Low Grades – High Achievement

No one told me, in my school life grades 1 – 10, I was smart.  It was quite the opposite. No IQ test, just the underlying assumption that, I was “slow.” My mother never gave up on me, but suffered years of my ambivalent disinterest in school, barely passing grades, and non-stop lectures from teachers on my failure to apply myself.  Undiagnosed ADHD may have had something to do with my inability to focus and miserable report cards.

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences (book cover)

As an adult, I learned about the variety of intelligences we humans possess, mostly through Daniel Goleman’s breakthrough 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” Howard Gardner also has done extensive research in this area and I like his eight variations of the intelligence framework and I quite like it. Here’s a  YouTube Video summary of those.

I recently found this concept shortened to just four: IQ – Intelligence Quotient, EQ – Emotional Quotient, SQ – Social Quotient, and AQ – Adversity Quotient.  While not mutually exclusive, you have different aptitudes in each area and they’re not static. You can improve, train and cultivate your capabilities in each area. Some of the work is fun and interesting, and sometimes it’s just, well, “work.” Here’s how I think about these categories:

1. IQ (Intelligence Quotient)

This one is about logic, reasoning, problem-solving, test-taking, planning, math, science, and they tried to teach me in school. I did not perform well here as evidenced by my standardized test scores. My two daughters can do well in these areas, but only with some specific adjustments. For instance, Ginger’s school grades improved significantly when given additional time to complete tests.  One of my granddaughters excels in this category, eating up brain challenges and learning new information.  She can’t get enough. I have had two nephews with the same experiences, and at least two of their offspring are in the same boat. In my first executive-level role in a large company, I came home one day and told Maggie how a super-smart, highly-educated individual had been assigned to my team.  I was intimidated by his Ph.D., and the fact that he spoke multiple languages fluently and had authored three books.  “How can I avoid looking like a dunce next to this guy?” I wailed to Maggie.  What I eventually learned was he’d been transferred to my group, his third or fourth such transfer, because his prior managers had been unable to get value from him. While academically brilliant, he had difficulty knowing when to speak up and when to shut up. It was hard for him to know the right things on which to direct his effort, focus, and attention. I learned a high IQ and brilliant academic accomplishment didn’t automatically mean top job performance.

2. EQ (Emotional Quotient)

This one measures how well you understand yourself and other people. Both of my daughters are off the chart in this area.  I always thought I was good at “reading a room,” but Ginger is better.  She goes beyond seeing and knowing what is happening with an individual or a group and intuitively knows the buttons to push to get the results she wants. This makes her a killer negotiator.  She’s a good team leader and good at influencing people to do what she wants. She understands which things require attention and those that do not, seeing between the lines things others miss.I suspect my oldest daughter, Christie, is much the same, although I did not have the same opportunity to watch her develop and don’t have as many examples as with Ginger.  But one comes to mind from a recent trip to Hawaii last year.  The girls were searching for a thermal pool mentioned on Trip Advisor but not published in any guidebooks.  When Christie asked some Hawaiian natives about it, she sensed a feeling from them that made her choose her words very carefully.  In retelling the story, it was clear her emotional intelligence was what led to a successful interaction and subsequent visit to a secret spa, a spot few tourists ever found.

Larsen and Steven Snyder, Ph.D.
Larsen and Steven Snyder, Ph.D.

One aspect of EQ is self-awareness. One of my co-founders at Net Perceptions was Steven Snyder, Ph.D. Steven was early-in at Microsoft. He is a brilliant man and worked closely with Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates in their early days, learning at the highest level techniques for building and managing an engineering-focused company. Steven’s Ph.D. is in psychology, doing an internship and several practicums during his doctoral training.  As the CEO of Net Perceptions, he was a keen observer of the company founders, the management team, and their interactions.  His annual performance appraisals were almost therapy sessions with detailed assessments of what was working and what needed improvement. Before our first performance evaluation meeting, I completed my own assessment, in writing, from my perspective. While keeping it to myself, I used the same form I knew he would use.  I went through every section, noting where I was doing well and where I thought could use improvement.

Snyder’s one-on-one meetings began with a discussion of the top priorities of the company, then moved gradually to how the individual was doing at contributing to our forward progress.  We’d verbally go through the assessment form, the one I knew Steven had already completed, but with the opportunity for dialog and discussion. Finally, Steven would remove his written assessment from a folder and slide it across the desk to be signed.  It was in our first performance appraisal meeting when I impulsively pulled out the assessment I’d done on myself and gave it to him.  He was surprised. He was reading my form as I signed his and left the room.  Later he would tell me, “You are the most self-aware person I’ve ever met in my life.” For the rest of my time at Net Perceptions, Steven had me do my performance assessment – written in the third person of course – and turn it in.

Besides self-awareness, those with high emotional intelligence typically are good at self-regulation and motivating themselves.  Typically they’re empathic, sensing what people around them are thinking and feeling. For instance, I can’t help crying at movies and am moved when hearing stories of others’ experiences.  I find it easy to put myself into another person’s situation, understanding what they feel.

I find developing EQ, an emotional quotient, easy and fun. It starts by being curious about strangers and other people. I love talking with those around me on a plane or in a restaurant, trying to gauge what they’re thinking about right now and what makes them tick, not just comments about the weather or how long the line is taking.  If I learned nothing else from my years of helping the MISS Foundation (a group helping parents who have experienced the death of a child or loved one), it is to listen without judgment.  Maybe this is why I get along well with people on all sides of the political spectrum, as well as those with a diversity of religious beliefs and experiences.

3. SQ (Intelligence Quotient)

Lotus experts, including Maurico Zagorin, Brian Buckland, Jim Meininger, Brett Engel, David Barnett among others.

This one is all about building and surrounding yourself with a network of friends and maintaining them. EQ techniques help a lot with SQ behaviors.  As the years passed, my roles in early-stage technology companies evolved into co-founder and CEO. I would join at the behest of venture capital firms who’d found an investment they liked, but needed a real company, not just a technical founder with a brilliant idea.  My skill was, as one VC said of me, “He chooses the right people to be on the bus and gets it pointed and rolling in the right direction.” My approach to founding and managing companies paid dividends when assembling a group of car experts to rebuild my Lotus Elan in 2013-2014.  The same skill also helped ensure that several multi-day, group motorcycle rides I planned were successful.  But what most manifests SQ in me is my “groups” of close friends, some of whom are only tangentially aware of the others.   For years I was well known as an early-stage investor and start-up CEO, at least in Silicon Valley.  At the same time, an entirely different group of people around the world knew me as “that guy who writes for motorcycle magazines and travels around the globe on his motorcycle.” I managed both because the start-up side of my career frequently left multi-month gaps in assignments.  I filled the gaps with motorcycle adventures documented in stories and photos, filling the story banks of various motorcycle magazine editors.  I wrote “evergreen” stories for editors who found my articles connected with their readers. And of course, motorcycle riding spawned its own vast category of sub-groups, such as the American Flyers Motorcycle Club, a group I still ride with at least twice a year.  Other motorcycle relationships based on competitive events (track days or precision riding competitions) or sub-categories of riding (off-road and trials), while no longer part of my riding life, still brings me in contact with wonderful friends who are deeply into these aspects of the sport.Just as motorcycling spawned sub-groups, entrepreneurship did the same. I’ve been active in the Arizona start-up scene, beginning with a role at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, (the center for one of the greatest alumni networks on the planet, as I was recently reminded on a trip to Dubai, as part of an Arizona Commerce Authority delegation).   My Lotus and NSX car groups, while not as active as they once were, still contain friends with whom I communicate and meet frequently.  My flying and high-end audio friends are now pretty much out of my life and I hear from those people infrequently.

4. AQ (Adversity Quotient)

New to me, this one is all about resiliency, and how quickly you recover after going through a rough patch. This is about how long you dwell on getting a C+ on a test on which you’d wanted an A.  It’s okay to be mad and disappointed, but those with a high AQ quotient spend only a short amount of time concerned about the failure. High AQ people quickly begin planning how they’ll do better next time.  I watched my granddaughter Parker do this with a remote control rock crawling truck.  She created a track behind our house and timed herself, over and over, dropping her times lower and lower, until soon she had the best time, beating everyone else who circled the track.  She never let a bad run get her down, she’d just line the truck back up at the starting gate, and go again.Finding ways to get past mistakes in the small things, builds this skill and helps you bounce back quickly when confronted with bigger challenges.  Nothing illustrates this to me more than watching NBA games.  It is amazing to see how players and teams make bad, bone-headed stupid plays, missing shots play after play, and then, slowly turn it around and within 5 minutes, go from a 15-point deficit to tying the game.  Their AQ must be a finely-tuned high-impact weapon. All of us experience stress, disappointment, and failure. Resiliency is all about how you turn it around to help, rather than hurt or hold you back.  The greatest bounce-back required for our nuclear family was triggered by the loss of Eric (our son and, Christie and Ginger’s brother). It was only later I learned about the high rate of divorce and suicide following the death of a child.  The death of a child, I think, is probably the most tragic and painful event a human being will ever experience. Although hesitant to see this event as anything other than a horrific tragedy with no redeeming value, it was a year or so after it occurred I discovered an unintentional benefit.  My boss at IBM’s Prodigy at the time was a weak, backbone-less VP, a sycophant living in constant fear of upper management finding out his incompetence. He had four strong-willed and highly competent general managers as direct reports. We each ran a major division of the company and were all very good at what we did.  Then a new performance appraisal system was implemented which required managers to force-rank their employees (meaning if you rated two as Exceeding Expectations, you needed to rate the other two as not-meeting expectations). I was the last of the four of us to be reviewed, and it became clear the other three had pushed him into high rankings for themselves.  As he sniveled, coughed, and complained, he informed me he was going to have to rank me as only “meets expectations,” the only time I’d ever not achieved the highest possible ranking. As I watched him squirm, it occurred to me, “He thinks he’s hurting me. He believes this will make me feel bad. My god, he has no idea how ridiculous this is. I’ve already been so deeply hurt in my life, nothing else, for as long as I live, will ever be able to touch me. I’m invulnerable! Nothing anyone can ever do or say to me will make me feel bad.  The worst has already happened and I made it through.  Everything from here on out is a piece of cake. Thanks, Eric.” On a side note, less than a week after this occurred, I found myself alone in an elevator with our company CEO. He saw me, grinned sheepishly and said, “You know that performance appraisal ranking is bullshit, don’t you?”  I just smiled and nodded.  

If I had to say just one thing to my grandkids, nieces, and nephews it is this: Don’t only pay attention to what your school knows how to measure.  As you figure out what you are good at and do well and the things you want to do more of, understand your school is mostly about IQ.  They don’t have ways to help you understand and get good at Emotional, Social and Resiliency. You’ll need to figure those out on your own, or with your parents help, like I did.  But it’s worth doing.  I believe these three non-IQ related items hold the keys to success just as much as IQ does, and very likely, much more.

Four non-fiction book favorites from 2020

Reading books is an addiction which began for me in grade school and only in my busiest years have I not been in its clutches. You will learn my top four non-fiction books for 2020 in this newsletter, but not before I make you wade through the story of how I became a reader.

By the end of third grade at Lincoln School in Fairmont, MN, I suspect I’d not yet learned to read. Maybe a wee bit, but not very well, certainly. I have reproduced my third grade report card chronicling my failures and my teacher’s recommendation to repeat third grade. My parents, sensitive to the trauma I would undergo the following year as my classmates moved on and I remained with a group of younger kids, transferred me to what was then called a “parochial school” – a church sponsored school. Starting in this new school in the 3rd grade (again) had no noticeable stigma as all the kids were new. What was different was what had happened over that summer.

In the summer of 1959, following my grade 3 failure, I began playing with a neighborhood kid a year older whose parents allowed him to have comic books. This was way cool, as comics were not allowed in our house. I loved reading them, except at first, it was hard to figure out the words in the bubbles above the various characters’ heads. Remembering “sounding out” exercises from school and with my friend’s help, by the end of the summer I was reading pretty well, albeit just comics. My mother noticed my interest in comics and, while she refused to buy Superman, Batman, Archie or Donald Duck, she found “Classics Illustrated,” a publisher who took “stories by the World’s Greatest Authors” and turned them into comic books. Soon I’d read and re-read A Tale of Two Cities, Lorna Doone, The Man Without A Country, The Virginian, Hamlet, The Last of the Mohicans, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Moby Dick, Wuthering Heights, Crime and Punishment, The Iliad, The Count of Monte Cristo, A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace, Silas Marner, Lord Jim and many others. I still have 17 of these comics in decent — although well-read-condition. When I got older, I felt compelled to read the full novels, and in some cases I did.

In my second shot at 3rd grade, I still hated school, refused to pay attention or cooperate. But a librarian at the school introduced me to Jack London’s novels (White Fang, The Call of the Wild, To Build a Fire) and then to a whole shelf filled with historic fiction. I began tearing through the entire lot. I discovered I could hide a book behind a notebook, out of sight of the teacher, and read throughout the school day, only looking up toward the teacher when I turned the pages. While I could read, I still stunk at school and hated it.

In high school one semester they offered a class in speed reading. That class, along with typing and driver’s ed, were the only classes where I got decent grades. But then, in the 11th grade, two teachers took an interest in me. From one I discovered the debate team and theatre, completely changing who my friends were, and from the second, a single comment changed my life: “You know, you write very well. You should come help us on the school paper.” From C and D grades in 10th grade I made the dean’s list in the 11th, and when I transferred to Mayo High School in Rochester for my senior year of high school, I left the bad student persona behind and spent grade 12 as an A student.

In college I found time to get through my assigned textbooks while adding what my student colleagues were reading as “recreational literature.” I remember devouring The Lord of the Rings books, Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, and anything by C.S. Lewis. My roommate at the time, Lloyd Schley, was a philosophy major and introduced me to new books and writers. Although having read Huxley, Orwell, Dostoevsky, Vonnegut and Voltaire in my high school Humanities class, Lloyd expanded my philosophical novel list extensively: Hermann Hesse (Glass Bead Game, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha), Camus (The Stranger, The Fall), Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged) and Huxley (After Many a Summer). These were before hitting me with harder stuff from Bertrand Russell, Being and Nothingness, Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus and Friedrich Nietzsche (Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil), his favorites. I got lost on Nietzsche. I think Lloyd wanted me to read them so we could argue. Whatever the rationale, it worked.

Out of school, in my twenties, I started to care about my job and how well I was doing. I re-read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and a host of self-improvement books from Napoleon Hill, Zig Ziglar and about how to sell and manage. I’d just bought my first motorcycle and so loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

In my thirties, at Control Data, there was one area in which I was insecure. To work in the group I led, you were required to have an MBA to even apply. I wondered if anyone knew I had no advanced business degree. Books like In Search of Excellence, anything by Peter Drucker, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler and Megatrends by John Naisbitt became my instructors. CDC would later hire Naisbitt as a consultant and he and I became friends. I also listened to audio tape training programs. One of my favorites was William Oncken’s Managing Management Time. It was a brilliant treatise on how to be effective in large organizations and I listened to it over and over. He was a brilliant speaker and hilarious, and his techniques for bothering to do only the work that mattered as a manager, helped me a great deal. For entertainment, spy novels were the rage and I loved all of John Le Carre’s books as well as those by Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Graham Greene, Ken Follet and Frederic Forsyth. My friend David Barnett this year recommended John Le Carre’s autobiography and it was a delight to read. This was also the period in which I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and from there fell in love with anything Douglas Adams wrote.

My forties and fifties stuck mostly along the lines of the above, but added skilled Scandinavian writers like Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series) and Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q series) and Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole books. I’ve read everything Christopher Moore has written although I’m especially fond of The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove and Bloodsucking Fiends, and a host of other humor writers. I recently feigned shock and surprise to my good friend and riding buddy Kevin Brown, a former minister and theological seminary graduate, when he admitted he’d never read Moore’s book Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

So, now I’m retired. I no longer read business advice books. Over the past year I’ve given away over 250 business and investment books, some dearly loved. I now re-read favorite classics and find new authors. I still love fiction and probably pick it up more often than non-fiction. This coming year I will re-read Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy as I hear they’re making a movie or series about it. My nephew Robert has got me re-interested in Science Fiction and so I’m well into several multi-book epics like The Expanse series.

You made it this far, so you deserve this, my list of the four best non-fiction books I read in 2020. It goes without saying I recommend each highly.

  1. The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, by Simon Winchester (He also authored The Map That Changed the World, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness & the Love of Words and many others.) A master story-teller, Winchester uses precision as a lens to examine history beginning in the Industrial Age. I found the book impossible to put down. I read it earlier in the year and recently listened to it again. I’ve recommended it to several friends who’ve thanked me profusely for the suggestion after they read it as well. Chapter 1 of the book is titled: “Tolerance 0.1” and Chapter 2 is titled “Tolerance 0.0001” and Chapter 3 is titled “Tolerance .000001” and on it goes.
  2. Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari and their Battle for Speed and Glory, by A. J. Baime (He also authored The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, Big Shots: The Men Behind the Booze). Technically, I may have read this in 2019, I forget. It’s still one of the best page-turning history books I’ve ever read. And they made the movie “Ford vs. Ferrari” staring Matt Damon and Christian Bale from this book.
  3. The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds, by Michael Lewis (He also authored Moneyball, The Big Short, The New New Thing, and Liar’s Poker)
    I’ve read several other Michael Lewis books, and along with Malcolm Gladwell, he makes highly compelling stories of seemingly dry, complex subjects and events. In this book he explores the spider web of concepts influencing human judgement and decision-making and errors in the human psyche. He makes the research of Tversky and Kahneman interesting and their odd friendship relatable.
  4. The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, by Tom Nichols.
    I started this book in 2020 and am still reading it, but got more than half-way through in 2020, so am including it here. While scary, it’s very good, never preachy. Unfortunately, this is highly accurate reporting on where things stand right now. If Nichols is going to make recommendations on how we get out of this mess, I’ve yet to see it. But I’ve still got two chapters to go.

For every non-fiction book, I probably read ten fiction stories. So, that list is considerably longer and I’ll save that for another post. If you liked this post, let me know. I know many people don’t read books anymore, but I still love them, although I’m just as likely these days to listen to a book via digital audio as read it. I just don’t fly as much anymore, where I tried to read a book per flight. Here are four quotes from the above books:

“…the inherent properties of matter start to become impossibly ambiguous.”
― Simon Winchester, The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

To take control of this materialized energy, to draw the reins over this monster with its steel muscles and fiery heart—there is something in the idea which appeals to an almost universal sense, the love of power.”
― A.J. Baime, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans

When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice. Once when you worry about it, and the second time when it happens.”
― Amos Tversky in The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds, by Michael Lewis

“…the bigger problem is that we’re proud of not knowing things. Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything.”
― Thomas M. Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

And now that report card.