Steve Zaffron is the CEO of the Vanto Group, a global consulting firm that designs and implements large-scale initiatives to elevate organizational performance. Zaffron has directed major corporate initiatives with more than three hundred organizations in twenty countries. Steve sits down with Bryan for a wide-ranging discussion about the meaning of life, Black Box Theory, Steve’s involvement with the Barbados think tank, and his experience writing the national bestseller, The Three Laws of Performance.
00:00:46 – What is life about?
00:04:51 – Is there a distinction between nothingness and emptiness?00:09:34 – What do you tell other people about yourself?
00:12:06 – The three laws of performance.
00:14:29 – Platinum mine in conflict and the think tank.
00:25:30 – How the book has changed lives.
00:36:31 – Being a leader does not require authority.
00:43:51 – Learning golf from a book.
00:48:57 – Black Box Thinking
00:54:30 – On being a musician.
01:04:19 – Learning from his parents.
01:07:16 – Working with a co-writer.
01:25:48 – Working really hard will make up for shortcomings.
01:30:15 – Customizing methodology.
La Nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre
The Three Laws of Performance by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan
Michael C. Jensen
The Barbados Group
Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand
Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed and Simon Slater
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler, Jamie Wheal, and Fred Sanders
BRYAN: 00:00:40 Steve, welcome to the School for Good Living Podcast. Thank you for being here.
STEVE: 00:00:40 You’re welcome, Bryan. Thank you.
BRYAN: 00:00:46 Steve, tell me, what’s life about?
STEVE: 00:00:48 I have no idea, but I think you mean more specifically, does it have a purpose or is there a purpose, to discover some meaning out there that would enrich us to be in sync with, or have I found it, and what is it… is that kinda what you’re getting at?
BRYAN: 00:01:09 Yeah, when I asked this question, I find people typically answer in one of two ways. They will say- they’ll declare what life is about just generally, you know, for themselves and everyone and then others will make it more specific to themselves and say, well, my life is about, and I have no idea on either account. So anything that–
STEVE: 00:01:32 The third externality I imagine would be, what is it really about?
BRYAN: 00:01:32 Yes.
STEVE: 00:01:38 As if there’s an “it” that can be really about something, right? Independent of you and me and others. Right? So in that sense it doesn’t have any inherent meaning. There’s a universe, and why it’s there and even the point of it being there defies my grasp. I haven’t found someone whose grasp I would line up with. So that’s the mystery. Now, we say that in some work that I’ve done with people dealing with that question, that life’s empty and meaningless, but as important, it’s empty and meaningless, that it’s empty and meaningless. So the notion that life is empty and meaningless became philosophically espoused- the existentialists, Sartre and Camus, and- but they made it mean something that it was empty and meaningless. It was like depressing. That Sartre’s book was La nausée, nauseous, made him nauseous to deal with the nothingness that he confronted when he’s stripped away all the illusions and meanings that he had added to everything or accepted that had been added to things by his culture, his family, his tribe, whatever. And in some process of taking it away, stripping it away, he confronted nothingness. That, though, was depressing or down- at least a downer. So my view of it- that is nothing- doesn’t mean anything. It just doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean anything that it doesn’t mean anything. Now, with that said, I have a life to live and I can have and create a meaning for what I do. I can have the purpose that I create. I just don’t- I don’t live in the notion of finding the purpose or being convinced of a purpose by someone else. You have to confront creating it for myself.
BRYAN: 00:04:01 You know, when I hear that, I think there’s a way of hearing that that could be depressing I think, or at least I could choose to use to make myself depressed. Right? And then there’s another way that it’s actually very liberating, like it’s full of possibility and when I’ve reflected on this thought of it’s empty and meaningless, one of the things that I arrived that was this idea of the difference between nothingness and emptiness. And I realize in some of this, it might sound like a matter of semantics, but to me I feel like I lived a life of nothingness, like believing, you know, life was kind of dark and lonely and there was no purpose, not that there- but not that it was empty and meaningless and waiting for me to bring purpose to life. Have you thought about that or do you see a distinction between nothingness and emptiness, or do you find they’re interchangeable?
STEVE: 00:05:02 Well, I mean I can see the distinction you’re making, it’s not something I normally see. When I’ve examined this life code or this reality we live in, from the distinction infinity and think of time as infinite. I mean, you really play that out. It boggles your mind to think of it going on forever. Forever. Forever. Never ending, forever, and everywhere, you know, infinite in space and no boundaries and infinite in time, no boundaries, and so forth. So it became, for me a matter of, what is the word, arrogance to think that somehow I had the capacity to put the limits on this infinite reality and say, oh, it’s this, whatever this is. Now in my finite life, which I have, because I had a beginning, I’m in the middle towards the end part of it, and there will be an end, there I can have- I can create something. So there is an angst to creation and when you and I were talking before we started the recording, the angst of creating, writing, writing a book or anything creative, I think has a confront to it. You know, what do I do? I can do anything here. The space. I can literally do anything and what’s worth doing? And then, you know, what are the standards by which I’m judging what I’m doing and all that. We saw a lot of questions, but all those questions still don’t matter because there’s, if you were to do something, you’ve got to do it, right? The reality that life’s infinite or playing it out, what it means, thinking about infinity and every awareness, once I’m done destroying all the notions I would put together, I’m still left with, well now what do I do with my life? Do I just sit on a mountaintop, do I just vegetate, do I… So it’s never worked for me to not really be up to something, so when I realized – I was up to things for a while, part of my life, because I felt I should be up to something and then I should be up to this thing, kind of like my circle, my social network was up to various things and I wanted to fit into what people were up to so I came up with something that fit in. But when I outgrew that notion, at least I think I was outgrowing it, I was left with nothing. Now what?
BRYAN: 00:05:02 When did you outgrow that, by the way?
STEVE: 00:07:59 Probably in my late twenties.
BRYAN: 00:07:59 How did you do it? Did you just wake up one day or did something happen or, you read a book? Like how did you, how did you outgrow that?
STEVE: 00:08:45 Well, first I started philosophy. So in philosophy you get exposed to a lot of strange ideas, enemy shit, and if you’re lucky, you end up thinking a little bit, doing some thinking other than read other people’s thoughts. And to be perfectly honest with you, this was the late sixties and seventies, and played around with psychedelic drugs. And they have a particularly powerful doorway into life. So in that experimentation and experimentation with philosophy in dealing with, like thinking through a lot of things we’re talking about, it just came to me, this is like, you know, this is BS, what I’m doing, what I think I should be doing, now what do I really want to do? Took me about four or five years to sort out what I really wanted to do.
BRYAN: 00:09:15 When you sorted it out, has it remained consistent from that time? That was how many years ago?
STEVE: 00:09:15 Oh, back- oh god, early seventies.
BRYAN: 00:09:27 So 40-50 years. And it’s been consistent. So you did a really good job of sorting.
STEVE: 00:09:30 Well, either that or I’m stuck.
BRYAN: 00:09:34 Before we go much further, since our listeners, aside from whatever intro I’ve written for this podcast, they don’t know who you are yet or what you’ve done or why they should care about what you have to say. So let me start by asking you, when someone- when you meet someone or someone asks you who you are and what you do, what do you tell them?
STEVE: 00:09:56 Well, what I’ve been managing for those 25 years is pretty much what I tell them. It’s an incomplete answer, but it’s, you know, what do you do, does it give you a lot of time to respond? So what I currently am doing, have been doing for the last 25 years, is managing a transformational consulting company. A consulting company that deals with the ideas of transport we call transformation in service of performance basically. Now performance can mean a lot of things in a lot of different contexts. So it could be the standard pictures that come up for people of more money and more profitability or less problems with safety would be improved performance, but it could also be supporting government agencies and delivering on what their purposes as an agency or even charities being more successful in doing their charity work. So whatever people are up to organizationally or can be up to organizationally, we can have found the methodology that supports and improves it. So I helped found that company, then became a CEO, recently turned the CEO job over to someone else who’s running the company. And now I still manage some of the large scale engagements and do the R and D for the company. So that’s what I do, now before that I was working in a similar field of transformation but applied to people, individuals. So in that regard I was working in bringing these ideas that we call transformational to people in- all over the world. Probably did that for 30 years, 25 years or so before we sort of abandoned the consulting company. Twenty five years, something like that.
BRYAN: 00:09:56 Longevity.
STEVE: 00:09:56 It’s a passion.
BRYAN: 00:12:06 Yeah, it shows. Cool. So you’ve written this book, The Three Laws of Performance. You’re talking about performance now.
STEVE: 00:12:08 Book was published 10 years ago. It was bestseller 10 years ago in the United States, has since been published in 17 languages.
BRYAN: 00:12:08 Awesome. That’s great.
STEVE: 00:12:19 It’s still selling well.
BRYAN: 00:12:21 Yeah, I’ve read this book and I’ve had the chance to apply some of what you talk about in this book to my own life, to apply some of it in our family and our family business. And I’ve found that it’s a profound way of shifting in attempt to achieve high performance, right? Where I think my experiences, a lot of books have great ideas, you know, or almost a random assortment of ideas, but this is a very- maybe I should let you talk about it, but my view of your book is that it’s a very- want to say cogent, like it’s very logical even though it’s not intuitive, like I don’t- I think I could have lived my whole life without ever thinking about some of the thoughts in your book. But what I’m interested to know is why did you write this book? Like who did you write it for and what did you want it to do for them?
STEVE: 00:13:21 The work that we do live in person in groups, which is the normal venue with which we delivered the ideas, whether it was the personal transformational work that I did before the consulting work, which is still being delivered by a company called Landmark. Every year throughout the world there’s probably 80,000 to 100,000 people that take the basic program. That program is delivered to 100 people, 150 people live, and the consulting work we do is delivered to groups, large groups live. That allows for dialogue and you know, goes- conversation has a fluidity and an agility and so forth. It is fairly complex. I mean, it’s not a simple conversation, not an easy conversation. There are no tips in the conversation, no rules, no principles to follow. It’s about life. It’s about your life in the areas of communication or the area of relationship or the area of vitality or well being as an individual in an organizational setting. We’ve done work from bringing together groups that have conflict with each other, like we did an engagement in South Africa at a platinum mine where the groups would, not only in conflict, but it actually had significant warfare with each other.
BRYAN: 00:14:50 Like physical violence?
STEVE: 00:14:54 Physical violence, yeah, and the point of that work was to get everybody to see if they were willing to create something new going forward, that actually was collaborative, creative and in the benefit of everybody versus who’s stealing my piece of the pie. But all that work requires some very, very non-intuitive ideas. Okay, so they were somewhat opaque to an outsider, like if you asked me, tell me in depth, which you’re talking about, the in depth would be hours long and it would be like a conversation you’d have to stay in and hang in and there would be ways we would create a kind of specialized terms for certain phenomena. If we’re talking about listening, we have different ways of referring to listening. One is like already listening or always listening and those are just meaningless phrases until you understand the import behind them. So we were successful in what we’re doing, but it was limited by the complexity of the methodology and its availability to other people who couldn’t take all that time to get into it. I never thought it was possible to communicate it any other way, myself. And then, actually had a co-author to the book The Three Laws of Performance. His name is Dave Logan. Dave’s a professor on the faculty at University of Southern California. Dave and I were part of the think tank that was put together by a man named Werner Erhard who is the originator of a lot of these ideas, and the purpose of the think tank, and the think tank was about 20 to 25 people, something like that from all different disciplines, there was a psychologist in it and there was a Harvard business professor in it, there was a brain scientist and astrophysicist in it, consultants were in it, some CEOs. And ultimately the question was, is performance something that can be worked with in a meaningful way to elevate, and if it can be, can it be worked on individually, group wise, and organization wise? How do you do that?
BRYAN: 00:17:19 So by the way, this was the purpose of the think tank, not just like one initiative, but this was the reason?
STEVE: 00:17:26 Yeah. And there are a lot of people who were interested in participating in- a lot of people were mystified or confused or intrigued by human behavior, which didn’t seem to fit very nicely in most of the boxes we got for it. Mike Jensen, who’s in the group and has been a colleague of mine and was a professor at the Harvard Business School now emeritus, Mike shared with me at some point in our relationship where his big- one of his big epiphanies was realizing that the big failure of his business school, and he though business schools in general, was that they related to the people, the students and others in conflict in that game, into interaction with the university, as rational creatures. So they trained rational creatures to manage other rational creatures in administration and finance and economics and budgeting and how to manage a company. His big insight was people are not rational. So the big failures were not failures- well, were failures not necessarily because of the situation, possibly because people were not trained to deal with the real nature of life itself, human beings. So it doesn’t mean that, if you say human beings are not rational, doesn’t mean they’re crazy, it just means their rationality happens from time to time. Other things go on from time to time. So if you look at passion, I mean, passion is not rational. Love is not rational, you know, our emotional side is not rational, but a lot of our life is emotional, one negative or positive. Standing for something and being committed to something is not a rational act. There may be a rationale to it, but to go to war, to fight for an idea, that’s not very rational. I mean, you can be killed and people are supposed to be worried about their self interest. So why would anybody do that? Right? So therefore, we were interested in, well, what makes people tick really, what is this- or is there some way of getting it? And as we were doing this work with this group of people that went on for like five or six years…
BRYAN: 00:20:02 What was the function, by the way? Did you meet quarterly? Did you- once or twice a year?
STEVE: 00:20:08 We met, generally we met quarterly, at least twice a year. Me, at the beginning it may have been more often. And then there were conference calls or sub groups and there’s writings distributed in comments by people in kind of an ongoing conversation using conference calls, meetings, email, etc.
BRYAN: 00:20:29 And what kind of outcomes did you have for the group?
STEVE: 00:20:32 Well, the intention was to arrive at some deep understanding of this mysterious thing called action and behavior and performance or to arrive at something, whether maybe there’s nothing to arrive at, arrive at that. And then if there was something to arrive at, publish what you arrived at, and the commitment was to publish it in an academic, rigorous, academic way so that it spoke to the academic world and had that kind of a grounding in commitment and rigor. So the final product still has not been written up, it’s probably 80 percent done to 90 percent, but it’s still not done. Along the way – and this was- now we started on working on this thing in the early two thousands, middle two thousands, along the way, people were very excited about what we’d come up with, even though it wasn’t complete. It wasn’t written exactly in the format we wanted it to end up being. But they asked if I, who’ve used a lot of these ideas in organizations and Dave, who, as I said, is an academic but also has published a number of books for successful folks, would write kind of a guide to the ideas for the people not involved in- really dealing with them. So interested listener, you know, someone who would be interested in that kind of stuff, but not necessarily they had any background to the methodology, the ideas that we’re using, the methodology. So you could say the everyday kind of audience, but I don’t know, it’s not everyday for everybody. You know, a lot of people not going to be called to deal with human behavior as it applies to performance in life and performance in organizations. But if you are interested in that kind of thing, you could read it. And our job is to somehow walk this middle path between having the ideas be authentic, not dumbing them down but not speaking over people. So be giving people a way to get into it faster than they would have. And that was really challenging for me because I didn’t think it was possible to start.
BRYAN: 00:20:32 So you undertook a task you believed was impossible? Why did you do that?
STEVE: 00:20:32 Well, because they asked me to.
BRYAN: 00:20:32 Fair enough.
STEVE: 00:23:14 Yeah. And Dave seemed to think it was doable. We- in the five years to Dave and I to write the book that we ended up probably rewrote it 35 times.
BRYAN: 00:23:14 Wow.
STEVE: 00:23:21 Like literally the entire book and we went through almost a, a strange kind of um, what is it? Star Trek mind melt in the beginning. The conversation the beginning of they would say to me, Steve, there’s way too much jargon or much too specialized. People are not going to get that. And then I’d read Dave’s stuff that he’d write in answer to that, and I said this is too, like you dumb this down too much because that was the conversation for the first year or two. And then somehow we started having the opposite conversation. I’ve look at Dave’s stuff and I said, hey, this is way beyond people’s ability to get. This is, you know, this is way too dense, and then he said, well, what you wrote was this, you know, you’re dumbing it down. So we kind of changed heads for awhile, and then we ended up in some shared space. At one point we found a voice between the two of us.
BRYAN: 00:24:25 That’s awesome. How satisfied are you with the final product now? I mean after 35 rewrites and a co-writer. How, how pleased are you with the form of the book, that is the finished form?
STEVE: 00:24:38 Well, you got to remember we did it 10 years ago, so at the time. I was pleased to just finish it. That was for me, nothing had been sacrificed that I thought was really important that it did communicate. It was authentic. It was in fact, about things that had happened and a way to look at it that in fact we did find, we did use and did find powerful and people’s feedback was good. They became uh, like I said in the United States, a best seller and people are still – I still get notes from people about the book people will, some people have read it many, many times been taught in universities, are still being taught in university classes on performance.
BRYAN: 00:25:30 Will you tell me about a note you’ve received that has touched you like something from a reader, somebody that you didn’t necessarily know, but you created this work. You send it out into the world. Somebody found it, it resonated. Maybe they apply. Like is there some, uh, some one of those that stands out for you?
STEVE: 00:25:48 Well, to be honest with you Bryan, I’ve had a number of them, so I don’t know how many numbers. 20 – 50, something like that. But every now and then I’ll get a message from someone that I don’t know, who’ll say, look, I have read your book three times now, four times or whatever. I actually have it on my nightstand and I really want to thank you. It’s saved me this or I was able to do this, things like that. So I find it particularly gratifying. It’s also been an entree into people wanting to explore in a deeper way what we do organizationally and personally. So I do know that, you know, that’s, that’s brought people into the world of our commitments, like what we’re up to, what we do. So that’s been probably the most rewarding thing that has been, um, it’s been a doorway into others getting the full, the whole thing, you know.
BRYAN: 00:26:45 I’ll bet I’ll bet that is gratifying. So when you were writing the book or, or maybe now that it’s done and it’s out, is there a, is there a profile of your ideal reader, like the person that you either wrote it for who seems to benefit most from it? I mean, is this middle managers, c level managers, entrepreneurs, you know, someone else, business school students. Is there some kind of category that…
STEVE: 00:27:12 Not that I. Let me think about that for a second. I don’t think so, but no, I feel like I’ve been in different terms. I’ve thought it more how willing are you open? Are you to not non to counter intuitive ideas and um, a lot of people find a counterintuitive idea horrible, terrible. It’s hard for them to be in the same room as that idea. Um, then there are people that are thrilled by these ideas and then people in between willing I think the ones who were willing, you know, that not in any camp let go. The more counterintuitive it is, the better. I think they get a lot out of the material, but anybody who’s willing to just consider it as possible and sort of go through it and play it out and try it out, I think will be surprised.
BRYAN: 00:28:07 So was there a moment, like a specific moment that you knew you would write this book?
STEVE: 00:28:07 After being asked to write it?
BRYAN: 00:28:14 Yeah, I mean, did you know…
STEVE: 00:28:18 I was not sitting in this group thinking I was going to write a book. Okay. That was not like the plan.
BRYAN: 00:28:22 So it. Yeah, I know looking back sometimes we can find or you know, or remember like, oh my gosh, yeah. Like I wasn’t really sure I wasn’t committed. And then all I remember I was at this restaurant or it wasn’t a conversation with someone or whatever. Did you have a moment like that, that it was like, it just crystallized and you knew that you would write this book?
STEVE: 00:28:41 I think there was this crescendo moments from, but one of the. Well, one of the people who’s a real advocate for writing this book separate from the Barbados group, which was the name of the think tank. We ended up calling the group of 20 or 23 people. How many people was the Barbados group – because that was the first place we met in Barbados, to seem like a…
BRYAN: 00:28:41 Sounds nice.
STEVE: 00:29:13 Yeah. Um, before that, men named Warren Bennis who is very, now passed on, but he was a distinguished professor at USC and had been the president of the University of Cincinnati. He was a, um, considered the authority on leadership. Brilliant man, wrote, or co authored over 40 books on leadership and had his own publishing imprint within a big publishing company. Wiley books was called Josie Bass was his books that he’s personally selected his collection of books. So Warren and Dave and our spouses and his wife had dinner one night, we were sharing about the Barbados group and sharing about some of the engagements that my consulting company Vanto Group was doing in South America at that time. And he said, oh, you guys have got to write you gotta write this up. You’ve got to write about this. You got to write this as a book. I’ll, I’ll get it published in my, you know, collection of books. That was a real you know acknowledgement – that kind of – well, that’d be great. Maybe not right now. Later, later, definitely later, but it was sitting there and then maybe a year later the group through conversations and we want to print this and they’ve written a book. Steve, you’ve done a lot of these things. Why don’t you guys write it? It was kinda like, well that’s a great idea except I don’t know if you can write it. But I was at least willing to try. And so Dave and I tried a couple of drafts and so forth and found a book, a guy to represent us. Um, what I think shifted things for me in terms of the book itself well, so we wrote, we wrote a draft, people liked the draft. For me when I write something, not just the book or articles that I’ve written to stuff, I almost have no real basis on deciding whether it’s any good or not. And if I like it, I like it whether it’s communicates, or makes any difference for other people. I have no idea in just looking at it myself and then I spit it out and it either does or doesn’t. I get the feedback. So every now and then there’s someone whose feedback really matters. So our publisher. So we got a contract or book agent got us a contract, they paid us an advance and so now we’re the time the clock was ticking down.
BRYAN: 00:29:13 Now it’s on
STEVE: 00:32:04 Now is on, it’s real and I still don’t know how we’re going to write this book. Okay. Go to whether it really can be written in the way with the intent. I know something can be written and I know something could be, you know, a popularized, but if your goal is not to popularize it but to have it be popular but have be meaningful at the same time and authentic in terms of the ideas. That still was a question. So we wrote some stuff when we sent it to our editor from the assignment editor, a woman named Susan. She was great. She was great. She had no familiarity with our work at all. She’d never done any of the other programs that we did. Just, I mean, oh, she knew is Warren liked it and that was important for her. So we call her up and we set up a call with her and she almost… The way in which she was an editor was she would deal with the obvious stuff and editing. Not what did she, what did we think, what did she think about it? Like really, what did you really think about it? So we got in conversations with her about what she really think about it and she really was getting it and our responses. She got more and more excited as we wrote more and more so she became a real contributor to the, um, to the design of the book, did the attention that we had and we kept Warn, Warn spent probably more time with us and he had with other people for a long time. It just as the, uh, the overall editor of the book, you know, if the collection of books. So they were very positive in their positivity at some point, said, okay, this can be done now, let’s just do it.
BRYAN: 00:34:09 How do you think the book is different because of Warren’s involvement?
STEVE: 00:34:17 Oh, very different. He’s a master, was a master of storytelling and writing and communicating. And his books are really great to read. It’s fun to read. They’re really great. And when we first met him, we’d done a lot of work on this one compelling story. It’s in the book about this big labor breakdown between unions and management and kind of a real drama that took place. Right. And Lauren came in, we were, we met him at a restaurant in Santa Monica, and he had a whole…. a board, a cardboard board piece of four by four, four by three or something like that. He takes that and says, do you guys know about storytelling story boards? I said, no. He said is what they do in movies. He said, “I put together a little storyboard here of this story that you guys are talking about.” And he had dissected it into the characters and the incidents and so forth. The story, and taught us stories.
BRYAN: 00:34:17 How cool.
STEVE: 00:34:17 Yes.
BRYAN: 00:34:17 All in Hollywood.
STEVE: 00:34:17 Only with Warren.
BRYAN: 00:34:17 That’s awesome.
STEVE: 00:35:27 You’re dealing with philosophy. Yeah. And stories.
BRYAN: 00:35:31 So you got this contract without having written a book proposal?
STEVE: 00:35:36 No, no. We did write book proposal.
BRYAN: 00:35:37 So you did write a book proposal.
STEVE: 00:35:39 We wrote a book proposal that the book agent liked, who was at that time I’m familiar with our work, but he liked it so that that was the score. So he ended up selling it to other people who are unfamiliar with our work. So I started to break down the barriers, called the people I’m familiar with our work and not going to get it because they were now. It was, but it wasn’t this one moment. It was this the series of moments that tipped me over.
BRYAN: 00:36:11 So this entire book, I mean it’s in the title performance. This word performance. I think this book is also a lot about leadership and I’m curious to get your perspective on when it comes to leadership, what is it that most people get wrong?
STEVE: 00:36:31 Well, I think most people get wrong that they can’t be one. If you went around and polled people about could they be a leader with regard to x, y and z could actually do it and if they were being truthful about it and I’m, you know, with themselves, most people would not see themselves as being able to provide leadership unless they had certain conditions which they don’t have. For example, they don’t have the authority, so people confuse a lot of being a leader with being the boss, the commander, the person in authority. So they don’t have the authority, I can’t be a leader. That’s a fallacy because leadership has nothing to do with authority. In fact, oftentimes when you have the authority that gets in the way of your leadership because less people are listening to you as the boss and they’re going to do what you say because you’re the boss, not because the idea of its own as a critical possibility, it makes a difference. So authority is not needed for leadership position. There’s no position called the leader. There’s the executive, the chief executive, the owner. There’s lots of positions, but we all can provide leadership or not. We tend to think of leaders as having kind of traits, you know, charismatic traits or they compel people. Their very presence compels people. They’re born with these things. That’s another fallacy. You’re born with certain capacities or abilities. I’m not born with them, so therefore I can’t be a leader; like that.
BRYAN: 00:38:22 Most people definitely believe that. Right? And limit themselves in so doing.
STEVE: 00:38:29 Yeah. So there’s lots of ways we limit ourselves against the possibility of leadership. My basic premise is that they’re all fallacious. There’s no limits. There are limits, but the limits of leadership, they don’t exist because leadership is really what are you willing to stand for? What do you want to say, what are you willing to be committed to through long periods of time? So leadership is not necessarily easy. It may take years for something to turn out that you’re committed to providing leadership for, which takes a lot, but what it takes is something everyone can do. It doesn’t mean everybody will do it or could find the wherewithal to stay that disciplined because it does require discipline, but they’re not the kinds of things that are unavailable to me by birth or by position or by status or things like that.
BRYAN: 00:39:40 So this is, well one of the, I mean essentially what all these three laws of performance ultimately as I see it ultimately is what they’re about. Right? And to know that that was a part of this thinking in the Barbados group and that, you know, accepted the assignment to write a book that it conveyed these in a way that the lay reader, you know, would get and be able to apply, is pretty remarkable. And as I asked you the question about how satisfied are you now with the finished form and you made a comment to the effect that, well, 10 years ago, 10 years ago, you were, you were pretty satisfied. It’s kind of what I took from your answer. If I say, how about today? You know, having the benefit of a decade now having seen this book in existence, how satisfied are you with the book in this moment?
STEVE: 00:40:31 I’m very satisfied. It actually exceeded my, definitely exceeded my expectations because initially my expectations weren’t very high, but after it was published and it got a, it got a very positive… the feedback was positive in all the various ways that you measure success. Then I thought, well that’s great. It’s working, you know, but I’ve seen it go beyond that. It wasn’t um, that it’s had lasting power and it’s ideas are still considered unique and novel and you know, leading edge after 10 years. I think that that makes me happy.
BRYAN: 00:41:14 That’s awesome. So one thing in the book summary that I read, and so I don’t know that these words are in the book exactly, but this idea that having more information does not translate into different actions. Merely having more, more knowledge or more information doesn’t necessarily change the way we behave. Will you talk about that a little bit and how your book goes beyond just adding again more good ideas, more knowledge, and how does it really leave one being either a leader or achieving performance if it doesn’t just add at the level of mind.
STEVE: 00:41:54 Right. Well, counterintuitively, what we think, what we’ve come to accept as our way of dealing with life as westerners developed country thinkers is that the more knowledge you get, the better you are to deal with things you have to deal with in life. Knowledge is king. You get it through education, sometimes formalized education, sometimes informal education, however, but the answer often to the problems that we’re dealing with is learn something, or you didn’t learn something. That’s what you have this issue. So knowledge is critical and that way of thinking. Probably the originator of what now is an epistemological based society. Our society’s knowledge based system illogical was Descartes, the guy was brilliant thinker, mathematician, philosopher, and so forth, but had a particular view of things that have stayed because there were so compelling at the time and which we think I have been shown to be fallacious. Like this notion of a thinking being a thinking creature or the mind. Well, he first called it the soul, now that transformed into mind and that mind was the repository of all the stuff you needed to deal with life and life beyond death, perhaps, I don’t know. You know, spiritual life. That whole notion of the mental aspect of life and the cumulation of knowledge, unfortunately, you know, can you learn to play professional golf by reading a book?
BRYAN: 00:43:45 You learn something about it.
STEVE: 00:43:45 Yes, but can you go play?
BRYAN: 00:43:48 Probably not exclusively from having read a book.
STEVE: 00:43:51 Okay, and if you had instruction, then you had all the things you think you need to know, then you had it all just given to all the knowledge about something. Would you then be at the highest level of delivery of that ability? No, because delivery of that ability is not based on what you know. It is based on something but not what you know you’d say is based on practice, but that’s not enough. So the players who are playing the game are in a different position with regard to the game itself and what it takes to win the game and perform in the game. Then the people who were watching them play. The people watching them play, were not playing, have all sorts of opinions and ideas about what you’d be going on, but they’re not playing the game. The people playing the game like dealing with a different world. They’re dealing with a world coming at them, full blast, chaotically almost quantum like things are happening all at the same time and they got to make split second decisions. Decisions that are so fast that the actual cortex cannot make them the split second faster than the cortex works. You cannot hit a fast ball going 96 miles an hour by thinking about anything to determine whether you’re going to hit it or not. It’s not how it goes. Now people do hit for some fastballs or not a lot at the major league level. They pay people millions of dollars who can hit fastballs or curveballs or both. Millions of dollars and not a lot of people can do it, and there’s batting coaches and instructors in the minor leagues training and all that training and a lot of stuff written about it. A lot of people understand it.
BRYAN: 00:45:52 A lot of analysts.
STEVE: 00:45:55 A lot of analysts are interesting to the other people who are watching the game. But me as the baseball player, I wouldn’t listen to an analyst to see what is going wrong with my swing. So, it’s a different world. The world of performance. It has its own world, the world of performance and in that world, people who navigate effectively have learned something about dealing with themselves, engaging in life that is not conceptual. It does have experience behind it, but it’s not purely experiential. You know, I can fail and fail and fail and fail, and then all of a sudden get it. So that I failed and failed and failed doesn’t mean I’m going to fail. It meant I failed and failed and failed and failed and failed. If I know how to deal with that in a way that actually makes it valuable to fail, then I can transform my failures into a success at some point, but not because I have the history of failing. Just got something from the history of failing. They apply in the next moment of time.
BRYAN: 00:47:11 When I hear this thought, I think it’s very profound. I think it’s a very profound thought and I also, you know, I find myself evaluating it right and trying to look for examples in my own life or, or whatever. And if I listened to this thought, an attempt to impose a beginner’s mind on myself and I think like, you know, and nevertheless all this stuff shows up. Do I agree? You know, is that true? You know, like that kind of thing I thought I have is, is that, you know, again, it’s not intuitive. It’s not, it’s not something that I go, oh yeah, that makes sense. That if I have a history of failure, it doesn’t.. not only does it not mean I won’t fail again, it doesn’t mean I’ll succeed either, right? But my, I have the opportunity to transform what it means to give myself, you know, a view of the future that that’s empowering and it, it doesn’t, that’s not something that I think, you know, most people get or if they do, if they think they get it, what they’re really getting is positive thinking.
STEVE: 00:48:21 Exactly. Um, which I am, that’s not what I’m proposing, I’m not a fan of it.
BRYAN: 00:48:26 Right, it’s a very nuanced. I mean, to me this is very profound and it, it’s very, it’s also very nuanced. So like you were saying before, if you were to explain this in depth, it would take hours as, as I’m thinking about someone listening to this conversation we’re having is a part of me that wonders how much background or context must be added to someone who’s never heard much of this before, before it starts to have a relevance or even be comprehensible…
STEVE: 00:48:57 I dealt with it in the book. Just carry on. Yeah, don’t look back. We’re just keep going forward. There is a book to make it easy for people if they want to get into this thing. It’s really good, great book called Black Box Thinking, and I think the subtitle, which has changed a few times, it’s written by a writer in London, a sportswriter as a sports writer, has nothing to do with sports. He’s just a great observer. Uh, I think the subtitle is something like why some people learn from their mistakes and others never do. And it’s about the very nature of our modern scIentific society is dealing powerfully with failure. In other words, I come up with a theorem, of a scientific theorem, well, how do we know whether we should go with it or not? Well, people do experiments. And what they’re trying to do is do an experiment to show that it’s not accurate. They’re actually trying to show it’s false. And if a thousand experiments happen over the course of a long period of time and no one can falsify it, it ends up being the way things are. So this notion of false certification of testing is very modern and very scientific. It’s what everything is built on really now. Okay. it is foreign with the way people think about dealing with their own life and the failures in their life. Everyone wants… everyone wants to avoid failing. The only problem is that you can’t do anything new, which by virtue of doing something new, the chances of you failing at it initially a pretty high, and they’re fine. Don’t do that one again. You’ve got that one out of the way. Try it. Try another approach. So this, the reason they call it Black Box Thinking and the power of it is the author starts by contrasting the kind of thinking done in the airplane industry versus the kind of thinking done in the healthcare industry, and there are two different industries with two different histories. The airplane industry’s history was nineteen hundreds… airplanes were first dating or eighteen nineties, whenever it was, went a hundred yards and then they figured out to make it longer and longer and longer. It’s still pretty dangerous and it’s dangerous for 20, 30 years. You know the, the mail trucks run by the cowboys, the mail trucks, the male airplanes run by the cowboys crashed a lot, was a dangerous sport. As people looked at it though, they said, wow, this is something you could make money with, but she can’t have these crashes. Gotta figure out how to not have crashes. Then we can make money. So the whole notion of safety became not a good thing.. the critical thing for investment and actually making money. So there’s in every airplane is a black box. And the point of the black box is to be used to determine what went wrong. So we didn’t.. so we don’t do that one again, and if you look at crashes and last year there actually when no crashes for commercial jets at the at the international level. Once there’s a crash, independent investigators from the, from the governments go and study it and the findings are made available real time to every pilot and everybody in the world all the time because they want everyone to know and everybody wants to know. It’s not like, oh, I’m going to hide it. I don’t want to be blamed. If you think that you can’t play the game, so that’s black box thinking. Now you contrast that with a lot of things that go wrong and operations in healthcare where you have a lot of capacity instead of transparency. It’s a different world, so the nature of failing is if you can own it as something useful for the future, not something to use to make wrong or blame or so forth, punish. I mean that may be involved in certain aspects of it. But failure as an opportunity to get it right. How many times do you think a Edison failed with the light bulb?
BRYAN: 00:48:57 Well, if the stories are true, they say ten thousand, nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine.
STEVE: 00:53:47 Right Or Dyson vacuum cleaner. He apparently went through 5,600 and something iterations of the particular device, a part of this vacuum cleaner that he’s now a billionaire from.
BRYAN: 00:53:47 Amazing.
STEVE: 00:54:00 Yeah. As people who can deal with failure as an access to success, so that’s where the abilities to perform developed in that kind of game. If you’re a boxer, you walk in the ring, is actually somebody there trying to kill you. You did not read about it. You dealt with something to prepare you for creating something in that moment.
BRYAN: 00:54:30 Let me shift gears a little bit and ask you about your passion for music. So you’re a musician, right? Talking about things you don’t just learn by reading, and I understand you play classical music, you play jazz. Tell me about your passion for music. Well, when I was nine years old, they brought instruments by my classroom, finding people who are interested in any of the instruments. You know, this isn’t-
BRYAN: 00:54:30 In Brooklyn?
STEVE: 00:55:02 Yeah, brought up in Brooklyn, and somehow I ended up with the clarinet and I liked it. My mother said, do you want to learn that? I said, yeah, it sounded like a good idea. I developed discipline somewhere in that period of time. Mostly it was to deal with thinking that I was not smart enough and I needed to do better on tests. So develop the discipline of study. So I applied discipline to the clarinet and got pretty good at it as a high school teenager, and then- so that was classical music and then kind of expanded into jazz and stuff like that and I worked in some, you know, different bands in Chicago, in New York doing rhythm and blues, soul music, less classIcal on the side sometimes, and did that through my thirties and so forth, but really have not- kind of work I did sort of took over because so much of my intellectual capacity stay with it, that I pretty much gave up the other things that were interesting to me, but- like sports and stuff. I mean I kept them up at a minimum level. I’m like, I’ve kept up. I can still play my instruments. I can still, you know.
BRYAN: 00:56:26 Do you play the saxophone also?
STEVE: 00:56:26 The saxophone, flute, clarinet.
BRYAN: 00:56:29 When was the last time you played?
STEVE: 00:56:31 Oh, probably about four months ago. Just wanna make sure it still plays.
BRYAN: 00:56:38 Keep up with this, alright, cool. Let me ask-
STEVE: 00:56:38 When I get old, I’ll become a musician again.
BRYAN: 00:56:44 Awesome. Let me ask you a few questions that don’t deal with anything we’ve talked about at this point. So this first question is a question- you can answer it any way you’d like, of course, but I invite you to answer it with something other than a box of chocolates. Okay, so fill in the blank. Life is like a…
STEVE: 00:57:14 Well, we already dealt with “life’s empty and meaningless”, so I’m not sure what you’re putting in there.
BRYAN: 00:57:16 So you leave it blank. Life is like a…
STEVE: 00:57:16 It’s a blank.
BRYAN: 00:57:21 Okay. Life is like, okay, fair enough. I like it. Number two, what do you wish you were better at?
STEVE: 00:57:28 This is gonna sound strange because you know that I’ve- you’ve been involved in a number of conversations that I’ve led in various ways and you know my work pretty well, but I wish I was better in communicating. I’m always, you know, I’m always- ah, that could have been done better, or- you know, I want 100 percent, and if you’re working with a hundred people, it’s almost never 100 percent. But you can get close, 98 percent. So whatever it takes to get that last few percent is what I’d like to master.
BRYAN: 00:58:10 Okay. If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase or a saying or quote or a quip with some kind of, what would the T-shirt say?
STEVE: 00:58:10 How about licensing? Meaning-
BRYAN: 00:58:10 I could have seen that one coming.
STEVE: 00:58:32 Or um, this quip my friend Charlie used to say, don’t sweat the small stuff.
BRYAN: 00:58:32 Wisdom.
STEVE: 00:58:36 Yeah, everything is pretty much small when you compare it to a life or infinity or anything. So that- I wish I was better at not worrying about things. Now I know worrying makes no difference, but I’ll find myself worrying about something.
BRYAN: 00:58:51 And you don’t strike me as a worrier.
STEVE: 00:58:53 No, I’m not a worrier, but I have moments of worry. I’d like no moments of worry.
BRYAN: 00:58:59 And if you had no moments of worry, what would you have instead?
STEVE: 00:58:59 Peace.
BRYAN: 00:59:03 Okay. Beautiful. I love it. What book, other than your own, have you gifted most often?
STEVE: 00:59:12 Well, through- recently or just through my life in this?
BRYAN: 00:59:12 Both.
STEVE: 00:59:16 Through my life, I think the book I most gifted or suggested at least was Catch 22.
BRYAN: 00:59:16 Why?
STEVE: 00:59:22 Oh, I just thought it was just an amazing book about the absurdity of life.
BRYAN: 00:59:27 What about recently?
STEVE: 00:59:29 The book I’ve been promoting, one book I just talked about, which is Black Box Thinking. Another book that I started reading recently that I would recommend is Stealing Fire.
BRYAN: 00:59:29 Kotler?
STEVE: 00:59:29 Yeah.
BRYAN: 00:59:47 Cool. Okay. So you travel a ton. What’s one thing you do or something you take with you when you travel to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
STEVE: 01:00:03 Nutritional things, because I find that one of the hardest things for me when I’m traveling is dealing with my nutrition like I’ve trained myself to deal with it, my own ideas of diet and so forth. And so oftentimes I’ll bring things that I can substitute for what I’m offered to stay true to my dietary intents, or you know, fill in the gap about lack of protein and so forth. Just the- that is a big thing for me. Another- addressing difficulties in traveling?
BRYAN: 01:00:43 Yeah, so something you either, something you do or something you take with you when you travel.
STEVE: 01:00:47 Well, one of the things I take with me is a jump rope that I don’t use as much as I should, because exercise when I’m working and traveling becomes difficult. So sometimes the work starts at six in the morning and then when you’re done at the end of the day and you have to be up the next day at six, you don’t feel like exercising.
BRYAN: 01:01:06 So you bring a jump rope with you.
STEVE: 01:01:08 Where you jump rope and have a little routine, I do in hotel rooms if I have to. But now I like running and physical stuff, you know, weight lifting or martial arts with these bags, things like that.
BRYAN: 01:01:28 So that leads me right into this next question is what’s something that you’ve either started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
STEVE: 01:01:28 I used to love to smoke. I stopped that. We loved it.
BRYAN: 01:01:43 It might be why you’re still here.
STEVE: 01:01:52 And I did change my diet as I got older, I had very high metabolism when I was young, pretty much would eat anything, and then as I got older that changed. So I’ve had to vary my nutrition based on aging and traveling, I don’t find myself able to access a lot of the media that I would at home, you know, it comes and goes, so to speak on the road, either catch it or you don’t catch it. So things I want to see or make sure I can know every chord, but don’t have that privilege on the road. And then friends and family, they get difficult when you’re traveling.
BRYAN: 01:01:52 You staying in touch?
STEVE: 01:01:52 Yeah, I’m staying in touch- being with them, staying in touch.
BRYAN: 01:01:52 Your son lives in LA?
STEVE: 01:02:46 He lives in San Francisco. He actually started working for my firm about two years ago. So that’s been good in terms of our seeing each other on some regular basis.
BRYAN: 01:02:46 A family business.
STEVE: 01:02:57 No. He’s part of it anyway.
BRYAN: 01:03:00 Oh, right on. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
STEVE: 01:03:04 Well, I wish they understood the history of the country and what’s brought it to its current situation, which I feel very- less than before. It may just be the times, but I don’t think people are familiar with or exposed to what actually brought us to where we are.
BRYAN: 01:03:31 What do you see are like maybe one or two of the biggest points that have brought us where we are?
STEVE: 01:03:39 Well there’s a big anti-immigration wave coming on. This is a country of immigrants, right? And most of the people saying what they’re saying came from immigrants and it used to be considered a strength. So I don’t think people understand that history and a history of racism and where the country began and how it’s dealt with it. I think it’s under- swept under the rug.
BRYAN: 01:04:11 Yeah. I think so. Alright. What advice did your parents give you that has impacted you or stayed with you?
STEVE: 01:04:19 My mother and father probably told me everything I should do, it was right, and I didn’t listen to them, so I ended up wasting a lot of time, a lot of money and all that stuff. But just kind of how I think people have to go actually discover things for themselves. So I pretty much was uncoachable as a child. I mean I was not a bad child. I was successful at the things you’re supposed to be successful at as a child, school and stuff like that. So I didn’t get a lot of worry around me, concern, correction, all that stuff, but my mother had a very level head about life and I ignored a lot of her ideas. It came back for me to see when I was free, you know, Wish I had gotten that earlier. And then there are ideas that she had, things she worried about my doing like studying philosophy, which turned out I think in my benefit too.
BRYAN: 01:05:27 Worried about your sciences- why?
STEVE: 01:05:29 She wanted me to be a lawyer. Doctor. something-
BRYAN: 01:05:29 Something practical.
STEVE: 01:05:33 What do you do with philosophy now?
BRYAN: 01:05:37 And you got a master’s degree in philosophy.
STEVE: 01:05:42 And I was getting- I was working on a PhD and then got bored with it.
BRYAN: 01:05:44 So what was your plan by the way?
STEVE: 01:05:46 Like before I got bored with it or after? My plan before was to be a professor.
BRYAN: 01:05:46 Okay.
STEVE: 01:05:54 Then I- that time, that lifestyle didn’t seem as exciting as the other lifestyles that were happening in the late sixties and early seventies.
BRYAN: 01:06:02 So that was in- that was in Chicago, and then you went to San Francisco.
STEVE: 01:06:08 Right, and decided I didn’t want to be a professor. I didn’t have to live any particular place, so the place that was most compelling was San Francisco.
BRYAN: 01:06:18 Now I can imagine in the sixties and seventies.
STEVE: 01:06:18 That’s right. Definitely- An experience.
BRYAN: 01:06:28 What about San Francisco at the time stands out to you now? Like what was it that made it so special or so memorable?
STEVE: 01:06:34 Oh, it was really creative, innovative. Everything was sort of being made up as you went along. Lifestyle, music. Music was great. Rock and roll revolution. The psychedelic revolution, social revolution. There was a lot of crazy stuff going on too, you know, radical stuff that I was not into, overthrow the government type of stuff. Vietnam War was in full blown fashion, but somehow San Francisco was a beacon of truth-telling and kind of like possibility for me.
BRYAN: 01:07:16 Cool. Let me just shift one more time to a set of questions that are, again, specific to the book and more specific even to the process you use to get the book written and published. Again, these questions are designed to give others insight, inspiration, you know, maybe something they can take away and apply in their own efforts to get their book done, and not just published but also read. You’ve talked about the fact that you had a co-writer. Do you think that having a co-writer made this- made it easier or more difficult or both, and how?
STEVE: 01:08:01 It made getting into it more easy than being left to my own devices, like the discipline that you have to do. There’s a lot of discipline to writing and people do it in different ways. Some people will write half hour or an hour every day regardless, even if they had nothing to write they’ll sit, look at the computer, you know, or if they’re writing on paper, but they’ll do that every day, and then some people will write when, quote, that moment seizes them and go on for hours, write all night and stuff like that. So you get in anything in between, so you got a lot of ways of doing it, but you got to do it and the confront I think is actually writing something down. Anything because it’s going to be terrible. It is. It’s going to be terrible. You never get it right the first time, which is an amazing truth. And I started to realize, god, think of the courage it takes a sculptor, particularly a sculptor working with marble like Michelangelo, to actually hit the damn thing, but you almost never get it right. So as you go through trying to pull out of this marble some creation, you gotta deal with your mistakes along the way constantly, you know, work out workarounds. I guess as you get to be a master of that craft, it gets less and less, but I’m sure there’s always mistakes. Anyway, I found- I always found writing somewhat tedious. So with papers and at the master’s level, even my master thesis, I got to writing them in one sitting.
BRYAN: 01:08:01 Wow.
STEVE: 01:10:02 I just didn’t like the process of writing and coming back in that kind of everyday agony.
BRYAN: 01:10:09 Stopping and starting again and…
STEVE: 01:10:15 So I’d have to hold an idea that was fairly long in execution, sometimes I wasn’t quite sure where I’d end up in the propositions I was dealing with and I was- it was kind of a murder mystery for me. It actually was useful because it kept me compelled like, where’s this logic gonna take me? it usually worked, not every single time, but it usually worked. But that was for school when I didn’t have to do it. I enjoyed really being- talking with people, like interacting with people about the Ideas. I liked dialogue. I like to- given a back and forth, you know, interaction, the excitement of the kind of discoveries that you have in that real time situation. Which, writing never occurred to me that way. So I did write things and I wrote things by myself and I wrote with other people. Writing with other people was enjoyable just because you’re working with another person and you had to be there.
BRYAN: 01:11:16 So did you write in person or did you write over the phone?
STEVE: 01:11:18 Did both. We wrote for five or six years, the book. So we got together regularly every two months or three months. We took trips to interview clients that had gone through these transformations to find out how things worked for them. Now one was in Japan, took a trip to Japan together, but we’d write a lot on the phone or on shared documents when that technology became available.
BRYAN: 01:11:49 From your view, what was the sequence of events that led to this thing going from concept to completion?
STEVE: 01:12:00 You know, at first it was- Dave had written three or four books and one was a bestseller too, so it sells well. Tribal Leadership, I think. So he kind of guided the beginning conversations. All right, we need to find an agent. An agent. You’ve got incentive and publisher. Now you work with the agent around publishers, but you have a notion, some publishers have more this type of book than others. Understand the book marketing and so forth suddenly give you more marketings and less his whole world of- what was a world. Things have quite changed now since when we wrote this book in 2009. I mean really publishing has altered significantly, but back then it was who we get as a publisher, who we want, who we get out- we get a book agent who’s a good book agent, and that was a matter of getting some references and suggestions and then actually calling up some people and ending up with someone we thought we liked, and seeing how conversations went with that person, their ideas. And then basically we had to write, we had to write a outline of the book for the book proposal, kind of like what it’s about, where it goes. And the sample chapter, the sample chapter held up, rewrote it and actually had it done, was published on Mike Jensen’s website called SSRN, Social Science Research Network, which is now, I think he sold it to other investors in the social science paper distribution network. It is the largest distributor of social science research in the world. Millions of articles. So we published the first chapter as a piece of its own called Rewriting The Future. Something like that still up on SSRN and it became the heart of one of the- one of the chapters in the book, one of the early chapters in the book. The outline we came up with, that changed about 10 times, but we had an outline of where we thought the book would go.
BRYAN: 01:14:36 Why did it keep changing?
STEVE: 01:14:40 Cuz our ideas are changing. We kept reworking. Part of it was just, we didn’t see the full extent of what we could do or was, um, how we articulated it got clearer and clearer when we had to struggle with writing it out and getting feedback. I mean, a lot of the process was write it, pass it out to a lot of people, different kinds of people. The whole, create a whole reviewing network of people that are interested in what we’re doing. People from the Barbados group itself, people from our consulting constituencies, people from our personal life, you know, people whose ideas we thought highly of. And we had a lot of people interested in the book’s publication too, our internal organizations and so forth and in the Barbados group people. So it floated around and got a lot of feedback and every time we get feedback we dealt with it and oftentimes it was good and that meant changing stuff.
BRYAN: 01:15:51 How did you know what feedback to listen to and what feedback to ignore?
STEVE: 01:16:00 It’s just what, what Lance makes sense. Some people would say a cautionary note about something. And for me it was like, I’m not worried, I’m not worried about that. Or they bring up something that I hadn’t thought about. I said, oh, that should be dealt with. Yes. Yeah. I don’t want going in that kind of weird direction. It could go there.
BRYAN: 01:16:23 So what roles did you each play in the.. you and Dave in the creation and the drafting of the book?
STEVE: 01:16:33 Well, like I said, it reversed itself polarity a few times. Sometimes I was the, um, the methodology and technology expert of how we were applying these three laws that we created, the three laws of performance and Dave was the writer skilled at communicating and sometimes it changed. And sometimes we were playing the same role with the one view, one voice, but through it all we had, I don’t think we ever had a blow up or you know, that kind of thing. We argued about things but kept our relationship and affinity all through the time. Still have it.
BRYAN: 01:16:33 That’s great.
STEVE: 01:17:22 So it was never, it wasn’t a drama.
BRYAN: 01:17:25 I hear that it, it was very amiable, like it worked. It sounds like it works. This partnership. What was the most challenging part of writing a book with another person?
STEVE: 01:17:39 Well, it takes more time inherently because then you’re going to go back and forth. Now maybe you should spend that amount of time if you’re writing by yourself. I don’t know. Didn’t do that. But it seemed to take an awful lot of time. I mean we had to structure our meetings in time to write together, you know, and so it was often inconvenient in the sense that any schedules inconvenient.
BRYAN: 01:18:05 That’s the truth. Any schedules and convenient. So what, what did your, your process look like? Did you do a given amount of time…
STEVE: 01:18:19 …from the depths of hell to the heights of heaven. I went from, this will never get done, to, oh, this is looking good. And that would be with every chapter. Every chapter was its own world. And then um, then when we were down to, we had a published date. We had a date by which we were supposed to send them the manuscript. It was at the beginning, but it came up in the process of writing
BRYAN: 01:18:48 In that five year window. You’re saying it took to write the book. Where did the book deal coming in?
STEVE: 01:18:54 The book deal was there at the beginning, relatively at the beginning.
BRYAN: 01:18:57 So it’s a very generous window of time.
STEVE: 01:19:00 They were not, we were sending her the material and she understood. The editor, Susan was great, great, in her contribution and the way she managed us. She understood the complexity of what we’re doing and she understood it. She liked it. So there was no pressure for a couple of years. On when are you guys going to write this? It’s kind of an understood it would get written. We were writing, so it was, you know, best we can do. Then at some point it would have to be… we needed to have a date.
BRYAN: 01:19:34 Yeah. Deadlines can be powerful for sure. What was your writing process like? Did you have a page? Did you do a word count minutes per day, like pages per week. How did you keep yourself on track in terms of process?
STEVE: 01:19:51 In the early days it was more meeting and working on stuff and we’d get as far as we get and then come back and keep working on stuff and get as far as we got. So it wasn’t, um, the meetings were set in time so that we were spending that amount of time on the book. Was always guaranteed because she had it in time. Sometimes I haven’t spent any time in between the meetings on the book. Sometimes they do, depending on whether I thought we were hung up by something or not. And there were times when I just took on something and called Dave a few days later and said I want you to read what I just did on this part here. So we had a fluidity like that. Uh, as we got in the last couple of years when the book had a published date, because we needed to organize marketing around the book and all the other stuff. Then it got to be okay, we’ll finish… the book’s written in three parts and we did something unusual. I feel each part is somewhat independent of the other part. So, first part is about the three laws as illustrated by case examples. Like how are they were played out in companies? And then the second part, each port being two or three chapters. The second part was about the theory behind it, and third part was how it applies, how you can have it apply to your personal life. They’re written so you can actually read a part, not in the order of the book. You read the personal life part if you wanted to first. So we’d finish a part. Then we said, okay, we need to get the second part done by this period, the best part, but in this period to meet the deadline, you’re thinking back from the deadline at some point a lot because our are rate sometimes, it’s not very fast. The last month of the book was very intense and it was the last month we couldn’t, you know, screw around anymore and I had a week meeting in Cancun. I was somewhere in Mexico like Cancun, and about the beginning of the meeting I spoke with Dave. I thought we were pretty done… he had… he let his wife, read the book and she had some reservations about a lot of the ways things landed. Kind of like too self promotional.
BRYAN: 01:22:28 Hmm. And what did you think?
STEVE: 01:22:31 I didn’t think that, till she said that and then I looked at the book and I said, you know, I could see where she would say that. And so Dave and I much to are not wanting to, said we should write the more objectively here and there and there, then about kind of our view of it. So it required us to kind of rewriting the whole book in the last week.
BRYAN: 01:22:31 Wow.
STEVE: 01:22:57 He would take the chapter. I would take a chapter. Then we sent it back and forth and read each other’s chapter. Correct it. Then we move on. We did that.
BRYAN: 01:22:57 You got it done.
STEVE: 01:23:10 It was intensive that last week.
BRYAN: 01:23:12 How much better do you think the book is because of that last rewrite?
STEVE: 01:23:12 Oh, I think it’s very much better.
BRYAN: 01:23:18 If you had this project to do over again, what would you do the same and what would you do differently?
STEVE: 01:23:22 Oh, I think I would not have had long periods where we didn’t work on it. Sometimes we’d take while to get back…
BRYAN: 01:23:22 Like weeks or months?
STEVE: 01:23:35 Sometimes we’d have, you know, meeting two months, then when we got back together it was sort of starting all over again now. So I, I would um, compress that period of time. You, I think we said it five years, we could have done it in two years. So two and a half years, if now that would admit, I think not doing a lot of other stuff that we wanted to do, so I don’t know how you would put it into practice, but ideally if I took your question, what would improve? What would make it, what would have been a big improvement would be the velocity with which we dealt with it.
BRYAN: 01:24:17 Well then the fact that you got the book done, I mean, I think many, many projects that we set off on that have, you know, that even have the hint of having a five year will like a five year span… the completion rate is probably pretty low. Generally speaking, how did this not just fade away? You’re both busy…
STEVE: 01:24:40 Uh, other than the fact that I generally complete things. So does Dave. I think there was no option. There were too many people involved. We had taken the publishers money.
BRYAN: 01:24:52 Pretty hard to go back then.
STEVE: 01:24:54 And there were a whole lot of other people who had an interest in the book from hope goes great to, well, it’s got to be rigorous. It’s got to represent what we, the work we did in the Barbados group, so a lot of eyeballs watching the project was a little hard to walk away from that. That can be negative or it could be, you know, maybe it’s a good way to set up a project to have a lot of people invested in your project. Invested as in interested.
BRYAN: 01:25:27 Yeah, I can see where that would be, that would be powerful. What advice would you give somebody who’s maybe in the middle of their own project or they’re thinking about starting it or they’ve started it and you know, abandoned it and started it. Like what advice would you give to somebody who’s thinking about or working to get their own book done?
STEVE: 01:25:48 Well, I’m sure there are naturally gifted writers in the sense that they can raise something and pretty much first time around or second time around and goes, well, I’m not that way, and I think probably a lot of people are not that way, but hard work can make up for it. You got to be willing to write it and rewrite it and write it and rewrite it and thinking about it and write it. And it’s like exercising. Um, just no way to get around it though. If you’re willing to do that, you get self trained. There is an art. There is a craft to it. I didn’t read any books about writing, so whatever I learned I discovered it by doing it and usually wrongly then going back and seeing some other ways that could have been short cut it and so forth. But a lot of it is just confronting that you have something you want to say but you’re not yet saying it. You’ve got to look at it and confront that. And then confront that again. Confront that again. And sometimes it’s just one word and it makes all the difference. So, I guess my advice is be willing to work really hard and that will make up for a lot of what you think of as shortcomings.
BRYAN: 01:27:16 I like that. Well, when I looked on Amazon, I see there are other things that come up with your name, like an audio program from a seminar you lead, but I don’t see any other books with your name.
STEVE: 01:27:16 I think this is it.
BRYAN: 01:27:32 Why in 10 years have you not written anything else? Any other books? I know you’ve written other things, you’ve written papers and articles and things like that, but why? Why no other books?
STEVE: 01:27:43 I dunno. I mean just to be honest with Bryan hasn’t come up like um, nothing has compelled me to want to write a book. I mean, the articles I have done, have been interesting and just around different ideas. So it’s a related set of work, but I’ve done a lot of the articles with different authors, done some stuff by myself. For me, whatever book hunger there was satisfied with that one book? No, I don’t know. Maybe there’s another one. I wouldn’t mind writing a science fiction book. That would be for fun.
BRYAN: 01:27:43 If you write it I will read it.
STEVE: 01:27:43 Got at least one person I can sell it to.
BRYAN: 01:28:30 Yes. What haven’t we said about writing. I mean, sometimes I ask about tools, the software, the hardware, the daily routine, how you organized your time. We’ve talked about the team behind this. What, what haven’t we talked about when it comes to the writing, the strategy and tactics that led to this book becoming a reality?
STEVE: 01:28:51 Well, we did talk about the thing I think was most central was the amazing amount of hard work was, intellectually difficult work to look at your thing and criticize it. I didn’t mind being criticized and other people criticizing, but to force myself to be critical with my own stuff. Um, took some effort on my part, setting up the time to do it. There’s never any time to do it. Now when we get down to the deadline, then there was that by itself became a something to do. But if I’m writing a book and I don’t have a publisher and I don’t have a contract, which a lot of people start with… creating the urgency to actually do it is difficult. Which means doing it is difficult because you don’t have to. That’s hard. So what do you have to do is find something important about that. It isn’t like this is the important thing about it, but you gotta find something important about doing it, which is important enough to have you stay up until about three in the morning, working on something and returning back to the next day, on the weekends or whenever you had the time.
BRYAN: 01:30:14 And that’s going to be different for everybody.
STEVE: 01:30:15 Has to be different for everyone. But the same. The one thing that’s going to be the same. This is important. because if it isn’t, don’t screw around with it.
BRYAN: 01:30:15 Why bother.
STEVE: 01:30:15 Why bother.
BRYAN: 01:30:15 Okay. So one thing I’m curious before we wrap up here, I heard you talk about your role now with Vento, with Vento group is R and D?
STEVE: 01:30:15 Well, and delivery.
BRYAN: 01:30:15 So what does, what does that mean?
STEVE: 01:32:05 Well, we do. Um, our methodology is always customized this while we have standard models, reviews for standard for certain kinds of general situations like union management conflicts or worker mobilization, getting all the workers into a space of team or leadership or whatever the requested ideas ora company is starting off or reinventing itself. We have models that we’ve done in the past, but they always have to be modified or customized because nothing ever is exactly the same. And um, so the design of that is what I call research design development. So in the general area, and then there’s actually look exploring, is this possible doing this in another way, is there a faster way to do this? And trying out different, um, different ideas that would kind of sparsely speed up the rate at which people get it the rate at which actually has an impact on the way in which they engage with life. Something shifts for them. A way of seeing something, a door opens up, something becomes possible in the actual doing of it that wasn’t possible earlier. That’s what I mean by the engagement in life actually dealing with this person or that person to this group of people or your boss or the people that work with you, or the conditions in which you’re doing the work and how people are operating it. So in the very active, engaging with life things open up and present different possibilities. So we’re always exploring how to make that faster, how to make that more… easier in a way I think, but faster is probably the right word. I don’t know what’s ever easier. You know, hitting a baseball is just hitting a baseball. I don’t know if it’s easier or harder. I guess it’s harder when you strike out than when you don’t. But it’s still the same physical activity. Yeah.
BRYAN: 01:33:09 Cool. Okay. so if people want to learn more from you, of course they can read the Three Laws of Performance. If they want to connect with you or they want to learn more than that, what should they do?
STEVE: 01:33:18 Well, they can do landmarks public programs. One is called the forum. That’s a great program that takes these ideas and allows you to have your life be influenced and the ideas have an influence on the way which you’re engaging with life in a way that most people find positive and powerful. So that’s, I think rather than intellectualize the engagement that’s do something like do the landmark forum and um, if people are interested in finding out more about our consulting, go to the webpage and there’ll be contact information there. Okay. Intergroup.com.
BRYAN: 01:34:03 Cool. Okay, great. And as a way of expressing my gratitude to you for making time to talk with me over these last couple of hours, I have made a $100 loan through Kva.org to a lady, a 33 year old married woman in Gujarat, India who is engaging in the agricultural business. She’s growing plants, rice, vegetables on our farm. She has a household of seven members, so she’ll use this money to purchase seeds and fertilizers and water pipe. So her family, her life, her family and her community will be improved.
STEVE: 01:34:45 That’s great. That’s one of my best payments ever.
BRYAN: 01:34:48 Cool. Well, you’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people, including me and I. Thank you. Thank you for that and thank you for making time today.
STEVE: 01:34:56 Bryan. Thank you very much. It was fun.
BRYAN: 01:34:56 Yeah, it was.
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