Today, Norm Goldman Publisher and Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, David J. Friedman author of Fundamentally Different. David is the former President of RSI, an award-winning employee benefits brokerage and consulting firm. Over a period of twenty-seven years he implemented a winning culture that garnered over a dozen awards for such disciplines as leadership, workplace culture, quality, growth, business success and best work-place. He is a frequent guest speaker and seminar leader on organizational culture, leadership, and values.
Good day David and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you decide you were ready to write Fundamentally Different?
That’s an interesting story, Norm. Here’s what happened: During my career as President of RSI, we built a unique and extraordinary organizational culture that not only was the cornerstone of our success, but was also something that sparked intense interest from our customers, vendors, and others who interacted with our people. They were curious about this unusual culture and they would often ask me to share some of the principles and strategies that helped to create it. Whenever I did so, someone would always ask, “So when does the book come out?” I would usually answer, “Eventually.”
So I always knew that I would eventually write that book and share the lessons I learned and taught with a much broader audience. A little more than a year ago, I retired from the employee benefits industry and finally had the time to focus on my writing. Fundamentally Different is the result.
What was your creative process like? What happened before you sat down to write the book?
I tend to do my best thinking away from my computer. My most creative ideas usually come to me in the shower or during a workout (I’m a runner).
In this case, the book had always been in my mind, so the creative challenge wasn’t so much in figuring out what to say as it was in determining how to organize my thoughts in the most effective way. My first step was to write the introduction because this served to organize my material for the reader and to give it context. Once I had that written, the rest flowed fairly easily.
I had talked and written about the Fundamentals for many years, so I knew most of what I wanted to convey. For each chapter, though, I had to figure out how to get the “conversation” started and how to organize the different things I wanted to say. I tend to be a very logical person and I try to write in such a way that each idea flows logically from the one before it. This makes it easy for the reader to comfortably follow and digest my thoughts.
What do you hope to accomplish with the writing of the book and whom do you believe will benefit from your book and why?
My primary goal in writing the book is to share the many lessons that I learned and taught during my career with a much broader audience so that more people can benefit from these insights. What we did at RSI had an enormous impact on the lives of those we touched. I’d like to be able to expand that impact.
One of the things that makes this book unusual, Norm, is that it’s as beneficial for the business leader as it is for the everyday person. Business leaders will learn how to build a high performance culture by institutionalizing their most important values. I give them practical, specific guidance with lots of stories and examples so that they can supercharge their organizations.
At the same time, the chapters on my 30 Fundamentals are filled with thought-provoking ideas and insights that can have a tremendous impact on all who read them – at work, at home, with their colleagues, or with their families. In fact, almost every reviewer of the book has commented that the values I teach and the lessons I impart are beneficial for so much more than just business.
What differentiates your book from the dozens of other books that deal with the same topic?
There are a number of things that make this book so different, Norm:
As I noted earlier, this is a business book that’s just as valuable for the leader as it is for the everyday person.
Unlike most business books, this book is based on my personal experience – it’s not academic or theoretical. I know that everything I share works because I’ve done it.
The book is filled with scores of stories and examples that make it easy to understand and apply the concepts.
The book is written in a comfortable, unintimidating, conversational style, making it enjoyable and easy to read.
the most difficult thing for you about writing your book?
The most difficult thing for me was deciding how to start each chapter. I think of each chapter as a conversation with the reader. Determining the best way to start that conversation so that the reader is immediately engaged was my most difficult challenge. Once I figured that out, the rest of the writing usually flowed pretty quickly and easily.
What do you believe makes a good business book?
I think a good business book should do the following:
It should be engaging and interesting to read.
It should be thought-provoking, causing the reader to consider ideas from new angles or perspectives.
It should be practical, giving the reader tools that he/she can use.
It should have plenty of examples to illustrate its points.
It should be written in a language and style that makes it easy to understand.
Do you feel that most business owners don’t use their imagination when it comes to cultivating its organizational culture? If so, why?
That’s a great question, Norm. In fact, I don’t feel that most business owners use their imagination when it comes to cultivating their organizational culture. I think the biggest reason for this as that most business owners underestimate (or fail to see) the relationship between organizational culture and success. They relegate it to a “touchy-feely” HR topic, rather than seeing it as the single most important factor in driving success.
Unless you recognize just how critical this is (and I make the case for this in the introduction to my book), you’re not going to apply much imagination to it, nor are you going to apply the degree of rigor and discipline that’s required to fully leverage its power.
How did you develop the Fundamentals strategies and how did you use them not only in business but also in your daily life?
The 30 Fundamentals are organized into 4 groupings:
Focus on service
The Collaborative Way
I originally wrote the first 10 Fundamentals (our core values), many years ago and over the years I taught them to all of our staff. However, in late 2003, I learned about the Ritz-Carlton and how they used their so-called “Basics” to drive consistent performance. This spurred my imagination and I began to think about the many things that I often said or taught, but had never written down or formalized. Over a weekend, I penned the rest of our Fundamentals and then rolled them out to our staff.
We practiced the Fundamentals in so many different ways, but the foundation of our practice was our focus on a Fundamental of the Week. Through voicemail and e-mail each Sunday night, a lesson about the week’s Fundamental and how it applied to our daily lives was distributed to all employees. The Fundamental of the Week was displayed prominently throughout the office. The first agenda item in every meeting we conducted, large or small, was the Fundamental of the Week. We began with Fundamental #1 in the first week and continued for 30 weeks until we had covered them all; then we went back to number one and started over, continuing in this way forever.
working with the Fundamentals and talking about them week after week,
they become ingrained as a way of life. So many of our staff talk
about the impact the Fundamentals have had on their lives, both at
work and at home.
On a personal level, they’ve simply become a way of life.
I understand that you are no longer involved with RSI. What are you doing now and how are you applying your Fundamental strategies?
Right now, Norm, I’m pretty focused on speaking and consulting engagements, and working on developing materials to supplement my book. I often do talks, seminars, and workshops teaching the concepts that are in the book. As I do these, I’m always thinking about additional materials that I can create that will help make the program I deliver more impactful for people.
As you can imagine, constantly teaching and writing about the Fundamentals keeps them pretty front and center in my life!
Where can our readers find out more about you and Fundamentally Different?
My website is the central place where readers can learn more about me, my work, and my writing. There you can find a longer biography, see the full list of the 30 Fundamentals, read reviews of the book, read my blog, find out about booking me for speaking or consulting, and see the list of where I’ll be appearing.
You can even read a sample chapter of my book there as well as listen to a chapter from the audio book (which I narrated!).
What is next for David J. Friedman and is there anything else you would like to add that we have not discussed?
Next for me Norm, is continuing to expand the reach of the Fundamentals so that more people can benefit from them. I’m so excited to share this book with your readers and I know, without any question, that they’re going to be just as excited to share it with their friends, family, and colleagues. It’s a book that can change people’s lives.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.