An Interview With Jonathan Fields

An Interview With Jonathan Fields
By Nina Amir

 

It’s no wonder Jonathan Fields calls himself a serial-entrepreneur. He’s had at least five different careers.He left his six figure job as a high-powered SEC Manhattan lawyer to earn twelve dollars an hour and wear running shoes and tights (instead of two thousand dollar suits) as he learned the ropes of the fitness training business so he could then open a highly successful high end facility of his own.  Along the way he became a successful author with his first book, Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love. He went on to open a cutting edge Yoga Center in Hell’s Kitchen right after 9-11. Now, along with the highly successful launch of his second book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance, which has generated extraordinary praise for its provocative, science-meets-art approach to embracing uncertainty as a catalyst for innovation and action, Jonathan also teaches authors how to succeed through his book marketing educational venture TribalAuthor.com.

Social media and social marketing have played a huge role in Jonathan’s success. In fact, Jonathan began exploring the power of these tools when he opened Sonic Yoga, and later put them to full use when he signed his first book contract. Now, they are an essential part of all he does as an author and as a business person—and what he teaches to authors and to business people.

 
NA: How does a former New York City mega-firm SEC lawyer turn into what you call a serial entrepreneur? What happened that made you leave your job?

JF: A combination of things…I was on this crazy deal, and for the better part of three weeks I didn’t sleep, I didn’t go home, and I ended up in the hospital for emergency surgery after perforating my intestine when my immune system essentially shut down. It was a wake-up call to me. When your body literally rejects your career, you kind of have to listen.

NA: As you write about in your book Uncertainty, I have to imagine that you had a bit of uncertainty yourself—about leaving your job and the law firm and getting started in totally new businesses.

JF: Every point along the way, there’s uncertainty. One of the big realizations is that whenever you want to create something from nothing, you will be required to make decisions and take actions without having all the information you’d like to have. That causes you discomfort…

Entrepreneurs and artists, as a general rule, have to deal with high levels of uncertainty on a sustained basis. It doesn’t really go away because every time you launch a business, there’s a high level of uncertainty. It starts to do well, but then you can’t just keep the status quo. You either grow or die in business. It’s that way in entrepreneurship, and it’s also that way in large businesses. There is no sideways; there’s an illusion of sideways. You have to constantly be innovating and taking risks, and that causes our brains to recoil. It lights up the fear center in the brain.

For me, I’m a person that sort of has a lifelong jones to innovate and create, but I wasn’t that well-equipped psychologically to handle it, which was one of the reasons I started exploring things like yoga and other practices. It was also one of the major reasons I wrote the book, which was to answer questions for myself, like ‘What are the things that you can do to go to that place where greatness happens, but not suffer so much? In fact, Can you actually turn it into a pleasant, energizing experience?’

NA: Can you?

JF: You can! And that was the big news. It seems there are a small number of people who are just organically equipped to go to that place, and those are the people who become the greatest entrepreneurs, the greatest CEOs and innovators and artists. That was the opening question: Is that genetic, or is it trainable?

What I discovered in research is that there is very likely a small slice of humanity that has their brains oriented in a way from birth that allows them to experience [uncertainty] a bit differently. But that is not the vast majority of people. For most of us, we actually have to do things in our life which allow us a baseline level of calm and equanimity, which allows us to operate in that space where we’re sort of consistently moving between high and moderate levels of uncertainty. Those are things as fundamental as a daily meditation or a mindfulness practice, which make a huge difference in the way that you experience being in that space, not only in the reduction of suffering and anxiety and fear but also in the increase in cognitive abilities and creativity and problem-solving and executive function.

NA: Your first businesses were in large part service oriented. You began dabbling in social media then, first with blogging, and got into in a bigger way once you landed your first book deal. Now, it’s a huge part of what you do. Do you think service is a big part of what businesses need to focus on with social media and social networking to make it work for them?

JF: Absolutely, and what’s amazing is the tremendous opportunity. I started out building brick and mortar communities…face to face, personal service communities, but you can extend that so easily with social media. If you have a local neighborhood brick and mortar business that’s based on community, you can tap Facebook. You can create a page for your business, and you can have a community manager who’s really active and understands the needs of the community, go in there every day asking questions, exploring the people who are joining the community and commenting and inspiring people with quotes, stories, sharing happenings from the community…to inspire participation and to also listen, to ask people what’s going on in their lives and ask them to share.

The world is much flatter now because of social media, so people all over the world can participate in that online community. They may find themselves traveling or moving, and they wind up in your neighborhood, which happened quite frequently when we had a New York City-based business.

Twitter is also a tremendous listening tool for any business. That’s one of the biggest misses with businesses…They look at it fundamentally as a messaging tool, when in fact it’s a tremendous listening tool. You know, if you set up your Twitter with a client like TweetDeck or HootSuite, and then you set up columns for search terms that people would be talking about if they were talking about your type of business, and potentially your neighborhood, then you can check in on that just a couple times a day…see who’s having conversations around what you do…see what people are talking about, what they like, what their needs are. Even if you never join in the conversation, it’s tremendous market research that people aren’t tapping at all, which is a huge miss, because it’s free—unlike classical quantitative analysis that you pay for. Whenever you inject payment into that, it’s always biased. Here you don’t have people talking to somebody who they think is looking for a particular answer, so the level of bias, when you’re listening to your potential customers and clients, in social media is a lot lower.

NA: What have you found to be the most effective social marketing tools or practices for growing your business, and what ones do you continue to see working well?

JF: Right now I earn my living very differently; most of what I do is online. I speak, I run trainings and events, I have a company that trains authors in addition to writing books, so there’s no doubt that I think blogging for me is still the centerpiece. Putting up a regular considerable thought piece that demonstrates that you actually have something to say in a unique voice, that’s different and valuable, is something which is really powerful. It also allows people to connect with your voice.

I think Twitter is a great way to listen in on conversations in your market, and then to selectively engage in those conversations. Twitter’s also a phenomenal place for small businesses to be able to get the attention of mainstream media.

Facebook can be a really powerful medium for a business these days also. People are testing lots of different ways to drive ‘likes’ on their Facebook business pages.

One of the most powerful and underutilized elements of LinkedIn is the groups functionality. What I would recommend every single business do is to set up a group that uses the keywords that people would most likely search on for the industry in the title of the group, so that it comes up fairly high when you actually search for different types of groups on LinkedIn.

Google Plus is still so new. One of the challenges is that it’s still much smaller than a lot of platforms. People are still trying to figure out how to use it…I love that you can post really substantial things, and the engagement, the conversation and the threads around content that you post seems to be really high…One of the benefits of Google Plus is the ease with which you can set up topic-specific circles of people, and share specific messages only with those people…I think the Hangout feature on Google Plus has the really interesting potential to serve people, provide great information and solutions.

NA: Do you look at all of these social networks in a more cohesive manner?

A: Your blog is the show, Facebook is the backstage pass, Twitter is the after-party, and Google Plus is sort of…like the pass that allows you to bounce between all three. I look at the different communities as layers of access to people in different ways.

Q: And then what is LinkedIn?

A: LinkedIn is also the show, depending on what show you wanna go see. The groups functionality is sort of like the private list.

NA: Do you use all social networks in the same way, or do you have different strategies for each one?

JF: I use my blog to demonstrate leadership and credibility and to build essentially an attention asset with the list. Twitter I use for listening and for casual conversation and for driving traffic. Facebook I use for sort of just fun, casual sharing, and to drive traffic. And LinkedIn I use group functionality to help establish thought leadership and to drive traffic to one specific topic—book marketing.

Google Plus, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing. I’m really experimenting a lot right now to see what hits and what doesn’t hit.

NA: As a business consultant, what are one or two of the most frequent bits of advice you give your clients when it comes to using social media, relationship marketing or new media?

JF: Use the tools as a core listening device. It really depends on your ability to mine them for data and research on what your clients and prospects want and don’t want, and specifically if they’re talking about you, what they’re saying.

Don’t broadcast. Broadcasting would be to only transmit and never interact, essentially only to use it as a vehicle to transmit self-serving information. If you’re using it purely as another broadcast channel, it’s not going to work very well. It sort of violates the underlying ethic of most of the communities.

A third thing that I love doing is use it to delight by surprise. Here’s an example of that. I saw somebody on Twitter tweet that they were looking for my latest book, but the library didn’t carry it. They didn’t have money, so they literally didn’t want to have to spend the money to buy it. I followed him. I sent him a direct message, and said get me the contact person and address of your library, and I’ll buy your library copy. And I did, and I sent a library copy. He just tweeted this morning actually that the library has it, and it’s already being taken out by people. I just love doing stuff like that. You can surprise or delight people. They have no expectations. You come out of nowhere and do something which just makes them really happy and makes them talk to everybody about what you did.

NA: As an expert on innovation in business, would you say that social networking has a role in creativity?

JF: Positive and negative. On the positive side, they can bring together people and ideas and allow them to interact, and very often it’s that interaction that leads to a third idea that never would have happened had you not had that opportunity to find new people and engage with them and share ideas. On the negative side, it’s usually addictive. They can become a massive distraction to your ability to sit down and really focus and do the work needed to innovate. So you also need to set some pretty intelligent limits.

NA: Last, in our continuing uncertain economy, how can social networking, new media and relationship marketing help businesspeople move through their fear, become more innovative and thrive?

JF: One of the huge opportunities of social media is that you have the potential to create communities and tribes where you can test a lot of smaller pieces of your ideas, elements of it, and see how people respond along the way so that by the time you actually bring something to market you’ve already had a substantial amount of feedback on evolutions of what you’re trying to create. By the time the final thing is out there, you have so much more confidence and the process has been informed so much more by what people really want that it inspires you to keep acting and reduces the chance that you become paralyzed or create something which is not what anybody wants.

The flipside of that is an idea that went into my last book. I created something called The Creation Tribe, which is a sub-tribe of my entire community. I invited a thousand people, and I gave them much more detailed access to me, to my process and the publishing industry in exchange for me being able to occasionally ask them questions and show them things and ideas. They saw the twenty different potential titles for the book that we were considering before anyone else. They got to vote on what they liked and what they didn’t like and offer ideas. I think it’s a huge opportunity there. The thing that you have to be careful of is that you have an opportunity to bring the input, the wisdom of the crowd into the creation process, but you still have a responsibility to be a leader and a visionary, and if they’re not getting you where you think you’re capable of going, you still have to just take the plunge and do what you feel you need to do.

Jonathan Fields is a dad, husband, author, speaker and serial-entrepreneur. His new book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance, is generating extraordinary praise for it’s provocative, science-meets-art approach to embracing uncertainty as a catalyst for innovation and action. Fields blogs at JonathanFields.com and runs book marketing educational venture TribalAuthor.com. He has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, FastCompany, Inc., Entrepreneur, Forbes, USA Today, People, CNBC, FoxBusiness, Vogue, Elle, Self, Fitness, Outside, O Magazine and thousands of other places that sound cool, but don’t impress his daughter all that much.

Nina Amir, bestselling author of How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual, transforms writers into inspired, successful authors, authorpreneurs and blogpreneurs. Known as the Inspiration to Creation Coach, she moves her clients from ideas to finished books as well as to careers as authors by helping them combine their passion and purpose so they create products that positively and meaningfully impact the world. A sought-after author, book, blog-to-book, and results coach, some of Nina’s clients have sold 300,000+ copies of their books, landed deals with major publishing houses and created thriving businesses around their books. She writes four blogs, self-published 12 books and founded National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge.

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