John is a Senior Vice President and professor of Innovation, founder of The Art of Really Living movement, NBC commentator, author and an Olympic silver medalist. John is a thought leader in the field of horology (the study of time), not to be confused with urology, the study of … other things.
Click to tweet: Fire Nation, John shares his incredible journey on EOFire today!
Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [00:31] – JLD introduces John to the show.
- [01:02] – John fills us in on gaps in his background.
- [02:13] – How John generates revenue.
- [03:10] – Worst Entrepreneur Moment
- [6:10] – Design thinking: Methodology. Identifying a new approach to the same old problem. Identifying a “different question”.
- [10:30] – Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- [12:12] – John becomes an analyst for NBC in 2006.
- [12:58] – “We wouldn’t be here right now… if it wasn’t for something you did.”
- [14:35] – Live a life of your strengths.
- [15:10] – People fail to see the amazing opportunities to leverage what they’re truly best at.
- [15:43] – Johns biggest weakness: Not high on follow through. Saying yes to too many things. Uses partner Monica for accountability.
- [16:58] – Johns biggest strength: Great tolerance for risk.
- [17:45] – Fired up about the nonlinear nature in which our brains process time.
- [21:01]- The Lightning Round:
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur: Didn’t know the specific nature of strengths as a business person.
- What is the best advice you ever received: Raise to your strengths, design around your weaknesses.
- What is a personal habit that contributes to your success: Exercise
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation: Omnifocus
- If you could recommend one book, what would it be and why: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
- [25:53] – If you’re trying to manage your time, start thinking about time differently. “The value of an increment of time is not related to its duration.” Base it on value, not on duration.
- 26:31 –johnkcoyle.com and www.theartofreallyliving.com.
3 Key Points:
- Live a life based on your strengths.
- You never know when a single moment may have an impact on another person.
- To better manage your time, you must think about time differently. Focus on value.
- Omnifocus – John’s Small Business Resource
- The Talent Code – John’s Best Business Book
- The Art of Really Living – One of John’s Websites
- www.johnkcoyle.com – John’s main website
John K. Coyle: I am ready, sir.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. John is a senior vice president and professor of innovation, founder of the Art of Really Living movement, NBC commentator, author, and Olympic silver medalist. John is a thought leader in the field of horology, the study of time, not to be confused with urology, the study of other things, Fire Nation. So take a minute, John, fill in any gaps from that intro and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
John K. Coyle: Sure. So I guess the best backdrop I can give is I’ve been basically chasing time my entire life. For nearly 20 years as an aspiring Olympic athlete, it was all about compressing more laps, more strokes, more meters, more miles into the same amount of time. And as I retired from sport in my late 20s that obsession sort of morphed when I started realizing something that maybe you’ve experienced, John, which is each summer started feeling shorter than the last. Have you experienced that?
John Lee Dumas: I have. Even though I’m in San Diego so it’s like one big summer, not like the two months you have in Chicago.
John K. Coyle: True. True. Good point. And I was not okay with this. Right? Like that’s not fair that each year should seem shorter. And I became obsessed with doing something about it.
John Lee Dumas: We’re gonna get into that. We’re gonna get into a lot more. You said laps, John, so was your silver medal in swimming?
John K. Coyle: It was in short track speed skating.
John Lee Dumas: Love that. So, John, we’re gonna be diving into a lot of your backstory today. But before we get into the backstory, let’s get into the present. We’re talking about today. How do you, John, generate revenue in your business right now?
John K. Coyle: Right now I primarily generate revenue through doing keynote speeches. And I don’t say motivational speaker. We can get into that later but there’s no “down by the river” in this particular gig. And I do workshops as well as I teach some classes at a couple different universities on innovation. Eventually though – I am working on a book that I hope will also serve as a revenue generator.
John Lee Dumas: Wonderful. Well, again, Fire Nation, as you can see we’re just starting to peel back the many layers of what makes John an entrepreneur, just a successful human being. But, John, you haven’t always just been successful. Like you haven’t gone from success to success. I mean, you as an athlete even know more than most the second place, the third place, the failing, the falling, x, y, z. So take us back to what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. And, John, we really want to hear the story behind that so take us to that moment in time and tell us that story.
John K. Coyle: And this will be a little bit of a change because I hope you can agree with me that being an Olympic athlete competing for Team USA is essentially a full-time job. Will you follow that line of logic?
John Lee Dumas: I would say absolutely.
John K. Coyle: Okay. So this story sort of backs me into competing for Team USA. And there was a period there where I was in college, I wasn’t competing with the team because I was full-time in school at Stanford. And despite that, despite training on my own and having no coach and no training program, I managed to come in twelfth place in the world training on my own while full-time in school. So when I finished college I joined the Olympic program full-time and sort of started that full-time job.
And with the Olympic team I had all the support, all the coaching, all the program, diet, you name it but for some reason it didn’t work for me. And instead of going from twelfth to sixth to first in the world, which was my plan, on the Olympic team I actually went from twelfth to thirty-fourth to not even making the team. So I decided to quit. The team, not the sport. I decided that I would become the equivalent of an Olympic entrepreneur and sort of quit working for the man, quit working for the Olympic team, and train myself again.
And nobody wanted this to happen. Nobody. I mean, everybody came out of the woodwork telling me it was a bad idea. I mean, I got painted with that broad brush of the wild child, the rebel, the non-team player. But I knew it wasn’t working so I decided I was gonna do it anyway and train on my own on borrowed ice time with no real program. And here’s the thing. Here’s the worst moment. This is probably the worst moment of my entrepreneurial separation from the team.
That season, about a couple months later, I decided to drive 12 hours up to northern Michigan up to a training camp and train with the team just for a few days to sort of get back on the ice with the other players and get used to skating with other people. And after the first session, unbeknownst to me, the skaters called together a meeting with the coaches and they voted me off the ice. They literally said, “No. Sorry. If you aren’t gonna train with us full-time you’re not part of this team and you can’t train with us at all.” And I drive 12 hours back home to train all by myself again. And I considered these people my friends and that really, really hurt. But ultimately, as I’ll share with you later, it was the right decision.
John Lee Dumas: Now did you ever identify what the issue was for you being part of Team USA that wasn’t working for you as opposed to you really being able to find huge success working on your own?
John K. Coyle: I did eventually, yes. Are you familiar at all with design thinking?
John Lee Dumas: No.
John K. Coyle: All right. So design thinking is just a methodology of problem solving. It’s a way of getting yourself outside of your situation, looking at it with perspective, and trying to identify a new approach to the same old problem. And the father of design thinking was this guy named David Kelley out of Stanford. He happened to be my guidance counselor in college so I was really lucky to have this as a backdrop. So when I quit the team but not the sport, I decided to relook at everything and now with perspective. Because when you’re willing to quit, you’re willing to sort of look at everything.
And I decided that the question they were having me answer, which is, “How do we make John Coyle stronger?” wasn’t working. It just didn’t work. Training harder, training the way they were training, training four times a day didn’t work me. Worked for a lot of people but it didn’t work for me. I decided to answer a different central question. And this is the heart of design thinking. It’s figuring out the right question. And the question I decided to answer was, “How do I get to the finish line in less time?” So it’s a similar question but it’s a different question.
And as soon as I asked a different question, it allowed me to be innovative in the way I skated. I actually changed my technique and I actually started skating a shorter track. I figured if I could skate 15 percent less far, I could go 14 percent less fast and still win. And in short track if you’ve ever seen it – now they skate this way again. But we skate sort of like NASCAR. We set up really wide for the corner and go really wide coming out and we’re going about 15 percent farther than necessary. And so I decided to try to skate the tightest possible track I could. I figured, again, if I go 15 percent less far I could go 14 percent less fast and still win.
John Lee Dumas: You win.
John K. Coyle: And if you’d like, I’ll tell you what happened.
John Lee Dumas: Baited breath, John.
John K. Coyle: All right. So I did this all on my own for an entire year. I got kicked off the team, basically labeled in all kinds of broad brush strokes, and then I showed up one year later. I didn’t race for an entire year. Showed up for the very next race, the trials to go to the World Championships, the most important meet of the year in a non-Olympic year. And in my very first race – and keep in mind, this is a sport where first and second is always hundredths of a second. In my very first race back, I beat my personal record by six full seconds. I broke the U.S. record by more than four seconds. And I skated faster than the world record. It changed everything.
John Lee Dumas: Wow. This is a game changer. You know what that kind of reminds me of, John, is the Fosbury Flop. I mean, everybody in the high jump was just diving over it and this guy was like, I don’t have to do it that way. So what happens from there?
John K. Coyle: From there, I skated really at the top of my game for several years. I set the fastest time in the world in the 500 meters that year as well and went on to have a great couple of years. I will tell you the sad ending to the story.
John Lee Dumas: Sure.
John K. Coyle: Going in for now the ’98 – so in the ’94 games, I won a silver medal. Going into the ’98 games, I was going in as a gold medal hopeful and I made the mistake of rejoining that team and that program and I not only didn’t take home the gold medal, I didn’t even make the team again. It was so, so embarrassing, humiliating, disappointing. I can’t even tell you.
John Lee Dumas: Why’d you go back?
John K. Coyle: You know, there was a part of me that always believed that I just sort of lucked into – like I had put in my time and I just happened to break through that third year when I trained on my own. And those great people, great coaches, everybody was telling me I should go back and it would make me that much better. And the reality was that program just never did work for me.
John Lee Dumas: How do people skate today? Do they still do the wide turns?
John K. Coyle: They are back to the wide turns because they’re going so fast that the ice won’t actually hold them if they try to dive in like I was doing there for a few years. I mean, they just keep getting faster and faster. It’s amazing.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah. I mean, that’s just in every sport. It’s scary. It’s crazy. Wow. So a lot of things that I want you to think about, Fire Nation. I mean, that design thinking, the design ideas. That is just a way that you don’t even think outside of the box, it’s like you’re so far outside of the box you don’t even see the box anymore, Fire Nation. And that’s a place you want to be living as an entrepreneur. It’s phenomenal in every way.
So, John, we typically move into another story now. And this story’s an “aha” moment. And of course you had one of the biggest moments of any sports athlete of all time with that. I mean, not only shaving six seconds off of your time but four seconds off of a world record in a sport where hundredths of seconds mean huge, huge deals. It’s absolutely mind-blowing. I mean, it really, really is. And I hope you understand how mind-blowing it is, Fire Nation.
So you had that amazing “aha” moment but you have lived a life. You have been in business, NBC, author, you name it. So you’ve had a ton of “aha” moments. So can you take us to another story at another point in your life when you had a brilliant idea that you executed wonderfully on and really break that down for us?
John K. Coyle: Sure. So actually I’ll just finish that other story. It turned into something amazing. So when I didn’t make the ’98 team, I was so embarrassed that I actually got off the ice, I walked out to my car with my skates still on. I didn’t even get my skate guards. I walked across concrete with my skates and took them off in my car. And then drove 45 hours to Arizona where I moved. I sent my silver medal to my parents. I didn’t see it for a decade. I gave all my awards away.
I had nothing to do with the sport. I was that humiliated. Because you bring a lot of people on this journey, right? And there’s so many people supporting you and you go in and you sort of built up this notion you’re gonna come back with some hardware and then you don’t make the team. It’s just, it really – I can’t even describe how humiliating that was.
John Lee Dumas: Talk about humility, yeah. Wow.
John K. Coyle: Right. I had nothing to do with the sport for ten years. Here we are, I’m talking to you right now because of something that happened next. So I’ll share with you what happened next. 2006, I got a call from NBC and they said, “Would you be our analyst for the Olympic Games?” And I couldn’t say no to that. So I got a trip to Torino to be in the Games. My job was to interview all of the parents and skaters, get all the backstories, feed that to the commentators. And I was re-immersed in the sport that I had sort of abandoned and I had assumed had abandoned me. But it warmly welcomed me back.
And the parents and skaters were really great and they remembered me and I spent 17 days with these families. And on the sixteenth day, the night before the men’s relay, my old event, one of the parents pulled me aside and what he said next changed my life. He pulled me aside and he was like, “I have something to tell you. It’s really important.” I said, “Okay.” He’s like, “I really want you to listen.” I said, “Okay.” And he said, “I just want you to know that we wouldn’t be here right now and my son Alex would not be skating in the gold medal round tomorrow if it wasn’t for something that you did.”
And I said, “I don’t know what you mean.” He said, “You don’t remember but ten years ago, you came into Steamers Pub in Bay City, Michigan for a little reception right after you won your silver medal. You put your silver medal around my son’s neck. He was 11 years old at the time. He had never skated before in his life. The next day he joined the Bay City Speed Skating Club and tomorrow he’s skating for a gold medal.”
John Lee Dumas: Wow.
John K. Coyle: And it just changed everything. For some reason, it made everything okay. It made it worth it. Because you feel selfish about being a competitor and it’s all about me. And so those words – I got back involved. I started coaching. I got my daughter involved. I’ve been involved with broadcasting. So I wrote him this letter thanking him for the impact on my life because I never spoke about this. And he wrote me back this letter that to me sort of puts everything that I believe and everything that I’m about up on a pedestal which is I believe you need to live a life for your strengths. And when you do, people watch and it matters.
So this is how he ended his letter to me. “I guess you’ll never know what you’ll do or say or not do or say that could change somebody’s life forever.” And it took me 12 years to find out that something I did mattered and we may never find out or it make take 20 years. But I do think when you live a life based on your strengths, where you’re pursing excellence, you really build a platform that can influence lots and lots of people in really positive ways.
John Lee Dumas: Live a life for your strengths, Fire Nation. So, John, you just dropped a ton of value bombs throughout that story. Just let’s wrap this part up in a little bit of a bow here. So just kind of maybe sum up for Fire Nation in just one or two sentences, like what do you really want to make sure that we get from this story?
John K. Coyle: Well, from this story, I’d say the thing that most – there’s a Thoreau quote, right? Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. I think many, many adults are so trapped in the “I can’t quit, I’ll never quit, I must not quit” paradigm that they fail to see that to the left and right of them are amazing opportunities to leverage what they’re truly best at, what they’re true talents are. And when they don’t explore, the whole world misses out on that amazing talent, opportunity, that hidden musician, poet, astronomer, athlete that never gets to see the light of day because they never bothered to quit something that maybe they shouldn’t be doing in the first place.
John Lee Dumas: Wow. Powerful words. Now, John, what’s your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur?
John K. Coyle: My biggest weakness is I am not high on follow through. The whole world is a bright, shiny object. I will say yes to more things than I possibly can physically deliver.
John Lee Dumas: Like EO Fire!
John K. Coyle: Kindred spirit, perhaps. But that’s why I have a partner, right? So one of the things about living a life for your strengths is identifying that you also have weaknesses. They’re usually inverse of the same thing. Most creative, innovative types tend to be disorganized and are low on follow through. Therefore, I have a partner, Monica, who is incredibly detail-oriented, high on follow through, and frankly holds me accountable to deliver the things that I’ve promised.
John Lee Dumas: And this really goes with the theme of what you’ve crafted for this entire interview, John, about spending time, Fire Nation, amplifying your strengths. If you’re really good at something and you like it, why not amplify your strengths by just focusing on that and become great. Because we want people in this world who are great at something.
Why do people spend so much time becoming okay at something that they’re crappy at? Because we don’t want okay. We don’t care about okay. So leave the stuff you’re crappy at for other people that are good at it and that’s their strength and amplify your own. Now, John, on the flip side, what’s your biggest strength?
John K. Coyle: I’d say my biggest strength is I, for whatever reason, maybe it’s parenting or whatever, but I have a pretty great tolerance for risk. I’m willing to try new stuff not knowing necessarily whether they’ll work. And I’m sort of willing to take the punches to go do my own thing. And hence now I’m an entrepreneur doing the speaking and the workshops. Six months ago I was working for the man as I had since I retired from skating. It was a big leap, definitely very scary. But, boy, it’s so rewarding.
John Lee Dumas: John, let’s bring things to today, present times. What’s the one thing that has you most fired up right now?
John K. Coyle: My obsession right now, and has been frankly for ten years, is around the non-linear nature in which our brains process time. So we all experience this, right? The long, boring meeting that seems to go forever.
John Lee Dumas: Forever.
John K. Coyle: And only half an hour’s gone by. And you contrast that to an old friend comes in from out of town who you haven’t seen in a long time, you sit down and 20 minutes later, three hours has gone by. Right? So our brains don’t have a clock. Or actually, more accurately, they have about 30 or so. And these things are running in all sorts of weird synchronicity. The primary drivers are your environment, your activities, and your emotions.
And so what I’m obsessed with is understanding the neuroscience of how our brains process time and very specifically my goal in life is to help people unwind cognitive time and slow, stop, and reverse the perceived acceleration of time and live summers longer than when you were a kid.
John Lee Dumas: And that is horology?
John K. Coyle: Correct.
John Lee Dumas: It’s a word I’d never heard before. And I do not think this is gonna be the last time I hear this word. And, Fire Nation, if you’ve been impressed, even a little bit, and I know it’s been a lot with what John’s been going through today, don’t go anywhere because he’s gonna be dropping value bombs galore in the Lightning Round. But we’re gonna take a quick minute to thank our sponsors. John, are you prepared for the Lightning Round?
John K. Coyle: I am ready.
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
John K. Coyle: I think it’s a lot like everybody. I didn’t actually know, despite talking about it for more than a decade, I didn’t actually know the very specific nature of my strengths as a businessperson. I discovered them as an athlete. And I have a strong opinion on this. I think strengths are super specific. So people paint you with a broad brush. You’re fast or you’re a good communicator. I’ve been accused of being both of those. Okay.
But I was fast only in short events and then as it turns it out, here’s my super strengths as an athlete. I’m fast at short events that require generating a boatload of power for short intervals with a short rest while balancing, traveling at high speeds, surrounded by a bunch of people trying to kill me.
John Lee Dumas: Literally.
John K. Coyle: Right? And there’s only two sports that that describes. That’s short track speed skating and velodrome cycling, the two sports I’ve gone to the World Championships in. In business, I didn’t know this until recently, but my superpower is – good communicator. Okay, to whom? About what? Are you good at storytelling? Are you good at data?
But my superpower, as it turns out, is I am good at taking complex matter, turning it into a narrative that’s approachable for audiences. I’m better with large audiences and I’m better with high achievers that want to achieve even more. So I didn’t know that until two years ago. I never did a paid speech until January 28 of 2014 and now it’s my entire career.
John Lee Dumas: Wow. Well, I’ve interviewed 1,300 successful entrepreneurs.
John K. Coyle: Amazing.
John Lee Dumas: Many of whom speak for their living and I can tell you, John, you do have that gift, my friend.
John K. Coyle: Well, thank you, sir.
John Lee Dumas: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
John K. Coyle: The best advice I’ve ever received, and I say this at every talk I ever give, was my coach burned this into my head from age 12 until 25, over and over again. He would say the following, “Race your strengths. Design around your weaknesses.” Race your strengths. Design around your weaknesses. Meaning you’ll get better at the things you’re already good at. So focus on what you’re best at. And don’t try to fix your weaknesses. Find ways to design around them.
John Lee Dumas: John, what’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
John K. Coyle: For me, and I think most human beings are wired the same way, I have to exercise. I ride my bike every day, at least six days a week. And if I don’t, if I take more than a few days off, my mind just isn’t as clear.
John Lee Dumas: I’m a walker. I do 10,000 steps around the bay here in San Diego every single day. That’s just my thing. That’s clearing the head, getting outside, getting the Vitamin D of the San Diego sun. Huge. Where do you bike?
John K. Coyle: I actually bike – in the snow is my favorite actually. I have what’s called a fat bike with about 5” tires. So we’re getting snow right now. I will be out later in that. I love that. But I ride that most of the time on the trails around here. But I do actually race most weekends, so I’ll do 20 to 30 races a year.
John Lee Dumas: You know we use those bikes in San Diego, too, in the sand.
John K. Coyle: Yeah, I know. I’ve gotta try it some time.
John Lee Dumas: It’s fun.
John K. Coyle: I’m coming out. I’m riding with you.
John Lee Dumas: Yes! Share an internet resource like Evernote with Fire Nation.
John K. Coyle: So I love OmniFocus which I think isn’t entirely dissimilar. But I keep all of my tasks, my projects, my long- and short-term goals, resources, links, everything in there. It syncs to my phone so if I ever need to look something up, I just pull it up on my phone if I’m not at my computer. I’ve been using it for years. I love it.
John Lee Dumas: If you could recommend one book for our listeners, what would it be and why?
John K. Coyle: I love the book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Have you heard of it?
John Lee Dumas: Never.
John K. Coyle: All right. It’s very similar, I would say, to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. But this is actually a look into the neuroscience of talent. And very specifically what Daniel did, he got a grant to travel around the world to hotspots of talent where there was too much talent coming out of the same place. Women tennis players out of Russia. Female golf players from Korea. Baseball players from Curacao. Musicians from the Adirondacks.
And he found the patterns that lead to great talent being developed versus being found. Meaning it was created, it wasn’t natural. And these patterns he outlays in this book, I am actually also a progeny of. I just happened to be in Detroit in the ‘70s and ‘80s where it was the center of cycling and, to some extent, speed skating for the globe for quite some time.
John Lee Dumas: The Talent Code. Love that. And, Fire Nation, I know you love audio so I teamed up with Audible and if you haven’t already, you can get an amazing audiobook for free at eofirebook.com. Now, John, I want to end today on fire, brother, with a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
John K. Coyle: I would encourage everybody that’s trying to manage their time to start thinking about time differently. And very specifically – this is probably the greatest learning I’ve had in my 40-some years on this planet is that the value of an increment of time is not related to its duration. If you can accept that the value of an increment of time is not related to its duration – it’s sort of like taking the red pill in The Matrix.
Everything looks different because you can start to value your investments in time not based on their duration but based on the value they bring you. And small moments of time can truly, truly matter. And in terms of contacting me, my website’s the best way. It’s johnkcoyle.com or theartofreallyliving.com. Same thing, go to the same place. And I love comments, questions, and I guess blogs so please contact me if you’re interested in learning more.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you’ve been hanging out with JKC and JLD today. So keep up the heat and head over to eofire.com, just type J-O-H-N, John, in the search bar. His show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. Of course, visit him directly, johnkcoyle.com. And, John, I want to say thank you, brother, for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
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