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An interview with Scott Ginsberg, author of "Hello, My Name is Scott"

Starting week I'm extending my interview series with the top experts in the field by sharing productivity insights and stories from people who are influential and successful, i.e, highly productive. I'll start with highlights from my recent coversation with Scott Ginsberg (site, blog).

I found out about Scott via his book Hello, My Name is Scott, which takes an happy accident (leaving his nametag on after an event) and extends it to a unique perspective of the world, one of my absolute favorite topics. (It's why I got into productivity consulting in the first place.)

Rather than a story format, I'll take a cue from the list master himself. Thus I present: 18 highlights from my conversation with Scott Ginsberg.

On mentoring

The key is mentors plural - many of them. Also, Scott identified three types: direct mentor (e.g., his high school English teacher), indirect mentor, (e.g., someone whose books you love to read, say Seth Godin), and a distant mentor: when an experienced or an encounter or just a random person you meet just mentors you. (Scott didn't have an exact term for this last type.) I really love this idea of being open to learning from any interaction. Very rich.

On listening

Scott says wearing a nametag has helped make him a good listener. His strategy? "Just shut up, sort of end it right there, and let the other person talk and just listen and be open." He says it's cool, fun, and beautiful. Check out his 17 Behaviors to Avoid for Effective Listening.

On differences

Scott says he uses the nametag as a reminder to respect people who are different, e.g., different appearance or religion. With that he tossed out this sweet little idea: "I think everybody can paint themselves into a good corner in their own way." (Note: I've been having a blast collecting potentially useful phrases in my My Big-Arse Text File - more on capture systems below!)

On getting clients

Scott says his growing success comes from great ideas + hard work (he publishes a lot and spends plenty of time on the road meeting people and presenting). (If you're into formulae check out Some Tasty Morsels From The Ideamatt Self Help Formulary.)

On writing

Write every day and read a lot. And Scott loves Julia Cameron's work, including her "filling the bathtub" metaphor (keep things flowing until the good stuff comes, then start capturing) and her morning pages exercise, which he calls "the greatest thing I have ever done." Scott said he'd send to my readers his piece about how to do morning pages - just email him. her book is The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. And yes, it's in my candidates library.

On entrepreneur success

Do not be stopped by not knowing how. For me (having started my own company) this was very welcome advice. I love how Scott put it: "I have had my company now for six years, I am still not sure I know what the hell I am doing." :-)

I firmly believe in the concept of just go, just start. All that matters initially is the what, and then just go and just go and just learn and ask questions and make mistakes and screw up and read lots of books, and eventually the how will come to you.

On discipline

Scott says this is (not surprisingly) crucial, esp. for solopreneurs - there is nobody down your neck, and there is nobody waking you up and getting you out of bed to go to work.

On luck

He does not believe in luck, and says he never has. "I have always believed that luck is an acronym that stands for working your ass off." (You will definitely want to read How to Attract Good Luck, one of those few "wow" books.)

On accomplishing so much in a short time

Scott says he's asked frequently how he's done this, e.g., "Scott, you are only 28 years, how do you explain your knowledge on this topic." You'll love his answer: "I am a genius." He continues:

There is no reason to think that age is a barrier. I mean, I read five books a week. I write five hours a day. I ask a lot of questions. I have got a bunch of mentors. I mean, I am a lifelong learner, and I think that there is lot of stuff you can do, especially the young entrepreneur can make the learning curve nonexistent.

On learning from experience

Scott and I agree on another favorite topic of mine - how to lead a life of curiosity with an experimental attitude. (BTW, stay tuned for news on book on the topic I'm coauthoring - very exciting.) He says he's an expert at learning from his experiences. As Scott puts it: "It's one thing to say, oh yeah, I wore a nametag, it is cool, it is fun, it is another thing to say, yeah, okay, I did that, here is 500 lessons I learned, and here are how those lessons can help other people have a better life." Neat. (Reader question: What other books fall into this "apparent gimmick to insight" class? One that comes to mind is The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures.)

On asking questions

And yet another topic Scott and I see eye to eye on, the value of asking good questions (the "ask, don't tell principle"). (In fact, I'm considering structuring one of my talks entirely this way :-) He says he keeps a running list of what he call leverage questions - over 5,000 in his database. When you experience something, it's a big opportunity to reflect and learn (i.e., leverage it) via questions like, "What wisdom have I gleaned from these hardships?" "How could this mentor me?" "What are 101 lessons I just learned?" "What is another use for this failure?" "How could this be used as a marketing tool?"

On lessons learned

I mentioned my practice of tracking Lessons Learned and, not surprisingly, he does the same. Scott writes them in his journal every morning - things he learned the day before. And not all necessarily about business - it can be general. (Recent examples from mine: *Always* use FedEx to send proposals, and letting go of personal agendas during conversations can be much more fun.) Importantly, he reviews them regularly (including at the end of the year) to make sure they stick.

On the definition of productivity

In response to the question I always ask, Scott pointed out that activity is not always progress. We can keep ourselves busy and doing stuff, but that does not make it productive. This is that classic point of effective vs. efficient. For the latter, he uses ideas from GTD, and is a fan of Lakein's Question ("What's the best use of my time right now?") Scott also has a list of (well expressed) goals which his productivity aligns with.

On his media diet

He doesn't read the news "because the news is crap." Yes! he doesn't read many because there are so many - Seth Godin's blog (and Scott's girlfriend's blog) is an exception.

On reading

He spends the majority of his time and money staying up to date on books. (Check out Reading Gone Wild! How To Read Five Books A Week and How To Read A Lot Of Books In A Short Time.) He talked about his "success library," meaning books earn you money, earning comes from learning, so cherish your books. Scott buys used, marks them up, highlights, makes notes in them, and uses them for reference. He also transcribes his notes into his computer (see The 4-hour Workweek Applied: How I Spent $100, Saved Hours, And Boosted My Reading Workflow) - his "portable success library." He also blocks out time for reading, and slips it in while traveling. Finally, like Leveen, he has no compunctions stopping a book early if it's not valuable.

On his productivity system

Scott says:

I still use a handwritten planner, believe it or not. I cannot go digital. So I have, one of my mentors taught me this, I think sort of in terms of the month and the week. My little to-do list, if you will, is caught up into five different areas. I have things to do, people to see, people to contact or call or email, things to read, things to write. So I fill up those five boxes and hopefully I will get everything done.

On priorities

He prioritizes his lists, and keeps five criticals that, if he does nothing during a week, as long as those five things got done, on Friday afternoon he'd feel satisfied. (You might enjoy the section "deciding what constitutes a 'good workday'" in A Daily Planning Experiment: Two Weeks Of Accountable Rigorous Action.)

On idea capture

I told Scott about my pickle jar and asked what he uses to track all the ideas, lessons, questions, etc. that come to him. I was surprised to learn he has an entire concept management system he's been developing for the past six years. We didn't go into much detail, but it's essentially a hypertext system with independent chunks ("modules") he ties together as needed. There are other ways of categorizing. This flexibility prevents what he calls "Premature Cognitive Commitment." (Love that phrase!) He also points out that when we name something we immediately limit its possibilities. He estimates there are 10,000 items in his system. (Wow! I'm at ~4,500.) Like me, he thinks of it a major empowering tool.

Thanks, Scott!

Reader Comments (4)

Great recap, Matt! I admire Scott's discipline and I just can't imagine being as productive he is. Just the amount of reading and writing alone is staggering. I spend plenty of time being busy but not productive.

I still have an odd combination of notebooks, e-mail to myself and desktop calendar for logging ideas. I suppose I need to get more organized on this front.

July 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Braithwaite

Thanks, Lisa. Yes, he's pretty far out on the spectrum. One thing I didn't mention is he readily admitted he has far fewer personal/family commitments at this time in his life compared to others (hey - I'm 20 years older than him!) So factor this in when comparing. Overall, the folks I'm talking to in this series are very ambitious and high performers - something that I keep in mind when deciding what I'm personally willing to do. (I hate to say "how hard I'll work" - what does "hard" mean?)

Hey - I'm glad you're [ back in your house | http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/2008/07/upheaval.html ] after your fire, and that your husband's healing well.

July 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Great interview as always, Matt! There are lots of things to chew on and digest here.

July 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRicky Spears

Thanks for reading, Ricky. I liked your letter to your senators, BTW.

July 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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