Key ideas and highlights
- Those regarded as the greatest player in their sport of all time almost always have completely different playing styles. So why do we often fall into the fallacy that excellence is objective?
- People often don’t know what their strengths are, especially the younger generation. It’s their managers’ job to help them figure it out.
- Excellence is idiosyncratic. We must train up our people in a way that forces them to ask: “what does good look like for me?”
“We need to unlearn that we must become someone else to be excellent.”
— Jordan Peace
Word of the day
- Cordial - said 32:54 ✅
- 0:00 Intro
- 2:10 Recap of Episode 16
- 3:42 The Theory of Excellence - is performance universal or idiosyncratic?
- 4:45 Sports as an example of the fallacy of excellence
- 11:30 Excellence cannot necessarily be taught
- 13:06 How do you define the ideal candidate?
- 14:02 How to train up your people
- 16:44 You need to figure out what your people’s strengths are, especially your younger people
- 18:27 We need to unlearn the fallacy that we must become someone else to be successful
- 21:14 The idiosyncrasies in excellence force us to ask: “What does good look like for me?”
- 22:04 The right way to develop your people is by the language you use
- 24:09 What’s wrong with just saying, “good job!”
- 27:34 Why you should teach your people to think strategically
- 32:00 How pointing people back to their past successes will help them succeed in the future
How many hours and years of our lives do we spend on work? For nearly all of us, we spend 30 plus years and one third of our days in our vocation. More time perhaps, than we spend at rest or at play. But this isn't a problem. Why? Because work is good. Work needs to be integrated deeply into our lives and must be in line with our most important goals and values. And if it is, we have a far more complete and fulfilling life experience. Welcome to the How People Work podcast, where we explore the intersection of how humans think and act and how they apply themselves to their work. When you understand both of these things, you'll be equipped to be insightful, compassionate, and compelling leaders. Welcome back to How People Work. This is your host, Jordan Peace, along with my co-host, or am I the co-host? This is Jason Murray, either way.
We're both co, I guess co-founders. True. We are both co-founders of Fringe, as many of you know. Our podcast is about people and how they work, how they think, how they do their work, how they go about life and make decisions. And we were talking last week about an article from Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall called The Feedback Fallacy. I think we got through half-ish of that article and we're going to try to tackle the other half today, starting with fallacy number three or The Theory of Excellence.
Yeah. Well, and just as kind of a quick recap, because I love, well, first off, I just say I love these kinds of articles to begin with, where there's just kind of counterintuitive things and things that you know, you feel like are sort of conventional business wisdom. And then you come across some actual science and you're like, wait a second, we're doing this all wrong.
That’s definitely your favorite stuff.
That is my favorite thing.
I mean, I love it too, because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but when you add this science angle, then you -
Yeah, you feel justified. Yeah, right. It's only right,
Exactly. Well, I knew this, but I don't know why I knew this.
We've considered this from every possible angle now, and we have arrived at the truth here, which actually is ironically one of the theories that we covered in a previous episode. The theory of the Source of Truth. So yeah, we think we've covered some interesting things around how we learn. Some of the takeaways I had from it, just as kind of a quick recap, giving attention to our strengths or getting attention to our strengths rather from others catalyzes learning versus the opposite. So when we get attention to weaknesses, it tends to smother it. It triggers that fight or flight mechanism in our brains that's just kind of been built in there in our biology. And so when we're talking about learning, it is something that I think requires rethinking a little bit how we're actually doing that, enabling the people that we work with and potentially supervise. And then theory of source of truth quickly again, is just basically we're more aware of a reality that we perceive. And so trying to speak on behalf of somebody else essentially, and saying that we kind of are arbitors of the truth entirely in the world, when that may not actually be the fact and I had a really weird example that I shared that was from scientific research, but chickens and shovels
Chickens and shovels and coops.
And all that kind of stuff. You'll have to listen to that episode. I'm not going to restate it here. So this last one I actually think to me is the most interesting and exciting of the three theories that they talk about in this. So it's the theory of excellence and the false notion that we often have is the sense that performance is something that's universal, that we can break it down, that we can describe it in really exact terms, and that say, the way that I do something, I could teach you exactly how to do that, and it's going to transfer perfectly into the same kind of excellence. And so that is the fallacy. And so what's actually true, or being put forth by Buckingham and Goodall as the actual case here is that excellence is idiosyncratic. And I think that's just a really interesting place for us to start the conversation.
That should have been the word of the day, but I got to stick with what you gave me.
And I would've used it.
It would've been built in. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think this is bad news for sportscasters. What they love to do is describe and analyze and tell you, this is exactly why this team won and this team didn't win. And Jokic had 41 points, but only four assists, and therefore, yada, yada, yada. So I think, but from experience for me, I've seen it on both sides of the coin. I’ve seen my own inability to transfer something that I'm good at to someone else. And that just kind of break down, even though I feel like I'm giving them the fullness of everything that I know and everything that I've done to get good at whatever the thing is that I'm good at, which is only a few things. And I've also experienced even more often being on the other side of that, even today, I had a boxing lesson today, and there's the guy, he manages a bunch of fighters.
He used to fight himself anything from bare knuckle to traditional boxing. And dude's just tough. And he's just trying to teach me. And there was a mirror over his shoulder, and I'm watching him do things and I'm trying to do what he's doing, and I look ridiculous. And I'm just like, I'm leaning too far over. I'm like, I'm not mirroring his movements at all. I think I am until I get a picture of it. And I'm like, oh boy, I, I'm a long way off from excellence here, but I think that I don't, and then what he was encouraging me with is he's like, you don't have to be me to be good at this. You're going to develop a style. You're going to develop sequences and things that are more natural to you that just like your body likes to do those things and it doesn't like to do the things that I do. And it was interesting to just have a conversation about that today. Not even thinking about the podcast and what was upcoming.
It is pretty fascinating. I was actually listening to a podcast driving here for this, and they were talking about mixed martial arts, and people probably have all sorts of feelings about it. I think it's fascinating though, because these guys that get into the ring and women as well to fight each other, they have different styles. I mean, they're coming from TaeKwonDo, Jiu Jitsu, boxing. There's all sorts of all over the place. And so, I mean, again, they're all athletes that are at the top of what they do, but they all have different styles and approaches to it. But I do think what's interesting in that though is there are, I guess you'd call 'em rules of engagement or rules to the game, which I think we even talked about in a previous episode. Part of what makes something fun is there's rules to it. And so we know the parameters within which we're actually competing or doing something like that.
But the way in which you actually achieve success or excellence can be very different. So I mean, you and I both love basketball. I love the NBA. I know you, not so much, we both love college basketball though. But I think about guys like LeBron James or Steph Curry, I mean both excellent, right? Basketball players, but their games could not be more different from one another. And so it gets into the whole how do you talk about who the best players are and this and that. And it becomes really difficult because the excellence isn't just entirely objective. It's an argument that people have ongoing.
Those debates never get settled. They never fully settle, right? Because there's just always something to point to. Oh, did you know that his plus minus in the last eight years of his career was better than the other? There's always something, but because the definition of what that excellence is is just unclear and it's not the same for each one. So I mean, if LeBron was shooting 38% from three and doing everything else he was doing, he'd be having the season of his life. But if Steph's shooting 31% from three, he's probably just not an effective player in that season. So it's completely different. I love you jotted down the show notes Greg Maddox and Randy Johnson. So for me, I'm just such a baseball guy. The difference between those two is just so dramatic. And nothing against Randy Johnson. He is a pitcher, but he's also a thrower. Right? I mean, the guy just has heat and stuff and talent just dripping out of his arm. He could just make the ball do incredible things, but at a really high speed at what, a 6’11” frame, I think he has. So he's a lot closer to the plate. Ridiculous than anybody else. Anyway, by the time he releases the ball, I've been waiting to talk about sports on this podcast. This is fun.
He’s very scary looking too.
And very scary looking. Randy Johnson. Extremely.
For those who may not know. Yeah.
Yeah. I mean, he had the mullet and just crazy eyes and -
A face only a mother could love.
Yes. A face for radio. And I mean, he just, he's overpowered people. And then there's the professor Greg Maddox out there with his six foot one maybe frame, right? He doesn't even look all that athletic.
Top end speed was like 89, 90, maybe.
Fastball. And he just carved people up because they never knew what he was going to throw and where it was going to be. And he just outthought everybody. Right? And they both ended up in the same hall of fame making very similar speeches in front of a group of their peers. And I mean, it's just such an obvious, well, I could give a whole inspirational speech on this topic too. Cause you just think about, we tend to compare ourselves to others, and as we're trying to achieve something and be excellent, and it's well documented even on this podcast, my imposter syndrome I’ve felt for a number of years in the CEO role. And I could give other examples of leadership that was offered me that I denied early in my life because I'm like, well, I'm not that guy or woman, that person, whatever. I'm not that. They are like this and I am like this, and therefore I can never be excellent at what they're excellent at. And it takes a long time to unlearn a fallacy that's taken hold. And you go, oh, actually there's a way I can be excellent. I just have to do it in my own way. And nobody can really teach that, necessarily.
Well, I think what's helpful is we probably measure people against standards that maybe we haven't even articulated. And so when it comes to, say, giving feedback, for example, it's like, Hey, I'm giving you feedback against some kind of ideal, right? Presumably because why else? How else do you judge the merit of the feedback of anything, right? But is that ideal actually appropriate given the individual that you're talking to? So I mean, even just come back to the analogy we were using. I always think about the coaches that are coaching guys like LeBron and Steph. It's like, what does a coach say to Steph, right? Steph's having a bad shooting night. What is the coach? You're not going to take the guy -
Keep your elbow up!
Who's like the leading three point shooter literally of all time and tell him, Hey, we need you to drive to the basket more and dunk it or something. Right? You need to dunk on that guy. You need to be more LeBron James. It would be ridiculous. And so I think in the same way though, you start bringing that into our context in a workplace setting. It's like, what are the assumptions that we're making without even thinking about in terms of what we expect from people or an ideal that we're maybe holding them to. And then we're giving them feedback and it's like, well, do you have a Steph Curry on your team? Do you have a LeBron James on your team? And then are you giving them feedback that's trying to push them into some other kind of model that really doesn't even fit the kind of player they are to begin with?
Yeah, it's so true. It makes me think about this whole ideal candidate profile idea. And I'm like, how do you define that?
There's tasks that need to be done, and people have to have enough expertise to do those tasks.
So there's skills.
Which can you dribble a basketball? Can you shoot the basketball? Right? Is there a level of proficiency in some fundamentals? But I think I would also separate values from what we might call competencies.
Are you a team player? Do you share the ball? How do you approach the game? What's your mindset?
Right? A good teammate.
Are you a good teammate? That's something totally different than what are the actual areas of excellence that you thrive in as an individual where you're going to contribute in a very specific and tactical way to the team.
I guess it begs the question then, if this idea of excellence is not necessarily reliably transferable, then how is it that we develop people, come, let's use an employee for an example. People come into an organization, they've got the basic skills, they understand the software that they need to use, they know how to write a decent email, they can keep up, but how do we develop them? Let's say that I'm a manager of some kind, and I'm trying to become a VP, and I see this person and I see some potential, and I'm like, well, I need to get them up to take my job so that I can go take that job type of thing. How do I transfer? How do I do it then?
Yeah. I don't know that I have an answer per se, but I have thoughts.
It's an open question.
Around what it might look like.
I'm not really asking you. I'm asking us.
Yeah. So I think part of it is the way in which that person would do your job is probably different than the way you would do it. Yeah. It's a good place to start. And I'd say something that I've found to be true in my own experience with Fringe and prior working with people, managing people, trying to train and develop them is that 1. It's really hard work managing and leading people and developing them, because the job isn't a corrective one. The job isn't holding up some ideal of excellence and just kind of whipping people in the shape until they perform according to that exact profile, right? Because as we're talking about here, it doesn't work. And I think in my own experience, I've seen it just demoralizes people, right? Yeah. Because you're, what you're doing then, as we've talked about in other places with this article, is you're focusing on weaknesses versus strengths probably. And when you do that, you're actually smothering them because you're triggering that flight mechanism in their brain, right?
People aren't plants. I think about, I've got a row of five hostas out front in the flower bed there, and they get the exact same amount of water and the exact same amount of sunlight, and they grow at the exact rate, and they look identical to each other. There's really no noticeable difference between these plants. But people do not work that way. You can't just give 'em the same water in the same sunlight and then just boom, look, they all grew and they're all identically successful and identically excellent. Yeah. It's like the opposite of that.
So I think the hard work of people who lead people is figuring out what their strengths are. And maybe some people who are maybe a little more mature, mid or later career, they have a better sense of themselves and what they're good at.
They can help their manager, they can give them a lot of that information.
But I would say that's a hard thing. I'm just going to speak for myself here. I probably didn't have a good sense of what I really felt like my strengths were until past the age of 35. I'm 39 now. And so really in the last four years, is it that I feel like I have a sense of, yeah, I'm really good at this. I love doing this and this other stuff over here. I'm really not. Before that, it was just a ton of exploration, try and fail.
You're not 39 till August, I just realized.
That's true. Yeah. Actually, I'm aging myself.
Close enough. Hey, by the time the episode airs, you might be 39.
Yeah. And so I think that's something to keep in our minds too, is like, well, if you're, say a mid-level manager, for example, you probably have a lot of younger people that you supervise who probably don't have a great sense of, Hey, what am I awesome at? I don't know. I'm trying to figure this out. Can you help me figure it out? And I think that's the hard work. Cause it just takes more time. As a leader, you've really got to invest in people and get to know 'em and really watch how they work in order to understand what they are actually strong at. And so it's not just being a task master, right? It is being that great coach who understands who the players are and what their strengths are and how they all fit together.
Well, I think that's part one of two, and this maybe more parts here is, I won't say of two, but is identifying those strengths and then maybe developing those strengths is part of that too. Giving people opportunities to use those things. And you give them trust and autonomy and so forth. But also, at least, and I don't think I'm alone in this. I think people need to unlearn the fallacy that they must be someone else in order to be successful. Yes. Even when you're 35 or 39 or 29 or 54, whatever, I think people carry around that fallacy for most if not all of their lives, that in order to be whatever this ideal they have in their mind, they have to be like him or her. And so I think that's part of the leadership responsibility too, is helping people unlearn that and helping people who might hopefully look up to you as a manager to go, Hey, I don't want you to become me. That's not the point.
It's really funny. I have to share this because I just think it's an incredible anecdote. Sports, again, sorry, sports episode. But Marcus Buckingham talks about this in one of his books, a different book where he goes through some of these things as well. And it just came to mind because Lionel Messi is coming to the United States, which is very exciting. And so might actually, yeah, might actually get to see him play in my lifetime, which would be awesome. But he talks about Messi compared to say, Ronaldo, arguably two of the greatest players of all time.
But he talks about Messi, which I didn't know this about him because I'm like a casual soccer slash football fan. And if you go watch replays of Messi dribbling the ball and taking it into score and things like that, he uses his left foot about 90% of the time. Wild would mean meaning not just how he kicks to strike the ball and score. He literally touches the ball 90% of the time with his left foot. So he's so left foot dominant in how he dribbles and handles the ball. And you'd think if a guy touches the ball 90% of with his left foot, that would be a weakness, potentially?
Something you could pull -
Because in basketball you're thinking, well, if he always goes left, I just guard him on that side.
You know what he's going to do. Yeah. And obviously it doesn't matter, right? Because he still is incredible.
You could get by you no matter what.
And Ronaldo is much more balanced than his approach and how he handles the ball and things like that. And I just thought that was crazy because I had never realized that about his play and style of play.
That is wild.
So just I guess part of the point being that when we say excellence is idiosyncratic, it doesn't just mean, oh, there's little differences, but it's kind of the same still, right? It's actually the idiosyncrasies within excellence can be so massive, like Messi and Ronaldo level that I think you really do have to assess, okay, what does good look like for me? Or what does good look like for the people that I manage and supervise? It's probably something very different per individual.
So this article that Buckingham and Goodall put out, that kind of the next section that it leads into is really around a framework of helping people develop, helping people solve problems, helping people see things that they may not see -
Some practical ways to -
Self revelation, some of that. So I think it'd be interesting to talk about that a little bit as we're sort of trying to answer our own question or my question, well, then how do we develop people if there's no ideal to guide them towards, right? So I don't know if you want to start with the table here, if you want to go up a little bit, but yeah, so there's a table here, and we'll share this in the show notes for you guys, but the right way to help colleagues excel, and it's around the language that you use. And it kind of goes back to this same idea that we talked about with the kind of fallacy, number one of the source of truth. And you don't want to be the source of truth. You don't want to try to be the source of truth to help people understand what's going well, what's going poorly, whatever. Because otherwise you're just dictating what you think and what they ought to do and who they are. And it engages to all the wrong parts of the brain for people to learn and develop. And so interestingly, the first one here about giving feedback, instead of saying, can I give you some feedback? Try, here's my reaction. Right? It's because it's very disarming. It's not, when you use the word feedback, it implies I'm going to tell you something truer or better than
What you did
Or what you know. So you're going to get smarter. Ready? As opposed to, here's my reaction. It's just, it's very much just like, I saw that. I reacted this way.
The inference, whether intended or not, is that you did something wrong. Yeah. And so I'm going to tell you what you did wrong. Right? Which, yeah, try that with your marriage and see how that goes over.
Can I give you some feedback?
Would you say that to your wife?
I would not, I would not. Not even if she asked.
I would not either.
For feedback, I'd be like, I can tell you some reactions I had.
I'd like to give myself some feedback for what's about to happen right now.
Well, the next one here is really interesting because you would never think that saying good job like that, you could do better than that. Right? What's wrong with good job, right? Good job. But again, it's sort of this authoritarian. I know what's good. I saw what you did and I deem it good.
Yeah. Well, this just popped into my head. It’s very nonspecific. This ties into what's recommended. So instead of saying, good job, here are three things that really worked for me. What was going through your mind when you did them? And so what actually jumped out to me was, my kids have been getting into sports. I know yours have too. Yeah. And so I've thought about with my daughter who played basketball for the first time last season, she really didn't know anything about the game when she was starting. And so I would find myself wanting to encourage her after a game or practice. And of course I'd say, good job. And then I would find myself saying, good job. And immediately thinking, that's not helpful to her at all.
Right. What was good?
It's like, Hey, you tried really hard. You put a lot of effort and hustle in. That was great. Or Hey, when you did this thing, I saw how you remembered a skill that you learned in practice and you boxed that player out. Right? That was awesome. Right. Calling out the really specific things that she did actually then helped her because next time she was like, oh yeah, I remember it. That thing that I did was good. And it felt good to be praised about that specific thing.
Yeah. Well, also I think this question that they suggest is so great because this whole what was going through your mind, it is another way of saying, why did you do it that way? It's not as direct, which is probably good, but if I'm going to recall what was going through my mind when I said or did something, it was probably my reasoning for saying or doing the thing. And so then they get to self-discover why they made a decision that they made, which helps them learn more about themselves and their own motivations and that’s really good.
How that actually happened today with my son, Caleb and TaeKwonDo. And so they do sparring periodically throughout it. And so they got all their gear on and he's fairly timid. I would say, versus some of the other kids who are pretty gung ho about it, let's go. And they're just like, yeah, let's go kick in and punch in and just kind of wheeling away. And you could tell he gets pretty nervous about it. And so today in particular, he was really nervous and just backing away a lot and not really engaging as much with the sparring and so forth. And so that's exactly what we talked about in the car afterwards because it was like, Hey, buddy, I could tell something was going on. What was going through your mind? Trying to help draw out what he was thinking about. And once we got to, Hey, it just kind of made me nervous because they were so aggressive. And I was like, look, that's totally cool, but hey, here's the thing. This kid and that kid, they are aggressive, but what do they do every time? It's the same thing, right? Roundhouse kick, roundhouse kick, roundhouse kick. They got the same move, so what could you do? And he's like, oh, now that I think about it, he's like, I could block and then counterattack. Or he's like, I could escape and then counter attack. And I was like, yeah, that's great. Now you're actually thinking through the scenario of what you did and you’re self discovering.
You just taught him strategic thinking just by asking questions.
Well I think that's behind some of this.
Assess the situation and how should I respond? Yeah, you're right. I think that is what's behind this. This one's a little bit more obvious. Here's what you should do, not the right way to approach the person that you're trying to develop. Here's what I would do, is what they would suggest. Here's what I would do. Which makes sense. Yeah. And it's, it's not saying this is the thing, absolutely. This is the only thing there is to be done, but here's how I would approach it. So one's a little obvious, here's where you need to improve. Obviously that's a little head on, here's what worked best for me and here's why. It's kind of same idea. I can just give you an example of how I did it. Here's why it worked for me, and probably the why part's the most important part. Because the why might actually be something more close to universal. By the way, what's the word of the day? I completely blanked on it. Again, cordial. Cordial, right. Okay. Alright. I'm like, I'm going to miss it again, because if we're on another document and I can't keep one word in my mind, don't suggest it's not suggested that we say as we're developing people giving feedback that didn't really work. Instead say, when you did X, I felt Y or I didn't get it. I didn't get that. I think that's useful because I mean, you're just saying, here is how I felt. Yeah.
I mean, to me that one feels most applicable when I put it in the context of my marriage again, for example, because it's like you don't want to just objectively say, Hey, that sucked.
But you want to say, Hey, when that happened, here's what I felt.
Because it lets you enter into the conversation from a standpoint of, I'm not sure what you were trying to do maybe, and I'm just saying, here's how it landed with me. Versus just saying like, yeah, that was awful.
I'm sure you get more than that than you give? But yeah, when you did X, I felt Y. There's, there's gosh, there's some good lessons on just apologies in here. Just never say, you made me feel or you forced this upon me or you, right. You did. I felt, yeah. Yeah. I think it's a really safe space to communicate. You need to work on your communication skills, obviously not something, wait, I'd say that one I don't feel like needs to be on the table. I It's mean. Are people actually saying that to each other? Yeah. Well, you probably have. You need to improve your communication skills and instead, here's exactly where you started to lose me. Again, it's just me, how I felt, how I react from my perspective, my perspective. It's not the truth. It's just how I felt. You need to be more responsive. Instead, when I don't hear from you, I worry that we're not on the same page. You lack strategic thinking.
Horrible. Horrible thing to say. Instead, I'm struggling to understand your plan. Yeah. Again, point to myself, I'm struggling. If there's a deficit, it's mine. I didn't get it. I didn't understand it. I felt this way. I reacted this way. Not that there is a deficit, but if there is one, it was mine. I just didn't get it. Help me understand. And then the last one here, you should do X. So in response to a request for advice, Hey, what should I do in this situation? To directly answer, you should do - You should do X, Y, Z. Don't do that. Instead, respond. What do you feel like you're struggling with and what have you done in the past that worked in a similar situation? Again, you're teaching thinking, strategic thinking, analytical thinking, whatever. You're just teaching someone really how to think. And then trusting that the skills and the know-how and the necessary wisdom and ability is already within this person. And you're just drawing it out.
And you're pointing 'em back to a past success, which is something we haven't touched on, but they do mention elsewhere in this article is if you can get people to look at things that worked for them before, you're probably centering them on their strengths. And then you're probably helping them kind of get unstuck mentally on something where they can be like, oh yeah, if I think of it, if I think about it this way, where I was successful accomplishing that thing or getting through that problem, I can maybe bring some of that to bear. And so within myself, I can kind of find the answer.
Yeah. Yeah. I think it's good. I think that’s a good stopping point. Yeah. We hit this article pretty hard. Two episodes worth really good stuff from Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, and this again, comes from the Harvard Business Review. So feel free to check out that article and even send us your thoughts and what did we butcher and not understand and not get right. I'd love some feedback on that as well. We cordially invite you to give us feedback. Nice. Sneaky. Got it in that last minute there. Yeah. So Jason, tell us about next week's episode if you'd like, or you can just tell us about the word of the day next week.
Yeah. Well, next week we're going to dive into just some research that we've been doing internally here at Fringe that I've been helping spearhead with some other folks kind of internally. And I think there's some just interesting questions and just insights and things that we've been learning along the way that we want to start to roll out from that, that I think is some interesting conversations. So the word of the day though for today is Satiate.
Satiate. I like it. All right, I got that one. All right. I'm very confident, which is never goes well. We'll see. Thanks guys for listening to How people work. We really enjoy bringing this podcast to you guys, and again, we'd love to hear feedback from you guys, topics that you'd want us to discuss. We're even considering bringing guests on the podcast in the near future, so if you have suggestions there, we'd love to hear them. And thank you so, so much for listening.