Geoff Thatcher is the CEO of Creative principals, providing creative leadership for brand experiences, museums, visitor centres and attractions. He is the author of the CEO’s Time Machine and a TEDx Speaker. In this show, discover:
- The power of experience through story
- The correlation between stories and leadership
- What the CEO’s Time Machine can do for you
- How note taking can lead to creating great stories
Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services
The Leadership Hacker News
Steve Rush: Ever wondered why you can get captivated listening to a leader who tells a great story? The history of storytelling dates back many thousands of years ago when we lived in caves where we used to use pigment to paint on our walls with our hands before we could speak. Then when we could start to communicate using our verbal communication; we used to create stories and myths while sitting around campfires in order to inspire people and let people know what was going on in our world. The ancient Greeks then carved their language into walls to tell how history was evolving for them. Generations and cultures grew and developed. Routines and rituals were turned into stories. Legends were created, and legacies were left behind for generations to pass on.
English writer and actor William Shakespeare wrote 37 plays in the 16th century. Shakespeare was a huge influence on storytelling because of his ability to really transform our language into stuff that we even use today. So how can stories help us as leaders? Well, storytelling is a key leadership technique because of its quick, powerful, energizing, and collaborative approach to persuading and entertaining people. It also helps us make an emotional connection. Yeah, of course, stories have to be authentic and make sense because if not, they become fables and folklore, then you also don’t get buy in.
If through story you create that emotional connectivity, you will also create buy-in with your audience. So we may have replaced our medium of campfires with social media and high tech video conferencing, so the next time you are communicating a key message, think about how stories can bring it to life. There is an old Native American proverb I love and want to share with you: Tell me the facts and I will learn, tell me the truth and I will believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. That has been our Leadership Hacker News. If you have any insights, information or stuff that, you would just like our listeners to hear, get in touch with us.
Start of Podcast
Steve Rush: I am joined on today show by Geoff Thatcher. Geoff is the founder and CEO of Creative Principles. He is a TEDx speaker and the author of The CEO’s Time Machine. Geoff, welcome to the show.
Geoff Thatcher: Thank you, Steve.
Steve Rush: Our pleasure indeed.
Geoff Thatcher: It is great to be here.
Steve Rush: So before we get into the concept of The CEO’s Time Machine and some of the work you do at the moment with Creative Principles, tell us a little bit about your journey into becoming a CEO yourself?
Geoff Thatcher: Well, I have been very lucky to have basically grown up in the industry that I still work in, so I started as a 14 year old clean-up boy, and that was the actual title of the job.
I was a clean-up boy at an amusement park.
Steve Rush: Right.
Geoff Thatcher: And worked all my way through high school and college, and then after a brief flirtation with journalism have been back working in theme parks, museums, visitor’s centres, brand experiences, and experiences for a long time. It is very rewarding to have been basically working in the same industry since I was 14. I just love the fact that what was part of my childhood is also part of my career now as a 52-year-old guy.
Steve Rush: So what has been the draw to theme parks and the world of themes and entertainment for you? What has been the draw?
Geoff Thatcher: That is a really good question and you know, on the surface of it is that it is fun and you bring smiles to people and it’s about creating experiences. On a deeper level though. It is really about storytelling. Now, when I was, you know…train engineer at an amusement park. You know choo-choo, try having a steam engine around a Lake and, you know, looking at zoo animals. I did not think much about story, but you know, after college and you know, studying journalism and actually working as a reporter and then coming back into this industry. You really begin to realize that the best experiences, the ones that are most memorable are those experiences that are based upon a powerful story. So Steve you’re in the UK and we certainly have a great love for Harry Potter here in the United States, and so when you go to Universal Studios and you immerse yourself at Hogwarts and that wonderful story. It really is quite a memorable experience, and so that is to me, what is most precious is, I love telling stories.
Steve Rush: Telling stories, not just through the written word, but through the experiences that you now create on behalf of the organization you lead. So tell us a little bit about Creative Principles, and what it is you do right now?
Geoff Thatcher: Well, that is right. I mean, if you are going to tell a story and an experience, the first thing you have to do is actually write that story. And so what we do at creative principles is we are, as the name would imply creative leaders and we work on high level creative concepts for theme parks and museums and visitor centres and corporate brand experiences. And so we started the company about three years ago. I mean, obviously I have been doing this my whole career, but three years ago, went out on our own and started the company. And since then we’ve worked on everything from the grand opening of Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, which was just fantastic to work with those amazing brands. I mean, you have Batman and the joker and, you know, bugs bunny and, you know, the Flintstones. To an amazing corporate brand experience in Singapore and in Boston of all things and insurance company, FM Global. But they had a great story to tell and, you know, don’t have to get into the details, of what story an insurance company might have to tell, but needless to say. We all have, I think appreciated the value of insurance here, as we faced a pandemic and other challenges before us. It is nice to have a little bit of ability to be resilient, and so the company that we work for in creating these experiences, FM Global, their motto. Their tagline is resilience and the power of resilience, and so it is important, especially in challenging times that; we learn how to be resilient.
Steve Rush: Story telling as a principle is not new of course; when we were living in caves 50,000 years ago, it was the only way that we were able to really communicate and that’s where storytelling kind of got its early grounding if you like. In gathering insights, and gathering people and gathering audiences, what do you notice is the direct correlation between storytelling and the leaders that you have worked with when you are creating those things experiences?
Geoff Thatcher: Well, the best leaders tell great stories and they tell those great stories over and over and over again. I am sure if we were to talk about our childhoods we would be able to talk about those stories that our parents told us over and over and over again, to the point where you almost begin to roll your eyes and go, oh, not that story again, please no. But that’s actually a good thing. I mean, if you are in the workplace and you are the CEO and if your employees start to roll their eyes and go, please don’t tell us the story about note taking again. Well, maybe you are actually starting to make a difference in getting that story ingrained into the culture of your company. So I would always encourage CEOs to tell stories and tell the same story and tell it over and over again, because those stories become part of your culture and part of who you are.
Steve Rush: I observe that too when I particularly coach leaders. I make a direct correlation with those who are more effective in terms of engagement, by their ability to tell better stories than those who are aren’t. Would you noticed that too?
Geoff Thatcher: Absolutely, I mean the challenge, I think sometimes with leaders is almost all of us can tell a great story, but can you tell a great story that makes a point? I mean, for example, you know. I talk about how I got my job in the first place as a 14 year old, I wanted to work at this amusement park and I wanted what I thought to be the best job at this amusement park, which was working in their swimming pool, which we didn’t have water parks back then. It was a big, you know, million gallon swimming pool with diving boards and, you know old water slides, which are much different than today’s water slides. But I wanted, what I thought was the best job. I did not want to work, you know, in food service; I did not want to take tickets.
I wanted to work at the swimming pool as a clean-up boy, because I knew that would lead to the being a lifeguard, which is kind of a sexy job. And you know, that would lead to other opportunities, and so the way I got that job was politely bugging the manager, the swim pole for three weeks straight, almost single day. I would find that manager walking around the swimming pool because I was a regular; I had been a regular at that pool since I was five years old and I would just simply, you know, smile and ask her, you know, hey, I applied for the position. Is anything available? You know, hey, have you heard anything? Hey, have you checked with your manager? Hey, is there a chance for me to have a job? I mean, I always did it with a smile, but I politely bugged her.
And after about three weeks, she finally said, well, no, there’s still not a position open, but fine. Why don’t you come in and we will get you on staff. And you know, you may not work for many hours, but you’re hired, and that I think is an important lesson that any leader could teach their employees is you need to politely bug people. If you want to get stuff done, whether you are in sales or in management, or leadership or human resources or anything else. Politely bugging gets results, and so I tell that story all the time. I have told that story to my kids so many times they are probably sick of it, but it is important to teach those lessons. And too many leaders not only are afraid to tell stories because it makes them vulnerable, but they’re afraid to tell stories that make a powerful point.
Steve Rush: And a powerful point hits that emotional connection, which creates an action shift in people, doesn’t it?
Geoff Thatcher: Absolutely.
Steve Rush: So, as you were growing through your leadership career, Geoff. Where did you take your leadership inspiration from or who even?
Geoff Thatcher: Well, I have been fortunate in my career to have both really good leaders and really bad leaders. And so we can learn from both, you know, I remember being a very young leader, so I was 17 years old and I got a job as an area supervisor at Lagoon Amusement Park and went through a management training course as a 17 year old. And so you can learn so much by taking those courses. I remember this is going to really date me. I remember going to a, you know, the Franklin Planner, you know, the old Franklin Planner. I think they are still around. Right, and I went to a Franklin Planner, you know, time management seminar as like a 19 year old. And it was fascinating to experience that but if I were to probably pick one leader. His name would be Boyd Clark and he was the CEO of the Tom Peters Company. And if you’re in leadership or, you know, business gurus, you know who Tom Peters is.
Steve Rush: Sure, Yeah. He is a guru in learning and development for sure.
Geoff Thatcher: Oh, absolutely. I mean wrote In Search of Excellence in the eighties, which was like the big, big, big management, you know, business book of that era and still speaks today. I, I believe, but Boyd was the CEO of the Tom Peters company. He was in leadership training and development and, you know, Boyd taught me so many lessons and he was kind and just a really, really great guy. And unfortunately Boyd died of cancer, but you know, he was really a mentor to me and I remember there was just so many little things he taught you along the way. And I remember one of my favourite lessons was. We were having a meeting and the company was, you know, debating its future. And there were several leaders in the company that wanted it to shift from being a training and leadership Development Company to a Consulting Company.
And Boyd patiently listened to the different leaders in the company debate and argue whether it should be a consulting company or a training and development company, and then finally he stood up at the end and he asked a question of the people that were arguing at for it to be a consulting company. And he said, how much do we charge for a day of consulting? And they said $2,500 a day. He goes, that is our day rate for day of consulting is $2,500, and then he turned to the people arguing for the leadership side, and he said. How much do we charge for a day of leadership training and development? And at the time they said $9,500 and he goes $9,500, and then he looked around the room and he said, we’re a training and development company! And then sat down. Everybody got the message, you know. Yes, you know, consulting is nice, but when it comes time to supporting the company and being a business that it is about making money.
Steve Rush: Lots of organizations make the mistake of trying to become too diverse or to pivot away from their core proposition and in doing so often and lose that key focus that they were so successful in building their business with.
Geoff Thatcher: Yeah, it is funny, isn’t it? You know, I have had other experiences where I just don’t understand why a company’s changed when they don’t need to change. I mean, there is so many examples. You know, it is really interesting, you know, look at history and, you know, certainly when we talk about The CEO’s Time Machine and the book part of that is traveling back in time. There is so many examples of companies who did not change when they needed to and also examples of companies that changed when there was no reason to.
Steve Rush: And there is no right or wrong answer is there? I think it is very much around timing and opportunity. And if you think about some of the evolution and innovation that we experienced today, that is because somebody said, “let’s do this and let’s be creative and let’s do these left of field things that we never even envisaged before”. And sometimes that creative thinking can create the motivation and indeed the business opportunity that follows.
Geoff Thatcher: What you should never ever stop creating and I mean, since Steve you’re in the UK and I love my history, one of my favourite examples in history of somebody simply trying to do something new, but it leading to something far beyond his imaginations is Abraham Darby and the invention of the Blast Furnace. Now the Blast Furnace really ushered in the industrial revolution, which has changed the world in so many ways. And you would think, Oh wow, Abraham Darby, I can’t, you know. You must have had this amazing vision for the future of the world, with the industrial revolution and creating the blast furnace. But it was actually just a guy trying to figure out a better way to make an iron pot, that is it.
Steve Rush: Yep.
Geoff Thatcher: He was trying to make a cheap iron pot. That is such a simple ambition and yet in trying to achieve that very simple ambition, he ended up changing the world. And so, you know, no matter what business you’re in, I hope you’re trying to improve what you’re doing because through those incremental improvements, you may just stumble upon something that will transform the world.
Steve Rush: I love that principle of just letting creativity take over and see what happens also.
Geoff Thatcher: Yeah, I mean, it is really true. I mean, we did, this was a long time ago, but we did at the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian, which is a big museum complex, if you will. In the United States, in DC. At the a hundred 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian. They took all of their artefacts on tour and Intel was a sponsor, and so we created a theatre an immersive experiential theatre for Intel and it was called more than you ever imagined theatre. That was the name of the theatre, more than you ever imagined. And the whole point of it was throughout time. All great inventors, never truly realized what people would do with their invention and Intel of course, was talking about the, you know, the chip and, you know, the semiconductor and that people are doing way more than the inventors of the semiconductor ever thought possible. And it was the same was true with Gutenberg, Edison, Ford, Darby, all great inventors, never truly understood the amazing things people would do with their inventions.
Steve Rush: Right, and therefore it is imperative, isn’t it? That we are also scanning for new ideation because whilst somebody else might have the idea, I might be able to evolve it.
Geoff Thatcher: Exactly and can I just say for a moment that I love talking to someone from the UK, because you say whilst, and I’ve never been able to do it and do it properly. It is all, you know, it is always, wow. While we do this, while we do that, but it is whilst, and it just, I can’t even say it right.
Steve Rush: It is a really Interesting word that I forgot I use because while I was writing my book, my editor who was American, used to say Steve, you’ve got to stop saying whilst, please, can you say, while. Cause nobody in America will understand what you mean, anyway.
Geoff Thatcher: He should have let you be English, right? I mean, you did invent the language for goodness sakes.
Steve Rush: Well, apparently so, so Geoff, it is no surprise that being creative director will really immerse you into the mind-set of storytelling and thinking about stuff differently. And the book, The CEO’s Time Machine was one that you evolved over a period of time. Right? Tell us a little bit about that.
Geoff Thatcher: I actually wrote the book in 2016 when I was traveling back and forth between Cincinnati, Ohio and Riyadh Saudi Arabia. And we were working on a traveling exhibition for the King Abdullah foundation and King Abdulla had just died and his foundation, which is basically his family had really wanted to kind of honour his legacy. And I don’t want to get into geopolitics, Steve, but there’s no doubt that a lot of the changes that you’re seeing in Saudi Arabia, a lot of the reforms, and it has changed so much since 2016 when I first started working over there. But those changes are doing large part to the fact that King Abdullah introduced a scholarship program that sent hundreds of thousands of students to the United Kingdom, to Canada, to the United States, to France and other countries to get an education, to get a college degree.
And then they came home and they want to change and the crown Prince is simply responding to the demands of his people for that change, and so that’s exciting and when we were working on this traveling exhibition, I started thinking about time travel. And I was talking to Bruce Weindruch from the history factory who were working with on the project. And he had this philosophy and this book called Start With the Future and Work Back, which is that we all need to start with the future. Where do we want to go? But we need to look back in our own life and our own company’s history and the own history of our country at those milestones to help us get to where we need to be. As I was thinking about all of these things, I started thinking about; wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a CEO who had a time machine?
So we wrote a book about a kind of Elon Musk, Steve jobs type of CEO, who is always inventing the future, creating new markets. And the rumour is, is that he has a time machine in his secret R&D garage as if he’s like Tony stark, right, with his secret, you know, R&D lab in the basement of his house. But this time it’s a garage behind his company headquarters, and he’s turning over the reins of his company to a much younger protégé. And the last thing he has to do before he turns things over and leaves the company is to introduce her to his time machine and that’s what the book is about.
Steve Rush: And it is a neat, really neat idea, but the whole philosophy of being innovative and forward thinking versus looking back, splits the camps and somewhat, doesn’t it? Speak about innovation, lots of people I speak to say yeah, yeah – we just need to leave the past behind and head into the future versus learn from the past and head into the future. Where do you sit with that?
Geoff Thatcher: I think that too many leaders today are focused on so much on the future as they should be, but they’re focused so much on the future that they abandoned their own past. And they forget that there are amazing things that they can learn from their past. One of the examples that I give and certainly they were a client and while I was not involved in industrial designers and like that. I do know that, you know, when I worked for Honeywell, they were passionate about only really caring about the future. You know, they really did not want to talk about the past at all and then I find it ironic then. That in this obsession for the future, they missed one of the greatest inventions of the last decade, which was the Nest Thermostat. And it’s hard not to argue that the Nest Thermostat wasn’t based upon a very simple, innovative design that Honeywell innovated, which is the Circular Thermostat. It was the Honeywell classic, iconic, Circular Thermostat is an iconic classic design. And I think in the obsession to focus on the future, they miss that inspiration. They missed that connection to their past that could have truly brought them forward into a new future, and instead Nest saw that Circular Thermostat for what it was, which is an incredible innovation that should be repurposed and redesigned for digital age.
Steve Rush: Part of the story that you tell through The CEO’s Time Machine is where your CEO is handing over the reins to the protégé. They have a walk through the garage and there is this range of seamlessly useless kit and Nintendo’s and other artefacts that this individual CEO has collected over time. But there’s a story behind each of those that sets out these principles for some leadership behaviours. Just tell us a little bit about a few of those?
Geoff Thatcher: Sure, one of the cool things I think about the book is it’s written like a theme park attraction. And that’s what we do at my company is I’m an experienced designer. And so in the queue, if you will, in that windy path, that leads from the entrance of the garage to the time machine itself. The CEO has collected a bunch of artefacts and these artefacts are all about important lessons that we can learn in business. So for example, you know, he keeps a spark plug of a Delco spark plug, and you are like, why, why on earth would you want to keep a Delco spark plug? But the Delco spark plug is there because it reminds him of Charles Kettering invention of the electric starter, which changed automobile history forever and introduced and made the automobiles safer, not just men to drive, but really safe women to drive because they don’t even have to crank the car to start it up.
And so that was an incredible adventure and it was invented right in Dayton, Ohio. And then of course at the same time, Charles Kettering was inventing the electric starter. You had the Wright brothers and keeps some artefacts and some books of the Wright brothers on hand as well, because there is one lesson you can learn from the Wright brothers is that you should always focus on innovation rather than litigation. They spent so much time suing people over patent infringement that they have failed and missed this amazing, you know, window to invent the future of aviation. And they seeded their leadership position to, you know, Lockheed and Northrop and Martin and others that we still see in Boeing, if you will. And others that we still see you know, leading the industry today and it’s really, really sad. And so one thing that I think a lot of companies miss when they look at their own history is they focus on important milestones.
Like we introduced the new, you know, XY-5000 model, and who cares? what you need to focus on is lessons that were learned and why those lessons are important for us today and sometimes that’s very hard to curate and very hard to figure out, but, you know, it’s fascinating to me that, you know, here you had in Dayton Ohio. National cash register, which became NCR, you had AC Delco, which was purchased and really became the R&D lab for General Motors, and the Wright Brothers, here you had this amazing innovation happening at Dayton Ohio at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. And there are so many lessons to be learned, including why they didn’t maintain that leadership position. There is a reason why Silicon Valley is not in Dayton, Ohio today and yet it was in 1910.
Steve Rush: And those stories that you talked about before. Is a way to bring those lessons to life, isn’t it?
Geoff Thatcher: Absolutely, and if you don’t know your Genesis story of your company and how you came to be. It is very important that those stories be curated and those stories be told. So everyone in the company understands those important lessons that they can take away from things. I mean, this pandemic introduced, I think, an important lesson for my career, if you will and my little company. In our life, which is, you know, when that pandemic hit like everybody else, we looked around and we were like, oh crap. I mean, we had project after project going on hold. It is impossible to do business development in March and April is people are dying and, you know, the sickness is spreading. I mean, what are you going to do? And I turned to Zoey, who’s our designer and also happens to be my daughter. And I said, you know that book, we’ve been talking about? That book that we have been toying around with, I said, let’s do it and we just had this intense desire to get it done, and so, while I had written the story in 2016, it just sat on a shelf. So Zoey cranked out 43 illustrations in three weeks, we called a publisher. We called a copy editor. We called the graphic designer and we were able to get the book published and on Amazon in less than five weeks.
Steve Rush: Wow.
Geoff Thatcher: And it was a rewarding time to pivot and everybody is pivoting right now because of the pandemic. And I guess one of the lessons we all need to learn from this is, you know, maybe next time we shouldn’t wait for there to be a pandemic before we pivot. Maybe we should, instead of treating projects in their spare time, we should actually, you know. Slot them into the project line-up. There is a guy named Jim Coudal in Chicago, who’s a designer.
And he likes to say, you know, the problem with doing project in your spare time is there’s never any spare time. And so his philosophy was always. If they had a cool idea, they would just treat it like a regular client. And they would give it a job number and they would just slot it into their schedule and get it done and I think, you know, one lesson I hope all of us can learn from this pandemic is we shouldn’t wait for the next pandemic to pivot.
Steve Rush: This is super, yeah.
Geoff Thatcher: We should constantly be looking for ways to pivot.
Steve Rush: Ah, wholly agree with that. Whole principle of strategic thinking is just that it is the stories we need to tell ourselves for the future. “What if”, scenarios, aren’t they? The wildcards?
Geoff Thatcher: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Steve Rush: What lessons are you hoping for that folks are going to take from the book Geoff?
Geoff Thatcher: Well, more than anything else, you know, I hope people really take the story to heart. And I hope at the end of the day, they care more about the history of their own company. At the end of the day. I hope they care more about the future of their company and they realize that no matter whether you travel back in time or travel to the future, you still have to be decisive in the moment. I mean you and I could travel back in time and talk to Abraham Darby and we could probably learn a lot of interesting things about the birthplace of the industrial revolution and lessons he learned in inventing the Blast Furnace, but we still have to come back to this moment in time. We still have to come back to the present and make a decision. I mean, if you and I were to go back to 1919 and talk to people about the Spanish flu, we could learn a lot, but we would still have to come back to 2020 and we would have to make a decision.
Steve Rush: Right.
Geoff Thatcher: And so that’s, that is what I hope people take from this book is connecting the past to the future by being decisive today.
Steve Rush: Really great principles and thank you for sharing them as well, Geoff, by the way.
Geoff Thatcher: Hey, anytime, thank you for having me.
Steve Rush: Leadership is what you do as well as what you inspire. So this is part of the show where we turn that leadership lens on you and I hack into your leadership mind, and we’re going to explore a couple of things. First thing we want to explore with you is. What your top leadership hacks or ideas would be that you would share with our listeners?
Geoff Thatcher: Number one is to write, we have forgotten the importance of writing because most leaders don’t require their people to write for them because they’re too busy and don’t want to read. And so if you are a leader, make sure that you tell your people that you would like to read what they write and then take that extra time to read what they put together. And the reason why that’s important is because you can’t get to the depth of thought by simply talking about it and putting together a few PowerPoint slides. You miss the connective tissue between bullet points. If you don’t actually take the time to write. And so if you’re a young person in an organization, even if your boss won’t read what you write, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write because your presentations, your PowerPoints, your proposals will have more depth of thought and more logic and more meaning. If you take the time to write, so number one, I would say, don’t forget to read and write, which sounds very remedial and basic, but based on my experience, it’s woefully missing in many, many organizations today.
Steve Rush: Right?
Geoff Thatcher: It is just so much easier.
Steve Rush: It is often the context that is missing in the communication as well, isn’t it?
Geoff Thatcher: Right, I mean, I was just working on a project where all they wanted to do was sit around the table and talk about it and talk about it and talk about it and talk about it. And, you know, at some point one smart person has to go away and write about it. So sure, talk about it, but it realized that at some point, you know, somebody actually has to go away and create a narrative. I can tell you from experience. I know what it is like, and I am sure, you know, it is like Steve. You wrote a book to be sitting there and you have this idea in your head of where you want the chapter to go, but as you are writing it, you realize that does not make any sense. That is not going to work. Well, I thought it was going to work. I had it in my head. I talked about it with my colleagues. Why isn’t it working? Well because you are actually having to sit down and do it. You are actually having to sit down and write, and so, you know, someone might have an amazing business plan, but if you don’t sit down and write it out, you’re never going to know if it actually makes sense. So that is my number one leadership hack is to write.
My number two, leadership hack is to take great notes. If you know anything about The CEO’s Time Machine. The book that I wrote, you know, that note taking is also a very important part of that, of that story. And note taking to me is perceived by most young people as being remedial. And we need to change and shift perception about note taking because the people that take really, really, really good notes, what they’re actually doing is managing the intellectual of their company. And so that’s a kind of job that you should have, and if you establish yourself as being somebody who can really manage intellectual property and take amazing notes, you’ll be invited to the most important meetings. If you are a 24-year-old young person in an organization. That is where you want to be is in those important meetings, managing that intellectual property.
And I guess the third leadership hack I would say is manage expectations. There are so many unrealistic expectations in the workplace today, and we need to constantly manage those expectations, whether its things like how to deliver ideas. People think sometimes that there is coming up with great ideas is just all fun and games, and it is not. There can be serious arguments, and debate and clashes of opinions, so you need to match expectations. And I just think there’s too many people today that have unrealistic expectations about the workplace. Whether it is about how much money they should make. About the relationships, they should have in the workplace. About the loyalty that accompany should or should not have. If you don’t manage those expectations, you’re going to have employees who are constantly disappointed because their unrealistic expectations are not being met.
Steve Rush: And ironically managing expectations comes from telling great stories as well.
Geoff Thatcher: It does.
Steve Rush: Yeah.
Geoff Thatcher: It does, I mean, you know. One of the stories I tell when it comes to managing expectations is I talk about a colleague of mine named Todd Hall. And Todd and I after a very long day in Dubai, came back to the hotel and we were standing in the lobby and he looked at me and he said, I don’t want to have dinner with you. And I looked back at him and I said, I don’t want to have dinner with you either, and he looked at me and he said, good night. And I said, good night, and we turned and walked away. And people like, what, how rude. Our point is this; Todd Hall is not my friend. Todd Hall is an amazing colleague, a talented man. I love working with him, but Todd Hall is not my friend. I have never done anything socially with him. I have never hung out with he and his wife. I don’t want to hang out with he and his wife and that’s okay.
He is a colleague. We have mutual interests. We want to make sure that both of us do a really good job and make each other look really good, but we do not have to be friends, and so too many people come into the workplace and they think they have to be best friends with everybody on the job and that’s just not true. That is what I mean by managing expectations.
Steve Rush: Super wise words Geoff. Thank you.
Geoff Thatcher: I am really a nice guy though, by the way, I believe in being friendly, to be clear. You should be friendly, but you don’t have to be friends.
Steve Rush: Yeah, I get that, so we want to explore with you now. What we affectionately call Hack to Attack, and this is a time in your work or your life where something hasn’t worked out as you were intending it to. So maybe it is not worked out well, or indeed, we have screwed up, but we have now used that experience and we learned from it and we use it as a lesson in our life now. What would be your Hack to Attack?
Geoff Thatcher: Well, I got fired twice. Both times, it was initially quite devastating but in the end, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, both times. And so I would say that if you haven’t had a bad experience, whether it be being fired or getting yelled at or you know having a big disappointment at work. That you are probably just not trying hard enough, so learn from your mistakes, but don’t be afraid of making mistakes. I am really, really glad I got fired. So don’t fret about those types of things, because it’ll be all right,
Steve Rush: And lessons can be learned from each of those experiences as well. Right?
Geoff Thatcher: Absolutely.
Steve Rush: So now as the author of The CEO’s Time Machine, I’m going to get you to do some time travel. And I’m going to ask you to travel back in your time machine and bump into Geoff at 21, and you have an opportunity to tell him a story and give him some advice. What would it be?
Geoff Thatcher: 21, so when I was 21 years old, I was a missionary for my church. Full time volunteer missionary for my church in rural Kentucky called Paris Kentucky. It was towards the end of my six months there and I was getting my haircut from a local man who was also a member of our church. And he was talking to me and asking me questions just about my life and my family and in the course of that discussion, it came out that I have a black brother, a black sister, three Korean sisters. I come from a multiracial family, adopted. I have five biological siblings and five adopted siblings and he stopped cutting my hair. And he said, well that explains it. And I said, what do you mean? And he goes, now I know why the Lord sent you here, and I said, what do you mean?
And he said, the Lord sent you here because we needed you to help change us. And I looked at him a little surprised, and it is true. When we first came to that congregation as young 21-year-old missionaries that was a white congregation. There was not really any black members, or there wasn’t any racial diversity in the congregation. We worked really hard in the African American community there in Paris, Kentucky and we baptized and brought in several members of the church from the African American community, and didn’t really think anything about it. I mean, I was a kid, I just did not think at all about it at all. But this barber just was very blunt with me and he said, you know, he goes, really appreciate what you’ve done because you’re changing us and I was still kind of a young idiot.
I said, what do you mean? And he said, well, kind of looked at me very nonchalant. And he’s like, well, I’m racist and you’ve helped us to see we should change. And what’s ironic about this whole story is that in the end, this barber became best friends with Mama Cosette, who was the matriarch of one of the families that we brought into the church. And they’re still friends to this day. I saw them several years ago and saw Mama Cosette and she and his barber are still very close. So I guess what I would say to my 21 year old self is not anything that I would say. I think I would want my 21-year-old self to say back to me. To look at the challenges we face today with the innocence of a young person. Because honestly, when we went into that town, I did not even notice that there was a black section of town and a white section of town.
You know what I mean? We just started teaching people and just starting to serve and to help people. I think a beauty in not seeing colour, there is a beauty and not seeing race and there is a beauty in doing what Martin Luther King said is to, judge people by the content of their character instead of the colour of their skin. And so I think it would actually be me today as a 52 year old man learning something from my 21 year old self, rather than me trying to teach my 21 year old self anything. Because that was a powerful experience for me to have this barber talk about the power of change and his self-awareness and understanding his own personal history and the way he was raised and knowing that he needed to change and then the love that allowed him to change. Cause Mama Cosette loved him and he ended up loving her right back, so that is probably what I would learn more than anything else.
Steve Rush: Really profound story and parents can learn as much from their kids. Right?
Geoff Thatcher: Absolutely and in fact, the reality is if you are a leader in an organization today and you want to travel to the future, all you have to do is walk down the hallway and talk to a 21-year-old working in your company because they are the future of your company. We can learn a lot from our younger selves.
Steve Rush: Super words. Thank you, Geoff. So as folks are listening to this. They are probably thinking, how can I get a hold a copy of The CEO’s Time Machine, but more importantly, how can they find out a little bit more about the work that you do? Where would you like them to go?
Geoff Thatcher: Probably the easiest way to find us as ceotimemachine.com that is ceotimemachine.com but sorry, just a little joke with the advertising voice there. Of course, you can Google us you know, Geoff Thatcher, you know, on LinkedIn. Creative Principles has a website, our company, but probably the quickest and easiest way is just to go to ceotimemachine.com and the book is for sale on Amazon and everywhere else.
Steve Rush: Also, make sure we put the details of the book and indeed your LinkedIn profile and websites in the show notes too.
Geoff Thatcher: Thank you so much.
Steve Rush: Geoff it just goes for me to say I have had a real ball listening to the stories and the anecdotes you shared, and it has been a real pleasure in listening to some of those stories with you. And I just wanted to say on behalf of our listeners, thanks for being on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.
Geoff Thatcher: Thanks for listening to my stories. I appreciate it.
Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.
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