Science is Everywhere: Including Mixed Martial Arts

Guest post by Francisco Gomez

Science is EverywhereBehavior is behavior is behavior…regardless of the job, hobby or any learning endeavor we spend our time and energy on there is a lot we can learn from those that master their own areas of interest. Studying how different practitioners achieve mastery can not only inspire us but also give us ideas on how to optimize our own skill sets. Similarly, as leaders, there is a lot to gain from learning about how coaches in various arenas build fluency with their learners. To that point, the martial arts are one such area that exemplify deep pools of proficiency attainment that we can learn a great deal from.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the hybrid of various fighting disciplines ranging from Muay Thai and Karate to Greco Roman Wrestling, Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  There is no denying that MMA can be viewed as a brutal display of violence (like many other sports like boxing, football and hockey). The general objective after all, is to knock out or submit an opponent. But there is also beauty and elegance in the level of complexity in each of the fighting skills displayed in the cage. The tremendous variability and creativity of choice in defensive or offensive moves, the sensitive “feel” for an opponent’s sense of balance, the psychological gamesmanship intended to influence an opponent’s confidence, the perfectly executed lock or strike refined with thousands of hours of practice and feedback—these all tell stories of two fighters and their coaching teams testing the emerging mastery of their art.

In a recent article published on the topic of “fight psychology” the author explains the application of behavioral science in MMA. The tools used to improve a fighter’s performance are precisely the methodology one could (should) use to improve work performance:

  • encouraging deliberate practice
  • shaping or breaking a complex skill into baby steps
  • observing the learner
  • providing positive and constructive feedback
  • Reinforcing what they do well more than what they don’t
  • Recognizing  progress in the learner

This article is evidence that behavior obeys the same scientific laws regardless of what the activities look like. Whether it’s learning how to successfully defeat an opponent on the mats or learning how to expertly execute on a business strategy, they are ultimately all behaviors that will respond in precisely the same ways to reinforcement, shaping and feedback.  Written as a collaboration between Paulie Gavoni and Dr. Alex Edmonds, the essay shows a series of coaching approaches that are not only world class but are also perfectly applicable to the coaching leaders can utilize to develop an employee’s skill set.

Leveraging the 4:1 Ratio—In Sports and in Business

Leveraging the 4:1 Ration in sports and businessIt’s built into what we do with our clients, in understanding and applying the science of behavior.  While it may not seem revolutionary, correctly applying the 4:1 Ratio matters and does affect your outcome.

By definition, the 4:1 Ratio is four positives to one negative (or constructive).  What many don’t understand is that in order to shape the behavior you want, you must provide enough positive reinforcement for that behavior to become consistent. This is a great tool to use in business, sports, and even at home. 

Here are two great examples: Business and Sports.

If you want behavior to change, leverage the 4:1.

Don’t Blame Employees for Lack of Effort—Managers Hold the Key

keyIt’s generally agreed that persuading employees to give more than required can make or break a company. Yet many leaders struggle to get that discretionary effort. The 2013 State of the American Workplace Report found that only 70 percent of employees report giving their all at work, and my experience indicates the number is closer to 60 percent.

The good news: Managers have the power to earn discretionary effort. The not-so-good news: Managers often inadvertently discourage over-and-above performance by punishing desired behavior and limiting opportunities for employee contributions.

To break negative patterns and elicit lasting, positive change, I recommend these steps:

  • Take note of your interactions with employees. Think about how you respond to suggestions and input, and whether you recognize and reinforce doing more than is required.
  • Identify what individuals find reinforcing. What reinforces one may punish another (think public praise). Be sure you understand and apply the right reinforcers for each individual.
  • Establish yourself as a reinforcer. Positive reinforcement is contagious. If you recognize the good work of others, the good performance of your employees will grow exponentially.
  • Go out of your way to reinforce good work. I can’t say this enough. When you see people perform well, reinforce their behavior. For example, ask them how they accomplished something.

So instead of blaming employees for not doing their best, remember discretionary behavior always comes from what you say and do. If you focus on positively reinforcing behaviors that fit the mission, vision and values of your organization, you’re sure to become a more effective manager and gain more discretionary effort.

Are managers in your company earning discretionary effort? Please share your experience and insights in the comments section below.


Why Mary Barra Should Be the Norm, Not the Exception

Mary BarraOne issue has been largely overlooked in the discussions about women in leadership: Do the traits of one gender have an advantage over the other in the boardroom?

Direct and self-promotional personalities have long been associated with leadership, and throughout the world men have been reinforced for taking charge, being focused on a goal, and directing people toward that end. In fact, a whole leadership model has been built around a command-and-control style. Women who competed with men to excel in this type of behavior were at a disadvantage.

So where does that leave modern leadership?

Read my post on Leadership Now a Fast Company.

Encouraging Creativity: You never know where the next billion dollar idea will come from

Engaging CreativityThere is nothing mysterious about creativity. Contrary to what many writers write and to the many so-called myths out there; it is not a brain thing or a province of just a few. As a matter of fact everybody is creative every day. We never do the same thing twice – from brushing your teeth to writing your name. Although we think we do these things the same, there are small differences from each repetition that will never appear again.  We don’t think about these changes as creativity but they are.  Some people are able to recognize these changes and capitalize on them where others are not. Many organizations aren’t able to capture them either. Numerous inventions that we use and enjoy every day come from someone who accidentally noticed some variation from what normally happened. Maybe you remember the story of how the microwave oven came about. Or, perhaps one of these accidental inventions that are all the result of someone noticing unrelated activity.

Although all companies want creativity and innovation most are not prepared to support it. Alan Robinson of the University of Massachusetts reports, “In every case studied (600 creative acts) the truly innovative aspects of the creative acts ended once they reached the level of management.” Over the years we have seen huge differences in the ability of a company to support a creative idea. Years ago 3M, in my opinion, was clearly the exemplar. They had a process that included time and funds to be used to support employees with creative ideas. In 1977 CEO Lou Lehr started The Challenge ’81, a program aimed at achieving 25% of all sales from products with less than five years on the market. Later it was 30% every four years. All technical people were expected to follow the 15% rule which was that they dedicate 15% of their time to projects of their own choosing. As one 3M CEO put it, “No matter how large 3M becomes, the spirit of innovation will stay intact as long as people have the freedom to pursue their ideas.” For over 100 years, 3M Company was designed for creativity and it has certainly paid off handsomely.

Does your company encourage creativity? Here is a checklist to see how your organization (to include supervision and management) rates in supporting creativity and innovation.

  1. Respond positively to all ideas.  Just thinking about how the company can be improved is a positively reinforcing behavior. If reinforced, the person will present more ideas. That is the test for whether the presentation of the idea was positively reinforced. 
  2. Ban suggestion boxes. These are impersonal and fraught with all kinds of obstacles that reduce innovation and creativity.
  3. Avoid formal processes for submitting an idea. Most processes are barriers as they require too much time and effort on the part of the suggestor. The process should be personal, period. Make the process of submitting an idea as simple as a conversation with a friend. Even saying something like, “Sounds good.  Write it up.” is a barrier. Many people are uncomfortable writing anything and as easy as it seems can be a significant factor in reducing ideas.
  4. Managers have the authority to give employees time and a place to work at improving their ideas. You may say, “That is a great idea. Why don’t you spend Friday afternoon, after you finish your work, looking at how this idea might impact other departments?”
  5. Managers have a budget for supporting the development of ideas. In addition to time and space, do you have some funds, not much necessarily, but some money to support further development (materials, books, equipment, etc.) without going through purchasing?
  6. Managers and supervisors know how to shape behavior. This is one of the keys to increase engagement. If you are able to make the simplest suggestion a valuable activity, you are on the way to valuing any and all improvement.
  7. Employees have the opportunity to present certain ideas to executive levels of the organization. They should be able to present ideas with the knowledge that it will be a positive experience. Executives should know enough about behavior to encourage employees to be concerned about ways to make the organization more successful even when the organization may not be able to benefit from the idea at hand.
  8. The organization does not pay for ideas. You might have some way for the person to benefit from ideas that benefit the organization (profit sharing, job assignment, etc.) but you don’t want employees to work on an idea in their garage or basement because they are afraid others might steal it. Idea sharing should always be reinforced. Remember that ideas are not valuable until they create value for the organization. Organizations that are generous with the value created from employee ideas are the ones that get the most of them and subsequent increases in value.

If you answered “no” to more than half of the above items, it’s a strong indication that creativity and innovation are not being encouraged in your organization. Use this opportunity to change that. Learn all you can about fostering creativity. Regardless of title, we all can play a part in that. And, who knows, you or someone you encourage, may just be the next person to come up with that billion dollar idea!




5 Fool-Proof Ways to Set and Accomplish Productive Goals

Goal SettingGoal setting is a common practice in organizations and can lead to improved performance and productivity. But many companies struggle to properly execute the goal setting process. Check out our SlideShare for 5 tips to help you set and achieve goals.

Want Discretionary Effort? 10 Things to Avoid in the New Year

Discretionary EffortIt’s that time of year when we are inundated with what we should do to start the new year off right. I would be remiss if I didn’t offer advice of my own; the only difference is these are things we should avoid all year round and are essential if you want to earn discretionary effort.

Read entire post at Talent Management Magazine.

More on Discretionary Effort…

Does Money Make You Smart?

j0385807This post originally appeared on Aubrey’s blog 8-19-09 

Let’s say that you make business decisions where the impact on the future of the business is not well-thought out. The decisions are praised by Wall Street but, even so, turn out to waste the resources of the business over the long term. Let’s also say that in an effort to grow the company fast, you buy assets above market value to close the deals quickly, hire talented employees and pay them outlandish wages in order to get up and running as soon as possible. You also have little understanding of how to effectively motivate people but believe that money is most effective. In particular, you believe that money will buy you the right talent, since you believe money is what matters most to talented people. Therefore, you either use salary, bonuses or other perks to motivate them.Then let’s say that as the result of current economic conditions, your company has fallen on hard times in no small part due to the excesses created by your growth strategy and financial excesses. More…

4 Tips for Avoiding Year-End Mistakes

Year-end mistakesWith the frenzy of the Holidays upon us the end of the year is naturally a busy time, causing added stress and interruptions to our normal routines and schedules. At the office, managing time, work and people becomes increasingly more difficult as priorities compete for your attention, leaving the potential for errors a greater possibility.

Read my tips for effectively managing your work responsibilities this season at Talent Management Magazine.

Top Ten Reasons why you should NOT give your boss a holiday gift (Christmas, or otherwise)

no giftsI wrote a blog several weeks ago in which I mentioned that it might be a bad idea to give the boss a gift on boss’ day.  I have been amazed at the comments and interviews that I have received since.  The response has been more than anything I have written lately.  So I decided that in light of the approaching holidays, I might write a “Top Ten List,” a la David Letterman.

Here are my top ten reasons “why you should NOT give your boss a holiday gift”: 

10.  If you do it because others do it, you are doing it for the wrong reason and you will probably resent it

9.  If the boss expects it, s/he is a bad boss to begin with and a gift may act as a positive reinforcer for bad boss behavior

8.  If a gift affects the boss’ behavior toward you, it is not a healthy work situation for you or the boss

7.  It puts pressure on the boss to reciprocate and it is not a good idea to put pressure on the boss

6.  It gets expensive for the boss if there are a number of direct or indirect reports who need reciprocating

5.  It is the economy, stupid

4.  It may cause the boss to question your motive

3.  It is a good time to break this bad habit

2.  A card with a hand written note is probably more meaningful – and it is a better, more appropriate habit

1.  The boss doesn’t need it – give it to someone who does

In addition to writing your boss a note, here are some more suggestions of how to recognize and positively reinforce your boss in a meaningful way all year round.

This post originally appeared on Aubrey’s blog December 16, 2009.