In the best-selling book Success Built to Last is a quote that gives all of us something to really think about: "Much is said today about the importance of loving what you do. But most people simply don't buy it. Sure it would be nice to do what you love; but as a practical matter, most people don't feel they can afford such a luxury. For many, doing something that really matters to them would be a sentimental fantasy based on wishful thinking. Listen up! Here's some really bad news. It's dangerous not to do what you love. The harsh truth is, if you don't love what you're doing, you'll lose to someone who does."
Those words are the result of over 200 interviews conducted by Stewart Emery and his co-authors with people who have achieved what they call "enduring success". This includes interviews with people like Senator John McCain, Nelson Mandela, Michael Dell, Maya Angelou, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and many others.
Stewart Emery is considered one of the fathers of the Human Potential Movement. He served as the first CEO of EST, was the co-founder of Actualizations, led workshops and seminars in dozens of countries, and has conducted coaching interviews with over 12,000 people during the last three decades.
Stewart is the best-selling author of the books You Don't Have to Rehearse to Be Yourself and The Owner's Manual for Your Life. Tens of thousands of people have attended his workshops, seminars and speaking engagements all around the globe.
He studied economics, philosophy and psychology at the University of Sydney before pursuing a career in the advertising arts. He moved to the United States in 1971, and in the late 7o's was selected by the National Media as one of the ten most influential people in the Human Potential Movement.
Today he is spending his time helping people around the world discover how to achieve the title of his book, which is Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters.
Chris Attwood: Stewart, thank you so much for being with us tonight, it's truly an honor.
Stewart Emery: I'm just thrilled to be with this network of amazing people that you and your associates have built out there. I'm just delighted – thank you!
Chris Attwood: Thank you, Stewart. And I'm also equally honored to introduce my co-host Greg Link, who will conduct tonight's interview. Greg was formerly executive vice-president of the Covey Leadership Center and is now partnered with Stephen M.R. Covey to create the business consulting firm CoveyLink. Greg, thank you so much for being with us. I'll turn the call over to you now to conduct tonight's interview.
Greg Link: It is truly an honor, Stewart. You are a legend in the industry.
Stewart Emery: I'm just thrilled to be with this network of amazing people that you and your associates have built out there. I'm just delighted – thank you!
Greg Link: As I invited our clients in the Covey organization to join us tonight I said that this was one of the few books I have not been able to put down. And believe me, we read a lot of books, and endorse very few. This book is destined to be the next Think and Grow Rich.
Stewart, you have a history in the industry that precedes you; and as I mentioned, you are a legend. Can you help us understand the personal passion that you brought forth to get involved in this, and where your experience with some of the organizations that Chris mentioned you founded, specifically Actualizations and the EST organization with Warner Ehrhardt that you were the founding CEO of.
What, from that experience, prompted you to want to participate in this project?
Stewart Emery: As long as I can remember, Greg, I have been fascinated to try and understand why some people seem to just do well in life and live successfully. I mean success as a total concept, I don't just mean collecting bright, shiny objects. I'm talking about being satisfied and happy.
And why most of the world struggles; I've studied philosophy, psychology, and economics at Sydney University until the artistic genes kicked in and I went into the advertising business. I came over to the United States in 1971 on a visit, stood on the corner of Haight and Ashbury and said, "Wow, Stewart, you're not in Sydney anymore!"
I ran into Warner Ehrhardt, and the rest, as they say, is history. I just saw what was going on in what became known as the Human Potential Movement and I thought, in the advertising business I was in the business of telling people, "If you consume the right stuff you'll be happy." I knew eventually that wasn't true, that really all I was doing was getting people further and further into debt. They'd buy more of the things they can never get enough of, and don't really need anyway to make them happy.
When I saw the Human Potential Movement I thought, here's a way to use the skills I have to support people, rather than to exploit them. That started my journey in the Human Potential Movement. Always, always, always I have been moved by people who are good at what they do, in any field. There's a lot of horror in the world, and you can get hardened to that. But I notice that if I'm in the presence of somebody who is really good at what they do I'm moved, sometimes to tears, but always moved.
Jerry Porras and I had been talking about doing what was going to be Built to Last for individuals. We started talking with Mark Thompson who had interviewed these extraordinary people. Over lunch one day at the Osteria restaurant in Palo Alto we thought, we ought to do this together, and here we are.
Greg Link: Very good! It's a remarkable project, and you've done a remarkable job. There's one thing I'd like to clear up. The misconception is that Jerry Porras is the author, with Jim Collins, of Built to Last, so this is not an unauthorized sequel to that book – it's an official sequel.
Stewart Emery: Thank you for clearing that up.
Greg Link: Tell us a little bit about, as I looked at this, the parallels between what Janet and Chris wrote about in The Passion Test and your interviews with these 200 extraordinary people, how does it match up? Why is passion such a key indicator of the success that you guys observed?
Stewart Emery: We found that something all these people had in common is they invested in their passions. In fact, what balance was to these people was not the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, this for family, this for community, this for whatever; balance, for these people, because the Dalai Lama per se doesn't have balance, nor does Oprah Winfrey or a lot of the people we interviewed.
But what balance is to all the people we spoke to is access to their passions. Maya Angelou talked about it. She said, "I have this portfolio of passions", which we think is a wonderful term. We talk about it in the book. She said, "If I didn't have access to my portfolio of passions I couldn't be good at any of them."
Greg Link: I was very taken by the interview you had with Mandela. One of the questions you asked yourselves in the book was, "What inspires long-term achievers to make this kind of choice, the choice that Mandela did; to struggle and grow despite all the odds, to find new meaning and hang onto it, not just for the moment, but to create success that lasts."
Mandela didn't start out as a saint. Most of us are a work in progress. Can you talk about how that ties in?
Stewart Emery: He certainly didn't start out as a saint. There were times, if you look at the time before he was in prison, you could take the point of view he was one of the bad guys. Yet, he came out of prison, and here's the remarkable thing. I was on the Ron Allen show this morning. Somebody called in and said, "I'm 55 now, and isn't it too late for me?"
We said, "Well, Nelson Mandela didn't get out of jail until he was 71, at which point he could have been an angry person driven to be the most dangerous man on the continent. Rather than that he reinvented a peaceful solution for his part of the world."
That's remarkable! What seems to keep these people going is they are really clear about what matters to them. They are really clear about meaning. Or as a high-ranking general told us, "People have got to know why they are doing it."
Then people say, "What's the relationship between passion and meaning, or passion and the cause?" What we find is that these people have their passion in service of the cause. When we interviewed John McCain he said, "I used to be a jet-jockey, and I thought all glory was self-glory. I'm very grateful for my Vietnam experience. A lot of it was very challenging."
He said, "But what I learned is that true and lasting success requires that we are committed to something bigger than ourselves."
These people who all have enduring success have their passions in service to something that is bigger than themselves.
Greg Link: What was the criteria? How did you determine – I'm sure you had a number of candidates who qualified, as you discuss in the book – how did you decide who to actually interview and include in the project?
Stewart Emery: We looked at all of the lists, and there are a lot of lists out there. There's a Time list, the most influential people, the Fortune list, the Forbes list; we looked at the Oprah Winfrey Use Your Life Award list. We looked at the lists and said, "Okay, let's limit the list to people who have been having an impact for 20 years or more."
In the days of the next episode of "The Apprentice", "American Idol", or "Survivor", where people could have five minutes of fame and then end up in the "where are they now" files, we wanted people whose success had endured, which we thought would eliminate success based on good genes or simply good luck.
We started calling people and got the people we were able to get to and market them a lot. I've done quite a few, Jerry did some, and at some point we said, "This is enough", although we're still doing interviews. We interviewed about 300 people all together, I think.
Greg Link: Was there anything that surprised you? With your background you've pretty much heard it all, Stewart. Were there a couple of things that surprised you?
Stewart Emery: Yes, a couple of things. We did the 20 requisite billionaires like Gates, Buffet, Jobs, Sir Richard Branson and people like that. We also did people who were amazing who you've not heard of.
The women were extraordinary. Something special about the book is that it's gender neutral. In other words, there are about as many women in there as there are men. It's just some amazing women changing the world socially that we live in.
I think the thing that surprised me, or at least was the most healing to me – I don't know about you, Greg, but I'm a founding member of Perfectionists Anonymous. I remember as a kid people used to accuse me of being a perfectionist, and I thought it was a good thing. So if I ever made a mistake I just did serious damage on myself. I would say, "You moron, you shouldn't have done that, if only you'd done this instead you'd be further along if you hadn't."
When we started talking to these people we found they have lots and lots of mistakes in their resume. In fact, when you get them talking about it they're not depressed about it, they're all excited. If you didn't know better you'd think they were losers.
But here's the thing – they had all learned how to learn useful lessons from their mistakes, to learn useful lessons from their hardships, and even from physical disabilities where the whole succession and success built to last called turning wounds into wisdom.
These people were able to take their wounds, like Maya Angelou, abused as a child, was silent for four years and wouldn't talk to anybody. She took that wounded past and turned it into greatness. There are a lot of stories like that.
We have a story about a man who was in a car accident, became a quadriplegic, and in fact after that got married, has a family, started a business, has become a millionaire and is helping other people start their own businesses. He's an amazing, amazing man. It's a great story.
This is the thing to me, that these people could overcome great difficulty. They always looked for the goodness in things. I can't tell you why they did it, but that they did do that. They made what was working more important than what wasn't. They made what was wonderful in the world more important than what wasn't.
Greg Link: From your experience, you mentioned that you were a perfectionist and you beat yourself up, how common is that? These people obviously took a different tack; but are there a lot of people from your work who limit themselves by beating themselves up?
Stewart Emery: I think most people do that. Whenever I bring it up in a seminar or a speaking engagement I say, "How many people been there, done that and most of the hands in the room go up. These people aren't like that, however. Somewhere along the way they learned to look for the goodness in their hardship and in their mistakes.
Michael Dell talked about the beginning of Dell being a series of experiments, most of which were failures. He said, "Around Dell we call innovation 'failure sped up'." People tell us always, when you make your mistakes, make them quickly.
Greg Link: That certainly stood out to me, that there are a number of lessons in this book, not the least of which is that we need to be willing to move on after we make a mistake and keep going.
You also talk about things that enduringly successful people, they apply the core value that never fades – integrity to meaning. You mentioned that before, it makes a difference in their lives. What does it mean to apply the value of integrity to a meaning?
Stewart Emery: For example, if somebody's commitment is to making a contribution to ending world hunger, every choice they make in their life they consider in the context, "Will that take me further in the journey towards that cause, or does it sidetrack me?"
Sometimes that's an intuitive call. The other thing that was truly surprising, at least to me, is that all of these people, almost without exception – I mean YoYo Ma was an exception, it seems like he was born with his cello in hand – but they're rare. Ten to fifteen percent of the people or the rest of the people said, "My journey was a serendipitous journey. When I started out I could not have imagined what it is I'm doing today, and the life I have today. It's much better than I ever could have imagined." So that was a big surprise to me.
What kept them going is they were clear in a general sense about what really mattered to them. It could have been humanity, it could have been nature, it could have been science, it could have been technology; there was a broad category. So they lived their lives loyal to whatever it was that had meaning to them.
Greg Link: Chris mentioned in his introduction the comment in the book about "it's dangerous not to do what you love. The harsh truth is that if you don't love what you're doing, you're going to lose to somebody that does." Can you explain what you mean by that?
Stewart Emery: Because Ron Allen this morning accused me of being touchy-feeling about that. I said look, there's a guy called Larry Bossidy who wrote a touchy-feely book called Execution; and I said he was a major CEO of XGE. Where people like Larry Bossidy, Jack Welch of GE, a guy from the military high command in the Pentagon all tell us that in the modern world, if you don't love what you do, you will lose to somebody else who does love it. In a world of outsourcing you'll lose to somebody who does love it. So it's not just a platitude, it's a comparative advantage.
Larry Bossidy said, "I'll tell you what – if you're working for us and you don't love what you do, we'll fire you and get someone who does love it!" It was very blunt; this was not touchy-feely stuff at all. I hear at high school commencement speeches, "This is what you have to find, what you love, and you have to do that", and it sounds like a platitude. But it's not a platitude; it's a comparative necessity, and absolutely the foundation of a rich and enduringly successful life.
Greg Link: Guy Kowasaki, who was one of the founding members of Apple, is a venture capitalist now, and that's one of his primary criteria for venture capital deals is whether or not somebody is passionate about what the heck they're trying to raise money for.
Stewart Emery: Oh absolutely! We've had a relationship, in fact Mark Thompson, my co-author, was managing and running the Venture Lab at Stanford University. It actually lives in the humanities department, believe it or not, rather than the business department – which is a good thing. They've got a couple of Nobel Prize Laureates participating.
We bring people in and we take them through this whole process, which anybody running a business ought to take people through. We would interview people through this structured process and then bring them all together and have them debrief this. If we couldn't establish a heart-felt and, dare I say spiritually passionate commitment to the cause, to the "why will this world be a better place if this gets funded?"; if we couldn't establish that it didn't get funded.
Because it could have been a great business plan, it could have been a great place in the market, there could have been a need for this product; but if they weren't passionately committed to it, if their heart and soul and spirit were not invested in it, it wasn't going to work, because they wouldn't get through the hard times. They'd just look for the next big thing.
Greg Link: From your experience, this touchy-feeling thing comes up a lot, particularly in business. The Human Potential Movement sometimes gets short shrift in the Corporate America. But at the end of the day, what has been your experience about what it takes to have somebody have the courage to pursue their passions?
Stewart Emery: I think that you've got to march to the tune of your own drummer, and that was a characteristic of these people, this kind of courage. They define success in their own terms. It's terrifying if you look it up in the dictionary, Greg – I don't know if you've ever done that or not.
It talks about achievement of goals, that's well and good. But then it gets really scary when it comes to indoctrinating our kids. It says, "Can speak with achievement of fame, wealth, and power." Then we wonder why we have kids killing each other for $160 sneakers. We've found these people didn't set out to be successful. Some of them ended up with all of the bright, shiny objects, but that was never their goal.
I sat with Alice Waters in her wonderful restaurant Che Panisse in Berkley. She's changed the food scene in this country. She was rated as one of the 10 best cooks in the world by the French already!
I said, "Alice, when I ask you what does success mean to you, what comes to mind?"
She looked at me and she said, "Stewart, I never thought about it. I never set out to be successful. I only ever set out to become really good at the things that mattered to me."
This was a refrain we heard from all of these people. "Not really good at what my mother thinks I ought to do, or my professor, or whatever, but really good at the things that matter to me." They were clear about this, and they were disciplined about doing something, about learning how to get good at it on a regular basis.
Greg Link: You mentioned in the book that the majority of the builders claimed that their success was a serendipitous journey, and that the luck they enjoyed was usually earned, often at great cost. How does that wash with the idea of setting goals?
I mean, if you're doing what you love, are you setting goals around that, or are you just basically following your heart?
Stewart Emery: It's a genius of the end, not a tyranny of the awe. One of the people we interviewed in the book is a fellow called Fred Shoemaker, who may be the greatest coach of the inner game of golf practicing today. We went down to interview him for the book – we talk about him near the end of the book, great man!
He gave my wife, Joanie, some demonstrations of how he coaches people. Three or four days later she goes out, she's played golf six time, maybe ten; she goes out and hits a hole in one. Some guy who is 50 comes up and says he has been playing golf his whole life and has never done that.
So Joanie calls up Fred and says, "I was just having fun enjoying my passion, so I wasn't trying to get good at it." He said, "You've got to keep practicing to get good at it, or the pleasure will go away. You've got to do both. You've got to have fun and you've got to get better at it."
That's what true about these people. They had fun at it, and are committed to getting good at it. The purpose of the goal was to raise the bar to bring out the best in themselves. The goal was the journey – the goal provided the context for the journey of continually upgrading their performance.
I remember listening to Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras talk about this, who were in Singapore for MasterCard at the time. They were saying, "What we love about playing each other is that we each play the best tennis of our lives."
I was then moved to look up the word 'compete' in the dictionary, and Greg, you know what it means? It means "to seek the best in oneself in the company of others seeking the best in themselves".
It's not about winning and losing, it's about having a goal that's so outrageous that in reaching for it you become a bigger person.
Greg Link: Do you think it's fear that people who label this stuff as touchy-feely, that's it's fear, that they're just trying not to confront their own opportunity to grow?
Stewart Emery: I think so. I mean that's always the short answer isn't it Greg, really. It's always the short answer – people don't want to confront it.
But I think people get beaten down. I think once people get a glimmer of light, and that's what the word enlightenment is, to bring light to where there was darkness. I think people have been beaten down for whatever reason, we can say they signed up for it. But it's fear, sure!
Greg Link: This is truly a remarkable book. I know Chris will want us to mention and remind everybody that they can buy their copy at www.HealthyWealthyNWise.com/success.
Honestly, Stewart, I've read a lot of books and been in this game for 30 years myself. There are so many jewels threaded through this that it's hard to limit the discussion here. But I really do think that you've thrown over a couple things briefly that I'd like you to touch on in more depth.
You talk about wounds to wisdom, and the fact that you trust your weaknesses and use your core competencies. How does that play out in individual's lives? People listen to the interview and it's so easy for us to discount it. People do it all the time in this industry. That's fine for Richard Branson or for Maya Angelou or for Oprah Winfrey, but not for me. How do you overcome that?
Stewart Emery: All these people were once upon a time not successful yet. Then I would say they're nobody until we all decided they were somebody. We taped two people, Charles Schwaab and Richard Branson. What may not be known about them is that they are both dysfunctionally dyslexic, along with Chambers from Sisco.
Schwaab was so dyslexic, for example, he could not read a teleprompter. So here he is telling America about being responsible for their financial future. How he dealt with that, going all the way back to Stanford, is when he realized he was going to get tossed out of school he learned he had to bring teams to people, teams of people together, who were good at the things he was not good at.
He could contribute what he was good at, they could contribute what they were good at, and together they could do something. That's part of the portfolio of passions. If you have a team of people to get to the goal, say, get a man on the moon and back, and people were passionate about metallurgy and rocket fuels, and nanotechnology and electronics.
Schwaab was able to build remarkable teams because he understood he couldn't do a lot of things himself.
With Branson, his dyslexia became the core of his genius as a marketer, because he had to get the messaging so simple that he could deliver it. Both of them, Schwaab and Chambers . . . three of them, and Branson, said, "We would not be successful today if we hadn't had our disabilities and the way we are successful."
It's amazing to me! I noticed for myself that after I finished the book, this whole thing about beating up myself for the mistakes had vanished – I'm not like that anymore. It's hard to believe that by reading a book something shifts, but I'll tell you, writing this book, for me, that shifted. I'm different now.
Greg Link: You mentioned in the book about how you don't have to be charismatic to be successful. I think a lot of people look at the attributes of people after they've had their breakthrough and say, "Well, I can't be like Oprah Winfrey". Oprah Winfrey was not always that charismatic, was she?
Stewart Emery: No, she wasn't. Actually, I think the most remarkable story; I don't think it's in the book per se, so I'll just tell it. Mark Thompson went off to interview Jack Welch when he was the most powerful CEO on earth. Mark was waiting, and Welch was running late. He comes almost stumbling in the door – he's not a large man physically, and he said, "Sssssso ssssorry, I'm late". I mean, he has a terrible stuttering problem.
What happened is, all of these people, when they start talking about the cause that matters to them, they take on an authentic elegance and charisma. There's a whole section of the book which talks about this called, "The Cause Has Charisma", that the people draw their charisma from the cause. Very few people we spoke to had natural charisma.