Strategy

In The Tank #7: Jeff Brown; Read To Lead Podcast

Jeff Brown’sRead To Lead podcast has become one of the top sources for people interested in leadership, personal and professional development, and a way to get a peek inside the minds of some of today’s top business and innovation thinkers. With guests including Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan and Liz Wiseman, Read To Lead presents world-class guests as they share insight from their work and exploration.

I’ve known Jeff to varying degrees for at least a decade and a half, including his work as a nationally syndicated morning show DJ and music radio programmer. So I was fascinated to learn more about his journey and transition from traditional broadcast media into the brave new world of podcasting. As with so many people who have found success in varying lines of work, there are great lessons to be learned about listening, about taking chances, and of course about the value of consistently executing and staying present.

I hope you’ll enjoy this Q&A, and by all means check out Jeff’s podcast.

Q: You come from a broadcast radio background, where you have to hit posts, watch the clock and generally keep to a tightly run format. Was starting a podcast, with few rules other than what you decide to make them, a difficult transition? What from your broadcast background helped you the most? Were there things you had to forget about or unlearn?

A: I found there were a number of things from my time in radio that were transferable to podcasting. Chief among them was understanding what it means to truly connect with an audience.

You're right in that, technically, there are no "rules" when it comes to podcasting. I liken it though to writing a song. If you desire to make music people actually want to listen to, you'll do well to follow the rules (i.e. key signatures, scales, time signatures, etc.).

Q: You’ve spoken with some amazing leaders, thinkers and influencers. Are there any common themes that you’ve seen come up with the majority? Have you ever had guests whose ideas really conflict with each other’s? Could you share about any of those?

A: One theme I've seen come up multiple times is the idea that most of us believe we're underserving of success or not good enough to expect it in our lives. To that end, writing down goals and then tracking them and measuring your progress is a trait of 85% of wealthy people, according to a recent survey. Virtually every successful person I've interviewed does this.

Regarding the second part of your question: Recently, in back-to-back weeks, I welcomed the author of a book suggesting that traditional jobs are quickly becoming a thing of the past, followed by a guest who has written a book on the importance of hiring the right people.

I'm of the mindset that future generations need to ask "How can I create a job doing that?" instead of "How can I get a job doing that?"

Q: As a relatively new podcast, how were you able to get the guests you did early on? How difficult is it to reach the people you want to have on the show?

A: You'd be surprised what people will say when you give them the chance to talk about themselves.

At the outset, and still today, I leverage relationships built over time. Three of my first four invited guests were individuals I had forged offline & online relationships with. Then, when you come to your interviews well researched and prepared, your guests are much more likely to show a willingness to introduce you to their network.

Q: What lessons have you learned about developing a successful podcast? Are there key things that aspiring podcasters should know as they start? How do those lessons translate to other areas of life or work?

A: One lesson that is often under appreciated or overlooked, is the power of consistency; particularly, excellence with consistency over time. Most podcasts never make it past the first 7 to 10 episodes. Many other podcasts sound as if little if any thought went into them before the decision was made to hit the record button. If you're willing to put a little effort into it, it's probably safe to say you're putting yourself in the top 10%.

I'm also careful to tell people not to let perfection turn them into a procrastinator. Perfection is a moving target you will never hit. However, I believe anything worth doing is worth doing well. And, while excellence won't always guarantee your success, it will always precede it.

Q: How do you put together a show that people care about enough to come back time and again?

A: I believe it's important to articulate why you do what you do at the outset of every show. As Simon Sinek is famous for saying, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

When articulated emphatically and from a place of relevance to your listener, you, in essence, draw a line in the sand daring your listener to cross it and go on this journey with you.

This communicates to your listener, without apology, who you are and what you stand for. This is the best way I know to keep people coming back again and again.

Q: Do you have a favorite episode thus far? Why is it your favorite?

A: This is like asking if I have a favorite child. :-) Seriously, I'd probably have to say episode #066 with Seth Godin. He's one of my absolute favorite authors and getting him on the show was 16 months in the making.

His book Purple Cow had a huge influence on me and was the first of several books that renewed my love of reading at a time in my life when I hated to read.

Having him on a show where I get to practice my love of reading, something he personally impacted, was a real treat.

Read To Lead Podcast - go get it!
Read To Lead Podcast - go get it!

In The Tank #6: Brian Bird, Screenwriter

Brian Bird is a veteran screenwriter and producer for TV and film, having a 30-year career that spans from hit TV shows like Step By Step and Touched by an Angel, to the feature film Captive, a hostage drama, which opens today, September 18th. We've long been interested in the art and craft of story telling, and how story helps to give context to the human experience. So when we had a chance to connect with someone whose entire career has been about crafting and shaping stories, we jumped at the chance. A little bit about Captive:

Captive stars award-winning actor David Oyelowo (Selma; Interstellar) and Kata Mara (House Of Cards; Fantastic Four), and tells the true story of Brian Nichols (Oyelowo), an Atlanta man who, in 2005, escaped from a prison, killing a judge, a guard and two others. He then held Ashley Smith (Mara), a recovering meth addict and widowed single mother, captive for over seven hours as Atlanta police conducted a massive manhunt for Nichols.

During the course of the captivity Smith shared parts of her life struggle with Nichols. In a twist that sounds like Hollywood but is true, Nichols asked Smith to read to him from the spiritual best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life. Smith credits passages of the book with providing common ground for the two to discuss their struggles and perhaps their opportunities to find a different path.

Nichols finally allowed Smith to go, and was arrested soon after. He is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. Smith (now Smith-Robinson) has remained clean and sober and works as an imaging technician in a hospital, remarried and is raising her two children.

We're thrilled to be able to share some of Brian Bird's insights into the power of story, collaboration, and just that the title of Producer can mean.

Full disclosure: Dunk Tank Marketing is thrilled to be part of a team that is marketing Captive, and we hope that you'll go see the movie with 10 or 20 of your closest friends.

Captive: In theaters September 18th, 2015
Captive: In theaters September 18th, 2015

Q: In the movie Captive, you’ve adapted the true story of Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols for the screen. How do you go about communicating the truth of the story within the context of a structured screenplay? Life generally doesn’t play out with the same arcs of a screenplay, but the format is effective for telling stories. Can you offer some insight into that process?

A: You’re right, life usually does not fall conveniently into a three-act structure necessary for the flow of a movie. And here’s a little secret when you’re making a narrative film: you can’t let the truth get in the way of good story-telling. If you’re making a documentary, it’s different… you just commit to stay with what happened in real life and let the entertainment chips fall where they may. In a narrative film, it’s much trickier because sometimes truth is actually stranger than fiction. The chronology of events and even the actual character quests are sometimes inconvenient to the rhythm and pacing that an audience is accustomed to when they are going to the movies.

In the case of Captive, however, the actual events laid out pretty amazingly in line with a three-act structure. The first act introduced both our protagonist and antagonist, leading up the moment that their lives intersected with Brian Nichols taking Ashley Smith hostage as the first act break. The second act then followed everything that happened to them in that apartment during the next seven hours, along with the escalating manhunt for Nichols, with the second act break coming at the moment Nichols let Ashley go.

The third act was comprised of SWAT teams surrounding the apartment complex when Ashley told them where Nichols was and the big question: will he surrender and do the right thing, or will he come out firing and trying to go out in a blaze of glory. Honestly of all the true stories I have adapted into screenplays, none have laid out as perfectly as Captive did. I did have to do some rearranging of key events, and used a little dramatic license, but I would say the true story accounts for 90 percent of what you see on the screen.

Q: What is a writer’s room like? Can you describe the process of collaboration on something like a screenplay or a TV show, where changes can be made almost in real time? How does that contrast with the image of the solitary genius writer?

A: The only solitude you have as a member of the writing staff of a TV show is when it’s your turn in the batting order to write an episode and you are off putting the first draft together. When you’re finished with that and you deliver it to rest of the staff, the dynamic changes. The best way to describe a staff of writers working on a rewrite together is controlled chaos. You’re always on deadline and the pressure is high to get the work done.

There is such a free flow of ideas and solutions to problems and a spirit of disruption to find the perfect line of dialogue or idea that sometimes it resembles what could be called (and I hope this is not insensitive) an Arab camel market. It’s the nature of the process. When you’re in the middle of it, it can be deeply competitive as individual members of the team are trying to get their ideas, jokes or pitches into the script.

It can be exhilarating when one of your ideas wins, and a big bummer when you pitch something that just dies in the howling wilderness. But iron always sharpens iron, and when you have a good team of people who have chemistry together, you can get to a magical place. That’s why when TV shows are good, they are really good. It’s like professional sports. A bunch of really talented people pulling for the same goal.

Q: What does being a producer mean for TV or film? Are you raising/keeping track of money? Are you wrangling cast and crew? Reviewing scripts? Do you get the 3 AM call when something goes wrong? All of the above? We see that title a lot, and it seems like it can mean any number of things. Can you shed some light on that?

A: Being a writing producer can be many things. On a TV show, the co-producer, producer, supervising producer, co-executive producer and executive producer titles are sort of like ranks in the army. Each year you’re on a show as a writer, you get a promotion to the next rank up the food chain. You are still a writer on the staff of the show, but often times your duties increase. You may involved in casting sessions, approving wardrobe and sets, and helping supervise the post-production process. But primarily you are still just one of the writers who has earned another set of stripes.

In the filmmaking process, producers wear a lot of hats. Sometimes you get a producer or executive producer title because you are responsible for bringing some asset to the project, such as money or a relationship. But true producers are involved in every aspect of production including script development, raising financing or distribution, casting, pre-production, actual production, post-production and even the marketing of a film.

Producers are bosses, counselors, policemen, firemen, travel agents and sometimes ministers on a production. And yes, 3 a.m. calls are the rule rather than the exception. In TV, the writing producers are responsible for everything, and everyone on the set reports to them. In films, producers and directors are the two most important roles on the set, and the creative buck usually stops with the director, but he ultimately reports to the producer. Of course, without the writer first, you don’t have a good set of blueprints for the skyscraper you are building and the whole thing can become a house of cards. That’s why many writers also stick around as producers on films, to guard the integrity of the blueprints.

Q: You teach a lot of writing and story development. What are the most common mistakes or oversight that you see as people are trying to tell stories? Do those things relate to how we communicate in other areas of life or work?

A: One of the biggest challenges I see among young filmmakers today is that the digital revolution and You Tube have created the sense that anybody and everybody is a filmmaker. And that’s just not the case. The same goes for screenwriting. It actually is a rocket science in it’s own way. People may be born with wonderful raw gifts and talents, but until they put in the right amount of training and experience, they will never become experts at what they’re gifted at. A lot of what I see coming from You Tube, however, skews in the direction of delusional amateurism which is missing craft and training.

In the book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell proposed the “10,000-Hour Rule.” You might be born a genius, but until you put in 10,000 hours working your gifts, you cannot call yourself an expert. How does this apply to screenwriting? All I know is it’s taken me 30 years to learn what I know, and I’m still trying to get better at my craft. I’m still striving for excellence. If we understand that we are made in the image of the author of the universe, the “good enough principle” should never be part of our vocabulary. We should strive to be the Michelangelo of our particular craft. I don’t see that very often coming from the digital revolution.

The one big fix I tell young writers is they need to “copy the masters” of their craft. All art is handed down in the same way from generation to generation, from master to student. The master is painting at the front of the classroom and the student is doing what? He is also painting, copying the master, but bringing himself to the canvas in order to eclipse the talent of the master. That’s what Michelangelo did at the Medici School. So in story-telling, we need to mimic the best story-tellers in history and then bring ourselves to the page in order to become a master. I find many young writers completely ignoring this concept.

Q: You mention a place called “Development Hell”, where things you’ve been paid to write have gone to likely never be produced. How do you bounce back from what must be a disappointing process? I ask this because we all face defeats in what we do, and bouncing back can be difficult. I’m curious as to how you do that, and what you think can help.

A: I’ve found over the years that you have to be like one of those punch-drunk fighters from an old boxing movie – too stupid to stay down after you’ve been knocked to the mat. I guess that’s what it means to have a short memory. It’s a very competitive business, and it’s a very subjective business. There is no accounting for taste in any predictive or mathematical way.

Opinions are like hind-ends. Everybody has one. So it can be tricky navigating the taste buds as you go from meeting to meeting or opportunity to opportunity. It can be full of disappointment, and highs and lows. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But if you are called to the work – and it really has to be a calling because it’s too hard to do as a hobbyist or if your goal is fame and money – then you are doing the world and yourself no favors by chickening out.

If you are called to do it, there’s no such thing as playing “small-ball.” You keep showing up, doing your best work, and being committed to making lasting friendships and relationships that are not based on your failure or success. Persistence always beats resistance. You also have to realize they don’t call it “Show Friendship.” It’s called “Show Business” for a reason, and if you can develop a thick skin for criticism you can survive it, and perhaps even thrive in it.

Q: What are 2 of your favorite movies / 2 favorite tv shows - in terms of writing? Why?

A: I’m a big fan of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 films of all time list, but if I have to be narrowed down to two, the first would absolutely be the 1989 Oscar winner for best foreign film, Cinema Paradiso. It’s one of the most moving and cinematically rich films I’ve ever seen, and it’s a beautiful metaphor about the ubiquitous importance of story (and the movies) in our human experience. Story ties us together as family and community and it’s also the touchstone for most of the big events of our lives. The Mission is another of my favorites, and it tells about the horror and beauty of the spread of Christianity in South America during 1700s. It has one of the most moving faith redemption stories I’ve ever seen in a film, and the best ever depiction of the power of the sacrifice of the cross in any movie ever made.

On the TV side, I’m going to have to go with Breaking Bad and the first season of True Detective. Both very gritty and not family friendly at all, but rich in themes of existential angst and the search for redemption in this post-modern age when we’re being told that there is no meaning in the universe other than our own pursuit of pleasure.

In The Tank #4: Mark Montgomery

Mark Montgomery is someone I always pay attention to. Mostly it’s because he’s ridiculously smart, laser-focused in his observations and commentary, and has a track record of doing cool, successful things his own way. It’s also because I’m never sure quite what’s going to come out of his mouth, and I like the feeling of being at the top of a roller coaster that’s about to drop, which is how I often feel when I prep for Marko to answer a question.

Mark is the founder of FLO|CO, a group of companies doing cool, innovative things. After launching, growing, and then selling echomusic, one of the first companies to sell music online, he founded FLO. In the past few years they’ve launched the beverage industry’s fastest-growing new spirit (Blue Chair Bay Rum) as part of their work with country superstar Kenny Chesney. They’ve worked with companies such as Google and Under Armor, and launched the Made In Network, a Multi Channel Network focused solely on music. Mark also works with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, coaching new and aspiring startups, as well as pushing to develop tech talent in one of America’s fastest growing and coolest cities.

You’re as likely to find him at a music club (playing in or watching bands) as in a meeting with the mayor, the governor, or other industry and community leaders. Generous with his time and intellect, we’re thrilled to have him as part of this series of Q&As.

Q: You like to talk about disruption – why is it so exciting to you?

A: Because so much about the status quo is so wrong. As frustrating as it can be to try to change the “standard”, it just seems to me to be the right thing to do.

Q: What things do you look for the make something prime for being disrupted?

A: Inefficiency in a system, chronic crony-ism, and outdated models are the three big things that I look for.

Q: You’ve been an advocate for musicians to take charge of their own brands more aggressively (see Kenny Chesney with his own rum). Is that something that anyone can do in their own world / on their own scale?

A: The issue of creators taking charge is a double-edged sword. Many of the “last wave” of creators are making hay inside the old construct, which perpetuated the idea that all they had to do was create and everything else would be taken care of for them. It was, but how much of that trickled into their pockets is a whole other story. Taking charge requires a commitment to creativity on several levels…

The new creative class coming out of the universities (speaking of a system in need of disruption) understands that there is no such thing as a “free ride” in the creative arts. You have to be able to access both sides of your brain to really make your way in the world today. The great news is that many of the barriers are down, which is also the bad news. Anyone can create and come to market today.

Whether they know it or not, they are entrepreneurs first and foremost. They need to start with a core product (their art) and build around it. The art is the product, and the creativity comes not just in that core creation of the product, but the strategy to bring it to market, price it correctly, find white space and fill it, you get the general idea…

Q: You’re very involved in developing a tech/entrepreneurial culture in Nashville. What sorts of things make Nashville a strong place for that environment? What things may hold it back?

A: The secret sauce is the community aspect of Nashville. You cannot replicate a fabric as strong as the one in our market with all the money in the world. People are competitors, but they are also willing to help pretty much anyone, take a meeting, make an intro, you get the idea.

The couple biggest things that hold the market back are:

  • Its generally conservative nature (both from an investor perspective and a political perspective)
  • Sometimes we are too damn nice (it’s perfectly fine to tell someone their idea sucks)
  • The state politicians’ idiocy lands us on the front page of national papers looking like dumb hillbillies far too often (thankfully there is plenty of that going around in a variety of states)

Q: To say that you speak your mind is sort of like saying that Keith Moon was an energetic drummer. Have you ever gotten pressure to tone your personality down? What are/were the upsides/downsides of that?

A: I get a lot of pressure, mostly external…

It’s an interesting debate for me actually. I certainly do elicit a strong reaction when entering a room, which I have learned to be ok with. One night, my bride and I were talking about this after I had challenged a big shot in a meeting that day, and I was suggesting that speaking my mind had a downside. I was feeling pretty bad about it. She asked me how I’d feel if I hadn’t spoken my mind, to which I responded; “worse than I feel now” – so, I continue to push the elephants out into the room.

Recently I had a discussion with a young entrepreneur who I gave a very hard piece of advice to. It involved telling him that he had picked a real douchebag for a partner, and that he should terminate the relationship. I could smell the stink on this guys “partner” and knew it would not end well. I happen to own this particular T-shirt a couple times. It was hard for me to say, and hard for him to hear.  He had a lot invested. About a month after that discussion, he called to thank me for “having the courage to say something to him when no one else would”, he did terminate the partnership, and during that process, got to see the other side of his “partner”.

Life’s too short not to ask the hard questions, challenge the status quo, and suggest that perhaps there is a different or better way to do something, right?

WHERE SHOULD WE STOP?

When driving across the country there’s always that romantic notion of taking roads less travelled, hitting out of the way places and meeting the folks behind those spots. I am the child of such wanderers, having visited places like the Indiana covered bridge festival, a West Virginia rattlesnake pit, and the now defunct Elvis Is Still Alive Museum. There’s a challenge, however, when you’re in a 26-foot long truck, towing a car, and needing to get yourself to point B in a relatively short amount of time. So while Penske’s deal of unlimited miles for any one-way rental could keep me happily on the road for weeks at a time, visiting American Obscura every day, the fact of the matter is that I’ve got to get myself and my stuff to San Diego. But fear not, fellow road trippers, self-movers and fans of the interesting, unique, strange, or just plain weird. Thanks to resources like the good folks at the Roadside America website (http://bit.ly/115N1tw), there are myriad chances for the motivated traveler to see some great sights while also hauling booty to get to your destination. On this trip, the task was simple: map out the most interesting sounding options of places to visit that are no more than 10 miles off of the interstate.

And I’d like to get your input. So for the next few days I’ll be posting surveys that list various locations that are on the list of possible stops, and asking which ones are of the most interest to you. Take some time to vote, and we’ll see how your picks match up with the things that we’re eyeballing already. Just click here and vote.

Announcing #PenskeRescue. Follow The Trek Starting May 31st

This year the trek will be different!
This year the trek will be different!

My wife, kids and I are preparing to move across the country in just 10 days. This is our 2nd cross-country move in the past year, and a fuller recounting of events is included below for anyone who wants to read more. But the thing that’s particularly special about this is that our move is being supported by some fine folks at Penske Truck Rental. And when I say that Penske is supporting our move, I mean that they are graciously covering the cost of the truck rental, and moving supplies to get us across the country. For someone moving themselves, that’s a significant cost, and I appreciate Penske’s generous gesture and their willingness to do this.

You see, their Director of Communication caught wind of my rental nightmare last summer (and the #freepalmer campaign) and tweeted an offer to help, even though I wasn’t a Penske customer. So when I approached him with this #PenskeRescue idea, he was willing to work with me on something that I hope will be a lot of fun, and encouraging in seeing how a company can respond to make someone’s life better.

So before I get to the longer version, let me ask you to consider doing a few things over the course of the next couple of weeks:

Twitter: Follow @PenskeMoving, @PenskeCares @mclanea and @davepalmerinc and track our progress using the #PenskeRescue hashtag

Facebook:Click here to Like Penske Truck Rental’s Facebook page, and post a kind note of thanks regarding #PenskeRescue

YouTube:Follow the Penske Truck Rental channeland check out the videos we’re posting. We’ll be posting additional clips on my channel: davepalmerinc1

Instagram: follow @davepalmerinc and @mclanea to see shots from the road

Blog: visit www.dunktankmarketing.com/blog for all of the updates of our trip.

My friend and frequent business collaborator Adam McLane will be with me for the drive. We’ll be stopping at places both famous and bizarre, taking pictures, shooting videos, blogging, posting and tweeting the entire trip, including stops in the 4 places that my rental truck from last year (not a Penske) broke down. My hope is that we’ll see as much attention paid to the good news story of #PenskeRescue as we did for the not good news events that prompted last year’s movement. I’m still in awe of the generosity of spirit shown last year as so many people lent their support to force a large, unresponsive company to respond (and to thank the people responsible for solving a problem once it was resolved).

So please stay tuned for some fun stuff with #PenskeRescue, share the story, and send us some notes – we’ve got a long, 3-full days of driving coming up, and we’ll love the communication!

HERE’S THE BACKGROUND OF THE STORY:

Last year, as I was moving my family from San Diego to Nashville, I had what may be one of the worst rental truck experiences ever. I don’t want to belabor it, as you can read about it here. Yet in the midst of a horrible time I was blown away by the responses and willingness of people to step in and help in myriad ways. Phone calls came from people I didn’t know or hadn’t spoken with in years, offering help, rides, and home cooked meals. Many people posted and tweeted and compelled the company to action and a real solution to our problem. Along the way, many of those posts and tweets were directed to the company’s competitors asking them to help us.

And just as we were about to get on the road, a vacationing Penske person tweeted an offer to help. I thanked him for his offer and explained that we believed a solution to be in place. Fast-forward several months, and we made a decision to return to San Diego to be in greater proximity to and help for my wife’s family. As we were in the midst of that, an old friend tweeted to Penske, thanking them for great service, and informing them that they were using Penske because of my experience with the other company.

That prompted me to approach Penske with an idea. You see, I love TV shows like Bar Rescue, Tattoo Nightmare and others that attempt to redeem bad situations and make something good out of them. So I tweeted to Penske, asking if anyone would be up for hearing an idea, and to do a quick search of the #freepalmer hashtag for some idea of what I was thinking. In short order I received a reply asking me to call an 877 customer service number. I did, and as it turned out, the number went directly to the person that tweeted the response. When I asked if I could talk through an idea the person said, “you can, but I’ve been asked to connect you to someone at corporate who followed your story.”

After a short game of phone tag I ended up speaking with Randy Ryerson, the Director of Corporate Communication at Penske. It turns out that Randy was the one who sent an offer of help last year. Apparently he was on vacation and saw the activity on Twitter, called someone on his team and asked who Dave Palmer was, and what was happening. That’s when he discovered that I wasn’t even a Penske customer, but the social noise made it clear that I needed help.

So Randy and I talked, and I outlined the concept for #PenskeRescue. I wanted to do something to redeem the moving experience of last year, and tell a story of a fun, positive trip in a rental truck. I explained that #freepalmer was never about vengeance, but trying to get help, and that my hope was that this #PenskeRescue concept would be a positive and fun way to engage people in a great story of a company helping someone make a situation right.

And so, on Friday, May 31st, my good friend Adam McLane and I will pull out of Nashville, TN with a 26-foot long Penske diesel truck, pulling my beloved ’97 Volvo 850 wagon, and head west back to San Diego. We’ll be traveling the same route that I took last year with my dad and my childhood friend Brad Rukstales, with the goal of redeeming the route, making stops in some fun and bizarro places along the way, and documenting the trek via video, pictures, posts and tweets. Oh, and to have no mechanical issues!

Many of the videos will be posted to Penske’s YouTube Channel, and if you follow their Twitter feed and Facebook page you’ll see things posted there as well. So please consider following our trek, sharing it with others, and sending a note or two of thanks to Penske for their willingness to help us out with this move.