Fast and right.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.
Something that has been bothering me.
For the past several months, I’ve been working on a screenplay.
And, to put it mildly, it hasn’t been going very well.
So I’ve decided to call it quits.
It’s upsetting, because it goes against my grain.
The story I tell myself about myself.
That I can create whatever I want to create.
That I am who I choose to be.
But this particular challenge wouldn’t bend to my will.
Its pattern simply would not emerge.
Most likely because my brain is wired differently.
I don’t have a visual memory.
I can’t see images in my mind.
I see concepts and connections.
And writing a screenplay is not like writing a blog post or a book.
It’s not about words and concepts.
A screenplay is about images.
It’s a blueprint for what an audience sees, moment-to-moment, on a screen.
It’s even difficult for me to describe (click here if you’re curious).
Great screenwriters see the entire movie unfold in their heads, scene by scene.
And they create a compelling, integrated whole from those scenes.
Typically in less than three months.
Frank Darabont wrote “The Shawshank Redemption” in only 8 weeks.
This got me thinking about business coaches, consultants and baseball.
(See how my brain works?)
It’s rumored that Ted Williams could see the seams on a baseball.
As it rocketed towards him at over 90 miles-per-hour.
It’s not true.
But, “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” could see what others could not.
A slowed down, holistic version of the game.
What others missed, he saw in an instant, as a gestalt.
Score, pitch count, the pitcher’s idiosyncrasies, player positions and movements.
He could see the connections, the relationships.
Between his objective, as a batter, and everything else.
Less experienced and less skilled batters simply can’t see that reality.
So everything speeds up, in their minds.
And so do their judgments.
And those narrow, rushed decisions lead to suboptimal performance.
It’s the same in any domain.
And that’s why, in today’s hypercompetitive environment, winners hire experience.
Everything slows down for experienced people.
They see things in an instant.
Which allows them to do it fast.
And do it right.
There’s an often cited William Goldman quote about Hollywood.
“Nobody knows anything.”
It may be true that there is no formula for predicting success.
But there sure as hell are experienced and talented people who can help you attain it.

Your problem is…

I was talking with a friend about feeling “stuck.”
That paralyzing brew of boredom and frustration.
Of wheels spinning deeper and deeper into a mental and spiritual rut.
I’ve found that it often afflicts creatives.
Writers, artists, designers, actors, musicians, teachers.
Intellectually curious people who see life through a lens of possibility.
Something to be questioned and poked, stripped bare and redressed.
“Stuck” seems to appear unexpectedly, without warning.
One day we’re fine, and the next we’re . . . “stuck.”
And that “stuck” feeling feeds on itself, growing stronger each day.
Until . . . we have a problem.
A challenge or issue that moves us.
And then, like a sliding car that abruptly hits a dry patch, we straighten out.
We’re focused, aligned and happily moving forward.
My answer to my friend about being “stuck” must have sounded totally absurd.
“Your problem is . . . you don’t have a problem.”
And here’s the funny thing:
The longer I live, the more I realize.
The most insightful answers all sound absurd.
Because it’s our present reasoning, our “common sense,” that creates our problems in the first place.

Marshmallows and you.

A friend forwarded me a recent article about Walter Mischel.
Inventor of the legendary Stanford marshmallow test.
A 1960s study on self-control where 5-year-olds were offered a choice.
An immediate reward of one marshmallow (or cookie or pretzel).
Or twice that amount if they waited 15 minutes for the researcher to return.
Most children tried, yet failed to resist the temptation.
Only one third lasted the agonizing 15 minutes.
I’ve known about this test, and I believe in Mischel’s subsequent conclusions.
Namely, that children’s ability to delay gratification correlates with better life outcomes.
But the writer of the article, or perhaps Mischel, got something glaringly wrong.

“He [Mischel] explains that there are two warring parts of the brain: a hot part demanding immediate gratification (the limbic system), and a cool, goal-oriented part (the prefrontal cortex). The secret of self-control, he says, is to train the prefrontal cortex to kick in first.”

Indeed, we are of two minds.
The feeling mind, the elephant.
And the conscious mind, the rider.
But don’t fool yourself.
The elephant will always “kick in first.”
So either keep the elephant away from stimuli that provokes it.
Put blinders on the elephant.
Or tame the elephant, train it how to react to various stimuli.
But here’s the really tricky part.
Knowing when to grab and savor the marshmallow.
Knowing when to let your animal run free.
Yes, it may take you off a cliff.
But you may also feel the wind in your hair and blood pulsing through your veins.
And isn’t that why we’re really here?

Go out of your mind.

Two recent studies on depression made me think about organizations.
One found that young adults diagnosed with major depressive disorder have hyper-connected brain networks.
Especially in the areas associated with rumination.
They run problems over and over in their minds.
Never arriving at a solution.
The other found that depression is alleviated by feeling like part of a group.
Not just socializing with people, but strongly identifying with them.
Over the years, I’ve discovered those same insights.
With organizations.
Depressed, dysfunctional ones ruminate.
The classic symptom being reports and meetings.
Meetings to discuss performance.
Meetings to discuss problems.
Meetings to discuss meetings.
All of those meetings are really nothing more than collective rumination.
And, as the author of the first study made clear, “As rumination goes up, cognitive control goes down.”
Strategy and execution become muddied, disconnected.
Thriving, healthy organizations are also hyper-connected.
But not in their minds.
To the outside world and to each other, in purpose and vision.
They strongly identify with their audience, and focus relentlessly on improving their lives.
So if you find yourself and your organization ruminating, stop and engage with the outside world.
You’ll go out of your mind.
And, eventually, come to your senses.