Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Rugby mind tests just what doctor ordered

Visiting psychologist says winning formula could work for NZ at next World Cup

Dr Lenny Kristal is visiting Waikato University. Photo / Christine Cornege
Dr Lenny Kristal is visiting Waikato University. Photo / Christine Cornege

A visiting clinical psychologist says research that gave England a Rugby World Cup-winning formula 10 years ago holds equal promise for the All Blacks in 2015.

Dr Lenny Kristal developed scientific emotional literacy (EL) tests capable of fine-tuning the minds of high-performing chief executives and helping workers stuck in dead-end jobs recognise their true callings.

Most famously, Dr Kristal was recruited by English rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward before the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

After building detailed profiles of each of the players, he then identified winning personality and cognitive attributes to create benchmark templates for the team - and a "best-fit" system for future selections.

The approach worked - England held the Webb Ellis Cup high for the first time - and the Kristal method has since captured the attention of sports teams worldwide.

"I don't know to what degree we helped the players - but I know we helped the players and I know what we did, did in fact work," Dr Kristal told the Weekend Herald yesterday.

The focus area of his research was borrowed from Sir Clive's pet mantra, T-CUP - or Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.

"Certainly, there were players who, when they started out, were fairly deficient in some areas of training and performance - and they tightened up considerably."

He couldn't deny there was potential for the All Blacks to follow Sir Clive's lead as the defending champions looked to England in two years' time. The tests could offer similar promise for anyone else to improve their cognitive deficits and exploit untapped areas of strength.

They examined four key areas - cognition, emotion, personality and wellbeing - to produce a score and grounds for improvement.

"You have the concept of IQ, but I think that is now an outdated and outmoded idea, because the brain clearly has the ability to regenerate itself and regenerate cells in order to create new learning patterns."

The tests provided a brain-training programme involving constant assessment and evaluation - and also comparison with benchmarks set by organisations, be they businesses or sports teams.

They could also help those unsatisfied in their work finally discover what they were always meant to do.

South African-born Dr Kristal was once told by a careers adviser he was destined to work in a factory, advice that would ultimately set him on a path to find a better way to match people with jobs.

With a PhD in psychology from Cambridge University, a post-doctoral fellowship at Oxford - and a colourful CV listing everything from conceiving a five-day televised conference with world luminaries to conducting the Daily Mirror's Great British Sex Survey - he has now found himself back working toward that original goal.

Stanford University's Graduate School of Business will be using technology developed by his firm, Cognisess, to conduct their first study of the cognitive and emotional facets of a good chief executive.

This week, Dr Kristal has been visiting the University of Waikato's Management School as a guest of senior lecturer Dr Fabrice Desmarais, who has enlisted his help to set up a project to analyse advertising voice-overs.

He is also working with international recruitment agencies and hopes to build up a databank for more than 30 professions.

"This has applications for all spheres of human endeavour, and if we know what the benchmarks and gold standards are with people who are doing so well at what they do, then we can share that and let everybody who wants to aspire towards that try to reach out and get there," he said.

"You may have that potential, but you just don't know it, because you've been sitting in that one job since you've left school and never done anything else."

Five life tips from Lenny Kristal

Do unto others ...
"I always try to be the best I can be, and I would like to treat others as I would like to treat me ... it's simple."

There's no such thing as stuck
"You can always reach for the stars, and you can get there. If you know what it is, and understand who you are, you can transform yourself - I don't think anyone is stuck in a rut."

Train your brain
"I don't think there's an easy panacea so everybody can cope with stress or pressure ... but by practising and training your mind, you stand a better chance."

Sweet emotion
"If you understand your emotions, and you can express your emotions, then you can communicate more honestly and accurately. Emotional awareness and intelligence is absolutely primary to everything you do."

Know your strengths
"Do you believe your attributes are genetically determined, or do they interplay with your environment? I certainly believe it's a combination of both. We all have these inherent prospects."

• Take the test at www.cognisess.com. Dr Kristal is also giving a public seminar at Waikato University's Management School, Gate 7, Hillcrest Rd, Hamilton, at 1pm on Monday.

- NZ Herald

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