Two Sides of the Same Coin: The Duality in Every Hire

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Two Sides of the Same Coin: The Duality in Every Hire

“Man is not truly one, but truly two.”

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of my favorite books. The idea that each of us has two people inside, constantly fighting for dominance, wasn’t new even when Robert Louis Stevenson penned the novella in 1886.

It goes much further back than that. Descartes in the 1600s, and even Plato two millennia earlier, wrote extensively about dualism, though their philosophies were much more complicated than what I’ll examine today. 

I was reminded of the phrase “duality of man” when recently talking to Steven Kotler, executive director of the Flow Research Collective. You know him well—author of Tomorrowland, Bold, Abundance, and a handful of other best-sellers. 

Steven was speaking about the team-building process and mentioned how every time you make a new hire, you’re actually adding two people:

  • The person they are when everything is great

  • The person they are when they’re terrified

Without fully understanding this, you can quickly find yourself in a burning building with no fire escape. A sinking ship with no crew. 

The misrepresentation of potential

Too often, we define “potential” only in the positive sense. Even if you type it into Google, you’ll find this:

Potential: latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.

But that’s not really accurate. Potential is a knife that cuts both ways. There is potential for future success and usefulness, but also for fear and poor decision-making. 

Each of us has the capacity to add value to a company, but the necessary environment changes drastically from person to person. 

I might fare best in an asynchronous environment where I can work uninterrupted for hours at a time. Another teammate might need people around them to act as a sounding board. 

The real question, then, is how well do each of us work when the environment isn’t perfect. 

Does pressure drive performance?

There is a lot of literature about performance under pressure and how some stress can be good for you. Daniela Kaufer of the University of California, Berkeley says, "Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.”

But other research suggests this may only be true in effort-based tasks, not skill-based ones. For the latter, people either “choke,” “clutch,” or, frustratingly, neither.

It would be a lot easier if human performance was cut and dry. 

What has been established is that too much stress, especially in the workplace, almost always results in burnout, decreased motivation, and lower productivity. But that is on the aggregate and doesn’t look at specific situations. 

How can we know how an individual employee will react in a frightening situation? 

The interview trap

I’ve been to some frightening interviews before. You are brought into a large conference room with six or seven people on the other side of the table, all rattling off questions before you can breathe. 

But a savvy job-seeker will be ready with interview prep and rehearsed answers. It’s stressful, sure, but it doesn’t really get you the answers you need as a manager. I want to know if this person will be creative and communicative—perform at a high level even when frightened of the outcome.

Steven has a trick that he shared with me. 

When he is hiring someone, he’ll give them an impossible task.

I don’t mean the infamous Google genius billboard from Silicon Valley circa-2004 that read:

{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com.

That was just a test to weed out the unsuitable applicants. No, I mean a genuinely impossible task. Something that no one would be able to complete on time or to the specifications given. 

The idea isn’t to get them to try and fail. It’s to see who will return and admit they can’t do it. Who will stride into that interview room, afraid of rejection, and be honest with you?

Only when they’re frightened of losing the opportunity will you get a small glimpse at that other person, the one they’ll be when things aren’t going well. If that person is still honest, hard-working, and willing to take direction—sounds like a hire to me!

Getting Mr. Hyde his doctorate

Remember that even though everyone has two sides, you can still work on bringing them closer together. Not every Hyde has to be a monster. 

There are methods to increase your peak performance and get yourself into a “flow state” more often, even in stressful situations. 

For a more detailed discussion of what flow is, check out my whole interview with Steven—he is a fascinating mind that I can’t wait to have on the podcast again. 

But for now, let’s go through three simple steps. 

Daily gratitude

Starting or ending your day with a daily gratitude practice can profoundly affect your mental health and, in turn, your performance at work. This practice should involve consciously thinking about or writing down what you are grateful for. 

It can include anything from small everyday pleasures to meaningful personal relationships or significant events. This simple act rewires your brain to focus on positive aspects rather than engaging in negative thought patterns.

Practicing gratitude regularly can decrease stress levels, improve resilience, and create a more adaptable mindset in the face of challenges.

Regular Exercise

I know, “eat right and work out” is tired advice. But it works! I’ll keep shouting it from the rooftops.

Adopting a regular exercise routine is beneficial not just for your physical health but for your mental health as well. Physical activity increases the production of endorphins, the brain's natural mood boosters. 

Moreover, regular exercise helps sleep patterns, improves self-confidence, and increases relaxation. Regular physical exercise can make you better equipped to handle stress and remain calm during challenging situations, whether it's a short walk, a demanding workout, or an activity like dancing, yoga, or swimming.

Mindful Practices

In a world that's constantly demanding attention and speed, practicing mindfulness can help manage stress and induce a state of calm. 

Practices like meditation, taking slow deep breaths, or simply taking a break from screens to observe your surroundings can be significantly beneficial. 

These allow you to stay in the present moment rather than worrying about future tasks or dwelling on past events. Mindfulness can enhance your focus, increase emotional resilience, and improve decision-making skills, which are invaluable in stressful or high-pressure situations. 

One thing I’ve started doing is spending an entire day completely removed from work. Don’t look at your email, don’t respond to that Slack message, or even enter your home office. It’s Saturday—get outside!

By incorporating these practices into your daily routine and encouraging your team to do the same, you can foster a more stress-resilient, mindful, and efficient work environment. Learning to manage your dualities effectively can improve individual performance and the team's overall productivity.

The fear caveat

I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea here. I'm not saying you should go scare the living daylights out of your team as some sort of twisted motivational exercise. Quite the opposite, actually.

Confronting fear head-on can be a powerful growth experience, but if you're constantly knee-deep in stress, it tends to backfire pretty quickly. We're all humans and a steady diet of dread can be traumatizing.

So, while it's important to understand your team members (and your own) two-sided nature, everything needs balance. Foster a work environment that's encouraging, supportive, and safe. When the tough times inevitably come, your team will be more ready to face them head-on, with good coping mechanisms at their disposal.

Final thoughts

In sports, a prospect’s potential is usually listed in two ways: ceiling and floor. Ceiling means the very best performance they could eventually get to. The floor is what is guaranteed every day. 

Sometimes it’s worth shooting for that high-ceiling player, but don’t underestimate the importance of a high floor. When the you-know-what hits the fan, you will want some stability on your team. 

If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.

Write me at or tweet at me @ScottDClary and I’ll do my best to get back to everyone!


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