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The Magic of Scripted Adversity & the Power of Visualization!

Author : Dilip Saraf
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Lately Ive been getting unusually heavy and more frequent inquiries and requests for doing mock job interviews. These are both from prospects, who have been asked to come down for in-house interviews after they cleared the phone rounds, and from clients who work with me on a retainer. This sudden spikehope that this is a trend, insteadof doing mock interviews probably stems from how job interviews are conducted differently these days at top companies and how candidates need to prepare to ace these interviews. Additionally, I think that, increasingly, candidates in search of jobs are realizing that merely doing stellar work is not enough; they must learn how to showcase their leadership!

A few years back I got a glimpse of what was coming when one of my clients went through many rounds of interviews at Google and was rejected in the final round. I had worked with him on getting his rsum ready as he was transitioning, and using my usual approach we had prepared a story-telling rsum to showcase his leadership accomplishments. Armed with those stories he felt that he was fully prepared for going through the Google rounds and did not see any need to do mock interviews to further prepare for those rounds.

He realized that he was wrong after he came back crestfallen hearing about his rejection.

So, what happened to him in the final round at Google? Since we had worked on his rsum with all his stellar accomplishments he was fully prepared to expound on his rsum stories. But, when the interviewer mentioned to him that with all those great accomplishments throughout his career he surely must have had a few instances of failures. Then she asked him to tell her about his greatest failure. He instantly froze, and after searching his brain for a few seconds, blurted out: Honestly, I do not have any failures to talk about! That was it. The interview was over and he soon heard about his rejection!

So, what happened here?

Was he so perfect that he only succeeded in his endeavors and had never failed? Of course not! He had failed many times, once even ignominiously. But, what betrayed him in his hour of need was his brain, which could not go to to the space where this failure story was scripted and properly stored, with a nice bow tied around it.

He was under the stress and on his mettle for doing a good interview and it was a senior position at Google to boot, so he was even more nervous than usual because he wanted to ace that role badly. Thus, when his brain could not go to that familiar storage repository of I failed here stories organized to quickly recall and narrate them in a confident, familiar way, it defaulted to an untenable response and lost the interview. If, instead, he had practiced on how to tell his failure story in a scripted way to sound that as if he had improvised it on the spot he would have created an outcome that he desired.

This is how scripted adversity comes to help you in your time of need.

There is nothing fake or ersatz about practicing scripted adversity. Even the most elite fighting forces count on this strategy to save them in times when it is a matter of life or death for them. Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and the Marines test their mettle by exposing themselves to highly scripted adversities that train them to deal with life-threatening encounters. The same happens with top race care drivers, who relentlessly practice through adversities specifically staged to toughen their psyche, so that they can cross that checkered flag.

When such exercises are done in practice sessions after practice sessions, the brain is now trained to know where to go when they are confronted with a sudden adversity without having to analyze the threat and then dealing with it. All of that becomes instinctive. That is what our brain is evolved to deal with: In times of grave dangerand stressit must know where to go without having to think and analyze.

So, in my mock interview sessions I take my clients through the process when they are feeling comfortable with their answers and with the flow of the interview to suddenly throw at them a curve-ball question that stops them in their track. I let them struggle through their response as they are now doing this on the fly in a less threatening environment, and then coach them on how to properly script it, so that it comes out better than when it comes out in an unscripted way, making them look bad.

The purpose here is not to spin their story in a way that changes what happened, but by putting some effort to properly structure and script the story can make that narrative much more favorable to showcase how they deal with their failures and how they grow from them. Part of the coaching here, too, is to take full responsibility for their part of that failure and to not do finger pointing. That is the real reason for why interviewers ask those questions.

Of course, I cannot concoct all possible adversities in a mock session one may encounter, but that is not the purpose here. The strategy is to develop a certain degree of comfort around talking through such episodes so that when presented in a discussion their narrative does not vitiate their ends of landing a job after the interview is over.

The other aspect of this practice, too, is the power of visualization. There are many stories of famous people who would visualize in great, vivid details what they were contemplating and using that power to actually realize the outcome they wanted. This helps them build mental models that they can work on to further their goals.

Einstein was famously known to have visualized himself sitting in a couch at the front-end of a light beam and traveling at the speed of light and imagining what it must be to travel that way. This allowed him to build a mental model about how light moves through space to come up with all those breakthrough concepts that revolutionized physics more than a century ago.

The most celebrated Olympic athlete, Michael Phelps, who has won 23 Gold medals (three Silver, and two Bronze for a total of 28) has his own way of visualizing success.

There is a story about Michael Phelps at the final Beijing Olympics for the 200-meter butterfly. As soon as he got going Michael realized that his goggles were leaking and he was not clearly seeing what was in front of him or where he was in relation to those swimming around him. As he moved through his lane towards the black Tthe touch point on each end of the wallhis vision got progressively worse and he could not see anything. Michael kept moving ahead furiously as he knew how many strokes it would take to reach that point and kept on recalling all the visualization he had done during his countless practice sessions. He had scripted and visualized his efforts through that lane even down to the detail of the wake behind him.

Imagining your own success in clear, vivid, colorful ways helps you crystalize your vision of winning as it gets embedded in your subconscious. Once there, it helps you towards your goal by accepting that subconscious reality as your own in ways that are difficult to explain in temporal terms.

The other gift that helped Michael win that race by milliseconds was when Lszl Cseh of Hungary, who was slightly ahead of him until the end in the next lane looked up by tilting his head about 12 degrees to see if he had reached the black T as he saw it within its reach. That slight movement of tilting the head created enough increased turbulence that slowed him down by a few hundred milliseconds. Both these factors helped Michael win that race and to secure his 23rd Gold! Cseh won the Silver in that race.

Such is the power of visualization aided by unexpected luck!

Each of these factors: Scripted Adversity aided by the Power of Visualization help us in creating success for us to achieve what we set out to achieve. Michaels competitor slightly tilting his head in the final second of that race relegating him to the Silver was pure serendipity!

Good luck!

Thanks to Karthik Rajan for posting the Michael Phelps story in his recent blog.

About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.



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