The consultant of choice for General Electric, West Point, Nike, and Google shares the power of Applied Empathy 101: The New Language of Leadership, why you should ask the tough questions sooner, and more.
Thrive nation. On today’s show, we dive in. We dive in to the dark arts of applied empathy one oh one w through language of leadership that go into the I eight while I attempt to demonstrate my new mind reading skills, honing your craft brown as an example, Jason, right now, I know you’re probably thinking, I have no idea what you’re talking about. No, no, no, no. Correct. Correct. It was very correct. Wow. Wow. Okay. Well, today’s guest has been a consultant of choice for General Electric, West West off of blah, blah, blah, blah in Google, but the real mystery is why isn’t he stepping up his game and working with the Big Cup block last she came, JC penny [inaudible] babies on business towards the voices coming from them? No, no, no. Ladies and gentleman. Today’s consultant is a B level consultant, only works with Westwind, Nike, Google, Google, big companies. What we’ll see if he has, because he’s not really working with the big boats, the blockbusters that came on instance, the JC Penny’s, Dr Breck d. Do you know why he’s not working with those companies or the, any of those still in business. You painted me into a corner.
On today’s show we’re interviewing, we concerned we’ll do the of choice for General Electric West Point Nike, a little companies like Google and other leading organizations. Mr. Michael Ventura, welcome onto the thrive time show. How are you sir?
I am doing well. I’m very happy to be here with you.
Okay. Well for the listeners out there that are not, uh, you know, familiar with you and your, your, your story, can we, I’d like to start off at the bottom at the, at the very beginning. How did you, uh, how did you grow up? How were you, how were you raised?
Uh, I was raised in northern New Jersey in a, in a town, probably about 15 minutes outside of New York City. And, uh, my folks, my father was an entrepreneur, my mother was in education, both, uh, started as a teacher and then, um, moved into more of the social work and administrator side. And I guess if you venn diagram those two things, uh, sitting at the middle of it, I ended up having an entrepreneur who built the business around empathy, uh, sort of foundationally, uh, I guess it was a good, it was a good place to start.
Now what did your uh, Dad do as an entrepreneur? Was He, was he making a nuclear reactors that have coconuts or what was his business?
Um, so he is the second generation of a family business, uh, that is a home heating and fuel oil. So not a, not a terribly glamorous job, but one that everybody needs. And one that was really oriented around service. You know, growing up, I remember when, uh, it was a cold, stormy night and we got, you know, uh, six, seven inches of snow on the ground and someone made out of oil because they hadn’t turned their, their oil burner on for awhile and his house was getting cold and they had a newborn baby. My Dad would be hopping out of bed and going to the office to grab the truck and make sure that they could warm their house. So, you know, while it was a, you know, it’s a small family business, only a few employees, he was very much sort of on the ground making sure that his customers always had what they needed and, and felt cared for. So it was an interesting, it was a really good early lesson in what good relationship management and service entails.
Can you explain to the listeners out there what you do professionally for the people out there? They’re not familiar with, uh, your, your career now? Like what it looks like on a day to day basis and what you do?
Yeah, so, so I describe it as a strategy in design practice. And what that looks like practically is that half the business is consultative. We’ll sit down with an organization, we’ll sit down with leaders inside of the company and they’ll tell us their problems. We want to build a better culture of innovation. We want to recruit better talent and be a place people want to come to work. We need to build a product that’s better than our competitors product, whatever it is. And we will go through the consultative process of figuring out how to solve that problem through research, through conversation, through strategic planning, through all of that sort of stuff. But usually that’s when a consultant ends, right? They end with the recommendation end with delivering the document. Um, that’s where the second half of our business to design studios, which is on what we’ll then do is say, and with all of those recommendations, here’s how we can make it real here. You know, we have architects on staff, we have user experience designers on staff, we have practice designers and creative directors and writers. And so what we’ll be able to do is say, if one of the recommendations is we need to improve the way your retail store looks and fields for customers, we can start to design that together. We can start to put that in place. We can start to help roll it out so that we’re not just, uh, telling people what to do. We’re helping them do it.
And you’re, you, you are certainly not a name dropper, but I need you to drop some names to Wa cause the listeners out there need to know the kinds of clients you work with because you are a, you don’t need to hear it from me, but you’re a, you’re a super credible dude professionally speaking.
Thank you. I’m turning in my chair to look at my wall, which is a list of all our active clients. So I will run down that. This is just today, right? Yeah. So we’ve got Marriott, Goldman Sachs, the PGA, a startup, a startup in, uh, in San Francisco called keep trucking, which is actually one of the worlds biggest, um, mobility technology solutions. So helping truckers get to and from locations every day. The RGO, which is a holding company for a lot of spirits brands, the history channel, NetApp Forte, New York life, Adobe, Google, Nike, ATM, t Delta and a and an auto company that I can’t say out loud on the air but it isn’t, but it is an automotive company.
I had a list of companies cause I’m not, I wasn’t very impressed. So I made a list of companies that I noticed that you didn’t put on your list. I’m going to read them off too and you can tell me why they’re not a client. Okay. So I personally was not impressed. So this is my, it’s a tough list. I’m gonna read them to you and see if, see if you can give me proper justification. Yes. Blockbuster. Why are they not one of your clients? They’re huge. I love blockbuster.
You know, I’ll tell you, I actually would love a client like blockbuster there to really think about where did you go wrong and how can we get you to turn your right here for us. I mean at this point, I think there is only one blockbuster left in America. It’s in Alaska. Um, but what a fun conversation that would have been.
Oh, okay. Okay. Well again, I’m just looking for the all stars here. Kmart, JC penny, toys r us. What justification could you possibly have for not having Kmart, JC penny or toys r us? I mean those are some hot brands. You’re missing the boat man.
So, you know what’s funny though is I find something interesting in every company. I think that’s why I love what we do so much. Cause like, you know, I could, JC penny has completely missed the mark in the past two years and they’ve had many attempts at writing the ship on that, um, and have still continued to miss it. But if you look at what Macy’s is doing in the past few months with really bringing in data, they acquired a company called story. They’ve hired a chief experience officer and they’re rolling out these experiential spaces inside Macy’s throughout the country. They’re really trying to disrupt what’s going on there. But JC penny and Sears and Kmart and others haven’t done the work they needed to do to think that way.
Now you, you, uh, how much do we do clients pay? Is it a, is it a flat fee? Is it, is it a contract? Are they working with you for years or months or what kind of duration of a client relationship do you typically have?
Yeah, W so we’re all, we’re all fixed to be. Um, we don’t like retainers. I feel like retainers for this type of work, you end up spending most of your time servicing the retainer or we over are we under, as the client happier, they feel like we need to give them more stuff. So what we prefer to do is just scope it out and say, look, this is what you need done. Let’s roll up our sleeves and let’s do it. Um, most of the work that we do will run for a period of, call it four to six to eight months. Um, so what ends up happening is most of these large organizations have multiple problems, right? There isn’t just one thing to solve. But if we do our job well, we create our own obsolescence at a certain point on a problem. We’ve, we’ve empowered them, we’ve given them the tools to learn how to fix this. Then for themselves come forward and we fade away for a, you know, a period of time. Maybe it’s a month, maybe it’s a few months, and then the phone rings again from the client and they say, Hey, we’ve got this other thing we want to talk to you about. So while superficially it sounds like fits and starts are peaks and between all of these clients, when you zoom back and look at it over a multiyear time frame, the relationship is really, it’s lighter retainer because we’re constantly doing work with these organizations.
Now I have a two part question. I know two part questions are always rude because it’s hard to keep track of both questions. So we’ll all go kind of slow to be nice and not painted into a corner. But, uh, the hit TV shows, silver spoons starring crayfish rotor, a great show, American show. Uh, could you have fixed that show?
You know, I don’t know enough about, I don’t know enough about silver spoon,
no guest I ever, not a single guest I’ve had on the show who remembers that, that people always like, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know. Okay, fine. I’ll move on to the more difficult question. How did you go about gaining traction with your career? When did you think to yourself, wow, I, this is, this is going to work or if it’s working or I’m headed in the right direction because we all get to that threshold of Haiti’s where we think it’s not gonna work and we keep on pressing on. Tell me about that moment.
So I would say it was in one of our darkest hours. It was in the 2008 recession. And at that point I had been running a business, it wasn’t called sub Rosa at the time, but it is still the same entity. That’s the Broza is a DBA now. And, uh, and what ended up happening was I had a couple partners, the recession hit. Everyone felt like this wasn’t the time for them to really be in this business and they wanted out. And I loved what we were doing and I believed in it, but I also knew we were structured the wrong way to be successful. And so in that dark moment where it felt like things were imploding and my partners were leaving and you know, I just had to kind of retool things. It also gave me permission to really have that blank slate to say, well, I have nothing else to lose like this is, there’s either going to fail miserably or I can change it.
So what are we going to do to change it? And we asked ourselves some smart questions about what our clients need and what we do well and how we could grow our business together. And we just rolled up our sleeves and started practicing what was preached and our business. W what happened at that time? It gave me a shot in the arm that told me that I’m doing, I’m doing the right thing by asking questions. I’m doing the right thing by being willing to take risks by running, willing to, to fail. Because I believe in the potentiality of what this place is.
You, you are an interesting dude and you, you wrote this book called, uh, applied empathy, the new language of leadership. What inspired you to write that, that, that book and what’s that book all about?
So it’s a great question because I think what happens with consultancies generally is you got a credentials document where you sit down and you’re going to take a client through all the reasons why you’re smart and they should hire you. And somewhere on slide three or slide four, you’re going to have some italicized word or phrase. And that word or phrase is your differentiator. And you’re going to say, because we’re great at this, we’re going to be great at this for you. Right? Right. And we had one of those too. And we called bs on it and we said, you know what? There’s, we need to make sure that whatever it is, it’s our differentiator, must be more than just an italicized word attack. And so we went back and made ourselves our own best client and we said, let’s figure out what it is we do really well.
And as we honor years of projects and looked up what we were successful and what was unsuccessful, we kept coming back to this idea of empathy and specifically empathy being cognitive empathy, not like being nicer to people or the golden rule, effective empathy where like I, I know how to treat you because I felt this way once before myself that not that kind of empathy but cognitive empathy, which is about really training the muscle of perspective taking. I’m getting out of your shoes, standing in the shoes of someone else, asking them questions that they, that you really need to understand in order to understand their perspective, that point of view, where they’re going, well, how they got to this point. And then using that insight to ultimately inform decision making and solutions. And so when we came around to that and realized that that was a real thing, we said, okay, look, we’re not going to just go around and sell this client. Let’s write a curriculum and let’s go teach it. And so we went down to Princeton and we ended up getting a deal with them where we could teach this class for a 12 week course to undergrads. And we taught it for three semesters. We then taught it at west point. We, after having gone through both of those academic institutions and really field testing this, we said, now it’s ready for prime time. And we started to use it with our clients.
You know, I don’t like apply to empathy. Do you need, you know why I don’t like it? It always works. It always works. It always works. Every time you use it, it works. And it’s too, there’s too many sales, too many deals. Pretty soon you’re over. Pretty soon you’re making too much money. And I hate money. That’s why we do this business show. I just been talking about that. But seriously, I mean, this move works. There’s somebody out there fighting you right now. There’s somebody out there getting it wrong. Somebody who’s doing the opposite of this. You have got to have seen some common problems where you’ve seen this happen over and over and you’re going, come on America. If we would just do the move and then you go wait a minute and you, and you wrote it in that book, give us just a couple of super moves. Just a couple of super moves that we can use.
Yeah, I mean I think one of the, one of the easy ones I think anybody can do is ask the hard questions sooner. Right? I think a lot of people wait to ask the hard questions too for when the house is on fire. Right? But a good organization, a good culture, a good leader, a good brand knows that. We’ve got to ask those those questions that we maybe don’t want to hear the answers to and we’ve got to ask them pretty quickly so that we can ultimately get to the right answers. Um, and so that’s one thing. The other thing is that you have to be willing to do what you find out in the team asking those questions, even if it means doing something that you’re uncomfortable with. And so I’ll give you an example. We’re working with an organization right now. Their leadership team told us a couple months ago, look, we are not willing to take big bets because two of us are going to be retiring in the next few years and we’re not looking at, you know, change this business or you know, make a new legacy for ourselves.
We’ve made our legacy, we just want to, we just want to ride this thing out. And we said, look, you’ve got a bunch of employees who work here who are expecting change, who are expecting progress, who are expecting the business to continue to evolve. And they said, well that would be something for the next leadership team to tackle. And we got, you know, all the wind knocked out of ourselves when they said that. And we sat down and we said, look, is that really what you want or is there something else? And then after talking about it, you know what they started to share with, they started to realize was it wasn’t that they didn’t want it to it. They were just afraid that if they did it and it didn’t work, it would sell either legacy. And so we said, well, let’s figure out a way to protect your legacy. Let’s figure out a way to let this be something that’s not just your decision, but a decision by the leadership team overall. Let’s make sure that this is something that’s ultimately gonna make your legacy even more powerful and transitioned power from you to these other people in the next few years. And just in that reframing, just in that understanding where the problem really was starting from, we were able to bring them into a place of confidence as opposed to a place of fear
was this was the story a little bit about blockbuster a little bit because they were, I didn’t know if you were trying to go back to the blockbuster theme or, or if you wanted to talk the whole show about silver spoons. I’ll, I mean, I’ll do, if you want to focus on Ricky Schroder probably the best actor of American history that never had a hit show and really never got traction in his career. If you want to talk about that or blockbuster, that’s fine. You can hog the mic at your show. But we have a show sponsor here. Uh, Josh, he has a company called living water. It’s grown very, it’s a, it’s a sprinkler and irrigation system companies. It shows sponsor. He comes on the show with me and interrogates great folks like you. So Josh, take the show up level that keep me from asking more dumb questions. Hey Michael Ventura, how are you sir?
Hey, good fine.
Hey, thank you so much for spending some time with the SOA. So a, those of us who have a small businesses, obviously you’ve worked with Nike and Google and all these huge brains and GE and all that stuff. So I think a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of small business guys like me that have, you know, 1215 employees. Yeah. They, they look at these huge companies and say, oh my gosh, you know, they have all these people who can implement all these actions strategies. So on a smaller scale as far as an actionable item, uh, through your book, you know, applied empathy and things like this, what’s a, what’s a small scale thing we can do as small business owners to change our culture, to change our trajectory, to change our direction?
So a good, great question because ultimately we didn’t write this book to, to just focus on working with large organizations. I want to see every organization use empathy as a tool to help evolve their business. So a question for you, I, before I answered your question, um, how, how often do you make your business a priority versus your customers a priority?
So I work, uh, at least one to two hours a day on my business as opposed to just in the business. That’s great.
So, and is that true for your employees as well or is that more something you are spending the time doing?
I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the last part, Michael.
I said, is that something your employees also do or is that something that’s probably like that you, that you, your times, but is that, but not necessarily there?
Uh, not necessarily. There’s a couple of our key managers, they’re spending time on the business but not necessarily the rest of the staff with actually with the employee, uh, customers
sot so I’ll tell you something we did for our organization. We’re, we’re, we’re a 45 person company. We’re not that much bigger than, than, than yours. And one of the things that we did that was critical was we said we are going to dedicate one day a month to working as a team exclusively on our business and the problems that we have here. And so that might be, we need to update our website. That might be, we need to write a new case study. That might be we need to fit, we need to spend the day recruiting, uh, you know, meeting those candidates that we haven’t had time to meet so that we can make that new hire we need to make. But we said to ourselves, if we can’t give our own business 12 days a year of our full attention, we’re selling ourselves way short and that decision a few years ago has dramatically changed our ability to focus on ourselves, to prioritize and tells me he gets stuff done. We get so much done in that day because we’ve got all hands on deck. Right and and our clients benefit from it too because then when we’re working with them we’re made better because we’ve, we have focused on ourselves when we needed to.
Where is your company located?
We’re in New York City.
And what web? What website addressed do I need to go to to find your site?
We are sub rosa.com
okay. Okay. We are sub rosa.com okay. Now I’m going to get it. This is kind of like the, I know you’ve got to go here in just a moment to go dominate the world. So I’m going to just fire off three quick questions for you. Okay. Question number one. You can tell the world anything right now. You can send everybody a text. You could send them a long form email. I don’t care. You could tell the world a message. What does that message you want to share today?
If you make the effort to make empathy a part of your leadership, you will understand your customers, you will understand your employees, and probably most importantly, you will understand yourself better.
What book would you recommend, uh, in addition to your books right now? I’m going on Amazon right now. Andrew, you’re my, you’re my accountability partner. You see me doing this? Andrew’s going on Amazon right now. He’s going on there and he’s going to buy a copy of your book and he’s going to leave a review about today’s interview. Okay, so it’s going to happen. You’re going to see a review coming through from Clay Clark here in just a moment. You’ll know that I did it because you’ll see the review. Talk to me about this. What is a book that someone should buy in tandem with your book? Cause you’re, I know you’re a well read guy.
Sure. Um, I like a book called the messy middle. It is a book by a guy named Scott belts.
He had them on the show love Scott.
Oh amazing. Scott’s great. And, and, and I, I liked Scott a lot and we’ve known each other for years and I actually, I’m not just plugging his book. I think what he talks about in the messy middle, which is that everyone talks about how things start and everyone talks about how things end. But no one ever really focuses on the, on the, the slog that is the middle of building something. And he really focuses on that. And I think, I think it’s a great insight for people.
Okay. Now My, my final question, I’m just being honest with you cause I just, I really want to know and I think what listeners want to know too. Back in the day, I know you went, I know you went to blockbuster with your dad or your mom and you went in there and you can get like a pound a Twizzlers. You could reserve a move, you can reserve terminator to put that thing on hold. You get that buttery popcorn with like 4,000 calories of saturated fat and you can do all that. What, what was, what was your favorite blockbuster memory? Your favorite memory of blockbuster, that the great business that, that unfortunately never became one of your clients because if it was one of your clients, you would have fixed blockbuster, but what, tell share with us your favorite blockbuster memory.
Yeah, I, you know what it was, it was the, the, um, it was kind of like when you rev your engine and then, and then you, and then you drop it into first year and then you just like peel out. Like that was essentially what would happen when the door would open and my folks would, we’d walk in and I would just tear down an aisle and look for like whatever the next new thing I wanted to see or play. And I usually end up renting a game for my Nintendo or whatever it is, playing that at that time. Uh, and one movie that we’d watch it as a family and it was like you’d get to do something that you’re going to get to go deep on yourself, but you also got something. You can sit around with your folks and your sister and and watch something together and it was, it was, it was, it was an experience to go to the store and pick that stuff out and to negotiate and to have those conversations. It was great to do that.
I have a new skill I’ve been refining. I can actually read people’s minds. I’m going to try this for a moment here. Okay. Here we go. In Tinto, when you’re into the game, even in Tendo game, you rented the whole of the nes system into the entertainment system. You got the power glove, the whole that you’d rent it right when it gained would lock up like techno bowl where if you had Bo Jackson and going all the time, time when a game like time frees up. How did you make the game book take it out? Yes. Hello, Jason. I can read this to you can, I can’t read all you’ve proven on multiple occasions. I knew what he was going to say. I read minds every time I asked that question. People sit and we’ve never talked about it and they didn’t send out. There wasn’t a website, there wasn’t an email blast. It was an urban legend that spread like a blasted glass all over the world and everyone in the world knew blue in the game and that’s what matters. That’s what matters.
Nope. You’re out there today and you’re playing Nintendo. You should probably stop and pick up a copy of this great book here called Applied Empathy. One one applied empathy and someone saying, well, ah, what do I type into Amazon? It’s applied empathy. The new language of leadership. Mike Venture is a great American, great author. Fascinating story. We loved having you on the show, my friend. Hope you have an awesome day.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it. It was probably the most fun. I’ve had an periscope, so thank you.
they should. If you’re out there, I encourage you today, not just to learn these concepts in these processes, but to actually apply those things, apply these principles. Dr Breck, do you feel like you’re a much more effective manager now than you were 10 years ago? 15 absolutely. Go back and give your younger self just a little bit advice about what you wish you wouldn’t have done 15 years ago. Do maybe just one management tip or you say younger self, don’t do that younger self. That is a poor way to manage people. What advice would you give your younger self? I would like to take a whole binder back and give my younger self that binder. But if I could only say one thing, um, yeah it would be the application piece that you just mentioned. Don’t procrastinate. Get on it. Take action today and I want to make sure that everybody out there understands this idea.
And in America today, there are 327 million people, 327 million documented people in America, and you have roughly 27 million people a year that get the courage up to start a business of some kind. All right, but nine out of 10 people that start a business fail. Well, why is that? Because a is you don’t know what to do, or B, you know what to do, but you’re just refusing to do it and if you’re going to be a successful, you’re going to have to start to do things that only exceptional people do. You’re going to have to have a to do list every day. You’re going to have to have a calendar every day. You’re going to have to not watch TV. You’re going to have to turn off social media and a TD Jakes, the very exceptional minister and evangelist, he talks about this during some of his sermons. I want to play a little audio excerpt from TD Jakes as he explains the difference between exceptional people and people that merely just want to get by.
Anyone who is exceptional is having a conversation with ordinary and exceptional and ordinary always have a conflict. Anytime exceptional people dwell in the midst of ordinary thinking people, there’s always going to be conflict.
Think about that. There’s always going to be conflict when you go home after listening to this show and you tell somebody, you know who’s not successful, hey, here’s what I’m going to be doing as a result of today’s show. Just be ready for them to seriously question what you’re saying, to be skeptical of your other methods. To think that you’re crazy. I mean, doctor Breck, when you started telling your staff about the importance of gathering, gathering Google reviews, have you ever had pushback? Maybe not from your staff, but from other staff says, I’m getting Google reviews. Yeah, we did. How many, you know, where are we gonna do that? How are we going to do that? Uh, what’s the point? Yeah, there’s, there’s definitely a lack of buy in initially. Jason, have you ever had pushback? Not from your clients, let’s say, but have your clients ever had pushback when they tried to implement something like the group interview or writing content on their website or building their website on wordpress or creating a simplified logo have, have you ever had a client that had some serious push back from people within their organization about the best practice systems that are proven to work?
Oh, absolutely. Like all of Michael Ventura clients have been Super Gung Ho and like let’s say they have a logo idea and then they tell their team, oh, it’s going to be an awesome font based logo and they’re like, font based, no, we need to have like a giant flaming hedgehog. I’m like, no. All the most popular brands have just font, text based logos or hey, your team has to get 15 Google reviews this week. That way you guys can stay top or they have to write content or follow the script and he’s just like, I’m trying to implement, but my team thinks I’m in. I’m crazy. And it really does come down to the crazy people that are successful. It really comes down to the people that are passionate and they will not stop the people that will not quit. You have to be an a player. To be a successful person, you have to be filled with this maniacal passion and focus this myopic complete. It’s a myopic, maniacal, passionate focus about growing your business if you ever want to achieve time and financial freedom. And so I wanted to keep an audio clip from the late great Steve Jobs. Since he’s dead, I thought we probably can’t try to reach out to him to have him on the show. But here is an audio excerpt from what Steve Jobs has to say about the importance of having passion within your business.
You have to have a lot of passion for what you’re doing. And it’s totally true. And the reason is, uh, is because it’s so hard that if you don’t, any rational person would give up. It’s really hard and you have to do it over a sustained period of time. So if you don’t love it, if you’re not having fun doing it, you don’t really love it. Uh, you’re going to give up and that’s what happens to most people. Actually, if you really look at, at, at, at, at the ones that ended up being successful on quote in the eyes of society and the ones that didn’t, oftentimes it’s the ones that are successful, loved what they did so they could persevere when you know, when it got really tough, even that night, the idea
is controversial because most people, Dr Brick, you know this, don’t love their jobs. No most do not. Most people look, don’t look forward to going to work, don’t have the passion. Most people won’t, can’t wait to get done working, right? Most people want to leave the office as soon as possible because they’re not engaged in their jobs and you’re going to have to be engaged at a different level if you want to become successful as an entrepreneur. And I know you have both the capacity and the tenacity needed to succeed. If you’ve yet to attend an in person thrive time show business conferences, this is your time. Go to thrive time, show.com and book your tickets there. But before doing that, read the reviews. We just had a conference this past weekend. Just read the Google reviews and if you say, well, those could be fake, those might not be real. Then watch the over 1000 youtube video reviews from real business owners. We have over a thousand video reviews, and you might say, well, what if those are fake? Then go on there and read the iTunes reviews or whatever you need to do, but I’m telling you, this is your time to thrive. Book your tickets today at thrive time. show.com you will not regret it. You weak, you won’t regret it, and we cannot wait to meet you. Now that he further, I do three, two, one.