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John Rogers: “Everyone is honest but don’t trust anyone”

Democracy is in peril because people don’t know what to believe anymore, and because they don’t know what to believe, they accept whatever’s presented to and convenient for them. That means we don’t have an understanding of common truth and fact, and democracies cannot exist unless the populace agrees 1+1=2. Given all this, if I […]

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Democracy is in peril because people don’t know what to believe anymore, and because they don’t know what to believe, they accept whatever’s presented to and convenient for them. That means we don’t have an understanding of common truth and fact, and democracies cannot exist unless the populace agrees 1+1=2. Given all this, if I could start a movement it would be to educate people on how to think holistically, and then validate facts so that people could make better informed decisions both for society and in their lives.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Rogers. John Rogers has impacted the lives of virtually every American, whether they know it or not. His transformational approach has propelled him to serve as CEO of the Nation’s largest privately held transportation company, direct a national campaign around stem cells with Michael J Fox that flipped control of the US Senate, actively contribute to the war against terrorism where the Department of Defense hailed his work as “break-through,” and provide high-impact solutions for charitable organizations such as the Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) and the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, of which he’s currently Board Chair in honor of his late best friend. This diverse array of successes made possible by Rogers’ leadership each began with the same approach, a mindset as insightful as it is straightforward — “Everything is a Campaign.”


Thank you so much for joining us John! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I grew up in a right-brain/left-brain household filled with political debates, so the concepts of holistic thinking and diverse perspectives were always going to be part of my life. Ultimately, they provided a large part of the foundation for the book.

Fast forward a few decades to when I was the CEO of MV Transportation. I knew I wouldn’t stay in that role forever, so I was interested in defining my way forward by looking backwards. I’d led an interesting career, but I couldn’t see how to tie that career together in a cohesive way that provided a jumping-off point for my future. Around that time, a great friend and coach, Richard Janes, challenged me with an exercise to find three words that described myself in all facets of my life. It was more difficult than I’d anticipated given the many hats one wears throughout a single day, let alone decades. Richard pushed me to think broadly and deeply, and I came up with impact, integrity, and insight. I want to make an impact in everything I do, either give or glean insight in all that I touch, and do so with great integrity. From there, the idea of writing a book emerged.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

My career has been very ‘Forrest Gumpian.’ I was fortunate enough to serve as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense at an early age, where I had many stories that I probably can’t share. After I left the Pentagon, in the days of Nunn-Lugar (and the short period of time when Russia was seen as a potential ally), I wound up drinking vodka with Russians in Udmurtia Izhevsk, a formerly closed republic. I’ve been able to run a stem cell campaign nationwide to flip the Senate, be the CEO of a billion-dollar company, and bring Hollywood to the national security space. To answer your question directly, it’s impossible to pick.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

A candidate for the US Senate was once interviewing me to be his field director. I was so caught up in the point I was making, I started gesticulating more enthusiastically than necessary and knocked a glass of water over, soaking his shirt and suit. The lesson? Deep breaths. Calm down. It’s all gonna be fine. By the way, he hired me anyway, so your screwups are never as bad as you think.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

This book! I’m hopeful that I give people another way to take on and solve their challenges.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I found that having constant vigilance was what kept the revision process moving forward. Looking at something with a lens different from my own is part of my creative training, so I constantly reexamined the book from the perspective of a reader. I tried to determine if it was interesting, of value, impactful, and if it’d make a difference in someone’s life. I was also a tough critic of my work, so I wasn’t satisfied with drafts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7.

My intent was to make an impact, provide insight, and do so with integrity, not simply to write a book, so being really honest with myself over the quality of the product helped me stay on track. Only a reader can say if it is insightful and impactful, but I can at least say I did it all with integrity.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

After 9/11, a thoughtful and courageous leader in the Army reached out to my colleague in the creative arts community, Dick Lindheim, and asked him to convene Hollywood writers, producers, and directors to think about terrorism. Ultimately, what began that day led to me hand delivering a report to senior defense officials and congressional leadership.

It seemed that the crazy idea really had legs, as three years later, the 9/11 Commission Report was issued. It identified a lack of imagination and creativity as a key shortcoming of the national security community around terrorism.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

There’s a different way to solve problems and get stuff done.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

The biggest challenge I faced was bringing the story to life and making it interesting. I have a lot of great stories, many of which I simply cannot share due to the nature of the work. So, it took a while to figure out the best way to bring forward the stories I could tell. Then, both DoD and the CIA wanted to review the manuscript which slowed everything down even more.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

To me, it’s not really about following one author as much as it is about reading a ton. I always try to have one fiction book, one non-fiction book, and one book on spirituality/personal improvement in my rotation at once. I think it’s important to constantly be learning and looking at subjects from unique lenses. I try to read about topics I’m not already well-versed in, or read books by authors I don’t agree with to expand my worldview.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

I hope it will! I wrote the book because we’re living in really challenging times filled with technological, social, and political disruptions. The goal with this book is to help people navigate those disruptions. While it’s written for decision makers and emerging leaders, the lessons are just as applicable to CEOs as they are to housewives and househusbands.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Always err on the side of doing the right thing
  2. Trust your gut
  3. Deep breaths for control
  4. Don’t drink during a crisis
  5. Half of the information you’ll hear initially during a crisis is inaccurate
  6. Everyone is honest but don’t trust anyone
  7. Never negotiate against yourself
  8. Get out of the way of yourself
  9. Don’t let a feeling become a mood
  10. Remember Sun Xu’s lessons from The Art of War
  11. Love wins

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Democracy is in peril because people don’t know what to believe anymore, and because they don’t know what to believe, they accept whatever’s presented to and convenient for them. That means we don’t have an understanding of common truth and fact, and democracies cannot exist unless the populace agrees 1+1=2. Given all this, if I could start a movement it would be to educate people on how to think holistically, and then validate facts so that people could make better informed decisions both for society and in their lives.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @_johnrogers260 FB: JCR360 Linkedin: John Rogers

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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