Jonathan Fanning - Creating a Culture of Innovation


Our guest today is Jonathan Fanning, author of three books, celebrated speaker, entrepreneur, and all around expert on creativity and injecting positive culture into companies. In this insightful talk, Jonathan shares a wide variety of historical and cultural examples of what constitutes good creative practices in the workplace. Jonathan’s insights are a useful reminder for anyone looking to effectively practice innovation and become more involved in their workplace.

Show Episode Transcript

Intro: Welcome to manufacturing leadership, a podcast for young professionals in and out of the oil and gas industry. And now here's your host, Energy Weldfab'sMichael Clements.

Michael C.: Hello listeners, welcome to another episode of manufacturing leadership, I'm your host Michael Clements and we have a wonderful show planned for you today. Jonathan Fanning is the author of several books including Who Are You Becoming, and has been coaching leaders for fortune 500 executives to sole proprietors for over 15 years. If you're familiar with Ted talks, Jonathan was voted the best speaker at a recent TED conference.

He has also built several successful businesses including a children's fitness franchise, an entrepreneur adventure which helps young people experience business startup and ownership, he's inspired and challenged audiences with his message in 49 states and on three continents. Jonathan lives in New York with his amazing wife Dominica and two angelic little girls Ella and Maya, please help me welcome Jonathan Fanning.

Jonathan Fanning: Thanks, great to be here.

Michael C.: Jonathan it's great to have you. So for our listeners this is and as I told you Jonathan this is our first time we're doing a Skype podcast, so we're not in the same room right now this is the first time for our show to do that, so pretty cool the use of technology here. Jonathan hope this goes off clear without any problems?

Jonathan Fanning: Yes we'll see, but it either way it'll be all right.

Michael C.: Well Jonathan welcome to the show, happy to have you on here today, I think you're going to really be able to offer some great things for our listeners. Before we get into it, I was going to tell you really cool to be able to say you've given speeches in 49 different states, so I guess what's the one state?

Jonathan Fanning: The one state, the one state is Alaska and it's actually it's not for lack of the chance, a few years ago I had this chance to speak in Sydney Australia and after that trip I came back thinking there are a few places I won't go until the whole family can make the trip, because some places they're not that easy to get to and you don't know that you'll get back in another year or two, so I'm waiting on Alaska until the whole family can go maybe we spend a few weeks there and see the country, see the state, see everything.

Michael C.: A lot of cool stuff up there probably pretty cold, but really a neat state from what I understand. I definitely want to hit on the Sydney trip, but first tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, how you got started in doing what you're doing, just give us a little insight into that.

Jonathan Fanning: Yes, sure so you know out of school I'm a mechanical engineer by training and I got into the manufacturing world immediately and was really intrigued by turnarounds, helping a company go from where it is to where it could be especially lean Toyota Production system that kind of stuff, and out of the gate ended up helping facilities change direction completely. And then in that process I ended up doing more and more and more leadership work, because changing directions always a leadership challenge, always.

And in the middle of that I was traveling around the country helping facilities, and I was in a really bad car accident one of those warm days but cold nights, the rain turned into black ice, the car slid on the highway and two tractor trailers plowed through my car. You experience something like that you start asking some questions and one of the biggest questions I asked is what are you going to do with the rest of your life, it's a good question to ask anyway but after an accident like that you start really dwelling on that question, and I thought I want to do work that really makes a difference not just on the financial side or on the helping a company run better quality, but really make a deep difference.

So I started doing more writing, more speaking and since then I've had the chance to speak everywhere you can go, I'm finishing my third book right now which is a lot of fun, actually I'm in the tough phase, I'm in the phase where you get rid of sections, I'm in the edit phase of that book. As a writer you always end up having files on your computer of stuff that you wish were in the book but you don't get to keep. That's where I am, I spent about half my life now speaking and writing, half my life working with leaders and companies helping them make sustainable change and the other half if there's three halves being a dad, being a coach to my daughters in soccer and trying to make a difference in the community around me.

Michael C.: So getting into the leadership and doing what you're doing now was that something that you had originally, you were shooting for and aiming for before your car accident or was that something that really came as a motivation after the car accident?

Jonathan Fanning: That's a really good question, I was doing it to a degree, but I just decided I started filtering the kind of company and the kind of work I would do, fairly dramatically. I said I don't want to just work with a company that wants to impact their stock price or their profitability, but a company that wants to build a culture that's just alive and vibrant and says we value people and more and more I asked more questions before I'll work with the client, before I'll speak with the company.

Let's just talking with the potential client today that they're in Tennessee, and I spent a lot of time asking them questions about who they are and what they stand for and what they want people to say about their organization in five or ten years. So after the car accident I just said that's the kind of work I wanted to do, you know stuff that really makes a difference.

Michael C.: Well it definitely makes a difference, but going in and impacting an entire organizations culture and changing it for the better that can be a difficult task, especially depending on what the requirements are whenever you're asked to come in and speak or come in and do something. How long do your engagements usually last with these companies?

Jonathan Fanning: Sure, that's a good question, I go anywhere from doing a keynote one time to working with them over the course of several years or I'll see them quite a few of my clients I'll see a few times a year over the course of years, over the course of three or five years. One of my clients right now is a big school district and I'll see them three times this year and three times over the next several years because we all stumble over great ideas now and then then the hard part is bringing that to life, in my world. We have notebooks full and phone files full of great ideas of great ideas, I did something with that, if I can do it and I like to help them actually do it, my first book is called who are you becoming and that question started to bother me a lot after my accident.

And then there's a question that goes with it that says who are you helping people around you to become, because each of us has a few people in our lives that we wouldn't be who we are without them, we wouldn't be the kind of friend or parent or citizen or employee or business owner that we are without them. maybe it was a coach when you were 12 years old or a schoolteacher or a college advisor or a mentor early in your career or parent or an aunt and those people are priceless, the people that helped us to become who we are, but if we don't go looking for them we're lucky to get you on every now.

And so that second question who you're helping people around you to become, I always challenge people to be intentional about that, go find one more of those people over the next few weeks or month or two go search them out, search out someone that you say I love the way that person communicates or makes decisions or lives and search them out, find a way to spend time with them even if you never meet them. A lot of my best mentors I've never met they're not alive, I've just read about their life so much that it rubs off.

Michael C.: Yes, so one of the trainings you'd like to do is history, basically a history lesson of other leaders and things, what drew you to want to speak on I guess some of our greatest leaders from history?

Jonathan Fanning: Yes it's a really good question, several years ago I was doing a big consulting project with a car company and before I took on that project I said I need a little break and my wife and I spent about a week down in Costa Rica, in an all-inclusive calm relaxing resort. And on the second-to-last day there this guy walks into the cafe that just caught my attention, he didn't look the part of the resort he looked just very unique, interesting and I went up and introduced myself to him and start talking to him. And it turns out the guy's Patch Adams from the movie Patrick, and he looked a lot like he had a fork earring hanging from his ear, I mean literally like a little shrimp fork but it's hanging from his ear, he had a big ponytail that was purple and this massive handlebar moustache and he's wearing purple pajama silky outfit head to toe.

So as I'm talking to him and saying oh what brings you to Costa Rica, he says I work and I thought really work yes, finally he says well I'm Patch Adams and he and I talked for a few hours. And the one thing he said in different ways over and over and over again was, if you tell me who your role models are I'll tell you what kind of person you're becoming, and that just hit home to me that in a business, in a culture, in a community, in a school district, on a sports team if you tell me who the role models are for that group of people, we know where that group of people is going and that's part of the reason I love to dig into history and try to take some of the greatest lessons from people. Some of them are big names and some of them most people have never heard of, but those people have a story to tell or a lesson to teach us.

Michael C.: So going back to really where we kind of first started, you said you'd gotten into manufacturing; you really were drawn to some of the leadership role, impacting cultures in a positive way. At some point in your career you had the car accident that really sparked a flame that probably sounded like it was already there and something you were already working towards but it really made you really kick that into another gear.

Really how have you seen going from just being in the corporate world to now you impact corporations, you're able to probably really be on your own schedule, learn and teach yourself the things that you think that are going to be most beneficial to your ability to teach others, are you really enjoying what you're doing right now?

Jonathan Fanning: Absolutely, within the first year or two after the accident when I started chasing this question of what kind of person are you becoming and how are you going to impact the world, one of my filters was do things that make you come alive, do things that breathe life into you. Martin Luther King would take on a lot of his marches, he would take a book from a friend of his father's and one quote in that book was don't ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive. You can say it's almost an obsession of overlapping talents and passions of mine, with ways you can serve the world.

If you picture kind of three circles talent, passion and ways you could serve and I constantly will challenge young people sometimes I speak for high schools and colleges, and I'll challenge them to find something that it just brings you to life, but it also adds value to other people so you can make a living doing it. In other words if you love sports, maybe it's not playing the sport that's going to make you a living but maybe it's marketing the sport or training in the sport or setting up camps for the sport or setting up trips so people can experience the sport, and there's some way that your talents, passions and the way that you can serve the world can overlap and I'm just extremely committed to that thought.

Michael C.: So as you help others find that and it also sounds like you helped organizations align those three things as well from a culture perspective, as you do that is it exciting to see some of the breakthroughs that individuals and companies have once you start really pushing the envelope on those things?

Jonathan Fanning: Oh absolutely, yes and as a speaker one of the challenges I think all speakers have is that you speak and then a lot of times you're gone, more of my clients I speak once and then I'm gone, maybe I get to sign books maybe they get books for their leadership team or something like that which I love because I get emails later, but knowing that and I think all of us as leaders or even as a parent we know that part of our real ultimate job is planting seeds. Planting a seed that might and we don't know if it will but might kind of take root and grow and affect that person a year, three, five, ten, twenty years from now.

As a speaker and all leaders I think use stories and questions extremely well, and you plant a seed of a question for example I speak a lot in the world of creativity, in the world of creativity if you tell me what kind of questions you're pursuing, I could predict the direction of you and your organization, because a lot of us we chase questions of a certain size, when you chase a question of a different size. I had a mentor, a very good mentor in the world of speaking and writing, he's written maybe thirty books, sold 30 or 40 million books now.

A few years ago he came to me he said Jonathan you're making a difference in the world great, he said but I bet in the next ten years you could have 100 times the impact you've had in the last ten, and I put that into a question like how do I in the next 10 years have 100 times the impact I've had in the last 10. Sometimes I'll share that with the group in a speech or in a workshop, and I'll say I bet in the next one year you can have double the impact on people's lives than you did last year, and a lot of times I see people I see their eyes just kind of go oh yes I could. You pick three or four people that you spend a lot of time with and say, how do I double the positive impact I have on those three people's lives this year and that seed can grow and have a ripple effect.

Michael C.: That in the speech, I mean I'm sitting here listening to this like wow, I feel like I'm in the middle of one of your speeches just here and you say that right now. So hearing that okay you can double how much, you can help others, you can double what you're doing in your organization, there's a lot of things I guess that we could say how am I going to double my output or double my impact that I'm making in a positive way. I guess how do you help those individuals put that into you, so once you have that seed planted where do we go from there, what's that next step?

Jonathan Fanning: Well I speak on innovation and creativity, I constantly talk about a model for creativity and there's five pieces to it. The first piece is the kind of questions we pursue, one of the other pieces I call the 5% rule you could just call it as simple as iterate or create different versions. I call the 5% rule because so often an idea that works somewhere else won't work perfectly where we are, but if we five percent it, change it by about five percent then it fits perfectly to our world.

So I will constantly say take a question and five percent the question, take a question and iterate the question, so doubling your impact is one way of looking at it. Years ago I was running a factory and Toyota was one of my customers, a small factory I had about 300 employees and Toyota would come visit us typically four times a year for about a week and they would help us work on what we did and how we did it. And one of their visits, one of their executives looks at me he says Jonathan you guys waste a lot of time in meetings here, I thought he was sort of kidding because every company wake spends a lot of time in meetings, and he didn't laugh and I thought okay he's just picking on me.

And he said I bet that by Monday you could cut out 20% of your meeting time plant wide, and I started asking this how do you cut out 20% of your meeting time, and then if you iterate or 5% that question I started asking can you take one meeting that you have on a regular basis and make it twice as engaging, maybe twice as effective and then maybe make it last half as long. Can you attack one of those three angles even; can you just say how do we make this twice as engaging? What do you need to rethink, do you need to rethink who's there, when it starts, what the pre-agenda is, how long you will have different pieces, how many things we try to cover in that meeting, what kind of questions you ask, what kind of stories you use, even if you just take any one of those pieces of the question you're five percenting, you're iterating the question.

I mean my double the impact question is probably more effective if you say in one little piece of your world, can I double the impact, in the way I spend time with my kids can I double the impact or can I make the impact twice as memorable this year. The question I ask typically after every November/December is what are some tiny things we can do in our family, that'll change the way the kids see the world, and we find answers usually to the questions we chase. It's not the questions we asked now and then it's the questions we chase, we hunt that question, we take that question we say that's the question we're digging into and spending serious time in.

Michael C.: If I'm hearing this right it sounds like the biggest driver to maybe making more progress or becoming a better leader or some of the things that we've discussed, what we're really saying is it's not what you're doing it's the questions that you're asking?

Jonathan Fanning: Yes, I would definitely put it that way. Einstein was asked once, if you had an hour to solve a complicated problem what's your strategy, what do you do with the hour? And Einstein said I would spend the first 55 minutes trying to figure out what questions needed to be asked, and the last five asking and answering those questions. Most of us do it completely, most of my life I do it not even the opposite, I probably spend a minute saying what are the questions to ask and then solving those problems.

Sal Khan in the world of Education he came along he said is the teacher's job to teach or to facilitate learning, and they're totally different things. The greatest teacher if you think back to your best teachers, they absolutely facilitated learning, sometimes teaching was part of that sometimes it was not, sometimes their best way to facilitate learning was to get out of the way and let you try to figure something out. Now if you iterate that kind of a question you say is a leader’s job to inspire or to facilitate inspiration, and again they're very different things.

It's amazing I've used that example so often with leaders and so often I see a light bulb go on in their head and they realize, so I could use resources to do the inspiring for me, wait I mean that means I could take my team somewhere, it's amazing how often there are great leaders that are not the strongest communicators, but they really care about their people, they have a great idea, a great strategy, they're humble enough to pull in different ideas and say we might be wrong here but we're going to keep going, but some of them think they can't lead at a certain level because they can't communicate the way of Martin Luther King jr. did or the way of John F Kennedy did. And it hits them that wait a second I don't necessarily need to be the one inspiring, I need to make sure that the people are inspired, it's a whole different game.

Michael C.: So a lot of the challenges for organizations today you have work force motivation, employee retention, customer service, communication just to name a few obstacles that organizations are facing today, is there a direct correlation between how much innovation is going on in a company and maybe how well they're performing and also some of those categories?

Jonathan Fanning: There's an old I think you've probably heard but it goes like this involvement turns into engagements, if I'm involved in the process I'm more engaged. The opposite is also true; if I'm not involved in the process I tend not to be that engaged. Starbucks has a really interesting way of engaging their young people and they have a lot of people, a lot of employees under the age of 25, most people would say if your whole workforce was under the age of 25 would you be excited or not and most people will say, oh boy because it's a different perspective, completely different.

And Starbucks one of the little things that turns into a big thing that they do, is they have these ways of being, they say we want you to be one of them as welcoming, we want you to be welcome, how do we do that? They might give you examples but they don't say when someone walks in say this then say that, they just say be welcome, come up with some of your own ways. Some of their locations will once a month, once every few weeks will say let's have it be welcoming day, where everyone in the store or everyone in that region that whole day they're saying how can I be more welcoming and they'll come up with three or four or five or ten different ways and then they'll practice them, they'll try them that day.

Then at the end of that day they'll get together and say like share some of these things you saw, some of the things you did, some of the things you tried, some of the things you're going to try next time because of what you saw or did or thought of today and they end up collecting almost in their back pockets dozens of ways to be welcoming, but they have autonomy, they have freedom to do it in a way that fits their personality. I was kind of digging into this a few years ago and I would go into Starbucks and ask people about this, people who worked there, never forget one woman looks at me she's like are you from corporate, I didn't answer she says coffee's on me and I thought that's great.

But she showed me a notebook she bought, just a spiral notebook and it said be welcoming and she wrote it on the outside and she had pages of notes on the people that came in on a regular basis and who they were, what their life was like. So if that person came in twice a week or every single morning eventually she knew them, she knew their kids names, she knew that they had a pet, she knew if they were going away for a weekend, if they had a favorite football team she knew this stuff and that was one of her ways of being welcoming, but involvement turns into engagement. She told me she said when they were doing to be welcoming focus one time, her manager said can you share that, can you come to another store and share that and she did and then the manager and the regional person did not say everyone get a notebook, they said that's pretty neat and people walked out of there thinking that's crazy or I should ask more questions or I could take notes in my phone, they didn't all do what she did, but it was just one way of being welcoming and can you give people the freedom.

So many companies say we want more engagement, we want more creative ideas from our people, but they don't ask or wait for the answer. Tom Peters has a great line he says you want to see how good you are as a leader at listening, ask this forward question a few times a day and then see how often and how many answers you get, and the forward question is what do you think? I mean you ask that of your spouse, of your kids, of your co-workers, of your boss, of your employees, of your customers and then you keep track of do they answer me, that says a lot to do they trust you, do you be quiet and listen, do they think you'll listen and you can ask it a lot in different ways but what do you think, what do you think about this, what are we not looking at here, what do you like about what we're doing here, there's a lot of ways to ask that forward question.

Michael C.: So for some of our leaders that sounds like a terrific exercise that you can do for yourself to see if you're driving a force of innovation around you and the group of people that you're with, whether in the workplace or at home or church wherever that may be, but also it sounds like a leader can also kill that culture of innovation very quickly if they're not aware of it. So this sounds like a very good exercise that you could maybe enhance your own self-awareness by asking that question of others, and you said that was what do you think?

Jonathan Fanning: Sure, yes so can I go back to the creative model for a little bit?

Michael C.: Yes sir.

Jonathan Fanning: Typically creative people in organizations ask questions, they tend to question a lot of things and then they usually get to a few big questions that they chase right, but the next few things they do they iterate I mentioned right, they also tend to be collectors of ideas, perspectives, experiences you could really call they collect options, they collect options, they collect a lot of options for how to attack a problem. An example I'd love to use his Walt Disney, Walt Disney in 1934 he says we're going to make a cartoon a full movie, it had never been done before there was no such thing as a cartoon that's a full movie, they were like 7-minute, eight-minute little previews two real movies in the theaters, but never a full cartoon movie.

He says we're going to cast snow white and the Seven Dwarfs and most of us were given that as a project and we had to come up with seven dwarf names, most of us would come up with seven maybe 10, 12, 15, 20 maybe names and then by Monday or by this coming Friday we would narrow it down to seven, that's how most of us would do it and if you don't believe me sometimes people say no I come up with more, look at the last time you wrote an email that needed to challenge, inspire, hold somebody accountable, communicate something how many options did you come up with for how to write the email, how many options do you usually come up with for a subject of an email that has to get people's attention, how many options do you come up with for how to start a conversation, most of us it's not a lot.

And Walt Disney what he did is he had the team come up with 64 dwarf names, but they didn't stop there they had personality types, they had character traits, they had the voices, they had interactions mapped out, they would bring in actors to come and be Piggy Wiggy and hungry and dirty and weepy and silly, I mean they had dwarf the defy, they had all and they would interact and they'd say you know what that one doesn't fit take that one out and put this one into that same story and they played around with this for two and a half years. And it's funny because sometimes I speak in a lot of companies and people will say I can't do that, and I tell them there's a really good chance Steve Jobs, Walt Disney would get fired if they work where you work, absolutely very high chance of that.

Don't do 64, don't do two and a half years, but the next time you have something that needs creativity come up with four or five instead of one or two options or three options, give it another hour or day to marinate because sometimes your best option is option number six or seven, that happens after a day or two of thinking through this and going wait a second that's a way to do it. And this applies not just to, I mean it applies to meetings and leadership and business, but it applies to also how you get yourself to exercise on a daily basis, how you learn things, experiment with that you learn things.

There's a lot of us at some point we get okay at it and then we stop, how do you listen to people you meet a new person in an airport or whatever how do you begin the conversation, how do you create a connection quickly with the new person. Collect options for that, even the Sam Walton who built Walmart, when he was building Walmart he loved to take his team's to other stores, not necessarily other Walmart's and he would say look this store honestly it's not doing great, but I guarantee you they're doing four or five things that we can really learn from, we're going to spend a half an hour in there, I want each of you to come out with two or three things that we should definitely try in some way and he just created this kind of humble culture of there are other ideas that we have not yet thought of and we'll go find them, we'll go hunt them down.

Michael C.: So if you're a leader listening to this show, it sounds important to me that if you want to be driving an organization in a culture of creativity, innovation all the really good words that mean progress, but ultimately here creativity and innovation if you want to be driving those factors, you first have to be figuring out how you're doing it in your own life and that was a couple of very good examples and tools that we can be using as individuals to drive that.

Now it sounds like once the individual can start asking them self-multiple questions or more things about them self, just like how Disney did it tends to bleed over into the culture of the entire organization. What happens when an organization starts hitting on all cylinders and is asking these questions and there's a free flow of question asking and not everybody is trying to have an answer, maybe it makes more questions but is that the goal?

Jonathan Fanning: It's not the only goal, but one of the biggest stumbling blocks is organizations start getting better at some of these things and some are great at a lot of these things, I like to look at leadership and especially in the world of creativity almost like a circus tent. And I like to look at those poles that hold the circus tent up, and if you have two of them or three of them and they're solid and they're high you've got an okay tent, but there's probably a pole somewhere that's not doing what it could, very often that's the one to take up a notch. In the world of creativity especially when times are changing, well if you ever heard this expression but it goes like this, in times of change the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with the world that no longer exists and that's where we're going.

I mean my youngest daughter is 8, I remember when she was 2 or 3 I handed her an old digital camera to show her a picture of something and she starts swiping it and it wouldn't work, and she just looked at me like it's broken, daddy it's broken it doesn't have a swipe. The world is changing now so quickly and if we can't change we're in serious trouble, and one of those pillars that a lot of organizations are missing I call it F4OB, it's my favorite lesson from the Wright brothers’, the Wright brothers’ the reason they were the first to fly is because they figured out how to crash and learn lessons without dying.

I call this pillar F4OB because it stands for fail forward fast and frequently, but if you can do it off-Broadway in other words mess up, but try to do it in a way that doesn't get you fired, in the family life doesn't end your marriage or have your kid moving out of the house, find ways to experiment that don't cost you that much whether it's financially, emotionally, psychologically too much of your credit credibility that don't cost you too much but you learn a massive amount from those experiments, and that's a big chunk of this having a culture that's innovative. Do you let people try things, do you personally try things, so often as the leader goes so goes everyone else.

Steve Jobs at his funeral, Johnny Ives was giving one with eulogy he's part of the eulogy and Johnny Ives is one of the biggest key guys behind the iPhone, behind the first iPhone. Johnny Ives said Steve would come into a room sometimes and he'd say here's a dopey idea, and then Steve would share it with the group of people, and Johnny Ives said sometimes it was an incredibly dopey idea, he said but other times and it wasn't that often but sometimes that dopey idea would be so brilliant that I said it sucked the air out of the room, it was so brilliant.

And see Steve saying here's a dopey idea I think did two things, one it gave himself permission to put any idea out there, when you talk about F4OB sometimes the failing isn't actually even in the doing, it's just in putting an idea out there, so many of us don't even want to fail in that way. The second thing it did is it gave his team permission to put dopey ideas on the table on a regular basis, as a leader you take that to heart I don't know if this will work but what do you think of this, saying things like that all of a sudden your team starts seeing you do that consistently, maybe you ask them hey if we had no budget for marketing this year, just play with that for a little bit.

If we have no budget for marketing this year, what kind of things could we do that would get the same or an even better result than we've been getting and the way you phrase questions, you know what kind of things could we consider is a different way of phrasing it than what are we going to do here, essentially setting it up saying I'm trying to collect some options, I'm trying to get my 60 Ford to work names. We're not going to get the best idea tomorrow, but let's get 5 or 10 on the table.

Michael C.: So it doesn't have to start off big, it can start off small just adding to the question asking, it's going to start a whole process.

Jonathan Fanning: Yes exactly. I'm amazed how often I'll be speaking in a company and somebody will come up to me and say I've always thought about starting my own business like do you have any thoughts, and usually I tell them I've started a few businesses. One man was actually an entrepreneur camp to teach young people what it's like to start a business, and when we were doing that we made it for profit, so many people said Jonathan make it nonprofit, make it like you'll get grants and I said no that'll be almost like an oxymoron teaching people how to make money as a business but you can't do it yourself.

But anyway I'll get people saying like I've been always thinking about starting a business what do you suggest and I say there's a lot of ways to do it but the easiest way is find a way to make some amount of money doing something you love on the side right now. Hundred bucks a week, hundred bucks a month, hundred bucks a day, hundred bucks an hour pick some number and go after that doing the thing that you think is the business you want to do, and you will probably learn that the business model you originally thought of isn't the business model you want to build. You need to 5% that too, but go out and try to get a few customers to pay you to do something you think you want to do and the feedbacks tremendous, the feedback can be tremendous.

Michael C.: How much do you think it hurts our thinking from an organization in an individual standpoint that we're scared to fail?

Jonathan Fanning: Oh it definitely does, now the World Cup this summer my father-in-law retired recently and he got totally into soccer and he's like finally has time to just watch soccer, so he watched a whole bunch of World Cup games any he missed he recorded, anytime I see him he's like hey you want to watch some World Cup games? And I started getting into professional soccer, and I saw that high-level soccer most of the games a very high number end in a tie, they end up as tie here's what happens.

Over time and then if it's still a tie they do penalty kicks, crazy scenario with penalty kicks and our mindset on failure. Penalty kickers most soccer players are right footed and they tend to kick towards the left of the goal a little more accurately and with a little more power, so here's what they do statistics high level soccer. 57% of the time they kick the ball to the left, 41% of the time they kick the ball to the right, so we're missing 2%. 2% they kick it right down the middle, 2% they kick it right down the middle, the goalie virtually almost the same exact numbers guesses to the left or to the right and he has to jump before he sees the ball go, because he only has one third of a second from their foot to the goal 1/3, 80 miles an hour, 1/3 of a second so he guesses and he leaps one way or the other.

If you kicked it down the middle you'd score 98 percent of the time, if you kicked it down the middle why did they not do that and it's extremely simple and it's why we're not as creative as we could be. If you kick it down the middle and you're Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi or you kick it right down the middle and the goalie happened, is that 2% we stayed there he catches it he looks at you, they probably do a camera zoom in on his face looking at you would like this and he rolls the ball back toward you and you're not allowed to go back to your country, you are because you tried something different and culturally we love to say, especially in the United States, that we love innovators and creative people but the truth is we only love them after it's actually worked.

And the challenge there is can I get myself to be a little more and more willing to do stuff knowing it won't work out the first time. I live about an hour north of where Thomas Edison did most of his experiments, and towards the end of his life he was talking with Napoleon Hill who wrote the book Think and Grow Rich, and Napoleon Hill was asking him a whole bunch of questions they became really good friends, Napoleon Hill said does it ever bother you that people constantly bring up the number of failures you've had, and Edison said not at all, he said because I knew every time I failed at something I was getting rid of one more way that that experiment didn't work and eventually I've run out of ways it didn't work and find the way it did, and then Edison looked and smiled at Napoleon Hill and said besides if I hadn't done the light bulb or the other things I wouldn't be here wasting time talking to you, I'd be still in the laboratory.

And that was his mindset was there are at least a thousand ways not to do this, I'm not going to stop at three and if we just take that lesson from him and say there are a thousand ways not to build a better relationship with one of your employees, I'm not going to stop because I tried three. And there are a thousand ways to look at different ways of marketing or process or whatever; I'm not going to stop because I tried three. In the manufacturing world Soichiro Honda who built Honda motor company, he loved the idea of what he called kicking the ladder out from under things.

He'd give a team a project to work on and then he would kick the ladder out, meaning he'd say I got a couple things change the timeline is now we got to have something by next Friday, not by April or he kicked the ladder on a different way saying there's a material price change looks like it's right on the horizon, let's see if we can do this with aluminum not cast-iron and he would kick the ladder out in that way because he found for himself kicking the ladder out forced him to try stop that he might have been afraid to try otherwise, so he used this little tool of kick the ladder out.

Michael C.: It's almost forced innovation at that point.

Jonathan Fanning: Exactly. Yes, I mean if you look back in your life a lot of your best innovative thoughts or ideas or strategies came when you had no other option, you just had to solve the problem otherwise you are going to, I love to tell people like let's take the budget and say what would you do with double the budget, now let's take the budget and half it or quarter it and say what would you do next year if that were your budget.

Just it forces and you can do these what-if scenarios, what-if usually opens the door to failing to being willing to fail, what if this happened what would you try, what if this happened and at least we'll put ideas out there that might not work.

Michael C.: Yes, I've heard some theories that basically say that someone who is a procrastinator a lot of time is forced to be more creative, because their deadline is right there at, that was like my college experience was sometimes being a procrastinator, but at the end of the day if you still hit your deadline and those things you could still pass it off as okay.

But what I've heard in this theory is that someone who starts really early on a project a lot of times they're not forced to have to think how do I get this done in a short amount of time, what tools and resources do I need and that's kind of what it sounds like you're kind of speaking to right now, and that whenever he'd kicked the ladder out from under him they would have to be forced into different situations, different challenges which would completely probably change their line of thinking him they would get more creative with those ideas and those solutions.

Jonathan Fanning: Yes, and sometimes you have to, I did some work down in the Carolinas with the center for creative leadership and they talk a lot about converging and then diverging with your questions and with your strategies and with your limits, and sometimes it makes sense to say we need a solution by Monday and then have something whatever, kick the ladder out, create that and then come back Monday and say what we're going to go with whatever or let's leave this alone for now and come back to it in two or three weeks, so to create a limit and then open it up and then create another limit and then open it up again.

Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen with the chicken soup series, you know one day Mark Victor Hansen said I bet we could sell a million books in a single day, and at first Canfield was like million books in a single day, I mean most books don't sell a million books ever and they try to do that in a single day and they said let's do it, let’s pick a day they put a day out there on the calendar and went for it on that day, didn't hit, they got close. But they came back from that lesson and said let's do it again in six months, and they tweak their strategies, so they kicked the ladder out but it wasn't a onetime kicking the ladder out if that makes sense, it was a let's kick it out and they forced a massive amount of lessons and innovation, but they didn't die in the process it wasn't over, it wasn't ah that's it we're going to close shop, we lost our jobs because we didn't hit our goal, they forced the limit even though it was a made-up limit.

Michael C.: So it sounds like also the limits are what push us to become more innovative, more creative. So if we tend to say okay well I've done everything up to this point, it sounds like we probably don't have very many limits on our self as to the ideas that we could come up with, because that's something that I do hear from staff and around ask a friend, how's that relationship going you were trying to build well I've tried everything up to this point and it sounds like if they were talking to you Jonathan you'd probably tell them have you really tried everything and chances are we probably haven't.

So this is wonderful material for leaders I think from an individual perspective, but really a team perspective and a whole organizational wide perspective, this is something that we've been given a handful of tools today that we can practice as individuals that will then run down through our leadership and can go to our folks and our teams and our organizations to create a culture of innovation. And really importantly creativity, I think that's a word that definitely gets looked over today in the workplace is creativity, we tend to associate it with like you say earlier cartoons or something of that nature, but whenever you read about some of the best organizations in our country creativity is usually a word that you hear, I mean that's why Amazon is in the place that they're in today is because they said hey how do we do this and not stopping until they figured it out.

Jonathan Fanning: Oh yes, sure. I had the chance about a year and a half ago to speak for McDonald's, if I'm going to spend some time with the company I'd love to get a little background on them if it's possible. So I started digging into people who had been with the company for 30, 40, 50 years, some of the families that owned 50 McDonald's locations and had got involved in 1960. And I was asking them about the culture and what it is, what it has been, where it's changed and a phrase that I heard over and over and over and over again and it just blew my mind.

They said Ray Kroc the ones that met him, they said Ray Kroc when he was building McDonald's, he passed away in 1984 and the company radically changed after he passed away by the way. But he would say this all the time, he'd say we're green and growing or we're ripe and rotting and that's true for an individual leader, it's true for a company, it's true for a department, it's true for a family, it's true for a nonprofit organization you're green and growing meaning you don't think you've arrived yet or you think you've arrived and that means you're ripe and rot and that was his challenge constantly, that was his challenge.

A few years after Walt Disney passed away, one of the actors that was in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was at the Disney Studios filming another movie, and somebody said to him isn't it just like when Walt was here and the guy said that's what's been bothering me. He said it is just like when Walt was here and Walt wasn't okay with that, he was constantly changing things; it wouldn't be just like when Walt was here two years later if Walt were still there. And as the leaders they tend to be not happy with something in the status quo, there's a great measurement for a leader is hunger, no hunger no leadership, you don't lead if you're not needing to go somewhere.

It's easy to manage status quo, but if there's no hunger that's what fuels it with. I went through GES leadership program rather than college and they harped on a few things, but one of the biggest ones was energy, they said a great leader has to have energy, if you do not have energy you're not leading and energy typically comes from that hunger of here's where I want to be and here's where I am and they're not the same place. When they're in the same place hunger and energy disappear, hunger and energy in green and growing or ripe and rotting.

Michael C.: Hunger is critical to being a leader if what drives you to wake up in the morning, what drives you to lead your team, what drives you to have that tough conversation, there's a lot of challenges that leaders have especially in managing an organization. You know Jonathan we're faced with a lot of challenges and a lot of things that whenever you walk into a leadership position it may look like it's going to be a wonderful experience, but there are a lot of challenges that go along with it and you do have to be a motivated individual to want to go, to some it may seem like you're pounding your head against the wall daily trying to something solved.

But like you said earlier when you have that breakthrough moment, when you have that obstacle that you've overcame as a team there really is nothing better or more fulfilling than whenever your team or organization can overcome adversity and those challenges. So I think as leader you have to ask what's driving you, what's important to you and it sounds like you have some wonderful ways to getting leaders to asking those questions and how they ask those questions, not only of them self but the others around them.

Jonathan I want to shift at just a minute and I watch the video on your website of your trip to Sydney, I was just going to see if you would share a little bit about that and just hearing you today and getting your personality and learning more about you, the video makes more and more sense every second we're chatting here. So just give our listener a little background on your trip to Australia and what the video was about?

Jonathan Fanning: In Sydney I was doing a keynote and then I did actually a series of TV episodes for an entrepreneurial organization, and from New York to Sydney it was about a twenty four hour trip, we stopped in LA to refuel and I did not see the Sun for 23 hours the whole plane we were like zombies by the time we got to Sydney, it was 7 a.m. on Sunday morning when we land at 7 p.m. on Friday night when we took off. And I was wired even though I was completely exhausted I was wired, so I walked around downtown Sydney for maybe 3 or 4 hours with my luggage before I even went to the hotel.

And then I thought let me drop the stuff off at the hotel and whatever, and then I'll come back to Sydney to see the Opera House, see some of the stuff. So I get back to the hotel, drop my stuff off and I had this thought, it's probably about noon and I decided I'll take a quick nap so I laid down on the bed and I thought quick nap. Well I jumped out of bed at midnight, so I was out cold and when I jumped out of it I just thought what time is it, it's completely pitch dark and I'm looking at the clock thinking this can't be midnight, it can't be it says 12:00.

I walked around, I left the hotel room I wandered around the hotel for a little while, I went to the front desk and I said it's about midnight and they said yes it's 12:15 by then or whatever and I thought I can't go back to sleep, I mean I just I made up for the lost sleep big time and I didn't have to be anywhere for work for quite a while and I'm thinking well I'm not going back to sleep, it's a little after midnight, I could read a little bit, I could do some work, I could catch up on some emails, I was working on a book at the time like I could work on the book.

And then I started to ask this question that I think more of us should ask more often, I started asking what's something that I could do with this time that will be a memory for the rest of my life, and that kind of question I mean if you ask that question few times a year, you find stuff, you find things that like what could I do with this time that would be a memory for the rest of my life. And I constantly ask a question like that, how can I turn this trip into something that energizes me, that fills me with energy, with passion that revitalizes me, because as a leader your energy is constant, you're constantly giving energy to people.

There's an expression you can't give what you don't have, especially if you're a leader or you're a parent or you're a sports coach you can't give what you don't have and if your energy gets too low. I started thinking what could I do since I'm awake that I'll never forget, and I just sat there for a while thinking about it and then I wandered around the hotel a little more thinking about it and then I thought of hello, I'm in Sydney I'll go see the Opera House at sunrise, I'll see the first light of day reflected off the Opera House. So I took the train I was staying outside of Sydney proper a little bit, Macquarie I think it is, and I took the train over that famous bridge but it's still dark and I see the Opera House in the dark with little lights, wow that's pretty amazing, I think it was about 4 a.m. or so then 4:15 it was the first train of the day, the first train go back to Munich.

Then I walk to the Opera House and it's still dark, and I see the Sun peeking out and there's no one there, no one there. When I see the Sun pop up and the colors of the sunrise reflected on the Opera House were unbelievable, later that day I went into the Opera House and I see this little plaque that says the Sun didn't know how beautiful it was until it saw itself reflected off of the Opera House, that's what I did. And since then, it's amazing how one little experience can have a ripple effect, so why not go looking for experiences like that.

Since then one year I was working in England and I had to be there over a weekend and I'm thinking oh I got a weekend, I'm away from my family and everything, got a weekend I can just bury my head and get some work done and then I thought yes but what can I do it this weekend that I've never forget, the same question. Ended up taking a ferry over to France and going to Normandy and walking the beaches of Normandy, if you look on my YouTube channel my website you'll see a video from that and that experience just overwhelming. I went down to Omaha Beach, I went down to the surf at low tide because that's when they landed on D-day at low tide, and it was a debate.

And for me the lessons of history come alive when you touch them, when you go there and you say wow now I feel it, I see it, I understand it at a different level, so I think a lot of us could benefit from experiencing things like that intentionally, go on find experiences like that that flood your life with passion and energy and perspective.

Michael C.: Well I got to thank you for following your own advice and asking those questions yourself, even in moments that we may just blow off as not that important but you sit there and you're in Sydney Australia, in England and you ask those questions of yourself and through you asking those questions of yourself it just gives us more demonstration and the type of impact that it can not only have on us but all of us listeners and all of us that have seen the videos and been able to walk some of those steps with you, really want to commend you for doing that.

And really some neat videos, if you want to check those out they're on Jonathan's website, I would highly encourage it, really a neat experience. Jonathan I want to thank you for doing the skype video today, this has been a great time and I really enjoyed our time together here on the podcast. Jonathan is there any last words you'd like to leave our listeners with?

Jonathan Fanning: I think that what I started kind of the conversation with the quality of our lives hinges on the quality of the questions we pursue, spend time with iterating some of the questions you chase. The question I love to ask myself is what would a great leader do, and it's intriguing how often we know some of the answers to that, so spend some time thinking through the questions you've been pursuing and iterate a few of them.

Take a few of them up a notch, take a few of them and shift them 5% left or right or play around with those and not just the questions you ask of yourself but the questions you ask of the people around you.

Michael C.: Jonathan thank you. How would our listeners, is there a way that they can get in touch with you, your website information, social media?

Jonathan Fanning: Sure, yes I'm pretty easy to find, my daughter's love to tell their teachers and their friends they're like my dad's searchable, my dad is Google-able. and we keep a lot of videos on there, we've been building more and more usually they're only a minute or two but they're pretty thought-provoking.

We have one called EQ and driving on the wrong side of the road filmed all over the British Isles, Stonehenge and crossing the London Bridge, the Tower bridge and going into Wales but usually they're pretty thought-provoking and they're short and they get you thinking, they plant a seed they could really make a difference.

Michael C.: Jonathan thank you for your time today, this was a wonderful show, I know our listeners are really going to enjoy being able to hear you and challenge themselves with those questions and even more challenging the answers that we can discover from asking ourselves those questions. But I really want to thank you for that today, thank you for doing the Skype interview, hope you have a wonderful afternoon in New York today with you and your family, and look forward to speaking again in the future.

Jonathan Fanning: Sounds good, thanks for what you do, appreciate it.

Michael C.: Yes sir. To our listener’s thank you again for listening to another show, I want to thank her for another wonderful job. And I just want to let you know, reach out to us is how you can hear us, we're also on all the major podcast channels so if you got an iPhone just open up the podcasts app and search manufacturing leadership and you'll find us, we do appreciate your likes, comments and follows.

And if you'd like to also get in touch with us we're on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @EnergyWeldfab and if you would like to reach out to us we're also podcast at So once again thank you to our listeners, thank you to Jonathan and we look forward to bringing you another great show in the future, everybody have a great day.

In This Episode 

  • On Jonathan’s background and introduction into the manufacturing industry.

  • The turning point in his life that led to his wanting to do more meaningful work for companies.

  • Why Jonathan likes to dig into history and draw off of key historical figures for inspiration and subject matter.

  • The method of 5-percenting a process.

  • The importance of knowing the right questions to ask.

  • Why involvement translates to engagement.

  • On cultivating creativity.

  • On the fear of failure.

  • Some information about the process of “kicking the ladder out”.

  • The significance of Jonathan’s recent trip to Sydney.



  • The questions “who are you becoming?” and “who are you helping around you?” are extremely essential questions to consider. He urges to find extra people to help over the next weeks or months. Set up those intentions to help people.

  • Leaders and speakers respectively plant seeds for the constituents of a company. It’s impossible to know if the seeds will grow or when they will grow, but with a story or question, you plant a seed.

  • Ask yourself regularly: “In one little piece of my world, can I double the impact?”

  • Another very important question to ask, in order to gauge how well you lead, is: “what do you think?” That question can ultimately transform the dynamic of any workplace because you are allowing others to become engaged and involved.

  • Never underestimate the power of just putting ideas out there. When you creature an atmosphere of sharing and creative expression, you build robust cultures.

  • Forcing ourselves into high pressure situations, like hitting targets that seem impossible, is a good way to draw the most creative ideas out of you.

  • The next time you have considerable free time, or even if it’s just a few times a year, ask yourself the question: “What can I do with this time that I’ll remember for the rest of my life?”

  • The quality of our lives hinges on the quality of the questions we pursue, as Jonathan states. So they are the most important facets of becoming a good leader and living a fulfilling life in general.





  • “Do things that make you come alive. Do things that breathe life into you.”

  • “We finds answers (usually) to the questions we chase.”

  • “Culturally we love to say, especially in the United States, that we love innovators and creative people. But the truth is, we only love them after it’s actually worked.”

  • “ A great leader has to have energy. And if you do not have energy you are not leading.”

  • “The lessons of history come alive when you touch it.”

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