The What and How of Motivation

September 2, 2015 1 comment

Motivation is a complex concept with many definitions. I have a simple definition: People are most motivated, or engaged in what they are doing, when they are 1) acting in accordance with their values and 2) acting in a way that builds on their strengths and not their weaknesses.

Values are what we hold as most important to us. I do not mean them necessarily as moral values—some are, some are not. At CentACS, where we focus on personality assessment, we have identified 16 broad values terms. While you may prefer a different word than one of our 16, these terms cover pretty much the gamut of what folks hold as important:

  • AchievementDisney on Values
  • Activity
  • Beauty
  • Competition
  • Health
  • Helping
  • Independence
  • Intellect
  • Justice
  • Materialism
  • Pleasure
  • Power
  • Relationships
  • Spirituality
  • Stability
  • Status

So, step one of motivating someone is to know their top and bottom values—that comprises their values “style.” Knowing what values to build on and what values to avoid is critical to motivation. Want to motivate me? Then make sure to ask me to do something that builds on my passion for Pleasure, Beauty, Intellect, and Independence, and don’t expect me to resonate on anything that smacks of Power, Competition, Materialism, or Status.

But knowing what values to build on is not the same as knowing how to build on those values. The how is determined by knowing the individual’s behavioral traits and mental abilities. These days, pesonality traits are most often expressed by the Five-Factor Model, or the Big Five:

  • Need for Stability—calm vs. reactive
  • Extraversion—quiet/solitary vs. in the thick of the action
  • Originality—practical and detail-oriented vs. creative and big picture-oriented
  • Accommodation—competitive and aggressive vs. collaborative and conflict-averse
  • Consolidation—spontaneous and multi-tasking vs. focused on goals

Mental abilities do not have such a succinct model as the Big Five, but a satisfying way to categorize them is Gardner’s eight talents:

  • VerbalBrain with cogwheels
  • Mathematical/Logical
  • Visual/Spatial
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic
  • Natural Observer (as in taxonomies and complex organizational schemes)
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal

My salient personality trait is high Originality (creative, love of compleCentxity, comfortable with change), and my salient mental abilities are mathematics and taxonomy development. To determine how to motivate me, here’s all you need:

What to do: Something that builds on my value for Intellect, Beauty, Pleasure, and/or Independence

How to do it: Use my creativity, numerical ability, and/or fondness for taxonomy development

Recommendation: Ask me to scan what is being done around the world on a topic of mutual interest and come up with a best practices model.

Rationale: Conducting research builds on my value for Intellect, and the model development builds on my abilities in Natural Observation and taxonomy development.

I suggest you make a little card that profiles each person for whom you feel some responsibility for keeping motivated. On each card, list:

  • What:
    • Values to emphasize or build on
    • Values to avoid
  • How:
    • Big Five traits to emphasize
    • Big Five traits to minimize
    • Mental abilities to emphasize
    • Mental abilities to minimize

Periodically have a dialog with these folks and mutually evaluate the degree to which they are acting in accordance with their values and in light of their behavioral and mental strengths.

Motivation is as simple as that. Know what they value, and how they naturally go about their everyday activities. And if neither is obvious to you, ask us at Center for Applied Cognitive Studies for help.

Change of Life, Change of Personality

August 26, 2015 1 comment

I frequently get this question, for which I’ve had no convincing data to respond: Do personality trait levels change as the result of menopause? I’ve decided to look for an answer. In a recent survey of the published research literature, I found no information. So, in lieu of answers from the known literature, I turned to my database. The U.S. norm group for our WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ personality assessment contains a balanced sample of 1,200 working adults. A detailed description of this norm group is available in our professional manual (available by ordering from

Within our sample, we have 167 females in the 32-40 age bracket, as compared with 79 in the 51-60 bracket. I compared their scores on the 23 subtraits of the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ to determine whether they increased, decreased, or stayed the same over this range.

I found that 15 of the 23 traits changed over this transitional range for females, with eight traits showing no change. The largest change was a decrease in ambition, with an effect size of .37. Effect size is a way of describing how great the difference between two averages is, based on the variability or consistency of individual scores—if everyone scores similarly, then small differences can have a large effect, but if everyone’s scores are all over the place, then you must have a larger difference in means in order to have a large effect size—around .2 is a small effect, around .5 a moderate effect, and .8 or over is a large effect. So, .37 is considered a moderate effect, but by no means large. In everyday language, it means that there is a moderate tendency for some females to show less interest in achievement after the change of life. However, it is highly likely that women who were driven to high achievement before the change maintain their achievement level after the change, and that the decrease among females is to be found among the less ambitious or driven, who would likely tend to drop off somewhat. Here are the 15 traits that showed moderate to small changes, from greatest change to least change for women:

  • Ambition/drive decreased, with an effect size of .38midlife
  • Perfectionism decreased, .37
  • Concentration increased, .34
  • Activity level decreased, .27
  • Reserve increased, .25
  • Interest in others’ needs decreased, .21
  • Trust increased, .21
  • Tact decreased, .21
  • Tendency toward agreement/avoiding conflict increased, .16
  • Attention to detail increased, .15
  • Organization decreased, .14
  • Imagination decreased, .13
  • Change tolerance decreased, .11
  • Resilience decreased (needing more time to rebound from a crisis), .10
  • Worry/anxiety increased, .09

I would be interested in your observations on these changes. Here are mine:

  • None of the changes are large, so no sweeping generalizations are possible.
  • Yes, some females exhibit changes over the time before, during, and after menopause, but such changes are not inevitable for every female, nor are they necessarily permanent if or when they occur.
  • I would like to find a way to analyze the data to determine which females undergo these changes. For example, I suspect that females who are already at an extreme are likely to stay there, whereas persons not so extreme are the ones who account for most of the movement. A strong neatnik is less likely to back off her neatnikness that a more moderate neatnik.
  • The stereotypical perception that menopause results in major changes in mood or behavior is not justified for females as a group—based upon our full-time working women sample. However, some individuals may exhibit major changes. More likely than not, the mood swings that some women (especially those more prone to the negative emotions, such as anxiety and anger) experience during this transition are temporary, with the typical female returning to the same set points for traits that were exhibited prior to menopause.
  • If a woman’s traits are at different levels after menopause, then it is likely that the changes would be found among these 14 traits. But for the vast majority of women, don’t expect trait changes as the result of menopause. You are justified in expecting temporary states, just as you can expect temporary states among men.
  • We do not if the causes of these changes are menopause, the normal effects of aging, or something else. All we can say is that they follow menopause.

For your information and consideration, here are the eight traits that did not change:

  • Temper/anger/intensity
  • Optimism/interpretation of events
  • Warmth
  • Sociability
  • Tendency for taking charge
  • Comfort with Complexity
  • Humility
  • Methodicalness

Meanwhile, what’s going on with the guys? I thought it only fair to take a look at the men over this same time span. I conducted an identical analysis with the 179 men in our balanced norm group in the 32-40 age group, and the 87 men in our 51-60 group—all full-time working men. As with other studies, males show more extremes than females—larger effect sizes but fewer changes in trait levels. Here is how the males changed over the same period as the females, listed from largest change to smallest, as measured by effect size:

  • Reserve increased, as it did with females, but with twice the effect size, .43
  • Warmth decreased, .34 (no change in the females)
  • Tendency toward agreement/avoiding conflict also increased, and with twice the effect size, .32
  • Interest in others’ needs increased, opposite from the females’ decrease, and with a similar effect size, .26
  • Imagination decreased, as with the females, but with twice the effect size, .26
  • Tendency to take charge decreased, .24 (no change in the females)
  • Sociability decreased, .19 (no change in the females)
  • Activity level increased , .19 (decreased among the females)
  • Ambition/drive decreased, as with females, but with only half the effect size, .18
  • Humility decreased somewhat, .18 (no change in the females)
  • Tolerance for change decreased, .17, similar to the females

What do I make of these comparisons?

  • Males and females changed similarly on five traits: more reserved/less vocal, less likely to embrace conflict, less active imaginations, decreased ambition, and less welcoming of change
  • Males changed in four areas while females showed stability: less warmth and sociability, decreased tendency to take charge, and somewhat more pride
  • Females changed in eight areas where males showed stability: perfectionism decreased, concentration increased, trust increased, tact decreased, attention to detail increased, organization decreased, resilience decreased, and worry increased.
  • Males and females diverged on two traits: females showed a greater priority on their own needs, while males showed greater interest in others’ needs; additionally females showed a decline in activity level, while males showed a small rise.
  • Males and females remained stable as a group on only four traits: temper/anger, optimism, comfort with complexity, and methodicalness.
  • Women, known for their tendency to be more relationship-oriented, exhibited stability in that arena, while men showed decreased warmth, sociability, assertiveness, conflict engagement, and tendency to take charge, suggesting a decreased interest in maintaining quality relationships on the part of some men.
  • Men known for their ambition and self-absorption, showed a movement away from self—more interest in others’ needs, decreased tendency to embrace conflict and more likely to be agreeable, less outspoken/more reserved, decreased bossiness/tendency to take charge, and decreased ambition. Some have called this the “grandpa effect”—goin’ fishin’ with the grandkids more preferable to some than steppin’ out with an adult partner.

Admittedly this is a cross-sectional and not a longitudinal study, and a longitudinal study would be preferred. However, these findings suggest that we should try to find longitudinal data that confirm or challenge these modest changes. My lesson from this brief analysis is that most peoples’ trait levels—male and female—are the same after midlife as before, that a few show decreases or increases, that during the transition some people exhibit temporary states that dissipate, and that, in general most people remain at the same trait level throughout adulthood.

Getting Started

August 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Chaim Potok unwittingly pointed to this blog post when his narrator, David Lurie, mused early in the 1975 novel In the Beginning: “All Beginnings are hard…. Especially a beginning that you myeshivaake for yourself. That’s the hardest beginning of all.” David’s beginnings, as are ours,  were plentiful: starting life with delicate health, startin
g school amidst a den of bullies, initiating the study of Hebrew, beginning the path to becoming a rabbi, beginning the process of faith exploration in departure from his father’s traditional piety, and emigrating from Poland to begin a new life in the Bronx.

As I returned to the office this morning after a week’s beach vacation with our family, I asked myself what my blog topic would be for this week. This was not a new question, as I had asked myself several times over the last week what I might write about after the hiatus—work is seldom out of mind. Even though I keep a list of possible topics, I prefer to have a current, urgent topic that provides fuel for my fingers. Walking (in the shade as much as possible) across the office parking lot, it came to me: Getting started.

All my life, I have experienced a sense of dread, anxiety, and mental fatigue at the thought of starting something new:

  • Reading instructions for a new device or software application
    • How long will it take? Do I have everything I need to do it? Will I be able to understand it?
  • Designing a new course or program
    • Can I handle the graphic elements? Do I know the right math and programming language to write the necessary calculations? Is it really needed?
  • Returning a call from a customer or reader with a thorny question
    • Do I need to prepare for the call? Will I be able to handle to emotions and/or the details?
  • Taking on a home repair project
    • Do I have what I need? How long will it take? Do I know how to do it? Should I hire it out? Do I need someone to help me?

As an example, I left the large metal plant stand I gave my wife last December 25 unassembled for six months before finally taking the plunge. I feel a sense of weariness when I consider embarking on these new paths, so I put it off. Inevitably, however, once I begin and become immersed in the project, and put blinders on for the other temptations in my immediate environment, my course of action becomes clearer and clearer, and before I know it I have successfully completed it. The trick is setting aside everything else and just diving in—committing myself to getting started.

My father once told me about another student during his first year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That student would spend hours talking and moaning about how much work he had, how hard the courses were, and how he doubted his ability to master the material. Dad said the student was plenty bright, and if he’d spent the time studying that he spent playing “Ain’t it awful?” that he would have graduated. The guy flunked out after one semester, a testament to hard beginnings and the difficulty of getting started.

Perhaps the most famous instance of hard beginnings and difficulties in getting started is so-called “writer’s block.” mind mapI remember some time ago when a friend of ours served a prison term for a white-collar crime. I committed to writing him an old-fashioned letter (he wasn’t allowed to use email) weekly. At first, I struggled with what to say, and it took over an hour to compose the letter. Then it occurred to me to use mind maps, a technique created by Tony Buzan. I use them to get started in both planning projects and writing chapters in my books. I took five minutes to draw out a mind map, jotted down a variety of newsy items, then assigned them a sequence number, and wrote. I then generated a five-page letter in under one-half hour!

More often than not, the hard part of getting started is making up your mind to take the plunge—to get started. Once begun, I tend to flow. At the beach last week, I had to begin a new chapter in a book I’m writing. As I reviewed the proposed chapter title, I said to Jane, “How did I ever think I could write an entire chapter on this topic?” I was on the verge of deleting the chapter from the outline. Then I took the plunge—I shut out all distractions (I burn a candle when writing to let others know I’m trying to get in a zone), I reviewed my notes, began my mind map, and before I knew it I had enough legitimate ideas on the topic to write a 20-page chapter! It was like entering a library thinking all the shelves were bare, only to find it filled to the rafters!

When you start, the initial struggle is normal. The struggle separates those with grit from those who quit. Later in Chaim Potok’s book of 1975, the Rebbe (rabbi) comments: “A shallow mind is a sin against God…. A man who does not struggle is a fool.” Accept the struggle. Yes, the water is cold at first plunge, but you warm up to each other.

And, after getting started, when you feel stuck, more often than not you simply need a breather. When Thomas easy chairEdison got stuck on an electrical engineering problem at his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey, he’d take a break and nap in his old, stuffed, easy chair in the corner of the lab, then return, refreshed, to his table and continue drawing, writing, and calculating. Sometimes all you need is backing away and getting fresh oxygen (i.e., fuel) to your brain. Let your recent work gestate and mingle for a few minutes while breathing fresh air. Then, see what emerges when the fog lifts. Aerate your brain and restart.

I get mentally fatigued just thinking about getting started. But once I jump in, the fatigue subsides and my thought processes take over. I am reminded of a cartoon that drew Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud walking the streets of Vienna. Marx was brooding that “Ach, Sigmund, religion is the opiate of the masses.” “Karl, my friend,” quipped Freud, “Just say no!” Well, what was true for Marx is just as true for my dad’s freshman friend and for the rest of us: Just go ahead and get started!

Summertime—and Time for a Relationship Checkup

August 5, 2015 1 comment

“Ever since happiness found your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.”

–Hafiz of Persia

Whether at a beach, mountain, or lake, a vacation stroll with your significant other is a fine time to check the health of your relationships. Memorize these three precepts and use them as an aid in making any necessary mid-relationship corrections. They are based on the “equilibrium model of relationship maintenance” developed by Sandra Murray and her team at the University of Buffalo, State University of New York, and reported on recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Think of these three rules, or maxims, as Hafiz chasing you towards a greater sense of well-being.

  • The rule of mutual non-aggression. Two of Dr. Murray’s relationship rules are based on familiar ideas. This non-aggression rule dates back to the Confucian concept of jen, and it is known today by many as the Losada ratio. I call it the PEE:NEE ratio—the ratio of positive emotional events to negative emotional events. LosadaAs a rough guideline—knowing that individual situations differ—initiate five positive emotional events for every negative. A pat on the back, an “atta boy/girl,” an appreciative smile, a thank-you very much, and an “I’m proud of you for this accomplishment,” for every angry outburst or discounting remark. See more at page 213 in my book on Happiness. It is also similar to the human relations exercise called IALAC, for “I am loveable and capable.” That exercise begins with a name tag, a bit of which is torn off for every negative emotional event that makes the wearer feel a bit less loveable and capable. It offers immediate, if negative, feedback to one’s partner.
  • The rule of mutual dependence. Another familiar construct, the mutual dependence rule is similar to John Thibaut and Harold Kelley’s 1978 description of interdependence in their Interpersonal Relations: A Theory of Interdependence. Every relationship entails more enjoyable tasks and less enjoyable responsibilities, even self vs otheronerous ones. Yet, what is onerous to one member may be a joy to another—you may find weeding the garden soothing while your partner may find it distasteful. According to interdependence theory, both partners feel that neither has a greater share of distasteful tasks, nor a greater portion of blissful tasks. One way to establish balance is to make a list of all tasks that the relationship must perform, whether pleasant or unpleasant: grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, running errands, writing letters to family, paying bills, reading to kids, bathing kids, and the list goes on. A different list would be written for work partners.
  • The rule of goal support. While not an earth-shakingly new suggestion, this rule seems to me something ofgoal puzzle added value that Dr. Murray has brought to relationship management. Simple but powerful, it assumes that each partner has goals. These goals could be simple and short term, like getting errands done before 4 p.m. on Saturday in order to get in a set of tennis before dark, or more complex and long term, like completing a college degree or writing a book. Goal support means being aware of your partner’s goals and not doing anything that would interfere with progress towards those goals, including making light of their goals.

 So, as you two walk a path, consider these three questions:

  1. Positivity: How are we doing on our balance of positive emotional events to negative ones? What do we each need to do more of or less of in order for the balance to be in good shape?
  2. Chores: How are we doing on our balance of more pleasing versus less pleasing chores? Is one of us getting off light? Is one of us getting more of the drudgery?
  3. Goals: How are we doing on supporting each other’s goals? Are there any goals that you feel I don’t respect, or that I in some way make it more difficult for you to make progress on and achieve?

The purpose: To maintain equilibrium in the relationship.

Establishing Rapport—When in Rome…

Robert Frost said it best—“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,/That wants it down.”

Walls keep cows in pastures and people in their comfort zones. In similar, wry New England style, Lake “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg” is loosely translated from the Nipmuc (an Algonquian language) as “You fish on your side; I fish on my side; nobody fish in the middle.”

So what is the best way to get around a wall, to meet in the middle to fish? This is about establishing rapport. When two people sense that they are significantly different from one another, the differences create obstacles to rapport. The more ways two people differ, the more difficult rapport.


The goal for establishing rapport is to minimize differences in a way that is authentic and non-threatening. Richard Bandler and John Grinder found the secret to the magic of several famous psychotherapists, including Virginia Satir and Carl Rogers. To reach quick rapport with their patients, these so-called “magicians” would match the physical imagery in the language they used with their clients. This imagery tended to be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic, and by using similar imagery, an easy rapport emerged.

Patient:               I’ve been grappling [kinesthetic] with this issue for years.

Therapist:           Mmmm, this is something you’ve wrestled with [matching] for quite a while.


Patient:               I can’t quite get a focus [visual] on where I need to be headed.

Therapist:           Let’s see if we can shed a little light [matching] on that issue.


Patient:               My past reverberates so loudly I can hardly hear [auditory] myself think.

Therapist:           I hear what you’re saying—kind of like constant thunder [matching].

Apparently, by matching the patient’s imagery, the patient felt immediately understood and accepted. Bandler and Grinder extended this simple principle to other areas.

Dress: To minimize differences and work to establish rapport, try to match the attire of the person(s) of interest. That is why we wear suits to weddings and funerals—to show respect. That is why some schools require uniforms, to discourage young people (and staff) from focusing on differences. That is why some world leaders adorn the garb of their host countries when traveling. One day while consulting, I was at a bank headquarters in the morning and on a manufacturing plant floor in the afternoon. I decided to wear nice tan slacks with a Navy blue blazer, light blue shirt, and regimental stripe tie to start the day. En route to the plant, I ditched the tie and blazer to more closely match the attire of my next clients.

Language: If you use multisyllabic words and your partner uses a simpler vocabulary, try slowing down and matching them by preferring Anglo-Saxon words: “use” instead of “utilize,” “make” instead of “fabricate,” and so forth.

Tempo: If you speak or walk fast, and your partner speaks or walks slower, then slow down and match their tempo. Or, speed up to match theirs.

Volume: If your partner is quiet-spoken, then don’t hold forth in stentorian bombast, like a bull in a china shop. Conversely, if they are louder, speak up.

Location: If they live in a castle and you in an apartment, then meet on neutral turf (Starbucks?).

Temperament: If they are warm and effusive, step up your game to smile and touch. If they are cool and aloof, don’t smother them with hugs and guffaws. If they are a slob, don’t try to redecorate their digs (unless they ask!). If they are perfectionist, be attentive to standards and details. If they are tactful, be more guarded; more direct, be more blunt.

Travel: If you’re with Arabs who are offended by the sight of others’ shoe soles, then keep your shoes grounded. If you’re with Japanese who carefully present their calling card, don’t casually throw it on the table—treat it respectfully by studying it and carefully placing it in your folder. For other ways to “do as the Romans,” see Terri Morrison and Wayne Conaway’s Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands—The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More than 60 Countries (2nd ed.).

Niccolò Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli

Some call matching and pacing manipulation. I call it respect—taking the time and effort to meet a person on their terms, in their comfort zone. Not all that different from asking your kids to watch their mouth and manners when visiting the grandparents. Niccolò Machiavelli, much maligned and misinterpreted for his recommendations in The Prince, urged leaders to avoid being rigid—to use both ends of each personality trait continuum, as it were. Leaders should be brave, yes, but sometimes reticent. They should be tough, yes, but sometimes tender. Leaders who remain fixed at the brave and tough ends of the continuum are not respected but feared and often hated.

Mental health is dependent on one’s ability to draw upon each pair of opposing traits as the situation demands—sociable when you must, then solitary; perfectionistic at one time, more casual at another; methodical today, spontaneous tomorrow; tactful with Tim, blunt with Jim. To adapt one’s behavior to the situation is not manipulation, but good mental health. Yale’s Robert Sternberg defines intelligence as “mental self-management.” Manage your mind.

When Julia Roberts playing Erin Brockovich in the eponymous movie leaned over the counter and squeezed her shoulders and elbows together with results that turned the stubborn clerk into a compliant, whatever-you-want-ma’am puppy, THAT was manipulation. That was not matching and pacing. It WAS acknowledging the clerk’s baser instincts as an avenue to get what Brockovich wanted.

Manipulate—to influence someone in an unfair manner. Rapport—a harmonious relationship where communication and understanding abound. With no intention of following through on her body language, clearly the Brockovich character was manipulating, not establishing rapport. Not to say that the body language didn’t serve a noble cause, but, in the film’s storyline, it WAS manipulation!

When possible, I vote in favor of building and establishing rapport, but not at the cost of being one’s authentic self. Establish rapport, then be yourself. But isn’t going a little out of your way to establish a form of being yourself? Hmmm…

Keeping the Mountaintop Experience Alive

July 22, 2015 1 comment

I invite you, dear reader, to contribute to this list. It is prompted by an associate who asked me last week how to keep learning alive. She lamented that she conducted team building sessions and led participants to great insights based on personality assessments and other items in her professional toolkit. Her people were wowed with their learning and then returned to their jobs with a “well, that was nice” and most tended to leave the learning behind. Back to business as normal. “How can I keep the mountaintop insights alive?” So, let’s suggest some ways:

  • Journaling. Provide participants with a notebook of some sort that contains blank pages but with pithy reminders as insets. Invite them to record ongoing insights, concerns, or puzzlements based on your content. Then invite them to meet with another member once a quarter for a meal and a discussion of some of their entries.
  • Desk Mementos. You’ve probably seen small desk stands that recap someone’s test scores with attractive colors. At CentACS, we use ovals—about six inches high and ten inches wide, with the teammate’s face and Big Five supertrait scores emblazoned thereon and posted on the outside wall beside their office door. It serves as a reminder of our salient behavioral tendencies as individuals while identifying who occupies that office by name and title.
  • Posters. At our team and class sessions, we ask participants to put their names on little sticky circles and place them on a large (24” x 30”) reproduction of our personality assessment’s report form. When a work team does this as a team building activity, we encourage them to take the poster home with them and post it in their conference room or meeting area. It serves as a group reminder of their tendencies as a work group.
  • Novelty Items. Pencils, notepads, t-shirts, “baseball” caps, shirt pins, thumb drives, ballpoint pens, leather folders, mugs, carry bags (like those you get at major conferences), Frisbees, and so forth have been labeled with personality models and test results to serve as reminders. At CentACS, we give our certification program graduates a nice ball point pen and a 3” x 3” foam rubber cube—each face of which presents a different dimension of our Human Resource Optimization model while the malleable cube serves as a stress reliever.
  • Slogans. Create or find and distribute slogans and quotes that illustrate what it is you want folks to remember. Place them at the end of emails, on your signature block, or as insets on newsletters or memoranda.
  • Monday Morning Quarterback Sessions. Identify a recent and significant victory or failure and discuss how individual traits contributed—either by their presence or absence. Then, how can we build on these learnings for current and future endeavors?
  • Drip Campaign. E-mail software can help you send out a series of mailings on pre-defined dates. Each mailing serves as a reminder or refresher of previously learned concepts, or invites the reader to expand to new but related concepts.
  • Leave Behinds. Give participants some reading material that was not covered in class, but that you invite them to read after you have “left them behind.”
  • Letters to Self. Towards the end of the mountaintop experience, make time for each participant to write a letter to themselves. The letter can recap their major learnings, their intentions to change, their goals, and so forth. The facilitator will mail the letters six weeks or so after participants have returned home.
  • Case of the Month. Invite persons who are expected to use the mountaintop material in ongoing planning, mountaintopdecision-making, and problem-solving, to attend a monthly session in which you feature a case based on your mountaintop material (in my case, the Five-Factor Model). The case could entail a selection decision (who to hire or appoint), performance problem, coaching challenge, career crossroad choice, or some other issue. Provide food to encourage attendance.
  • Wuzzles. Wuzzles (word puzzles) make a game out of recalling a concept. Perhaps you’ve seen them in your daily newspaper, as in “FenzaLU” for ‘influenza.’ (“enza” is in FLU, or in FLU enza).
  • Crossword Puzzles. At our annual conference (there’s another way to extend mountaintop experiences!), we often include a crossword puzzle that incorporates our key terms and concepts among the clues and answers.
  • Headers and Footers. In the various documents that you distribute throughout the year, consider using the space in headers and/or footers to place notes and reminders.
  • Content Analysis Competition. Using a well-known or important person in their field (the Wright Brothers in engineering, Lee Iacocca in manufacturing, and so forth), have a group of people who need to keep the learning alive analyze the biography of the key person with respect to your content. I have identified two dozen diverse, international figures, have read their biographies (or autobiographies), and have typed up excerpts from the books that illustrate trait-related behavior (about ten pages for each subject). Then, I ask folks to estimate their most likely Big Five profile based on the excerpts.
  • Holiday Communiques. Every November I identify a secular holiday carol, print it as a greeting card from CentACS, and insert trait symbols that jocularly (or not) indicate how the various words reflect personality traits. For example, “Chestnuts (low Originality) roasting (high Warmth) on an open (high Openness to experience) fire (high Warmth, again).”
  • Goal-Setting Partners. Have each participant set one or more goals by the end of the mountaintop experience, then ask everyone to partner with one (or two) other participants. Ask them to pick a time and a place three months for meeting to report on and support each other on their goal progress.
  • Naming Public Behavior. Develop the habit of naming behaviors during meetings and conferences that illustrate specific learned material, as in “Fran, your O2+ [high score on complexity] has just kept us from making a premature and overly simplistic decision. Thanks!”
  • Guess Who’s Who. After securing their permission, prepare a handout that contains the profiles (traits, values, etc.) of three or so key figures in your organization. Then have your group, class, or team (who need a refresher in your learned concept) dialog around which profile belongs to which person—i.e., a matching exercise.


Each of these suggestions is meant to stimulate your thinking. Pick several that appeal to you and adapt them to your model and circumstances. And, I invite you to make more suggestions in the WordPress comment area—what are ways you’ve helped sustain a mountaintop learning experience, either for yourself or for others?

Ancient Wisdom Has Legs

Literally. The ancient wisdom to “Know thyself” emblazoned on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and carriedelphid forward by Shakespeare’s Polonius as “To thine own self be true” has carried Misty Copeland to be named (the first African-American) principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. Having broken this color barrier on June 30, she shared her most treasured bit of advice with Bill Whitaker of 60 Minutes (CBS)—“Be you, because you can’t be anyone else.”

In our youth we try being many different people—athletes, musicians, artists, carpenters, gardeners, entrepreneurs, lovers, teachers, preachers, cooks…. We experiment with many behaviors—socializing, solitude, meditation, creativity, methodicalness, spontaneity, reticence…. We expose ourselves to the cafeteria of life in an unconscious quest for our core self. Wesleyan University emeritus professor of psychology Nathan Brody once described the task of growing up as “becoming more like who we are.” Just as Michelangelo described his creative process in terms of finding the statue within each block of stone, so we as individuals must find the strengths our genes express. Every time a peer comments “Hey, you’re good at that!” a teen’s course is corrected, righted, clarified, confirmed.

In spite of an obstacle course (described in her book Life in Motion) that would have discouraged many from their path, 32-year-old Misty Copeland knew herself and fastened herself to the mast like Ulysses to resist the temptations to abandon her core. She hitched her wagon to a star, and now she is a star with the corps de ballet.

At the Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, we help people learn to use personality assessments as a way of helping people find their core self, their statue within the misty copelandblock. Perhaps it is not too grandiose to hope that we have helped other Mistys emerge from their fog with greater clarity of vision and sense of self—more rapidly, perhaps, than they would have by employing traditional trial-and-error experimentation over many years.


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