Achieve Excellence with Lessons from Stoicism, featuring Massimo Pigliucci

As a leader, how can you be immensely present in the moment with people, both at work and in your personal life and in any situation?

In my insightful and humorous discussion with Shawn Hunter we discuss his book Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes and the wisdom gleaned from interviewing hundreds of thought leaders and executives from all walks of life.

Shawn not only writes about this topic as an author, but has also had to live it as an entrepreneur who has built and sold a company which was acquired by Skillsoft. He has interviewed so many successful people that he can see patterns of success and achievement that might take us 100 – 200 books and years to learn.


In this interview ideas come fast and you will surely want to capture them. Take notes. Shawn shares numerous anecdotes and stories throughout the interview and every one of them will present a teaching moment for you. Here are 10 of the highlights:

  1. One of the best questions to ask yourself this coming year “What am I capable of becoming in a year?”
  2. The impact of Energizers and De-energizers in a company and what to do about them.
  3. The importance of strategic storytelling for a business.
  4. Does happiness precede success, or do we have to be happy first to be successful?
  5. Lack vs Surplus mentality – Wanting what you have vs wanting what you don’t have.
  6. What is the difference between a person who is creative vs innovative vs inventive. The buzz word is that people have to be more creative. Well what does this mean vs innovative?
  7. Why as a leader you need to be Immensely present in the moment with people and in situations. Examples of how leaders do this.
  8. How to scale and grow leadership.
  9. An expectation of excellence – This is an honor, it’s a gift. When you believe that those around you have the capacity to do their best, automatically they start performing to match that expectation.
  10. As a Leader and Manager, how do you create the right conditions for people you lead to have a sense of “flow” and sense of “excellence” in performing their work?

Shawn Hunter

Shawn is an author and the Executive Producer & Vice President for Leadership Development Channel at Skillsoft. He has been interviewing and writing about amazing leaders from around the globe for over ten years. Skillsoft provides cloud-based solutions for customers worldwide, who range from global enterprises, government and education customers to mid-sized and small businesses. He originally co-founded Targeted Learning Corporation with his father Hal Hunter, Ph.D., which was acquired by Skillsoft in February 2007. He has a degree in Political Science and Government from St. Andrews Presbyterian College.

As quoted from Shawn’s website eloquently , “We’ve entered a new era. Call it the age of imagination, ideation, conceptualization, creativity, innovation – take your pick. Creativity, mental flexibility, and collaboration have displaced one-dimensional intelligence and isolated determination as core ingredients of competitive advantage. Creative people who can bring innovation to the world are our greatest capital now and with the right leadership and inspiration, creativity and execution can be nurtured in everyone. In any field, expertise is not only expected – it is given. Success for workers and companies centers on being nimble, creative and having the initiative to bring unique solutions to unexpected problems. ”


Out Think by Shawn Hunter

Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes

New Book: Transform. Behaviors Mind-sets as a leader you need to make up. Available for sale Fall of 2016.

Huffington Post Article: Signs of an Impending Bozo Explosion

How to get in touch with Shawn




Resources Mentioned

Dan Coil – The Talent Code

Theresa Amabile

Shawn Achor – The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance

Shawn Achor – Before Happiness

Stephen Kotler “flow”

Angela Duckworth and the Research on ‘Grit’

Bob Sutton – Energizers and De-Energizer research PhD Stanford

Scott Eblin – Overworked and Overwhelmed – The Mindfulness Alternative

Douglas Conant TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments

Timberland Company Story


Summarized Show Notes

  • Very unique quotes throughout the book that Shawn collected
  • Innovation comes from mashing up – putting different disparate ideas together to make new values and combinatory thinking
  • Difference between creativity, innovation and invention.
  • Coach people to do little small micro changes. Large changes take small incremental progress over time. To coach someone to become more innovative – you coach people to be more creative – you conceptually create. Then you recognize where you take action.
  • Sense of wellbeing and contribution at work– comes from your intrinsic motivation. Sense of meaningful, incremental progress in your work.
  • The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor– start with lack of something or feeling good about what you’ve achieved.
  • Happiness comes from the success you have enjoyed and what you have achieved; as if our own competence creates confidence. Big fan of gratitude thinking and journaling, and competence in your work, it creates a higher level of confidence. Practice, hard work, tenacity.
  • Does happiness precede success, or do we have to be happy first to be successful? Happiness precedes success. The notion of the impostor syndrome, notion that you feel like you are a fraud and you will be revealed as an impostor. You don’t deserve the bonus, job etc. Maya Angelou was afflicted with deep sense of self doubt that she was a fraud. Kate Winslet is another example. The more success you enjoy – the more you are surrounded with more successful people which compounds the problem which brings in more self-doubt. The key to the problem is to stop comparing – it is a form of self-sabotage. When you let go, you find more self-satisfaction in what you are doing
  • If you assume the very best in yourself, capabilities and deservedness – then by extension – you do this with other people, that they have the best intentions.
  • An expectation of excellence: when you believe that those around you have the capacity to do excellent work, they automatically start performing to match that expectation. That can get you over your head. Ability and challenge – there is an intersection where the challenge and skill meet, this sweet spot known as flow. The key with finding flow is very personal.
  • Shawn speaks about effort and grit and the way of coaxing out creativity and performance. Evidence based theory – Angela Duckworth. When you tell someone that they are brilliant. They will get that heroic status. They will adopt of status of brilliance. Inversely when you give people this status they also believe it is hard work that got them there and not their brilliance. They will choose for themselves harder challenges because of the reward system. To build in natural growth. IF they think they are naturally brilliant they will choose tasks within their sweet spot and will be less likely to be challenging themselves.
  • Matthew May – innovation workshop session – importance of transparency. To create a sense of transparency in the organization. During the workshop – game where you have to have the right balance of ingredients for a trip to the moon. There is actually a correct answer for the equation for the game. Unbeknownst to anyone else, he took the most junior member of the team at table and he gave them the key code to answer the puzzle. They could do anything to say that they had the answer without saying they had the correct answer. No one got it right, everyone lost.As a leader, or manager or boss – can you induce a sense of flow into someone else? No, but you can create the conditions for it. You can create the challenge and the circumstance. Push people outside of the comfort zone if it’s within the scope of their capacity.
  • Energizers and de-energizers in a company. Different people energy in a work environment. What does it mean to be fully engaged and present in a team? Power disparities in a workplace. When someone is newly elevated to a position of power. When someone leaves with you – do they leave confused, depressed, angry, annoyed. Or do you leave provoked to the point of encouragement, poised? These type of people tend to be talent attractors. In war for talent – you will never hear anyone say that they will stay irrespective of relationship with their boss. The Boss is the direct relation to their relationship with the company.
  • Whomever you are speaking with or interacting with, to give someone the gift of your time is a honor and an obligation. Leadership presence requires that you are present.
  • Scott Elbin – Mindfulness and bringing this back into the workplace.
  • Book by Douglas Conant (CEO of Campbell’s soup), absolutely practices what he preaches. In a room full of people he will be so patient and so thoughtful with every individual in the room.
  • Scaling leadership is by taking the time and being immensely present in the moment. How do you accomplish this from a practical point of view? It’s a conscientious choice. Stand up, close your computer – intentionally remove the distraction. The mere presence of a smartphone between us – distracts you. The anticipation – distracts your mind from the immediacy of the conversation. Be as present as you can.
  • The idea of a Digital Sabbath – starting Friday evening – until Sunday evening, turning everything off. Spend time together with your family. Control the technology and don’t let the technology control you.
  • What am I capable of becoming in a year? Aspiration. Envisioning clearly and with as much detail as possible is critically important to motivating you. Paint it with as much detail as you can.
  • Shawn’s recommendation – strategic stories. Stories with a purpose. Within many organizations, there’s a story where in the telling of the story conveys the value of the organization.
  • Story of Timberland’s annual conference – they choose cities with economic distress where they can provide some pro-social value and community building. Story of when they went to New Orleans after Katrina is inspiring.
  • Push forward. You deserve to be where you are in your life and take the next step.

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