High Performance Leadership with Dr Erik Korem

Dr. Erik Korem was the first sport scientist in the U.S. and has led the way in which sports and science has improved performance. Having coached Gold Medal Olympians and NFL superstars,  he is now the Founder and the CEO of AIM7. You can learn the hacks of high performance including:

  • The relationship of sports performance to business performance
  • What high performance is and how to achieve it
  • High performance is available for everyone not just elite sports people
  • How short term stress can be a good thing!

Transcript:Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: The use of sports phrases in business is nothing new. Whether you have a “game plan” or you’re “pitching” to a client, or you may “drop the ball”, sports lingo pops up every day and more useful than these simple idioms has been the motivational wisdom shared by great sports coaches over the years. Just scan YouTube for motivational speeches, and there’s a mixture of sports stars and business leaders, all sharing their advice using sports language. “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary,” which was a great quote by Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi was first truly great sports coach to be thought of in a leadership sense in this way. The hugely successful Green Bay Packers sports coach of the 1960s American football team, revolutionized what it was like to be a coach of a sports team. He was capable of gems, such as. “Individual commitment to a group effort is what makes it teamwork, a company work, a society work, but also a civilization work,” and “leaders aren’t born, they are made and they’re made just like anything else through hard work and determination.” It was very much about the greater good of a team. It was almost a form of sports socialism. And without that, he felt that you just had a group of people doing their own thing. The challenge of business and sport to get a team working together smoothly, often needs a whole range of skills. Skip forward to Premier League soccer or football, depending on where you’re listening to this from. Alex Ferguson, or now Sir Alex Ferguson had over 38 years in management and he was a working-class Scotsman who won an astonishing 49 trophies who helped grow the Manchester United team to become one of the world’s biggest brands. And interestingly, he often credits the work because of the shipyards in Glasgow where he grew up, as the inspiration for the foundations of teamwork that he strives for. So, in researching this subject, I pulled the top five threads that came to the fore from the various sports coaches and leaders.

Number one, teamwork, communication and self-discipline are the cornerstones of team success. Number two, perfection never happens. Be obsessed with improving instead. Number three, failure usually comes before success, so reframe it. So, you only win or you only learn. Number four, accept what you cannot control and focus on what you can affect. And number five, teams need diversity. Encourage diverse personalities. Everyone has a different skill and a different role to play.

And I guess the final word goes to John Calipari, the incredible University Basketball coach in the United States, and he states, “Leadership is about serving everyone under you and asking yourself, how do I give everybody the tools that they need for them to succeed and for them to proceed?” It’s a great lesson to take into business, and there are plenty of others. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have any insights, information or stories, please get in touch with us.

Start of Podcast 

Steve Rush: Joining me on show today is a groundbreaking special guest. He’s a high-performance expert. Dr. Erik Korem is the founder and CEO of AIM7. He was the first sports scientist in the United States and has worked with the NFL, and numerous Olympians along the way. He’s now also the host of The BluePrint Podcast. Erik, my friend, welcome to the show.

Dr. Erik Korem: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Steve Rush: So, you have a really interesting story that got you hooked into fitness, wellbeing and the studying the science behind it. And I just wondered if you might be able to share that story with our guests.

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah, absolutely. So, I grew up in Dallas, Texas, and I was an overweight kid and I was frequently picked on and something I really struggled with as a child and it got me thinking a lot and really kind of obsessed with like, how can I improve my body? There are some, you know, certain genetic factors I was fighting. I was kind of a top-heavy kid. And I was just really interested in like, how can I get better? And really the story goes, I was watching late night, one night, I was probably like 10 o’clock with my dad. There was this group of gentlemen on TV. They were called the power team. You ever seen these people on TV that like Bend bars in their mouths and they break bats and stuff.

Steve Rush: Strongest men competition.

Dr. Erik Korem: Exactly, and one of the gentlemen got up and he starts telling this story and he said, you know, when I was a kid, I was overweight and slow. And he said, I was always the last one to finish whatever we had a race or fitness test. And he said, one day I decided that I was never going to be last again. And that was like my story to the T. And I looked at my dad and I said, I’m never going to be last again. And I wasn’t, and not that it was easy, but I started. By the time I was like, I don’t know, six or seven grade, I was getting my dad to take me to bookstores. And I was just reading books on how to get faster. It wasn’t so much like how to lose weight. It was like, how can I be faster? How can I improve my athletic performance? Because I played baseball. I played a bunch of different sports and as my body started to grow and mature, I started to become a pretty decent athlete, but I was hooked. I was always looking for a way to improve myself.

Steve Rush: It’s a really interesting, bit of psychology. I want to unpack that with you, if you don’t mind. So many youngsters at that time would have literally just gone out and started jogging or running, joined a club, would have maybe started losing weight. Yet you took to the discipline of studying what was going on first. Did you notice that was something that was a conscious act for you at the time?

Dr. Erik Korem: Well, my dad is an investigative journalist. And so, I guess the thing that he always instilled in us is like to seek the truth. It’s like you have to do research. I don’t think it was conscious at the time, but I figured, well, there’s got to be some books on this. And ironically, I went to Barnes & Noble bookstore and I found this book called Sports Speed. And it was written by Dr. Bob Ward who was the first, I mean, he was a strength conditioning coach in the NFL, which did not really exist. Tom Landry, the Dallas Cowboys hired him. And they were doing all sorts of amazing scientific things with the athletes. This is back in like the seventies and I sort of reading this and it was actually a really good text to read for anybody. And so, I started actually doing things that were really good for me. I kind of got lucky that I didn’t read some crazy, you know, muscle fitness magazine, because that didn’t appeal to me. It was more like, how can I do something that’s really going to transfer into something that I love, which was playing sports. So, I was always seeking and I was hungry and thirsty for knowledge. And that I guess luster or thirst for knowledge never really left me.

Steve Rush: What was a moment that you noticed that your studies versus your application of that study into your fitness and wellbeing. What was that kind of key, pivotal moment that you’d noticed it was definitely making a difference for you?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah. I think it was high school. I wanted to get faster. So, I was like every day after everybody was done working out, I would go out to the track and I would do track and field drills, which is so ironic because I never knew that I would end up working in professional track and field, but I was doing rudiment drills, different plyometric exercises. And then when that off season ended, and then we started going to the summer program, I just noticed I was moving so much better on the field. And I noticed my mobility was better and my athleticism was improving. And that was kind of like, okay, things are starting to translate. I also think, you know, puberty was in full effect and so it’s easier to adapt during that time, but that’s really, I think when it first started clicking that, Hey, what I’m doing is really impacting my performance

Steve Rush: And over this has become a real passion for you. And I know that you’ve dedicated your life and your work to this as a career. And we’re going to about how that’s pivoted in the moment to the world of AIM7, which is the film that you now lead. But before that, perhaps we could just think about what was it then that caused you to focus this as a career and help others along the way?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah. So, I went to Texas A&M University, which is a big school here in the states and I was playing football and I was actually a biomedical science major because I thought I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. And there was a physiology lab attached to our training facility. And I would see people wearing these masks and they were doing like gas exchange tests and all sorts of things. And I went to our head strength, conditioning coach, and I said, Hey, what is going on here? And he said, you know, there’s a real science to this. It’s not just lifting weights. And I was like, yeah, I kind of know that. And he goes, I mean, there’s like a real deep science. And so, I ended up changing my major and I absolutely got hooked. When I finished playing football, I went to The University of Arkansas and studied physiology and exercise science. And I was working as a graduate assistant in the weight room. I think over those two years, I think I read thousands of texts and just whatever I could get my hands on. Now I had like, you know, libraries of information. And then I actually had human beings that I could work with and test things on. And it just clicked and I absolutely loved it. And there was nothing like coming up with an idea for a specific sport, deconstructing the sport, applying it and seeing what happened. And then when the athletes had success, you know, it was just so rewarding.

Steve Rush: You then started working with the NFL, a number of different Olympians and help them with the whole notion of tracking their intake as well as their outputs. Tell us a bit about that journey?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah. So, when I was actually at the University of Arkansas, one day, I was in the weight room and this coach walked in and he’s like, Hey, would you be interested in training these athletes? And these were world-class sprinters. One of them was Veronica Campbell Brown, and she’s an eight-time Olympic medalist, three-time Olympic gold medalist, one of two women in the history of the Olympics to ever win the 200-meter gold twice back-to-back. And I was fortunate to go travel the world with her and see how the rest of the world was trading athletes. And that just really opened my eyes because in the states at the time, you know, we have a problem here in the United States. We have way too many good athletes. And so, when you have an abundant resource, it’s not like you’re looking for the absolute best way to train and develop them because you got so many of them, and so countries like Australia and in the UK later on, really ramped it up and we’re investing money, government money into developing athletes.

And so, I went to Australia and I spent a month with an Aussie rules football team. This is back in 2011 because I wanted to learn about the emerging world of sports science and high performance. And I came back and I was working at one of the top football programs in America at the time, Florida State. And I went to our head football coach and said, Hey, I think there’s something we can apply. It’s called athlete tracking technology. And what it is, it’s like a little tracking device that are connected GPS satellites, and that accelerometers and gyroscopes, and they can connect to heart rate. Essentially you can quantify what’s happening on the field. So, imagine like you drove your car, your entire life with no dashboard and no GPS. You don’t know how far you went, the stress on the engine, if your oil is low.

Well, now we could quantify the game of football and it allowed us to train our athletes more specific to the demands of the game. And then we were able to change some of the ways that we practice to reduce injuries. From the 2011 season to the 2012 season. We had almost a 90% reduction in injury.

Steve Rush: That’s amazing.

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah, and our team went on to win a championship. Well, the media started picking up and the NFL flew in and they’re like, Hey, what are you guys doing here? Like what is happening? Like what is this tracking technology? And it really just blew up and expanded to almost every major college program in the country uses it. Now the NFL has adopted a version of it. It’s led to things like Next Gen Stats. And so, my career changed, I went from being just a strength coach to more of a sports scientist and then something called a high-performance coordinator where I would look at the big picture of what was going on, the physical, the psychological, the technical, and the tactical components of sport and bring them together to help us win. But this came from looking at things from a system-wide view instead of just looking at one particular part.

Steve Rush: It was absolutely groundbreaking, wasn’t it, that time? It really changed the way that sports interacted with science too.

Dr. Erik Korem: Yes, it did. And it just makes sense. If you look at any other industry, people are looking for advantages. They want to understand everything to the greatest resolution that they can. And in sport, it just hadn’t quite been done yet because it’s kind of an old school mentality of, well, we won at this point in time, but we were doing this. So, we’re just going to repeat that, well, that’s not very wise. And we start applying some scientific methodology to things, you can ask really good questions, and then you can see if your hypothesis is correct or not. And it allows you to innovate at a faster speed.

Steve Rush: Amazing stuff, and delighted that we have the opportunity for you to share that here too. So, a massive congratulations, but also, I guess the learning and the lessons that you’ve taken from your sports and scientific career has led you to lead and found AIM7, right now. Tell us a little bit about work you’re doing with them?

Dr. Erik Korem: Thank you. Yeah, so when we first started using athlete tracking technologies, we had a ton of data and no idea what to do with it. I literally hired a former NASA propulsion engineer because we had so much information and I’ll never forget this. After our first practice, we had these tracking devices on the athletes. I went into the head football coach. I was like, Hey, here’s the report? And it was just a sheet of numbers essentially. And he looked at it, he goes well, was practice hard? And I looked at him. I was like, I think so. And he got really upset and I went back to my office and I’m sitting there. I’m like, what did I do wrong? And I realized that I’d given him a bunch of data, that he had no idea how to use. And so that’s when it really hit me, that data without insight is useless.

And so fast forward, about eight, nine years, I started looking at the wearable technology, the consumer market and like, okay, we got all these Fitbits and Apple Watches. I wonder if the same thing exists, you got all this data, but people don’t know what to do with like, okay, so what I walked 10,000 steps or slept seven hours. So, I started doing research and I found that the number one complaint was people literally said their data was useless. And so, without insight to change behavior, their Fitbit or Apple Watch or whatever would just end up on the sock drawer. So, I went and tested it like a scientist. I called up a buddy of mine and we’re like, okay, let’s see if we can link tech data from an apple watch to health outcomes. And ironically, we asked people, what is it that you really want from your data?

And they said, we want more energy, makes a lot of sense. Look at coffee and people buying Starbucks, billion-dollar industries, right. For energy. And not only were we able to predict people’s energy, we could predict their energy and mood states multiple days in advance. So, what we’ve built is a company called AIM7 and we take data from this wearable technology and we pair it with the best in the world in the fields of high performance. And we create very simple solutions for you using your data to improve things like your energy, sleep, stress and weight loss. So, we take this data, we pair it with, you know, amazing information using something called a Decision Intelligence Infrastructure, and we can deliver custom health wellbeing programs at scale to millions of people.

Steve Rush: It’s an incredibly exciting venture.

Dr. Erik Korem: That you.

Steve Rush: And one, if you think about your game-changing background, I think genuinely this could be really game changing for everybody else to tap into their own high-performance. And from the last time you and I met, I remember you describing almost like a weather forecast, but for you and your fitness, your wellbeing and your mood.

Dr. Erik Korem: Exactly.

Steve Rush: You can always fast forward couldn’t you and say, well, you know, next Thursday, I’m due to be having really low mood because of what I know, therefore I might decide to work from home on that day and maybe go to the gym or take some interventions that will help me improve my mood in a safe environment, right?

Dr. Erik Korem: 100%. So, we’re starting people on their journey with 16-week programs, because what I’ve found is, people like to be coached. So, we’re going to teach them all the mechanisms that they need to know and understand to help them be more robust and adaptable. And then at the end of that journey, we become like their personal coach forever. So, you’d come into our system every day on the app, fill out what we call a calibration for like 15 seconds. And then it would be like, Steve, based off of all the things in your lifestyle that you like to do, this is where we see you right now. Here’s the best actions you could take today so that you continue to feel and perform at your best because our target audience is people that care about their health and wellbeing, but they’re time poor. You don’t have tons of time to spend on this. And so, they want a simple solution that’s targeted for them,

Steve Rush: I guess it’s time, but it’s also Know-how poor, isn’t it?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yes.

Steve Rush: I’m sitting at my desk thinking, Gosh, I feel really quite tired, yeah. I’ll get another coffee, which actually is just going to mask the underlying cause to what’s really making me feel a little bit down. Having some data and some tactics available as could physically lift me without any other false intervention.

Dr. Erik Korem: I love that. Yeah. You pulled that one out. That’s a great.

Steve Rush: If you think about the world of business that we’re in, then, you know, I can improve my inter-day performance just by being more aware.

Dr. Erik Korem: 100%.

Steve Rush: I’d love it.

Dr. Erik Korem: If you can get 10%, 15% more out of yourself without draining the tank all the time. I mean, it’s a game changer for people.

Steve Rush: So, let’s get into the notion of high-performance because it’s banded around a lot. We hear it in sports, you hear it in business, but how would you describe what high performance is?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah. So, in sport, I had this definition that I always use, when I would talk to people, I would say our goal is to develop the most resilient and adaptable athletes that can consistently obtain their performance potential. So, in any endeavor, let’s just take athletics to start with. The athlete that can train the most and harness their skill and practice or skill and refine it the most under pressure has the best chance of winning. And to do that, you have to train a lot, but you can get over-trained and burned out rather quickly. And so, the key thing is the ability to be adaptable. And if you translate this to high performance in any industry, it’s your ability to adapt, to achieve your potential. And the only way you can do that is you have to lean into stress. And so, stress, you know, we need to kind of reframe our mindset around stress. The last year has been really stressful for everybody in the world, but stress isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually the required thing to change your brain, to learn a new skill, to change physically. The key is you have to use that stress and then you have to be able to adapt to it, to improve. And so that’s what high performance to me is, is the ability to adapt rapidly so that you can achieve your potential.

Steve Rush: And it’s an interesting notion too, isn’t it? The whole philosophy of you got to lean into stress because most of us will actually want to avoid it. Because it doesn’t feel good.

Dr. Erik Korem: Right?

Steve Rush: How do you might do that?

Dr. Erik Korem: Well, we have to reframe what it is. First of all, like stress is not a bad thing. Short-Term stress, now long-term stress from certain things can be really, you know, harmful to the body, but like being uncomfortable, like imagine this, like if you want to sit down and learn something really difficult, right? Let’s say you’re trying to learn a new language or you’re having to upskill yourself for work. And you sit down to engage in that. They’re feelings of irritability, there’s tension. And you’re like, ah, this is not comfortable. That is exactly how your body responds to stress so that you can learn. So, here’s what happens. When you have to bring your attention to something very difficult, you have to bring focus to it. So, the pathway to adapting to stress is through focus.

Steve Rush: Right.

Dr. Erik Korem: So, focus is like a diffuse light. You want to bring it to almost like a spotlight, so you’re going to go, okay, I’m going to learn this thing or I’m going to do this very difficult workout. Then your body releases a number of types of chemicals, one of which is a norepinephrine or adrenaline. So, you get these feelings of like arousal. And then when you’re focusing on that really difficult thing, there is a neuromodulator that’s released in the brain called acetylcholine. And what it does is, it goes in marks the neurons in your brain that are being used to learn that stressful thing or that skill that you’re trying to acquire for change and modification later when you sleep.

Steve Rush: Wow, that’s amazing.

Dr. Erik Korem: And when you go to bed at night and you sleep, your brain actually strengthens those connections. So, the only way that you can get to that outcome, that you want to be more resilient to change a behavior, to learn a new skill is you have to enter through the gateway of stress.

Steve Rush: I’m just wondering as you’re sharing that, that seems to me so incredibly logical and sensible for me to know yet it’s something that is not often shared with perhaps the wider communities in business, outside of maybe the sports industry. What do you think the reason is for that?

Dr. Erik Korem: Well, when we think of stress, we think of uncomfortable situations and think of, you know, conflict at work and, you know, maybe having to receive or deliver feedback that it’s really difficult. And I think that, you know, we’re always trying to turn the dial down because, you know, especially, I think in the past year, people, anything else added onto your plate feels like we need to just, you know, we need to unload and we feel was just miserable. I also don’t think that those basic scientific principles have been shared, or I don’t know if the connection hasn’t been made. I really don’t know because in sports we know that you have to train, if you want to get better. If it’s a physical thing, you got to stress the body and then you got to recover. I couldn’t give you a great answer, why that hasn’t leaked out into other domains. Like, Hey, if you want to get better at this, like, if you want to get better at marketing, you’re going to have to go through this.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Dr. Erik Korem: Now there’s also this part of stress, like this feeling of, I think most people think of stress as like uncomfortable feelings and really stress falls on a continuum of alertness to calmness and your body can go up and down this ladder. And I think that people don’t have mechanisms that they can use in the moment to regulate stress. And so, instead of being able to be in a state of where we want to be as alert calmness, we start moving into these states of panic or anxiety and we don’t know how to bring ourselves back.

Steve Rush: So, if I think about me being at work, being forced into focus, feeling a little bit stressful, it’s even more essential than for me to get that sleep in order to transfer that down and lay that down into positivity, right? What’s the converse happen? So, I’m stressed and I don’t get the sleep. How does that impact on us?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah. So, adaptation is the result of stress and the appropriate dose of rest, sleep and something called non sleep rest. If you don’t allow your body to adapt with enough rest, you have something called maladaptation, which means you’re not adapting and you will get sick or if you’re training, you could get injured, you could end up having like I said, you know, upper respiratory tract infections, your body is unable to mobilize resources for the dominant need at the time. And then it becomes this like really bad hamster wheel and it can lead to a whole lot of bad stuff. And so, if we’re trying to burn it at both ends, there’s times in life where you’re going to have to push really, really, really hard, and you may not get enough rest, but if you just kind of look at the mean of your life, you need to prioritize restful and fulfilling sleep and being able to decompress or else you’re going to get sick.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Dr. Erik Korem: You know, the body can only go so far.

Steve Rush: In your experience Erik. Having trained, coach, supported some of the greatest athletes in the planet, do you believe that high performance is something that everybody can achieve? Or is that just a natural born behavior?

Dr. Erik Korem: No, I love this question. I think high performance is something that we can all achieve. In athletics, there are certain things that you have to be born with. So, like, if you want to be a world-class swimmer, you got to be long, you got to be tall, you got to have a long arm. There’s certain, we call morphological characteristics, but then you have to acquire the skill. And then at the end of that, it’s what goes on between the years. With any industry, whether you want to be a great parent, whether you want to be a great teacher, you want to be great in business, whatever it is, you have to acquire a certain set of skills. So, you got too upscale yourself, okay. And then you got to learn how to put that into practice. And then you have to be able to put it into practice when things are difficult. And so, like the best athletes in the world, like there’s this myth out there that elite athletes do not feel pressure, that’s wrong. So, you know, Sir Chris Hoy?

Steve Rush: Yes, of course, yeah.

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah, greatest cyclist ever.

Steve Rush: Absolutely.

Dr. Erik Korem: He said when he was racing in an Olympic final, that it felt like he was going to the gallows.

Steve Rush: Wow.

Dr. Erik Korem: Think about that. Greatest cyclist of all time, felt like he was going to die. But what he said he would do is, he would then like, when he was feeling these feelings, he would grip the steering wheel or he’d focus on his feet and the clips and the pedals, what he was doing was, he was shifting his attention to where he wanted it, when he wanted it there. He was basically practicing mindfulness. Anybody can achieve high performance in their own life, but you got to have the skill set. You got to acquire the skill set, whatever that is. You’ve got to put it into practice. And you got to train your mind to do it in uncomfortable situations.

Steve Rush: Definitely, yeah. And is there a parallel between elite sport and high-performance business people that you’ve worked with?

Dr. Erik Korem: A hundred percent, you know, I would say like, especially in leadership roles, you know, great coaches and great business leaders, they’re great systems thinkers. They don’t live in a silo; they could see the big picture. That to me is like one of the biggest things. They can apply a mental model to a problem. They don’t go, okay. I’ve been putting into this brand-new situation. And so, we’re going to do it like we did, you know, I’m at Microsoft and I’m going to do it, like we did it at Apple, no different organization, a lot of different things. You got to; you have to look at problems. You have to use mental modules that you’ve acquired over time. You’ll have to build thinking systems. I think it, especially in the leadership roles, you have to be able to listen to people.

I’ve been around coaches that just try to cram things down, like, Hey, you know, I want a Superbowl here. And so, we’re going to do it this way, and it just doesn’t work. Copying the model means you copy the errors with it.

Steve Rush: True.

Dr. Erik Korem: And meanwhile, the person that created the models already iterated the model. Because they’re realized what their errors were.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I notice that too.

Dr. Erik Korem: And we also hire talented folks. You give them direction. And then I like to say, you help them innovate with discipline. So, you know, here’s the highway, there’s four lanes. You can go into any four lanes you want, but here are the boundaries. Innovate, just stay within the lane. Just stay on the road. Does that make sense?

Steve Rush: I love it. Yeah, it makes loads of sense. And also, I guess if I’m a leader listening to this now and thinking, God, I need to reboot my way of work so that I can tap into my own High-Performance. What would be your advice as to how I might do that now?

Dr. Erik Korem: The things I find is people have a hard time doing focused and productive work. Maybe they’re working at home and they have a lot of distractions or maybe they’re at work and they just, they don’t feel like they, you know, those times where you like people call it flow or whatever, where you’re just like really in it. I think for any leader you want to get really good, focused, productive work. Well, you can’t be focused and productive for 8 to 12 hours or 8 to 10 hours straight every day. Not going to happen.

Steve Rush: No chance, yeah.

Dr. Erik Korem: Here’s something I would recommend. When you sleep at night, you sleep in 90-minute cycles of what’s called REM and non-REM sleep, okay. 90-minute cycles. It’s a 24-hour circadian rhythm that our body follows. And there’s 90-minute ultradian rhythms. During the day your ability to attend to and focus on things rises and falls and 90 minutes cycles, okay. So, I organize my day in sprints, 90-minute sprints of work, followed by 20 to 30 minutes of relaxation.

Steve Rush: Wow.

Dr. Erik Korem: 90-minute sprints work, relaxation. Because focus is very metabolically demanding on the brain. And this is real science. This is not something that’s quackery or anything like that. And so, during those 20 minutes or 25 minutes, I’ll go for a walk. I’ll get away from my computer, I’ll take a short nap and then I’ll get back into it. And guess what? I’m going to feel that stress, that agitation is, I start that 90 minutes sprint and then a minute and I’m going to hit this great peak. And then it’s going to start to fall off. And then, you know, I’ll take another break and I can get in four to five great sprints a day. I’m well ahead of my competition. My highs are really high and my lows are really low where they’re always operating at medium. And so, and I’ve given this a lot of friends and they found to be very helpful in their productivity.

Steve Rush: I love that. And also, that the notion of, if you don’t take that 20 minutes, 15, 20 minutes recovery time, your next sprint of activity is going to have more susceptibility for distraction, right?

Dr. Erik Korem: A hundred percent.

Steve Rush: Yeah. I think it was Charlie Chaplin was the first individual to tap into this philosophy of attention. When he created the first of a feature film, which was 90 minutes long. And he’d worked that at that time in order to get people focused for 90 minutes, even. He had to change the reel every 11 minutes or so, whether it was scientific or just by chance at the time through studies, which is about the time that we naturally get distracted, right?

Dr. Erik Korem: Very Interesting.

Steve Rush: It’s Interesting, isn’t it?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah. Charlie Chaplain, how about that?

Steve Rush: There you go. So, even then, somebody had noticed a behavioral shift in people in order to get them to stay focused for 90 minutes. They needed time in that time to be focused.

Dr. Erik Korem: I would say this as well as a leader, don’t make your meetings longer than 60 to 90 minutes. You can’t expect your people to stay focused. And I’m reading a book called the leader’s brain right now. It’s on the neuroscience of leadership from Dr. Michael Platt.

Steve Rush: Right.

Dr. Erik Korem: He’s at Wharton, fantastic stuff. And it’s very quick read. I mean, I think it’s a hundred pages, which I was shocked when I saw the book online. I got it. Like, are you serious? This is, but you know, it’s very discreet, short little things. And I highly recommend it for anybody in a leadership position, but there’s some things in there about connecting with your team. But one of the things that I didn’t read this in the book, but I’ve really been thinking a lot about like, how am I running my team meetings? Am I connecting with folks? Or am I making them too long where they’re drifting. So be brief, be bright, be gone.

Steve Rush: Awesome. Now this part of the show is where we turn the table and start looking at your leadership career and tapping into those great lenses that you’ve had. And you’ve already shared a bunch of hacks with us, but I’m going to now try and ask you to distill your top three golden nuggets. What would be your top three leadership hacks Erik?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah, the first one I would say is creating the conditions for success. And for me, that’s taking care of myself. Getting sleep every night, seven to nine hours, usually on my seven-and-a-half-hour person. Exercising daily and not feeling guilty about it. Spiritual for me and spending time with my family. And then I feel like that I’m fit to serve and lead others. So, I invest in my mind, body and spirit on a daily basis, I can create the conditions that are right for me to lead. Now, the second thing I would say is not assuming. My mom was a registered nurse growing and she started a catering and food manufacturing company and its multimillion-dollar company now, so proud of her. Really hustled, took her 30 years to build this thing up. And I remember as a kid, like she never used a swear word, which she would say, Erik, you know, Madison, he said, never assumed. Because you know what assuming does? It makes an ass out of you and me.

And here’s the thing, ask your talented experts, deep and probing questions. And don’t be afraid to not know the answers, like be genuinely curious about. Like right now, I’ve hired full stack engineers and iOS developers. I don’t know the first thing about writing code, but I am trying to learn as much as I can about what they’re doing so that I can see where the problems may come up and then you’ll be able to put the pieces together. And the final thing is accountability. Like who’s keeping you in check, who’s holding you accountable to being a good leader, to taking care of yourself or caring about other people. You got to find somebody in your life, that’s going to ask you the hard questions.

Steve Rush: Fantastic lessons. Thanks for sharing them. Next part of the show is also a bit of learning. We call it Hack to Attack. So, this is where something in your life or work has perhaps not gone well, could it be that you’ve even screwed up, but as a result of the experience is now a positive in your life and work. So, what would you Hack to Attack be Erik?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah, so I had a job, I went with a coach to a specific place and he was the new head coach and I was extremely loyal to him. And there were some early warning indicators that I ignored. Around people that were hired underneath me without my real consent. And there was a certain thing I just felt were wrong, but I ignored them and things ended up not working out. And, you know, we cordially decided to part ways. It was really amicable, but I ignored those red flags. And so, you know, my dad calls it the squeeze factor. Like when you feel that feeling in your stomach and you get that over, like you get that sensation like something isn’t right here, do not ignore that. Like dig into it, figure out what it is, investigated and then act on it sooner than later, or else it’s going to cost you.

Steve Rush: That’s great. And it’s acting on it, that’s most important. Not necessarily paying attention to it, but understanding what’s causing it, right. Because it could be a bias.

Dr. Erik Korem: Absolutely.

Steve Rush: Yeah. The last bit of our show, we get a chance to get you to do some time travel. You can bump into Erik at 21 now. Look him straight in the eyes and give him some advice. What’s it going to be?

Dr. Erik Korem: Don’t be so dogmatic. I would tell myself to be open to various ways of doing things and to what I could become because. I’ve been one of these people that have, you know, been very focused on a certain outcome and my career has taken a lot of twists and turns. And sometimes, you know, I have a lot of scar tissue from thinking that a certain thing should be done a certain way and it shouldn’t have been done that way. And so really just, Hey Erik, you know, keep learning, keep growing, but take a step back and be open-minded to a lot of different things. A lot of different ways of getting the job done.

Steve Rush: Great stuff. So as folks have been listening to you and I talk today, Erik, I’m pretty certain that they’re going to want to find out a little bit more about the work you do. I’m almost guaranteed. They’re going to want to explore AIM7 and what that’s all about. Because I think it’s going to change our world for the future.

Dr. Erik Korem: Thank you.

Steve Rush: And genuinely want to find out where’s the best place for us to send them when we are done?

Dr. Erik Korem: Yeah. So, you can follow me on Instagram @erikkorem, E-R-I-K K-O-R-E-M. And the same thing on LinkedIn and then go to aim7.com, A-I-M7 and sign up for our high-performance newsletter. And we’ll also let you know when you can be one of the first beta users, our product’s going to come out this summer. So, this is something that interests you go ahead and sign up on that newsletter and you will hear from us as soon as the product’s available and get your first in line.

Steve Rush: Awesome. We’ll also make sure in our show notes links to both AIM7 and all your social media in there too.

Dr. Erik Korem: Thank you so much.

Steve Rush: Erik, it has been a real pleasure. I’m super grateful for you joining us on The Leadership Hacker Podcast, delighted with the progress that you’re having with AIM7 and I’m super looking forward to seeing how that all develops for you too.

Dr. Erik Korem: Thank you, Steve. You’re a fantastic person and I love the podcast and keep doing great work.

Steve Rush: Thank you, my man. Speak to you soon.

Dr. Erik Korem: Take care.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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