The Culture Of Creativity with Kevin Freiberg and Sales, Messaging, And Pageantry with Wendi Russo

Kevin Freiberg, worldwide bestselling author and keynote speaker, talks about leadership and the difference it makes to businesses and brands. Taking us to his book, CAUSE!, he aligns the importance of leaders to create brands into noble and worthy causes. He shares the backstory that inspired him as he talks about the need for a culture that inspires creativity in an organization, removing people out of the sameness in a world that is constantly innovating. Kevin also shares the message of his other book, Brochy Ball, on tying leadership, team chemistry, and business together.
Wendi Russo, salesleader for the Home Shopping Network and a mentor and trainer to women entering the Television field, brings us into her expertise as we explore the things we need to know about sales, messaging, and pageantry. She gives great pointers that help you sell something in a short amount of time. Going from selling fashion to pharmaceuticals, she talks about selling different items and finding what they call as the chewy center. Moving closer to that is her background in pageantry where she shares the importance of coming across as your natural self.

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I’m so glad you joined us because we have Kevin Freiberg and Wendi Russo. Kevin is a worldwide bestselling author and keynote speaker. Wendi is a TV host with HSN. She’s a sales coach benefit auctioneer and motivational speaker. She does a lot of things. They both do. It’s going to be an interesting show.

Listen to the podcast here

The Culture Of Creativity with Kevin Freiberg

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CAUSE!: A Business Strategy for Standing Out in a Sea of Sameness

I am here with Dr. Kevin Freiberg, who is a worldwide bestselling author and keynote speaker. He and his wife, Jackie, are the Founders of San Diego Consulting Group Inc. His book, CAUSE! is about leaders who make a difference and brands that try to be a noble and worthy cause. It’s interesting what you’re doing with your work and working with your wife doing that work and having written eight business books. I’m excited to talk to you. Kevin, welcome.

Thanks, Diane. Great to be here.

I am excited to know more about your book, CAUSE!, but I wanted to know a little bit of background of how you and your wife started working together and what led to this. Can you give us some backstory?

We’re going to write a new book pretty soon on how to write eight books and stay married. We both went through a Doctoral program many years ago where we ended up writing separate Doctoral dissertations on Southwest Airlines. I wrote one on Herb Kelleher and she wrote one that was more organizationally focused. We turned that into a book that got us started down the road of writing and speaking. It was an incredible journey although I will tell her that it ruined us. When your first book out the shoot is Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines, you get ruined because they’re such an incredible story. He’s such an incredible leader that everything that comes after, you nose her against that backdrop. All of our work has been focused on chasing down renegade companies that are doing things in the marketplace. Everybody else says it can’t be done, but they’re doing it. They’re winning That’s what excites us.

I teach a lot of business courses still. Southwest is always listed as one of the great places to work. I imagine that was a very interesting thing to study that I can see why you both were drawn to Southwest because they are unique. I have a lot of courses where we deal with not only culture but innovation and a lot of the things with your creativity, you talk about a lot of these things. That led to my interest in writing my book about curiosity because innovation is going to be a hot topic. It’s going to be critical to every organization. I know you’re talking about culture and all the different things that we need to do and if we can make the culture more creative. It all begins with curiosity in my research at least it sparks the desire to be motivated, to be innovative, to be productive. Why do you think that innovation is going to be important to every organization in the coming years?

Let me say I couldn’t agree with you more. Curiosity is such a linchpin, the fulcrum. What precedes curiosity is humility. Do I believe I know it all or is there something more to learn? Have I arrived or are we on a journey? Curiosity is fueled by that. I love what you’ve written about and what you’re what you’re talking about. Innovation is so critical because we live in a world where everyone and everything around you is constantly getting better. Technology waits for literally no one. A smarter, more sophisticated customer, consumer who’s wired and dangerous. Once a different experience, you’ve got investors out there that are more demanding and they want a better return. All of that speaks to the critical need for innovation.

You can’t settle. You have to think different about the future and decide. Are we going to carve a path and create a culture toward being disruptors or are we going to be among the disrupted? I tell clients frequently. I said, “Whether you know it or not, there’s somebody out there lurking in the weeds somewhere that is training to kick your butt. You never arrive.” I don’t know if your readers would know the letters A B J, but they will before long. I’ll guarantee you because it stands for Amazon, Berkshire and JP Morgan. That’s the latest nonprofit organization. You think about it, the largest retailer, a multinational conglomerate and largest bank in the US have got together and shut the whole system is broke. We’re going to create our own or who in healthcare would think that there’s a potential in the next couple of years to be competing with the likes of Bezos and Warren Buffett and Jamie Diamond? There’s always somebody out there that’s coming to take you on.

[bctt tweet=”What precedes curiosity is humility.” username=””]

I love going back to what you said on the humility precedes curiosity. I want to tie that into what we’re talking about here because the four things I found that impact curiosity were fear, assumptions, technology, and environment. A lot of that humility comes from what we’ve learned in our environment and our fear of how we’re going to be perceived. All the things that we’ve experienced in our past. I couldn’t agree more. That’s an important point because we need to develop humility, emotional intelligence, a lot of those soft skills that we are developing. That’s going to lead to a culture that is innovative. Is there such a thing as a cultural mindset for innovation and how do innovators think differently in your mind?

List of attributes is pretty long, but one of the things that we have witnessed over eight books in almost 30 years now is it seems like the companies that have created a culture of innovation have made it safe for people to question the unquestionable. You say, “What are the unquestionables?” The unquestionables are deeply held, taken for granted, tried and true assumptions about the way we think our industry works, about the way we think our business works. The deeply held assumptions about what we think our employees are truly capable of achieving or what our customers want. Part of leveraging curiosity and creating a culture of innovation is you’ve got to make it safe for people to challenge those assumptions. I’ll give you a quick example. I don’t know if you know the name Devi Shetty. I’ve made many trips to India over the last years. Devi Shetty is one of the world’s foremost heart specialists. He’s questioned the way things work in healthcare. He said, “Why is it that only 10% of the people in the world that need open heart surgery can afford it? Why do we have over two and a half million cases of open-heart surgery in India, but we don’t have the ability to do 90,000 surgery here?”

He founded NH Hospital. It is the Walmart or the assembly line approach to open heart surgery, which sounds terrible except for the fact that he’s doing three times more open-heart surgeries than our busiest heart centers here in the US. He’s doing it with better mortality and infection rates. He’s doing it for roughly under $2,000 per surgery. That’s somebody who’s taken and questioned the unquestionable and say, “Is there a different way to do this?” What is very interesting is he’s partnered with Ascension Healthcare in the US to build very large heart hospital in the Grand Cayman Islands 60 minutes from Miami. My question is do you think what they’re going to do there has the ability to disrupt what we think is possible over here in our broken health care system? Great leaders have the courage to open the door and say question it, challenge it. If there’s a better way, let’s figure it out. Let’s not be held hostage by this.

Let’s make it safe to question the questionable because that’s exactly what I’m trying to get people to do as well. Your example reminds me a little bit of his example I included in my book about a hospital having inefficiency and one of the leader’s pit crew changing tires so quickly. They thought how efficiently can we bring them in? They did bring them in and all of a sudden the efficiency went up amazingly after that. You have to be able to look outside of what you think you know. The assumptions you and I both mentioned assumptions. I found so many people don’t know what they don’t know because they don’t look outside what they think is their world. They live within this realm. It’s important to think outside of what other industries even within your own company outside of silos even. We don’t see enough of that. I was drawn to what you do because of your book, CAUSE!: A Business Strategy For Standing Out In A Sea Of Sameness. It was interesting because I’m trying to get people to get out of sameness to explore areas that maybe weren’t even considered before and without fear. Is that the core message? What is your core message?

The core message of that book is you can’t be a leader by playing follow the reader. You can’t stand out by trying to fit in. You’ve got to do things differently. Diane, I don’t know if you would agree with this, but we’ve been doing these engagements studies at Gallup started with Q12 questionnaire years ago. We’re still writing about it and it appears to me that we have cracked the code because the numbers and the results are about the same as they were when they started that thing. 74% of people are either disengaged or actively disengaged. Jack and I have said, “I don’t think we’ve cracked the code on that.” The message of that book is what is it that causes people to get it out when they’re building a business or starting a new enterprise? What is it that causes people to dredge through the demons of doubt and the critics that are firing arrows at you when you’re trying to do something game changing and innovative?

Our answer is it’s solving a problem. That’s what we’re solving. It’s solving a problem that matters and doing something heroic with your gifts, talents, your culture and your enterprise. The message of the book is what if we could turn a business into a cause. What would follow is a movement and people opt into movements. They don’t have to be hornswoggled. They don’t have to be hogtied. You don’t put them in a headlock and drag them into buying into something. People join movements because the values of the movement are consistent with what they’re passionate about. The message of the book is what if we could stop thinking of our enterprises as corporations and LLCs and whatever, and start thinking of them as a cause?

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Bochy Ball! The Chemistry of Winning and Losing in Baseball, Business, and Life

I love that you talk about cracking the code because it was in my book, Cracking the Curiosity Code. It’s tough to crack the code. We’re both looking at things from different angles. You’re looking at what it is people do or don’t do. I’m looking at what holds them back. Both what you and I are doing is trying to find similar things and to get people out there to be more effective and more innovative. You’ve looked at it from different angles. Your book is called Bochy Ball!. It’s a play on Bochy Ball, but that was his last name. The New York Giants is the basis of this. You tie in leadership team chemistry and business together in this book. Can you tell a bit about it?

Bruce Bochy manages the San Francisco Giants, the baseball team. We’ve been friends for years. I’ve watched him lead when he was here in San Diego and then he moved to San Francisco. Diane, I will tell you that I saw in him the things that I’ve seen in great CEOs all over years of business. He just gets it. He’s got the whole package emotional intelligence. He’s got the guts. He’s innovative and creative. I approached him. I said, “I think there’s a book here.” He’s a very humble guy and this was after the first World Series. They won three World Series in five years. I said, “There’s a book here.” He’s so humble. He said, “Yes, I’m not ready to do that.” Finally after they won three, I talked to him at two. There are a number of lessons in that book that apply to CEOs and business leaders.

If you think about a professional sports franchise, they have to be connoisseurs of talent. They live and die by their ability to recruit great talent, to develop great talent, and get great talent to gel with each other. We have a wine group that we’re a part of it. If you think of wine connoisseurs, they read everything. They know everything. They know how to source wine. They go talk to the vineyards. They’re the go-to people. That’s true in a sports franchise, but what if we started thinking about talent in our businesses by connoisseurs. Where that was one of the linchpins in terms of how we grow our businesses and drive our business forward. We talk about that in the book. The other thing that makes him pretty extraordinary if you think about it you’ve got 25 guys. I hate to say it, but there are guys in this case that come from all over the world. They come from different cultures. They speak different languages. They get enclitics. Yet you’ve got to figure out how do we get them to gel? How do we make their differences become a source of strength versus a source of insecurity? How do we get them to work as one and function as one? That requires an incredible amount of emotional intelligence.

He has said, “We love misfits.” He’s got quirky, lanky pitcher that is probably smoking too much weight. He’s got the third baseman who’s a gifted talented guy. They’ve got to keep him out of the kitchen because he needs to keep his weight down. They’ve got the buttoned-down all-American catcher, but how do you make all those people work together? It’s an illustration of managing the creative tension that comes when you surround yourself with diversity. If you think about it from a business point of view, innovation feeds on multiple points of view. That’s partly curiosity is do I have the guts and the security to come to you because you’re radically different from me and be curious and ask you questions and say, “Diane, what are your thinking? How do you see it? What’s on your mind? What are you working on that’s interesting?” Many companies make it a source of insecurity.

Some of it is due to competition. It’s interesting you deal with sports metaphors and different things because there’s so much competition in sports. There are some questions of whether there should be so much competition in the workplace. I’m sure you saw a lot of the competitive spirit when you’re dealing with your book because they’re all or nothing. There’s not a moderation mentality there. That’s when they are either eating too much or smoking too much or whatever because they’re all in. In the workplace, you’ve got younger generations maybe who weren’t as competitive maybe because they won ribbons and whatever they say about them. It’s a different culture than when the Mad Men culture that I came in with when I first entered the workplace. I don’t know that people are getting the same sense of reward for what they come up with for ideas. In sports, you’re definitely rewarded. You get a trophy or you don’t. You win a game or you don’t. Do you think we need to be more competitive or less competitive or rewarded more? What’s the ticket to getting people more innovative?

Diane, I don’t know if I have the full answer to that question but what I do think that’s interesting if you were to analogize the sports metaphor is every year it’s spring training even if you’re a guy that’s got a long-term contract with the franchise you still play for a position because they’re going to play the best person on the field. I don’t know that I have the answer. I’m not even sure it’s the right question, but what if what if we had to reopen our organizations every couple of years with our teammates? I’m not smart enough to think about that myself. I read that from Ricardo Semler, who wrote a couple wonderful books. Imagine a company where manufacturing workers set their own salaries and set their own schedules and it works? That’s what Semler did in Brazil. It’s an amazing story, but what makes it work is those teammates have to re-up every six months or every year.

[bctt tweet=”Great leaders have the courage to open the door and question and challenge it.” username=””]

If I set my salary too high and I’m working with you and you go, “Kevin, I don’t think you’ve added that much value.” We ought to renegotiate that. We have to work that out. His whole system is if you treat people like adults, they’ll act like it and manage the exceptions. I’m amazed. I’m floored by the level of waste and redundancy that goes on in some of the client organizations we get into. I keep thinking to your point of competition, if we had to re-up every year or two, we had to re-up not with maybe our boss but with our teammates. Would we add more value? Would there be less waste? Would there be less redundancy? I don’t know. There might be.

It’s an interesting study to see what would happen. I don’t know that anybody’s going to be all-in in all organizations for that type of thing. It is an interesting thing. I’d love to see things that are tested in a way like you said in Brazil or and different areas to see how things work out. I don’t know that there’s any one answer for every industry or for every job because everything is different now. It’s changing that what works sometimes might not work tomorrow. Some of the things that you’ve talked about, the ABJ, the Amazon, Berkshire, JP Morgan and some of the new things that are coming about in the market that no one would have thought about years ago. I am wondering what the next big innovation is going to be. You’re talking about healthcare there, which I’ve worked in as a pharmaceutical rep forever. I’ve also worked in education forever. Everybody thinks education needs to be completely overhauled. There are so many industries ripe for change. What do you think is going to be the next big industry to be shook up other than maybe healthcare, education or do you think those are the next biggest ones?

I do. I don’t think there’s a space that isn’t going to be shaken up, but since healthcare and education are easy targets, let me pick that isn’t. I finished a talk to the National Parking Association. If they were on the phone here, I would say the same thing. I would think, is there anything more boring and more irritating than trying to find parking at a stadium event, going downtown to a meeting or going out to dinner with your spouse? It’s a pain in the ass. Yet, I will tell you that it’s radically being disrupted. What’s disrupting it? On the one hand, you’ve got a Millennial generation that says, “I don’t give a rip about owning a car anymore. I’m getting Uber. Why would I want to buy a car, have to pay insurance, have to maintain it and pay a car payment? When I can get an Uber and move back and forth.” That’s issue one.

Issue two, it’s not going to be long. I don’t know if you’re an optimist, you’re going to say the next four or five years. If you’re a pessimist, you’re going to say the next ten or fifteen years, but we’re all going to be in self-automated cars, self-driving cars. That’s issue number two. Issue number three is we have way too many parking spaces in the country. When you look at all those things converging, it means that we’re going to have to convert parking spaces. Now you’ve got developers and real estate people that are saying, “Let’s take a parking garage and let’s transform it into a housing unit of little cubicles, small houses that the Millennials want because they want to be downtown, can afford and are willing to rent. The whole parking industry is going, “What do we do with all this?”

[bctt tweet=”Innovation feeds on multiple points of view.” username=””]

Not to mention the housing industry with their big garages. They don’t need it anymore.

Think about transportation as a service versus a product in the future. There will come a time when we’re all going to say, “I don’t know if I’ll live that long, but my kids and my grandkids are going to live in a world where car ownership is a thing of the past.”

The self-driving thing, my husband has got a Tesla. You get used to that. The whole world is on for a minute. It freaks you out the first time you turn that on. You go that’s nice for once in a while. You could see it developing and becoming much more of a daily thing you would use. I could foresee it, but transportation is a huge one is being disrupted. All these industries as we get the self-driving cars, think of how many truckers are going to be out of business and all the people that are going to be displaced. It’s staggering when you think about it. My research was so important to me to see where we’re going to put these people and how do we determine what they’re good at and what’s holding them back. To me that’s why I kept coming back to curiosity and as you say humility is a very important part of that.

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Culture Of Creativity: We are our own product as well as you may have a product or a service that you’re selling.


I can look at that if I’m a truck drive and I’m thinking straight and say, “This represents a loss for me in the future,” or we can say, “What are the opportunities in that?” That’s the challenge for society and for our education system is how do we glide on her feet? How do we think about what’s the white space where these trends converge? What are the opportunities in that white space versus the immediate place most of us go? I’ll put myself at the top of the list, which is what am I losing? I’m going to be out. This will be devastating. My challenge to myself and to our clients is to answer your question, what are we going to do with these millions of workers? How are we going to retrain them and what’s the opportunity and all that? It is a challenging question.

It requires proactive thinking. Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits. Number one, be proactive. You’ve got a lot of great information that you write about in all your books. I’m glad your marriage survived the eight books that you’ve written. This has been interesting. Kevin, I would hope that you could share some website or some place that people can reach you. People would like to know more about what you’re working on.

They can go to, which is the new brand that we’re launching, but it’ll take them to our site, our books. We do have since Bochy Ball! is our brand-new book, we do have a site for that book called Either one of those will get people to us and we’d be glad to have visitors.

Thank you so much for being on the show. This is great. We have a lot that we have to talk about. We both talk about very similar things in our speeches and our work. Thank you so much for being on.

Thanks for having me. Congratulations with such a robust show that is making a difference in the world. When I grow up, I want to be like you. You’ve got a great job.

Thank you. It is a lot of fun and I get to meet great people like you. Thank you.

Sales, Messaging, And Pageantry with Wendi Russo

I am here with Wendi Russo, who is a sales leader for the Home Shopping Network and a mentor and trainer to women entering the television field. It’s so nice to have you here, Wendi.

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

I’ve been looking forward to this. Our good friend, Dr. Katie Theory, had recommended you be on the show. I could see why. I was looking at some of your background and accomplishments. You’ve done some amazing things. This is going to be interesting to know where to start with you because you’ve done a lot of different things.

I definitely am someone who wears a lot of hats, that’s for sure.

You’ve done a lot with pageants, with things that I don’t talk about normally on the show. I’m going to be excited to ask you some questions about that. Can you give a little background of your history? I said what you’re doing now. People probably like to know a little bit more about your background.

[bctt tweet=”Fear is your biggest enemy when you’re speaking to people.” username=””]

I’ve been in the home shopping industry for a total of about fourteen years. I translated my television acting experience along with my sales background. I was in a corporate sales environment in medical sales and pharmaceutical sales for many years. I combined the two of those with learning the home shopping industry and learning how to pitch yourself, your product or whatever it is in four minutes or less because the whole shopping industry is very time sensitive as you’re paying for on air time. For me, I’ve learned to hone messaging and that’s what I teach people, whether I’m helping them to develop and build their own brand or talk about their own products on air or whether they’re talking to the media and they have a very short snippet of time. They need to give a little quick hit of information for people, so not to get mired down into the details but rather to hit your point and the relevant points pretty quickly.

You have a couple of things there that were interesting to me. First of all, I want to go to the pharmaceutical sales. Who do you work for?

I worked for Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals.

I spent twenty years with AstraZeneca. I was fifteen in pharmaceuticals. We have a lot of things in common. I was looking at your background and some of your things. I saw that your dream job would be to have an interview job where you would talk to people who are inspirational. That’s what I do. We have some stuff to talk about. I’ve been in sales for decades so the four minutes or less thing fascinated me. How do you get to learn to sell something? I almost want you to grab something on your desk and sell it to me in four minutes. I don’t know how you do it. Is there a trick? Is there something that’s different?

There is a trick. The trick is you start with a strong headline. Whether it’s what the need is that the customer might have for your product, what it’s solving, maybe you’re starting with the problem and then you’re going to give them the solution, or maybe it’s asking a question about have you ever had this happen to you? There’s a lead in. You want to start with a lead in or it could even be a story about this has been the most highly publicized beauty products on the market. Women are raving about it. It’s been seen. As you’re creating this mystique in the first sentence or two, then you need to hone in on what the top three pieces that separate that product from anything else from what’s on the market? Is it faster? Is it easier or is it more effective? Does it last longer? You think about what is that your product is doing that is different than what’s on the market. That requires you to do some research. Know your competitors, know your market or maybe know yourself. It’s like an elevator speech, but it’s for a product and you are pitching the product. They’re analyzing you as a spokesperson. Your leadership, your communication style, your credibility, whether they trust you. They’re reading you for that and then they’re listening partially to what you’re saying to see if it sounds like something they’re interested.

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Culture Of Creativity: Likeability hires and keeps the job.


I can see how pharmaceutical sales would get you ripe to be able to do that because that’s exactly how much time. If you’re lucky you ever had in that job sometimes to get your point across. It’s challenging, but people are having shorter attention spans now. I can see that what you’ve learned to do has been so helpful in so many different ways. You don’t sell fashion, you sell jewelry. You’ve got your own line of jewelry.

I have sold everything in my career from computers to karaoke machines to fashion to accessories to jewelry. Everything from something that’s $5 on up to $1,000 and $5,000. Each sale needs a different a take on it. If it’s something that is easily demonstrable then that’s the key and the crux to what your presentation is. If it’s something that’s high-end, a high-ticket item like a diamond piece then it’s a combination of knowledge and romance that allows the customer to feel like how they would feel when they’re wearing it. The difference in my world of how I’m selling is that the customer is not able to touch, feel or demonstrate or try on the product. You’re doing it for them. You’re their hands. You’re touching it. You’re describing the feel. How we’re trained in the industry is that you have to look at it as you were talking to someone who is blind. You need to describe the inside of the ring, how comfortable it is, the weight of it. That’s all part of what I’ve learned overtime. It’s from doing it five days a week, three hours a day and I’m not scripted. I am not reading a teleprompter. I don’t have copious notes out. It’s being astute at what would they be thinking. I’m always putting myself in their shoes.

You’re bringing to mind some of the sales training that I went through in the past with pharmaceuticals and others. I sell computers too, which is funny. You’re painting a picture in their mind and that’s so important in sales. You do more than sale though. You do branding. You do all these other kinds of training experiences. I was looking in your background.

It’s all intertwined if you think about it. We are our own product as well as you may have a product or a service that you’re selling. You have to be ready to be able to explain that very quickly. It has to be a quick compression. Let’s face it, people make an impression on about you within 30 seconds. They make impression on the product that they’re watching. They’re looking at you demonstrate the products. I’m going to decide within 30 seconds whether or not I’m even interested. Everything is very fast and you do have to be ready and you don’t have a lot of time, which means you have to describe the why early on. You have to describe the need that it fills early on. We call this the chewy center. In sales, you’re looking for the chewy center. What’s the one thing that sets you apart or your product apart or your company apart from any other company on the market? That is what you want to hit first and hardest. I get a lot of consultants. They got their brand and they want personal branding advice so they can set themselves apart. How do you find that one thing? We have to create the one thing or is it sometimes helpful to go somebody else to have them say what do you say to that? What’s helpful? Listen to your clients. What are they telling you?

[bctt tweet=”People don’t want a robotic answer to anything in life.” username=””]

When I’m on television, the people watching say you are so funny. Apparently, I’m funny when I’m on TV. What I’m not using my brain to get through information or once I’m done preparing for my shows I can’t relax and have fun when I’m preparing for my shows. I’m very much in that mode where I’m analytical and I’m assessing the strategy of the show. A less of the fun personality. That’s what I’ve been told is that you’re a lot of fun to watch. You’re entertaining plus informative. The entertainment factor for me is keeping them watching and engaged long enough to even be interested in buying. If they turn the channel and they’re bored, they’re turning the channel faster. If they turn the channel and they’re laughing or they’re seeing some fun or they’re hearing something that’s funny or they can relate to it, they will watch longer. My strategy is I want you to listen to watch and to maybe stay long enough to decide you want something in my show.

You brought up the thing about having fun is so important. We have to give talks a lot. People are always different when they’re in video sometimes because they’re so worried about what they want to say. They are so concerned that they’re going to look bad. It’s any talks that you have to get in front groups. Sometimes it’s hard to pull that fun. Your natural sense of personality out when you take things seriously. I know for me the more I don’t care about something, the more my personality will come out. I’ll be much more lighthearted and fun. If I care a lot, I’m so worried that it will tend to make you be less yourself. What do you tell yourself to lighten up so that you come across as your natural self?

I don’t tell myself anything any longer. I do. I’ll tell you what I teach my clients. I work with a lot of people and I’ve recruited a lot of on-air talent. I’ve helped train on-air talent. I also have worked with cadging competitors helping them to relax and be themselves in an interview, how to give their messaging. Pageants are not as frivolous and easy as everybody thinks. It is a job interview. It requires someone to know why are they there? Why do they want the job? What are they going to offer to the title? I’ve done that even with people looking for employment. It’s all the same. It’s about A, learn the skill set and find out who you are or what your message is? That sometimes requires an outside person to tell you. What I do is if I have to write an introduction for somebody for a pageant, which requires 30-seconds of them talking about themselves. It has to be lively, fun, interesting and tell insightful information about the person.

I interview them and I ask them questions, “Why did you get involved in this? Why is this charity important to you? What have you done? Tell me about the obstacle that you’ve had to overcome?” Once I can figure the girl out and the woman out and find out what makes her tick, what’s driving her in life, I can help develop a message for her that’s going to help her, first of all, tell her story. After we practice and rehearse, slowly the guard and the fear drops. Fear is your biggest enemy when you’re speaking to people. Fear is your biggest enemy when you’re on camera. They call it deer in the headlights. If someone comes on camera, they’ve never done it before, you see them and what they’re doing is their eyes are glazed over and you know what they’re thinking, “What do I say now?”

TTL 288 | Culture Of Creativity
Culture Of Creativity: Finding out that curiosity that you have to help other people develop is to find their purpose.


What if I forget all that I’ve learned?

The reality is I practice. We practice. I ask and it gets to a point where I finally get them, “I want you to start trusting yourself. I don’t want you to take notes. I need you to connect with your heart center with who you are and I need you to tell your truth.” The reality is people don’t want a robotic answer to anything in life. I don’t want a sales pitch from you. I want to hear what you’re about. “What is this project about? Tell me a story of how this product has fit into someone else’s life and made it easier.” The more that you can be authentic and share a story. I’m very big on telling stories within my own pitches because people identify with those stories. If I tell you this phone is five inches by three inches. It’s slim it’s lightweight. There are six different settings on it, you can set it. You can listen to music. You can watch video. I could do that all day long, but it’s boring. You’re telling me a lot of facts. The key is to share a piece of yourself or a story of yourself or someone else and how it’s been a lifesaver for them or how this is not a phone. This is your new best friend. This is your day timer. This is your computer. This is your television. All rolled in one. It’s painting a picture for the other person and helping them to grasp what you’re saying.

A lot of that we’ve learned in sales and I know you’ve probably learned a lot from being in pageantry and some of these other things and it’s bringing to mind somebody who was on my show. I don’t know if you’ve seen Kate Adams. She has a TED Talk that is popular and it was for larger than life lessons from soap operas. I can see you doing a TED Talk about larger than life lessons you’ve learned from pageantry or something to that effect. So much of what you’ve done in the past can be applied to the lessons that we can learn in life for sales or whatever. It’s branding. Have you thought of doing a TED Talk or have you done one?

I have. As you can tell I’m one of those people. I have a lot of things on my mind though. It’s always hard for me to hone in on what is the main message. I do feel like the pitching thing is important for everybody, but it’s not what you’re saying. I want to drive home that a lot of what I teach isn’t what you’re saying. It’s how you’re saying it. It’s hook people into their passion and that’s the hardest thing for me as a coach and a trainer is to be able to connect you with what drives you, so that you are more credible. You’re more interesting to listen to and believable and also likable. Likability is so important these days to keep your job. You need to be likeable for people to hire you. What makes you likable? I have a thirteen-year-old daughter and she was crying. She was telling me, “Mommy, I don’t know what to do. I try to make everyone laugh and I want them to like me but I don’t know why they don’t like me?” It broke my heart because isn’t that what we all want? We all want to be likable. There is a point in my life where I decided, I want to be likable to a point but I also want to be authentic and true to myself and have integrity. If you don’t like me for what I have to say, if it’s overarching a positive message but you don’t have to agree with it, that’s your problem. As you get older, you say, “Yes, likable,” but let’s face it. Let’s have a little integrity and try to get her approval all day.

[bctt tweet=”Sometimes, we have to remember that not being perfect is sometimes likable.” username=””]

At thirteen that’s your driving force and sometimes we have to remember that not being perfect is sometimes likable. You don’t need to be perfect in your presentation. You don’t need to be perfect. I’ve had times when I audition for something and I was auditioning for HSN, Home Shopping Network and the necklace I was trying to put on I had a hard time lifting my arms because I was wearing an off-shoulder top. I stopped and I said, “When you buy these off-shoulder tops, no one tells you it’s very difficult to put on necklaces. This is the worst possible dress to wear.” The point is if you’re nervous, if something doesn’t go right, point it. I feel like to me breaking that fourth wall and be real. Nobody’s expecting you to give the perfect presentation to not make an error, to not say something silly or use the wrong word, be yourself. It does come down to that. Your real question originally was how do we be ourselves? I’ve had guests on the show who tell a joke in the audience. You’ll laugh that one because it was so bad, it went over so badly. The self-deprecating thing can sometimes work out to your benefit if it’s not too much of it. It’s hard, though. That’s the barrier. When people aren’t themselves or they’re not themselves on TV or they’re not themselves on a radio show, it’s because they’re trying to be perfect.

I’ve had people tell me, “Are you going to edit this?” I’m like, “I wanted a conversation.” I don’t normally edit stuff out unless there’s something that happens like a super loud siren or something because I want it to be real. It’s hard to get people comfortable sometimes and get to know you and then they relax a little bit. What we’ve discussed here is it brings up what I’ve wanted to ask you is about your pageantry background. All of this is one way of dealing with branding and how we present ourselves. When you’re in a pageant, it’s completely different than in the business world. I know you’ve done so many pageants. I’ve heard you’ve won about every contest there is and you didn’t even start doing it until you were at least 40 or something. Is that true?

Correct. Doing a pageant is not very different.

In what respect?

Because life is a pageant.

I see what you mean. That’s interesting.

Let’s put it this way. When people are running for political office, the only thing that’s different is pageant girls don’t necessarily slander each other or try to rip each other apart while they’re trying to get the job. That’s the difference. In the corporate world, I have seen similar types of promotional behavior or marketing, you’re pushing yourself, you’re promoting yourself within the building and people get promoted from it. It’s about being likable. In pageants, it’s about marketing yourself as the title holder, which means you need to look the part. You need to carry yourself with the part, your marketing platform and yourself, which means you’re marketing your charity and what you stand for and what you plan to do with the title.

[bctt tweet=”When people aren’t themselves, it’s because they’re trying to be perfect.” username=””]

Mine is mentoring. My slogan is, “Become an everyday hero, mentor a child.” It evolves into becoming an everyday hero mentor because I started working with Dress for Success and helped the women there who were restarting their life or wanting to start a new career, or wanting to make more money or make a transition. At the end of the day, there’s no difference for me helping a woman at Dress for Success to look the part, to interview well, to pitch herself in that needing to have a resume that resonates with who she is and sets her apart, and carry herself in the room set and be poised and articulate, and leave the room and get the job. It’s the same skills I teach with Dress for Success as for a pageant.

Women have become a lot more empowered. When I was a kid, we used to sit and watch the Miss America pageants together. We’d all guess who’s going to win. It was not a big deal in our house. It was something good. There were two channels. It wasn’t like you had all these things that families used to get together and watch certain things. Pageants have changed a lot since then and they’re not quite the same feel to me when I watch them. It’s little more sophisticated now. I would say it was a lot more sophisticated. Back in the past, they asked them a question, “What drew you to wanting to be in pageantry to begin with? Was this a big thing for you as a child? How has your family watched it? Do you have family or parents?”

I’m from Connecticut. People in Connecticut are not big in pageants. It’s the Northeast. The Northeast, it’s about where are you going to school, what your starting salary was going to be. We didn’t talk about this stuff. Nobody I knew did a pageant. I didn’t know anybody. I’d never seen a pageant live. I turned on and seen Miss America or Miss USA, but it was completely elusive to me. I had no idea anything about it. The only reason I got involved is I was here in Minnesota, which was a new place for me. I didn’t have any roots here or any real connection other than people through work. I had a baby and I felt like I need a push to get me to go workout. I turn on the TV one time I was watching and I’m like, “What is this?” It was a married woman’s pageant. I said, “Interesting.” I was asked to judge the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, which I did. I didn’t know anything about it other than what I assumed from what you would assume.

In judging these women, I was impressed. I have to tell you, I was impressed with the service they were doing, the charity stuff they were involved in their goals. The girl who won wanted to go to Harvard and since went to Harvard. These women were quite accomplished. I was impressed. I realized, “These women are doing more than I am.” I had looked through the program guide and there was a little ad in there for Mrs. Minnesota. I called up and I said, “I’m probably a little bit too old, but what’s the age range on this?” She said it was 50 and I said, “All right, maybe.” I thought maybe next year because I still need to lose all this weight. It was a good driver for me. I did the pageant and the first time, I lost. I was like, “How does anybody do this? This is so humiliating. It’s horrible.” I was like, “I am older than dirt.”

I found out that the top five all had pageant coaches, so I had no idea. I decided to hire an interview coach. I hired a walking coach. I hired someone to help me with fitness and nutrition so that I was in better shape and learned the whole thing. I spent every day researching because my whole concept when I teach people about pageantry is there is a prototype to each system, which means there is an image, a look and a sensibility almost like a corporate culture. There is a corporate culture to each pageant system. One is more conservative than the other. Another is more fashion-forward than another. You have to know what you’re involved like a company.

I got involved again. I had been involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters years ago and started mentoring again here through kinship of Greater Minneapolis because they were the only Big Brothers at the time that did family mentoring. They only did one-on-one. I wanted to do it with my daughter. She was three at the time. This organization was a Christian-based organization. I worked with a little girl there, Tatiana. I was able to bring my daughter on the play dates and we’d go play at the park or dress up or whenever we did that week. I use this as an opportunity to speak to the Lions Clubs and local area optimist clubs and the Lioness Club and the Rotary Club about mentors. I realized there were 350 kids waiting for mentors because people didn’t want to commit a year of their life once a week for an hour or two to a child.

[bctt tweet=”Life is a pageant.” username=””]

There were a lot of children who needed support, role models and to frankly get out of the house because they didn’t have that opportunity. I was able to recruit throughout my year and I found purpose and this is where it comes in the why. In training gals, we figure out her why early on because the why can’t be about you wanting to lose weight. The why needs to be about, why does this matter to you? Who are you going to help with this title? That’s what drives her. As soon as I can work with somebody and help them find their wife and their purpose and that they are of value to some other people. Get her volunteering. That’s when she goes for full force to it. I enjoy it because I love helping women identify what’s the cause that’s important to them. How is it intertwining with their lives? Whether a woman was sexually abused as a child or whether she was in an abusive relationship previously or whatever it was, there’s a personal story in there somewhere that drives her and motivates her. I love exploring and finding that out having compassion for her story, teaching her to have a voice for it, and sharing it with others so she can help empower other women, who have been afraid to speak out or who felt isolated or alone.

That’s a great way to end this show because finding out that curiosity that you have to help other people develop there is to find their purpose is inspiring. A lot of people would probably like to know more about some of the training that you offer and the things that you do. Is there any way you can share a link or something someway they could contact you?

I’m on LinkedIn. You can go to Wendi Russo. I’m also on Facebook. My website is You can reach me through That can help. I’m happy to answer any questions and work with anyone on whether they want to present themselves or product to build confidence something. I’ve worked with all types of people and men too in preparing themselves and they end up getting the best jobs.

You have some great tips and this has been helpful for so many people. I appreciate having you on the show, Wendi. It was nice to meet you.

Thank you so much.

I’d like to thank Kevin and Wendi for being my guest. We’ve got so many great guests. You can find out more about the Curiosity Code Index and Cracking The Curiosity Code at

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About Dr. Kevin Freiberg

TTL 288 | Culture Of CreativityDr. Kevin Freiberg is a worldwide bestselling author and keynote speaker. He and his wife, Jackie, are the founders of San Diego Consulting Group, Inc. His latest book Cause! is about leaders who make a difference and brands that tied to a noble and worthy cause.


About Wendi Russo

TTL 288 | Culture Of Creativity

Wendi Russo has been a sales leader for the Home Shopping Network and a mentor & trainer to women entering the Television field. As a Television Home Shopping Host, Wendi has sold every type of product imaginable in 4 minutes or less, with an expertise in fashion, hosting her own weekly fashion show, beauty and gem jewelry as an Accredited Jewelry Professional with GIA (Gemological Institute of America).




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