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The Leadership Podcast

The Leadership Podcast

Why do we do this?

We interview great leaders, review the books they read, and speak with highly influential authors who study them.

How we do this?

#1 We interview great leaders.
#2 We review the books great leaders read and write.
#3 We have fun!

Dec 28, 2016

Co-hosts Jan Rutherford and Jim Vaselopulos interview John Coyle, Founder and CEO of The Art of Really Living. John is one of the world’s leading experts in innovation and design thinking. John is an SVP and Professor of Innovation, and a thought leader in the field of horology — the study of how we as humans process time. His mission is to innovate the human experience, and he has been applying "design thinking" to Fortune 500 companies, careers, and leadership challenges for more than 20 years. Jan and Jim talk with John about his Olympic journey, his pursuit to maximize the ratio of experience to time, how design thinking helped him find the right questions to ask, how to achieve Flow, and when to de-stress to recover.

Listen in to learn more about the path to Flow, the pursuit of excellence, and how to apply it with your team.


Key Takeaways

[3:39] John spent all of his time as an athlete cramming more distance into the same time. In that pursuit, he won an Olympic silver medal. Small increments of time matter greatly, and can change a life. His experience of the passage of time in the working world (slow in meetings, and fast with friends), led him to study chronoception. He now works to manipulate cognitive time.

[7:51] John called every expert he could find on neuroscience and the psychology of time, until he spoke with Dr. Philip Zimbardo at Stanford, who told him everybody experiences the acceleration of time as they age, but nobody has done research on how to unwind it.

[8:24] John used design thinking — a style of creative problem-solving through asking the right questions — to try to discover how to get more experienced time in our years. It is possible, as our brains don’t process time linearly. John helps people reframe their relationship with time.

[17:40] One of the hallmarks of the Flow state is that the brain actually stops measuring time. Most people report this simultaneously as going really fast, and slowing down completely. Your brain is processing really fast, resulting in the ability to thin-slice and rewind moments with exquisite detail. Steven Kotler says extreme sports and meditation both lead to Flow.

[20:28] If you want to slow down time on your vacations, design fear and suffering into them. We are wired for stories. We remember stories much better than data. Stories have a plot, which develops through a crisis.

[22:44] Helping your team members move outside their comfort zones, to find their native strengths, and having them design their roles to do more of that, fundamentally changes their relationship with risk and reward. They will risk more when they excel in what they do.

[25:10] Mike Weldon was John’s coach from age 11 to 25. He taught John, “Race your strengths; design around and train your weaknesses, but don’t make them your centerpoint.” He designed his Olympic training on Mike Weldon’s teaching, and won the silver-medal.

[28:56] John says, ask the right questions in development and leadership. Instead of asking how to fix your weaknesses, ask how to design for your strengths. Don’t ask how to have more years in your life, ask how to have more life in your years. Instead of asking how to maintain a work-life balance, ask how to perform better under increasing stress, and how to recover.

[37:41] Reduce stress when needed, by refocusing on your strengths, and applying these three destressors: low-grade aerobics, social intimacy, and physical contact with your partner or a pet.

[42:20] Regarding having worked with particular individuals who very publicly fell from grace, John says innovation works by ignoring the rules and the status quo while generating ideas. In order to make a good solution, you then need to apply an ethics filter to the idea. Some people skip that step, and they hurt themselves and others.


Quotable Quotes

“The value of an increment of time is not related to its duration.”

“I just started becoming obsessed with … how we experience time … the technical term is chronoception.”

“Cognitively speaking, how can we experience more time, in the same amount of linear time?”

“They can reframe their relationship with time, and actually slow, stop, and reverse the perceived acceleration of time.”

“You can get to the Flow state so many ways, but it is one of the penultimate outcomes of the human condition.”


Books Mentioned on the Show

15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management:  The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires, 13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs,
by Kevin Kruse

Neuromarketing: Is There a 'Buy Button' in the Brain? Selling to the Old Brain for Instant Success, by Christophe Morin

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World,
by General Stanley McChrystal

(Upcoming Book) Counter-Clockwise: Unwinding Cognitive Time, by John Coyle

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance,
by Steven Kotler

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway



John Coyle has an MBA from Northwestern University, and is a graduate of Stanford University's "" where his academic advisor was David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and Steve Jobs' right hand man. John is an NBC sports analyst, two-time TEDx presenter, author, and sought-after keynote speaker. He won an Olympic silver medal in speedskating, an achievement he attributes directly to his design thinking background.

As a speaker and author, his talent is weaving facts, examples and intellectual principles into engaging stories which bring his topics to life and really make you think. They are inspiring, practical, and actionable.