Maybe you don’t need to read another book on how to lead changes or other big projects. Maybe you already know what you need to know.

Timothy J. Cleary and Barry J. Zimmerman studied basketball players to see if they could identify a difference in the practice habits of those who were expert free-throw shooters (70% or higher) compared to the novices (55% or lower).

They found that there was no discernable difference in how much each group knew about shooting free throws. The difference was in how the best shooters used that knowledge. They used what they knew to focus on how they used their practice time.

Noa Kageyama (in his terrific Bulletproof Musician newsletter) claimed there were two fundamental differences:

  1. The experts set specific goals. It might be the number of baskets they wanted to make or improving some physical aspect of how they prepared or actually made the shot. Others tended to set vague goals. For instance, “I want to make a lot of baskets.”
  2. The experts could identify specific reasons why they missed free throws. The researchers found that training in “self-regulating behaviors” improved performance. For example, learning how to set specific goals.

How Does This Apply to Us?

Think about situations where you would like to be able to influence others. Since I focus on organizational change, I will use that as the focus for this activity.

Let’s assume you don’t need to take another course or read another book (unless, of course, it is something I wrote)—you just need to apply what you know.

Here are four steps to get started:

  1. Identify a situation where you have some difficulty influencing another person or group.
  2. List what you are doing or not doing that might be getting in the way. For example, “When I meet with that group, I do all the talking. I ask for input, but then I just keep talking. I think I send out some signal that people shouldn’t question or disagree with me.”
  3. In the spirit of learning to make free throws, what could you do in that meeting you’ve got scheduled this afternoon?
    “I could set the beeper for five minutes. If I haven’t invited input up to that point, I will stop right there and ask the group, ‘What do you think?’ No matter what they say, I will only ask questions to clarify. I will not comment on their input yet.”
    This is just one simple thing you might do to try to tweak your typical pattern.
  4. After the meeting, evaluate how well you did at making that single tweak. What worked? What didn’t? What could you do differently next time?

I am a fan of tiny changes or tweaks. If you list too many things in Step 3, you could get overwhelmed. The purpose of this activity to learn how to make more free throws. If you pair a small new behavior with a quick evaluation, it should help you apply things that you already know.

In Seizing Moments of Possibility, I include a number of Application Activities to help you do what I am suggesting in this short paper. By the way, these Application Activities are things that I have used and continue to use.

I like keeping things as simple as possible.

Please let me know what you think, and please share with others who read this post what works for you. I wish you well.


  • Timothy J. Cleary, Barry J. Zimmerman, and Tedd Keating: various references to these studies
  • Noa Kageyama
  • To access all of the Application Activities included in Seizing Moments of Possibility:
New Rick Maurer book "Seizing Moments of Possibility" - Ways to Trigger Energy and Forward Momentum on Your Ideas and Plans

Seizing Moments of Possibility

Seizing Moments of Possibility: Ways to Trigger Energy and Forward Momentum on Your Ideas and Plans is my new book. I think the title explains what it is about.

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