What Can You Learn From Pitching Pennies?

What Can You Learn From Pitching Pennies?

What Can You Learn From Pitching Pennies?



Recently I was working with a group of clients on what gets in the way of achieving the goals they set for themselves. This includes big, lofty goals such as getting to the next level in their career and more simple goals such as doing the daily activities that have the biggest impact but often get put off.

Everyone got one of those big, red, plastic drinking cups and several coins including pennies, nickels, and dimes. The rules were: put the cup far enough away from you so that it is a challenge to get the coins in. Start pitching the coins into the cup. If you don’t get them all in on the first try, take all the coins out of the cup, and start over again.

Halfway through the activity the instructions were changed so that they could leave the coins already in the cup and continue to get what was left of the coins into the cup.

The most important rule of the game: Pay attention to what you do to achieve the goal.

Here’s what happened:

Some people put the cup far enough away so that it was a real challenge for them.

Some people put the cup within an easy distance so that they could make the goal, but not so close that their peers were thinking they made it too easy for themselves.

Most people threw one coin at a time; one person threw several coins at a time.

One person used dart throwing skills from the past as the method for getting the coins in.

Some changed their method of throwing during the activity to get better at achieving the goal.

Most people ended up getting all or most of the coins in the cup and some did it several times.

After the exercise, I asked some coaching questions:

  1. What did you learn about yourself during this activity?
  2. How did you approach the activity?
  3. What was your self-talk?
  4. What did you think/feel when you didn’t achieve the goal?
  5. Was it hard, and if so, what did you do to overcome that?
  6. How would you apply what you learned about yourself to your work?

In The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, he writes about his philosophy on what it takes to master something. Waitskin is an eight-time National Chess Champion, the subject of the movie, Searching for Bobbie Fischer and is now a martial arts champion with 21 National Championships titles as well as several World Championship titles.

In the book, Waitzkin writes about Dr. Carol Dweck’s work on the “distinctions between entity and incremental theories of intelligence.”

Individuals with an entity perspective believe they have a natural ability at something and are therefore good at it. “They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve.”

Individuals with an incremental (learning) perspective believe that “with hard work, difficult material can be grasped – step-by-step, incrementally, (and) the novice can become the master.”

Waitzkin suggests that in order to learn and master something, we must be willing to try and fail over and over again. We must step back and analyze what we have done, make a change (often small) and try again. Waitzkin suggests: “Usually growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.”

So, how does this apply to pitching pennies? Hopefully, pitching pennies will give you insight into how you approach learning, challenges, and obstacles. It will teach you to take the time to step back and analyze the situation and learn from it.

Use this process to help you find out what is getting in the way for you or your team or your company in achieving your goals. Ask yourself: How can I shift my mindset to an incremental or “always learning” perspective?

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Welcome to the Listening to the Leader in You Blog

Super-leaders arm themselves with insight. This blog is where you’ll find concepts, ideas, resources and more for honing your full set of leadership capabilities. 
Lynn Schaber, MCC
For the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to partner with individuals intent on cracking the code to leadership beyond the ordinary.