Sunday, January 19, 2020

Joan "Joni" darc Shepherd on How Her Dog Rio Saved Her Life

In this interview, Joni darc Shepherd talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Rio - A Love Story: How My Dog Saved My Life.

“Dogs are little angels with fur.” ~Joni darc Shepherd

Joni has liked dogs ever since she was a little girl, as there had always been one dog in their family’s house at all times. Much as she wanted to have a dog of her own, it wasn’t until she lived on her own that she got a dog for herself, as her mother prohibited any other dog but her sister’s to live in the family home. Her first dog, Marley, was a rescued black Labrador mix, whom she really bonded with.

Joni remarks that the right dog comes along to a person at the right moment. To those who would own a dog, Joni recommends that they do their homework, creating a list of things that will and won’t work for one, such as the dog’s energy level and the dog’s age, a puppy will be very demanding. Once the criteria are set, one should check out dogs, such as during a dog exhibit set by a local dog club, so one can see how the dog behaves. That said, dogs also have their own personalities, and she encourages rescue dog adoption. “You need to take it [dog guardianship] seriously,” Joni remarks, “because it is for your life and the dog’s total life.” Where giving dogs as presents is concerned, Joni notes that the person receiving the dog might not be ready for one at that point in his or her life, and while the dog might be a nice one for the giver, it might not be the right one for the recipient.

Rio, according to Joni, is a “real person,” and has done things for her that humans haven’t, helping her go on the journey she is presently on. Joni’s sister, aunt and Marley died in quick succession. The stress didn’t stop there, as Joni needed to look after her 91-year-old mother and both her sister and the latter’s dog, when both contracted lymphoma. Joni then fell into depression, feeling lost and that her whole world had fallen apart, with her waking up some days not wanting to do anything but hide. It was shortly after Marley’s death that she looked for a dog and found Rio, and the dog’s cheerful, endearing, friendly nature pulled her out of that depression and got her living life once again, as well as opened up doors and commit to doing bigger goals than she was used to.

Rio is a Belgian Tervuren, and Joni notes that, in the United States, there are four recognized Belgian breeds (Malinois, Tervuren, Groenendael, Laekenois) that are very similar to each other, but that, in Belgium and the rest of Europe, those four breeds are treated as a single breed. Where Belgian dog breeds are concerned, Joni notes that these can “do it all,” whereas other breeds might specialize in sniffing, while others would specialize in herding, and still others in obedience.

Joni remarks that Rio is an exception to the breed, as he is sweet, friendly and endearing. Joni cites examples of Rio going up to animals such as camels, rabbits and supposedly ornery horses, and getting friendly greetings from these. Rio is also a flirt, as he manages to find at least girlfriend at each meet he goes to, with the girls occasionally fighting over him. Joni remarks that Rio’s energy is infectious, particularly when her alarm rings at 3 a.m. and, while she’s wondering whether to get up or not, Rio gets her attention and asks: “Where are we going today, Mom?”

When Joni got Rio, the breeder told her to show him in the confirmation ring, which was something she had not done before. Joni committed to doing that, with Rio winning championships at such shows. (Confirmations are shows where dogs are shown to judges who are familiar with such breeds confirmed, and the dog with the traits that best meet the standards met by clubs - and the standards can be numerous and specific - wins awards.) Joni mentions that an award-winning dog becomes most in demand for breeding, which has an impact on future generations of the breed.

For his part, Rio doesn’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over, which was why he has participated in several canine sports. Joni shared some incidents with Rio, such as with her losing her shoes during a sheep herding competition, and remarks that Rio has also participated in obedience trials as well as agility, where he was stopped by the dark, curved tunnel until one of his girlfriends was placed on the other end - after which he had no difficulty negotiating that obstacle. That said, Rio is also afraid of heights, which was why he stopped doing agility work. Rio has also done dog trick competitions, with one of his best tricks being mimicry, and has also done barn hunting competitions, where he has bested an Airedale, which have been bred specifically to find rats on riverbanks, to win first place in that particular competition. Rio has also done farm dog competitions, where the dog has to do twelve different things which simulate different tasks done around a farm, and doggie dancing. Rio is also a certified therapy dog, and the tricks he knows helps entertain and draw out nursing home hospice residents. Joni intends to have Rio do duck herding when he gets older, as ducks don’t run fast.

Where the book is concerned, Joni notes that the book is inspirational, motivational and upbeat, as well as touches on every emotion possible. “Through my journey,” Joni remarks, “one of the main things that I’ve learned is that the most important thing is love.”

Purchase from Amazon: Rio - A Love Story: How My Dog Saved My Life by Joan "Joni" darc Shepherd

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Beth Cramer on Dying to Live (Her Cancer Memoir - Why Didn't I Notice Her Before?)

In this interview, Beth Cramer talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Why Didn't I Notice Her Before? A Memoir about Dying to Live.

“I don’t wanna do anything I don’t wanna do anymore.” ~Beth Cramer

Beth admits that she’s a storyteller, and film became a medium of choice. Being an editor gave her the leeway to learn not only about filming but also how to tell stories. Crafting commercials was one way for her to do so, as she needed to tell a story within thirty seconds. “I’ve always wanted to pull at the heartstrings,” she remarks. She also created a documentary on single women who wanted to raise children without a partner, and one of the reasons she set up Brain Films was to set up a brand for herself in the filming industry.

Beth remarks that she had actually been trying to write a novel on a woman with cancer, and had been finding it difficult to move the story forward when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer, when she came in for treatment for heartburn in 2017. “Ovarian cancer is called a silent killer for a reason,” Beth notes, as this type of cancer is mistaken for such benign conditions as bloated bellies (which was one of Beth’s conditions), and there is no diagnostic tool to determine its presence. Beth’s family has, additionally, had no history of cancer, which made the diagnosis all that more surprising. The cancer started in her fallopian tubes and had spread to her chest, neck and lymph nodes at the time she was diagnosed.

Beth notes that she had been suffering from anxiety since 2010, and the diagnosis offered her clarity and gave her an opportunity to live in the moment. Beth mentioned that she had close family ties, and that support was important where dealing with her condition was concerned. She eventually got most of her treatments in Washington, D.C., where her sisters and her mother lived, whereas she lives in New York with her family; and doing so made things a lot easier for her.

Beth remarks that her mother was “astounded” that she wrote a book that was “so raw,” as Beth is the most reserved of her daughters, and she notes that she had a lot of things she needed to overcome to essentially “target” her own cancer. She also noted how “funny” it was to use “the cancer card,” as it’s called, in various ways, which stems from being honest about the situation she found herself in, such as going into a hot yoga class while wearing a wig. Beth notes that such moments can be painful as well as comical, and remarks that her book isn’t intended to be a depressing book or a clinical book. She also remarks that, while cancer is the catalyst for a lot of the stories she wrote about, those stories are personal but also ones which a lot of people can relate to, which gives her book its appeal. “It’s about how we navigate this crazy world with crazy minds,” she remarks, adding that her book isn’t clinical or medical in nature.

Being released from the trauma that caused her anxiety was one of the things she got out of being diagnosed with cancer, and perhaps the biggest lesson she got was that things happen for a reason. She also remarks that she has not denied herself that which feels good for her, such as the foods she likes. Beth admits that she had always been idealistic and determined, prior to her diagnosis. “There was not a lot of self-kindness there,” she notes, and her diagnosis that she had cancer silenced her inner self-critic, as such concerns didn’t matter anymore. “I could see the essence of myself again,” she remarks, enabling her to live closer to her truth.

“Don’t second-guess yourself or your instincts,” Beth advises. “Go for it, and pay attention to the signs and try to laugh.”

Purchase from Amazon: 
Why Didn't I Notice Her Before? A Memoir about Dying to Live by Beth Cramer

Friday, December 27, 2019

Thomas W. Jones on From Willard Straight to Wallstreet and What Happened at Citigroup

In this interview, Thomas W. Jones talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir.

“Give yourself a personal gift of 100% effort to achieve your highest potential.” ~Thomas W. Jones

Citigroup had entered a contract related to mutual funds, and the Securities and Exchange Commission had claimed that the contract concerned wasn’t fully properly disclosed to the mutual fund board. The Citigroup legal department had vetted the contract in all details, and while Citigroup settled the complaint, they didn’t include the otherwise usual provision that the senior management group concerned was also included in the terms of settlement. The SEC took this to mean that Citigroup had investigated the matter and concluded that the senior managers were at fault, hence the lack of inclusion of the senior managers in the terms of settlement - something which Tom remarked was “cynical” of then-CEO Charles Prince. This resulted in the full force of the federal government, through the SEC bringing charges against him, being brought on Thomas, and Thomas, rather than settle, spent eight years clearing his name. This process cost “millions” of dollars, and Thomas pointed out that the cost of his defense will not be recovered. He noted that, while the case against him was ongoing, he wouldn’t be able to hold a senior job in a regulated industry if one was in a fight against the regulating body, and that he chose to fight the charges because he was right and because he didn’t want those whom he worked with to think that there was anything shady about him. As he wasn’t employable, he thus needed to find a way to generate the funds needed for his legal defense as well as to support his family.

Thomas has noted that the way corporate America has changed since the 1970s, when he began working. As an example of this, Thomas notes that the CEO of General Electric, in the 1970s, retired with a package worth $10 million (around $50 million in today’s money); today, that CEO will retire with a retirement package worth $1 billion, and this cascades down the line, with the second in line getting a half billion dollar retirement package, the third in line getting a quarter billion dollar retirement package, and so on. He notes that this means that most of a company’s wealth is tied up with the top executives, and recalls that, in the 1970s, people viewed joining a major company to be a lifetime career move, with generous retirement and medical benefits. Thomas remarks that, in the 1970s, during a time which he called a period of “benevolent capitalism,” companies structured their guaranteed retirement packages so that retirees got around 65% of their working salary. All this changed, he notes, in the 1980s, when corporate raiders would buy and then control companies and then increase the companies’ cash flow by stripping out the costs (which included medical and retirement benefits and jobs) and then reselling those companies at a higher value, thanks to the apparent increased profitability of the company due to its increased cash flow. This led to later CEOs getting a mentality of wanting to cut costs wherever possible, and this shows itself in today’s environment, where retirement benefits are no longer fully funded by a company and medical benefits are greatly reduced. According to Thomas, this has resulted in a fear of people are able to keep up, and is a source for millennial thinking that capitalism isn’t the way to go, and perhaps socialism is. (In some comments made after the interview, Thomas remarked that the era of benevolent capitalism began after the Great Depression, when those in power realized that the common people had lost faith in the capitalist system and were likely to turn to socialism and communism.) He also notes that this has led to the transactional nature of work at present, which then breeds insecurity and which creates to tone of politics and the angry discourse that is prevalent today.

Where racism is concerned, Thomas notes that, at the present, the amount of progress that has been made isn’t front and center, whereas the issues that still need to be addressed are. He notes that there is still discrimination and believes that racist crimes, while these still do occur, are far less frequent now compared to fifty or a hundred years ago, as well as notes that the police back then weren’t punished for their actions. “It’s not perfect,” he notes, “but it’s moved in the right direction,” pointing out that people from non-white groups are now members of the middle class, thanks to this progress. Thomas also adds that the quality of education also plays a role in opportunities for everybody, but that, under the present system, as education is funded by local property taxes, those communities which collect a lesser amount of property tax will have fewer resources available for education that those which can collect more from their property taxes. This would explain why wealthier people, who cluster into higher-income communities, can afford good public education systems for their children, while those from lower-income communities cannot; and this means that children from the latter communities aren’t as prepared as those who come from the former communities.

Thomas has an investment fund which invests in startup businesses, and he enjoys being involved in this because of the energy and creativity of the people who are starting up new businesses. “This entrepreneurial energy is the secret sauce that makes America more successful than any other country around the world,” he notes. His fund identifies if a would-be business has a product that can solve a particular problem, as well as any added value when this product is applied and the size of the market. The revenue that can be generated is also considered, and the startup company is thus set up in a way where it can make the most impact.

Thomas emphasizes that the United States has come so far, as a country, from where it used to be, and while it should recognize that there is still some issues that need to be resolved, all should be proud of what has come out. On a personal level, he notes that the discipline of doing one’s best, of giving 100% every day, enables self-actualization, where one achieves one’s full potential. “You’re the only person who can do that,” he remarks.

Purchase from Amazon: 
From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir by Thomas W. Jones

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Marni Jameson on Downsizing the Blended Home (for when two households become one)

In this interview, Marni Jameson talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Donwsizing the Blended Home: When Two Households Become One.

“I don’t write because I know all the answers; I write because I want to find out.” ~Marni Jameson

Marni began writing about home design around twenty years ago. In addition to writing a blog about what was going on in her life, she is also a syndicated home and lifestyle columnist. She was always interested in doing home design, but originally didn’t know how to approach doing so. As a journalist, she then began asking people how to do various things related to home design, and this came in handy after she and her first husband broke up, when she became a home stager, which is someone who lives in, and dresses up, a house which would be put on sale. According to Marni, a well-presented house, which is what a home stager works to create, sells faster and for more money. She staged six houses in four years, and the experience helped her out when setting up her own household after her second marriage.

Marni’s parents were moved to an assisted living facility some years back and she blogged about how “heartbreaking” it was to clear out the family home, working to be respectful while, at the same time, deciding on what to throw or give away. It was also around this time when she likewise downsized her own home, as her marriage at that time was unwinding. And after she married her present husband the two needed to blend their households, and this experience led her to writing Downsizing the Blended Home.

A blended household is a household where both partners come from previously established households. (Marni, after the interview, mentioned that: more than 60% of homes in the United States have stepchildren; in one out of five marriages in the United States, both partners have been married before; and in two out of five marriages in the United States, one partner has been married before.) Marni referred to some of her clients who created blended homes, and while most of these did work, some did not, because of the issues related to creating a blended home. She also remarks that she talks to such people as psychologists and designers to make her work stick.  Marni admits that she had her own challenges when creating a blended home with her present husband, as she needed to create a house that represented the both of them, rather than just herself.

Marni remarks that people get attached to the things they have collected over their lives, and when creating a blended home, both partners can get “contentious” about what to keep and what to release; as she notes, “The fight about the coffee table isn’t about the coffee table.” The goal, Marni notes, is for both people, and their pasts, to be respected in the new house, so that the house doesn’t become a shrine to the past and has space for the future. One partner capitulating to the other doesn’t work, as the capitulating partner will come to a home where he or she feels that something is missing. This means that both partners have to agree on what they are trying to create, together, particularly when it comes to listening to each other.

“Something’s got to give when two people move in together,” Marni notes, and the concern is for people to give up half a house each, and this requires a lot of bending and giving, rather than digging in, which can damage the relationship. She remarks that, for newly-blended newlyweds, it’s best to start by looking for neutral territory where design is concerned, as well as identify one’s own personal style. Marni then gave an example of a design style which would speak to both partners, after which she stressed the importance of sticking to that new style. Both partners should then pick around five items of their own which are non-negotiable, which are that person’s anchor pieces which would represent the person in their new home. Everything else then becomes neutral, and anything then purchased should support the new style.

Marni notes that she has never had “giver-up” remorse over anything, thanks to her experiences, and has learned that, if one hangs on to the past, one leaves no room for the future. She notes that adults being attached to things is the very same thing as children being attached to transitional objects - items which serve as intermediaries for the love and security of their parents or caregivers. Items become endowed with meaning and stories, and it is actually the stories that people have trouble giving up, rather than the item associated with the story. Identifying the story and creating ways to keep the story alive without the actual item itself, such as taking a picture of the item, helps people move on and release things. “If everything’s important, nothing is important,” Marni notes, adding that this kind of attachment is what has created the “epidemic” of storage lockers in the United States.

Marni surveyed bookstores to discover that there wasn’t much by way on the topic of creating a blended household, although there were several which covered the topic of blended families, and this was the reason behind her writing Downsizing the Blended Home. She contacted experts to make sure her work was as accurate as possible, and from these has gotten advice which she has applied to her own life. She admits to undershooting her own expectations when she and her husband set up their first blended home, as it didn’t allow her to be able to invite their offspring for gatherings, so she can create relationships which can cover future generations.

For those setting up a blended household, Marni recommends agreeing on a style, then communicating honestly with each other about what will go into that space they will create. “There’s a lot of security in the smaller items,” she adds, noting that everyday items which are touched daily are just as important as the large, obvious pieces. She also notes that people should remember that the relationship comes first, and that the blended household is what the couple is becoming, rather than being who they once were. Marni also remarks that couples actually need to give up more than half a house, as space needs to be created for the future, and recommends getting rid of any beds.

Purchase from Amazon:
Downsizing the Blended Home: When Two Households Become One by Marni Jameson

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr. on their Book, Four Days with Kenny (who is partly deaf and blind)

In this interview, Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr. talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about their book, Four Days with Kenny Tedford: Life Through the Eyes of a Child Trapped in a Partially Blind & Deaf Man's Body.

“Look at the mirror. You are the greatest hero you could ever meet. You are. Not those around you.” ~Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr.

(Explanatory Note: Kenny Tedford, Jr., while in utero, experienced oxygen deprivation, which has resulted in him being deaf in both ears, legally blind in one eye and being cognitively impaired. The reason that Paul repeated questions to Kenny throughout the interview was because Kenny was more familiar with reading Paul’s lips than those of the interviewer’s.)

Kenny Tedford (left) with Paul Smith (right).
Kenny’s parents had nine children, and Kenny was the only one with issues, as he was born two months premature, as he was taken out once his doctors realized that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. His parents died when he was eight, when he then lived with his uncle and aunt. Just about everyone around him - his uncle, his teachers, the school principal, his childhood psychiatrist - said that he wouldn’t amount to anything. As he was deaf, it was easy for other kids to jump him, and he became the target of bullies due to his conditions. As a teenager, Kenny wrestled, did gymnastics and played football. He learned sign language only at the age of 21, and he remarks that who he is now is essentially his “inner child,” as being a grown up man “doesn’t seem to work.”

Kenny mentioned a story of being called “retarded” when he was in high school, and he didn’t know what the word meant. Two of his friends took exception to that and held down the boy who called Kenny retarded so Kenny could beat him up. Kenny was somewhat puzzled by that, as the boy had insulted him, rather than his two friends, and Kenny figured that, if he was insulted, he should be the one to act on his own. “If I don’t understand what you say or do to me, why should I get mad, ‘cause I don’t know what you’re doing,” Kenny sums up.

Kenny related that one of the incidents that got him started on the road to becoming a storyteller took place in second grade, when he and his classmates were given crayons and told to draw something. Kenny was only given two or three colors of crayons, while his classmates were given twenty-four colored crayons. Kenny’s pictures with the three crayons weren’t that good, but when he was finally given twenty-four crayons to work with, Kenny was able to draw better pictures. One of these was a picture of a butterfly with a woman on it, and when the psychologist asked him who the woman was, Kenny told him that the woman was his mother who would fly around and tell the teacher to give him an A instead of a D. This story was one of the first Kenny began telling, and he’s been telling stories ever since.

Where Paul is concerned, what he got from Kenny’s crayon experience was that, given the proper tools, anyone can create work that would amaze others.

As a child, members of his family would tell him how funny he was, and it took Kenny some time to realize that, instead of laughing at him, people were laughing with him, and his becoming a storyteller grew from there. Kenny also ventured deeper into storytelling by getting a master’s degree in it at the age of 55, and is presently only one of two deaf people to hold such a degree. He got interested in getting a master’s degree in storytelling after getting a bachelor’s degree in theater, when he heard about it from acquaintances, and he had a lot of fun going through the program. Kenny admits that he doesn’t have a particular process for creating his stories, which led to challenges while he was taking up his master’s degree. Instead, Kenny remarks that all he essentially needs to do is to read a story once, after which he can perform that story, with all its characters which, he notes, is different from the way a lot of people approach storytelling as, with the latter, research can be involved.

Although Kenny is deaf, he does get feedback for what he does and what he says from the way the audience reacts, as it does whenever he tells a story. Paul then remarked that Kenny is so good at touching the audience that he, Paul, is professionally jealous. “People like me, but they love him,” Paul jokingly remarks.

Kenny also points out that people aren’t what they have, giving an example from his own personal experience: “I may have had cancer, but cancer didn’t have me.” “It’s not what happened to me, but how I respond to that,” he adds.

For Paul, the elements that make a story worth telling or listening to are: a hero to care about, a villain to be afraid of and an epic battle between them - in more business-friendly language, a relatable main character; a relevant challenge that someone listening might find himself facing someday; and and honest struggle. For Kenny, it’s all about sharing himself, “opening up my heart,” as he calls it, as well as telling the story with love and compassion.

Paul and Kenny got together when they were speaking at the National Storytelling Conference in Covington, Kentucky, in June 2012. They had been speaking in different rooms, and one time, after they had presented, Paul and Kenny wound up sitting right next to each other, with Kenny’s sign language interpreter telling the latter what was going on. Paul was intrigued by the thought of a deaf person coming to a storytelling festival, and it was after lunch that same day that their relationship started.

Kenny admits that he included a lot of trauma and secrets in the book, so much so that he hopes that he’ll “still have family for Christmas.” He also remarks that, with the book, he and Paul are giving the readers the tools they need to be able to live their lives with the same kind of cheer that he does. “I am like I am because of my father,” Kenny further explains. “He loved me as his son, not a disabled son or a handicapped son.”

Paul remarks that Kenny is one of the most unique individuals that he’s met, particularly given how positive Kenny is after experiencing things that Paul admits would have made him bitter. His curiosity about how Kenny could maintain his optimistic outlook was one of the reasons he co-authored the book. Paul also notes that Kenny was agreeable to writing a book, as the latter had always wanted to get his story told, but didn’t know how to write (which Paul knew how to do), so the collaboration worked out well for both of them. Paul also acknowledged that, at the start of the project, he had a mindset which a scientist studying a subject so he can write Kenny’s life story. He quickly discarded that mindset when, after two or three interviews, he realized that he was learning a lot from the disabled Kenny, rather than the latter learning from the able-bodied Paul, during the process.

The title of the book came from the four days that Kenny and Paul spent together, writing it out, during which time the two sat and traded stories “from eight in the morning until six at night.” The idea was Paul’s, and Kenny admits that he thought the idea “insane.” That said, the process worked, and Kenny got another good story out of it when Paul’s son gave Kenny some insight into how a child would see him. Paul’s then-nine-year-old son had to read a book and write a report on it, then create a cereal box, complete with pictures and stories from the book all around it. The boy chose the book Paul and Kenny were writing (the first draft had been finished by then), and after presenting it in class the boy then kept it in his room until he gave it to Kenny.

Kenny hopes the book will help people learn to love themselves, admitting that it’s not easy to do that. “But if I can do that, there’s hope,” he remarks. Kenny also notes that 98% of all parents with deaf children do not know sign language, which results in the deaf children growing up lonely, as they exist in a silent world. Where Paul is concerned, he points to the 27 different life lessons which are listed at the end of the book, with half of these being for people with disabilities and the other half being for the members of the families of such people.

Kenny gave an example of how he views people by telling a story about a wheelchair-bound friend named Marty. Kenny told of a time when he through a door ahead of Marty and wound up closing the door in front of him, as Marty being wheelchair-bound isn’t in the forefront of his thoughts. Kenny only then realized that Marty was left outside in the rain and hurriedly opened the door so Marty could get in. Once inside, Marty then turned his head and began talking to the people around them. Kenny then noticed the people around them laughing, and when he asked what was going on, he was given the reply: “Marty’s making fun of you.”

“I can’t read your lips!” Kenny then complained to Marty.

“That’s because you slammed the door in my face,” Marty then replied.

“Don’t look at someone as if they have a disability,” Kenny then emphasizes, adding that, if a disabled child does something wrong, then he or she should be corrected just like any other child.

“Love yourself,” Kenny gives as advice to those who might be in the same situation as himself. “Just be you.” He also adds for people to be around positive people and get away from the naysayers. “Believe in yourself,” he adds. “Every time you look in a mirror, you’re somebody.”

Purchase from Amazon: 
Four Days with Kenny Tedford: Life Through the Eyes of a Child Trapped in a Partially Blind & Deaf Man's Body by Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Paul Smith and The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell (for Leadership and Sales Success)

In this interview, Paul Smith talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell.

“Be honest.” ~Paul Smith

Paul remarks that his working career was typical, in that he took a job with large corporations such as Accenture and Proctor and Gamble after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in economics, after which he got a master’s degree in business. He got involved with storytelling when he realized that storytelling was something which leaders should have, thanks to the leaders he admired while he was in Proctor and Gamble. “They didn’t teach me that [storytelling] in undergrad, they didn’t teach me that in business school,” he remarks about his frustration when figuring out what storytelling was all about. He thus set out on his own to explore the realm of storytelling, which is how he is where he now is, as a storyteller.

For Paul, storytelling is “telling a story about something that happened to someone.” A story is thus not a speech, a presentation or a memo with bullet points, but a narrative that has a time, place, a main character that has a goal, an obstacle in the way of getting to that goal, events that take place along the way and an ending with a resolution. Paul notes that there are eight questions that a good story must answer, and these are:

  1. Why should I listen to the story? (The answer to this must be given by the storyteller, so the audience has a reason to listen to the story.)
  2. Where and when did it take place?
  3. Who’s the main character, and what did they want?
  4. What was the problem or opportunity that they ran into?
  5. What did they do about it?
  6. How did it turn out in the end?
  7. What did you learn from the story?
  8. What do you think I should go and do, now? (This question is something that the audience needs to answer.)

Paul remarks that all stories share the same common traits; that said, in business stories, the audience is the one who needs to summarize what is learned and figure out the next steps to be taken. Storytelling is becoming popular as a means of communication within businesses because it works at getting people to think and feel what it is that needs to be done, according to him, and this is because stories communicate with both the logical/rational and the emotional parts of the brain. A list of reasons, on the other hand, only communicates with the logical/rational part of the brain, which makes this method fall short, as Paul notes that human decisions are made in the subconscious, emotional part of the brain, after which these decisions are rationalized. He also notes that facts and data are between six and 22 times more likely to be remembered if these are told within a story compared to if these were merely given as a list, which makes these facts more likely to be acted upon.

Paul mentioned that, in the three books he wrote prior to The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell, he covered some 70 different types of stories and 250 examples of these types of stories. He was thus often asked: “What are the most important ones?” and he would give different answers each time. He decided to narrow his focus on a particular type of story when a publisher contacted him to write a book which could be read in an hour’s time, and he chose the field of leadership because several of his clients, who are leaders in their respective fields, ask him how to tell stories which could help them with their work.

The ten kinds of stories great leaders tell, according to Paul, are:

  1. Where we came from. (This is a founding story.)
  2. Why we can’t stay there. (This is a case for change story.)
  3. Where we’re going. (This is a vision story.)
  4. How we’re going to get there. (This is a strategy story.)
  5. What we believe. (This is a corporate values story.)
  6. Who we serve. (This is a story about the customer.)
  7. What we do for our customers. (This is a classic sales or customer success story.)
  8. How we’re different from our competitors. (This is a marketing story.)
  9. Why I lead the way I do. (This is a personal leadership philosophy story.)
  10. Why you should want to work here. (This is a recruiting story.)

Paul gave, as an example, a personal leadership philosophy story of Mike Figliuolo, who was a West Point graduate who was assigned to lead a platoon of tanks. In one of his first training exercises, despite the planning that had been done beforehand, he found himself in a situation where he was leading a force of 400 tanks against an opposing force of 400 tanks and had to pick a direction at a time where he was somewhat confused. Mike could have spent thirty seconds stopping where he was and studying his map to figure out what to do - which is a long time, given that the opposing force was likewise looking for him so they could “kill” him and the tanks he was leading. Mike made a decision on the fly to head in one direction, and within seconds of doing so, he and his entire platoon were taken out. The tanks behind him, however, saw what happened and turned in the other, correct direction, subsequently took the high ground and, in the end, won the exercise. The lesson Mike learned was that it is sometimes better to make the wrong decision quickly than the right decision slowly; and since life gives quick feedback on whether the decision taken is right or wrong, provided one doesn’t get killed by it, one can adjust and figure out what to do next, rather than get stuck in analysis paralysis. This explains why Mike is a quick, decisive leader who forgives his people for making mistakes, so long as they learn from it.

Paul notes that leaders have a difficult time telling strategy and vision stories because they don’t know the difference between a strategy document or a vision statement from a strategy or vision story. He remarks that a story for these would run along the likes of what it would be like for someone to work in a company once the latter has achieved the vision, and that, if the story is attractive enough, people will want to pitch in to achieve that vision. The founding story of the company, on the other hand, is the kind of story that leaders find the easiest to tell, because they know it by heart, because it is the most often told and is most obviously a story.

Paul recommends that people who are looking for the stories to tell need to ask for these stories from the people they work with. He recommends creating a wish list for the kinds of stories needed, and then asking around for these. He notes that, in each chapter of the book, there are guides on why such a story would be important as well as tips on how to find such stories within a company, as well as the kinds of questions to ask. He also reflects that he might want to add a “Why you want to invest in us?” story, as this is something that smaller companies need to convince people to invest in them.

Paul points out that storytelling is just one tool in one’s communication kit, and that, in general, people should be honest whenever they communicate. He also notes the popular impression is that those who tell stories effectively are natural-born storytellers, and that one is either a storyteller or not. This isn’t the case, Paul remarks, and adds that, if people want to tell stories, they should take lessons on how to do so from people who know how to do so, as storytelling is a skill on its own.

Purchase from Amazon: 

The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell by Paul Smith

Monday, November 18, 2019

Dr. Stephen G. Post on God and Love on Route 80: The Hidden Mystery of Human Connectedness

In this interview, Stephen G. Post talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, God and Love on Route 80: The Hidden Mystery of Human Connectedness.

“If you cultivate a spiritual path, truly, no matter what difficulties arise, you will be blessed and you will be smiling.” ~Stephen G. Post

Stephen grew up on New York’s Long Island who went to an Episcopal school for high school, and had always been a good student and has always been spiritual. (The Episcopalian Church is the American version of the Anglican Church, which is, in turn, a British version of the Roman Catholic Church.) He was on the usual track for a middle-class child - school, college, then a corporate job - when, as a fifteen-year-old who was interested in spirituality, he had a vivid dream where he saw a thick, silvery-gray mist covering a road going somewhere, after which he saw, to his left, see the face of a youth with stringy blond hair, leaning out over a ledge. Stephen then saw the face of a blue angel who spoke to him in a feminine voice, saying: “If you save him, you, too, shall live.” The exact, same dream kept recurring over the next one and a half years, around a half dozen times, and he even became the “centerpiece” of a meeting on adolescent spirituality during this time. For Stephen, the dream occurred to him as being that of an Infinite Mind trying to break into his consciousness to suggest that there was something more to life than what was present materially.

Stephen applied to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and after graduating high school he got interested tutoring some people who were living in the Bronx. His parents figured that the place was too dangerous for him to go to, so Stephen’s father got him a job in a factory cutting cardboard, and after two weeks of driving to the workplace in his father’s second-hand car, Stephen decided to drive out west after meeting with some friends, to follow his dreams. His drive west got cut short while he was in Pennsylvania, while on Route 80, after which he left a note to the Pennsylvania state police with his father’s address and then began hitchhiking west. He later called up his mother, collect, from Lincoln, Nebraska to let her know he was okay, and his mother then told him that she would call off the Pinkerton detective agency. Stephen then continued on to San Francisco to live with his cousin, George, who had, by then, spent two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Stephen spent that summer playing classical guitar and spending time at a nearby Buddhist temple. It was also towards the end of summer that he drew a bad draft number, which meant that he would be drafted into the Army unless there were some extenuating circumstances involved, such as becoming or being a college student. Stephen thus called up Reed College and asked to be accepted, which he was; and this was why he left San Francisco one September morning, with a holy Buddhist scroll in his bag which had been given, and explained about, by the temple monks. His journey took him across the Golden Gate Bridge, and despite the foggy morning, where he couldn’t see more than three feet in front of him, he felt safe enough crossing it. When he got to the middle of the bridge, he heard a sound on his left; and when he looked that way, he saw the face of a youth with stringy blond hair, a youth who looked very much like that of the youth he had been seeing in his vivid dream. Stephen then spoke to the youth, remarking that he shouldn’t jump, and the youth reacted by screaming out over the water. Stephen managed to talk the youth down, explaining his dream and how he got there. He then showed the young man the scroll he had and went over it briefly before sending the young man, Harry, to his cousin George’s home, along with the scroll and a note of introduction so he would be allowed to stay over. The two then parted ways, and Stephen then hitched rides to Reed College.

For Stephen, the dream and the encounter that it led to suggested to him that there was a connection, a oneness at a level of mind, spirit and soul between humans and the Infinite Mind, and that the entire experience was a lesson for him about the nature of love and reality.

Stephen remarks that people who aren’t part of any formal religion can refer to themselves as being spiritual, in that they have an inner sense of the Divine Presence as well as a sense of the spiritual dignity of other people. He also notes that there are people who are both religious and spiritual, as religion isn’t just about formality.

The book, Stephen notes, isn’t a memoir, but a collection of stories that highlight his experiences with synchronicity and connection with the Infinite Mind, and shared a story on synchronicity of his being in Oregon and being taken on a wild, wet-weather motorcycle ride on someone’s new Harley Davidson. Stephen was rather frazzled at the end of the two-hour ride as he walked into his dormitory’s common room, which had a pay phone installed in it. Stephen might have given his mother the number of that particular phone, but he never answered it himself, until this evening. Although it was 11pm Pacific Time, which meant it was 2am Eastern Time, Stephen, as soon as he picked up the phone, found himself speaking with his mother, who said that she had had a premonition of fear and anxiety and thought that Stephen was dead.

Stephen’s experiences have led him to believe that the mind is more than just brain and tissue, and that the connection with a loving, Infinite Mind allows humans, such as himself, to be guided into growing and flourishing, remarking that his life has been “a journey on Route 80.” He also claims to be a noticer, one who notices the small winks and hints of the connections between oneself and the Infinite.

God and Love on Route 80 was his first non-academic book, so he needed to learn how to write non-academically to get the book out. It sprang somewhat from the founding of the nonprofit Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. Stephen began writing out vignettes on the topic of love and what he was about, to help explain what the Institute was all about, and while he had stopped writing his vignettes for some time, he decided to write a book to pull everything together - hence the book. He also notes that the general opinion of scientists not being spiritual isn’t always true, as scientists - particularly physicists - do believe in synchronicity and a higher power.

Stephen’s favorite quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Purchase from Amazon: God and Love on Route 80: The Hidden Mystery of Human Connectedness by Stephen G. Post