When you keep doing the same thing every time, you are only going to be able to perform at that level. There is no growth. This is The Performance Paradox. In this episode, Eduardo Briceño helps us understand what this phenomenon is and how we can overcome it. He shares key insights from his book, The Performance Paradox: Turning the Power of Mindset into Action, to inform us of the value of developing a culture of learning and high performance. Eduardo then takes us into his journey, sharing what drives his personal growth and development along with the lessons he learned across his career path. Tune in to this conversation and learn how to perform not just for the sake of performing but instead, to perform to get better.
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How To Overcome The Performance Paradox With Eduardo Briceño
I'm doing great. Thanks, Anthony, for having me.
I'm excited to chat and learn more about your work. Why don't you tell our audiences a little bit more about you, and then we will get into the conversation?
I am a public speaker and facilitator who helps companies develop cultures of learning and high performance. In my previous careers, I worked in investment banking in New York City and spent five years as a venture capital investor in Silicon Valley. In 2016, I connected with Stanford professor Carol Dweck who coined the term growth mindset, and she's been my mentor ever since. Since then, I've been focused on helping people and organizations develop cultures of learning and high performance.
Here's the obvious first question. What is the Performance Paradox?
The Performance Paradox is the counterintuitive phenomenon that if we focus only on performing, our performance suffers. If we focus on getting things done as best as we know how and trying to minimize mistakes, we stagnate. That's the way to maximize immediate performance. If I want to do my best, then I can focus on what I know works, trying to minimize mistakes but if I do that every week, then I won't get better. To get better, we have to engage not only in the Performance Zone but also in the Learning Zone, which is when we are going beyond the unknown, asking questions, listening, experimenting, and looking at mistakes. That looks different than focusing on only getting things done.
When we talk about strategic planning, we think about working in the business versus working on the business. What I find interesting about the Performance Zone is if you keep doing it, you're only going to be able to do it at the level of your performance. How does that work for somebody who performs and fails? Does that incorporate learning? Do you look at the Learning Zone as specifically time out from doing things to improve your skills and abilities?
Chapter three is about learning while doing, which is getting things done while you also improve. You're getting things done with two goals in mind to get things done and get better or to learn and build skills. You can do that or there might be times that you devote yourself to listening to a podcast, attending a course, or reading a book. With regards to mistakes, chapter five is all about mistakes. The thing about mistakes is that sometimes people talk about mistakes as all being good but sometimes mistakes have damage, and there are things to avoid.
What I am talking about is four different kinds of mistakes. There are stretch mistakes, which are the things that we make when we are going outside what we know, experimenting, or trying new things. There are high-stakes mistakes, which we want to try to avoid and minimize. There are sloppy mistakes, which are the mistakes that we make that we should have known better. They're light, and they're sources of humor to laugh at, or if they're meaningful, we can reflect on them and think about how we change our systems and habits to avoid them in the future.
Fourth, there are the a-ha moment mistakes. We realized we did what we intended to do but it was the wrong thing to do. Those are pressure sources of mistakes as well but the stretch mistakes are what we can focus proactively on by figuring out what are the times and spaces where they're not going to create a lot of damage but are going to lead to learning and improvement.
The book has a lot of good resources both on the individual side and the team side. I want to ask you more about it, not to give too many spoilers of the book. Tell me a little bit about your background, the past jobs that you've done, and the mentorship that you have with Carol. How did you get to this place where you said, "I'm going to put this book together." Was it from facilitating workshops? Was it the culmination of everything that you've seen in teams? Was it what drives your personal growth and development? How did the apex of your career lead to this book and also where you're at in your work?
That's a long story. I'm going to try to make it very concise and focus on a few things. I grew up in Venezuela trying to meet society's expectations, get good grades, and then get a high-paying job or a job with high status like investment banking. I wasn't pursuing anything that I was particularly interested in or that I was passionate about. Eventually, I became physically sick. I got a significant repetitive strain injury. I was losing my ability to use my hands. That made me realize, "I can't take my hands for granted. I can't take my ability to do things for granted. I better do something that I feel will make a difference in other people's lives."
That's why I went to grad school. I was introduced to Carol. We started this organization together. I did not plan to be a public speaker or write a book but in becoming passionate about a growth mindset and building a learning culture, I first started needing to communicate this message. There was an opportunity to do a TEDx Talk that Carol couldn't do. We decided that I would do it.
That was a big challenge for me. I thought I was going to go to the stage, do ten minutes, and be done because I was a strong introvert but I thought I could take on that challenge for ten minutes. People started asking me to do public speaking after that. The talk has been viewed by over four million people. That's surprising to me. I enjoyed public speaking. I became good at it. I continued to work to get better always. That was the first surprise.
The second surprise was that the book was not something that I was planning to do but I asked someone whom I didn't know, Chip Conley, a question about something else. He suggested we talk for twenty minutes. In that conversation, he suggested, "Have you thought about writing a book? Can I introduce you to a literary agent?" That started a journey years ago. I worked super hard on it and interviewed over 100 people. Here we are. The book has been recognized by the Next Big Idea Club as a must-read. I'm excited about this being the biggest contribution I've made so far.
What do you think drives our cumulative interest in performance? Four million people have viewed your TED Talk to elevate their performance. Why do you think it's such a hot topic for people?
We get stuck on trying. We have so much to do. We have a long to-do list. We have so little time. We focus on getting through the to-do list and getting things done. We have this vague sense that to improve, succeed, and get ahead, all we have to do is work hard and get things done as best as we know how, and that's the best route to success. We do that because we haven't been taught otherwise. In school, everything is graded with a letter or a number.
We learn in school that what school is about is to perform and show what you know rather than to do things that you don't know how to do like looking at mistakes, tinkering, exploring, and driving your curiosity. We all learn to perform instead of how to learn throughout life. We get stuck in this pattern. When we come to see that pattern and what to do differently, it's unlock-unlock for many people.
Can you expand unlock-unlock?
For example, in our organizations, leaders might be focused only on encouraging the people to execute, "We need to execute and perform." That's important. Performance is how we get things done but if we only send that message, then people might be trying to minimize mistakes all the time. That's going to lead them to be in the Performance Zone all the time and the organization is going to stagnate. We don't see that. We think that's the way to succeed.
The way that great athlete gets amazing at what they do is they do something different than play matches. They don't try to focus on what they already know how to do during practice. They go to their coach and say, "I'm having trouble with this move. Let's work on that." That's very different than what we do when we're performing in the match. When we realize we're spending all our life and our work getting things done as best as we know how and that's getting in the way of our goals, that unlocks, "There's a different way that I can work and live with less effort. It's going to lead me to more growth and higher results."
You talked about developing a learning culture. You've talked to a lot of people in your time as a facilitator and speaker. How does one balance the urgent day-to-day I-need-to-do stuff with the investment into future growth and development? How have you seen people prioritize that time in learning development when it seems like there are always so many things to do? To add onto that, how can our audiences take the stuff that you're sharing and implement 2 or 3 things, whether that's for CEOs who want to help their teams develop that or HR people learning development functions that want to pour into their teams? That's a big question. Take as long as you need for that one.
If you think about an athlete or a performance arts person, they have the privilege or the benefit of being able to devote hours each day to improvement. Most of us don't have that. Most of us have too much to do in too little time. For most of us, the greatest opportunity is not in blocking time in our calendar to do deliberate practice or read more although those things are wonderful if you can make the time. The biggest opportunity for most of us is to shift the way we get things done so that we get them done not only with 1 goal, which is to get things done but with 2 goals to get things done, learn, and improve along the way.
The biggest opportunity for most of us is to shift the way we get things done so that we get them done not only with one goal but with two: to get things done and to learn and improve along the way.
It doesn't take much time. It's about what we pay attention to and what strategies we use as we're getting things done. For example, if we're always doing the same thing in the same way every day, there's no way we're going to be improving because, to improve, we have to change. We have to identify what is at least one thing that I'm going to tweak or change in how I'm going to approach this next conversation, meeting, presentation, or spreadsheet that I'm working on. First, we're not trying to improve at everything but what is important. What is the one thing that I want to be working on? What am I going to do or try differently to see whether that works better or not?
That is a basic thing to do. The biggest opportunity is to be working most of the time in a different way. To get started on that if we're not used to doing that, we want to do something easy and quick to do but very frequent every day, for example. We want to identify what is the one thing that we want to work to improve and remind ourselves every morning of what that is and how we want to work on it so that every day, we are finding opportunities to work and improve at that one thing. Through time, that's going to get us to think differently and find other opportunities throughout the day so that we can accelerate over time.
Do you have any practical examples from people who have read your book, listened to your TED Talk, and done the work? They say, "This was an area that we have worked on." As we look at teams, and they implement their strategy, they're saying, "We want to improve communication, customer experience, our technology, or our process." Can you share a couple of stories of people who have done that easy repetitive task and approached that continuous improvement mindset to it?
A very simple example that had a huge impact was a barista at Starbucks. Teresa was having trouble remembering orders. She was making lots of mistakes. She was asking her other colleague baristas what customers ordered to remind her and that was frustrating to them. She was going to get fired. She was failing at her job. She proposed to her colleagues, "What if we write the order on the side of the cup? Would that work here?" Her colleagues didn't want her to continue asking them. They wrote it on the side of the cup and it worked great for them.
Teresa started getting other shifts in other nearby Starbucks, coming to them, and saying, "Can we please write the order on the side of the cup?" They would say, "That's not the process. That's not what we have been asked to do. That's not consistent with our brand because the company expected the baristas to remember the order." Luckily, Starbucks asks for feedback all the time from their customers and their staff, which is such a powerful strategy. They opened the door for Teresa to suggest this practice to corporate headquarters. That has become a global practice because it makes life easier for the baristas.
In LinkedIn, the top 100 leaders wanted to change the conversation that they have in a weekly meeting so that it's not just performance. They wanted to embed learning into that weekly conversation. An easy way to change the conversation is to change the agenda. They included a different section of the meeting where anybody is invited to share something they learned the prior week, what the implication is, and what anybody in that group can do differently going forward as a result of what they learned. There are a lot of examples of what are the systems and habits that we're using to perform but also to improve and how we continue to change those systems.
It's so interesting. I was talking to a CEO about the outcome or the performance of his team. He said, "We have been doing all of this stuff." I'm like, "You're not getting the results. Why don't you change how you're doing it? You're not having the one-on-ones or getting those outcomes." That's a super great way to reflect. Are you getting the outcomes? How do you shift it?
Here's the other thing that stuck with me about the four types of mistakes. At an organization like Starbucks or Netflix, small mistakes done at scale can be extremely cumulative, whether those are the mistakes you learn from. They're likely not the high ones but they're those teeny mistakes or the ones that in SMEs are death by a thousand cuts. Those are the ones that will destroy your profitability and challenge you.
As you look at a small or medium organization that's trying to instill the culture of continuous improvement of learning as well as performance, what are 1 or 2 things that they can implement to help elevate that experience? One of them that you touched on was seeking feedback but are there any other ones that you would recommend to our audiences?
The first is to see what they're doing that might be chronically performing and how that might be problematic. My TED Talk on it is ten minutes. You can send it to your colleagues and say, "Watch this." We're going to go into a meeting and say, "What do people think about this? Are we engaging in the Learning Zone? Is that useful? Do we want to engage in the Learning Zone? Are we doing it? Can we improve? What do people think? Do we want to do this more? How do we want to do it?"
Start a conversation. Rather than dictate, "This is what we're going to do from here on," start a conversation with your colleagues, "What do people think about this? What is something that people are interested in working on together?" With feedback, often people go to, "We need to give feedback more. That's how we're going to learn." That's fine but there's a much more powerful way to encourage people to solicit feedback all the time because when we're soliciting feedback, we make it a lot easier for the other person to give it and for us to receive it. We make the feedback a lot more useful and specific to what we're interested in.
It's also reminding us of what it is that we're working to improve. In our weekly meeting, we're going to remind ourselves, "Here's one area that we're working on. How is that? If we have time, we could talk about how that is going. Do we continue trying in the same way or a different way?" It's figuring out what's important to us and how are we going better at it. Let's align on what we're going to do together to get better at that.
From a balance of performance and improvement, I see some organizations that are so "busy" that they don't want to talk, have meetings, or take the time to develop in that learning because everybody has so much going on but when you can incorporate that learning at scale through something small as watching a ten-minute TED Talk together, the investment is huge 10 times, 100 times, 1,000 times, or more like what happened with Starbucks. It's so important and impactful. Are there any other words of wisdom or other key parts of the book that you would like to share with our audiences before we finish up?
A lot of people have lived life in a reactive way in terms of what society expects of us and have not had an opportunity to pause and think about what's most important to us and how we pursue those things that are most important to us and get better at those things that we care most about. That's an invitation to think about that.
A lot of people are just reactively living life in terms of what society expects of us and not really taking that opportunity to pause and think about what's important to us.
Here's what I hear from your journey and this is my assessment. You say, "I want to be able to do something because I'm supposed to have status." You had to go through your journey and say, "How can I have an impact?" It sounds like there are tens of millions of people that you've impacted and everything else. Thank you for coming on the show and chatting with me.
Thank you for the work that you do for both individuals and teams because it makes a huge difference. I'm grateful that's what you're doing and that's the purpose. I'm grateful that you found your purpose. I look forward to seeing more about what you contribute. Where can people be impacted by you greatly? Where can they connect with you, learn more about your work, and pick up your book?
I have a monthly newsletter on my website, Briceño.com. The book, The Performance Paradox, is available wherever books are sold. Thanks, Anthony, for having me and for all you do.
It's my pleasure. Thank you so much. My guest, Eduardo Briceño, is the author of The Performance Paradox. One of the things I took away from this interview is you don't have to separate learning from doing but you do need to take the time to learn while you grow and do things. Eduardo, thanks for being a guest. It was a pleasure chatting with you. I appreciate you being here.
Thank you, Anthony.
I wanted to also thank our show partner, Affinity Staffing at Affinity-Group.ca/SME. They're our partners here. If you're looking to add great talent to your team and hopefully instill a team of people who are committed to continuous improvement, check them out. They're great partners to help you find great talent. Thanks for being here. Thank you, Eduardo, again for being our guest. I'll see you, everybody, next time.
- The Performance Paradox
- TEDx Talk - Eduardo Briceño
About Eduardo Briceño
Eduardo Briceño is a Stanford-trained mindset expert and author of "The Performance Paradox: Turning the Power of Mindset into Action" (Ballantine; Sept 5, 2023). Briceño is a global keynote speaker and facilitator who guides many of the world’s leading companies in developing cultures of learning and high performance.