This Day in History – When the French Were Strong

Standard French Flag during American RevolutionOctober 19, 1781 the British surrender to George Washington at Yorktown.

Apparently General Cornwallis of the Brits did not feel well that day . . . no kidding, losing to a scrappy colony that couldn’t even dress its troops . . . so instead General O’Hara officially surrendered for the British. But even O’Hara couldn’t stomach the notion of surrendering to Washington and instead attempted to surrender to Count Rochambeau, Washington’s French counterpart. Rochambeau was kind enough to direct O’Hara to Washington’s subordinate, General Lincoln. Snub for a snub.

The French were pivotal in forcing Cornwallis’ hand. Their navy flushed out the British navy in the region leaving Cornwallis no support and no way out.

So Viva La France! John Trumball’s depiction of the surrender hangs in the Rotunda as it has since 1820.

Winning with Nuclear Fusion, a New Metaphor

Winning with Nuclear Fusion

Thursday evening I ended up in a conversation about nuclear fusion, not a subject I know much about, but I have a vague understanding . . . that got me thinking about what it takes to launch a business, or learn a new skill since both of those activities require an extraordinary amount of energy upfront.

What is nuclear fusion:
Fusion is the process of combining two nuclei into one larger nucleus. The sun fuses hydrogen nuclei to make helium. It then fuses helium nuclei to make beryllium and then beryllium into lithium.

But where does the energy come from?emc2

Each time two nuclei combine to form one nucleus, a tiny amount of the atoms’ mass is converted into a large amount of energy. Leaning on Einstein here, the amount of energy released is equal to the mass lost times the speed of light squared.

With such a fantastic amount of energy created from such a tiny amount of mass, fusion makes for an amazingly powerful energy source . . . we just haven’t figured out how to do it on Earth.

So what does this have to do with winning / mastery / business?


When you start a project whether it be launching a business or creating a winning sports team, you invest significantly more time upfront to get the results you seek. There may be long hours, there is most certainly immense frustration. You struggle to move forward, lurching around like a baby learning how to walk, stumbling this way, stumbling that way until you finally “get it.” You finally learn how to walk because you persist in the stumbling. You finally expend enough energy and enough time that your muscles understand what they are supposed to do when you decide to walk.

How’s this for hyperbole . . .
Sure, you can use the standard comparison that creating success is like the space shuttle launch where 96% of the fuel is used in the first two minutes of launch to get it into orbit so the crew only have 3-4% of the total fuel for hanging out in space for two weeks and flying home …

Or you can upgrade!
But why not use your new knoweldge of fusion and say it’s like creating energy from the sun….

The energy released from the sun is in the form of photons. Those photons travel from the core of the sun to the surface of the sun and ultimately to the surface of the Earth. If you agree that the  then you know that the journey from the core of the sun to the surface of the sun will take more energy/more intensity/more time than any other leg of that journey. Since we are measuring photons we measure the time it takes for a photon to travel from the sun’s core to the sun’s surface and then from the sun’s surface to the Earth’s surface.

100,000 to 200,000 years and 8 minutes

How’s that for contrast!

It takes the photons 100,000 to 200,000 years to travel from the core of the sun to the surface of the sun. The photons get bounced around by the gas molecules in the core so their journey is long. Much like creating a winner – be it in business or sport or music or any mastery target. Intense focus on the destination is required.

But once the photon reaches the surface of the sun it takes a mere 8 minutes to reach the surface of the Earth.

Crazy stats on Space Shuttle Fuel and it’s effect on ozone layer written by a Chemical Engineering grad student.

Record Breaking Second Place

Earlier this week a reader reminded me of another example of a record breaking performance that comes in second place.

Sammy Sosa vs Roger Maris . . .

. . . vs Mark McGwire

Mantle and MarisIn 1998, Sammy Sosa soundly beat Roger Maris’ 1961 home run record of 61 in one season. Sammy was the first player to hit 65 in one season and finished the year with 66 home runs. Yet, he finished second.

Mark McGwire finished the season with 70.

The back-and-forth can be seen in Wikipedia’s Home Run Record Chase. Early on in the season McGwire is well ahead of Sosa, but then Sosa catches up in June. By September it is almost back-and-f0rth between Sosa and McGwire. This story would play out again with similar results in subsequent years.

From a talent development standpoint, would Sosa have reached 66 home runs if McGwire hadn’t been slugging? Or was Sosa’s personal record developed from the competition the home run derby created? Was it this non verbal influence of McGwire that pushed Sosa to perform?

A look at subsequent years is telling.

1999 Sosa 63, McGwire 65
2000 Sosa 50
2001 Sosa 64, Barry Bonds 73, Mark McGwire 70
2002 Sosa 49, Alex Rodriguez 57 (AL)

It is only in his *off* years that Sosa led the league in home runs. The years he performed his record setting best were years when another slugger was well on his way to breaking records.

It is also interesting to note that home run levels today are nowhere near what they were during that stretch from 1998 to 2002. While steroids may or may not come into play, the level of competition is more likely the bigger driver. If there is at least one other player who can challenge you, push you, then a competitive athlete will step forward into the challenge.

Special Thanks to Cliff for the photo.

Running Mastery: Sports Stat of the Week

Running Mastery-Sports Stats of the Week

So you probably thought you’d hear about hockey this week given that preseason begins . . . now, but instead how about a diversion to running.

In tandem with my research on the non verbal, environmental cues that foster the growth of super stars I get to look at super stars themselves. It’s really amazing to watch a fast runner. Fluid movements, precision.

As a little girl I dreamed about having both the speed and style of Jackie Joyner Kersee and FloJo. They were magically fast and yet wildly stylish – the best of both worlds.

So is it true that competing with someone great will make you greater? For this weeks statistic I pull the records from record breaking running events. Did second place also beat a record? Did second place set a personal best running against the record setter?

Of the 23 world record breaking times sampled, over 50% of the time second place either broke the previous record as well or recorded a personal best. There’s also a very strong trend of peak years when the record is broken multiple times in a year – usually between May and August. For the Men’s 100M dash, peak years are 1968, 1987, 1988, 1991, 2006, 2008 and 2009. Often it is a competitive back and forth for the eventual breaker with his main #2.

Have just a second? Really, that’s all you’ll need to see Usain Bolt’s fantastic race in Berlin, August 2009. The new world record. Watch the poor camera guys try to catch him post race…

Growing Super Stars: Part 2

Who are you hanging around?recordbutnotquite

If you are interested in being a track star are you hanging around couch potatoes?

When you are ready to push yourself, you drop the ineffective parts of your training without a second thought. For a business owner who is about to blast off, that may mean you stop hanging out with government employees. Or at the very least you probably minimize the professional contact with those who won’t understand your 18 hour work days.

Instead you seek out other business owners who are pushing their limits.

And if you’re really clever,

You look for the folks who have paved the path before you . . . and you get as close to them as possible. Experience the way the best do what you want to do and your energy surges. You push to match. That’s the nature of your competitive spirit.

Even if you do “get your butt kicked” you still set some records.

This photo (courtesy of Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty Images) shows Tyson Gay breaking the American world record with a time of 9.71 – which would have set the world record had Usain Bolt not been in the race. “The Jamaican shattered the world record again Sunday, running 100 meters in 9.58 seconds at the world championships to turn his much-anticipated race against Tyson Gay into a one-man show.”

I may not like losing, but if I’m going to lose, I’d rather lose to the best.

Never Too Old to be a Super Star

GuitaristThink you have mastered all that you are able to master and that life and learning are about to pass you by? Has your dream of challenging Eric Clapton to a little strumming vanished? Think that you are too old to pick up the violin?

There is hope!

Many adults consider themselves over-the-hill and not likely to learn new skills after a certain age. The good news and bad news:

It’s just not true!

In a study of budding musicians, researchers discovered that perception of self as a musician was a better predictor of learning and success with an instrument than amount of practice. See the details: Causing Cognition – Getting Great!

You might want to fantasize about becoming a world class guitarist now. Go do it.

Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley

Non Verbal Influence

Non VerbalInfluence (1)

Rough draft of the first 20 minutes (26 minutes) of a presentation on nonverbal communication.

Forget to Resist Me: 21 non verbal cues you can use to influence your outcomes!

Also known as get your spouse to take out the garbage without griping.

(link removed)

The download link is for yousendit – the file is too large for me to post.

Super Stars: Born, Created or Molded?

Have you noticed that a handful of super stars come out of the same high school class and then no one of note comes out of that high school again for some time? I started to notice a Graduatestrend along these lines, peak years if you will, when I considered my own high school. A few years ago we graduated the #1 draft pick to Major League Baseball and the #1 College Football pick – two incredible arms (Pitcher and Quarterback) coming out of the same high school class.

My class was an academic class. While we had some good athletes, plenty of Division 1 collegiate athletes, we didn’t send anyone to the pros nor did we have any “#1” picks. We did have 28 National Merit Scholars – more than 10% of the class. National Merit Scholars represent the top ½ of 1% of the nation’s “best and brightest.”

Another year we sent several folks to Hollywood and Broadway. Names you would recognize. It appears that we have peak years. This would make sense historically. In Charles Murray’s book, Human Accomplishment?, he spells out that the great human achievements from art to science to medicine are not random over time or over place. They cluster in both time and place.

This is strongly counter to the popular notion that diversity (as currently defined) leads to the greatest successes. So far I have data from one school, other schools are demonstrating a similar trend.  If you think your local high school or the high school you attended may show similar peak years of high achievers, please add a comment and I will contact your school for inclusion in the research. Thanks!

Image courtesy of Amanda

Notable and Quotable – Income Mobility Study

Income GapA tidbit most pertinent to those who live and die by the mantra that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer….

From an interview with Thomas Sowell on his new book, “Economic Facts and Fallacies.”

If we follow human beings instead of income brackets, perhaps we can find more meaningful information as to who is doing better and who is doing worse. Maybe? Think about that. Yes, the top end is getting larger and zero is staying the same as our economy shifts to more sophisticated skills and paying people more for those skills, but is it necessarily true that those making $20K annually will stay in the $20K income bracket over a decade? What about those making over $1M annually? Will they stay in their same bracket over that same decade?

“What happens to a bracket is an abstract question; what happens to the flesh-and-blood human beings is different.”

Here’s what gets interesting… The flesh-and-blood people in the bottom 20% of tax payers in income in 1996, their average increase of income over the next decade was 91%,” almost doubling their income in a decade.

So how about the folks who are in the top 1%, “The rich who are getting richer?” Thier average income declined 26%.


That is about as opposite as you can get from the blah, blah, blah our media outlets and politicians are producing.


Check the facts yourself: Treasury Department (this will open the pdf in your browser  – if you prefer, search the treasury website for Income Mobility Study

Image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson