A chat with author, publisher, entrepreneur, speaker, coach and real estate investor Kent Healy – a Maverick on a Mission
Capital I Innovation Interview Series – Number 7
The recent loss of an Innovation Giant in the technology world gave me pause. His name, so well known, was often mentioned in this series, in particular in answer to the question, “Who would you give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to?” It also led me to ask, who next – who will step into, or at least grow into Steve Jobs’ shoes? Who is the next creative thinker, the ‘Capital I Innovator’ who thinks out of the box enough to engender real change?
With that question in mind, I chose to share my interview with a young man who leads the way in encouraging entrepreneurship and Innovation from a young age. Instead of teaching students how to pass standardized tests, Kent Healy believes in teaching them to think, to understand, to yearn to learn.
I’m going to begin with one of my ‘foundation’ questions, Kent. If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to anyone, who would that be?
Gosh, that’s a great question. There are so many people we rely on that remain nameless… people that don’t get the PR. [However] people who obviously come to mind immediately are Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.
[Editor's Note: Steve Jobs was the entrepreneur Richard Branson most admired according to a recent statement by Mr. Branson.]
I say that because I use their products and every time I do, I think: “Duh!” I put my palm on my forehead and [think]: “Why didn’t someone do that earlier?”
How essential has innovation been in your career to date?
Extremely important. At fifteen, I was living in New Zealand… I went to California and saw skim boarding, which I loved and wanted to bring back to New Zealand. Once I returned I went to my surf shop and started looking for a skimboard. I couldn’t find the type that I was looking for anywhere, so I decided to make my own.
Long story short, my brother and I ended up making different models and selling them to local surf shops and internationally. It was a lot of fun. And that opportunity would never have come about if I didn’t ask: “How can I fix this problem?”
When I was about nineteen I finished my first manuscript. I started working with an agent to get a publisher; I met with a lot of them but I just didn’t see eye to eye with what they wanted. I stuck to my guns and my brother and I started a publishing company. We did everything from the cover to the marketing, and I think it turned out to be a better product.
Why do you feel so strongly that collaboration is important?
It goes back to an underlying maxim, ‘one mind is never smarter than two or more combined’. I think that the mind is designed as a collaborative tool and I don’t think humans were made to live in isolation.
The brain is a network filled with synapses taking one idea and trying to link it to another. I think there are many time when ideas are simply inspired… when a connection is made, which never would have been made if somebody else hadn’t thrown down a random idea, completely unrelated, that managed to bridge the two separate ideas.
When you’re thinking, it’s still somewhat linear if you’re on your own. If you’re working with other people the conversation can take many unexpected turns, and that can lead to an immense Innovation.
I think if you’re working on a specific solution isolated research can certainly help. But, if you want to improve something and do the giant Innovation, collaboration is extremely helpful.
That could be a useful example to young people who may feel disconnected, if you will, from the possible positive outcomes their Innovative ideas could develop.
Absolutely. I think that we learn so much from example. It’s easy to write about innovation, but it is a nebulous topic. It’s really hard to say: “This is how you innovate.” I think it’s much easier to say: “Here is something that this person did. Isn’t that great?” That’s what inspires me. Earlier you mentioned New Zealand, are you a natural born Kiwi?
I was born in northern California, San Jose. But, when I was ten, my family moved to New Zealand because they thought it would be a great place to raise kids. So, we packed up and left, not knowing anybody in New Zealand. We lived there for eight years. Those were my teenage years, which were very formative, so New Zealand is a big part of my life.
With that in mind, do you think that location matters… does Innovation have a nation?
Absolutely. In more ways than one. I think there is your immediate environment, be it a coffee shop, library or busy mall. I think all of those things, as energies, are going to influence the way that you think.
Culture is another big thing - how do people in that culture look at Innovation. Some people really encourage it, and some people don’t. I think it’s really important to be around a group of people that encourage it, that will say, “I like where you’re going with that,” and start looking for the benefits before they shoot down the idea. It’s always good to have a devil’s advocate, I agree; but you want more supporters than you do devil’s advocates, if you want innovation to continue to occur.
And then, finally, there are magnet cities that draw in certain like-minded people. Silicon Valley is an example probably everybody [knows]. If you want to do a start-up venture in the tech world, there really are a few places to be that are as buzzing and as influential as that.
Bearing that in mind, could you compare New Zealand to the US as far as being an ‘Innovation nation’?
That’s a really good question. In New Zealand I really admire the propensity that people have to come up with a solution. If it’s a problem… fix it! That means, go into your shed, pick up your tools and your tape, and try to figure it out by yourself before going to the store and buying a replacement. I was so young when I was there that I didn’t really notice the difference, but I do now.
I pretty much grew up in a shed. My neighbor had a massive shed full of tools and we would spend every day building something and improving it again and again and again. I developed the attitude, “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” which was very important.
I do think it’s a little different when it comes to business, though. I would say that business innovation is definitely more supported in The United States than it is in New Zealand, where there is still is a little bit of that ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. However, I think the global culture is starting to stamp that out a little.
For entrepreneurship I’ve found the States to have a very supportive community, which is now moving on-line, so it doesn’t really matter where you are.
Do you think there is such a thing as a ‘natural entrepreneur’?
I think that people vary so much in their natural abilities and their tendencies that it’s hard to generalize. [But] I’ve met some people who, to me, are absolutely born entrepreneurs; they just look at the world from a different perspective.
I’m pretty divided on the issue, but if I had to give a short answer I would say, as human beings we do have a propensity, a drive and an interest, to innovate. I think it becomes suppressed largely because of our environment. That includes culture, role models, authority and laws… all those things make a difference. As Pablo Picasso once said, “All children are born artists, the challenges is remaining one when we get older.”
That’s a lovely quote, and leads me quite tidily to ask you about your interactive eBook, ‘Maxims for Mavericks’. How did that inspirational bolt strike you? Maxims for Mavericks came about when I was really [getting] into quotations and thought: “Gosh, these are great; there is so much intelligence, and so much wisdom in so few words!” I started collecting quotes I thought were great, and then had the idea of writing a short reflection on each quotation.
What makes quotes unique is that they really express peoples’ personal belief systems. Once you understand, or adopt, a new belief system, everything about yourself and your life begins to change… your perception of yourself, your perception of the world around you.
How did the title come about?
The more research I did, the [more the word] ‘maxim’ came into my head, and then I always loved the concept of being a maverick. I married the two together and I thought: “Wow, that makes perfect sense.”
In the 1800s, Samuel Augustus Maverick went to Texas and became known for not branding his cattle. He was more interested in keeping track of the land he owned than the livestock on it… unbranded cattle, then, were called ‘Maverick’s.’ The name came to mean anyone who didn’t bear another’s brand. – New York Times
I put a few together and published a little book, in physical form, that I would give away when I would speak. I started getting messages and e-mails from people around the world who really liked it, and I thought: “I need to make this more available. Now that we are in a digital age, let’s start applying this maverick mentality.” And that’s what I did.
I created an eBook to give away. I asked myself: “How can I reach more people efficiently and cost-effectively?” The obvious solution was to create it in digital form.
Would you then equate mavericks and innovators as being the same thing?
I definitely think there’s a huge amount of overlap.
I think a maverick is somebody who is simply original, [someone] who embraces who they are and is willing to take risks by pursuing something they think is important. They question the status quo, conventional thought, old systems and tired assumptions. That’s what mavericks do as people, and that leads to innovation.
Do you think your education assisted your savoring the maverick within you?
For me the division between education and action started at such an early age. It’s hard to say if education actually changed me. What I will say is that starting businesses at an early age changed the way that I looked at education and, therefore, it really changed my relationship with education.
If I were relying on my education to be innovative, to be a successful business person, I think I would fail miserably. I don’t think that school inspires or encourages the innovative entrepreneurial mentality.
So where would you direct young people to go to get inspiration or to find a path they can follow?
First of all, the earlier [they start] the better. Just like you develop physical habits, you can develop mental habits. Start young.
It pains me so much to hear a student say: “Well, I’m a student now, so I’m just going to enjoy. When I’m out of school then I’ll do ‘this’.” I call that the ‘defective student’ label.
If you’re a student that means that you’re trying to educate yourself, in some way, shape or form. And that’s exactly what you should be doing. Join groups! I think that business groups are fantastic to organize or be part of.
They have something called NFTE here in the States, the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship, and it’s fantastic. Its an entrepreneurial program for people to get involved, to start thinking differently, at a young age. You can turn to books and you can also turn to places like Youtube… Yes, believe or not, there’s more than just animals doing silly things on there. There’s unbelievable videos that you can learn from: speeches, keynotes and so forth.
There is mentorship as well. Reach out to people and say: “Would you mind spending some time with me?” Once a week, twice a week, once a month. [Youth} can be a huge benefit here, you can use it to your advantage and get to people who wouldn't normally do it, or who would normally charge a fee.
You're proud of the relationships you’ve formed with world leaders in the field of personal development. Who are some of these world leaders and why did you seek them out in particular?
Just to name a few Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Richard Carlson. Those were the three most important. Of course I've met a lot of others along the way that I have exchanged e-mails and conversations with, but in terms of personal relationship, I’d identify those three. It started with each of then when I [began] writing my first book. When I started ‘Cool Stuff They Should Teach in School’ I was consumed [by] self-help and non-fiction. I would do anything: read it, listen to it, go to it, talk to somebody who embodied it.
It started to rub off on me and eventually I wanted to think bigger and bigger and bigger. So I asked myself: “Who is the leader in this field of self publishing?” Jack Canfield came to mind as co-creator of the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ series, of course. I thought it would be excellent to meet this person, so that’s exactly what I did.
I put him on my vision board, sought him out and told him a little bit about my idea. That was pretty terrifying as a teenager, but I caught his attention. I asked for his support, he agreed and we stayed in touch. The same thing happened with Mark Victor Hansen, who is also the co-creator of the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ series, and Richard Carlson, who was the creator of the ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ series.
Unfortunately [Richard] passed away, but he was unbelievable as a role model in terms of showing me a bright, supportive, constructive side of the world.
Of course I’m going to have to ask, what is the ‘Cool Stuff They Should Teach in School’?
Good question. The book (since you’re referencing that) covers everything from basic ideas about psychology, motivation, attitude and goal setting to more practical skills such as money management and communication. Those were all topics I thought were extremely important that should be taught.
And where can people get their hands on the book?
Ironically it’s become required reading in schools. I never thought that was possible, but a lot of teachers have really embraced it. They order it every year and have classes based on it. In your eBook, you talk about the importance of unlearning. So, I’m wondering, what is the most unimportant peace of information you’ve unlearned.
Ironically, it’s that you don’t have to have a college degree to be educated. You don’t have to have college degree to do something important and to make a positive impact.
Growing up everything was about: “Get good grades and then work your way towards an excellent job.” That’s what I was told and I had to unlearn that.
I think unlearning that has been unbelievably liberating. It took a lot of pressure off. [But] the problem with doing that is you become very critical about what you are learning. Which is both good and bad. I now question everything. If it doesn’t make sense to me and I really can’t come up with a reason to do it, I’ll usually put up some sort of a fight until I can understand why it’s worth my time.
Is it safe to say that yours will be a never ending study of life?
Absolutely. I subscribe to the maxim that says: “Investment in self yields the greatest return.” I think you’d be silly to stop your education, because that’s the only edge you have. Without it, it’s really hard to stay inspired and be creative.
You can’t associate creativity and innovation with stagnation, it just doesn’t work. You need to be in motion at all times.
The minute you stop doing something I think you really put yourself in a very risky situation, both in your physical and mental health. This is why studies have shown that a lot of people end up dying within two to five years after their retirement. You know, they fail to engage in something.
With innovation that is absolutely true. You have to not only consciously try to be creative and innovative, but you have to seek it out, you have to look for it… you have to actually want to learn.