Here you will find my exclusive interviews of thought leaders and authors in the fields of Self-Improvement, Creating Wealth, Leadership, Financial Planning and more. Click on the index title to read the interviews.
Index to Interviews:
July 2011 – Interview with Daniel and Deborah Minteer, authors of Boiled Down Money Goo – Tips for Propelling Your Financial Future
August 2010 – Interview with John G. Miller, author of Outstanding: 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Outstanding
May 22, 2014
An exclusive interview with Ron Mercer by Daniel R. Murphy-
Murphy: Today I want to welcome Ron Mercer for our interview. Ron a small book with some big ideas in it titled The Corporate Soul Handbook last year. Thank you for joining us today Ron. Can you tell us why you wrote this book?
Mercer: After a 30+ year career in commercial banking, I decided to retire. I have been blessed in many ways. I can never repay the blessings but I can try to pay them forward. I felt sharing some of the stories, experiences and lessons I learned from working with many different organizations would be a way to help others. Successful organizations excel in any economic and political environments. They do not ride the waves or the tides. These organizations find a way to sail to success with any winds. I found these organizations have something special. They have healthy corporate souls and they remain healthy because they nurture their corporate souls consistently.
Murphy: Tell us more about what you mean by a corporate soul.
Mercer: The soul of an organization is its core, the inner most feeling. It is where successes and failures are born. The soul is more important than culture. An organization’s culture is a product of the soul. Culture is how a company behaves. Behavior is a product of feeling. As we know, humans behave in certain ways due to their feelings. At its core, an organization is a group of people who have joined together for a purpose. How they feel as a group is vital to the success of an organization.
Murphy: Why is it important for an organization to have a soul?
Mercer: I believe all functioning organizations have a soul. The soul is the life of the organization. The question is does your organization have a healthy soul? A healthy soul breathes life into the organization while an unhealthy soul sucks the life out of an organization. Have you ever been in a meeting and everything is going well and then someone walks in, says something destructive and it just seems like the air has been let out of your balloon? I call those “soul sucker” moments. They can result from poor communication, repressive policies, lack of transparency, lack of trust, inadequate leadership, etc.
Successful organizations are full of life. The people associated with these organizations feel safe, feel trust, feel empowered, and feel inspired to fulfill the purpose of the organizations. These people feel a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They contribute and enjoy finding solutions with others knowing the answers they find together are much more powerful than the ones they could discover on their own.
Murphy: Business gets a fair amount of bad press in the United States. One can argue that the services and products we enjoy and the jobs we have are all provided by business. Is the bad press, when it happens, just a reflection of the dark side of any human institution, or is there something fundamentally wrong with business?
Mercer: The problem is not with ‘business” or the capitalist society. When things go bad in business it is usually because of poor leadership. You find an organization with a healthy soul and I will be able to point to strong leadership. Strong leadership with a servant attitude is key. Leaders are human too. We have had a long period of a lack of accountability. Many Boards of Directors of larger companies either lack the will, knowledge or expertise to hold leadership accountable. Without that accountability, leadership, again being human, tends to become self-serving.
When employees feel leadership is self-serving, trust is destroyed. Silos start popping up in the organization. Poor communication begins to fester. People eventually stop caring because they feel that they are not being cared for by the organization. All the while, the life of the company is being sucked out. The corporate soul is being damaged. People come to work to get a check not to fulfill the purpose of the organization. Many times the purpose of the organization gets so blurred nobody remembers what it is and the organization just drifts aimlessly. Eventually, customers leave, revenues drop, expense cuts are made and the soul continues to be damaged.
We need to focus on the leadership of organizations rather than the institution of capitalism. In short, we need to grow more and better leaders who are held accountable and who hold to values of being a servant first. That is a healthy environment. Isn’t an important part of growing and maturing being held accountable while being encouraged and learning the value of service to others? The same thing can be said for growing leaders.
Murphy: Does this concept of a corporate soul apply to non-business organizations? Does it apply to non-profits? Educational institutions? Government? If so, explain how.
Mercer: Yes, the philosophy of an organization applies to any organization. It can be applied to religious organizations, educational institutions, governments, non-profits, etc. Why? Because, again, all of these organizations have one thing in common…. People. People organized for a purpose. People have feelings when they come together. Angry people behave differently than those who are fulfilled. Scared people behave differently than those who feel safe. Organizations with a healthy corporate soul excel at pursuing and fulfilling the reason they are organized. They have a synergy that is powerful. These organizations are in touch with their souls.
Murphy: How much of your career was spent in the banking business? How does banking measure up in terms of having a soul?
Mercer: My entire career was in banking but I helped fund and counsel probably thousands of commercial businesses. At the end of my career, I helped fund and counsel hundreds of community banks. Part of the due diligence of any credit extension is the leadership of the organization and an organization’s behavior in good times and bad. I also trained other bankers on early warning signs of pending problems with organizations.
I found the larger the organization, the more difficult it is for leadership to recognize when the soul is being damaged and then what to do to nurture the soul back to health. The reason for this is the larger the organization; the further leadership is from the front lines. Without a continuous and concerted effort to stay in touch (a feeling), with the people, customers and capital of an organization, the higher probability the soul will be lost resulting in a merger, sell or liquidation of the organization.
Great examples of this are the struggles large banking institutions like Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan have seen lately. The regulators have uncovered lack of accountability, self-dealing, unreasonable risks, lack of transparency and other actions by individuals within these organizations. This has come during a time of massive restructuring and really very little accountability at the very top of these organizations. All of these are signs of unhealthy corporate souls, in my opinion.
The banking industry itself is vital to our society and our economy. As a whole, the industry is filled with servant leaders. People who want to work with others to help them fulfill their dreams. Community banks have really taken an uncalled for bad rap for the economic crisis. All banks are under siege by the regulators and the Justice Department. I won’t go into it much more than say I believe it has become a witch-hunt that hurts more than it helps our country.
Many banks are thriving while all of this is going on. Those are the ones you want to study and follow. I can just about guarantee you most of those thriving banks, have a healthy corporate soul.
Murphy: For a business to survive it needs profit. Is profit in any way inconsistent with the idea of having a soul?
Mercer: Absolutely, not. I believe the four most important pillars of any healthy organization are: Capital, Management, Employees and Customers. Capital must have sufficient return in order to feel good about being a part of an organization. None of the pillars are able to strengthen themselves without strengthening the others to succeed over the long term. There will be ebb and flow but if there is trust, understanding and communication, every pillar pulls together with the others. If trust, understanding and communication are missing, the pillars quickly become silos. Silos only hold things in and are self-serving. As discussed previously, silo behavior is a “soul sucker”.
Murphy: In your book you discuss the importance of self-assessment. I think we are familiar with how an individual assesses themselves. How does an organization do this?
Mercer: The assessment in the Appendix of the book was prepared so it could be performed through team participation. By getting input from all pillars within an organization, you can find the sources of success and failure. When you get to the core, you are getting to the soul. Don’t just look for “the how we behaved” that led to success or failure. Find out why. Why did we do the things we did that led to the results that we produced? The more people who participate, the more buy in everyone will have with the results of the assessment.
Murphy: You tell us that each of the four pillars of business: capital (investors), management, employees and customers must be rewarded and nurtured. How do we do that when the perceived interests of these components of an organization appear to be in conflict?
Mercer: Here is where we get off the track on business or the capitalist system. In order to achieve outstanding results over a long period of time, all four pillars must be aligned. They all came together (organized) to fulfill a purpose. Define the purpose so everyone is clear about what they signed up for. Capital will get greater returns when leadership, employees and customers are happy. Leadership and employees will find fulfillment when capital and customers’ needs are met. Customers will get innovation, great customer service, convenience and consistency when capital, leadership and employees are rewarded appropriately.
We have to leave the “what is in it for me?” mindset. If the customers get product at below cost, they will not get the product for long. If capital is only a taker and not a consistent investor, it will soon have no organization left. It is like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. We have seen that overly aggressive employee pay, pensions and benefits can kill the possibility of actually receiving these for a long time. We have already discussed self-serving leadership and what it can do to an organization.
All four pillars must hold up the platform of the organization, equally. All of their interest can be fulfilled but only together. Alignment is key!
Murphy: Does a healthy corporate soul lead to less conflict and dysfunction between these pillars of the organization?
Mercer: Yes, when each one of the pillars feels its needs are being met, the pillars concentrate on serving one another not on themselves. Communication is strong, understanding is felt and trust is a common thread. If you can get this feeling from a healthy corporate soul, everyone is willing to pull on the same rope, the same way at the same time with maximum effort. Wow! That is powerful!
Murphy: You discuss the importance of clear and effective communications in an organization. How do we improve communication?
Mercer: Truth builds trust. People need to feel safe to raise their hands to ask questions, object and offer ideas. All of these important attributes start with a trusting relationship. A trusting relationship cannot be present without open communication. It starts at the top. Leadership has to be transparent. Once people are surprised or feel misinformed, trust is destroyed. People clam up and communication is destroyed. Leadership has to demonstrate transparency consistently and make everyone feel safe when they communicate.
Murphy: How does an organization change zombies into zealots? What do you mean by these labels?
Mercer: Zombies are those folks we have all dealt with on a phone who sound like they are reading from a script. Zombies are the people we deal with but when we look into their eyes, they seem like they are not really there. Zombies are those folks in your organization who have already quit but they just have not bothered to tell you yet. They have quit caring. They have quit feeling. Why? In many organizations it is because it hurts (feeling) too much to care or feel. These folks are just collecting a check.
Zealots are the folks who own part of your company and brag about it to friends, Zealots are the folks who work for you and love being a part of your sports team or representing the organization in the community. They are so proud to be a part of something successful and bigger than themselves that they openly tell others about the positive attributes of your organization. If you want something that will propel your organization’s growth, get a group of Zealot customers!
How do you get Zealots? Do what you say, exceed expectations, listen, care, empower, train, encourage, recognize and get rid of “Soul Suckers”.
Murphy: One good example you provide as an organization with a healthy soul is Southwest Airlines. What is it about SW that tells us it has a healthy soul? How did they develop that?
Mercer: Southwest has Zealot customers, shareholders, employees and leadership. They started out by not concentrating on just the rules. They concentrated on their customers and encouraged their workers to have fun. They hire people with a servant attitude. Their employees feel rewarded and fulfilled and the customers enjoy the ride! This propels revenues and profits so capital and leadership are rewarded. It is a win/win situation. This organization exceeds expectations consistently.
Murphy: Southwest Airlines is a very big organization. Is it more difficult for a large organization to maintain a healthy soul?
Mercer: I referred to this when discussing the banking industry. The key is staying in touch with the front lines. I was on a Southwest flight once and the CEO of the company was on the plane. You know where he sat? Not up with the pilots. He sat with the rest of the folks. He asked them about their service and when it was time to serve peanuts, he got up and served peanuts! There are CEOs of large organizations that never call their own customer service group. They have assistants do that for them. These CEOs have no clue how the customer service works in their own companies other than excel spreadsheets and what others tell them. You have to get to the front lines. Great leaders have always done this. Remember General Patton? Gandhi? Jesus? You get the picture.
Murphy: How important is it for the top people in an organization to make the development and nurturance of a corporate soul a priority? Can a healthy soul exist if the leadership is not invested in it?
Mercer: Simply, no. What can exist is a soul at the team level. It can eventually be destroyed by an unhealthy overall organization. Remember, when a group of people has been organized for a purpose, a soul can exist. This is why you see groups within a larger organization excel even when the larger organization struggles. It takes very good local leadership to make this happen because that leader has to constantly overcome the negative or “Soul Sucker” actions of the larger organization.
If leadership just pays lip service to nurturing the corporate soul, it is just one more hollow promise. It becomes a “Soul Sucker”.
Murphy: You discuss the all too familiar problem of mission statements and vision statements that hang on a wall but do not truly guide an organization. How does an organization make the best use of these tools?
Mercer: You have to live them every day or they are just sayings on the wall. The corporate soul is the life of the organization. A healthy corporate soul can and will breath life into these wall hangings. Nurture the soul and make sure the mission statements reflect truth in what the organization is actually living. Review these statements often to make sure you are still traveling down the path intended. It may be fine if you are not. Things change so the mission statement may need to change but what cannot happen is the walk does not match the talk. People will not buy into that behavior.
Murphy: You discuss the value of a group studying a book together to learn from it. How does that work? What are the benefits?
Mercer: I did this for years as a leader. First, it is inspirational to discuss, as a team, ideas together that are positive. Second, you begin to form a common language and understanding by visiting together. Third, you form a chemistry of trust and respect within the group. Last but not least, I used it to give others a chance to lead, practice speaking in a group setting and we all know the leader learns more than the student.
I found that not all leaders are not comfortable leading these sessions. That is why I have the questions in the Appendix to help them. Once they start the process with this book, they can easily use the same principles to begin studying the books I recommend on my website. www.thecorporatesoulhandbook.com As a leader, this is a great way to practice your questioning and listening skills.
Murphy: You quote Roger Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, that the heart and soul of a company is creativity and innovation. How does an organization nurture these qualities?
Mercer: Give people time to think. It is amazing how many of us are so busy doing “stuff” that we never take time to think. As I state in the book, if you want to know how prevalent thinking is in your organization, the next time someone stops by your office or cubical and asks, “What are you doing?” Just watch their body language when you reply, “Thinking”. Once people get in the habit of thinking, then you must provide an atmosphere of trust and transparency where people feel safe raising new ideas and providing solutions from a different perspective.
Murphy: You are now retired from banking. Other than writing what are you doing these days?
Mercer: I am doing some speaking and consulting as a result of the book launch. My wife and I love to travel so we are doing lots of that too.
Murphy: Is there another book coming our way?
Mercer: I have several other book ideas. One is telling the story of someone who overcame many obstacles and how he overcame those obstacles to become successful. People need hope. I feel called to provide that hope to people through stories about my life. If I can do it, anyone can do it. I am busy with this book launch right now so that may be something I pursue in 2015.
Murphy: I want to thank you very much Ron for this interview and helping our readers to understand the concept and importance of the corporate soul. Do you have any final thought?
Mercer: I want to thank you for taking time to interview me. As you know, the publishing world is difficult to navigate these days mostly because, I believe, it is in a state of change. Independent folks like yourself are critical to getting the word out about new and helpful publications that were not written by public figures where the chance for quick returns are much less risky. Society needs to be constantly challenged and refreshed with new ideas. You are helping make that happen. Thank you.
I have had great interest in the new book and the website. It is my wish that the thoughts, stories and discoveries I discussed in the book are helpful for those who really want to build legacy organizations that are fulfilling the purpose set out by the organizational charter. I would also like to invite any of your readers to visit my website and sign up for the free inspirational Thought of the Day. I believe starting your day on a positive note is very productive and the thoughts can be shared with any of their team or family.
Again, many thanks, Dan.
This interview is copyright protected by Daniel R. Murphy 2014. For permission to reproduce this article or any part thereof contact the publisher at email@example.com .
An exclusive interview with Jason Harvey. by Daniel R. Murphy-
Murphy: Hi Jason and thank you for this interview. We are featuring your book, Achieve Anything in Just One Year as our Books2Wealth Book of the Month for March 2014. What was your motivation for writing this book?
Harvey: Hello Daniel, thank you for doing the interview and featuring my book. To answer your question, my motivation for writing my book was to try and help as many people as possible achieve any outstanding goals they might have.
Murphy: You are a certified life coach and founder of the Limitless Institute. Tell us a bit about your work as a coach and about the Limitless Institute.
Harvey: I have been a life coach for almost fourteen years, I mainly focus on helping entrepreneurs find balance in their personal and business goals. In terms of the Limitless Institute, it originally started out as an organization to fund personal development research. Now I am turning the focus of it into a place where I can use crowd sourcing to conduct research on motivation and goal setting.
Murphy: Your book is a day by day inspiration and catalyst for taking steps to become more and achieve more. Is that a fair description and why did you choose this format?
Harvey: Yes that is a great description of my book. I chose this format based on my belief that change can be overwhelming if you try to do too much at once. I created my book to help people create change in their life with small manageable steps.
Murphy: Have you had experience with people using a daily inspirational and coaching approach like this and tell us about the results you’ve seen.
Harvey: Yes, I attended a two week retreat based on this approach. I personally experienced amazing results. The format was; morning group inspiration, followed by one on one coaching, than individual personal action time.
Murphy: You’ve selected a quote from an influential person for each day in your book. How did you choose these quotes?
Harvey: I had been collecting my favorite quotes in my journal for a number of years, so I used this collection to find quotes that would match the theme of each day for my book.
Murphy: Most authors know that people will often buy a book, start it and not follow through and finish it. How important is it for your readers to follow through with the entire book or can the reader just pick and choose how to go through it?
Harvey: My book was designed to be read in its entirety. While some benefits could be obtained from reading parts of my book, readers will really need to commit to the entire book to get the full effect.
Murphy: Tell us more about how your coaching experience informed this book.
Harvey: I used a lot of what I learned from coaching to development this book. For example, I had a number of clients who thought that if they could just pack up and move to a new city their life would instantly be better. I found that to be an interesting misconception, and thought it would be something helpful to include in my book.
Murphy: You live in Canada, have you lived in Canada all your life?
Harvey: Yes, I have lived in Canada my entire life, but I have travelled to a number of different countries.
Murphy: Are attitudes among Canadians different than in other places, such as the United States, in ways that bear on personal development, success and achievement? If so how are they different?
Harvey: I have not found any noticeable differences between countries, but I have found differences when it comes to age. It seems that people’s definition of success changes as they get older. As people age they focus more on relationships and less on monetary goals.
Murphy: What kinds of preparation have you done to write this book and to develop your approach to personal coaching?
Harvey: I took formal training to be a life coach, than after 10 years of coaching and learning I used that knowledge and created my first book.
Murphy: How important has reading been to you and what kinds of books do you read? How many do you read in a month or a year? And, how important do you think reading is for all of us? What role does it play in success and personal development?
Harvey: Reading has been extremely important to my success and personal development. I read on average 30 books a year, plus about 20 hours a week of blogs and journals. I read almost exclusively on the topic of personal development. While I read a lot, I do not believe this amount is required for everyone. I do my reading for both my work and for leisure. It really depends on how much you know about what you are trying to achieve, it terms of how much you might need to read.
Murphy: What do you see as the limitations of reading about personal development? What additional steps do people need to take beyond just reading the material?
Harvey: Reading is just the first step, and can also be the limitation. Meaning readers need to not only read, but take action on what they read.
Murphy: You write a blog, The Personal Development Blog at http://jasonharvey.com/ . Tell us about your blog and what its primary objective is.
Harvey: My blog is a place where I share my thoughts and ideas on various personal development topics. My object for the blog is to have a place where I can do that while getting interaction from my readers.
Murphy: You blog and you have this great book out, how much writing do you do and how does writing and blogging help you clarify your thinking?
Harvey: On a personal level I write every day in my journal. The reason is exactly what you are asking about, I do it to help clarify and organize my thoughts for the day.
Murphy: Do you recommend any other blogs for our readers?
Harvey: I really like the Better Humans section @ medium.com/better-humans
Murphy: Other than your book, do you have any recommendations for books you think people should read to advance their personal development?
Harvey: Yes, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a wonderful personal development book that will both inspire and make you think all at the same time.
Murphy: If you had to limit your advice to three key things that people should do to develop themselves personally, what would that list of 3 be?
Harvey: Be consistent, be realistic, and think of something each day that you are grateful for.
Murphy: The subtitle of your book is “Be Inspired to Live Your Dreams and Accomplish Your Goals”. Other than reading you book what should people do to maintain that motivation and energy to accomplish achieve and realize their goals and dreams?
Harvey: That is a great question! Staying motivated can be the hardest part to reaching a goal. One thing that I recommend is to write down the following “What am I going to do today to work towards reaching my goal(s)?” You than need put this question where you can see it every morning. This is a simple, but very powerful way to get you thinking about what small step(s) you can take each day to reach the goal(s) that you have set for yourself.
Murphy: What is next for you? Can we anticipate another book? If so on what?
Harvey: I have a few projects on the go right now. In terms of books, I am doing research on the topic of what is normal. I am looking at certain human behaviors and quantifying them so that readers can compare themselves to others.
Murphy: Do you have any plans to offer materials other than your book and blog to help people realize their goals and dreams?
Harvey: Yes, I do have something in the works. It is going to be an app that combines personal development and gamification.
Murphy: Thank you so much Jason for sharing your ideas with our readers. Do you have any final thoughts for us?
Harvey: Ultimately the only person that can change you is you. I know it sounds cliché, but it is worth remembering. No amount of reading self-improvement books or blogs will change your life unless you take action.
This interview is copyright protected by Daniel R. Murphy 2014. For permission to reproduce this article or any part thereof contact the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org .
July 20, 2013
An exclusive interview with Trevor Blake by Daniel R. Murphy-
Murphy: Thank you Trevor for speaking with us about your new book, Three Simple Steps. This book provides a fresh look at success and how to achieve it, but this book is also about you, your life, your thinking and your approach to success that has worked so well for you. Would you agree?
Blake: Not entirely, Daniel. I wrote Three Simple Steps because the lack of authenticity in self-help success books is an issue. So many of even the best selling books like Think and Grow Rich or The Secret were written by people who had never tasted success before their book went viral for some reason. What makes Three Simple Steps authentic is that the principles are the only advantage I have had in life and I used them to achieve a life of success before writing about what it takes to succeed. To round out that authenticity I felt it necessary to illustrate the principles with personal stories. I didn’t need to write this book and all my profits go to cancer R&D so it took a bit of effort on behalf of the publisher to get me to reveal my personal life so much.
Murphy: So we need to learn a bit about you to get the most out of this book. You were born in the UK and had a challenging youth, can you tell us a bit about that and how it helped form the ideas you write about?
Blake: I grew up poor and as a family we were evicted three times before I was seven. When I was eight my mother was given six months to live. My dad went a bit loopy and never worked again. After the third eviction I found myself in a foreign country where my background and poverty made me a target for sectarian bullying… quite severe at times. One of the places I knew my tormentors would not go was the public library so I used to hang out there. That is where I started reading biographies of the self-made and it changed my life. I realized that others had as difficult and mostly more challenging starts in life but refused to use it as an excuse for mediocrity. They went on the change the world, and it inspired in me a desire to do likewise in my own small way.
Murphy: Your mother is such a strong and positive influence in your life. You write about her in the book. She sounds like such an amazing woman. Can you tell us a bit about her influence on you?
Blake: All of my business success I attribute to lessons she taught me. From 8 to 18 I grew up in a rural outpost of 120 residents, but at her funeral 300 people attended. At the funeral people I had never met before came up to me with stories of how she had changed their lives. She did amazing things and always anonymously. That is the best testimony of the influence a person has had in life. But I was also at her side as a youngster when she told first the doctors and then God that she had no intention of accepting their prognosis. She said she needed more time to see her three kids grow up and safely leave the nest and nothing was going to stop her. In her eyes I saw for the first time what unshakeable belief looks like and whenever I face a big challenge I conjure that image.
I recently completed the screenplay of her story and it is to be a major motion picture in 2-3 years. Several A list actors are signed on but I am not allowed to reveal anything.
Murphy: You grew up in the difficult post WWII period in England. How did that environment influence your thinking?
Blake: The two world wars had a big impact on every working class family in the UK. At school anyone with a surviving grandfather was a subject of suspicion, such was the impact of all those lost young men. My father’s father was blinded in Ypres and gassed in the Somme. He died of symptoms when I was little. My mother’s father was vaporized in front of her eyes by a daylight bombing raid. Both my parents had their homes destroyed by incendiary bombs as they huddled in craters dug in the bottom of their gardens. They were half starved and learned to cook every last scrap of food. Those experiences were ingrained and so as kids we grew up almost as if the war was still being waged. They could never shake the habit of rationing.
Today I still find the wastefulness all around abhorrent and it has influenced my business style. I have built four successful businesses, selling two for over $100 million each, but in all that time have never leased an office, had a personal assistant or hired a single employee. To do so would feel wasteful to me.
Murphy: Let’s talk about the book now. You tell us that you are not a “self-help guru” but a very practical businessman and you are dedicating all the profits from the book to charity, cancer research I think. Why did you write the book?
Blake: In the first place it is important to give back. I am grateful for my adventures and wish only that others can have even half as much fun. Secondly, I have taught these steps in a less concise format for years and watched people’s lives transform. It is a joy to watch. So, after seeing yet one more self-important, self-loving self-help guru promote his latest self help book, I decided to take on the challenge of putting a real book out there. The proof of the pudding is in its eating and I now get emails from all over the world, not just one liners, but pages and pages of excited anecdotes of how people’s lives have changed by implementing the steps. The book is not 11 months old and I have received not one negative email. The steps work and for everyone.
Murphy: You describe Three Simple Steps in the book. If I may be a bit argumentative here, would you agree that it is a bit of an over simplification to say that these steps are simple or that there are only three? For example doesn’t each step require a number of steps to complete?
Blake: In all cultures the number three is very powerful. Any complex concept such as the holy trinity, the yin-yang dao, sun moon and earth can be understood enough to be used when it is broken down into its three key elements. So it is with success, three simple steps are all that are needed to understand. Having said that, like any concept, while simple to assimilate it is far from easy to perform. Any concept requires discipline and sacrifice and stepping out of one’s comfort zone to be applied successfully. You are correct in that any of the three elements can then be broken down further into three keys, and each of those three keys into a further three and so on. But it is not necessary to get that depth of understanding. We can all use a TV by the three steps of the on/off switch, the channel change button and the volume control. Simple. We don’t have to understand the science of plasma manufacturing to get it. But if that science interests you then you can go deeper and deeper into any element.
Think of a real step like standing on the first rung of a ladder. You accomplish it without conscious thought but if you studied the process you’d need to understand anatomy, physiology and reflexology just to figure out how the muscles contract ad bones bend. The beauty of the Three Simple Steps is that you don’t need to understand how they work. You don’t even need to believe in them. Just do them. They follow the laws of physics and physics does not need anyone’s belief or in depth understanding to be physics.
Murphy: The reader who has read deeply in success literature will recognize most of your writing as very similar to a lot of traditional success theory. You write about having read a lot of biographies of successful people as a youth. Have you also read a lot of success literature in general?
Blake: I have probably read every self help book that was popular since 1750 and consigned most of them to the trash can. My mother always said “If you want to learn to cook go see a chef not a food critic.” Sound advice. If you want to know how to succeed speak to or read about those who have succeeded… not those who have observed people succeeding. Subtle but key difference.
Murphy: Tell us a bit about all those biographies. How powerful of an influence were they for you?
Blake: I realized that self made man and women, no matter their backgrounds, no matter their dreams all exuded the same three behaviors: control of mentality, grounding process to create moments of insight that changed everything for them, and a finely tuned intuition aligned to targeting/Intentions. I was young and naïve enough to think that if they worked for Einstein, Emerson, C J Walker, Colt et al then who was I to deny that they could work for me. I simply did the same and have never looked back.
Murphy: You are a practical businessman with a proven track record. Has your application of the ideas in the book to your work been an evolutionary process and if so tell us a bit about that?
Blake: I have polished the three steps over time but at their core they are the same as when I was 20 years old. I have also studied physics and neuroscience and in understanding how they flow with natural laws and also dovetail with our latest understanding of neuroscience I have enhanced them so that they are more direct and powerful. These are not esoteric principles but scientific laws.
Murphy: You talk about the law of attraction in the book, but you describe it in a more pragmatic fashion then we commonly see. Many books depict it as a sort of magical spell that one can cast upon the universe to get whatever one wants without discussing the effort that must be put forth to achieve. You have a different take on it; can you distinguish for us the difference from your experience with the law of attraction from what we often see in popular literature?
Blake: The law of attraction is a fanciful notion for the lazy of mind. (Always check the background of any author who proclaims the law of attraction) Prior to the law of attraction the vogue was the warrior’s approach. Both approaches are at the extremes of a continuum. One says sit in a chair and wait until it arrives. The other says go out and conquer. To survive of course we need the skills to hunt and gather, but we also need the finely tuned intuition to sense danger and notice opportunities. Balance is the key to success. Balance between the law of attraction and the warrior’s way. The aim is to become a wizard of sorts, a creator of anything anytime you decide you want it.
Murphy: Your first chapter is Reclaiming Your Mentality. How poorly do most people control their mentality and how crucial is it in achieving success?
Blake: Most people are sound asleep and unaware of the fact. Step one aims to wake us up. One cannot become self made if the decisions one makes are based on the opinions and ideas of other people and the media in one’s environment. We must get back to the individual we were born as, the one who had that pioneering spirit that has been gradually dumbed down over the years by the environment around us. No breakthrough idea ever came out of groupthink. No brilliant business person ever got that way by swimming with the tide or following everyone else’s advice. Taking back control of mentality is the essential first step and is liberating
Murphy: You have on many occasions followed your own counsel despite heavy criticism from others, often your own family. How difficult has this been to do and has it become easier over time as you have seen it work so well?
Blake: It is easy once one gets to grip with step one.
Murphy: One gets the impression that your wife has been a solid and supportive influence in your life. She has stood by you through every risk you’ve taken. How important has that been to your success?
Blake: They say that behind every successful man is a surprised woman! My wife has great intuition and that has been a terrific resource for me while I was working on fine tuning my own. But I have not relied on her support. The decisions I have taken were for my life and my dreams. She has taken decisions and risks for her own life and dreams. Fortunately for us we keep bumping into each other. Neither of use had expectations of each other. We are as happy sleeping on a park bench as a penthouse suite, so we never needed the support of each other. I say to her go ahead and jump as much as she says it to me.
Murphy: There are thousands of books on goal setting. Universities teach it, business consultants preach it and many write about it. You have a different approach. You are critical of using goals and instead tell us that we should use intentions. First, how are intentions different from goals?
Blake: Goal setting is based on the industrial age and the techniques taught come from 200 years ago when even the basic laws of physics were not understood. There is a reason most people get frustrated with goal setting… they oftentimes work against the natural flow of energy. Intention are targets with all doubt about their attainment removed. Step three shows how to do that.
Murphy: Second, do you think there is any role at all for goal setting in life? If so what might that be?
Blake: Goals are no different than setting forecasts and budgets. They have a role in our lives. But goals will not get you to your dreams. They are not powerful enough.
Murphy: Where did you lean about intentions as opposed to goals?
Blake: Trial and error and then an in depth scientific research into what made the successes work.
Murphy: One gets the impression in reading this that you’ve done a lot of deep thinking on this subject. There is a powerful creative insight to your work. What do you attribute this to? Is it largely the result of your quiet time practice? How much time do you spend just thinking and reflecting on these things?
Blake: It has been my life. I have a degree in physics and have continued to study for 25 years quantum theory and string theory. I am also a perpetual student of neuroscience. Three Simple Steps is the culmination of a lifetime of rumination.
Murphy: The business world can be very dogmatic in its approach to decision making and creative pursuit. You cite highly successful business pioneers such as Steve Jobs as examples of people who have bucked the traditional business models. Is it possible to use the approaches you write about as an employee in a traditional business or do you really have to start your own business to really do this well?
Blake: Rare if the person who gets rich working for someone else.
Murphy: You discuss the power of three in your book and you’ve presented your ideas here under three rubrics. Is there something magical about three or is it just a convenient number to keep things simple?
Blake: It is a magical number and success is magic. That sounds new-age but everything is magic. Take a blank canvass a piece of charcoal and move your hands to make a picture. Take butter, sugar and flour and make a delicious cake. Or pick up the remote and switch on the TV… wow, magic! We tend to think of magic as mystical, but it is quite pragmatic. Anything can seem mystical until it is revealed for the simplistic thing it is.
Murphy: You discuss the importance of controlling your mentality and your reactions to outside stimuli using a “Situation + Thought + Reaction” paradigm. Using somewhat different terminology we see this same discussion in writings by Jack Canfield, Stephen Covey and Napoleon Hill for example. Were you influenced by these traditional success writers or did you arrive at this independently?
Blake: I actually disagree with those writers. Those writers promote the power of positive thinking. There is no such thing because our thoughts happen at the speed of light. We do not have time to step between something we don’t like and the thought we have about it. Positive thinking is a silly and unscientific illusion. The only thing we have control over is how we then react to the thoughts we had. Reaction is the key and that is what step one discusses.
Murphy: You discuss the importance of controlling and filtering out negative stimuli in our lives, such as negative people and much of the sensational news media. Has this been difficult? Do we have to simply risk alienating people to protect ourselves?
Blake: It is a life-long endeavor and yes you will indeed alienate people and the sooner the better. The latest neuroscience data presented in the book shows that the brain works more like a muscle than we previously understood. It is an addiction machine and locks onto anything that can feed that addiction. The more it is exposed to specific stimuli the more it craves the same. Hence we find that if we are surrounded by complainers and do nothing about it we become a complainer ourselves. If we dose up on emotional news headlines we wire our neurons in such a way that we start to create the images we see as our reality. We have to learnt o brake the neural connection and rewire our 100 billion neurons. That is anything but easy.
Murphy: Not to pander here, but you are obviously a very intelligent and thoughtful person. Can your approach really work for anyone? Is it applicable for the artisan, the number crunching accountant, the over worked CEO or the shop keeper who sells groceries every day?
Blake: Whether 8 or 80 you can start implementing the three simple steps today and completely change your life. I recently received an email from someone who said the steps had got him off his backside and to start a project he had been procrastinating about for years. He then revealed he is 88. A 13 years old Sri Lankan girl who was contemplating suicide due to family bullying is now an award winning dancer. A lonely, depressed IT worker just sent me pictures of his bride. The intelligence I have applied is in understanding the science behind each step, just like someone had to learn plasma science to make the first plasma TV. But anyone can then use the TV and anyone can now use the three simple steps.
Murphy: In addition to success your book discusses the quality of life. You talk about being aware of your surroundings, connecting with nature, slowing down to reflect, meditation, etc. Would you agree that these things not only may enhance the creative spirit in us but may also simple improve and enrich our experience of life? Is that part of your message?
Blake: Balance is essential and comes naturally as a result of implementing the three steps in sequence. Balance comes from personal, lifestyle, business, financial, health and hobby Intentions for which the three simple steps all apply.
Murphy: You are a risk taker. How important is it to success to be willing to take risks?
Blake: Other people would call me a risk taker because they do not understand that I have and trust my intuition. The Three Simple Steps help enhance that connection between intuition and decision making so that even though something may seem illogical with what is known at the time, it does not feel at all risky. I have never taken a risk as such because my intuition was screaming at me to jump.
Murphy: You discuss our roles as Wizards and Warriors. This might well resonate well with a generation who grew up reading Harry Potter. How does this work though for the hardnosed businessperson?
Blake: Most traditionally structured businesses prize the warrior mentality and use analysis and consensus to reach decisions. Intuition is rarely as prized in what is an unfortunately male dominated arena. A warrior may break through a castle wall to steal a loaf of bread whereas a wizard will find a recipe and bake his/her own. Consensus and hierarchical structures do not allow for genius so the hardnosed businessperson has to break away from traditional structures and thinking. Most great companies are built by wizards and oftentimes when they step aside warrior managers take over and before long the company fails. I have lots of such examples in my next book The 4% Company due out next year.
Murphy: Your professional life has been almost exclusively in the businesses related to medical work. A large part of your work has been in the pharmaceutical field. How has this influenced your thinking?
Blake: Not much. I have worked in the military, a hospital, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and media. I found the same patterns of behavior, waste and group sleepiness in them all.
Murphy: Let’s return for a moment to the concept of success. Part of your book seems to discuss success in terms of business or commercial success and therefore about money. Yet you cite many examples, including your own mother, of people who achieved tremendous success in life without ever building financial wealth. What is success to you? Tell us about the relative roles of personal success and commercial success? Are they simple two forms of the same thing or are they fundamentally different?
Blake: Success for me is waking up in the morning with butterflies of excitement in my stomach about the day ahead. I have never sought wealth specifically and it is not a means to happiness. I have sought travel and adventure and building companies that make a positive difference in people’s lives. Money comes as a material reward for those endeavors, but money is just another form of energy. It flows. It comes in, it goes out. So long as I am having fun and making a positive difference nothing else matters. I don’t think about it.
Murphy: You are pretty hard on some traditional success authors such as Napoleon Hill. You are critical of Hill because you say he never achieved financial success on his own. He suffered a long series of personal failures. He never became truly rich. Yet one might say that he did achieve the success he sought out to achieve. From his youth he sought fame. He wanted the world to listen to what he had to say. He wanted to learn the “science of success” from those who had succeeded and then pass that on to others. In that sense, wasn’t he a great success? His books have sold in the millions and his name is very well known. Is that a form of success?
Blake: Hitler is also a very well-known name. If one studies Hill’s real story and not the Internet myth one discovers a charlatan, a snake oil salesman who died a deeply unhappy man and despised by his family. His wife wrote a bestseller called “How to Find the Perfect Man” which was published just after their divorce. He died alone and in poverty. Clement-Stone set up a foundation in his name so technically the day after he died he became rich. His book (originally titled Use your noodle to get the boodle) has sold over 70 million copies, but he got the contract for publication by fooling an editor into thinking he was a success. He used his last few dollars to hire a hotel suite and bribe the bellhops into interrupting his interview with fictitious telegrams from the rich and famous. Anything founded on such shaky principles has to be viewed with suspicion. But it is not the only snake oil book that has sold millions after some excellent marketing. Most are marketed to a largely Christian audience and the same feel good ideology resonates with that audience. I don’t think I am hard on him because I tell the truth. I am saying that if you want to learn how to succeed study the successful not the spectators.
Murphy: You have a website. What can readers learn from that site?
Blake: http://trevorgblake.com is a helping hand for anyone introducing the Three Simple Steps to their life. The winner’s path can be a lonely one for reasons explained in the book, so I put out articles and podcasts with tips and encouragement.
Murphy: You mention in your book that you plan to write another book on succeeding with a virtual business. You launched your own company using outsourcing extensively rather than creating a large brick and mortar structure. When can we expect the new book and can you tell us a bit about it?
Blake: It should be out next year and it is about how to start a business in the right way and survive long enough to hit a home run. Of the 27 million businesses in the United States half fail every 5 years due to cash flow mismanagement. The 4% Company shows how to avoid making the same errors.
Murphy: What is the future for Tevor Blake? Will we see more books on your ideas about success? Will most of your energy remain with starting new businesses? How far into the future do you plan?
Blake: I do not plan anything. I set Intentions and let life fill in the details. Much more fun and relaxing way to live and that is what the Three Simple Steps teaches. I have the movie “Audrey” in the hopper and that will be a great new experience over the next couple of years. I also have a couple of books I am working on now, one of which is fictional. I will be divesting my third company next year.
Murphy: If there was one powerful success idea that you would like to leave our readers with what would it be?
Blake: It is never too late and there is never a bad time to reinvent yourself.
Murphy: Tevor, I again want to thank you so much for talking to us about your great book. Is there anything else you would like readers to know or think about?
Blake: All my profits go to cancer research & development… not to a charity as I am leery of some with their highly paid executives. If you go to the trouble of spending 10 dollars on this book you have a right to know that your hard-earned cash is going to do some good. All my profits go directly into the lab of a not for profit, non-employees cancer development program.
Title and Author: Three Simple Steps by Trevor Blake
Copyright holder: 2012 by Trevor Blake
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Read more about Tevor Blake and his book at:
This interview is copyright protected by Daniel R. Murphy 2013. For permission to reproduce this article or any part thereof contact the publisher at email@example.com .
Learning from today’s thought leaders and authors.
June 1, 2013
An exclusive interview with Dennis N.T. Perkins, author of Into the Storm.
Daniel R. Murphy:
Dennis, thank you for agreeing to speak to us about your work and especially about your new book, Into the Storm. You discuss the research and preparation you did to create this book in the book itself. It sounds like you did a vast amount of research, including multiple trips to Australia. Is this the most researched book you’ve ever written?
Dennis N.T. Perkins:
Dan, it’s my pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity to share more of the background of my book.
To respond to your question, I would say that Into the Storm is the book that involved the greatest amount of “hands-on” research. My previous book, Leading at The Edge, took a great deal of time and effort but that research primarily focused on reading journals and accounts of the Shackleton expedition, and talking with experts on Antarctica. Bob Headland, a historian from the Scott Polar Research Institute was particularly helpful.
After writing Leading at The Edge, I traveled to Antarctica to retrace Shackleton’s footsteps. With Into the Storm, I had an opportunity to interview sailors who competed in the Sydney to Hobart race, and to sail on a boat myself.
How important is it that you actually sailed on a boat in a Sydney to Hobart race yourself? How did that enable you to write a better book?
I’m convinced that there is nothing like personal experience to provide deep insight into leadership and group dynamics. It’s one thing to talk about the challenges of teamwork when the crew is tired, hungry, and cold. It’s another thing to feel all of those things as a crew member after sailing for days in a sleep-deprived state.
My work is focused on developing ideas that have practical value outside the academic world, and I always try to immerse myself in the things I write about. With the Sydney to Hobart race, the immersion was both figurative and literal. As a result, I felt more confident in my conclusions. Of course, as a bonus, I was able to buy a round of drinks for my friends in Tasmania after completing the 700 mile race!
Isn’t this almost two books in one? The first part is an exciting page turner – an adventure story if you will. The second part is an analysis of what lessons we can learn from the success of the amateur crew of the AFR Midnight Rambler in the 1998 race. The advantage of that approach is obvious, you engage the reader during the first part, leading them to read the second part. Are there risks to writing a book this way?
That’s a very thoughtful question, Dan. In my previous book, each chapter was organized around a particular leadership lesson taken from Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. Consequently, each chapter combined parts of the story with leadership lessons and examples.
This time, I decided to write the book in the same form that I use for presentations: first, the story, and second, the lessons. As a joke with my co-author, Jillian Murphy, I referred to the first approach as a “Beef Wellington” style of writing. It’s a very good recipe, but it is extraordinarily time-consuming. And it is challenging to get the narrative arc of the story to flow.
In characterizing the second model of “story, first” and “lessons, second” I used the metaphor of a “Whiskey and Cookies” recipe. Because the story of the Sydney to Hobart race was so complicated and it involved so many different boats, I felt that the narrative needed to be told in one cohesive chunk. This approach also gave me the opportunity to incorporate other stories in the “lessons” section without breaking the flow of the action.
Readers seem to like both approaches to writing, so my current thinking is that they’re simply different recipes that vary. The risk with the first is that the story could become disjointed. The risk with the second is that people might read the first part, and ignore the lessons in the second. The feedback I’ve gotten so far suggests that we have managed to avoid both problems, but it’s an issue that we have given considerable thought to.
The 1998 race was a life and death struggle. It truly is a challenge “at The Edge” as you describe it. How applicable are the lessons from such an extreme challenge to ordinary people struggling to succeed with ordinary teams faced with much less challenging problems?
Our approach is grounded in the idea of using stories of adventure and survival to illustrate key principles of leadership and teamwork. We chose that approach because we wanted vivid stories that would capture people’s attention, and that people could remember under conditions of adversity.
We understand that a team challenge in a business environment may not involve physical danger like the Sydney to Hobart race, but we believe that the teamwork principles that enabled the AFR Midnight Rambler to succeed apply equally to business challenges. The consequences may be different, and a firm may go out of business without fatalities. Any organization that wants to win has got to achieve the highest level of team performance.
The 10 teamwork strategies described in the book act as a bridge between stories of adventure and survival and other team challenges. In an ocean race, “mastering the art of rapid recovery,” might apply to a capsize. In a business environment, it could mean recovering from a disastrous fourth-quarter. The situation is different, but the concept applies to both.
You discuss the benefits of “group leadership” in this book. You also concede that in some ways someone has to be in charge. How does a team reconcile these two concepts in their application on a day to day basis?
My previous book highlighted the role of Ernest Shackleton, the leader of his Antarctic expedition. I decided to write Into the Storm as a complementary book that would highlight ways in which team members can play a leadership role.
A friend of mine read the proposal for the book and sent me an e-mail asking, “What happened to leadership?” Specifically, he wondered how I could go from a book that was “all about Shackleton” to almost “nothing about Ed Psaltis,” the skipper of the AFR Midnight Rambler.
I realized then that my focus on teamwork had caused me to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction. Every successful team I’ve been involved with – including Marine Corps units in combat – has had a competent leader. Both aboard ship, and in the Marine Corps, there is a skipper. At the same time, other individuals were able to assume a leadership role when the situation demanded it.
I devoted a section of Into the Storm to the “Role of the Skipper,” and I outlined a set of critical tasks in which the formal leader has a unique role. I believe that the leader needs to keep the team aligned; to demonstrate passion; to instill optimism and confidence that the team will succeed; and to set an example.
This last point is particularly important. While everyone on the team will take their cues about behavior from everyone else, the actions of the skipper are magnified. If the leader is narcissistic and self-centered, the culture of the team will mirror that style but if the leader thinks of the team first – if the team is the “rock star” – then the foundation is set for collaboration and exceptional teamwork.
The little 35 foot AFR Midnight Rambler beat larger boats, better equipped boats, faster boats and professionally crewed boats. What were the most important things about the crew and its interaction that brought about that victory?
There were a number of factors that went into the victory of the AFR Midnight Rambler. One of the most important ingredients was the fact that these were excellent sailors who had the technical skill to navigate through a horrific storm. But I believe that there was far more than seamanship involved in their victory.
I tried to capture the key elements of the Rambler’s success with 10 Teamwork at The Edge strategies:
1. Make the team the rock star.
2. Remove all excuses for failure.
3. Find and focus on the winning scenario.
4. Build a gung-ho culture of learning and innovation.
5. Be willing to sail into the storm.
6. Cut through the noise of the wind and the waves.
7. Find ways to share the helm.
8. Step up to conflict – and deal with the things that slow you down.
9. Master the art of rapid recovery.
10. Never give up – there’s always another move.
I believe that these principles were critical for the AFR Midnight Rambler, and that they are essential for any team faced with daunting challenges.
When the huge storm hit many boats turned around or sought safe refuge. The winner was part of a smaller group that sailed on despite the life threatening storm. What can we learn about assessing risks and taking them head on from this?
I believe the most critical lesson is the importance of separating psychological perceptions of risk from statistical risk. Our decision-making can often be influenced by the presence of a dread risk: a low probability, high consequence event. When we are faced with things that give us the chills, we do things that make us feel secure but are actually illogical.
An example I gave in the book deals with people who chose to drive after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They were understandably afraid of flying, but highway fatalities increased. Faced with a dread risk, people made choices that seemed intuitively right – but were actually more dangerous.
Effective teams can draw on what I call the power of team risk intelligence. When faced with big challenges and uncertainty, teams can use their collective intelligence and understanding to analyze risks and make choices that are informed and thoughtful.
In your daily work with organizations struggling to make teams work, how often do you teach the lessons from Into the Storm?
Another good question. I would say whenever I work with a team I am always trying to teach the lessons from Into the Storm. Sometimes this teaching is done explicitly, using the story as a metaphor. In other cases, it might be thought of as an invisible template that I use to guide my thinking and my counsel to clients.
This is not your first book. You also wrote Leading at The Edge about the Earnest Shackleton adventure to the South Pole a century ago. What lessons did you learn while researching and writing Into the Storm that are different from Leading at The Edge?
In my view, there are certain elements of leadership and teamwork that are timeless. For example, the crews of both the Endurance expedition and the Midnight Rambler worked together to survive in the face of death. Both Ernest Shackleton and Ed Psaltis demonstrated exceptional leadership.
Because of the nature of relationships among members of the Midnight Rambler crew – and because of changing views about the nature of authority – there may have been more opportunities for the Ramblers to question Ed Psaltis’ decision-making. I would say that there was nothing in the second book that contradicted principles that came out of my earlier research. It was more that the story of the Midnight Rambler simply expanded my knowledge of leadership and teamwork.
During this race the AFR Midnight Rambler team appears to have mastered the management of egos as well as playing to the team’s individual strengths. This developed over a long period of time as the crew had worked together in multiple races. How does a newer team apply these lessons without that long lead time?
Your question underscores an important caveat about team development. I’ve seen leaders who felt that by taking team members out for a weekend off-site event – and, perhaps by taking some team assessment instruments – they would emerge Monday morning with a highly functioning, rock star team.
Needless to say, I have never seen an exceptional team built in a weekend. However, if an off-site event is seen as a first step in building a team, then the journey has begun. And if the team has a clear image of what they want to become – and I believe the story of the Ramblers can help clarify that image – then it’s possible for a team to make rapid progress.
You identify ten key team strategies for success. Are there one or two of those strategies that you consider most important and if so, why?
I’m a bit conflicted about responding to this question, because I believe they’re all important. My first thought was that it’s a little bit like asking “Which note is the most critical in a music scale?” They are all essential.
If pressed, however, I would say that the sine qua non of effective teamwork would be strategy #1: Make the team the rock star, and strategy #10: Never give up – there’s always another move.
The first strategy emphasizes the importance of team unity, and draws on a phrase frequently voiced by the crew of the Midnight Rambler. The second, which originated in my research on the Shackleton expedition, is a hallmark of any team that succeeds in the face of overwhelming odds: perseverance.
During this race the crew had to be constantly and intensely focused. Unlike our ordinary world experience, filled with multiple distractions, the crew had to be focused to survive and lacked those distractions. How do we duplicate that kind of focus in the ordinary work world?
It is true that the crew of the Midnight Rambler had to stay intensely focused to survive a hurricane, and that other teams have more flexibility to shift their attention and still survive. But I think it is misleading to suggest that the Ramblers had no choice but to stay focused, or that they had no distractions.
Other boats, for example, were distracted by conflicts about the right choice of action. Or, perhaps because of fear, they got caught up in doing low priority tasks and forgot the most critical things that should have been dealt with. There were points at which the Ramblers were distracted, but they were always able to bring their attention back to deal with the most pressing problems.
For organizations facing difficult but more routine problems, the challenge is one of creating a sense of excitement and passion for winning. This is more like a typical ocean race – tough, but without the hurricane.
I believe that passion can be developed in any organization in which team members have a clear image of what it means to win, and when team members come together and have a shared sense of mateship. This sense of cohesion requires time, effort and dedication. But the exhilaration that comes from being part of that kind of team effort can make even routine tasks exciting.
You are a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. How important are the lessons you learned from that preparation to your development of leadership and teamwork skills and strategies?
There is no question that my training at the Naval Academy, and later in the Marine Corps, created the foundation that permeates all of my thinking about leadership and teamwork.
After I returned from Vietnam, I realized that I could take the things I had learned in the crucible of combat and share them with those facing other life challenges. And I found that I could apply the writing and conceptual skills developed in the academic world to shape my message. My goal was to integrate two very different worlds, and to use this hybrid approach in a positive way to make a difference in peoples’ lives.
I try to keep learning new things, but I know that much of my early thinking was influenced by stories I first heard as a midshipman at Annapolis. John Paul Jones’ remark, “I have not yet begun to fight,” has served me well in many situations.
What kind of work do you do at Syncretics Group and how do you use what you’ve learned from writing these great books?
We help leaders, teams, and organizations achieve their greatest potential in demanding environments. We do this through our writing, with our keynote presentations, and executive coaching.
It is tremendously rewarding work, and we have found that our approach is effective in organizations throughout the world. Our stories and metaphors travel well, and they’re not wedded to any particular culture. They are sagas of triumph over adversity, and we are inspired by seeing the success of our clients.
Two final questions: is there another book in the works that we can look forward to; and, do you have any final thoughts you would like to add?
I met with my colleagues just yesterday, and I raised the possibility of doing another book. The idea came from a conversation with a friend who had faced a difficult ethical challenge. As he described the story he ended with a phrase, “In the end, all you have left is your integrity.”
It was a great story, and it occurred to me that it would be interesting to put together a book that might be called Stories from The Edge. The book would highlight critical, challenging moments faced by a number of individuals in all walks of life. It would outline their choices and decisions, and perhaps lessons learned.
I believe it would be useful and fun to write, but for the time being I need to make sure that the firm and families have completed our “rapid recovery” from the storm of writing our last book.
My final thought is to thank you for your thoughtful and provocative questions. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my writing, my client work, and the future.
Thank you again so much for sharing these thoughts with our readers. I highly recommend this book and hope our readers will check it out.
Read the Books2Wealth Review of Into the Storm.
This interview is copyright protected by Daniel R. Murphy 2013. Permission is granted to reproduce this article in its entirety if proper credit is given. Attribution should be as follows: “Books2Wealth Interview, © Daniel R. Murphy, used by permission, www.books2wealth.com. “
Feb 3, 2012
An exclusive interview with author and successful “amateur” investor, Chris Camillo by Daniel R. Murphy-
Murphy: Chris, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. Before we get to the book though you have really accomplished something rather specular, from April 2007 to April 2010 you managed your own investment portfolio and grew it from $83,752 to $2,388,311! Is it true you did this without any traditional investment techniques only using the method you describe in your book?
Camillo: Yes. I will only initiate an investment in a company when I think I know something about that company that is not yet widely known by Wall Street and the investing public at large. This methodology, which I refer to as information arbitrage, exclusively drives each and every one of my investment decisions.
Murphy: In your book, Laughing at Wall Street, you describe the two most common investment methods: technical trading and fundamental training. You then point out the inherent limitations in these methods and why you abandoned them. Would you say that your method is easier for the novice investor than traditional methods, more effective, or both? And why?
Camillo: I’d say that information arbitrage is certainly more effective than both fundamental and technical analysis, and for most non-financial professionals it is also likely to be easier. Historically, neither fundamental nor technical analysis has proven via empirical data to be able to outperform a randomly assembled portfolio of stocks. Statistically, those models don’t work – and that’s all that really matters.
In contrast, my approach to investing has proven, as evidenced though published and audited reports of my personal investing returns over multiple years (see www.laughingatwallstreet.com), to consistently outperform both market indexes and professionally managed funds.
Murphy: Your method uses information that almost anyone has access to and as I mentioned in my review of your book even a high school student could do it. Is that an exaggeration? Can just about anyone do this?
Camillo: Anyone, regardless of their age, profession, or educational background can replicate my investing approach and success in the stock market. Your success hinges entirely on your ability to become a critical observer – to retrain your mind to find the investment opportunities hidden within your everyday life – and the everyday life of those around you. If you regularly read magazines, watch TV, eat out at restaurants, visit the mall, or even connect with friends on Facebook – then you meet the prerequisites to become as successful information arbitrage investor.
Murphy: You started out with over $83,000 and for many people starting out these days that is a lot of money. Can you do this starting with a lot less? Could you really do it starting with $100?
Camillo: Absolutely. $83,000 marks the starting point of the audited returns referenced in my book but in actually I started out with a lot less – just a few hundred dollars as an investing curious teenager. Your question calls attention to what I believe to be one of the biggest obstacles for any newbie investor – in that most ordinary people don’t believe they can afford to take on financial risk. And that is unfortunate, because the sole path to successful investing, regardless of one’s methods or beliefs, is to risk loss. This is where the ultra wealthy hold a unique advantage, as their worries associated with taking moderate financial risks are reduced. For that reason, the rich tend to get richer.
In my book I provide a solution for overcoming this physiological obstacle. It is something I call a Big Money account and I strongly believe that everyone, regardless of his or her financial well-being or stage of life should have one. The goal of a Big Money account is simple: turn every $1 into $100. Using simple tools of financial leverage this seemingly farfetched goal is surprisingly achievable with as little as one winning investment every one to two years.
But first, one needs to find the money to fund your Big Money account. Even when money is tight, it is possible. The trick to “finding” money in your budget is to evaluate cash not at its current worth, but at its potential worth if aggressively invested as part of a Big Money account. Before long, you will begin to see $1 not for its par $1 value but for its $100 maximum investment potential. In doing so, you will open up a whole new world of possibilities—one in which you will become inspired to uncover new, increasingly large sources of Big Money investing funds from every aspect of your life. You might find yourself foregoing use of a lawn service to mow your own lawn or taking an extra week between hair cuts – not to save $20 a month, but for the potential $2,000 a month that you might earn when those savings are aggressively invested as part of a risk-adverse Big Money account. It does not take long for hundreds of dollars to grow into thousands, and thousands to tens or hundreds of thousands – and so on.
Murphy: I think your point in the book is that this method, assuming one does the due diligence, is faster than traditional investing, but I think you also point out this is not a get-rich-quick scheme – it does take time, work and focus, right?
Camillo: It took me years not decades to turn tens of thousands into millions, surprisingly very little work, but a whole lot of focus. I initiate an investment in a company upon discovery of an information imbalance, (in other words) when I think I know something game changing about that company that others don’t – and exit that investment when that game changing information becomes widely accepted as fact by Wall Street. There is nothing particularly complex or difficult about what I do – and most of my investing discoveries occur not while slaving over the analysis of financial statements but while immersing myself in daily life. That said, it should be noted that what I do takes tremendous patience. I might make dozens if not hundreds of potential real world observations over the course of the year in hopes of identifying just one or two credible information arbitrage investment opportunities.
Murphy: How much time does it take? How many hours a day or a week do you spend on it and how much at minimum would you say a novice needs to spend to make this work?
Camillo: I spend at most an hour or so each week performing due diligence on my real world investment observations. The hard part is not the post observation due diligence but in learning to refocus your mind to identify the game-changing events, products and trends that are constantly taking place around you. This is not so much time consuming as it is challenging in that you must radically change he way you perceive and interact with the world around you. Connect and regularly engage with family, friends, colleagues, and children. Read weekly tabloids. Never miss an opportunity to watch a blockbuster movie. Keep up with the evolving landscape of products, media, entertainment, and culture as it intersects with you and those in your life. The trick is learning to do all those things while at the same time being alert for anything and everything in your daily interactions that could materially affect the sales of a publicly traded company.
Murphy: Part of your technique is to exploit budding trends that Wall Street is not yet aware of. Do you think that at least some analysts on Wall Street will be reading your book and devoting some energy to duplicating your method? Would that matter in terms of reader’s succeeding with this?
Camillo: I see few if any financial analysts devoting energy to duplicate my method as they are paid to decipher complex problems they as “financial professionals” are uniquely qualified to “solve.” Their firms make money from selling the professional financial services of crunching numbers and analyzing charts, regardless of whether those services make you money. In a financial industry that is richly rewarded for mediocrity, there is simply not enough financial incentive for them to leave their comfort zone. And that is great news for us Wall Street outsiders.
Murphy: OK, by profession you are a market research executive. That means it is your profession to analyze markets and trends, right? Does this give you a big advantage over people who have no training or experience in this area?
Camillo: If anything my background in market research has taught me to fully appreciate the value of real time information. As we all know Wall Street has a high concentration of city dwelling, middle-aged men who influence investment decisions – that creates opportunities to profit from information imbalances that are most pronounced with respect to female, youth or rural oriented products, companies, and trends – so that is where I focus my energy. So if you look at my big investment successes, many of them tend to focused on these areas where Wall Street is weakest. The geographic, demographic, and psychographic detachment that I hold from those that influence investment decisions on Wall Street is my real advantage.
Murphy: You demonstrated quite a gain over a short period smack in the middle of a growing recession – what is being called hard times. Many have lost a lot of money in the markets during that same period. Would you say this method is recession proof and why?
Camillo: It has been said that there is never a bad time to start a good business. I’ll take that thought a bit further by saying that there is never a bad time to initiate a good investment. For proof of that idea one just needs to look at the performance of Apple both as a company and investment through the most recent recession.
Murphy: Now, if our readers buy your book, read it carefully and then start using your method, what would be the two or three more important things you would recommend that they do for success with this?
Camillo: My investing strategy is based upon two rules:
1) I initiate an investment upon discovery of game-changing information not yet known by Wall Street and the investing public at large.
2) I exit that investment when the game-changing information becomes widely accepted as fact on Wall Street and the investing public at large.
There are many supporting things to keep in mind of course, but if you lose focus on the importance of these two rules, you will have a hard time finding success as an information arbitrage investor.
Murphy: What would be the one or two things people should really avoid doing to succeed with this?
1) Believe what you see, not what financial pundits and those on Wall Street tell you to believe.
2) Do not limit yourself to “Investing in what YOU know”. Exponentially increase your observational and due diligence resources by leveraging each and every person in your daily life, and those you are able to connect with through social media, business networking, and online investment communities. Connect and regularly engage with family, friends, colleagues, and children.
Murphy: You could have just quietly kept making significant investment gains and not said a word about this to the general public. Why did you decide to write the book and give the secret away for a few dollars?
Camillo: The key to prospering as an information arbitrage investor lies in one’s ability to quickly uncover and process game-changing information. The larger my observational network, the more likely I am to discover and vet the next game changing trend before Wall Street. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have their research departments, but we self-directed investors have one another, and together we outnumber and out-diversify all the world’s investment “experts” and “professionals” combined. Before writing Laughing at Wall Street, I had maybe a dozen people who had taken the time to learn my investing methodology and who were regularly sharing their daily observations with me – for our mutual benefit. Now I have hundreds, soon to be thousands. To the prospective readers my book I don’t want your money (my publisher and the book stores take the bulk of that). What I do want is for you to share what you are seeing with me. I want you to help me find identify my (or should I say our) next big investment.
Murphy: Can we expect another book from you soon? If so what will that one focus on?
Camillo: No. I don’t consider myself an author by trade and don’t think I would put myself through the pain staking process of writing another book. I had a story to tell in Laughing at Wall Street and now that I have shared that story I plan to spend the foreseeable future cultivating relationships with those who are willing to barter their investing observations with me.
Murphy: Chris, I want to again thank you very much for doing this interview and let’s end with any comments you would like to make – any final thoughts for your readers out there?
Camillo: As an ordinary person with your feet deeply set in the real world you have a distinct advantage over the professionals working on Wall Street when it comes to picking winning investments. I am planning to soon launch a program to incentivize Laughing at Wall Street readers to share their game-changing investing observations with me. If one of those observations leads to my initiating a winning investment I will in turn share a portion of my investment profit with the contributing reader, allowing my readers to earn up to $100,000 per observational contribution. Wall Street professionals charge you fees for their advice – I’ll pay you to simply share with me what you see over the course of your every day life. Stayed tuned to Laughingatwallstreet.com, www.facebook.com/laughingatWallStreet , and my twitter @chriscamillo for details.
This interview is copyright protected by Daniel R. Murphy 2012. Permission is granted to reproduce this article in its entirety if proper credit is given. Attribution should be as follows: “Books2Wealth Interview, © Daniel R. Murphy, used by permission, www.books2wealth.com. “
July 24, 2011
Murphy: In your new book, Boiled Down Money Goo, Tips for Propelling Your Financial Future, you describe coming to the realization that continuing to live in debt is not a good idea. What turned that light on in your minds? What motivated you to make this big change?
Dan Minteer: I was a fool with sixty-five thousand dollars racked up on credit cards! Plus, there were student loans, a car payment, a mortgage, no savings at all and layoffs looming at work. So I was scared to say the least. Respect for my upcoming marriage to Deborah was the motivation to rethink my entire outlook with money, which obviously was a disaster.
Deborah Minteer: We had got engaged five months before we had the “money talk.” When Dan told me how much debt he had “acquired,” I was stunned and seriously freaked out. Our philosophies on money were radically different. I had no debt and Dan was all about debt. If Dan lost his job, we couldn’t make it on my paycheck. This scared me enough to start talking about how to fix this problem. Thankfully Dan was also ready to do the same.
Murphy: Did you both come to this realization at the same time, or was there some persuasion by one of you? How difficult was it to come to agreement?
Dan Minteer: Deborah bought some books on personal finances. Something really clicked with me (or maybe snapped is a better word, because I felt so angry and humiliated about my debt, and I was more determined than ever to make it go away). Once I “got it,” it was easy to be in agreement.
Deborah Minteer: Within hours of Dan confessing that his debt was larger than my net worth, I was in a panic. Dan either needed to kick the debt habit or we needed to postpone getting married. This was a freaking big deal. Thankfully Dan agreed to kick the debt habit.
Murphy: Once you made the decision to free yourself of debt did you study on the subject first or plunge into action? If you studied first, how long did you research the question before you took action?
Dan Minteer: I was anxious to get out of the debt stress and didn’t want to wait any longer to get started. So we started and learned as we went.
Deborah Minteer: Within days of Dan’s financial “confession,” I started combing the bookstores and library searching for answers to our financial struggle. There was a way out; we just had to find it.
Murphy: How important do you think it is for readers to continue to read in this area and learn more about personal financial management?
Dan Minteer: We’ve read over and over that millionaires tend to read a lot of non-fiction books. We want to do what they do now.
Deborah Minteer: Learning is everything! The world is changing. Keep learning how to read the “new signs,” or risk the penalty box – also known as your wallet!
Murphy: You made some austere reductions in your “standard of living” to defeat debt. How difficult was that?
Dan Minteer: You’d think it would be easier on the pride to be rich and look broke. But it’s actually easier to look rich and be broke. We had to get to the point where we didn’t care what people thought of us living in a basement and driving older cars.
Deborah Minteer: I love to shop. During the first two years my shopping was cut to almost “never.” Thankfully there was enough left after paying the bills to have a decent chocolate fix, so life didn’t totally fall into the pits!
Murphy: How did your friends and relatives react to your mission?
Dan Minteer: Our neighbor’s son once asked his dad whether we were poor because we didn’t have nice cars. Our neighbor laughed and had to tell us because he knew we’d get a kick out of it – at that point we were only one year away from paying off the house (and had no other debt).
Deborah Minteer: Most people we know, especially family, avoid the subject.
Murphy: What do they say now?
Dan Minteer: Sometimes it’s hard to tell if people are happy for us, or envious. Some people seem defensive and say “well, you guys just make good money…” Hmmm…income does help, but how come I was broke before I met Deborah while making some of the best money in my life?
Deborah Minteer: Last week my mom saw a review of our book in a newspaper. She thought to mention it a couple days later. We were underwhelmed by the attention!
Murphy: Speaking of friends, did this change your social circle? Did you lose friends or did you find yourself simply associating with different people as a result?
Deborah Minteer: That was the one big “expense” that we hadn’t anticipated. Our social circle turned upside down and did double-flips when we started gaining financial traction. Some friends couldn’t deal with seeing us knock out a debt that they hadn’t (at least yet). And it’s frustrating for us to see friends do things that we had previously done, collected the t-shirt, and already knew DIDN’T work. Yet they wanted to collect the souvenir anyway. Unless the “naughty” money subject is avoided, someone eventually decides it’s more relaxing and fun to hang-out with someone else.
Murphy: How long did it take you to free yourself from all consumer debt other than your home mortgage? How long did it take you to become totally debt free including your home mortgage?
Dan Minteer: Two long years went by before we paid off everything but the mortgage. Then four more years passed before we got the deed to the house. We mastered the art of living cheap and were radical in sticking to our budget month after month.
Murphy: How much of an emergency reserve do you advise people to have and what goes into that determination?
Dan Minteer: People should have six to twelve months’ worth of living expenses. It really will vary depending on people’s debt level, job situations and how much risk they’re willing to take if they were to lose one job, both jobs, etc.
Deborah Minteer: That answer depends on whether the household has a single or double income and the debt level. Folks who are willing to cut the “cream” from their life during a budget crisis and have less debt don’t need as much reserve.
Murphy: Some might view your advice on bailing out kids as a bit harsh. How would you react to that?
Dan Minteer: Our advice is really in the “tough love” category. It’s better for everyone if kids learn to bail themselves out and eventually learn not to need bailed out in the first place.
Deborah Minteer: Don’t get us wrong, we love our family. Still, the result of bailing out kids is even harsher than our advice.
Murphy: You do not mention having children during this debt elimination experience. Did you have children then? How much more difficult do you think this might be with kids if you did not have any?
Deborah Minteer: Our daughter was born four years ago (while the car and house debt was still hanging around and being a nuisance). And yes, child-related expenses definitely impacted the speed and approach of our debt evacuation plan. Still our little one is worth it!
Murphy: You were both employed. How difficult is this on one income or on a very limited income? How would you have done it differently if your income were more limited?
Dan Minteer: When I was broke, I had the biggest income of my life. How much of your income you keep is more important than how much you make. Granted, we were lucky to have two incomes during the “get out of debt” mode. However, we would still have done it the same way (sell everything, start over, live cheap) had we had only one income. It just would have taken longer.
Deborah Minteer: With one paycheck, planning and a cushy emergency fund becomes even more important. If the single-income drops off or gets cut, there needs to be a life raft nearby that can hold its own!
Murphy: Can anyone do this?
Dan Minteer: Yes, the principles in our book are not new. Our grandparents and great-grandparent’s generations knew much of this as common sense. Thanks to clever marketing to buy stuff and use debt, we’ve somehow lost this common sense in our culture.
Deborah Minteer: Absolutely! The mind is a mighty tool. It will make the smallest wallet tremble. When you make up your mind to do something, it will happen.
Murphy: Was any of this process fun for you? Explain.
Dan Minteer: As we got closer to paying off all consumer debt and began to save, it got real fun. It is SO fun paying yourself. Some of our best memories during this time involve walking to the mail box with yet another “pay off” check, especially the final mortgage payment.
Deborah Minteer: And now, it’s seriously cool to know that a splurge won’t upset our family security. Plus it’s fun to watch people’s reaction when we plunk down cash without blinking!!!
Murphy: If you had one piece of advice to give, the most important thing to help people get out of debt and avoid it, what would that be?
Dan Minteer: No matter your income, live on way less than you make and save as much as you can.
Deborah Minteer: Too many people are in debt, because they believe this is the only way. There’s another way and it’s better.
Murphy: What made you decide to write the book? How long did it take?
Dan Minteer: Once we began to win, we thought, “why aren’t others doing what we’re doing?” The thought of capturing every trick we learned in a book designed to reach the “average Joe” made a lot of sense and we became very passionate about wanting to do it. In a sense, it took seven years to live all this stuff enough to write a book about it. The actual writing it down part took about a year.
Deborah Minteer: None of the books we were reading captured all of the basics of what we were doing. Someone needed to do it, so we did.
Murphy: What makes your book different from the many financial advice books out there?
Dan Minteer: Our book is simple and easy to understand, written in plain language. And it’s not a “technical” book. It’s a book of ideas.
Deborah Minteer: Boiled Down Money Goo is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The photos were a blast to take. Did you notice each one has a “money shot?” And we brainstormed for hours and hours to come up with the cheeky quotes. The book fits well with a relaxed, inspired afternoon at home.
Murphy: Did you learn anything from writing the book? What?
Dan Minteer: We learned the value of getting honest reviews and feedback before publishing. We were very biased about certain topics and had to “tone it down” quite a bit in spots.
Deborah Minteer: My family always told me that I was an opinionated person. Until writing the book, I didn’t realize how right they are!
Murphy: Any plans for more books?
Dan Minteer: Maybe. The trick is finding the time for all the things we think are important in life and trying to find a balance.
Murphy: Dan and Deborah, thank you so much for your great ideas in this interview and for writing the book. Do you have any final comments?
Dan Minteer: So much of what we can accomplish in life is tied to having the time and resources to make it happen. It doesn’t necessarily take much money to chase our dreams, just freedom.
Deborah Minteer: People spend too much time focusing on how to earn and spend money. Instead they should be pondering how to get more time for themselves and with those they care about.
This interview is copyright protected by Daniel R. Murphy 2011. Permission is granted to reproduce this article in its entirety if proper credit is given. Attribution should be as follows: “Books2Wealth Interview, © Daniel R. Murphy, used by permission, www.books2wealth.com. “
July 5, 2010
An exclusive interview with author and leadership expert, James M. Strock by Daniel R. Murphy-
Murphy: You have recently published your third book, Serve to Lead. As you know there are lots of books out there on leadership. How is Serve to Lead different from the rest? What can the reader expect from it that will not be found in other books on the subject?
Strock: Serve to Lead is built on two foundations. The first is that 21st-century leadership is indeed something quite distinct from what’s come before. This change includes many aspects, outlined in the book. Perhaps the most important is that in today’s new world, service is the basis of effective leadership. In the past, “ethical leadership” or “servant leadership” were presented as options—perhaps desirable, but options nonetheless. Today making service your ultimate concern is mandatory. It’s a competitive necessity for effective, sustainable service by an organization or individual.
Second, leadership skills can be cultivated systematically. That does not mean that everyone can attain a high position or become a historically consequential leader— any more than spectacular basketball coaching can make anyone the next Michael Jordan. But systematic improvement can raise your game to levels previously unimaginable.
Murphy: How would you characterize the major difference in leadership in the 21st Century as distinguished from the timeless qualities of leadership from the past?
Strock: In one sentence: Everyone Can Serve—Because Everyone Can Lead.
What is different today is that there are unprecedented opportunities for anyone to serve—and lead—in any setting. The Information Revolution has given us all the potential to build platforms for ideas and visions, remarkably free of the control of powerful institutions. Serve to Lead includes many examples of this phenomenon—and, I hope there are many more are created by readers of the book!
Murphy: In your book you teach us that everyone, no matter what position they hold, should be a leader. Is this a new idea in the 21st century?
Strock: In one sense, the notion of leadership as separate from position is as old as history itself. Many of the greatest leaders have not held high position. Thus we celebrate the leadership of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mohammed and other spiritual leaders, for example. So, too, leaders in our era such as Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did not hold high position. Many who achieve high position in business, finance or politics are first recognized as leaders from their endeavors outside of—or in challenge to—established organizations or institutions.
What is qualitatively different today—and unprecedented—is the enhanced capacity of individuals to serve in ways unbounded by institutional constraints. This is truly the era of the “super-empowered individual.” We often focus on the negative of that—terrorists, bank employees who have disrupted markets, and so on—but the positives are at least as extraordinary.
Murphy: You write that your book is intended to be transformational. How is it transformational for the reader and how should the reader obtain the most transformational experience from it?
Strock: Leadership is about crafting and communicating a vision that inspires others to decide to change their thoughts and actions. Its impact is measured by results which would not otherwise have occurred.
Transformation is about one thing changing into something altogether different. Serving others effectively in leadership necessarily transforms both the leader and those served.
A reader who continually asks the book’s Four Questions—beginning with the first, Who Are You Serving?—can rapidly transform their life experience. Serve to Lead presents the questions as a unified approach to the range of leadership situations—from customer service to management to communications.
It’s been a delight to hear from a number of readers that the book has changed their lives. To be sure, though, they’re changing their lives. I’m honored that they find the Serve to Lead approach helps them identify and undertake their calling, their unique contribution.
Murphy: What did you learn, or what most importantly did you learn in the process of writing this book?
Strock: I learned many, many things! Perhaps most important is that service, in a very real, practical sense, is the essence of leadership. Every leadership challenge can be analyzed and effectively resolved by focusing on who and how one is serving.
Murphy: What were the most important experiences in your career that taught you the lessons you write about in the book?
Strock: I’ve been blessed to have experience working in various sectors. That includes entrepreneurial, corporate, management consulting, law, government (federal and state, legislative, executive and law enforcement), politics, not-for-profit, academic, and the military. This has reached across various fields and disciplines, across the U.S. and abroad. I’ve served at every level, from intern to entrepreneur to chief executive, from consultant to board member.
These experiences made me aware of the increasing commonalities of leadership in our time. The golden thread: one’s greatest contribution arises from empowering others to make their own greatest contribution.
When I was starting out thirty years ago, the norm was to seek to have one’s entire career with a single institution or enterprise. My experience, moving across numerous areas, was somewhat unusual. This equipped me to recognize and thrive in the emerging 21st-century world in which we all must be extraordinarily adaptive.
Murphy: You used more quotations from leadership and thought leaders then most books offer and they are so seamlessly integrated into your discussions. How did you do that? Would it be accurate to say this offers a lifetime collection of some of the best thinking on leadership?
Strock: A key message of Serve to Lead is the convergence of leadership. When service is the ultimate concern, value is created in similar ways even in very different circumstances. Thus, we’re increasingly seeing people who add tremendous value in one field, serve effectively in others. This is a notable change from the 20th century, when specialization was prized and people were often discouraged or excluded from working in more than one sector or discipline.
The diversity of quotations and references reflects that one can learn from many different experiences, from other times, places and circumstances. I hope, too, that many readers will be tempted to follow various quotations back to their sources or be inspired to seek additional sources to help them identify and achieve their unique contribution. When one’s ultimate concern is service, the possibilities are endless.
Murphy: When someone reads a book like this it looks so easy – it flows so naturally. How difficult was it to write and how long did it take?
Strock: I appreciate that question and compliment—all the more since you are such a fine writer!
The book was written over the course of five years. The idea crystallized in January 2005 in downtown Sydney. I examined and reflected on the historic statue commemorating the leadership of Sir Richard Bourke, an early governor of New South Wales. The book was completed on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in 2010.
I did labor over the writing quite intently. The book is intended to serve various types of readers in various circumstances. Some will read it straight through. Others may choose to search out specific items which are of use at a given moment, or to think through a pressing issue in their work or personal life. Still others may want to dip into pages randomly, seeking inspiration, information or provocation.
Murphy: You discuss in the book how best to use it, but in a few words here what is your best advice on how someone should use this book to get the most out of it?
Strock: Whatever helps others find their way to service is the best approach. I urge people to do whatever it takes to make them, in effect, coauthor. Mark it up, underline what you like, cross out what you disagree with… but in any case make it your own.
By design, Serve to Lead is not a book of “answers.” It’s a book of questions. Only you can answer the questions, only you can create the “masterpiece of service” that represents your calling, your unique contribution.
Murphy: In your final chapter, Make Your Life a Masterpiece of Service, you discuss how a leader’s creative process throughout a life time is very important and how you can improve upon prior works. Do you see your earlier writing as leading up to this latest book? Is Serve to Lead your magnum opus, a culmination of your prior work on a higher level?
Strock: As Serve to Lead suggests, if one’s goal is to serve, one aims to continually improve—hour by hour, day by day, year by year. That is part of what makes leadership transformational all around.
The book advocates that one seeks to make use of every aspect of one’s life to achieve one’s greatest contribution. That is where leadership becomes performance art. One reason that the quotations and references in Serve to Lead come from numerous sources is that they reflect learning and experiences from throughout my life. In turn, my great hope is that others will be inspired and empowered to do the same thing.
Murphy: Are you working on a new book, and if so what will it address? When might we expect it out?
Strock: Ronald Reagan’s centennial is February 6, 2011. For that occasion, I will be publishing an updated edition of my first book, Reagan on Leadership: Executive Lessons from the Great Communicator. It will include some exciting new parts, to be announced later this year.
Overall, I believe the way I can serve most effectively is to continue to speak and write about the principles of Serve to Lead. That may result in future editions of the book, taking into account new ideas and experiences and lessons learned.
I would love to hear from anyone with ideas in that regard, including how they might get involved to help get the message out. To learn more, or to get hold of me, please visit www.jamesstrock.com.
Murphy: Thank you so much Mr. Strock for sharing your thoughts on this subject and your book. I hope we will see more from you soon.
Strock: You’re most welcome, and thank you Mr. Murphy for this opportunity to discuss Serve to Lead. I’ve got a lot of respect for the important service you provide, and it’s an honor to be included in your publication.
This interview is copyright protected by Daniel R. Murphy 2010. Permission is granted to reproduce this article in its entirety if proper credit is given. Attribution should be as follows: “Books2Wealth Interview, © Daniel R. Murphy, used by permission, www.books2wealth.com
Murphy: You have recently published your third book, Outstanding! – 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional. As you know there are lots of books out there on organizational performance. How is Outstanding! different from the rest? What can the reader expect from it that will not be found in other books on the subject?
Miller: Well, I’m think “practicaly.” Because of my background as a salesperson of training programs, I realize there’s no sense writing or teaching content people can’t use. As one reads the “47 ways,” one can really ask how am I doing in this area and what can our organization do better here? And because there are the 47, there’s truly something for everyone!
Murphy: You have published two other best sellers in this subject area: QBQ! The Question Behind the Question and Flipping the Switch: Five Keys to Success at Work and in Life. How is Outstanding! different? What does it offer that the first two do not?
Miller: Allow me to quote my own publisher, who said, “This book will do for organizations what QBQ! and Flipping the Switch have done for individuals: Make them better.” So the difference is, the first two were more personal and the new “O” book is broader, focusing on what people can do to enhance the organization. Yet, there is still a theme of accountability, because nobody should wait for others to be outstanding. It always begins with me!
Murphy: Many people in the so called lower levels of an organization often do not see their role as enhancing organizational performance. They see that as a management role. How do these principles apply to every employee of an organization regardless of their role?
Miller: Truly, employees are often not accountable. Now, I am no apologist for senior management, but seriously, why isn’t it everyone’s job to “improve the place”? That’s not just the boss’ job, that’s MY job too! Of the 47 ways, at least 40 can apply to anyone!
Murphy: In Outstanding! your chapters are concise and have a punch to them. Was that deliberate and why did you adopt that writing style?
Miller: Thank you. Yes, it’s deliberate. People learn better when given small bites, to chew on, not a 7 course meal! And stories are the best vehicle for content as they make it memorable. When we recall the story, we can recall the idea—and then apply it.
Murphy: We all know that in this global and I might add faltering economy, having a competitive edge is essential to success for an individual and an organization. Can organizations or individuals really succeed and effectively compete today without striving for outstanding performance?
Miller: I’d say this: Companies can survive, but why not thrive? In good times and bad, the outstanding firms continue to win. In fact, by applying the 47 ways, we are better prepared for the inevitable downturns all economies suffer.
Murphy: We read and hear a lot lately about individuals being free agents and having multiple jobs and careers throughout their lives. If someone does not see their position with an organization as a long term commitment what motivation is there for them to work hard to make the organization outstanding?
Miller: Not much. ‘Nuf said.
Murphy: What did you learn, or what most importantly did you learn in the process of writing this book?
Miller: I always learn when I write. Always. It sharpens my thinking, forces me to crystallize my thoughts. It makes me a better speaker. What I learned this time around is I had so much more to say beyond QBQ! and Flipping the Switch. I’ve been in the training industry since 1986 and it was time to share this collection of ideas. I also learned that unlike my other books, the new “O” book is a team study book. Certainly, individuals can read it and grow, but I’ve discovered it’s best used by a team to explore and discuss together.
Murphy: What were the most important experiences in your career that taught you the lessons you write about in the book?
Miller: From 1986-1995 I sold training to execs in Mpls/St. Paul, MN. These years are the foundation of all that I write. Certainly, I’ve seen things since then that are in the “O” book, but amazingly, that decade of selling and facilitating leadership training for 10,000 hours over a decade is still the foundation of what I know. Also, just being a consumer myself—one who buys things—gives me experiences to share in the new book.
Murphy: Readers often go through a book like this, read all or most of it, and then put it on a shelf and forget about it. I know an author may not like to hear that, but I think you know it is often true. How would you recommend that readers use this book to help them and their organizations become more outstanding?
Miller: Team study. Absolutely. This is the way to go. Read it alone, that’s fine. And go back to your favorite 8, 10, 12 chapters and work on those. Great. But still I believe one gets most out of this new book by talking about it with others. The 47 ways can definitely create discussion, disagreement, and dialogue—all healthy for any organization. And remember, as we say in the QBQ! book, repetition is the motor of learning! One read is never enough.
Murphy: Was this book difficult to write? How long did it take? I ask that because it is well written and for many the idea of writing a book like that is daunting.
Miller: This book was surprisingly easy. The content was all in my head and the minute we decided to “Go!”—it came flowing out of me. We wrote out first chapter in May and we were done by Labor Day. It was an outstanding summer!
Murphy: You say the principles in your book apply equally to nonprofit and government institutions. They do not operate on a profit basis. How can nonprofits remain customer oriented and why should they when their customers often do not pay them anything for their service?
Miller: Any organization can be “fired” by its constituents, non-profit or for-profit. We work closely with the Denver Rescue Mission who serves the homeless every day. They need donors to keep supporting them and the CEO and his team know those donors are their customers and they work hard to keep everyone of them. Regardless what an organization does, it can be fired by its customer base.
Example: I have 6 post offices I can choose from and believe me, there is one I will drive right past and never use due to unhappy employees and long, slow lines. Since I have a choice, I fire that PO weekly and use another—all on purpose! What the “O” book is really all about is being so exceptional that our customers never do fire us.
Murphy: You discuss this in your book, but can you tell us here in a few words how do you motivate a team to stay dedicated to excellence and to strive to be outstanding on a day to day basis?
Miller: It all comes down to one cornerstone idea: Belief. People are who passionate, excited, “on fire” and all that, believe in the institution they represent, what is stands for, the products and services it offers, and the people they work with. When belief is high, great things happen. When it’s low, we see cynicism, grumbling, complaining, blame, etc. Keep the belief high!
Murphy: Are you working on a new book, and if so what will it address? When might we expect it out?
Miller: Nope. Too busy selling and teaching the content from QBQ!, Flipping the Switch, and Outstanding! Nothing else planned right now. We do many things at my organizational development firm in Denver, Co! We speak at events, sell books, and license training to clients to use in-house. Your readers can learn more at www.QBQ.com and www.OutstandingOrganization.com .
Murphy: Thank you so much Mr. Miller for sharing your thoughts on this subject and your book. I hope we will see more from you soon.
Miller: Dan, thank you for helping us spread out message of how to be outstanding!
This interview is copyright protected by Daniel R. Murphy 2010. Permission is granted to reproduce this article in its entirety if proper credit is given. Attribution should be as follows: “Books2Wealth Interview, © Daniel R. Murphy, used by permission, www.books2wealth.com. “