Attribution Theory in Business and Children with Amy Kines

Amy Kines from Ready Aim Teach discusses attribution theory and it’s application to everything from employees to schoolchildren…

Adam Lowe:       Today’s guest is a special friend of mine, her name is Amy Kines. She runs a company called Ready, Aim, Teach. Thanks so much for having me. Thanks for coming on. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your business and how you help people?

Amy Kines:          Sure, yup, I am the president and owner of Ready Aim Teach. And we are a company that trains teachers in small businesses. Cool. And how did you come up with the idea to start Ready Aim Teach? Uh, well, I’m a teacher by background, so I spent 25 years teaching both students and then teachers. So I trained at the elementary level, middle school level before going into the district wide level where I taught teachers. And um, from there I decided I wanted to take it to a broader audience where I could train larger numbers of teachers and then also business people.

Adam Lowe:       You’re being a little humble here. Uh, I’ve seen some of your trading classes and they’re pretty wild. It’s a room full of a hundred plus teachers and post-it notes and cardboard and it kind of looks a little bit like kindergarten. Um, tell me a little bit about, uh, with these training classes look like and why teachers would come to them.

Amy Kines:          Well, it’s funny you said that because I think that’s my mission is to model the model for teachers. So if we can get teachers actively engaged, my goal is for them to take that back to their classrooms and get their students more actively engaged. So we, we really have people come to a workshop and engage wholeheartedly in the learning. So nobody just sits and listens to anything. So they, they might listen to something but then they actually do something with that so they’re up there talking to each other. They’re creating something, they’re debating if they’re acting things out. Um, because that’s exactly what we want kids to do when they’re learning things because we know that in the learning actually sticks.

Adam Lowe:       It’s not just kids either, but I think I would assume that this goes for everybody, right? Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. We see that all the time. Yeah. I remember back when I was in corporate, you know, we’d have trainers come in and teach us things and we’d always be out of our seats and working in groups. Do you, do you take that information, um, the teach the teacher stuff and apply that to a corporate as well?

Amy Kines:          Yeah, absolutely. And it’s funny, I’ll run into people who I’ve trained at the corporate level and what they remember are the things that they did hands on, so they’ll remember the hand motions of something and that helped them when they were then doing a presentation. They’ll say, oh my gosh, I can remember the five attributes because I remember the acronym for it. I remember the hand motions for it. So it works for adults just as well as kids.

Adam Lowe:       So, uh, you wanted to talk a little bit today about something called attribution theory. Um, I have no idea what this is tell me.

Amy Kines:          Attribution theory is a theory about the reasons we give for both successes and failures. Um, so it dates way back to, um, the 1970’s. So, um, you know, history-wise it comes from a guy named Bernard Wiener who looked at reasons people give for when they were successful and also when they weren’t successful. And it’s interesting, we all give reasons we do well and when we don’t do well and it’s really interesting when you apply that to kids, but it’s also really interesting when you look at people in the business world and so when we can take a step back and look at ourselves and why we attribute both our successes and our failures, it helps us begin to own our successes and also own when things don’t go well. So then I can make better decisions next time

Adam Lowe:       When I told you about, um, a contract a couple of weeks ago when I was just having lunch with somebody and we just happen to get to talking. And I was saying, oh well, you know, just just by luck I won this contract. But I suppose, you know, given what you’re saying here, not necessarily luck it’s, it’s putting myself in the right place at the right time.

Amy Kines:          You weren’t necessarily in the right place at the right time because you put yourself in the right place at the right time, but, but that happens and I think people, when people say they were lucky or they just happened to be in the right place at the right time, they can’t own it and so they can’t savor it and they also cannot replicate it next time. Whereas if someone says, I made the appointment, I knocked on every door, I did the homework and I knew where to be or who to contact then, they can replicate that and they can then they can duplicate that success next time. And I think, I think that’s true in the business world and also working with kids.

Adam Lowe:       The flip side of that is, is also the people that when something goes wrong, they blame everybody else. They always blame all the external factors. Is that external locus of control versus internal? Right.

Amy Kines:          Absolutely. Yeah. It was really interesting. Um, Howard Gardner research and so he looked at highly successful people and also like, you’re kind of chronically unsuccessful people. So people like who can’t hold down a job and he interviewed them and he said, you know, give me the reasons for when you’re successful and when you’re unsuccessful and your chronically unsuccessful people, their answers were things like, my boss didn’t like me, I was unlucky. I just couldn’t get a break. Versus the people who, um, who are successful. So your CEO’s of companies, the people who you’re highly successful, people, athletes, CEO’s of corporations, they said things like, I read everything I could read on the thing I attended every meeting I knocked on every door. I did everything I was supposed to do. So they lived in this quadrant on effort. So there’s really four reasons, right?

Amy Kines:          People get for successes and failures. So one is about effort, which is exactly where you want to be. Because you want to own it. So there’s effort, there’s luck, which it means we don’t own it all. We attributed it to something completely out of our control. One is about task difficulty. So it was too hard or it was too easy. Oh yeah. You know, I, I got lucky. It was easy. Well, it wasn’t easy, it was easy because you studied or you read the material or you prepped for your presentation. So task difficulty. And the other is ability. I’m just really good at that, or I’m really smart. Um, well maybe, but then let’s go on to something more challenging for you. So those kind of the four reasons kids give or even adults give for successes and failures and so as educators or as somebody who’s working with the staff, our job is to help them see that it really is about effort and if they’re not, they’re not there yet to move them to that effort quadrant.

Adam Lowe:       What are some tools or techniques that you have to take them from thinking that it’s about luck or difficulty to push them towards that effort quadrant?

Amy Kines:          Yeah, number one is awareness. So when I’m doing a workshop, I actually like we, we quadrant it out, so I have like a big sheet of paper and we start off with it totally blank. So I’ve got it set into four quadrants and I’ll say, so imagine you just got a test back, right? And your teacher says, how did you do you say, I did great, or I failed it, and I said, well, why do you think that’s one of the reasons you gave? And so people will give reasons and I’ll, I’ll just write down what they say and at fault it always falls into one of those four quadrants, one of those four ability, difficulty, luck, effort. The number one is the awareness teaching people that. And then also giving them the words to say instead. So instead of saying good luck saying you’ll do great, you prepared for that.

Amy Kines:          People don’t even think about saying good luck. It just has become such a part of the fabric. It’s something my children, my own children have never heard me say, we just don’t say good luck in our house because it’s not about luck. And to say good luck almost to me as an insult because that says you haven’t worked hard. Um, so we’ll say “do great”. You’ve studied or you know, put your best foot forward or may your effective effort pay off. So reframing what you say. As a brand new parent I’m going to have to use that one. A whole list of things to say. I got a whole that we called them replacements. Statements. I’ll give you my list.

Amy Kines:          So that’s the first thing is replacement statements and also there’s a bunch of books that you can read and when you’re thinking about children, there’s books that you can read to kids about people who work hard and succeed. Pointing it out, putting it out also to people. So if you have people who are on your staff when they succeed, really making it evident of why this succeeded. So not saying, oh my gosh, you were so lucky. Or Wow, you’re really good at that, but saying you’re really good at that. I can tell you prepared or I can tell the hard work you put into that presentation. So sometimes it’s just a little tweak, but it can make a huge difference not only in the person owning it, but then the person duplicating it next time.

Adam Lowe:       It’s so funny you talk about this, and specifically with kids, because that’s where you spend most of your time is in training, but one of my, one of my mentors, probably the best boss that I ever had, I asked him one day, how is it that you’re such a good boss and how is it that you’re able to motivate people so well? And he goes, I just treat you guys like I treat my kids. That stuck with me, not only that, like, wow, he must be a great father but that there’s such a parallel there between treating your employees and treating your children, you’re, you’ve got to groom them both.

Amy Kines:          And the first time I learned about attribution theory my older son was six months old and this really hit me like a ton of bricks because I thought about all the comments that we had made to my nephew who was a kindergartener at the time, which ran completely contrary to what I’m saying here. I thought, oh my gosh, we really have to change what we’re saying because he’s getting the wrong message. He’s getting the message. It’s all about being born smart. The problem with it being when you’re born smart, then when you get to something that’s difficult, all of a sudden you have that panic attack. Wait a minute, I must not be as smart as I thought I was and that presents huge dilemmas for kids and adults.

Adam Lowe:       So we’ve talked a lot about, you know, the, the positive side of attribution theory and, you know, reframing using those words to, to let them think that it’s all about the effort that they put in. What about when bad things happen? How can you use attribution theory to, to frame that? So, so that the, the behavior changes.

Amy Kines:          Yeah. Um, so I think the first thing when something doesn’t go well so somebody doesn’t get the job they wanted or a presentation doesn’t go well, is to step back and think about what part of it didn’t go well. So typically it’s not that the whole thing failed. There’s a piece of it that failed. So if a presentation doesn’t go well or we don’t get the bid or we don’t get the contract, where in the process did things not go well? And if we can pinpoint that, that’s a first step because sometimes people think of it, the whole thing failed. Probably the whole thing didn’t fail where, where did things go wrong? So isolating the piece that went wrong and then what can we do differently next time? So it doesn’t mean this is the end of the road, but being very proactive in thinking about, OK, how can we fix it next time? Because this isn’t the end of the story. This isn’t the end of your career, right? Let’s think about how we’re going to change it for next time. So going back to effort, um, OK, so it’s not that you can never make a presentation. Perhaps this time you didn’t have the skill or you had too many words on your powerpoint or you talked for too long. So brain research says after eight minutes, people aren’t listening anymore. So let’s think about that. And let’s change your presentation for next time and make it better.

Adam Lowe:       I’m sorry, what was that? Yeah,

Amy Kines:          eight minutes. Eight minutes of content that people need two minutes to process it. But you know, but until, until you helped somebody isolate where they went wrong so that they can own it and then make the change, they kind of sometimes perceive the whole thing as a failure instead of just a little piece of it as a failure.

Adam Lowe:       No, that makes a lot of sense. You know, you can get 90 percent of it. Right. And then screw up that 10 percent that takes it all down. But that doesn’t negate the fact that you were so right in so many ways.

Amy Kines:          I think as humans we all perseverate on the piece that didn’t go well, you know, and that’s the piece that we dwell on instead of thinking, OK, that was great. That was a great opportunity for learning. So how am I going to be better next time so that next time I will get the contract for next time we will get all the people to sign on the dotted line.

Adam Lowe:       You come into the meeting, you’re the best proposal in the world, and then you go ahead and insult the CEO

Amy Kines:          or I wasn’t dressed right or I talked for too long or everybody sat for too long. I mean, there’s so many little intricacies. So if I can begin to become more self reflective, it just makes it better for me and for my participants or whoever’s sitting in the boardroom.

Adam Lowe:       Yeah. So did you want to do a little bit of a role-playing here to going to demonstrate how it works?

Amy Kines:          So, um, let’s say for example, um, let’s say you just went for a job interview, right? And OK. So let’s say you got the job right. So we meet for lunch afterwards and I’ll say, Adam, how did it go?

Adam Lowe:       Oh, the interview went great. We talked about all sorts of things that seems like such a, such a fantastic company, a, I just can’t believe that I was so lucky to get this interview.

Amy Kines:          And why do you think you were so lucky?

Adam Lowe:       I worked really hard and I, I sent out my resume to a lot of people. I talk to so many people. You’re, you’re killing me here, Amy.

Amy Kines:          That’s exactly it. So I couldn’t let it lie. I could’ve said, oh my gosh, you’re so. You’re right. You were so lucky that I just said, why? Why were you so lucky that that’s it? You just asked the followup question. That’s all you have to do so that they can say, oh, wait a minute. Why wasn’t that? I was lucky because I sat out my resume and that’s all it takes is that follow-up question.

Adam Lowe:       The question why is so powerful that, you know, I say it all the time that I ask why more than a two year old? That’s good. It really just, it catches you off guard, makes you stop and think, and when you ask why a couple different times, um, you’ve really, really start to get to the root of either the issue or whatever it is that you’re trying to uncover there. So I liked that. You mentioned that. Did it to me right there either.

Amy Kines:          It can sound very, very normal. I mean, it doesn’t have to be accusatory, just. Oh, tell me about one of the things this weekend we have a workshop. Um, we’re, we’re talking about saying just say it different ways so we can say, so what makes you say that or tell me more about that or give me some more information or help me understand a little bit more, you know, we can phrase it in different ways so that it’s a comfortable conversation which is not taking it at surface level and help. Does that really helps the other person reflect and see. It wasn’t just luck, you know, I, I owned it because I did something and I worked for it

Adam Lowe:       “Help me understand” is a great one. I use it all the time, usually because I just don’t understand.

Amy Kines:          Great though. But. But that helps you with. But it also helps them because sometimes they something and especially if they’ve done it forever, they are doing it at such an unconscious level. If you can bring it to their consciousness then they can duplicate it or they can help somebody else be better at it also.

Adam Lowe:       Well, and it just clarifies any misconceptions that might be just having somebody talk through something rather than, you know, one party assuming that they, that they know what’s going on. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Um, all right. So when, when people talk about, uh, you know, something being so difficult, you know, you talked about those four reasons, luck, ability, effort, task difficulty, um, you know, luck, I think is a huge one and I think in this culture in particular, we tend to just fall back on luck because we don’t want to talk about, we don’t want to wave a flag. I got lucky. Um, but, but the task difficulty, I think that’s a really interesting one. Can you tell me a little bit more about how that sounds and you know, again, how you might be able to reframe that when somebody says, you know, oh, that, that, that was a piece of cake. No problem.

Amy Kines:          So somebody says of cake, no problem. I’ll say, so tell me why you think it was so easy. And sometimes it really was too easy. So we have to acknowledge. So sometimes somebody really is very skilled at making presentations for somebody who is very skilled in math or science or whatever the the task is. If that’s the case, then I would say something like, that sounds like you’ve mastered that. You’re ready, what’s your next challenge? Where are you going next? Because what you never want somebody to do is settle for the status quo. So if somebody is saying task difficulty and it really is that easy for them, let’s move. Let’s bump him up again, whether that’s an adult that’s working for you because then they’re going to get bored, right? If they are always doing something that’s easy, you don’t want to onboard and they don’t want to be bored.

Amy Kines:          If it’s a student, why on earth would they be doing something that’s too easy? Let’s move them to the next level if it really wasn’t too easy or if it was easy cause they worked hard. Again, you want to unearth it. So you just say, um, so tell me more. Why was it so easy for you? What did you do to get ready for it? And then they think about like, oh actually I read the script or you know, I rehearsed this with my wife last night, or we practice the interview, we went back and forth, or you know, I made these script cards and I was practicing or have these flashcards and I went through it and sometimes they forget that until you asked that question. Um, and that’s whether it was too hard or too easy. Almost ask those same questions. Tell me more about that. Tell me what you did to prepare. So if they say, this was too hard, tell me what you did to prepare. And sometimes what you find that is, I didn’t, well then tell me what you’ll do next time. Let’s talk about what you could do next time so that you could be more prepared.

Adam Lowe:       And that’s so common, especially in the business world when you’re dealing with a difficult client. For example, you might just say, oh, well this person is such a pain in the butt or the, you know, of course the meeting went with terrible. Right?

Amy Kines:          So given that, let’s talk about what we can do next time. Next time you have a difficult client or less, next time you have somebody who comes in with that similar personality, what can we do differently so that you’re more prepared ahead of time,

Adam Lowe:       right? Personality. What is it about that person that’s, that’s not clicking with you so that you can really prepare and maybe understand their personality. May people prepare for the objections ahead of time.

Amy Kines:          Yeah. Yeah, so you’re just helping them own it so that they can be. They can move on from that. It can also help them kind of let go of the failure or the disappointment and the all right. I learned from that. I’m going to do better next time.

Adam Lowe:       That’s a pretty heavy stuff. It’s such a simple concept, but it really is powerful.

Amy Kines:          I’m telling you, I love the stuff that this is really. It’s so powerful for kids in school, but it’s so powerful for us as adults also in the business world.

Adam Lowe:       Yeah, definitely. I can see that. The more you talk about it, see how I’ve done that myself, how I continue to do it myself, stop. We’re probably all guilty of it. So how can we as people catch ourselves when we start thinking this way, you know, it’s great when we’re thinking about it right now, like attribution theory, like I can think back in all these examples, but in the moment, you know, do you have any tools or techniques to really just catch yourself when you start thinking, OK, I got lucky there or you know, oh, that was a piece of cake. No worries.

Amy Kines:          So I have people who I’ve worked with who are parents who keep like the list of replacement statements on their refrigerator or they have it next to where their kids do homework so that they are saying the right things. Like I talked about that there’s like I had a quadrant with the four responses and I just kept that quadrant as I was learning it. I kept that next to my computer and it just, it was like a visual trigger for me. Um, but I think the awareness of it so, because now, now that you know, you’ll hear yourself the next time you say, Oh, I was just lucky or it was too hard, you’ll catch yourself immediately. You might not know what to say, but awareness is the first step of it. So then you’re going to just email me and he’ll say, hey, what should I have said or what would you have said? And then we’ll have a conversation about it, which is the really cool part of it, right? But it’s sort of like a journey and this is the first step of it.

Adam Lowe:       Where can people go to learn more about attribution theory?

Amy Kines:          You can google it, attribution theory or Bernard Wiener, w e I n e r or they can connect with me@ready.com which is my website. Um, you know, there’s a lot of interesting research about it. So, you know, we talked about there for different attribution’s and there are other, there are other variations of it with lots of more. I think the four that I said are kind of the most basic. And as we interview both kids and adults, I think everything always falls into one of those four. If you dig deep, it always falls into one of those for absolutely. I mean, it’s, sometimes you have to take a little bit deeper sometimes at the motivation to be a little bit. I need to ask a couple of those why questions, find out what they want to know. I would love to have a conversation with any of your listeners. I’m very passionate about this topic.

Adam Lowe:       Cool. Um, so anything else that you want to talk about before we go into the lightning round?

Amy Kines:          I didn’t even know where the lightning round to be. A little nervous that this lightning rod. However, sometimes it’s about effort. I know I can do it. I think you can.

Adam Lowe:       All right. So if there’s one book that you can give to everyone that you meet, what would it be and why?

Amy Kines:          Mindset by Carol Dweck, because it’s all about growth mindset, um, and helping kids and adults that you can get smarter. Real everybody. Oh, including kids are so smart. Really? You just read it piece by piece and you will be just fine with it. Mindsets. Carol Dweck,

Adam Lowe:       like how to eat an elephant one piece at a time.

Amy Kines:          Got It. It will change your life, especially as a new parent. Great Book. It’s parenting thing is hard work hard, much harder than teaching for sure.

Adam Lowe:       So then question number two, what’s the biggest mistake that you see business leaders make?

Amy Kines:          Um, I think settling for the status quo maybe or just thinking that they’re done. So when they have enough clients, they feel like they’re done and they don’t. They forget to continue to reach out to new people.

Adam Lowe:       Yeah, that’s definitely a good one. You, you get so busy doing the work that you forget that the uh, sales pipeline needs to stay full.

Amy Kines:          Yeah. Right, right, right. Just because people come and people go and just the evolution of business.

Adam Lowe:       Yep. So I’m going to take one right off the right off the plate here. You can talk about your phone, but what’s one tool, you know, piece of technology or a process or a methodology or something that you feel like you can’t live without?

Amy Kines:          Technology that I can’t live without the computer count. OK,

Adam Lowe:       no, that’s too easy.

Amy Kines:          Um, well, so I use an LCD projector because I do presentations that. Can I use that or is that cheating? I want to go. Yeah. I, some people are pretty techie person that, that you just held up there. It’s a clean slate. So we do use these, the teacher, so they, it’s a, you can write on it, right. So you right, they write all over them and then they can raise them and all the kids have on when we teach them how to have all the kids writing at one time with them. So we teach teachers how to be very non techie because again, the more kinesthetically involved it can be just better. Um, yeah. Oh, so cool.

Adam Lowe:       I’m one of those people like I cannot live without my whiteboard. I’m right. Right, right, right, right. And, and I’m probably the biggest [inaudible] ever meet, but sometimes just having that marker and you know, a giant six-foot whiteboards to isn’t. Um, yeah. So all right, sorry. Retailed, tell me why you think you failed that question because I’m not a very techie person. Doesn’t have to be about technology. I asked what’s the tool that you can hold my weight. Ds that clean slate. Clean slate I showed you. There you go. All right. This one could be really easy or really hard depending. So here we go. Um, if you could have lunch with anybody dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Amy Kines:          Oh, and I already said the author, Carol Dweck. I would absolutely love to meet her and just pick her brain because I’m, like I said, when I learned about attribution theory and this whole growth mindset thing, my son had just been born and it absolutely changed our whole parenting style, um, and has changed the way that I run my business, the way we run our family. Um, and the way I look at the world about that really people can get smarter. And I just think that changes everything. Carol Dweck,

Adam Lowe:       I’m going to get that on audio book like today. Oh, it’s so good gig. I spend so much time in the car is I, I, I’m, I love books. This is why I asked people, you know, the book stuff. All right. Last lightning round question. Tell me a fun fact about yourself that people might not know.

Amy Kines:          I’m a huge Jimmy Buffet Fan, so I went to like 25 concerts or something as a teenager and early twenties or

Adam Lowe:       we don’t talk about that anymore. What happens at the Jimmy Buffett comes back when we used to travel all over to go see them and drink anyway. Oh, that sounds like so much fun. So, um, what gonna switch back to your business, it’s just a little bit. So, so where do you expect your business to be heading in the next 12 months?

Amy Kines:          Oh Gosh, that’s exciting. We’re growing as a company in terms of educating educators. So we’re offering new courses, be two brand new courses that are debuting the summer and then a new course that will debut in the spring. So we’re having more courses for teachers and we’re also now offering corporate training. And so that’s a piece that really is growing by leaps and bounds. And so I’m really excited about that piece. I think that’s going to be the biggest growth in the next 12 months.

Adam Lowe:       So is that a group training or [inaudible] training?

Amy Kines:          Both. It really depends on what people need. So in some cases I’m going in and I’m working like with a CEO of a company or somebody who’s within a company who. So there’s somebody and he just needed help in making like facebook live posts he wasn’t sure, wasn’t comfortable and how to do it, how to get a message across, um, succinctly, you know, so that people will listen. So sometimes it’s one on one, but then sometimes it’s also going in and doing like training for a whole company in a way that’s again, find that people are going to retain it and actually learn something.

Adam Lowe:       Certain business sectors that you prefer to work in.

Amy Kines:          There’s really not. Because I think part of the fun thing for me is learning something that I don’t know anything about. So one of my clients, one of my biggest clients actually is a skincare company, um, and I knew nothing about skincare, but that’s one of my biggest clients. And so I train the consultants who work for that company,

Adam Lowe:       you know, that’s, that’s a really cool thing that you just mentioned there. Um, you know, people always think that they need to domain knowledge in order to work with particular clients and really you don’t know that’s, that’s the part that can be easily learned, but you know, having the knowledge of what you’re trying to teach them or no, the thing that they’re trying to learn, that’s the most important thing. The domain knowledge, you can get that

Amy Kines:          [inaudible] I like to just go in and find out what are their needs and what are their goals and then designing and developing the training that’s going to match what they’re looking for.

Adam Lowe:       Very cool. So where can people reach out to you to say thank you? You know, an email address, phone number, website.

Amy Kines:          Yeah. So my email address is [inaudible], which is k I n e s at [inaudible] dot com. Our website is ready and teach that content and our phone number is [inaudible]. Three, eight, six, nine, eight.

Adam Lowe:       Great. Thanks so much for speaking with me this morning.

Amy Kines:          Oh, this was so fun and I really appreciate it. Definitely. I’ll talk to you later. Sounds great. Thanks a bunch.