Brian Tracy Interview (Video)
- 0:00 – Brian’s backstory and early years
- 32:00 – Laying foundations and doing what you love
- 40:45 – Peter Drucker’s importance and influence
- 43:00 – The 7-year rule + 55 types of business model
- 54:25 – Brian’s #1 book recommendation
- 56:22 – How to write 90 books in 25 years
- 58:57 – Brian’s Golden Triangle and top 3 life lessons
- Visit Brian’s website: BrianTracy.com
- Read some summaries: Eat That Frog, The Psychology of Selling
- Browse Brian’s books: Amazon.com
- Browse Brian courses: Bestsellers
SHOW NOTES: Brian Tracy is a sales guru, a self-development legend and personal hero of mine. In fact, along with David Allen and Stephen Covey, I can’t think of anyone whose work has had so much of an impact on my life.
If getting your first taste of Brian’s work is something that’s still on your to-do list then move it to the top as soon as you possibly can. Just ONE of his books will give you more tools for hitting your goals than you’ll find in 30 New York Times bestsellers from the last handful of years.
If you’ve already read some of Brian’s amazing guides to everything from goal setting to leadership, entrepreneurship, book writing and public speaking; if you’ve taken his courses or listened to his audio programmes then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
But what you may not realise is that Brian’s wisdom doesn’t just come from a lifetime of continuous learning and professional experience. As we touch on in our interview today, the real source of Brian’s wisdom and contagious enthusiasm are the seeds that he planted in the first 30 years of his life. 30 years filled with adventure, opportunities and setbacks that feel like they belong more to an Indiana Jones movie than the life of a self-help genre superstar.
I hope you enjoy today’s interview as much as I did.
And if you have any questions? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
Full Interview Transcript
You’ve taught so many amazing things. You’ve taught self-improvement, you’ve taught sales, you’ve taught book writing skills, you’ve taught business skills, you’ve taught leadership skills, you’ve taught speaking skills and everything that I’ve read of yours is amazing in the way that it structures things so clearly, I can’t help read one of your books and come out like I want to rugby tackle the world. I’m like, Yeah, let’s go, do it. There’s no point I feel us covering too much of that, again, because people can get that in Focal Point or the Psychology of Achievement or the Psychology of Sales.
What I’d love to do is get to know you. You’ve been a huge part of my life and yet, I think the most that I know about you is the story of how you really got started very early on when you made that transformational shift, and you decided that life didn’t have to… That you could decide what life was going to be like rather than have life impose itself on you.
What I would love to understand is for you to take us back to the beginning, and maybe to just explore some of the milestones in your career. Where did you change jobs? What was important to you? What changed? Where did you come from? And then maybe to explore some of the obstacles. Were there any moments there where it almost didn’t happen? Where we almost weren’t sat here today? And how did you overcome some of those obstacles? And teach some of your awesome ideas through those moments.
Oh, great. I would like to be able to tell you that there were great explosions and moments of clarity that were life-changing. I talk about goals, I teach goals and I’m the best selling author on goals in the world. I love goals and they’ve been instrumental to me but I don’t plan that far ahead. People say, what were your five-year, 10-year goals? I would say five or 10 hours or days and they’re very close.I do set long term goals, lots of them but then I bring my focus down to the worms. I want to climb the mountain but I look at my feet, where is my next foot goal? 100%.
I started off, as I said, in my books, I didn’t graduate from high school. I started off from the age of 10 I earned my own money. I paid for my own clothes, I paid for my own schools, public schools. Not public schools in the British sense but public schools in the US and Canada are the schools that are open to everyone. I just basically survived as I reacted and, re-reacted and did what seemed to be the logical thing to do to survive, to keep on moving forward. I got a look into all kinds of trouble in school which I learned later was because of my problems with my parents. My parents were honest, my father’s British.
That’s enough to ruin any childhood.
My mother was Irish. Our parents were Irish and immigrated to Canada and they met in Toronto and got married. They were incompetent parents. I don’t think my parents ever told me or any of their children, my brothers, and there’s four of us all together, myself and three brothers. They never told us ever that they loved us. It just never occurred to them. Because they basically felt their job was to provide for us. They became pregnant because my mother was intensely Catholic and they probably didn’t believe in birth control. There was no clarity.
My father was not a good provider. He was intelligent, he was well-read but he was not a good provider. My mother was a nurse. Very often, she would have to work two eight hour shift to provide for our family. She would go to work at seven in the morning, come home at midnight and be back at the hospital for the seven to three shift and the 3 to 11 shift, and so on. This is what I saw. And that children were just a pain. I didn’t get anything from that except a resolution later, not to do what they did. One of the decisions that I made is when I grew up and had children of my own, I made a decision that I would never, never, never do to my children what my parents did to me. I didn’t.
My children have been raised with a wonderful life. They’ve never been punished. They’ve never been criticized. They have never been made to feel anything other than that they are wonderful, talented people. That has turned out to be wonderful because our relationship with our children… All grown. My youngest child id 28. All grown, is phenomenal. We just are the best of friends. Three of them are married with children. That’s seven grandchildren all together. It’s been really good. My wife comes from a good family but her family was poor. They had 10 children. The old joke about the Catholic couple goes to the hospital. They have their 10th child and the doctor says, I guess we’ll see we in here in a year. And she says, no, no, no, he said, we found out what’s causing them. It was kind of a funny thing.
Barbara had high aspirations when she was young. She worked really hard. Picking up beer bottles and beer cans on the highway and turning them in for refunds. She went to school and her father worked overnight as a… What would you call it? A caretaker in a meatpacking plant. Basically, he just walked around. If you know anything about meatpacking plants, they have these little clocks, dials around the plant. The person who is on guard, if you like, going through the plant at night has to check in to each one of these so that it’s clear that they actually were doing their job.
Oh, wow, clever.
Yeah. That’s what he did. He’d come home at six, seven or eight o’clock at night. He’d sleep all day. Kids would have to be quiet. Small house but he was a good man just no education. He grew up in a farm, left school in the fourth grade and he just worked hard. His wife Teresa, Barbara’s mother was an absolutely excellent person. That was her background. We got attracted to each other and it was almost like love at first sight.
When did that happen? How old were you?
That happened in… Trying to think, 1970, 77. 1977. I was in my 30s at that time and I decided, I had a conversation with an intelligent woman. I said I wanted to run for Prime Minister someday but I’m not sure if I should get more education because I dropped out of high school. And she said, did you ever hear of a successful politician who was not a college graduate? I never had. I said okay. There was an ad in the paper and it was basically for an executive MBA. You can take an executive MBA. Took two years, about 2000 hours and you study evenings, weekends and summertime. Then you’ve got an MBA. It said on there, it said credit given for lifetime experiences.
I sent in the application. They called me in for the interview and they said, oh my God, we didn’t put in the ad that you had to have an undergraduate degree in order to take a master’s degree. I learned later that they had a big faculty committee meeting and they discussed this and they were really concerned about a series of laws called bait and switch, dishonest people would advertise certain things and reel in customers, and then you would switch them to something else. They were very correct. And they finally said, if you can pass the entry exams for the university, which each person has to write, then we’ll have to let you in, we’ll have to actually retrospectively give you an undergraduate degree in commerce and we have to let you in to get a graduate degree.
I studied for two or three months. I studied night and day, copies of the exams. I don’t know if you have the same thing in the UK. I studied and studied and studied and studied and got tests on books on how to write the tests and books on the kind of questions they would have. And I got a really good score. I got basically 99th percentile in reading and literature and much lower percentile in math. But my higher percentile in literature brought up my percentile. I was off and running a two-year degree. I joke with people, my audiences, I say, how many of you have an MBA or graduated from university? I said, did you learn a damn thing? Everybody laughs. It’s known. I told that was my experience.
I started off my life just basically surviving. Almost everything that I did was a reaction to circumstances. They’ve run out of money. Your situation is different from mine but eating, I say, is a great motivator. I had zero funds and so I had to find a job and work. I did anything. When I was 23 years old, I was working as an itinerant farm labourer, during the harvest. An itinerant farm labourer is someone who works during the harvest, they have to bring on labourers to bring the harvest in before the first frost. I slept in the farmer’s barn, I ate with the farmer’s family. We got out into the fields by first light and just worked all day to get the crop in. And they paid well. Working 12 hour days and the pay was good. I slept in the barn. At the end of the harvest, they lay you off. They pay you off and lay you off. So you had to move on.
When I tell this story, I said then, the only job I could get was knocking on doors selling. I got a job as I was travelling, I was out in Bangkok and I was in this what they call travellers’ club or place where they hang out. Somebody came in and said, I’m looking for somebody to sell bonus books. These were basically cards, like the credit card that they had about 100 different restaurants that had agreed to give discounts. Different percent on different days. I had worked on this in Johannesburg, two, three years before. I had worked in a company like this and I realized they didn’t have anything like this in Thailand. I told the guy who was trying to sell, advertising, I told him about this idea, he started a whole new business and I was the first salesman. I just knocked on doors because there were about 10,000 expatriates in greater Bangkok –
So wait, I missed a link. You were working on a farm, that was in the US and then you moved to-
Actually, that was in Germany.
In Germany, okay. Wow.
It was in 1967, end of 67. I had met a German crossing the Sahara Desert and I looked him up and he and I hit it off. We became friends. He helped me get this job. While I was… Before I had the job, he helped me get a room. They’re very strict laws about people staying in other people’s facilities in Germany. They’re very… “Everything must be in order!” [German]
I have to… There’s part of me that knows we have to move this interview forward and part of me where you keep on opening these amazing things in your backstory which we haven’t explored. Because what I have right now is, I understand you grow up. Parenting sounds very Victorian, don’t mollycoddle the children, getting on with your own stuff. No love. Mom’s working hard dad sounds like he’s got a curious mind. May account for where your curiosity comes from. You’re working hard, you’re reacting, you start earning money, age 10. You drop out of high school. Suddenly, the next thing I have is, you’re crossing the Sahara Desert and you meet a German. And then you’re you’re doing the farm in Germany and then you’re in Thailand. There are so many links that I’d love to…. It sounds amazing. What were you doing in the Sahara desert?
I grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. I dropped out of high school. I got a job in a sawmill, stacking lumber, sometimes all night. They’re paying well, it was a unionized job and it paid well. I had a small apartment, in one of these rental apartments where they rent out three different bedrooms to different traveling males. And then they use the living room and the kitchen and the bathroom, commonly. At the end of… I got two friends and we’re talking about traveling after we finish school. We say let’s… I tell this in my seminars, I say everybody at that time was getting backpacks and going to England or going to Europe. Traveling with backpacks. That was the big deal. Many of our friends had done that. They came from much better families, had lots of money. We didn’t have a lot of money. We all worked in sawmills.
We decided we would build up our money. This is how we did it. We said how are we going to get… We need $1,000, it could be five or eight today. We need $1,000 so what we did is we started saving $5 a week each into a common account in the first month. Second month we saved $10 a week. Third month we saved $15 a week. It took us about four months to get to over $1,000. With that I added, I’m going to call a Junker, an old car and we got in this junker on a September night and set out and drove all the way across Canada to Montreal to get a job on a ship to work our way across the Atlantic. We had decided, since everybody else was going to Europe to hitchhike around in Europe, we would do something nobody else was doing. We’d go to Africa. Our total knowledge of Africa was one page torn out of an atlas that had all of Europe and all of Africa on the same page. That was our operating plan.
We set a way two different consulates and embassies and travel agencies to get information on Africa. They all came back and they’re traveling and staying at fabulous hotels and going on the safaris and everything else. That was of no value to us because we couldn’t afford to stay in one hotel. We said, how are we going to get from London down to Gibraltar? We said, we’ve ever heard of anybody riding bicycles across Africa. So we would ride bicycles across Africa. We’d get fit by riding them across Europe. We traveled down across Calais and started riding. We found that… My joke in my book is that all the hills are uphill and the wind is constantly in your face. I said this seems like you know a geographical impossibility but it’s true. We’ve worked our way and rode bicycles and slept on the side of the road. We thought that riding the bicycles would make us stronger. And then we’d ride bicycles across Africa. Of course our mental set was riding bicycles in Canada or the UK.
By the time we got to Gibraltar we were exhausted. The bikes were shot. Traveling on bikes across Africa was insane. We traded in all our bicycles and the money we had left and we bought a Land Rover. We did that because… We didn’t have any money left. But then we would be forced to figure out how to get to Africa. We sat down, we wrote letters. We said, there’s a little beach under the Big Rock of Gibraltar. That’s where we camped and live and slept next to our Land Rover. We sent letters to everybody that we knew in the world and begged for money. We got $50 here and $25 there. Then one friend of Jeff’s father, from England, send us $300. And $300 was the equivalent of $1,000 at that time. We almost fainted. We opened it up, we couldn’t believe it. But that was enough to get us across to Gibraltar, to supply us with food. And then we started working our way across the Sahara, with the Land Rover. There’s much more to it. It’s all written in my book Many Miles To Go.
Many Miles To Go. Okay, that’s one I have to pick up. I’m sure I could spend the next 30 minutes just talking about that leg of your journey. Let’s get forward. So you’re in Germany, you do the farm. I can hear… I wish I could pick a part but in everything you’ve talked about, I can see the seeds of what you became later and what you wrote about. The ability to work hard, the ability to think through some of these problems, the ability to leverage other people’s time and money and to work as a team, even the financial education, the ability to save and grow a business. There’s so many little seeds that are planted which are amazing. Then we skip forward and you’re in Thailand… You’re in Germany-
I’ll just summarize it quickly. We traveled across Canada, worked on a ship. We broke up and they bought passage on a ship. I stayed and worked in construction in Montreal. I took a ship in the springtime and we met up. Then we bought bicycles in London, we rode them to Gibraltar. Got a Land Rover and then worked our way across the desert. The Land Rover broke down, we lost all of our money. We were robbed of almost all of our stuff. We finally made it across the desert and we found that if we had not had all of those problems, we would have died in the desert.
When we first started traveling, it’s an interesting point, they would say where are you going? In Algeria or Morocco, they said we’re going across the Sahara desert to Africa. They said, no, no, you can’t do that you’ll die in the desert. We said no, we’re not going to die in the desert, we’re going to just go… There’s a road. You’ll die in the desert. You can’t cross this desert. It’s too big. I joke that these were not other tourists. These were Bedouins, people who had lived in the Sahara for 1000 years. Yeah. I spoke French by this time. I had learned French when I was working on construction in Montreal. French is the lingua franca of North and South West Africa. I said, you must be kidding. We would continue our travel from town to town. They’d ask, Who are you and where you going? I’m going to cross the Sahara and they say, oh no, “You’ll die in the desert!” [French/German]
Everybody said, you’ll die in the desert. You’ll die in the desert. We finally got through the desert after so many problems. We realized why they were telling us that because if we had not had breakdowns and problems and setbacks and everything else, we would have died in the desert. In crossing the desert, you don’t get a second chance. 1,300 people had died in the desert. Going off with our idea, oh we’ll just jump in and work our way across. We worked our way down, it’s a long story, to Johannesburg. I stayed there for a year. Jeff, my partner, the three of us, one of us left us in Algeria. Jeff left me in Johannesburg. Eventually I came back to my ship to work in Johannesburg for an advertising agency. I learned how to write advertising copy. Whenever I needed to learn something I would study and study and study.
I saw an ad in the paper. It was a beautiful ad looking for a copywriter, a junior copywriter. I went and I applied for the job as a junior copywriter. The gentleman was a very nice man, very nice man. Very professional. British university graduate. We had discussed about the job. And I remember, he said, why are you here? He said, why are you taking up my time? He said, you have no education. You have no background in writing or as far as this business work. Nothing. Why? I said, oh, and he said, you’re welcome and thank you for coming in but there’s no possibility of you working for us. This is a small company. So I said, what do I need to do differently? He said, you need to learn what copy is. I didn’t know what copy was. Copy is advertising there were things like. I went down to the library and I checked out a book on how to write copy. I read the book. I was working as a junior trainee for a department store chain, it’s called OK Bazaars. It’s the biggest chain in Southern Africa. I would just read and study copyright.
And then I would go to another advertising agency. I look in the yellow pages and I check to see the size. I went from the lowest one, I would apply for a job and get turned down and I asked why, and how could I improve my application next time. They would tell me and then I’d go back and read some more. Then I would go back and next week, I go back and apply for another job. Finally, I worked my way all the way up to the second biggest advertising agency in Africa. They hired me. They hired me as a junior copywriter. Because at this time, I could write copy tests, I can do everything else.
And the day that I was going to start, I got a phone call. They said, we’re sorry. The person who’s going to leave has changed their mind. They’re going to stay so we have to withdraw the job offer. However, we’re so impressed with your copy test that we’ve recommended you to some friends of ours, at a company called Lindsay Smithers, which is the number one biggest advertising agency in Africa and they would very much like to meet with you. I met with him and they hired me to work as a junior copywriter. You get basically writing advertising for newspapers, radio, television, magazines and so on supervised. I became very, very good at writing copy. And copy is basically words… It’s a sales on paper. Anyway, so then-
It’s not just words, it’s not… What I love about copy is… Writing clearly means thinking clearly. You have to think clearly but to write compelling copy, you have to understand the people who you’re writing for. It’s an incredible exercise in psychology, and understanding your own psychology.
It lasted me all my life. There are lots of other parts to it. But then I took that… So meanwhile I was taking karate. I went to a karate school run by one of the top karate experts in Southern Africa, Stan Schmidt. I told him, I didn’t have any money, which I didn’t, but I wanted. I’d started taking karate in Montreal but could I take lessons anyway. He said sympathy on me. And he said, okay, you can come to my school without paying. He had two schools. The schools alternated. There are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I went to both schools. I had two classes each afternoon, evening. I began attending… You’re supposed to go either one school or the other, one class per day, three days a week. I was going six days, two classes a day for six months and I got a black belt in karate. Which requires an enormous amount of determination plus, it enables you to be fast on your feet. It also gives you a lot of confidence. I entered a national championships and came in third. Which was anyway, so then I-
Just to pause. I want to go back because I think it’s important for me to keep track of this. To tie all these threads together. You have this burning desire not to make the same mistakes as your parents and to keep doing things and to see the world and all this stuff. You go out and you start… You not only have this drive that’s driving you behind there but you also have this, you’re burning all your bridges behind you know. No money, no stuff so that’s forcing you to get through. And also at this stage, you’re learning some incredibly valuable things. You’re learning that there is almost nothing that you can’t learn. That everything that someone was once good at, they could learn. You learn to copyright, you’re learning martial arts. All these things are not things that you can cheat. There’s no shortcuts, you have to just get up and put the effort in and then you see the results at the end.
You’re also doing things very intensely which I think is super important. People try and learn things like languages. They go I’m going to do Spanish for 20 minutes a day. It’s very hard to stay motivated when the progress takes a long time. But when you learn French because you have to learn it because you’re working on a construction site in Montreal, when you learn Germany because you’re in Germany, when you learn copywriting because you have to. Also at this stage, I’m seeing the meta skills or the values start to emerge in you and also starting to see some hard these hard skills that would serve you later on. I think language learning, incredibly important but especially the copywriting at an early age, understanding how and why people think the way they do, being able to write clearly, which you do. Being able to write compellingly. Everything that I read of yours, like I said, it makes me want to take action. I can see even when you’re not trying to sell something there’s that, oh my gosh, I’ve got to get on and do that.
I’m starting to see that coming through. With the martial arts there’s obviously a lot of… Combined with the psychology, there’s a lot of internal work that goes on there as well with working out what you’re capable of, what you’re not waking up every day constantly getting beaten up and coming back and things like that. I just wanted to… I think, we’re at that point, I just wanted to capture some of those threads because there’s a lot of great stuff in there.
Well, thank you. In retrospect, when I was there, I was just trying to survive. I basically did whatever I needed to do to survive. I just got an email just before I called you, it was from someone who had driven me to the airport many years ago in Salt Lake City, which is about 1000 miles from here. I had spoken for his company and he had the opportunity to drive me to the airport. He asked me for advice. He’s telling me his story. And I actually video is his little story he said, at the airport I asked him what was one piece of advice that I would give to him to help him to be successful. I was already a successful professional speaker. He recalled that I had given him two pieces of advice and piece of advice number one, is never stop learning. Never stop learning. Dedicate yourself, your life to continuous learning. Piece of advice number two, is never give up. Never consider the possibility of failure. If you’ve read my stuff, you’ve probably seen this over and over.
Those resonate. I remember them.
Because the thing is that if you commit yourself to continuous learning, you can learn, just what you said, you can learn anything you need to learn to achieve any goal you can set for yourself. And what it does that is it moves you to a higher level. And you never go back. You cannot unlearn a language. You cannot unlearn a skill like karate. Stan Schmidt, an absolutely great man, asked me if I would teach one of his separate schools in the suburbs. They needed a karate instructor to teach three days a week. Would I do it for him? Of course, I owed him a lot because he never did charge me. He came and visited me here actually, a few years ago. He came to-
This is your martial arts instructor?
He had an eight-degree black belt in Shotokan karate, which is the Harvard of karate in the world. Wonderful, wonderful, man. He actually made me an instructor for several months. I was teaching karate, as well as learning karate. It was a wonderful experience.
As you’re teaching, because teaching… I think that’s where you also have that realization that teaching a skill is the best way to learn it. You can learn karate and get your black belt and then you’re like, wow, now I have to teach it and break it down and understand how I got there. I can see you nodding. Yeah. That’s a huge epiphany.
Yeah, very true. You lay down a foundation, you can learn anything you need to learn to achieve any goal that you need to achieve. You have to work or you don’t eat. I would work and save my money and then travel on. I said in other places is the reason I travelled in 80 countries. I left home and I travelled all around the world in 80 countries was because I had reached a point where I would stop and work and earn a certain amount of money. And it was just the amount that it would take to go home or to travel on. I would look at these go home, travel on. For eight years, it was travel on.
Wow. Eight years.
I travelled from continent to continent, from country to country and I run out of money, and I’d stop and work again. It’s an unusual thing but the things that I teach people in my books is that you have unlimited potential but you have to get it out. The way you get it out is you learn and do. Learn and do, learn and do. Learn new skills and then practise and practise and practise and by gum you will be successful. Here’s another thing that’s really important to our listeners, it’s why did I do all of these things? I read and read and read and read and read and read and read.
I stumbled across some really great one-liners. One of the one-liners from English literature was “the key to success is find something that you really enjoy and then put your whole heart into becoming good at that”. You always must invest enough time to become good at something before you decide not to do it. I thought, wow. Because when you decide to do this, write copy or anything, at the beginning, it’s going to be very difficult. And at the beginning 80, 90% of people quit. They say this is too hard, I’m not getting the positive feedback back. It’s just give and give. No, what you have to do is just put your whole heart into reaching a certain level of competence in something and at that level of competence you say, do you really want to go on and get even better? At that point, if the answer is yes, then just keep throwing your heart in it. If it isn’t, it’s time to change and have the courage to change and say, well, I am competent enough at this but I don’t love it.
There’s a wonderful story when Steve Jobs took over Apple in 1997. The company he found was three months away from bankruptcy. Actually two and a half months. They basically turned the company back to him because he was the major shareholder. He went head in and he called the accountants in and he said, what is our situation? And they explained to him. He had been visiting the company and talking to people and asking questions, but he had no idea that they were almost out of money. He said, what are we going to do? What he did is really interesting. What he did was he called together 100… They have 4000 people worldwide. He called together 100 top managers, sent them all down and said, look, we have a serious problem here. And we have 104 products and we need to get rid of some of these products. I want each of you… And divided into 10 groups. The 10 groups were to pick the 10 products that they thought we should keep. There was shouting and moaning and crying and complaining because people’s oxen were being slaughtered and everything else.
A couple of weeks later, they all came back together. Each of them had their list of 10, they combined the lists. And then they said now, I should go back to work and reduce this list to 10. Shouting, screaming crying, threatens of quitting because this was their livelihood and so on. And they came back with finally, a comprehensive list of 10. He said now I want you to reduce it to four. The thing that took place was the company’s moving toward the cliff of bankruptcy. They came up with four products and they agreed to cancel 100 of the products that Apple had developed over the years. But they’re still short of money. The story is really wonderful because he said, I’ve got to have $100,000,000 to keep the company alive. Where am I going to get that money? The only place that I know is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. They had started their companies at the same time and Steve Jobs had always attacked Microsoft for being stodgy, unoriginal, unimaginative. They had actually debated on stages in front of hundreds of students and-
Yeah, that was their whole marketing platform. They did the thing where they did the McDonald’s versus Burger King or the Pepsi versus Coke, they set themselves up as the-
Exactly. So he had been dumping because they had two business plans or what we call business models. Bill Gates business model was open architecture. Everybody could design for Microsoft and they could sell on Microsoft and sell via Microsoft and make a fortune on Microsoft. Steve Jobs, his business model was private architecture. Nobody could use it. Nobody could access it. Nobody could work on the mechanics. And of course, Bill Gates became the richest man in the world and Steve Jobs is on the verge of bankruptcy.
So, he phoned up… I love this story. He phoned up Bill Gates. He said, Bill… He has been attacking and insulting Bill Gates for 15, 20 years. He said, Bill, he said I’ve got a problem. He said, if I don’t have $100,000,000 soon, my app is going to go broke. And he said I know you have lots of money. I need to borrow $100,000,000 from you. Bill Gates said, Steve, he said, Apple is too important a company to go broke. He said, I will give you the $100,000,000 but I’m not going to lend it to you, I’m going to buy stock in Apple. I’m going to become a shareholder with you and we’ll work together to make apple successful. He basically wrote him a check for $100,000,00.
The next thing that happened, they brought out the iPod, with 1000 songs for bucks and then the iPhone. They kept bringing him the iPhone, bringing the iPhone, bringing the iPhone. And he kept saying, I don’t like it yet. I don’t like it yet. And they said, What’s wrong with it? He said I don’t love it. I don’t love it yet. And they kept working on it and they came up with this round edges for the iPhone and they gave it to him. He held it, the engineers presented it. I love this, he said, I love it. It has now become the most successful product in the history of the world. It has generated for him more than two… For Apple more than $2 trillion in profits in the bank. It still is more profitable than any other company, even companies that are much, much larger.
And here’s the point, is that the key to this phone which changed our lives. I’m sure you probably have one within reach of your hand. We live with these, is that he said I didn’t love it yet. The thing in life is what you do is you work at something and you work at it really hard until you love it. If you put your whole heart into it because you love it, then you’ll be successful. As Napoleon Hill said, you’ll never work a day in your life if you do what you love. Every day, you can hardly wait. You have to have self-discipline because that’s the most important quality for success, that you have to have self-discipline and not work. To work, you have to force yourself not to work, you have to have the discipline to push yourself.
I find there’s often a switching point, something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently between survive mode and thrive mode. A lot of the time when you’re in survival, you have to push against things that push you back. You don’t want to go to the gym, you force yourself to go. But once you reach that inflexion point, which you were talking about earlier, where that efficiency curve flips over, suddenly, the game changes. Suddenly… And where a lot of people get stuck is they get stuck in the habit of pushing against things they don’t like, instead of switching to the mindset, okay, now I’ve got momentum, let’s move towards the things that I love. There is a moment where that switch is. The beginning is always a fight against what pushes against you and later it becomes a moment. It’s like, gravity reverses and it’s like, okay, how do I fly towards the things which feel like I’m not working every day?
I became a student of Peter Drucker back in the early 70s. A friend of mine, who I met, I still remember, he was taking an MBA at the local university. He was a businessman. We’re talking, he said, have you ever read anything by Peter Drucker? And I never heard of Drucker before. And he said, oh Drucker’s the best. I said, well, I respected him. I went to the library and got a book up by Drucker. I came home and I just basically fell down. I loved it because Drucker… jump ahead years later, I’m taking an MBA myself, 10, 15 years later, and I asked the professor, I said, why is it that you don’t recommend anything by Drucker? Because they get reading this and everything else and he kind of shy and looked away, and he said down faced, Drucker summarizes, what we write in a book, he summarizes in a chapter. We don’t want our students reading Drucker, because the comparison is so awful. And it’s true. You read a little bit of Drucker and then you can read book after book after book and it doesn’t improve on Drucker.
Brian, I think you have succeeded in doing much the same thing. Whenever I read one of your books, you cover succinctly and beautifully in a section, what I then… Because I spend a lot of time reading and summarizing books. You write about habits. And I’m like, wow, he’s just said exactly what is said in, Atomic Habits and Power of Habit all these things. Every single section of your book, I could almost go away and find you a New York Times bestseller that basically said the same thing but in 300 more pages. I think that’s amazing.
That is a true statement. That’s interesting because I have noticed that and people point out to me that the person’s read through two or 300 pages, saying what I summarized in-
If you want to write a New York Times bestseller, basically just read one of Brian’s books and pick a paragraph or a little section that hasn’t been in New York Times bestseller. Yeah. And pitch it to an agency.
The reason I mentioned Drucker is because Drucker has a whole series of little one liners. One of his one liners was that it takes seven years to be successful in a new business. He explains that it takes the first two years to learn how to survive, to actually generate more revenue than it’s costing you to stay alive. Forbes had a study on this. They said, every startup is a race against time. It’s like a plane diving toward the earth and your job is to pull back on that stick and pull it out of the dive, so that you’re actually earning more money, than it’s costing you to stay alive and you start to turn it around. It takes two more years to pay back what you lost or borrowed in the first two years. And then it takes three more years to profit. It’s two, four, seven, two, four, seven, two, four…
I heard other people when I started speaking, and they said, it takes seven years to become a successful speaker. I had been speaking for about four years at that time and I was struggling really hard. And I said, no damn way, it’s not going to take me seven years. She was the president of the National Speakers Association and she was right. It took seven years. The reason I say this is that many people think, well, I’ll start a business and then I’ll be rich. No, you’re going to start a business and you’re going to become really, really, really good at what you’re doing, offering a product or service that people really, really want and are willing to pay for. And 99% of business startups fail because they miss one of those two things. They don’t have a product that people want, when they do have a product that is better than anything else that people can get, the differentiating factors, and so on.
I’ve taught hundreds of thousands of business owners all over the world. I put together… After decades out of university, I put together a two day MBA, which I give to 100, sometimes 1,000 people. It’s always workbooks, exercises, overhead projector charts and so on. I just walk people through the critical requirements for business success. And then later, about four or five years later, I developed a graduate program called Business Model Reinvention. This is a whole other, as we say, a whole other area, it’s because of the incredible turmoil today, that 80% of companies are working with obsolete business models. And your business model is your profit model. It’s how you generate profits. According to Harvard, they did a whole year on this in 1913, is that 80% of companies, including the biggest companies in the world, are using obsolete or partially obsolete business models.
When I work with companies, I say, What is your business model? Because what Harvard found is that most company owners or company presidents don’t know what their business model is. They come into the position, they backed into it. They’re working all day, every day, and so on. But what is your business model. Two plus two equals four, four plus four… What is the business model? I got a book from Apple. It was called the 55 great business models. There are 55 different business models or ways of organizing your business to generate profits. There is a very high probability that your business model is partially obsolete.
What I do is I like to recruit people into this course. First time I gave this presentation, which I’ll give you right now, we had 1,000 people in the room, taking the MBA, the two-day MBA. I call it Total Business Mastery. Of the 1,000, 800, enrolled at $500 to $1,000 each in the business model reinvention. Here’s a simple thing. I said, if your business is properly organized then your sales and profitability are going up, up, up steady, steady, steady, steady, predictably. That’s a good business model. You don’t need my help.
However, if your sales are going up and down, up and down, up and down, fluctuating and are unbreakable, something could be wrong. You could need a business model do over. If your sales are flat, then definitely your business model is wrong. If your sales are declining, your business model is declining and you’re heading toward a cliff and you’re going to go broke and you’re going to lose everything. How many people here would like to come to the course and 80% raise their hands that they wanted to come to the course. I got standing ovations at every break. I do my courses usually, eight sessions, 90 minutes each per day. And so we do four sessions a day, eight sessions. I got standing ovations at every break, standing ovations at the end of the day and people went out and just used these ideas on reinventing their business and transform their business.
The reason I’m telling you this is because you and I are talking to the people who are watching this. They need to know that it is very possible for you to start and build a successful business. 87% of self made millionaires and billionaires started a business. They started with nothing and they built a successful business. However, 99% of people who start a business go broke. Why? Because they don’t know what we’re talking about here. They don’t have the basic skills, those essential skills. I show that in a business model, there’s 10 skills. 10 critical elements that you have to be aware of. Always be open to the possibility that you could be wrong. In life, always be open to the possibility that your chosen course of action is wrong. There’s not success at the end of this, there’s a cliff.
This is one of the reasons I’ve been successful. I learned this decades ago, two decades ago. They did a study, the manager of an institute did a study and they asked 1,000 senior executives, what’s the most important quality for success do you believe in the 21st century? This is about 1995, 96. What will be the most important quality for success? The unanimous agreement was flexibility. You had to be flexible, you had to be open to change. You had to be willing to pull back, try something else. You had to be willing to abandon your favorite ideas and go somewhere else. In the Bible it says, leave your cloak in the hands of the harlot and flee. The harlot is the way of doing business that you’re falling in love with, which may have worked at one time but now the market has changed.
Look at today with the Coronavirus. Oh, my god. Coronavirus has changed all this. There’s some companies, if you read… I read three newspapers a day, including the Wall Street Journal, there’s some companies that are actually doing better than they’ve ever done. There are tens of thousands of companies, even millions, that are just going bankrupt. Why is they going bankrupt because they’re riding this dying horse toward a cliff. I just stop and say, wait a minute, we have to reevaluate everything. I teach them, these are the seven. In my one day business model reinvention, there’s seven critical factors. In the two days, there’s 10 critical factors. These are taught in top universities. Management consulting firms will come into a company and charge them hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to help them to design or redesign a business model.
Every single person who’s watching this, if they are in business of some kind, 80 to 90% of them can make themselves extraordinary valuable by just studying business model design. Why do you do that? This is the most amazing damn thing in the world. Go onto Apple and put in business model design and it’ll give you the best selling, most popular courses that are offered in the world today. You can read one book. We say in the land of the blind, one eye is king. In the land of the blind, one eye is king. In the land of the blind, the person who knows about business model reinvention, redesign, sometimes they call it business model innovation, can be the most valuable person in the company with one book. If they read three books, they will be a market leader for the rest of their careers. Three books.
It’s one of the things I love about you is the numbers you use, you talked about 55 business models, you talked about seven critical factors. Whenever I read one of your books and I think it probably is one of the things that helped me get a job at McKinsey was the way that you’re able to break problems down. I think it’s also amazing. Whenever you’re faced with a big problem, I read one of your books, you split everything into steps. There’s the seven key results areas in selling, there’s the… I’m sure the business models is one part of a larger framework that you have and this ability to break problems down into small problems and then work out which of those small problems, where does the X go as you say in Focal Point, on each of those small problems, which is the most important.
So many of us, we approach these big problems, we approach life, we think of life as this big problem. How do we solve this problem? But if you break it into small pieces and like you said if you break the goals down into the long term goals and then what are you going to do next week and what are you going to do tomorrow, then suddenly, all of those big goals become small goals. And I think that’s a huge amount. We could have a whole, by the way, I think a whole new conversation about changing business models, because I see a lot of this on the forefront of ecommerce, especially in the internet. I work with and around constantly entrepreneurs who are making seven, eight figures by themselves with no office premises, totally remote companies. These are the businesses that are growing, where the ones where that are heading towards the cliff that just have no idea how to respond to it.
Honestly, we could talk for hours. I wish I could talk to you for hours and hours. I know we’re at the end of our time. I had lots of questions, I think you’ve covered so many of them. I think I could go back and unpacking everything that you’ve said, I can see so many of the principles that have made you successful. There’s so much that’s inspiring about your story that… The traveling you’ve done. I can imagine a huge amount of what makes you successful as you faced the idea of nothing or success so many times that even if you lost everything today, you would follow your own principles and never give up and know that you could just keep learning. You’re such an inspiring writer and author. Truly a master synthesizer.
I will put some links under this video, wherever you find it, you’ll be able to find more information. Brian, if you were to speak to either specifically to the business model idea that you’ve just spoken about or if there’s someone who’s watching this, who’s super inspired, where would you tell them to start? Where should they go online using their iPhones or their phones if that’s what they want? If they had one book, just one of your books, you are like, this is the first book. You should go away and read it. Which one of those books would you choose?
I wrote a book a few years ago, and it’s called Now, Build a Great Business! What I did is I took the seven most important parts of business model design and wrote it into a book. I had it published by American Management Association. I co-wrote it with a good friend of mine, Mark Thompson. I wrote most of the book and he wanted to do a co-production so we did it together. That would be a good one because it has many of the best principles in both the two day MBA and the business model reinvention.
I wanted to tell you one quick thing is that I love McKinsey and Company. And I always have. From the first time I read about it and studied it and looked at the philosophy behind it and the history of McKinsey and the quality work that you guys do, for you to have worked with McKinsey and Company, I think that’s just wonderful. Because they are… I think they’re just so good. I never had a chance to work with them but I do know people who did.
No, Brian. I think McKinsey never had a chance to work with you. I see a lot of the very best stuff that I learned at McKinsey that you picked up, I have improved on infinitely. From the way you think to the actual things that you say, I think he would have been… Had you been at the company, you would have been an incredible leader there.
Well, thank you. To answer your question. I have written 90 books now. I got into a rhythm, I was writing four books per year. The reason for that is I finished Maximum Achievement and the publishers didn’t help me with it. They told me, you’ll have to hire your own publicist. I hired my own publicist at $5,000 a month and then eventually $10,000 a month to get me interviews because that was the only way you could sell a book, is you have to be interviewed on radio, television, newspaper and so on. Then people would buy the book and then the book would get legs and the legs it would start to sell by itself because of what they call pass-along. I did all of this stuff.
After about six months, I started to get a lot of interviews and went up and up and then they began to taper off and taper off. I said to my publicist, how come I’m not getting any more interviews. They said, well, your time is up. This is back in ’89. They said Your time is up. I said what do you mean, my time is up? They said, you get three months of promotional time for the promotional organizations, radio, television newspaper. The three months before it comes out, three months afterwards, then they move on. And your time is up. And my time is up? Yeah, your time is up. And I said, well, how do I get more money? And they said, well, you have to write another book.
I had been producing audio programs and each of the audio programs, originally I could do them just spontaneous. Spontaneously, but I did so many that I had to write out a script and then record them in Nightingale-Conant Studios. I had all of these scripts. What I did is I cleaned them all up and edited them and turn them into books. I just said, if that’s what it takes that I’m going to write a book every three months. They said, nobody’s ever written a book, every three months. I’m going to write a book every three months, I’m going to take all the notes that I have, accumulate other knowledge, take all these scripts from the audio programs, and I wrote three books, four books a year, for 26 years. For 26 years.
I produced book after book, program after program. I never had to sell a book, I just had to tell my previous publishers, I’ve got a new book. One or more of them will snatch it out of my hand and give me an advance and buy the book and distribute it. The point that I was trying to make is my thinking of a new book. And the new book I’m thinking of is called Turning Points. You might think about this, because I found in my life, I’ve had turning points. After the turning point, your life is never the same. It’s like coming to a crossroads and going in a different direction. Then I realized that the book… Unless I wrote a book about myself, it would be of no interest because I was thinking of interviewing you and other people about their turning points, but your turning points are a complete life story.
I said, what are my turning points. I figured out that I had three and I will pass these on to your friends. I call it the Golden Triangle. The first part of the Golden Triangle was when I accepted responsibility for my life. In fact, I just looking at something just came out, a newsletter being produced, where they said, here’s how Brian changed his life, when he accepted responsibility. I was 21 years old, working on construction, living in a one room apartment. I realized that if I didn’t change, nothing would ever change. At this time, late at night, freezing winter outside, I made a decision that I am responsible for my own life. Nobody else. No excuses, no blaming, no attacking my parents, no getting angry at anybody else. I am responsible. I started to find that every successful person, the turning point is when they accept responsibility. They stop making up excuses, they stop blaming other people, they just accept responsibility. From that point on, I never blamed anybody for anything.
The second point in the turning point was goals. Write down, very clear a specific written goals. Organize your goal by priority and then work on your most important goal and just work on your goals all the time. There’s a technique that I teach that just to throw in as an extra, it’s called the 20 idea method and it will make you rich. More people have become millionaires with this method than any other single way of thinking.
What you do is, let’s say you set a goal to earn $100,000 a year. So you write that down, I earn $100,000 per year by this date. You always have a cutoff date. So let’s say it would be to one year, two years from now. I earn this amount of money by this date. And then you rephrase it as a question, how do I earn $100,000 a year by this date? And then you force yourself to write 20 answers to the question. Every answer starts with a verb, an action verb. I make more sales, I call more people, I study the subject more often. But always, it’s always an action that you’re going to take. If you write down 20 actions, one of those will pop out and it’ll be life changing. I’ve done this exercise for countless people and in every case, it’s life changing.
Because I say the first five or 10 answers will be simple and then hard. The next few answers will be more difficult. The last five answers will be murder. You’ll be sitting there looking at the paper but you got to force yourself to write at least 20 answers. Over and over again in my classes, the 20th answer has been a life changer. People just went like, “Ah, explosion, bang!”. The 20th answer, it was the answer they’ve been looking for. It was the answer that put everything together. Write a list of your goals. And ask, if I could achieve all of these goals, which… If I could achieve any one of these goals within 24 hours, which one goal would have the greatest positive impact on my life? And put a circle around your number one goal. And then you go to a separate piece of paper, how can I achieve this goal by this date? And write down the answer. That’s the second part.
The third part is continuous learning. Nothing replaces that. You know that I know that is nothing replaces continually learning. I still read three hours a day. I’m 76 years old and I still read three hours a day, constantly. Look behind me, book after book. I buy two books a week, I subscribe to half a dozen different magazines. I’m continually learning because all you need is one idea or insight to turn your life around.
Those would be my big three. Accept responsibility, you are where you are and what you are because of yourself. Setting goals. Whenever you write down some goal, I say, this is the most magical device of all, a pen. You can write on a piece of paper and when you write it down, you’re actually imprinting it into your subconscious mind which then as you all know, turns it over to your super-conscious mind and your super-conscious mind then works on your goal 24 hours a day until it comes true. It will come through exactly the right time for you. Then you say what is goal number two. You have goals… I always talk about financial goals first because if you have financial goals and you accomplish those, they give you the freedom to accomplish everything else. Those are the ideas that I will pass on to your listener.
Taking full responsibility is incredibly powerful. I just finished reading a book called The Body Keeps the Score, which is about trauma and it’s one of the major steps in that. Goal setting. I learned everything I know about goal setting from you. All the smart goal setting ideas. I love the 20 ideas points. I love… One of the most powerful things I ever took away from you was thinking on paper. The idea of getting stuff out of your head and writing it down is just magical. Even when I work with people to work out what their goals are, often they write what they… We do a vision for their health and their life or their relationships, they write it down and they look at what they’ve written down, they’re like, wow, that doesn’t inspire me at all.
Sometimes writing it down is the important part. It’s clearing away the assumptions that you never really faced and seeing them in front of you. So responsibility, goals and the 20 ideas, idea and then continuous learning. I love that you read three hours a day. Reading is the most… I always say to people, people go, I need mentorship, I need teachers things that I’m like, if I sat down with you as we are now and said, Brian, can you teach me the most important ideas that you’ve acquired in your life? The first thing you would say is, I spent a lot of time synthesizing those in books. So go away and read my books.
It’s interesting that I just got an email today. And this guy is obviously very successful. He said you changed my whole life with your two recommendations as I let you off at the airport. Continuous learning and never give up. Success, we say is not easy. It’s hard. It’s very hard but it’s extremely possible.
Yeah. Wow. Brian, as much as… I know, we’ve already gone 20 minutes over and I’m very conscious of your time and I know you’re conscious of it. I think that’s an amazing place though to finish the interview. I think just wonderful messages, take responsibility, write goals, continuous learning. If you had to add one, I know it’s not a triangle but maybe you could put a dot in the middle or a circle around is this idea of never giving up.
Never giving up.
To constantly be working at these things. They’re very powerful for people to take away.
I owe you because you showed me how to turn up the volume. I had no idea. I’m looking at it here now. Wow. All of this stuff. I’ve been looking at this for years, I never realized I could control it.
It’s amazing. One of my favourite things at McKinsey was sitting down. I used to teach the Excel modelling, the worksheets or the data analysis to the other analysts. I used to sit with the CEOs and CFOs, who I was just in awe of, amazed. I would take their data and put it into a graph and they would go, this is the most amazing person ever. How have you done these things? And I thought this is my niche. This is where I can thrive. There we go. A small thing. But yeah, thank you very much. Thank you for being so generous with sharing your history as well. I could dive into there and there’s so much gold. I think it’s been absolutely fascinating. So thank you for your time.
Well, it’s been a pleasure. I wish we could talk longer.
Yeah, well, anytime. If you want to just drop me a call, I’m happy to chat about anything. If you ever have any technical issues, you know where I am, just drop me an email. I’ll trade one technical tip for another hour of your time any day of the week.
Bye. Take care, Brian. Bye.
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