David Friedman, author of Fundamentally Different, is the former President of RSI, an award-winning employee benefits brokerage and consulting firm in the Philadelphia area. He is a frequent guest speaker and seminar leader on organizational culture, leadership and values. A graduate of the College of William & Mary with a degree in Philosophy, Friedman currently lives in Moorestown, NJ with his wife and 2 college-age children.
Visit David online at http://djfriedman.com/.
Q: Thank you for this interview, David. Can you tell us what your latest book, Fundamentally Different, is all about?
A: One of the things that makes this book so unique is that it’s a business book, and yet it’s not only a business book.
As a business leadership book, it’s a compelling and thought-provoking read that reveals foundational principles for building a culture of success through organizational values. Its lessons are based on my experiences and reflections as a leader of a high-performance organization. More specifically, my book teaches leaders and organizations the 8 key steps to institutionalizing their most important values, and provides lots of stories and examples to illustrate just how to do it.
But it’s not only a business book, and that’s what makes it doubly powerful and impactful. At RSI, the company I led for 27 years, I wrote, developed, and taught a series of 30 values and principles that I called our Fundamentals. These Fundamentals were institutionalized, and were the cornerstone of our high-performance culture.
Fundamentally Different includes an insightful, thought-provoking essay on each of the 30 Fundamentals, each filled with stories and practical examples of how they apply in our daily lives. They include such concepts as “Check the ego at the door”, “Communicate to be understood”, “Set and ask for expectations”, “Speak straight”, and “Be quick to ask and slow to judge.” Everyone who reads the book comes away with lots of “aha” moments and practical ideas that can make a meaningful difference in their lives – at work, at home, with their families, and with their friends.
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
A: Fundamentally Different is based on the many lessons I learned and, in turn, taught during my business leadership career. Over the course of that career, we created an organizational culture at RSI that was truly extraordinary; and it was one that had an enormous impact on all who experienced it. Many of our staff described it as literally “life-changing.” Clients also had a strong sense that there was something very “different” about the way we did business. It was a big part of why they initially chose to do business with us and why they stayed with us year after year.
In fact, many of our clients were so curious about our business practices that they would ask me to share those practices with them and to speak with their management or senior leadership teams. I did this in small groups and sometimes in seminars. It was a big hit for them, and was fun and rewarding for me. Nearly every time I presented my material, several people would come up to me afterwards and ask, “So when does the book come out?”
Fundamentally Different is the answer to their question, and it’s my chance to share my insights with a broader audience.
Q: What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?
A: The book did not require any additional research beyond the “field research” that comprised my 27-year business leadership career. In fact, it’s one of the things that makes the book so powerful – everything I write about is based on firsthand, personal experience.
Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?
A: It would be that organizational culture is the key to success, and that the effort to “institutionalize” our most important values is the foundation to intentionally creating a high-performance culture.
Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?
A: FUNDAMENTAL #13
Communicate to be understood.
Know your audience. Write and speak in a way that they can understand. Use the simplest possible explanation.
Here’s a simple question: What’s the purpose of communication? I think it’s for two (or more) people to understand each other. So if I’m writing or speaking, the barometer of success is equally simple: Did the other person clearly understand what I intended to communicate?
Have you ever read a letter from an attorney and had no clue what half of it meant? Or shopped for a computer and felt like you only understood a fraction of what the salesperson told you, as if he was speaking another language? How about sitting through a presentation where the speaker constantly referred to industry terms for which you were sure you were the only one who didn’t know the meaning? How did these experiences make you feel?
Most of us feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and even ignorant when placed in these situations, as if we’re somehow lacking because we can’t understand what the other person is trying to get across to us. Using my barometer for effectiveness, I’d call these attempts at communication failures; and I’d put the responsibility for that squarely on the shoulders of the author, salesperson, or speaker.
If the purpose of communication is for people to understand each other, then why do writers and speakers so often choose to use complicated words when simpler ones will do, or insist on using language that’s particular to their own industry, or sometimes even their own company? Sadly, I believe the answer ris selfishness—a focus on ourselves and our own agenda versus the audience and their needs. Communicating to be understood begins with shifting that focus away from ourselves and to our audience.
On my website, you can read the rest of this sample chapter.
A: No, due to the explosion of the self-publishing industry and its various offshoots, it’s easier than ever before to get published. Control was a major factor in my decision to use a self-publishing firm to get my book in print. I wanted to control every aspect of the book from its writing to its interior layout to its cover design to its title. I knew what I wanted Fundamentally Different to be and I didn’t want to compromise anywhere along the line.
I researched different publishers on the internet and chose one, Infinity Publishing, which I felt had the capability to do what I wanted. Two other factors that were important to me were that they were local (40 minute drive from my home) and that they had the capability of also producing the audio book version for me (which I narrated).
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
A: I’m up early (usually by about 5:00 AM) and always start each day with a workout – typically a run. This helps me to clear my mind and get set for the day. I usually get most of my work done in the mornings and evenings – this includes writing, doing interviews, making phone calls, etc. I usually use the afternoons – my least productive time – for errands and taking care of personal issues.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Right now, 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.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, David. We wish you much success!
A: Thanks! I know that readers and listeners will love this book!