Cal Fussman (@calfussman) is a writer-at-large for Esquire Magazine known for his interviews with everyone from Mikhail Gorbachev to Muhammad Ali to Jeff Bezos to Barbara Walters to Tom Hanks to Serena Williams. Make sure to check out his weekly podcast: Big Questions with Cal Fussman.
What We Discuss with Cal Fussman:
- How November 22, 1963 got a young Cal to start asking big questions.
- How Cal learned to build rapport fast during a decade of travel.
- What creates and maintains the kind of curiosity that drives an epic interview.
- Cal’s approach to interviewing and how it differs from that of a journalist.
- Why listening is actually an art form and how we can hone our skills to get the best out of others and ourselves.
- And much more…
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Asking questions and telling stories is a heck of a career if you can get it. But excelling in such a dream job requires a unique set of skills led by an equal mixture of boundless intellectual curiosity, compassion, empathy, and wonder.
Famed Esquire columnist Cal Fussman (Big Questions with Cal Fussman) possesses these skills in abundance from spending decades honing his craft as an interviewer of the world’s biggest and brightest names, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Dr. Dre, Quincy Jones, Woody Allen, Barbara Walters, Pele, Yao Ming, Serena Williams, John Wooden, and Muhammad Ali. Here, he gets comfortable and shares the tricks of his trade with us in this extra long-form conversation. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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More About This Show
Attempting to interview Cal Fussman (of Big Questions with Cal Fussman) is probably not much different from dancing with a seasoned Broadway choreographer — you can try to lead all you like, but a shift in footwork guidance is inevitable. It’s not because Cal is pushy. It’s not because Cal is impatient. It’s not because Cal is a domineering control freak. It’s because Cal is genuinely curious about you — whoever you happen to be.
This curiosity about other people has been with Cal for his entire life, but he remembers one very significant date that really laid the groundwork for his future as a professional asker of questions and teller of stories: November 22, 1963.
“Sitting in my second grade class, the teacher walks out of the room,” recalls Cal. “She comes back in wearing the same clothes, but looking completely different — just really pale. She starts talking in a voice so calm, it was eerie. And she tells us that President Kennedy has just been shot. We’re all let home. Everybody goes straight to their television and we find out the president’s been assassinated and a new president’s been sworn in.
“The new president, his name is Lyndon B. Johnson. And I just keep thinking about this guy because I figured, being in second grade, it was the middle initial that helped you become president! Nobody else is called by their middle initial except the president! So if you had a name like Lyndon B. Johnson, you were kind of destined to be president! And that made me think, hold it. This guy’s probably wanted to be president for a long time. Is he happy that he’s president? Or is he sad that he’s president because the only reason he’s president is because of the assassination? Oh! Or maybe he’s scared that they’re going to come after him too now that he’s the president?
“So this thought actually came to me at the kitchen table after my parents had called me over to try to let me know that things were going to be okay. Because I’d just turned seven years old the week before. This really was my first confrontation with death, and they wanted to make sure I’d sleep okay. So they reassured me, telling me, ‘Look, tomorrow morning, you’re going to wake up, have breakfast just like normal, things are going to return just the way they were. Don’t worry about it. Our government’s got this system in place that elevates the vice president and everything’s going to be fine.
“So after they go away, I’m sitting at the table and I’m just having these thoughts about this guy Lyndon B. Johnson. And I can’t figure out what he’s feeling. Is he scared? Is he happy? Is he sad? So I picked up a pencil and a piece of paper and I wrote to him! ‘Dear President Johnson, How does it feel?’ It was very sincere, right from the heart. I folded it up, put it in an envelope…went to the mailbox, dropped it in…I basically forgot about the letter…five, six months later, end of May, my mom comes racing up the steps of our apartment in Yonkers, New York holding this envelope in her hands. It’s from the White House, addressed to me! I got a letter from the president!
“What it taught me…was a basic question could get you to the most powerful person on Earth. From that moment on I knew that’s what I was destined to do.”
THANKS, CAL FUSSMAN!
If you enjoyed this session with Cal Fussman, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Big Questions with Cal Fussman
- Cal Fussman’s Website
- Books by Cal Fussman
- Cal Fussman at Facebook
- Cal Fussman at Medium
- Cal Fussman at Instagram
- Cal Fussman at Twitter
- Cal Fussman at Esquire
- November 22, 1963: Death of the President
- Lyndon B. Johnson
- Juanita D. Roberts
- My Remarkable Journey by Larry King
- Kobe Bryant: Storytelling and the Awareness of Fear, Big Questions with Cal Fussman
- Tim Ferriss: The Creation of a Bestseller, Big Questions with Cal Fussman
- The Rum Diary: A Novel by Hunter S. Thompson
- The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
- Gary Smith at Sports Illustrated
- The 10 Best Things to Do in Castel Viscardo, Trip Advisor
- 2004 Tsunami: Petra Nemcova, the Supermodel Who Survived the Boxing Day Tragedy by Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph
- Kat Graham at Instagram
- Risk: Global Domination
- Melanie Whelan: Growth and Scaling, Big Questions with Cal Fussman
- Muhammad Ali’s Astounding Bursts of Physical Brilliance by Cal Fussman, Esquire
- Study Proves What We All Know: Kids Ask a Whole Lot of Questions by Sunny Chanel, Babble
- Empire On Blood
- What I’ve Learned: Mikhail Gorbachev by Cal Fussman, Esquire
- 3,000 Millennials on a Cruise Ship: An Insider’s Look Into Summit at Sea 2015 by Loic Le Meur
- What I’ve Learned: Jack Welch by Cal Fussman, Esquire
- Welcome to the Magic of David Copperfield
- Gangnam Style by Psy
- SB Projects
- The NeXT Years: Steve Jobs Before His Triumphant Return to Apple by Tom Hormby, Low End Mac
Transcript for Cal Fussman - How to Ask Big Questions for Big Answers (Episode 52)
Cal Fussman: [00:00:00] I'm often asked, "Cal, you've interviewed all the icons of the last century, what similarity do they have? Is there some thread that runs through all of them?" And the two that I noticed, one, they all pushed out of their comfort zone. Not anybody who achieved something great would tell you "No, I stayed in the same place. I stayed in the box." They all went out of the box. And two, they all get knocked down and they all got back up and took it higher than where they were the first time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:39] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer, Jason DeFillippo. On this episode, we're talking with my good friend, Cal Fussman. Many of you know Cal. He is a writer at large for Esquire magazine, and he's known best possibly for the What I've Learned column where he interviews leaders in various fields. Sounds pretty plain Jane, but let me tell you who he's talked to. Just a sample. Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Jack Welsh, DeNiro, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Springsteen, Dr. Dre, freakin Pele, Serena Williams and even Muhammad Ali, there's a huge list. I'm just not going to, let's save some for the show, right? You get the idea. The man's got stories, but more importantly, he knows how to get stories and by the way, this is a long episode. You're going to want to listen to this in chunks. I'm just going to throw that out there.
[00:01:31] Normally with an episode of this length, we would cut it way, way down, but Cal’s got a lot of great stuff and we just didn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This episode is a deep dive into what creates and maintains curiosity of the type that elicits some of the best from other people. Today, we'll discover how to build rapport with people fast and how Cal had to do this during his decade of travel in quite a surprising way that is near and dear to my heart. As you'll see for various reasons based on a past life, which I think you all appreciate, especially if you've been longtime fans of the show. And we'll explore Cal’s approach to interviewing and why it's different than a journalist. Again, fans, the Jordan Harbinger Show and of us for years past. We'll see a lot of overlap between Cal’s style and my own and we'll learn why listening is actually an art form, and how we can hone these skills to not only get the best out of others but get the best from ourselves as well.
[00:02:23] Don't forget, we've always got worksheets. There's one for today's episode. That's how you make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways here from Cal Fussman. My worksheets team actually fought over who got to do this one. That should give you an indicator of how much people love this one. The fee for the show as always is that you share it with friends when you find something useful, which should be in every episode and that's what the worksheets, that's how we make sure that. The link to the worksheets is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. All right, here's Cal Fussman. What did you want to be when you were growing up when you were younger? Do you remember?
Cal Fussman: [00:02:54] Well, I always wanted to be writer.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:57] Mission accomplished then, I guess.
Cal Fussman: [00:02:58] It wasn't even a question. That's what I was. It only became a question now as I start act three because now I'm speaking, and there is a difference between writing and speaking. One of the great things about it is speaking is a lot quicker. It's sort of the difference between acting in a Broadway play and acting in a movie. We're talking now, if I screw up my next line, everybody's going to hear it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:28] Well, I'll edit it out and make you look good because—
Cal Fussman: [00:03:29] No, no, don’t do that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:31] A lot of people aren't that kind. Jason, will edit it out. Right Jason?
Cal Fussman: [00:03:35] Thank you, Jason. But you don't have to. You don't have to. I'm on the Broadway stage here, and if I flubbed my next line, I flubbed my next line. Everybody's going to know it. Now, if I'm in a movie, I can screw up that line 89 times. They'll give me another take. Hopefully until they fire me. As a writer, you have that same situation. You're alone in a room, it’s three in the morning, you put your words down, you look at them, I can make that a little better. Do it over, look at it again. You know, that's not really the way I wanted it to say it. Let me take a different whack at it, and you can get lost in eight hours until finally, “Ah, that's it.” That's what I wanted.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:22] So how do you know when you're done writing something then if you can revise it an unlimited amount of times based on your mood?
Cal Fussman: [00:04:28] How would Michelangelo know when he looked at the David, okay?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:34] Maybe he ran out of ran out of steam.
Cal Fussman: [00:04:37] There's just a point where even with a dentist filling a tooth, putting in a cut, how does he know yeah, I just shape that just right. There's just the feeling that you get. Okay, that's right. And it's the same thing with writing and also you're going to send it into an editor who may say, no, can we think about this part, or we got to cut a third of it out because the magazine didn't sell enough ads.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:14] Oh man. And they choose that third day to cut.
Cal Fussman: [00:05:17] It depends on the situation. Fortunately after working for almost two decades at Esquire, you know your editors, you know your researchers, so you're working together on it, and that actually is helpful.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:36] Yeah, the collaborative aspect. Because if we're going to take the David metaphor or analogy, I guess I have never known what those two things are. We're going to take the David analogy. I basically chip the interview out of the marble and it kind of looks like a person, right? And then I hand it over to Jason and then he polishes it all up and then it looks like David maybe, it's more collaborative, and maybe I chipped more away than I think. But there's definitely an element of collaboration where I think we can both blame one another if it turns out poorly, and that's the way we like it.
Cal Fussman: [00:06:10] Well you know, you're a master. You've been doing this for?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:15] 11 and a half years.
Cal Fussman: [0:06:15.9] I was going to say 12.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:18] Thank you for rounding up.
Cal Fussman: [00:06:19] Okay. You've been doing this for 12 years. When you started, did you have that same process?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:26] In the beginning, we were in a basement and we recorded it , and then we would cut off the beginning and the end where we were fiddling around with the controls and touching the microphones and then that was it. That was the whole show.
Cal Fussman: [00:06:37] Now how long did it take for that to evolve?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:41] It was pretty quick because I started to edit out all of the things I didn't like about it. So I would go through and listen and I would go, oh, I said like 48 times. I'm going to cut out all those, or I said, um, instead of pausing or I started the last few sentences with the words so, I'm going to cut those out. And I stopped using filler words for the most part and started just pausing when I needed to think. And that's the opposite of a live radio broadcast habit where you go well and you hold it because you want people to know that you're still there. But on a podcast you can actually pause. Nobody's changing the dial. It's a little bit more intimate. The pace is a little slower than FM, for example.
Cal Fussman: [00:07:23] It's a very good point. I haven't fiddled with that yet. I noticed, I have certain phrasing that I repeat.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:32] Oh yeah.
Cal Fussman: [00:07:34] And I'm conscious of it. So now I think, how am I going to alter that?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:39] It's tough. I used to say absolutely 48 times in a show. That was my default word. You'd say, I have this. Absolutely. Well, I've been doing this for a long time. Absolutely.
Cal Fussman: [00:07:50] And you know what? Here's the thing about it. The people listening, they become friendly with you and they become friendly with that absolutely. You may not like it, but they may like it because that's you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:03] Yeah, but doesn't everybody want to get better at what they're doing all the time?
Cal Fussman: [00:08:07] Yeah, I hear you. And I'm thinking, I've only done one season and I just put out my first greatest hits season. We did it kind of as a joke, but going back over everything it was, it was really funny to hear myself and just see the rookie mistakes that you make. Even I've been interviewing all this time, not so much with the interviews, but more in the openings, in the ads where I was just charged up and heading into season two. I think I'm going to be a lot more relaxed.
Jordan Harbinger: [o0:08:49] More relaxed.
Cal Fussman: [00:08:50] I think so. Although here's the thing, I've been told by a lot of people that when they listen to podcasts, they skip through the ads. They may be in the gym on the treadmill and they have access, just press a button, shoot, it's gone. So I've felt like I got to do something wild and crazy with these ads to make people want to see what's he going to do this time, and so that was my approach. And it got varying results because some people said, that's amazing. I always stay on just to hear the ads. And other people were saying, man, like it's so over the top. We know it's not you. Your whole brand is based on authenticity and now you've created this character. It is so over the top to tell you about ZipRecruiter and Squarespace and I'm realizing that, well, they were both right in a way, but I got to evolve.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:59] Yeah. And you've got to find the middle ground, which is hard to do. I'm understanding that you wanted to be a writer for the whole time, but did you know you wanted to interview people and write about it or did you just think, I'm going to write about events, places?
Cal Fussman: [00:10:13] For me, it started on November 22nd, 1963 sitting in my second grade class, Ms. Jaffe, the teacher walks out the room, comes back in wearing the same clothes, but looking completely different, is really pale. And she starts talking in a voice, so calm. It was eerie. And she tells us that President Kennedy has just been shot. And we're all let home. Everybody goes straight to their television and we find out president's been assassinated, and new presidents and sworn in. And the new president, his name is Lyndon B Johnson. And I just keep thinking about this guy because I figured being in second grade, it was the middle initial that help you become president. Nobody else was called by the middle initial except the president. So if you had a name like Lyndon B Johnson, you were kind of destined to be a president. And that made me think all right, hold it, this guy is probably wanted to be president for a long time.
[00:11:18] Is he happy that he's president or is he sad that he's president? Because the only reason he's president is because of the assassination. Oh, well maybe he's scared that they're going to come after him too now that he's the president. And so this thought actually came to me at the kitchen table after my parents had call me over to try to let me know that things were going to be okay, because I had just turned seven years old week before. This really was my first confrontation with death, and they wanted to make sure I'd sleep okay. And so they reassure me, tell me, look, tomorrow morning you can wake up and have breakfast, just like normal things going to return, just the way they were. Don't worry about it. Our government's got this system in place that elevates the vice president and everything's going to be fine.
[00:12:19] So after they go away, I'm sitting at the table and I just have any thoughts about this guy, Lyndon B Johnson, and I can't figure out what he's feeling. Is he scared? Is he happy? Is he sad? So I picked up a pencil and a piece of paper and I wrote to him. Dear President Johnson, how does it feel, brother?
Jordan Harbinger: [0:12:40] Please tell me you wrote brother.
Cal Fussman: [00:12:41] No, I’m just having a good time here.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:45] That would have been great.
Cal Fussman: [00:12:47] Well, it was very heart, a letter sincere.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:52] Yeah, of course.
Cal Fussman: [00:12:53] Right from the heart. And I folded it up, put it in an envelope. I knew where the stamps were and I dressed. Back then you lick the stamps.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:01] Sure. Do we not do that now? It's been a minute since I've put a stamp on.
Cal Fussman: [00:13:05] Yeah, they stick on.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:06]They stick on. I think that's wise, yeah.
Cal Fussman: [00:13:08] And so I address the envelope President Lyndon B Johnson, the White House. And next day, I didn't tell anybody, went to the mailbox, dropped it in. Two days later, three days later, my parents were right. Things slowly returned to normal. Obviously you had the funeral and that's all anybody was talking about. But certainly a month later in Christmas, New Year, and I basically forgot about the letter. And then five months, six months later, end of May, my mom comes racing up the steps of our apartment in Yonkers, New York holding this envelope in her hands. It's from the White House, addressed to me, and I got a letter from the president.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:59] What was your mom thinking at that point? Have you ever asked her as an adult like, “Hey, how did you react?”
Cal Fussman: [00:14:05] She was overwhelmed with excitement. She's passed on now, but I still feel good remembering her coming in with this envelope because I don't think she had any idea what's going on here. And back then, getting a letter from the White House, it was a big deal.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:25] I think it still is probably.
Cal Fussman: [00:14:27] Well I noticed my daughter wrote to Obama and she got back a letter, but you could tell it was a letter that a lot of kids got. Whereas this letter was written by his personal secretary, Juanita D Roberts, and I knew that my letter had obviously worked, its up the chain to get to her. I don't know if she brought it into his offices, like what are you calling me to say to this kid? But when I was interviewing Robert Caro.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:04] The historian?
Cal Fussman: [00:15:04] That's right. He basically spent a good chunk of his life researching Lyndon B Johnson, and writing these tomes. Basically this guy's life is divided into books as size of phonebooks and I'm telling him about this letter and he says like, “Oh, who wrote the letter?” And I said, “Well, his personal secretary, Juanita D Roberts.” He says, “Juanita D Roberts!” And it made me realize that the letter had a drift up to a certain point for her to respond to me. And what it taught me, watching everybody come up to hold the letter, a principal this school wants to see it, was a basic question could get you to the most powerful person on Earth. And from that moment on, I knew that's what I was destined to do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:02] Have you been chasing that dragon ever since? Trying to get to the top?
Cal Fussman: [00:16:08] I imagine early on when I went to journalism school, I was like very competitive and chasing, and then the more accomplished I became, the less I started to chase. And I don't know what's going to happen now because you have already interviewed the icons who've shaped the last century. I've spoken and spent a week with Muhammad Ali and Mikhail Gorbachev and Jimmy Carter and De Niro, Al Pacino, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos. And so now I'm actually in a podcast looking in a different direction. So I don't know where it's going to take me. I'm very curious to find out. It's fascinating to me to be doing it through my voice.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:05] Do you find it easier or more difficult because now you don't have to edit it, right? And you can say what's on your mind? Did you don't go, that doesn't look right. That doesn't look right.
Cal Fussman: [00:17:14] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:15]Yeah.
[00:17:17] This episode is sponsored in part by the Great Courses Plus, and you know what that happens. It means you're going to learn something. I'm always trying to tap into the wisdom from the experts we have here on the show. That's the whole point of the show. I want to improve my knowledge on topics, discover something new, and that's why the Great Courses Plus, well, I'm a fan. It's unlimited access to learn from award-winning professors and experts. Deep down, you know I haven't won any awards lately, Jason? Kind of BS is that, man.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:17:43] I know, man. Come on.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:44] I got to give myself an award. That's what most podcasters do, isn't it? He can get himself awards.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:17:47] That's exactly what they do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:49] I give myself The Great Courses Plus trophy. Dive deep into any topic that interests you, history, science, business skills, travel, the arts. You can watch or listen to over 10,000 lectures. There's always something new to explore with The Great Courses Plus. I recommend checking out their new course. Why you are, I mean why now that we're doing that now, why you are who you are, investigations into human personality. This is a fascinating insight into, well, the huge neuroscience, psychology, genetics not only helps us better understand our own thought processes, but our behaviors, our beliefs as well as those around us. The long and short of it is I want you to start enjoying the Great Courses Plus too, so they're giving our listeners a fantastic limited time offer. Get your first month free, plus receive the second month for only 99 cents.
[00:18:36] That's unlimited access to enjoy their huge library of engaging lectures for two months for under a dollar, but to get this exclusive offer, you must sign up through our link within the next few weeks. Thegreatcoursesplus.com/jordan. Thegreatcoursesplus.com/jordan. Remember this special offer, get the first month free, second month for 99 cents. Only available for a limited time and by using our special link slash URL if you don't know what a URL is, it's the link. Sign up at thegreatcoursesplus.com/Jordan. What's that URL again, Jason?
Jason DeFillippo: [0:19:07.4] I'm scratching my head but I think, I think you mentioned it before, could it be thegreatcoursesplus.com/Jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:14] Nailed it. This episode is also sponsored by ZipRecruiter. Are you hiring? Are you posting your position to job sites and you're just waiting for the right people to see it? Yeah, it sounds like a good plan unless, of course, you have a problem with eight bigillian unqualified you know what's applying for stuff to calling you to make sure you got it and then not showing up for the interview and also not showing up with any clue about what the job was, then otherwise you might want to try ZipRecruiter because they actually learn what you're looking for. Identify people with the right experience and then invite them to apply for your job. In fact, 80 percent of employers who post a job on ZipRecruiter, well, they get a quality candidate through the site in just one day.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:19:52] Just one day.
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Jason DeFillippo: [0:20:12] I do believe that would be ziprecruiter.com/Jordan, and always remember ZipRecruiter, the smartest way to hire.
Cal Fussman: [00:20:19] Larry King was telling me this story and we just came from breakfast with Larry.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:23] Yeah, he was wearing a cool leather jacket. I'm like, who's shopping for Larry? He didn't buy that himself.
Cal Fussman: [00:20:27] Larry, he can look pretty cool.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:30] Yeah, I bet underneath of course, where the suspenders somewhere probably, right?
Cal Fussman: [00:20:34] He unwear the suspenders unless he's working.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:37] For show time only.
Cal Fussman: [00:20:38] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:39] It's like his alter ego. Throw the suspenders on business.
Cal Fussman: [00:20:43] And I remember him telling me when he did his first CNN show. So here's a guy, I'll just back this up a little. He starts in radio in Miami Beach, very small station, and then he slowly moves up the ranks to the big station in Miami. And then he gets a call from the mutual radio network because this back in the late ‘70s, the guy running that network, Ed Little had this idea that if I put somebody on all night, I could get the whole country to listen.
[00:21:22] Because before then, it's hard to remember, but every little town had its own radio stations and its own man or a woman mostly man, especially at that hour. And everyone's told this guy I had little, you're crazy. People in Natchez, Mississippi are not going to be listening to Larry King. People in Anchorage, Alaska are not going to be listening to Larry King. But Ed Little knew that there was something in Larry King that was universal and when he put him on, it immediately work. And basically Larry was on in front of the country for five or six hours every night. And then Ted Turner's started CNN and he asked Larry to come on at nine o'clock Eastern. And Larry said, “Nah, I don't, you know, I want to go to the baseball games.” Like you get a room in my life. And Ted was embroiled in a contract negotiation with the person who was on at nine, and basically wanted it, like get rid of them.
[00:22:30] And so he just said, Larry look, just give it a shot. Do it for a year. And if you don't like it, fine. No problems. And so Larry tried it, and this is at a point, this is 1985. The studio was in Washington, DC. There is no cable in Washington, DC. So he's actually—
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:53] No cable TV?
Cal Fussman: [00:22:54] No, but they're recording this CNN episode with Larry King. The first episode, New York Governor Mario Cuomo was the guest. And you can't watch this in Washington, DC because they haven't installed the cable. Cable when it was first brought in, was done more in rural areas than it was in the big cities. And Larry said he is doing this interview with Cuomo, and it's just got the radio microphone in front of him, and he said, as soon as he started talking to Cuomo, he said, “This is going to be big. I can feel it.”
[00:23:36] And I felt a little of that when I started doing these podcasts. I was sitting down Kobe Bryant in his office and it was so relaxed, and I was basically doing everything I've been doing for decades except the advertisements and lead ins. That was where it was all new to me and that's where I was reacting like I was just starting anything. But the actual moment where I'm sitting down with Kobe or sitting down with Tim Ferriss, completely relaxed. And I knew this is what you should be doing and it felt so natural from that point on. It's just almost hard for me to believe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:29] How did you first start learning the craft of interviewing other people? I know you did a lot of traveling on buses and things like that. You had a little game you would play called, let's not be homeless tonight. I mean that wasn't the name of the game, but that was kind of what you were doing.
Cal Fussman: [00:24:41] Yeah. What happened was I was working for a magazine in New York after I got out of journalism school, I worked for a couple of newspapers, and then I got this amazing opportunity to work for a magazine called Inside Sports. And in fact ,I was reminded of it yesterday. I was driving down the street and I saw on a marquee, some lettering, like a sign when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro, Hunter S Thompson, and he is one of the people who write for this magazine. And he would show up in New York, and we'd all go to the cowboy bar and I'd be throwing back shots with him. And it wasn't only Hunter, like some of the best writers in America. And so I had this ideal job, I'm like 22, 23 years old, and going off to interview the Steelers while they go for their fifth Super Bowl ring, come back shots with Hunter, David Halberstam, Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, sit you down and tell you stories is amazing.
[00:25:47] And then in one day, in a finger snap, all disappeared because this magazine, Inside Sports was an artistic success. It was a monthly created to compete with Sports Illustrated. Back in the days when Sports Illustrated was the bomb. And as good as it was, it was not a commercial success. Washington Post funded it and pulled the plug, and I'm looking around and I'm thinking, what am I going to do now? And like wherever I go to work, it's going to be a job. It's not going to be like this. Every day was an adventure. So I just started thinking about it and it actually became sort of a life crisis because I didn't know what to do and I wasn't going to go back and work for a newspaper. I needed to go somewhere else. So I thought I would take some time off and just travel a bit, I had hardly any money and a bunch of guys, good friends decided that we meet in Europe, just spend a few weeks. That's how it started.
[00:26:54] One of the guys, his name is Gary Smith, and he later became an award winning writer. He's probably won more best magazine award than any other writer for long form journalism. He went over first, and I said, I'll meet you over there. Some other joined us, but when he went over, he was in Italy and he bought a ticket on a bus and they didn't know where it was going. He just had it inside him that he just wanted to be curious, and it might've led him to a train or it might've been the train to a bus, but both times it was just buying the ticket. Where's the next? One leave at him, and then he got off and he starts walking and a car drives by and stops, picks him up and takes him into this little town called Castel Viscardo, and he's a hero.
[00:27:52] He's like American guy. It's very rare that a guy would just show up in little Castel Viscardo, and everybody immediately loves him. And so when it's time to meet me in Germany for Oktoberfest, he does and he says, he's like, you've got to come back to Castel Viscardo. So we go back, and it as soon as we walk in, he say [indiscernible] [00:28:18] and then he said, this is my friend, Cal, Galbino, and the pasta comes out, no wine comes out and we’re picking grapes and just having a great time. And he explained this is how we did it, just buying a ticket for the next destination. And so I said, you know what? I'm going to try that too. And that led me around the globe because even though I didn't have much money, I became very good at walking down the aisle of a train and looking at empty seats and trying to figure out, all right, which one of these people could I get into interesting conversation with, so interesting that by the end of the ride they're going to say, “Oh, you got to come home with me,” and I get really good at it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:15] It sounds like every young guy's dream to go look on a European train and find someone that they want to go home with. But something tells me you're not talking about meeting women.
Cal Fussman: [00:29:25] Well, here's the thing. This is where, and this is confusing to me to this day, because I would walk down that aisle and I would see beautiful women and I would see empty seats next to them. But I would always walk by them because you just look at me, they're not taking me home. They're not taking Cal home. So I walked by all these beautiful women and I didn't sit down next them, right? Fast forward, must've been 15 years or so. And I'm working for Esquire, and I get a call to do an interview with Petra Nemcova, who is big time fashion model. You might remember her because she was involved in the Tsunami in Thailand.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:17] Oh, right. And she survived, but her friend didn't, something like that.
Cal Fussman: [0:30:21[ That’s Right. And so I show up for this interview, it was at a bar and it was at night, I think it was supposed to be maybe 7:30 or something, and she's late. And so she shows up maybe 8, 8:15, and “Are you Cal?” I said, “Yeah.” And she sits down and we start talking. Immediately, we hit it off. I mean like just like that. And we're talking for three hours and then if you're supposed to last like hour and a half tops, but it wasn't an interview after 30 seconds. It's just a conversation. And at the end of it I say to her, “You know, I got to make a confession to you.” And I said, this really bothers me because here I am walking down the aisle of the train. And if 15 years ago you were sitting in a seat next to an MTC, I'd walked right by you. I would've not said hello to you and look at what I would have missed. We just had a great conversation and what she did was very cool. She looked over to me and she grabbed my hand and she said, “Don't worry Cal. Tonight, I sat next to you.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:33] Oh, at least she's got game.
Cal Fussman: [00:31:36] And there's an addendum to this story. So years later, I'm telling this story to Kat Graham, who was the star on vampire diaries, beautiful woman. And same thing, I sit down with her and we just immediately hit it off. If I would have known her when she was 19, 20, we had been friends for life. And I admit that I would've passed her by too. And she says to me, “You asshole.” I said, “What? What do you mean?” “You asshole, don't you understand?” So I'm sitting on the train, there's an empty seat next to me. You're walking by, we can have a great conversation, but you keep walking and we never meet. And then three minutes later some real asshole comes over, sits in the seat and tries to pick me up for the next two hours. Great Cal. Great moves.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:46] That's the story of every woman's life though. You're not the only one who's to blame, right? We all, a lot of good guys walk past beautiful women, and then a lot of women say, “Why is it only the jerks that approached me? Why is it only the gross ones that approached me?” And it's because we're all too scared.
Cal Fussman: [00:33:03] The thing about it was, I wasn't scared. It's just that I knew they weren't taking me home. There was a real, in my mind, this trip was sort of glued together by these experiences of meeting people who took me in and pass me on. And so sitting next to a beautiful woman in my mind was only going to break the chain. You don't want to break the chain. Now if it's a 92 year old grandma, great.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:34] So you had a lot of those.
Cal Fussman: [00:33:36] Grandmas, top of the list because grandmas will be thinking about things like security. He can't speak the language. Is he going to be safe here? I better watch out for this guy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:52] You're triggering that maternal instinct as hard as you can.
Cal Fussman: [00:33:55[ Right. And maybe I'm hungry. Maybe it would have been triggered by beautiful young woman.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:02] Yeah. Who knows? Petra a woman. She could've cooked you some food or kept you safe and warm.
Cal Fussman: [00:34:09]Who is to know where a conversation leads you? Nobody knows. So why not have it? Why walk by the conversation. Now may be different these days because people got earbuds in, and so it's harder to strike up a conversation with somebody. You literally have to ask them to take something out of their ears, but you can still do it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:32] I would say that. Yeah, for sure. Just do that nonverbal signal to take the headphones out. Most people might say, “What?” And then as soon as you start talking, they don't care anymore.
Cal Fussman: [00:34:41] There's that and there's something else. Which if I had this when I was traveling, I hadn't been the ultimate piece. I'd still be traveling now. Nothing. Well, I shouldn't say that because I met the woman who became my wife on a bus and that was a beautiful woman, and it did stop the trip. So there you go.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:02] There you go.
Cal Fussman: [00:35:03] There you go improvement, boy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:04] That's right.
Cal Fussman: [00:35:05] Improvement, boy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:06] You had to grow through that, and yeah.
Cal Fussman: [00:35:08] But now you got CouchSurfing. Now I can get on the Internet and wherever I go, all I got to do is hit a few keys, who is in Brussels, and there are people in Brussels who are looking for somebody foreign to come in and delight them with stories. That's why they got on couchsurfer to begin with, and those people love to show where they're from, and those people love to show the local delicacies for somebody now, it's completely open. And not only that, and I haven't done this couchsurfer, but I think there are ratings attached.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:58] There are, yeah. You can review people. Couchsurfing.org, and we'll link it in the show notes as well, if people want to sign up. I remember I was one of the first 500 members of that website, and in 2000, of the early aughts maybe. It's great. It's phenomenal. You can immediately have a friend on the ground. I'll be at the train station at 1 a.m, don't let me get killed.
Cal Fussman: [00:36:20] And depending how it goes, if you really strike up a friendship, basically now every time you go back to Brussels, you're covered. You've got a home base. I mean this is like, I remember that game Risk?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:41] Yea, sure.
Cal Fussman: [00:36:42] But guys all over the world. You can establish an empire, an empire of people and places that want to see you and hear about your next adventure. And you know what's kind of interesting that I've found starting this podcast is I was interviewing the CEO of SoulCycle.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:11] Oh wow. Okay.
Cal Fussman: [0:37:12] Melanie Whelan. And here's the thing, I'd never run a business. This is really the first entrepreneurial thing that I'm doing. Don't know anything about business. So I'm asking her like, “Well, what do I do?” And she tells me something I never would have expected. She says, well, when I look at our competitors, I'm thinking Netflix.
[00:37:39] And I'm like, SoulCycle competing with Netflix. But then you realize she's right because if people are sitting on a couch watching some great programming, then they're not going to be on a bike, and that shows you how smart she is. And so I'm really paying attention. And she said, you got to think about how your audience, your listeners are spending their time now. For a business person, I think that that's probably one-on-one. But if you're Cal, I go out to spend a week with Muhammad Ali. I'm not thinking where is the Esquire reader going to be when he reads this? What time is he going to pick it up? It's like there's no room in my brain for that. But when she said it, I thought, “Oh my God, I don't know who my listeners are.” So I started to ask the listeners to send me a photo of where they're listening, and it's wild.
[00:38:47] You get pictures of people who are sending chickens in the coop saying, I listen to you when I'm like doing the chores in the morning, and I got a photo from Belgium, and then I was going to Brussels, and I emailed them back, and let's get dinner and he wouldn't let me buy the dinner. And so I'm realizing that one of the great things about doing a podcast may be setting up this network, this empire of friends who would want to see you if you were traveling to Hong Kong. If you're roaming around Thailand, and this has got me. Remember I told you I felt exactly how Larry King felt when he did that first CNN interview. It's deeper than just the broadcast. This is linking me back to those moments where I was traveling around the world. And now my kids, two of them are in college. The third one is getting there. Yes, sir. We're going to hit the road again. So when I say how great I feel about doing this podcast, it's really hooked into something in my essence about traveling curiosity, going out to meet new people. I don't know where it's going to take me, but I feel this is what I was meant to.
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[00:42:59] Why do you think you're more curious than other people or why do you think other people's curiosity gets muffled if you think we're all equally curious?
Cal Fussman: [00:43:07] Most people don't realize that their curiosity is getting buried after shovel full of experiences. It happens in ways. Look, I'll give a classic example, all right? When you're four years old, studies have shown that you can ask your parents 400 questions a day.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:29] Wow, I can't wait for that.
Cal Fussman: [00:43:33] And lovely Jen here is smiling and she's going to take the brunt of them. Don't worry.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:40] Oh, I know she's going to pass them off to me. It's only a matter of “Hey, Jordan, Junior's got 84 questions about how the TV work.”
Cal Fussman: [00:43:47] It doesn’t work that way.
Jordan Harbinger: [0:43:48] She has already asking me 400 questions a day because she's naturally very curious.
Cal Fussman: [00:43:52] Oh man, you're going to get 800, but it's okay because the kid is going to be like hugging her leg and say, mom, mom, mom, why, why, why, why? And the only thing she could do is hand the kid over to you and then you'll get it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:08] Great. Sounds about right.
Cal Fussman: [00:44:09] That's how we're thinking one we're for now. Think about what happens in next year. You're five. You go to kindergarten, you still got all those questions in you. But one of the first things you learn is, it's the teacher who asks questions. You're there to give the answers, right? That's number one. Number two, if you got a question, you can't just blurt it out. No more mom, mom, mom. You raise your hand and I will call on you so you can ask your question. So already in that little scene you had just seen how curiosity has been stifled, even though obviously you need to do that in order to make a classroom function, right?
[00:44:53] But know the why, why, why is, should I ask that? Should I raise my hand? And that starts this process. And by the time somebody in junior high school, you aren’t going to see any hands going up and if somebody puts their hands up and asks a question that the rest of the class deems ridiculous. Like in my day, you were completely made a fool of. Now, with a cell phone, somebody can type it into the Internet and you're a buffoon around the world.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:27] Oh yeah. Or you could type your question in and get the answer.
Cal Fussman: [00:45:30] Okay.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:31] But most people aren't doing that.
Cal Fussman: [00:45:34] And this carries through to point when people take a job. Now they're early 20s, and they're in a group setting and something needs to be done. It's their responsibility and they don't know exactly how to do it, but they're a group of people there. Are they going to announce, you know, I really don't understand this. How does it work? Or are they going to take that question and shove it down so that nobody will know that they don't know how to do it. And maybe they'll figure it out on their own or they'll pull somebody else aside. And you just got this continual shovel after shovel after shovel of dirt. It's burying curiosity, and people aren't even aware of it. And then you have a kid and now your kid's asking you 400 questions and you just need some sleep. And you got no time for curiosity then, you just want to get some sleep. And so why did I stay curious? Number one, that moment with the president taught me that my strength is in my curiosity. And so I'm never going to tolerate at shovel of dirt coming on it.
[00:46:57] There's just too many questions coming up. It's just constantly fresh. So no matter how many shovels come down, I'm just sweeping the dirt away. And then I never evolved into a position where like I had a job, an actual, where I went to work. There was only a couple of exceptions. I was always a writer who was out alone. And the one time when I took a job, I had just gotten married to the beautiful woman I met on the bus, and kids were coming and it just seemed like a good time to stop in a place, get some good medical insurance. And so for I think it was, I've worked at this place maybe a year and a half at a newspaper, and I immediately instructed the system secretary of the department, because I knew I wasn't going to be at the desk, to just when anybody came over and asked like, “Where's Cal?” Say “He's out in the field.” So I was never really in a place where I was put in a situation where I didn't know something, I was too scared to bring it up. I just kept asking the questions. And so I think my curiosity is as high as it was is when I was four years old.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:15] What if someone feels like they're stifled or they can't start these conversations and engage their curiosity? How would you recommend they fix that?
Cal Fussman: [00:48:24] How about this? Because I just talked about learning this going around the world and that's kind of another example. You get on a bus and you can't speak the same language as other person. Now you're in a game of charades and now you're curious because you're trying to figure out everything. In this case, let's say the person's not traveling. How could they bring the world to them? Well, why not get two friends and say, all right, we're going to have dinner on Saturday night, but the rule is, everybody has to bring over somebody that I've never met. And this dinner is going to function so that the three of us who know each other are going to be finding out about the three of us who nobody has ever met.
[00:49:15] And we're going to look at it like this. These street people, maybe they come from a different city in the United States. Maybe they come from somewhere else in the world and the conversation will go like this in your mind, you are going to convince yourself that this person that you meet from a different city or a different country, they just happened to be from the place that you need to move in two weeks. So whatever you questions you have about that place, where to go, what to eat, how were the schools, crime. You have to find out as much as you can just to protect yourself. You just have a nice dinner that way. And I think just by going in with those questions and continually imagine into yourself, I need to move there. What else do I got to think about? Where my kid's going to go to school? Where's the best place for my kids? Or I'm single. Where's the best bars to go to meet somebody?
[00:50:11] However you're thinking, that's the thing about this, and I'm glad you honed in on the curiosity because so many people email me, call me up, or I give speeches and at the end they want my questions.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:27] Oh, the actual question.
Cal Fussman: [00:50:28] They want the actual questions and that is part of the problem.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:34] Yeah, it’s the wrong question to be asking.
Cal Fussman: [00:50:35] Because what they really want is my curiosity, but I can't give them my curiosity. I can give them an exercise like that, that says, okay, you may have a lot of dirt on top of your curiosity that you're going to have to start shoveling away yourself. So just put yourself in that place where you need, you desperately need to know about the place this person comes from and see where it takes you. Don't stop after one question because if you were moving there, you wouldn't. You really want to know stuff because you'd have to add a self-preservation. So there's just a very simple exercise, but if you don't go at it through curiosity, then everything else you try is going to be much more difficult and maybe even impossible.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:37] Because you have to kind of fake it. Which is why people say things like, “Hey Cal, what's your favorite book? Where's your favorite place that you've traveled? How do you like podcasts?” Because they don't really care. They just want to engage in a dialogue of some kind because you're approaching these interviews as if you're sitting on that train as opposed to you're a journalist trying to get some facts from someone, from the sound of it.
Cal Fussman: [00:52:02] That's exactly it. But in that exercise, I'm basically adding a component where you need something. So it's not just curiosity for the sake of curiosity, which in my case it was. If I meet somebody, if I meet a cab driver from Ethiopia, I'm curious about Ethiopia, and if I meet a cab driver from Belgium, I was just in Belgium. Now, we may talk about Belgium beers for the next or as long as the ride's going to last. It really is a case if you feel like your curiosity has been stifled, it's not getting certain questions. Although I can give you certain questions that will open people up. I mean, here's the one for example that I use in workshops, where I have people interviewing each other, and one of the questions that they have to ask to each other is, why is your best friend, your best friend?
[00:53:11] Now that's a question that you can't really fake, and certainly can't fake the answer.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:18] You don't really need to either.
Cal Fussman: [00:53:20] If you're not curious, well, and you use the question, the question is powerful enough to make the person you've asked think why is my best friend, my best friend? And that curiosity enough inside the person who's asked will be enough to generate a revealing genuine response. So you can't really go wrong with that question, but if you ask it with full sincerity, then you've got this an added level of curiosity because you're going to be paying attention to the answer, which is then going to take the conversation to a deeper place. So there are questions and I'm going to write a book showcasing these questions.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:04] When does that come out? I need that.
Cal Fussman: [00:54:06] Oh, I just finished put the finishing touches on the proposal. We'll see what happens. But there are certain questions that will be enough to ignite the curiosity in the listener so that even if you feel, “Uh-oh, I don't know how to really start this conversation, I don't feel comfortable.” If you asked this question, it will open things up and then you’re relying on your curiosity and your listening to push things forward. Now, if you can't listen, it's really not going to make much of a difference because there'll be talking and you're not hearing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:48] Right. It's a one sided conversation in many, almost not even a conversation at that point.
Cal Fussman: [00:54:54] Larry King once told me a story about being interviewed by some grand interviewer, and I think it was in Texas, who came with a pad and had their questions written out like it was a TV interview. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, and ask the first question. Larry gives the answer, and notices, she's not listening at all to what he's saying. As the second question, and then she's whatever. This is a days before cell phones, but she was just on autopilot. And so he starts answering the questions like completely different than the question calls for.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:37] Right. Sure. Just ridiculous out of left field kind of answers.
Cal Fussman: [00:55:41] Yeah. And so if you're asking questions and not paying attention to the answers, all of this is meaningless. You got to be curious and deeply paying attention.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:54] Would you say that if somebody feels like they're not curious but they're doing a podcast or that they're doing some kind of writing that maybe they're in the wrong line of work or do you think they just haven't done the work to develop the requisite curiosity to do the job?
Cal Fussman: [00:56:07] Well, look, podcasts are different. Somebody can do a podcast and just go on and start talking.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:14] Sure, yeah, yeah, yeah. We can do them by ourselves if we need to.
Cal Fussman: [00:56:18]Yeah. And so I guess a lot of that question revolves around is this person doing a podcast because they want to be well known? Or because they want to sell something as opposed to doing interviews that reveal the essence of their guests? If they're doing those kind of interviews and they're not really curious. I've tuned into a few and after 30 seconds, then you know it's over. It's kind of sad really.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:51] Yeah. Well, it's a waste of everyone's time and also it's just such a wasted opportunity with for both people, honestly.
Cal Fussman: [00:57:00] Well, you know what? And this brings up a good point because I just got an email this morning from an old buddy. He’s a journalist named Steve Fishman, and he just put out a podcast called Empire on Blood.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:13] Oh right, you were talking about that at breakfast.
Cal Fussman: [00:57:15] Yes. The number one rated podcast now on Apple, at least this morning. These things move quick.
Jordan Harbinger: [0:57:21] Yeah, they do. So don't look forward to number one now. You can find Empire on Blood, it'll still be there.
Cal Fussman: [00:57:25] Yeah. And so basically, Steve has been an investigative journalist for must be more than definitely more than three decades. And he finds out about this guy who was accused and convicted of a double murder on the streets of the Bronx. But the guy was a drug dealer, the guy brought crack to the Bronx and he did not commit the murder apparently, but he was in jail. And somehow he got connected to Steve, and got a thousand pages of court documents to Steve. And it picked Steve's curiosity because Steve thought, you know what, man? I don't think this guy's guilty. And for seven years he worked on this. And finally, it came out that the guy was not guilty and the guy got out of jail.
[00:58:17] And so Steve had like hours of tape talking to this guy and he was able to bring it over to some storytellers and producers, and they put it together into a podcast. It must be six or seven episodes, about an hour each. And I just got the email, I haven't had a chance to listen, but apparently it's amazing. And so what's going to happen, I think, is you're going to find all these journalists who were working at magazines, and now Steve had that story. He's working on seven years, couldn't sell it to a magazine. No magazine will buy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:54] It's unbelievable. Yeah, unbelievable.
Cal Fussman: [00:58:57] But the thing of it, the magazines are getting thinner and thinner and thinner. Younger people really aren't reading magazines. They're not the physical magazines anyway. If they are, it's on the internet. And so the magazines are getting thinner and thinner and thinner, and that leaves them with very little room to run along piece of journalism.
[00:59:20] And what I think you're going to see is a lot of the journalists saying, “Oh, I can ask questions, I can tell stories, maybe I should be there.” And so I realized the market has been flooding with people. Everybody who wants to have a voice, but now you're going to have a lot of people who are trained to get answers and train to tell stories. And so I think it's going to be harder for a podcaster who isn't curious, and can't ask the questions that are going to get stories or good tools out of their guests. And podcasters probably going to be taken to a higher level.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:11] That's great news though.
Cal Fussman: [01:00:13] I'm only in this now for one season, but this is just my short [indiscernible] [01:00:17] thing.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:18] Sure, sure. I believe that. I'd love to see that because I think that podcasting dipped into a sort of a phase where everybody has one, but some people are just doing it because they want to build a name for themselves. They don't actually care about the craft or anything like that, and maybe I'm just being a hipster about it, but I feel like there's no value in creating something just so that you can say, “Oh, I'm a influencer.” It doesn't really make a lot of sense to me.
Cal Fussman: [01:00:42] Yeah. And I can understand why a lot of those people do it because they tie it to their business. And it's just an extension of what they're selling.
Jordan Harbinger: [1:00:51] Yeah.
Cal Fussman: [01:00:52] Makes sense?
Jordan Harbinger: [1:00:53] Yeah.
Cal Fussman: [01:00:54] But it's going to be harder and harder to compete because I'm looking around this office here, and you're seeing so many podcasts are coming out, and not only that, but many of the podcasts are now being done by celebrities who do have an audience and people are flocking to them just because they already liked the person. So well, I think this is going to keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger because even when I was listening to a trailer for this Empire on Blood, I was able to realize immediately, wow, this is much better than if it would have been written in print. You're hearing the voice of the guy who is behind bars. You're hearing somebody set up a sound system in a courtroom in the Bronx and these are things that would, they just can't fit into print journalism. So I think podcasting's biggest days are right around the corner.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:55] Fingers crossed for that. Of course, I'm ready for it. I'm excited about that because of the position that I find myself in, find you in as well. And I think it's going to be great. I also think that it makes it more accessible for great content to come out. And I want to pick a one interview that you did a long time, actually, I don't know when you did this with Gorbachev, this must been quite a while ago. You said the first question in interview, she'd go to the heart, not the head, and then you can get to the soul. That sounds great. But what does that actually mean? Because if we're talking about head questions where it's, what's your favorite book? What kind of things do you like to do? The sort of fact-based, what's a hard question so like?
Cal Fussman: [01:02:38] Well, a favorite book could be a question to the heart. If you love Harry Potter, and I come at you with the first question about Harry Potter that is going straight to your heart. My point is to open up with something that you believe the person's going to be passionate about or deeply care about. If you even hear a salesman and you show up in somebody's office, you could immediately say, well, I sell copiers. What kind of copier you got? I just want to know, so I can tell you the copier I sell is going to be better. Or you can walk into the office and spot a picture of the person who resides in that office with their family, and see that they got seven kids, and seven kids. What's this little one's name? Straight to the heart.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:37] And then also you can't afford this copier. I'm out of here. You've got seven kids. There's no way you're going to be able to pay this thing off. I can understand that. Go to the heart, not the head in. Are you thinking about this kind of first question consciously, when you go into an interview, you just kind of snap to it?
Cal Fussman: [01:03:55] No, what happened is, I didn't even know this, that I was doing this until I was asked to give a speech about decode in The Art of the Interview was on a cruise of entrepreneurs. You know summit very well?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:10] I do. I went in 2010, which I think was one of the ones right before they did the ones on the boat, which I believe you went to the one on the boat.
Cal Fussman: [01:04:17] That's right. So I'm invited to this cruise ship, and I know I got to give this speech. I never really spoke for an hour before. I was a little nervous about it, but they had so many events going on simultaneously on this ship that I'm thinking, look, 17 people are going to show up. I'll just talk about my interviews, tell some stories. And I got a nice weekend in the Caribbean.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:44] Yeah, it can be it.
Cal Fussman: [01:04:46] Yeah. And I show up and the room's packed. I mean beyond packed. There are every seat’s fill, a standing room only to the back. I got like CEOs and billionaires sitting cross legged in the aisles and a long line out the door that can't get in.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:04] It's like the iPhone.
Cal Fussman: [1:05:05] What? How did I become the iPhone? I don't know anything about technology. So all I could do was just get up and tell my stories, and I'm done is this long line of people. And remember, they're all entrepreneurs in way. They're all running businesses, and they want to know or like what questions can they ask that will improve their hiring? So that makes sense to me. But there's also a guy, his name is Roman Tsunder runs an organization called PTTOW. Plan to take over the world, it's like the foremost marketing conference in America. All the top marketers are there.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:51] I never heard of it. So I'm obviously not part of that plan to take over the world. I'm left out of that one.
Cal Fussman: [01:05:56] He's a great guy. And he had a conference coming up and he asked if I would be the keynote speaker at his conference. And there's a little back story to this. I almost started laughing when I heard about this, because I remember interviewing Jack Welch when he stepped down as CEO of General Electric. So nobody was bigger CEO than Jack Welch at that time. And we sit down and his place in Boston, and we have a great conversation. He's telling his stories. I started telling him mine, it's only supposed to be an hour and a half, we’re two and a half in and he doesn't want to stop. And he said, “You know what? Cal, let's go get some lunch.” I said, “Great Jack.” So we're about to head out the door and he stops and he turns to me and he says, you know, Cal, if I was still see at GE, you would have never gotten out of this room without joining our marketing team.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:03] Really?
Cal Fussman: [01:07:05] Now a lot of people might've taken that as a compliment, which is the way you intended it. But me, a guy who was like going around the world and writing and sort of fantasizing or sing himself as a cross between Marco Polo and Hemingway. You hear join my marketing. To me, I'm a marketer.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:25] Right. I just got done with Gorbachev. I'm not going to market for General Electric.
Cal Fussman: [01:07:29] Well, I'm looking at him like De Niro in Taxi Driver. Are you talking to me, Jack? Are you talking to me? And he laughed, he saw kind of hit a nerve and he said, “Hey, I've been doing this a long time.” This is what I do. I know when I see something, you belong in my marketing team. And so it it became comical. Any time I heard somebody brought up marketing, I kind of laugh to remember Jack Welch. And so now here I am, I just get my first speech and the head of the foremost marketing conference in America comes over to ask to be the keynote speaker right in front of Mayor Bloomberg. And he did two great things. So on the ship, I totally stories about Mikhail Gorbachev and Donald Trump, and Muhammad Ali, Larry King, and it lasts for more than an hour aces. I want you to do that, but you only got 17 minutes.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:36] Oh wow.
Cal Fussman: [01:08:37] Yeah. So right. My jaw hits my knee like there's no way I can do this. No way, but I go home, and I'm really trying to like condense this and what enabled me to condense it is he said, just do your heart, head and soul approach. And I said, like what heart, head and soul approach? And he said, you told the story about Gorbachev. That's the heart. Told the story about Muhammad Ali. That's the sign. I said, “Oh my God, he's right.” I do have a head, heart and soul approach. And I got the speech down to 22 minutes. I was never proud of myself in my whole life. I mean, if I had cut one more where that his speech, it would've started to bleed. So now I got to go back and rehearse it for Rome.
[01:09:27] I show up to rehearse it for him. It's got a team of people and he pulls out a big timer. I get up, I start talking. He hits the timer, give the speech, goes 22 minutes. At the end, everybody's applauding. Great, great. And he says to me, only one thing, cut out another [indiscernible] [01:09:45]. It was a great thing that he did. It really was because it just made me refine and refine and refine. And at the end of it, I did have a heart, head and soul approach. He made me, first, he identified it, and then he made me refine it to a place where I thought, yeah, this is what I do. And so now I'm trying to do that with everything about the way I interview so I can help others who would want to try and understand it for whatever reason. Maybe they want to hire better, they want to sell more.
[01:10:28] Maybe they go out on a date and they want to immediately be able to tell, is this the one? Maybe they want to talk to a parent who doesn't open up very much. There's a million reasons why people want to learn how to ask questions, interview, have a conversation in a meaningful way. And so that's what I'm doing now. I'm really refining all these things, understanding and then boiling down to the essence, all these things I've been doing over decades so that they can be useful to people.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:05] You have said that listening is an art form. I would love to hear what you mean by that and maybe get a listening exercise for the listeners here.
Cal Fussman: [01:11:13] Start with meeting somebody that isn't a comfortable place because some people, they don't want to walk up to somebody they don't know. Like I wouldn't advise if you're a woman to walk up to some guy and do this, because they may not know the intents going on.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:33] This could be a little confusing. Yeah, sure. So if you're a woman, you could walk up to another woman and do this.
Cal Fussman: [01:11:39] You could do that. But some people, they don't like to walk up to somebody they don't know.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:45] Most people don't like that. But what are we saying to that tough kishka
go do it anyway?
Cal Fussman: [01:11:49] No, what I'm saying to that is let's find a middle ground. Let's find a person who may be works for the same company that you don't know. Now ,you have something in common and also there's some accountability. This person isn't going to do anything bad to somebody who's working for the same company.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:12] You're not going to get a harsh rejection from somebody in the HR department.
Cal Fussman: [01:12:17] That’s right. So now you're safe, which is the first rule of interviewing. Make the person feel safe.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:27] How do you usually do that?
Cal Fussman: [01:12:29] If you try to do an interview in a place where if you're doing it on an edge of a cliff and putting their chair, right? Right to the point where if they lean back, they're going to go over, you know it's not a safe place. It's a very good point and that now I'm going to go back home and I'm going to really think about that because you asked the question, and to me, it's common sense. You look at the person, do they look like they feel safe? But no, maybe I have to go back and think, how do you make somebody feel safe?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:11] Yeah. Because, okay, for example, I would love to interview and I was talking with his assistant for a long time, or his publicist, David Copperfield, right? I was thrilled about this. I was almost going to happen. And then this sort of scandal thing came out and then it was just like, look, he doesn't want to do any media. And the reason is because he thinks this is going to come up. They're going to try to trick me. I don't feel safe doing it there.
Cal Fussman: [01:13:33] Yeah, there you go.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:34] I don’t want to do it anymore.
Cal Fussman: [01:13:34] That's right. The problem is that you probably weren't dealing with him. You were dealing with his manager.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:42] Right. Not even some assistant publicist. And then when I tried to email recently, it bounced. She's gone. It's over.
Cal Fussman: [01:13:49] Yeah. So that person's job is basically to say, no, it's a wall that he's got up. And so that person will never say yes no matter what you do. Because basically that person is scared that after being told, your job is to say no, if they come back with, well, you know, I told this guy may be, and she's not doing her job. Now she's scared she's going to get fired, so you just made her feel unsafe.
Jordan Harbinger: [1:14:23] Maybe that's why she's gone. She said, sure, someday maybe. Fired. No, I don't know.
Cal Fussman: [01:14:30] But to the point you would basically have to get to David Copperfield. Say, this is what I do. I know your situation. I would like to talk to you. What circumstances might make you feel comfortable? You don't have to use the word safe. If you use the word comfortable, it's more comfortable word to use.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:56] Yeah. It doesn't say, well, I wasn't thinking about safety, but now that you brought it up, maybe I do feel unsafe. Yeah.
Cal Fussman: [01:15:01] Yeah. Or you're now making a judgment that, well, I know you feel unsafe.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:15:07] Nobody wants to feel that way.
Cal Fussman: [01:15:08] Right. So basically if you just say, I've reached out, and I really would love to do this. Can you tell me how we could do this? So that it would be the most comfortable to you. Now, just by the fact that you used the word how in the question, there should be an opening for a long response, because if you say, how could I make this the most comfortable for you? There's no yes or no answer.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:15:48] Right. It's an open ended question.
Cal Fussman: [01:15:49] That’s right. And so now they have to think positively unless they're going to say, well, Jordan, to tell you something, I'm not in a comfortable place right now. And I just not going to feel comfortable doing this with anybody, it’s nothing personal against you. And you got to respect that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:09] Sure, yeah. Yeah, of course.
Cal Fussman: [01:16:12] You can't change discomfort in somebody else's belly. I mean, I have, and you can, but if somebody upfront is saying, I don't feel comfortable. I'm not going to do this. It's pretty hard to change their mind.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:31] Right. You're not even going to get in the room with them. If you're in the room and they feel uncomfortable, you can probably make them feel at ease, which is something that I think every interviewer's done. But if they won't even sit down with you, you're facing quite a challenge that maybe the timing is not quite right. Unless you can get to one of their close friends or relatives.
Cal Fussman: [01:16:49] There you go. There you go. And then it's got to be positioned to him through a sense of safety. If it goes to his brother, then his brother can say, hey, I know this guy, Jordan. He's a good guy. He's got a history of doing these podcasts for 11 years. You can listen. And that might sway David Copperfield. I hope it does. I hope you meet somebody in his family.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:17] As you get older. How is your interviewing style or skills how they changed or have they changed?
Cal Fussman: [01:17:26] I would like to see video of me, and I didn't, I didn't have it taken.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:34] Some real to real.
Cal Fussman: [01:17:35] I have a very old tapes of some, and not only that, but the tapes were out. I don't know why.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:43] Tapes wear out. Oh yeah, they do. They do. I don't know why.
Cal Fussman: [01:17:46] I'm losing.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:48] Some with the magnetic.
Cal Fussman: [01:17:48] Yeah. The old ones like are being lost. It always amazes me to hear an old tape, something like 50 years old, and it's clear. I don't know how they did it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:05] I think they probably restore them digitally somehow.
Cal Fussman: [01:18:08] Oh, they did a little micro cassette tapes that I was using. They must not have been of a high quality and I suppose I can go back and listen. And certainly I could, from maybe 2009 or 2010, that's when I went digital. So I can go back and listen to those. I would probably think that I'm much more relaxed, which makes me much more conversational. I probably treat it less like an interview and in more like a conversation, but I started out treating it like a conversation. So that's sort of my style. I don't think people that I interview think they've been interviewed at the end. They just feel like they were in a conversation.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:59] I like that style, but I'm torn between making sure I get actionable takeaways for the listening audience and having a conversation that's just free flowing and comfortable.
Cal Fussman: [01:19:11] Yeah, that business crowd, man, they loved them. Take away.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:14] They love the takeaways, man. And that's kind of what I'm known for. Otherwise it's like if I just having conversations, do I commoditize myself as an interviewer?
Cal Fussman: [01:19:23] They want the tools.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:24.2] They want the tools.
Cal Fussman: [01:19:25] Well, this is something that I'm thinking about, and okay, I can respect that if they're the listener. This is what Melanie Whelan was trying to tell me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:35] Right. They’re my boss, man. I can't just tell him I want to do what I want to do.
Cal Fussman: [01:19:39] It's their time.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:41] That's right. I have to earn these minutes of attention, every single one.
Cal Fussman: [01:19:44] That's right. And that's the way I'm starting to think now. So this is a huge shift for me because I always thought more like an artist. Like this is my song. We do it. We need to play it way. And I understand why you have A&R people, and why you have labels? Because they know, aren't there certain people who immediately they hear something and they know that's a hit.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:21] It's their job to the taste maker or the taste finder, I guess.
Cal Fussman: [01:20:25] Yeah. And they can listen to a song and they get goosebumps and they know. All right, there it is. Remember that song by the Korean artists PSY?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:37] Sure. Of course. Gangnam Style. Yeah.
Cal Fussman: [01:20:38] Gangnam Style. Okay. So this thing comes out, right? And it gets to the desk as Scooter Braun.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:46] Justin Bieber's manager.
Cal Fussman: [01:20:48] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [1:20:48] Yeah. Adam Braun’s brother. If you've heard him on my mine or your older shows.
Cal Fussman: [01:20:55] And Scooter hears this, and he thinks about that song completely different than just about everyone else because everyone else heard it and “Oh, it was getting like nice, nice beat.” But it’s not grand, nobody's going to listen to this song in Korean. And Scooter said they're going to listen to this one. Because he knew, he just knew, he went and he talked to PSY and rest is history. But that's a rare talent. And you got to respect that because he understood the art and he understood the audience.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:21:34] I had no idea he was involved in that.
Cal Fussman: [01:21:36] And he really is amazing at the identification. And also with the outreach, the ability to reach millions, billions of people. So this is why my evolution is taking me to this whole business zone because maybe when I listened to your podcast, I want the take aways too.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:07] Yeah, maybe you’re thinking, come on Jordan, get to it.
Cal Fussman: [01:22:09] I need to learn this stuff. I don't know anything about business, and now I got one.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:16] You know, that's how you learn about business. You get a business and you learn through those mistakes, that's for sure. Or hopefully from other people's mistakes, but usually your own mistakes.
Cal Fussman: [01:22:27] And so I guess what we're told is make them as fast as you can.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:32] Yeah. Yeah. Pretty much. Make them as fast as you can and then you can learn from it. And I'm actually quite interested in as well. You're a great storyteller. You're known for that. How would you suggest other people hone their storytelling craft? Does it come from practice or do you think you're a good storyteller because you write your stories out a lot of the time, where you started doing that early?
Cal Fussman: [01:22:58] Well, I think it probably starts in the construction. So when you've written for many, many years, you understand there is going to be a beginning and a middle and an end. And for a story to work, there's got to be some kind of vulnerability. So a big mistake that somebody could make in business is taking something that's successful and just coming out and saying, we're successful. We're great. We're great because of this, that that's not a story.
[01:23:43] A story is we had this idea and it came at four in the morning when somebody was in the shower, and then this person tries to transmit the idea and nobody will listen to it. And then finally, finally one person listens and says, you know, if we did it this way and then it goes on a life of its own and you're seeing all of the drops and the lifts in a way that you don't know what's coming next, and then it reaches a conclusion, a successful conclusion, that's a successful story because you started it and you were hooked in by the vulnerability.
[01:24:40] Like you knew something good could come. But the person who had the idea was vulnerable and they couldn't get it to that final place without several things happening. And now people have to follow the trail, and that trail has to have the ups and downs just like in a movie because without them there's kind of no reason to listen. You just can't walk out and say, we’re successful. I mean, that's like a PowerPoint display in two numbers. We started here, we finished here. A story has to have people pushing to the edge of their seat. How is this going to work out? And if you don't have it, you don't have a story because you're not going to have any listeners.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:25:34] And I think people are afraid to take the listener down that rabbit hole of vulnerability because one, they're afraid to be vulnerable, and two, maybe they're afraid that that vulnerability makes them look weak or will soften the impact of what they're trying to do, which is maybe sell themselves, their business idea or their company.
Cal Fussman: [01:25:53] That’s a great point. I think that's the business person's dilemma. I've got a manager. Every time I start a story with vulnerability, you could literally see him cringe.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:26:06] Really?
Cal Fussman: [01:26:07] Yeah. Because his way of seeing the world is for his clients to be the top of the world. He doesn't want his clients seen in vulnerable moments. He wants him seen at the top of the charts. And so it's interesting and it really has forced me to understand. You know, Cal, you're a storyteller, but you also are in business. And maybe if you tell a story about some big mistake, a company that might want to hire you for a speech, just saying, why should we hire that guy? You see that boneheaded arrow over there. But I think also most people in business know you're going to make a lot of mistakes and it's the people, and there's something very relevant to you.
[01:27:00] I'm often asked, in your situation, I'm often asked, “Cal, you've interviewed all the icons of the last century. What similarity do they have? Is there some thread that runs through all of them?” And the two that I noticed, one, they all pushed out of their comfort zone. Not anybody who achieved something great would tell you, no, I stayed in the same place, stayed in a box. They all went out of the box. And two, they all get knocked down and they all got back up and took it higher than where they were the first time. Look at Steve Jobs, classic example, and I'm sure that's what you're going to do with this podcast. And so when you realize that, you understand it's okay to be vulnerable. People pay money to go to movies to see characters that are vulnerable. They don't pay this. They even make Superman vulnerable in the movie. That's why they created kryptonite. Without kryptonite, is there a Superman movie?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:28:11] There's no story there.
Cal Fussman: [01:28:11] No. No. So if you're going to rule out vulnerability, then you're not going to have a very good story. Simple as that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:28:22] Mandatory ingredient. Well, thank you, Cal.
[01:28:27] Jason, what'd you think of this one? I mean, I know look, a two plus hour long edit, not your favorite.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:28:32] I mean, he's an amazing storyteller. That's all there is to it, and I learned a lot. I want to put a lot of this into action. I really want to get better at listening, and he really gives us some practicals on how to do that. So that's why I really enjoyed this one.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:28:46] And if you enjoy this one as well, back at home or in your car at the gym, don't forget to thank Cal on Twitter. That'll be linked up in the show notes for this episode which can be found at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Tweet at me your number one takeaway from Cal Fussman. I'm @jordanharbinger on Twitter and Instagram, and don't forget if you want to learn how to apply everything you just heard from Cal, make sure you go grab the worksheets. Those are also in the show notes. Jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you want to hear clips from the show, shows you've heard, shows you haven't heard yet, and some of the key takeaways. We also have our Amazon Alexa Skill, which you can install by going to jordanharbinger.com/alexa, or installing it in the app on your phone. Just search for my name there, and you should have it installed. It's a little daily briefing, a little daily dose in addition to your regular podcast feeds.
[01:29:33] This episode was produced and edited by Jason DeFillippo. Show notes, those are by Robert Fogarty. Booking back office and last minute miracles by Jen Harbinger. And I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. Throw us an iTunes or if you use iTunes, throw us a nice little written review. We share those with the team, keeps everybody motivated, and if you need instructions on how to do that, jordanharbinger.com/subscribe is where those are at. Don't forget to pay that fee and share the show with those you love and even those you don't. We've got lots of more in the pipeline. We're always excited to bring those to you. And in the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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