

I’ve heard people say that American inventor, Thomas Edison, failed 1,000 times before he invented the lightbulb. I’ve also heard it was 10,000 times. While the exact number is sketchy at best, it was clear that failure was a big part of Edison’s success. He felt empowered to find out what didn’t work, moving him that much closer to the solution he sought.

Cleaning product 409 got its name from the number of experiments it took to come up with the right formula that worked. Numerous stories exist about the failure of people that got to the top because they embraced and learned from their failures. Michael Jordan who still is in the top five of all time NBA scorers is also in the top five list of players that missed the most shots.

I learned that people who fail and push through for success always end up on top, while those who avoid failure rarely get anywhere in life. Empowering a team’s failure to build confidence and knowledge improves their success rate for the long term.

3. Praise for Success.

My upbringing implanted the idea that all incentives must be financial to be effective. However, several recent studies suggest that financial incentives only work well for immediate effect and for most blue collar workers, while events, parties, and excursions work best for white collar employees (The research did not include bonus programs, as it was only looking at project based incentives).

Regardless of the function a person serves, all employees appreciate some form of public praise or recognition for their success. People have always appreciated being acknowledged in some form or another, making praise an essential part of team development.

The common denominator in the above three steps used to build a successful team comes down to the individual. When you attribute the success to the person, allow them to fail forward and gain knowledge, and encourage them to infuse the essence of who they are in the project, success is always the outcome.

If you are interested in having me speak to your company or organization, please feel free to contact me. Also, please check out my new website for speaking engagements at speakercjpowers.com

A Chance to Excel with Kevin Riley

IMG_6193I met Kevin Riley a month ago and had the opportunity to attend one of his speaking engagements last Friday. Kevin authored “Guiding Your Child from Pee Wee to Pro.” The book is designed to help parents nurture their child’s athletic development, but I found his information to also be applicable to business, filmmaking and spiritual growth.

Kevin, after years of speaking engagements to parent groups, parks and recreational organizations, and state and national conferences, realized the repetitiveness of one comment, “I wish I had known all this information years before.” This moment of enlightenment drove him to research what turns a good performer into a great one.

“One thing that really surprised me as I was going through and doing all this research, and doing interviews, et cetera, was that 97 percent of the population has the chance to excel,” says Kevin. “To get in that one percent. 97 percent of all of us have the opportunity, have the capability, to excel. And that’s because, and I’m sorry to say, we’re all essentially the same.”

The Elite Use Long-Term Memory

Kevin went on to share the things we have to do to excel and get into the top one percent, which are not hard to do. He started with a simple question, “Where does expertise come from?” Kevin adds, “It comes from your memory. And more specific, it comes from your long-term memory.”

I was fascinated to learn how experiences move into our working memory or short-term memory. Most of those things that are important to us and memorable, then move into our long-term memory. But the key is turning long-term memory into a tool to be used as an expert.

“Now you are already a near-expert,” says Kevin. “A near-expert is very close to an expert, but not quite. Raise your hand if you can remember any detail of getting here today. How many of you drove? Okay. Do you remember accelerating? Do you remember putting on the brakes? Do you remember turning the steering wheel right or left, whichever way you had to go? Do you remember with any detail doing those things?”

“More than likely, no. You may remember, ‘Okay, this is the route that I took. And there’s a stoplight over on Indian Trail and 31.’ But do you remember actually going through it? Your driving was automated. That’s why you can hold a conversation with someone in the car and still drive.”

The Elite Automate Their Motor Skills

51EreC9uL7L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_“What you want to do, and what athletes do, is they automate their motor skills. They have a lot of information, a lot of experiences in their long-term memory. Another benefit of having a lot of stuff in their long-term memory, for athletes and you also, is that you can chunk information. When you’re presented with a situation, your brain will pull up past memories to assist you in accomplishing what you’re trying to do.”

Kevin used tennis as an example to explain how memory chunking works. Research has shown that human beings have an extremely hard time reacting to a tennis ball hit at 100 miles per hour. Yet pros return Roger Federer’s 130 mile per hour serve. This is done by the chunking of information.

The athlete anticipates the shot based on the server’s stance, foot position, body angle, the loft of the ball into the air, the hand position on the racket, the air temperature, and the condition of the court. The array of information based on remembered experiences allows the player to reduce the number of possibilities of where the ball will land to a small area on the court that he can respond to.

“The other thing is, if you have a lot of information in your long-term memory,” Kevin says, “is that the connections, the electrical signals within your brain actually move faster than someone who doesn’t have a lot of information in their long-term memory.”

The Elite Practice with Variation

Kevin shared that when he coached, he’d have the kids repeat things over and over again in the same way at every practice. The activities lost its importance and was no longer memorable, causing the players to plateau. Once he shifted to variable practices that kept things important and memorable, the players saw increases in their skill levels.

“A shortstop will never throw a ball to right field or centerfield or even left field. There’s no reason for that,” says Kevin. “But what it does, (in a variable practice), it disengages the brain from what he normally does, throwing to first, so then when he throws back to first base he has to rethink. It starts to become memorable to him—Again.”

The best thing to do during practice is random activities. The coach could call out an action to a player and they have to immediately do it, something different every time. It’s a slower way to practice, but its more memorable and will stay in the players long-term memory for immediate action at another time. It also builds the player’s ability to make quick decisions under pressure.

Kevin says, “Every time an athlete goes out they need to challenge themselves. They just can’t keep doing the same thing. Even if it’s just a half a percent, a quarter of a percent more in something. Either make something a little faster, reverse the order, it has to be a challenge every single time.”

When people begin to get comfortable their skills plateau. The only way to continue growing one’s expertise is to challenge the mind in new ways. Getting feedback from a coach or someone knowledgeable about the technique can help pinpoint what skill area needs work and then by using short, intensive focused segments of practice can stimulate the mind with a level of importance, while being memorable.

“For an athlete, and on average, it takes about 7,000 hours of practicing this way,” says Kevin. “Okay that’s two, two-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week, for 50 weeks a year. We don’t have time to do that. We have other things going on. But I would challenge you… Practice using these techniques in your domain for 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week. Try it for a month. Research shows that if you can do that your performance and your knowledge, your availability to chunk information will remarkably increase over a period of a month.”

The Elite Use Kevin’s Information

“Everyone is relying on traditional, out-of-date exercises, practice methods, and there’s a new way to do things,” says Kevin. “Science is evolving on how the brain works and how people learn. To improve, you need to learn how to improve.”

Kevin’s new methods have been well proven by athletes, business executives, and many in the field of entertainment. The key is recognizing that we are all pretty much the same, not having that exceptional talent, yet able to become experts by using a process. To demonstrate our sameness and how processes can change our outcomes, Kevin had us play a game.

We played the harder version of Flippy Cup within a two-minute time constraint. The game’s conditions included only one person going at a time, the next person not being able to start until the previous person succeeded, and the cup starting upside down on its wide mouth and being flipped upright onto its narrow base. All the teams righted one or two cups.

We were then given two minutes to create a strategy or process that could change our few flipping opportunities based on ordinary skills into three to five times more opportunities. One person was to clear the table of fallen cups. Another fed the cups into an ideal starting position. And, the other person focused solely on their finger-flipping abilities. During the next round, our table of average guys became experts in our process and we won with a score of five flipped cups.

“It’s really true that the vast majority of the population is average. We all have average IQs, and as far as our physical abilities we’re all born pretty much the same. And its practice, and how we practice, that can improve.” Kevin says, “In the two minutes that we did it, people started to use their chunking ability, their long-term memory, and a method to improve. And they’re the team that won. Improvement is about process.”

Kevin’s message was easy to understand and his demonstration clearly supported his point that the most successful, the ones that reach the top, have a process. Everyone else seem to use a shotgun approach, hitting and missing arbitrarily, with no way to replicate a specific successful outcome again and again.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

A Businessman’s Book of Black Gold

BlackBookv1About 20 years ago I met a unique businessman. He was very tall and built like a linebacker. To compensate for his size, he spoke in a soft voice and always carried a smile. I had never seen such a sight, so I crossed the waiting area at our gate to introduce myself before our flight boarded. I’ll refer to him in this post as Mike.

I was working for a Fortune 50 company at the time and always on the lookout to learn from the best. It didn’t take a lot of observation skills to ascertain that Mike was a successful executive, wearing the latest Armani suit with highly polished wingtip shoes. His uniqueness was evident in how he responded to my approach.

He immediately sat up and leaned forward to give me his undivided attention. His word choice suggested that he could hold his own in the country or on a farm, while his dialect and presentation was clearly Park Ave. He was approachable, knowledgeable, and filled with wisdom—knowing exactly how to alter his conversation on the fly to match the other person’s.

His face reflected a fascination with my questions, which allowed me to continue asking questions that most businessmen would find exhausting. At one point he stopped our conversation and cut to the chase, asking me outright if I wanted to know the core reason for his business success. I said, “Yes.”

After pulling a small, black notebook from his pocket, he said that all of his business secrets were in the book. He then asked if I’d like to read through it while we waited. I took the book and sat down to read his handwritten notes. I was amazed at the business techniques that were captured on each page. I had found “black gold,” Texas tea, business oil, that is. The stuff that could catapult a man toward success.

He saw my hunger for the information as I absorbed page after page. He quietly borrowed my ticket and went up to the gate, while I continued to memorize the information. He returned after exchanging my economy ticket for the first class seat next to his so I could continue reading.

At 35,000 feet, I turned to Mike and asked him for clarification. One of the business statements didn’t read in a way that was easily understood from a business context. Proverbs 8:20 read: “A king who sits on the throne of justice, sifts all evil with his eyes.” He told me that understanding the translation sometimes required a deeper dive into the word choices selected by the translator who converted the info to English.

Mike said that a “king” represented him as a business owner reigning over his small business empire. He was to do it “justly,” always making sure he was fair to himself, his employees, and his clients. His greatest task during the transaction was to “sift” through all “evil,” or one-sided choices, by carefully observing his team and the clients, making sure to purge or get rid of anyone who was not conducting business on the up and up.

Mike then told me about a man who was trying to leverage an additional 3% margin out of the customer to make himself look good. He immediately remembered the proverb and fired the man. Five years later he heard how the man finagled business at his next job to the point where his boss got fired and he took over the position—not the kind of man anyone would want on their team. Two years later the business was scrutinized by the FBI, ending with the man being jailed 11 months later for embezzling.

I admired how Mike’s experience proved the black book’s notes to be effective and accurate. I wanted more, and Mike saw it in my eyes. As we disembarked, Mike handed the book back to me as a parting gift with the hope that I’d always mold my business according to its biblical principles. I thanked him for the first class seat and the chance to learn from one of the best. He suggested the best way to return the favor was to share my story about the black book with others. And so I have, again.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers