Erik Qualman: Forbes Top 50 Digital Leader Transforming Leaders With Today & Tomorrow\’s Tech Tools

Erik Qualman is a 5 Time #1 Bestselling Author of books on Digital Leadership including “Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence”. Qualman’s work from “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the …



Erik Qualman is a 5 Time #1 Bestselling Author of books on Digital Leadership including “Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence”. Qualman’s work from “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business” has been featured on 60 minutes and The Wall Street Journal. His 2020 critically acclaimed book “The Focus Project – The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less” was released early due to popular demand during the pandemic.

A former sitting professor at Harvard & MIT’s edX Labs, Erik has been called a Digital Dale Carnegie and The Tony Robbins of Tech. NYU Stern signified Qualman is to digital leadership what Deming is to quality and Drucker is to management. Erik received an honorary doctorate for his groundbreaking work “What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube”.

Erik has put on performances in over 55 countries and has reached over 40 million people with his books and content, and was voted 2nd Most Likeable Author behind Harry Potter’s JK Rowling. He also owns a film and animation studio which has produced disruptive movies for fortune 1000 companies like Disney, Cartier, and Chase (one of these videos appears at the end of this interview).

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Erik Qualman: Forbes Top 50 Digital Leader Transforming Leaders With Today & Tomorrow\’s Tech Tools

Joining me now is Erik Qualman, a five-time number one best-selling author of books on digital leadership including Digital Leader. His Socialnomics work has been featured on 60 Minutes and The Wall Street Journal. His latest 2020 title, The Focus Project: The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less, was released early to critical acclaim. His studios have produced disruptive movies for Fortune 1000 companies like Disney, Cartier and Chase. He\’s spoken in over 55 countries reaching 35 million people. Online, he\’s a viral thought leader on all of his social media with millions of views and hundreds of thousands of followers. He was also a former Sitting Professor at Harvard and MIT\’s edX labs. Please join me now with Erik Qualman.

Erik Qualman, thank you for joining me now on the show. How are you doing?

I’m living the dream. Don\’t wake me up, Chris. It\’s great to be here.

Thank you for being here. You\’re out there in Austin, Texas. Is that right?

Yes, I am in Austin, Texas. Here we are.

Did you grow up out there?

No, I grew up outside of Detroit. The tagline for Austin is, “Keep it weird.” I went to graduate school here and fell in love with the place. Now, we\’re here. It\’s great and a little iconic. They call it Silicon Hills because it\’s hilly in Austin. There are a lot of startups here.

[bctt tweet=\”Digital leaders are made, not born.\” username=\”calentertainmnt\”]

There are a lot of technology companies and creative people living out there. What a great town. That is my favorite town down in that region. I\’ve been there a lot and I love it. I\’m excited. It makes sense that you live there because you\’re such a fun, creative guy. Everybody can see that immediately when they look at you. You\’re wearing these beautiful, bright green glasses. You always have them on even when you\’re at dinner, on a weekend or taking public transportation. You have to wear those glasses at all times. Is that right?

I do. There\’s a long story behind it but I\’ll try to keep it short because things happen for you not to you. This is exactly what happened to me. I\’m going to tell this story because I think we\’re all living the same movie, we\’re just different actors and actresses. The CliffsNotes version is that, \”Step in your story no matter how uncomfortable it might be.\” With the name like Erik Qualman, first, initial, last name, I\’m Equalman for my whole career. I hated it at first because the first fifteen years were like, \”Do you need coffee? Equalman is superfast. He can get the coffee. Do you need the report done on the weekend? Equalman can get it done. He is super strong.\”

Long story long, I did a magazine shoot, a cover shoot for one of my books, Digital Leader. They went, \”We want to have some fun with your name and email address. Can you wear some Clark Kent-like Superman glasses?\” I was like, \”Yes, let\’s do it.\” They went, \”It\’s our St. Patrick\’s Day issue. Do you mind if they\’re green?\” I went, \”Let\’s make it happen.\” I don\’t think much of it. A couple of weeks later, I flew to Kenya to give a keynote. The night before, I was going to adopt a baby cheetah at a rescue shelter. On the way over, the lady that I\’m with said, \”Usain Bolt, the Olympian, was here a couple of days ago. He adopted from the same litter that you\’re going to adopt from. We filmed him. Do you mind if we film you? We\’d love to marry that video together so we can raise more money for the shelter.\” I said, \”Yes, let\’s make it happen.\”

She paused, looked at me and went, \”We want to make sure you\’re wearing your green glasses when we\’re doing this.\” I looked back at her and went, \”I don\’t wear those all the time. I look like an idiot walking around wearing bright green glasses all the time.\” The look on her face, I never wanted to see that look again. Now, I am stuck wearing the green glasses. It\’s something that happened for me. For fifteen years, that was happening to me. I realized it\’s time to step fully into my story so we can empower more people. That\’s exactly what the glasses have allowed us to do. It\’s more recognizable, we\’ve had some fun with it. People now buy thousands of pairs of glasses at these audiences whether they\’re virtual or in-person. Who knew that we\’d be in the business of making green glasses? Here we are talking now about it.

There are many great things in that story that remind me of you. It\’s marketing and brand. It\’s stepping into your story which you said, so there\’s storytelling going on with you. You\’re so great at marketing and leadership. Your most successful book which was your last book before your latest one, what\’s that one called?

It’s called The Focus Project.

A play on words maybe with the glasses.

It\’s one of those things. It\’s crazy because it\’s 2020. You\’re thinking, \”That\’s when the book launched was 2020.\” It was like a vision, 20/20. With the pandemic, all of a sudden, we have to move the book forward a couple of months because people were physically okay but mentally, they\’re pinging us. That\’s unheard of in the publishing world, moving your book forward. Somebody was like, \”I need that now.\” Everyone has a lack of focus. Everything became blurred because of the pandemic. It\’s crazy to think about, \”Here\’s that story I just told you. Now, it also plays into the book because of vision and focus.\” You can\’t make this stuff up. It\’s things that happen for you.

\"VSP Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence

It just writes itself, right?

Yes, I wish that was the case but it did not write itself. For anyone who has read the book, you know that is not true. There were a lot of things that fell into place.

Going back to the book, Digital Leader, tell us a little bit about that. Not many people are combining digital, social media, the new technology we\’re living in and the way people are looking at the world through their phone. Being marketed through their phone and putting their own digital footprint or their own brand out there through their social media platforms, which you talk a lot about. Maybe you\’re the best on the planet who talks about that. You added the word \”leader\” to it. You added leadership. That\’s a cool combination. Tell me a little bit about that book and how those two words go well together for you.

For a little context, when I started my journey, I was always on the digital side of things my whole career. I\’ve been in the digital space now for many years. I was at Yahoo! back when they were the Facebook of the day. They were tiny. I was the Head of Marketing at Travelzoo. We took that company from concept and then eventually went to a public company. It was a top-performing stock on the Nasdaq. When I wrote a book called Socialnomics, that\’s the first book I wrote, all of a sudden I\’d be asked to come in and coach these companies. Usually, these are boards. I\’d come in and they wanted to start with social. I didn\’t know this. Once I got in there, I went, \”These leaders have no idea of the broader picture of digital. They\’re wanting to go right into this.\” We had one company that sold very high-end watches. Everyone would know the company if I mentioned it. I went, \”You want to go social but you don\’t even sell directly to your customer. You\’re selling this all through these through retail. We\’ve got to take a step back.\”

That\’s why I started to realize that these folks were all amazing leaders, but they had no concept of what digital leadership looked like. That\’s why I did all that research to figure out, \”What\’s the core of leadership? What does a digital leader look like?\” Now, when we\’re looking at the pandemic, I\’ve been telling people, \”We don\’t have a choice on whether we digitally transform the choices on how well we do it.\” I think people did grasp that. They didn\’t move fast enough. All of a sudden, the pandemic just forces our hand and moves everything forward five years. That\’s the whole concept behind Digital Leadership. Now, it\’s been pulled forward five years because of the pandemic. It\’s not a choice on whether we do it. It\’s how well we do it.

What does a digital leader need to do to start off? Where should he make sure that he or she is concentrating on? Is it a question of all social media platforms? When you talk about a leader, you\’re talking about an executive, a C-suite person, a person who owns a small business mostly is who you\’re talking about. Is that right?

It is but understand that a leader can be one. It can even be none because you have to lead yourself. Usually, you have to have one person who\’s following you. In some cases, when I sit down with some of these leaders, they have 30,000 people under their purview. It all starts with habits. Technology changes every second but human nature never does. I talk about the marriage between Flintstones and Jetsons. The beautiful thing is if I\’m in an audience, let\’s say there are 10,000 people out there, I go, \”Digital leaders are made. They\’re not born.\” That\’s the beginning of it. I walk them through what the habits are, knowing that technology changes every second, \”What are the controllables?\” Those are the habits.

This is short. I\’m not going to probably dig into every habit. At the highest to high levels, when people ask me, \”Define digital leadership,\” I go at a one-second level, \”It\’s just empathy. Do I understand you, my employee? Do I understand you, my stakeholder, customer, friend, family member?\” That\’s where it all starts when you think about digital leadership. We go into the habits. We find out there are five common habits. We didn\’t know if it was going to be 23. It turned out there are five common shared habits. I always stress to the audience, \”These five, you\’re probably very good at them but you\’re super strong at one. It\’s like your superpower.\” I\’ve done a lot of research on superheroes because of the name. I always like to dig in, \”Which one is your strongest?\” I always get back to that, \”Knowing that this chaos, knowing that the world is always going to be changing, control the controllables and move forward.\”

[bctt tweet=\”We\’re all living the same movie; we\’re just different actors and actresses.\” username=\”calentertainmnt\”]

When it comes to digital and social media platforms, are you preaching and teaching that one is better than the others for business and that this is where we need to concentrate our efforts? I know you talked about, \”Businesses haven\’t taken advantage of that. Now, they\’re taking more advantage of it.\” You also talk about how to do it, what to say and how to create that narrative and brand. Tell us a little bit about what your favorite platforms are and what to do on them.

At a high level, when you think about digital leadership, social is just one component of that. I could rattle off 40 things from voice search, which eventually will be the dominant player here coming up. Voice search, you\’ve got regular traditional search. You\’ve got email marketing, video and all the way down the line. When we look at the platforms, I always tell people, \”Invest in the trend in your people, not the tools.\” The easiest way to see that, if you went back many years ago, we could see that search and trend were going to be big. We didn\’t know if it was Excite, Ask Jeeves, Dogpile, Yahoo, Google. Who is going to be the winner?

I can\’t tell you that because I\’d be lying if I did. I\’d have ten jets right behind me here if I could predict the future like that. What you can predict or as a futurist look at is invest in the trend. You knew search was going to be big. You invest in that and then constantly invest in your people both internally and also your fans, customers and clients. When Myspace becomes a Facebook, Facebook becomes an Instagram and Instagram becomes a TikTok or a Snapchat, they will follow you not the platform. If you invest all on the platform, then they\’re not going to move over. If you invest in the folks, not the platform, you\’re good. Keep your investments light. When you do, it\’s constantly changing.

If you\’re going to ask me about the two platforms that are cheap in terms of you can get organic attention and you don\’t have to pay for it as much, it\’s TikTok and LinkedIn. Those still have organic reach. It\’s about an attention game, always looking at that gap, \”Where is attention cheap?\” That\’s on TikTok and also on LinkedIn. You can still get that massive organic lift meaning you don\’t have to pay for it. On TikTok, we did a video that someone else reposted and got twenty million views. That doesn\’t necessarily happen on these other tools anymore now because you have to pay to play. Where on LinkedIn and TikTok, there\’s still organic reach out there. Looking ahead, you’ve got to start dabbling and testing voice search. Don\’t overinvest because you want to be a year ahead of your competition but never a year ahead of your market. Voice search is going to be huge. Keep an eye out for that. When you think about Alexa, it\’s that search capability.

There is a lot there to uncover and to be aware of. I\’m surprised to hear anything in the business realm being talked about with TikTok. TikTok, to me, is just a cool dance done by a cool-looking person and everybody thinks it\’s cool. You\’re saying that you posted something with business content on TikTok?

Yes. We have an animation studio. I own an animation studio. When the pandemic hit, a lot of people were like, \”What\’s going on? What do we do?\” They didn\’t have motion and everything. The world shut down. All live events shut down. We said, \”What do we do great?\” We were like, \”We\’re good at animation. How can we help people? How can we help?\” That\’s why I tell people to start with that digital leadership question, \”How can I help?\” We asked that and went, \”What about those moving graphs? I\’ve been seeing moving graphs on the Coronavirus. Those would be helpful. Can we make those?\” \”Yeah, we can pull the data from here.\” The one that went viral, the short answer was around the spread of Coronavirus in a moving graph format. Now, there\’s a ton of them but at the time, back in February, March, they didn\’t exist, and I wanted to see them. As a team, we made that decision.

TikTok is extreme because 11, 12 years ago I wrote Socialnomics, and that was the same thing. The reason I wrote the book is because these business leaders would say, \”Social media, that\’s just for teenagers.\” I said, \”No, this thing is going to change the way we do business. It\’s going to change the way politics happens. It\’s going to change everything in how we communicate.\” I always say, \”Pioneers get pushback.\” It\’s exactly right. The thought, \”TikTok is just a teenage game,\” absolutely not. It will grow like Facebook. Facebook, at the time said, \”That\’s just for people in the Ivy League so they opened it up.” Then they said, \”That\’s just for college students,\” then look at us now.

Anybody reading this is still saying, \”I\’m not going to go on TikTok. What am I going to put on TikTok? What is my business or my company going to put on TikTok? A graph? An animation? Is it going to be me talking to the camera saying, \’Check out this speaker. He\’s cool,\’ and then having a clip of the speaker speaking?\” Is there anything that you can do to help, inform or add value to the viewer? Is it all over the place of what you could do? Is it more concentrated on some visual good-looking thing?

\"VSP Digital Leadership: Digital leadership is simply empathy.


Whatever tool of choice you have, I always say the Three-Second Rule. If you have to think more than three seconds, \”Is it a value to the end viewer?” It\’s not, don\’t post it. It\’s starting with that end viewer in mind. It\’s got to be that intuitive like, \”This is a no-brainer. We\’ve got to post this out there.\” Keep in mind, you don\’t have to be on TikTok. For a lot of people out there, a lot of your readers, that doesn\’t make sense to be on it. It might be that LinkedIn is more important for what they do. I always say, \”You don\’t have to be on all these tools.\” People ask, \”What\’s the best tool?\” It\’s the one that you use, like to use and the one that drives results. That\’s different for everyone. That\’s why I always say what the best tool is like, \”What\’s the tool that you\’re going to use? More importantly, which one are your users, whoever you\’re trying to reach, does it provide the most value?\”

When did the latest book come out?

The Focus Project, which is almost an anti-venom to Socialnomics, you have Socialnomics telling people, \”This stuff is coming. Get into it.\” All of a sudden I\’m looking at it going, \”You guys are way too far into it. You\’re way into your phones.\” I\’m not just talking thirteen-year-olds. I\’m talking 30-year-olds, 80-year-olds. It was like, \”Use the tool. Don\’t let the tool use you.\” The Focus Project is almost an anti-venom to that, \”How do I focus in this unfocused world?\” It came out in August 2020. We moved forward the launch because the pandemic hit. It was written before the pandemic but then so many people said, \”I could use that now because I don\’t know what to do. I don\’t know where to focus. I don\’t know where to put that first footstep.\” That\’s what it\’s all about. It\’s just, \”How do I focus on the big versus the busy?\” You might be wondering, \”Why did I write it?\” I wrote it because I have an intuitive insight into how all these tools are built. The Social Dilemma, for those who have watched it on Netflix, is true.

I was just thinking of that movie. I was going to ask you if you agree with it.

Yes. For me, I watched it and went, \”Of course,\” then I went, \”Everyone doesn\’t know this.\” I went, \”That\’s right, everyone doesn\’t know this.\” That was the a-ha moment for me is that they don\’t know that you have these PhDs who are paid millions of dollars to make sure that you stay on the tool. You can argue the good and the bad. I always say, \”These tools are like a scalpel, that a scalpel can save a life and it can also take a life. It\’s not the tool itself that\’s inherently good or bad, it\’s how we use them.\” That\’s my whole goal in life is to stress to businesses, individuals, teenagers, \”Here\’s how you use them to your benefit and not have them use you.\” That\’s another reason why I wrote The Focus Project to make sure that you\’re focused on the big, not the busy. If you\’re thinking about a lion, a lot of us are lions. We\’re out there and crushing it. It\’s in this world. It\’s very easy for us to chase chipmunks because they give us that short-term satisfaction, but eventually it will die off if we only chased the chipmunks. You’ve got to go for that big game. That\’s what I\’m stressing in the book, The Focus Project.

What\’s one example of going for the big game?

One example for going for the big game is, for most people, you\’re going to have this inherent nature every morning to be like, \”I\’ve got 100 emails. If I get that to zero, I get that dopamine hit. I feel good. I did something.\” It\’s avoiding the pitfall we all fall in. Don\’t mistake that action for doing something big. Here\’s the example I\’ll give it to you. For all your readers, here\’s what I want you to do. I want you to text yourself. Everyone who\’s reading, text or email yourself, whatever tool. You can email me at [email protected] if you want to do it. Send it to someone you know because you\’re more likely to achieve it if you do it.

Write down the one thing as we enter 2021, as you look at January 1, 2022, what would you be so disappointed that you didn\’t accomplish? What\’s that big thing you want to do? Email yourself. Save that. That\’s your screensaver. Print that out. Put it in on a mirror in your bathroom. What I want you to do is each and every morning for a half-hour in the morning, focus on that thing you sent yourself. That\’s what I mean about talking big versus busy. Everyone\’s example is different. Some people might want to write a screenplay for the last few years and they haven\’t done jack squat. Others, they want to go out there and volunteer more. It\’s like, \”Start volunteering.\” It all depends on what you\’re trying to accomplish.

[bctt tweet=\”Use the tool; don’t let the tool use you.\” username=\”calentertainmnt\”]

That reminds me a lot of something else you talked about. It\’s maybe one of the most important things affecting me, which is multitasking, \”Where is our focus?\” This is more towards the leadership side of things than the technology side of things. Talk a little bit about it, if you would. I think you\’ve cracked this code. You\’ve come up with the answer to this. This is important for people to understand especially since you work in the whole technology social media world. We were talking about that documentary that talks about it wants to keep us on the platform as much as possible. You\’re anti that in a lot of ways. You\’re like, \”You have to focus on one thing at a time. You can\’t get pulled in all these different directions.\” How do you solve that problem?

It\’s funny, when I\’m on stage I always like to ask, \”So what?\” I always like to go over, \”Here\’s the high-level encapsulation of what you need to know, like a habit,\” but then I want to give someone something that they can use five seconds from me leaving the stage. One of those is one of the easiest ways we can simplify because that\’s the number one habit that all digital leaders practice. Number one, meaning in terms of stamp, it\’s one of the top five is, \”How do I simplify?\” Most of us think are good at multitasking when it would be a lot better off just single-tasking. All of your readers out there, you\’re reading this because you are very successful. That\’s why you read this, to get these tips and tricks.

The key is what all of us do is we want to multitask to get more of our 24 hours, to beat Father Time even though Father Time is undefeated, to get ahead of the competition, all good things. Ironically enough, it does the exact opposite. We\’re getting less done, and it has negative health ramifications when we\’re doing all this multitasking. Once you hear that as someone who\’s a type-A personality or a leader, that also gives you the license to say, \”I\’ve got a single task because I\’ll get to my goal faster.\” When we multitask, our IQ drops by up to fifteen points, which my dad always likes to remind me, \”Son, that\’s a lot of points for you.\” That\’s the equivalent of not sleeping for 36 hours. As teams, when we multitask, we can decrease our productivity by up to 40%. It does the exact opposite.

It\’s about a single task. Normally on stage, I don\’t have the time to go deeper on this but I will here. Multitasking, you can do. What I just talked about is you\’re using the same side of your brain. You\’re doing two cognitive or thought-processing tasks. That looks like, \”I\’m going to listen to this conference call while I write an email to my boss.\” A big no, that\’s what we want to avoid. The multitasking you can do is, \”I can listen to this amazing show with Chris while I\’m at the gym.\” You\’re working out, you can do that, you\’re running, walking and hiking. You can do that because you\’re using two different parts of your brain. One is manual and one is using the thought process part of your brain. That you can do. Women are better at it than men. As a general rule of thumb, most of what we call multitasking is switch tasking. It\’s confusing our brain, \”What\’s more important, A or B?\” There\’s a loss of efficiency. If you don\’t get anything else from the show, start being militant on single-tasking. Take it from me, I\’m a recovering multitasker. I catch myself every day saying, \”Stop. You\’re multitasking. Start single-tasking.\”

I think you\’ve talked about tasks and having them mapped out as a schedule.

At the highest to high levels, it\’s the night before, I write down the one big thing that makes everything else either easier or unnecessary. The reason you\’re doing it the night before is because now your brain thinks that\’s been handled like, \”I can go to sleep.\” It will make you sleep better. In the morning, you wake up, you grab that and go, \”I\’ve got to tackle this before the day tackles me.\” In the book, it\’s interesting how early these top performers get up for all these companies. It\’s about tackling that one big thing before the day tackles you. A lot of times, it only takes 30 minutes but if you let the day attack you, then all of a sudden the day goes by and you didn\’t even do that one thing.

Have you heard that Mark Zuckerberg and some other people like him, I think Bezos, wear the same thing every day, so they don\’t even have to waste time picking out an outfit? Is that a true story?

Jobs did for sure. Zuck was doing it for a while with the gray shirt. I was doing it after I heard Jobs. I\’ve been doing it. This is what I rock. If you go to my closet, if you remember that Seinfeld episode when he\’s dating that girl? She has all of that. It\’s just one less decision because we have decision fatigue throughout the day. Anything you can put into a process or a system, like I ate the same thing during the project for breakfast every morning. I didn\’t have to think about it. It gave me a healthy meal in the morning. It was one less thing I had to worry about. That\’s not for everybody but test out what works for you.

\"VSP The Focus Project: The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less

People who have better focus, what we discerned was they weren\’t born inherently with better focus. They didn\’t have better willpower. What they had was specifically better systems to say no. Sometimes the system is a shirt, a breakfast. Other times the system is, \”How do I say no efficiently and quickly?\” You\’ve got to either have an emphatic yes or an emphatic no. When you asked me, \”Do you want to be in the show?\” Emphatic yes. If sometimes I get asked, \”Do you want to do the show? Do you want to sit down for this article?\” and I went, \”I should probably do it,\” that\’s an emphatic no. Don\’t have any middle ground. It\’s a good way to train your brain to make sure you\’re saving those yeses for the future. That allows you to have space and to focus. You\’re not just completely filling up your schedule with stuff that\’s not an emphatic yes.

It\’s amazing that you combine leadership, social media and technology. How did you get into this intersection? There are many different ways I could think of you as a speaker and as a thought leader. It\’s time management, leadership, branding, marketing, social media and the new technologies. It\’s all of that.

It\’s funny because when you look at the umbrella of Digital Leadership, all that stuff falls under the umbrella. I came from a point of technology when it was like the Five Percenters, \”Here\’s the people going in the corner, that digital thing.\” As it started to change, all of a sudden, the epiphany a few years ago was way after Socialnomics, \”This is much bigger. They don\’t understand that all this stuff falls under this umbrella of Digital Leadership.\” At a time, and that time has been hyper-accelerated, that word digital will eventually go away. It\’s just leadership. It\’s the new era of leadership that the world has shifted so quickly especially because of the pandemic that everything is digital. Look what we\’re doing right here, right now. Hopefully, the world gets back.

The funny thing is I\’m a digital person but I\’m also more face-to-face. I\’m more Flintstones than Jetsons because I strongly believe you can\’t replace face-to face. When time, distance and security or safety is an issue, that\’s when we use these tools to deepen those relationships. You can\’t replace the coffees and lunches but when time, distance or now, in this case, safety is an issue, it\’s about using these tools. At the end of the day, the reason I get excited about this stuff is because it\’s human. I\’m the biggest fan of humans in those relationships. That\’s why in that umbrella, it all falls in, all that stuff works. Digital leaders need to be focused. You get down to the technology once you get in the weeds.

Are there any technologies that can help us stay focused? A lot of these are technologies that are pulling us away from what we\’re supposed to be doing and pulling us in all these different directions. Is there anything that you\’ve found that\’s a technology that is helpful to keep you focused? What\’s your favorite version of that?

There are a lot of great tools out there. I\’m going to rattle off a bunch and then you can figure out, \”That one works for me. That one doesn\’t.\” That\’s what I\’m talking about in The Focus Project. I\’m the guinea pig. I\’m going to tell you what worked and didn\’t work based on all the research for the last thousands of years around focus, then lately with the digital era twists but figuring out what works best for you. One or two I love to use, it\’s a free tool. It\’s a browser-based tool in Chrome. It\’s called Momentum. Every time I open a new tab, it has this beautiful image. It\’s got, \”What is your focus for now?\” and a big underline. It\’s got a motivational quote. That\’s it. Every time I open a new browser, it reminds me. I type in the morning, \”My focus is to write 50 pages,” whatever it is.

Every time I open a new browser, I\’m like, \”Why am I opening this browser for this? I\’m supposed to be doing this piece and I haven\’t done it yet.\” That tool is great. Evernote is great. There\’s a free version of that. You can pay for a premium. That\’s for any notes whether it\’s online or on your phone. That\’s important because when you have the space to think, which I implore in The Focus Project, is that when you\’re doing something so you\’re in the moment, all of a sudden there\’s a thought that\’s going to come in your mind that\’s not what you\’re on. The key, especially as creative people, you do not want to lose that thought. You don\’t want to go into that new thing but you want to just put that in somewhere.

I use Evernote. It\’s like, \”That would be a great book.\” Put it in there and get back to my thing that I\’m doing. Evernote is a great tool to keep you organized. It saves a ton of time. That\’s what the research shows out. A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind whether it\’s digital or in the physical world. Evernote is a great tool to keep you organized. There\’s a bunch of other tools. There are these time tools that will ping you to say, \”Get back on task.\” On TikTok, you can use your phone. Let\’s say you love TikTok, Instagram or Facebook, then you can set up time parameters on your screen time where all of a sudden it says, \”Your time limit is up.\” A lot of you don\’t know that. It tells you when your time limit is up, then you\’re done.

[bctt tweet=\”Most of what we call multitasking is switch-tasking, which confuses the brain.\” username=\”calentertainmnt\”]

I will be looking into all of that. It sounds like we all need to stay focused. That book is going to be one that we can all enjoy, The Focus Project. Speaking of your books, I know that you were voted the second most likable author behind Harry Potter\’s JK Rowling. I know it wasn\’t the book that was What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube. That wasn\’t the book that made you win that title. What was that all about?

It was a distant second. I think my mom even voted for JK Rowling because she\’s a huge Harry Potter fan. She\’s Gryffindor all the way. I was lucky. They were doing Likable Media out in New York. Dave Kerpen started that company and Carrie Kerpen is running it. They did a survey. They had Seth Godin, myself, JK Rowling and a couple of other authors. Fortunately, I got voted second. It was one of those times I got the red ribbon. I\’m out there super excited.

Which book was that for, Digital Leader?

That was for Digital Leader, yes.

This is all such important information. What emerges from this conversation for me more than before when I talked to you is that this is just as much leadership as it is technology. It\’s even maybe more so. It\’s cool how you\’ve combined that in there. You\’re aware of all the trends in the apps. That\’s my last question that I want to make sure I ask you. What is something on the horizon, new technology or an app that you\’re excited about? In general, even if it\’s not a specific app, what do you think the future holds with technology that could be exciting or that\’s exciting you about 2021 and way beyond that we\’re all going to be able to take advantage of?

With this technology, I\’m always a Flintstones person first, meaning relationships. Any technology that allows us more time to spend with our loved ones and teammates, that\’s what it\’s all about. That\’s what technology that always wins. It\’s the technology that removes that friction. If you think about Amazon, it removes that friction. Inherently, that\’s their whole MO is they remove friction. Looking forward, it\’s anything that removes friction. The thing that I think is going to marry itself together is you\’ve got voice search, so think Alexa, and then you\’ve got the gig economy, which is the fancy term for Uber, Instacart, people that are for-hire essentially for you to do tasks, TaskRabbit. The example would be, \”Alexa, please send my last week\’s order of groceries to my house in two hours.\” You\’ve got the voice search. All of a sudden, someone\’s going to go get that and have it delivered for you. It removes that friction. What that does is allows you more time for that deep thinking. It allows you more time for those relationships. All the companies that win are companies that give you back time in the future. That\’s what I think is going to happen.

I\’ve been arguing with some of my very good friends during this pandemic, \”Why are you going to the grocery store? It\’s not safe. It\’s a time-waster. We\’re in a pandemic. You should probably try and avoid indoors with lots of other people.\” Whole Foods is a great store. It\’s not crazy overpriced. It\’s similar pricing to all the other stores. You can have it delivered the next day for free. I don\’t mean this to be an advertisement for Whole Foods but it\’s like, \”I never want to go to a grocery store again.\” One out of every four orders or so, there\’ll be something that\’s not right. Maybe the strawberries are not ripe or they\’re overripe or the avocados aren\’t ready yet, but you can easily call them and say, \”They screwed this up.\” They\’ll credit your account right back without even asking for proof.

I think it\’s a time-saver. It\’s wonderful like, \”I\’m going to bed. It\’s 12:00 AM. I forgot I have to have some food tomorrow morning. I\’ll just order it on my phone. It will take me five minutes. It will all be delivered by the time I wake up. It will let me know on my phone if something\’s missing.” It\’s beautiful. I love what you just said because I wholeheartedly agree with it. Unfortunately, this pandemic has shown us that you can do a lot more from your phone. Some businesses are going to suffer because of that because they\’re not going to be able to compete.

\"VSP Digital Leadership: Always get back to what you do best, knowing that the world\’s always going to be changing.


I think that we\’ll get out there some silver linings to this. It\’s that marriage of face-to-face can\’t be replaced but now we have a better concept, \”Virtual is pretty good.\” When I can\’t physically be there, let\’s say it\’s that coffee, that lunch or physically be on stage, it makes sense, we can have you in a virtual environment. There is a lot of stuff that comes out of this innovation. I love your example of Whole Foods because they\’re headquartered here in Austin, Texas. They started here in Austin. When I went to the University of Texas for grad school, I went to Whole Foods. They\’d say, \”You\’re going to the place that has the dirty vegetables.\” The aisles were dirt, it was a co-op.

You can see that acceleration of change. They\’re purchased by Amazon. Now, you can order all your stuff online from Whole Foods. It\’s delivered in the hour for free. That shows that acceleration. That shows that digital leadership that I was talking about. We used to be those five kids in the corner. Now, everything is digital. It\’s understanding those habits and always starting with that relationship first. You can\’t replace that face-to-face. It\’s the Flintstones and Jetsons. It\’s the marriage of the two coming together.

The last thing I wanted to bring up is you had said something about Amazon. Amazon is going to be more trusted than what?

Than your bank.

You have some other cool stats like that. Can you run through a few of them? These are mind-blowing. Start with that one and tell us why that is about the bank.

Every year, we do a video. It went massively viral a few years ago. I did one and all of a sudden like, \”We can do this every year because people are asking for it.\” That\’s been nice. It\’s called Digital Transformation now. It was Social Media Revolution. There are statistics in there that it used to be 1 in 10, but now it\’s 1 in 3 of us. It\’s going to be even more soon. One in three of us meets our spouse who we marry online. This data just came out that they\’re more likely to stay together if you met online. That\’s the craziest thing to get your mind around is that one. If you look at the attention of a goldfish, it used to be that we had a twelve-second attention and a goldfish at eight. Now, we\’ve slipped down to seven. That\’s part of the reason I wrote the focus book is, \”This technology is changing the wiring in our brains. We\’ve got to make sure that we\’re cognizant of that.\” That\’s another wild one.

More people join LinkedIn every day than join or apply that have gone to Ivy League schools. When you think about that shift, that\’s crazy. Those are some of the stats. The craziest one is that we now have more conversations with a bot, basically Alexa. We have more conversations with Alexa than we do with our spouse. I had someone who came up to me and went, \”It would be helpful if Amazon could design it so it could argue with my spouse.\” It can predict when you\’re about to get in an argument with your spouse. It knows the levels, your language. They haven\’t done this yet but they could turn it on where it\’s going to warn you, \”You\’re about to get in an argument with your spouse.\”

Even though we know we’re about to, we still cross over that line and still get on that road. This has been awesome. I think we might even want to put that video that you\’re talking about for this year at the end of this interview. Would that be okay?

\"VSP Digital Leadership: Simplifying is the number one habit that all digital leaders practice.


Make it happen. It was funny because a few years ago when we did it, the publisher went, \”You\’re giving the video away for free?\” I went, \”Yes, for free,\” then they went, \”You don\’t even talk about the book yourself.\” I went, \”Yes because I\’m providing value.\” They went, \”How is that going to sell books?\” I laughed and went, \”No, I don\’t sell books because you provide value first and then go forward from there.\” That\’s also a shift in the world that now everyone understands to provide value but a few years ago, they were like, \”No, you’ve got to charge for people to watch it.\” I was like, \”No, let\’s give it away for free.\”

A lot of different industries are seeing that they need to do that and that it\’s okay to do that. You\’re just making the consumer fall in love with you as a brand so they\’re going to want more. They\’re going to want to dive into that book after they see that for sure. Great job. Awesome information, content, takeaways, ideas and solutions. It’s helpful stuff. Thank you so much for being on the show, Erik. This has been wonderful.

Thank you, Chris. Keep doing what you do. Keep providing that thought leadership, helping people out there and empowering them. That\’s what we\’re all here for. It\’s not what we take for the world. It\’s what we leave behind. Keep doing what you do. I appreciate it.

You, too. Thank you so much for coming on. This was wonderful. I will talk to you soon.

Sounds great.

Take care.


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About Erik Qualman


Called a Digital Dale Carnegie and the Tony Robbins of Tech, Erik Qualman is the author of Socialnomics. Socialnomics made Amazon\’s #1 Best Selling List for the US, Japan, UK, Canada, Portugal, Italy, China, Korea and Germany. His book Digital Leader helped him be voted the 2nd \”Most Likeable Author in the World\” behind Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube is being adopted by the top universities and global brands and is nominated for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.

Qualman has performed in 44 countries with Coach, Chase, Sony PlayStation, National Restaurant Association, IBM, Facebook, SCG Thailand, ADP, Starbucks, M&M/Mars, National Retail Federation, Cartier, Bertelsmann, Raytheon, Chrysler, Small Business League, Montblanc, Dairy & Deli Association, TEDx, Polo, UGG, Nokia, Google, AutoTrader, and others. Qualman gave the commencement address at the McCombs Business School (University of Texas). He has shared the stage with: Al Gore, Peyton Manning, Julie Andrews, Magic Johnson, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill O\’Reilly, Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Brett Favre, Tony Hawk, Jay Leno, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Alan Mulally, and many others of note. He is no stranger to the executive suite, having served as the Head of Marketing at Travelzoo (TZOO).

Yet, he may be best known for writing and producing the world\’s most-watched social media video. His work has been highlighted on 60 Minutes, The NewYorkTimes, WSJ, USAToday, ABC News, FinancialTimes, Forbes, CBS News, and The Huffington Post. He also helped achieve the Guinness Book of World Record for the longest continuous podcast.

Socialnomics was a finalist for the\”Book of the Year.\” Fast Company lists Professor Qualman as a Top 100 Digital Influencer. He made Forbes\’s Top 50 Power Influencer list. Qualman was Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State University and been honored as the Michigan State University Alum of the Year. Qualman has an MBA from the McCombs School of Business. A proud husband and father, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Austin.


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