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Alan Deutschman: An interview by Bob Morris

Alan Deutschman is the author of Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders, and one of America’s leading writers on change, leadership, and innovation. His earlier groundbreaking book, Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, debunks various myths and misconceptions about this crucial topic and reveals the surprising truths about what actually inspires and motivates real change. In a 21-year career as a business journalist, Deutschman has been the Silicon Valley correspondent for Fortune, a senior writer at GQ where he wrote the “Profit Motive” column, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair where he has co-authored the “New Establishment” power list for the past decade. Most recently, he was a senior writer for Fast Company. Deutschman has interviewed and profiled many of the most influential and innovative figures in global business, including Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates,’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sergey Brin, and Virgin’s Richard Branson, and he has studied the successful turnarounds and change efforts at companies such as Apple, IBM, and Yahoo. In addition to Change or Die, his other published books include The Second Coming of Steve Jobs and A Tale of Two Valleys: Wine, Wealth, and the Battle for the Good Life in Napa and Sonoma.

Morris: Before focusing on specific books, a few general questions. First, over the years, you have interviewed a number of high-performance CEOs. However different they may be in most other respects, what do all of them share in common?

Deutschman: The best corporate leaders have exceptional focus. They’re always acting to highlight, indeed exemplify the one or two qualities or strengths that are overwhelmingly important to their organizations—what I call “The Rule of One of Two.” Also, they have tremendous persistence, tenacity, resilience, and endurance.

Morris: In your opinion, why do most change initiatives fail?

Deutschman: Change efforts fail because the people who are trying to lead the initiatives rely on what I call the “Three Fs”: facts, fear, and force. First, they assume that people are “rational” and that they’ll change if given the facts—if they simply provided with accurate information about the situation. Unfortunately, that’s not how things usually work. People go into “denial”—they avoid thinking about the problem, or they deny that it’s a problem. So the change leaders then say to themselves, “Well, if people aren’t rational, then maybe they’re emotional, so let’s appeal to their emotional side, and the strongest emotion is fear. So let’s try to scare them into changing.” But fear is blocked by denial as well. Finally, then, the leaders stop trying to reason with their people at all and fall back on the authority of their position, which I call “force.” They say “Do it because I’m the boss and I said so. End of discussion” And sure enough people make a big show of “change” for a short time but then they revert to their old entrenched behavior.

Morris: According to recent Gallup research, only 29% of the U.S. workforce is positively engaged (i.e. loyal, enthusiastic, and productive) whereas 55% is passively disengaged. That is, they are going through the motions, doing only what they must, “mailing it in,” coasting, etc. As for the other 16%, they are “actively disengaged” in that they are doing whatever they can to undermine their employer’s efforts to succeed. What do you make of these statistics?

Deutschman: That sounds quite plausible to me. Of course, it varies a lot from company to company depending on whether or not there’s good leadership.

Morris: Looking back (let’s say) 12-15 years, what in your opinion has been the single most significant change in the U.S. workplace?

Deutschman: The mobile Internet. Now that so many people are reachable nearly all the time on handheld devices wherever they might be, managers and customers and clients have come to expect immediate access and attention, to be given answers very quickly, and that has greatly accelerated the pace and the pressures of the working life.

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Bob Morris is an independent management consultant based in Dallas who specializes in high-impact knowledge management and accelerated executive development. He has also reviewed more than 2,200 business books for Amazon’s US, UK, and Canadian websites. Each week, we will add to the Networlding Business Bookshelf abbreviated versions in which he discusses a few of his personal favorites. To contact him directly:

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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