Author: Fredrik Haren

Düsseldorf, Germany.

Today I attended a conference on metals and got a lesson on the importance of connecting to a higher purpose.

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Now, a “metal conference” might sound like an unlikely place to pick up anything that might be beneficial for a speaker. But if there is anything I have learnt in 20+ years as a speaker, it would be to understand that lessons are all around us.

My client today was Kanthal, a maker of heat resistant alloys. (One of their products can handle air as hot as 1200 C…)

They invited me to be the keynote speaker at their first annual “Innovation Award”. Before I went up on stage, the CEO of Kanthal gave a short speech on why Kanthal had introduced this award.

He explained how the world is entering a time of limited resources and how “conservation of limited resources” will become more important in the future. As a planet grows to 9 billion people within our life time, and as humans constantly crave for a better lifestyle, the demand for resources such as energy, water and food will continue to grow.

To help solve this challenge, Kanthal leads in creating alloys that can withstand very high temperatures, that in turn can create more energy efficient solutions.

Suddenly, the pitch for Kanthal was not about their alloys, but about offering products that will help us overcome our current overuse of the earth’s resources.

To appeal to a higher purpose is something that many companies are doing today because they understand that today’s clients and potential employees want companies to not only “exist” to make money or sell products.

And in no industry is this mission of “a higher purpose” more important than in the speaker industry.

Audiences do not want to hear about your ideas or your theories – they want a speaker to help them see the bigger picture. They want to be enlightened. They want to see the higher purpose.

I do not really talk about how to be a Truly Global Company, even if that is what the companies book me for, when they want me to give a speech based on my latest book “One World. One Company.” What I really talk about is the potential for mankind to become ONE. A world with no borders where we all work together for the benefit of us all.

Yes, that is a grand vision. But that is what we want from a speech.

You better make sure you have a message of a grand vision of your own in your speech – because people are (consciously or sub-consciously) going to be looking for it.

Lesson: What are you really speaking on? What is that bigger picture hidden in your talk?

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San Francisco, USA.

Don’t you get tired of all the travel?

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I get that question a lot.

And it is true, I do travel A LOT. I actually have more hours in the air than a commercial airline pilot.

But no, I do not get tired of it. Or at least I find it much less tiring than having to, for example, commute 1 hour back and forth to an office every day of the week.

Let’s look at the trip I am on right now.

At 9:25 on June 9, I left Singapore to fly, via Seoul and San Francisco, to Las Vegas where I gave a talk to all the BMW car dealers of North America. Then back again, via San Francisco and Hong Kong, to Singapore where I will land 11:25 on June 12. So, that’s 74 hours of travel for a 40-minute speech.

Sounds crazy, but now let’s break it down.

24 hours would be sleeping. 2 nights in Singapore Airline’s awesome business class bed, 1 night at the equally awesome Aria Casino and resort in Las Vegas.

So now, there’s 50 hours left.

5 hours of meeting with client, checking on stage, delivering my speech, hanging around the conference learning about the future plans of BMW USA and about their new car.

10 hours of experiencing Las Vegas. I went to a show, had some great food (cajun crayfish was the best!), had a massage, did some people-watching on the Strip, and of course, a bit of gambling in the casino.

On my way back, I had a 5+ hour layover in San Francisco so I called an old friend, Elin, who lives there, and took a taxi downtown to meet with her. She took me wine tasting at a hot start-up (Built), and then for a really nice dinner at Union Square. Time catching up with old friend in San Francisco: almost 5 hours.

Now, suddenly, the “74 hours of travel” is down to 30.

In those 30 hours, I watched 2 movies, 10 TV shows — I do not have cable TV at home so I catch up on TV when I travel 😉 — and had the time and piece of mind to read (cover to cover!) the book “The Lenovo Way” by Lenovo’s HR manager Gina Qiao, which she gave me last week. And of course, I was also able to get a few hours of emails done (and write this blog post).

Out of the 74 hours I will be gone, I would call less than 10 hours “annoying traveling time” (such as taking taxis to airports, going through airport immigration and security etc.) — which would be the same amount of annoying travel time that someone who works 9-5 and commutes 1 hour to work would have.

But how about “being away from family”?

I left Tuesday morning after sending my kids off to school. I will be back on Friday before lunch and will spend the rest of the Friday “workday” playing with my daughter who comes home from Kindergarten at noon, giving me 6 hours of “father-child-play time” during “office time” on Friday.

Now, a person with a “normal” 9-5 job (who commutes 1 hour to work) would have spent 8 hours “playing with kids’ in the same 4 days. This is based on having 1 hour from 7-8 in the morning, and 1 hour from 6-7 in the evening before kids go to sleep.

In the same 4 days, I had 1 hour on the 9th and 6 hours on Friday giving me 7 hours of “playtime”. Almost the same as the person with a 9-5 job.

Now, I also spent Monday at home, since I knew I was going to be away, which gave me another 6 hours with my daughter. In effect, I had MORE time with my young child this week than someone who works 9-5 even though I was gone travelling for 74 hours.

And then I also got to visit a good friend in San Francisco, have a day of fun in Las Vegas, and work with the amazing people at BMW USA during that very same week.

But this doesn’t add up, you might think? You must loose out somewhere?

Well, here is the lesson: Being a global speaker DOES involve a lot of travel. But because the actual work time is so short (in my case, 5 hours this week), a lot of the travel is done DURING the normal 40-hour work week. People who complain about travel are usually the people who have a 40+ hour work week AND then have to travel on top of that. That must suck.

Also: I do not HAVE to travel. I could choose to be a Singapore-based speaker working in Singapore.

But I find that the energy, the insights and the experiences I get from being a global speaker makes my life richer, fuller and more amazing. And that is why I am not tired of the travelling.

Done right, it fills your work week with a lot of inspiration and you are still back home for lunch on Friday 😉

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On a plane between San Francisco and Hong Kong.

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A journalist once commented to Princess Victoria of Sweden that it seemed that the princess was always so interested in the person sitting next to her at all the formal functions and meetings she has to go to.

The journalist asked her how she did it.

Princess Victoria replied: “My mother taught me that every person has an interesting story.”

She also said something like “it’s seems so boring to not be interested in the person next to you.”

I think that was great advice from the queen – and it is extra relevant advice for a speaker.

I am often asked how it is to go and speak for “boring companies”. I know what people mean with that question, but I have to say that I now think that there are no boring industries.

There are some industries that are super-interesting and fascinating – but there are no boring industries.

I recently did a talk for a company that does “O-rings”, arguably not a very flashy industry, but I learnt some really interesting things. After 15 years of speaking to virtually every industry you can imagine, from glue companies to makers of potato chips, I now know that every industry is fascinating. This is if you learn how to be curious by knowing how to look at something from different points of view and from your own perspective.

I am writing this post on a 14-hour intercontinental flight and I have just finished watching a documentary on the in flight entertainment system about a chili sauce.

Now, a documentary about a chili sauce might not sound super interesting, or like something that is connected to the themes I am speaking on – which are Business Creativity, Change and Having a Global Mindset.

But it was.

The documentary was about the Sriracha hot sauce that is right now taking the USA by storm. Its popularity has just exploded in the last few years and it has almost a cult following that is growing quickly. (If you do not know about the sauce, do some googling to find out what’s going on.)

I knew about the sauce through my brother-in-law in the USA who is a huge fan, but I learned some new interesting things by watching the documentary.

The sauce was created in 1987 by David Tran, a Vietnamese man of Chinese heritage who fled Vietnam as a boat refugee and who arrived in the USA with nothing. There, he started making his chili sauce and it since has grown by at least 20% every single year for almost 30 years, without ever advertising.

(Interesting Fact: He named his company Huy Fong Food after the name of the boat he spent 3.5 months on while trying to flee his home country.)

Now, they have a new factory that turns out more than 18,000 bottles per hour and they are still struggling to meet up with demand. Or in the words of Mr. Tang: “For the last 30 years, the economy went up and down. For me, I feel nothing. Every day, every month, the volume increases.”

What I did not know about the sauce was that the name “”Sriracha” was not trademarked by Huy Fong Food because it is actually a generic name of a chili sauce from a small town called Si Racha — in Thailand (!).

So let’s see: the hottest brand in hot sauces right now is founded by a Chinese-Vietnamese man, but is made in the USA, it originated in Thailand, and is most popular being used on Pasta and Pizza (Italian) and Spicy Tuna Sushi (Japanese).

This is a fun example of a product that has embraced the global possibilities of learning from and being inspired across borders.

Or as one person in the documentary said when talking about how many different Sriracha sauces are now being launched, “It’s a whole beautiful world out there.”

He was talking about a whole world of different chili sauces. But I think the quote is even better as a general statement: It’s a whole beautiful world out there. And products, companies – and people – should try to be inspired from anywhere they can.

Inspiration without borders is a nice slogan. And a good strategy. 😉

Lesson: Always collect examples that inspire yourself and which helps you develop the theme you speak on. In my case, it’s seeing the connection between a chili sauce and the value of having a global mindset. In yours?

P.S. I have to end by sharing a wonderful quote from the humble Mr. Tang. When others advised him that he would sell more bottles if the sauce was not so spicy, he replied: “No, a hot sauce has to be hot!” 😉

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