Monday, April 7, 2008

Shooting the Donkey in the Complex Sales Process ... Hollywood Style

What is this thing called the Complex Sale that makes seasoned salespeople tremble at the mere mention? That causes two-to-three-year sales pipeline nightmares?

What could it possibly have to do with a donkey and Hollywood?

The Complex Sale typically refers to a high-value purchase ($100,000 and up) involving a Buyer's Committee, consisting of anywhere from three to twelve people or more.

Does a Complex Sale (product or service) to large, successful companies like Wells Fargo, Dell, UPS, Northwestern Mutual Insurance, or Boeing, have anything in common with a sale to — Hollywood?

Surprisingly, yes. And prolific Hollywood author, Skip Press, will put it in perspective for us.

But first ...

Recently, at a technology trade show in Phoenix, I became embroiled in a discussion with sales folks from around the country about the dreaded Complex Sale. Within an hour, I was convinced it was a communicable disease.

Maybe incurable.

I finally asked the most vociferous negativist in the group what exactly it was he sold. His response? The finely tuned sales pitch?

A tornadic swirl of immeasurably long and undecipherable words lasting five minutes.

No pause.

Not one.

Not even for a breath, which was, in my opinion, his most singular accomplishment, as I had no idea what he was trying to say.

Most Impressive Array of Corporate Gobbledygook Ever

I will admit however, that he had the most impressive array of corporate gobbledygook I'd ever heard. He used every acronym known to humankind, and possibly most extraterrestrials. Now (and this is a frank admission to gain the reader's trust) I pride myself on the ability to out-acronym virtually anyone, but he was the best I'd ever heard.

Yes. You guessed it. I had acronym envy.

"I was hoping," I politely mentioned, "for the answer in English."

"Steve," he said, a bit miffed, "You don't understand. A Complex Sale is a process that involves multiple people, disparate business units, disintermediation and commoditization strategies, and internal political hierarchies. I have to address our Strategic Vision to each constituency or risk disenfranchising potential decision-makers."

The Marketing Brochure

He hands me his marketing brochure. I still haven't quite grasped what he sells, but his brochure had pictures.

Very helpful.

I opened the 12-page brochure and flipped to the "What We Do" section. It was only one sentence. Great!

Right? ...


It was nine (9) lines long.

One sentence.

Let me repeat. Nine lines long. Twenty-six commas, I counted. Then. Eureka! More pictures on the brochure. I looked up and asked, "You sell Call Center stuff?"
"No. Strategic enterprise-wide, mission-critical, customer-focused communications."

I lift my hand for a pause. Thankfully, he understands sign language and stops.

"Yes." A deafening silence, which leads quickly to a whispered confession and punctilious correction, "Call Center solutions" (stressing the solutions, better than "stuff").

He turned the tables on me, laid down the gauntlet.

"What do you sell?" I paused momentarily, but acronym envy had impaired my normally staid disposition.

Robust Platform-Neutral Portably (almost probably) Seamless Robuster LMNOP Robustest Interoperability

"I'm an R&D Analyst for hypothetical superluminal quantum particle applications with ERP, CRM, BPM, MRM and PLM functionality targeted at vertical market particularities with platform-neutral 'LMNOP' interoperability." (I must point out, for clarity's sake, that the LMNOP acronym means absolutely nothing except being easy to alphabetically remember.

He shakes his head, suitably impressed. "LMNOP" - cutting-edge stuff."

Uh-oh. There actually may be an acronym "LMNOP" that means something, somewhere to someone. I try to divert his attention for fear he will challenge my "LMNOP" expertise.

"How are your sales?" I ask.

He points thumbs down.

"Steve, I told you, it's a Complex Sales environment ... nothing, zero, nada, for the last two years. But my pipeline is full. Most of its forecasted 30% probability certain to close."

Impressive. Not often a 30% probability is equated to "certain to close."

In an attempt to extricate myself from the conversation and lift his spirits, I suggested that perhaps there are far more Complex Sales environments that he was, luckily, not involved with.

"Complex Sale? You could be selling to Hollywood ... now that'd be a Complex Sale."

"No" he said with an over-confident smile, "It can't be. You ever see the crap they put out?"

I counter, "That simply proves my point. Anyone who can sell a lame piece of crap for an exorbitant amount of money has obviously (at least once) mastered the Complex Sale process." He disagreed.

Enough already!

It was time to take a totally different approach. Time to …

“Shoot the Donkey" refers to a classic scene in the movie "Patton" (based upon a true life event) where the Third Army gets critically held up in battle on a bridge, by a cart-pulling donkey that has stopped and refuses to budge, totally blocking the bridge. Life and death are at stake. An MP struggles with the donkey and the owner, trying to get them out of the way. But makes no headway.

The entire Third Army halts for this recalcitrant donkey.

General George Patton roars up, leaps out of his jeep, whips out his ivory-handled pistol, shoots the donkey, and immediately has it hurled off the bridge, removing the obstacle.

The Great Leadership Principle

That classic scene not only revealed Patton's character in a cinematic way, but also embodies the great leadership principle of taking decisive action to remove all obstacles to fulfill one's mission.

Convinced that selling a project to Hollywood had to be an incredibly Complex Sale, I decided to get the real scoop from a respected Hollywood veteran and well-known author. I found that a really Complex Sale, such as to Hollywood, may, at times, be difficult, painful, long-term, discouraging, and frustrating. But it could, at the same time, be … simple?


click to enlarge

Skip Press is an award-winning writer for radio, television and film. Skip won a Silver Medal at the New York International Film Festival and is the author of over two dozen books including:

  • "The Ultimate Writer's Guide to Hollywood"

  • "Complete Idiot's Guide to Screenwriting" (two editions plus Russian)

  • "How to Write What You Want and Sell What You Write" (three editions)

Press also did three editions of "The Writer's Guide to Hollywood Producers, Directors and Screenwriters’ Agents." The first edition of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Screenwriting" was deemed best of its kind by the "Writers Guild of Canada." The e-book of "How to Write What You Want and Sell What You Write" was a finalist in the Best Non-Fiction Book category in the first Eppie electronic book awards, and Barnes & Noble Books issued a new print edition in 2005. In addition, almost 1,000 colleges and universities on three continents offer Skip's screenwriting course titled "Your Screenwriting Career."

Skip can rattle off Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," scenarios to illustrate a business concept then seamlessly transition to Aristotle's Poetics, lauding its timelessness for covering the principles of dynamic storytelling. But, and this is very, very, very important, his writing is clear, entertaining, convincing, motivating and easy to understand. And, as Gareth Wigan, Co-Vice Chairman, Columbia Tristar Motion Picture Group, points out, "His writing combines fearless opinions and invaluable hard facts both of which are hard to find in Hollywood."

Pretty powerful stuff when you combine that with a rare blend of creative genius and business savvy that has enabled him to create, write, market, negotiate and close multiple Complex Sales, including book, film, radio and TV projects. And, as you'll learn after reading Skip's interview, in Hollywood - EVERY sale is a Complex Sale.

STEVE: Skip, is selling to Hollywood a Complex Sales process?

SKIP: I heard producer Mace Neufeld ("Hunt for Red October," "Sum of all Fears") talk once about putting a property into production that he had been trying to put onto film for 23 years.

Steve: That’s a long sales cycle for sure.

SKIP: Richard Attenborough took a quarter of a century in getting "Ghandi" on-screen. Wendy Finerman needed over a decade to get one particular film made, and when she began the process she was married to Marc Canton, who was the head of a studio. You have to be passionate about it, willing to do whatever it takes to get the project done. A co-writer and I recently had a screenplay "optioned" (picked up for possible production) that we first began writing 15 years ago.

Insight 1

Passion + Persistence + Doing Whatever It Takes =

Success in the Complex Sale

SKIP: Selling something to Hollywood can also be very simple if you arrive with an already popular property. Examples: a non-fiction book, a novel, a comic book or a well-known national true story. If you have an original, well-written screenplay it better be in a popular genre so that it's readily evident that it will make money at the box office.

Insight 2

Concept Easy to Understand + Evident How It Will Make Money or Solve
Problems = Complex Sale Made Simple.

STEVE: Example of one of these properties?

SKIP: Reading "It's Not Easy Being An Idiot" on the first page of Winston Groom’s novel hooked Wendy Finerman on a project that took 10 years to get financed.

STEVE: Now that's a line I can relate to.

SKIP: Determination, unfailing spirit, and 10 years of tenacious hard work, even in the face of continued skepticism that the project would ever be made, eventually resulted in a little film called "Forrest Gump" with:

  • Over $1 billion in box office revenue

  • Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and 20 other awards.

Insight 3

Determination + Daring to Dare + Unfailing Spirit =

Anything You Can Dream.

"Few things are harder to put up with than

the annoyance of a good example."

— Pudd'nhead Wilson -1894

SKIP: Unfortunately, most people don't bring undying determination to Hollywood, and so they must find a champion for their project who won't give up, like the filmmakers mentioned above. Stepwise, this can mean an agent who finds a producer. Stepping back one step, it might mean finding a manager (unregulated by the State of California, unlike agents), who works with an agent or goes straight to a producer. It might be an entity that acts both as manager and producer, like Bender-Spink.

Then a producer will have relationships with a funding apparatus, which may or may not be a studio. To get funding, the producer might attach a director, who will attract talent, which will hopefully impress funding entities. If not funded by a studio, the producer might need to line up distribution, and a distribution company will know how much the talents' names are "worth" in various worldwide markets, so this will factor in how much they will be willing to spend. For all of these reasons, I advise people to try to write and sell in established genres and markets before trying to re-invent Hollywood.

Insight 4

Know the Business.

Know the Process.

Speak the Language.

STEVE: A crucial step in a Complex Sales process is an easy-to-understand value proposition. You encapsulated that in one of your books as "Hollywood Success in 25 words or less." Can you explain what that means, and, how important is it in your business?

SKIP: Here's a personal example. My own script that I mentioned above is called "Alien Creeps." You can probably get an idea from the title that it's about aliens and you might intuit without much trouble that it's funny. I told a friend of mine, who had run all the TV series and TV movies at Viacom (the parent company of CBS, Paramount, etc.) the title. He smiled and told me it was a good title. The concept communicated to him immediately, before he even heard the logline (the 25 words or less). So it really starts with a title, and this applies to any business. "Mr. Johnson, I understand you live in a haunted house. Have you ever enlisted the services of a ghost buster?" That's the concept — Ghostbusters — the profession doesn't exist per se but you know pretty much what the movie is about just from the title.

Or, it can be an intriguing title that makes you want it explained, like "Men in Black". So then, you have to tell someone on the phone, or via e-mail, or (worst choice) in a letter, what your script is about. You expand it further, which is sort of what studio marketing people do when they say things on the poster like "Next Summer: You Will Believe." You call someone and you say my script is called Hitler: The Other Story. And so they're intrigued, perhaps. "What do you mean The Other Story?" they ask. "Well, my script is an alternate history look at what would have happened if Hitler had become a successful artist the way he wanted." And that might be enough to get them to at least read the script, and if your story was interesting, then you might get somewhere. (By the way, in case you think this made-up-on-the-fly script idea is far-fetched, that didn’t stop the Hitler mini-series from getting made by a U.S. network.)

STEVE: One of the most important keys in any Complex Sale is getting the right information, to the right person, at the right time. How do you accomplish this, finding the right person at the right time?

SKIP: You pay attention to what Hollywood is doing by a daily reading of "the trades" meaning the Hollywood newspapers like Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. If you live here, you also network with people, go to parties, go to screenings of films, and try to find out who is looking for what. And then you get lucky. I have a TV project being pitched at a high level at Paramount. I just happened to bring it to someone who has their ear at a time when they were considering a similar series but couldn't get it right.

Insight 5

Attention to "The Trades," Industry Mags + Research + Build Relationships =

Placing you in the Right Position to Win the Complex Sale, or Get Lucky.

(Yes, luck counts too.)

STEVE: "Pitching." What is it, and how do you relate it to the Complex Sales scenario?

SKIP: It is explaining your entire movie, usually within 15 minutes. If your pitch is effective, the executive you are pitching to will bring in his/her boss and you pitch again, until you reach a person who can say yes or no. In some cases, they will then go pitch the story to their boss, the person who writes the "green light" checks at a production company, network or studio. In short, you have to keep making people happy all the way to the top. Not any different than any other business, is it?

Insight 6

Knowing Thy Pitch Frontward, Backward, Upside-Down = Making People

Happy (including yourself when you close the deal)

STEVE: You advocate, and have often exemplified, aggressive action, cold calling, never waiting or depending on someone else to get you through to the highest-level contact possible. Some people have an aversion to this, or, perhaps, are intimidated. But you also state that usually, in your experience, the higher-level point of contact (Producer-Director=CEO-CFO), the easier they are to talk with. How did you come to this conclusion?

SKIP: I've never had a problem with it. I said hello to Richard Donner ("Lethal Weapon," "Conspiracy Theory," "Superman") in a parking lot and sent him scripts for years afterward. I ran into Michael York ("Austin Powers" trilogy, "The Omega Code") in a copy shop and noticed he was copying something about Tennessee Williams, whom I'd interviewed - we struck up a conversation and have been friendly since. And speaking of Tennessee Williams, I knocked on his door in New York one day and asked to interview him for a magazine and he said yes. Very gracious man.

Insight 7

"Fortune favors the bold."

— Virgil

There have been times when I have been intimidated by legends. Fred Astaire walked by me on the street in Beverly Hills one day and said hello and my jaw literally dropped and I managed to bungle out a return greeting. Burt Lancaster smiled and tipped his hat to my then wife and I one day in Century City. I covered the opening of a club Merle Haggard started in North Hollywood and every country legend within the western U.S. was there, and the only people I just couldn't muster up the nerve to say howdy to were Roy Rogers & Dale Evans who were absolutely glowing and everything my cowboy pal childhood mentality told me they would be. Nevertheless, by and large, the nicest people are at the top in this business.

Insight 8

No one is unapproachable.

Open your eyes.

(I'm not sure about saying "howdy" though.)

But, even though they’re nice, approaching a “power player” may be dangerous if you don't have your concept and/or script together. If you do have it together, though, you will not blow your first chance with a powerful and busy person. Even if they don't have a particular liking or need for your particular project, if they are impressed by your conceptualization and presentation, they'll listen to you again. In the instances above, the stars who said hello to me may have noticed me because I'm generally confident, or they could've just been nice guys. First impressions mean a lot. I got a phone call from Michael York's assistant one day about something I wanted to interest Michael in (Michael was doing a movie in Croatia at time). I realized it had been almost 20 years since we’d first met. So good first impressions can start long-lasting relationships.

Insight 9

Be prepared.

Be confident.

Sell to power.

Don't waste decision-makers' time.

STEVE: But, there are instances, probably more often than not, when you have to work your way up the ladder to the decision-maker. How do you get past the gates in Hollywood?

SKIP: First of all, you mustn't think of those "gates" as part of a castle where the gatekeeper will always be a lowly soldier or servant. In all the major agencies - and this has been true a long time — everyone starts out working in the mailroom, so they learn how the agency works. No matter what college degree they bring in, that’s the rule. In production companies, the person going for coffee today (called a "go-fer") might be a staff writer the next day (this actually happened to a guy in my Yahoo! group “Skip’s Hollywood Hangout”). So it pays to be cordial with everyone and not condescend. You're not in a hurry to get past someone but to get into communication with them and get to know them. More often than not that works well, and they remember your sincerity and interest when others have not paid them this respect. Over the years, I have seen person after person work with established producers like David Permut ("Dragnet," "Blind Date," "Face-Off") and move on up to produce movies with David and then go off on their own highly successful careers. So gatekeeper today, hotshot producer tomorrow. Don't give them a reason to remember to hate you.

Insight 10

Nice counts.

Sincerity counts.

Develop relationships from the go-fer to the CEO.

Don't ever give them a reason to remember to hate you.

"A child of five would understand this. Someone fetch a child of five!"

— Groucho Marx

STEVE: How important is that first sale to a writer? That first reference or success story? How can it elevate marketability and economic reward?

SKIP: It's just a sale, unless it is a big splash sale for a lot of money that gets mentioned in the trades. At that point, you're suddenly on everyone's "radar" and your old classmate from kindergarten calls you about a project they'd like you to help with. With references, you reflect up on the person who sent you, so if you don't create a good impression, don't expect a lot more references.

STEVE: In your opinion, what’s changed in the last few years in Hollywood?

SKIP: These days in Hollywood, escapist entertainment rules. When pretty people do exciting things onscreen, people watch, living vicariously through them. Some times it doesn't matter about small things like rumors of breaking up a marriage while making "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" - audiences want to forget about their struggles via onscreen thrills of people like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

STEVE: For years you have been espousing a simple message. A message to writers, that if you want to win, and win big, you have to do one thing. Write for …

SKIP: "Family" entertainment. It triumphs overall, partly because of numbers. Kids will see a movie they like multiple times in a theater, while adults may not. And if the kids, the parents and the grandparents can all see and enjoy the same film, guess which one they pick? Most often, this means a comedy, and more likely than not a CGI-animated film voiced by top Hollywood actors.

Insight 11

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.

George Washington Carver

SKIP: Then there's the great movie, the quirky independent that seems to come out of nowhere, speaks to the great underdog-loving North American audience, and thrill people to the consternation of formulaic-driven Hollywood executives. Like the main character in "Napoleon Dynamite" says in the first scene of the film, these movies seem to do "God! Whatever I want to!" The original budget of the Utah-made "Napoleon Dynamite" was $200,000 and it grossed $40,000,000 at the box office. Try to find a Hollywood studio movie with that kind of return - you won't. Originality still rules, and usually comes from outside Hollywood.

STEVE: The great under-dog loving audience. Know it well. That defines the appeal of Forrest Gump to me. Simple. Honest. Ethical. True to heart. Most of all ... honest.

Insight 12


Fat Man at the Bench : It was a bullet, wasn't it?

Forrest Gump: A bullet?

Fat Man at Bench: That jumped up and bit you.

Forrest Gump: Oh, yes sir. Bit me right in the buttocks. They said it was a million dollar wound, but the army must keep that money 'cause I still haven't seen a nickel of that million dollars.

STEVE: Rejection. It's part of every sales process, more so I think in the Complex Sales process because of the multiple people and groups with differing agendas involved. A lot of potential Donkeys. How do you "Shoot the Rejection Donkey," and what one word describes the best lesson learned in your career about it?

SKIP: Serenity. I used to get very angry over rejection and burned bridges. Sometimes, I had something to learn. Sometimes the rejecter was full of crap. Sometimes I was simply offering the right product to the wrong buyer. Anger generally doesn't do you much good. It's appropriate in some instances - some people need a good chewing out, and some people are just worthless creeps who need to think you will loose the hounds of hell on them so they'll stop screwing with people. But generally, you need to just figure out if you erred with your work or in contacting that person in the first place (wrong market). If not, just find the right market and keep sending it out. And you must remember this - sometimes you're just ahead of your time. Lastly but most important, there's a principle I call "resonance." If you've ever tuned a guitar or piano (or seen someone do it), then you've seen a point where a musical string vibrates in harmony with the tuning device. The same thing happens with people. You won't hit it off with some people, no matter what you do. So if there isn't resonance, don't think twice about it. Just move on to someone with whom you will find a mutual resonance.

Insight 13

Re-read above paragraph.

Re-read above paragraph.

STEVE: What, in your opinion, matters the most in closing the Complex Hollywood sale?

SKIP: Talent without ego.

Insight 14

"A short saying often contains much wisdom."

— Sophocles

STEVE: What's the biggest obstacle you run into and how do you get around it?

SKIP: Getting the time to use all that I know to write scripts that I know will sell and other things that I'd love to leave as my legacy, whether I sell them in my lifetime or not.

STEVE: Final question. You're a well-respected veteran journalist. What's been your favorite interview so far, and why?

SKIP: My favorite interview? A tie between Tennessee Williams and Steven Spielberg. Tennessee because he was so gracious and so damn funny, invited me into his home. Spielberg because he's in love with what he does and so upfront about it.

I was as intrigued by the answers of the author of "Chocolat" (who was thrilled with the movie of her book) as I was in hearing what John Williams (who made "Shrek" happen) had to say about how he developed the movie from a tiny children's book his kid liked. I simply enjoy talking with people who love the creative process and don't mind doing the sometimes very hard work (that latter part is the difference between them and dilettantes).

Insight 15

Love the work. Work the love.


About Skip Press

Skip Press is currently working on a book that applies his discoveries about the "Shaping Force" of great screen stories to life itself.

The "Shaping Force" was a unique story discovery and has been well received by students. It doesn't bind creators to a set "formula" like some other gurus tout. Skip uses it in his own work and life with much success.


About Steve Kayser

Steve Kayser specializes in hypothetical superluminal PR within quantum particle applications with ERP, CRM, BPM, MRM, and PLM functionality targeted at vertical market particularities with platform-neutral LMNOP interoperability.

Right ...

teve Kayser is an award-winning business writer who has been featured in a marketing best practices case study by MarketingSherpa, Purple Cows (by Seth Godin); A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing, Credibility Branding, Innovation Quarterly, B2B Marketing Trends, PRWEEK, and Faces of E-Content magazine. His writings have appeared in Corporate Finance Magazine, CEO Refresher, Entrepreneur Magazine, MediaBullseye, Business 2.0, and Fast Company Magazine, among others.

In his spare time, Steve models kilts for Un-Vanity, Non-GQ and The Manly Kilt Wearing Man's monthly magazines.

Steve also headlines fund-raising events for his run at an Olympic Gold Medal in the kilt-wearing mechanical bull riding competition to be held in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2050.

For more information, you can contact Steve at

Have a Change of Mindset?

Monday, November 10, 2008

We're Moving to WordPress

We've moved to a new site -

Appreciate you checking this article out at

We'll be deleting all the content on this site over the next few weeks.



interview with Carol Dweck
, Ph.D., author of the book "Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success."

by Steve Kayser

Carol's work has been featured in such publications as The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and she has appeared on "Today "and "20/20."


A great word for the 2008 presidential candidates to position around. It's positive. And negative.

An Overwhelming Constant

But for us regular muck-a-mucks battling through the life of business, trying to stay competitive with marketable business skills, change is an overwhelming constant. It batters us with dizzying storms of unfathomable amounts of information. Howling hurricanes of digital rain.
Just to stay even you have to run uphill.

I work in Public Relations for a software company called
Cincom Systems. To do my job adequately (keep abreast of the new technologies, strategies and tactics) I need to read at least three to four hours per day. Let me repeat that. Just to keep up, I need to read at least three to four hours per day.

But I don't. I can't. Am I derelict in my duties? Not purposefully. My brain just can't cope with the immense amount of information. Besides, (in my defense) I'm busy with 200-300 business e-mails (not counting junk mail) that need attention. Think I'm wrong?


According to IDC 's 2008 "Expanding Digital Universe" (research paper), the amount of digital information created, captured and replicated in 2007 was 281 exabytes.

What's an exabyte?

Simple,1000 petabytes.

What's a petabyte?

Simpler, 1,000 terabytes.

Stop! Help Me Understand

Two hundred and eighty one exabytes is more than three million times the information in all the books ever written*.

Most of that went into my e-mail.

IDC also estimated the 281 exabytes would increase to 1,800 exabytes by 2011.

Help Me Understand ... Again

988 exabytes, the number the previous IDC report indicated would be reached by 2010, is equivalent to 72 stacks of books, 93 million miles each.

How to Keep Up?

That's a critical question for everyone in the business world. Are there strategies or tactics that can help free the mind and spirit from this tsunami of digital rain?

Gargantuan Glob-Beelzebub

Are there ways to breakthrough this garagtuan glob-beelzebub of info-clutter to decipher what's important? To help understand and learn things necessary for our business and personal development?


Turns out there might be. We're going to speak to Carol Dweck, Ph.D., author of the book "Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success," about it.

But first ... to better prepare for the discussion with Ms. Dweck, I sought outside counsel for some questions and topics. I went to the "Whiner Diner," to meet with a couple of demographically (emphasis on "graphically") diverse friends with mindsets worlds apart, to discuss this information explosion and the impossible possibilities of keeping up with it.

For the record, not much dining ever goes on at the Whiner Diner, just whining, drinking, and retro-strategic thinking.

However, this session turned out to be fruitful ... in a fruity kind of way (just note the participants). My friends, Donkey O'Tee (middle) and Cal 9000 (on right) helped me prep for the interview. I'll confess. I needed some help. I mean come'on -- she's a professor from Stanford!

Quick Background of the Round Table Mindset Think-Tankers

Donkey O'Tee started out life as a lowly cartoon metaphor for overcoming obstacles in the original story, "Shooting the Donkey in the Complex Sale ... Hollywood Style."

Turns out though, that Donkey O'Tee is imbued with an insatiable desire to learn. He uses that desire to help overcome his low-life cartoon donkey metaphor beginnings.

Donkey O'Tee embraces all the challenges that being a donkey in the modern human world poses. And, there are many, not the least being ... hoove-typing. Don't believe me? Try it.

Donkey O'Tee believes setbacks can always be handled and mastered through
persistence and sheer effort.

Inspirational Criticism

Donkey O'Tee
learns from criticism and finds inspiration and useful life lessons from the success of others.

This Donkey mindset enabled him to overcome his lowlife sociological beginnings to become... an honorary Harvard scholar.

And now?

Now Donkey O'Tee is the best-selling author of
"Pompously Obfuscating On Purpose."
Cal 9000 has participated in many of the Shoot the Donkey columns. He’s well known as a corporate salesperson that can unleash a tornadic swirl of immeasurably long and undecipherable words lasting upwards of five minutes without taking a breath. Not even a miniscule pause, which is, in my opinion, always his most singular accomplishment, as I usually have no idea as to what he's trying to say.

Cal 9000 has the most impressive repertoire of corporate gobbledygook I've ever heard. He uses every acronym known to mankind, and possibly most extraterrestrials. A corporate gobbledygook automaton of epic proportions. The best there ever was … or will be. Because of this talent, he was dubbed ...

“CAL 9000” (C
orporate Automaton Linguist) 9,000 pre-programmed acronyms for release upon the slightest provocation – such as an unqualified sales lead. Not to be confused with HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic Computer), of '2001: A Space Odyssey' fame. Hal had a personality.

CAL 9000 brought a not-so-unique mindset to the Whiner Diner discussion as well. He's smart.

Don't believe me?

Ask him.

He'll tell you.

Takes on Any Challenge

And challenges? He'll take on any challenge... as long as already knows how to solve it.

Obstacles... No Problem

CAL 9000 never met an obstacle he couldn't avoid. And effort? That's for others with less intelligence.

How to Handle Criticism

CAL 9000 handles criticism well - he ignores it. He revels in success ... as long as it's his. Anyone else's success - not so much.

In life, CAL 9000 believes you either have it, or don't. You're born with intelligence, business acumen, looks, etc. You don't develop it.

He has it.

You don't

Our Whiner-Diner roundtable came up with a set of real-world questions and scenarios for Ms. Dweck from the various viewpoints and mindsets of overworked, overloaded, business (questionable) professionals (again questionable). I'm guessing Ms. Dweck will not have been asked these questions by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times or Washington Post.

But we're always willing to help those publications expand their reach and awareness by asking the tough questions - heartland-of-America type of questions. Coping questions about information-overload, aging, entrepreneurial ventures... and wizards.

Wizards and Mindsets?


Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities, has lectured all over the world, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Steve: First of all, I delved deep into the intellectual gene pool to pull these questions out. I appreciate you taking the time to answer them.

Carol: (surprisingly quiet - one might even say totally silent).

Steve: Let's start. The first question is actually more of a scenario.


You’re a baby boomer. The thought of not being the best at what you do, or not being very good at what you do and learning a whole new set of skills is both intimidating yet intoxicatingly inspirational. The vast amount of information to consider, consume and absorb in possibly learning new skills is daunting. You're having trouble just keeping up with your own job's knowledge skillset. Your book talks about the two different type of mindsets, "fixed" and "growth." How can those different types of mindsets apply in a situation like this?

Carol: Many people stay in less-than-fulfilling jobs because they need to support their families and pay their bills. This responsibility to others is no small thing. However, many people stay in a confining job for reasons of ego - they’ve achieved some status and don’t want to risk losing it. This can happen to people at any age. The thought of being a novice, making mistakes, and looking stupid is terrifying, and each day it’s easier to remain secure and bored than take the big step.

In our research we find that people with a fixed mindset (those who believe their intelligence is fixed) prefer to do things that will make them look smart and that will shore up their image instead of things that can stretch them and help them increase their skills. This is true even when they might badly need those new skills.

People with a growth mindset (those who believe their abilities can be cultivated) are highly eager to learn, even if it means that they will make mistakes and expose their deficiencies.



Fixed Mindset = Likes to Look Smart ... Not Be Smart

Growth Mindset = Leaps, Learns, Looks Forward

"If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner."

- Tallulah Bankhead

The inventor of several big advances in technology recently came to see me, and told me how he picked his work teams for his important projects. He points out to all potential team-members that they are currently superstars in their units and might wish to stay that way. However, he continues, if they join his team, they will all struggle together and not feel special or superior, but they will accomplish things that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Many say, “No thanks, I’d rather stay a superstar,” but many others say, “Sign me up; that really sounds exciting.” This is how he assembles his growth-mindset teams.



Fixed Mindset = No Thanks. I'm a Already a Star. Beat it.

Growth Mindset = Thanks. Sign Me Up. Sounds Exciting!

"Learning is not compulsory ... neither is survival."

- W. Edwards Deming

People with a growth mindset realize that effort (even struggling)—and not perpetual, know-it-all perfection is what makes life exciting and worthwhile. Do you want to look back at the end of it all and realize that you looked smart thousands of times but were bored and unfulfilled? Or do you want to look back and know that you stretched, struggled, grew, and became the person you were capable of becoming?



Fixed Mindset = Likes to Look Good - Bored and Unfulfilled

Growth Mindset = Stretches, Struggles, Grows

"Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death." - Anais Nin

If fear of learning is the only thing keeping you back, then take that step. If responsibility to others is also holding you back, then discuss the matter with your family. They may be willing to pitch in more or make some sacrifices to help you to take that step.

Steve: Aging. How are "mindsets" affected by aging?

Carol: As people head into retirement, those with a fixed mindset may see the possibilities as limited and shrinking. They may hold a stereotype of older people as experiencing inevitable decline and increasing uselessness. Yet, much research is documenting the great ability to learn new things and continue to grow well past one’s 60s and 70s. Those with a growth mindset, while not denying that some things may become more difficult with age, can look with excitement at the many skills they can develop and the many ways they can expand their lives. Retirement becomes a time of opportunity.



Fixed Mindset = Possibilities are Limited & Declining

Growth Mindset = Realistic, Sees Opportunities to Expand Life

"Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old.

All you have to do is live long enough."

- Groucho Marx

Those with a fixed mindset may be afraid to try to learn new things, afraid that the attempt will confirm their ineptitude. Each time they forget something or become confused, they will see it as a sign that they are no longer capable of learning. People with a growth mindset understand that forgetting and confusion were always part of learning - and if they need to work a little harder at learning now than they did before, so be it.

Research shows that life transition seems to be harder for people with a fixed mindset, because they worry at each stage that their skills might not be up to the task and that they will be exposed as inadequate. We can see how this fear would be magnified as people enter a stage of life that is not commonly known for its growth opportunities. This is why a growth mindset is especially critical at this point in life.

Steve: Is this growth mindset an innate, predisposed genetic trait that one either has or doesn’t?

Carol: It may well be that inborn things, such as temperament, play a role in the mindset people develop. However, our research shows that environment can play a very strong role. For example, we have shown that when children are praised for their intelligence, they develop a fixed mindset along with the fear of mistakes that comes with that mindset. In contrast, when children are praised for the effort and strategies that went into their good performance, they develop a growth mindset and the love of learning that comes with it. We have also shown that the growth mindset can be directly taught – even to adults - and that when it is people take on more challenges and remain motivated and effective in the face of difficulty.



Praise the Effort. Not the Result.

"Hard work spotlights the character of people.
Some turn up their sleeves.
Some turn up their noses. Some don't turn up at all."
- Sam Ewing

In a study with students making the transition to junior high, we taught the students that the brain is like a muscle and gets stronger with learning.

Steve: I must be a growth mindset. I'm called muscle-head all the time.

Carol: - - - We also taught them that every time they apply themselves and learn something new, their brain forms new connections. Students taught this message showed better motivation and higher grades than their peers. Similar studies have been conducted with college students, with business school students, and with business managers. In each case, learning a growth mindset resulted in enhanced motivation and performance.



Fixed Mindset = Stagnant, Disconnected

Growth Mindset = Learns, Connects (in more ways than one)

"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."
- Lou Holtz

Steve: Is there such a thing as too much growth mindset? Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla for example. I bring this up because your book cites Thomas Edison as a good growth mindset example. I struggle with Thomas Edison because of the huge differences between Edison and Nikola Tesla. Your book made me consider this issue from a different angle.

Wizardly Inventor

Tesla had a brilliant, wizardly-genius and unending growth mindset. Some might consider his drive and mindset pathological. But Tesla considered himself a “Planter of Seeds” for the betterment of humankind.

Inventive Genius - But With A Business Mindset

Edison created inventions and products that he could sell. That was his bottom line. Utility. Profitability. Business. He wasn’t about the betterment of mankind unless there was a buck in it. Tesla brought AC electricity to the world – but had to give away his royalties to Westinghouse and his investors to make it happen (worth billions of dollars) just so it could be made available to the masses. Edison would have never done that.

Thomas Edison is revered today - was rich and famous in his time. He's in the history books.

Tesla is almost forgotten but by a very few, not mentioned in the history books, died penniless, alone, in a hotel room in New York. His only friends at the end were the pigeons he fed and cared for.

Where does one such as Nikola Tesla and his mindset fit in our world?

Carol: The love of learning that comes with a growth mindset often has to be combined with some sense of practicality. For example, a student might love to learn, but may also need to get good grades to go on to a good college or graduate school. A young professor may love to do research but also has to publish that research to get promoted. A young worker may love exploration and learning, but may also need to do things to stay competitive and keep the job. Sometimes we have to earn the privilege of continuing to do what we love to do. So although learning is often the most important thing to a person in a growth mindset, it is not the only thing.



Earn the Privilege To Do What You Love To Do

It's a rare person who wants to hear
what he doesn't want to hear."
- Dick Cavett

This came through clearly in our study of pre-med students at Columbia taking their first organic chemistry course. These undergraduate students fervently wished to become doctors and, as we all know, needed good grades to do so. Students with a growth mindset put their greatest emphasis on learning in this course, but in the process of learning, they studied the material more deeply, managed their motivation better, and, in the end, earned higher grades than the students with a fixed mindset. In this case, they did not only immerse themselves in the joy of learning but used the learning process to master the material in a way that earned them high grades as well.

It’s a pity that the world is not pure and that the selfless contributors to society don’t always get the rewards they deserve. However, Tesla is not forgotten. The strength of MRI machines that are used so widely now to study the brain is expressed in Tesla units. Among other things, a monument to Tesla was recently established in Niagara Falls and a play about him (Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nicola Tesla) has been produced and taken on tour.

Steve: Thank you, Carol.



Mindsets: Be Fixed On Growth

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
- Pierre de Coubertin


Nigel Holmes has a great graphic explanation of the differences between the "fixed" and "growth" mindsets. Check it out. And visit "Mindset" online if you want to learn how you can change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

About Carol S. Dweck:

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities, has lectured all over the world, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her scholarly book Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development was named Book of the Year by the World Education Federation. Her work has been featured in such publications as The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and she has appeared on "Today" and "20/20."

Contact info:

E-mail: Ms. Carol Dweck
Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology, Stanford University
Bldg 01-420, Jordan Hall
Stanford, CA 94305-2130

About Steve Kayser:

Steve is an award-winning business writer who has been featured in a marketing best practices case study by MarketingSherpa, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing, Innovation Quarterly, B2B Marketing Trends, PRWEEK, The New Rules of PR and Marketing ( by David Meerman Scott) and Faces of E-Content magazine.

Steve's writings have appeared in Corporate Finance Magazine, CEO Refresher, Entrepreneur Magazine, Business 2.0, Ragan Report, Media Bullseye, and Fast Company Magazine, among others.

In his spare time, Steve professionally models kilts for
Un-Vanity, Non-GQ and The Manly Kilt Wearing Man monthly magazines.

Steve also headlines fundraising events for his run at an Olympic Gold
Medal in the commando kilt-wearing mechanical bull-riding competition to be held in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2050.

You can contact Steve by email at

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*From IDC 's "Expanding Digital Universe" research paper.