Nov. 26, 2020

Project Notes: Behind High Performance and Guided Discovery

Project Notes: Behind High Performance and Guided Discovery
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On this bonus episode, Damian Hughes (ep 002) explains the common feature of high performers and explains the significance of the Dunning–Kruger effect. Notable mentions in the chat include: José Mourinho and the principle of the guided discovery, the evolution of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United manager. Also, what Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano learnt from Warren Buffett in relationship to leadership and culture.


Professor Damian Hughes is an international speaker and best selling author who combines his practical and academic background within sport, organisational development and change psychology, to help organisations and teams to create a high performing culture. Professor Damian Hughes combines his practical and academic background within sport, organisation and change psychology to work as a trusted adviser to the business, education and sporting elite, specialising in the creation of high performing cultures.

If you want to know more about Damian, feel free to read here).

Episode Structure

  • 0:00 - Introduction 
  • 1:58 - The Dunning–Kruger law 
  • 7:37 - Principles of Sir Chris Hoy - Britain's most decorated Olympian 
  • 10:50 - José Mourinho and the principle of guided discovery 
  • 14:10 - Key areas of parallel between sport and other industries 
  • 18:15 - The evolution of Olé Gunnar Solskjaer as a coach 
  • 22:05 - 3 areas to assess the role of a leader in a high performing culture 


To listen to the High performance podcast episode featuring Olé Gunnar Solskjaer (Spotify | Apple)

All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspurs trailer

Damian's book: The Barcelona Way — How to create a Winning Team


And while you're here... If you haven't had a chance to listen to Damian's episode Sit Down When You Punch (ep 002), it's worth checking out here.

See for privacy information.



Note: The Ezra Zaid Project is proudly produced by a crack team of audiophiles and the best way to enjoy it is to listen to it. This allows for greater nuance and emphasis that sometimes may not translate as well to the written transcripts that are available to download for each episode. It would be best to cross check the corresponding audio, before quoting us in print.


Hey there, it's the Ezra Zaid Project, you're listening to another edition of Project Notes. These are the sections of the interview that didn't quite make it to the final edit. But I've put together here as bonus material. If you haven't listened to the main episode featuring David Hughes, do check it out, but you can get straight to it. Here's Damian Hughes, international speaker and best selling author. We kick things off by talking about the common traits of high performers.



Now, you know, we've been sort of mentioning or going about it, where, I guess the notion of being a high performer assumes sort of a base point where you're almost competent at whatever you do — whether it's a particular skill set or an organisation or whether you're a football player. And I guess there is that sort of tension or that struggle for someone who identifies themselves as being somewhat competent. There's that tension of saying, you know, ‘what if they knew how horrible I was’ — that sort of imposter syndrome, and it sort of catches you to that point where ‘maybe it is just a matter of time until I'm being found out’. And I think this cripples a young individual in high school all the way to, you know, somebody who's trying to start their business. How does one navigate that aspect of it so that, you know, some of the fundamental things are being reminded that actually, they do have an opportunity to change that station in life?



Wow, what a brilliant question. And I think what I would say to that Ezra is that, what, but one common feature that I found of high performers, and I've been looking, I mentioned this series I've been working on where I've been interviewing people that have delivered significant high performance. One thing that is a consistent trait from them is a concept that's known in psychology is the Dunning Kruger law. Now, the Dunning Kruger law if I can explain it, it's named after two psychologists at Cornell University, Dunning and Kruger. And what the essence of it is, is they say, if you're good at something, you have the intelligence to explain why you're good at it. But if you're bad at something, you don't possess the intelligence to understand why you're bad at it.

So where the origins of their research came from, was that there was a guy called McArthur Wheeler, who robbed two banks in Pittsburgh. And he was caught within two hours of robbing the banks. And what they couldn't understand was: this guy had just walked into the bank, he had no face covering on or no mask or anything. So CCTV footage caught it, which meant that they could capture him quite quickly. And when he was interviewed by the police because the weather couldn't understand how the police had recognised his picture. And they were like, ‘we've got CCTV footage of it’. But this guy had read somewhere that one of the ingredients of invisible ink was lemon juice. So before he tried to rob the banks, he rubbed lemon juice over his face and thought that that would make his face invisible on the cameras. Now, we can laugh at the stupidity of it, but there's the Dunning Kruger law. This guy was too stupid to understand just how bad he was at robbing banks. 


So examples of it, that you see it, like, I'm sure you have talent shows, you know, like X-factor and programmes like that. And Malaysia's Got Talent, I'm sure is a staple. And the bit that most people enjoy anywhere in the world on those programmes are the early stages, because that's where the idiots turn up. That's where the delusional turn up, and there's an amusement in hearing somebody say, ‘Oh, I'm gonna sing like Mariah Carey’ and then stand on the stage and sound like a cat being killed. And because the amusement is that their perception of what they're capable of, versus their capability is so far removed. That's the Dunning Kruger law. Because they don't understand how bad a singer they are to understand how far away from Mariah Carey's talents they are. So delusion kicks in.

So in sporting terms, you see the Dunning Kruger law, that say when a performer gets beat in a game or competition, average performers blame the referee or they blame their opponents or they blame the conditions. High performers look internally and they understand why they got beat so they might go, ‘my start wasn't good enough’ or, you know, ‘my preparation could have been improved’ or you know, ‘I let myself down in that last 20 minutes’, and they can internalise it because they're smart enough to understand why they're good. So when they're bad, they can fix it a lot quicker.

So what I find is that the high performers obsess about what they're doing. They try to understand the mechanics of it so that they can work on specific elements that mean that they can fix it and make improvements on an incremental basis, rather than relying on good luck, or their opponents having a bad day. Everything that they do, their locus of control is internalised and they invest heavily in their understanding of it so that they can fix it.



And I guess, you know, in your conversations and exchanges with, you know, the likes of Sir Richard Branson, or Sir Alex Ferguson, and you're distilling some of the key areas of what you describe in the winning mindset. When they sort of break down some of their key messages, is it down to sort of the delivery or the simplicity of what their ideas are? Or is it a combination of that and the opportunity of how to understand the other... it’s a combination of everything, I assume?



Yeah, I don't think so. I don't think there's a single factor, I think, like you say, it's often like an ecosystem of a series of factors that come together to do it. So I think some of it is the emotional intelligence to see the other person's perspective and understand what drives them. But I'll give you an example from working with sort of elite coaches in sport. That…. I see coaches that say they have to deliver a 20 minute presentation so that our players invest about seven hours research in making sure that that 20 minutes, carries the most impact. They don't rely on charisma, they don't rely on being able to do it off the cuff. It's they've invested time to understand how do I deliver this message in the most effective way possible? So I think in the corporate world, there's some big lessons there, that you hear leaders thinking that charisma is enough, or they think that the occasional announcement is enough. What the best leaders are doing are trying to see in the world from somebody else's perspective, and then really invest in time to avoid the Dunning Kruger law, to understand ‘how do I deliver this in the best way possible.’



And that preparation, it revolves around that sort of discipline of hard work, even when you have high performance in your organisation, it is incumbent upon you to sort of communicate that to ensure that that cycle continues.



Yeah, very much. So I'll give you an example from a recent interview I did with a guy called Sir Chris Hoy. So he's Britain's most decorated Olympian, he's won like eight gold medals as a cyclist. And when we did the interview with him this with arranged to meet him at 10 o'clock in the morning, and at ten to 10:00am. There's a knock on the door, I go to open the door, Chris High just stood there. So we welcome him in and we have a conversation. And I said, ‘thanks for turning up on time, Chris. And he was like, ‘What?’ I said ‘thank you for arriving on time. And he went, ‘Why would I not arrive on time?’ And I said, ‘well, I know you're busy. And I'm just grateful that you've done it.’ And he went, ‘Listen’, he said, ‘we arranged to meet for 10 o'clock. So I'm here for 10 minutes to 10.’

So his response was interesting. So I decided to pursue it... was like a thread that I thought I'll pull at this thread and see where it goes. Because it sounds like we might get something interesting. And what he concluded with in the conversation was this, he said: ‘If I turn up late, later than an agreed time, that would imply that I think my time is more important than yours. So by definition, that would also imply that I think I'm more important than you.’ And he said, ‘that was just unacceptable. That's not how I work in my world.’

Now, in that one anecdote of him turning up at 10 minutes to 10 in the morning; from that you can understand that this is a guy that is disciplined. So if he says he'll do something, he'll do it. He's committed in terms of ‘I've said, I'll be there, I'll be there’. And ‘I've got the discipline to do it’. And then finally, he's just down to earth. He doesn't think he's more important than anybody else in the room. Now, were those three qualities essential to him winning 8 gold medals at three consecutive Olympic Games, I'd argue they were absolutely the foundation stones of everything he did.

It gave him the distance to turn up every day, to deliver on what he committed to do, and to be down to earth enough that he would listen to people that could help him make those improvements. They're the bedrocks in many ways of all high performers. So to answer your original question on that Ezra, Yeah, I absolutely do believe that these principles are consistent both in performance and outside of performance.



At the time of this recording, I don't know if you're familiar with this Damian, but Amazon Prime has this documentary series All or Nothing. And...



Oh yeah.



It currently features Tottenham Hotspur. And, I guess the subtitle of it could just very well be the José Mourinho show. And I guess it chronicles the undertakings within the dressing room and on the training pitch and on the field. And I think what's fascinating about where I'm going to on my next question is about the process of Guided Discovery, because in your book, you talk about what Guided Discovery is and how a coach like Jose Mourinho is able to utilise it to extract the best out of his players and what he can you tell me about your observations with Jose?



Yeah, okay. So I haven't seen the documentary. But I do like the idea that they'll have a narrative of Mourinho and the footage will display that evidence. So I don't know if it'll show the Guided Discovery stuff. But this is a principle that he's had in place since he first became a coach. And the idea of a Guided Discovery is it forces your players to think for themselves. So what he would do is in the coaching session, he will pose a question to his players... about in this session today... what the objective is: we want to learn how to deal with this situation. And it might be something like, how do we take advantage of a weak defender on the right hand side? I'm making this up, but that might be the question. And then all of his coaching is then spent getting his players to answer that question, we'll come up with ideas for how they could do it, and then practice in the execution of that idea. So that when they're out on the field, they're not looking to the coach for validation, they've already solved the problem in training, and he validates them in training, so that then they can think on their own feet and you basically make them smarter through the training process by getting them to think and engage in what they're doing. 


So that's very much what Mourinho does. And it's very much about trying to get them out of autopilot mode of doing the same thing over and over and get them to think very deliberately, about how would you solve a very specific problem. And he describes that whole process that he does as Guided Discovery.



I mean, the process in itself, could very well be applied to a group of software engineers who are trying to solve a search engine optimization problem, for example. And actually putting it to the room to actually solve something rather than it coming from the leader of the pack, so to speak. 



Bingo, yeah, that's exactly it. So there's research on this that's been done with teachers in classrooms. So again, the principle applies, where if you have a teacher that takes almost what they call a didactic style of teaching, where it's, ‘I'll tell you what you need to learn, you just be quiet and be like a sponge and absorb the lessons’. What they've seen, in some cases, Ezra, is that students can remember the information. And if they've got something like an examination coming up, they can retain the information. But if you go about six months later, and test them on their knowledge, it diminishes to about 5%. Whereas teachers that have a more holistic style of culture, that invite questions and children to look at a particular answer and pose questions themselves, and force them to think -- they can still retain the information for an exam. But in some cases, six months later, retention on that topic is still around 75%. So the idea is thinking makes you smarter. Thinking is the ability to retain information and solve the problem, that for a longer period afterwards. So you're right, if a software engineer, someone just comes in and says, do this, followed by this, they'll solve the immediate problem. Yeah, if you say, ‘how are we going to solve this particular challenge’, and you let them work it out themselves, they'll retain that knowledge for a lot longer.



If you were to make the case for sport, in terms of the connecting tissue to how we translate some of these lessons and principles — in the sporting arena to our life — what would you say are some of the key areas of parallel that would enrich us greatly? 



Yeah. And, again, I think is a really good question, because I think what it forces us to do is go back to that point I made a little bit earlier Ezra, that… when we talk about sport, what what we're discussing here in this podcast is not sport, we talk about people that just occasionally work in that industry. So I think when you talk about it in that context, there is quite a lot you can learn. I think, where a lot of people get turned off by sporting metaphors, because they often talk about the technical brilliance, and you're like ‘I don't have that talent’ and you go, ‘well, we're not talking about having the talent to do that; we're just talking about some of the common principles.’ 


So to answer the question of what they are: I think, the ability in sport — in the best sports teams — the ability to take a diverse collection of people and get them to work as a cohesive team. Where does that come from? It's often a really clearly aligned goal, that everybody understands what they're working towards. So there's no ambiguity, because ambiguity creates confusion. And that's where you'll get internal fighting, rather than delivering on great performance. I think the ability to work under pressure is really interesting.

So again, I interviewed a lady recently called Dame Kelly Holmes, she was a... she won two Olympic gold medals in 2004. And the question I asked her was, ‘how much of her ability…. so how much of a success would she attribute to her physical capability? And how much would she attribute it to her mental ability to do it under pressure?’ And her answer was 80% of it came down to the mental ability, 20% of it was down to the physical. And what she meant by that was her point where she said, ‘when I was in the final of the Olympic 800 metres’, she said, ‘the difference in terms of the best times of the top four finishers was point four of a second. So our point was, we could all run pretty much as fast as each other, the difference came down, so who could run fast when it was under pressure.’ And that was where the mental ability to cope with pressure distinguished her from the three runners in the same position. So I think coping skills under pressure is a is a huge factor that we can all take away and learn.



You know, primarily, because having heard the High Performance podcast that features yourself and your colleague, Jake Humphrey, one of the episodes that sort of intrigued me was the episode with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Manchester United manager. And, of course, you being from Manchester, I mean, I'm sort of putting a comfortable bet that perhaps that you might be a United fan.



Oh, very much. Yeah yeah yeah.



Then, this podcast is on safe ground, then?






And, you know, we were speaking about sort of, that mental preparation, and how much of coping with pressure has to do with it. One thing that struck me about that was that there is almost this continuity of discipline and approach in terms of whether he was a substitute on the bench, his approach to recruitment or even his demands of his existing players — did you observe or come to some sort of understanding that he had evolved and developed his methodology or, and what did you manage to capture from that conversation?



Yeah. Well, to give you some context of it: that I've been friends with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for a number of years. So my friendship developed with him when he was a... so when he finished playing, he became the coach of the reserve grade team at Manchester United. So that was where me and him had first met. So I've been in touch with him in the 11 years since then... that's why I've known him over that period. So I think I can answer it. The reason I mentioned that is, I've seen him evolve as a coach in that time. So I definitely think that he's a guy that's invested hugely in coaching to understand it and develop and improve.

So in the interview, I told him this before, and I said, we're going to ask you about your experience at Cardiff City, where it went wrong. Because I think that's important that we can't just talk about the successes we need to understand about the learnings. And he was… and like a lot of high performers. They don't hide away from perceived failures. They don't seek to justify it, they seek to understand it to say, How do I avoid making that mistake again. And one of the things that he said there was he felt that he'd betrayed the person he was, he felt like he was playing and he was playing a part. He was trying to project a certain image that wasn't a true reflection of the person he was. So where that came down to was, he said, He's generally quite a quiet, reflective bloke. And yet, he went to Cardiff and felt the perception of a coach in the Premier League was you need to be loud. You need to be quite larger than life. And he said, and that's not who I was. So I was playing the part that I couldn't sustain. The authenticity of who people thought it was, was lacking. Whereas he said, now he's coming at Manchester United. He said, ‘I'm comfortable just being a quiet leader, I don't need to be the loudest voice in the room. As long as we're coming to the conclusion that I can support, I don't need to be the one that has to be the loudest one’, in that context. So I think that just that one example alone gives you somebody that is hugely reflective of his coaching style. And that, what we're seeing today, like when people say, ‘Oh, this isn't a guy that's coached at the level of Manchester United’ — this is a guy that's been learning his craft for a long, long time. He's not somebody that's been parachuted in by accident.



I think what's fascinating, is also going back to that word that we use before culture: it almost seems that in returning back to an environment or a culture that he has already been steeped in, it allows the individual to be more of himself and therefore excel in his own performance or his own sort of development.



Many years ago, I interviewed two guys called Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain. Now both of these guys for context: they're now the chief exec and the Director of Football at Manchester City. But I interviewed them about their time when they did the same roles at FC Barcelona. And one of the questions I asked them was about their decision to recruit Pep Guardiola as head coach of Barcelona when, like these days, because of his phenomenal success… it's obvious, why wouldn't you appoint him?

But back in 2007, he was a 37 year old, former footballer that had one year coaching and reserve grade team. So it wasn't as obvious that he was going to be successful. And one of the things that they told me in the interview was that they’d taken some wisdom from Warren Buffett. Buffett had obviously spoken about this in relation to his Berkshire Hathaway group.

But when he spoke about the role of a leader in a culture, he said, there should be three lenses through which you assess them. The first one is energy, do they have the energy for the task? Are they passionate, engaged and energetic enough to do the job? The second criteria is intelligence. So can they speak with credibility that when people hear them, they naturally want to listen to them? And know that there's something of substance behind it. But Buffett’s third criteria was integrity. Can you role model the behaviours that you want everyone in the culture to adopt? Now, his point was, if you have a leader that's got energy and intelligence, but doesn't have the integrity piece... have them nowhere near your high performing culture because the very essence of that point is, people don't follow hypocrites. People don't follow somebody that's asking you to do one thing and is demonstrating something different. So that was why when they appointed Guardiola, they knew that they had 24 years of evidence of him as a person that said, he was a team player, he was humble. He was hard working, which are all the virtues of what Barcelona feel that they stand for, as a symbol of Catalonia. And if you think of someone like Solskjaer, I think the integrity of the way that he conducts himself is: he's equally humble, he’s hardworking, he's a guy that puts a team first. This is a guy role modelling these behaviours. So can he speak with intelligence? And can he bring energy to it? Definitely. So I think as long as he's supported in that, you've got somebody there that has got all the foundations to be a success.



That was Damian Hughes for this edition of Project Notes. Once again, check out the main episode. If you haven't already. It's titledSit Down When You Punchfeaturing Damian Hughes. For more details, head over to

Also, if you haven't already, subscribe to us on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts wherever you listen, by searching The Ezra Zaid Project. Hit us back on social media or just say hi for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, our handle is @projectezrazaid. See you in a bit.