In 2020, what will your 100 minutes be?

If you could share one thing from the past year...what would it be?  What is the one thing that happened in 2019 that made the largest impact on you?

I want to share with you my greatest failure.  And yet also my greatest learning.

This year I failed to see that I had begun to view learning through the lens of control.  I had begun to see learning as a way to make people better. 

Here at SportsEngine, when health checks were introduced, the intent was to grow teams, to shift a team’s focus from doing to learning.  Slowly, though, they became a means to generate analysis, a means to force my views; the intent was subverted from ‘help the team’ to ‘change the team’.  

In reflecting on the health check journey, I realized that there were a number of themes that proportionally accompanied this subversion - friction in conversation, misunderstanding of purpose, personal stress, and frustration of progress.

What was driving these themes?

It was after reading the book “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn that things started to come together.  The book essentially asks this question: What is the difference between control and teaching?  

Let me illustrate this with my middle son who is learning how to read.  James has been blessed with an... adamantine... will that I trust will serve him well.  One day.  Our family homeschools, and as part of the end of term ‘exam week’ the “principal” gets student demonstrations of each aspect of the term’s learning.  One of these was reading.  Well, James refused to read to me, and his list of excuses as to why he just couldn’t do it was extensive.

This is what 'control' would do.  James, you’re disobeying, go stand in the corner.  When you’re ready to read you can come out.  Or, James, I’ll give you a cookie if you read.  

What is driving the action here?  Seeking conformance to expectations.  Reducing my own discomfort.  Control is really saying, 'Modify your behaviour, for I care not what you think, only what you do.'

If we take the 'teaching' approach, I must avoid controlling, and am left with asking...
  • Why has he come before me afraid/unwilling to demonstrate his learning?
  • What is missing from my approach?
  • What is he actually concerned about?
  • What ways are open to me to try and illuminate his reading ability?
  • What if I were to try this, or that?
These questions actually gave me significant pause...what have I contributed, as his father, to his thinking that is creating this behaviour?  And what can I do to help him through this?  What will it cost me today, tomorrow, next year..., and am I okay with that?

This reading demo was on the exam week roster four times, and each time, something that should have taken 2 minutes took 25 minutes.  

What happened during that week?  During the 100 very very long minutes?  

In 100 minutes, I learned what my contribution was meant to be.  I had to learn to be patient no matter the frustration I felt.  I had to learn to ask for and unravel his thoughts and fears and challenges.  I had to learn that control was something so steeped in my mindset that it would cost me to go through with - and sustain - a change away from it.

By the end of exam week we seemed not much farther ahead - at least according to my goals and outcomes - but the result of this is that I think I am a better father, and will be a better father.  I am more aware of what I bring to each interaction - and what I fail to bring.

And so, in a similar manner, the health checks at SportsEngine had been diverted from the path of learning to that of control.  The effect today was small, but later on could have been dramatic.

For this, I apologized to the teams participating.  Yet I'm looking forward, convinced that this change of thinking will bring far better outcomes.  

I was apologetic, but without this failure and reflection, my change of mindset could not have happened!  If I had persisted in placing blame outside of myself, if I had continued to try to make change happen, what example would I be setting to them?

In 100 minutes my mindset was shifted from controlling to teaching.  In 2020, I encourage you to consider how your failures can generate reflection and mindset change.  Capture the frictions and frustrations as signals, and reflect on the part you play in them.

In 2020, let your failures become your greatest asset, opening you up for self-examination.  

In 2020, what will your 100 minutes look like?

This is a slightly modified version of the lightning talk I gave at our company kick-off this year.  I wasn't going to post it, but felt like an old friend could get something out of it.


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