Tag Archives: Quality

How to Boost Your Performance through Rituals with James Lipton

How do you prepare yourself for a new activity? I didn’t put too much thought into this until I was at a conference a few years ago. I can’t remember the topic but I distinctly recall standing at a urinal when a guy walked into the bathroom and shouted at the mirror, “You are Lizard King! You can do anything!” He then left as quickly as he had appeared.

Ten minutes later I was shocked as the “Lizard King” was introduced as the keynote speaker. After the presentation, I asked him about his display. He wasn’t embarrassed, although he claimed that he didn’t see anyone in the bathroom. The keynote stated that it’s simply his pre-speech ritual. “It must psych you up?” I asked. “It use to,” he responded, “now it’s just something I do to center myself before I stand in front of a crowd.”

Similarly, in a recent interview, Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton discussed his pre-show rituals. It begins with the hours of meticulous research Lipton conducts on the person being interviewed. This can take months and Lipton prefers to do it by himself. He then transcribes his notes onto his trademark blue index cards and marks them up with post-it tabs and highlighters before they are neatly stacked in a 10-inch pile on his desk while taping the show.

My nightmare, somebody steals my cards.—James Lipton

Rituals like Lipton and the Lizard King are more than simply superstition or habit; they have been shown to have a positive affect on performance. In a study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Alison Woods Brooks found that many top-level performers use rituals to help them prepare. These rituals significantly reduce anxiety and produce a higher quality work product. By mitigating the distracting, disruptive indicators associated with anxiety through pre-performance routines, Brooks concluded, “although some may dismiss rituals as irrational, those who enact rituals may well outperform the skeptics who forgo them.”

The lesson here is that we need a consistent ritual that precedes our stress-inducing events. You can go big (like screaming into a public bathroom mirror) or more subtle. Drink a glass of room temperature water. Read a poem or inspirational quote. Click your heals three times. Whatever you can do to center yourself and jumpstart that inner “on” switch. I’m sure Lipton would even be okay if you used index cards, although maybe you can find a color other than blue.

Mike Holmes on the Essential Criteria for Success

home freeLast summer, my family and I got hooked on a new home improvement competition television series called Home Free. I don’t typically enjoy the HGTV-type, renovation shows; however, this one is different. Home Free is more than about picking a high-quality, yet affordable kitchen backsplash. It has a prominent message that can benefit all leaders and organizations.

Hosted by famed construction expert Mike Holmes, Home Free features nine couples who share the dream of home ownership. Each couple has a heartbreaking story to illustrate why they are deserving—job loss, health issues, etc—as they compete each week to renovate a dilapidated home. At the end of the week, the couple with the worst handiwork is eliminated until the final two teams compete for their dream home.

It may seem cruel to kick off people with such sad, personal stories. However, as a viewer, it is nice to know that unbeknownst to the contestants, when the bus drives away with the remaining couples, the eliminated couple is awarded the home that they just refurbished. As you can imagine, it is quite a tearjerker.

For our leadership lesson, we could discuss the uplifting positivity of the show or the competitive nature of the contestants, but I’d rather focus on the criteria that determine who stays and who is sent home. Each week, Mike Holmes reminds us that the contestants are being judged on quality, creativity and teamwork, as well as their ability to keep themselves and those around them safe.

These three criteria set the standard for the work site. Quality involves the technical skills, creativity is the ability to learn and apply new information, and teamwork shows that the culture is based on collaboration and fellowship. According to Holmes’ standards, you will not be successful with just one; it takes a balance amongst all three.

What are the criteria to be successful in your workplace? If it is not quality, creativity and teamwork (which seem universally applicable), can you sum yours up in a few simple words? If not, you need to. This is the best way to ensure that everyone is aware of the exceptions, understands your values, and can be held accountable to live out your vision. Make your criteria a part of the organization’s vernacular and, as Holmes says, “Keep making it right.”

Mel Brooks on Becoming More Holistically Diligent

In a recent interview Mel Brooks discussed one of the few flops of his career, the 1986 movie Solarbabies. What started as a small $5 million dollar sci-fi movie became a $25 million dollar disaster. There were a multitude of bad decisions that caused Mel to have to take out a second mortgage on his home, sell a few cars, and continuously go back to his financers for additional funds. In the end it took 25 years to break even on this laughably bad film.

When asking how a movie like this could get made by such a genius as Mel Brooks, you can blame the script, the director, or a slew of other choices, but once you’ve diagnosed the issue(s), the real question to ask yourself is, ‘How can I avoid making these mistakes next time?’ Brooks reflected on his Solarbabies lesson:

[At the time] I thought: I’ve got other fish to fry. $5 million? We can do this, we can knock this off. It’s not much… But it was a great lesson. It was like 20-25 years ago, however many years ago, and since then I have been successful because it made me aware of everything that I was doing… I’ve never lost a penny since. I’ve never really failed since. I’ve never broke the bank and took, you know, a billion dollars, but I’ve really done very well ever since. Because it was an incredible lesson in diligence. A lesson in diligence: You must pay attention to the finances of what you’re doing. Not just the artistic. Because, until then, I was only focused on the art of the film—making sure that worked—I didn’t give a s–t about the money… So ever since then, I’ve been diligent and paid a lot of respect to how things are funded; who put money in and how to get their money back, you know?

solarbabiesIf you are in the business world, consideration of finances may not seem surprising, but that is a small part of the lesson. The real message is the need for holistic diligence. We must be attentive to the bottom-line in addition to the quality of the product, engagement of customers and employees, marketing, company culture, safety and regulatory standards, and overall industry. To only focus on one or two of these areas will limit your effectiveness as a leader and will stunt the growth of your organization.

Holistic diligence involves getting into the minutiae. For leaders who struggle with the more detail-oriented tasks, here are five things you can do to improve your diligence:

Recognize that diligence is a skill that can be developed. Like any other skill, we can develop our attention through regular practice and training. While you may prefer metacognition and higher-order thinking processes, leadership requires the ability to take charge of attention so we can improve memory, problem solving, decision making, and the ways we incorporate new information.

Develop a system of checks and balances. Utilize the team to double-check your work. Create step-by-step processes and checklists for recurring tasks and prioritize intradepartmental cross-training.

Give yourself time to think. Detail work takes creativity, and creativity often needs time to percolate. Step away from the project so you can see it with fresh eyes. Even if its only subconscious, the idea continues to stir around your brain when you’ve moved on and, once you refocus, it will produce a better result.

Maintain a thorough task management system. Diligence requires organization. Maximize your calendar and to-do lists. Start each day with a plan and revisit it frequently. Prioritize tasks and ensure that your time is spread amount the many facades of your company.

Move around. Sitting still will not improve your ability to focus. Consider doodling, playing with putty, or mindlessly manipulating an object. According to psychologist and author Abigail Levrini, this can “actually free up your mental energy so you can focus a little better.”

Mel Brooks became a more successful moviemaker once he took hold of all aspects of his films and Broadway shows—and he didn’t learn this until after Blazing Saddles and History of the World, Part I. Imagine if he had acquired this knowledge 20 years sooner? We can learn from Brooks’ example. Do not dismiss the smaller ventures as inconsequential. Maintain a big picture view of the project. And, no matter how much someone may beg, do not agree to produce a post-apocalyptic movie about kids who like to play hockey.