Did you know that the most special, unique, and compelling thing about you is probably something you’re entirely unaware of? In his new book, One In A B1llion: Finding Your Genius Talent, John Hittler explains what genius talents are, why they’re so hard to see in ourselves, and how we can discover and build upon them.
This is just one of many tactics John uses in his Evoking Genius coaching firm, where he creates seemingly impossible outcomes that address multiple diverse agendas. In fact, that’s his genius. He has applied it to more than 200 companies and 8,000 individuals.
John is the person you go to when you’re at a pivot point. When something has to change. As so many of us find both ourselves and our businesses in this precise spot as the result of the coronavirus pandemic, John has a lot to say about finding our way through.
Nikki Van Noy: I am joined today by John Hittler, author of the new book One In A B1llion: Finding Your Genius Talent. John, thanks for joining us today.
John Hittler: It’s a pleasure to be here, thanks.
Nikki Van Noy: John, we were having a very interesting conversation before we started recording here that I would love to share with listeners. Before we do that though, let’s talk to listeners a little bit about what you do so they understand where you’re coming from and what your vantage point of current events due to the pandemic is?
John Hittler: Sure. Technically, I’m what’s called a transformational business coach. And essentially that means I help people transform to whomever or whatever they want to be. In this time of pivots and redesigns and rules that nobody asked for, it’s very propellant. As challenging as it is, it’s really interesting in an odd way, kind of fun.
Two Different Conversations
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, what kinds of conversations are you having with people right now? I’m sure there’s a wide range, but where do they stand with what’s happening?
John Hittler: It’s a great question. There are essentially two camps and it’s funny because they’re based on a time continuum. I’ve got CEO’s that are running 200 million-dollar companies that are fighting to get back to February 1st–the reality of a good economy, 29,000 DOW, everybody’s happy, full employment, we’re fighting for talent because we’re growing so fast. They think they’re going to somehow get back to that and they’re dead. They’re absolutely dead in the water, they just don’t know it. Because the rules have changed.
And then there are the other people that are saying, “Wow, this is a new reality, if not only for 90 days, maybe for six months, maybe for 12, because nobody knows when it’s going to end.” So, what they’re doing is they’re doing a very quick and nimble pivot and saying, “How do we deliver just as much value or even more at half the budget or half the revenue or half the staff?”
It forces them to say, “What if? What if we did a better job with clients at half the revenue but also half the team that we had?” They redesigned nimbly and they will crush it in 90 days because they’re twice as good now. Because they’ve doubled their value proposition with half the resources. They’re very clearly in two camps, there’s nobody in the middle.
Nikki Van Noy: So fascinating. It’s such an interesting time. I was really struck when you talked about February 1st, which as we record this it is March 26, so February 1st was technically less than two months ago, but it may as well have been five years ago. Everything just changed so incredibly quickly.
John Hittler: It’s funny, I have people in the financial industry who manage people’s money and they run large brokerage firms, and I asked them, “How long has this obliteration of the stock market been going on?” And this was a week and a half ago, this was March 15th.
They said, “February 19th, we hit an all-time high.” So, in four weeks, we went down 25%. That’s never happened except in the Great Depression, and it’s gotten worse since, and we’re nowhere near the bottom. It’s just interesting to watch and the reason is because it’s not a technical thing, it’s a fear thing.
The thing that you and I don’t know and nobody knows is when will this end? Because we don’t have a vaccination. The stock market business cycles, supply chains, none of that stuff can have any sense of footing until somebody says, “We’ll be good by fill in the blank. September 1st, or June 1st.”
I don’t know when that is and nobody else does either. That’s why the stock markets have to keep going down. And/or you and I have to redesign our businesses for at least six to 12 months. We can’t say, “We’re all going back to work in the middle of April.”
No, we’re not. You can bet on that and you’re dead. You’re smarter to bet on October or November or maybe even December. If it comes earlier than that, great, you’re still ready to go. It’s the other conversation I’m having with CEOs who are saying, “Well I’ve got enough cash for four months.” These are the guys fighting for February 1st, it’s got to end in four months. Because that’s as much cash as they have. That’s their rule. Since I only have four months of cash, this has to be over by whatever four months from now is.
That’s crazy. Those two are mutually exclusive facts and you’re going to be dead four months from now. And guess what, you’re going to panic about six weeks before you run out of cash when it’s clear there’s no end in sight.
Nikki Van Noy: How are you walking people like that through all of this? People who are saying, “I have four months of cash. This will be over in four months.”
John Hittler: Those guys, I metaphorically slap them upside the head. It’s like your child saying, “I’ve been flunking chemistry but I’m just going to ace the final.”
No, you’re not. You’ve been flunking the whole semester and you haven’t cracked the book, there’s no reason to think you’re going to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the final. It’s the same kind of logic, “I’ll just ace the final.” Well, that’s a great strategy.
First, I smack them upside the head. The key is to ask ‘what if’ questions. “What if this goes longer? What if this goes for six months?” And they almost always say, “I’m going to have to figure it out.”
Nope. Have to figure it out when you have zero cash in the bank 120 days from now is not a strategy. Because the truth is, you’re going to panic about six weeks before when it’s really clear to you that you’re running out of cash quickly and you didn’t make any changes. What they’re really trying to do is they’re trying to hold on to their team and not fire people and not downsize. I understand all that. But dealing with insanity doesn’t make any sense.
We say, well what if it lasts six months? And that isn’t long enough because they kind of say, “I can scramble for two.” I say, “What if this lasts a year?” And they go, “Oh my god.” Once they start entertaining the conversation, then I say, “Well what if we made your strategy now based on one year of disruption, given that the 2008 recession was three and a half years?”
Technically, it was 18 months or 20 months. “Why don’t we plan for a year instead of four months?” I can’t get them from four months to two years, but I can get them from four months to about a year and they start to at least entertain a different conversation.
This doesn’t mean they like it. It doesn’t mean they’re going to cut staff. It doesn’t mean they’re going to do everything but at least they start. This is what transformation looks like, you start to build a reality or a possibility about a new reality that people can buy into. This is an unpleasant one.
But the truth is, they will be better off, regardless of whether it lasts four months or twelve, if they redesign from the inside out and they’re a better company. But I have to get them to that point. Living in the past, that’s not the way to get in there. I have to get them to at least reality, which is today, and ideally leaning forward into the next year.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah. It makes sense. It makes sense from all angles. We’ve never seen, to my knowledge, such a sudden shift before where the entire scope of reality changes. I think it just takes them time to set up. I remember on a personal level, I had adjusted when this first started, to two weeks, and then to a month, and then all of a sudden, it hit me, “We don’t know that this is going to be a month.” There is no timeframe on this.
This is a story that I’m telling myself but I kind of had to get myself there one step at a time as I was adjusting.
John Hittler: You know, that is a great perception because you’re right, you say, “Oh my gosh, I have to shelter at home for two weeks.” Like that’s a prison sentence. There are no live sports. They’re canceling movies, all my entertainment options, I can’t on a whim just go out and get tacos because my favorite restaurant is closed. Gosh darn it. This is horrible. No, it’s not horrible, it’s two weeks. Well, then you extend that for four, and then six, and then eight.
My perception of this is that the pandemic and the reality shift happens only when you, me, and everyone else has someone that we know who is infected. I don’t know, personally, anybody that has been infected with the virus–I keep seeing the CDC reports.
As soon as my grandma or my mom or somebody that’s at risk gets it, now it’s real. Right now, it’s a new story for everybody else because not enough people have been infected. There’s been a lot but not enough. When you take something like cancer, that’s been their strategy for a long time. Everybody knows somebody who has been affected by fill in the blank. Breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer. That’s generally true. This hasn’t happened that way.
So, it is going to take at the pace it’s going, what, three weeks before somebody says, “Oh my god, the VP of such and such at our company tested positive and he’s not being well.” Now it’s real.
Until you know somebody, “A teacher at my kid’s school tested positive. My goodness, this thing’s real.” Because right now, it’s like a bad fairytale. But it’s for somebody else.
What is Genius Talent?
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, such a good point. That’s a really good point.
Now, with all of this in mind which is very true, I feel like I’ve seen this play out in my own life and for a lot of other people at different levels where all of a sudden, there’s this time and the slowing down of things in a way that just didn’t exist before.
It seems to me like there are some great advantages to that, especially with what you’re talking about in this book, which is this idea of finding your genius talent. Let’s, first of all, explain to listeners how you define genius talent.
John Hittler: I’ll start with what it’s not. It’s not your SAT score. It’s not your math or science aptitude. It’s not that you’re a musical prodigy like Mozart. Because people think of genius and it’s Einstein, Mozart, Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, and you say, “Yeah, I’ll never be a genius.”
The theory we’ve had for years, and this is going back to 1994 when I started dabbling with this, I was very young but I was fascinated with it. What if, and again, it’s a ‘what if.’ What if in our DNA, which means we’re the only person that has ever had it, we have a singular gift of genius-level talent? Now, notice what I didn’t say. I didn’t say a genius-level profession. Most people hear it like, “I’m the best teacher on the planet.”
No, it’s not a profession. Because when you teach, teaching is a talent. It is also a profession and people confused that. Your talent could be something like empathy. People say, “A genius in empathy?” A person very close to me, their genius talent is creating relationships that all feel like family.
Now, if you take a standardized test, that measures your instincts or your talents or your psychological profile–there’s a lot of them and I’d love them all. We don’t have that option. We tease that out of them. Here’s how he does it. Once he could see that he does that and he didn’t know, because most people can’t see their own genius talent, then we can just ask them, “What do you do? “
“The first thing I do to make people feel incredibly at ease.” That’s the first thing he does. And you say, “Oh that would make sense.” Of course, it makes sense. He didn’t know he had the talent, so he didn’t even know he was doing it, but he does it everywhere.
Then he intuitively figures out exactly what they need that they can’t see. He doesn’t even tell them. He says, “Nikki, I’ve been talking to you and what you really need is this, but you don’t know it.” Now, he can sense that, like an intuition, it is a very incredible talent.
Then the third thing he does, which is amazing, is he delivers wisdom and care. You’re not going to find that on a standardized test. And that’s if you will, a genius-level talent in the realm of relationships or empathy.
The problem is, it doesn’t fit into an algorithm. Because it’s his language. And this is what happens with people when they find their genius talent, we tease out of them their own language. That’s the key, we don’t give them the language and say, “Is it A, B, C, D, or none of the above?”
We tease it out of them and when they start talking, we just capture the language. Most of the time, they don’t know they said it. That’s why we can be as specific as their DNA because, in that example, we’ve done it almost 10,000 times. We’ve never had two that have been the same.
Now, you and I could both be in the same zip code. We could be both, we could be an empathy or teaching or analytical thought or creativity is our zip code. We’re not interested in the zip code. We’re interested in the street, the house, and we want you right in the kitchen.
We don’t want your zip code, and most of the talent assessment things say, “We’ll get you to the zip code.” Not so helpful.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah.
John Hittler: It is helpful but it’s not specific enough. Once you know–I develop or create relationships that all feel like family, what should we have you do at your work? In this time of the crisis, imagine how valuable that person would be? Because what you need is you need to glue people and culture at your company. They’d be fabulous, regardless of the whether they’re the janitor, the CEO, or the accountant, it doesn’t matter because it’s talent, not a profession.
Nikki Van Noy: I’m very intrigued by this idea that most people are blind to their own genius. Why do you think that is?
John Hittler: It is interesting because we have done this with so many people and when they pop it, they go, “How did you know?” Now we have never met them before because we use a process that is agnostic and it is designed to tease it out of them. And they say, “How did you know?” Because they have never seen themselves that way.
Here is the trick, let’s say you have that talent I just described. You do it all day, every day and it’s just normal for you. So, it doesn’t dawn on people that the whole world couldn’t do it at the level they can, so it doesn’t look valuable. It may look valuable, but it doesn’t look like genius level. Everybody else says, “Duh, yeah I have known that about you. Why do you think we’re such best friends?” This person has probably 25 people that consider him their best friend.
Now best friend means one, he has one best friend he would probably say, but he’d probably say, “Well it is this guy, this guy, this guy or this guy,” and all 25 of the guys he hangs around with and women and men all say the same thing. He is the closest guy in my life. No kidding.
Now you and I don’t have that. We have a BFF. Or we have one person we can call at 2:30 in the morning. He’s got 25 people that he would be there for a call at 2:30 in the morning when their life is falling apart. It is not obvious though because he says, “Well, you don’t have 25?”
No, nobody has 25. There are a lot of people that don’t have any. You have 25 and the only reason you only have 25 is because you haven’t met the next 50 you will meet over the course of your life. You are going to have 75 or 100 of these. It is amazing, but you just can’t see it.
Innate and Effortless
Nikki Van Noy: That makes sense. So, in other words, your genius talent is so innate and effortless to you that it doesn’t feel like something that could be extraordinary because it just comes naturally.
John Hittler: You have one. Mine is really weird.
Nikki Van Noy: What is yours?
John Hittler: Yes, so my genius talent is creating seemingly impossible outcomes that address multiple and divergent agendas. And people hear that and go, “Where did you get that?” Because there is no standardized of that or that has any language like that. My two partners teased that out of me. I would have never said that, and they kept saying impossible. I said it is not impossible because I always did it.
So, how can it be impossible if I did it? and they said, “Well, okay how about seemingly impossible?” And I was okay with seemingly. I have done a hostage negotiation with the FBI. I graduated from a top ten university. I didn’t apply nor was I accepted. I just showed up on registration day and was in the freshman class and graduated with a full ride, and I wasn’t an athlete and I wasn’t particularly brilliant.
People said, “We can’t do that. It’s impossible.” I say no. I have done it as an adult with family and friends who said, “My kid didn’t get into UC Berkeley or didn’t get into Harvard or didn’t get into Northwestern. So now they are going into their second-tier bad choice.” I would say, “Why don’t we just go to Northwestern and walk in?” And they said, “Well you can’t do that.” I ask, “Why not?”
So, I am on five for five with second-generation people that think it’s a process. It is not. It is different every single time because you don’t know what the divergent agendas are. When you show up, you have to be imminently adaptable, so that helps. But if you had a rigid process like a how-to, step one is to greet Nikki in a friendly way to get her on our side. That won’t work because if you, Nikki, are a bureaucrat and you say, “Get the hell out of the line, you are not in the freshman class,” and then they toss you and then they call the security. That won’t work.
Well, what works? I don’t know until I get there. Like a hostage negotiation. I didn’t know I could get the hostage out. It was my goddaughter. I didn’t know exactly how it would work but hostage negotiation has at least five different very polarized agendas. There is the hostage. There are the parents of the hostage. There is the hostage-taker. There was the FBI involved, who forbade me from having anything to do with it or they’d put me in federal prison.
It was me who said the first day, “I know I can get her out.” And for 17 days they said, “Stay out of it,” and I finally just waited for them–I don’t know what they were doing–getting donuts or at lunch because their strategy was let’s wait them out.
Nikki Van Noy: Wow.
John Hittler: And I am saying in the meantime, the hostage is suffering. She wasn’t imminently in danger because if they were going to kill her or get a ransom, they probably would have done that already. So, they said, eventually they have to leave for milk or eggs, and let’s just wait them out. But it was a gigantic property so they couldn’t drive on because if you drive on with FBI vehicles, are you trespassing now? Will shots start? They couldn’t risk that.
So, I finally just walked on. I walked to the front door without an FBI vest and no gun. I had talked to the hostage-taker. She didn’t know what I look like, but I identified myself and I thought “What is the risk if she shoots me now the FBI will come in because now it’s violence?” But the only risk I had was would she shoot me, and I thought if she hasn’t shot the hostage, she ain’t going to shoot me. So, I walked in and walked out of there two and a half hours later.
People say you can’t do that and the FBI was pissed because what are they supposed to do, have a press conference that says, “We are really mad at this guy because he got the hostage out unarmed and without any training and we couldn’t for 17 days so we are going to put him in jail?” No, they couldn’t say anything. They licked their wounds and said, “You jerk,” and then six weeks later they called me for advice on another situation that looked almost identical.
I said, “So, you want me?” And people said, “So you are a hostage negotiator?” This is what we do at genius talent. People say, “So you’re a hostage negotiator?” “No, I’m not that is a profession. I haven’t trained for that. I have no background for that.” Okay, getting a hostage out without any training or that seems impossible with multiple and divergent agendas, I am really good.
If you and I have to argue about which color to paint the break room at work, I am terrible at that and I am not interested. You say it’s beige, mauve, or seafoam green, find somebody that is interested in that because that is too binary.
When it is the Middle East and you say, “Huh, everybody hates Israel. The Saudi, you can’t do that. There’s Hezbollah. There’s others.”
I say, “Okay, wow there are some pretty divergent outcomes. I’d be perfect in that.” That is a great situation for me because there is no way out. For whatever reason, that is the talent I have. Okay, it is worthless, absolutely worthless organizing the grass or designing anything, it is just not very helpful. It’s good where it’s good.
So, this client, we are going full circle. We started with what do you do with the clients in the beginning and pivots with no rules are the perfect situation for me. Because you say right, we need to figure out how to run our company at half the staff, half the revenue and deliver twice the value. That is impossible. Perfect, I love that.
Nikki Van Noy: That makes so much sense. It also explains how you can be a father of seven and sound so generally calm.
John Hittler: Seven kids with six sets of DNA. Three are adopted. None of whom have the same two parents. The only two that have the same two parents of the two at the bottom and they are my stepdaughters–my wife’s kids from her first marriage. I have two kids from two different marriages. That’s two, three adopted, all with different parents and then two at the bottom that have the same two.
So, our house is amazing, our kids are great, and they basically are one family. They have horrible nicknames for each other. They gang up on my wife and I and my wife said, “Should we be editing these nicknames? They are horrendous.” Like if you were to get the nickname stinky as a kid, it is going to stick forever because it is so awful. I said, “No they have bad nicknames for each other, and they don’t even know each other, that is a good sign. That means they are getting along.”
They have horrible nicknames, there are some of them that are not to leave the house. But that is okay because they’re okay with them and then of course they retaliate with an equally horrible name. So, they all have horrible nicknames for each of them, great. That’s great and that’s a good culture for the household. And also, that means they are comfortable enough to be that familiar.
Nikki Van Noy: Absolutely. I can’t wait until Stinky is the president of the United States–that would be a beautiful day.
John Hittler: Right? My youngest sister was the youngest of nine. Her nickname, because we grew up at the tail end–she never saw it because she was too young–Leave It To Beaver. She was the beaver like Leave It To Beaver because she was the rascal in the house. Well, imagine that one in high school with older brothers. So, your prom date shows up at the front door and we would rough and tumble and say, “Hey Beaver, your prom date is here.”
You go, “Oh god, you’re 16 and your nickname is Beaver.” And we weren’t going to change. It was just the way it worked but with nine kids, yeah that is your nickname, too bad for you.
Nikki Van Noy: This is your life. I love that so much.
John Hittler: Yeah so that one was pretty awful. As an eight-year-old, it is not a big deal but as a 15 or 16-year-old girl that was awful. That was really cruel.
Nikki Van Noy: Absolutely.
John Hittler: Super cruel yeah.
Nikki Van Noy: So, let’s talk about in your new book you are guiding people through finding these talents. Let us talk a little bit about what listeners can anticipate and how they can utilize this information right now.
John Hittler: Great. The timing is perfect for it because talent will get this out of this situation. People are looking to the government. The government is doing a horrible job in general. CDC is doing a pretty good job. It is the entrepreneurs that are saying, “We shifted our factory and we make bombs and now we are making surgical masks because that is what’s needed.” They can do that on a dime. Perfect, because they are talented enough to do that.
What the book is about is the recipe. Here is the analogy that we use, it is similar to a book on how to learn how to swim or how to ride a bike. You can’t read your way and understand your way to finding your talent by reading about it. You have to get in the water, or you have to fall off the bike a couple of times. So, it has an accompanying web portal, what you might call a laboratory and you go into the laboratory to then play. You have to do it with other people.
If we could just publish an algorithm of some sort people would go and say, “I figured it out. We can charge everybody a dollar and be a gazillionaire.” It doesn’t work that way because if you could figure out your genius talent you would have already done it. It is not figure-out-able by yourself. You need other people.
The books says, “Look, here is the way to do it. Here is the whole recipe if you want to do this and get some fun stories. It’s got to have at least 50 genius talent statements from other people.”
It just says Nikki and your last initial. It does bleed so we keep people’s confidentiality.
We don’t put their profession on purpose because if put Ruth B.G. Supreme Court Justice, people would say, “Well, but that is Ruth Barry Ginsberg. She’s of course exceptional. It won’t work for me.” So, we just say Ruth B. or Ruth G or whatever and we don’t put their picture, so you don’t know who it is.
You just say, “Oh Ruth B,” and if you look at the talent you wouldn’t say this person is obviously a Supreme Court justice. Because the talent they bring to their profession probably works really, really well. But it could work well in parenting, or it could work well in being a friend, or it could work well in the community or volunteering. It is a talent, not a profession. That is what we are finding, but people go to the web portal and they play. They do the exact same process we do with clients one-on-one.
They are just going to do it with learning partners, and they can do it by themselves. That is the fun part is that finally we can scale the idea because we felt guilty for years that we had this great process, but we couldn’t figure out how to do it other than a one-on-one session. We actually did it with groups. We are working with teams and we’d bring three or four coaches and do it with 50 people. But that is still isn’t much scale. We wanted to be able to say, if you are interested you could go and do this.
Nikki Van Noy: This is so cool especially that you established community around this. The timing of this coming out is really incredible.
John Hittler: It is just ironic and maybe that is God’s sense of humor. We have been working with our marketing guys and we are saying, “Look, people can do it now because they are working from home and they have more time or will they not do it because who knows for some other reason?”
And we thought you know what? That is probably present in any market. Before February 1st they probably would have. If they didn’t want to do it, they’d find a reason not to do it. So, we said, “Who cares? The people that want to do it are going to do it and anybody that is interested in learning in growth generally is a good candidate to do it.” People that want to ask 60 questions and dismiss themselves and say, “Well, I can’t,” and they debate the process not knowing what it means, then don’t do it.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah.
John Hittler: Have a good time as my son says. He said, “Yeah kind of not doing this kind of life, same road different potholes.” That is exactly right. Some people will always be on the same road with different potholes. And they say they’re not ever going to do it and that’s okay.
Nikki Van Noy: I am going to steal that actually that is great commentary.
John Hittler: In fact, one of our taglines on the site for the marketing piece is, “Same road, different potholes.” And I thought God isn’t that indicative of more than half of the society where they say, “Well but…” and you say it doesn’t matter what the climate is. They’re going to say, “But Trump…” or but the economy, or but my boss, and you say, “Yeah, that is just a different pothole.”
Nikki Van Noy: Well John you are such a pleasure to talk to. I mean talk about a unique set of stories that you have. You are the first person who I have talked to who just walked into both a hostage situation and into college. So, thank you for the practical advice and the entertainment all in one.
John Hittler: My pleasure. It is really fun to be with you today.
Nikki Van Noy: So the book again is One In A B1llion: Finding Your Genius Talent. John where else can readers find you?
John Hittler: So, I am blessed with a tremendously horrific last name. I have the worst name in the history of humanity and rather than figuring out URLs for everything, just Google my last name, it’s John Hittler with two T’s, but I didn’t have to fight with the SEO. I own the first 50 spots because who on earth is going to say, “We should get the URL for that. That’s awesome.” So, you will find everything from a TED Talk to companies I run and LinkedIn, all the social stuff.
So that’s Hittler. But nobody goes home from a dinner party and says, “God, I met this guy and I can’t remember his last name,” never. It just never happens. So that is easier.
Nikki Van Noy: Perfect and then just to mention also the Evoking Genius community, the portal that you are talking about is at oneinabillionbook.com, correct?
John Hittler: Correct.
Nikki Van Noy: Awesome, all right John, thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure talking to you.
John Hittler: Nikki, thanks for making a difference.