Russ: Coming to you today from Kansa City where I’m very pleased to have as my guest Jon McGraw, Co-Founder and Principal with Vision Pursue; Jon, welcome to the show.
Jon: Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Vision Pursue.
Jon: Vision Pursue is a mental skills training and technology company that focuses a lot on performance psychology, but even before that foundationally it’s focused around life experience. Just some basic mental skills that we should all have developed a long time ago and oftentimes they get overlooked. But we have a training program designed to help enhance those skills and then a technology that helps support it.
Russ: So mental skills and technology, you say technology to help support it, I assume it’s some sort of interactive capability from a computer, is that right?
Jon: It is, yes. We have a website and mobile app that are designed to deliver the training – post in-person training – to really help deliver the skills, the necessary practices to develop those skills over time.
Russ: How old is the company?
Jon: This is the end of our third year.
Russ: And how many people are involved?
Jon: We have four fulltime people that are doing a lot of different things right now but it’s exactly what we need. Three Co-founders that have helped start the company and then we just brought on Dr. Ian Connole who’s a director of Sports Psychology at Kansas State University; he’s just joining us fulltime now and excited to have him joining the team.
Russ: Cool. Sports Psychology and talking about the team, I know you have a background in sports – quite extensive – you played in the NFL right?
Jon: I did, ten seasons.
Russ: And did that play a role in coming up with the idea of Vision Pursue?
Jon: A huge role. My personal experience in Division I athletics and then the NFL was really the genesis for Vision Pursue. My Co-founder Russ Rausch had started the company before we met but when we did meet we came together and some of the things that I had experienced and struggled with in sports really added a whole other element to what Vision Pursue was at the time. And so the struggle was understanding there were certain parts of my psyche that were really undermining a lot of my performance.
There was one part of my mindset that was really helping me. I knew how to work hard, I knew how to be a good teammate, be coachable; those were ingrained in me at a young age. Towards the end of my NFL career I realized that there was this whole other part of my mindset that’s really undermining and I was completely unaware of it; not being able to be present when I got home, not knowing how to deal with performance anxiety, trying to control things I couldn’t control. Things that were really taxing me mentally, physically and emotionally and just didn’t realize that I was the one that was self-inducing, kind of self-sabotaging, versus what I thought was the external world having this impact on me.
Russ: Wow, interesting. Do any of the other Co-founders have a background in sports?
Jon: They don’t. So there’s three original Founders. Russ Rausch was really the original founder, really extensive background in the corporate world. He was one of the originals at a company in Chicago called Trading Technologies. They went from a few employees to over 600 and he was the CFO there, running a lot of the global operations for the company. A real extensive corporate background, but similar experience to me where he realized that a lot of his experience of living his dream so to speak and achieving at a high level, having a lot of success, a lot of it just didn’t feel very good.
Almost the more successful he became the more miserable he became, which was part of my experience as well, and so he definitely had a very close and personal experience with it in his corporate background. And then our third Co-Founder Matt Andriusis, he is a really brilliant architect and coder, so he’s built all of our technology. And on top of that he really lives out the principles that we teach and adds a lot to the content and development that we do. So the three of us are really the original founders and then like I said Dr. Ian Connole just joined us, so a team of 4 right now that we’re real excited about.
Russ: Well what does your target customer look like?
Jon: That’s a great question. We started in the corporate world so we started in a lot of different spaces. A lot of them in the financial space, remember that was Russ’s background in the hedge fund and trading and technology world, so a lot of banks, financial services, hedge funds. Started there and then we went to pharmaceuticals and police departments and schools and companies all across the board.
So we really started there and then we got into sports and our sports clients have continued to grow with a number of NFL teams, some Major League Baseball teams, and an NBA team and some Division I programs. And it’s been really fun to see how these two worlds – the corporate world and the sports world – that are high performance, the parallels, because there’s a lot in common, but then also a lot of nuances that are different about each one. And so learning about those and learning how to help individuals in those different contexts has been really fun.
Russ: Wow. So just describing those differences made me think, do you have different curriculum or is it basically sort of the same process that you guys teach?
Jon: The process and principles foundationally are always the same and that’s all just based on the way that our brains have developed in Western psychology, so we’re sort of addressing foundationally very similar things. But then once that’s addressed then we get into some more personalized, customized training that’s specific to whatever context you’re operating in.
Russ: You’ve got me really interested now, so explain in general the principles and what you guys teach to overcome and how you do it.
Jon: So the first part of the training is teaching five core principles, and this we typically do in person. We come into an organization or team and deliver this in person training that’s a combination of PowerPoint videos and exercises and team exercises. One is bring an awareness to what we call the automatic brain and how we’ve all inherited an operating system that’s really calling the shots for us. And it’s full of a lot of automatic thoughts, a lot of judgement and expectations, and some certain control issues that are common in the way that the brain develops.
So first we’ve got to bring an awareness to that and help understand how that’s working, why it’s working; how it’s trying to help us but in a lot of ways if it’s not trained well it can be undermining what we’re doing. And then we get into emotional intelligence, it’s the second thing that we teach. Understanding how to respond to emotions, how to get emotions working for us versus against us. Then we get into identity and purpose; understanding who we are and why we’re here, which is critical for how we approach the world. Then we get into some actual practices around mindfulness and meditation which are really great ways to help quiet the analytical part of our intelligence and engage the experiential and create what we call brain balance.
And then we get into connection and understanding relationships and the parts of our brain that are helping us connect with others and the world around us and the parts of our brain that are actually inhibiting that. Those are the five key principles that we teach foundationally and once we have a good foundation from there then we can start getting more into some specific skills for your context, wherever you’re operating.
Russ: My goodness. It sounds lii you ought to have a cabinet position at the Executive branch of the federal government, that’s fascinating. So do you feel like you’re being successful in these companies and teams that you’re visiting and sharing your practice with?
Jon: The success stories that we’ve gotten to be a part of have been really exciting and obviously personally rewarding when you get to see people who are struggling with things that I struggled with, that we struggled with, and to see them be able to overcome those; to see not only their performance go the next level but also see their experience of their current life situation and their relationships and what they currently have, to see that go up dramatically is really, really fun. Most people think that in order for me to have the life that I want, to create the life that I want, I need to make all these external changes right? And if could just get life to look this way, if I could finally experience…
Russ: That everybody else got right…
Jon: Yes, and then I’d finally be okay, right? And to see them kind of take back control and responsibility for their own, the way that they’re interpreting and experiencing the world and to see – usually nothing changes very much in the first 30 days – but the way they’re experiencing that situation is enhanced dramatically just because the way their brain is processing this change.
Russ: So I guess the curriculum is a 2 month or 6 month or something like that, but then how do you continue those practices? How do you teach customers to continue after the subject is over?
Jon: So that’s where the technology comes in and really helps us leverage our time, and so clients are able to maintain access to our technology – the mobile app – and it really becomes ingrained in the way that they operate. So it’s not quite like physical conditioning where if you stop working out your muscles begin to atrophy. Mental skills are a little bit different, once you get them they really become self-reinforcing. And yeah you need some refreshers here and there and you need to kind of keep your sword sharp, but you begin practicing them without even realizing you’re practicing them and so they really continue to develop even if you’re not necessarily training everyday so to speak.
Russ: So I have to go back to your sports background too and the fact that you have the NFL teams that are clients; when an NFL team signs up does everybody on the team participate or is it maybe some of them are such important stars they don’t have to participate?
Jon: So we’ve had different experiences and we always encourage leadership when we go into any organization to start off just making it voluntary and say hey, let us come in and share what we’re doing and if someone’s interested great, if not this isn’t something that typically you would force on someone, to make them do. There’s a certain amount of desire
Russ: We want you to be happy now.
Jon: That’s right. So we would start that way and from there it just builds organically. And as people see the changes that are taking place in those who are participating in the program very soon the rest of the organization wants to be a part and get involved.
Russ: Very impressive, but before I let you go I’m sure there’s people watching saying well where did Jon play? When did he play? What position did he play? Share a little bit about your football background.
Jon: So I grew up in a small town in Kansas. I had two dreams, one was to play football at Kansas State for Coach Bill Snyder. For people that don’t know college football Bill Snyder has orchestrated maybe the greatest turn around in college football history; a really amazing coach to get to play for. So I walked on at Kansa State University, walked on the football team and worked my tail off and fortunately Coach Snyder had developed a program – built a program that was great at developing players like myself who weren’t blue chip, four or five star recruits. Followed his process and over time became a starter and then an All-American and a second round draft pick to the New York Jets.
So I went to New York, played a few years there for one of my favorite head coaches Herm Edwards. I spent a couple years in Detroit with the Lions and then Coach Edwards got the head coaching job here in Kansas City with the Chiefs. That brought me back here close to home so I got to finish up my career as a Kansas City Chief, so I got to play for my two favorite hometown teams, a really, really amazing experience, but learned a lot about myself, about the teams and how culture impacts teams and how leadership impacts teams and so was able to take a lot away from that that’s helped me personally but also helped me develop Vision Pursue.
Russ: Jon thanks so much for sharing your story.
Jon: Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Jon McGraw, Co-Founder and Principal of Vision Pursue.
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