unlocking closed doors

Houdini was a master magician as well as a fabulous locksmith. He boasted that he could escape from any jail cell in the world in less than an hour, provided he could go into the cell dressed in his street clothes. A small town in the British Isles built a new jail they were extremely proud of. They issued Houdini a challenge.

"Come give us a try," they said. By the time he arrived, excitement was at a fever pitch. Houdini rode triumphantly into the town and walked into the cell. He proudly walked into the cell and the door was closed. Houdini took off his coat and went to work. Secreted in his belt was a flexible tough and durable ten-inch piece of steel, which he used to work on the lock.

At the end of 30 minutes his confident expression had disappeared. At the end of an hour he was drenched in perspiration. After two hours, Houdini literally collapsed against the door--which opened. Yes, it had never been locked--except in his mind. One little push and Houdini could have easily opened the door. Many times a little extra push is all you need to open your opportunity door. Most locked doors are in your mind.

Zig Ziglar, See You At the Top

seeing potential

A New York businessman dropped a dollar into the cup of a man selling pencils and hurriedly stepped aboard the subway train. On second thought, he stepped back off the train, walked over the beggar and took several pencils from the cup. Apologetically, he explained that in his haste he had neglected to pick up his pencils and hoped the man wouldn’t be upset with him. “After all,” he said, “you are a businessman just like myself. You have merchandise to sell and it’s fairly priced.” Then he caught the next train.

At a social function a few months later, a neatly-dressed salesman stepped up to the businessman and introduced himself. “You probably don’t remember me and I don’t know your name, but I will never forget you. You are the man who game me back my self-respect. I was a “beggar” selling pencils until you came along and told me I was a businessman.”

The greatest good we can do for anyone is not to share our wealth with them, but rather to reveal their own wealth to them.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

The Law of Priorities

The most remarkable aspect about John Wooden--and the most telling about his ability to focus on his priorities--is that he never scouted opposing teams. Instead, he focused on getting his players to reach their potential. And he addressed those things through practice and personal interaction with the players. It was never his goal to win championships or even to be the other team. His desire was to get each person to play to his potential and to put the best possible team on the floor. And, of course, Wooden’s results were incredible. In more than 40 years of coaching, he had only one losing season--his first. And he led his UCLA teams to four undefeated seasons and a record 10 in NCAA championships. No other college team is ever come close.

John Maxwell, The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership

Breaking up is hard to do

The time immediately after a bad relationship is filled with promise. It's as if you've rid yourself of something that was weighing you down and keeping you from reaching your full potential. You fell light and clear and free. But this honeymoon with yourself is short-lived and you’re soon in a new relationship fraught with the same old problems. This pattern continues until you finally realize that most of the issues are your own, and that to be truly free, you must break up with yourself.

Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions

The Prose & Poetry of Change

The principal prose skill is finding your own voice. It is discovering how to be present in the experience of listening. It is listening deeply and experiencing just as deeply. There are prose elements to leading and living.

But similarly, there are poetry elements. Poetry is what illuminates your life. Poetry is what fills the small silences. Poetry is what brings you to meaning. Poetry is what touches the small fibers of who you are.

If you live a life of pure prose, you will live a linear and an effective but not an illuminus life. But if you can some how merge poetry and prose, you have the potential as a person and as a professional to be remarkable.

Roger Fransecky, The Apogee Group

The self-renewing man

The self-renewing man is versatile and adaptive. He is not trapped in techniques, procedures, or routines of the moment. He is not the victim of fixed habits and attitudes. He is not imprisoned by extreme specialization.  

For the self-renewing man, the development of his own potentialities and the process of self-discovery never end. It is a sad but unarguable fact that most human beings go through life only partially aware of the full range of their abilities.. By middle-age, most of use are accomplished fugitives from ourselves..How long is it since you have failed at anything? If it is long, you are in poor shape. If you are sufficiently adventurous, sufficiently willing to try new things, you will stumble fairly often.  

John Gardner,  Saturday Review XLVI (January 5, 1963)

Observed Behavior is Changed Behavior

When the lead singer at the concert asks you to scream as loud as you can, and then he asks again, going, “I can’t hear you! You can do better than that!” have you ever noticed that the second time is always louder? Why wasn’t everyone yelling at the top of their lungs the first time? Some really cool scientists actually tested this in 1979. (They) had people shout as loud as they could in a group and then alone, or vice-versa. Sure enough, the overall loudness of a small group of people was less than any one of them by themselves. You can even chart it on a graph. The more people you add, the less effort any one person does.

If you know you aren’t being judged as an individual, your instinct is to fade into the background. To prove this, psychologist Alan Ingram ruined tug-of-war forever. In 1974, he had people put on a blindfold and grab a rope. The rope was attached to a rather medieval-looking contraption that simulated the resistance of an opposing team. The subjects were told many other people were also holding the rope on their side, and he measured their efforts. Then, he told them they would be pulling alone, and again he measured. There were alone both times, but when they thought they were in a group, they pulled 18 percent less strenuously on average.

This behavior is more likely to show up when the task a hand is simple. With complex tasks, it is usually easy to tell who isn’t pulling their weight. Once you know your laziness can be seen, you try harder. You do this because of another behavior called evaluation apprehension, which is just a fancy way of saying you care more when you know you are being singled out. Your anxiety levels decrease when you know your effort will be pooled with others’. You relax. You coast.

David McRaney, You are Not so Smart

Possibility and Despair

Possibility… is to human existence what vowels are to speech. To live in pure possibility is like an infants utterance of vowel sounds, which fail to express something that is definite and clear. Vowels alone do not make for articulate speech, although without them nothing can be said at all. Similarly, “if a human existence is brought to the point where it lacks possibility, then it is in despair and is in deeper every moment it lacks possibility.” One cannot breathe without oxygen, but it is also impossible to breathe pure oxygen. Possibility is a kind of spiritual oxygen that a person cannot live without, but one cannot live on pure possibility either.

C. Stephen Evans, Kierkegaard: An Introduction

the unfinished self

The human self (is) not simply a finished product, a kind of entity, but a developing process. A self is not simply something I am but something I must become. To be sure, there is also a sense in which the self must have a kind of substantial reality, for there must be something that is undergoing the process of becoming. But the substantial reality of the self includes potentialities, and thus selfhood is a process in which a person must try to “become what one already is.” This unfinished self gives shape to itself through its choices; every decision I make is also a decision about what kind of person I want to be.

C. Stephen Evans, Introduction: Kierkegaard’s life and works

What Performance Ratings Really Tell us

Over the last fifteen years a significant body of research has demonstrated that each of us is a disturbingly unreliable rater of other people’s performance. The effect that ruins our ability to rate others has a name: the Idiosyncratic Rater Effect, which tells us that my rating of you on a quality such as “potential” is driven not by who you are, but instead by my own idiosyncrasies—how I define “potential,” how much of it I think I have, how tough a rater I usually am. This effect is resilient — no amount of training seems able to lessen it. And it is large — on average, 61% of my rating of you is a reflection of me.

In other words, when I rate you, on anything, my rating reveals to the world far more about me than it does about you. 

Marcus Buckingham writing in the Harvard Business Review

Lincoln the failure

Think of Abraham Lincoln, who was elected president of the united states in 1860. he grew up on an isolated farm and had only one year of formal education. In those early years he was exposed to barely half a dozen books. In 1832 he lost his job and was defeated in the race for the Illinois legislature. In 1833 he failed in business. In 1834 he was elected to the state legislature, but in 1835 his sweetheart died and in 1836 he had a nervous breakdown. In 1838 he was defeated for nomination for Congress. In 1846 he was elected to Congress but in 1848 lost the renomination. In 1849 he was rejected for a federal land appointment, and in 1854 he was defeated for the Senate. In 1856 he was defeated for the nomination of vice president, and in 1858 he was again defeated for the Senate.

Many people, both at home and abroad, consider Lincoln to be the greatest president of all time. Yet it should be remembered how many failures and defeats marked his life and how humble and unpromising his early beginnings were.

Ted Engstrom, The Pursuit of Excellence