Life Lessons from . . . Bob Newhart?

I had the opportunity to see Bob Newhart speak as part of a series I have annual tickets for at the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan.  I had two reasons for going:

  1. My friend Bob was interested in using my extra ticket – so I had some good company for the drive.
  2. Bob is funny.  Specifically Bob Newhart is funny.  My friend Bob is funny – he is just not Bob Newhart funny.

Learning is often about going into a situation with an open mind and just listening for something that makes you go Hmmmm.  Here is what I carried with me after my evening with Bob Newhart.

  • On retirement –  “I am 81 years old and people often ask me when I will retire.  I make people laugh, and I have a hard time walking away from that and saying that I will not do that anymore.  People need laughter, and that is what I do.”
  • On working at a difficult job – He hosted The Tonight Show 87 times so Johnny Carson could have a break.  “It was a really hard job, and one time when I did it for three straight weeks I was exhausted.  Johnny once said that if he put the same effort into his first marriage as he did his job he would still be married.”
  • Just a random funny comment that made me laugh – “So I was driving down to the racetrack in San Diego with my wife and Tim Conway and his wife . . . . . . ” .  My only thought was that it has to be funny sitting in a car with Tim Conway.  My friend Bob and I giggled at this comment because we shared the same vision of ‘just hanging out with Tim Conway’.

There is learning all around us – and situations that plant seeds that make us think about things.  Just spending 90 minutes with Bob Newhart left me thinking about some significant things.  Here are questions that were rolling around in my head:

  • Careers – What part of what I do would I never want to stop doing because the world needs it?  my note:  What would a workforce look like if everyone understood this about themselves, shared it, and pursued it?
  • Balance – Is any job worth more effort than a marriage?  What is the cost of being wrong?   my note:  I once checked the divorce rate of CEO’s and it was lower than the national average.  I am still processing this – but I was surprised.
  • Friendship – What is your definition? my note:  How about “Someone who will go with you to see Bob Newhart and also thinks Tim Conway is funny.”

It was a good night.

Mastery = 10,000 hours! Part 2 of 3

It is a big number.  10,000 hours translates into 5 years of doing something BEFORE you can be considered to have attained Mastery.  So where did this number come from and what does it mean to people trying to attain it and leaders who are trying to grow and retain people who have this?

First question – Where did this number come from? In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he explores success and presents what he has found to be common themes to those who have achieved it.  One of his findings was that success might look overnight or based on talent, but a common theme is preparation (aka.  hours of work). He references a study of young musicians that examined who achieved the highest level of achievement vs those who became good.  The difference between average, above average, and excellence?  Hours of practice.  In the end, the number was 10,000 hours.  He also presented other anecdotal evidence of famous athletes, musicians, and business icons.  This is not his only point to success, but it is a significant one.

This 5 year number is one that I have also heard shared.  Studies have been done in the area of nursing that support that the length of time for a nurse to achieve the status of a clinical expert in a particular area is 5 years.  So if it is important for a nursing supervisor to also be a clinical expert, promoting them at 2 years or 3 years is a risk, especially if their team needs them to be an expert.  Mastery is about preparation.

Second question – What does it mean to people trying to attain Mastery and leaders who are trying to grow and retain  people who have this? Think about our society – microwaves, fast food, IM(now Twitter), Facebook (instant updates of life vs yearly Christmas cards), etc.  We do not like to wait for things.  When we do wait we do not wait very long.  So this number 10,000 hours seems like a looonnnnng time.

I was presenting to a group of nursing leaders one time and I said something that clicked with them because everyone went for their pencils and wrote it down.  I said “When you think about career development, imagine a crock pot, not a microwave.” I was shocked at their response, but this visual made them realize the time needed to grow expertise AND the commitment that it takes from all to achieve it.  Helping people achieve this takes a plan AND a commitment from a leader to revisit it and revise it every 6 – 12 months.

So what can be done with this number?   First, as an individual pick an area you want to achieve Mastery in and get to work.  A job, special projects, volunteering, reading each week, or whatever other way you can find to accumulate hours doing and learning.   Secondly, as a leader make a habit of asking questions of your people.

  • What is an area that you want to become an expert in?
  • What things do you want to learn or do over the next year?
  • How are you progressing  on the development goals we set for you last year?
  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?

Mastery – A great goal and a significant goal!  Just don’t get frightened by the number.  Remember, when you are doing what you love time passes quickly.

Leadership Lessons – through Art?

I had a moment where I was reminded how my perspective on things is not the only perspective.  I was at Art Prize 2010 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and I was looking at the picture shown here.  It is made out of 520 tiny cups that are 12 different shades of grey and the artist is James Freeman.  So here is the trick with this picture – when you stand close to it all you see is grey cups, with just a faint image that there is a face in these cups.  The farther you move away, the clearer the face becomes.  For me, even moving away the image was never really all that clear.

How did I figure out this was a face?  Well, my 7-year-old took a picture of it and announced to me “Daddy look – it is a face!”  It turns out when take a picture from any distance the face appears.  Apparently the artist created an image that exposes some of the limits to our minds ability to process the different shades of grey and be able to see the REAL image.

So where is the leadership lesson here?  First, a gentle reminder that we often need help in seeing the real truth in anything – whether it is developing personal awareness of strengths/weaknesses/passions, finding the best solution to a problem, or becoming better leaders by knowing and dealing with our own constraints.  Looking through our own eyes have some natural limitations.

Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have a 7-year-old along to look at things a little differently.  Or having a friend take a picture of us (have you taped one of your speeches lately?).  Art reminds us that there are different ways of seeing the same thing, and having the courage to first ask the question “What do you see when you look at this?” is the first step.  The second is waiting to hear the answer or answers, then giving time to consider the possibilities that differ from your own.

I initially just saw a bunch of grey cups.  Thankfully someone else saw the art.  Kudos to James Freeman for the leadership lesson in art. –

Mastery – Does it matter? Part 1 of 3

All this talk of Mastery – Initial Thoughts . . .

I watched a 10 minute YouTube video from Daniel Pink and I was blown away.  He shares the portion of his book (DRIVE) that shares the research based finding that the knowledge worker is motivated by three main things:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

What caught my attention was the word Mastery, which has become a familiar word for me recently.  The dictionary defines it as the possession of a consummate skill or the full command of some subject of study.  Now it is being heralded as a key to motivation for many workers.  Is this a surprise?

As a father of four I have had several more experienced men tell me that adolescence is easier if your child finds what they are good at doing.  This makes sense, but I am surprised that suddenly, in the adult world, this becomes newsworthy.  This is not intended to be an attack on someone making money for stating the obvious, but a recognition that we should view these new lessons for what they are – a reminder that many of the things we have learned in life still apply.

So how does this change how we manage our careers?  How does this change how we lead?  If Mastery is about being good at something, what has the most recent recession done to motivation if people are in one of two states – overloaded doing the work of 1+ people or trying to look overloaded by keeping their head down and staying in constant motion doing something.

Whether your people are in either of these states, I would offer to leaders that the  first step is sitting down and starting some dialogue by asking “What % of your job do you enjoy and want to get better at doing?”.  Then come up with a plan for increasing that by 5% over the next month.   Mastery starts with focus – and focus starts with leadership, from the inside and the outside.  A leader has the chance to bring focus from the outside by helping to define some targets/goals for the individuals.   We all have a chance to build focus from the inside by trusting, relaxing, and working at resuming our journey to Mastery.  After all, it is our journey and it is important.  Pink reminds us of that.  Where are you on your journey to Mastery?

There is more to be said on this topic.  Watch Daniel Pink’s take on this at