Rich Simmonds, is described as a rule breaker and change maker, voted by Forbes as a top 10 social influencer in Africa and a top 100 influencer in the world. He’s a global specialist in social communication, strategic social interventions, very proud father of two teenage sons and passionate about creating meaningful social change.
Apologies for the terrible audio guys – my Internet connection was dire. You’re better off reading the transcript below. Really, don’t even click play, just read the transcript.
The Authentic Man Podcast Series
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So before we start can you just tell me a little about the social change that you speak about and what the intention is behind it?
Rich: Okay let’s start with what you mentioned about being a rule breaker and a change maker, the interesting thing about being a change maker is that many people you’ll meet will say they’re change makers. Unfortunately, when we’re trying to make change and we don’t understand what the rules are, we’re making a change for the sake of making change. So what we need to do is always understand the rules and understand how we can break these rules or change these rules, not just think of something new – then change goes a lot smoother and is communicated a lot better.
So when we’re trying to affect meaningful social change we’ve always got to understand what are the rules people are participating in at the moment and how are we going to make those changes so it becomes seamless. And also you know, can they see the advantage of breaking these rules or do they just want to keep up that status quo? So that’s how we get people to change – to make sure that the communication is proper and the only way that can be communicated properly is by understanding what the rules are.
And it’s often ignored unfortunately in change processes. There’s a good idea, we implement the good idea and we don’t tell people why or how the new idea is better than the old idea. And then we get all this resistance to change and people think you’re making change just for the sake of making change. So you’ve got to make sure that communication is very simple, make sure you’re communicating not just about the new thing but also about the old and why those rules need to be broken.
So in your business what is your intention behind this change that you’re trying to create, what’s your outcome, your goal?
Rich: Well I’m looking at it from a futuristic point of view and can see that, well if we don’t make those changes soon will we fall behind and will we never be able to catch up? So it’s always a case of looking at what are these changes, how simple can they be and then how are we going to implement it effectively so that we won’t fall behind? Because the biggest problem that I see is that people – they don’t change enough and they do fall behind. And that change is not technology and I think people they often get stuck in that they they think it’s technology that has to change, that they have to change because of technology. They don’t have to change like technology at all – technology will happen quite fluidly but it’s your own resistance to change and… almost a lack of communication, there just isn’t communication there – and it’s about implementing that communication to be affective. Because if you look at the news – you know, the way we’re going it’s all about communication and it’s all about people – it’s not about technology anymore.
How important is your work to who you are as an individual?
Rich: I think my work is basically about who I am as an individual – so I don’t separate my private and my work – you know? For me, we’re all one. I’m just one person. I have a saying that ‘you should be a personal person who is professional at all times, not at professional person that is occasionally social.’ So that sort of thing embodies who I am.
What’s the main difference between who you are now and who you were 10 years ago?
Rich: I think the main difference is that I have found a way that I can communicate and found out that I was successful at communication. Whereas I knew that probably previously, but I hadn’t found it out yet. And when I discovered that I could communicate and I was good at communicating, then I put more effort into my communication.
If there was one form of communication that you had to wipe out today, what would it be?
Rich: That’s a very interesting one because I will have to say ‘talking’, because listening is the most effective form of communication that we can actually do – so it would be talking definitely. I think that as humans we’ve actually lost the ability to communicate because we’ve become lazy in the way that we talk. We tell people what we don’t want, we don’t tell them what we do want. And if we watch how people communicate with animals for instance – when you communicate with an animal you tell that animal exactly what you expect from them. When you communicate with most people – I am generalising here – but when most people communicate with other people they are generally telling them what they don’t want not what they do want.
Books or films?
Rich: Oh I’m a lazy reader so I would have to say films. But educational films, so like Ted talks and those types of things would be what I would determine as films. Yes I’m inclined to go with film, but the problem is the film needs to be told and filmed by the original story teller. Books often are more powerful because the person with the original story writes the book – with films the original storyteller of the story is not the person making the film and that’s when the film loses its impact, it loses its authenticity. So with the modern media, if you’ve got a story and you can tell your story on YouTube – and it’s you telling it, don’t worry about making it look like a Hollywood film, make it look like a real story – then that story is going to be more powerful. Because you’ve been able to do the visual communication and visual communication is very effective when told with the correct emotion of the original storyteller. So I prefer film – I think that unfortunately most stories are more effective in books because people don’t know how to visualise their stories. That would be my answer to that one, yes.
-Okay, I’ve never actually thought about it. I’ve always known that the film of the book is never as great as the book – you know, rarely it is – but I never thought about it being down to it not belonging to the person who’s making the film. Yeah, that’s food for thought I think.
Rich: If you look at a good interview for instance, where you’re interviewing the real person and they are telling you their story – and that could be on camera, yes it’s probably on camera because you’re actually seeing the real person – and then a journalist takes the story and puts nice words to it, it loses its affect. If you can get the real story, from the real person, it’s always more powerful.
On your website you speak about authentic intentions, do you think that you’re in touch with your own authentic self and how does that help you in your life?
Rich: Yes, I am in touch with my own authentic self and I believe that you’ve got to have an intention. Now, intention becomes very important and people often asked me when I got started on social media for instance ‘what are you doing?’ and I always said to them ‘my intention is too get an audience with a King’. If you think about it – you can be influential amongst your friends and you can go down to your local pub and meet a few people and you can be influential amongst them, but what are you actually going to say and what is your strategy going to be if you want to have an audience with a King? And that has always been my intention, to be valuable enough to people that Kings and real leaders – top leaders – would be interested to hear what I’ve got to say. And that’s how I’ve become more in touch with my own intention, and I can be more effective because I’m thinking about the bigger picture, although I’m still speaking to individuals and connecting with individuals, I want it to be worthwhile. That whole connection needs to be worthwhile. And now, if a King can see that there was some value in it then it would have value to other people as well.
You also speak about emotional intelligence during one of your talks, so I wanted to ask – when did you come to realise its importance and how do you personally cultivate it?
Rich: Well I came to realise it’s important when – you know, I think in your younger years when you’re sort of more hyped up and highly strung you realise that losing your temper and those sort of things just don’t serve you very well. You realise that being calm and just listening, is far more effective and far more productive than actually losing your temper, where then you virtually lose control. So to have control and to keep your temper and to listen and not react – that was when I realised that emotional intelligence has a real place. And I mean now, knowing what I know – all our success hinges on emotional intelligence. If we can’t be emotionally intelligent, if we can’t think in the moment, we lose the moment and that means that we lose the potential success that lies before us.
So how do we cultivate this? Well you’ve got to check your thoughts, you’ve got to make those choices in the moment and decide. In training I use a very simple example, I call you a bitch for instance and if I call you a bitch how will you react to that? And you know, your real reaction should be ‘thank you’ and then your thought process behind that should be ‘why did he call me that?’ and if you can’t find a good enough reason for yourself why I could have called you a name – then just rise, it’s superfluous, it means nothing. If it’s the moment – you know Madonna says sometimes you have to be a bitch to get things done – so then you could say ‘thank you, glad you noticed what I was trying to achieve in the moment’. And, so you actually turn the thing back on the first person. He thought he was sort of dissing you and you’ve now turned it back to say ‘well thank you, I take it as a compliment because you noticed’. And – you know – emotional intelligence is very much like that.
And it’s process, how quickly can you process and do you always have to react? The biggest thing in my emotional intelligence is are you being right or are you being kind? And we all have this need to be right, but what about being kind, you know? Can we put our own egos aside and say, ‘well I accept that you are hurting and that’s why you tried to hurt me’ because hurt people, hurt people. So can we take on, sort of, on a third person and say well – it’s not me you’re speaking to, you’re actually speaking to yourself – I’m just a mirror in a situation. So, that’s how you cultivate emotional intelligence in the moment and for your life – it’s about making those decisions and realising that you don’t have to take offence, you know? It sort of goes back to forgiveness and those sort of things – you’re not forgiving the other person you’re forgiving yourself.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Rich: How long would you define that job to be?! I think that working with narcissistic people is probably the worst job that we – that anyone can have. I had a contract with a company for around about 6 months where the CEO that I was working with was a proper narcissist. It taught me a lot about emotional intelligence because you have to basically be emotionally intelligent every single moment, because as soon as you let go they’ve achieved some success over you. So a complete mind game in those situations, but definitely those would be some of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever done, where your working with psychopathic, narcissistic types of people, and there’s a lot of them. But it’s really about the emotional intelligence and I think that in that situation I probably learned the most about emotional intelligence than I’ve ever done. You know, you can talk about emotional intelligence but when you come across things like that, it really tests you. All these tests that you can do about emotional intelligence online probably don’t help you very much – but when you’re in a situation and you can actually test yourself – that’s probably the best that you can do to say – yeah I think I’ve got a reasonable amount of emotional intelligence!
What’s the best professional decision that you’ve ever made?
Rich: The best professional decision I’ve ever made was about 3 years ago and that would have been – I took the strengths finder test. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the strengths finder test, you can go on the internet, it’s probably the best $10 you could ever spend in your life. But it will tell you your top 5 strengths. I took my top 5 strengths, I found out that I have communication as my top strength and then I started to re-assess my life to see – was I really working in line with my strengths or not? And then I realised – focus on your actual strengths, work towards your actual strengths and then things start to fall into place like you just can’t believe. So that was the best decision I’ve ever made.
What’s your favourite time of day?
Rich: Early in the morning, before the rest of the world wakes up. You know, that’s when you can hear the birds singing, the air’s fresh, you can think. I know when I write, I write early in the morning as well. I tend to get most of my work done very early in the morning, because then I’m creative. I have saying – that if you’re not going to bed at night with lots of ideas banging around in your head you should be worried – because then you’re probably not thinking. And so more generally and especially in the writing process I go to bed with a lot of ideas – and during the night sometimes I wake up and I just start writing because there’s creativity at it’s most for me. So yeah, the most productive time is definitely early in the mornings and that could be any time from 2 0’clock onwards.
If you had to re-play one moment of your life over and over, which would it be?
Rich: Yeah I enjoy the moments in my life, so it’s very difficult to actually pin-point a moment because I’m very much a now person. So I live in the now, I don’t have any regrets, I learn as I go. So, yeah well I mean I’m having a wonderful moment now so you know – I love interviews, so there we go! Could be the last few moments, probably the moment when I was talking about emotional intelligence, that’s when I really feel that I have something to offer people. In leadership training and emotional intelligence because it’s all about emotional intelligence so that’s where I become sort of the most excited and most happiest – so yes a few moments ago (laugh)
Name one man and one woman you would like to know more about and why?
Rich: Nelson Mandela. I would definitely liked to have known more about him.
-Okay, on a personal level?
Rich: Yeah, that would definitely be a person that I missed out on meeting. When it comes to a woman, there’s a few things about Oprah that probably worries me – so I would like to know more about Oprah as well.
-When you say worries you, what do you mean?
Rich: Well, I think the authenticity of Oprah. She has a very soft side which she doesn’t show I think I would love to know Oprah’s soft side, not the public persona side – but the real, the authentic, the vulnerable side of Oprah that’s what I would like to know, yeah.
Finish these sentences: –
Success for me means…
In myself I most value…
And my biggest teacher has been…
Rich: My dad
-Okay, lots of people say their dad
Rich: Yes, in my case my dad was – I’ve got a twin brother who, when we were born my dad was in his late 40’s – my dad was a very wise and a very well respected man, so we learned a lot from him. You have to think about yourself and wonder that, are you that wise that you are implanting as much wisdom on your own children as my father implanted on me. That’s often a question I have to myself, so yes – I learned a tremendous amount from my father.
Silence or noise?
Rich: Oh that’s a very good question. I do like silence so I’m an introvert mostly but I’ve found that obviously when I talk and when I give talks and training and those sort of things – then I’m very much extroverted. And I think that the balance that I try to achieve is to be the ambivert, that balance between the introvert and the extrovert. It’s really what I would strive for. You know, unfortunately silence is always better because we can think in silence – very few of us can think in the noise – thinking is very important!
If you had to have a meal sitting across the table from your 6 year old self, what would you eat and what would you tell him that you know he absolutely needs to hear?
Rich: What would we eat and what would we tell him? Okay, I’d have to say that the eating would be a steak. I love steak, so steak and salad. And then what would I tell him – you know, it’s quite interesting because we know that history repeats itself, and in our lives it repeats itself and when I was very young actually at the age of 13 I was in the Boy Scouts. And I was on the national training team from the age of 13 where I was training the boys that were a lot older than me – like probably 5,6,7 years older than me. And so training was in my blood, but when I left Boy Scouts I kind of left that behind and it took me almost another 20 years to re-discover myself and to re-discover that communication was what I was about. Now it’s very interesting, so this old self would say to the new self ‘stick to what you know from very young and the things that you are passionate about from when you’re very young. Just keep on doing that and don’t lose them in this hype of the career orientated world, because your skills and your passions can be found somewhere within that process’. And we see it so often with people, just stick to what you’re passionate about. Sometimes we think that art is not going to make us money but a little deviation from the slight bit of art that we do, can bring us an opportunity – instead of going 360 or 180 degrees away from what we do, you know? So look at your passion, and that’s why I really love the strengths test because it shows you who you are and then you can start aligning who you are to what the possibilities are. If only I’d taken the strengths test 20 years ago!
-So what made you take it a few years back?
Rich: I had a girlfriend at the time who was a life coach and she used that in her process of life coaching and she bought me the test and told me to take it and from then my life changed. So it was amazing, so yeah thank you to Lisa for doing that, it was amazing.
You describe yourself as a rule breaker, can you tell me one rule you’ve set for yourself that you’ll never break?
Rich: Yes, I think the rule to be true to yourself. The biggest lie you can tell is the lie you tell to yourself, that’s a rule I’ll never break, I’ll never lie to myself. I’ll always be truthful to myself.
You’re also described as a change maker, if you could change one thing about your personality right now what would it be?
Rich: I was actually going to write a book, life has just become a bit too busy but it is one of my projects and that is about what I call the emotional code. So looking at emotional intelligence and how we can apply that in a more practical way. And the thing that I can do for myself is how can I be more vulnerable? Because vulnerability is an exceptional strength, it’s a super power actually so that’s what I would love to change about myself – how can I make myself more vulnerable. It’s a perpetual process because it’s something that you will never achieve because you could always be more vulnerable, it’s a journey to vulnerability. That’s what I would love to do yeah, to be more and more and more vulnerable, so you can have that understanding of people and more empathy for people and all that sort of thing, that’s what would be my change.
Whats your biggest contribution to society thus far?
Rich: I would say my involvements with education in South Africa has been my biggest contribution to society. And it’s an ongoing thing as well, one of the big things that we have a problem with in South Africa is that we put a word called ‘basic’ in front of education. And, we started with intentions, we’ve got to ask ourselves what is the intention of putting a word like basic in front of education? If only the South African policy makers could realise that if they remove the word ‘basic’ from education, that it would open the possibilities of achieving success in education. We’re putting a word in front of it to limit it, and so many times I ask people why that word’s there? Often with the people I’ve come across and the only conclusion I can make, is that it’s a disclaimer. Because if someone says to you ‘why is the education so bad? And all they can say is there’s no problems with the basic education – that for me is the saddest thing in South Africa at this moment in time, that we have this word in front of education and that’s become the intention. Unfortunately that’s how powerful words are, when we’re setting our goals. The word structure, and we might think it’s silly and it’s just semantics but unfortunately you’re proving those silly little things.
I use the example of a marriage – so if I say to you we’re going to get married and you go ‘ooh what’s our marriage going to be like?’ and I say ‘well we’re gonna have a basic marriage’ and you say ‘well what does that mean?’ and I say ‘Well there won’t be any love and there won’t be any caring…’ you wouldn’t accept that, and that would be a basic marriage. So why limit something by putting the word basic in front? And this is something that Lewis Pugh – the guy that swam the kilometer at the North Pole, they call him the human polar bear, he also lives in South Africa – Lewis noticed this and sort of bought my attention to it because he knew I was involved with education upliftment in South Africa. And like he says, if you get basics right everything falls into place. In this case it’s not what you’re looking for, you don’t want it to be basic, you want the basics to be right but you don’t want that to be it. That’s really the biggest problem – that’s where the change needs to happen, this simple little word that has to come out. If you listen to people, which I know that you do in your coaching, people often just say things that limit their possibilities and that’s why listening becomes important. That we’re listening for the words that are actually tripping people up and in the case of basic education of South Africa it’s the word basic that’s actually tripping up the education process in South Africa.
-And so is that going to be changed, do you have any influence in having that removed?
Rich: I’ve said it enough and I will keep on saying it. Yes I do believe that it will come to light but that’s because we’ve now got the worst education system in the world. There’s many people that say that they want the word basic to be removed, and people wanting to change it to ‘quality’ education. I don’t think that quality is a word that will ever be put in front of education unfortunately but – just keep it as education and just drop the basic from it because that’s where the problem lies! South Africa is rated 148 out of 148 countries for education in the world and that’s just poor, that’s just exceptionally poor. Now a lot of it has to do with the basic education just not being there – and it’s probably because of the word basic. So just take away the word basic, get the education right and then you open up the possibilities, that’s what it’s all about, that’s where the drive certainly is to remove the word basic from education because it basically limits the education, that’s the problem.
What’s the most priceless gift that you’ve ever given yourself?
Rich: Well, I would have to come back and say the strengths test because I did it and it was really interesting. Lisa gave it to me and it took me about a month before I actually took the test. So you can say well she gave you the test, but I gave myself the time to do the test and was probably the most priceless gift that I’ve ever given myself – was just that time to do the test. It takes about 45 minutes to take the test, so that was it.
Name one business or corporation that you would take over if you could and what you would do with it?
Rich: Oh I think if I could I would take Apple on and bring back innovation there. Because to me, since Steve Jobs’ the guys are basically just resting on their laurels, there’s no leadership there. So I would take on Apple and bring back innovation, open up the innovation possibilities at Apple again because it certainly has died. And I think when they bought Beats headphones, that was just… when you go and buy an old product to boost your own then and that’s a clear indication that you’ve lost innovation. So certainly I would take on Apple and bring back innovation because there’s many, many, many people in the world that you could employ with that sort of money to have proper innovation again. Because if that doesn’t happen, they may last another 5 years before people forget about them. Also if you look at what their competitors are doing, their competitors are moving leaps and bounds now, they’ve got no answers to their competitors anymore, whereas they used to be the industry leaders. Even the way they compare now, five years and they won’t be a consumer brand anymore, there’ll just be some exclusive brand like they used to be in the graphics era.
Luxury holiday or camping in the woods?
Rich: I’ve done enough camping so I would have to say luxury holiday! I was a Boy Scout so I camped a tremendous amount when I was young!
For you what’s the single most important trait in a friend?
Rich: Trust would be the most important – yeah.
The single most important trait in a business partner?
Rich: It would be trust as well – yeah.
So you speak about forgiveness as well as a topic and my question is how can this be applied within business because I think it’s got a very personal ring to it and a lot of people might assume that the concept of forgiveness isn’t applicable in the business arena?
Rich: Well unfortunately it is applicable because the bottom line is that when someone offends you – and it’s always a person, another business cannot offend me. Just like another business cannot give me integrity I need to get that from people. So it’s generally people that would offend you. Now, remember that you have become offended so you need to forgive yourself. Because if you carry on holding that grudge against a business or the management of a business or that sort of thing, that’s going to affect your ability to perform. You need to give yourself to that you can be free and you can move on.
Now Steve Maraboli says when you hold unforgiveness towards someone you chain yourself to that person. And that doesn’t become a ball and chain for the other person, he doesn’t even know he’s pulling you along. You’re walking along holding a grudge against that person, effectively you’re holding a grudge against yourself, you’re not holding a grudge against the other person who is often someone who has said something to you. You get offended, they don’t even know what they said has offended you. In a very Calvinistic way you assume that other people need to ask for your forgiveness, no you need to ask for your own forgiveness – you need to forgive yourself for being offended, for taking the offence. And you know, yes it can really help in business, it goes back to the emotional intelligence – so what did you think about when you were thinking? Because how did you think that holding a grudge against someone would actually affect them and not you? And this is very important in all aspects of our lives.