Samuel: [00:00:17] Chris Kolenda, welcome to the StoryMatters podcast. It's great to have you on here. This is an episode I've definitely been looking forward to recording for a long time.
Chris: [00:00:26] Yeah thanks for having me Sam.
Samuel: [00:00:27] All right Chris. This is the mentor series. And what I'm doing in this series for the listeners is going through the influences of my life in terms of how I've come to think about storytelling so that I can...
[00:00:44] Couple objectives here is to give the listener the ability to understand how they can use mentorship, coaching, or unpaid mentors in order to help them get to the next level. And by bringing on a high quality coach and mentor such as yourself I want to give people that perspective hearing from someone they may consider working with but also you were a mentor for me at a very young age in my thinking about history so history, which has nothing to do with anything but everything to do with everything really, it's kind of the world's most useless and useful discipline all at once, I like to say. And we'll go into that, the skills of a historian.
“Obey your thirst. Study the things that you're really passionate about” - Christopher Kolenda
[00:01:25] And also go into a little bit of your background as a commander in Afghanistan. You've been featured in some books, New York Times best selling book "The Outpost" by Jake Tapper, what your unit did in Afghanistan… pretty remarkable story. And then finally just give the listeners some insights into what you're doing right now. Your leadership training which I actually am enjoying quite a bit. You as my coach for James Cook Media for our leadership team and our business strategy. So yeah full agenda and welcome to the show, Chris.
Chris: [00:02:05] Thank you very much. I'm excited to be here.
Samuel: [00:02:07] Alright, so let's dig right into it. Chris you are as of 2017 in this podcast recording whenever this comes out. Thirty nine years old and it was 20 years ago, as a 19 year old back in I think 1997 at the The United States Military Academy at West Point, many moons ago before the wars started and all kinds of other stuff.
[00:02:29] I was taking, majoring in history and West Point was one of those schools where people used to say you should get something that would allow you to make money when you get out of the army and you were actually a history counselor who was recruiting cadets to the history department. And it was very interesting going through that experience. When I was signing up to become a history major was I was courted heavily by the physicists and the mathematicians because I was actually quite good at those subjects compared to my marks in history and English.
And I remember the arguments that you made as a counselor were very compelling which was hey history is one of those things that you know really can help you learn how to think broadly about the problems you're going to face as an Army officer and really about life. And kind of won the day and my decision to become a history student.
[00:03:23] And then I ended up signing up for your history class on the history of the classical world. So first of all, let's go into the decision to become a historian which everyone likes to say to me, "Well how did you learn how to be a marketer?" And I said, "Well I studied history and learned how to shoot people in the army and command cavalry units."
And people laugh because that's not really a classical path to becoming a marketing agency owner. But really in a way it was it was the best decision I ever made was to go down this path to becoming a historian and really, I think the credit goes to you and the department that lured me in at West Point so why history as a discipline? What got you into it originally and helped you inspire so many people to study at West Point? Because it was really a special group I got to hang out with and really made my experience at the academy much more enjoyable.
Chris: [00:04:13] Yeah, thanks Sam. I used to tell people, "Look...obey your thirst. Study the things that you're really passionate about because it doesn't matter really what you major in, you know, as an undergrad or in graduate school. It matters that you're really excited about it because when you're really excited about you go, you get the depth of it. The value of history is how it forms your habit of thought after you've forgotten the facts.
And it's just like any other discipline, it's how you how it forms your habit of thought, how it enables you to or how it develops you to think critically about the situations that you faced the days. It's really about building mental capital in terms of... what do I want to study.
[00:04:56] Now history has got a different value in the real world which is, when you take a look at leadership and when you really want to develop yourself as a leader, there are three ways to study leadership. The first one is study the theory and philosophy of leadership. Very very important. Second is to study the insights of contemporary leaders who are facing challenges similar to you. And the third is to look at the history of great leaders and organizations. Because they have faced problems similar to yours. They won't be exactly the same.
The context will be very different but the broad outlines of the challenges will be very similar. And so where you really get breakthrough ideas is not nerding out on technical stuff or nerding out on things that are, you know, specific to your particular field, but when you look at a situation through a different lens. When you look at your challenges through a different lens or a different context is when you get the real breakthrough ideas.
[00:06:00] And so history is great for that, studying the history of great leaders and organizations or failed leaders in organizations, equally valuable. Gives you an ability to think about your situation from a different perspective. And that's where I found some of the most powerful insights have come from me.
Samuel: [00:06:18] Yeah and Chris, one of the one of the things that I remember learning it at West Point in your class and other classes was this reverence for the vastness of history. There's so much out there that's gone into forming civilizations and where we are today and the back story we can't possibly know or consume all of it.
But to create something relevant out of it that's useful. And the old adage that the thing I like to say is, "No history is really true, but is it useful? Or is it harmful?" And there's a lot of very harmful narratives going on in the world right now in the world of politics. And, you know, hopefully some useful ones coming out to tell people make sense of the world that we're living in and the stories that we tell ourselves as nations and societies and cultures to say, get through, and imagine what we're doing.
So talk a little bit about that as a professor and how you were able to teach cadets to make something useful out of history. Because once you start studying history it can get pretty frustrating after you get past the dates that it's pretty hard to make sense of it all.
Chris: [00:07:21] Yeah for me, and what I try to convey is, it's really about how it develops your critical thinking. And when you begin to look at some of these very simple narratives, for instance, and then you study things in a bit more depth you begin to look at those narratives very critically. Of course has got direct correlations to the real world and the business world. So for instance, there's a lot of criticism now about Harvard Business Cases for business studies, you know, study because apparently the company that of which the case is about is able to review the case in advance before it goes out into the Harvard Business Cases.
So there's huge incentives to whitewash things and there's huge incentives to tell a story that is, you know, maybe a bit more attractive than the reality was at the time. And so there are a few books out now and the Economist has got an article back this past summer about how problematic these business cases are. The neat thing about history is that you've got a historical record and you've got a lot of people who have looked at these particular situations or leaders or organizations and they've addressed it from a variety of different angles, which you don't get in the business case.
What history allows you to do is to attack problems or to examine problems and issues from a variety of different perspectives. That sort of discipline of looking at issues deliberately from a variety of different viewpoints is critical to avoiding the sort of echo chambers that we see oftentimes where people just talk with those who they agree with or they just engage in viewpoints that they agree with or meets their biases.
"If you're not passionate about history but you are passionate about engineering or programming or whatever, follow that." – Samuel P.N. Cook
[00:09:07] Whereas the history as a discipline, history as a way developing critical thought really forces you to look at issues from several different perspectives and through that form some judgments about how you interpret a set of circumstances. And as a leader, what it what it means to you and your organization.
Samuel: [00:09:31] Yeah and Chris one of the things that struck me about history, studying it with you was we never had a fill in the blank, you know, what date did this happen? Or things like that. I mean, our tests were always just, you know, here's a question and answer it in narrative format and make an argument. And I think one of the best skills that I ever learned early in life was to take a mass of facts or let's say data or books or narratives and read it and be forced to map out all the different perspectives and come up with your own synthesis of the thesis and antithesis which which is a logic exercise.
And the really interesting thing now is as we've been working on, and we'll get into this later your presentation on leadership as we've been working on marketing cases where, you know, really the heart of marketing the way we teach it is telling a story that is useful. That almost paints a path for someone to follow...a narrative that people can believe in and that is believable.
[00:10:31] And really have used these critical thinking skills that I learned writing an essay and coming up with a thesis and your supporting arguments and these points need to hook together and flow and take care of people's maybe counterpoints to the argument that you're making, it all kind of comes back into what we do now at James Cook Media and the what you just did an amazing presentation you gave here in Warsaw on leadership is making an argument. And you know, that to me was really, you know, the most interesting and by far the best life skill I ever learned. So I say history is useless in many ways.
I mean, you know, there's not a lot of money in teaching history. Although I had the privilege, as did you, of teaching at the military academy which was a quite amazing position. But while it's useless in a practical application sense in many ways, it's the most useful, I think logic and thought process thing, I ever went through and I'm always thankful for that argument where I followed the thing I love to do which is... I would pay to read history books, I do all the time and so glad that I didn't go through my college experience doing something for someone because of their expectation that I do it whereas I wasn't passionate about it.
[00:11:43] And anyone listening this if you're not passionate about history but you are passionate about engineering or programming or whatever, follow that. Don't be a historian because I love it. But use whatever your passion about to learn how to think critically.
And developers have just as interesting a creative process in a much different way. You know, engineers-huge amount of respect for people who do it. But yeah I was just I think the first lesson I learned and the most critical that I always took with me was life's a bit too short to spend a lot of mental energy doing something you don't love.
[00:12:15] And the first one I got right, thanks to you as was deciding to study history.
Chris: [00:12:22] Yeah when you look at what business leaders have to do today, they are essentially creating an argument for how they are going to be successful in whatever chosen business they've got. And so writing a good history essay is just like...it's a similar discipline to developing a strategy for your business.
How am I going to get to where I want to be? Your strategy is essentially your argument for how you understand the current situation, how you explain it, and how you are going to organize what you're doing in ways that gets you to your goal. So it's that same sort of discipline, that same way of thinking that enables one to take a set of facts many of which are contradictory or incomplete or conflicting with one another very ambiguous facts and interpretations and be able to put those together in a way that enables you to make sense of the world and chart a way forward. That's kind of what business strategy is all about in many ways.
And so I found history to be very useful or that that discipline of thinking through the depth of an issue, looking at an issue from all sides, and being able to make good choices is what business leaders have to do today. It's what historians have to do as well.
Samuel: [00:13:50] And Chris one of the things you said is putting together all these ambiguous facts and making something that you can use to chart a course forward. And then one of the other things you teach is the boldness and strength of conviction to do that. But then the courage and the humility to be open to being wrong about the exact assumption and strategy you just came up with.
[00:14:10] So talk a little bit about the flip side of coming up with something useful and deciding on something...this idea of intellectual courage. And this is actually something I think we initially discussed. And you know, I remember bouncing ideas with you about this 20 years ago at West Point is this idea of intellectual courage. So talk about that and you know where that plays into skills as an academic but also business leader.
Chris: [00:14:34] Yeah I remember a great student paper about intellectual courage that you wrote about 20 years ago. And it's really appropriate to business leaders because you have, or leaders in any discipline, because you've got to be able to balance the courage of conviction to follow your vision, to follow your goals, on the one hand and with the open mindedness and flexibility to make adjustments along the way and that's a difficult balance because if you're sort of overloaded on one side-let's say you're overloaded on strength and conviction- you can wind up becoming bullheaded, obstinate, you believe in your own propaganda, and as the ancient Greeks said "hubris precedes a fall."
[00:15:18] On the other hand, you can become so flexible and so open minded that you lose the courage to act, in the face of all of this conflicting and contradictory and ambiguous information. Or you become so flexible that you make decisions about every data point and you create hyperactivity in your organization. So problems on that side of the ledger are fatal as well. And what the really great leaders are able to do is to maintain that balance which is really the foundation of good judgment.
Samuel: [00:15:53] And I really what was great about, you know, learning from you at West Point actually I put together a student paper. I put it out in a faculty journal at West Point criticizing the fact that I didn't think the program was allowing students to go into depth enough about their majors and they're making us take 5 engineering courses at the time, which was really frustrating because it was enough to really start to sink your teeth in engineering, but nowhere near enough to make you a real engineer. And West Point had this like tradition of everyone's an engineer even though they clearly weren't at that point.
[00:16:31] What frustrated me was-and I got around this by just taking like 6 or 7 classes versus the 5 minimum- but I could have taken more history classes and I ended up taking a couple of years as extra ones and the really interesting part about that experience was professors like you and others who came to that luncheon where I was critical of the system and really weighing in and, you know, there were engineers on one side table a little bit upset and then the historian professors, history professors became quite supportive.
[00:17:01] I remember you and Tom Nimick and some other people who were there and it was really quite an experience and you know batting around this idea and you've really kind of taken that idea that I just made that the title of my paper. But you know, you've basically taken that whole idea and really defined it. I mean, I think define the category in a space around this idea of-why is intellectual courage different from the other types of courage? And what makes it unique the way you've defined it?
“Your strategy is essentially your argument for how you understand the current situation, how you explain it, and how you are going to organize what you're doing in ways that gets you to your goal.” – Christopher Kolenda
Chris: [00:17:28] So one of the challenges is, when you look at courage. So Winston Churchill said that courage was the first among the virtues because it's the one that allows all the others to exist. And what he's talking about there is a different kind of courage then maybe what we normally think of. So we think of courage as bravery.
Bravery on the battlefield. Somebody charging a machine gun nest. Or you know, standing their ground while they're under attack, defending their position, attacking another position, etc. Or a firefighter who's running into a burning building. A police officer who is apprehending dangerous violent subject.
[00:18:09] So that's all kind of physical courage...bravery. Then there is moral courage which is doing the right thing. Doing what's morally and ethically right despite the pressures to do otherwise. So there may be a lot of pressures to steal or a lot of pressures to fudge the facts, but doing what's morally and ethically right is also an act of of courage.
What Churchill is talking about and this idea of mental balance or intellectual balance, it's a different kind of courage. It's intellectual courage. And it's really the kind of courage that we need from business leaders. Right. Most business leaders are not facing life and death situations...where somebody's shooting at them or they've got to run into a burning building.
Samuel: [00:18:51] Displaying a lot of financial courage, some entrepreneurs.
Chris: [00:18:53] Well yeah exactly. Business leaders will deal with, you know, moral courage issues all the time, but they also deal with intellectual courage issues. You want to change the world, right?
You are in business because you want to change your world. You've got a product or a service that you think is going to make a real difference in the lives of other people and you're going to follow that. And you're going to want to make it happen. But you've also got to be savvy enough to kind of see the data points that are coming in that may make you adjust what you're doing. And in some ways they may make you redefine your business altogether.
[00:19:29] And so having that sort of balance where you maintain the principles and objectives of why you came into business in the first place. What really gets you excited and how do you want to change the world? How do you want to make people's lives better?
And in the wisdom and creativity to be able to make adjustments along the way is a key part of that balance. And it's what business leaders do all the time. And and it's what makes business and entrepreneurship so exciting on the one hand it's really really difficult on the other.
Samuel: [00:20:07] You know one of the things that I've learned just learning from you 20 years ago and then watching I think your career in the army which was quite something I'd actually like to get into in a moment here, things that you did in the army because there was a big gap between where I saw you as a young major and teaching at the army and where you are now.
[00:20:25] But you know some things just haven't changed. I mean, you're still talking about the same things but you've also certainly had a lot more experience and other things that have, you know, created a lot more depth and nuance to what you're teaching now. So it's really interesting to see that evolution of what you're doing.
Chris one of my favourite- and I think you really say well is- how do you develop intellectual courage? And you say, it's easy. Live a hundred lifetimes. Talk about that. That's one of my favorite quotes from your talk. But if you could just you know how do you develop intellectual courage? Like what's the secret?
Chris: [00:20:57] Yeah, so I mean, experience is the best teacher of leadership. And in the days before digital technology, leaders would grow up through corporations. Or they would grow up through the military government, etc...their rise to the ranks. And by the time they got to the top and they were competing against other companies or other militaries or whatever they had 30, 40, 50 years of experience... and a lifetime of experience.
And that experience was necessary to be able to deal with the challenges of highly competitive strategic environments because you're having to grapple with uncertainty. You're having to grapple with complexity, and you're having to grapple with the world that is really unpredictable.
What digital technology has done is it's intensified interactions and it has brought strategic environments to the lowest levels of organization, to small businesses, and to young entrepreneurs. But they don't have the benefit of 30, 40, 50 years of experience. And you know what, even those who did have all of that experience, you still only had a handful of leaders who really could handle the uncertainty, the complexity, and the unpredictability.
Samuel: [00:22:07] And a lot of tech entrepreneurs experience is actually...age is a deficit in understanding and being in touch with young technology.
Chris: [00:22:15] Right. That's exactly right. And so they're experiencing these intense, highly competitive strategic environments earlier in their lives. They haven't had a chance to amass all of this experience. And so the question is, "Well how do I...how do we get enough experience to handle this?"
You know if you could live a hundred lifetimes or if you could amass 50 or 60 years of personal experience, you know, then you might have all of the life experiences you need to be able to deal with these major challenges. But of course there's no way to live 100 lifetimes. There's no way to be 30 years old and have 60 years of experience, unless you study history. You can live 100 lifetimes by studying history and by learning from the example of great leaders and organizations throughout history and contemporary leaders and what you are doing is you are amassing several lifetimes of experience, intellectually, a very short amount of time.
Samuel: [00:23:12] You're stealing. You're stealing from other people's experiences. And it's the great secret of history is the ability to steal experiences from great people who've willingly donated those experiences and, you know, great figures tend to want to pass it on, pay it forward with an autobiography. And then you have the real biography written by other people who are maybe a bit more objective or not.
I mean, one of the great gifts that I remember reading was Winston Churchill six volume History of World War II or Grant's famous memoirs of his time in the Civil War and the American presidency. And these are just gems of insights to, you know, to people who are studying policy and politics and history and military stuff. But yeah I mean, business leaders to you...there's so many great business cases out there. But also Chris is it useful to go outside of business for business leaders?
What's the advantage of reading business history or contemporary business cases versus going outside of it? What's your perspective on how to develop intellectual courage in and outside of your chosen discipline?
Chris: [00:24:20] It's a great question, and it's important to do both right. So it's important to read in your sort of in your chosen profession, in your field because you want to keep up with the latest developments, you want to understand the different challenges that people are having in the different ideas that are out there in the marketplace.
So that's really really important. But the really great ones they will supplement that with reading history and the experiences of other leaders and other organizations.
[00:24:49] So for instance, one of the challenges that we face today is diversity. How you bring together people from different languages and different cultures and different countries and form them together in a coherent team...in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So we have those challenges today. Well you know what? Alexander the Great and 300 B.C. had the same kind of challenges. So as he is conquering the known world, he is having to work together with people from Egypt and people from Persia and people from the Middle East.
And what Alexander realised was, hey he can centrally control all of this. All of these different lands and people that he that, you know, that he's conquered. He's got to be able to work together with them. He's got to to build something sustainable. He's got to be able to work together with the people on the ground. So he may have defeated their old kings, he may have defeated their old armies. But he wants an empire that's sustainable. He wants a business, if you will, that sustainable. And so he's got to show people that he is one of them.
And so Alexander begins to adopt different customs and different attires so he can show people of different parts of the empire that he's one of them. That he identifies with them that he values them as a part of this big organization. And they really appreciated that. But you didn't appreciate that were his Macedonians. The people were he was the king originally felt that he was going native. That he was selling out. That he was straying from his roots.
[00:26:37] And so Alexander wasn't able to keep that balance to the satisfaction of everybody that he was trying to manage. And so while we don't have empires today and we abhor this idea of conquest for the sake of territorial aggrandizement, the experiences that somebody like Alexander went through in trying to manage diversity, in trying to bring people together under a single idea, into a single organization, are just as challenging two millennia ago as it is today.
Samuel: [00:27:16] What's interesting is it takes a conqueror, an empire builder in 2000 years ago to run into the same kind of complexity that business owners now run into where you have outsourced teams in all these different places that you can connect with instantly and get on Skype with a developer from Egypt and an artist from Persia and you can know someone living in Europe which is mainly audience, European business owners, you can see...wow I have this same kind of international supply chains and customers and things like that.
And this is exactly are we talking about, the strategic challenges as a business owner are very similar to some of these great leaders of history. The face you had to amass armies and all kinds of stuff in order to get the strategic level challenge that we have the privilege of engaging with everyday as a business owner.
Chris: [00:28:10] Right. And so the context is very different, but at the end of the day leadership is dealing with human beings and organizations, human organizations. And so a lot of those challenges are very very similar. And so we can learn a great deal from historical leaders, whether it's Alexander or whether it's Eleanor Roosevelt or others, and bring them operationalise them in today's environment.
Samuel: [00:28:39] Yeah and that was a great actually story you were telling about Alexander the Great and one of the things that really, you know, I took a lot of history classes at West Point but the class that your taught really kind of set my philosophy for the greatness of intellectual history or the greatness of ideas, that ideas matter. And I guess now that that's evolved more into this concept of story matters.
[00:29:06] But really it just goes back to what you taught me originally that ideas matter and actually in this first episode of the podcast I told a short history of storytelling where I recounted many of the lessons I learned from your history class which was the evolution from Greek mythology to the rich philosophy of Plato.
And I remember you made us read entire Plato's Republic in history class which is a bit different, bit untraditional for a history class, but you were drilling into us the importance of ideas because Plato's Republic if, you know, and I saw this in all the other courses that I taught or I studied the British history with with James Wheeler and some others and people are constantly referring back to unconsciously or consciously the impact of Plato's Republic. It was the middle ages where the monks are faithfully copying all the religious text and Plato and Aristotle because they felt like they were the keeper of these things Zed had greatly influenced Christianity which they were the publishing house for, if you will.
So how did you come up with that linkage that I think is so powerful? I mean, obviously you studied that and learned that. But just talk a little bit about that.
[00:30:21] It was definitely the most impactful course I took at undergrad and this history that ideas matter. Where did that come for you in terms of you know who taught you that or who's your mentor in that realm?
Chris: [00:30:33] Yeah Sam I really appreciate that. And you know, every leader, every professor wants to know that their course made made an impact. So that's great news and I learned that from a professor named Larry Dickey at the University of Wisconsin. So when I was in graduate school, he had a course on intellectual history that had a profound effect on me. And you know what's fascinating about leaders and mentors? The ones who really affect you in a very very positive way, we remember them for the rest of our lives. So this is what 25 years ago.
And you know, I can recall Larry Dickey's class and exactly what he taught at a moment's notice because that course and that individual had such a great effect on me. That's one of the things that great leaders do. You know, they leave that kind of legacy of excellence with people and we can recall their names, we can recall their faces, we can recall what it is that they taught us what they gave to us. And that's one of the things that makes really great leaders so special.
Samuel: [00:31:42] Yeah. And it just goes to show the chain. I mean, there's this mutual acquaintance of both-or let's say- a close mentor of mine and I know you know him well also General H.R. McMaster said, you know great teacher never knows where his influence stops.
And you know Plato's influences we're still talking about it. 2500 years later on a podcast you know one book that has had such a profound impact in shaping the Western world and that bled into Christianity, you know, which adopted a lot of the story of Greek civilization.
[00:32:16] You could say if you're cynical, you could say well they just got got it from the Greeks or if you're divine about being say, well of course God planned it that way. Doesn't matter what your belief system is, but it's undeniable the linkage in this narrative that has gone through the western world and you know sitting here in Europe, which I studied European history at West Point and now get to live here it's like a dream for a historian, you know, like Disneyland for a historian to be living in Europe. This civilization that we're living in and Western Europe is under a bit of attack and it's an idea that I think is worth being proud of, you know the traditions that we have.
[00:32:54] And one of the things I always like to say as a European now, I wouldn't call myself a European nationalist, but a European, a fan of the European project, you know I wish the European Union would get its act together and learn how to tell its story a bit better.
The European project because it is, you know, it's a compelling story and that's a story you taught me at West Point that we have values and I think a great way of life in a culture that's done pretty well by the people that live here and are getting to enjoy all the struggles that Europe went through to get to this point. Yeah it's just fascinating to see that as my audience is very much European.
I deal with Greeks and, you know, go to Cyprus and all kinds other places where clients happen to be and, you know, people members of our coaching group are from all over Europe, it's just fun place to be. So thanks again for, you know, you were in the international history department where I learned history.
[00:33:49] The second class I took for me was international diplomacy. Which was even more interesting because you taught that and I still remember to this day and that's actually lead into a bit of storytelling. You had this way of marrying hip hop, Will Smith Big Willie Style, with a story that I'll never forget explaining history which was Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany who didn't do a great job leading his empire into the morass that was World War I which really was like a joint suicide of European civilization where everyone got together and circular firing squad and destroyed what was the most prosperous civilization in history.
[00:34:29] And you managed to bring Will Smith and hip hop into helping us understand guys of hip hop style diplomacy. You were masterful at communicating ideas that were very complicated simply. Both in the Greek history class and the diplomacy class. What gave you that idea.? And what can we learn about it as leaders in business to how to communicate well to organization?
“No history is really true, but is it useful...or is it harmful?" – Samuel P.N. Cook
Chris: [00:34:53] Yeah, communications are a huge challenge because we've got so much things we've got so much going on in our heads about our business. And the question is, how do we communicate with our employees? How we communicate with our organization in ways that really makes the important thing stick? And so storytelling or connecting popular culture with some of the more complex things can be a really really powerful way to do that. As you mentioned Kaiser Wilhelm the second was a revisionist leader, you know, late 19th century, early 20th century. He was anti-establishment. He was trying to help Germany find its place in the sun so to speak after German unification.
In 1871, Kaiser Wilhelm the second then became the Kaiser many years later and is trying to define Germany's new role. He had his own very distinct, very bombastic, very in your face, very revisionist, very impulsive style. And I was trying to at that time think of a way of, how do I communicate this to show how different this was from the norm? And of course at the time I'm a big Will Smith fan. The man who saved the world more times than anybody on the planet.
Yeah but he has also had a new CD out that was called Big Willie Style. It all just sort of connected as like Big Willie Style. That's exactly what this new kind of diplomacy was in the 18... yeah in the late 19th century, early 20th century.
Samuel: [00:36:30] And we could all imagine Will Smith in a German Kaiser outfit just rapping it up. It was perfect.
Chris: [00:36:39] Yes so you know played the song Big Willie Style and several months later on the final examinations I would get all sorts of people using the term Big Willie Style communicating that.
Samuel: [00:36:54] We knew that would lead to good marks..
Chris: [00:36:56] And now you know, 20 something years later it's back at me again. But it shows the if you can make those powerful connections between what you're trying to communicate and do it in a way that resonates with people viscerally, then you've got a very very powerful connection that will get people on the same page and get an organization moving in the same direction. That's the power of these kind of very visceral, very memorable narratives.
Samuel: [00:37:24] And that was just so interesting that I still remember these two classes so well. And I took many classes and to be frank some of them I don't remember much from. And it's nothing against intellectual rigor or the skill of those professors but it was just your ability to take big ideas and present them in such a way where I really remembered the story and I still use it today.
The intellectual history one being the really big one and, you know, you can listen to Episode 1 Chris and hear me wax eloquently on what you taught me basically in history class so if any of you podcast listener enjoyed Episode 1. Thank Chris for my rant on history of ideas because I just fell in love with it from that point forward and that's form the basis of my intellectual and business pursuits ever since and I managed to bring it together and Chris one of the things that really struck me before and you just reminded me of it with marrying hip hop up with history is this this idea of what I call idea sex where you take some two things seemingly completely unrelated and mate them together and come up with something new.
[00:38:27] And I really credit my curiosity intellectually to go outside of the field of marketing with what I believe has been our biggest innovation in marketing is this idea of documentary style storytelling, authentic communication in a way that, you know, people don't feel threatened when they see a beautiful Lee Dunn set like they'd see on the BBC or some documentary in America like the History Channel and they'd clue into it because the style of the shoots we do make you feel that this is educational, which is true.
I mean I believe in education and telling stories and you know, inspiring people not manipulating them so the set we set up is congruent with what we're trying to do. But that never would have come to me if I would only read inside the discipline of marketing which is what everyone else was telling you how to do and focusing on you know tricks and tactics and things like that and to really think strategically, the best ideas always seem to come from bringing something from a completely different profession or discipline into what you do in a different industry.
[00:39:33] So business leaders might be really reading deep in one industry but if you go outside your industry and see how different businesses are doing things in different industries or even countries the way they're doing things I think it's really just really hit me the way you're able to marry up to different things and the idea of reading inside and outside your chosen profession.
Chris: [00:39:52] Yeah so, it's so important I found for me personally and for a lot of leaders the biggest, the breakthrough ideas come when you're thinking about the challenges from a different angle, from a different context. So when we were in Afghanistan in 2007, 2008 we were facing one of the most violent areas of the country, facing a really potent insurgency that had the vast majority of the population on its side. And we didn't know much about the area that we were going into and it was a real challenge trying to figure out exactly what's going on.
And it was mystifying us for a period of time and then I started reading C.V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War about the Thirty Years War here in Europe. And the book described how entrepreneurs and merchants and business leaders began to really overtake the traditional authority figures the aristocrats in many ways the aristocrats were impoverishing themselves, trying to keep up with the wealth of the merchants. And so what you had in the Thirty Years War time frame is a real shift in the balance of power that was very subtle but everybody on the ground understood it except for those sort of looking in. And I found a very similar dynamic going on in this area of Afghanistan where the traditional authority figures without even recognizing it had begun losing power and authority over the population. People just didn't pay attention to them anymore because they couldn't bring what the newly rich brought which is money and guns and a sense of identity.
[00:41:30] Another set of breakthrough ideas came from reading behavioral economics. Understanding that people are operating under, make decisions based on the incentives that they face. And in the third one was about relationships. Reading Greg Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea about the importance of relationships and so putting all those things together it really created a series of epiphanies for us and we were able to completely modify our strategy.
[00:42:01] And as a result, emphasised things that were well outside the traditional military areas of emphasis. But as a result of all that work, we were able to build relationships and work together with people in such a way that major insurgent group in the area signed an agreement with the elders that they were going to stop fighting. And it's the only example...and I've met with my major adversaries now ten times. So it's the only example in 16 years of the war in Afghanistan that I know of, of a major insurgent group being motivated to stop fighting and eventually join the government and to have this sort of adversary to adversary relationship.
And it wasn't due to reading about army doctrine or reading about some of the traditional things that you would think an army officer would read, but it came about because we were reading about similar challenges from a different avenue and it opened up a whole world of insight for us.
Samuel: [00:43:00] And boy what a diverse group of books to read. I think Three Cups of Tea is kind of a travel, I mean nothing to do with fighting but everything to do with Afghanistan and their culture, which army officers don't tend to always care about the cultures that they're in because because they don't view that as their purview.
But you really embraced understanding at a deep level and really a visceral level, at a human level, the people that you are working with and although you trained to fight you didn't always think that was the answer the question, you know, answer to the problem, I guess, was to always fight.
Chris: [00:43:35] Yeah the question is how do you work together with the population to create a stable and secure environment and defeat an insurgency? So we decided that look, one course of action would be to run around with their hair on fire chasing bad guys to the mountains and after 15 months we'd be largely in the same position that we were at the start. Or we could think differently about this.
And one of the things I'm most proud of is we spent two years before deploying to Afghanistan creating an organizational culture in which we valued diversity of thought and opinion. We valued challenging one another's ideas. I would make people get used to challenging my ideas because I knew if they did it in peacetime they would be more likely to do it in war and if they never did it in peacetime, they wouldn't do it in combat.
[00:44:28] You know, there's a process that you have to go through and a degree of trust that you have to develop before you're willing to sort of really challenge the leader’s ideas. And we went through all of that and it was hugely important because when we had to figure out, when we determined that all of our initial thinking about this area in Afghanistan was completely wrong and we needed to completely re-diagnose the situation and come at this from a different angle.
It required everybody's thinking and people challenging my ideas and being comfortable me challenging their ideas to arrive at an understanding of the situation at least got us in a ballpark. And there are young kids, young privates and specialists who were just as important in that process as I was, as our captains were and being able to put that together and get to a point, get to a situation which we had a really solid understanding of what was going on and we would continue to learn and adapt along the way is what made all the difference.
Samuel: [00:45:36] And Chris I remember I was actually in Iraq as a commander at a company level in charge of 120 people while you were in charge of a thousand in Afghanistan. I mean literally I think we deployed a couple of months apart and were there in different countries had very different parts of the world actually doing exactly the same thing. You met with your counterpart and took a thousand people off. And when I was in Iraq I ended up just intuitively falling into a situation where I believed the same things you believed which is we could run around and try and kill everyone but that would put my soldiers at risk and also put the mission at risk which is...is there a better way? And local leader approached me and we had about I think 179 people turned themselves in which was..it's ironic that it was the size of my unit and the guy that, let's say, stacked arms and stop fighting in your area was about the same size as your unit.
[00:46:29] So we both met our reciprocal, our counterparts, negotiated with them and and did that. It's quite interesting that we didn't coordinate, we didn't talk about it. I didn't know what you were doing at the time but at the exact same time we were doing the same thing. That's probably goes a lot back to this shared philosophy on ideas and thinking differently and using history and challenging convention and assumptions.
Chris: [00:46:57] And we went through a lot of criticism along the way because it was so outside the norm. People were poking at us and saying, you're negotiating with terrorists. You're doing all sorts of things wrong. You needed to be doing things like everybody else says and and it took a lot to stick to your guns and when you defy convention like that, it can have career consequences. But we believed in what we were doing. We knew that our diagnosis of the situation was right and that diagnosis led us very logically to operating in a certain way with a certain set of priorities. And you know if somebody could convince me the diagnosis was wrong then I'd be willing to change the approach but nobody could convince me that the diagnosis was wrong. We were just doing things that didn't conform to conventional wisdom.
And then of course 6 or 7 months later when violence rates are going way down then people stop criticizing and say, hey what are you guys doing there? Why is this working and why is this you know changing the environments so significant? So then, you know, people are open mind at that point.
[00:48:02] You know, what was really really exciting was, you know, after we'd come back and 8 months later or 9 months later I was back in Afghanistan with General McChrystal you know and he was trying to get the international forces to operate very differently in Afghanistan. He asked me to write his work with him on writing his counterinsurgency guidance. And it's because of those experiences and those outcomes that you know, had the opportunity to help the 4 star commander try to reform the way the international forces were operating throughout the entire country.
Samuel: [00:48:40] We'll put a link in the show nodes to Jake Tapper's book The Outpost which details not just your unit but but your units a big part of this book and this very gripping retelling of one of the most violent chapters of the Afghan war and how different commanders approach it differently. We'll put a link to that and for business leader who wants to maybe read something outside of your profession discipline. This might be a really good way to see how you can apply some lessons of complexity and multicultural challenges and everything else to business. The thing I love about history is sometimes it puts your problems in perspective.
And reading this book about what Chris went through in Afghanistan. And Chris we had a chat a few months ago where we realised we needed to shift course on on business strategy and we both said, well no one's dying and no shooting at us today. So it's probably not that bad and puts your business challenges in perspective so I highly recommend that book and Chris also has written two other books which will link to in the show notes: Leadership. The Warrior's Art which was a compilation of history books, or sorry history essays, mainly military history essays about great leaders like Alexander the Great you wrote that article in there.
[00:49:56] By the way, Chris when I was in Iraq we went to the battlefield of Gaugamela with General H.R. McMaster in the Kurdish area of Iraq which was one of the only places you could stand around without your armor on. But we saw Alexander the Great battle sites which I think would make you happy. And I think he almost made it to Afghanistan, didn't he, or he didn't make it?
Chris: [00:50:17] Yeah, he did. In fact there are people in Nuristan where we were operating swear that they are direct descendants of Alexander the Great. And so yeah there was a connection there too. But yeah I appreciate you mentioned the leadership book. I mean, there are 50,000 people are now using it for their leader development programs. And it's this sort of synthesis of theory and philosophy that's the first section of the book about leadership. Second section of book is about historical leaders and organizations. And then the third part of the book is about contemporary leadership. And so I organized it that way very deliberately because that's how leaders learn. And there are 50,000 people and growing that agree with me on that.
Samuel: [00:50:58] Yeah it's a great book and I remember in the military it was a hugely important contribution to our professional study of leadership and that brings me Chris to our final point which is you are now out of the military. You worked with Secretary Gates on national policy. You worked with Secretary Panetta. Secretary J. Johnson the national security, or the homeland security secretary. In America you worked with Michele Flournoy, Assistant Secretary of Defense. General Stan McChrystal and all of these people you had the chance after you commanded and really made a mark and changing the way we looked at the fight in Afghanistan.
And then you get out of the military and you're applying leadership to business in a way that I find quite compelling because I like to tell my, you know, we now work with you Chris as a leadership coach for my company and it's something I wouldn't have considered actually investing in because I kind of thought I'd check that box as a military officer for 13 years and studying at West Point and you know 4 years before that. I thought I had a lot of leadership experience I didn't think that was my challenge in business. But what the really interesting thing about working with you and my leader team is first of all how much I took leadership for granted. The culture in the army of people from the very beginning and considering themselves as leaders in leadership is a discipline that you study in that you're constantly practicing and it's never over. We always had professional development you know monthly reading programs the commanders.
“Your strategy is essentially your argument for how you understand the current situation, how you explain it, and how you are going to organize what you're doing in ways that gets you to your goal.” – Christopher Kolenda
[00:52:34] It's a battlefield trips to places like Normandy and Gettysburg in the United States and everywhere, you know, all over Europe had the privilege of doing that. And I was, I think I was quite frankly spoiled and I really missed it. And the fact that now we're doing that again and in fact, tomorrow we're doing a leadership workshop with you or we're taking the entire company for a day putting them in a room and we're talking about leadership and culture and teams. And that's a big expense for a company. You know, to pay everyone to sit down and not do productive work for clients. But it's really not an expense and it's an investment in the future of the company. And Paddy, my manager of the company is just like, man this is so great. And I'm thinking yeah you know I've just taken this leadership mentorship for granted for so long and business people just don't get this.
The fact that you're bringing this into organizations... you know what gave you the idea for it? And just tying in to your last point where you're going to put a link in the show notes to Chris's free talk on Lead With Guts. And it's about, it starts out the best starting of any talk that any of my coaching clients have given by far myself included. If you enjoyed my talk on story matters.
[00:53:50] Chris is going to absolutely nail you to the wall when he starts talking and you watch and you will not be able to stop watching because his story is so powerful linking back to a very salient experience in Afghanistan that when I heard that story and I won't give it away because I want people to go watch it but when I heard that story it immediately made me just... it just punched me in the gut thinking, wow what would happen to my organization if I weren't there right now.
And I actually started doing things differently the next day where I put a person in the position that they maybe weren't ready for when you were out here filming with us because I'm a man for a long time I've just been not making people step up because I assumed they'd always be there to do the work. And he made me think like what would happen if I'm not there? And it's you know you got to go watch the talk if you listen to this because it's what would your business do if you were not there all of a sudden? Not just for a vacation, but not there.
[00:54:45] And that's something you may not have had to think about but you really do need to think about it because you have to prepare for that moment to make sure that your legacy lives on and your business. And Chris really opened my eyes that and then the rest of the talk just goes on. But walk me through why you decided to get in leadership consulting for business?
When you could go probably charge government people a lot of money to be consulted military matters and everything else. Why leadership? Why not the traditional retired army officer route consulting for government and military people?
Chris: [00:55:19] Yeah. Well thanks Sam I've had some enormous opportunities and I've worked with some tremendous people. And you mentioned, you mentioned a number of them. And the question for me is, how can I get back? How can I contribute in ways that, you know, make me proud to make a difference? And so I decided that you know where I think I can really make an impact it's helping small businesses like yours and helping nonprofits maximize their impact and really grow sustainably. So I launched this consulting business to really help those those kinds of organizations.
And what I've come to is... look, doesn't matter what sort of business you're in, if you want to be great you've got to be able to do three things well. You've got to be able to lead well, you got to be a good leader, you got to be able to walk the talk. Second, you've got to have an organizational culture that enables your teams to really thrive and be engaged. And third, you got to have a strategy that enables you to compete and win. And so you know, as I thought more about that I was like, you know this is really about guts. And you can think of guts in three ways. Business leaders have got to have guts. One of the ways, it's guts is about courage. It's about decision making courage, right? Intellectual courage. You know most business leaders are dealing with real sort of bravery issues or you know like we traditionally think about, but they're dealing with intellectual courage. The courage to make sound decisions. The courage to put your finances on the line.
Samuel: [00:56:52] Financial courage I would define and the category of courage.
Chris: [00:56:57] And strike out on this you this business for this nonprofit where you've got a cause or you've got a mission, you know, that will make people's lives better and wants to change the world. So that's one for my guts. Another for my guts is you can look at it anatomically...or organizationally like you know, in the body the guts as your midsection. It's what allows everything to function. You know, your heart, your stomach, your liver, etc. Those are your guts. Well when you think about an organization, your gut's are your middle management. And an organization can only grow sustainably at the pace of its middle management.
So if you've got a toddler level middle management. If you've got toddler level guts, you're going to have a toddler level organization. Bottom line, if you try to grow beyond that, you're going to fail. You may grow for a while that everything is going to snap back to the level that your guts can sustain it. And in third, guts the great memory aid. Greatness, if want great, you got to do three things well.
[00:57:56] It's about you and your ability to lead. T, your teams in a thriving organizational culture and S, a strategy to compete and win in an intense environment. And so by business the Strategic Leaders Academy is really oriented on helping leaders do all of that.
Samuel: [00:58:22] Now Chris, one of the things that I've seen is a great Greek saying, I think it was the work of Delphis said or someone said you know, I realise how little I know about this subject and he said, now you're starting to become truly wise. I thought I knew a lot about leadership and now I'm starting to realise how much I have just gotten into how it goes. And part of that has been the privilege of watching you teach it in a very systematic highway. And by forcing myself to help you dissect the story that you need to tell to inspire people to invest in leadership.
I've really had to come at it at a much higher level than I've ever had to engage with leadership intellectually. I've just kind of taken for granted and maybe been lazy a little bit in my study and application of it and now I'm seeing that what's really inspiring to me about this is you know you say this in your talk I'm like, yeah we've hired the culture consultant toon and it was quite useful for the culture day.
[00:59:22] We've also done the values of mission statement all of that. But none of that's really important unless you live and breathe it and you have a systematic program to, you know, not make it a cynical point that you've developed all these things in our organization we've developed things we want to live by and implement but how do we actually do it?
And that takes work and it takes discipline and you know that marrying together leadership with a business plan and a strategy really, not a plan. And then the culture and doing that every quarter and on some weekly coaching calls it's really your flagship product if you will. Your private workshops with companies and then your ongoing coaching. I'm having a great experience going through it. And you know where did you come up with that what was your idea behind it and what are you kind of seeing working with organizations on this?
[01:00:18] Well imagine a professional tennis player, like Serena Williams, right? Serena Williams does deep practice. And she does deep practice with a coach that is not only working on technique but also working on game strategy, right? So it's all, it's coherent, it's integrated. A lot of leaders in a lot of organizations, first of all they don't do anything.
Samuel: [01:00:44] Especially small businesses just never touch this stuff.
Chris: [01:00:48] Yeah that's right. It's like well, they look at it as an expense rather than an investment, first of all. And second, you know I liken it to the tennis player that says, you know I don't need to practice. I just need to show up to the games. I'll get better by playing the games. And yeah that may work for somebody for a little while but she come up against the competitor that does deep practice like Serena Williams does and she can kick your butt every single time.
Doesn't matter how much raw talent you have. Doesn't matter what kind of racket you got. Doesn't matter if you got the best shoes in the world. She's going to kick your butt every single time because she practices. Leadership and organizational culture and strategy require that same kind of practice.
[01:01:33] The other thing a lot of organizations do is they'll start to recognize and say OK they get me a leadership coach for me. I'm going to do culture days. I'm going to hire a guru to do some culture days and then I'm going to outsource my strategy to you know some sort of strategic planners at some Gucci consulting firm. And so it would be like a tennis player, like Serena Williams, having like one coach that works only on the serves. And another coach that works only on a backhand. And a third coach that you know works on game strategy.
And maybe those three will... and those coaches never talked to one another. So maybe those three aspects of the game will all come together. But chances are that each one is going to emphasise different things because they emphasise different things, you're at a higher risk of having an incoherent game of tennis so you might have the great serve, you might have a great backhand and you might have a great individual strategy, but if they don't work together, you're going to lose.
[01:02:37] And so what I found important is it's not only the leadership coaching and the work on culture and the work on strategy but it's the integration of those that allows us, the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Samuel: [01:02:52] Yeah and definitely for small business I think a lot of the reason that small businesses do not invest in this stuff is, you know, who has money for Accenture to develop some phonebook level strategy that no one's going to work on. And the strategic planning process that we've done with you been quite helpful because it's accessible. It's, you know, it's a document we work on every week and it's something that we're putting together and something we would never ever take that time in the mental angst of having to think these big problems without you pushing us.
[01:03:25] But once you push through the document and the work is not that cumbersome. And it feels like it's going to be useful and it's not a strategy that's long enough to be totally fine with junking the whole thing in a month. If things change, when things change because it inevitably will. One of the things you're emphasising in the process is we're always going to revisit this and always develop new courses of action.
[01:03:49] So if I'm listening to this as small as I get, OK I need leadership training, generally get culture that makes a lot of sense that culture matches, you know, the leadership training. I mean, in the military when we like the commander who was responsible for the leadership training and leader development program and he was responsible for the culture, that's just second nature and he'd have a mentor, you know, kind of help him oversee that. But what about strategy? How does that fit in?
And you tell this great story, General Eisenhower the battle of D-Day, you have this great lecture you've given on D-Day where you say you know Eisenhower's quote, "Plans are nothing, planning is everything." Talk about strategy versus business plans and what as a business owner who's been burned by developing business plans for investors that they know no ones are going to follow, won't survive a week after they've printed it. How do you get someone excited about strategy when they've done planning before and never seen any of that help?
Chris: [01:04:49] Yeah this is where most businesses, especially small businesses and nonprofits, are just completely out of the game is on strategy. So a lot of them will just, are just making it up as they go along. They've got no business strategy. And some have these telephone book thick plans that they may have outsourced somebody to write. And those plans are based on assumptions and forecasts that are never going to hold true in a dynamic environment.
And so what winds up happening is recognise that, well this plan sort out the window because something fundamental has changed. And then you go back to making up as you go along. So the beauty about strategy and so few organisations do this well. I've seen government screw this up. It's one of the things that inspired me about really working on strategy is seeing businesses, governments, militaries constantly screw this up.
Samuel: [01:05:42] The people who should know this stuff get it wrong.
Chris: [01:05:44] Should know it and just don't. You've got to have a business strategy that enables you to advance your business. And at the same time make sound decisions in a dynamic environment. And that's what strategy is really all about. So in a dynamic business environment you don't control all the variables. You don't control your clients, your customers. You don't control your competitors. You don't control government policy, don't control changes in technology, changes in society. All of these sayings are highly likely to affect your business.
[01:06:18] So if you've got a rigid business plan that tries to take you out 3 or 4 or 5 years and is based on certain assumptions about these variables you don't control, then chances are your plan is going to be irrelevant very very quickly. So what a strategy does is it begins with the presumption that many of the critical factors, I can't control.
So what I need to do is diagnose the situation as is now, define what my core purpose and capabilities are as an organization, develop some theories of success, some course of action for how I'm going to move forward, decide which course of action, which approach, which theory of success is most likely to lead to the outcome that we want, and then determine how well we're implementing our ideas, but more importantly how well were growing. Growing our impact, growing our revenues, and this cycle I call the Five Ds iterates. And so you're constantly examining your assumptions, you're constantly examining your forecasts, and you're looking for changes there.
As long as your assumptions and your forecasts are sound, then your approach is good and you need to stick with it even if there are some minor setbacks or things aren't happening as quickly as you thought. But once those assumptions or those forecasts become invalid is when you've got to make a change. And if you use this kind of process then you were going to detect when those changes are needed far faster than somebody who's just fixated on executing a very rigid business plan.
Samuel: [01:07:56] And the thing I love about the process that you take us through is like I said it's rigorous but it's not onerous to the point where you're not afraid to junk it. And this is in the military too. I remember studying in the 1940 campaign in France with the German army which was actually a staff ride that you led these historical trips that cadets went on and seeing the flexibility of that plan and the ability to, you know, to see how people develop plans that weren't overly complicated but were very obviously well thought through and the ability to immediately leave those plans.
And what was fascinating to me was working with you, I've never seen...I've known how to do this in the military, I've done it. I've seen a lot of people in the military not do it well to where you almost hate the planning process because people do it in a way that's cumbersome and not very useful. But you obviously did it well in the military. You made your plans very useful and obviously you're an expert in the military but translate it into a business. How do you apply these principles of strategy in the business? You've kind of cracked the code on that and allowed us as a business to see ourselves develop some different plans and then decide between all of those on which one we want to do, which is a process we're in as we're at an inflection point in our business going forward is which way do we want to go? And that's been a hugely helpful process.
Chris: [01:09:22] Yeah you'd ever want to fall in love with the plan. Because once you fall in love with the plan-we get this great human tendency called confirmation bias-where we place additional weight on data points that support a point of view and we tend to discount information data points that would be disconfirming to that point of view. So when you fall in love with a plan, you tend to look at any data point that supports continuing that plan, you give it much greater weight.
And all of the data points that are saying, hey look this plan is based on assumptions and forecasts that are no longer valid. You tend to discount those. And so you see a lot of organizations across disciplines fall in love with their plans and it sends them into extraordinary levels of failure.
[01:10:21] So what this method does, you know the five method, so diagnose the situation. Define, you know your purpose and your core capabilities. Develop a set of options going forward decide among those options which one is the best and then determine how well that's going and measure the outcomes. I mean it's a very simple, very user friendly process for businesses-small businesses, nonprofits-and as you said if you don't fall in love with it. It's something that gives you the right azimuth, it enables you to develop a business plan which you know in which you are organizing the activities of your organization, but you're measuring the right things through this.
And when those indicators turn from green to red, then you know it's time to make a change and you can make that change very very very easily so this is a process that's tailor made for small businesses, for nonprofits.
[01:11:27] You're not going to generate a telephone book thick strategy. You're going to have a strategy that's really a few pages long that gets your team on the same page that sends you, your organization in a sound direction. And from which you can then organise your business activities.
Samuel: [01:11:48] And if you're sitting here thinking about this from an abstract point it sounds very good. But one of the things we're doing at James Cook Media as an example is we're putting together 3 different courses of action right now. One is a maintenance plan where we're deciding that we're not going to pursue growth as fast as we could and work on systems which would drive us allocating, that would drive our growth targets for the next year down, where we wouldn't chase revenue growth as much as under another plan.
We would allocate certain people on the team to systems development versus just product delivery or, you know, client services. Pull people out of the line as it were to work on internal systems of the company which is expensive but it's an investment. And then we have two growth plans one is to pursue our StoryMatters Academy growth plan which is really focusing on the development of our software and our video course training which is scalable. And the other one is our growth plan related to delivering custom funnel builds for people across our audience who maybe don't want to learn but just want things done really well for them.
And we actually just fall through really hard a way to crack the code and make that scalable and we've got our new StoryMatters certified consultant plan where anyone who's in our coaching group, which is 30 strong, now can get certified and most of them do want to get certified so that they can actually take money, you know, so we basically be a matchmaking service where we charge for the strategy and get the business owner to commit to a real strategy which we supervise that are our agency level but then allow the execution to be passed onto a certified consultant.
[01:13:35] So we're able to scale those services and we're providing the filming for the story based shoots which is our expertise and that's a productise service we can come up with. It's been something we've really had to think through. And this strategic process has forced us to come up with an entirely new products and think through how much ad spend to allocate to growth in this course of action versus this course of action. What are our profit and loss say, what is our projections say, what kind of financing do we need? So all these different things are determining hiring decisions, are determining ad spends, are determining role allocations within the company.
[01:14:16] So these aren't trivial decisions. In fact, these are quite important things. But it's just not a huge mammoth plan. You know, there's a lot of detail in there but it's something that's manageable, something that's easy for us to put together with some concentrated work and thought and it's useful. Because you know when you spend way too long developing a plan it's huge and it's detailed is really hard to want to change it because you do fall in love with the plan the longer it is. But making it detailed enough and then having a coach to critique it and challenge assumptions, that's where a plan becomes really useful.
Chris: [01:14:49] And by developing 2, 3, or 4 valid courses of action. Approaches that you can realistically take that will that will move you forward. It adds mental discipline to the process so it prevents you from falling in love with, you know, with a plan or with a single approach and it keeps your mind open. Right? Because in business the situation is dynamic. And you're going to come up with. And we're coming up with, you know, a certain diagnosis about the way things are both within JCM as a business, but also in the business environment. That diagnosis is going to change. So JCM may establish the systems that you want to establish more quickly, which then enables you to springboard off of that into a growth direction. And the marketplace is going to change too, it's dynamic. You may find that the custom funnel builds are like the, you know, the place that you want to go that really offers that opportunity.
[01:15:47] But you may also find, and with a lot of businesses find, that something that gives you a short term growth opportunity, is not where you actually want to be as a business. And if he don't have a strategy, you wind up chasing some of these short term growth opportunities but don't really get to where you want to go. And you begin to lose your identity as a business. You began to lose what makes you special and a lot of businesses, after chasing a few short term opportunities, just wind up floundering and failing because they've lost the sense of who they are and what makes them special.
Samuel: [01:16:26] Yeah that's been hugely impactful for us as a business, so well Chris I'm going to take us home here and just I'm going to close this podcast by really asking listener to do really one thing. Go watch Chris' talk. Sign up for his free talk on Lead With Guts. It's riveting. You will not be able to stop watching once you start because Chris really hits you on the nose with that initial story. The most powerfully delivered story I've seen in awhile from stage. Really knocked me and everyone in the audience back and really made a huge impact on...immediately on what I was doing and my business. So go watch that. Sign up for that and go through Chris' series and at the end of that you can have a chance to take his intellectual courage assessment-sorry lead with guts or the gut check assessment- which assesses your intellectual courage and your teams and all kinds of elements of you that we've heard us talk about as a leader so you can see exactly where do you stand.
[01:17:27] And that's free. And then I think there's also a paid version of it where you can have everyone your organization take it and help you see yourself from everyone around you as a leader which I think's hugely valuable to help you understand yourself as a leader. And we have had an amazing experience at James Cook Media doing this filming with you Chris.
Preparing with you the story that you've told that I think is going to inspire a lot of leaders in our audience to start thinking about leadership and invest in leadership training, whether it's with you or self study, you know, whatever. Just to get people aware that you can work on yourself as a leader is great and if you watch Chris' talk he will never think about leadership the same and he does have some options. He's very picky, but he does have some options to take on a few businesses that do need the private work that we're doing.
And I think you're developing some other cool stuff so check out Chris's video, get on his list, join his community which we're having a great time helping build a James Cook Media as one of our private funnel builds that we work on with Chris. Chris also as part of the StoryGuild and has had a great impact on his peers in that group too and everyone's having fun watching you rock the leadership world Chris in business.
Chris: [01:18:46] Thanks Sam. And it's great working with James Cook Media. You know, the level of professionalism and sincerity that you and your organization take to marketing is, you know, is really refreshing. You don't see this sort of goofy hard sells, you know, that other marketing agencies do. You know what you see is sincerity and empathy and a genuine desire to connect with people for all the right reasons. And it's one of the many reasons why I loved working with you and your organization and it's been a real pleasure being both in the StoryGuild as well as working with your team on film and of course working with your team on leadership and strategy as well.
Samuel: [01:19:28] It can't imagine a better experience for us to have gone through is having to help you think through your marketing message but also get the benefit of your consulting on leadership and it's the best investment we've made in our business. You know, also when I look at our avatar, Chris, you know my heart is with expert authors like you who refuse to prostitute themselves like most internet marketers, especially the American ones, would have to do for the sake of earning some money which is manipulating rather than inspiring and you're a great example of someone who's able to inspire and not have to resort to that. It's really been amazing to be able to serve someone like you and I look forward to seeing everyone, every listener's reaction to your story.
Chris: [01:20:16] Thank you very much Sam. It's been a pleasure.
Samuel: [01:20:18] Thanks Chris. And thank you listener for listening to this latest episode of StoryMatters podcast. Please, if you found this helpful do like, comment, and share this episode on Facebook. Leave us a review on iTunes and if you haven't yet signed up for or finished the StoryMatters Masterclass on storytelling digital age please go watch that or finish watching it.
Love to hear your feedback and at the end of the day you can actually get information on our programs; the StoryGuild, the custom forum builds, and the StoryMatters Academy that you heard talked about with Chris on strategy that we're pursuing. So thanks again for listening and we'll see you next episode.