Monday, July 27, 2015

Succeeding at Dodgeball and in Life

A Dodgeball on a court,


To understand how succeeding in life is much like winning at dodgeball, you first need to understand how your brain uses heuristics, or shortcuts, to make decisions.

Think of your brain as having two systems. In one of those systems, System 2, we analyze data rationally. System 2 serves us very well in making decisions that reduce risks when choices, possible results, and probabilities are known.

But, we live in a world of uncertainty, especially where potential results and probabilities are concerned. So, we have System 1 that uses shortcuts, or heuristics, to help us make decisions.


There are several fundamental reasons why we have a strong preference to use System 1 over System 2:
  1. System 2 requires a lot of energy and our brains are hard-wired to allocate less energy to thinking than action.
  2. Real life scenarios are typically full of uncertainty. Sometimes, we just don’t have the time to gather information, but back to reason number one: Our brains just don’t want to.

Gerd Gigerenzer gave an interesting talk (TEDxNorrkoping, Sweden, 2012) titled “Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart,” which provides some great examples of heuristic-level thinking and how it can help us. At 5:30, he provides the example of the Gaze Heuristic to show how mental shortcuts help us catch a fly ball, like in baseball.

I like the example. But, life is life is more like dodgeball than baseball in that:
  1. We must concern ourselves with more than one ball.
  2. We can’t catch every ball.
  3. Some balls, we want to dodge.


In dodgeball, we need to prioritize so we can make fast decisions. Here are just a few factors to consider as you attempt to thrive amongst your:
  1. Avoid what is most dangerous:
    1. Smaller balls can be thrown faster by just about anyone. They sting more when they hit you.
    2. Watch for the kid who has an OK arm and is waiting for that moment when you’re not looking! Especially if he has a small ball.
    3. Stay away from the kid whose arm is so good it doesn’t matter whether you see it coming.
    4. Larger balls are better for blocking than small ones.
    5. Avoid throwing larger balls, they’re easier for the opponent to catch.
  2. Seek the best opportunities:
    1. The bigger the ball coming at you, the easier it is to catch.
    2. Any kid who doesn’t see you is the best target.
    3. Aim low to avoid head shots and bloody noses!
    4. The payoff for catching someone out is higher if someone on your team is out.

The point is, there is a lot to process and you don’t have time to process everything in dodgeball or in life. Do you throw, catch, block, or dodge? Who is  throwing at you? Who do you pick for your next target?

To succeed, you create mental shortcuts that help you decide and act most efficiently. But, how yo prioritize is critical. Without cognitive bases skewed toward safety, following self-serving heuristics can lead you to knock someone upside the head really hard with the little ball. Sure, he’s out, but only because he’s bleeding out of his nose. And, you’re out too because you focused more on throwing hard than aiming low! It’s hard to get one of your friends to catch you back in when the reason you’re out is because you were a jerk.


Life is much the same. Decision-making is critical. And, much like in dodgeball, prioritizing is the key to making heuristics work to your advantage. So, it’s important to understand what the priorities of success are.

Success is getting what you want. Seeking success prioritizes results-driven thinking. In this mode, your thoughts, decisions, and actions have a higher probability of getting what you want. But, results-driven thinking tends to skew your cognitive biases so the end always justifies the means. So, when you use mental shortcuts to make quick decisions you increase the probability of getting the results you want, but you also increase the risk that you will not be satisfied with yourself. Dissatisfaction is not a part of success.

Values-driven success is getting what you want AND being the person you want to be. Being the person you want to be creates satisfaction in your own efforts; it drives inspiration, resourcefulness, and resilience.

Prioritizing your values in front of the results may seem like it reduces your chances of getting what you want, but not really. It actually works out the opposite way. You can’t get what you really want if you are not first the person you want to be. So, if you want to be happy and find success, you need to focus on getting what you want while being the person you want to be. It’s much easier to celebrate from a position of satisfaction than one of regret or desperation.


  1. Identify and define your Core Values.
  2. Be disciplined in your approach:
    • Consistently ask the question: How can I get what I want AND be the person I want to be?
    • Hold yourself accountable. Evaluate how your decisions and actions aligned with each of your Core Values. Focus on the actions you can't justify and the Core Values you should have applied.
  3. Continuously Improve.
Rewire your cognitive biases so they skew your heuristical reactions toward your values and you’ll always know what to do even in times of uncertainty. In life, just like in dodgeball, you will constantly be choosing which balls to catch, block, dodge, or throw, always watching for the kid with the fastest arm while searching for the best target of opportunity. In the end, it’s how you play the game that matters most. And, that, my friends depends on why you decide to play it that way...whether you’re thinking in System 1 or System 2.

Do you know what your Core Values are? Have you taken the time to define exactly what they mean? Do you have a story about how you've used your Core Values to make the hard right over the easier not-so-right decision? The other way? What did you learn from that experience?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Eakin is the author of Finding Success and the Success Engineer at BoomLife. LEARN MORE ABOUT TOM...

Monday, July 20, 2015

On Confidence, Conviction, and Finding Success

On Confidence, Conviction and Finding Success
As a U.S. Army Ranger-qualified Combat Engineer Officer, I learned how to find the confidence and conviction to do what it took to accomplish the mission even when it was really hard…especially when it was really hard.
Later, I applied what I’d learned in the corporate environment. I developed a values-based approach that helped my team increase performance by over 300% and was awarded at the highest level by my company. Two years later, I was fired. Even though I had proven my values-driven approach increased employee engagement, I was doing something others just weren’t ready to try to understand.
Why Confidence Can Be Good

Decision-making is the most critical aspect of achieving success: A decision precedes every act. Everything we do leads to what we have, and will, become.

Confidence comes from past successes and learning. Our experience teaches us we can be successful. We need confidence to make decisions in uncertain situations.

The Problem with Confidence
We have a tendency to become lazy in our confidence. Relying more on what experience has taught us and ignoring relevant facts can trick us into thinking that just because something worked in one situation, it will work in another.
My own confidence proved to be deceptive as I tried to expand my values-driven approach beyond my span of authority.
Confidence can leave us without a solid foundation in times of failure. If I only had confidence to rely on as I introduced my new concept to the world, I would have quit long ago.
Where Conviction Fits In
Conviction comes from what you believe and compels you to inspired action.

While it was difficult for me to reconcile the organizational success I’d created with the personal result I’d reaped by getting fired, I believed in my new approach. I forged ahead. I developed “GPS Theory” and launched BoomLife.

Conviction has driven me past the frustrating failures and entrepreneurial loneliness that come with creating something that is not yet commonly understood.

The Challenge with Conviction

It’s very easy to inappropriately apply conviction to the means instead of the end.

When I launched the “GPS Theory” application on my website, people didn’t interact with it as I had expected. If all of my conviction was focused on this tool I would have given up. Instead, I realized I needed to find different ways to present the concepts behind “GPS Theory” in order for others to recognize its real value.
See what I did there?

Find the Perfect Blend

Confidence and conviction are not mutually exclusive. You need confidence in what you’re doing, so you can repeat what works. You need conviction to compel you to keep moving forward even when things don’t go your way so you can find what works. You need to find the perfect blend to find values-driven success.

For more thought-provoking discussion on finding values-driven success, inspiring stories of people who’ve achieved it and strategies you can apply, read my new book, Finding Success: Get what you really want.

Have a story about a time when you may have had too much confidence for the situation? Too much conviction? Why not share your story in the comments section? Who knows...sharing your pain may spare someone else theirs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Eakin is the author of Finding Success and the Success Engineer at BoomLife. LEARN MORE ABOUT TOM...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Push for Growth


Is Growth for the Sake of Growth What You Really Want?

Leaders everywhere are struggling to find the best way to satisfy customer needs while maintaining a reliable, skilled, and engaged workforce.

I recently met with Bill, a client of mine, and asked him this clarifying question, “Can you tell me why you bought out three other companies in the past year and a half?”
Bill is the owner, and president, of a service company he started 25 years ago.

 “That’s simple. To grow,” he replied.

“Why do you want to grow?”

“Why not? Growth is good.” He smiled at me in a patronizing way that indicated he wasn't sure why he'd hired someone who didn’t understand such a simple concept to help his company.

 “Well,” I replied, “here’s the reality. Since you started this growth campaign, two long-time key leaders who were instrumental in the success you enjoyed in the decade and a half before you decided to acquire these companies, have left. Two of your three remaining top-level managers don't trust each other and are in constant conflict. Most employees fear one and feel sorry for the other. They're burned out; many are thinking of leaving and have resigned themselves to do what they need to survive and nothing more. Finally, a large number of customers have closed their accounts in the past six months. Let me ask you this, have the results of the changes you’ve made met your expectations? Is this really what you planned to do?”

Bill didn't respond because he didn't like being asked those questions. I wouldn't either. But, we both knew the answer was, “No.” He was learning the hard lesson that growth for the sake of growth is no more effective at helping you get what you want than punching yourself in the face because you want to know what it feels like to punch someone in the face.

Change is NOT Evil!

Neither is Bill. He really did want to make positive changes. He certainly got changes just not the ones he really wanted.  Successful change happens for organizations because of one, or more, of the following reasons:
  1.  Relationship Dynamics- People connect with each other when they see a net-positive value-proposition in doing so (intrinsic, extrinsic, or a combination of both) and they adjust their level of investment according to the value they get out of it in relation to their expectations.
  2. Innovation- Someone does something new and different that creates the potential for a redistribution of one or more resources in a given culture, community, or market.
  3. Growth- Someone seeks the prospect of meeting the needs of more people than they have in the past.

The order of the three points listed above is important… critical actually. There is a very strong human tendency to want to cut around the process and get straight to the good stuff. It’s easy to see that growth can lead to more mutually beneficial relationships, more business. More business can mean more profits so that’s where we think we want to focus.

The Change-Pull Effect

There are two fundamental problems with trying to create growth for the sake of growth:
  1. It undermines the ability to deliver a net-positive value for all key stakeholders involved because it assumes no considerations are necessary to continue to meet their needs before growth-focused action occurs.
  2. It assumes innovative solutions that will redistribute resources in a mutually beneficial manner for all stakeholders involved will just happen.

So, in the case of Bill’s company the desire for growth created different and new behaviors (purchasing new companies with the prospect of serving more customers) that resulted in a net-negative value delivered and over time the various stakeholders engaged less at variable rates. Some key leaders and customers divested completely while others adjusted how they related to each other and the company.

Bill and his company were experiencing problems caused by the “change-pull effect”. It happened when Bill created a vacuum through self-serving changes in how his company operated expecting everyone to adjust and fill in the gaps. It’s a technique…not the recommended technique…but a technique, just the same. What typically happens is: Growth pulls away from the innovation because the affected stakeholders perceive they’re being excluded so they resist. They pull back.

The whole point is, real mutually beneficial relationships are magical- When one occurs, every stakeholder involved walks away from interactions, transactions, and situations feeling like they've gotten more out of it than they put in. See? Magic.  It’s the reason why you can’t skip past the relationship dynamics; the magic will be lost.

The change-pull effect doesn't only happen during acquisitions; it can also happen when an organization attempts to launch new products, new, services, new customers, new locations…any time changes are made to grow for the self-serving sake of growth.

When You're at Risk

  • The best time to stop, listen and adjust is before you create negative pull-change effects. In other words when this kind of conversation happens:
Any employee- “How-are-we-going-to…”

You- “We’ll figure it out.”

Any employee-“I just wish we'd think this through first.”
  • The second-best-time to adjust is as soon as possible after you’ve created negative pull-change effects.  The conversation will probably sound like this:
 Any employee- “Now that we've,  <>, how am I supposed to….?”

You- “You’ll figure it out” (See what you did there? Your employee does.)

Any employee- “OK, I'll do my best but I just wish we’d thought this through first!” 
(Thinks to self: “In the end, I'll have fixed the problems they created and they'll get all the credit. Maybe this isn’t the best place for me.”)

The Solution: Create Push-Change Effects

The solution for Bill, and people who have created similar punishing change-pull effects in their own organizations is…more change. But, here the change must begin with them. They need to change how they think so they can create positive push-change effects for their key stakeholders which will create opportunities for growth. Here’s how they can do it:
  1. Focus on the needs of the people they wish to serve and seek to understand the gaps between those desires and the value the organization can currently deliver.
  2. Closing the gaps identified in #1 takes innovation- new and different decisions, behaviors, tools and processes. When innovation creates more efficient use of resources the capacity to serve is increased and the conditions for successfully meeting the needs of more people are set.
  3. Grow by seeking new mutually beneficial relationships and then reap the additional profits.
The solution may seem like it takes longer to get what you really want than just seeking growth for the sake of growth…because growth is good. But, it doesn’t. Just ask Bill. He’s got a lot of work to do now…relationships to mend.

Have you experienced the Change-Pull Effect before? Share your story and what you learned from the experience in the comment section below! Be a part of the conversation!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Eakin is the author of Finding Success and the Success Engineer at BoomLife. LEARN MORE ABOUT TOM...