The greatest thing you can do for yourself and for the world is to find your life purpose. Dr. Diane Hamilton’s guest is James A. Cusumano, co-founder of Chateau Mcely and author of I Can See Clearly: Rise of a Supernatural Hero. In this episode, James shares his journey of finding his life purpose and how it led him from being the lead singer of “The Royal Teens” to being a research scientist, all the way to eventually becoming a filmmaker and author. James explains that finding your life purpose winds up creating personal fulfillment, and the more fulfilled you become, the greater impact you make into making this world a better place to live in. Tune in to be inspired to find your life purpose and pursue it!
How can you effectively connect and communicate with your audience? Dr. Diane Hamilton’s guest is Riaz Meghji, a human connection expert and author of Every Conversation Counts: The 5 Habits of Human Connection that Build Extraordinary Relationships. In this episode, you will learn the importance of listening without distractions, why assertive empathy is the way to go, and how you can practice specificity when showing your appreciation. Dr. Diane and Riaz also discuss the art of storytelling and how you can keep your audience’s attention hooked on you. Join in the conversation to learn more!
I‘m so glad you joined us because we have James Cusumano and Riaz Meghji here. Jim or Dr. Jim is the Chairman and Owner of Chateau Mcely. He’s also the Author of I Can See Clearly, The Alchemist Within You and so much more. We’re going to talk about some interesting things with Jim. Riaz is a Human Connection Expert. He is the Author of Every Conversation Counts. He and I have so much in common and the interests that we have in terms of connecting, speaking and all the soft skills. It’s going to be a fascinating conversation. We will talk to both Jim and Riaz after this.
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Making A Difference Through Your Life Purpose With James A. Cusumano
I am here with Jim Cusumano or James A. Cusumano. He is the Author of ten books, including a novel, I Can See Clearly: Rise of A Supernatural Hero. He has done a lot of things from being an entertainer, scientist, corporate executive, entrepreneur and filmmaker. You name it, he’s done it. I am very excited to have him here. He’s also the Owner of Chateau Mcely, which is an internationally acclaimed castle–hotel spa and forest retreat. We’re going to talk a little bit about everything. It’s so nice to have you here, Jim.
It’s great to be here, Diane. I‘d love to do this because of my life purpose now, I probably have had three of them throughout my life, is to share what I’ve learned with others in the hopes that it might give them something to think about to help them on their way to fulfillment, joy, happiness and making this a better world.
It’s so important that people share what they’ve learned. That’s why I work with so many people who are mentors and different things. You live in Prague, right?Let's help each other on our way to fulfillment, joy, and happiness to make this a better world. Click To Tweet
I do. I’m an American, but I’m married to a Czech lady, born in Slovakia. We live in Prague. Chateau Mcely is located outside of Prague in a forest high on a hill with a great vista. We can get to that as we talk about, “How did I travel this path? What did I learn? Why did I do it?“
I want to get a backstory on you because I touched on so quickly some of the things you’ve done. Where would you like to begin? Do you want to start with your backstory?
Yes. I didn’t know this at the beginning. As we get older, we learn some things. We’d like to think we get a little bit wiser. One of the things that I’ve learned is that life’s purpose is an incredibly important thing and I’ll tell you why. Let me start by saying, we all know that there are a number of global threats that we‘re dealing with that potentially could even be existential threats, things like climate change, nuclear proliferation and the pandemic. One that I’m not very happy with is I call it toxic leadership. We’ve seen that all around the world, social inequality, mass migration and pollution. The list goes on.
In any way, I think that everyone dreams. Every single person that comes into this world early on before they get confused, if they do get confused, all dream of making a difference and that’s through a life purpose. Everybody wants to do something that makes the world a little bit better. They may tell you they want to make a lot of money. They may tell you they want to get highly promoted to become the president of this or that. They may indeed want to do that, but behind all of that, they want to do something and that is to change the world a little bit for the better.
The reason I think life purpose is important and it’s rolled up in what I’ve said is that if you truly find your life purpose and you may have 1, 2 or 3 of them throughout the world. I can explain to you how that happens. If you find your life purpose and hopefully you do, it winds up creating personal fulfillment. Also, because you have more and more people who are fulfilled, joyous and they’re enjoying their life, it also leads to a number of what I would say are inspirational leaders. These two things, as we increase the number of people who are happy with their lives and the number of inspirational leaders who could help change things. That is one of the fundamental secrets behind and what I discover over the years, sustainable humanity so that we don’t have to deal in–depth with all of these crazy issues that we are dealing with.
When I look back after my life, what I found is that there is a path to fulfillment, joy and happiness. This is the condensed version of how I look at it. I think every single person, you, myself, everyone we know who’s a healthy human being is born into this world with something they’re good at, some kind of asset. I call it their essence. It could be a hard skill like they’re good in the arts, music, dance, sports, science, math, writing languages or whatever. It could be something like a soft skill, which could be something like leadership, courage and compassion. Maybe they’re resilient, a team player or a great communicator. Everybody comes with one or more of these, either hard or soft, or both types of capabilities.
What I think is the hardest part of this path to fulfillment is the first step and that is to, first of all, discover what you’re good at. Don’t think about how you’re going to get a job to make a lot of money. Think about what you’re good at. This can take a week, a month or years. You need to continue to look in the world and see, “Where is there a need that with my skills, I could address that?” When you find the right one, you find your life purpose and I’ve done that with my life. I spent 30 years in Silicon Valley with many of my colleagues there and many of the CEOs who I knew. What happens is it creates an incredible level of passion. That passion manifests itself as energy, both physical energy and emotional energy. In fact, you often find yourself skipping dinner or lunch, maybe not sleeping as much because you’re so energetic. I’m sure you have felt that. Everybody has felt that. They forget to eat because whatever they’re doing, they love.
When you have that energy, what psychologists have found is that it tightly links the left and right sides of the brain so that you increase a dramatic connection between the analytical and the intuitive or creative side of your brain. That allows you to solve problems like you’ve never thought you could solve before. You become amazed at the solutions that you can create. That leads often to innovation, doing something new. When you innovate, you get a reward. The reward can be financial, psychological, emotional, spiritual or some combination. What I found is when you get those rewards if you follow that path, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by gratefulness. When you have this kind of gratefulness, it leads to long-term fulfillment, joy and happiness. I don’t mean for a minute that you feel that way every second. Nobody can do that.
Curiosity falls into that mix because I’m an expert in that area. My dissertation was emotional intelligence. I speak of soft skills, curiosity, perception and those kinds of things. Where do you think of curiosity is? To me, when I was looking at what inhibits curiosity, that was what I thought was so important. If you could have that spark of curiosity, then that leads to the motivation engagement, drive, interaction and all the things you’re talking about. Where does curiosity fall in your way of thinking?
I think curiosity is a valuable tool. One of the things that diminishes curiosity in my mind is fear. If you’re preoccupied with something that you’re concerned about and it could be from intense fear to a very mild level of fear, that cannot do anything but diminish your capability of expressing your curiosity and the way that could lead to wonderful findings for you. Fear, as we all know, tends to constrict. It chokes. The stronger it is, the more it chokes you. Everybody gets fear at one time but learning how to control it is a good path to helping you be a little bit more curious about what’s going on around you and what you’re doing. That can lead to innovation and creativity, of course.
That ties so much into my research. I thought fear was going to be so much more than everything else, but it was one of the main factors. Those are fear, assumptions, the thoughts in our heads telling us we’re not going to like something or whatever it is, technology, the over and underutilization of it, and our environment, people around us, what they’ve said and how they’ve guided us. I love that you tied it right into my research. That’s great.
I completely agree with what you said. It’s the idea of assumptions and the environment, for example. Many of us as children, if you’re interested in something that your parents, teachers, the media or your friends, a whole bunch of people think, “That would make a great job.” You get a lot of encouragement. Take the 10 or 12–year–old boy or girl who is good in the arts. They’re a great writer. They can draw, dance and sing. They are artistically inclined. The first thing that some people will say to them is, “That’s wonderful, Johnny or Jane, but how are you going to make a living at that?“ Before you know it, if they’re young enough and they hear it enough, they get talked out of something that they’re relatively very good at. Just because you’re good in the arts doesn’t mean you have to be Pablo Picasso. There are a lot of things you can do.
That goes along with Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on how we’re educating people out of our competencies, with our creativity and all that. You brought up an important point. You help people with your experiences. You mentioned you’ve had maybe seven different lives that you’ve lived and different things that you’ve created. What was the most interesting thing that you’ve done that has shaped you to where you are now?
Let me tell you what they were. First of all, I discovered early on we all have these giants in our life. One was my mother, who got me into entertainment. The other was my father, who wanted me to be a physician. He brought me a chemistry set. I didn’t want to be a doctor, but he’s certainly not a doctor of medicine. It catalyzed my whole interest in chemistry, physics and mathematics. I didn’t think about this when I was young but if I look back, my hard skills were science, math and entrepreneurship. My soft skills were leadership, communications and entertainment.
Here’s how they manifest themselves. I’m the oldest of ten children. There are six girls and four boys. My mother was pregnant every two years. She was home with babies. My father was a postman. He didn’t make much money. We grew up in Elizabeth and Newark, New Jersey, not far from Newark Airport. We had to go to work because my father couldn’t cut it with all of the kids. The girls went to work cleaning houses or babysitting and the boys sold newspapers. Growing up in the cold, New Jersey winters, I wanted an inside job. My mother, one of the giants in my life said, “Jim, you’re good at singing. You’re good on that piano, kidding around playing by ear. How about if dad gets you one of his friends to teach you pop music and you start a little band? Maybe you could make money that way.”
I did and I made money with a little band, playing for dances at high school, weddings and you name it. One thing led to another. We lived across the river from Manhattan. I got into recording. The next thing you knew, I was recording records and we made an album. I was traveling with the pioneers of rock and roll music, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and The Crickets. These were my colleagues when I was 15, 16, 17 years old. It was a cool time to do it because rock was very simple then, even though there were a lot of crazy people in the business. As a teenager, it’s something that you could manage. There I was doing rock and roll, but I had this thing in my heart for Science. I couldn’t escape it. Even while I was playing with the group, I eventually got an undergraduate in Chemistry and Math and then a doctorate in Physical Chemistry.
Now, I said, “I got to get a daytime job.” That’s when I went to Corporate America as a scientist. I went to Exxon. They hired me. I was a research scientist working with them and eventually became their Director of Research for Catalytic Science & Technology. That was to play a very big role in my future, becoming an expert in catalytic technology. After seven years, my entrepreneurial bug was bothering me and I had to start a company. A friend of mine said, “What do you say we do that?” This was in 1974 at the height of one of the worst recessions in America with 21% interest rates. I had a great job, but I was so passionate about the idea of taking my capability, my skill in catalytic science and using it to help companies make processes, which are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly. This was doing something for the betterment of the world. I never thought about it back then that way, but that was what I wanted to do. That was my passion.
My friend and I got in the car. We drove out to Silicon Valley and moved our families out there. We started a company called Catalytica. Eventually, when the markets came back, it morphed into two public companies. One, Catalytic Combustion Systems, which we invented and produced a way to burn natural gas with no pollution. Unfortunately, we were too early because they hadn’t passed the laws yet. That one did okay, but it didn’t fly too well. We finally sold it to a Japanese company. The next one was a superhit. That was a home run. We started a pharmaceutical company. We did that with venture capital. We ultimately raised almost $300 million to build this company. We went from 5 people to 2,300 in less than five years. We were on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange valued at over $1 billion.
What we did is we were contract research companies and manufacturing. For example, Pfizer invested $20 million in us because they saw that we were capable of developing processes for their new drugs that were coming in the pipeline. That’s one. The second thing, at that time, they weren’t great at manufacturing. They gave us a lot of their manufacturing as did many of the other pharmaceutical companies. We manufactured over 75 major prescription drugs for companies around the world. We were the largest contract manufacturer of drugs in North America. We had three plants, one in California, one in Michigan and one in North Carolina.
Did you do any for AstraZeneca? I’m curious since I worked there. Were they the ones that you’ve worked with?
We did some work for AstraZeneca. I think it was before they became AstraZeneca.
They were probably just Zeneca. That was when I was working back there.
That was what we were doing. What happened was and here is how you travel a path and come to a crossroad. Every one of these things came to me at a crossroad. The next thing that happened is that our biggest competitor in Holland, DSM Pharmaceuticals, made our shareholders an offer they couldn’t refuse. We sold the company and made a lot of people very happy. Jane was writing this. She wrote a screenplay for our daughter. She wanted her to start it. Ironically, the title of the movie was called What Matters Most. I took the screenplay to Paramount Pictures. I met with the Chairperson Sherry Lansing, who was the Head of the Paramount at the time. She said, “Jim, this is a great screenplay, but Jane wants to direct the film and she’s never directed a film before. We can’t do that.” I said, “This is like a chicken and egg thing.”
I had sold my company and had some money. I said to Jane, “Let’s start a movie company.” I started Chateau Wally Films. Chateau Wally was the name of the estate that we lived in Ojai, California near Santa Barbara. We started this film company. We were going out to Texas. Unfortunately, here’s the fork in the road. It was 3.5 weeks before we left for Texas, Jane found out that she had stage 4 breast cancer. She knew what was going to happen. I knew what was going to happen. It was bad. I said, “Jane, what do you want to do?” She said, “I want to direct this movie. I want to make it.” I arranged for her to get chemotherapy in Amarillo, Texas, while we were shooting the film four weeks in the panhandle of Texas. We finished the film on May 1st, 2001. Jane passed away on June 1st, but she got to see the movie.
What was the movie name again?
It’s What Matters Most. It’s now available on video on Amazon and some of the other places.
Who starred in that?
Marshall Teague was one of the people. I can‘t remember the guy who played the woman doctor.
I know there are so many things. It must have been such bittersweet for your wife.
What I did is I brought it back to Sherry and she said, “This is a great movie, but not for a Paramount because they’re not A-type actors.” She said, “Why don’t you take it to Lifetime Television and tell them I sent you?” I did. They took the movie. It became one of their best films ever. They renewed the contract twice and then it went on to be released in 50 countries.
I’m sorry your wife didn’t get to see that. That’s amazing. The movie gets out there. It does this huge success. What do you do? Where did you go from there?
I was sitting in my home near Santa Barbara in Ojai. A friend came to visit with his wife and her girlfriend from Prague was visiting, Inez, my wife. She got out of the car and I fell instantly in love with her. I never intended to get married again. I had three grandchildren, but things being what they were, I got on the next flight. I came to Prague and found out that she was CEO of a heritage restoration company that she had left, restoring old buildings. She had bought an old rundown castle, which had been 50 years without anybody in it. It was built in the 17th century. She wanted to renovate it. She wanted to turn it into something special, which would be like an oasis of R&R of body, mind and spirit.
It was more of a spiritual endeavor and I said, “Great, let’s do it. I didn’t know anything about castles, but I know about people.” We did that. We opened Chateau Mcely in 2006. It has become an international award–winning castle hotel. It has won all kinds of awards in Central Europe. In fact, we were voted the World’s Leading Green Hotel because of how we generate a lot of our own energy, electricity and that sort of thing. Now, what I do is I have used Chateau Mcely as a base. I bring changemakers like Lance Secretan, Deepak Chopra and others like that to teach courses at Chateau Mcely. We have corporate programs in inspirational leadership and finding your life purpose.
What I decided to do with my writing was to leave the idea of nonfiction because I‘ve written a number of those books like Balance: The Business – Life Connection, where you have to balance what you do in your personal life and professional life, which is extremely difficult. I decided I am going to write what I call Wisdom Fiction. I thought that would capture a larger audience, which I could share my thoughts with. It’s presenting an entertaining narrative something that’s like a thriller, which integrates lessons that I’ve learned, concepts that create a more fulfilling life like life purpose, inspirational leadership and elevated consciousness.The younger people don't want to inherit the kind of world they see coming towards them. They want to change it. Click To Tweet
That’s what I’ve begun to do. I was getting some very good feedback. I Can See Clearly: Rise of a Supernatural Hero is one of my first novels to do this. In this story, a talented teenager is seeking the meaning of life and his life purpose while fighting the grips of the CIA, who wants him to work for them as a spy against the Russians, North Koreans and Chinese because he has these special superpowers. It‘s how it comes to grips with that and brings it to an ending. I’m excited about it.
That’s a great story. Is it going to be a movie someday?
My son-in-law is a Screenplay Writer and Director–Producer. I’m going to get him to introduce me to the folks at Netflix and Amazon and put together a pitch to see if they’d be interested. Everybody who reads the book tells me the same thing, “Can this be a movie or an episodic series?”
You need to connect with Sheila Barry Driscoll. She was on my show. Do you know her?
No, I don’t.
She’s from the Driscoll family of strawberries. I’m sure you probably tried a million strawberries from Driscoll‘s. She does venture capitalist activity in the entertainment space. She was great giving a lot of suggested input for the deck and all that for proposals. She is an interesting woman and she does a lot. She used to run the Billionaire Foundation to help billionaires connect together. I don’t think that‘s still a group anymore. It was a fascinating show. You might want to check that one out. That sounds like a great story.
I’ll look her up and see if there’s some commonality of interest there. It has great potential if the right team is put together behind the camera and in front of the camera. I have some experience making a movie. I know a little bit about what are some of the things that are important that has to go on.
You do so many interesting things. How do you determine what you’re going to do next? You’ve run all these companies. You’ve got Chateau, worked for Exxon and all these things that you’ve done. Do you think you’ll continue to write these books with wisdom fiction books or something else and movies? What’s next for you?
The main underpinning that drives me is, “How can I take what I’ve learned and share it with the world to help some people find fulfillment, joy, and happiness in their life and help make this a better world?” Whatever the medium is to do that, I will continue to do it. I will do it by writing fiction, but if it leads to making movies and episodic series, which have an even broader potential, I will focus my energy there. This particular book I wrote, I Can See Clearly, it’s part of a trilogy. In fact, I finished the first draft of the second book, book two. It’ll probably end in book three. It makes a neat package for some of the things that would be entertaining.
I also think the world is changing, especially the younger people. This is a 13 or 16 to 60 type of book in terms of years. They do not want to inherit the kind of world that they see coming towards them. They want to change it. They don’t want to deal with the aftermath of climate change without doing anything. They want to be serious about it. They want to be able to support healthcare in such a way that it deals with future pandemics in a much different way than the world has dealt with this one. They are going to be our future.
Those are some of the people who I’m trying to reach to give them hope and the tools to excite them to take their assets, their strengths and help make this a better world. Everything I do in the future will be based on that, whether it’s writing and/or movies. I can’t see much beyond that. Everything that has come at me has usually come unexpectedly by some change of events where I had to make some decision. I’m open as long as it does make the world a better place.
I was looking at some of your websites. I liked JimTheAlchymist.com. It is a great background for you. I also saw the Chateau Mcely web page. Those are beautiful rooms. It makes me want to go to Prague.
We have a special room for you if you come. Many of them are named after the continents or the months of the year. They don’t have numbers. They’re very specially decorated. My wife had a good touch at doing that.
I was looking at the one with the harp in it. I was like, “This is a beautiful room.” It’s so fun to get to learn more about what you worked on. I had seen everything in your bios and all the things that you had done, but you do even more. As we were talking, I was thinking, “You have had an amazing background of everything that you’ve worked on.” I would love to spend the time talking about quantum physics. I like to study astrophysics. I love Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book work and that type of thing. It was on PBS here in Arizona. We were watching Hemingway. They have a whole big background on him going on. Did you watch that by chance? You might find that interesting.
Yes. I’ve never got on this station. I saw it was PBS something.
Did they talk about his travels in Africa?
It’s a big series. I didn’t get to that part yet. I was just watching part of his life with his kids. My husband has been watching it. He loved it. He said it’s really great. I only had a few minutes of it. You might want to look for that because it looks pretty good.
Where is it? Is it on PBS?
Yes, PBS is where it was. It looks like a great thing. Maybe that will be the next thing is I’ll see your life story on PBS after Hemingway. It will be a fun thing to watch. I know a lot of people are reading this. They want to know where to find you, what to follow and how to learn more. Is there something you would like to share or some way?
JimTheAlchymist.com is the best way. I spelled it with a Y because that was the way it was spelled a couple of thousand years ago. Even if you spell it with an E like in the American dictionary, it will still come to my site. It has a lot about all of the books I’ve written. It has a lot about me. It even has a link to Chateau Mcely, our castle, hotel and spa. You can find out an awful lot of material there. There are even links to Amazon where the book is sold and other booksellers. That’s probably a wealth of information that you can find right there.
Thank you, Jim. This was so much fun. I hope someday to get to meet you in person and see your beautiful Chateau and all. Thank you so much for being on the show.
It was my pleasure, Diane. Good luck with all the work you’re doing. I’m sure it’s making a very positive difference. Take care.
Human Connection Through Communication With Riaz Meghji
I am here with Riaz Meghji, who is a Human Connection Expert. He has seventeen years of broadcast television experience. During that time as a Host on Citytv’s Breakfast Television, MTV Canada, TEDxVancouver, CTV News and Toronto International Film Festival, he interviewed thousands of experts about human connection and collaboration. He has done a lot of work that has gone into his book, Every Conversation Counts, which I saw had a little blurb on the front by a friend of the show, Michael Bungay Stanier. It’s so nice to have you here, Riaz.
Thanks, Diane. Michael is a good man. I’m not surprised he’s a good friend of yours. He’s a good connector. That’s for sure.
He’s a great guy. I got to meet him in person at the Thinkers50 event in London before everything went down where you couldn’t fly anywhere. It was nice to see him in person. He was on the show. For him to write something so wonderful about your book, I am sure that must have meant a lot. I want to talk about your book, but I want to get a backstory on you. I know you have this broadcast background. Can you tell me how you got to that point?
In 2002, I took a shot at going after something. Once upon a time at Simon Fraser University, I was on the path of finishing a Business degree to become an investment broker. After completing those studies, I was fortunate enough to have someone saw what I would do in business presentations and on the stage. He encouraged me to go after a career in the presentation space. It was at that time that in the early 2000s, the media landscape, specifically in Canada was a lot bigger with the diverse voices, stations and opportunities. I literally entered every contest. I worked unpaid internships. The first role I managed to land was an unpaid internship at MTV Canada and learned everything I could. When you’re an investment broker trying to make the natural transition to broadcasting, there’s a lot to learn. It was carving out the art of writing presence on camera. One thing led to another and here we are talking about it.
We definitely have that in common because I know I do a lot of videos with Dr. Gilda Carle, who was very much on the scene on the Sally Jessy Raphael Show. She’s been on everything from Howard Stern and whatever. When she and I started doing our media discussions about how to be on camera, there’s so much that goes into it that we hadn’t even thought about. Now, with Zoom having to be the way people communicate, there’s so much to talk about when it comes to talking about things. I’m very interested in Every Conversation Counts because you talked about these habits of human connection. You’ve got five habits. What are those five habits? Can we talk about them? We will go one at a time. How do you want to talk about them?Always maintain a beginner's mindset where there are infinite possibilities. Click To Tweet
There are five big habits when it comes to listening, connection and curiosity. The first one that I led with in this book and maybe it helps with the presence on camera is this habit of listening without distraction. I’ve found and discovered over the years, anytime you talk about listening, someone will roll their eyes, thinking, “Somebody else is going to tell me to become a better listener.” The science of how and why we connect and how our brains work was extremely fascinating. We all, as human beings, have this insatiable appetite for information, but on a scientific level of how our brains work, our brains were almost too smart for our good. Our brains can absorb 400 to 500 words per minute, yet the average person speaks at a rate of 125 words per minute. That’s why we truly have the capacity to multitask or get caught up in daydreaming or emotional distractions.
When we have the pure intention to connect with someone through the camera, which we’re doing virtually or we’re having a one-on-one conversation with someone. What if we could pinpoint those distractions getting in the way, have a heightened sense of awareness and manage them, so we’re able to give them our gift of undivided attention? That was one of the habits I doubled down on of how we listen with the questions we can ask to start to unlock some money and then documenting those subtle details they give us.
For example, we started this conversation with an uncommon commonality of Michael Bungay Stanier. If I were to come to you a week, month or year down the line and say, “I ran into Michael at a different event. I mentioned I was on your show, Diane. We had a great chat. Michael said this,” that will bring you back to the point that you would say, “Yes, he was listening to me. That was the smaller detail I threw out, but he remembered it.“ These little nuances will make a big difference, especially in this space of virtual communication.
You bring up a lot of interesting things because you brought up distraction. What kind of things distracts us?
There are many. If we take a look at baseline, technological distractions like smartphones, screens and the access to information. Everything moves so quickly in this culture of convenience. Technological distraction is a big one. Emotional distraction is also a very tricky one, especially in this polarized climate we’re living in. If the two of us are having a conversation and we have differing opinions, it is so easy to close off emotionally or get emotionally overwhelmed if it’s a heated discussion. Our emotions mute what somebody is trying to introduce. I think there’s a great opportunity for all of us if we’re going to be great listeners.
This was the advice a producer gave me on MTV when I first started back in the day of, “Always maintain a beginner’s mindset.” In the beginner’s mind, there are infinite possibilities, but in the expert‘s, there are only a few. Emotional distractions definitely get in the way. With the simple notion of multitasking or daydreaming, we try to do more than we potentially need to do every single day. When we cram all of that in, the question is, “What is our presence and how are we providing attention to the task at hand or to the person in front of us?“
It’s so important to think about that. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence and its impact on sales performance because I was so interested in the things that impacts our performance. I can remember being a rep not listening to what the doctor‘s issues were at the beginning because I was so distracted by what I needed to say to sell them. I could see how people get that you get in your head and you think, “I got to do this. I better say that.” Sometimes you miss the next thing. I guess that’s what led to my interest in studying curiosity. That’s where I ended up in that space when meeting Michael because of my work in curiosity. Curiosity is the key to so many things. If you’re curious, you’re going to ask the questions that develop empathy that develop a lot of this that I studied. You talked about being assertively empathetic. I want to know what you mean by that.
That’s one of the key habits focused on the book. Curiosity can be the kryptonite for distraction and keeps that learning mindset. Assertive empathy operates under the guise of, “How can we discover before we dismiss?” When there are competing ideas or values, we could be so quick as a defense mechanism to shut it down and say, “No, this is the way it is.“ We’re thinking about what we want to say as opposed to, “If we want to influence or persuade somebody, how do we understand what’s motivating them or what’s missing for them and acknowledging them before we start challenging them with their own curiosity?” Step one in that discovery is acknowledging that person, where they’re at and what they’re working through, especially when that news is tough. There have been tough situations we have to relay and communicate.
Once we’ve acknowledged them, recapping that we understand them as opposed to assuming where they’re at or what they’re feeling and then bringing in the logic. Once that relationship is established, relationship first, logic second, is to focus on what you can agree on of, “What is the common goal here? What is the real challenge? What would it take for this to work for us so we get to a place assertively?” We’re understanding them. We’re feeling where they’re at. We’re moving to a place where we’re on the same side of collaboration versus competing ends of a confrontation. In the curiosity and logic piece, I believe if we use that once we prioritized the relationship, assertive empathy will help us get to productive outcomes.
It also helps a lot with our perception of the situation. It’s just that sometimes you don’t know that your vantage point is so different from somebody else’s. I wrote with Dr. Maja Zelihic about perception because we thought this is so important. It’s IQ, EQ, CQ for Curiosity Quotient and Cultural Quotient combined when you look at perception. If you can have that empathy and get out of your own space trying to see things from other people’s perspectives, that’s huge. I know you had said to make people feel famous through the power of appreciation. I think appreciation is huge. I remember working with a guy who would send everybody pretty much the same email, “You’re the best. You’re the greatest.” Everybody would go, “Here’s another letter saying I’m the best.” How do you make people feel famous through the power of appreciation without being that guy?
Practice specificity. A simple example as you described that guy. That is so prevalent that no matter what somebody does, whether it’s good or bad, some people are reluctant even to give constructive feedback. They’ll just say, “Great job.” I think those two words, “Great job,“ are such a missed opportunity to truly recognize and appreciate what someone may have done and how valuable their contribution could be. To practice specificity is looking at the simple idea of praise. If you, Diane, have done this brilliant show on emotional intelligence as the behavioral expert that you are to say, “That episode you did, Diane, opened my eyes to how I can live more intentionally and do things differently.” That is so much more valuable than me just emailing you and saying, “Diane, great episode,” because that gives you nothing.Curiosity can be the kryptonite for distraction and keeps that learning mindset. Click To Tweet
How do we make it specific? How do we make it urgent? As soon as that episode comes out, it’s a vulnerable position to be in. If you’re a presenter or a leader who’s sharing an idea in a public space, we’re never going to have 100% approval or buy into our idea, but that immediate feedback you can receive is so valuable with the timing. It’s being specific with our praise, being urgent, being public, sharing it on social media, tagging Diane Hamilton and saying, “The work she is doing in the leadership space is so valuable.” Above all, making it personal of, “What you did was valuable, but here’s why,” so then the contributor or the person can realize they’re making a difference in somebody’s life. I feel like we’re missing that. I see this every single day of generic appreciation as opposed to practicing specificity in the praise we could potentially give someone.
That’s why Doug Conant is so famous for what he did at Campbell Soup. I taught so many business classes that they gave the case study of that. He wrote 30,000 plus handwritten notes to his employees and took their engagement through the roof compared to where it was. That specificity is something that he did. He focused on these individuals of what they did. I don’t know if he had any idea that he’d end up writing that many notes. His eyes rolled in his head as he mentioned how many. It made a difference. We often forget to acknowledge certain things in certain ways.
I also want to talk about how you write about the importance of crafting compelling stories because I’ve had so many Hall of Fame speakers on the show. It doesn’t matter who it is. If they’re a great speaker, they all say, “You have to have good storytelling. You take a story. You blow it up to a bigger size. Make it this. Make it that.” That’s a hard thing for a lot of people to do. They could tell a boring story or they can tell a story that’s maybe not funny or not anything that grabs compelling. How do you do that? What kind of advice do you give?
If someone reading this is thinking they want to become a better storyteller, the starting point I always look at is coming up with a list of your top ten. I’ve had some leaders say to me, “What if I don’t have any great stories to tell?” If you’re in a position where your career is developing, you’ve gone through some things if you’ve moved up the ranks. The simple baseline is, “What is the conflict and failure that exist in your narrative?” When you have that, a simple framework I get for any story is, “Struggle, conflict and resolution.” I doubled down on the human connection piece. Before anyone is going to cheer for our success, they need to feel and relate to what the struggle is. Connection happens in the struggle. If you’re going to tell that story, start as late as you can with what the struggle was.
Many people say to me, “Attention span in virtual. It’s tough and difficult.“ Even not in virtual, if somebody is on stage for 45 minutes to an hour, how do you keep their attention? If you’re watching your favorite show on Netflix, you’re binge-watching it and your attention span is fine because they’ve built a narrative that makes you care. Whatever story I’m going to tell, I always think, “Who’s the audience? What’s my purpose? What’s my conflict or failure? What’s the teaching point I can give them?” I try to bring them into the struggle. I articulate the high stakes with the conflict here, “If I didn’t make this decision, the business would have folded. This was a life–and–death decision.”
In the end, I try to release that tension with the resolution of, “Here’s what happened. More importantly, here’s the teaching point,” so the audience is going to be thinking the entire time, “What’s the point? What’s in it for me?“ They’ve been taken on an emotional journey of the struggle. If they face the conflict, they ask themselves, “What happened next?” They got a lesson that they could apply to their own lives and hopefully, have better days after it.
It was so funny because I had Kate Adams on the show. She did a TEDx that was great. It was Life Lessons Learned From Soap Operas. I was thinking as you were saying that how we don’t lose our attention. I could have watched Lost the whole way through. No problem. In which it was basically a soap opera of, “What happens next?” You keep people on the edge of their seats. It’s hard for some of us. I was thinking of Susan Cain writing Quiet and how I’ve seen her speak. She’s not the type who runs across the stage doing wild things, but her message was compelling. Sometimes we all think we have to be Zig Ziglar or whatever when we’re communicating into a group or up on the stage. What do you tell people who are more introverted when they’re communicating on camera, even if it’s virtually and they’re used to being around extroverts who were all loud and different than they are? What advice would you give them?
A compelling message starts with listening to what the audience needs. Before I take a stage or do anything in terms of a virtual keynote, I’m always using that intentional curiosity that we talked about on in this conversation of understanding what’s missing and what they need right now. That helps alleviate the anxiety of the uncertainty that will happen anytime you speak. When people ask me, “How do I get past speaking anxiety,” number one and then two, “How do I make myself compelling on stage?”
If we are dialed into what that audience needs at any given point of time, when we begin, they realize, “He’s speaking to me. He knows what I’m going through.” That makes a huge difference to unlock them because they want more than because it’s about them. I always say, “Look at you as greater than look at me.” As a speaker and presenter, I want to be that giver instead of the taker of the validation they can give me through applause and praise and operate with a service mentality.
As you were talking about speakers, that’s so important. A lot of speakers are hurting because a lot of people aren’t traveling, obviously and they’re not being hired. How do you see these affecting people who are in that space and they’re trying to make a living doing this? Is there a way that they could be getting more business through virtual presence that maybe they’re missing?
Double down on YouTube content. Here’s what I’ve learned. When the pandemic started, I hired a YouTube coach because YouTube was always an afterthought. I came from a broadcasting background, so I always dismissed it. That was my fault where I said, “That’s a fun hobby platform to play on.” I failed to understand the value of YouTube. For six months, I did videos every single week, understanding that YouTube operates on an algorithm where you can be discovered. If you use YouTube effectively, how you title your videos, tag your videos and if your content is great, you could appear on the first search page of a topic. For example, you talked about virtual presence, “How to elevate your virtual presence?” If you titled that correctly, companies are looking for that topic, “How do we elevate our virtual presence?“
If your video shows up as a speaker instead of a potential VP of HR or event organizer reading a blog, which may have some valuable takeaways, if they’re seeing you on video, which virtually that’s how their audience is going to see you, it develops a sense of trust with, “I like this energy. I like this person. I love this message,” to the point where you can use YouTube to generate your leads, trust and the reach. The thing we’ve learned from virtual is accessibility around the world. You could be doing keynotes outside of your national market simply because if you’re consistently showing up on YouTube and it’s good, people will find you.
How long are the videos you recommend for that thing? You hear everything from 3 to 5 minutes and then people are doing longer. Some people are doing shorter. What advice would you give people for that?
This is my business degree coming in, Diane. YouTube has amazing analytics of seeing watch time. A good YouTube video is considered to have a retention rate for your watch time of 40% and above. I like to do them between 6 and 7 minutes to keep them bite-sized. If you have somebody who’s watching continuously for about 3.5, 4 minutes, YouTube will recognize that as good content. Personally, I try to keep it tight and bright, address the problem and hit the key tips someone can take away in about seven minutes. However, on the platform, if you make your videos longer than ten minutes and you have over 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time in any given year, you can monetize your channel. For videos longer than ten minutes, you can add advertisements at the beginning, middle and end.
It’s definitely a popular thing. It’s interesting to see how we’ve gone to different platforms and different social media areas. I don’t know if you’re doing anything with Clubhouse with there being all audio. Is that something that you’ve dabbled in? Are you still seeing more on YouTube?
I love Clubhouse‘s format. They were very smart with what they did in the pandemic, creating access to a fireside chat you’d have at a conference, but we can’t travel. It’s less friction to get to the big names because they have big names playing on the platform. With that said, what happens with Clubhouse versus YouTube? For me, I prefer YouTube simply because as a presenter, it’s a visual medium. YouTube is evergreen content. Diane, we could create a video together tomorrow and it could be discovered next year or the year after. There’s such a sense of immediacy with likes, shares and retweets on social media where you need velocity right away, but YouTube could be discovered in another country months or a year later. Your content, if it’s evergreen, is still relevant. It stands the test of time and can consistently generate your leads.
One thing I tried to do with the radio show is to keep evergreen content. I incorporate this show into my courses I teach and in many of my entrepreneurship and leadership courses. This is so helpful. Everybody who’s reading this is going to want to find out more from you. This was fun to hear about Every Conversation Counts: The 5 Habits of Human Connection That Build Extraordinary Relationships. I would love for people to be able to find you and learn more about you, either buy your book or whatever. Is there some kind of site or something you’d like to share?
Yes, thanks for the opportunity. It’s RiazMeghji.com. Everything about the book, message and access to the YouTube videos to help with human connection and even virtual communication is all there.
I hope that everybody takes some time to look up your book. Riaz, it’s been so much fun having you on the show. Thank you so much.
Thanks for the thoughtful questions. I was intimidated looking at your profile. I thought, “I hope I fit in on this one.” I appreciate it.
You were great. Thank you for that. That’s nice of you. This was fun. We have so much in common. I’m sure we could talk all day.
I want to thank Jim and Riaz for being my guests. We get so many great shows. I love having all these amazing guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can catch them at DrDianeHamilton.com. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Chateau Mcely
- I Can See Clearly
- The Alchemist Within You
- Every Conversation Counts
- Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk
- Balance: The Business – Life Connection
- Sheila Barry Driscoll – Previous episode
- Billionaire Foundation
- Michael Bungay Stanier – Previous episode
- Dr. Gilda Carle
- Dr. Maja Zelihic
- Doug Conant – Previous episode
- Kate Adams – Previous episode
- Life Lessons Learned From Soap Operas – Kate Adams TEDx Talk
About James A. Cusumano
James A. Cusumano (www.JamesCusumano.Com) is chairman and owner of Chateau Mcely (www.chateaumcely.cz/en/homepage), chosen in 2007 by the European Union as the only Green 5-star, castle hotel in Central Europe, and in 2008 by the World Travel Awards as The World’s Leading Green Hotel. Chateau Mcely offers programs that promote the principles of Inspired and Conscious Leadership, finding your Life Purpose and Long-Term Fulfillment. He began his career during the 1950s in the field of entertainment as a recording artist. Years later, after a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, business studies at Stanford and a Foreign Fellow of Churchill College at Cambridge University, he joined Exxon as a research scientist and later became their research director for Catalytic Science & Technology. Dr. Cusumano subsequently co-founded two public companies in Silicon Valley, Catalytica Energy Systems, Inc.–devoted to clean power generation; and Catalytica Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which manufactured drugs via environmentally-benign, low-cost, catalytic technologies. While he was chairman and CEO, Catalytica Pharmaceuticals grew in less than five years, from several employees to more than 2,000 and became greater than a $1 billion enterprise on the NASDAQ stock exchange before being sold.
About Riaz Meghji
Riaz Meghji is a Human Connection Expert. He has 17 years of broadcast television experience, and, during his time as host on Citytv’s Breakfast Television, MTV Canada, TEDxVancouver, CTV News, and the Toronto International Film Festival, has interviewed thousands of experts about human connection and collaboration, undertaking critical training that helped shape the tangible takeaways he shares to make in his new book, Every Conversation Counts.
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