Mark Sanborn is a top corporate speaker and the bestselling author of 5 books, including the multi-million selling The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary Into the Extraordinary.
His recent books include You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make a Positive Difference; The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do; Up, Down or Sideways: How to Succeed When Times are Good, Bad or In Between.
His latest book is Fred 2.0: New Ideas on How to Keep Delivering Extraordinary Results.
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Mark Sanborn Transcript
Tim Knox: Hey, Tim Knox here. Welcome back in to Interviewing Authors – got another great show for you today. Mark Sanborn is my guest. Mark has been one of the top corporate speakers for over 20 years and his book, The Fred Factor, has sold 2 million copies worldwide.
Mark has written eight other books, including The Encore Effect, Up Down or Sideways and The Fred Factor 2.0. Mark is a renaissance man. He’s a speaker, an author, all around super great guy. You’re going to enjoy this interview, especially if you’re thinking about writing something in the business genre or perhaps starting your own speaking business.
Let’s get started – Mark Sanborn, author of The Fred Factor, on today’s Interviewing Authors.
Mark Sanborn, welcome to the program.
Mark Sanborn: Thanks, Tim. It’s great to be with you.
Tim Knox: It’s great having you here. How are things in the wonderful state of Colorado this morning?
Mark Sanborn: Beautiful and balmy as always.
Tim Knox: Is it like that year round, balmy?
Mark Sanborn: A little bit of a stretch but we’re just entering into the balmy season. Spring is finally here.
Tim Knox: Gotcha. Well hey I appreciate you taking the time to be with us this morning. I’m a big fan of your work, big fan of The Fred Factor, which is what we’re going to talk about this morning. For those folks that are not familiar with Mark Sanborn, give us a thumbnail of who you are, what you do and what we’re going to talk about.
Mark Sanborn: I’m a professional speaker, an author. I’ve written eight books on leadership, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary and customer service strategy. I am a business person who speaks because of my passion for leadership. I’ve led two different organizations at a national level, in addition to my own business and the boards that I serve on. I both speak and advise leaders and write books. That’s pretty much what I do these days.
Tim Knox: And you do all of it really well. You’ve been doing that for quite a while haven’t you?
Mark Sanborn: 26 years.
Tim Knox: Is that all?
Mark Sanborn: Full-time, 26 years. If you count the time I spent as a kid in speech competition then the number becomes quite unbelievable so we’ll just leave it at 26.
Tim Knox: Hard to believe you’re only 39 so there’s that.
Mark Sanborn: In my dreams I’m 39.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about the books that you’ve written. For a speaker you’re pretty prolific. You’ve written five books in the last 10 years. Is there an underlying theme to your work?
Mark Sanborn: I didn’t realize these last five books had an underlying theme until about the third book when it became obvious. People’s feedback and my own reflection showed that even though the books are on different topics – customer service, leadership, change, remarkable performance – that really the underlying theme is that nobody can prevent you from choosing to be exceptional. Even though the topic is different in each book, the underlying theme is is that exceptional performance, exceptional leadership or exceptional customer service is a choice. In a perfect world you’d be taught how to do it, you’d be encouraged, recognized and rewarded, maybe even paid for it. In an imperfect world that isn’t always the case. The point that I make is that when it’s all said and done you can still choose to be exceptional in your business and life despite of, not just because of – and that’s really what I try to get across is how to take responsibility for creating an exceptional life, creating an exceptional business. Like Peggy Noonan, the political writer, says, ‘normal is overrated.’
Tim Knox: When you’re writing these books are you thinking about the reader being an individual or are these books really written for the corporate level and the people that are there?
Mark Sanborn: Well only individuals can read books and of course reality is many of my readers are executives, are in the business world but I try to write books that apply broadly based on principle. Most of my books focus on business but both The Fred Factor and Fred 2.0 have lots of illustrations from personal life as well as professional life. I think that an erudite reader can easily take the principles that I write about in any of my books and use them both personally as well as professionally.
Tim Knox: You’ve written eight books all total. Is there anything you’d change in any of those? Are you still happy with them?
Mark Sanborn: Well eight books is kind of a funny total because those are books that I authored. I’ve co-authored or contributed to another dozen or twenty, but in terms of books that I actually sat down and wrote the number is eight. As I reflect back, we learn everything by doing it. Nobody is born anything. No baby is born a writer or speaker or business person. I would say that the three things that I would probably change or at least use to improve my books is to try to simplify some of them a little bit more. I grew up reading business books and sometimes, you know, lots of data and complex models, and acronyms are helpful but sometimes they get in the way. I think people like straight ahead, easy to use, simple ideas – not simplistic but simple ideas and also really heavy up on stories because that’s how people remember. Just a concept or a technique without a really powerful story to go with it is not nearly as effective. That’s probably the biggest challenge as I write my books is to find from experience, both vicarious and direct, what stories I can use to illustrate these ideas that I share.
Finally, I’ve gotten big on this in my last couple books but really summarizing each chapter and maybe even summarizing at the very end an executive summary so that if somebody was ultra-lazy and didn’t want to do the hard work of reading my books, which aren’t that long… I write about 24,000 to 40,000 word books so they’re not big books. I’d like to have a summary so that someone who was really lazy could get the summary or more importantly, someone who had read the book could go back and quickly be reminded of what the key points were.
Tim Knox: That’s a great idea. We have a lot of folks who listen to this show that do write business books. I know one thing – and I’ve written business books – but if you’re not careful they can become really academic, can’t they, if you’re filling them full of statistics and this sort of thing, they can almost become like textbooks and I think that may lose some of the appeal.
Mark Sanborn: That’s true. I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being really academic in the books that I write, however I do think the word that I would use is, you know, ideas can become pretty sterile and unemotional when there’s not a story to illustrate their application.
Tim Knox: You did a great job of that in The Fred Factor. I love this book. I remember when you came out with this. It really is a true story. It’s about a true guy. Give us a little background on that, how that came about and who’s Fred?
Mark Sanborn: Fred is Fred Shea, who is – you’ll be interested to know this, Tim – as of July 3rd last year, retired from the US Postal Service but I met him back in 1988 when I bought a house, my first home actually, in an area of Denver called Washington Park. If anyone’s listening and they’d like to just read the story in limited time they can go to www.FredFactor.com and the first chapter of the book is posted there. They can download that for free and read it. Basically what Fred is, was and continue to be, is a person with a fairly simple job who makes it artistry. He took putting mail in a box, delivering mail and made it art. I know that sounds odd and I think that’s why people love the story. They read about the little things, the nuances, the consideration and care that he brought to his work that made it truly extraordinary. That’s really what the book’s about – turning ordinary into extraordinary. All any of us have are ordinary moments and ordinary days and extraordinary is what we do with them. They don’t just automatically or accidentally happen.
Tim Knox: Right and this book really caught on. You sold two million copies of this internationally. It’s been on bestseller lists. What do you think made it so successful? Was it the connection with Fred? What was it?
Mark Sanborn: Certainly being story driven, the stories just such a good story and it’s true. Unfortunately, regularly I’m asked is it a true story? Matter of fact, The Fred Factor sequel, Fred Factor 2.0, I actually interviewed Fred and his wife Cathy and asked them to confirm that the book as I wrote it is true. They absolutely did. This is not an embellishment. The reason I think it’s been successful around the world, luckily, is because it’s not about Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos of Amazon or Larry Ellison of Oracle – three people who have more money than 9,999 out of a million. Did I just do the math right?
Tim Knox: Close enough.
Mark Sanborn: They have a lot of money. Let’s leave it out of that. Most of us would say, shoot, Bill Gates can do that because look at all his money. Fred, not to denigrate in any way delivering the mail but Fred has what some people might consider a pretty boring job, putting mail in a box, and yet he proves that you can have fun and truly make it extraordinary. I think that’s what resonates with people. I like books that… sometimes we read books for escape – science-fiction or a book about a celebrity because we know we’re never going to be a celebrity and we’re never going to travel to Mars. The kind of books that I write and the kind of books I like to read make me think, hey, I can do that. I think that’s the appeal of The Fred Factor. There’s nothing in the book that anyone other than a cynic would say, “I can’t do that.”
Tim Knox: And you know what, it probably never occurred to Fred that he had a lesson to teach anyone.
Mark Sanborn: No, he’s told me that. He’s told me, “This is how I live my life. This is what I think is the right thing to do.” It’s kind of refreshing but it’s an old-fashioned concept. Fred is a thoughtful, hardworking person. That doesn’t sound very sexy in the age of technology but that’s really what made Fred extraordinary.
Tim Knox: Do you remember the first meeting with him, the first time you met him? I know you talked about it in the book but it really made an impression on you, a guy that had been around a long time and dealt with CEOs of these multi-million dollar corporations. You talk about leadership and customer service and here’s the mailman standing on your front porch and it’s almost a defining moment in your career.
Mark Sanborn: Well it was memorable for me. At the time I didn’t know it was going to become a story or a book or part of a speech obviously. I was probably wearing a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Fred knocked on my door to introduce himself because he knew I just moved in. He wanted to find out a little about me and the reason he wanted to find out about me wasn’t that he was being nosy but he was able to kind of adjust how we delivered the mail. If he knew I traveled a lot he kept an eye on things. If the mail wouldn’t fit in the box he’d put it in between the screen door and the front door where burglars and other ne’er-do-wells wouldn’t see it. So that was the first time I met him and I really never envisioned a book at that point. I started talking about him in a lot of my speeches and seminars and people always resonated with that story. Probably of all the stories I told people would say, oh man, that’s what I remembered or I really like that story.
So many years later I pitched a bunch of publishers. They all said no and then I gave up on the project. Then a few years later a publisher came to me and that’s how The Fred Factor was born. Keep in mind I met him in ’88 and the book really didn’t come out until 2004.
Tim Knox: Right and did he continue to deliver your mail all those years?
Mark Sanborn: For most of those years. Just about a year or two before I moved out of the neighborhood he was in a car accident, was hit by someone. He was not at fault. He had to change routes and go to delivering in an office building where he could push the cart and not have to carry the bags. For the better part of the time my wife, later my wife… I was single when I first moved in. For the majority of the time we lived there Fred did indeed deliver our mail unless he was on vacation.
Tim Knox: It would have been the perfect story if Fred had introduced you to your wife.
Mark Sanborn: Yeah then I could have written a matchmaking book.
Tim Knox: There you go, Fred’s Matchmaking. You wrote a lot of other books though. Let’s talk a little about some of the other topics that you’ve had if you want to. Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written other than Fred?
Mark Sanborn: Well Fred’s kind of my favorite because it’s been my most successful. I hope I’ve gotten better at writing as I’ve written books. I think some of my later books; my writing is a little better. The second bestselling book behind Fred Factor was You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader. That’s still in print. That really is a big part of my work in leadership development. I didn’t write it for formal leaders. I wrote it for anyone that wants to learn to lead or lead better. That resonated because a lot of leaders know their teams are stronger when everyone knows when it’s appropriate to lead and how to do it so that leadership isn’t left on just one person. It’s a shared responsibility. That book came out in 2006. Then I wrote The Encore Effect which is about how to be remarkable in your performance, whatever it is you do. I think that book probably is most embraced by sales professionals and not because I wrote it that way but because I think people in sales see the process I outlined there as most relevant to them. Then I wrote Up, Down or Sideways, which is a book about dealing with change, sometimes cataclysmic, catastrophic change that you didn’t choose. Frankly who would choose negative, catastrophic change? I focus on what you should always be doing to be ready and prepared for change. It’s oddly a book on change about what never changes. I don’t call it a ‘get rich quick’ book; I call it a ‘be successful always’ book.
Tim Knox: Very good. You’ve written a lot of books. Do you have a favorite line from any of your books, anything still ring in your ears?
Mark Sanborn: One of my favorite lines came from something Fred Shea told me when I interviewed him for the first book. I asked him why he does what he does, what accounted for his philosophy. One of the things he said was, you know, at the end of the day when he’s lying in bed he only worries about one thing and that is, “Did I waste any of the day I just finished?” I thought that was such a powerful concept that the line I wrote is, “Fear nothing but to waste the present moment.” If you take care of the moments, the moments take care of your life. I believe in goal setting and I think strategic planning’s great but the most powerful skill anyone has is to be truly engaged in the moment and not multi-tasking, not daydreaming, not bemoaning the situation but just to be fully engaged. I would say for me that’s probably the most encapsulating concept, not just from The Fred Factor but from much of my work.
Tim Knox: Do you find people that do have that ability to fully engage; are they the ones that are more apt to be successful? Look at Fred. At the end of the day he was a mailman, yet he was an incredibly successful human being and I think brought a lot of joy to those around him and obviously inspired you and a lot of other folks.
Mark Sanborn: I think these people do tend to be successful. Of course it kind of depends how you determine success. Fred wasn’t out to conquer the world or create a new app or make a trillion dollars. I think the important nuance is not only are these people successful as they define success, because there’s different ways to define it, but I think they tend to be happy. They’re realists but they’re happy realists. They’ve taken whatever their situation is and made the most of it, which I think is a real important life skill. Sometimes we’re dealt a bad hand of cards, not because of anything we did. Sometimes we get bad cards because we do stupid things and have to take responsibility for doing stupid things. I know you’ve interviewed my pal, Winget, Larry Winget. He’s the Pitbull of Motivation. He’s all about take responsibility for your life; nobody else can. I think that even when stuff happens that we don’t control, if you’re really engaged in the moment, your bring kind of a clarity of thought and the ability to quickly figure out what you need to do to deal with a situation. So yeah, they tend to be successful but they also tend to be happier.
Tim Knox: Yeah and in Fred’s case just the fact that he was a postman really was irrelevant. He probably would have brought that attitude to whatever he was doing.
Mark Sanborn: Oh no doubt. He was and still is a very accomplished drummer through high school and for fun. He was in a band for many, many years. I can tell you that he brought that same hard work, attention to detail to his music that he did. So you’re exactly right, Tim.
Tim Knox: I think one of the things that really stands out to me and makes me connect with your books are they are business minded, leadership sort of thing but the way you write you make them very personal, you know what I mean? You actually connect with them. What do you think is the most personal book you’ve written and why’d you decide to disclose what you did?
Mark Sanborn: Undoubtedly I disclosed more about my life in Up, Down or Sideways than any of my other books because, you know, people sometimes think that authors or others for that matter lead a charmed life. They don’t have the same challenges. They never have any setbacks. They discount what the author or speaker says by saying, “Well if I had his or her life I could do that too.” I began Up, Down or Sideways talking about losing a boatload of money during the recession and The Great Correcting in 2008, 2009. I also talk about taking the first business downturn I’d experienced in my career. My business had grown steadily over the previous many years. And then I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I basically was letting people know that I used these concepts that I write about in the book to deal with my own situation. I wasn’t looking for any sympathy.
Frankly, I’m a realist. Nice people read my books but people have their own challenges. I wrote about my life to try to be encouraging and instructive, not to focus attention on woe is me because frankly I’m these many years later cancer free, business is back. The tools that I write about in the book, because I’ve been doing them, allowed me to recover more quickly than if I hadn’t. I can tell people they may disagree with what I say but they can’t argue with my experience that focusing on these things, these mindsets and these behaviors, really can help you bounce back quickly.
Tim Knox: Do you think going through all that negative stuff – you’ve recovered great – do you think it’s made you a better speaker, a better writer, a better person?
Mark Sanborn: Yes to all of the above. I’m not one of those crazy people that say, “I’m glad I got cancer.” I’ve actually heard people say that and it makes me question their sanity. However, I can say I’m grateful for the blessings that came out of the experience or the journey. Anything, if we’re not a little bit better at the end of the day, we missed an opportunity. It’s not like every day is going to be this big growth leap but every day we have a chance to learn a little bit more, become a little better people, maybe think a little more clearly. Certainly life challenges… you either learn or you languish. I say that in the book. You either learn the lesson that you need to or you end up taking the class over again. Failed relationships 101 or financial setbacks – you either learn or you languish. I didn’t make up the rules. It just seems to be in my observation the way the universe works.
Tim Knox: Now you’ve been doing professional speaking for a long time. You were actually a speaker before you started writing, right?
Mark Sanborn: Long before I started writing, yes.
Tim Knox: What motivated you to start writing books?
Mark Sanborn: Kind of the practical answer is, you know, writing and speaking complement each other and certainly anyone that has a business wants to expand their product line so at some kind of practical level, from both a marketing and a publicity standpoint, I thought it would be advantageous to have a book way back when. More importantly what I learned even after I started writing books – and this is kind of a blessing and a curse – but books last a lot longer than speeches. My friend, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, was one of my closest friends before he passed away. He used to tell me, “You know what, Mark, people are going to forget your speech in a day, week, a month but they’re going to have the memory of the book or the book itself for much, much longer.” I started writing books as a way both to extend the value of my speaking but more importantly make a longer lasting impression with the information I was conveying.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk about the process. When you decided to write a book had you ever written before? Was it really a difficult thing for you to do or did you find it an easy transition?
Mark Sanborn: I think because I’ve been involved in communication my entire life and in college I wrote for a magazine and then I went into the publishing business as a sales and marketing executive but still did some writing. I was a dabbler for a long time and I also think that being verbal… and by the way, speaking and writing are two different skillsets. Whenever someone says just record your speech and edit it. You’re probably going to end up with a pretty half-baked book. You might end up with a start or a step in the right direction but a book it will not be. I think I was pretty decent in doing anything enough and paying attention to how you do it makes you better. It’s not just practice makes perfect as the cliché says. Practice makes permanent. It’s when you practice with the goal of improving your writing. I read books about writing. I work with editors. I read a great deal. I think if you’re a writer and you don’t read a great deal I wonder how you can be a really good writer. That’s just part of the craft.
So when I decided to write a book it was easier for me because I had some writing skills but I also, my first book, I was teaching a six hour seminar. Actually, it wasn’t my first book but I won’t bore you with my first book details. But the first business book I did was based on the six hour seminar I was teaching on teamwork so I had a lot of material. The goal and the challenge there was to transfer that material from a live program into a book, and that book was called Teambuilt: Making Teamwork Work.
Tim Knox: I really like the point you make. I do know a lot of speaking friends who I guess “write books” but basically what they do is they take their canned speech and dictate it and that’s their book. It’s just not as entertaining as the speech.
Mark Sanborn: It depends on what your goal is. In the speaking business people say you got to have a book. I really don’t like the theory that you got to have a book even if it’s a piece of crap because people will buy it because they liked you. Well if they liked me because I was good and they buy my book and it’s crappy, now they’re going to think less well of me. Should they actually read the book? I don’t believe in doing anything half-baked. I think we owe it to ourselves and our readers or whatever audience we address to bring the best we have to bring. Now I can show you some books I wrote, my first book actually I wrote when I was maybe two years out of college. It is laughable. I co-authored it with a good friend. It’s laughable but it was the best we could do at the time and frankly it was better than no book at all.
I’m always amused when people criticize books and they don’t just say they didn’t agree or they didn’t like it but they get snarky about the writer’s ineptitude or lack of skill. The thing that always kind of helps console me is these are people who have never written a book. We like to do that in sports, right? Ah, here’s what the coach should have done. Guess what? The coach we may not agree with but the chances are since he or she is a professional coach getting paid millions of dollars, they probably are better coaches than we are. I’m all for dialogue and constructive feedback but sometimes the critics I think are unfulfilled writers who are just angry that they didn’t write the book and you did.
Tim Knox: Has writing gotten easier for you over the years? What’s the hardest part about writing a book for you?
Mark Sanborn: The hardest part about writing anything is having a big idea, an idea that isn’t obvious or common. I advise and I work a lot with aspiring authors and others that write books – you’ve got to have a hook before you can write a book. If I had written a book called Great Customer Service, I guarantee you it would never have seen the light of day unless I self-publish it. The Fred Factor was the hook and there were some publishers that thought The Fred Factor was a bad title because it was too vague but the subtitle helped position it- How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into Extraordinary. The Fred Factor was kind of the curiosity provoker and then the subtitle pointed people in the right direction. So the hook is critical. If you have a book without a hook, you’re going to have a hard time selling it to anyone, to a publisher or to a reader. I think having a big idea worth writing about is the first step.
Then, for me personally, the hardest part of writing the book is organizing it. I write from an outline and until I have an outline I don’t start writing. I never have been a fan of the sit down and write a sentence. Everybody I know that’s tried that after about 23 pages has run out of ideas and the end of the book and they haven’t said anything. I know that it might work for some but for the most part you really need an outline so you know step by step where you’re taking readers. It’s a logical progression – I’m talking non-fiction here obviously – and the book flows. So hook and outline for me are the hardest parts.
Tim Knox: When I interviewed our old pal Larry Winget and Joe Calloway, since we’re name dropping here, they both talked about the importance of the hook and then they talked about the importance of the cover, a great cover. One of the things that stuck out with me with Calloway was I think it was his Indispensable book. He was walking through an airport and he saw his book and about eight others on his shelf and visually his was the least appealing to him. He said he didn’t care for the cover. Talk a little about the importance of a great cover along with that hook in catching the reader’s eye and getting them interested in finding out what’s inside.
Mark Sanborn: Well first a little known fact, Joe’s Category One book – originally that cover was a stalk of cauliflower. White cauliflower on a white cover, I think that’s probably why he went to the apple. I’m kidding of course. I’m hoping Joe will listen to this. No, Joe is one of the most creative guys I know both from a writing and marketing standpoint. Like Joe and Larry, we’re already name dropping… I drink bourbon with those guys so they’re close friends in the business. They make a point and that is a book’s got to pop. The first thing people will notice is the color and the design of the cover and then quickly if that catches their attention, they will notice the title and/or the subtitle unless someone is looking for a particular book – they go in looking for a customer service book or a marketing book, whatever. Luckily my publishers Random House and Tyndale have done a pretty good job of both designing eye catching covers that are very clean. I like simple over complex. They also, my last five books, all have a very common theme. If you put all five of them together you’ll notice that even though they’re different colors that I have a branded design – simple, certainly maybe not completely unique but moderately specific to me.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little bit about the process of writing itself if you don’t mind. You talked about how you got started to support the speaking and that sort of thing. From a semantic point-of-view, if you’ve got a project you’re working on do you typically write on a schedule? Do you get up every morning and give it two or three hours? Do you write whenever the mood strikes you? How do you do that?
Mark Sanborn: Thankfully I’m not on a schedule for another book right now. I have two book proposals that we – meaning my literary team; I’m not speaking in the regal we. We haven’t decided whether we’re going to shop yet or not. I’m kind of enjoying a little hiatus but I still write. The schedule I use is I try to blog once a week. Mostly my readers expect it but the real benefit of blogging, actually the real benefit of any writing is it forces you to think and organize your thoughts. When I started writing we didn’t have blogs. I think there have been some terrific books that came out of multiple blog posts that were the genesis for the finished book. I also think tweeting is a wonderful tool because that kind of arbitrary 140 characters makes your writing very concise. Good tweeting is a very creative act. It conveys a lot of information in a very tiny space.
I think that writing on a regular basis at least weekly whether it’s a journal, a blog, to a lesser extent tweeting, I think that bar none is the best way to develop your chops as a writer. Then I would also ask people for feedback – friends or an English teacher or someone that you might pay to edit an article. That’s really the only way you get better. I suppose people might naturally get better from doing it a lot but really it jumpstarts your improvement when you work with an editor or someone who can provide you informed feedback. That’s important, informed feedback. There’s a lot of people that think they’re giving you good feedback but they’re just giving you an opinion that’s not necessarily better and sometimes worse than what you’ve already written.
Tim Knox: I had someone tell me once that they approached writing as a muscle. They have this muscle and if they don’t work out this writing muscle on a regular basis it goes soft and turns to fat. Do you think that? If you don’t write at least, you know, occasionally… you’re not going to write a book today and then five years from now decide to write another one and be the same author that you are today.
Mark Sanborn: I think generally that’s true. Like anything, repetition with intention is the path to improvement. I would not argue with that.
Tim Knox: A lot of our audience, as I mentioned earlier, are speakers, wannabe speakers, that sort of thing. What’s your best advice to folks looking at getting into that industry? Everybody these days is talking about their platform. I’ve got my platform, I’ve got my speech, I’ve got my book. It’s tough out there, is it not?
Mark Sanborn: It is very tough. I think part of that is due to the fact that technology has given everybody a platform. The problem is having a platform and the same thing as having a sellable product – I will give you two suggestions. One is, in terms of speaking and again if you take much of what we talked about in this session and you substitute the word speaking for writing, it’s still going to be applicable. You get good at speaking by speaking. The problem is that people who have never given a speech that somehow, through some misguidance thought they could print up a brochure and say they charge and then get hired and then figure out how to give the speech. That’s nonsensical. You get good by speaking and the way you get good is by speaking for free. After you speak for free hundreds and hundreds of times as most good speakers have, then somebody comes up and says, “That was great. What would you charge me to come do that at my company?” That’s God’s or the world’s or the universe’s way of saying it’s time. Now the second danger is that you charge too much. The speech that they were willing to pay $500 for, you want $5,000 for. So it’s about becoming good and you know you’re good when people want you to come speak. First you get invited to speak a lot more for free the better you are and then eventually you’ll get invited to speak for fee.
Writing I would say going back to what we said earlier, get out there and splash about. Don’t over study it. I mean, I believe in study but not as a way to get started. The best way to start obviously is to start writing something. Maybe make it a goal to write a 250 word article for your company, for your church’s newsletter, for your kid’s soccer club magazine. Develop little projects. Start small but start and then go from 500 words to 1,000 words, a longer article. Then maybe you’ll end up with a chapter for a book and then maybe someday before you know it you’ll have enough good ideas and good writing skills to write a book.
Tim Knox: A couple more questions. What are you reading these days – fiction, business? What’s your favorite kind of book?
Mark Sanborn: I read very little fiction unless it’s really, really good and of course really, really good is kind of based on taste. I always want to read a book that will challenge me and then I’ll learn something even if it’s fiction. I think you can learn from good fiction. I was a little late to the party reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. That book just blew me away. I thought that was a fabulous book. It was just so convoluted and twisted and surprising and kind of jaw-dropping. The other book of fiction that I read recently that I really liked because I go to The Tattered Cover, which is one of the best bookstores in the United States and there are three locations here in Denver, was a book called The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. It was not a book I would have ever picked up or even noticed but it was one of those employee sections that recommend books. I rolled the dice on that and that was a quirky little book but I really enjoyed that.
However, most of what I read is non-fiction. I probably skim a couple hundred books a year. By skim that means not reading every word but reading enough to get the essence of the book and zeroing in on the stuff that I’m really interested in. also when I write books I don’t read books about the subjects I’m writing about because I don’t want to inadvertently use a term or phrase or something that makes it look like I copied the idea from somebody else. I have a pretty good memory and I’m not always sure where I originally found ideas. I’m trying to think what I’ve read recently. I read a lot of books that people ask me to endorse or write forwards for. I don’t endorse or write forwards for a book unless it’s a really good book and it’s typically somebody that I have a relationship with. There’s always exceptions to the rule but I’m not one of those guys that’s just going to carteblanche go, hey, this is a great book when I don’t even know what the book is about. You kind of learn that lesson the hard way when you end up early on not paying attention to what you’re endorsing and then you read the book and go, oh my gosh. I said this was a must-read. If you see my name on the back of a book it’s because I read it and I believe in the book.
By the way – it’s interesting, Tim – I don’t always agree with the books I endorse. I think that’s kind of shortsighted to only read stuff that you agree with. I like to read things that challenge my thinking and sometimes I’ll be more committed to a contrary point-of-view after I read a book. Sometimes I’ll change me thinking. I endorse some books by some people who have a very different worldview than me. I’m a person of faith and sometimes I think people are surprised I’ll endorse a book that is written by somebody who may not share that worldview or shares a very opposite worldview. For me, it’s about the free exchange of ideas to help us understand how the world works and understand each other a little better.
Tim Knox: Exactly. Alright, last question. Do you ever think about crossing lines and perhaps doing a fiction book?
Mark Sanborn: My wife is always suggesting that and I love my wife so I take her seriously. If I got to the point where I thought I really had, again, a good hook, a compelling story, I would be probably be willing to roll the dice and try my hand at fiction. I think it’s hard enough to write non-fiction well. I think writing good fiction is maybe… I think the two genres that are the hardest to write personally would be biography.
I live in awe and stand in awe of guys like Jon Meacham who wrote Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power or Walter Isaacson who wrote the Steve Jobs biography. To me, that’s the heavy lifting. Those are the strong men of writing in my opinion. The second genre would be good fiction, not popular fiction. Never confuse popular with good. It isn’t always the same but to write really good fiction I think is a very, very high art form. Good question and the hedge I’m going to take is maybe.
Tim Knox: Nothing like a good, definitive wishy-washy answer. Mark Sanborn, this has been great. What is your website? Where on you on Twitter, Facebook? You do all that great social media stuff.
Mark Sanborn: I’m everywhere, I’m everywhere. Probably the best place to find me is MarkSanborn.com, no surprise there. That’s the mother ship. That’s the main website. On Twitter I’m Mark_Sanborn. I have a fan page and a personal page on Facebook. It’s not hard if you go to MarkSanborn.com to find the various outlets for my ideas and my work.
Tim Knox: Do you enjoy all this social media stuff?
Mark Sanborn: I do. I enjoy it to a point. I think the key is when it stops feeling like an opportunity and it starts feeling like an obligation, that’s when I don’t enjoy it. I think there’s a conversation. How do we monetize social media? How do we use it effectively? I have friends that make their living thinking and talking about that. I do it to stay in touch with the people who follow my work and seem to appreciate and benefit from my ideas. First and foremost I do it for that and secondarily I obviously want to keep my intellectual brand visible because, like we said earlier, everybody’s got to have a platform. If the platform’s not visible then you become invisible.
Tim Knox: Mark, you’ve got a great platform. You’ve had it for many years, many years to come. Mark Sanborn – The Fred Factor; Up, Down and Sideways; You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader – just some of the best books for business and individuals on leadership. This has been great. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. We will put links to Mark’s website on our website. Mark, any closing thoughts?
Mark Sanborn: Harking back to what we said earlier – live intentionally. Fear nothing but to waste the present moment. We never know how many we’re going to have. I hope everybody listening has lots and lots of days, months and years ahead and I hope that they make the most of those opportunities.
Tim Knox: Very good. Mark Sanborn, appreciate you being on the show.
Mark Sanborn: My pleasure.
Visit Mark Sanborn at MarkSanborn.com