Jack Daly, Guy Rowson and Victor Perton on optimism
In preparation for the 2022 Albury-Wodonga Innovation Summit & EXPO (AWISE), AWISE's chief Guy Rowson asked Jack Daly and the Centre for Optimism's Victor Perton to join him in talking about optimism, innovation, life and sales.
After a couple of challenging years with lockdowns and social distancing, we're excited to be heading back in 2022 to be running the event as a face-to-face event in Albury with Wodonga. As part of the AWISE Summit, Guy likes to explore the relationship between optimism and innovation.
Jack Daly, you are an optimist and whenever the Centre For Optimism is involved in anything, the first question we ask people, Jack, is what makes you optimistic?
You know what? And that is a relatively easy question for me to answer. I'm old enough to experience so many highs in my life, and every one of those highs has always been followed by a low. I mean, literally, we could diagram those highs and lows. The thing that I am most encouraged about is when I'm in that low pit, I know that it will be short-lived and good times are ahead. And so I'm excited even at the lows because I know there's good news down the road.
For example, one of my businesses years ago was in the mortgage business. We did home loans, and in the United States today, where I am today, the current loan rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, which is our typical loan on a home, is about 5%. Now it got as low as two and a half, but the people in that industry are crying because they're saying, "I don't know if I'm going to do business. I'm pessimistic about the industry because who will do a loan at 5%."
When I was in the business, Victor, I can tell you that a 30-year fixed rate loan was 17 and a half per cent. And when the rates moved to 12, we had ticker-tape parades saying, does life get any better? Now, what that message tells me is that evidently, rates are not; they don't relate.
What's important is what is in between our ears, the six inches between our ears. That's the thing we have control over. When the interest rates were 17 and a half per cent, and my competitors all went pessimistic, I said, "people will always need to live in homes, and they can't buy them for cash, so they're going to have to borrow at any rate. And I'm so optimistic because I'm the only guy out here lending now."
And so the competitors have all gone away.
And so anything I look at in my life that is a challenge, my mental state is always optimistic.
I'm a voracious reader. Last year, I read 102 books.
One of my favourite books is a book called Mindset written by Carol Dweck. And what Carol says is basically this, we fall into one of two groups. We're either a fixed or a growth mindset, and we're not born with a fixed or a growth mindset; we get to choose at any point in our life.
From an optimist standpoint, all I am is a growth mindset guy. I just can't see the negatives. All I can see are positives. It is in the jar half full right here.
Wonderful, Jack, and you could have written the Harvard Medical School definition of optimism, which is a belief that good things will happen and that things will work out in the end.
It is; there's no question it is true.
I wanted to do an Ironman.
An Ironman is a big undertaking, a 3.8-kilometre swim followed by a 180-kilometre bike ride followed by a 42K run. At 58 years old, I decided to take on the Ironman. And the curious thing about it is that I did not know how to swim. In the next eight succeeding years, between 58 and 66, I did 15 full Ironmans. Four of them were in Australia. And I performed eventually at the level of making the podium in either first, second or third in my age group and was elected to make Team USA.
And yet when I first got into it, people said, you don't know how to swim, and you're 58 years old, you're too old. And I said, well, if everybody's telling the 58-year-old guys they're too old, that means there are fewer guys I have to compete against. So if I just do the work, I'll probably do pretty well at the sport.
Again, the six inches between our ears.
Well, as, as the Henry Ford said, the “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can't are both right.”
Jack Zengler at 86 told me, “I am absolutely convinced that the best days of my life are ahead of me and not behind me.”
That statement that you just made, Victor, is a statement that I make in front of all of my CEO audiences that I speak to.
And the question I ask is this "are your best days behind you or ahead of you?"
I can tell you at 73, I've lead an unbelievably gifted, magical life that I am tremendously grateful for. But I can also tell you, even after losing my wife of 47 years, who I met when I was 16, I sit here today with all authentic genuineness and tell you that I am convinced my best days are ahead of me.
That's fantastic. Jack, you've read, you've written so much and you've given so many inspiring speeches, and looking back in the context of sales and growth, you have talked about the value of tough minded optimism and like us at the Centre for Optimism, realistic optimism. And you've said, leaders are positive cheerleaders who each day provide a message of optimism for those they work with. And in fact, Dominic Barton who's the head of McKinsey, was the head of McKinsey, now the head of Rio, like you said every great leader he'd ever met is infectiously optimistic.
Would you share your view on the value of positive and optimistic leadership in the 2020s?
Yeah. So the way you position the question, Victor, is absolutely on point.
I've built a half a dozen businesses from scratch from a blank sheet of paper, international firms in the US, extremely fast growing companies. And for the last 25 years, I've traveled the globe, helping other entrepreneurs and business leaders grow their businesses. And there's a lot of things that need to be done in order to build a successful business.
As a leader, I have really learned about that we will do better by working on fewer thing.
A book that's a favourite of mine is Essentialism by Greg McKeown, who says we will do better by working on fewer things, just make those things, the right things. Too many people doing too many things and dilute themselves. Focus precedes success, right?
And so here is my short course for an entrepreneur to have optimism in any market and what they ought to be working on.
It's three things.
One is vision. You can't get there unless you know what there is. What is it you're trying to build? I can't help somebody build something if they're not articulate in being defined what the destination is. And all too often, we find entrepreneurs and business leaders that are flapping in the wind because they don't have their true north.
The second thing is key people in key spots. I don't have to worry about the execution in building my business if I have a half a dozen brilliant leaders that are positively charged and understand what the vision is and their respective roles in the company.
And then the third ingredient of three is to create a winning culture. To create an environment in your business where the people who work in it, don't get up in the morning moaning and groaning about having to go to work, but bounce out of bed and say, hot damn, I get to work at this company.Because if you could create that kind of an environment, and you can, you'll have a competitive, sustainable advantage.
Now notice what I didn't talk about. I didn't talk about the competition. I didn't talk about the economy. I didn't talk about the product, the service, the price, all of that will take care of itself. I just need to have clarity of vision, people to execute on the vision and create this base of culture.
That is so brilliant, Jack. When Dominic Barton spoke to me he also said that those great leaders are infectiously optimistic, but it's not the big speech from the man or woman at the podium, it's the person who can unlock the optimism in the team.
And Jack we've now interviewed 20,000 people on their optimism, less than 1% talk about the boss, less than 1% talk about the business. Optimism comes from the heart or faith or belief in mankind, or a belief in science. And the smart leader knows what makes those people optimistic.
Jack, today's fast pace global economy organisations need to continually focus not on just innovation, but also being adaptable. And you've had an esteemed career as a sales coach. You've long shared the view that we should model the masters. And one key question or point to selling is ask questions and listen. So Jack, what would you say is key to sales innovation today and how sales leaders had to pivot to adapt in recent times?
So we're still struggling with COVID. It isn't the pain that it was two years ago, but we're still struggling with it a bit. Let's go back two years. So here in the states, in March of 2020, we went into lockdown. And I want you to think about my 2019. My 2019 was over 250,000 air miles and I visited over 30 countries and I spoke to hundreds of thousands of people. And people started to call me when the lockdown took place and said, how you doing with your business? And I said, well, I fly around the world and I speak to large groups of people, what an asinine question to ask. I mean, this is terrible. And so what am I going to do about it? So here is that answer. What I said was this, and I do CEO coaching around the world over the phone, and I had to tell my coach clients, hey guys, this optimism about this pandemic will be behind us in three months, that's not quality thinking.
The quality thinking should be, what if it lasts two to four years? How are you going to make your business work in a pandemic world of two to four years? Now, if you're right with your optimism, which I would consider to be overly done, but if you're right and it ends in four months, then whatever we're going to talk about is just protection and insurance. But at least we'll be around if it goes longer than that. So I took my own advice and said if companies could ever use my services, now is the time, but I can't go to them and they can't come to me unless I do it virtually. So I brought in a crew and in my home, I built a virtual studio with the finest of equipment ever, and went out to the community and said I can come to you virtually and it'll be as if I'm there live. June of 2020, I set a Guinness World Record.
I didn't have it on my bucket list to do it. But the Guinness world record was set for the largest attendance at a virtual business conference of 21,261 people. That was within three months of lockdown. People tell me old dogs can't learn new tricks. Well, at the time of lockdown, I was 71 years old and three months into it I set a world record. I also will tell you pre pandemic what I said was the maximum nights I'll sleep in a hotel each year for business is 100, which meant that I was limited to a hundred speaking gigs in a year. When the pandemic hit, I was running months where I was doing 17 gigs a month and playing golf in the afternoon. And my clients were absolutely buoyant. They were cheering because it was effective, it was efficient and it was what they needed right then.
So let me go back, Guy, and go after that question from a sales standpoint.
And from a selling standpoint, the answer to your question is this people do not want to be sold. No one likes a salesperson trying to sell them things. So if I'm a salesperson in that kind of an environment, how can I be optimistic and how can I be effective?
And the way that you can is to change the definition. And here's my preferred one, help them to buy. The subtle difference between selling someone something and helping them to buy is profound. Help them with their needs, their opportunities, their problems.
Here let me make it real simple. People buy to get out of pain or put themselves in a state of pleasure. Find out what their pains are and then deliver. And if I take sales to the ultimate level, help them with their pains, even if it means not you and your product and service. And if you help enough people that are in pain and put them into a place of pleasure, you will get repeat business, you will get referral business because you will have established the bedrock of success at selling, which is trust. Selling is the transfer of trust. People do business with people they trust
If you ever wanted to find a way to be successful at anything in life, find people who have already figured out how to be successful and do what they're doing right? Now one of the most successful companies that I know out there is Amazon. And you know what Amazon's success is based on? They make it easy for you to buy. So I would challenge people and ask them, are you making it easy to buy? I literally can leave you guys, go online right now, go to Amazon, look at anything and everything, order it, and it'll be at my home before the end of the day and at a competitive price. So if that's the way the world works today, I then as a salesperson and a business person have to figure out how do I effectively compete in that kind of an environment? And what I'm going to try to do is be just as easy to do business with. And my studio and doing things virtually is just one example of how I've pulled that off.
Jack, The evidence is that in Australia and the United States, optimism is falling. And my theory is part of it is the way that news media works now. It's just this grueling, our country is bad. Our leaders are bad. The statistics are bad. In Australia last week, we had our lowest unemployment rate in 48 years. The major newspaper headlined it as pressure on interest rates. So do you want to talk about that problem in a country like America or in a country like Australia, where our global stereotype is relentless optimism, what can we do as individuals to help lift those people around us?
Victor, I think that you're spot on in terms of the impact of media and I'd go even further, forget about the organized structural media, but the social media, the unverifiables that the public sometimes is giving more credence to than they should. And we've got outliers that are just making things up and going online and we have people that are buying it. In America we have our nightly shows that are at 11:30 at night that are comedians that are pretending to be news people. And there's a following of them and they believe it. And so that whole media impact I think, is spot on.
Now to the more important question is, given that's the environment, how do we maintain and grow our sense of optimism? How do we effectively deal with it? And the way I talk about it is this focus on that which you have control of. That to me brings sanity.
I failed science in high school and so anyone in the last two years that came to my home and wanted to talk about the Covid and the pandemic and the vaccine, I just said, I really can't add any value to the conversation, I'm not going to talk about it. If a vaccine becomes available, I'm of the belief that I should take it. And so I've been vaccinated twice and boosted twice. But I'm not going to create a vaccine. I don't have anything to contribute. There's only 168 hours each week that we get to invest in. I'm going to invest mine in the things that I can positively impact and have control over. And the rest of it, I'm just not going to worry about. And so I'm tone deaf to so much of it, because I can't move the dial there. So I'm going to invest my time where it can move the dial, get frustrated with the rest.
Jack, at The Centre for Optimism, we say to people, smile and say hello to everyone. The Dalai Lama comes from a little country occupied by the Chinese communist government for 50 years, a religion that not many people follow, Tibetan Buddhism. Still, everyone loves the Dalai Lama because he smiles and says hello to everyone.
And then laugh more like you have been doing today, as the three of us have been doing today.
South Africa's recently deceased Archbishop Tutu said, "God commands us to laugh."
We also commend people changing their greetings. For example, in Australia, if you greet someone and say, "G'Day, how are you?" the typical response these days is "not bad" or "not too bad". And so it's a "waste opening" of a conversation. So we've trained prisoners, we've trained CEOs to get rid of that question "how are you?" and replace it with something like "what's been the best thing in your day", which improves any conversation.
How about this one? I am asked that question all the time, all over the world. I have the same answer all the time. And that's this. Hey Jack, how goes it? Fantastic. And it just drops people right in the street. Fantastic. And they look at me with a weird look and I go, well, let's look at it. Somebody probably got up before me today and they picked shitty so it was already taken. So what I decided is I'm going to choose to be fantastic. And all of a sudden they just start laughing and we have an upbeat conversation.
Look, I'm going to share something with you very personal. Two weeks ago, I had a significant event in my life take place. I got to ring the bell. Two years ago, one month after lockdown, I was brushing my hair and there was a bump on my head. And I went to my dermatologist and discovered I had stage three malignant melanoma. Serious stuff. The first week of April 2020, I was in the hospital and they took off the size of the palm of my hand, about an eighth of an inch thick and then sewed me back up. About eight months later, it reappeared in my neck and the doctor said, we're going to need to put you in the cancer center for at least a year long program. So I have been infused with drugs over the last 54 weeks.
Three weeks ago, the doctors at my infusion when I was finished, said based upon your CT scans, we need you to go down the hall and ring the bell. And I said, well, what do you mean by that? And he said, because you're done, you're cancer free. Right? And I rang the bell and all the doctors and the nurses started clapping and cheering and the patients were clapping, cheering, and crying. Right. And for the last two years I have been speaking and I have been traveling the world and I've been doing my thing. And no one has really known that I've been battling this cancer. Because what I convinced myself was if I embrace myself on that which I am control over and I stay as positive as a human can be, I think I have a better chance at cracking the code. And the doctors have told me, there's no question that your attitude was a big piece of your cure. No question about it.
In fact, November of last year, I ran my hundredth marathon in Athens, Greece on the original route. And I ran five marathons while I was in the cancer treatment program. And the doctors just said, look, you've gone through all of this giant, giant hurdle with such a positive attitude and you've never given thought to the dark side.
And I said, the only thing that I have control over is my attitude and so why would I pick anything other than positive? Why would I not be optimistic? And if anybody can cure it, I'm going to be the one that cures it. Well, when I announced that on social media, because I had someone take a photo of me ringing the bell, there were thousands of people that came out of the woodwork and their comments were I had no question that you were going to win the battle because I've seen you speak and I've seen you this and you are optimistic.
Well, Jack, you are the living proof of Harvard Medical School's research findings which says optimism is the trait most keenly associated with healthy longevity. And the American Heart Association says optimism is the key protective trait for every significant cause of mortality and the critical predictor of recovery. And one of the people I work with on the positive leadership task force, her husband's a heart surgeon, and she jokes that he refers the pessimists to another heart surgeon.
That's one way of keeping your record in stellar shape. Too bad for the pessimists, nonetheless.
Jack, Is there a final message you want to send to Australia and the world on the value of optimism in sales, the value of optimism in leadership, and as you've just said, the value of optimism in our personal lives?
I guess my final message would be this, that we truly have command of our thoughts and our attitude, and given the choice, why would you choose anything other than positive? I have no idea why anybody would go in another direction.
As the Dalai Lama says, choose optimism, it feels better.
Jack, I greatly appreciate you giving some of your time. And I do love the effortless and boisterous way that you carry yourself even after those tribulations and challenges. I heard you mention 168 hours. When people say to me Guy, I don't know how you do what you do. And I say, well, I just pity you, you have seven days a week, I've got 168 hours, right? It is about focus. It is about what's in the jar, as you were saying, Jack. And at every given moment, you've got a choice. You're turning left or you're turning right.
My first job professionally when I graduated from college was Arthur Andersen, the public accounting firm. And when you went there, you had to bill yourself out in 15 minute increments. And when I saw how effective that was for the business, what I then translated was I should be investing my personal time in 15 minute segments. Control the time that you have and employ it in the things that will give you the greatest reward. You've heard me say this before, Guy, if you don't have an assistant, you are one. There are things that need to be done in life, but not necessarily done by you. Speaking on the things that, according to the book, are the most essential to get you where you want to be.
I'm sure that you're aware that I just released my tenth book that is so different than all the other books I've written. The first nine were all about business. My tenth book is called Jack Daley's Life by Design. And it's all about how to lead an intentional life by design. And it is a system and a process that I have been following for 60 years. I interviewed successful people at the age of 13 and built the processes based on their experience and so I know the process works. And so much of it has to do with making the most of that 168 that we're given each week.
The present moment, be focused.