Cool Thing #32: How Do You Instantly Make Someone a Better Performer?

Jim Koch, Founder of Boston Beer, famous for its Samuel Adams brand, wrote in his book Quench Your Own Thirst that he’d given a brewmaster named Andy
Bernadette a $15 million budget to develop a new brewery. Then, circumstances changed. He withdrew that project, saying,

“Andy, forget the $15 million brewery. You have $200,000 and three months. Let’s figure out what brewery we can build with that.”

You can imagine the disappointment. But as Jim and Andy kicked around ideas, Jim slipped in this little zinger of a comment:

“Figure out a way.
Andy, I’ve seen you do some amazing things.
Can you do one more?”
Do you see the genius here?


When I interviewed Koch I asked him about that interaction. He said, “I have more confidence in people than they have in themselves. I have to bring them
up to what I see.”

A pivotal piece of management advice in recent decades was Ken Blanchard’s “Catch someone doing something right.” His big insight was to switch from
negative to positive reinforcement. Nice.
However, over the years, I’ve come to see that there’s a more powerful possibility:

Better than catching someone doing something right is
catching a glimpse of a person’s highest potential,
and then showing him or her that higher self.

I think of it as “the aspirational compliment,”

Which is not just positive reinforcement;

it’s “positive recalibration”

Encouraging employees to raise their own expectations for themselves.


Jim Koch gave us an example of that with his conversation with his brewmaster. He took a disappointment and turned it into an aspirational compliment.
Here’s the genius:


The “ask” changed from
“Can you forget your fabulous plans and do something quick and cheap?”

“Can you be amazing again?”

What great employee doesn’t yearn to be amazing and be recognized for it. The biggest challenge, presented properly, is the biggest compliment, an
aspirational one.

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