For over 30 years, Peter Bregman has worked with CEOs and senior leaders to help them create accountability and inspire collective action on their most important work and is the host of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, which offers insightful conversations with industry thought leaders on how to become more powerful, courageous leaders. He is also a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and his articles and commentary appear frequently in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Psychology Today, Forbes, The Financial Times, PBS, ABC, CNN, NPR, and FOX Business News. Peter is the author of multiple leadership books, including his book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, a Wall Street Journal bestseller.
00:00:59 – What’s life about?
00:06:30 – Who is Peter Bregman?
00:12:56 – Why the focus on CEO’s as clients?
00:19:28 – The missing conversations. What’s holding us back from growth.
00:29:57 – How to make your marriage last.
00:34:13 – The real definition of success.
00:39:01 – Hard vs Soft skills.
00:49:23 – Trained as a therapist in core energetics.
00:53:02 – Lightning round questions.
01:01:43 – Fatherly advice on going to college.
01:04:17 – Questions on writing.
01:11:16 – Reading fiction can make us more empathetic.
01:13:11 – Meditation
01:19:03 – Writing habits, routines, rituals.
01:21:50 – How writing material is organized for various outlets.
BRYAN: 00:00:40 Peter, welcome to the School for Good Living podcast.
PETER: 00:00:43 Thanks so much for being here. It’s great to see you.
BRYAN: 00:00:45 You too. So Peter, in just a moment I want to ask you to share a little bit about who you are and what you do. But before we get to that, I want to start with the question, “What’s life about?”
PETER: 00:00:59 I like the softball, easy, like let’s just sort of glide right into the interview. What is life about? There’s so many different ways to answer this. And actually one of the things about life, I think, is that what it’s about is constantly changing and not only constantly changing by, you know, the place in life that you’re in, the family that you’re in, the stage of life and… but literally moment by moment, like what life is about in this moment that I’m with you, you know, on this podcast, having the conversation, you know, life is about connecting with you and communicating in as clear a way as I know how as thoughtfully as I can, you know, responses to your questions and to sort of try to pinpoint what I feel about things like what is my life about? And it’s, you know, and the moment before this, my life was about, you know, nourishing myself in a crazy day by pausing for a few moments and eating something that was healthy. So it’s like, like there really is a moment by moment what life is about, you know, like a real mindful present moment. Like what is life about in this moment? And that’s going to be different than the next moment. And from a bigger picture, what is life about? You know, I think it’s like, it’s an interesting question because there we can wax philosophical about it and we can also look at the ways in which we live our lives and let that sort of speak for what life is really about. So I could say whatever I want to say about what I think life is about, but when I actually look at my life and say, how have I chosen to the best of my ability to live my life? I would say that life is about really deep connections with people that I love. Life is about moments of pleasure and actually what I’m coming to realize as moments of pleasure that don’t, again to the best of my ability, that aren’t fleeting in a way that quickly become destructive. So, you know, the example I’ll give you is the moment of pleasure of a bath is different for me than the moment of pleasure of eating ice cream. And in fact, I’ve recently cut out sugar and flour from my diet. It’s been about two weeks now and I feel amazing and it’s a tradeoff of these sort of momentary addictive pleasures for, you know, the deeper pleasures that have a lasting impact that I considered to be positive, so pleasure is a huge part of what I think about in terms of life and being thoughtful about how to do, how to have those pleasures in a way that are sustainable for me and for the world is a really, really important element of that. And life is about contributing in some way where I’m doing good work for something bigger than me. You know, when we’ll, we’ll eventually talk about leading with emotional courage, but the book is broken up into four parts which is confidence in yourself, which is really like a true confidence, like, not an arrogance and not a sense that you can do everything but a groundedness and a clear sense of self, right? It’s security, not insecurity. Arrogance comes from insecurity, right? Confidence, true confidence comes from security. Connection to others is the second, commitment to a larger purpose is the third. And then emotional courage, which is the willingness to feel pretty much everything, right, which allows us to then be confident in ourselves, connected to others and committed to purpose. And so when I think of the bigger picture and I’m listening to myself talk, I think I sort of got it right with this book, which is I think, you know, the bigger picture of what life is about is really being grounded and connected to yourself, connected to others, committed to something bigger than both you and them that you care deeply about without losing your connection to them and yourself, and then being willing, being courageous about what you’re willing to feel so that you can follow through on what’s important.
BRYAN: 00:05:32 Beautiful perspective.
PETER: 00:05:32 Thank you.
BRYAN: 00:05:34 I’ve never heard anyone describe that the purpose shifts moment to moment, but you’ve given me- you’ve given me something to think about. New view. So thank you for that.
PETER: 00:05:45 I mean it’s, you know, because I’m in the moment, I wasn’t- that wasn’t- I wasn’t planning to say that, but that’s what was coming out.
BRYAN: 00:05:51 No, I think that’s a really, that’s a really great perspective. So now that we’ve heard your response to this question, what is life about, I think those listening will probably be interested to know more about the person who gave that response. So Peter, will you share with me a little bit about who you are and what you do? Maybe this will be helpful to think if you meet someone for the first time or if you’re introducing yourself to an audience. What do you say about yourself?
PETER: 00:06:20 I have the sense of two different directions and I’m going to follow my first direction, which isn’t necessarily your second direction.
BRYAN: 00:06:20 Okay, fair enough.
PETER: 00:06:30 Which is- I’ll get to what the audience says. But when you say, tell me about yourself, the immediate response isn’t what I would necessarily say to audiences and maybe it should be, so, but I’ll tell you what comes up for me and then I can, I can give my more professional response. But the things that just immediately come up with me is I adore my family. My wife, Eleanor and our kids, Isabelle, Sophie and Daniel. And even though it’s sometimes the opposite of sugar, which is that it’s like a little hard to commit the time as opposed to like easy to commit the time, but then you resent yourself for having done it afterwards, that’s sort of what eating sugar is for me, spending time with my family is paradoxically a little hard for me to do because I tend to be very attracted to doing work and engaging in the sort of stuff I do out in the world. And then when I do it, like last night I stopped work and had dinner with my kids at five and then we watched a movie on a Monday night, it’s like the thing I have to actually push myself to do because I would never otherwise stop work at five. And yet it gives me tremendous pleasure. It’s the thing that after I’ve done it, when I’m writing some gratitudes in my journal for that day, that will inevitably be the thing that comes up. And so I think you know who I am as a person. You know, the fact that I, for some reason in my head, it keeps coming up that I adore skiing and I teach skiing and I used to be a ski racer and I ski every weekend in the winter and I love teaching and I think at heart I’m a teacher. It’s not that I come up with such brilliant creative new ideas, but I think I’m pretty good at expressing them in a way that moves people and also creates- makes them very practical and concrete. And I love doing that. I love that aha moment for myself. Someone once said about me that I’m that quote, you know, I think therefore I am, that for me, it’s, I learn, therefore I am and I think that actually sticks for me that I really love learning and I love doing things that I have to struggle with to do, but then feel really good afterwards. I kind of liked the struggle even though I don’t like to struggle, but writing is one of them, you know, sitting down and writing. It’s so hard to get myself in that seat. I was just actually writing an article for Harvard about that very moment, just just this morning, but it’s very hard for me to get in the seat. But once I do, I really so adore being there and having been there. So those are the things that just come up for me, and in terms of, you know, the professional, what I do out there in the world is, and here’s how I think about it is I try very hard both for myself and for other people to help them close the gap between what they know and what they do. So if you think about any of my books, I’ve written four books now and they’re all in some form or other kind of saying, look, we want to connect with ourselves, connect with others, connect to purpose and the emotional courage piece. And we all know much more than we act on. We all have better intentions than we live up to. And for some of us, the chasm between intention and impact, you know, is huge or small, but it’s always there, and it shouldn’t be in many ways, like why don’t we do the things we know we should do? Why don’t we eat healthy? Why don’t we exercise, why don’t we get enough sleep, but, you know, and why don’t we lead in the way that we should? Why don’t we listen to criticisms about ourselves when they can really help us and be informative? Why don’t we stick to hard things when we know that they’ll be- why don’t we sit in the chair and write when we know that that’s what we most want to do? Why? Why do we have novels? You know, even if they’re written in a drawer that we don’t actually put out there in the world, like why do we stop ourselves short of following through on what we know will make us happy and be good for ourselves and others of the world? Why do we talk more than we listen? Why do we, you know, do anything that we kind of know isn’t in our best interest or why do we not do things that we know would be in our best interest? That’s the question that I explore and I explore it for organizations and I explore it for individuals, organizationally I’m very, very focused and committed to understanding how to get large groups of people all moving together to achieve a common objective. So this idea of connecting to yourself, connecting to others, connecting to a larger purpose, we face that in organizations all the time. There are tremendous numbers of incredibly productive people in organizations where individually they’re productive, but collectively they’re not moving the organization forward. So the work that I do and that Bregman Partners does, my company does, and that I’m very focused on is saying how do we help the collective individual productivity result in the achievement of collective outcomes, and it happens less frequently than you would think and there’s a lot left on the table, and so it’s about how do we work with integrity and with each other and how do we work together in alignment to achieve something big. That’s a big thing and it’s, that’s one of the main things that closes the gap between, between what we know and what we do, which is the gap between strategy and execution. From an organization perspective, right, there’s a really great strategy but people aren’t executing on it at least together in an aligned way. So I’m really interested in helping people move together together, move forward together in a way that achieves the things that are important to all of them.
BRYAN: 00:12:33 As you’ve done this work, you work with CEOs, so obviously as you work with an organization, you know, working with the people who lead those organizations, this is a critical part of that. And that was actually one of my questions for you, and I feel like you’ve answered it, but I want to give you a chance to more fully answer in case what you said isn’t really the full answer, which is why CEOs?
PETER: 00:12:56 There’s a simple answer to that in many ways, which is that when I’m with the CEO, I tend to have to do less convincing and more helping. I tend not to like to spend my time convincing people of things. I- that’s just a personal thing. Like, I’m not such a sales guy in that particular way, but I really love teaching, and I find that when I’m- when the CEO is bought in, when I have that conversation and they agree, they tend to be, I tend to be able to develop trust clearly because, you know, I’m tested kind of early on and they figure out whether they think I know what I’m talking about or not and I wouldn’t be working with them if they decided that I didn’t know what I was talking about. And they- it’s very rare that someone tells a CEO they have to work with me. So it’s usually their choice. So they’re saying, yes, I’m going to work with you. I’m going to pay money to work with you. I’m gonna- I value your advice and your perspective. And now I’m in a position with dealing with the person who has ultimately the most power in the organization to make decisions and drive change. Who has an ear that’s leaning towards me that says, I value what you’re bringing. I’m willing to pay you to give me advice and to help me move forward, and I trust that, you know, you can be in partnership with me effectively to help me do what I need to do as the CEO to move this organization forward and then we can roll up our sleeves and get to work. And what I find is in- when I’m in other places of the organization and it’s not just a yes, I could work with leaders of businesses or- but when I’m in the middle of an organization, I find I have a harder time getting traction on the things that I want to get traction on. And I’ll give you a quick example. And it’s, you know, it involves a financial decision, but it’s, so, I hope it’s not crass, but it’s an interesting example where I was working with the head of strategy for an organization, and she was trying to bring me in to run it offsite and it was a financial services organization. And she, really, you know, she knew me. She knew me from work. I had done another organization and she, you know, wanted to bring me in, help structure the senior level meeting. It was a strategy offsite with the CEO and all of his direct reports and I gave them a price which was reasonable. I’ll just say it was a reasonable price. I mean it wasn’t inexpensive, but it wasn’t a crazy fee. It’s what you would pay and the CEO over the course of three different opportunities to run strategy offsites the sites over the course of a year kept saying, no, I don’t want to pay that. No, I don’t want to pay that and I don’t want to pay that. I’d had one brief meeting with him at some point early, early on, but otherwise all of my conversations were with the head of strategy and that strategy was like, I’m so sorry, and I continued to help them in whatever way I could help them, but I wasn’t going to run the strategy. I’ll say, and this was not, this was a far cry from a not for profit. It wasn’t something that I would say, okay, well maybe they can’t afford it, so they just didn’t see the value in it and I wasn’t willing to do something that they didn’t see the value. So it was, you know, over a year. And then I get a call from the CEO who says, Hey Peter, can you come meet me in my office someday sometime today, I need to talk with you about something. And I looked at my schedule and I go, look, I’ve got a 30 minute window to have a conversation with you. I’m going to be riding my bike there and back just so you know, because that’s kind of what my day looks like, but I’m, but I can meet with you for 30 minutes. And he says, okay. And I thought he’s going to try to do one of two things, right? One is he’s going to try to convince me to do this for a lower fee or he’s going to try to suss out whether I’m worth it, right? Because he hadn’t really done that. So, and I tried to get access to him before and I wasn’t able to get access, so I come to the meeting and he sits down and he says, all right Peter, I don’t want to talk to you about this offsite. I’m facing a personal issue, like leadership issue and I want to just talk with you about it briefly. And he gives me the issue. Was not what I was expecting him to say. So I sit there for 20 minutes and I think about the issue with him and I helped him to understand, to frame it and understand what was really going on and tell them. So 20 minutes later in the conversation, he says to me, Peter, this was great. This was amazing. This is exactly what I needed. Thank you so much. I don’t actually want you to facilitate the offsite. I want to hire you as my personal advisor, a coach and advisor to do this work. And I said to him, listen, that’s my sweet spot. I’m very happy to do that. I do this all the time. I’m very good at it. You have been protesting bringing me in to run strategy offsites for over a year and this is with your entire team and to bring me in as your personal advisor is going to literally cost you 10 times. Literally it’s going to cost you 10 times what you have not been willing to pay for me to come and work with your entire team. So I just want to let you know that because, and he didn’t even let me finish. He said done.
BRYAN: 00:12:56 Wow.
PETER: 00:18:30 And I left that meeting and I thought I never really want to talk to anyone who’s not the CEO again, like, like it was 20 minutes of having this conversation with him and he goes- and he held the purse strings. So I don’t mind talking to anybody in an organization or working with anybody, but I really like to have the conversations with people who have the purse strings because then we’re in a real conversation and we can have a real conversation and we could move forward if it’s the right thing to do as opposed to years of going back and forth. That often doesn’t amount to anything.
BRYAN: 00:19:01 That’s pretty amazing. Now I have this image of you on your bike riding through the streets of New York. Avoiding peril.
PETER: 00:19:08 Yeah. What he said, which is kind of funny, is what he said when I was leaving and I picked up my bike because it’s a folding bike and I walked out and I mean it also tells you, he goes, oh, I hope my driver doesn’t hit you. Then I thought, we’re living in slightly different worlds, he and I, but you know.
BRYAN: 00:19:28 Yes. Well, one of the things that I heard you talk about as I watched some of your videos online, you talk about a moment that often comes in your work with CEOs where you work with their teams and you talk with each individual and you learn, what are the things they can’t talk about? Like, what are the things that just don’t get discussed, the things that are off limits and then you bring them together and you have that conversation. Will you tell me about why? Why do you do that and what does it do for an organization and why do those people not have those conversations in the first place?
PETER: 00:20:01 It’s a great question. And all of those questions are great if you think about what holds us back from moving forward on things, especially with others, that are important to us, it’s rarely things that are actually on the table that we’re talking about. So if something’s on the table and we’re talking about it, we have probably- we’re probably comfortable enough addressing it. We’re probably willing to have the conversation right because we put it on the table and it’s not this sort of secret, insidious undercurrent of something that is, you know, creates fear and that, you know, we’re uncertain about and something that we don’t want to address. And if you think about the things that we’re stuck on, we’re probably not having the conversation that we need to have in order to get unstuck on it. And there’s a reason for that. There’s a reason, because we’re afraid of the outcome, because we might be fearful. I was- I’m in conversation with an organization, a not-for-profit organization and working with, a little bit with the board and with the head of the organization, and they are both talking to me about things that they’re not talking with each other about. And I see this all the time, all the time. People are willing to talk to me about things they’re not willing to talk with each other about. Now that’s sort of my job, right? So I’m okay with that. Right? I mean my job is to listen well enough and be open enough and be the kind of person that people are willing to talk to enough so that I can unearth what’s really going on in an organization. It’s not easy to do and there’s reasons why people don’t want to talk about things. And I keep things very confidential. So I’m, I never share something that I’m told I can’t share or is confidential. So I’m trustworthy in that conversation. So people tell me stuff and then I see stuff and I see what people aren’t talking about. And I would say 99 percent of the time, what they aren’t talking about is preventing them from moving forward effectively, and sometimes it’s secrets and sometimes it’s just the fear of the confrontation. Sometimes it’s the fear of the outcome. So in the not-for-profit situation I’m talking about, people are afraid of having a conversation that might result in a real challenge for the organization. So nobody wants to be the person who says the thing that makes someone throw their hands up and say, forget it, I’m out. Right? Nobody wants to be that person. And so no one’s having the real conversation. And the advice that I’m giving everybody who calls me and I’ve gotten, you know, I’m getting lots of calls from people in this organization, is be caring and be truthful. And if you speak with care, with love, I mean really with love, like with care for the other people in the room, for the organization, again, connected to yourself, connected to others and connected to this larger purpose. If you speak from that place and you speak honestly about what’s happening, then you may have to let go of the outcome, but you will be happy with the way that you’ve showed up. So one of the things that I’m trying to guide people in is to say, show up the way. No matter what happens, you will look back and say, I’m happy about the way I showed up. And oftentimes I don’t advise people that particularly. Oftentimes I say, understand the outcome that you’re trying to achieve and then be strategic and intentional about what you’re going to do to achieve that outcome. That’s the strategic way to move. But on issues where there is a challenge- and that’s a smart way to move, but on issues where there’s a challenge in the organization or there’s a difficulty or things are stuck, then pursuing the outcome becomes- turns into rather than a smart strategic move, a kind of manipulative, scared move that avoids the real issues that need to be on the table. And at that point you really have to forget about the outcome. You have to let go of the outcome and go and recognize that the issues that we aren’t talking about are the issues that ultimately are stopping us from moving forward collectively together as a group and we have to put them on the table and by the way, putting them on the table, one off, in one off conversations almost never works. You actually have to put them on the conversation with everybody there. You have to create a sense of and mood of transparency to say, look, we cannot be afraid as a group to talk about this hard stuff. We have to put it on the table and we have to move forward. Now, you also, besides care and honesty, you want skill, but you want to be skilled and how you do it. You want to be as unmessy as possible. You know, you don’t want to share these undiscussables in anger, you don’t want to scare them. You want to make sure that out of caring, you’re not trying to put someone down or show how you’re smarter than them or the bigger ego, you want to really support the other people in the room and the larger purpose of why you’re there together, and that’s hard to do, right? I mean, you need skill in order to do that, you need personal psychological skill to know what’s going on for you. You need the maturity to be grounded in yourself and not trying to fill some insecurity and you need some actual skill in communication and sort of saying, how do I raise these things so that we have the greatest likelihood of success. And in terms of why we don’t do that, we don’t do that because it requires emotional courage, right? Because it’s scary. Because if I’m going to raise something that nobody’s talking about, there’s a risk to raising it, right? And that risk means I’m going to feel a lot of things. I’m going to feel vulnerability. I’m going to feel like I’m going to say something, no one’s going to agree with me, so I’m going to be like the- like, this is only going to become my issue, not an issue that I’m seeing. I’m going to risk being shamed or embarrassed. I’m going to risk conflict that people are going to come back and point their finger at me and go, that’s not the problem, that undiscussable, YOU’RE the problem, right? I’m going to risk that. I might be wrong about the issue and then I might come off, you know, looking either dumb or selfish or you know, like just not understanding the real situation. I might do it unskillfully and maybe be accused of being unskillful. I might succeed and it might be the exact issue that we need to raise and the outcome might be a collapse or partial collapse of the organization and then I’ll feel responsible for that. So all of those things prevent us from moving forward when what we most need to do for the success of the group is to move forward. And if the organization collapses as a result of honest conversation about things people aren’t talking about, then better to have it fall apart in honest conversations talking about things that people aren’t talking about than to fall apart right at the cusp of some other issue when it’s out of control and you’ve lost connection with each other, and the thing blows up and then it falls apart and you know, everything in life goes through stages of birth, maintenance and death. And that’s going to happen sometimes. And it’s not what you want necessarily, but it’s going to happen sometimes, and better to have it happen in integrity, with clarity and connection, than to happen as a blow up that’s sort of uncontrolled but makes you feel better because you’re not responsible, quote unquote. So I have found the greatest headway we ever make in organizations is when we’re really able to talk about things. And by the way, there’s this other thing that I’m not talking about, which is I’ve seen organizations fall apart and teams fall apart and relationships fall apart much more often when they don’t talk about things that they need to talk about than when they do talk about things, even when they’re afraid that talking about those things will make them fall apart. That the irony is that when you talk about hard things, you actually create opportunity. When you don’t talk about hard things, you’re closing off opportunity. And that ends up killing things much more frequently than talking about the hard stuff.
BRYAN: 00:28:47 That is a really non-intuitive perspective. But I think it’s really brilliant, like, is really insightful. And looking back, I’ve seen that in my own life. I see that in my life with uncomfortable conversations that I don’t want to have. But what you’re saying gives me a new, honestly, a new courage in the- and a new way of thinking about it. You know, about the value of that. I mean, I once heard someone say everything you want is on the other side of an uncomfortable conversation.
PETER: 00:29:16 I like that. That’s true, you know, I recently had- my wife, Eleanor and I had a conversation that we had to have and we’ve gotten pretty good at this actually. We’ve been married for close to 20 years now and- not entirely, I think we’re about eight or 18, 18 years and counting. And we’ve known each other for close to 30 years and we’ve had a lot of hard conversations and we’ve gotten really good, and that doesn’t mean that the hard conversations go away. It’s not like, okay, we’ve had 30 years of figuring this out and lots of hard conversations, so now we’re done. Uh, no! Hard conversations happen all the time. We’re changing all the time. Remember the purpose of life changes every moment.
BRYAN: 00:29:16 Yeah.
PETER: 00:29:57 And so- and things change and we have to be open to things changing. And so we sat down actually at breakfast the other morning and it ended up being a conversation that lasted over an hour and it kind of cut into my work day and what I was planning to do, but it was a hard conversation and I brought it up and I was hesitant to have it and I was watching my own emotions around it and realizing, you know, am I bringing, am I creating an issue that doesn’t exist? And everything I talked about is what was standing in the way. Like things are going great. Like why do I need to raise this now? You know, we just got through something that was difficult like a week ago. And so now like it’s, you know, everything’s good. Why am I going to raise this now? And then I realized I’m going to raise it now because it’s on my mind and because I know myself well enough to know that even if I don’t fully understand it, I trust Eleanor enough and I trust our relationship enough to know that I could put it on the table and we can talk about it. And somewhere during that conversation I’m going to understand what’s going on for me and I will have respected my feeling enough and respected her and us enough to know that it’s worth putting on the table. And she received it beautifully, and truth is she got a little defensive and I didn’t because I was bringing it and I was able to sort of stay grounded. And she very quickly moved out of defensiveness and very beautifully, very skillfully. And then I figured out what was going on for me, which wasn’t what I originally came to talk about. But I was able to own stuff that was going on for me that was- I wasn’t accusing her of anything. I was just sort of saying, you know, she was involved in this thing. I’m not going into the specifics because it’s personal and you know, an hour later we left more in love with each other and more connected and having learned, each of us, something about ourselves and each other and collectively, you know, our relationship that we hadn’t known before and it was like, you know, that conversation, which I might have written in my conversations-to-dread journal the night before, which I don’t actually have, that’s what I would have written in there, or that morning because it really kind of came out in part from a dream that I had, the products and feelings. I was able to write in my gratitude journal. Like we had this really hard conversation. It was amazing. And so the more you do it, the more skilled you get at it and you sort of want to be that person who’s really skilled at having good, hard conversations.
BRYAN: 00:32:31 As I hear what you’re saying, what it brings up for me, and this is maybe a bit of a different direction, but I first think about how I think someone listening could hear this and think they could maybe dismiss it or diminish it and think about, oh, that’s, you know, it’s touchy feely or, you know, the corporate world. I don’t know, there’s a lot of things that I don’t want to say to my colleagues and you know, maybe I could do it with a facilitator in the room, but I’m not going to take that on one-on-one certainly in this kind of thing. And to be honest, like as I hear what you’re saying and even like you’re aware of dreams and what feelings those raise for you, and I think, like, my experience is a lot of people who are successful in life, is my view, that they’re actually not particularly in tune with their own internal state, what’s going on with them emotionally. Maybe, you know, they don’t reflect much on their dreams. And I know, you know, this is just my view. I could be reading it wrong. Some of what I’ve been learning recently and for example, I just got back from a few days in New Mexico with a Native American healer and he’s talking about masculine and feminine energy and about the masculine energy is very outcome oriented and it’s not particularly sensitive, you know, in this kind of thing, and one of- so one of the things I wonder where I’m going with all this is what do you think about your own work and do you encounter, like when people bring up, do they say, oh, it’s touchy feely, or even honestly, this masculine feminine energy, does that ever factor in to the way you discuss these things and what if- so, like, what are your thoughts about that?
PETER: 00:34:13 God, there’s so many elements to that question. It’s awesome. So let’s start with how we define success because you sort of said a lot of successful people, and, you know, I know a lot of people with a lot of money. I know a lot of people, a lot of money. I could just stop there. I know a lot of people with a lot of money who are very happy and I know a lot of people with a lot of money who are sort of angry or depressed and so it’s really clear to me that, and everybody says this, and of course if you have enough money, it’s the luxury to be able to say this, right? Although the research bears it that out that above a certain level, above poverty line and above a certain level, it’s really true that financial success or certainly titular success, like the success of your title or the success of your position does not make for happiness, right? It’s just, it’s just not. I mean, it makes for some element of financial freedom and it makes for some element of power, but in terms of feeling successful, a lot of the most successful people I know are so successful because they don’t feel successful.
BRYAN: 00:34:13 Right. Which such a paradox.
PETER: 00:35:36 Yeah! They don’t feel successful and that drives them to keep pushing themselves. So their success is born of an insatiable insecurity and that insatiable insecurity leads to depression. And I’ve seen a tremendous number of incredibly successful people peak in their careers and anything after that, and there’s always, if we’re lucky, something after that, right? Assuming we live that long, there’s something after that, and even if you’re esteemed and respected in the community for what you have done, you don’t matter in the same way that you used to matter, and if you live with the necessity, the insecurity that requires that you matter in a certain kind of way that you hold purse strings or that you can lift a finger and create things or you say things and people are listening really, really carefully because you know you might move market so you might provide an opportunity for them, it’s like if that’s what fuels you, you will almost assuredly end up sad and depressed at the end of your life. It’s like a recipe for it. And so it feels to me really, really important that there’s an element, look, of what I do organizationally that is about helping people move and work effectively together to collectively and in alignment move an organization forward. Absolutely. That’s it. There’s an outcome to that and there’s a focus to that. In terms of being the kind of people that we want to be in our lives, I don’t buy the distinction between soft and hard skills, like I just don’t buy that distinction. I don’t know what it means honestly. I mean, I’m being honest. I’m not being cagey. I don’t actually know what it means. Is it a soft skill to be able to have skillfully a difficult conversation and by the way, I’ll do a quick plug for facilitators, myself included. I think there’s nothing wrong with saying I need someone else in the room in order to have these difficult conversations. I think get the support that you need. My wife, Eleanor and I are running, actually, right now a relationship workshop for interfaith couples. Right? We’re- I’m Jewish, she’s Christian, you know, and it’s part of something that we’re doing for our synagogue, but- and she is, actually, as far as I know, she’s the only minister on staff at a synagogue in anywhere, actually, in the world. Probably. I might be wrong, but that’s as far as I know, but she is the head of multi-faith initiatives at our synagogue and she’s a Christian minister and I’m Jewish and our kids are Jewish and we’re holding a, you know, a multiple session workshop for couples. And one of the things that’s really, really clear is there are some conversations that you as a couple have to have that you either don’t have the skill or the comfort to have on your own. And our suggestion is don’t have it on your own but don’t not have the conversation. So have it in the workshop or raise your hand and say, Hey Peter, Eleanor, could both of you- could one of you meet with us separately and help us to have this conversation? Get support to have the hard conversations. Don’t not have them, but just the fact that we need, often, support to have these hard conversations to me confuses the issue of hard or soft skills.
BRYAN: 00:35:36 Yeah.
PETER: 00:39:01 And you and I both know, Bryan, and you’ve had plenty of experience with wealth and with, you know, business and with incredibly successful people. You know, you way more than me and you more than most and you know, you know, if I were to ask you, let me ask you, what are the hard skills, and I mean hard skills as in any skill, but what are the skills that enable the most successful people you know to actually be successful, to create wealth, to create great leadership, to build great leaders in their organizations, to achieve the objectives that they set out for themselves. Name the top three skills that come to your head.
BRYAN: 00:39:43 Well, when I think of that, I think about whatever their training was, you know, if they were an engineer, if they were in finance, if they were in accounting, you know, I think about like technical skills or maybe the kind that are taught in a university, you know.
PETER: 00:39:57 Great. So that’s one of them. Give me two other skills. So one is proficiency in their area of expertise, and now you’re talking about leaders of organizations, incredibly successful people. What are the other, what are- give me two other skills they need in order to succeed.
BRYAN: 00:40:11 Well, I think they need the ability to communicate, you know, if they have a vision, they have an intention, they have an outcome and then being able to communicate that to other people in a way, not even necessarily that inspires them, although we tend to think of it that way. I think in a way that other people understand and that other people see a personal benefit to also getting behind, you know, we’re working toward. So I think communication is probably what it comes down to.
PETER: 00:40:11 And give me a third.
BRYAN: 00:40:37 I mean, then I started to think this is maybe personal qualities like resilience or grit or stick-to-it-iveness, you know, something like that.
PETER: 00:40:46 Beautiful. Okay. One of those three, or four or five or six, depending on how you count the last one, is- would be considered by, you know, the business world to be hard skills and the others would be soft skills, right? And I, it doesn’t make sense to me! Like, you know, like the skill of communicating, the skill, and actually if you think of the subtitles, so my book, Leading With Emotional Courage has a subtitle, the subtitle is how to have hard conversations, create accountability and inspire action on your most important work. Those are, in my view, just as hard, you know, a skill to be able to do those things as proficiency. Now, I would not argue with you. I think your top three are my top three. You need proficiency, an expertise in what you’re doing, to be effective, and you need to be really effective at conversations and communication and inspiring people or not inspiring them, but collectively engaging them and you need to personally be able to be resilient and grounded and et cetera. And in some ways what you’ve articulated, if you walk backwards from that is, you know, your self, connection to others and commitment to a larger purpose or capability and larger purpose, right? It comes down always to these three things and to me they’re all super hard skills. So anybody who doesn’t take all parts of those seriously is going to really struggle to succeed. Anybody who says, I’m going to be really amazing at the hard skills of knowing what it is that I need to do from an expertise perspective, but all this soft stuff about being personally resilient or confident in myself or confident enough to hear criticism, right? Some people think confidence means I’m so confident that I don’t need your- no, confidence means I’m willing to not know things. If I’m really confident in myself, I’m very comfortable in the space of I don’t know. Anyone who’s not comfortable being wrong or not knowing things is insecure, is not comfortable in their own capability, in their own skin. So, you know, anybody who says to me, I’m going to do that proficiency stuff, but you know, that soft stuff about, you know, touchy feely, connecting with other people and then honestly I’m not the right person to help them because I don’t- we have a fundamental disagreement about what it is that enables you to be successful. And I’m not willing to give in on that one. Meaning, I’m very clear from 25 years, 30 years of experience doing this work that, you know, if you don’t have the whole kit, if you don’t have, you know, the collective group of skills that you need in order to be a successful leader, a successful human being, then, you know, you’re going to really struggle.
BRYAN: 00:43:48 Well, and that, like you just said, in leading with emotional courage, you know, is basically the framework for the book. Tell me, who did you write this book for and what did you want it to do for them?
PETER: 00:43:57 So I’m going to give you the answer that every PR and marketing person tells me I should never give and that I’m wrong and that I’m gonna have a hard time marketing this book, which is, I really wrote this book for everyone. Like to me, this is the book I want my kids reading. This is, you know, of my four books, this feels like absolutely my most important work. It’s about how to live in this world in a way where you move forward and things that are important to you. If I were to give you the answer of, you know, specifically who it’s geared towards, its leaders and people who work in organizations or people who, you know, really are working to accomplish something and bring a bunch of people along with them. So, you know, in my view, thought leaders, for example, I would put myself in the category of a thought leader as well as an organizational leader, and thought leaders, like, if I were just to look at the thought leader part of my job, which I could technically do in my underwear with a laptop, I would say my job is still very much bringing a group of people along with me. Like I’m leading in a way. And I, you know, I just wrote an article for Harvard Business Review that for the past week has been the number one most popular article on the site. And it’s still there. And like the first two comments, not the first two comments, but one of the first two comments was someone who wrote basically this is ridiculous and you should stop writing for Harvard Business Review. You are incompetent. Right? And that last two parts, you should stop writing for our misery, you’re incompetent was literally in his comment and you know, you have to, like, how do you keep writing, how do you read that and keep writing unless you’re confident in yourself, connected to others and committed to purpose and you go, okay. So I kind of see where I have to listen and I can say, I can see why they’re feeling that and where they’re feeling it, and I could see how they misinterpreted something that I wrote in my article and then I have to decide is it worth getting into- do I think I can respond to the comment in a way that will help him and not be defensive, I know I could not be defensive because while I could feel the impact of the comment, I mean someone telling me I’m incompetent, I also know that that’s not true and I can see why they’re angry and hurt from something that they wrote earlier, which is that they misinterpreted something that I meant. So instead I could look at it and go, Huh, I have something to learn about the way I’m communicating, maybe I could have made that more clear, or maybe here’s a guy who’s pissed off who rattles off in the comment page and now he feels a little better, or not, I don’t know, but my writing was fine. Like I don’t know exactly what the answers are, but it helps me to think about all of that stuff and not lose myself in the context. And so I would say even for someone in- operating in the thought leadership role, right, where you’re not having the tech, quote unquote leader inspire action on your most important work. I’m still in the job of inspiring action on my most important work. I write this book, Leading With Emotional Courage, because I want to live in a world in which more people are willing to feel the hard stuff they need to feel in order to move forward on what’s most important to them, and I want to live in a world in which people are willing to fail and willing to get a comment like that and keep writing. I want to live in a world in which people are willing to continue to work hard and take risks and feel hard stuff and not let them- let that stop them and I want to work with those people and I want those people in the world that I’m living in, so I write the book because I want to inspire action on people’s most important work and I want people to have hard conversations and I want them to be accountable and so I want to lead, and I could do all that in my room with a laptop. So- I don’t. I mean, in fact I run a company and we’re helping organizations do that more broadly, but I could. And so I think the book for anybody who feels that they want to move forward on work, for them, that feels important, and they can use some help in getting traction on that and having these hard conversations and creating accountability around them and inspiring action on their most important work. That’s who I’m writing the book for.
BRYAN: 00:48:35 I love that perspective and I do love that it’s a framework and that it’s very logical and it’s very actionable. It’s not just a bunch of concept, and I knew for sure that I wanted to explore this further with you and talk with you on this podcast when I heard you talk about this simple concept, simple, not easy, of if you’re willing to feel everything, you can do anything. Right? And when I heard you say, well, that’s kind of the book, you know, that it helps people do, I was like, that’s a powerful book. And also when I see that this is your fourth book, right? And I’m aware that after 25 or 30 years of doing this work and having written other books that this is where your work leads you now, I’m like, oh, there’s this, there’s something really rich there. Something really valuable.
PETER: 00:49:23 Thank you. Yeah, I mean I’ve done a lot of personal work so I’m- I spent four years in a very in-depth, psychologist, sort of somatic psychology around core energetics program learning. I’m sort of trained as a therapist now in core energetics, and I really- like everything I write about, I struggle with and I learned to get better at, like that’s, you know, that’s what I’m most interested as a developer of myself and of others. And yeah, that statement really, really has impacted my life. Know that if you’re willing to feel everything, you can do anything, and here’s an easy way of thinking about it, right? So think about a hard conversation that you’re not having, right, a conversation that you haven’t had, and you think you should have it, right? It’s how we sort of started this conversation, you feel like you should have it, but it’s sort of ineffective and undiscussable. Think about why you haven’t had the conversation. And I’m willing to bet that it’s not because you don’t know what you want to say, it’s not because you haven’t had an opportunity to say it, and it’s not because you don’t actually have the skill to say it, but it’s because there’s something you don’t want to feel. You don’t want to feel the disconnection. You don’t want to feel the possible conflict. You don’t want to feel your own defensiveness. You don’t want to feel their defensiveness, you don’t want to feel the shame. You might not even want to feel the joy that you might get after having the conversation. I don’t know exactly what it is, but what I do know is if you’re willing to feel any and all of that, then you’ll have the conversation, right? If you’re willing to feel everything, you can do anything and it’s a learned skill. We do not teach the skill. When you talk about, you know, the quote unquote hard skills of the things that we learned in college, we don’t learn these skills in school. We don’t learn how to feel. We don’t learn how to feel. We learn how to not feel. We learn, you know, in some cases, more and more, we learn how to medicate, right? We learned from our peers often how to medicate with drugs and alcohol and things like that. We learn how to cut off feeling. We learn, and I learned this. We learn how to exert our will in order to push ourselves forward in things so as not to let feelings get in the way, right? Which ends up leading to all sorts of problems, right? But we don’t actually learn to feel. And so I spent, you know, literally 10 years learning how to feel, right, and then figuring out how do I help people get there in less than 10 years. Right? And everybody has some capacity to feel, but you’re- but to really learn to feel all of those things and just being aware of it, just saying it the way I said it, just being aware that if I’m willing to feel everything, I can do anything, allows you to move forward on things because you realize, oh, there’s something I don’t want to feel. Well, I could feel stuff. I’m willing to feel this, so now I’m going to go have that conversation. Or if I were willing to feel the risk of this thing falling apart, if I were willing to feel the risk of their anger or my own shame, then would I have this conversation and if the answer’s yes and you’re being intellectually honest, then have the conversation.
BRYAN: 00:52:37 It’s such a powerful, powerful view. I love that and I love that you’ve written an entire book that helps people not only more fully understand that, but to do it. I want to live in that world too.
PETER: 00:52:51 You do very much live in that world, like you’ve made big decisions in your life that make you feel stuff, and you move forward on things that are important to you, so-
BRYAN: 00:52:51 Well, thank you.
PETER: 00:52:59 I think that’s why we’re already living in this world together, why we know each other.
BRYAN: 00:53:02 Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you for that. Okay, so here I have 10 questions that I’ve written to be answered concisely, although of course you can answer as long as you want,
PETER: 00:53:15 And I’m going to do my best to be very succinct because evidence has so far I’m not that successful. I’m gonna do it.
BRYAN: 00:53:21 And that’s okay, you’re the guest. So please complete the following sentence without using the words a box of chocolates. Okay? So please complete the following sentence. Life is like a blank
PETER: 00:53:21 Awesome ski run.
BRYAN: 00:53:36 Okay. What do you wish you were better at?
PETER: 00:53:40 Sleeping eight hours a night.
BRYAN: 00:53:42 All right. If you were required, every day for the rest of your life, to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it or phrase or saying or quip or quote, what would the shirt say?
PETER: 00:53:54 The first thing that comes to me is “you are awesome”, but they wouldn’t know whether I’m talking about me or them.
BRYAN: 00:54:03 Could be both. Okay, number four, what book other than your own have you gifted most often or recommended most often?
PETER: 00:54:09 It’s an interesting one. It’s a book- I don’t know if listeners are going to be so interested, but I really loved it and I can’t entirely tell you why I loved it, but it’s a book called Drizzle by Kathleen van Cleve and it’s a children’s book.
BRYAN: 00:54:25 What do you love about it?
PETER: 00:54:29 Um, I have a little bit of a hard time saying what I loved about it. I mean, I have a habit of trying to read the books that my children read so that I’m kind of in tune with them and I kind of see. It’s actually made me want to write books for children more and more, but this book has magic in it and it has generations in it and it has care and persistence in it and I just, I dunno, there’s something I really- like when you asked me what book stands in my mind, that’s the book that stands in my mind.
BRYAN: 00:54:29 Cool.
PETER: 00:55:01 I really love it. And it’s a fast read. It’s a kid’s book, so it’s like, you know, 200 pages and you could read it in, you know, a few hours probably. And it’s… I don’t know, I really like it.
BRYAN: 00:55:14 Sounds fun. All right, so you travel a ton, right? Like what’s one travel hack, you know, something you do or something you take with you to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
PETER: 00:55:25 You know, I’m trying to stay away from the million things that you hear people say. I’ll tell you something that I’ve done that has actually made travel much more enjoyable for me is I no longer use rolling luggage. So I carry a duffel and I figured, look, I spend time working out and then I’m going to try to, like, make everything as easy as possible when I’m traveling and that doesn’t make sense. Not only that, I’d rather have more weight on one arm than the other because then I could stabilize using my core and, like, I think of it as a workout and I don’t bother, you know, stairs or escalators or elevators, I’m not worried about that. I’m never worried about overhead space. I pack light, so that keeps everything really simple. So in a strange way what I really like and I just feel like it looks cooler too. But like I travel with a nice duffle. I have this, like, nice Patagonia duffel that I like and I travel with that most of the time. Every once in a while I’ll do rolling luggage but I do my best to travel with that duffel and I kind of enjoy it personally every time.
BRYAN: 00:56:29 That is awesome. That is truly next level thinking, the core workout from balancing. I love it. Okay. What’s one thing you started doing or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
PETER: 00:56:41 Eating sugar and flour. I’ve stopped eating sugar and flour and I’ve done this before, so I don’t know how long it’ll last, but I, you know, it’s been a couple of weeks and I feel amazing. There’s a book actually that I read that has, you know, that I’m following basically for these two weeks. It’s called Bright Line Eating. It’s basically, as far as I can tell from having read it, it’s- Susan Pierce Thompson is the author and it’s basically overeaters anonymous as a, you know, but in a book as far as I can tell, but here’s, it’s got four simple rules and, you know, I work out a lot and I’m in shape, but the eating- my eating wasn’t making me happy. Like I eat incredibly healthy. But then I also ate copious amounts of sugar and if I wasn’t eating sugar then I’d eat a lot of bread. And her view is people are addicted and you may be more or less addicted. Right? Some people don’t have a problem with that, like I don’t have a problem with alcohol. Some people are alcoholics and they can have a sip, I can drink a little bit of wine and I’m fine. Like I don’t- I have no interest in continuing. I don’t have to finish my glass, but there’s no dessert I wouldn’t finish. Right? And I would finish your dessert if you didn’t finish your dessert. So I had a problem with sugar and flour, and it’s not that I’m overweight or that, but it just, I didn’t feel good from it and I don’t like not having, you know, like not being able to control myself around it, but I physically wasn’t feeling good. She has four rules, right? Which is no sugar, no flour, three meals a day. And so you’re not eating snacks in between the meals. And then she has some prescription for how much you should eat at each meal. It’s been great for me. The no sugar, no flour has been great. So that’s the thing I would give up.
BRYAN: 00:58:32 I feel like we got to have a check in to see how it’s going at some point.
PETER: 00:58:32 Good, yeah, check in with me in a month. One day at a time.
BRYAN: 00:58:39 Awesome. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
PETER: 00:58:45 Honestly I’m going to, you know, I don’t want to peddle my book, but it’s why I wrote the book, which is I wish they knew that it wasn’t so scary to feel things and even if it was, it was worth it and that if we were all willing to feel what we’re feeling, we, it wouldn’t, it would be far less likely to leak out in these insidious ways to create hate and anger. Sam Kean, who’s a lovely man, I spent a weekend with him a few weeks ago. He’s 87 and he wrote this poem. He wrote 20 books, but one of the, he was a- he used to be the editor for Psychology Today and he’s a prolific author and philosopher and psychologist. He was famous in, I think it might’ve been the seventies or the eighties for Faces of the Enemy. He wrote a book called Faces of the Enemy and talked a lot about that, and I think it was around Cold War stuff. We’ve talked about how to make an enemy and the way you make- and he had a great poem called How to Make An Enemy so you can search that up, and how to make an enemy it, the upshot is you find someone just like you, and I mean I could read you the whole poem, but it’s not enough to find it. It would take me a second, but I can redo the poems. But the basic gist of it is you find someone just like you and then you paint on them the colors in the shades of your own disowned shadow and darkness. And then you call them evil. And so if we were willing to feel everything that we would feel, then we wouldn’t need to project the things we don’t like about ourselves onto other people and therefore create a tremendous amount of hate and discord. And the truth is, you know, we do that in our politics, we do that in our organizations. So you know, when you have a group of people who are having, are working in silos and having a hard time working with each other, it’s, you know, and they, you can almost see and hear them, not almost, you can see and hear them “evil eyes” the other. I look at the other person and assign them evil motives like they’re trying to mess me up there. They’re abusive, they’re this and that. Some of them may be true. They might be abusive. I don’t know if they’re abusive or not, but what I do know is there are parts of them that remind you of you that you don’t want to see. So you put them off as the other. And I kind of wish all Americans and all people in the world had a higher comfort level, had more emotional courage, right? Had more emotional courage so that they didn’t, that they weren’t as, that we weren’t together collectively as a people, so sloppy with our connections or disconnections from other people.
BRYAN: 01:01:27 That’s a powerful insight. What’s one piece of advice your parents gave you that has stayed with you or made an impact?
PETER: 01:01:36 God, a couple, but I’ll give you two quick ones because I realized you said succinct and I’m-
BRYAN: 01:01:36 No, you’re doing great.
PETER: 01:01:43 My father actually gave me two great pieces of advice when I was going to college. One is he said it doesn’t matter what the courses you take, just make sure you take the best professors. So I went to college. I was fortunate enough to go to a great college that had great professors and I also didn’t and I was also fortunate enough to have my parents pay for college for me and I didn’t go to college with the intent of I have to learn some perfect particular professional thing. I went to college for the joy and depth of learning and what he said was, doesn’t matter, like you can be- and I, remember an advisor coming to me once. He goes, I don’t understand. Like we’ve got jocks who take lots of courses and lots of different disciplines, but they’re always the easiest courses we’ve got, you know, pre-med people and other very, very focused people who take all the courses easy or hard, but in a very particular discipline. But you’re all over the place. You’re taking all these really hard courses in every single discipline and I don’t understand. And I said, well, my father gave me this advice. He said, find the best professors and study with them and I still feel that and I still feel today find like the smartest, most interesting, most engaging people and listen to them and you’ll learn something no matter what they’re talking about, you’ll really learn something. So I’m not looking for a particular perspective. I’m not looking for the right or the left. I’m looking for really smart, connected, engaging people that I can learn from. And the second piece of advice he gave me, when I wanted to leave college and go study in France, is he said, I’ll totally support you if you are going because there’s something you want to study in France, but if you’re going to France because you’re bored where you are in college, you’re bored, then stay there and figure it out there because the rest of your life you’re going to find that you’re bored at various times and you have to work through it. And that has helped me. We’re going to get to writing soon. But that has helped me write and it’s helped me stay with the difficult things, which is to say I could always jump to the distraction that might be fancier in that particular moment, but my father’s advice that says stick with it and move through the boredom, you know, every time I sit down to write I’ve got to listen to that advice.
BRYAN: 01:03:54 He sounds like a really wise man.
PETER: 01:03:56 He is a really wise man. He’s a wise man.
BRYAN: 01:03:58 Okay, cool. So let’s shift gears and move to-
PETER: 01:04:05 Not that my mother isn’t wise, also. Just saying, my mother, very wise woman. But those two pieces of advice came from my father.
BRYAN: 01:04:11 Well, I imagine, I mean a wise man would marry a wise woman.
PETER: 01:04:13 Exactly. Exactly.
BRYAN: 01:04:17 So let’s shift gears and talk about writing. You know, one thing I’m really curious to ask you about as it relates to writing is I read in one of your blog posts you wrote just a couple of years ago that you had made the commitment to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to practice writing fiction because that- you’re not a fiction writer as far as I know, but that was something that, I mean, tell me about why you did that, if you still do it and what you learned from it.
PETER: 01:04:47 So my wife, who I mentioned a couple times, Eleanor, just came back from Savannah, Georgia. Her father- her mother died about eight years ago and her father just remarried and they’re selling- to a lovely woman- and they’re selling their child- her childhood home and his childhood home, right? They all grew up in it. And he and his new wife are moving to a townhouse in downtown Savannah. Lovely people. So that brought up a whole bunch of stuff for her, right? Because, you know, she’s- so we went down there and helped them pack up and spend four or five days and looked at all the things and we, because we live in New York periodically store things in my father-in-law’s house in Savannah because there’s more room there and so Eleanor and I both had all of our journals from years past and she said she happened to open up one of my journals and in- and it was probably from 20 years ago and she just opened it up and she just read one sentence and closed it and was like, I shouldn’t be reading his journal, but open up the journal and it said something about really wanting to write, like I really want to write. And I really think about the things that I wanted 20 years ago. Like however much things changed, I still have some of those same drives. And I’d always gotten very bad feedback on my writing. I- the college I went to was Princeton and I didn’t get into their creative writing program to take a class, not to major in creative writing, but I applied and I got rejected three times to take a class in their creative writing program and a well known journalist who is quirky and a friend of mine, Gloria Emerson, who is a professor at Princeton, read my history thesis just as a favor to look at it and her comment was, thank God the history department doesn’t know good writing from bad. I know, really? Not nice and yet I kept coming back to it like I just, I don’t know why and yes, and then I woke up at 5:30 in the morning and I was writing and I cannot explain to you why Brian, I really shouldn’t write fiction. It’s not what I do. I’ve written four books. I’ve written countless other things. I think my fiction writing is actually quite bad, but I don’t care. I mean I do care. I do care. It’s painful sometimes for me to read my own writing, but I have to say then I write something and I start laughing because I like what I’ve written or I think I’m funny or I love something and some critic will come and look at it and say it’s not particularly good and I’ll- it’ll give me joy. And so I keep writing and I don’t know, I mean one day, like I’m thinking more and more about maybe writing my next book as a fiction book of some sort and I’m learning it. I’m taking a class in science fiction and fantasy writing with my daughter. I have a 16 year old daughter, Isabelle, and she and I are taking a class together. We’ve had- for about a year now, we’ve had a writing date where we get together after school one day and she and I just write. And the- you know, all of my kids have said, look, for every adult book you’ve written, you owe us one children’s book. So you owe us, now you have to write and publish for children’s books. So I, you know, the rule is we just write and we’re writing fiction and we write for an hour, an hour and a half or however long we write and then we read to each other what we’ve written and we talk about it and now we’re taking this class and I’m loving it and I’m learning things, and so the answer is, and I think there’s wisdom in this, which is I’m really in the, I don’t know, like I don’t know where this is taking me. I don’t know whether it will take me anywhere, but I know that there is some part of me that longs to write fiction and I’m not gonna quit my job in order to do it, but I’m not gonna quit doing it because of my job. Like I’m gonna keep doing it. And maybe, you know, one day, maybe a long time from now, maybe not, maybe in a year I can be back on your show and talk to you about, you know, my new fiction book.
BRYAN: 01:08:51 I love it. What’s one thing you’ve learned from that science fiction writing class?
PETER: 01:08:56 Well, it’s interesting because I keep learning things, but one exercise that we had to do, it was actually really profound. I just learned this, actually. One exercise we have to do is to take a piece that we wrote in third person, right, narrative, like there’s a narrator, so “Peter walked along the block when suddenly” dot dot dot, and change the point of view to change the style and point of view. So we’re talking about point of views and so I took this piece that I wrote and I changed it from the character, whose name is Maddie, to I. Right, and I talked about I as though I were Maddie and I loved it. It made a huge difference. I- all the writing that I do in nonfiction, I’m writing about myself in a sense. I’m used to being first person and when I got to fiction as the narrator, I was not intimate enough with my character and so as soon as I wrote I, I felt an intimacy. I felt like I am this person, and now I’m starting to feel like them and understand. So even if I go back to third person, at some point, I’m going to write, I’m going to really think of myself as that person and maybe if I want to write third person, I might have to write as I at first and then change all the I’s to Maddie or something. I don’t know what, but. But it was kind of a profound insight for me how much more interested I was in understanding life from the eyes of my character and how difficult it was for me to understand that life when I called them by some name, but how much easier it was when I really fully identified with the character.
BRYAN: 01:10:38 You know what I think of when I hear you share that is what I read in Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Another Princeton guy. Then he talks about how the printing press, after the advent of the printing press, when novels became popular, when finally novels became popular and people started reading first person accounts of experiences was- it was his kind of assertion that that was an inflection point in humanity where we developed an emotional intelligence because we could then associate with another person’s experience in a way that we hadn’t before. So it’s interesting to me to hear you share that.
PETER: 01:11:16 And Bryan, it’s one of the reasons why I like fiction. Like there’s an element of my writing which I value and think is important, where I give advice, like I’m actually helping or doing my best to help people live their lives in a way that they’re happy with and that they achieve things that they want to achieve. There’s something I like about fiction which is not giving advice, right? Which is about saying here’s something and glean from it what you will. And I think a lot of our empathy, I mean, and there’s studies that show that reading fiction positively impacts empathy. Like when you read fiction, you become more empathic because you’re inhabiting other people’s worlds. And so I like that. I- that feels important. I think empathy is a really important thing for us to have more of in this world.
BRYAN: 01:12:12 I totally agree. And it makes sense with the other work you’re doing. So, it’s so congruent. That’s great. One of the things that I’m interested to learn from you if I can, and I think listeners will be as well, is for those who, you know, they want to, they want to do what you’re doing. They want to be published, they want to be read, they want to know that their work is making a difference for people. But as I talk with people and as I look at my own life journey, I think part of the challenge, you know, we hear this about write what you know and we hear, you know, find your voice. And I think it’s very common that many people don’t necessarily know. They haven’t found their voice. They haven’t got clear for themselves what it is they want to say, or even who they want to speak to or write for. What advice do you have for people who were in that stage? They’re at the beginning. They have- maybe they have an idea or they have a vague direction and they’re just starting out as a writer. What do you suggest to them?
PETER: 01:13:11 Write. I mean, it’s really that simple. So I have had many meditation teachers over my life and I- and they have different methods and they have different approaches, but there’s one thing that every single one of them agree on, every single one of them agree on, and that is the important thing is to sit, like no matter what, whether your meditation is going to be shallow or deep, whether it’s mindfulness or mantra or tien or whatever it is, make sure you’re taking the seat. That’s the one thing you have to do. If you want to be a meditator, if you want to meditate, sit, sit for 15 minutes, sit for 20 minutes. I sit for 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the afternoon, right? And that’s been a transformative experience for me. And sometimes I feel like it, sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I sit there and I go, this is dumb. I’m just thinking about everything. I’m trying to think of something, you know, I’m trying to focus and I’m thinking and then I just go, okay, I guess that’s what’s happening for me. I’m going to go back to focusing on what I was, you know, I’m going to go back to my mantra or go back to my breath or whatever it is, however I’m doing my meditation that moment. But the important thing is I sit and I think that is the most important thing for writing. The most important thing for writing is scheduled time in your calendar that you have integrity about keeping that puts you in front of your laptop or your pen and paper, however you want to write, your desktop, whatever it is, and just write. And even if you sit there and you’re looking at a blank page to start writing. Isabel and I, my 16 year old tonight, invited Daniel, our 10 year old to come write with us because he wanted to write one day. He goes, I want to write. I said, great. And he sat down and he brought his laptop, a little Chromebook and he sat down in the same room that Isabel and I write in and, he looks up and he kind of sticks his tongue out in that way that like a 10 year old boy might stick their tongue out when they’re thinking and he’s like looking up to the left and then he finally exhales. He goes, Dad, I don’t know what to write about. And I’m like, write about anything. And he’s like, this is dumb. I’m going to stop. I’m like, don’t stop. And he goes, but I have nothing to write about. And so then I said, alright, you know how you have been begging us to use your technology during the week. Like at some point during the week, you want to be able to use technology, not just on weekends and his eyes light up. He’s like, yeah. I’m like, okay, well then write an argument for why we should do that. Like think about your argument, think about all the points of your argument and write your strongest argument for why you should be able to do it. And then I will read it with Mom and we’ll make a decision. And he was like, totally into it! He’s like, really? You might say yes? I’m like, well, it depends on your argument, but you got to- It has to be a written argument. So I’m- and he sat down and he wrote for an hour, right? And in the end he got 45 minutes on Wednesday afternoon to use technology. So like write about anything! Write about a brick, write about, you know, uh, the water tower that’s outside your window, like write about an incredibly annoying experience you had with someone you thought was your friend, write about, you know, an incredible experience you had all by yourself, like write about anything, but just sit there and write and you’re going to be developing that skill.
BRYAN: 01:16:40 Okay, so say people have taken this advice. They’ve tried it on, either they’re already doing it, or they’re willing, you know, they engage with it for a period. Then when it comes to sharing, right? What advice do you have about sharing?
PETER: 01:16:52 I like sharing with my daughter. I share the, you know, in fact while we were, I saw a text come in while while we’ve been on this interview, where she just said, I just sent you something I wanted you to read, you know, it’s on Google Docs and I think it’s really nice to have someone who has your best interests in mind. She’s incredibly smart and sweet and I really love reading her work and she really loves reading my work and so I think it’s like, the best thing I could do is to say don’t share it with a quote unquote writer. Like don’t share it with someone who has a high standard for the art of writing. That’s not what you’re looking for. Yeah, you could use help. Yeah, you could use critique. Yeah, do a writing course if you want to do a writing course. And the course that I’m taking, by the way, is the Gotham Writers Workshop. It’s online so anybody can take it anywhere and it gives you, you know, online is actually kind of good. And I have found, I’ve already taken this class now, but I have found that the people in the class are incredibly generous. I just mentioned this to Isabel this morning, how generous and sweet they are with the other people in the class with reading and commenting and they always give valuable things to improve and they always give things that they really liked. I mean they’re actually among the most skilled, this random class of writers are the most skilled deliverers of feedback that I think I’ve, I think it’s worth taking courses there just to learn how to deliver feedback. Like, and they’re not professionals, they’re just people like me in the class who were, you know, who were writing and learning to write. But I think it’s, I think it’s really useful to share, actually, especially if you like it, and to share with people who love you and have your best interests and don’t need you to be a good writer either for yourself or for you.
BRYAN: 01:16:52 Oh. Now that’s great.
PETER: 01:18:51 Sorry, either for yourself or for them because some people need you to be a good writer for them. Like they need to be able to give you feedback. So it’s not about them. So you want to share with someone who has your best interests at heart.
BRYAN: 01:19:03 When you’re writing, what habits, routines, rituals do you have for yourself?
PETER: 01:19:10 I tend to like a big mug of hot liquid, usually water with lemon or tea. I just kind of like that. I, um, you know, we’re doing this interview while I’m standing at my desktop at a standing desk and I’m standing so I love to do interviews and I’d try to do email and when I’m having meetings where I’m on the phone a lot, I like to do all of that standing. I cannot write standing. So I have an Eames lounge chair, which I really love, and I sit back in my Eames lounge chair and I put my feet up on the foot rest and, um, and I have my laptop on my lap and I’ve got my tea to my right and that’s how I like to write. And it’s, um, I can’t write thoughtfully while I’m standing up.
BRYAN: 01:19:10 Interesting.
PETER: 01:20:05 Yeah, I don’t know why.
BRYAN: 01:20:07 I won’t let that concern me regarding your email.
PETER: 01:20:07 No, the email’s-
BRYAN: 01:20:07 It’s different.
PETER: 01:20:15 Yeah, exactly, the email’s different because, you know, if I have a thoughtful response I have to do to something, then maybe I’ll sit. But I like to keep the transactional stuff and the interpersonal stuff standing, and then I really have to sink into writing. I mean I cordon off- I have now blocked my schedule from nine to twelve every morning to write and I started doing that recently, but I realized I have to actually do a lot of writing right now and I- when I feel pressured in writing, it’s not fun but when I can just sort of sit down and write, so I just cordoned off that time and I use it to write.
BRYAN: 01:20:52 Do you use the same editor for like the HBR pieces that you do for your books?
PETER: 01:20:57 No. So the, and even with HBR, sometimes it’s a different editor. I’ve found all the editors at HBR to be fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed working with them and I think they do an excellent job. But my books are published by different publishers, they’re not published by Harvard Business Press or Harvard Business Review Press. And so, you know, you get the editor that buys your book in a sense, the publisher, you know, there’s an editor that’s buying your book, and then they become your editor.
BRYAN: 01:21:31 So, okay. Just a couple more questions and then one thing I want to share before we wrap up, how do you organize your material, like your thoughts for potential blog posts, for your content, for your chapters, like your stories, stuff like that, how- what software or tools or process do you use to manage this intellectual content?
PETER: 01:21:50 So I- some combination. I actually just, I use Pages a lot to write shorter pieces and then I just, you know, if I’ve got a couple of articles, like the other day I sat down with two article ideas and I just started a new document basically and wrote them each on that document and then I’ll go back to that document. I find for writing pieces, it’s helpful for me to just jot down a bunch of thoughts, like give myself 10 minutes to put a bunch of thoughts on the page and then it takes me like five hours to write a thousand words with them. But I’ve already got the main ideas down there, and then I can spend time kind of, you know, orchestrating what I’m putting where, I’ll really spend a lot of time. The beginnings of my articles that I write or the beginning of each chapter, I probably spend three to five hours on the first four or five paragraphs and then the rest of the stuff tends to come pretty easily. But the setup feels really important to me. I sometimes have put stuff in notes and then Scrivener is what I use for really organizing a big book because Scrivener is super convenient for moving, moving things around, moving chapters from one place to another. And my writing tends to consist of a lot of short chapters. So this emotional courage book, every chapter, you know, it was just a few pages, but there’s 48 chapters.
BRYAN: 01:23:11 Well, how do you avoid the Parkinson’s Law thing about every piece of writing, where every task expanding to fit the time allotted, how do you balance between having deadlines and being able to manage to those, get, you know, hit those and not just allow time on any given piece to balloon and compromise your overall project schedule?
PETER: 01:23:29 Yeah, I, you know, my pieces, I think part of it is what I just said around the short pieces. I have a relatively short attention span and so I like short pieces of writing. I don’t- like when I’m on my kindle, I have the page settings set so it tells me how many more minutes left in the chapter, like, you know, as opposed to what page are you on or the book, like I want to know how long I’m going to get to the next place where I could stop, so I kind of write that way, and I almost like my chapters to be able to stand alone, so I don’t find that I have that trouble. I mean I do go back and forth, but I- so I think on some level I’m a perfectionist, but on another level I really like to produce so I’ll kind of go back and read a piece over and over and over again and make little shifts and changes. But I don’t mind putting it up when I think it’s not perfect either.
BRYAN: 01:24:21 Cool. Okay. I have so much more that we could talk about, but I know we’re at our time for today. So- music or no music when you write, by the way?
PETER: 01:24:32 No music, I’ve tried music, doesn’t work.
BRYAN: 01:24:34 And besides, living in New York City is already like music.
PETER: 01:24:36 Yeah, exactly. I really- and I think meditation has brought this out in me, I really love silence. I really love silence and so I’m really, like I’m keeping a lot of things in my head at once and the music just distracts me.
BRYAN: 01:24:50 Okay. As a way of saying thank you for making time to talk with me today, one of the things I’ve done is I’ve gone on to Kiva.org and made a $100 loan through our foundation and Kiva.org to a woman named Basa Labin who is in a place in India called Alirajpur, district of Madhya Pradesh. So she’s going to use this money to expand her grocery store, purchase more- paradoxic- like, flour. She’s going to buy flour, which is like so perfect.
PETER: 01:24:50 That’s the one thing I’m not eating!
BRYAN: 01:24:50 And oil and things like that.
PETER: 01:25:25 It’s awesome.
BRYAN: 01:25:29 So she’s a 49-year-old and she’ll use this to improve the quality of her own life and the life of her family and her community, so-
PETER: 01:25:29 I love that! Thank you. I’m touched.
BRYAN: 01:25:36 Well, thank you. This was great. I enjoyed it. I think people listening will enjoy it. Let’s see, your book is July, right?
PETER: 01:25:44 The book is July, July 11th is the date, although it may come out a little earlier.
BRYAN: 01:25:44 Okay, cool.
PETER: 01:25:48 They say July 11th, but it ships at the end of June from the publisher.
BRYAN: 01:25:55 Well, good. Well again, thank you for making time. I’ll let you go and I’ll be in communication with you by email. So good luck with your book.
PETER: 01:26:01 Thank you, pleasure. You’re great at this. It was really fun, it was really fun.
BRYAN: 01:26:05 Well, thank you. You make it easy. You got a lot of great material. Thanks Peter. I’ll talk to you later. Okay. See ya.