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Mar 9, 2018

Cal Fussman is a New York Times bestselling author, writer-at-large for Esquire Magazine, keynote speaker, interviewing consultant, entrepreneur, and podcaster. Today on the EO Podcast, Cal reflects on the origins of his own curiosity and retells key lessons from interviews he has hosted with celebrities. Tune-in to learn how to ask the right questions, what you can do to really listen, and why these skills are key to being a successful entrepreneur.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:17 – Cal is a master storyteller and prolific journalist who elevates leaders by teaching them how to ask the right questions
  • 00:34 – Cal’s Esquire column for the past 20 years: “What I’ve Learned”
  • 00:44 – He has interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev, Muhammad Ali, Richard Branson, Robert De Niro, and many more
  • 01:20 – Cal’s background
  • 01:22 – When JFK was assassinated, Cal was 7 years old and curious about  Lyndon B. Johnson’s thoughts and feelings about becoming president
  • 03:58 – He wrote President Johnson a letter and sent it to the White House
  • 04:26 – 5-6 months later, in May of 1964, Cal got a response
  • 05:13 – He became fascinated with Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay); around the same time he won heavyweight champion of the world
  • 05:52 – Something new seemed to always happen; Cal had questions about Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Martin Luther King Jr., the voyage to the moon, etc.
  • 06:30 – The 60s were an era of questions; even Cal’s teenage years were full of questions around the events at the time
  • 07:00 – Cal knew he’d live a life of asking questions
  • 07:04 – Asking the right questions
  • 08:05 – Curiosity will fuel your questions; if you’re not curious, the question won’t help you
  • 08:43 – Cal’s interview with Kobe Bryant
  • 08:45 - Cal’s first question to Kobe Bryant: To someone who lived to win, how will it feel to simply sit and wait for the votes to come in for the Academy Award nomination?
  • 09:45 – Kobe’s response was surprising; it all came from curiosity
  • 10:05 – Cal heard about a party concept where you show up as yourself 5 years from now; he asked Kobe who he’d be 5 years from now and he said “curious”
  • 11:00 – Kobe is curious and respects curiosity; he’s gotten into storytelling to reach young people
  • 12:05 – Cal’s “win” is connecting with someone; when he and Kobe spoke, they connected in their curiosity
  • 12:34 – Similarities among the athletes that Cal has interviewed: Ali and Kobe, Kobe and Serena
  • 12:45 – Muhammad Ali’s childhood story about dodging rocks in the same way he later dodged punches
  • 13:44 – Kobe Bryant’s childhood story about throwing rocks at a telephone pole as he rode his bike similarly to how he threw up a shot in a basketball game
  • 14:52 – When Kobe was 4, he did karate against someone of a higher belt; he became aware that fear came from his imagination and practiced fearlessness
  • 16:15 –Serena secretly registered herself and played in a tournament and won; both sisters got to the finals and won 1st and 2nd and Venus gave Serena her gold
  • 18:40 – In both cases, there were athletes that understood something about themselves from an early age and went for it
  • 18:55 – Is it a belief in themselves that separates them from the rest?
  • 19:05 – Kobe believes he would’ve figured it out soon, but having the situation allowed him to process the lesson about his imagination creating fear
  • 19:30 – Kobe still had fear but was aware of it; the theme of Kobe’s interview was awareness of fear and curiosity
  • 19:57 – Screening potential candidates for a company
  • 20:12 – Companies have problems screening candidates; when Cal works with companies he always asks how they’re screening
  • 20:48 – Communication is 10% what you say, 30% tone of voice, and 60% body language; in phone screening you’re only getting 40%
  • 21:05 – Skype screenings allow for 100% communication and closer proximity to the interviewee
  • 22:06 – Interviewing strategy is key to bring in the candidates you want; interviewees should get screened by lower-level management before being interviewed by leadership
  • 23:20 – Story about women being unfairly judged in the symphony; tests showed that if the violinists couldn’t be seen, women were more likely to be chosen
  • 24:20 – Nonverbal communication
  • 24:37 – Cal discussed this with Kobe; when he was young, he went to Italy and needed to rely on nonverbal communication
  • 24:53 – Cal learned how to interview when he traveled the world; he realized that words weren’t as important as what was underneath the words
  • 25:17 – He learned to read faces and body language; it was like playing charades
  • 26:05 – Cal is a believer in putting yourself in situations where you must communicate with new people and get outside your comfort zone; Serenflipity card game example
  • 28:10 – Practicing this leads to better understanding in body language
  • 28:27 – Catching someone in a lie: Story of a woman covering her throat
  • 29:15 – Jose Navarro’s book “What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People”
  • 30:27 – Storytelling: Focusing on sections of a story that received approval when you told the story before
  • 31:00 – The essence of the story stays the same, but sometimes sections are taken from other places
  • 31:20 – How to become a better listener and observer: The Ice Cream Test
  • 31:25 Walk up to someone you don’t know but can be comfortable with and ask, “Where’s the best ice cream?”
  • 32:23 – Ask, “Why is it the best?”
  • 33:00 – Ask follow up questions based upon their answers; listen so you can continue asking questions and learning about that person
  • 34:00 – They’ll appreciate being listened to and you’ll exercise your listening and question-asking skills
  • 35:00 – Generals get more out of interrogations when they ask the right questions
  • 35:27 – Most people don’t listen, they’re thinking about what to say next
  • 35:50 – Put yourself in situations to ask questions, truly listen, and learn the “whys”
  • 36:05 – Before an interview, Cal researches the interviewee and writes down 100-200 questions
  • 36:40 – This can be done for hiring interviews, too; research the applicant online and write down 25 questions
  • 37:15 – Cal doesn’t bring the questions into the interview with him; he walks around with the questions and absorbs them beforehand
  • 38:00 – Depending on the interviewee’s response, if you listen, you’ll be able to easily pull a question from your mind
  • 38:25 – Genuine curiosity will turn an interview into a conversation
  • 38:34 – Weird questions Cal has asked
  • 38:53 – He asked John Kenneth Galbraith how much he pays for a pair of socks and he replied, “I’ve learned never to answer a foolish question.”
  • 39:45 – Afterwards, he sent Cal a thank you letter and recommended that he interview Robert McNamara, someone else in the Kennedy administration
  • 40:08 – His question made John stop and wonder; interesting questions make your interview memorable to the interviewee
  • 40:56 – Cal’s next steps
  • 41:00 – Cal’s podcast – Big Questions
  • 41:13 – Cal’s entrepreneurial journey
  • 41:17 – He never wanted to be an entrepreneur and was raised comfortably because his father worked for IBM
  • 42:41 – He and his family were safe, secure, and lived in a middle-class neighborhood filled with kids
  • 43:45 – He never had to think entrepreneurially; he delivered newspapers as a kid just so he could see the news first
  • 45:29 – Newspapers and magazines are very different now than they were when he was a kid; now entrepreneurs are in podcasting
  • 46:04 – Cal has realized that when you’re an entrepreneur you have to think about who’s sponsoring and what they think about the partnership
  • 46:49 – Cal now gives talks and seminars about listening; he speaks to salespeople who know it’s better to listen but lose sight of that when they pitch
  • 47:41 – He follows salespeople to study whether there are faster ways to sell by asking the right questions
  • 48:08 – Someone suggested that he sell one of his speeches so he knows how to sell to salespeople; it was a big moment when he realized that it’s no different than interviewing
  • 49:00 – Cal’s father on him being an entrepreneur
  • 49:06 – His father had his doubts when Cal bought a “Rolex” for $20
  • 51:09 – He went to the pawn shop and got $12 for it

Key Points:

  1. Genuine curiosity will turn an interview into a conversation.
  2. Put yourself in situations to ask questions, truly listen, and learn from people.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask interesting or “weird” questions; they’ll make you stand out and make your interview memorable. 

Resources Mentioned: