How I Got Hired

128. Where are they now? Neil Bearden on Burnt Boats, Blowguns, Business & Moving back to USA after 14 years in Singapore

April 13, 2024
128. Where are they now? Neil Bearden on Burnt Boats, Blowguns, Business & Moving back to USA after 14 years in Singapore
How I Got Hired
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How I Got Hired
128. Where are they now? Neil Bearden on Burnt Boats, Blowguns, Business & Moving back to USA after 14 years in Singapore
Apr 13, 2024

Today’s episode is part of my series ‘Where are they now’ to check up on how some of my past guests are getting on and how sometimes the best laid plans can go differently.

Neil Bearden was a guest on the show back in Nov 2020 on episode 4  titled ‘The True Power of your story’ and if you haven’t listented to it yet, I highly recommend you do, because it is the most downloaded episode. Neil shared his unusual career story that led him to become a tenured professor at one of the world’s leading business schools and then simultaneously starting his own company. Since then, he left that tenured role, moved continents from living in Singapore to building a house in the woods in North Carolina and going full in with his business. And today we’re going to talk about how this journey has been. 

In this episode, among many cool things, we talk about: 

- 2021 and taking that proverbial leap. As a former professor of Decision Sciences, how did Neil make that decision. Rational, pro con list, or with gut and feeling?

 - State of Neil's business. Did clients come beating down his door and threw their credit card at him? Expectation vs reality

 - Who is Neil's client niche and his favourite kind of clients? How does he know they’re going to be successful?

 - How does Neil get noticed?

Catch my past episode with Neil here.

Follow Neil on LinkedIn:
Neil's website:
Plot Wolf the podcast

Liked this episode? A few things:

1. Share the podcast with three of your closest friends! And please leave a great review on Apple Podcasts here or Spotify here (tap on the three-dot menu under the cover art of the podcast) , as it would mean a lot to me and hopefully help others discover it.

 2. You will love my emails called Charge-Up! I send them every few weeks, they're no fluff no spam, where I share my favourite career insights from movies, TV shows, news and my own personal experiences, that I don't share anywhere else. Make sure you sign up here!  

3. Come hang out with me LIVE on LinkedIn and Youtube every Friday at 2 pm CET where I answer your questions and often bring in fab guests:



4. Share your favourite takeaways and tag me on your Instagram and LinkedIn

Show Notes Transcript

Today’s episode is part of my series ‘Where are they now’ to check up on how some of my past guests are getting on and how sometimes the best laid plans can go differently.

Neil Bearden was a guest on the show back in Nov 2020 on episode 4  titled ‘The True Power of your story’ and if you haven’t listented to it yet, I highly recommend you do, because it is the most downloaded episode. Neil shared his unusual career story that led him to become a tenured professor at one of the world’s leading business schools and then simultaneously starting his own company. Since then, he left that tenured role, moved continents from living in Singapore to building a house in the woods in North Carolina and going full in with his business. And today we’re going to talk about how this journey has been. 

In this episode, among many cool things, we talk about: 

- 2021 and taking that proverbial leap. As a former professor of Decision Sciences, how did Neil make that decision. Rational, pro con list, or with gut and feeling?

 - State of Neil's business. Did clients come beating down his door and threw their credit card at him? Expectation vs reality

 - Who is Neil's client niche and his favourite kind of clients? How does he know they’re going to be successful?

 - How does Neil get noticed?

Catch my past episode with Neil here.

Follow Neil on LinkedIn:
Neil's website:
Plot Wolf the podcast

Liked this episode? A few things:

1. Share the podcast with three of your closest friends! And please leave a great review on Apple Podcasts here or Spotify here (tap on the three-dot menu under the cover art of the podcast) , as it would mean a lot to me and hopefully help others discover it.

 2. You will love my emails called Charge-Up! I send them every few weeks, they're no fluff no spam, where I share my favourite career insights from movies, TV shows, news and my own personal experiences, that I don't share anywhere else. Make sure you sign up here!  

3. Come hang out with me LIVE on LinkedIn and Youtube every Friday at 2 pm CET where I answer your questions and often bring in fab guests:



4. Share your favourite takeaways and tag me on your Instagram and LinkedIn

  Hey, welcome back. Welcome back. Today's episode is part of my series. Where are they now? To check up on how some of my past guests are doing and how sometimes some of the best laid plans can go differently. Neil Bearden was a guest on the show back in November 2020. on episode four,  titled the true power of your story.

And just for context, at the time of this recording, I am sitting now at episode 127. So yes, it's been a while. And if you haven't listened to that episode yet, I highly, highly recommend you do not just because it's a fantastic podcast. Um, you know, show to listen to episode to listen to at that time. But also it is my most downloaded episode of all time.

No, no lie right here. And I think one of the reasons for that was Neil shared a very unusual career story that led him to become a tenured professor at one of the world's leading business schools. And then at the same time, he started his own little venture. Since then,  so this is where we need to catch up.

He has left that tenured role, which I'm sure his friends thought, yeah, maybe he was a little bit,  yeah, nutty or what a risky move. We're going to talk about that. And since then he's moved not countries, but continents from living in Singapore to building. A house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and going full in with his business.

He's burnt those boats. And today we are going to talk about how this journey has been. The peaks, the valleys, everything. Neil, welcome back to the show.  

Thank you very much. 

Okay, fantastic. Neil, let's get straight into it. Talk to us about 2021, because last time we spoke it was autumn 2020, and this is about three years ago now.

You took that proverbial leap.  So as a former professor, as a former professor of, you know, all of these cool things you did, including decision sciences, talk to us about how you made that decision. Was it like rational, broke on list,  or did you go with your gut  and feeling?  

We had just bought  about Nine months before  an apartment in Singapore, actually that  could oversee the NCA campus, I could see that on my window. 

So we, we had the 13th and 14th floor of this wonderful apartment overlooking these trees and see it in the distance.  We completely renovated the apartment,  financial costs, frustration costs,  friction with the wife cost, all the stuff that co occurs with renovation.  And we thought we were going to be there for a long time.

Otherwise we wouldn't have bought it and all that work.  And I'm standing  at the kitchen sink, pouring a glass of water.  And I looked at my wife who's sitting on the sofa and I said, I'm going to quit my job.  And she said, okay.  And that was, I'm standing there in the renovated kitchen and I realized, and it was very easy  because I was just bored. 

And you talk about career and that's the context of this whole conversation. And I suppose that that is.  Not a misleading characterization of what I was doing,  but to me, when I, and I don't know if I experienced it this way at the time, I could be imposing structure on the past, which is what we do when we remember,  but it just felt like the next,  at that moment, it was just the next hobby that I got bored of. 

I'm this serial hobbyist and I get completely obsessed. If you wanted to know my hobbies, you could just go into my Amazon history.  And just look for a concentration in this period of time, he bought a thousand books on drawing eyeballs in this period of time. He bought 5, 000 books on drumming and you can just go back and there's this archeology of my obsessions. 

And they start out strong and then they run their course.  And when I was pouring that glass of water, just, I realized that one's over.  I like what I was doing and it was a good career is wonderful. Great career.  But when I get bored of things, I can just no longer persist. It's a pathology that I have. 

When I  came back to the U S I became completely obsessed. I started making, 

they can't see this, but you can see this.  I started making blow guns, you know, you stick a dart in it and  this kind of thing. Yeah. And I made like 500 of these mouthpieces  is because I had  a pest problem. And so I wanted to make something that was silent in my neighborhood, or I could take out little critters. 

So I made these blow guns. And then I started carving wood and I started learning about wood waxes and oil and I would carve it and I would put tongue oil on it so that it would be waterproofed.  And then  I stopped making them. So I made, I don't know, 500 of these mouthpieces, a whole bunch of blowguns, mailed them to my friends,  and I would dream of blowguns and it was nothing, I couldn't think of anything else.

I'm on YouTube watching woodworking videos. of dudes in  West Virginia  putting oil on boats they built themselves.  And I realized I need oil to put on my mouthpieces because when you blow it gets wet. And I just got completely obsessed.  And now I haven't made one in a year because it ended.  And so it was,  it wasn't, it wasn't a big decision.

It wasn't,  taking any kind of big risk. I think like when I stopped making blowguns, it's not a big risk. I just move on to the next thing. 

But, but that  standing at that sink in that fancy renovated kitchen,  it must have felt like a big decision. And yet there's something poignant here. You said it felt easy, right?

It didn't feel like a big deal. And you, you said that you told your wife and she said, Oh, it's Okay. I'm sure she said a few more words than that, but, um, I want to just rewind there for a second, Nick, uh, Neil, because this is so, you've called me 

Nick twice. What's going on with that? I'm 

so sorry. I don't 

mind, but I want to investigate that.

What's up with Nick? Who's this Nick character? 

It's a friend of mine, but that's not your name. I want to know, how do you know?  How do you know?  Maybe someone who's listening today, they're like, I might be in that situation. How do you know  you're bored? Like, it just like clear to you or there's some signs. 

There's an old idea in psychologists  developed by a social psychologist named Daryl Bim.  And at the time, I think this was late fifties, early sixties. I don't know exactly.  There was a big interest in attitudes.  How can we know someone's attitudes? 


BIM famously came up, if you ever took an intro psych class, you might have seen this  self perception theory. 

And his idea, this was influenced by  Watson, Skinner, that whole crowd of behaviorism, which is if you want to understand something, you just look at its actions.  And so Bim said, if you want to know someone else's attitudes or your own attitudes, don't say, how do you feel about climate change?  Go look at what's in their trash and their recycle bin.

Look how often they fly. Look at what they drive. Look at all of that. 

Actions speak louder than words. The rest of it is 

cheap talk. It's bullshit. 


And so your question is,  how do I know I was bored? I just look  like I'm I don't have the enthusiasm that I had before. Yeah, I don't remember the students names anymore.

I used to love them.  And now I don't remember their names. I don't know if that person was in my class or not a month ago.  Okay. Yeah.  Then the enthusiasm isn't there anymore. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So anyone who is lying to themselves out there about whatever it is, just look, just look at your behavior. Yeah. If you're not performing to your absolute potential,  just look at it.

Are you? And if you're not, that tells you something.  The motivation is not sufficiently strong.  And if the motivation isn't sufficiently strong  and a consequence of that is some sort of  general drop in enthusiasm for  the job  or life more generally,  then is it a big cost  to transition, to change? Really, when you just look at the opportunity costs, you need to do that counterfactual. 

And I think people play up the risk, but when you look at the real costs and not just  the dollars and the stability, but on the lived experience on your life, as you experience it each day, just look at your actions, just observe yourself and you will see. Are things  optimized for me right now or not? 

Because if they're optimized for you, it's, it's going to show up in your behavior.  You're going to be enthusiastic. Yes. 

Yes. Yes. Behavior doesn't lie. Words do. Words lie every day. Um, so, um, I totally understand that. 

I didn't need to make a note to myself because I never did that BIM stuff.  I'm always looking for material.

I like that. 

Yeah, yeah, good, good. How do you, how do you spell his last name? 

Bim, B E M. Okay. It's like a Dr. Seuss character. 

Okay, got it, got it. Bim bam 

boom and bim bops boom. 

So here you are, fancy renovated apartment. You sold it, I guess. It wasn't, um, it didn't, you know. I sold it before the property 

prices in Singapore tripled.

Bim bam boom and bim bops boom.  Oh, 

man. Oh, come on.  

It's okay. It doesn't matter, but  

And someone is listening like that, that sounds great. You know, he wanted to do this and he did it. And you spend six months making blow guns and doing woodwork. Uh, and this person listening is like, that sounds great. But were you like, were you taking care?

Were you, were you looking at your savings, your financial savings? What was the cushion? Like, let's come, let's, let's talk about that because. You know, at the end of the day, yeah, we need to support ourselves or had you already started like finding clients and voicing, talk to us about that.  

No, and, and that's important to be fair that  I'm cushioned.

And so  I'm cushioned.  


So, yeah. So, and I want to be very clear, whatever I say  is in no way prescriptive to anyone else about specific actions.  Right. I, I don't want to seem deaf to that. 

Yeah,  no, I, I totally understand that.  Uh, and talk to us about like the business side of things, also your mindset, right, going from a professorship where you are in employment, you get a salary and then putting on this entrepreneur hat, right?

Um, we would like to think when we make that leap that clients are going to come beating down our door. And they're just going to throw their credit card at us and say, Hey, how can I work with you? I want to work with you. So there's that expectation. Then there's a reality. It may not be, it may not have been your expecting expectation specifically, but Neil talked to us about how that shift went because we're talking about an identity shift, right?

And then how did you, uh, find your footing? 

I did very little work for the first  Year and a half or two. I even terrified my wife early on. I said, I think I'm just gonna call this retirement.  And she like, like with a glass of water, said, okay, but  , 

it's what She didn't say that it's, it's what she didn't say. 

It's what she didn't say. And I, and I, half minute half didn't mean it,  but for the first couple years I was writing poetry and making blow guns and just being a  complete weirdo, I guess, looked at the most traditional points of view.


No, buts just, just descriptively,  I can see it that way.  And then I decided I would start doing more things and a big challenge there is figuring out what,  and I tried doing  something like a course.  When I do things, there are  two things that I'm interested in  and that  can create revenue.  One is more of the  self help.

How do you want to live your life?  Class of.  Considerations that people like to work through.  And I was doing that at INSEAD and my MBA class, MBA class.  That's what I thought about for a long time  and people like that. And there's a business there. I've done stuff with that. And they have another thing that I do,  which is  where my  genuine talent, I think lies. 

Ironically, to some extent, given how long it's taking me to say this for inpatient audiences  is helping people explain things. So I have another business. It's a storytelling business. And that's much more interesting because there are a lot of people doing self help stuff. Ain't nobody doing what I'm doing when I'm helping people communicate where they're trying to communicate.

Nobody. Really? So, yeah, I'm telling you ain't nobody doing it the way I'm doing it. 

The way 

I had this other business  and I did some stuff with it, sort of running courses, had a bunch of former students, people I didn't know, a lot of NCEAD people.  And I liked it. And I may return to a kind of business like that because I love having those conversations about what's really motivating you and moving you and where you're trying to get to. 

And helping people think through that  in a very systematic, non bullshit way.  That's my special sauce there. No motivational quotes, no thin bullshit, no citing some research that can't be replicated. That's just a bunch of garbage that was sold to the public, but just using just rigorous, systematic, rational thought to think about how to live life.

I like doing that. I've done that. The problem that I found with that and doing it  is you kind of need big groups and I don't like managing and  emailing a bunch of people and just management. So  I did some of that along the way, may do some of that again because I really love it, but what keeps me busy, what I like to do  is just helping someone be more interesting, helping someone articulate what  his business is about, why it should be invested in, bought, whatever. 

And that, that's how I spend my time now. Yeah. Yeah. I like that. That just kind of happened. So it definitely ain't easy.  And a problem I've had is people didn't know I was doing it, doing anything like that. They're just like, here's a guy who posts some weird stuff on LinkedIn, but people didn't know I was doing it.

And then I started doing it with some people and then  what was challenging at first, because I wasn't trying to do it and which was slow for a while,  became easy when other folks could recommend folks to me. Yes. And then that made it easy. And I went from  the self help kind of stuff to make that interesting.

You need, I don't know, a hundred people.  To make this interesting, at any one time I need  five people.  And so that's become easier because I don't have to rely on a bunch of people coming in. And now the more people I work with, the more people I help, hopefully the more people hear something like this, know what I'm doing.


The easier that becomes, and that's kind of on a flywheel right now. 

Word of mouth, absolutely. Um, and, uh, I like how you've made that distinction between, you know, the first one, which sounds like, I, I hate to say this, but, and I know you'll find, you probably will cringe when I say this, but that sort of life coaching sort of route, where it's so crowded, I couldn't use 

that without, yeah, without cringing.

So I know  for sure. And 

then this, um, storytelling one. So I want to stay here with the storytelling one, because  if you Google like storytelling coaches.  There is a dime a dozen, right? And someone who's, who's doing this sort of work or wants to do this sort of work, one of the things that they will be thinking a lot about is how to stand out  from the crowd. 

And other than people who know you, right? Because they know you, they trust you, and they'll be happy to work with you, but new people, right? How did you work towards differentiation,  

Neil?  Yep. I don't try to, so I don't, I don't try to persuade anyone.  I don't, I don't try to sell  not particularly trying to differentiate. 

I want people to know because I've discovered that if someone comes in and doesn't need to be influenced, persuaded, told,  made claims to that things are a certain way. If they just come in with some orientation of what it's about, they're easy. If they need to be sold to, and they want to negotiate and bicker, it's hopeless.

Go somewhere else. Go, go to one of these other folks.  So I think the people who  I would like to attract,  who seem to come my way,  are  people who realize the stakes are high  for me, for my business.  I'm intelligent. I have something to say,  but  I know that I'm not saying it as effectively as I could. I need to explain the business better.

I need to explain myself better.  And  I don't want to look like some clown  doing theater. So I don't, I don't need to go take acting or improv or standup. That's not what I need.  What I need is someone to help me  take this complex thing, articulate it into an explanation that is interesting, accurate, compelling, that creates the right conversations that in turn Lead to the decisions and the outcomes that I want. 

And the people I like see that, okay, what he's implicitly, roughly just sketched out there is a model of what needs to happen.  And then when you insert in that model, a model of the  agents, the people, the humans, what  Who need to understand what it is that you're trying to say in order to act the way you need someone to act for you to get what you want. 

You need to see that model of what needs to happen. You need to understand the minds of the people to whom you're going to be speaking, communicating,  and then you need to engineer a message that gives them the understanding of what you're doing that they need in order to take the actions that you want so that you get what you want. 

End.  I think the differentiator, I don't, I don't pitch it this way. I just want it to be implicit. I hope someone, you know, 1 percent of the people listening to this will understand what I'm saying right now and that you're that fit, is that  there's the thin, create emotional connections, try to give a mini TED talk  approach.

That ain't me.  And then there's, let's look at this like mathematics, systematically, let's understand this from a cognitive science perspective, in a systematic structured way, what we're trying to do, and let's take that problem seriously, and then let's do what we need to do in order to achieve our objectives, the same way we think when we're thinking about financial statements, evaluating businesses, all of that, let's take that same analytic rigor, let's take that same analytic rigor.

And trying to figure out, is the company good  and say the same thing to ourselves?  About what we're trying to communicate and how we're trying to communicate it.  And if it's not optimized,  and if it's leaving a lot of cash on the table, the way we're saying things, because it's not having the impact that we want, let's tune it now to tune it, we need to understand minds.

There's a lot that we need to understand.  And  that appeals to a certain personality. And that's the kind of personality I work with.  And it doesn't appeal to other personalities and it's good. It just works out fine, 

which is fine. Attracting and repelling, right? We need to be, I think that magnetic thing is so important and reminds about 1%. 

Yes. 1%. So you're, you're, you're, you're repelling 99%, but that 1 percent is gold then.  

Um, cause the wow. Yep. 

Yeah. Yeah. Because the, 

because  they understand it's not.  It's not a small thing. Look at what's at stake,  right? 200 million,  a billion dollars, whatever it is, like a lot is at stake.  And so why leave this to chance? 


Right. If you're going to play in a golf tournament and you have an opportunity, you don't.  Are you just going to wing it or would you like some tips from someone who can fix it for you? 

A pro. No, um, I, I love this because I think there's so many kinds and abundance, right? Abundance mindset. We need all kinds.

There's those who go and teach you how to be, you know, emoting on stage, that TED talk style, like you said, uh, work with the emotion side. I think that we're, I mean, if it works great, then I think that's your secret sauce, right? That the, the, um, what you bring to the table. I love how you've combined everything that you did during your time as a professor, um, combining it with, uh, emoting, communicating with an auditorium, a hundred, 200 guests, um, uh, students, um, with the rational brain. 

That's your secret sauce because you're saying ain't nobody doing it this way. And that's, um, not a crowded, so it's more a blue ocean, um, you know, strategy.  

I think so. I mean, maybe that's a very self serving assessment of it,  but as far as I can tell, that's true and it's just, it's a difference in, in, in aesthetics,  a difference in  epistemology.

I I'm a very,  I don't know my, my wife, I don't know if I'm not joking about this. But my wife sometimes says. I tell her, I think I'm somewhere on the spectrum, the so called spectrum. And my wife says, you know, I I've known that for a long time and I think it's true. And  they're just, there are a lot of people like me who just  want to be serious. 

And a subset of those realize actually we can pursue in a serious way, very serious ends creatively.  That is, we can find a way, a colorful metaphor. We don't need to be boring.  Our analysis of the situation can be cold and boring. But when we're trying to execute in order to get what we want, it might require being  quite different, non boring, saying things in a different way. 

And  I think if you have this kind of impersonal assessment of just the complexity that's involved,  it allows a lot of people,  once they see the structure and understand it,  license that they wouldn't have to be more effective. Because they're surrounded by boring, they just primarily on a day to day basis witness boring  or  kind of cringy attempts.

Yeah. At little mini TED Talks at the beginning of something with the image that someone spent a lot of time trying to find. 

Yeah, because it might go viral, the like factor versus, uh, yeah, no, I, I totally hear that because I remember you talking to, uh, when we talked last time in our last conversation, you said, um, people say it's a bit risky the way you're doing it, Neil.

It's not good. And you said, what's risky? Is being like everyone else,  is that a risk you're willing to take because you want to be memorable,  right? Um, and the delivery of whatever it is you want to share.  

I, I agree with that  still. I think that's true, but I want to add to that because if we just look at that,  I'm going to be slightly at odds with not at odds, but compliment what I was just saying from  a utilitarian point of view.

Yes.  Right. You don't want to stand out for those reasons.  But just for your own character, I mean, do you, do you want to be  imprisoned by these  boring norms,  right? Just these  aesthetically vulgar, gross, disgusting,  corporate, boring norms.  Or the permissible  cuteness  that we all sort of  politely giggle to and nod at,  but we know is just, again, just some bad acting, some performance. 

Or we can do that, or we can strip all that away and say, okay,  what is a story?  You want to tell a story to make what you're saying better? Well, a story essentially is  a, a mental model of something. Of a set of events of a thing. I'm going to stretch the word story pretty broadly  and that what we need to do when we design it.

Let's not wing it and try to be cute. Let's not wing it and just come up with some graphic that we think. Is nice and will resonate with the audience, but say, what is the understanding this audience needs to have  in order for them  correctly appreciate what it is that I'm doing what I'm saying? What do they need to understand?

So that they act in the right way. And then when you, and I'm repeating myself, but there's something I don't want to get lost here, which is you're trying to kind of install a piece of software. In your audience when you're trying to explain something when you're using a story, a metaphor, whatever,  and  people are surrounded by make a claim objects in a boring way.

And I think they don't optimize because they fail to appreciate  how truly  sophisticated and complicated the challenges that they face when  they're communicating about things.  And it's, it's that little bit about installing that piece of software, and that's what we're trying to do.  

Installing a piece of software in that person's brain.

This is probably the most unique description I've heard for storytelling. Um,  let's stay here for a minute, Neil. Your favorite, favorite, favorite.  bits of advice that you have seen,  whether you're working with a client who's looking at exiting their business or, you know, getting their series A, series B, whatever.

It's, it's a, it's a lot at stake.  Um,  what are your favorite Because I know, you know, you have a lot of tips to share and then people who want to learn more should definitely work with you. But give us a little bit of a tea, you know, give us a little bit of a teaser here  where you are seeing some classic mistakes again and again. 

And you have certain strategies, certain tips that work again and again, like almost like you said at the beginning, it's like this formula, right? You need to know just enough to be dangerous. You need to know just enough to know which rules to break, but the formula. is there. Share with us about, you know, talk to us more about that. 

So there, there are things that people can do, but there are obstacles. So there are two things I hear on what you're asking about, at least.  two paths I could pursue.  One is what are the  obstacles and that's a big problem for a lot of people. 


And another is once you commit to  jumping over those obstacles, what do you do?

Yes. A and B. Correct. Correct.  So I think we've discussed one obstacle and it's just departing from these norms and  people can just reason themselves to the irrefutable conclusion that they shouldn't be doing the normal stuff. And here's one approach to doing that. Just say, okay, it's kind of this Kantian reciprocity kind of way of thinking about what you're saying.

If you were hearing this, if you were hearing what you're telling me right now,  would you be interested in it?  Would you sit through five minutes of this background, blah, blah, blah, that you're giving?  Or would you be looking in your phone or twitching to look at your phone?  Oh yeah, but this is important.

Okay. Just understand that, you know, this stuff bores you, you know, this wouldn't work on you. Don't do anything that wouldn't work on you. It's just kind of the golden rule.  And a lot of people are reluctant to do that  because they're caught up in themselves.  But more importantly, I think they think they need to follow some particular  formula script because they've seen so many others do it, even though they know they hate it.

They think if, but I got to do that thing,  but that thing don't work that well, you know, that, so that's one thing. But once they agree to do things differently, however it is, 

I think one of the most useful things anyone can think about is just  look ahead. Okay. All the way at the end. Is your strategic objective, whatever it is that you're trying to achieve by  waving your arms around, showing pictures, speaking, whatever it is that you're doing to try to influence those minds, to get them to act in a particular way for what,  okay, to get the funding, to get the deal, there's something out there,  what needs to happen kind of  close to that decision being realized.

I mean, close in time.  And one of the  objectives you should have for yourself, it's very close to it.  Along that timeline of possibilities, the moment where you get what you want, is people talking about you.  There's going to be a committee, an IC, there's going to be a board meeting, there's going to be something  where people are going to get together and they're going to talk about  your company, your business, your terms, you, whatever,  before that decision is made.

That's going to be an input to it. And so right now, when you're communicating, you have an opportunity to influence that conversation when it takes place.  

And you're 

going to influence it by whoever you interact with, giving an understanding of you, your business, its potential, its possibilities,  but along with that, you're going to give them implicitly, this is kind of subversive, ultimately,  you're going to give them a kind of user manual for that understanding.

You'll give them terms, phrases, concepts, metaphors.  If you reinforce them enough times and they're effective enough, then when those people who hear it, and perhaps even some second order people who hear it from the people from  you told it to  that if those phrases are repeated later on in that board meeting,  then that's going to move you closer to that.

So forget anything that you're going to say right now. I would say this to someone I'm working with, but let's look ahead.  To that investment committee meeting,  besides all the generic stuff, looks like a good deal. Price is fair. It looks pretty good to me. Oh yeah. I think it looks pretty good. Pretty strong. 

Generic thing. They could be talking about any company with those terms. You need them to say that's necessary,  but you want more than that.  And when they're talking about, what do you want them to say?  And the more clearly you can look ahead to that meeting and run a matrix simulation in your mind.  Of the people in that meeting.

How do you want those dynamics to play out? What do you want them to be saying?  And then work back from there.  What do I say now so that a month from now when this person I'm talking to is in a room of other people to whom I'm not speaking right now how do I want that conversation to look? So what do I need to give that person that's going to be repeated and so on? 

So you look out there and then you work back.  Okay. What's not going to work. You know, it's not going to work a bunch of generic,  blah, blah, blah, angle,  but now I have a target because now I realized what I need for them to say,  and it's more than just, it's good. It looks like a good deal. It needs to be more specific and the more specific I can imagine that conversation, the easier it is right now. 

So what  To anyone listening. Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That might not be particularly useful to you. And you know what? That's okay. 

Come pay me and I'll help you. I'm 

just,  no, it is useful. And, and, and I'm also going to say, so I heard software installation. I heard user manuals. Obviously there's a lot, there's a lot more that goes into this. Um, and I like how structured you are. In your thinking, and obviously it, it becomes, it crystallizes because every person's, you know, situation is different.

So it's very bespoke.  Um, I want to talk to you about Neil, like this sounds hard. Okay. Like the proverbial, you know, do you, do you tell people to practice like hundreds of hours till it's perfect? Do you know what I mean? I'm not saying we need to wing anything. Uh, I completely agree with you. Cause I work with clients on, you know, high stakes job interviews.

And I'm like, there is no way you're winging it. Like we got to go to the best level of preparation and enjoy the experience. Right. And detach from the outcome. It's not easy. Stoicism. We talked about stoicism last time. Now here.  Everything that you're saying,  there's no substitute for practice, I guess. I mean, do you have a formula like, okay, five times, 20 times, 50 times, because I know communication coaches will say, uh, they've done a delivery for, um, something which is like 50 or 80 times till they got it right, which honestly, you know, scares me, but also bores me, but I want to hear your point of view. 

That sounds,  that sounds awful to me. And that sounds like awful advice to me. But I don't know the context.  I'm going to make a distinction.  Okay.  Now, now that we've funneled down the audience, whoever's here right now, I'm talking to you right now. Cause you're, you're still here. Okay. So  

for being here.

You're the one I've been waiting on.  I mean that.  Okay. I'm answering your question.  You don't need to practice 80 times. You probably don't even need to practice five times. And here's why,  because whoever that communication  coach type  is selling that,  okay, is selling somehow the delivery largely. And I don't think the delivery matters. 

I think you can be not particularly articulate, not particularly charismatic. And I don't think that matters much at all. Okay. And I think allocating a lot of time to that is a mistake. And here's why here's a structure  this for the remaining listener,  the distinction between what I call, and I'm going to abuse these English terms, but you'll get the idea between syntax and semantics.

So syntax is kind of. Here it is. Plug something in here, plug something in there. It's, it's kind of this formula. Formula. No,  no, you, you got the formula. Now you got to practice, you got to practice. Now maybe you remove slide number seven. It doesn't matter if you have slide number seven or you don't have slide number seven.

That's not going to decide it.  What's going to decide it? Is the,  the substance, the value of the articulation of the idea itself. Are you saying what you're trying to say in an interesting way? And that's what I call the semantics. So the syntax is the structure, but you can have a structure and, but therefore there's all these kinds of storytelling things that people talk about  and you, I  kind of an asshole on that, but I, I look at a lot of what's plugged in there and I think that's not very good.

That sounds very sort of. Generic. Congratulations. You plugged it in. You put a verb where there was supposed to be a verb.  You spelled everything correctly, but I don't think it's interesting. So instead of worrying about delivering  some kind of simple standard thing, people should focus more. And this is the hard part because it's creative, messy, frustrating.

Actually, what am I trying to say? What is, what is a metaphor that really captures my product? And  a metaphor is, Nothing other than sort of a set of lenses that one can use to experience something.  What kind of metaphor can I use to characterize this?  Well,  I want it to be interesting, but the metaphor also needs to be a tool.

It needs to enable whoever it is that I'm communicating with  to ask the right questions, to see what I'm doing in the right way so that they take the decisions that I want them to make.  And coming up with the right metaphor, right, requires being a poet.  You need to think about words and their impact and the impact that you're trying to have psychologically on someone.

And I think. If the person who shouldn't be practicing 80 times gets the content right and learns to package it in a way that's interesting, it doesn't matter if you slur a few words. Like Joe Biden, or if you just absolutely nail it because you practice it eight times, although it'll probably sound  kind of Ted talkie then, because it'll be overly refined and it'll sound fake.

And that's never good.  So I think the people who say that you need to practice a lot,  maybe that's because we have a different understanding of things or they haven't seen what happens. When you get really good semantic content that is distinct and different and doesn't sound like all the other stuff  and that when people hear it. 

They stand around after  smoking their cigars when you leave the room and they're sitting at their mahogany tables and they're repeating amongst themselves, they're speaking within the metaphor that you gave them. And they don't even realize that they're speaking within the metaphor that you introduced that influenced their understanding  of what you need them to understand so that they take the decisions that you want. 

And so people, people,  you know, and this is like, I didn't, when you're in a business school, going back to the first part of the conversation. When you're in a business school and you got 50 students, you know what you have to teach? You have to teach syntax. Here's how to do it. Here's the formula.  And  I would see, I would do that. 

And I believe when I told him at my little structure,  but then I also know actually  with a lot of you, probably most of you, if I sat down and I was able to work with you to come up with the content, cause you're plugging in some content, but it ain't working as well as it could. If we struggled and we found the right content, you could have something incredibly powerful, but you can't do that when you have 50 people. 

And so.  I find it boring. I found it. I got bored with teaching the syntax, but now I can just work with a few people  and really help them find that semantic content and be creative. And that takes time. And that's a whole different thing. That's more of being an artist. And then once we figure out that content, we return to being scientists, engineers, and the way we understand the process that we're trying to influence. 

And so you need to have those together and that, that works better one on one. It's really hard to do that in a classroom, unfortunately. Correct, 

correct. I know it has to be customized. Okay. That's really cool. I like those two S words and I'm going to add two of my own. You said syntax. And semantics, right?

That's the, you, you bring them together and that's where the magic happens. So what I'm taking away from you, you know, correct me if I'm wrong here, Neil, you're saying that charisma and all of that stuff that people tell you, the delivery practice it 80 times, a hundred times, because it does sound rehearsed.

It does sound refined, but what you're saying is sometimes  maybe always substance. Always beat style,  yes or no? Uh 

uh  No. I mean, pardon me for being a little, go ahead, epistemic. Yeah. Yeah. I, I don't wanna be too pedantic,  but I, I, I hope I didn't say always. I'm just always very cautious and saying always.


Yeah. I was, I was being, I was being a bit provocative, but you're being Yeah. Hyperbolic 

and that, that's, that, that goes against the, that goes against my brain being hyperbolic in that way. I need to be pedantic.  I think that,  I'll put it this way.  My sense after talking to a whole lot of people is that people don't appreciate the value of the semantics and they overestimate the importance of this.

So we have syntax, semantics and style. That's actually a third part of it.  And  style is important and style can be kind of a force multiplier, but style is,  it's not necessary  in some cases, depending on how good it is, it can be sufficient for getting. Achieving certain objectives. I won't deny that, but the most important thing over which  everyone has control is the semantics. 

It's hard to be charismatic if you're just boring, right? Some people are just boring. You're just genetically boring. I'm sorry,  but that's cool because you just get good semantics and you rock it and you be you. 

Yeah.  Um,  it's good to know  style. Can I just rant a little bit? Go ahead. Go ahead. Yeah. Yeah. 

Cause I, you know, I was picking on someone being boring and just, you know, if you don't want to be performative and if you find  someone acting or appear to be acting  vulgar, and it just doesn't appeal to your character and your personality in your business setting, let's restrict it to that. I get it.

I'm with you,  but don't let that  be an obstacle in your own understanding to you actually improving. Cause there's some stuff you can do. You don't, you don't have to  perform it like a clown, but think in a sophisticated way about how you're trying to say what you're saying and understand that you're trying to influence understanding.

You're trying to slip that piece of software in so that people act in the right way.  And you can do all of that without the  The clown show and performance. And I tried to go away from story for a while, because I think people associate it with kind of BS.  And I see why, because I feel the same way those folks do about that stuff. 

But it, but it is a word I've returned to it because it's a word that people get.  But my message, which I want to start refining  is you can do that in a systematic, rigorous, analytic way. Without all the nonsense and performance.  

Correct,  correct.  No, I, I appreciate that very much. Um,  speaking, you know,  speaking of clients and, you know, Bespoke and all of the cool stuff you're doing. 

When we spoke last time and I, I said what's the hardest thing about  being a professor? Or, you know, the job that you were doing earlier, the previous career, you said dealing with difficult people.  Now, one of the best things about being self employed is you get to choose who you work with.  Who, who  or what does your dream client  look like? 

And what is your sort of sifting process?  You know, because you said you're attracting, yeah, but you're attracting maybe, you know, like you said, 99 percent  are not a fit. So talk to us about that selection and, and how that's working for you. So 

there's two things. There's, there's the, the person in the problem. So I like it. I,  I will only work with people who have a specific problem.  I'm not doing communication coaching. I'm going to help you be interesting, get more dates. I don't do that, but so I need to, what's the problem?  Because we can't do any, I mean, I can be a good conversation partner.

I can get on calls and entertain you and ask you how golf was yesterday. But unless we're trying to solve a specific problem, Yeah. This is going to be a waste of your resources and I'll probably get bored quickly, but if you have a problem we're trying to solve, I'm going to be dreaming about it. So I like it to be an interesting problem. 


I have one primary red flag that I look for.  And just the absence of the red flag is pretty much a green flag.  And the red flag is  When first talking about solutions to that problems,  are they, are they listening  and taking notes and, or are they already going, yeah, but no, wait, we need to, but, but are they objecting already? 

And if they're objecting already, like, I don't want to spend my  calls  trying to persuade you. That's not, don't come to me if I need to persuade you. Yes. Come to me. If you want to know what to say in the most compelling way possible, and we're going to come up with it and I'm going to help you do it. And it's not gonna be that difficult once we figure out what it is that you need to say. 

And, you know, that's why I don't work with French people. Because, right, because just, they can't.  You did, 

you did not, you did 

not just say that.  I can say that because,  I can say that because French people will laugh at that. That's why I like French people so much. Yeah, yeah, self deprecating, self deprecating humor.

Oddly, I probably work with more Dutch people than anyone. I don't know why I attract Dutch, it's weird.  So  that's what I look for and what I try to do, especially first time I have a call with someone  is  like give as much value as I can. Like sometimes I finish the call and I think, well, okay, I'm, I'm going to lose that business.

Cause I just told them what they need to know.  But, but that's a good test because if the person gets that and then they feel good about it and they want to keep working on it, that's good. And if they got what they needed, then I don't want to sign them up for three months if we're able to get it in one hour.

So that's okay.  And I, and I also just try to  be as human as possible, just immediately. There's no BS, there's no performance. I'm not trying to chew with my mouth closed, sit up straight. I'm going to be the same way I'm with you right now. The same way I would be with anyone who would show up.  And you feel immediately, is this working?

And when it does, it's reciprocal. When it doesn't, you know? And you both know? 

And you know, you know. Yes, yes, I agree. I agree. Um, I like the first point that you mentioned, the coachability part. That's very important. And, and, um, I, I think I do the same thing with, uh, the test with my clients, because if there's more defensiveness,  if there's more, this is what I've done and this is what I need to do.

Sure. The openness to learning. It's not, it's not easy because our ego does not like it.  Then maybe it's better to, yeah. figure it out, um, on your own. So you said openness to coaching, um,  then it's interesting that you attract that sort of Dutch frankness, um,  uh, completely sort of blunt,  um, quality that they are known for and they have the best intentions. 

It's working for you.  And  Neil, when you're working with them, particularly in the first few days, do you already have a sense of who's going to be successful in getting to their goals? 

No, I knew that in the call that either did or did not lead to those first three days you're talking about.  

And the discovery call, you can already see who's going to be successful. Do you have a good idea by then? 

Hey, I don't say this to people, but I'll say it here. 

I often don't work with people  and I  find diplomatic ways of saying it, but  if I don't think I can change the outcome,  I don't do it. And  so the answer to your question is I think it's pretty easy to pick that up early  and  one, it just seems immoral for me to be insensitive to that in my own decision making. 

And two, that just makes the work so much more difficult. But when you know that, okay, I'm with this person, we're going to progress towards the goal and we're going to get there  that's rewarding and that's not boring, but  yeah, so just  screening makes that a non issue. 

Yes.  Yes. No, I, I understand. Um, I understand about the immorality.

Um, I interviewed a guy who was a sales, um, leader on the podcast, Bob Berg, and he said, you know, the, the way of thinking about, oh, I can sell a comb  to a blind man. I can sell ice to an Eskimo. He said, that's not selling. He said, that's theft,  that morality aspect of it. So I was just thinking about that when you said, um, yeah, cause yeah, there's some things that are way more important  and amazing.

So how, because you know, it's interesting, Neil, you come and go on LinkedIn. You come, you make a bit of noise and then you disappear. You get bored and we do not want that, which, which is, which is fine sometimes because you have your blow gun and you have all the cool stuff to, to do.  And  you wrote something on LinkedIn today,  the tree that falls  in the forest.

Oh, sorry. I'm paraphrasing the, could you say that out loud for me, what you 



I don't know. That was a test. So I do little tests and I try them out and then 10 minutes later I delete them. I deleted that one. 

You did. Oh, shucks. No wonder I couldn't find it. Yeah, yeah. Um, the tree that falls in the woods is making noise, right?

If a tree 

falls in the woods and no one's there to hear it,  

It didn't happen. So, and it, there was a screenshot of your, you know, the, the analytics on LinkedIn. So for the moment, while we are recording this podcast, you are,  you know, being present. Do you need to show up? Do you need to get noticed? Or are you, do you have enough healthy business coming your way?

Because this is something that I think coaches  struggle with  social media. 

When I'm not active on LinkedIn,  I get  five leads a month.  When I'm active on LinkedIn, I get five leads a day. 

Moral of the story? 

Well, more,  one would have to say more actually,  because there's the quality of those leads.  

Cause I was going to say five leads a month. And then if you're doing that screening, right, most of them don't make it to the end to work. Yeah, it's a two sided 

market. Yeah. So it doesn't always work out. So  I don't, I don't know if there's any moral to it. 

I can't say this. We don't need to draw conclusions, but I can say  is, and can be, if used properly,  an incredibly powerful tool. 

Yes.  Yes.  

Why do I leave? The reason why I leave is because  it is also just.  A pathetically gross  misused and abuse  tool. 

I don't think LinkedIn  has. Or any social media has ever made me like another person more  usually, right? We start at neutral or wherever you are.  And probably if I witness you commenting or posting on social media, I'm just speaking in general.  It's just kind of a one way street. It never makes me like people more.

It's systematically makes me like people less.  And that platform is because it, it just so often just seems so disingenuous 


fake and phony.  

And braggy. Yeah. 

Yeah, you know, I'm a, I'm more comfortable with braggy, although I think it's this can be very distasteful, but I'm more comfortable with that  than phony. 

Cause if you're going to humble brag a truth, that's, that's okay. I get it. I understand that,  but  if you're going to be phony and fake, 

I don't know. It feels like the emperor has  no clothes. Like we kind of all see that  that ain't really helping. I think, yeah, 

no, I agree. I agree.  So talk to us about what's.  Up next for you, Neil, a little bird tells me, uh, there's some rumblings about a podcast and, and what else is happening? Like, talk to us about that. 

I'm going to do a podcast and the podcast, the ideas, I just really like having conversations with people. And so I'm going to have a podcast. I'm going to have good conversations with people. You're just going to record them, basically. I'm just going to record them because that's, that's my main thing. I, you know, I have calls every day and at the end of the call, I'm like, shit, I wish I'd recorded that because that was great.

That was great for me and this stranger that I never met before that. Yeah. Yeah. And I get an email from them later on, like that was the best conversation I've had a long time. I know, man, I didn't record it. I wish I'd recorded,  but it was just a conversation. Yeah. So, yeah.  Um, that's coming.  When can we, when 

can we, when can we expect that Neil?

And what are you going to call it?  

I'm just going to call it Plot Wolf. So I wasted a lot of time. Here's, here's a, another business tip. So this is  something I learned,  should I do the podcast about this? Should I do it about that? 

Hmm. What should I 

call it? Oh, the domain isn't available. I can't call it that.

I got 5, 000 domain names, which is just really procrastination. 


And then, you know, back to the syntax and semantics idea,  I just figure  there are people out there who would like to hear the conversations that I have with people.  I talk to these people I have the conversations with,  and they would like to hear those conversations.

And that, that's a big enough subset of people. So it doesn't matter what I call it, It doesn't matter what the focus is, right? I'm just going to launch it into the world and just call it Plot Wolf, which is my company name. 


And see where it goes. So that's one thing I'm doing.  I'm also a teacher right now.

My daughter's in first grade and we started homeschooling her this year. So my main job, actually, as I see it in my life, is being the teacher to my daughter, my seven year old daughter. 

I'm curious here, Neil, what made you decide to do the homeschooling route versus sending her to  a public school? 

Because I'm a complete tiger mom. 

That's, that's one. And another is my, my life is sufficiently flexible that  I don't want my kid to leave at eight in the morning and come back at four o'clock right now.  And I don't want to rely on and trust someone else to teach her.  Why did I have her except to spend time with her? And what better way to spend time with her  than discussing ideas and learning? 

So that's, that's why I'm doing it really to spend time with her. 

Okay. So you've got that going on. You've got the podcast, you've got your clients. When can we expect the podcast to be out?  

Probably June ish.  

Okay.  Okay.  And you've recorded a bunch of episodes already? 

No, I haven't recorded anything. I have a big list of people  and then I will record it. 

But my, my implicit goal that I give myself is this summer. Okay. It's, it seems to have enough  on the life cycle of obsessions.  It's, it's, it's in that ramped up points and so we're almost, yeah, it's way up there.  So June ish.  

June ish. Exciting. Looking forward to that. And for anyone who wants to learn more about you, I'm going to link your website plotwolf. 

com as well as your LinkedIn profile. By the time the episode goes live, I'm not sure you'll be  sharing whatever it is you're sharing, but. It doesn't matter. It's, it's still, um, I think it's fairly entertaining and educational at the same time, which is my favorite combination. Um, I stop 

because I start where I'm sorry to interrupt you.



I'll probably stop by the time this comes out. Cause I'll be like, I'm that dude now. Oh man, I became that dude.  

Yeah. It sounds like you go all in when you do one thing, you want to do it really well. And you want to remove any element of distraction. Is that fair?  

I can only do one thing at a time. 

It's a 


It doesn't have to be a pathology, right? I mean, it just shows the singular focus.  

So it's that spectrum thing. Really? It's just, uh, just, there's just one thing  and that's it. 

Spectrum thing. Have you, uh, are you thinking about getting tested? Uh, because you 

know, I don't see it in a, I'm not doing that as some medical characterization, but I think  my mind is just a mind that just has to just focus on me.

One thing, and just that thing is the only thing.  Yeah. I, I don't watch tv. I don't watch streaming. I don't do anything. My mind is just always focused on something  and I don't know if that's,  I don't think I need to talk to anyone about that. I think it's, it's how I got to where I am right now, and so I, I don't, yeah.

I don't wanna switch it off. 

No. It's working for you. Right? Why, why would you wanna switch it off? That's, that's really good. Neil, this has been such a pleasure and, uh.  Continue to wish you success with everything you're doing. Who knows? Maybe we'll talk again in three years and you're doing, you know,  God knows  what.

A circus.  Thank you so much for your time.  Thank you.  Hey, Sonal jumping in here. So actually what happened was True to his form, Neil was obsessing so much about this podcast. He went and recorded the very next day after we spoke, he went and recorded his first episode. So his podcast Plot Wolf is actually live and you can listen to it anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to today's show. If you loved it, please do leave me a review on Apple Podcasts.  I search high and low to bring you the very best guests. And I'm so proud to bring you their stories and game changing career lessons. The best compliment that you could ever give me is taking a screenshot of today's episode and sharing it with your LinkedIn network and tagging me at.

Sonal Behl, S O N A L B A H L. All right. I look forward to spending time together on the next episode of the How I Got Hired podcast. Take care of yourself and bye for now.