All posts by Editor

Influencer Institute

Influencer Institute: Hey Lone Ranger…It's Time for a Braintrust

Andrew MaxfieldAndrew Maxfield is director of the Influencer Institute, a private operating foundation that seeks to increase humanity’s capacity to change for good.

Influencer Institute

I love to think—quietly and nonstop. My wife says I’m nuts for spending so much time in my head, and of course, she’s probably right. I’m intrigued by stories of individual artists and problem-solvers—the great minds of our era. I like the idea that one brain operating in isolation can do so much.

While this image of the solitary genius seems to be true sometimes, my recent experiences persuade me that even the brightest individuals—and especially average folks like me—benefit from the influence of groups. And very frequently in unexpected ways.

In his management memoir, Creativity, Inc., Pixar founder, Ed Catmull, describes a key group that evolved within his legendary animation studio called the “braintrust.” The braintrust is a team of creative individuals that convene at intervals to review storyboards for movies in production—from the earliest sketches to the final features we enjoy in theaters.

Catmull makes the surprising claim that every Pixar movie was “terrible” at its inception. He explains that the genius of Pixar—the recipe for their many hits—is integrating the genius of the braintrust with the genius of the individual as part of a routine product development process. Invariably the braintrust spots holes in the narrative or contributes ideas to improve the storytelling in ways that no individual could. Importantly, however, the braintrust doesn’t prescribe solutions; choosing a path forward is left to the film’s director. Pixar leverages the group dynamic for diagnostic activities and ideation but stops short of groupthink.

This lesson about the power of groups was reinforced for me during a recent workshop with one of Influencer Institute’s partner organizations. This organization operates one of the largest and most rigorously scrutinized and validated child sponsorship programs in the world. They have helped to release millions of children from poverty over the last sixty years.

On this occasion, our consulting team gathered with their leaders to design strategies to influence their many thousands of sponsors—folks who live in developed countries and who give time and resources to help children in the poorest places on earth. Although our meeting was driven by good research and excellent communication, the real secret to its success was that our partners had invited a large handful of actual sponsors to join the process. Imagine that: co-creating an initiative with the very people who will be served by it.

We had formed our own braintrust, and it paid off before we were even an hour into our meetings. By sharing their experiences and points of view, these sponsors helped unearth obstacles to implementing our partner’s strategy and provided ideas for improving it. Similarly, the diverse team assembled from within the partner organization gave the strategies breadth and depth that no individual could have created.

As a consultant and writer, I’ve seen my own work routinely and immeasurably improved by the insights of team members and colleagues. Used well, groups can be a windfall for creativity, and a bolster for motivation and accountability.

Trainer QA

Measuring the ROI of VitalSmarts Training

David Maxfield 

David Maxfield is coauthor of two bestselling books, Change Anything and Influencer.


This question was first asked on our LinkedIn Training Community. To Join visit us on LinkedIn.

QHow can I measure the ROI of a VitalSmarts training?

AThe challenge with any kind of skills training is that people can learn the skills, but then either fail to use them or use them in areas that don’t produce a return on the organization’s investment. For example, a participant might use the skills to save his/her marriage, jumpstart his/her career, mend a broken relationship at work, or resolve a long-standing customer problem. These are all positive outcomes, but they may or may not produce a return for the organization. This post is designed to show practitioners how to develop measuring and implementation tools that make sure their training results in significant returns.

1. Identify Crucial Moments, Failure Modes, and the Costs of Failing. Conduct an organizational assessment to identify leverage points where improvements lead to bottom-line payoffs. In addition, get a clear picture of what failure looks like in these crucial moments, and what it costs.

Example. We are working with a joint venture between two Fortune 500 firms. Their collaboration has great potential, but they’ve also identified six Crucial Moments when their teams tend to fail. Below are three of these six Crucial Moments.

  • Absence of Move to Action (lack of ownership and follow up). This crucial moment happens when one party believes they have a commitment from the other party to take action, but then they don’t see the action being taken. Sometimes there is ambiguity over who owns the task or has responsibility for executing it. Other times there are disagreements about the priority of the task, the timeline for the task, the resources that will be put toward the task, etc. In summary, people are not seeing the cooperation and responsiveness they expected.
  • Willingness to Increase Shared Pool of Meaning (Trust and Humility). This crucial moment happens when people begin to suspect they are being given a “sugar-coated” version of the truth. Often they believe others are hiding bad news from them, or that others are overly focused on protecting their reputations.  In summary, people are beginning to question whether they are getting the full truth. They want the good, the bad, and the ugly, and they don’t’ think they are getting it.
  • Unwillingness to budge on requirements. This crucial moment happens when the business or the project is unwilling to budge on requirements or timeline when more obstacles or difficulties are encountered than were assumed during initial scope.

In this particular case, the typical Failure Mode is silence followed by violence. People build up grudges for several weeks, often until a key milestone is missed, and then launch a round of blame directed at their business partner.

Measurement. We measure these Crucial Moments along four dimensions: frequency, severity, dialogue, and solvability. We ask participants how often they find themselves in each of these Crucial Moments; how costly the Failure Mode is when it happens; how well participants engage in frank, honest, dialogue during each Crucial Moment; and how quickly and successfully they solve the problem.

Our expectation is that the frequency and severity of the Crucial Moments won’t change. They are a function of working in a tough environment. But we expect dramatic improvements in dialogue and solvability. In other words, problems still happen, but now people solve them quickly and successfully.

2. Train to the Crucial Moments. If you haven’t identified high-leverage Crucial Moments, then participants will select their own targets—based on what they care about most. While their targets may produce excellent returns for the organization, they are usually too varied to accurately measure.

Instead, identify Crucial Moments and then use the applications and contracts in the training to focus on these moments. Make sure participants practice the skills to solve the problems you have identified as highest leverage. Of course, participants will still use the skills to improve their marriages and get their kids to complete their homework, but there will be a much better chance they will also use the skills to create a return for the organization.

Measurement. Build assessment points into the training. We measure participants’ efficacy expectations—their confidence that they can use the skills to solve the problems described in the Crucial Moments. For example, “How confident are you that you can use these skills to solve XXX when it happens?”

3. Employ all Six Sources. Often, training is the final puzzle piece that makes change happen. These are cases where the organization has built alignment around the need for change, and has removed the barriers to change, so that individual skill building is all that’s left to do.

But, other times, training is relied upon as silver-bullet solution to a problem that requires more than individual ability. Make an honest assessment of the non-training barriers that could prevent your training solution from working, then take action to remove these barriers.

Example. We often work with clients who need front-line employees to speak up to their managers, and who need managers to speak up to executives. We use our Influencer approach to help them discover the range of barriers—beyond training—that can prevent the honest dialogue they need. The intervention then addresses all of these barriers, often using the training as the context. For example, we might have the training led by the participants’ manager and focus the applications and contracts on speaking up to him or her.

Measurement. We work with the client to identify potential obstacles in each of the Six Sources of Influence, and then use surveys to track our progress at removing each of these obstacles.

4. Measure Return and Investment. It’s difficult to estimate returns. We focus our measurement on the Crucial Moments, and ask, “If this problem becomes one that is quickly and successfully solved, what would that be worth to your organization?” Often the benefits aren’t purely transactional; they also include benefits to the brand, to reputation, and to opportunity. And this makes them a bit subjective.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Get the best estimate of dollar returns that you can. Involve multiple stakeholders and combine their estimates.
Investments are somewhat easier to measure. We usually include the costs of the training, of the time spent by trainers and participants, and any travel included. When a Six Source approach is used, then we add in the costs of the various non-training solutions.

Influencer QA

Celebrating our Newest Bestseller

Thank you to all our readers and fans who have helped us launch our new book Change Anything to bestseller status. The book has been an immediate hit on all the major bestseller lists and we couldn’t be more ecstatic. See for yourself:

#3 New York Times (Hardcover Business)
May 1, 2011

#3 New York Times (Advice, How-to)
April 20, 2011

#1 Wall Street Journal (Business)
April 23, 2011

#1 USA Today Money

April 10, 2011

April 11, 2011

#7 Publishers Weekly (Hardcover, Non-fiction)
April 21, 2011

Influencer QA

Change Challenger Terri has lost 21 of 50 pounds

Terri Moore

Change Challenger Terri is on her way to losing 50 pounds.

Change Anything
My change goal: Lose 50 pounds by Jan 1, 2012.
Progress: As of April 25, I have lost a total of 21 pounds.

My crucial moments:

  • Moments of stress when I’m tempted to resort to my old, unhealthy eating habits
  • Moments when I’ve allowed myself to get to the state of ‘starving’ and as a result, I make poor food choices

My vital behaviors:

  • Connect with one of my coaches for support. If a coach isn’t available, I give myself a pep talk incorporating my Default Future.
  • Consume 1800 calories per day and drink 64oz or more per day.
  • Prepare healthy meals and snacks for home and work.
  • Exercise 30 minutes, 5-6 days per week.

I attribute my success to a total life change and the six-source plan I’ve created to adopt these vital behaviors. I remind myself that I did not put this weight on overnight so I cannot expect to wake up one morning and it all be gone. If you want to be successful with any change initiative, be prepared to put some time into the change. However, once you’ve incorporated the change plan into your everyday life, the change feels effortless.

Love what you hate: I participate in activities I enjoy so working out is not a burden. In fact, I actually hate it if I have to miss a work out. I’ve learned I’m pretty competitive with myself on this life changing journey.

Turn Accomplices into Friends: I’ve recruited my manager to be my change partner. We have mapped this change to my performance plan for 2011 and she checks in each week on my progress. I have made my weight chart available to her so she can challenge me if she doesn’t notice progress.

I believe my food choices are solid. I stay within the allotted 1800 caloric intake daily. I’ve gradually increased the number of reps I do during strength training. I also plan ahead which removes the possibility of excuses. Here’s an example, I’m taking a class on Thursday night for the next 7 weeks. I normally swim on this night. Since I’m unable to swim, I’m joining the Yoga class my company sponsors each Thursday. I have shared this change with my coaches and team members in my office to keep me accountable. There is power when you open your mouth and tell others what you are doing. I truly enjoy the support I receive from friends and family.

Control your Space: I am also using and it’s very helpful to see the Predicator Meter chart my progress. I get a thrill out of seeing the needle move closer to the ‘very likely’ section.

How I’ve turned bad days into good data: I do not have to travel too much for work; however, it’s a challenge to stick with your diet when your meal is chosen for you at a work event. In that case, I don’t beat myself up. I say this is a one-time event, it’s okay if I have to modify my meal for the day.

Influencer QA

Q&A with a Change Challenger: Pam's goal to get promoted


Change Challenger Pam shares her change plan to get a promotion in 6 months.

Change Anything

What is your change goal?

To receive a promotion within 6 months

What are your crucial moments?

  • When new, stretch assignment becomes available
  • When discussing business accomplishments
  • When beginning assigned lead on project

What are your vital behaviors?

  • Willingly take on stretch assignments and identify what competencies will be enhanced.
  • Confidently share the path I’ve taken to achieve accomplishments with my managers.
  • Willingly take on projects with clear understanding of objectives and deadlines. Ask questions when uncertain and don’t procrastinate

What adjustments are you making to your change plan in the past few weeks to ensure you achieve your goal?

  • I’m making the actions steps I’ve outlined in my plan realistic and achievable.
  • I’m scheduling time each week to review my plan and complete the action steps.
  • Realizing that the time I devote to my plan doesn’t need to be hours – even 15 minutes twice a week can make a difference.
  • I decided I will reward myself with iPad if I achieve my goal.

What insights have you had as you’ve encountered challenges and how have you turned bad days into good data?

  • The Change Anything website has been an invaluable resource.
  • The messaging, journaling, and action plan tutorials make the website very easy to use.
  • Coaches have provided an extra cheer—like running a 5K.
  • I’ve viewed setbacks in my plan as an opportunity to revise and improve rather than as defeat.
  • I’ve realized a journey is rarely a straight path!
Influencer QA

Q&A with a Change Challenger: Carol Ann's goal to help her son

Carol Ann

Change Challenger Carol Ann shares her change plan to improve her relationship with her son as he manages a chronic illness.

Change Anything

What is your change goal?

Facilitating a young adult’s transition to self managed care of a chronic medical condition. Specifically, by 5/1/11, our son will be engaged in a ongoing healthcare with an appropriate provider and he will be accountable for a daily care plan. We will be able to dialogue about his health without defensiveness.

What are your crucial moments?

  • When I see him making poor choices about his self care.
  • When I want to know if he has been monitoring his health.
  • When I disagree with an approach to care he is using.
  • When he asks for my help, that I only help and not probe more.

What are your vital behaviors?

  • Don’t tell myself stories about what happens on a day-to-day basis when I am not there.
  • Always lead my discussions from the heart.
  • Realize that he has emotions about this subject too.
  • Support his progress and help in any way requested—do not overstep those boundaries.
  • Realize he is an adult and ultimately he is responsible.
  • Look for support of transferable skills.
  • Find his carrots in this process and help him build towards his stated rewards.
  • Bite my tongue if I feel discussions getting defensive.
  • Recognize this can be a huge win-win; only go to the mat for the really big stuff.

To what do you attribute your early success?

Focusing on this goal from a more objective and project management like process has allowed me to admit the amount of emotion I have had in my interactions with my son in the past. I have taken a background support role and we have reframed our interactions and discussions. As a result, we have worked together to identify and set goals.

What adjustments are you making to your change plan in the past few weeks to ensure you achieve your goal?

I’ve been doing quite a bit of disease specific research so that I am able to discuss options and articulate current treatment/equipment options.

What is some of the progress you have experienced?

Our son came home last week. In planning for his arrival, I wanted to help him prepare for his upcoming physician’s appointment. I also wanted to have a crucial conversation with him about my intentions and desire to redefine our relationship and my role in managing his illness.

His visit went very well. We dialogued well and I was able to sense when I was being too pushy. If I started to get pushback from him, I refocused and reestablished safety. I did not check everything off the list of things I wanted to discuss with him but I am okay with that. There were a couple of times I even refrained from commenting on things and just kept my mouth shut—figuring it’s better to bite my tongue than regret my words.

We prepared for his physician’s visit which will happen this Thursday. I am not going with him to the appointment (which is admittedly, REALLY hard for me) and that is something we didn’t even discuss because he needs to do this himself and I am very supportive of that. His request was to meet for lunch afterwards and I am already working on myself so that I don’t discuss his appointment without asking permission and even accepting the fact that he may not want to discuss the appointment with me at all. We have lots of time to explore these new ground rules in this “new relationship” and I am committed to taking the time we need to do it right.

Personally, I’m spending some pretty intense time coming to terms with my feelings of failure as a Mom. Not only am I his mother, I’m also an RN and that makes me feel even more guilty that I was not able to figure out how to have impacted his health sooner. While we’re not facing a life-threatening illness, I worry about how our delayed management could affect his long-term health. I’m smart enough to realize that personality, frontal lobe development, and his own needs to come to terms with his illness have all played a big part the struggles he has faced in the past. My head is screwed on pretty straight about the reality of the situation and yet, my heart is still struggling—that too is a process and journey I am willing to take. David Maxfield has recommended the book Motivational Interviewing. I’m stopping at the bookstore on my way home this evening. Thanks David!

Change Anything QA

Win a Copy of Change Anything

We’re only three weeks away from launching our newest book, Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, and we want to give you the chance to win the complete VitalSmarts series of books including signed copies of Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer. We’ll also throw in a $20 Amazon gift card (Total prize valued at $100).

Mandatory Entry:
Pre-order Change Anything and forward your receipt to with “Change Anything Giveaway” in the subject line before Wednesday, March 30 at 11:59p.m. MT. (Note: If you already purchased Change Anything, you can also enter by forwarding your receipt.)

Extra Entries: (send a separate e-mail for each entry)

  • Subscribe to Crucial Skills via RSS or e-mail using the links on the sidebar, then e-mail us and let us know you subscribed.
  • Use the buttons below to share on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or your favorite social networking Web site, then e-mail us a link to the individual tweet or update. (Note: You can do this once a day until the giveaway ends.).


  • You must pre-order Change Anything (the mandatory entry) before your extra entries will be accepted.
  • Send an individual e-mail using “Change Anything Giveaway” as the subject for each entry, and include your name and address, as well as the information required for each entry (see above).
  • This giveaway will end on March 30 at 11:59p.m. MT. One winner will be chosen using and then e-mailed directly. The winner will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. Please note that this giveaway is open to residents of the United States and Canada only.

About Change Anything:
So often, we want to make big changes but lack the resolve to see them through. We can’t seem to summon the necessary willpower to take on huge challenges like saving for retirement, earning a promotion, quitting smoking, increasing productivity, or losing weight. But it turns out, willpower has little to do with whether or not people succeed at changing bad behavior.

In their new book, Change Anything, the New York Times bestselling authors of Crucial Conversations and Influencer, show us that we have a lot less control over our behavior than we think we do. However, we can affect the influences that govern our behavior and that puts the power to change back in our control. With a clearer understanding of the science behind personal change, we can become ten times more successful at changing anything.