Open Your World, Walk Towards Wisdom  – An Interview with Dr. Ken Blanchard

Open Your World, Walk Towards Wisdom – An Interview with Dr. Ken Blanchard

By Steve Kayser

This is the final in a series of articles from an interview with Dr. Ken Blanchard about his newest book, “Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life.

GROW is an acronym and a strategy for business and life.

“G” stands for “gaining knowledge.””

“R” for “reaching out to others.”

“O” for opening your world.”

“W” for “walk towards wisdom.


Steve Kayser:  The “O” in GROW,  stands forOpening your world.” Three simple words, but big implications. What does it mean?

 Ken Blanchard: It’s looking for new opportunities to learn. Both on and off of work.  For example, at work, have you ever thought about;

  • Shadowing somebody from another department?
  • Volunteering to run a social activity for the company?
  • Creating opportunities for you to constantly learn, to look for mentors, to find people that can just expand your world?


Steve Kayser: I tried shadowing somebody at work once. Someone I hoped would be my mentor, the Treasurer of our company. He called security on me.

Ken Blanchard:  Ha-ha, He thought you were after the money! Opening your world means you’re always looking for ways to grow in your own position by opening your world where you work.

Outside the office, you ought to travel quite a bit so you can learn from that. New perspectives, new people. Maybe even learn a new language. In our company, we have everybody have one goal per year. If they accomplish it, they will have something new on their resume that they didn’t have the year before.


You want to constantly stretch yourself and open your world to new learning opportunities.

Steve Kayser: I’ll throw a curveball at you … why? (After a pregnant pause, I suspect Dr. Blanchard has never been grilled by a sleuth like me.)

Ken Blanchard:  Because, you can get so busy and focused on what you are doing that all of a sudden you wake up one day and find you’re behind. You grow stale. Your usefulness at work declines. Not a good place to head.


Steve Kayser: The “W” in GROW stands for “Walk Towards Wisdom.”  My favorite part of the book actually. But, there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is fruit. Wisdom is knowing it shouldn’t be in my fruit salad.

When you say, “Walk Toward Wisdom,” what do you mean? Wisdom is often only attributed to gurus, saints and sages.

Ken Blanchard: Wisdom as we define it is;

 WISDOM:  The application of kind of accumulated knowledge and experience.

It’s one thing to know something but if it can’t impact what you do, it’s not really wisdom.

Contrary to what you might think, wisdom has little to do with age, because we’ve all known younger people who might be described as wise beyond their years. Many of us can probably also say we know a few old fools.

The truth is, wisdom is attained bit-by-bit throughout our lifetime. It’s always within reach, but it must be pursued. It’s, keeping your eyes open, learning new things and then see how they can be applied and used in your life and the life of others.

It’s a Walk Towards Wisdom.

Steve Kayser: It’s a “constant becoming?”


Ken Blanchard: Yes.  You could say that.  In the book we talk about different elements of wisdom.


One is that old concept about self-evaluation, looking into the mirror and being truthful about yourself.

What’s working and what’s not working in your life and career?  

Are you considering your strengths and how you can leverage them?

Are you reflecting on your weaknesses to try to fix them?

Self-evaluation is such an important thing.


Another one I have always loved is, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

Do you have people around you who give you feedback and are honest with you?

Do you have truth tellers in your life?

A lot of times people live with truth tellers if you only listen to them.

Do your friends level with you?

Steve Kayser: Sometimes that’s hard to do, especially if they’re friends from work.

Ken Blanchard: But what’s the value of true friends? Well, they are honest with you. They will tell you the truth.

I grew up with a lot of guys that went to school at Cornell and nobody lets anybody act like a big deal. We were at a restaurant one time, eight couples, we’d known each other for fifty years and a waiter comes up,

  “We understand the author of  “The One Minute Manager” is in your group, could we get his autograph?”

And it was almost on cue, they all shouted,

 “Why do you want his autograph? Hell, he never even went to class, you know. What was his average? About 70…”

And they just put everything in perspective.

Steve Kayser: A walk toward wisdom also means a dogged determination to ask questions that matter. Especially if you want to be a great leader in business … or life.

Ken Blanchard: Yes. A friend of ours, Shawn Harris, who built Cold Stone Creameries, once said there are three kinds of leaders.


There is the “period,” which is,

 “Here is my opinion. (period)”

Not good.


 “Here is what I think! (exclamation point)”

The worst!  But the great leaders are “question marks.”


They ask great questions like,

“Here is my opinion about what I think we ought to do, but what do you think about it?”

If they say,

“Well, I don’t really know if I could add anything to that.”

“Well, if you did, what would you add?”

And they keep on asking questions, because then you’re going to learn because I think, as I said before, none of us is as smart as all of us.

Steve Kayser: I  heard a couple of people in the hallway where I use to work talk about a person that wasn’t keeping up with his job or learning new skills . One of the younger ones  said,

“He should be put out to pasture,”

Because he was too old to learn. And I said,

“That’s not true, anybody can learn anything at anytime.”  

Somehow the conversation got back to him and he was deeply hurt.  I followed up with him and sent him a quote by one of my favorite writers, Richard Bach. A writer much like you, full of wit and wonderful  wisdom.

 “Here’s a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished.

If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

Ken Blanchard: Yes, some people repeat the same year, year-after-year, and don’t grow. That’s why I think it’s so valuable for you to personally, all of us, to say,

  • What can l learn this year that I can put on my resume that wasn’t there last year?
  •  How do I constantly grow and push my mental envelope?

I got a chance to write a book with Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. I met him in 1986 when he was 88 years old. He was so excited about life. And I said, “Why are you so excited?” He said,

“Everyday is an opportunity to learn something new, I just never know what I’m going to learn.”

That’s just such a powerful example for anyone. And it’s been such an inspiration to me.



Great Leaders GROW – Interview with Bestselling Author Dr. Ken Blanchard

Who Influenced You? 

Stand Aside for an Officer, You Can’t All be Saved! 

Flickr photo courtesy of H.Kopp Delaney – AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved.


I Am Sam I Am: Meet the Intrigue Expert, Ms. Sam Horn

I Am Sam I Am: Meet the Intrigue Expert, Ms. Sam Horn

Delivering on the promise made in the article “You Wrote a Book?“, about meeting some amazing people I’ve had the great opportunity to work, interview or write with over the years that were instructive and inspirational in bringing “The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard” book to print – here’s the first. An intriguing and successful woman that you need to know if you’re in business of any kind and struggling with getting your message or value across.


Sam Horn is the owner of ‘The Intrigue Agency” and a world-renowned Author, Keynote Speaker, communications strategist, and executive coach who has trained the world’s top entrepreneurs (e.g. EO, YPO, TLC) and executives (e.g. Intel, Cisco, Boeing) how to communicate more clearly, compellingly and convincingly.  She has presented in person to over 500,000 people in various venues.


Sam’s pioneering “POP! Stand Out in Any Crowd” book, endorsed by Seth Godin, Ken Blanchard, Mark Sanborn and marketing guru Jeffrey Gitomer (who calls it ”a rocket ship to your success”) introduces an a step-by-step system for creating first-of-their-kind titles, taglines, pitches, brand messages, positioning and marketing copy that get  products and services noticed, remembered and bought.


Sam even tried to train me once. And it failed miserably. Probably the only failure Sam has had in her life.  But she creatively harvested gold out of it by creating the incredible SLAP award.  More on that later in this article.


A warm and hearty thank you to Ms. Sam Horn for her review of the book “The Greatest Words Never Heard.”

“What a raw, powerful book.  Thank you, Steve, for having the courage to show us that we serve when we dare to share challenging, heart-wrenching experiences.  Anyone going through a dark night of the soul will find this book inspiring.”


I have interviewed Ms. Sam on radio and for a business publication. It was a hoot. I quite possibly am the only person that has made this terrific thinker, speaker and author speechless.  It was this article (below) that stumpfied her with my smellfungus mooncalfery. But, Sam’s wisdom shines through. Read this article and learn”How to Stand Out in Any Crowd.”


You, your product, your service, your company, is good … maybe great. It’s different, unique, totally rad, awesomeroo and bloggerific. It even (occasionally) delivers real business value; makes an authentic difference in business or life.

But … no one has heard of you.  You’re one of a kind. You know it. You can prove it. But still, you’re one of a kind that no one knows. No one has ever heard of you. You haven’t even heard of you.

You Haven’t Even Heard of You!

Not for lack of effort though. You’ve tried to communicate your brilliance, your stupefying, heart-stopping differentiators, your value-laden proposition power pack, but your message gets sucked down the black hole of no return. The dreaded ….

Inbox Out of Control

By “inbox” I’m referring to your mental inbox as well as work inbox.


You can’t seem to break through … to stand out in this infoglut world 2.0 where the speed of light has finally been surpassed (though Einstein said it wasn’t possible, he was never bombarded with electronic corporate gobbledygook) by the cumulative effect of spam scud missiles, instant messages, BlackBerrys, mobile apps, blogging, etc.

Even though you know why you’re different − why you’re special − you can’t capture someone’s attention unless you communicate it so brilliantly it shines and stands out. Everyone gets it instantly. But standing out is getting harder … and easier every day.

Harder because the sheer volume of marketing messages an average person sees a day is almost beyond measure. It used to be that the average American was subjected to 3,000 marketing messages a day − 3,000 marketing messages a day!

Wow. Those were the good old days.


These days, you see that many before noon. How is it getting easier then?


Harharharhar. Just kidding. I lied. Just threw that in to obfuscate. It’s not getting easier. Sorry. And it won’t get easier. But, with the proper approach, you can reach your goals and …

Capture Customers?

Are there strategies and tactics that can help you break through and stand out? To capture customers’ and prospects’ attention, hearts, minds and …. (ahem) money?

“Money, which represents the prose of life, and which is hardly spoken of in parlors without an apology, is, in its effects and laws, as beautiful as roses.”

–  Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’ll find out from professional speaker and author of “POP! Stand Out in Any Crowd,” Sam Horn. Sam’s books have been endorsed by such luminaries as Stephen R. Covey , Jack Canfield, and Anthony Robbins. But none communicates the essence of the book with such eloquent intellectual simplicity as the testimonial below.

As a person who once used a sparking Barbie doll to set fire to a pair of underpants on national television, I can vouch for the importance of standing out from a crowd.  As a friend of Sam Horn’s, I can also vouch for the excellent advice she offers in POP!”  – Pulitzer-Prize winning humorist Dave Barry


Donkey quit. My Donkey quit.  Just like that – POP – several years of collaborating and co-writing went up in smoke. No more “Shoot the Donkey” stories. Success had gone to his


donkey head. (I won’t comment on the lipstick … but I have heard rumors.) After a series of successful articles that included:  “Shooting the Donkey in the Complex Sales Process … Hollywood Style,” “Veni, Vidi, Tiré a dos burros,” “I Came. I Saw. I Shot Two Donkeys,” and “My Darling, Is That Manure Stick You Have on?, Donkey decided he could make it on his own.

A Donkey in His Own Write

He wanted to be his own donkey and write his own book. That’s right, his own book. He didn’t tell me about this until he was almost done.

donkeywriting-fullI took it in stride.


But then decided I wanted (needed) to try to save our relationship. We went to counseling. But every time I brought up “Shoot the Donkey” …

donkey-bitingIt was just too painful.  Counseling  didn’t work.

When I realized he was determined to quit no matter what, and move on with his donkey life, I decided to do the right thing. Try to help him (later I needed some help myself). Donkey’s book was almost done. It was a compilation of lessons he’d learned from humans. I offered him my help in marketing the book, but Donkey said he didn’t need it. I’d done enough already.

Ready to Break Through, Stand Out, and Go to Market!

My Donkey already had the plan and his book title,


When he showed me the draft, I really didn’t know what to say without hurting his feelings. Except that as much as he’s been around corporate business-speak, he ought to know that if the book was successful, someone would turn the title into an acronym, and well … that might turn out a bit crappy. Donkey discounted that and quickly pointed out that his full name was prominently featured on the cover (unlike his collaborative efforts with me where we was known only by his first name … Donkey). And why was this important? Well, according to Donkey O’Tee, all great, memorable names and slogans incorporated the person’s or company’s name.


Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, that is what I truly wish to be. ‘Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, everyone would be in love with me.”

He was going to use a similar strategy – though he quite hadn’t figured it out yet − to market his book.


Oh, I wish I were a Donkey O’Tee wiener, that is what I truly wish to be … be … be.

I asked him if he knew what happened to weiners (hot dogs)?


Donkey was horrified. He quickly moved on to his next example, from the insurance industry. He asked me if I knew …

“You’re in Good Hands with …”

”Allstate, of course,” I answered. But, I didn’t think that would work for him either.


Didn’t ring, resonate or POP! Not to mention the hoofs vs. hands issue.

“But what,” I asked,” is your book really about?”

“You don’t know? You can’t tell by the title? It’s the “Idiot’s Guide to Business Survival.” It’s my elevator spiel. I mean you humans excel at making the simple complex, the complex unknowable, and the unknowable entertainingly hilarious! And, you do it was such pompous profligate proliferating panache that to succeed in business today, even to keep your job, you need to know how to excel at …

“Pompously Obfuscating on Purpose?”

Yes! You see … a bestseller in the making!” said Donkey O’Tee. “Go to any business website, read any business report, letter, brochure, advertisement or marketing message … it’s totally obvious. To survive in the human’s business world today, you have to be able to …

“Pompously Obfuscate on Purpose.” I echoed with dismal dismay.

“Less is not more! Less is out of a job. More is less. More is needed all of the time. More of more and less of less, more or less!” brayed Donkey O’Tee hilariously. “And … I‘m going to get all kinds of media coverage, you know why?


“You heard that song by the famous female songwriter Bonnie Braitt?”

“You mean Bonnie Raitt?

“No, You having trouble hearing? Bonnie Braitt.”

“What song?”


“I’m going to give them something to bray about!”

For once, I was speechless. Though Donkey had made some excellent points, I still felt duty-bound, nonetheless, to seek out some expert advice on his behalf. For Donkey O’Tee to succeed, he had to stand out (and not just in a field) to capture national and international media attention.

ENTER: I Am Sam Horn I Am

Sam is a professional speaker and author of “POP! Stand Out in Any Crowd.” Sam is also the author of several well-reviewed books from major publishers including “Tongue Fu!®,” “ConZentrate,” “What’s Holding You Back?,” and “Take the Bully by the Horns.” These have been sold around the world (China, Japan, Argentina, France, and Germany); favorably reviewed in dozens of publications including Publishers Weekly, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Investors Business Daily, Foreign Service Journal, and Readers Digest, and endorsed by many best-selling authors including Stephen R. Covey, Anthony Robbins, Jeffrey Fox, Susan Jeffers, Dave Pelzer, Susan Forward, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Richard Carlson, and John Gray.

Steve: Welcome. I have this friend. He’s writing a book and needs to learn, well …

Sam: To … learn how to break out instead of blend in?

Steve: You’ve got it. What is POP!, and why is it important?

Sam: POP! is a system of 25 techniques I’ve developed that can help ANYONE create attention-grabbing titles, taglines, and tell ‘n sell descriptions for their company, cause, campaign, and creation. It’ll let them break out instead of blend in.

POP! is crucial to success because people today are BB.

Steve: BB?

Sam: They’re BUSY. They have hundreds of things competing for their attention. They’re BORED. They’ve heard and seen it all – or at least, they think they have.

“My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s.” – Oscar Wilde

What that means is, we have 30 seconds to get their favorable attention. If what we have to say and sell is not Purposeful, Original, or Pithy, they’re on to the next thing.


Purposeful. Original. Pithy.  In 30 seconds or less.

Steve: In 30 seconds or less?

Sam: Make a long elevator speech short by Cliff Noting it into one sentence. The more you try to explain what you do or what you have to offer, the more confused people will become.

“My grandfather invented Cliff Notes. It was, well, … to make a long story short.”

– Steven Wright

Instead of going on at length, compare your job or offering to something with which people are familiar and fond. For example, I was in Denver, CO with my sons for a speaking engagement. We had the night free, so I asked our hotel concierge to suggest a fun place we could go.

He said, “You’ve got to go to D & B’s.” We were from Maui at the time and had no idea what he was referring to. We asked, “What’s D & B’s?” He said, “It’s a Chuck E. Cheese for adults.” Voila. We knew exactly what it was and wanted to go there because of his perfect “Cliff Notes” description.

Steve: I get it. (See how purposeful, original, and pithy my responses are?)

“Operator! Give me the number for 911!” – Homer Simpson

Sam: In the book, this is called “The Valley Girl Technique.” It provides specific ways to compare what you do to a popular movie, song, book, or person to create a tell’ n sell elevator intro that gets your project’s foot in people’s mental door.

Steve: How do you come up with a memorable name or slogan? (I didn’t tell her about “Pompously Obfuscate on Purpose” yet because, though memorable it may be, it’s in an infamy kind-a-way.)

Sam: One of the best ways to make your name or slogan memorable is to use alliteration. Alliteration is when words start with the same sound. It makes your language lyrical, makes you instantly eloquent, and gives peoples’ minds a hook on which to hang a memory.

Say these words out loud.

Bed, Shower, and Toilet

Boom radio

Dirt Satan

Good Purchase

Dunkin Croissants

Rolls Jaguar

Steve: Now I’m hungry, sleepy, jiggy, and have to go …

Sam: They don’t POP! do they? They sound commonplace, and they’d be difficult to remember.

Now say these words out loud.

Bed, Bath, and Beyond

Boom Box

Dirt Devil

Best Buy

Dunkin Donuts

Rolls Royce

Hmm … they fit together, don’t they? Alliteration produces “ear music,” which has a nice ring and resonance, which means your brand name will linger longer in peoples’ minds.

Alliterate. Produce “ear music” with a nice ring and resonance and … your brand name will linger longer in peoples’ minds.

Steve: To stand out, you almost have to be one of a kind, or at least be perceived that way. What’s one of the best ways individuals and organizations can become one of a kind instead of one of many?

Sam: The best way to become one of a kind is to coin a word for your business, brand, or book that belongs to you and you alone. One way to do that is to use one of the 25 POP! techniques called Alphabetizing.  Write down ten words you frequently use to pitch your project, product, or program. Those are your “Core Words.” Now, run each of those words through the alphabet, changing the sound of the first syllable to match the corresponding letter. I used this technique to create the trademarked term of Tongue Fu! – the verbal form of Kung Fu!

Tongue-Fu: Martial Arts for the Mind and Mouth

Tongue Fu! is martial arts for the mind and mouth. If you run Tongue Fu! through the alphabet, you come up with even more variations.

Fun Fu! is how to handle hassles with humor instead of harsh words.

Run Fu! is for when Tongue Fu! doesn’t work.

Tongue Glue is knowing when to keep your mouth shut.

Tongue Sue! is for lawyers.

Young Fu! is for kids.

These proprietary phrases could become articles, chapters in a book, or presentations for targeted audiences.

See how this works? Instead of competing with everyone else, your one-of-a-kind term turns you into the go-to resource because YOU are the sole provider of that particular item.

Steve: What’s one POP! technique anyone can use to help their ideas and offerings break out instead of blend in?

Create a Half and Half Word

Sam: Use what I call a Half and Half Word to go to the head of the class and become THE topic expert on your product or profession.

That’s what Dr. Francine Kaufman did by naming a cultural phenomenon that was taking place in the medical world. She noticed that more and more children were coming into her office diagnosed with diabetes. The link between diabetes and obesity had been known for years, however, no one had linked them in language until she did by coining the term Diabesity. By creating a one-word name for this condition, she got an impressive book deal and quickly became THE topic expert that media called first for interviews.

You can create your own Half and Half Word by getting a fresh piece of paper and drawing a vertical line down the center, dividing the paper into two columns. Now, start describing the different aspects of your cause, company, creation, or campaign − putting half the words on the left and half the words on the right.

For example, if you were opening a fusion restaurant that combined a mix of ethnic foods, you could write common words from one culture on the left and popular phrases from the other culture on the right. Now, take the first half of a word on the left and match it with the last half of the words on the right. Then take the first half of the next word on the left and match it with the last half of the words on the right, and so on. Keep playing with different combinations until you come up with one that POP!s – ala Ciao Mein, the perfect name for an Italian-Chinese bistro.

Steve: Got it. Piece of cake.

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” – Robert McCloskey

Steve: What are a couple of laugh-out-loud examples of products that POP!d off the shelf because of their catchy name?

Sam: Here are a couple of my favorite examples of products that POP!d out of the pack because of their catchy names.

Diddle Daddle Piddle Paddle With a Saddle. 

A father liked to get down on all fours and give his toddler a “horsy-back ride” around the living room, but his son kept falling off. So, he invented a human saddle he could cinch around his waist that had a safety belt so his son could ride to his heart’s content.

What to call this? Run “saddle” through the Alphabet and what do you come up with? That’s right. DADDLE.

Smitten by Smittens

A couple liked to go for a walk after dinner, but they lived in the Northeast and would freeze their fingers when it snowed. They created a co-joined mitten they could both put their hands in so they could keep their hands warm on their wintry walks. Their clever name? SMITTENS.

You may be thinking, “So what? Do catchy names really drive sales?”

You bet it does.

Those clever products were featured in humor columnist Dave Barry’s annual December columns which feature interesting products that have been brought to his attention by his many fans. His column is syndicated in hundreds of newspapers around the country, which means MILLIONS of people now know about Daddle and Smittens.

Steve: Last question. (I pulled a draft of Donkey O’Tee’s book out to show her.) I’m going to run the title of my friend’s book by you. Could you give me your immediate response? If it POPS! or not?

Anyone who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.” – H. L. Mencken

Sam: Sure.


Steve: Pompously Obfuscate on Purpose.

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

– Dorothy Parker

Silence. Pretty deep silence. Complete silence one might say.

“From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.” – Groucho Marx

Steve: It has purpose. It’s original. It’s sorta pithy.

Sam: Ahem. It’s not quite the POP I’m talking about. More like how NOT to stand out in any crowd.

Steve’s face droops, deleteriously depressed for donkey.

Sam: However. It is something I’m writing about in my next book.

Steve’s face perks up. Visionaries – Donkey and he.

Sam: SLAP!

Steve: SLAP?



About Sam Horn

Sam is a respected author of well-reviewed books from major publishers including “Tongue Fu!®,” “ConZentrate,” “What’s Holding You Back?,” and “Take the Bully by the Horns,” all from St. Martins Press. These have been sold around the world (China, Japan, Argentina, France, and Germany); favorably reviewed in dozens of publications including Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Investors Business Daily, Foreign Service Journal, Dallas Morning News, and Readers Digest, and endorsed by many bestselling authors including Stephen R. Covey, Anthony Robbins, Jeffrey Fox, Susan Jeffers, Dave Pelzer, Susan Forward, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Richard Carlson, and John Gray.

Sam is a frequent media guest who has been interviewed on every major network (NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX) and on dozens of radio shows including National Public Radio and Dr. Laura. Her work has even been featured on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” and “To Tell The Truth,” where she and her Tongue Fu!® team stumped the panel.


Sam Horn, Author/Speaker/Consultant
Office E-mail
E-mail Sam Horn at

 About Steve:

Do you need to know anymore after that? really? Thankfully Sam Horn pulled it out for me. Steve eventually quit writing with the Donkey – they only speak at a local bar called “The Whiner Diner.” Though losing Donkey O’Tee as a writing partner cost him financially Steve has regained most of that income by modelings Kilts in his spare-time (he does not claim it to be a high-paying job).

Steve Kayser in a KIlt

Best of STORY and Storyteller Interviews

Best of STORY and Storyteller Interviews


Last year I had the great fun of being able to create, develop and host the Expert Access Radio program. It’s a one-hour show that features live, in-depth interviews with business leaders and bestselling authors from around the world. They share their ideas, insights and inspirational stories to help people in their life of business or their business of life. The show is broadcast live on


I also happen to book the guests, which is no small feat considering my limited skills with the English language. We had some of the most amazing storytellers as guests—famous in print and on the Hollywood big screen.  If you study the art of writing, the art of story, or just love to read books or watch movies, below are some fascinating interviews that share storytelling lessons built upon hundreds of years of experience … and have resulted in billions of dollars in sales.


1. Steven Pressfield is the Ernest Hemingway of our times.  He’s been a screenwriter and has sold 34 screenplays. He’s also the international bestselling author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Profession,The War of Art, Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, Killing Rommel, The Afghan Campaign and The Virtues of War, among many others.  Steven was the second ever guest on the Expert Access Radio program. We discussed his classic The War of Art, The Legend of Bagger Vance and much more.

Listen to Steven Pressfield

I’ve interviewed Steven previously for the article, “ The Power of Resistance: Lessons Learned from Bestselling Author Steven Pressfield.”


2. Pen Densham has written, produced, consulted and directed movies and television shows. His eclectic string of projects include Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Backdraft, Moll Flanders, Rocky II, Blown Away, Footloose as well as the TNT movie Houdini and the successful reboots of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. He’s worked with and learned from people like Morgan Freeman, Jeff Bridges, Robin Wright, Bill Murray, Kevin Costner and Jodie Foster.

Pen’s life story is like a fairytale and will probably one day be made into a movie itself. His stories and movies have generated over one-billion dollars in sales.  Pen is wonderfully patient and humble—something you don’t see much of in Hollywood or business. We talked with Pen Densham about his new book, Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing … and Not Getting Eaten.

Listen to the interview with Pen Densham

For a more in-depth discussion with Pen, check out the article “Riding the Alligator in the Complex Sale … Hollywood Style.”


3. Frederick Marx is the internationally acclaimed, Oscar- and Emmy-nominated director/writer of Hoop Dreams. Frederick talks with us about his new projects Journey from Zanskar and Boys Become Men.

Listen to the interview with Frederick Marx.


4. Michael Uslan is the executive producer of the Batman franchise of motion pictures and the author of The Boy Who Loved Batman.  We talked about his new book, which is his true story of how a comic-obsessed kid conquered Hollywood to bring the Dark Knight to the silver screen. It’s an inspirational story of passion, persistence and perseverance that has also generated over $2.6 billion in ticket receipts. And yes … we also talked about The Dark Knight Rises.

Listen to the interview with Michael Uslan


5.  Robert McKee is the most widely known and respected screenwriting lecturer in the world today. His STORY Seminar has been taught to over 50,000 screenwriters, filmmakers, TV writers, novelists, industry executives, actors, producers, directors and playwrights. Teaching is easy. Results are hard.  Robert McKee’s STORY and the stories delivered by his students have garnered;

  • 32 Academy Awards – 106+ nominations
  • 168 Emmy Awards – 500+ nominations
  • 21 WGA Awards – 77+ nominations
  • 17 DGA Awards – 48+ nominations
Robert wasn’t a guest in 2011, but I plan on getting him on the show this year. However, I have interviewed him. The article below is well worth the read if you’re interested in STORY. You see, Robert McKee knows STORY well. He wrote the book—A Simple Timeless Tale: Lessons Learned from Legendary Hollywood STORY Guru Robert McKee.
Flickr image courtesy of H. Kopp Delaney under Creative Commons license.
Riding the Alligator

Riding the Alligator

Interview with Pen Densham, Writer & Producer of Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves; Moll Flanders; Rocky II and More…

I had the great pleasure of talking to Pen Densham about his  book, Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing … and Not Getting Eaten.

“One thing I know for sure; without writers, we in the entertainment business are aimless wanderers looking for a place to be. My thanks to Pen for this inspirational book.” – Morgan Freeman

As a director, I cannot achieve my goals without the help of creative and courageous writers. Pen’s book is unique in that it addresses the entire landscape of movie writing as a career, and most especially encourages artists who write from the heart and strive for originality.” – Ron Howard

While doing my research on Pen and his book, I was amazed. Amazed that his life story hasn’t been made into a movie.

Maybe Father Doesn’t Know Best?

When Pen was very young, around five years of age, he got his first role in the movies—riding an alligator. His dad filmed him. He suspects his mother was not in attendance. At age fifteen, Pen quit high school. He spent his early years doing everything he could possibly do to conjure himself a career in film and television. And, in an industry so full of rejection, so littered with broken dreams, he made it.

Pen Densham has written, produced, consulted and directed movies and television shows. His eclectic string of projects include Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Backdraft, Moll Flanders, Rocky II, Blown Away, Footloose as well as the TNT movie Houdini and the successful reboots of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. He’s worked with and learned from people like Morgan Freeman, Jeff Bridges, Robin Wright, Bill Murray, Kevin Costner and Jodie Foster.

This “B” Is Still Big Even Among Q’s

The films and television series Pen Densham and his partner have produced have grossed over $1 billion. I suspect the “B” should be capitalized in Billion. If it shouldn’t, it ought to be. Even with the new monetary policy of quantitative easing (Q2, Q3, QinfinityPlus2, or  whatever we’re on now) of the money supply, that’s still a heap of money.

Just One Thing

And of all thing things that Pen did to create a successful Hollywood film career, he credits just one thing for his long track record of success. Just one key factor that we will get to at the end of the interview. (You really didn’t think I was going to spill the beans that quickly did you?)

STEVE KAYSER: What a life story you have. You dropped out of school at fifteen, you traveled a path that was filled with hurdles and rejections. You not only survived, but you thrived. It’s a wonderful story. Sounds like a movie. Anybody ever going to make it?

PEN DENSHAM: I don’t think so, I think I’m sort of still living it. One of the things I’m most content about is not making myself exceptional. I think as an artist, what I’m most content about is that I did really have a rough time, but it doesn’t mean that it makes it impossible to succeed. I’d hate it if anything you’d speak about me would make me seem more exceptional than other people.


I’d like to be “not exceptional” like Pen. Does that mean I’m exceptional? Nah, impossible. You see how great writers and storytellers work? They use words that confuse your own thought bubbles.

PEN DENSHAM: I think anyone with a passion, whether business or art, if you really care about something and it’s not knocked out of you, it helps you to keep going forward.

I’m not all that special.


I’d like to be “not  special” like Pen. But if I’m “not special,” that must mean I’m special. That’s not true either. See how crafty that is?  Penned again!

PEN DENSHAM: I’m scared a lot, I fail sometimes. But in our business, you fail more than you succeed—it’s kind of like the gold rush. You’re out there trying to find the next great nugget, and as long as you don’t quit, sometimes you do find it.

STEVE KAYSER: Riding the Alligator, the title of your new book, is a wonderful metaphor. The grappling, the wrestling with the creative and critical side of writing and the business side of pitching and story-selling. But it’s not just a metaphor is it? You did ride an alligator, a  seven-foot-long gator when you were a little kid. Isn’t that true?

PEN DENSHAM: Yes. I was with my parents when I was very young, three-to-five years old. They were making short films in England. Going into the theater was like watching magicians. Watching my father as kind of a sorcerer who put these magic images on the screen, and they did put me on an alligator for a short film about people who kept weird pets. I don’t think my mother was there that day, but it was unnerving for me. This woman had an alligator and a crocodile. She had the crocodile in a large tank with glass sides to it. I can remember her standing in between me and the crocodile; I remember it to this day. She was admonishing me not to go toward the tank. The alligator she didn’t seem to care so much about. But that experience, I jokingly say, was my first job in show business.

STEVE KAYSER: What is Riding the Alligator, all about? (You can download a free chapter of “Riding the Alligator” – HERE.)

The Rules Are Simple … There Are No Rules

PEN DENSHAM: I tried to create a book that would not give rules about how to be creative, because I think the most powerful thing is that creativity comes out of you naturally. That’s something Hollywood doesn’t necessarily teach or help you with.

A lot of books are great at articulating the mechanisms for laying out a page or for plotting a structure, but the magic comes from letting something come out of you that’s never  existed before.

There shouldn’t be rules against it.

That’s why I say in my book to ignore anything that I say that goes against your creative process.  If I can encourage people to take the risk of putting ideas down and overcoming the fear and doubt, good things will happen.

STEVE KAYSER: Trust your gut. Go with your heart.


STEVE KAYSER: I love your movie, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. In fact, Friar Tuck might be my favorite character of all time. He had such a grasp of the divine. Worldly and otherwise.

This is grain… which any fool can eat. But for which the Lord intended, a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our maker, and glory to His bounty, by learning about….. beer. – Friar Tuck

What a wonderful story on the screen.  But getting it to the screen was a story as well. A complex one, full of fear and doubt.

PEN DENSHAM: Yes. What happened at that time, I had just had the privilege of watching my wife give birth to my son via an emergency Cesarean.  It caused me to think, “Where are the people that actually protect people as opposed to killing people?” It made me want to make a movie about Robin Hood, and the idea came to me to put a Muslim and a Christian side by side where they both collaborate against a greater dark force.

Best Stupid Idea Ever Heard

I pitched it at three different studios—Disney, TriStar and another one—and they all told me it was

“The stupidest idea they’ve ever heard.”

One of our assistants who now runs the SyFy Channel said, “That’s a really good idea; why don’t you just start?” It was his little touch of inspiration that made me sit down and see what would come out of me. As I uncritically let these ideas flow, my partner John Watson was reading the pages as they came out.


There’s this weird thing when you create; you frequently feel like this stuff is stupid. You have a little critic that sits above my back and gnaws at everything I do. He can’t judge; he just seems to be there telling you it’s a waste of time. People are going to laugh. And sometimes it gets so big that you think lineups of people are going to point and laugh at you as you walk down the street. So having other people look at it is what helped me get this one-hundred-page story out. My partner was looking at it, we collaborated in turning it into a screenplay and having been told that no studio wanted it, we were doing it purely on the gut instinct that I should not give up.

Don’t Give Up

That’s when we heard that Fox was going to green-light another Robin Hood. My partner said, “Well let’s not bother finishing this,” and I said, “I gave up on one idea I really loved and I hated myself for it. Let’s just at least finish it.” That’s how close we came to not making Robin Hood.

STEVE KAYSER: And it went on to be …

PEN DENSHAM: It was one of the largest-grossing Warner Brothers movies of all time at that point. ( It’s grossed over $500 million since being released.)

STEVE KAYSER:  My wife told me once that Moll Flanders was her fourth-favorite movie of all time, right after the three screenplays that I’ve never sold and turned into movies ( was that a blatant plug or not? In radio they’d call that plugola).

How did Moll Flanders come to be, and how did you pitch it?

PEN DENSHAM: You’re talking about something that’s very heartfelt to me. The thing I’ve noticed in my life is the stories I’ve written for myself, the script for Houdini, the script for Robin Hood and for Moll Flanders were not written inside the studio systems. You understand? I wrote them for myself, and they ended up on screen.

And yet I wrote Gulliver’s Travels with Arnold Schwarzenegger attached, and it didn’t get made. The head of Disney said, “It’s a wonderful script, I don’t know why I’m not going to make it.”

But the ones where I felt I was failing myself by not being at my desk when I just snuck away to write, were the most passionate, like Moll Flanders. It came to me, I knew I was going to write a woman’s story and I heard a little piece on NPR about an orphan, and I had this idea that I would write about a woman who lost her child and then was writing a message to the child she may never see again to tell the child everything about her to see if the child could ever love her for who she really was.

I only told my assistant, who was a woman, and we worked on it in secret and it poured out of me. I didn’t pitch the story, I just wrote the screenplay. It was like having an affair—it was intoxicating. This stream of consciousness happened. In five weeks, I wrote Moll Flanders along with doing all of my normal work, but in secret. My wife would be looking over at me and I’d be typing away at midnight in bed.

STEVE KAYSER: You just ruined my relationship with my wife. You wrote that in five weeks, at night and still did your regular work? I can hear her now, “Moll Flanders in five weeks? And you’ve been doodling around with your stories for how long?”

PEN DENSHAM: But let me put it in perspective. I have one screenplay that took me sixteen years to write.  And that’s why creativity is a magical, sacred thing. We shouldn’t criticize ourselves whichever way it comes out of us.

The magic is that the things I’ve written that intuitively came out of me got made more often.

I firmly believe that we are happiest and most productive when working from our true nature and not trying to guess and fake what someone else wants. The scripts that are written with a powerful sense of your inner vision are more creative, complex and rich somehow. I call these “life scripts.” They contain something more profound that derives from your spirit, from your unconscious. These scripts are special. You will instinctively fight harder to get them right. Others see them as deeper and more significant as a result. For me, “life scripts” seem to get produced more frequently than the scripts that are less personally inspired.


When I was asked by USC to go teach the Cinematic Arts students, I thought it was kind of corny and weird, but I decided to just be myself and be authentic. So I taught the first lesson on passion. It sounds like a cliché, but it really isn’t. When I look at my life, the things I’ve gone furthest for, the things I’ve been humiliated for, the things I’ve taken greater risk for have been the things that have come out of my soul, not the things I try to contrive to meet someone else’s  perspective of what was fashionable.

Those things seldom succeed, and when you get rejected, you give up very quickly.

When you have something that comes out of you as part of your nature and someone rejects it, you try to figure out how to change it, so you keep what was special to you, but you can mesh with the buyer.

I’ve got stacks of scripts that haven’t been made, but I’m very passionate about them.

But I’ve got more scripts made than I probably ever anticipated in my life.


That One Big Thing?

And that one thing that Pen Densham credits for his success? Having the guts to follow his heart. Follow it down through the valley of ridicule, loss, humiliation, rejection and up to a higher plain—not of Hollywood success, but of living his dream.

DOWNLOAD a free chapter of “Riding the Alligator.”

Connect with Pen:

Website: Http://
Twitter: Http://