What’s Your Z-Score?

And we’re back!  We had a good summer in Alaska (thanks for asking!) and now, as is our family’s migratory pattern, we’re now back in Ohio for the school year.

It’s kinda wild, shuttling back and forth from smalltown Alaska to the Ohio suburbs. It takes a few days to get acclimated, to get used to heat, the sight of neatly trimmed hedges, the tootling of the ice-cream trucks.  Then — voila! — we figure out where we’re at.

I’ve been thinking about that question — figuring out where you’re at — and I recently bumped into a useful tool. It’s called a Z-Score, and it looks like this:

The Z-Score is a method used by Red Bull Sports to train their athletes. Red Bull sponsors a bunch of the world’s top surfers, skateboarders, and extreme-sport types, and trains them in crazy-nice facilities around the world — and does a brilliant job of it, I might add. The above Z-Score is for a pro skateboarder, but this method can be applied to any talent, and any person.

  • Step 1: take a sheet of graph paper.
  • Step 2: Around the margin of that graph paper, write down the four or five specific skills you want to develop.  For example, if you happened to be a doctor, you might select JUDGEMENT, PERCEPTION, TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE, and BEDSIDE MANNER. On the other hand, if you happened to be in sales, you might select ABILITY TO CONNECT, PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE, ABILITY TO DELIVER PITCH, etc.  The key is to be as specific as possible.
  • Step 3: Grade yourself on each of these skills by placing a dot on the graph paper. If you’re 100 percent perfect, the dot should touch the word. Be brutally honest. (To do this more precisely, start from an X in the center of the paper, rate yourself from 1-10 in each skill, and use the squares of the graph paper to measure outward toward the target skill.)
  • Step 4: Now connect the dots and draw the resulting shape. That spiderweb shape is you. To be more precise, that’s your map — both where you are now, and where you want to go. The idea is to build your practice sessions targeting those skills; the goal is to push your Z-shape outward as far as you can.

I’ll add one idea to the Z-Score: when you select each target skill, also select a target person for that skill — someone who embodies that skils, who performs that one narrow thing better than anybody you’ve ever seen. That way, you’re not striving toward some abstraction, but toward a flesh-and-blood person.

Speaking of reaching goals, I’ve got some terrific news to share. Two years ago, after reading a certain book (okay, mine) Michael Reddick set out to become a professional billiard player. Last week, he won the Northern California round of the U.S. Amateur Championship and, on the weekend of November 4, will head to Florida and try to become national champ. Check out his blog documenting his journey. Good luck, Michael; we’ll all be rooting for you.

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