Practice is over. Hit the trail… literally.

1062030_playing_piano Watching talented people perform is a great joy. Not just the classical pianists, and violinists, and rock guitarists; but pretty much anyone who has honed their craft, art or sport to near perfection.

Ever watch an artist take brush to canvas and create a painting – from thin air – so breathtakingly beautiful you can hardly believe it?

How about a talented brick mason? Applying mortar to a brick in a fluid, almost musical rhythm, then placing, and tapping it with the butt of his trowel until it’s perfectly aligned. It’s an art.

We Give A Lot of Credit To Practice.

No one can deny that repetition is critical to mastering an art or skill. Nobody excels without a lot of practice. And, interestingly, it seems that now we’ve even assigned a magic number to practice.

10,000 hours of practice at anything and you’ll be one of the best!

In his best-selling book, Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin explains that practice is far more important than natural talent. Obviously, some people may have abilities and attributes that give them a stronger start, but nothing replaces practice.

585061_football_3Colvin devotes several pages of his book to Jerry Rice, greatest receiver in NFL history. Rice was known for his incredible hustle, drive, and perseverance, and yet he spent very little of his time actually practicing the game of football.

Don’t misunderstand. Football is such a dangerous and grueling sport, most all players spend more time on other conditioning activities than they do playing the game. It’s just too demanding, and the risk of injury is too great.

But Jerry Rice took his conditioning and even his off-season workouts to a level that few other athletes attempt. Even more important, he used the weightlifter’s “isolate and intensify” concept to help him focus on the skills that made him an exceptional receiver.

Rice trained in ways that most players never consider.

For instance, we know that Rice was not the fastest receiver, but his skill at running patterns, evading defenders, jumping, and simply being able to hang on to the ball made him the best.

How did he develop these particular skills? He spent a lot of his time running through the woods.  Running on these winding trails, while avoiding fallen limbs, stumps and snakes gave him the ability, strength and control to change direction almost instantly and without signaling his opponent.

His attention to uphill wind sprints gave him an explosive burst of acceleration when he needed it, and in the fourth quarter, when everyone else was worn out, he was able to draw on his near superhuman level of endurance.

While speed certainly matters to a receiver, Jerry Rice is our best evidence that it’s not the only, or even the most important skill needed in a receiver. He actually figured out what matters most and that’s what he spent his time practicing.

Jerry Rice’s take on practice deserves our attention. There’s a message here for us. Take some time today to think about all the things you do; your work, your hobbies, anywhere you use your skills, and see if there might be a more efficient way of practicing. Not just practicing, but practicing what’s most important.

And then get started, 10,000 hours is a long, long time.

After a superb performance, the violinist was told by an adoring fan, “I’d give my life to be able to play like that,” to which he responded, “I did.”








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Our elevator is broken. Quick, call Ross Perot!

elevatorWikipedia is WRONG.

Wikipedia begins their article on Perot with: Henry Ross Perot is an American businessman best known for running for President of the United States in 1992 and 1996.

I disagree.

Well, maybe he is “best known” for his failed attempts at the presidency; but I have much higher regard for his abilities as an economist and an elevator service technician, although I’m not sure he’s ever claimed to be either one.

First, let’s talk about economists. They live by their concepts and theories, with SUPPLY and DEMAND being the holy grail.

Three Ways to Look at Supply and Demand When Starting a New Business

There are essentially three approaches.

  1. Open a business doing something you think you’re really good at doing or something you really enjoy, OR find an infinite supply of a product you can sell. Then find your customers.
  2. Discover a reachable group of potential customers with a genuinely identifiable need. Then figure out a way to fulfill that need.
  3. And the best of all: Find an infinite source of goods or services, known as SUPPLY, then find an infinite group of hungry customers, known as DEMAND – and BECOME THE LINK.

And that’s exactly what Ross Perot did, in typical Perot style.

Regardless of what you may have thought of Perot as a presidential candidate, he is, without doubt, one bright, aggressive, determined soul. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy, became president of his graduating class, but soon decided against a career in the military.

He then joined the IBM sales team, back when IBM was King of Computing, in the days long before personal computing. His world was one of giant mainframes and he quickly soared to the top of the sales leader board.

One year, he met his annual sales quota in two weeks!

He left IBM in 1962 and founded EDS, Electronic Data Systems, but he made a single discovery before he left IBM that would make him his fortune.

Most of the big computers he sold to his IBM clients were only utilized for a few hours each day. They sat idle most of the time. Perot asked his clients if he could buy this idle time from them, and of course, they were more than happy to lease this time to him.

Perot then went out to sell this data processing time to his new clients. However, he did not meet with immediate success. In fact, he got a big NO on his first 77 attempts to sell. But then, on his 78th presentation – SUCCESS, and it got much easier from that point, eventually including huge and very profitable contracts from the US government, even the job of computerizing Medicare records.

But wait, what’s this about fixing elevators?

As we know, Perot had ample supply (idle computing time); and he had demand (lots of paperwork that would eventually be replaced by computers), although many of his future clients did not yet know it.

Perot once pitched an account that was handling all its employees healthcare insurance claims in-house. This client did not feel that processing paperwork was too overwhelming for his staff, and decided against signing with Perot.

Only a few weeks later, Perot got a call from the prospect, “Help, we need your services.”

As it turned out, the overworked claims processors, when they found themselves hopelessly behind in their work, had taken to the nasty habit of depositing employee’s claim forms down the elevator shaft… thousands and thousands of sheets of paper.

Until one day, the pit (the area at the bottom of an elevator shaft) became so filled with forms that the elevator could no long come to rest at the first floor.

The client signed immediately.

Ross Perot eventually sold EDS to General Motors in 1984 for a mere $2.4 billion.

Here’s your challenge. Find the supply, find the demand, and make yourself the link. GOOD LUCK!


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Hitting RESTART on Your Thought Process

It’s interesting how the computer industry has so effectively adopted many of our everyday words. There’s talk of viruses, worms, defaults, firewalls, domains, portals, peripherals, and the list goes on and on. All perfectly good words, both inside the computer world and out.

But there’s one I really like – RESTART. That’s one most all of us know. If things start going badly with your computer, it’s usually a good idea to restart, that is, get a fresh start.

The same is true with our brains. Sometimes, we just need to back away from a situation. a challenge, or a problem and restart. Reload all the software and hope that we get a new perspective.

One of my very favorite instances of a RESTART is taken from the book, Made To Stick, authored by brothers Dan & Chip Heath.

They tell the story of a high school journalism class taken by Nora Ephron, screenwriter for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle.

This was the first journalism class for these students and they eagerly listened to the teacher as he explained their assignment. He would give them all the facts and they were to write the lead for a newspaper story.

He gave them the name of a school, its location, and the principal’s name. He told them that the principal had announced that the entire faculty would be traveling to a nearby city next Thursday for an all-day conference on new teaching methods. He gave them a list of the distinguished presenters.

There’s the assignment. Now, how would you handle?

Probably, just as all these students did. They quickly went to work on their manual typewriters (Anybody remember them?) to rearrange the order of the facts, play with the sentence structure, and make sure they included the who, what, where, when, and why.



In a few minutes, the journalism teacher collected the papers and began to read over them at the front of the class. Soon, he put them aside, paused for a moment, and then said, the lead for this story is:

There will be no school
next Thursday.

Did you see that coming? And isn’t he exactly right? Nora Ephron described her reaction. “It was a breathtaking moment.”

We often get so bogged down with the facts, we lose sight of the big picture – what really matters.

These journalism students never stepped back far enough to see the most important part of the story for their readers. The BIG NEWS was NO SCHOOL. Nobody particularly cared that the teachers were going for some training.

I once read about an experiment where two groups of students were given some materials and an assignment. The first group was given a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a pack of matches. Their assignment was to attach the candle to the back of a door, then light the candle. After a frustrating fifteen minutes, they could not figure out a way to accomplish this and gave up.

The second group was given the same materials and the same assignment, but with one difference: the thumbtacks and the box were given to them separately. And they quickly tacked the candle to the bottom of the open box, tacked the box to the door, and lit the candle.

The big difference was in the way the two groups perceived the function of the box. The first group saw the box only as a container for the thumbtacks, whereas the second group recognized the box as a material they could use in completing their assignment.

Sometimes, you just gotta step back and hit RESTART.




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The Empathy Milestone

Ever heard of Theory of Mind? It’s one of those complicated concepts often discussed by philosophers, but for our purposes today, we’ll consider it to be the ability to “put oneself into the shoes of another.” Or more accurately, the ability to think as another person would think based on that person’s perceptions, attitudes, and experiences.

The word EMPATHY probably comes to mind, but empathy is only one facet of this concept. Empathy is generally thought of as an emotional concern, as in, we feel for a person. Theory of mind goes deeper.

It’s no easy trick but we all develop this ability, some better than others. (Please note that very young children do not exhibit this skill, and older children or adults without this skill may have a cognitive or developmental impairment.)

Check It Out For Yourself with the Sally Anne Test.

TheoryOfMindThe easiest way to see the value of this skill is to observe a child who has not yet acquired it. The next time you happen to find yourself in the company of a 3- or 4-year-old child, try this out. You’ll need to pull in another adult, too. We’ll call him Mr. Taylor.

Pick up any object, let’s say a ping pong ball, and hide it under a cup. Let both the child and Mr. Taylor clearly see that you’ve put the ball under the cup, then ask Mr. Taylor to leave the room.

Once Mr.Taylor has moved far enough away so that he can’t see or hear you, move the ball to another location, say, behind your back. Leave the cup in the exact same spot.

Tell the child you are moving the ball and show him the new hiding place.

Invite Mr. Taylor back into the room and ask the child this question.

“If I ask Mr. Taylor where the ball is, what will he tell me?

Mr. Taylor has no reason to believe that the ball is anywhere other than under the cup. That’s where it was when he left the room.

Now here’s the interesting part. Younger children will ALWAYS blurt out, “Behind your back!” as they point to the new location of the ball. It’s as if they can’t help blurting out the new hiding place.

The child’s brain simply has not yet developed to the point where it is able to comprehend the perspective of another person. He cannot reason that since Mr. Taylor did not see that the ball had been moved, he would not know of its new location.

As the child matures intellectually, he will eventually be able to think outside his own viewpoint. At that point, his answer, of course, would be, “Mr. Taylor thinks the ball is under the cup.”

Try the experiment and see for yourself. A young child will repeatedly yell, “It’s behind your back.” And then one day, CLICK, the child will understand. He’ll give the correct answer, and like riding a bike, he’ll never lose this ability.

We do not celebrate this milestone in a child’s development, but we should realize that it’s HUGE.

Once a child is able to take on the perspective of others, he is granted an entirely new world of understanding. Through the years he will grow in his ability to understand what others – his friends, teachers, parents, even enemies – are thinking and this ability will be incredibly helpful.

The reason I’m sharing Theory of Mind today is to encourage you to utilize this ability. If you’re in disagreement with someone, or in a negotiation, or just want to get to know someone better – take the time to get inside her head. Try to see things from her perspective, then think like she would think.  You do have this ability, but you’re probably not exploiting it to its fullest.

Stephen Covey, in his classic THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, indicated we should “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Fully understanding the other viewpoint is your best first step to having others listen to you and understand your viewpoint. Why not give it a shot?

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Whoa… Am I Invisible?

Ever get the feeling that nobody’s listening to you, that maybe you’ve even become invisible? Start a story and people just look over your shoulder at something more important, or the ultimate – just walk away as if you’re not even talking?

Businesses face the same kind of problem. Very good prospects continually ignore their TV ads, billboards, print ads, even their aggressive sales staff and telemarketers. Really?

Now why do you suppose people would ignore a perfectly good sales pitch?

For one thing, we’re bombarded with ads every day and our overstuffed brains can only process and retain so much. But there’s an even bigger reason. Company owners, presidents and marketing directors, as well as employees on the front line – sales people, retail clerks, and customer service reps continually violate one of the cardinal rules of selling.


Here’s the problem. Customers aren’t listening because you’re not listening to them first. Forget about what you want to tell them. Listen to them and then address their wants and concerns.

It’s simple advice, but often so hard to follow when you’re on the selling side. So… put yourself on the buying side. Look at what you’re doing through your customers’ eyes and you’ll see much clearer.

The same is true in our personal conversations. Listen first, then talk. People will find you to be so much more interesting.

My wife and I recently went shopping for a car. She’s actually a very good negotiator so I just sat in the backseat and let her deal with the salespeople.

That proved to be very interesting. I found that the salesmen could clearly be divided into two groups.

  • Those who didn’t listen to her. On the first test drive, the salesman started running down a list of features and their benefits. At one point, my wife said, “We don’t want that feature,” and the salesman kept on extolling the benefits of this wonderful feature as if my wife had said nothing.
  • And those who did. On the next drive, with a different salesman, he mentioned the same feature, and my wife responded the same way, “We don’t want that feature.” Honestly, I had to laugh when he jumped to the next feature… without even taking a breath. Didn’t miss a beat. I was impressed.

Of course, we ended up buying our car from the lot that listened, even though we didn’t particularly even like the salesman. He listened and he gave us what we wanted.

In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re never going to make a lot of genuine friends on a car lot. Lots of smiles, handshakes and back slapping – but seriously, no great friendships are forged on that battleground.


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Consider taking more risks in 2013

Circus elephants are incredibly powerful animals, and yet they’re typically confined to a small area by nothing more than a tiny chain around their neck that’s connected to a stake in the ground.

As baby elephants, they were held captive in this way and were unable to break loose, no matter how hard they tried.

They soon learned that trying to break the chain or pull the stake out of the ground was pointless and quit trying. As they grew and got stronger, they became very capable of breaking loose, but no longer tried. What was the point? They already “knew” it was impossible.

Because humans are reasoning creatures, we don’t find ourselves faced with mental constraints similar to the elephant’s. (Or do we?) But here’s another self-limiting animal story with a much more insidious similarity to human behavior.

ImpalaThe Amazing IMPALA: (Not the Chevy, the African Antelope)

Full grown, it only stands three feet tall. Almost unbelievably, it is capable of jumping 10 feet high and can clear 30 feet in one bound. THIRTY FEET! Ten times its height. Whew.

And here’s the interesting part. If you put an impala inside a wall that’s only three feet tall, he will not jump out.

Why? Because the impala refuses to jump when he cannot clearly see where he will land. Since he’s not tall enough to see over the wall, he can’t see his landing spot, and he won’t jump. He certainly has the physical ability, but not the mental willingness.

This trait, of course, is a natural instinct and in the wild it serves him well. In fact, it is virtually essential for his survival.

When in danger, a group of impalas will explode in all directions, leaping, darting about, and even jumping over each other to confuse predators. At 30 feet a bounce, an impala has to be pretty careful about where he’s going to land or he could quickly find himself amidst a pack of predators.

On the other hand, it’s very easy to see how this instinct might limit the impala’s options, possibly causing him to freeze when he doesn’t see a good landing spot. He’s simply not willing to take any chances by jumping into unknown territory.

What’s the difference in the elephant and the impala? The elephant has been trained to believe that he can’t break loose. (“It’s not what I don’t know that hurts me; it’s what I know that ain’t so.”) The impala believes he shouldn’t jump into unseen areas because he doesn’t know what awaits him there. It’s a decision he makes using his instinct.

How willing are you to jump into unfamiliar territory?

While none of us will admit to the blatant self-limitation exhibited by the circus elephant, many of us are exactly like the impala. We refuse to take any risks, any chances, any gambles, simply because we aren’t certain of where we’ll land – the outcome of our decisions.

Now I’m not suggesting that you start taking lots of unnecessary or foolish risks, but if you’ve considered starting a small business, trying a new career or hobby, even skydiving – if fear of the unknown is holding you back – don’t buckle to the fear. Get nervous, shake, sweat, but DO IT anyway!

I’ve been singing in my church choir for 25 years, but I’ve never sung a solo. This year, I decided it was time, and in the Christmas cantata no less, the best attended service all year.

Nervous? Absolutely, but I did it! Didn’t pass out, didn’t miss a note, and after I was done, felt wonderful. That sense of genuine accomplishment was worth it… ALWAYS IS.

Maybe 2013 is your year for taking that chance you’ve been thinking about. Nothing foolish, of course, but if you decide to give it a shot, please share with us.





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Invention Convention

For the past 20 years or so I’ve had the distinct honor and pleasure of serving as a judge for the INVENTION CONVENTION at one of our local elementary schools.

If you’ve never actually been to an invention convention, it’s much like a science fair. The kids don’t have to follow the formal scientific method, but they Continue reading

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Losing Weight This Year?

The most popular New Year’s resolution each and every year is to lose weight. Don’t deny it. You’ve been there, and if you’re still going through the virtually pointless exercise of creating New Year’s resolutions, LOSE A FEW POUNDS has probably been at the top of your list, too.

As we all know, there are only two ways to lose weight; Continue reading

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Perseverance: Life or Death?

There must be thousands of stories telling us how important it is to keep on keeping on. Never, ever quit. If you don’t succeed at first… and on and on.

In most instances, our desire to quit a project we’re working on or give up on a relationship isn’t really that big a deal. But occasionally, there are times when giving up might Continue reading

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Always a Better Way

Do you remember your very first “a-ha” moment? Not that time when your kindergarten teacher got right in your face to explain something and it finally clicked. No, I’m talking about that moment when Continue reading

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