How Winners Use Obstacles for Success

how winners use don jayWe celebrate people who overcome obstacles to accomplish important objectives. They are people like Daniel Kish who taught himself to ride a bike using echolocation even though he’s blind, Oprah Winfrey whose media power has positively affected millions even though she experienced an abusive childhood, and Richard Branson who learned how to overcome the challenges of dyslexia to become one of the most storied entrepreneurs in the world.

So, what enables some people to overcome, indeed, thrive on obstacles, while others wallow in despair? This may sound flip, but it’s all a matter of perception.

Consider this example. Sue had a promising idea to help her company spring forward. All she needed was three to four hours a week at work to develop and implement it. Excited, she rushed into her boss’ office to share the idea and ask for the time to pursue it. “Your idea sounds great, Sue,” he said, “but we need to hit our numbers this quarter and I need you to stay focused on the tasks you have.”

“How fascinating,” Sue mused. “I wonder what I can do with these circumstances? How can I pursue the opportunity and work within the time constraints?” She turned the time “obstacle” into an opportunity by interesting her co-workers to work on the project in smaller chunks of time at coffee breaks or lunchtime. Her crowdsourced implementation of her idea.

Embracing the obstacle delivered superior results. The template she created yielded an asset others could use. She broadened interest and ownership in the project. And, it moved forward faster than if she had done it on her own. So, was time an obstacle or an opportunity for Sue?

And what about you? What obstacles are you facing that could be the perfect opportunity to make the most of your talent and spring forward?

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Posted in Overcoming Obstacles

Are you expecting too much from your job?

5411945096_a4922d9f3c_zIt’s normal to feel that the bloom is off the rose after a time on a new job. It’s what you do about it that determines whether you live in frustration or move forward in fulfilling ways.

Think of your talent and career like a story. It has many chapters. As in any good novel, you have some chapters that are fun and exhilarating and others that pose challenges you need to overcome. If you expect your job to be an unending bed of roses, you are bound for frustration … and, frankly, you won’t have a very interesting talent story to tell.

If you feel stuck in a chapter that you don’t like, it’s time to power up your talent story. Look for a friend, coworker, or coach to be a catalyst for you to plumb your hopes for your work and help you see new resources and opportunities to fulfill them.


Photo by: Bob AuBuchon

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Posted in Resolutions

Questions to Ask Before Taking a New Job

8420804522_f1ab98c494_bOK. You have an employer interested in you. Your interviews are going great. Now, you need to do a gut check on whether the job is for you. Is it a path to prosperous use of your talent or a bridge to nowhere?

So, here’s a key question for job applicants to ask themselves: “Do I want to just fill a job or do I want to grow a career?” If you want to grow a career, you’ll want to share what your hopes are for your talent and why those are important to you. Then, ask your prospective employer, “What are the opportunities to pursue those hopes in this organization?”

While you don’t want to sound like you are trying to jump beyond the immediate job before they have offered it to you, you do want to know whether the organization and person you’ll be reporting to are only talent users or are talent builders.

Photo by: Andrew Bowden

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Posted in Talent in the Workplace

How to Stand Out in a Job Application

don and jayThink of completing a successful job application like winning in Olympic gymnastics. You need to do the required moves, and you need to do something extra to stand out from the crowd.

In today’s job market, many people claim that they are experts in something because they want to be offered the job. This leaves employers wondering who really wants to do the job. You need to show how the job will be an opportunity for you to fulfill your hopes for your talent. Here’s what job applicants can do.

1. Be sure that you include the required key words that describe the skills, experience, and successes needed for the job. You can’t win if you don’t cover those items in the application. Remember, some employers have software programs scanning applications for specific words, positions, and experiences to match the job requirements.

2. Include something extra that highlights how the job fits with what excites you. Be sure that your application makes it clear what your hopes are and the extra interest and energy that you’ll bring to the job.

Just as in the gymnastics competition, focused passion wows reviewers.


Photo Credit: COD Newsroom

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Posted in Talent in the Workplace

“How to Take Risks Wisely”

4532025305_c9a16c6fab_mThe fast-changing, uncertain environment in which we live requires risk taking. As a colleague commented, “If you are traveling from Los Angeles to New York City, you can’t wait for all of the stop lights to turn green before you start.”

Many who avoid risks in business fail to note that they take risks every day in many facets of their lives. For example, they face risks in choices they make about routes to work, what they eat for lunch, and the relationships they establish. So, what makes risk taking in business more challenging? Often, it’s because the uncertainties loom larger or the individual lacks personal experience to calibrate and navigate the risks.

Here are strategies to make risk-taking more palatable.

* Be clear about your hopes.

Pursue only those things that really make sense to you and you want to do. Too many people veer off course pursuing what looks “hot” or what they think they should do. Sometimes, risk aversion can be a voice helping us to avoid what isn’t right for us personally or business-wise.

* Develop a visual map.

You can create a results chain that describes the sequence of events or circumstances necessary to reach your objectives. Drawing a picture will help you visualize and communicate the risks with others who can help you assess the accuracy of your understanding and share experience in dealing with them.

* Trigger your commitments and resources as the risks resolve.

Some of the most-acclaimed risk takers–venture investors–actually manage risks very aggressively. They target milestones for further investment. This keeps focus and avoids “betting the farm” before you’ve plowed the ground.

* Have more than one option.

If you don’t have choices, then everything looks black or white with no flexibility to adapt to changes. Choices and contingency plans support risk taking because they offer ways to recover and adjust.

Enjoy a healthy stretch. It will keep your mind and career growing.

Photo by: Jessica Lucia


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Posted in Overcoming Obstacles

How to Succeed in the New Workforce: “Be diverse, agile, whitewater rafters”

3428072896_e8e5c05271_bWhat do the coming years hold for the workforce?

The workforce will accelerate its progression into two broad groups: (a) those who are skilled and agile to navigate the whitewater rapids of swiftly changing conditions in diverse marketplaces and (b) those who get left behind in eddies outside the rapidly moving economy.

We’re seeing examples of this already with the hot market for software engineers in Silicon Valley contrasted with unemployed and underemployed persons waiting for someone to offer them a job.

Pointers for businesses:

* Create environments that attract employees who have agility and seek opportunities to run the rapids rather than float in a pond.

* View organizational structure as a flexible support for dynamic change rather than a fixed framework.

* Develop work situations with employees that invite adventure and thoughtful risk taking.

Pointers for employees:

* Take charge of your talent — no one else can or will. Be clear about your hopes and your plans to realize them.

* Nurture a network of people and resources. You don’t know when you’ll need them for your next run.

* Keep strong cash reserves to enable yourself to take risks and recover from tumbles in markets, businesses, and jobs.

For both businesses and employees:

*Enjoy the whitewater rapids and don’t be afraid to get wet.

 Photo by: Kansas Sebastian


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Posted in Overcoming Obstacles, Uncategorized

How to create meaning and joy for your life

5258752404_6e2786d705_bThere are two key questions to ensure that what you are doing will create meaning and joy for your life. Importantly, they are questions that you should have a generous listener ask you rather than mull over on your own.

Here are the questions:

1. “What are your hopes for your talent?” This open-ended question sparks the creative dimensions of our brains. As the poet Tracy K. Smith notes, “Hope is an idea with an engine.”

There are many things that people can do. What they really want to do will power them to true success.

2. “Why are your hopes important to you?” Many seductions – what others have done to be successful – lure us away from our true hopes. It takes some real digging to get to bedrock of what’s truly motivating and fulfilling for us. The good news is that the digging is worth it. We observe that each time people go deeper into why their hopes are important to them the opportunities to fulfill their hopes multiply by a factor of ten.

Here are the reasons why it’s valuable to have a generous listener ask these questions and reflect back what’s said:

* On weighty questions like these, people often talk to figure out what they think. When someone listens without a personal agenda and reflects back what’s said, the speaker literally hears how the ideas sound.

* A generous listener also can hear where the speaker has strong energy and excitement compared with something that the speaker said because it’s what she or he “should” say.

* It’s much faster to get to what is deeply meaningful. Across thousands of people in these conversations, participants note that they discover a depth of meaning for themselves in minutes that it would have taken hours, if at all, to reach on their own. With all of the editing that people do in their heads, they often miss what’s important to them.

* Finally, stating answers to these questions to someone else creates a deeper level of personal commitment than if the result were unstated or merely written.

These questions begin what we call a Talent Catalyst Conversation. It’s a conversation that people can complete in less than hour to launch themselves on a path to authentic meaning in their lives. The research basis for the points above and stories of people putting them into practice appear in “Take Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life.”


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Posted in Talent in the Workplace

How to ask for – and get – a promotion

177782849_31dfef9c9a_mMany employees stumble when asking for a promotion. Sometimes they wait so long before asking that they have pent up anger or frustration, which undermines their request. Other times, they cower with fear, “What if I’m turned down?”

Thus, it behooves employees to think through their requests carefully. We describe a proven process for making effective requests on pages 101-103 of our book, “Take Charge of Your Talent.” We also give an additional example in a recent blog post of Phillip using the process to gain a six-figure deal that he thought was beyond his grasp.

In summary, here’s the basic four-step request process as applied to requesting a promotion:

Express your Intention. State clearly what you hope to accomplish and why it is of value to the business. For example, “I want to make ever increasing contributions to our business’ success so that both I grow and the business thrives.”

Provide a clarifying Observation. Describe what you see that sets up the context for your request. For example, “I notice that the business needs [your observation of areas that are important]. I’ve honed my skills and demonstrated success in these areas.” Give concrete examples or proof points that confirm your readiness.

Make a Request. Make a simple, concrete, direct statement of what you want. For example, “I would like to a promotion to [desired position] or some other opportunity to grow and contribute more to the business.” Note how this request opens the door to multiple ways for you to advance and links back to your intention and what’s in it for your employer.

Close with a Confirmation. Restate and confirm whatever you have agreed upon. For example, “I hear that you would like me to have growth opportunities and that we can meet next week to discuss how I can advance in the business.”

Be sure to practice your request before you are on the spot. Find a colleague, coworker, or friend who can hear you make your request and give you feedback. With clear and powerful requests, you will thrive in your career.

 Photo by: Rain



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Posted in Resolutions, Support

A Tale of Two Talents: Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy

2952690034_05c05c1b37_bRobin Williams and Eddie Murphy had so much in common. Both had roots in the San Francisco standup comedy scene.  They were both known for creating memorable comedic characters, for having quick minds, and for a willingness to be outrageous and say anything that came into their heads. They both were successful voice actors who created memorable characters like Williams’ Genie in Aladdin and Murphy’s Donkey in Shrek.

If talent were only a set of skills and strengths, these two men could be seen as almost interchangeable parts. But we know that talent is much more than that. It is the full self-expression of an individual that employs all of one’s unique qualities, including the inner being.

With the untimely passing of Mr. Williams, there have been so many testimonials to his generous spirit. This generosity wasn’t a quality he had in addition to his talent. It was an integral part of his talent. And by generosity we don’t just mean the many stories of his charity work, his close friendships, and philanthropy. It also was in the way that he was willing to share every facet of his being–the light and the dark, the brilliance and the pain.

Where Williams invested himself in his characters, Mr. Murphy seemed to hide behind his characters. In several films, he played multiple characters with the aid of prosthetics, makeup, and costumes. The one notable exception was his performance in the movie Dream Girls, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.  The performance in a character loosely modeled on soul singer James Brown wasn’t always pretty, but it rang true. There seemed to be a lot less makeup and a lot more Eddie. Unfortunately, on Oscar night, when he didn’t win the award, he left abruptly and did not stay to support and celebrate his fellow cast mates.  We don’t mean to judge the man. We don’t know him personally. However, it begs the question: How do we get the best of Eddie Murphy? Is it just that he’s selfish and egotistical or is he giving us a public demonstration of how fear keeps us from full self-expression?

Robin Williams is gone, but for Eddie Murphy, and for the rest of us, we still have the opportunity to get beyond our talent-limiting fears and fully share with the world what we have to offer.

Knowing what we do now about Robin Williams’s emotional struggles, we offer this scene from “Good Will Hunting” as a demonstration of one human being fully sharing his talent—who he is as well as what he does.

Photo by: Shameek

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Posted in Overcoming Obstacles

PB&J – Brain Food for Your Talent

To make the highest and best use of our talent, you need your brain to be working for you and not against you.

Some of the best brain food for talent is good old PB&J.  No, we’re not referring to Peanut Butter and Jelly; we’re talking about Pause, Breathe, and Jam.

P is for Pause. Take a moment to step outside of your automatic, reactive thinking. Get off your unconscious treadmill and create some space for fresh ideas and new perspectives. [See Jay’s poem below.]

B is for Breathe.  Take several deep breaths.  The parts of your brain that relate to your talent – your self-expression – need oxygen to do their best work.

J is for Jam.  Like musicians cutting loose in a jam session, give yourself permission to let go and enjoy your talent. Follow your instincts and your passions. Experiment, take some risks, and feel fully alive.


A Pause


A Pause

A pause is a possibility

It can inspire

It can open a window to the present moment

It can interrupt an old habit

It can prevent a violent word or a violent action

It can create anticipation

It allows thoughts to come… and to go

It can remind us of who we are and who that person is right in front of us

It can stop the action

It can allow everyone else to catch up

It can change the direction of a day and of a lifetime

It can restore sanity

A pause is a possibility

Jay Perry

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Posted in Uncategorized features “3 Keys to Unlocking Employee Talent”
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