The Photo That Launched A Million Dollar Company

The Photo That Launched A Million Dollar Company

The Drag Racing Seminar, SF State, 1973

(At the Fremont Drag Strip)

I was 33 and teaching at SF State in an experimental program in the psych department that let upper division students design their own psych majors. Seven signed up for my seminar. With only a few questions in mind, we headed out to the drag strip to interview race car drivers.

By the end of the year, we’d interviewed 23 amateur and 18 professional drivers. We wrote a 15 page summary of our findings comparing the lives of the two groups of drivers. Our seminar was one of the most successful of the year.

Fast Forward Four Years: Dissertation

By 1977 I had completed my PhD dissertation: “Jazz, Rock and Roll, and the Revolution in Psychotherapy, 1940-1975.” Like the Drag Racing Seminar, this was a field study of the relationship between popular music trends and new directions in therapy. The heart of this  four-year research was my interviews with nine musicians  and nine psychotherapists.

I was pleased to find out how easy it was to get interviews with leaders in music simply be asking. Some of the better known people I talked to: Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead bass player), Mose Alison, Vince Guaraldi, Cal Tjader, and Jon Hendricks.

After my 400-page dissertation sat on the shelf for 30 years, I decided to self-publish it.

This book is complete with all the academic chapters on things like “Methods” and “Previous Research,” but I added photos and stories to humanize the text. Great fun. I ran 30 copies.

For both of these major projects, I had encouragement and supervision by SF State professor, Bob Suczek. He believed in self-directed education. During the research he commented, “I’m jealous.

You get to meet and interview these musicians where they live and work.” When the project was over, he said something that took my breath away, “What you may not have known, Rick, is that I needed you as much as you needed me.” Wow.

Fast Forward 25 Years

Speaking to the Big Dogs

About 15 years after starting PowerSpeaking, Inc., we discovered that speaking to senior leadership is hugely different than “ordinary” corporate speaking. I could find no literature on this problem. Some of our mid-level clients were getting “their clocks cleaned” in top level meetings They just didn’t know how to behave in these stressful situations. What to do?

I started by interviewing CEOs and other C-level executives. Asking them, “What goes wrong when subordinates speak to your team?” Their answer, in a word, “Get to the goddamn point.” As one exec put it, “First line, bottom line.”

After about 25 interviews we developed a course based on what we learned from the execs. In 2004 we released a DVD of the interviews that was recommended by Fortune Magazine.

I wrote a book about what we had learned that was published by BK Publishers. To date it has sold over 47,000 copies, including 25,000 in Chinese.

Speaking to the Big Dogs morphed into Speaking Up. About 300,000 people have benefitted from this program world-wide.

There is a clear throughput from the Drag Racing Seminar (33 years old), to Jazz, Rock and Roll and the Revolution in Psychotherapy (37 years old), to Speaking to the Big Dogs (60 years old). Bob Suczek’s belief in the importance of self-directed education made a huge difference in my life, in my business, and more importantly in the lives of thousands of businesspeople all over the world.

Bob Suczek died before all this came to fruition. I wish he could see all this and what a difference he made in the world, through me. I remember shaving the morning I proposed my new seminar at SF State. I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what makes drag racers tick.” Dr. Suczek thought it  would be too. If only he could see what it all produced. Many changed lives…most of all, mine.

Thank you, Bob.

2 thoughts on “The Photo That Launched A Million Dollar Company

  1. Patricia Green says:

    You did not mention that Phil Lesh was a BHS classmate of ours our senior year. His parents moved to Berkeley so Phil, a musician early on could attend BHS’s renowned music program.

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