Susan Ford Collins: The Joy of Success

Nov 20, 2015 by

joy of success

An Interview with Susan Ford Collins: The Joy of Success

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) You have just written a book called The Joy of Success. Can you tell us a bit about your background and education and experience?

I began my career as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health. After studying illness and dysfunction for a year, I began waking up at night wondering what more could we learn if we started studying healthy, Highly Successful People (HPSs) as well. Finally, I raised my hand and proposed my idea in one of our prestigious weekly conferences but, instead of being excited, my colleagues laughed.
Red-faced, I was forced to make a life-changing decision on the spot: Were they right that I was wrong…that my idea was laughable? Or was I on to something BIG they just couldn’t see yet? Undaunted, I silently vowed to spend my career studying HPSs, and I have. In retrospect, my colleagues laughter was one of the most important moments in my life… the moment I committed to my life’s work.

Unlike my colleagues, the HSPs I spent the next twenty years studying were intrigued by my idea. But when I asked what made them successful, scratching their heads, they replied, “I’m not sure.” So I asked permission to shadow them… to ride in the car with them, sit in meetings with them, and hang out in their office with them so I could discover the skills they were using. Months later when I fed back the skills I was observing, they usually responded, Yes, Susan, I do that, but I didn’t know it mattered. Or, I didn’t know other people didn’t do it. But it does matter! And other people don’t do it, or do it at the right time so consciously learning these skills can transform their lives and careers. I named the 10 Success Skills I discovered HSPs were using consistently but unconsciously… The Technology of Success.

Next, I began testing ways to teach these skills to individuals and small groups. In 1985, I presented my first Technology of Success public seminar through the University of Miami Continuing Education Department. Within months HR Departments started calling. Their managers were seeing significant improvements in the performance of employees who attended my seminars and they asked me to teach it in house. To date I have taught the Technology of Success in major corporations including American Express, Ryder System, Florida Power & Light, Digital Equipment, The Upjohn Company, and CNN.
CEOs and business leaders begged me to “teach these skills to parents and teachers so the next generation will be using them when they enter the workplace.” So I started teaching The Technology of Success in schools and universities including the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, Jepson School of Leadership Studies, Princeton Montessori Teacher Training Center, and the Waldorf and Independent Private Schools Association. Audiences across the country begged me to write books so they could share these skills with their spouses, children and teachers. As requested, I wrote The Technology of Success Book Series: The Joy of Success, Success Has Gears, and Our Children Are Watching.

2) Now, how do YOU define success?

Yes, that was the first question I asked HPSs. For them the meaning of success is quite different from the usual dictionary definition. For them, success has three essential parts:

1- Success is Completion. 2- Success is Deletion. And, 3-Success is Creation.

Yes, success is Completion… finishing tasks, projects, plans and dreams, graduating and getting a job, finding a mate and establishing a home, business or career.

But to live a healthy, fulfilling life, success is sometimes also Deletion… knowing when enough is enough. When the method you’re using isn’t working. When the dream you’re pursuing is no longer an experience you want. When to stop to ask yourself whether the dreams you’re pursuing are yours, or ones your parents, teachers, bosses or society wanted for you, ones you unconsciously took on. HSPs know when to stop, rethink and rechoose.
For HPSs success is ultimately creation…moving “outside the box”, beyond the rules and methods you’ve been taught, beyond productivity and competition. Success is creating new ideas, inventing new products and services, and new ways of thinking and living. Most important of all, it’s creating your life… the one that fits your unique interests and talents… and modeling that possibility to everyone around you.

Are we are sending ourselves, and our kids, the wrong message about creativity? Creativity isn’t carefully planned and detailed up front. Creativity is messy! It is coincidences and accidents. It is chemicals overheated or mixed incorrectly or hands left unwashed. Any one of these errors can lead to a breakthrough if an alert observer notices and seizes the opportunity… like the Johns Hopkins University researcher who observed that the bread he made for dinner tasted unusually sweet. Remembering that he’d forgotten to wash his hands after handling a specific chemical in his lab so he started experimenting and patented saccharin.

In Jamie Holmes’s New York Times op ed, The Case for Teaching Ignorance, neuroscientist Dr. Stuart J. Firestein reveals an important truth: Unlike the neat, linear process most people imagine, discovery usually involves “feeling around in dark rooms, bumping into unidentifiable things, looking for barely perceptible phantoms.” Social scientist Michael Smithson draws us a new map, “The larger the island of knowledge grows, the longer the shoreline — where knowledge meets ignorance — extends.” The more answers emerge, the more questions need to be answered… good news indeed for students, teachers and researchers!

3) Are some people’s thoughts and dreams more powerful than others’?

Yes, in fact they are! Years ago I was fortunate to learn about The Science of Dreaming and the work of Dr. Karl Pribram, a Stanford University neurosurgeon and the so-called “Einstein of brain research.” Here’s something Pribram discovered that is important to your success and your students’.

Thoughts generate an electromagnetic forcefield that can be measured.
The more detailed a thought is, the more power it has…

The more senses are involved, the more power it has.

HSPs dreams are more detailed and multisensory than other peoples’ are. They thoroughly pre-live their dreams so they are “real for them” before they take action. One HSP told me, “It’s like walking out to the end of a limb and seamlessly stepping into my dream.”

HSPs not only create powerful dreams but they also create a team of powerful co-dreamers… people to whom they communicate their detailed, multisensory dreams over and over so on days when they leave a meeting devastated or they’re overwhelmed by negative feedback, they can call codreamers and ask them to help “reinstall the details of my dream and remind me of the steps I’ve had taken so far.” Their codreamers help them revitalize themselves and their dreams, and keep going.

Heads up… if you don’t know what you want, you’ll probably get what someone else wants…someone whose thoughts are more detailed and multisensory than yours. Advertisers are all too aware of The Science of Dreaming. They spend billions of dollars each year clarifying what they want us to think, do and buy, producing colorful enticing ads with catchy jingles, conducting focus groups to pin down precisely how to hook us. Their dream of profiting from those sales frequently overwhelms our less detailed plans and desires! And we arrive home, product-in-bag, wondering, Why did I buy that? Now you know!

4) Another skill that has been talked about so much, it has almost been beaten to death is that of communication…..Why do we have so much trouble communicating what we want and need? Is it due to having grown up texting all the time?

No (chuckle)…I think having trouble communicating has more to do with not knowing what we want… and, as tech savvy as we are these days, not understanding the power our brain’s search function has.
When we create detailed, multisensory thoughts and dreams, we are simultaneously and unconsciously program those details into our Reticular Activating System (RAS)… our brain’s search and find function. Watch what happens the next time you say you tell yourself you need toothpaste and head down that aisle when you’re shopping.

Yes, a “you need toothpaste” reminder will pop into mind and you can simply reach and put it in your cart. That’s far easier than sending someone to buy toothpaste for you and having him or her come back with a size and brand you don’t want. Why? Because you didn’t make time to provide all the multisensory details they needed to get what you wanted so they filled in the details of the brand they use. But you don’t like. Beware of Sensory Fill-In at work and at home!

Our RAS also searches for incompletions… what you said you’d do that you didn’t do or someone else didn’t do. It will even wake you in the night… you forgot to call your mother and yesterday was her birthday, leaving you revved up in bed till it’s late enough to call her.

HPSs take advantage of their RAS by communicating the multi-sensory details of their thoughts and dreams into the RASs of their codreamers as well. Then they automatically and unconsciously search for opportunities too… I heard something on the radio… I read an article about… I met someone you need to call. And here’s his card.

Some people are afraid to share “infant ideas”… and yes, doing that too soon can open your idea to all the “good reasons” why most people stop. But if you build a team of co-dreamers before you broadcast your idea far and wide, your codreamers will shield you and your dream. On days when your dream seems to have gone up in smoke, you can call your codreamers and ask them to remind you what your dream was, what you’ve accomplished so far, and why it’s still a good idea.

Reinstalling your multisensory details from their memories will help you get enthusiastically back on track. And up to speed again.

5) Your book discusses gears- when should we slow and shift down? And when should we shift up and accelerate? What is each gear designed to do and when?

Success has three gear-like phases, and so does leadership. It’s up to each of us as parents, teachers and business leaders to recognize which gear those we lead are operating in… and to shift our leadership approach to meet that gear’s unique set of needs. Amazed by this information, CEOs shouted, “Why didn’t anyone ever teach me this before? It’s game changing!”

The First Gear of Success is for starting anything new. Learning basic rules so you can perform a new skill safely and correctly… whether it’s driving a car or using a new program or app. Keywords are right/wrong good/bad should/shouldn’t have to/must always/never, possible/impossible. Once we are able to perform our new skill safely and correctly… according to our leaders’ criteria… they shift us into second gear, certifying that we’re ready to drive on our own, or to practice law, medicine or teach independently.

The Second Gear of Success is for producing and competing. The keywords are more/better/faster/cheaper, win/lose, productivity, competition, bonuses, raises and promotions. In second gear we learn which First Gear startup rules we can break to become more efficient. The upside of 2nd Gear is we can advance in our career, earn more money, and gain power. The downside of 2nd Gear is we can burn ourselves out. Here’s a vital 2nd gear question: When will continuing to push longer and harder… using the methods in place… destroy our health and well-being, our families and relationships, our environment and world? When is it time to gear up?

The Third Gear of Success is for creating and innovating… moving out of the box, past what we’ve been taught and how we’re currently doing it. Developing new methods and approaches, new products and services. Moving beyond conventional wisdom to discovery. Keywords include Aha!, insight, realize, discover, create, invent and innovate.
The shift to third gear is one you must make yourself… in your own timing… whether other people agree with you or not, like that day at NIH. Even though my peers laughed, I knew it was a shift I had to make then. And I did.

Oh, yes, there’s another part to the story. In 2006, I was asked to speak at the National Grant Management Association. I told them about being laughed at NIH, and I taught them the 10 Success and Leadership Skills I’ve been teaching around the world ever since. At the end of my talk, a large group of participants headed back to talk to me. With big smiles on their faces, they told me they were the team that currently decided on NIH grants. They only wished they had been there that day so they could have shouted, “Yes, Susan, Yes. We think it’s a brilliant idea.”

Sometimes it takes years for the world to be ready for your dream! And you need to know how and when to use all 10 Success Skills so you can keep going… as long as it takes.

6) How do HSPs keep their confidence up as they face hurdles and obstacles?

To create dreams and bring them into reality, you have to have Self-Confidence… and lots of it!

HSPs have a daily habit I call Success Filing. They make time to review their day and acknowledge themselves for all the things they were able to accomplish… not just big things, but tiny things as well. They warned me about the danger of only Success Filing every three or four years… at graduations and promotions, and feeling like a failure in between. Or the danger of depending on others to agree with us and acknowledge us… depending on Other-Confidence instead of Self–Confidence. For HSPs, eating a good breakfast, doing their exercise, spending time with family and friends, returning calls and emails, stopping to buy gas so they won’t miss crucial meeting, are all essential actions that make their lives work and their careers evolve.
And, note to self, HPSs file their Deletion Successes too…those times when they tell themselves, “No, I’m not going to do that today because, if I do, I won’t have time to do my higher priorities.” Or the truth is, that no longer matters to me.

And HSPs file the successes their students, coworkers and followers have too… their successes of leadership.

Here’s the bottom line on Self-Confidence…

When your Success File is low, you feel dependent and needy, anxious and afraid.

When your success fill is full, you feel success-full… and self-confident.

7) Let’s talk about some of the skills needed to facilitate and expedite success–” Using other’s expertise”—What do you mean by this and how do you do it, and can you delegate to others that you may not trust?

HSPs use experts freely. They reach out far and wide to get input and opinion. They’re not afraid of looking stupid by asking ignorant questions. They understand that ignorance simply means I don’t know yet. They told me that an expert doesn’t have to be a world-renowned authority. It can be anyone you know who can already do what you want to do, whether that’s program a show on your VCR, or use a new program or app. HPSs are willing to share what they know and so they aren’t afraid to reach out to experts most people would think would never get back to me, and they do.” They know assuming no mean 100% no, whereas asking gives them a more better chance.

8) You talk about “No excuses” (sounds like William Glasser’s Reality Therapy”) Can you provide a context?

HSPs understand that your dream will test you in every conceivable way. It will challenge your tried and true excuses… why you can’t, why you shouldn’t, why things are impossible.

Reaching dreams means letting go of impossibility. Letting go of blaming others. Letting go of method and timeframe. Letting go of everything except the outcome you’re committed to… and allowing it to occur in its right time and place. A time and place where your life, family and world is in balance.

Balancing is the ultimate challenge because it forces you to prioritize and reprioritize. Today, with your current life experience and knowledge base, you know far more about how, what and where than you did three months ago, or ten years ago when your idea was conceived.

Balancing our lives means we need a handful of dreams…not just one. Dreams like being healthy, being a good spouse, parent, friend and community member, in addition to doing more-better-faster and creating a new product or service. To stay balanced you must constantly juggle your handful of dreams so you don’t lose your relationship with your son, your family, your body or yourself.

Work less to be more productive and creative. Facebook cofounder, Dustin Moskovitz, said tech companies are not benefiting from their intense work environments. “The research is clear: beyond 40 – 50 hours per week, the marginal returns from additional work decrease rapidly and quickly become negative. I wish I had slept more hours and exercised regularly. I wish I had made better decisions about what to eat and drink. At times I consumed more soda and energy drinks than water.”

When asked if he thought Facebook would be the success it is today, and he would be too, if he had cut back, he said, “I actually think if I had worked less, if I had made time for the things that helped me cultivate energy and focus better and just be a more centered human, I would have been more effective for Facebook, been a better leader, been able to use my time more effectively, and form better relationships.”

Maintaining your health and balance is the 10th Success Skill, and it takes using the other nine success skills, at the right time, to achieve it day by day.

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