禪/ 禅/ The Zen of NLP?

The other night, after the best part of a pitcher of a surprisingly tasty peach whiskey drink, I was speaking with a friend about music. Yihan is an accomplished musician, who was telling me about how she experiences a very interesting altered state when she is playing sometimes.

She described it as being a state when she stops trying to control the instrument, but rather one where she allows the music to be expressed through her. It doesn’t happen every time that she plays, though when it does, as you might imagine, it feels amazing.

So I asked, “How do you do that?”

Of course I wasn’t just asking about her theories of zen/ chan – since I know that she probably doesn’t know herself about the mechanism. (Especially since she’s a pretty small girl, and had indulged quite a bit of that pitcher herself!) And even if she had words to describe the experience, it wouldn’t be much use to me as her representations are shaped by who she is. Instead, I wanted to know how she could access that state. Since that’s something that I can try out for myself…

And it turned out that she would play a very short piece of music. Repeatedly. Perhaps a 30-second piece – even just a few bars – and play that over and over for 20-30 minutes. Simple enough that her extensive deliberate practice allowed her to play it without too much effort.

Now this pattern sounded familiar to me! This was like the strategy that we used in my karate training in learning kata. In learning to juggle. In drilling tennis shots. In several forms of meditation. And even in the New Code Games of New Code NLP. Almost like turning an ‘ordinary’ activity into a meditation.

I wonder whether we could use that state for other things… like taking that state into other areas of life, allowing the unconscious to find ways to use it.

Iconoclast: What does it take to be extraordinary?

In the pursuit of excellence and freedom, there are a few domains to consider. One is the field of expertise, a major contribution of which, Deliberate Practice, I have discussed elsewhere. Yet what about those unique individuals who really change things? Those people (‘freaks’ – in a good way!) who change the world. What is different about them? How do they do it?

Gregory Berns calls them Iconoclasts in his book of the same title, where he notes that they “see things differently than other people. Literally… because their brains do not fall into efficiency traps as much as the average person’s brain.” Berns argued that one way is to “bombard the brain with things it has never encountered before.” And Adam Dachis was saying much the same thing when he suggested doing things that make you feel uncomfortable. When we have rich experiences, we are able to access a more profound heuristic to understand the world around us, being less constrained by the examples that happen to be before us or the ways of thinking that we grew up with.

Berns also  noted that these individuals are less subject to the desire for social approval, which reminded me of my old friend Wayne Dyer speaking of self-actualized people being “independent of the good opinion of others.” Robert Greene pointed out that thinking for yourself can be dangerous, and suggested that one should, “Think as you like but Behave like others”. Perhaps that might be a good start though it might be more rigorous to refer to the importance of social intelligence.

Being able to think for oneself is challenging. It is hard. It is scary. And it must be done carefully.

The results can change the world.

If you’re going to vary the recipe…

I love cooking. The way that we can transform ‘simple’ ingredients into something deliciously complex is a wonder to behold, and a delight to experience.

If you don’t know how to cook, you can follow a recipe. With a little bit of discipline, focus, and the right ingredients, you can find yourself producing great quality food quite easily.

After a while, you can start to figure out how the recipe works. You find that a little bit extra of one ingredient will vary the taste, texture or appearance. You might even start to experiment.

Some people can start to create. Not just to follow the recipe, but to come up with entirely new concoctions, based upon the test kitchen in your mind.

Yet I would be reluctant to rely upon the skills of someone who hadn’t yet mastered a single recipe. Maybe they would create something delicious and creative and new. Maybe you would get food poisoning.

Individuality and self expression are great things, and it is good to note that most great innovators didn’t come from “the establishment” in their domain. Whether they be Rodin or 50 Cent, Einstein or Gershwin, Branson or Brin, innovators learn enough to speak the language of their chosen domain, though not so much as they lose their accent.

Before we start changing the rules, let’s find out what they are.

Delusions of Competence

Aikido throwRecently I was training with a black belt in my Aikido class. Having trained for many years, he appears an expert. His moves appear polished. He easily recognized and replicated the techniques that we were to practice like he had done it hundreds of times before.

Yet I noticed something strange: He couldn’t do it.

He thought he could. And he elegantly went through the motions. But seemingly unbeknown to him, his techniques were ineffective – as pretty as they looked, they would work only if his partner knew to fall at the right time in the right way. They were close, but the angles, timing and rotations were clearly wrong. And, since I didn’t know “the rules”, I just stood there watching as he verbally told me to fall down!

This was very confusing to him… as if everybody else had “played along”. Unfortunately, it being only my sixth session with this school, I didn’t know how to. Perhaps I am missing something and his understanding of the techniques superseded the need for their practical application. But it got me thinking.

Top NFL players play computer simulations to improve their skills. Reading Wired this morning, I was informed that “almost everybody” plays something like Madden NFL, and that not only has this enhanced the strategic thinking skills of players, but parts of the simulation has started creeping into the real game.

Now, I’d guess that this is like getting a tennis player or a golfer to do weight training. Just by playing the game, they might get stronger, but by doing specific strength training, you can build “strengths” in ways that wouldn’t normally happen just by “playing the game”, and these strengths can offer a serious advantage… in this case, by exposing players to a much greater number of realistic situations that reward (or demand) heightened strategic awareness, you build better strategic awareness. It’s effectively Deliberate Practice for a subset of the game…

And it’s important to be able to tell the difference!

You can get away with stuff in Madden’s that you can’t do in the real game. Those are the limits of the game. You can get away with things in training if your partner knows how they “should” behave that can undermine your performance when working with someone who doesn’t share those rules.

It’s great to use simulations and training techniques to accelerate our development. And when we can focus on a neglected component of the activity, we can enjoy some amazing improvements in our performance…but you have to remember to take those skills back to the real world. And there, as the best all know, you don’t just need to get the individual techniques “right”: You need to find a way to put it together and make it work for you.

Treat it as a performance

Delivering a presentation that is smooth, insightful and ends right on time can be a big ask. Lots of intelligent people mess it up. One of the speakers who really seems to get it right is Malcolm Gladwell. If you have ever watched him speak (like here on TED), you may notice how he speaks eloquently, even effortlessly, and ends with precise punctuality.

When asked about it once, Gladwell replied, “I know it may not look like this. But it’s all scripted. I write down every word and then I learn it off by heart. I do that with all my talks and I’ve got lots of them.”

It’s great to connect with your audience as if you were just having a casual chat with them. And sometimes that’s precisely what you will want to do. Other times, like maybe when you want to really nail it, you might be interested to discover what happens when you go beyond the bullet points and rehearse, refine and distill the most important information that you are there to share. Focus on the most important stuff; skip the rest. Polish, polish, polish. And you might just find yourself on a level where you have that polish that casual speaking just doesn’t allow.

While memorizing isn’t “the answer”, if you want to deliver a professional-standard speech, you might consider treating your next presentation as a performance.

Bringing deliberate practice into speaking is challenging – hence so many speakers stagnate – though by refining your work, looking for ways to raise your standards, you give yourself a chance of lifting your bar.

That what seems to work for the guy who wrote The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and, more recently, What the Dog Saw.