3 Simple Ways to Master Learning and Make Things Happen

Years ago, a dear friend of mine asked me what my biggest disappointment was with my career. That thoughtful question motivated some real self-reflection. I realized that what bothered me most was that my work was not having lasting impact. While my books were widely read, many people were not following through on the concepts and using them consistently in their day-to-day work. Most managers seemed content to merely talk about leadership practices, rather than to actually implement them.

My friend said, “You’re trying to change people’s behavior only from the outside. Lasting change starts on the inside and moves out.”

I knew immediately he was right, because all I had been focusing on were leadership methods and behavior. I hadn’t focused much on what was inside people’s heads or hearts.

Armed with this new insight, I teamed up with Paul J. Meyer and Dick Ruhe to write Know Can Do, a book about how to close the learning-doing gap. Together we developed three simple ways to help people make the leap from knowing to doing.

#1 – Learn Less More (and Not More Less)

While it’s fine to spend energy learning new skills and knowledge, you also need strategies to retain and apply all the helpful information you take in. For example, perhaps you love reading books and attending seminars. There’s nothing wrong with that—unless you do those things so often that you don’t pause to integrate your new know-how and put it into action.

The fact is, we retain only a small fraction of what we read and hear only once. Instead of gobbling up new information, focus on a few key concepts and study them deeply. Then repeat what you’ve learned over time, which is called spaced repetition. This way, the new knowledge becomes firmly fixed in your mind and you become a master in those areas.

#2 – Listen with a Positive Mindset

There’s nothing wrong with thinking critically; in fact, it’s essential for survival. However, many if not most of us did not receive unconditional love and support when we were young. This gives us a tendency to doubt ourselves and others. Self-doubt causes us to filter all information—whether in book, audio, video, seminar, or conversation format—through our indecisive, closed-minded, judgmental, fear-ridden mindset, which leads to negative thinking.

Negative thinking causes us to learn and use only a fraction of what we see and hear. As a result, we achieve only a small percentage of what we could achieve. We accept too little too soon.

A positive, open mind ignites creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. Instead of trying to find what’s wrong with new information, be a green light thinker who actively seeks out what’s right. Practice saying to yourself, “I know there is something of value in what I’m reading or hearing; what is it?”

#3 – Use a Follow-Up Plan

Doing what you’ve learned cannot be left to chance. To keep and apply the knowledge you’ve gained, you need a follow-up plan that provides structure, support, and accountability.

For example, suppose you’ve been out of shape most of your life, but thanks to your newfound positive thinking, you just finished a session with a personal trainer at the gym. You’re feeling proud of yourself—but you don’t have a follow-up plan. What do you think is going to happen in the coming weeks and months? Chances are good to great that you’ll revert to your old ways.

Follow-up plans can take many forms, but the best ones include someone who can tell you, show you, observe you, and praise your progress or redirect you as you practice the new skill. Don’t let your teacher skip the praise part of that sequence, because accentuating the positive motivates learners. Soon you’ll be able to praise and redirect yourself. Over time, you’ll become a master in that skill.

And what’s the best way to maintain that mastery? By teaching what you’ve learned.

So, put the knowledge you’ve just gained into action by reviewing this blog with a positive mindset, practicing these steps, and sharing them with others!

Changing Your Focus Will Change Your Energy

Last week Margie and I spent a few days down in the Bahamas. During a conversation with the general manager of the hotel, we learned their buildings had sustained quite a lot of damage as a result of Hurricane Irma in 2017. His story of how the staff and management worked together to get things back to normal and how they helped each other get through that tough time was inspiring.

Right now they are in another tough situation—they have learned the hotel may be sold but they know nothing about the buyers or whether their jobs will still be there. Once more they’re all facing the unknown together. Margie suggested to the manager that I could hold a session for them all the next day and the manager enthusiastically agreed.

When I was getting myself ready to speak to the hotel staff, I thought about how it might be uplifting for them to have an outsider—someone who isn’t emotionally involved—come in and give them a little boost with some humor and encouragement. So, I started off with an exercise I learned from Tony Robbins that our trainers sometimes use as an ice breaker.

I had everyone in the room stand up. I said, “I want you to walk around and greet as many people as possible as if you were looking for somebody much more important to talk to.” I gave them all a minute or two. The sound in the room was a low rumble of mostly quiet voices. Then I got their attention and said, “Now I want you to go around and greet as many people as possible as if they were a long-term friend that you were excited to see.” The energy level in the room suddenly shot up and the sound was deafening! The mood had instantly shifted from somber to exuberant.

The point is this: when the thing we are focusing on changes, our energy changes. We can sit around and worry about a bad situation that might (or might not) get worse—or we can focus on what we can accomplish when we work together toward the same goal. I pointed out to this group that they had already proven they could accomplish anything, and that they can do it again. They know their strengths and they can encourage each other, empower each other, and lead each other through tough times. My message lifted their spirits.

By changing your focus from negative to positive, you can do the same. When have you changed your focus and allowed your energy to help you through a tough time? I’d love to read your response in the comments below.

Have a great week!

New Year, New Goals: Don’t Go It Alone!

The New Year is fast approaching and here it comes again: New Year’s resolution time. Have you ever made New Year’s resolutions you didn’t keep? My experience is that all of us have had good intentions we didn’t follow through on over the years. We usually start out enthusiastic about the change but after a while our enthusiasm falls by the wayside. Why is that?

My friend Art Turock taught me that the problem stems from confusion between interest and commitment. For example, when interested walkers and joggers wake up and find it raining outside, they lie back down and think to themselves, “I’ll exercise tomorrow.” However, when committed exercisers wake up and find it’s raining, they get out of bed and think to themselves, “I’ll exercise inside today!” In other words:

They keep their commitment to their commitment.

So, let’s get real. What have you been wanting to do for a long time but just haven’t been able to get done? Maybe it has to do with your health and fitness. Or maybe it’s learning a new language, or getting organized, or cleaning out your garage. Whatever it is, that’s great. You’ve got your commitment. Now, how are you going to keep your commitment to your commitment?

First, don’t go it alone. The heroic legend of the lone wolf who succeeds at lofty goals through willpower alone is strong with many people. This “John Wayne myth” isn’t dead—it’s just not effective.  I should know. For years I could not keep my commitment to good health and wellness. I needed help.

That help eventually came from Tim Kearin, the health and fitness coach who had been patient with me for many years. Each year Tim listened to me announce my New Year’s resolution to improve my health and fitness—and each year he watched me not keep my commitment. Year after year we went through the same routine: Tim would receive a call from me early in the year to begin a fitness program. I would get underway with enthusiasm, but after a month or so I would gradually become too busy to keep my commitment to my commitment. The process would start again at the beginning of the following year.

The way I broke this ineffective cycle—and the way you can, too—was to follow the six principles outlined in Fit at Last, the book Tim and I wrote to document my fitness journey:

  1. Have Compelling Reasons and a Purpose
  2. Establish a Mutual Commitment to Success
  3. Apply SLII® (in other words, get the coaching and support that matches your development level)
  4. Develop Age-Appropriate Goals
  5. Set Up a Support System to Hold You Accountable
  6. Have Measurable Milestones to Stay Motivated

While these six principles were developed to accompany a fitness program, they can be adapted to any kind of goal accomplishment.  I’m happy to say that by applying these six principles, I’ve managed to maintain my health and fitness goals for the past five years.

You, too, can keep your commitment to your commitment. Just don’t be a lone wolf. Set yourself up to succeed by finding the coaching and support you need.

Creating a Gung Ho Culture

If you follow me on Twitter (@KenBlanchard) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/KenBlanchard/), you may have noticed that I recently posted about being in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to take part in a celebration at a company called Mudd Advertising. The company, which was founded by my friend Jim Mudd Sr. was celebrating 20 years of using the principles of Gung Ho!, a book I wrote in 1998 with Sheldon Bowles from Winnipeg, Canada. I met Sheldon through the Young President’s Organization (YPO) when I spoke at one of their big conferences.

Sheldon gave me a first draft of a manuscript entitled Raving Fans and said he wanted me to coauthor it with him. I was polite and said I would read it—but as we were going back to our room, Margie and I both wondered how good it could be. After all, Sheldon was the president of a company, not a writer. Little did we know that he had been a journalist when he was young and the draft was terrific. Do I need to say more? Raving Fans was a major bestseller!

Our follow-up book, Gung Ho!, was a response to people asking “How do we turn our employees into Raving Fans of the organization they work for?” Sheldon and I were told that a lot of organizations were trying to create Raving Fan service with tired, uninspired, and even resentful employees who, in many instances, hated to go to work. Wow! What a challenge.

So Sheldon talked to Native American leaders and developed three secrets to creating a Gung Ho culture: the Secret of the Squirrel; the Way of the Beaver; and the Gift of the Goose. These secrets became the basis of Sheldon’s and my second best-selling book, which for 20 years has been required reading for each new employee at Mudd Advertising and central to the way they operate.

When you enter Mudd’s corporate headquarters, one of the first things you see is a mural depicting the Gung Ho philosophy:

SPIRIT OF THE SQUIRREL: Worthwhile Work

  • Knowing we make the world a better place.
  • Everyone works toward a shared goal.
  • Values guide all plans, decisions, and actions.

WAY OF THE BEAVER: In Control of Achieving the Goal

  • A playing field with clearly marked territory.
  • Thoughts, feelings, needs, and dreams are respected, listened to, and acted upon.
  • Able but challenged.

GIFT OF THE GOOSE: Cheering Each Other On

  • Active or passive, congratulations must be TRUE (Timely, Responsive, Unconditional, and Enthusiastic).
  • No score, no game, and cheer the progress.
  • E = MC2—Enthusiasm equals mission times cash and congratulations

At The Ken Blanchard Companies, we’ve endeavored to create a Gung Ho culture by providing worthwhile work—our mission is that someday, everywhere, everyone will be impacted by someone leading at a higher level; by empowering our people to be in charge of achieving our goals in a way that creates Raving Fan customers; and finally, throughout the process, by cheering each other on and catching each other doing things right.

If you think your company would benefit from a Gung Ho culture, it probably would!

Managing the Ups and Downs of Performance

Every year we have a Final Four basketball week at our company. Teams of three from departments around the company compete with each other for the championship. We also have a free throw contest from the foul line. The prize goes to the person who hits the most out of 20.

In the past, I’ve won the free throw competition a number of times.  I was a basketball player when I was younger and known as an outstanding foul shooter. This year the score I had to better was 14 out of 20. When I stepped to the line, I made eight in a row. Everybody was cheering, because they thought I had it made.

Suddenly, I couldn’t hit the proverbial bull in the rear with a handful of rice. I lost.

The experience reminded me of golf. It’s been said about golf that you never own it; it’s just on loan. Just when you think you’ve got it, you don’t—and just when you think you don’t, you do.

What I should have done after missing a couple of free throws is step back, take a deep breath, and regroup. I do that on the golf course, but I had never experienced such a dry spell with my foul shooting. Live and learn!

Fluctuating performance happens in the professional arena all the time. For example, when sales go down, rather than charging on in hopes they’ll go back up, it’s beneficial to take an organizational deep breath, gather people together, and determine what might be causing the drop in sales. Whenever our company has done that, we get great feedback from our people, develop new strategies, and get back on track.

What do you do to get back on track, individually or organizationally? I’d love to hear your thoughts.