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Edward M. (“Ned”) Hallowell: An interview by Bob Morris

Edward ("Ned") Hallowell

Are you looking for practical, how-to solutions to life’s personal challenges? Best selling author Dr. Edward (“Ned”) Hallowell offers groundbreaking advice on how to survive in an ultra-competitive, ultra fast, attention deficit society while remaining sane, how to raise happy children, the art of forgiveness and how to manage worry. He also offers a prescriptive guide that shows how to get the most out of life with Attention Deficit Disorder.

A graduate of Harvard College and Tulane School of Medicine, Hallowell is a child and adult psychiatrist and the founder of The Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury, MA. He was a member of the faculty of the Harvard Medical School from 1983 to 2004.

Dr. Hallowell is considered to be one of the foremost experts on the topic of ADHD. He is the co-author, with Dr. John Ratey, of Driven to Distraction and Answers to Distraction, which have sold more than a million copies. In 2005, Drs. Hallowell and Ratey released their much-awaited third book on ADHD, Delivered from Distraction. “Delivered” provides updated information on the treatment of ADHD and more on adult ADHD.

Dr. Hallowell’s most recent book, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People was published January 17, 2011. In Shine, Dr. Hallowell draws on brain science, performance research, and his own experience helping people maximize their potential to present a proven process for getting the best from your people. He introduces the 5 steps in the Cycle of Excellence: Select, Connect, Play, Grapple and Grow, and Shine. He shows how each step is critical in its own right and translates into actions a manager or worker can do and do now to propel their people to excellence.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Ned Hallowell.

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Morris: For those who have not as yet read Shine, you recall in it an encounter with an old man at Boston’s Logan Airport. Please explain the significance of that encounter.

Hallowell: When I met this old man who shined shoes, it was like meeting an angel in disguise. He had multiple sclerosis, had to use a walker to get around, looked to be in his 70’s, but had the zest for life of a 10 year old. He peppered me with questions, trying to find my own personal hot spot or passion. He said, “I gotta ask fast because I only get as long as a shoeshine to ask you.” He urged people to reach out, to take the chance, saying that was his great reward every day as he shined shoes. “I try to put a shine on people’s souls, not just their shoes.” He called himself “Dr. Shine” and I dedicated my book to him because I believed he represented the very best in what people should be and to do achieve peak performance. Here was a man shining shoes at Logan Airport, dealing with M.S., somehow getting himself to work every day, and doing his job with more gusto and passion than just about anyone you could imagine.

Morris: In layman’s terms, please explain how using brain science can help to get a peak performance when completing each of five steps of the Cycle of Excellence. First, selection.

Hallowell: You brain does its best when it is doing a task it can do well. That’s basic brain science. Yet many people persist in the wrong job, trying year after year to get good at what they’re bad at or at what they dislike. Like marrying the wrong person, working in the wrong job is a prescription for a life of toil-and-groan. Put simply, select refers to matching a person with whatever and whoever is right for that person. It could be a job or an assignment, it could be a wife or a doubles partner in tennis. When selections are right, they make people shine because they’re happy, they feel fulfilled, and they are eager to do well.

On numerous occasions, Jack Welch observed that “getting the right people in the right jobs is a lot more important than developing strategy.” That’s what Jim Collins has in mind, in Good to Great, when he urges business leaders to get the wrong people off the bus and get the right people on the bus. Young people beginning a career need to realize that there are lots of “buses” in life. More often than not, selecting which one to be on determines success or failure, joy or despair.

Morris: Next, connection.

Hallowell: Connection is the golden key to all that’s good in life. Disconnection leads to most of what’s bad in life. “Dr. Shine” intuitively knew this, and he dedicated his life to connecting with people, helping them to open up and get past fear. Fear shuts people down. When you feel safe, your brain is free to soar. When you feel in danger, your brain goes into survival mode, not peak performance mode. Too many people feel unsafe at work, under toxic pressures, and stretched too thin. They are literally about to snap. Within an atmosphere of trust and what I call connection, a supervisor can create conditions under which people’s brains can set aside fear and fly high.

Morris: Next, play.

Hallowell: By play I do not mean the traditional sense of play, what kids do at recess, goofing off. By play I refer to the highest activity of the human mind, any activity in which the imagination lights up and gets involved. This is what we humans can do so well and machines can’t at all.

Doing exactly what they’re told, following human or electronic commands, is what machines do best. They can be valuable to our efforts but that cannot be the standard of excellence for humans at work. We ought to do everything possible to get people fully and imaginatively engaged with whatever it is they are doing, just as I am engaged fully and imaginatively as I express these thoughts. In a state of play, of imaginative engagement, people do their best, their most innovative work.

Here, again, the importance of select and connect are obvious. Supervisors must make the right choices and some of these choices will help people to connect with their work, yes, but also with each other and, most importantly, with what they really want to do, with what they enjoy doing most and (I’ll bet) with what they do best. Teresa Amabile expressed the best career advice during a commencement speech at Stanford about 15 years ago: “Love what you do and do what you love.”

Think about it. Some of the most closely connected people are those who play games together. The greatest teams (Walt Disney’s animators, John Wooden’s U.C.L.A. basketball teams, the Manhattan Project, Red Auerbach’s Celtics teams, Lockheed’s “Skunk Works”) possessed exceptional “chemistry” because they loved doing what they did together and could not do alone. They would later exclaim, “We had a ball!” I agree with Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, that play drives creativity. It creates a sense of joy and, in process, helps to generate some of our most creative ideas.

Morris: Then, what you characterize as “grapple and grow”

Hallowell: This is the step traditionally regarded as the key to peak performance: hard work. And yes, hard work is key. But it is not the only key nor is it the key. Managers typically jump in at this step. But you will never achieve peak performance unless you first tend to steps 1 – 3: select, connect, and play. Then, and only then, will you get the full turbo power of a mind on fire.

For more than 20 years, Anders Ericsson at Florida State University has conducted research on peak performance. The results of his efforts leave no doubt that both talent and hard work are frequently overrated. Once again, select and connect are critically important. Those who aspire to peak performance must make the right choices in terms of what they practice and connect with someone who will provide strict and expert supervision while they practice. Then they must “grapple and grow” throughout (on average) 10,000 hours of practice. There are no guarantees, of course. Here’s the key point for workplace supervisors: Keep in mind that most people love to work, given the tight conditions, if you help them to select, connect, activate their imaginations with play, and grapple with the inevitable drudgery that growth requires.

Morris: What about setting limits and holding workers personally accountable?

Hallowell: All human beings need order and structure in their lives and that always involves some reasonable limits. Also, the healthiest cultures are those in which there is mutual trust and respect. The Golden Rule is alive and well. People really do care about each other. They understand that all “games” have rules to follow, rules that serve the common interests. We are well-advised to remember, however, what 3M’s then chairman and CEO, William McKnight, said in 1924: “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” He wasn’t just talking about physical space. He also meant mental, emotional, and (yes) spiritual space.

Morris: Finally, shine

Hallowell: Life at its best. A person working in the zone. “Dr. Shine” shining shoes and souls, or you doing whatever you do when you are doing your best. It is the greatest feeling in the world. When we shine, we defy death for the moment. We enter into a state of immersion in the craft we ply, a state in which we become one with what we do. For those precious moments we shine…and what we do often shines long after we’re done. In addition, the recognition a manager — or anyone else — gives when someone shines helps to consolidate loyalty and promote motivation.

People who shine keep shining and help others to shine. They are motivated. They feel connected to their team, the group, and the organization. They become extremely loyal and want to help others in the organization to advance. Shining completes the Cycle of Excellence but I hasten to add that it is sustainable only if people are “polished” by the respect and trust of their supervisor and colleagues.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Ned Hallowell cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

To check out several brief films about peak performance, “Success with Sanity,” adult ADD and ADHD, and various other subjects, please click here.

Bob Morris is an independent management consultant based in Dallas who specializes in accelerated executive development. He has interviewed more than 100 business thought leaders and reviewed more than 2,200 business books for Amazon. Each week, we will add to the Networlding Business Bookshelf abbreviated reviews in which he discusses a few of his personal favorites. You can contact him directly at

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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