Chris Taylor On How To Get The Most out of People – TCE 015

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Today on the show we have the pleasure of chatting with Chris Taylor, the CEO of Actionable Books.

After reading one book a week and applying something he learned from each one for an entire year, Chris started his company which helps companies and coaches apply the most important information from the overabundance of business books out there.

Chris shares some amazing thoughts on leadership, empowering people, and company building that have empowered him to successfully grow his company while traveling the world.

This is a good one, enjoy : )


Great thought from Chris: “People don’t quit jobs, people quit managers” – Marcus Buckingham  (tweet this)

What You’ll Learn By Listening

  • The power of focusing on personal development in the workplace
  • Lessons learned from leading over a 100 person sales force at 22, to losing it all and then coming back to redeem himself by starting Actionable Books
  • What happened after Chris read one book a week and applied something he learned for an entire year
  • The power of taking an unapologetic value stance when pitching your product
  • How Chris was able to convince 50 best selling authors to do interviews with him
  • The best type of people to hire when building a remote team
  • Why we should all build structured reflection into our lives and the value of intentionally putting ourselves in new environments

Listen to the episode here:

Subscribe on Itunes for more interviews or Listen on Stitcher

Thank Chris for dropping knowledge on us (tweet Chris here)

Mindshare segment at the end:

Six power statements you can say to yourself every single day. These are the ones I currently use.

Links & Resources Mentioned:

For more on Chris check him out at: ActionableBooks and on Twitter @ActionableChris

Other resources mentioned:

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*You’ll find a full searchable transcript below

Searchable Transcript of this Chris Taylor Interview:

Scott:   Okay, welcome to another episode of the Competitive Edge. Today, I’m so excited to bring you Chris Taylor. Chris is a reader, writer, speaker and entrepreneur who currently runs Actionable Books dot com, an online resource dedicated to helping busy professionals, apply lessons from top business books. Chris passionately believes that work in the 21st century should be a rewarding and engaging experience to the benefit of the employee and company alike. Chris, how’re you doing man?

Chris Taylor:   I’m great Scott, thanks for having me.

Scott:  Awesome, and where are you coming from today?

Chris Taylor:  Today, I’m coming from the suburbs of Barcelona, Spain.


Scott:                     Wow, that is awesome. Barcelona is an amazing place.

Chris Taylor:   It is.

Scott:  So, I just wanted to take this moment to actually brag a little bit more about Chris before we ask him how he got a competitive edge in his business and life. By the time Chris was 22 years old, he was leading a sales team of 120 independent contractors. And then he left direct sales in 2006 to pursue his passion of leadership and team culture development and start Actionable Books in 2008. And now, he lives in Spain and travels around the world and runs his business which is just so cool; so Chris, I have a ton of questions, how you have done all this awesome stuff and I cannot wait to dig in.

Chris Taylor:  Great, let’s do it.

Scott:   Awesome, so Chris, where were you born?

Chris Taylor:   I was born in Vancouver, Canada. Just outside of Vancouver actually and spent the first few years of my life there on the West Coast.

Scott:    Awesome, never been, heard amazing things.

Chris Taylor:  It’s a great city.
Scott:    Let’s fast forward to 22 years old, leading a sales team of 120 people. Chris most people when they are 22 years old, are trying to figure out how to get a job and here you are, leading 120 independent contractors. Take me through how you were able to do that and let’s just start from the very beginning.


Chris Taylor Interview:         As you sort of alluded to in the intro there, I was working for a direct sales company, so when I was in university, I took a job as a sales rep for a direct sales company actually selling kitchen knives and I was one of those — it turns out I was pretty good at it and so I rose quickly as a sales rep. And they gave me an opportunity between my third and fourth year of university to run my own office for four months. And so, I went into that and did well, we were number two or number three office in Canada that summer.


So, when I graduated, I took an offer to open up an office for them actually back in Vancouver then in a suburb of Vancouver. And yeah, we did well quickly and we were never one of the largest offices but one of the things that we did well was to hang on to our people. And so I spent — I don’t have any tactics on that but we grew steadily and people didn’t leave as fast as they did in a lot of other places. So, we got to a point where we had a sizable sales force and having a lot of fun doing it. So, when I was 22 life was pretty fabulous.


Scott:                     Yeah, and it sounds like it and I actually want to dive into that just a little bit because I talk to a lot of people about business development stuff and one of the things that I always want to know is how do I get new customers? How do I get more customers? How do I get more clients, more business? A lot of people don’t focus on extracting more value or keeping existing customers and it sounds like you are able to do that really well which is part of the reason for your success. Can you talk about some of the things that you did to keep these customers that maybe a lot of other sales reps selling knives weren’t doing?


Chris Taylor Interview:         Yes, I think there’s two pieces in there, I mean, on a customer retention standpoint and an employee or a rep-retention standpoint, I think it’s going to sound [Inaudible 0:04:12] Scott, but it comes down to thinking of them as human beings. We treat our friends and our family one way and for some reason, in the business setting we get caught up with the speed of — or the numbers maybe or just having to hit quotas and we stop thinking about people as people and start thinking of them as a means to an end.


And if we ever thought of our friends that way, we would find ourselves without friends. And so, I don’t think it’s surprising that clients are agnostic and not super-loyal to brands that only come back to them when they want to come up for more cash. And so, whether it was clients in doing client appreciation events or just calling them up to say, ‘hey, how’s it going, how’s that product working out for you’ and stop there and not try to up-sell them on to the next thing, it goes a long way. And the same can be said for time with reps and now with employees and the work that we do with clients with helping them to retain and develop the people.


One of the things that we picked up a couple of years ago and I don’t know who it was from but fundamentally, all human beings want to be heard, understood and appreciated or HUA for short.


Scott:                     Nice.


Chris Taylor:         And it’s not rocket science, if we take the time to actually connect with people, whether they are employers, employees, customers, family, friends, neighbors and help them feel, heard, understood and appreciated, nothing but good comes from those relationships.


Scott:                     Yeah, that makes absolute sense and it seems so obvious, but yet again, it is one of these things at a lot of times that we just don’t do. Were there any specific practices you would do with your reps to make them feel that sense of being heard and understood?


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, I’m glad you asked because that was really — the answer is yes, and what we did actually led to the creation of Actionable Books and Actionable workshops specifically which is our main product line now. What I would do on a weekly basis, again, not super-complicated, is I would take the top ten percent of my sales force, so roughly 10-12 people a week and we would get together on a Saturday morning typically outside of office hours and we would sit down and we would talk. And I would teach them something not do with sales, not to do with products, we wouldn’t talk about contests or incentives or anything.


What we would talk about was something personal and professional development related. We would spend an hour going through an article maybe or part of a book or an entire book that I had read, or they had read and I would turn it in and spend hours prepping this thing. I would guide them through conversation around how that idea resonated for them personally how they can put them into practice in their lives and we would actually leave that session with each person committing to a single point of action of behavior change.


Scott:                     Wow, that is so cool. Dude, I have had this dream my whole life of creating a company where personal development is stressed just as much as professional development and I think they are very much one and the same.


Chris Taylor:         Absolutely.


Scott:                     Is that something you currently practice still today at Actionable Books?


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, internally definitely and externally I mean that’s where we have work to do. All the programs that we have developed — and we’re talking about Actionable Books but basically what we developed is around helping team leaders and their direct reports take those brief timeout moments to get away from the fires that we could put out and the calls that need to be returned and the quotas that need to be met and actually say, okay, we’re human beings and we are dedicating a good chunk of our existence to advancing the company’s objectives, how is this advancing our own objectives?


And it’s interesting because the clients that embrace what we do — you don’t have to be a risky proposition because if the company does in no way advance the personal objectives, then you run the risk of exposing them and having people leave. What we find is the confidence that have the guts to have those conversations with their employees are fertile ground for individuals to develop themselves and to move forward. So, everything we do is about bringing those conversations to the forefront and then helping individuals and companies put the ideas into practice if they are actually really creating — yes, this is going to advance my career and my life and this is the first step to actually doing that. So that’s the type of work that we do.


Scott:                     Amazing. And would you say, it’s safe to say, just so we can bring this into a cohesive message here for the audience that amongst the companies that you’ve worked with and maybe some of that chose not to work with you, would you say that companies can achieve a competitive edge by investing in personal development stuff that might not even be related directly to the business tasks that they do every single day?


Chris Taylor:         Absolutely, and I think we are starting to see it more and more thankfully even in mainstream media where the companies that are truly rocking their industries are the ones that are putting their focus on the people and appreciating that — it’s not that cheesy line that people are our greatest assets. No, people are your business and unless your business is completely 100% automated, people are the ones who are driving that forward and giving them a place where they feel as though and [Inaudible 0:09:16] that they are advancing their personal and professional lives. They will bleed for the business and you’ll have that competitive edge in that question.


Scott:                     Chris, you’re so right man, I think about my last employer before I became a self employed entrepreneur. And I think about all the things that motivated me and that made me want to give the extra effort or stay late and make sure that I had the attention to detail; dude, it wasn’t the paycheck, it wasn’t the raise, it wasn’t the bonus, it was because I loved my boss. And I loved him because he invested me, took care of me and he cared about my personal and professional development a lot and that made me incredibly loyal and so what you are saying right now is just music to my ears man.


Chris Taylor:         Well there’s a quote that gets passed around a lot that’s usually a tribute to Marcus Buckingham where it says that people don’t quit jobs, people quit managers and I think it’s totally true. I know it’s true and it’s just a good [Inaudible 0:10:18] but the other side of this conversation is true too where the reason people go above and beyond in a lot of cases to your point is because of that relationship with the managers and also with their peers.


Scott:                     Such a good point. So Chris, lets fast forward a little bit. You’re killing it as a direct sales leader, you have hundreds of people working for you and you leave all that to help pursue your passion of leadership and team culture development and start a company called Actionable Books that today, I mean you guys work with New York Times’ bestselling authors, you’ve summarized hundreds of books, you’re educating people all over the world, in fact in nine countries. Take me through the early days of that and how you were able to accomplish, how you were able to get to where you are today.


Chris Taylor:         This story may take a little bit of a twist from what you are expecting Scott right at the beginning. [Laughter] So yeah, things were going really well with the direct sales company, we were one of the top productivity offices in North America and as we covered earlier, I was 22 years old and I was making more money than all my friends combined and that success went straight to my head. I became fairly difficult to be around; I stopped doing all of the things that I had done right to grow the practice and started completely ignoring it and sort of bill payment and that sort of thing.


And what had taken about 14-16 months to build up, was pretty much decimated over the course of the following eight months as I became this cocky SOB that figured the world owed him something. So, I actually left, but I left on the bottom end, I didn’t leave on the top. I left the practice with my tail between my legs to curl up in my parents’ basement back on the other side of the country, licking my wounds and trying to figure out what the hell had happened to this empire that I had built. And so Actionable Books was really born out of a place of that and so I started reading a lot t 01o try to figure out what had happened and started to realize that maybe it was something that I did and not that the world had been mean to me.


And reading all these books I found that there’s a lot of great ideas in there but that nothing — my life was stagnating. I wasn’t really moving anything forward; I was consuming knowledge but I wasn’t putting anything into practice. And so, Actionable Books the website, which actually had a different name back then, was really born out of a personal mission of mine to actually put some of these ideas into practice. So, I committed in 2007 to read a book a week per year and not to just read a book but to actually take one idea from each book and put it into practice in my life. So, the theory was that if I could make 52 small, behavior or attitude changes over the course of a year, that I could effectively reinvent the way I was interacting with the world and really replace that not-so-pleasant guy that I had become. So, it started from a pretty dark place, Scott.


Scott:                     Wow, that is so inspiring and 52 books, that is a lot. I mean did you just spend all of your time reading it? I’m trying to — and maybe this is the genesis of Actionable Books because I can barely read one book a month and because it does take a lot of time. So, was there something in that process that ignited this idea for condensing these into easy-to-digest, quick, actionable summaries that people could take action on?


Chris Taylor:         Well, it was this idea, this concept that led me for the last seven or eight years which is ideas are only valuable when they are applied and so to think about — if you got a business problem or even a life challenge to first of all identify the book that’s been a best seller amongst the piles of books that are published each year. Find the right book and then actually take the time to go buy that book, read that book, think about that book and then put something into practice of that book. There’s a very small percentage of the population that actually gets through that process.


So, I mean I was doing it for myself, it was completely — it was on a self accountability blog originally this turned something for the people but it was really that. It was if we can jump start the process, if we can move through that sort of curve to the other side of ‘here’s the gem and how’re we going to put into practice’ then that could be helpful. For me, it’s a reminder and sort of thinking through that made it easier for me to commit to that change and for other people, well, if they read it and took something from it then, I think so much the better. So, yeah, everything that we did around that was really geared towards making it easier to apply the ideas.


Going back to your first question about reading the book, you know, there’s a lot of people that they talk about different ways to read and stay committed to the schedule for me personally it’s typically it like a longer bursts of time. I enjoy reading for three or four-hour stints but you know, people that are really busy and don’t have those three or four-hour pauses or haven’t sort of put this into their life, reading ten pages a day, covers a book a month and that’s 300 pages a month, which most business books are less than that. And ten pages will take you half hour maybe? So doing it in the morning or doing it when you first get home or doing it at lunch or whatever, it’s totally reasonable for someone to read a book a month certainly and a book on weekend, just multiply by four.


Scott:                     Sure, makes sense. Easy math. Let’s hone back in on the actual business building process. So, you’re reading these books, it sounds like you might have started a blog, when did this become a business?


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, it was a blog in 2007 and by early 2009, I had continued with it, I did it for two years so we had just about a hundred summaries on the site. And I had a number of friends who were leading teams particularly in the sales world who remembered what I had done or knew what I had done with these hour-long time-outs that I had had with my sales team and wanted to use my template for it. And so what I did was that I started taking some of the ideas that were inspired by these books that I was reading and started layering them into hour-long discussion guides and modules that team leaders could work through with their staff.


We just turned them into basic PDFs and threw them on a payroll and started charging people I knew a 100 bucks a month to access it. It turned into a business when I interviewed Seth Godin and some of your listeners may know Seth. He’s a fabulous human being and I had finished all of his books by late 2009 and I wanted to know what was going on in his head since. One of the things that I learnt and sort of seems obvious in retrospect is that the day a business book is published; the information in that book is typically upwards of two years old. I mean, there’s the writing process and then there’s the publishing process and I wanted to know what he was thinking about now and so I just reached out to him and asked him if he would be open to an interview and then fell off my chair when he said yes.


And so when I went down to New York and met with Seth and talked about what he had been thinking about since, a light bulb went off on me which was that a lot of things that I was teaching, if you will, in these workshop modules were things that were not being taught in the classroom and the skills and attitudes that successful teams were demonstrating in the 21st century were not things that we were taught in the classroom and there was a fundamental gap between what we learnt in our formal education system and what people really — the people on the leading edge of any industry were applying and the behaviors and the practices, there was a gap there.


So I left my job and I started focusing on teaching those skills and attitudes through this vehicle of Actionable workshops to anyone that was interested. And that was the business starting in 2009.


Scott:                     And were these in-person events that you were putting on, were these — you mentioned a hundred dollar payroll, can you get [Inaudible 0:18:10] here and talk about logistically exactly what that looked like?


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, for sure. So, what we created were 42 modules; the modules were designed to be completely self-sufficient. So, anybody who led a team of people could access the workshop that had a — it still has a training video which will teach them how to run a workshop effectively, the leader notes which are step by step guide for people that have never facilitated anything in their life. They could put this thing up; they could literally read them off the page and have an effective hour long session with the team. So, those are the two primary vehicles and since then we’ve added an accountability loop where basically after the workshop session, everybody who participated in that session which again was led by the local team leader.


So not us, but by the local team leader. They’ll be pinged via email to provide feedback on what the biggest takeaway was from the session, how they are planning on applying that and by when. And that accountability, that commitment to change is fed back to the leader on the dashboard that they have and then the leader — it enables the leader to have an intelligent one-on-one follow-up conversations with their team members to say ‘hey, I thought this was important to you, I saw you wanted to do this by this date, what can I do to help?’ And we talked earlier about the importance of strengthening those bonds between leader and team; this has been one of the simplest and yet most effective tools that we’ve seen at helping to strengthen those relationships and lead to a better working environment.


Scott:                     Makes total sense, and so you guys are just providing the tools in terms of content and software to all these people to have the most effective team as possible?


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, that’s right. I mean we learnt by sort of mid-2010, we realized that some really forward thinking leaders were comfortable grabbing this and running on their own. The vast majority of leaders wanted some sort of hands on support for it. So, we launched the Actionable Consulting Program in 2010 which was basically licensing business coaches and consultants to use our material in their own practice but also then to support those clients who were using their own tools.


So, the Actionable Consulting Program now basically becomes a really interesting tool for us and has rapidly become one of the most effective parts of our business where we partner with really high-quality coaches and consultants. They can use our content and they support our clients. And so our clients have, if they want, that hands-on support. So it is not entirely self-serve, it can be but most clients choose to have some sort of hands-on engagement.


Scott:                     Chris, I can imagine that there’s a lot of people that are trying to sell products to improve the effectiveness of the best coaches out there and coaches in general and it sounds like you guys have been able to crack that nut in a way here. Is there anything that you did when you presented your products or maybe even built in the product that you think kind of gave your product an edge when approaching these people?


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, it’s an unapologetic value stance and basically saying, ‘this is who we are and these and the people that get that we do and you’re either on this side of the line or that side of the line; and if you’re on that side of the line, no problem, but we’re not going to bend or compromise the program to grab a buck from somebody who kind of likes it but wants to tweak. [Inaudible 0:21:39] and we come from a very — there’s two sort of core tenets to our Actionable Consultant Program. One is the belief that there is value in business books and that it really needs to be pulled out and applied in the workforce and that through the act of that you can strengthen the relationships. And then sort of part B to that is that there is nothing more important in business than the relationship of the immediate working group.


So that’s piece number one and the piece number two is we only work with consultants that have the mission of getting in, making this big an impact as possible and getting out as fast as possible and that is my experience with consultants. There is a pretty clear divide there of consultants that are looking for effectively jobs but wanted on their sort of consultancy basis where they just want to stay there ongoing and it’s cool, there are places and times where that makes sense. The consultants that we want to work with are the ones who want to go and make an impact and get out and move on to the next one but leave the clients self-sufficient so they don’t need to rely on the consultant moving forward.


So, to answer your question more directly, it wasn’t so much what we did as the way in which we did it which is giving people flag to say, I either believe this or I don’t. And it has worked out so well for us so far from a caliber of person that we are attracting. It’s been amazing.


Scott:                     Chris, do you think that anybody can do that in business, take this fight-or-flight stance, you’re on my team or you’re not or do you think that you need to have some things in place besides just the conviction for that to be an effective strategy?


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, no question, I mean you have to have a viable product and I’m happy to go into the product in as much detail as possible. But I think that more and more and more were flooded with options. If you are looking for anything, there’s virtually infinite number of options of critical research. And just to be on the playing field, we have to have a competitive price and we have to have a competitive product. Actually I would say, we have to have an exceptional product and you have to have a very cost-effective price which is good.


 It sort of raises the bar to show a little professionalism but at that stage, there’s still a ton of options. And so we are naturally attracted to the brands and the organizations and the people that we feel see the world through a similar lens to us or share a certain value set. I mean this is the nature of most — that Seth Godin has worked for the last 15 years this is — Dan Payne has been talking about this, Sir Ken Robbins is talking about this; I mean this is sort of becoming the standard; you need to have more than just your product. And as an entrepreneur in particular, you need to have more than just the dollar signs attached to it because if you’re trying to sell something to everyone, you’ll just get watered down and drowned out by the competition.


Scott:                     Yeah, that makes total sense just having that direct appeal and one of the things that I think about and I don’t know where I read this but it was in some persuasion book that the most persuasive person in the room is the one that has the most conviction about what they believe. And that person is always going to win the argument, they are always going to convince the other person and ultimately, most people are looking to be led. So, picking your side and doubling down on it, it just makes so much sense why that could be so much effective.


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, and I think depending on what that line is, there is still a level of graciousness that can go a long way. Just because someone is not on our side doesn’t make them less a human being. [Laughter] It’s just making sure that we go about it with a certain level of professionalism or human courtesy but yeah, I really believe that. We get excited when we are connected to people that believe strongly in something that we believe even if we don’t think it necessary to articulate it before we met them. You know, there was something that I wanted to touch on which was that a lot of people want to be led and most people want to be led, that may very well be the case.


The people that I have really enjoyed collaborating with and working with are people that want to join the momentum of what we are doing but not for a second does not mean that they don’t want to lead in their own space. And I think the ones that are in a really neat place now where people can be involved in multiple projects at the same time and give 100% commitment to the various pieces during the time that they are focused on those things. What I mean by that is thinking about our consultant network, I mean our consultants are pretty staunch supporters of what Actionable stands for and does but Actionable doesn’t define them.


They have their own brand and their own network and their own clients and their own gigs and Actionable is something that they can connect with and sort of relate to and promote because they feel confident in it. But it doesn’t consume them. I think that’s an important differentiator is that the best relationships that I had ever had professionally and personally are ones where the person is committed to you and your movement but also has an exceptionally strong sense of self-identity as well.


Scott:                     It’s a great balance to strive for, no question. Chris, you touched briefly on Actionable interviews and you told me before this podcast that you’ve actually interviewed 46 New York Times bestselling authors. And these are some of the — probably the most busy people in the world and certainly have no shortage of people who want their time.


Chris Taylor:         Yes.


Scott:                     How did you get in front of these people and get them to commit to give you their time?


Chris Taylor:         I found a common interest, it’s the continuation of — I feel we got a really nice thing going on here Scott — with any author that I had reached out to, I had previously read, if not all of their books then, at least one or two. I had summarized that book and I had published a summary of that book on the site for free without asking for anything. And in the case of Seth, I mean I had done that for every one of his books, leading up to me asking for his time to continue to spread his message. And I think when we started talking a little bit beforehand about the increased explosion of podcasts and a lot of people — they run blogs in general and I think where people get tired is when they are being asked for their time when it’s pretty obvious that the purpose of that is because they are a big name and wanting to get their name on their show.


And when [Inaudible 0:28:14] Chuck I sat down, he was my second interview right after Seth and we talked about that — about how — of course yes, my site benefited from having Chuck on the show but that wasn’t why we agreed to it and that wasn’t even why I asked. I asked because I was genuinely interested in his content and what he wanted to say. And I think that’s what we need in terms of the passion and a sense of the commitment that comes across and [Inaudible 0:28:41] I think the same thing goes for reaching out to people.


If you are reaching out to someone purely for the purposes of adding their name to your roster, I think it loses something and maybe they sit through it and maybe they get asked every day by lots of people. But if you show that you have done your homework and you believe in what they are doing and you want to talk to them about that for the sake of the conversation or whatever the purpose is as much as the name, that for me, went a really long way with getting people on the show.


Scott:                     Yeah, the results speak for themselves and this actually reminds me of something in my own life. And I’ve done a ton of cold outreach and networking with people that again are super-busy and high-leverage and just have a ton of people trying to get a piece of their time. And kind of alluded to this is basically kind of identifying something different or unique that they are interested in and trying to connect with them on that. Because everyone else is trying to get their time for the obvious public facing thing yet few people — far less people are probably trying to get their time to maybe a particular personal interest they have.


And because of that, you can be a [Inaudible 0:30:00] and connect with them much faster and often at a much deeper level. And an example in my life that sticks out when I first move to New York City, I wanted to become friends with a lot of the venture capitalists because I knew that the venture capitalists knew all the entrepreneurs and they also knew which companies were hiring. And so there was a guy named Troy O’Donnell who now runs Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, he’s at First Round Capital. I wanted to get together with him, he seemed like the type of guy I wanted in my life and every single person was probably asking for coffee to talk about their business or just to talk in general.


And I found out he had a softball team that he played for fun. And instead of trying to connect from our business, I asked if he had any room on his softball team and ended up joining the team. And because of the relationship we built around this activity that far less people were trying to connect with him on, and I ended up actually getting the job of one of the portfolio companies which was pretty cool. So, I think you’re right when you say, any time you get a chance to connect with somebody on something that you generally feel excited about where it doesn’t look like you’re just trying to basically push yourself forward, it’s just so powerful.


Chris Taylor:         It’s the whole — I mean [Inaudible 0:31:27] they’re being — give generously but find a way to provide value for them and — so give generously and think long term. I mean ideally if you’re doing whatever, blogs, podcasts, show a product or whatever, is going to go where you want it to go. It’s going to go on for years or decades and so treat it accordingly. It doesn’t need to be — if you don’t get him in three weeks, then you leave because they’re going to see through that and it’s probably not something that you should be doing in the first place.


Scott:                     Absolutely, and Chris, right now you’re coming to us from Spain and we talked about [Inaudible 0:32:08] before your employees are all over the world; so you really kind of set up this business for yourself at this point where you can work wherever you want, you talked about moving to Panama next year. Tell me about how you were able to accomplish that because that is not an easy thing to do and maybe you can just focus on one or two things for people that are looking to basically set up this type of location-independent business for themselves; if they can really focus on during the early days to ensure that.


Chris Taylor:         Maybe it was a driving objective since the beginning, I wanted the business to be something that was [Inaudible 0:32:45] based, meaning I could sell the same thing over and over again and I wanted it to be something that allowed me to be geographically free. So, really clear on that from the very beginning and it allowed me to– when we started hiring employees, really focus on the quality of the individual and not where they were geographically located. So, since the beginning we have never had a physical office for the business. We had a core team of 9 now I guess, and the 28 consultants and then the 9:00 to 5:00 writers.


Everyone does that from wherever they choose to do it. So with the hiring process, it was hiring people that worked well independently, which of course they had to because they were working from home but it also allows me to be time-zone independent where — I have regular touch-points with my team with a really clear structure that I can [Inaudible 0:33:36] share but I don’t need to be watching them. I know it comes down to that whole treat people like human beings thing. If your friend tells you’re going to do something then unless you know that friend’s a fake, you’re going to trust that they’re going to do it.


And when it comes to team members, the way that I am able to run the business independently is because they don’t need to be managed. I can provide the leadership and the vision and I can provide support but I am not there to check in on them every day. Yeah, so that’s really been the objective is to be clear on what you want and then hire good people since the beginning.


Scott:                     Chris, it seems like it’s maybe not easy for everyone to hire people that are self-motivated, that don’t need somebody hovering over them all the time. I forget exactly how you phrase this but is there a way to identify the type of person or method or cast that you have used maybe in the hiring process to determine whether this person is a good fit to work in your business and in location-independent business?


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, I look to see what else they’ve started, so what have they done on their own. Do they have — have they tried their own business, do they have a blog, do they have a side-projects; because many of the initiative taken to start those things are things that are transferable into working independently. You need that spirit of somebody who once they have finished their to-do list or whatever, that they don’t just sit around or start watching whatever happens to be on TV and they actually have that curiosity and that creativity to start something new.


So, that’s piece number one and the other thing that’s going to be really interesting and this was not a model from the beginning but this is something that I have realized in hindsight is that every single person on the Actionable team does something else as well. Whether it is running a blog, or running a podcast or having an entirely separate business, they all do something else as well. And it’s really — I think there’s a mentality amongst business owners, particularly younger or earlier stage in the practice, where you have the sense of almost needing to own the employees, where this is all you do, and this is all you think about and there’s a risk that if you do anything else, then you’re going to realize — I think it comes from a place of sort of self-deputation where we are concerned that maybe if they see what else is out there, they are going to leave us.


And the mentality that I have sort of slid into over the last few years, comfortably is that employees are going to stay as long as it’s of value to them and a value to the company and they feel as though their contributions are being heard, understood and appreciated. And they will leave at some point. If someone is in a purely employee role, where they don’t have any sense of equity, the odds of them staying till the day they die are slim to none. And you need to be okay with that, you need to treat the people that we work with whether, again, whatever the hierarchy or the reporting structure is, as peers and as human beings who are responsible for themselves and not as children.


And when you give that trust and respect and expectation to them, to those people that have shown that initiative in the past, they really flourish in my experience. And everybody gets more of what they want out of the relationship.


Scott:                     It’s so good man, it’s so good and I think it’s just very interesting to me and maybe to people out there who are thinking about starting a business that you have actually done two things that sounds like it’s allowed you to kind of get an edge in building this business in that you’ve made sure to build your business in such a way that you hire the best people; not necessarily the people that are geographically close to where you decide to set up shop. And the second thing is that you hire people to have side-projects and maybe other interests instead of just solely focusing on the business and that’s almost a signal for initiative which makes total sense.


Chris Taylor:         And also makes them more fun to work with because they are not mono-focused, which is great.


Scott:                     Absolutely Chris, I kind of want to transition here into just a few other questions I have for you because again, I love the story, it’s inspiring, I’m motivated, I’m ready to go, but I would also love hearing about people’s lives away from the desk.


Chris Taylor:         Sure.


Scott:                     And it sounds like you’ve done some very cool things, had your ups and down, lived a very interesting life and I just wanted to know whether there was any particular things that you do away from the desk, maybe a habit or a practice that gives you an edge in your daily life?


Chris Taylor:         Great question, yeah, I find that the distance creates perspective. I try to put myself in new environments where I am being stimulated by other things and sort of immersed in either different cultures or just different experiences. When I was in Toronto for several years, it wasn’t necessarily leaving Canada as much it was — but we took a Barista class on how to make coffee. You got to try Ethiopian food for the first time or something different. I find that the constant push to explore new things and now you know we are moving in different countries and in different cultures, but it doesn’t have to be on that grandiose a scale.


I think people are not likely to do anything new because they don’t have a lot of extra money but can go to a new park and that costs you nothing. Or you can go walk through a fountain. I mean, it doesn’t have to be over the top cheesy but pretty much by putting myself in new situations, create new neural pathways or something in my brain where ideas flourish and then when I come back and [Inaudible 0:39:29] it’s my choice. I really enjoy what I do. And coming back to those 12-hour days, I am refreshed, I’m energized, I’m good to go and I’ve got a ton of more new ideas that I can’t wait to implement. So changing things up is my habit.


Scott:                     I love that and I think that as entrepreneurs what we all truly desire is to be in that state of creative spark for as long as we can be in it. And it sounds like for people that are looking to get more of that, this intentional pursuit of new environments and stimuli, might be one way to go about achieving that.


Chris Taylor:         It works for me.


Scott:                     That’s awesome man, and I just want to finish with the one question that I always like to finish with our guests; and that’s if there is one thing out there, that you could tell people to do in order to get an edge and create abundance for their lives, what would that be?


Chris Taylor:         It’s like continuing from the last point, more in the business context or life context, I find that regular periods of structured reflection and planning do amazing things for keeping you on track, for appreciating when things have — just checking in with different directions and just very quickly I’ll give you my structure. On a weekly basis, I spend an hour in a week, typically on a Friday morning, where I will review the past week and plan for the next week, looking at it in sort of a more granular detail, if there’s anything that I am missing here.


On a monthly basis, I will do a full day, now that I am here in Spain, I just go [Inaudible 0:41:11] but when I was in Toronto, I would go to different locations. I would turn off my phone and I would actually review activities from the past month and objectives that I had set for the past month and how I had done with matching with those and then looking forward for the next month. What objectives do I have for the next 30 days and what I need to accomplish and really keeping that list tight and short but checking in on — if I have 26 things on this list, am I a little more scattered than I would like to be or could I be more focused?


And then on a quarterly basis I would do an overnight and so do 48 hours and then on an annual basis, I would do three full days. And I go away somewhere totally alone and I usually will drink a really good bottle of wine one night, have a good steak and spend the rest of that time. In that, head out of the weeds, looking at what I have accomplished and taking pride in that and looking at the things that I didn’t accomplish and what I can learn from that and looking forward for a new period of time to say, ‘are we on track, what are we tracking to, is that still what we want and how do I adjust accordingly?’


I think that we are in such a busy time of human existence where we are rushing and constantly have something that we can be doing typically on that device in our pocket that, if we don’t consciously take the time to disconnect, you could spend entire lives being busy but not actually accomplishing what you want to.


Scott:                     Chris, that is such amazing advice and I couldn’t agree more and I think the way our brain operates is that we only — we focus on what questions we choose to ask ourselves and in order to make sure that we’re doing the right things and taking right actions, we have to be intentional about asking ourselves these questions and it sounds like you do a great job at that. Chris, if people want to learn more about you and Actionable Books what is the best place to go?


Chris Taylor:         Yeah, Actionable Books dot com would be a good start. Tons of free — almost everything we do is free on that particular for individuals. If anybody wants to connect with me personally, you can find my contact info there; just shoot me an email Chris at Actionable Books dot com.


Scott:                     Awesome, Chris, thank you so much for coming along today, I learnt a lot about you and about my life and what I need to do move my business forward, thanks for coming down man, it’s been awesome.


Chris Taylor:         Thank you; it’s been a pleasure, Scott.


[End of interview 0:43:38]


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2 comments, add to the conversation.

  1. Jason

    Wonderful episode, Scott.

    I love what Chris has put together.

    Chris, the only question/issue I had with his Actionable books business – has there ever been any issue with copyrights or any pushback from authors or publishers? I would think most think of it as additional promotion. Has anyone ever felt like you were “giving away” the gems of their books?

    Just curious.


  2. Chris Taylor

    Hi Jason, yes – we’ve had the odd author want something in exchange for the summaries we produce, but we simply remove those summaries/workshops from the site and focus on the vast majority who agree with you – this is a promotional opportunity for them, and in no way replaces buying the book. Instead, I like to think of Actionable as a “buffet” for people to try a bunch of different things, and then dive in deeper when they find something they like.

    Thankfully, the authors I respect the most are the ones who are most supportive of what we do. It’s a fun community.


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