Monday, February 18, 2002

A theory of high performance

Theory suggests that those who succeed have 'resonance' trait

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Doug Newburg's research into athletics and professionals suggests that no matter the craft, high-octane performers have much in common. Most have a dream and are well-prepared to move toward it along a goal path. Obstacles only lead the committed to revisit those dreams.

        Former Olympic gold medal swimmer Jeff Rouse and Dr. Newburg, director of performance education and Dr. Curt Tribble, heart surgeon, both at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, present a free public seminar on “The Successful Self” at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 in the Heritage Room at Shriver Center at Miami University, Oxford. For information 513-529-2706.

Doug Newburg, Ph.D., 41. Director of Performance Education at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, a former college basketball player at the University of Virginia and adviser to businesses and educators.

CDs in car changer: The Pretender by Jackson Browne, Live in San Diego by Sade; Dizzy Up the Girl by the Goo Goo Dolls; (What's the Story) Morning Glory by Oasis; Greatest Hits by Sly and the Family Stone; Break the Cycle by Stained.

Books on the nightstand: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones by Quincy Jones; The Witch Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge; It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong; Sting: Demolition Man by Christopher Sandford. Magazines: Esquire; ESPN Magazine

        Dr. Newburg, who has interviewed top-notch performers including musicians, surgeons, pilots, entertainers and athletes, calls their shared performance trait “resonance,” a sustained energy not necessarily linked to results. Dr. Newburg spoke with Enquirer business reporter John Eckberg:

        Question: What is resonance and how did the concept come about?

        Answer: My favorite quote is from Hans-Georg Gadamer: Relaxation is not the lack of effort but the absence of tension. That's the difference between high-level performers and the rest of us. High-level performers understand that. It's why Michael Jordan can make the last second shot. Most people who are good at hoops are good because it's the thing they love most in their life. That's how I was.

        I remember we were playing Duke (he was a benchwarmer on the University of Virginia basketball team). It was my senior year and I was the guy that everyone cheered for to get in the game at the end of the game. So against Duke, we were up by 20 with about 10 minutes to go.

        A woman was sitting behind us and I heard her say to her husband let's start cheering to get Newburg in the game. I looked at her and her husband looked at the scoreboard and said, no, we don't have a big enough lead yet. So finally I got in and we won anyway.

        The next day in the Washington Post, the very first line was: “You knew victory was at hand when Virginia coach Terry Holland put in his human victory cigar, Doug Newburg.”

        Two years later I ran into the guy who wrote the article, John Feinstein,and he came running over to me and said he had just spent a year at Indiana University with the guys who sat at the end of the bench and that he didn't realize they had the same dream as the guys who actually played. ..

        I never thought about it like that, that I had the dream. But it got me thinking about why we didn't win more championships. I was selling software and hated it so I went back to school to get a degree in sports psychology. I wanted to understand how to get people to perform better. It was my vet who suggested I find five people who lived the way I wanted to live and look at what they do and are they happy. I started with Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Rouse, a gold medalist in the 1996 Olympics, and Kurt Tribble, a heart surgeon and they referred me to other people and the next thing I knew, my life became about interviewing successful and happy people.

        What I found in talking to all these people was that performance is the creation and expression of ideas. The problem is we start out doing things because we create our own ideas and as we get better, we abandon those ideas for what we can get from the performance. Then we get serious and put pressure on ourselves.

        The essence of resonance is what is the thing you do in life to live the quote of Gadamer. All these performers told me that the more engaged they were, the more they enjoyed it and the better they performed.

        Q: It seems to me that many high-powered and high-net worth people share this: they don't care about winning as much as they simply hate to lose?

        A: I think it's both. If all you do is focus on how you hate to lose, you become fairly reactionary. We have a huge vocabulary for hating to lose, we call it obstacles and negativity, pressure and stress but we don't have same rich vocabulary for positive side.

        It's not about winning. It's about playing to win.

        Dawn Staley, two-time national player of the year in college hoops, a point guard on the last two Olympic gold medal teams and head coach at Temple, told me that winning the gold medal was the goal but what she loved and the reason she did what she did was for the competition.

        She said winning was nice but that she did it for the experience of the competition. It's playing to win every day. It's loving competing.

        Q: When does desire become unhealthy, that is, when should a person realize that his dreams are not realistic, that his rock band won't be the Beatles?

        A: These people never looked at it that way. What they do and what I teach is first of all, understand yourself. Most people can tell you what they don't want in life. But they can't tell you what they want in life because they don't know.

        When I work with people, I tell them to pay attention and take notes about what they do and do it for two weeks straight. No judgments. Just take notes. Almost every day everybody has an experience that engages them, if only for a minute. They think it happens by accident. The bad stuff can be as momentary, yet it totally derails some people.

        If people spent the energy on going after what they want, as opposed to the energy spent avoiding what they don't want, people would be a lot more successful.

        Q: But these high-performers are resilient. Bruce Hornsby probably started off at a crummy little bar someplace, strumming a guitar with nobody listening, peanut shells on the floor.

        A: And in a blue tuxedo. The reason I know Hornsby was that I played basketball in high school with his drummer, John Molo, who is now the drummer with Phil Lesh. Molo said it best. He said I know I get paid to ride the bus and be away from my family and get dehydrated. But he never confuses what he does for free with what he gets paid to do.

        He says he plays the drums for free. He says he gets paid for the other crap, the bus rides, being away from his family.

        Q: Plays with Phil Lesh? Chillin' with Bob Dylan ...

        A: Yeah, actually, I was on stage with Bob Dylan about a year and a half ago. It was pretty amazing. What was so funny about it, I was sitting there on the side of the stage. It's about 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity and Dylan is dressed in full leather. And he's not sweating at all and Molo says, yeah, he's basically a wizard.

        I've been on stage with Bonnie Raitt, the guys left over from the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers. It's not what people think it is. It's fairly miserable. It's the same thing with athletes. I'd visit Ralph Sampson when he was playing for the Houston Rockets, and he's in a hotel room wide awake at 2 a.m. Or how about the surgeon who works 120 hours a week.

        It really speaks to your hate to lose thing, and I totally agree with you on that. The people who make it hate to lose. ... The people who don't make it are afraid of losing. Successful people understand bad things can happen but they also understand that it's not going to prevent them from doing what they want to do. They don't worry about that stuff.

        They prepare to feel the sense of profound esthetic happiness and they perform better.

        Q: Can sports function as development tool?

        A: Anything can, really. Bruce Hornsby told me that the real competition is the competition between your vision and your skills - not between you and other people. Do you enjoy the act of improving your skills toward your vision? ...

        What I would argue the vision most people about success is just wrong. Think about goals we go after: good grades, good college, good job, get job for car, get married, get a mortgage and have kids. A lot of people have done those things and have no idea what is next, other than to get more money.

        Success is not a destination but it's an experience. I hate when people say it's a journey. It's an experience. It's not a thing to achieve yet that is how so many people view it.

        The people I've interviewed are the best in the world at what they do. Yet they've never thought in any serious way about winning a gold medal, winning a Grammy award, becoming chief executive officer. What happened was they loved doing something in the early stages of their career. It fascinated them. The more they did it, the better they got and the more energy they gained from doing it.

        Q: Do athletes make better employees because they inherently understand concepts like discipline, gratification, teamwork and competition?

        A: No, not at all. It's not true. People want to believe that sports is good for you. I've been around enough really successful athletes and coaches. I did a workshop for the Olympic coaches before the 2000 Olympics and what I hear all the time is that organized anything has the potential to become about the system prospering at the expense of the people.

        I don't see any more value being an athlete than being a musician or being a student. If you are true to the calling, that's what's important. My full-time job is to look for new residents at the hospital, we don't look for the skills people bring, tests and grades, we look for people who have a low buzz of energy.

        No matter what happens to that person, they do not lose sight of how important that low buzz of energy is. They don't have low lows the way most people have. The phrase that sums it up is this: it's easier to take someone who is and teach them to know than to take someone who knows and teach them to be.

        In most corporations I've worked with, they won't make time or promote or reward people for playing to win. They impose what they've been taught all their life on people below them. They want different results but don't let anybody do anything different.

        When I sold software, my manager was saying you've got to make 30 calls a day and do this and do that. I started watching the guys who never worried about quotas but always met their quota, well, they weren't doing any of that stuff.

        They worked half as hard as I did. What they did was love the relationship they had with their customers. They'd call and talk to them and go see them. The more they did that, when it came down to buying a software product, the customer bought from the guy they liked. No one ever told me that.

        I've done work for the FBI, in medicine and in business, education and sport. I've been on an aircraft carrier talking to pilots.

        What I've found is that the people who are the best, they figure out what's really important and focus on that. The rest of us are so worried about something going wrong, trying to prevent bad things from happening, and in doing that, we are taking our energy away from making the right thing happen.


- A theory of high performance
Surviving the current work force
The Success Coach
Morning memo
Making it