When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Christopher Stadler: I used to spend this time talking to my wife and enjoying a cup of coffee. Recently, I’ve turned to starting my day with meditation , together with my wife. It’s a good way to start the day by focusing on being mindful and present.
TG: What gives you energy?
CS: Spending time with good people, physical activity and being outdoors, and actually accomplishing a goal all energize me.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
CS: I’ve become increasingly aware of and distressed by how distracted we all are. Our minds are focusing on too many things at once. So I’ve started to keep my smartphone out of meetings when I’m in the office ; my assistant can get me if anything urgent comes up, and keeping it in my pocket when I’m otherwise with people. I’m finding my concentration and retention is much higher when I’m focusing on what I’m doing and not potentially distracted by the phone.
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
CS: The Harry Potter books. My wife read them to my daughter and son at bedtime when they first came out. My oldest daughter Gabi was so hooked that she read the last two books (over 700 pages ) in one day when they were released. When they were released as movies, Gabi decided to read them again before going to see the movies, and I read them at the same time. It was a great experience with my daughter. They are beautifully written, and contain difficult , but critically important moral lessons as they follow the kids as they grow from 11 year olds to young adults. We would talk about the books and their messages, and it drew me closer to her and allowed us to talk about important choices in life. Our favorite line from the films is ” it is not our abilities that define who we are, but our choices ” . I believe these books had a significant effect on building strong moral a character in Gabi.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
CS: I leave my phone near my bed in case either of our grown children call us with an emergency, but try not to touch it otherwise. As mentioned earlier , I believe that I had been spending too much time on my smartphone, and have decided to cut back. I’m leaving it out of meetings , and resisting looking at it when I’m engaged in conversations. I’ve gotten a personal phone that doesn’t have my work email and I’m carrying that on weekends, only checking the work phone and email a few times a day, and telling colleagues to call me on the personal phone in an emergency. Same thing at night when I get home. I’m trying to read more books and other material on paper to cut down on screen time, as I’m convinced its being overdone by many of us with several bad side effects. The phone distracts us, reduces the quality and focus of personal interaction, and makes us all more insular even as we are more “connected “. We curate our own content ( or maybe create an echo chamber ) or it’s curated for us based on what we visit and search. In the short time I’ve been doing this I’m more focused in meetings and more productive ; and happier , since the media blasts us with as much bad news as is possible thru our phones.
TG: How do you deal with email?
CS: I’m not great at responding as quickly as I should , so I’ve been taking a few steps to deal with that . Firstly, I’m reducing the flow of emails I receive. I’m doing that by getting off as many distribution lists as I can that aren’t important or enjoyable to me. I’m also going to change my work email because its too easy to figure out and I get too much unwanted email from people I don’t know. Finally , I’m trying to delegate responding to others on issues where it’s not critical that I respond . In terms of how I communicate by email, I try to keep it short and factual in most cases, as it’s easy to offend someone if its a nuanced subject dealt with in an email without careful thought. In many cases, I respond to topics like that by suggesting a call or meeting. In certain cases where I want to really say something carefully and leave the recipient with a permanent record for them to keep ( like the old written letter) , I send longer emails that I draft and refine. I do this every once in awhile when I have something important to say to my children, or when I want to be very clear in an important business correspondence.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
CS: I usually catch up on calls and emails when I’ve got some unexpected free time.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
CS: I took an extended vacation or mini sabbatical this summer because I was extremely burned out. I had been very busy both personally and professionally for the past few years , and some of the issues I had to deal with were emotionally draining. I had never taken extended time off in a 30 year work career, even during job changes , so it was long overdue. Before I took the time off, I worked with a management consultant to help me redesign how I managed my business, which had expanded considerably over the past few years. I realized I had to manage differently and rely more on my senior team and get them to work together more as opposed to working most things through me. It is a better model that helps develop them and reduces the organization’s reliance on me. After several sessions and a group offsite designed to come up with new ways of working together , I told them I was taking a few months off and wanted them to operate in the new ways we had developed together . That has given a jumpstart to the new mode of operating , and its been a very promising start. So both taking the time off , and restructuring my way of managing were the response to the burnout.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
CS: Hard to choose among the many failures. We try to buy companies for a living, and with a competitive market and the discipline needed in investing, we fail a lot more than we succeed! I think I take failure much better intellectually than I do emotionally. I know we all fail frequently , and I accept that intellectually. But I have a hard time not taking failure personally and ruminating on what I could have done differently . That can be helpful to avoid repeating mistakes , but it’s easy too take it too far and put yourself under expectations that can’t be met. I think the most important thing is to be honest with yourself about the mistakes you make, and learning where our wiring predisposes us to make that mistake again, and developing tools to avoid that.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
CS: This is a hard one. I take inspiration from a lot of quotes from historical figures and literature . I mentioned the one from Harry Potter above. Teddy Roosevelt’s quote from “The Man in the Arena ” speech has always been so inspirational to me. But over the past few years its a quote from Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird that has returned to me again and again. ” Sometimes to really understand someone , you have to walk a mile in their shoes ” . I’m not sure if that’s the first time that metaphor was used ( probably not) , and its a pretty simple quote at that. But I cant help thinking of it’s message on the importance of empathy in these deeply polarized times. I think there is precious little “walking in the others shoes ” being done in our world today; it feels as we are living through the slow and painful extinction of empathy. Atticus later says ” most people have good in them, sometimes you just need to look for it”. Think of the possibilities if we all carried that attitude into our interactions with those whom we don’t see eye to eye. I think we are naturally born to be empathetic , or at least it seems to come so easily to most children, but it withers as we age , or perhaps life’s hard knocks beat it out of us. In any case, we need to work it like a muscle to keep it vital and strong in ourselves. And that doesn’t just mean empathy for those who are downtrodden or obviously sympathetic figures . Its most important when its applied to those we don’t understand or find on the other side of some difficult and meaningful issue or problem.
For what its worth , Harper Lee’s sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird , which was released posthumously , is a great book . “Go Set a Watchman ” was so controversial that the review of the book was on the front page of the New York Times . It was set 20 years after “Mockingbird” , and found the great Atticus Finch to be part of a group in his town fighting the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs Board of Education that integrated the schools, ending the prevailing policy of separate , but equal. It turned the great civil rights hero Atticus Finch into a bigot. It so crushed the literary elite, that the book generally met with lukewarm reviews. I found it to be a spectacular book. “Mockingbird ” was told through the eyes of his 8 year old daughter Scout, who idolized him. He was , nearly perfect , a hero, but probably not a realistic vision of a human being. The second book is also told by his daughter , but she’s 26 , and has been living in liberal New York and is crushed by what her father has become. The book is about them both coming to terms with this , and so is a marvelous lesson in children coming to see their parents as fallible human beings as opposed to omniscient beings. In an investigative journalism piece , the New York Times determined that Harper Lee had actually written the second book first, and the editor read it and told her that she should write a book about the trial twenty years earlier, and so “To Kill a Mockingbird’ was born. If true, maybe the best decision an editor made in the 20th century ! Since its been reported that Atticus was based on Harper Lee’s real father , I was at first saddened to learn that the second story was the one that was in her heart. But it’s such a realistic and valuable tale , that I actually love each book as they together tell the complete story.