“And when we think about our best coaches and our best leaders, we don’t think about what they told us. We think about how they made us feel.”
– Daniel Coyle
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Daniel Coyle (@DanielCoyle), New York Times bestselling author of “The Talent Code” and most recently “The Culture Code.” He has been a consultant for various organizations, including DEVGRU and is currently a consultant with the Cleveland Indians baseball team. Today, he and Commander Divine talk about developing talent as an individual and how to develop talent in your team.
- Learning and development take place in a loop of experience and then reflecting on the experience.
- Great coaches and leaders are “Talent whisperers,” able to use their emotional skills to build ability in others
- Coaching is actually emotional connection—it’s not just what they tell you but how they tell you.
Learn how talent isn’t just something you’re born with, but something that you can actually build in yourself and your team.
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Hey folks, welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks for joining me again today. You know, I don’t take it lightly. Got a lot going on. So let’s get into this.
My guest today is Daniel Coyle who is an author of some outstanding, outstanding works.
But before I introduce him in more detail, let me remind you that our Unbeatable Mind Summit is coming up, and my team wanted me to offer a special, promotional deal to anyone who listens to this podcast. Some of you have been to the Summit before. This is the 5th year and dare I say–I think it’s the last time we’re going to run it. So if you’ve been thinking about coming to the Unbeatable Mind Summit which is held once a year in December. First week in December. Then this might be your last chance.
I won’t get into the reasons why. We’re actually converting all of that energy into a different type of event.
But it’s an extraordinary event. We have some great speakers. We do some amazing training. Kokoro yoga. Obviously a ton of physical training, but it’s really not about that. It’s about really deepening your integration. Coming together with a community of peers who are really passionate about developing themselves and serving the world more powerfully.
And connecting with the Unbeatable Mind coaches so that you can get some insight from them in your boat-crew, and then meeting people to train with throughout the year. And to design next year, 2019, to be an incredible year. Best ever.
At any rate, so if you’re interested and you’ve been thinking about it, if you want to enroll then go to summit.unbeatablemind.com. Or just unbeatablemind.com and click on the summit image.
And use the code POD300 at checkout and it’ll save you 300 dollars. POD300.
And second thing is–I’m going to drumbeat all year long on the Courage Foundation’s Burpees for Vets challenge. We challenge the world to do 22 million burpees with us to raise money and awareness for vets who are suffering from PTS. And 22 a day committing suicide, which breaks my heart. And we’re trying to suffer for them and raise money and awareness so that we can help as many as we can with those funds, by teaching them integration, connecting them with a boat crew and a bigger purpose again. Or a new purpose, new mission. And then providing them 18 months of coaching support, to hold their hand through their darkest moments.so Burpees for Vets–we have our own website. It’s called burpeesforvets.com. So check it out there. You can pledge money for me. I’m doing 100,000 burpees this year. Or create your own team. Collectively we’ve already done 10 million burpees and raised 180,000 dollars. That’s pretty cool. So our goal is 22 million. So help us out. Can’t do it alone. I already cranked out my 300 this morning. I haven’t missed a day since January 1st, so I’m up close to 70,000. And loving it.
All right, enough on the public service announcements.
So Daniel… I’m super-stoked. I read “The Talent Code” a few years ago and I really was inspired. Daniel Coyle is the author. It’s a New York Times bestseller. And he really digs into what are the fundamentals behind what causes talent to exist in an individual. And we’re going to talk about that.
As well as he’s the author of “The Culture Code,” which is really about team talent. Like, how does a team become great? And what I love about Culture Code is he also tracks DEVGRU–SEAL Team 6–as one of his case studies.
Daniel lives in Cleveland, Ohio during the school year. We were just talking about his summer home is in Homer, Alaska. And I spent some time up in Alaska at Kodiak, and his son works at Kodiak as an environmentalist. What a beautiful, beautiful place Alaska is. So summers in Alaska, then back in Cleveland where when he’s not writing, he’s advising the Cleveland Indians. I think that’s a baseball team, right Daniel?
Daniel Coyle: That is correct. There’s some other sports teams connected with Cleveland that aren’t doing so well, but the Indians are. They’re not unbeatable, but their good.
Mark: Well that’s good. Well they’re going to be unbeatable with another year or two of your help, I’m sure.
Daniel: That’s right. I’m sure.
Mark: So thanks for joining us today, man. Super-nice to meet you.
Daniel: Same here.
Mark: I love your books. Great work. So thanks for the contribution and all that.
Daniel: Thank you Mark. I really appreciate it.
Mark: You know, before we get into kind of like in this book you said this concept. What do you mean by that? Let’s talk about Daniel. Who are you? Where’d you… you grew up around Cleveland… or you grew up in Alaska, you said. What was that like? What were your formative years like? How did you become interested in writing? Bring us up to date, and give us a sense of your character.
Daniel: Yeah, I mean it’s… that’s pretty good. Anybody raised in Alaska sees things from a slightly different angle. And that’s always been an advantage, I think, moving through life. I was born close to there, actually. We moved when I was really small. And a couple brothers. I was always really wanted to compete with them. And tried to sort of make it as an athlete, didn’t, and decided instead to go in to figure out what… kind of got fascinated by performance. If I can’t be it, I wanna understand it.
And so studied a little pre-med and English together in college. And then went into journalism, kind of with this focus on what makes greatness? What’s underneath there?
It’s not magic. It looks like magic, but there’s always something. There’s a process. And maybe that process is emotional. Maybe that process is muscular. Maybe that process is neural. Maybe that process is social.
But really fascinated by that stuff. So that’s what kind of got me into this line of work… I have a really weird job, you know? Basically I travel around the world and meet people that are amazing at stuff. And people in groups. And try to figure out what the hell’s going on. What’s underneath there? Let’s x-ray it. Let’s see it. Let’s measure it. Let’s see what’s underneath the magic.
So that part has been really fun. And then bringing in the… working with the Indians has been a total delight. It brings this stuff… as a journalist, you’re by yourself a lot. And as a writer you’re by yourself a lot. And this is a way to be part of a team that’s achieving at a really high level, and adding up to more than the sum of their parts.
So, yeah, it’s been fun.
Mark: That’s really interesting overlap there with the Indians. Cause as a journalist, you study performance and you write about performance. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that most people can translate that into coaching or helping a team actually change their performance. So how did you find that transition?
Daniel: You know, it kind of happened by accident. Their coaches read some of the stuff in “The Talent Code,” and they liked it, and they started using it. So it was really… I was right here in town. And so we started building on that. Every domain… and baseball’s like anything else… it’s like business. There’s all these habits that you get into. And there’s all these default ways of doing things.
And in baseball that means right before a game we have batting practice. And we have somebody who’s in their 50s throw balls at 60 miles an hour. And everybody hits them into the seats. It’s just what they’ve done for a long time.
And so when somebody comes up from another domain and says, “Hey that looks pretty cool. But are you actually getting better? Does that make you better?”
It causes a conversation to happen. And so to sort of… the fun part of writing these books is that they’re a platform for people from the military, from business, from arts, from sports… from everywhere to kind of connect and have a way to talk about skill.
And so that really opened… that was the fun part. To say, “Okay, wait a minute. We can learn something from how music is practiced. We can learn something from how the military goes about practicing. We can learn and apply those things in real time with real people, with real stakes.”
So there’s been some misfires. Some stuff we haven’t gotten right. There’s been some stuff we’ve gotten right. And so it’s been really cool to see it. It takes you out of the ivory tower and puts you down into the gravel and the dirt. And you get to test this stuff and see if it really works. And it’s certainly been a learning experience for me.
Mark: Yeah. I bet you it has. How cool, to be able to apply what you’ve learned. I’ve done some work with some NFL teams, and we’re working with a pro hockey team. And what I’ve noticed–which you certainly articulate well in your book “The Talent Code,” is that it really doesn’t matter what you do. It’s how you do it. So elite sports, elite warriors, elite musicians–there’s so much similarity in what distinguishes an elite team or a top performing individual, across those domains.
Daniel: It’s so fun, isn’t it? I mean the conversations you can have at that level. I remember the first time I talked to a bunch of coaches. They were Olympic coaches. But there was a clarinet professor who wanted to sit in the room. And then the clarinet professor started talking to Michael Phelps’ coach about drills. And it’s like… they are not quite speaking the same language… but they are talking about the same process. And it was just… that’s the moment where it’s like, “Wait a minute. This is really fun.”
Mark: Yeah, yeah.
The Talent Code
Well, let’s get into “Talent Code.” Now what type of organizations did you interview and look at for that? And give us kind of the premise behind Talent Code at a highest level. Then let’s get into some of the principles.
Daniel: Everybody knows that there are certain places on this planet where you have these weird blooms of talent. Right? Like if you’re a shortstop, a lot of them come from this town in the Dominican Republic. And if you’re a chess player, a lot of them come from this place in Bulgaria. And if you’re a tennis player, a lot of them come from this small club in Russia called “Spartak.”
And so I mean, that exists in all domains. And so the idea was… or you have certain schools that produce unbelievable students. These hotbeds. And so the idea was let’s go into those hotbeds, and see what they’re having in common. And then you overlay that. You map onto that.
What we have learned lately about neural plasticity and how the brain responds to certain types of intensive practice. And so that book was an exploration of those 2 ideas. And basically ideas like, “Hey, all these places are doing the same thing. And it’s not that complicated.”
It’s hard to do. It’s hard to practice, in a way. I call it in the book, “Deep Practice.” Where you’re constantly making mistakes and constantly failing and constantly operating on the edge of your ability.
But that is this incredibly productive way, because it actually builds a specific kind of substance in your brain that makes it work faster and better.
Mark: Right. Those places. Those performance “Blue Zones” so to speak. Was it 1 coach who just started to do something a certain way and then he created some winners who came back and then started coaching that way?
I imagine you could trace it back to one individual who just had some insights or some success and all of a sudden it went from there, right?
Daniel: So cool. That’s exactly right. And the leverage, the power of that individual. Often it was somebody that didn’t get the headlines. And didn’t make millions of dollars. But they were just an extraordinary communicator. And someone who had a deep, deep understanding of the skill and how to connect to people. And how to teach it.
And that’s the piece… Like, I think sometimes we think that being a good teacher is about information. And meeting those coaches… they’re really master teachers is what they are… Meeting those master teachers makes you realize how important the relational part of that, which is really the emotional part of that. They’re extraordinary leaders not just because they knew a bunch of stuff. But because they knew a bunch of stuff and they had like this emotional athleticism to be able to create a connection to be able to create a connection with someone on the fly. And deliver good information in the moment.
It was just… they’re like communication athletes. And that’s not magic either. That’s a skill that gets developed in certain ways over time.
But they were the people around which these hotbeds bloomed.
Mark: Yeah, I love that. So in the book you talk about the four virtues of these master coaches. I love you call them “talent whisperers.” Which you just basically… to communicate, that word “whispering” is awesome. We use that too in our SEALFIT training. Our SEALFIT coaches have put thousands of SEAL trainees through the hardest training in the world. And most people have this image that military style training like the SEALs is going to be all in your face, and “Rah-rah-rah.” And hard core.
And there’s certainly moments that are like that. And they’re very scripted… not scripted but structured.
But the vast majority of the training, like 95% it’s whispering. It’s like you gotta perform, and then all of a sudden one of the coaches is right there in your ear going “Hey dude. This is what I see happening. And, you know, this is what I feel coming from you. And this is the expression that you’re giving off on your face and your eyes. And, you know what? I can tell that your inner dialogue is just going south. So what’s going on right now? And maybe you could think a little bit like this. And maybe you could…” You know? “Change your posture. And maybe you could start thinking about why you’re here. Because if you don’t, guess what’s going to happen? You’re helmet’s going to be lined up over there with the rest of them.”
And then it’s done. And that one moment is an inflection point. Every BUD/S student, every SEAL has those moments where one instructor said something that was the key that unlocked everything else. That’s what you mean by “Talent whisperer” isn’t it?
Daniel: That’s exactly right. And being able to think of the skills that go into that. And think of the power of that moment. And all of us have had moments like that. Might have been with your English teacher. Might have been with a soccer coach.
But there’s that… And when we think about our best coaches and our best leaders, you know, we don’t think about what they told us. We think about how they made us feel. And that’s the ability that’s at the core of both helping to nurture that great talent, but also of creating cultures. Whole organizations that are built on that kind of mutual awareness. Which really is so the opposite of top-down leadership. As you say, of authoritarian leadership. We all kind of grew up with these authoritative models in mind.
And they worked for a long time. Fear is great. Fear works for a while.
But in the world we live now… whether it’s business, or whether it’s sports. Whether it’s developing each other, being in the community. Like, that top-down stuff–it doesn’t work in the long-run. Doesn’t work for complicated problems. It certainly doesn’t work in worlds where you’ve gotta continue to learn and push yourself.
Mark: I agree with that. I like to think of leadership as almost holographic. It’s all angles, all the time.
Daniel: That’s cool.
Mark: Total enmeshment, you know? I’m going to trademark that… “Holographic Leadership.”
Daniel: Holographic. Bring it.
Mark: Bring it on. I might have to hire you to help me write the book, though.
Mark: So obviously one of the virtues of the master coach is to be able to emote… you know, create an emotional connection to the principle, right? How did you articulate that virtue?
Daniel: Exactly. Finding that moment of access. They really were emotional athletes finding that. You can’t really give anybody good information until you have attention and connection.
And so they’re these athletes of connection. And they’re keen observers of human behavior. “Okay, I’m going to find the right moment to deliver that signal. I’m not just going to come in and shout it through some kind of a megaphone. I’m going to wait. I’m going to watch. And I’m going to approach and I’m going to deliver it in a way that it can be maximally effective. And I’m going to be really patient and deliver it over and over and over again in slightly different ways, until it gets across.”
And a lot of… there’s a great phrase that John Wooden said. He said, “You haven’t taught until they’ve learned.”
A lot of times we think if we say it, we’ve taught it. And that’s not true. You’ve just said it. Saying is really different than learning and so really focusing both on what you’re saying, but also focusing on how it’s being received and how it’s being applied.
Mark: Mm-hmm. Yeah, you’ve gotta say it and convey it and show it until the individual feels it, and can say it back and then live it. Do it.
Daniel: Live it. Exactly. And not just do it once, but do it a bunch of times.
Mark: And then the insight is theirs. IN fact, to me victory is when someone comes back and tells me what I told them, thinking it was their insight. Because then they really own it.
Daniel: That’s awesome.
Mark: So what part does passion play in performance? You talk about primal cues, and unlocking kind of passionate performance, which is really like max. Energy connected to your why. Which is how I would describe passion.
Daniel: Yeah, I think we often kind of think that passion is something that you sort of always have. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do this.”
And that’s not really true. There’s a moment, when you get an opportunity to… and it’s a moment that recurs… but it’s a moment where you get kind of glimpse of your future self. And that is the reason kind of ignition works is that it’s sort of something that has to be relit over and over again, because when you’re trying to get better it’s incredibly taxing. And so it’s easy to get into kind of a burnout position.
But when you do have these talent hotbeds, you find that they’ve kind of filled the windshield… They’ve created a collective windshield where they’re constantly encountering almost like noodles in a boiling pot. Bumping into visions and versions of their future selves. And so when we’re working on trying to get better, there’s a temptation to do it by yourself and kind of be the rugged individual working alone.
But when you get–and I think in your events you create this sort of thing–when you get surrounded by that vision of your future self. And when you really take time to stare at it. And our world is full of glancing. And our gaze is probably more diverted than any time in human history. Human attention has been splintered.
But I read once… Somebody said, “To stare is to love.” And there’s something kind of powerful about that. To really think about putting yourself in a position where you get the opportunity to really stare at who you want to become. And where you want to be in 5 years. And where you want to be in 10 years. And really contemplate that and internalize that.
It’s very primal–which is where I use the term “primal cues”–it’s very primal in that this is some ancient wiring that we’re using here. It’s not complicated. There’s not a lot of words that are attached, but just finding an opportunity to really to complicate target and really stare at that person.
And when you think back into your own life. For those of you who got really into a specific sport or a specific line of work, or a specific passion with the arts. There’s usually a moment that you can trace it to. It’s like, “Oh, when I went to that concert and that guitarist was so amazing, it made me want to pick up a guitar.”
Or, “Oh, when I went to this game and this hero at my high school scored the winning touchdown, I started to really love football.”
There’s a moment there, and so you can’t like force that movement to happen. But what you can do is sort of seed the clouds and sort of maximize your interactions around that sort of image of your future-self.
Mark: Right. I love that idea of sort of staring at yourself. This is near and dear to our heart because I agree, we’re all super-distracted. And we have this concept we call Winning in the mind before you step foot on the battlefield. And really it points to the fact that we need to–as individuals… all individuals, not just people trying to perform at an elite level–to slow down and sit down–or kneel if you will–and take that look inward. And so when you say stare at yourself, we’re staring inward. Right? We’re contemplating, we’re visualizing. We’re really kind of studying the interior landscape so that we can re-architect our vision of who we are. And then begin to express that and live that.
But that’s a daily practice.
Daniel: Exactly. Yeah, and all learning and progress takes place in a loop. And the top of that loop is experience and the bottom of that loop is reflection. You have an experience and then you reflect on it.
If you just have pure experience, you’re just going to be sort of like a Golden Retriever running down the street chasing stuff. But if you take a pause–like that bottom part of the loop–that reflection…
It used to be a bigger part of life. Life used to give you more opportunity to reflect. More quiet zones. More areas where you just were naturally put in a position of reflecting.
And part of the… whether it’s the phones or the rhythms or whatever of the way technology has made our life is that that reflective piece has been stolen away. So to actively reclaim that however you can. By writing stuff down. By keeping notes on your phone. Whatever it is that allows you to process that experience and get the most out of it. As opposed to just chasing the next experience.
Mark: Yeah, couldn’t agree more. I was just reflecting when I grew up, as a kid in upstate New York, just how much time I had hiking the Adirondack trails. It’s like you in Alaska. It was all… tons of opportunity to be quiet. To be in nature. To reflect.
And you’re right, it’s not so much that it was stolen from us. It’s more that we kind of abdicated it. We just accepted that this other stuff was the new norm without insisting that we maintain that connection with nature, and that time in silence. So we have to carve it back.
Daniel: You see that with a lot of leaders. Like a lot of people they really have some… the top leaders that I spent time with, especially with “The Culture Code,” you saw them actively carving out time where they could really make the most of what experiences they’ve had and truly reflect on what the right move would be to make next. And so I think that’s such a powerful tool.
Mark: And they flip their thinking from, “Oh My God, I don’t have time to do this. I can only afford this.”
To “This time is actually some of the most important time. This is the generative time. And this is reflective. And this is where I win in my mind. And without this, everything I do out there is gonna be less. It’s going to be suboptimal. It’s not going to have the energy and the passion and the connection to that drive that we’re looking for.”
And so it becomes a necessary component of every day, and of every training session even. With our SEALFIT training, we sit and breathe before every training. Before every workout.
We even do that in our company now, where we do a breathing… 5 minutes of we call Box Breathing before every important meeting. It’s incredible. It’s had some profound effect.
Biology and Myelin
Let’s talk about biology for a second. Still talking about of individual talent, but you use… you talk about something that I haven’t read a lot about, or heard a lot about. But I know it’s been studied, it’s called Myelin. Tell us about Myelin and its role in performance at a biological level.
Daniel: I know your listeners aren’t interested in having a biology class, but I’m going to give them a 1 minute biology class. And this’ll only last a minute, but this is it.
So your brain is a bunch of wires, and that’s it. Your brains are a lot of wires. And those wires are wrapped in this insulation. And this insulation’s called myelin. And it’s just like electrical tape. It wraps it just like electrical tape does.
With the same purpose. You want the signal to move from one end to the other, and if you don’t insulate it, that signal will leak out. So our brain… evolution has given us that insulation.
But here’s the thing. We thought myelin wasn’t interesting. We thought it was inert. It turns out in the last 10 years or so, they’ve discovered it’s not inert. It grows. In response to intensive practice.
And it grows in the following way. When you repeat an act very intensively, you get more myelin in that circuit. And when you get more myelin, you get more speed. The signal moves faster. And you get more accuracy. The signal can be delivered in a more accurate window.
So when you think about skill. When you think about being able to do anything. Play the piano. Hit a jump shot.
We always talk about muscle memory. That’s a misnomer. Muscles don’t have any memory. They’re dumb. All the intelligence, all the beauty, all the timing. All the skill is located in the wires of your brain. And myelin is a really key component to the process of getting better.
So when you practice deeply. When you practice in the right way, on the edge of your ability. Making mistakes. Repeating it. Going back over and over again. You’re actually building that more insulation. More myelin.
And you’re earning more accuracy. You’re earning more speed. And you’re earning more skill.
So it sort of flips the idea of skill is always, “Oh, he was born with that talent.” And what myelin does it says… it’s the process through which those hours of practice end up transforming into increased skill.
So the more myelin you got… they say, “Practice makes perfect.” And that’s not true. Practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect.
Mark: Is it… so we’re talking about neural plasticity here so the practice will kind of create the pathway–the neurological pathway, the synaptic pathway–and then the repeated practice with intensity then layers the myelin on. And so is it possible, or is it true that if I stop practicing then the myelin goes away and my performance degrades.
Or is it because I’m generating other pathways that then create myelin that are more efficient. Then that’s where the energy goes.
Daniel: Depends on the complexity of the task. Like, if you look at… Basically what happens if you stop practicing the myelin starts to… if you don’t use that pathway, it sort of de-laminates. It actually… without that signal going through it, it starts to separate, like a piece of plywood does after you get it wet. It’ll start to separate, and it won’t work as well.
Which is why if you want to stop a pro-golfer from winning a tournament, just prevent them from practicing for 3 weeks, right? Or a gymnast. Don’t let them practice, and it will diminish their performance. That’s kind of an extraordinary idea. Which is why that kind of… how important the daily habit is to continually push yourself to the edge of that ability. Continue to sort of work those circuits. And optimize them.
Mark: Hmm. That is super-cool.
Mark: Let’s take this now to Culture. So we’ve talked about performance around the power of coaches, and power, and myelin, and neurobiology. But what’s the neurobiology of a team? How do we generate cohesion and cooperation?
And you studied SEAL team 6 or formerly known as SEAL team 6. What’s now known as Development Group. Also the San Antonio Spurs. And some other top organizations in terms of the culture… the internal “we” experience of the team. How do we generate cooperation and cohesion? What were some of the huge insights that came out of that study?
Daniel: When I started, I spent about 5 years visiting these places. And it ended up being kind of a trip back in time, to kind of the basic, really, really fundamental… this ancient language of behavior. That connects groups, that helps them share information and helps them move a certain direction.
Every group on the planet. I’m talking whether it’s a flock of birds or whether it’s a school of fish. Or whether it’s Development Group. Or whether it’s the San Antonio Spurs. They have to do 3 basic things. They have to connect with each other. That’s number 1. They have to be connected and stay connected. And safely connected.
Second thing they have to do is they have to share information. They have to share accurate information. If they hide information from each other, they’re going to be less effective.
And the 3rd thing they have to do is they have to move in a certain direction. They have to know where to go. Where are we going? What are we about? Where are we headed?
So those 3 things are really functional, right? That’s structural, functional stuff. And we have this ancient sort of algorithm in our brains that detects are you safe or not? Are you connected?
It detects whether or not you’re really being vulnerable to someone. Whether or not you’re opening up and telling the truth. And it detects what direction you’re going. What are we really all about?
And for a visual, just picture a school of fish moving through a coral reef, right? That is great culture. It’s a set of linked relationships moving toward a goal. That’s a SEAL team in action. They’re solving problems at speed. They’re not checking with each other to have a meeting every 10 minutes. They’re not questioning what their purpose is.
And they’re sharing accurate information with each other so that they can complete to the goal.
So it ends up being this very kind of fundamental language that you can learn. And that’s the thing. You can learn. These signals of safety that you can get.
Culture feels like magic when you’re in a great group. When you’re in a great team. When you’re in a great organization. It feels like magic.
It is not magic. It’s a set of three signals you’re getting. This language of behavior. Behavior that says, “You’re safe. We’re connected.” Behavior that says, “I’m sharing information with you, and you’re sharing it with me. We’re being vulnerable.”
And behavior that says, “Here’s what matters. This is what our purpose is.”
So the idea of the book is if you improve your signaling behaviors. If you improve these 3… Your ability to sort of send and receive these sort of signals you build a better culture.
Mark: That’s fascinating. As you were describing the fish, I actually had a memory of a subsurface mission that I did with my SEAL platoon. We were all connected with we called it a “Lizard Line” and we were diving at night through the kelp beds and there was all this phosphorescent. And the other seals, the actual natural seals, were zooming around us, cause they were really curious. And creating these phosphorescent trails and it was the most extraordinary experience.
It was out at San Clemente Island. It was a training mission, so it didn’t have the same risk factor. But we were blowing things up under water, which for a lot of people, they would think that was risky. But it was extraordinary.
And like you said, we were absolutely connected. Totally, 100% working off of instinct based upon our training because we were underwater. We couldn’t talk to each other. We were like fast-twitch… knowing whether the leader is going left or right. We were all in sync. Because if we got lost, we were really lost, because it was pitch black underwater at night.
And we were completely reliant on each other. These guys, I trust them with my life. And they trusted me, because I trusted them with my life. So we each had each other’s back. And the only reason that came together is because of that… what you called shared vulnerability. Like we sweat together, we bled together, we laughed together, we drank together. We screwed up together, and then picked each other up. And dusted each other off.
And we had this intense purpose, right? We had the higher purpose, and then we had the smaller purpose. The higher purpose for us is “Hey, we’re serving our country. This is important work.”
And then the immediate mission was “Let’s go blow the thing up.” Cool, hunh? All those elements exist. I can see that.
Daniel: It’s so cool. And that vulnerability piece, I think people miss that. I think everybody gets, “Okay, we need to be safely connected. We need a purpose.” but I think in this day and age, where people are kind of aware of status in a kind of an uncertain world, it’s easy to default to the “Oh, I’m going to appear invulnerable.”
And that was the big shock on spending time with Dave Cooper and there was some other guys from the Development Group.
And from everybody actually. All the groups I visited. Whether it was Pixar, San Antonio Spurs, Zappos, Ideo… the vulnerability. The willingness of leaders to send signals that I don’t have all the answers. I want to learn. Help me learn.
What in… I call them in the book, “vulnerability loops.” Because it takes 2 and more to sort of say, “Look we could easily walk away and not have this conversation. But the willingness to have these harder conversations. To admit weakness and to call out weakness in others… it’s not optional. It’s not like… it is absolutely at the core of sharing good information.
If you’re going to behave as one organism, as you guys did that night, you have to be vulnerable. You have to share accurate information with each other, or it can’t happen.
Mark: And that needs to be trained. And we say you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable until it’s comfortable. And being vulnerable is uncomfortable for most people because it’s just so alien in our society. We’re the staunch individualists, we’re meant to look perfect, and a lot of people get into trouble trying to hold up a perfect image which is flawed and false. Because nobody’s perfect.
You can only do that… you can only carry that so far until you break down, usually psychologically or emotionally. And I’m sure all these elite teams have different ways to do it. The SEALs was the debrief, and in the debrief it was brutally honest but it wasn’t personal. And everything that was said, was from a place of “We want you to be at your best. We want you to succeed. We want you to be on the team. We need you. So in order for you to stay here and grow with us, you’ve gotta cover down on this issue, because it’s a big gap. And it’s causing us a risk as a team of failure.” And of course, in the SEALs, that means death.
And so you, as an individual on the team who’ve worked hard to be there, go “Oh Shit. This is serious. I better get my stuff together.”
But you’re left with a feeling of love instead of like demonization, you know what I mean? Or people don’t care about you. That’s unique, isn’t it?
Daniel: It’s really unique. And it’s so powerful. And again, we’re kind of living through this moment in history where… for a long time, top-down authoritative stuff totally worked. Fear works for easy problems, and fear works for the short-term. And fear works for simple things, simple tasks.
But we’re dealing with a world that is volatile, uncertain and complex no matter what line of work you’re in. Life is a learning contest. And it’s a team contest. And so being part of teams… if we’re going to be successful, we’re all going to have to be part of teams that learn. And we’re all going to have to learn.
And so getting out to that learning edge together means vulnerability. So it’s such a powerful tool.
And the cool thing is that a lot of it… you end up with more energy and time to do the task. If you’re not in a situation where people can be vulnerable together, you end up spending a lot of time defending your status. Worrying about your status. Protecting your status.
You have a secret, second job as a Harvard professor named Robert Kagan. He goes if you’re in a bad organization, everybody has a secret second job. And their secret second job is holding their spot. And that’s a job. It’s not like… it is a job. You have to pay attention.
And when you’re in a solid team, like you were that night, you don’t have to put any attention on that. It’s so liberating. So while you do have to spend more time doing these extra things… and those debriefings feel extra. And a lot of these extra things that good cultures do feel like they’re a time drain. It feels like, “We could be making more progress if we weren’t having this AAR–this After Action Review.
Those actually end up being investments because they create a stronger team.
Mark: Right. I agree with that 100%. That’s so cool. And it leads to the creation of the trust bond. Which means that each individual is trustworthy therefore they’re able to project trust and develop that trust.
And one of those linkages breaks down and the team literally will come to a screeching halt. Until it’s rebuilt. So it’s interesting.
Daniel: That’s right. Yeah, it’s fragile, you know? And it’s something that happens… I think that that’s one thing I didn’t appreciate going in to writing “The Culture Code.” It’s like how continually you have to send those signals. Like, it’s not like… we have these brains that are constantly attuned to whether or not we’re connected and safe. And you have to send those signals and the patience and repetition and sort of the continuing nature of leadership is… it never stops. And so whether you’re Greg Popovich or whether you’re Dave Cooper, having the patience, the willingness and the strength to say “I don’t feel like it, but I’m going to keep sending these signals.”
Mark: Right. What you’re referring to and I think is the good news here is that in order to perform at an elite level and to build an elite culture, essentially what it requires is that we learn how to be our best. And that is a practice.
And so we turn development… development of our beingness into our best version of ourselves possible into a daily practice. And we bring that to the team. And we bring that to the team. It’s not like, “Oh that’s who I was at home, and now I’m on the team, I’m perfect.”
No, it’s like your organization or your team is the best opportunity and the best place to learn and grow. Cause that’s where you’re going to get the immediate and direct feedback. And be held accountable. And also the support.
So you’re being pushed, prodded, pulled… you know? Poked. At all levels to grow, to be better. Because the team needs you.
Daniel: And you see that up-close… it’s funny we mentioned earlier that I was working with the Indians and they have an intern program… like a lot of places. Well, right now, I think 8 different general managers of other teams started as Indians interns.
Mark: No kidding. That’s cool.
Daniel: Yeah. And it’s because that environment is exactly what you just described. It’s a place where they’re constantly stretched and supported and surrounded by… the windshield is filled with opportunities to continue to learn. In community.
To actually see what greatness looks like, to do stuff, and to get great feedback so that you can get better.
Mark: That’s awesome.
So what’s next for you? Are you working on another project now?
Daniel: Well, I’m trying to get… “The Culture Code” came out earlier this year so I’m trying to get some time… it’s always interesting when you write a book as you probably know. You write a book and then there’s the book you write. And then there’s the book that people read. Which is always interesting to see what…
I had my own idea of who would respond to this book, and what conversations would come out of it. And so, right now, it’s been kind of fun to kind of see where that goes. For example, there’s a lot of conversations right now in the tech world about culture. There’s a lot of conversations in the sports world, about culture. There’s a lot of conversations in the military world about culture.
So it’s been fun to have those conversations and see the book used as a platform in a way to kind of explore those areas in a way that is fresh and exciting.
Mark: Yeah, I think it’s very timely and relevant and important. We have to basically stop looking at culture as something that happens as a result of just being there. That’s kind of the old way of looking at culture… “It’s this because we have this dysfunction…” (laughing)
Rather look at culture as a developmental opportunity.
Daniel: Hey, it’s a sport. You can get good at it. It’s not something that just happens by default. It’s something that is created and that we’re… an exciting piece is that we’re kind of wired to do it. You know?
Those feelings that you get on the SEAL teams, that is not… those are old. That’s old wiring. That’s ancient, ancient tribal human stuff. And so learning that language… or maybe “re-learning” it is a better way to say it… relearning that language and realizing it’s not magic. It’s signals. It’s behaviors.
And those behaviors can be learned and turned into a practice and a habit and a strength.
Mark: And let’s kind of… we’ll wrap up pretty soon here… but what does your day look like? What are your practices so you can maintain your excellence as a New York Times bestselling author?
Daniel: Wow. It’s funny. We were just talking about that–my wife and I were–and I’ve been actually trying to get better at doing nothing. Which has been my challenge for this summer. I kind of set myself a challenge. I’d been running pretty hard with the new book coming out and I’d set myself a challenge to see if I could get better at just kind of being.
Cause in the experience-reflection loop, I think I end up being a little long on experience and a little short on reflection at times.
So I guess I try to have these… I go through phases where there’s some phases where you’re kind of looking. You kind of have your head up, and your periscope is up and you’re looking for interesting stuff gathering say? And there’s another phase where you’re trying to connect that up and build stuff. Right now I’m kind of more in the gathering phase, and the building phase. Trying to figure out what the next project is, and trying to continue to work with the Indians and other organizations to kind of try to put some of this stuff into practice.
Mark: And do you have a morning ritual and like a training type plan that keeps you healthy, energized and growing?
Daniel: Help me out with that Mark. I’ve been very scattered and organic with that stuff.
Mark: I can help you.
Daniel: I’ll go through a phase where I’ll bike a whole bunch or I’ll do this a whole bunch… but I need to dial into something. I’ve kind of been letting that go.
Mark: Yeah. Maybe we could get you Unbeatable Mind and we have a very specific morning ritual, evening routine. A way we do our physical training that kind of helps integrate and turns things… time that you’d normally spend just doing stuff into really, really powerful training time.
Daniel: Send me what you got. I’ll take a peek, yeah.
Mark: I’ll do that. I’ll follow up with Allison.
Mark: All right. Well it’s been an honor, Daniel. Thanks so much for your time. Continue the great work. I’d love to hook up with you in person, or if there’s anything we can do to help out or collaborate then we’ll keep those avenues open.
Daniel: Thank you. Really, really fun talking to you. And if people want to dig into any of these ideas, I’ve got a website danielcoyle.com. If anyone wants to get in touch or hit an email. There’s an email link there that they could send me a note.
But thanks so much for the conversation, and really appreciate what you’re doing.
Mark: Likewise. Lotta fun.
All right, folks. So that was Daniel Coyle. Wow. What an interesting, interesting conversation. He’s doing some really cutting edge work. And it’s a lot of stuff that we’ve talked about, but I really encourage you to check out… if you’re an organizational leader… check out “Culture Code” because that’s critical to building a really healthy organization. One that’s really going to kick ass and take names.
And “The Talent Code.” They’re really like hand in glove. Talent looks at it from kind of the “I” perspective, and Culture from the “we” perspective. And maybe Dan will write it from the “it” perspective, like, what organizations can do to structurally unlock performance and remove blockages.
And you’ll recognize those as the 3 spheres, so this whole discussion is very near and dear to our heart. All 3 are important–the co-arise–the “I”, “we” and the “it.” And we want to excel in each and not let any of the 3 spheres be the limiting factor.
So gotta be our best. We’ve gotta bring our best to the team. And then the team will make us better.
And then if you’re an organizational leader, you gotta create systems and structures that get, basically, the organization out of the way of the culture.
Enough said on all that. Thanks so much for listening. Stay focused and do the work every day.
Doesn’t require 3 hours of time, just do the work. Do your morning ritual. Do your workout. Breathe. Move. Meditate. Visualize. And integrate.
And with that, I’m done.
See you next time.
Divine out. Hooyah.