A Top Business Executive Shares the Book That Dramatically Altered His Life

President and Chief Executive Officer of S&P Global opens up about his life outside the office.

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? 
Douglas L. Peterson: Drink a big glass of cold water. 

TG: What gives you energy?
DP: People.  I’m most motivated when I’m with people.  In my personal life that means family and friends.  And in my professional life that means employees, customers, colleagues, policy makers, and thought leaders.

On another note, I am also especially motivated by attending live performing arts to watch talented people perform with passion.  My favorites are music and dance.  Jazz, classical music, and opera, along with modern dance, especially energize me.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
DP: Meditation – I started meditating as a promise to my wife 20 years ago and learned a mantra technique from Deepak Chopra.  At that time it was clear to me that in forty years I had never sat still, ever.  Meditation allows me to completely clear my mind.  But in clearing my mind, thoughts, inspirations, and concerns bubble up and pop.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
DP: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  In college, I had read One Hundred Years of Solitude and was fascinated by the rich language and magical realism.  This inspired me to study at an academic program in Bogota, Colombia when I was 19.  During that year I learned how to speak, read, and write Spanish and traveled extensively around South America with the opportunity to visit many of the greatest archaeological sites (which is one of my unofficial hobbies to this day).  Later when I was beginning my career in finance, I was stationed in Argentina where I learned more about economics and finance than you could ever learn in a book, and I also met my wife.  I could go on…

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
DP: I treat my cell phone like a tool that is necessary for me to stay in contact with the world in so many ways:  talking, texting, mailing, planning, and surfing (news especially).   I don’t have my phone out on the table when I’m meeting or eating but try to keep in in my pocket and check it discreetly every once in a while.  I don’t sleep with my phone but do use it as an alarm clock when I’m on the road.

TG: How do you deal with email?
DP: Batch Processing – I check email in batches throughout the business day and deal with them all at once if I can.  When I see a message I can delete immediately, I do.  And If I don’t have time to respond to a message when I see it for the first time, I leave it unread until I can get back to it.  I always try to clear my work messages by the end of the day and the end of the week.  And I answer my own email messages.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
DP: If I’m at the office, I wander around and find someone to check in with.  Talking with people and finding out how their days are going is a treat and I frequently learn something I wouldn’t have it I had just stayed in my office.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
DP: All of the last times I’ve been burned out are all related to biting off too much to chew with my travel schedule.  This typically arises when I combine multiple international trips at the same time such as a stop in California, Beijing, and Mumbai before heading to London.  It’s about being too ambitious when you have to juggle jet lag, diet, sleep, very busy schedules, and keeping up with the home office all at the same time.

TG:When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
DP: The last time I felt I had failed related to a poor decision about someone who wasn’t working out and how quickly (or slowly) I admitted it and dealt with it.  I overcame this by getting feedback from a mentor and a board member to relate how I felt about the situation and ask for feedback about how to move faster if this ever happened again.  And I’ve actually applied the learnings since then in a very conscious way with good results.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace. 
DP: Cada cabeza es un mundo.”  “Every mind is a world.”  I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico in a family with deep roots in New Mexico going back into the 1800s.  One of my grandfathers spoke a native language, French, German, English, and Spanish.  And he regaled us with stories and Spanish “dichos,” or sayings.  My favorites has always been “Cada cabeza es un mundo.”  This motivates me to meet and speak with people and to understand that we are all different, all have something to add in this world, and all have a purpose.

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