This issue of Authoritti5.0 is about how to become unbelievably successful, and who better to be my guest of honor and on the front cover of it than John Knotts! You will find out why in just a minute. John is a coach and consultant with over 30 years of experience in military, nonprofit, and commercial leadership, coaching, and consulting.
He has an extensive background in strategy-change process, leadership management, human capital training and education, innovation design, and communication. John is a 21-year Air Force veteran, a former consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton, and was a strategic business advisor with the Fortune 100 company USAA®. John owns his own coaching and consulting business called Crosscutter Enterprises, and he and his wife own a 100-acre horse farm with about 40 horses. And if that’s not enough, he also is a doctoral student in the field of industrial and organizational psychology. John is about to launch his book called Becoming Unbelievably Successful. John, welcome to Authoritti5.0. It’s great to have you here.
John: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it, and I’m really looking forward to discussing this topic because it’s a lot of fun.
Mary: John, knowing you now for about a year, I think the best part of your story to start with is your experience in the military. I’m intrigued by that because I’m guessing it’s where you learned that to be successful, you must know how to design a strategic and deliberate plan to get to your end goal. There’s no guessing involved when you’re in a battle right? Do you think that the military solidified your foundation towards creating success in the business world?
John: It’s interesting. When I went into the Air Force, I looked back on my life prior to it, and I was an absolute loser! I did it to myself when I was in high school, and when I attempted college, I was very unsuccessful, and there are some reasons behind that that I actually talk about in the book. But I went into the Air Force because some friends of mine had gone in. It probably wasn’t until I had been in the military for about three years that I really started figuring things out and I started to become successful. Things were happening, and it was really because I was just working hard. I was doing good work.
In about 2000, when I was 35 years old, I had been in the military for maybe 12 years. And I realized that I had been basically operating on dumb luck because I didn’t have a purpose. I didn’t have a vision for where I wanted to go. And without a purpose and without a vision, there’s no plan. So in 2000, I kind of figured things out. It was actually in ’98 that I discovered what is now being referred to as the ikigai diagram. It’s four overlapping circles that talk about what you like to do, what you’re good at doing, what people need, and what people are willing to pay for. And in the center of that, if all of those things come into fruition, that’s considered your purpose.
That diagram had been created long before there was a lot of research done on that. But I discovered it because I was in an organization, called manpower and quality at the time, and I was trying to learn more about tools, quality tools. One of them is called a Venn diagram, which allows you to analyze things and see how they overlap and affect each other. And when I saw that, I was like, oh my God, that is like so much about what I’m doing today. It took me a couple of years to really figure out what I should do with that.
Later, I was in a Toastmasters meeting with a great mentor of mine, an Air Force Chief Master Sergeant named Ralph Jones. He got me involved in Toastmasters in 2000. And I met a retired Master Sergeant, who said in this meeting that he and his wife were not going to be at the next meeting because they were going on a cruise. And I, for some reason just said, “Oh, I love going on cruises.”
I had actually only been on one in my entire life, so I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about. He turned to me and said, “Oh, well, my wife and I go on a cruise six to eight times a year and the cruise ship pays for me to go and I just give two presentations.” He was a Distinguished Toastmaster at the highest level of certification in Toastmasters, and I stared at him for a moment. I’m like, that’s so cool. And I started thinking about what is it that I really like to do in my life and how could I get somebody to pay for it?
And it’s not necessarily that I love cruising; I don’t really want to go on that many cruises. But what I realized is I love to travel. I love to sightsee. I love to take pictures. I love to play golf. And if I could get somebody to pay for me to do those things, that would be awesome. And how could I do that through my purpose of helping improve organizations, something I was very good at? Or at least I thought I was at the time, 20 years ago.
But what happened was I said to myself, “Self, what do you have to look like for somebody to pay for you to go do something like that?” And out of that, my plan was born, and I established six areas that I now focus on every day and I have for the last 20 years. What I’ve realized is that there are a lot of people today who are looking for exactly what I found 20 years ago, especially with the pandemic. There are so many people that have been out of work, and they’re looking for something, some direction in their life, some goals. And that’s kind of what led me to writing the book.
Mary: So let’s unpack this book a little bit, John. Becoming Unbelievably Successful sounds like a really exciting book. The title basically is almost like a pull strategy when you really think about it. It’s the book you want to buy before you board a long-haul flight. So tell me what drove you to write a book like this.
John: I got involved with a coaching organization called www.noomii.com, and I went in there as a business coach, but what I saw was that about 90% of the requests for coaches were people who were looking for career coaching. Their questions were like “How do I improve my career? How do I establish and stick to goals? How do I develop direction and have a plan?” I had been working with some individuals over the years, and I knew that I had an approach that would work. I had published a book on July, 7, 2020, and it was called Business 2020: The Business World after COVID-19.
It’s a free book that anyone can download. It talks about the business world after COVID-19, what it might look like. And so far it’s coming true. But I started thinking about an idea that I’ve been working on with other people right after publishing that book on the 7th. What I’m seeing is that everybody wants to talk about it these days. And on the 11th, I just decided to write this book. I came up with the title Becoming Unbelievably Successful. I created the outline and built the structure of the book, and on July 27, I started writing. Forty-three days later, I finished 72,000 words of the book and it just flowed. It just came to me like multiple chapters, multiple activities. There are even areas where it asks you questions, so you can reflect on every chapter. And I try to keep everything really short, so it’s easy to understand. I talk about why they’re important and how they all fit together.
Mary: Do you actually walk people through those six areas they need to implement in their life to be successful? Is that the foundation of the book?
John: The book is set up in three ways. The first is “What are the foundations to success?” So you really understand like what success is. And as part of that, I talk about my story. Now, my story is not like this doom-and-gloom thing. I didn’t come from a broken home.
I had a great family. I was an only child, so I was probably doted on a whole lot. My wife will tell you that I was doted on a whole lot. I also did some stupid things and I did them to myself. And in the book, I show that I understand now why I did some of those things. I define success. I talk about self-actualization, about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is so critical to really understanding what success is. So when I define success, I define it as self-actualization on a constant basis, that you are reaching the top of the pyramid, and you can’t do that unless you’ve achieved the other layers.
If you’re living out of a car and barely can pay your bills and you don’t have food to eat, you’re never going to be unbelievably successful if you stay there. You’ve got to move up that chain. So the first part is the foundation. The second part, which is the meat of it, is how to develop that plan. The plan is most important thing, because if you’re not living by a plan for the rest of your life, you’re not becoming unbelievably successful.
You’re just doing successful things with no purpose. And that’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it sticks. Then the last part of it, which is actually multiple chapters, talks about all the different things that are involved in being successful. I talk about leading yourself, the things that you have to do about your mindset, about self-efficacy in locus of control.
When I say that anything and everything that ever happened to me I did to myself, that is my internal lack of control. I am not putting that on anybody else in the world; that is mine. I own that. And I’m the only one who can fix it. When people give away what’s happened, they become the victim. You know, when the pandemic hit, I was laid off. I had a nice COO job with a client that I’d been working with who hired me. And I got laid off, and I was the victim for about a minute. And then I pulled out my plan. I blew the dust off it, said okay, redirection, have to keep going.
When the snowstorm hit here in South Texas, we were victims. They turned the power off and a lot of stuff froze. I could easily have wallowed in that and been upset, but we had to move forward. We had to move past it. And what happens is you have to start looking at your problems as opportunities. My switch from problem to opportunity was that I wrote a book. I was like, you know what? I see all this stuff happening. And I’m going to write a book about it because I want to help people.
Mary: Absolutely. I love how you’ve broken down the segments in the book, because you and I have spoken about this before. And you know, for me it’s this whole notion about when you have this mindset of being strategic and deliberate in your plan, it means that you’re systemizing the plan. And I think that a lot of people don’t understand that systems are vitally important to success. You can’t get to success with just hope. It doesn’t work. All these people who bind to this notion of the law of attraction, which drives me insane, you know, sitting on my couch, drinking my coffee, waiting for something to manifest is never going to happen. We need to implement a system that matches the plan. And what does a system start with? A goal. You have to input to get the output, right? To me, your book is very much based on the idea that it is a system that we must understand how to structure to create our own outcome. What’s your view on that?
John: So you’re absolutely right. And a lot of people, when they hear the word system, they think, well, it’s some kind of IT system that’s going to help them become unbelievably successful. But that’s not what a system is. Systems thinking is that there is more than one thing that is affecting the way things happen. Now at the root cause of your activity is your plan. Anybody can be successful in their life. They can do successful things. I did. I was really quite successful in the military even before I developed my plan, but I was just jumping at the next thing. I recently was talking about this concept of us living in a maze. That maze is huge, and there are pathways everywhere. Sometimes we run into dead ends, but when we operate in that maze, all we see are the opportunities that are in front of us. That looks like a good path. And that looks like it might be a dead end. So I’m going to take this. That’s how I was living my life.
And then I lifted myself out of the maze, and I was able to look down on it and say, “Oh, this is where I think I should go.” I didn’t completely trust myself; it was not crystal clear. I knew some of the things like I knew I wanted to get a Ph.D. That was something that I wanted 20 years ago. I didn’t even have an Associate’s
degree, so there were many steps to get there. I knew that I wanted to be a published author. I had no idea what I was going to write a book about. I had no idea how to be a published author. But I now have three books out there, and this is going to be my fourth, and I have 16 more behind it.
But I knew that’s what I wanted and it all fit. Of course, I had to develop that system to get there. And I’ve realized in the book that it’s more than just having the plan, because you’ve got to deal with so many other things, things that will upset you, that will ruin your progress. One of the things I like to talk about is complacency. So I was a cop in the Air Force for my first 10 years, and we guarded stuff. And in our role, we used to have a saying that our job was 99% sheer boredom and 1% sheer panic. So this was the opportunity for us to get extremely complacent in our job because nothing ever happened. And when it did happen, it usually was really bad. But what I see with people is they set their sights on maybe a degree and they get that degree and they’re done. Or they set their sights on an executive position. They want to be a senior vice president in this company, or they want to be a CEO. They want to own their own business. And then they’re done because they’re like, “Oh, I got mine. I’m good.”
Mary: And also the whole idea of life is to constantly evolve, which means that self-learning should be on top of everybody’s list for the rest of their life. You know, this is how we advance our cognition levels. This is how we ask critical questions. So, based on that, what would you say is the key message in the book? Is it around that idea of constant growth? What would you say to the people who are listening to this right now, or reading this article? What’s the key message in the book that you want people to know?
John: I work with a nonprofit called Executive Book Review, and we do basically book reviews. We always have this thingcalled “the one thing.” So my “one thing” for my book, what I think about all the time is embedded in the title, becoming unbelievably successful. The trick here is that you never become unbelievably successful. You’re always becoming. And so you mentioned the law of attraction, and I talk about the universal laws and how they work together and how you leverage them. And they don’t just sit there. You have to work in them. The law of action is one of those.
You can’t have the law of attraction working for you if you’re not doing the law of action as well. One of those key laws is the law of relativity. So if you’re making $30,000 a year, $100,000 a year seems like a great deal of money. And that may be your goal, but you get to $80,000 a year and you start to think $100,000 a year, which doesn’t seem like all that much anymore. You might want $500,000 a year, and then you’re there. But then you get to $300,000 a year and you go, wait a minute. I should be making a million a year. That is the law of relativity at work.
I thought, yeah, I wanted to speak in organizations. I wanted organizations to hire me and come and speak for a day. And what would they pay for? Well, every good speaker has a book that they sign afterwards, right?
So I needed to have a book, one book. And then I realized as I got closer and closer to actually writing that one book and I had a pretty good mentor who helped me think through this, you don’t just stop at one book. You should be writing all the time. You should be constantly building that thought leadership and your one book should be a spin-off to other books and other ideas. But that was my expansion of my relativity, because I’d never written a book before. I didn’t even know how. And now I’m like, well, this is easy. I can write a book in 43 days.
Mary: Since Becoming Unbelievably Successful is a book about thejourney, not the destination, which I love, I always say to people, “I’m the tortoise, not the hare in the race.” I like to just have a look around, collect some data, do something with it, have a little bit of a browse, meet people along the way, because we’re all going to end up at the same destination. But it’s just that I experienced it until I got to the destination. I think a lot of people still don’t understand that. What are some of the life lessons of success along your journey that you want to share with us that may be just one key? I know you’ve shared some in this interview already, but what’s that one thing that you want people to know?
John: I already talked about a couple of those, when I talked about locus of control, and I talked about moving from victim to creator, but this is one that’s really important. Everybody thinks they’re a lifelong learner. I’ve done polls on this. And I’ve asked a lot of people and everybody says almost without a pause, “Oh yeah, I’m a lifelong learner.” But I have found that most people are just reading magazines or books. They’re not doing anything with the information. So what I do and what I recommend through the book is what I call structured, lifelong learning. When you have a book, do you just read it and then put it down and move on to the next book?
I take that book, and I dissect it. I take notes in every chapter. And at the end of the chapter, I write down the things that I’m going to do from that chapter. And when I’m done with the whole book, I have a sheet of stuff that’s going to end up in my personal strategic plan. I’m going to do these things, or I’m going to do this right away. I do the same thing when I watch a video. So next weekend, I’m holding a personal motivation conference for myself. And the entire Saturday will be dedicated to motivating myself and growing in the goal areas of my plan. I’ve never seen these videos I’ve queued up; I just curated them and said, okay, they may suck. I don’t know, but it’s okay, and I’m going to take notes. And the last time I did this, I had five pages of notes and about 12 things that I did out of that or I put into my plan that I was going to do. I know too many people, especially CEOs, say they just read book after book after book, like they want to like impress you. “I read 52 books this year.” Well, that’s great. What’d you learn?
Mary: This idea you just mentioned about your personal conference is something you and I have already spoken about. And I think it is such an awesome idea. It makes sense. You said something very important. Like you, I read and I take lots of notes. I have these really incredible aha moments, but I just read books on business and success and personal development. It’s not just books, either, John; it’s actually also reading laws that are being passed in government. I’m really obsessed with that. You know, everyone’s talking about COVID; meanwhile, I’m really looking behind the scenes because my mind has now automatically begun to think pragmatically. And that to me means knowing what’s really going on.
Let me just do my own little research and let me read the fine print that no one else has prepared to read. Let me find out what’s really going on. It’s very important that we do that because that’s what I call personal freedom. What most people do is rely on Netflix or the news; there’s the little black box in front of them and that’s the source of information. “Oh, I’m enlightened, I’m empowered. I understand what’s going on in the world,” when that couldn’t be further from the truth. So this notion of actually creating a day dedicated to your own personal development is an absolutely incredible idea. And I think that everyone should do that, certainly every quarter
John: Every quarter. It starts off with a motivational video that is about entrepreneurship and success, and it ends with a motivational video that’s really energetic and gets me moving. And then my wife and I go out to dinner somewhere we’ve never been before, which energizes me the very next day. I break open my plan, and I do my quarterly planning, but it energizes me for three months. And I’m looking forward to next Saturday because it’s going to be huge. It’s going to be exciting.
Mary: I love that. So let’s go back to the book. Aside from a lack of strategy and planning, which you’re well-known for and is your genius zone, what are some of the other things that you think hold people back from actually becoming literally unbelievably successful?
John: Well, one of them is stress. When you’re working really hard and you’re focusing every day on trying to be the best you can be at everything, that can get stressful. So that is a major thing that you have to learn to deal with. You have to learn self-care, you have to learn how to be physically healthy, spiritually healthy, financially healthy, mentally healthy – all of the different types of health that are out there. You have to understand that because you’re going to combat stress. I’ve already talked about
complacency, but it all boils down to motivation and your motivation can wane over time because it can become routine becoming unbelievably successful. You can be like, “Yeah, I’m good.” And then you stop because you feel like it’s a lot of work, and you don’t really need to work this hard anymore.
The other thing is that you run into fear. We talk about the imposter syndrome all the time, because everybody feels it at some point. And one of the most important things that can help you overcome that is by setting goals that are attainable and attaining them. Now, when I created the goal of getting my Ph.D., it wasn’t like I was going to get it the next week. I didn’t have even an Associate’s degree yet. So my first step was to get that, which I did within the year. And I actually got two. Then I got my Bachelor’s and I had no idea what the Ph.D. would be in or where I would go. But it was one thing at a time, it’s one class at a time, it’s one effort.
You break things down and then you start to realize why you actually can do this. And you start to break open that fear. I’m a public speaker, and I’ve been in Toastmasters for 20 years, but I did not always like speaking in front of people. When I was a kid, I would cry. I would shake. I couldn’t speak. But that is false evidence appearing real – fear, right? You are afraid of what might happen. Nobody’s going to kill you. But we believe that something bad is going to happen. If I touch a hot stove, I know it’s gonna burn me. That’s realistic fear. So one of the first things that you need to do is name your fears. Name them, call them out, tell them you’re afraid of that. Why question it? Well, what exactly could happen to you when you start doing that? Those are the things that can derail you when you’re trying to become unbelievable.
Mary: And I think this is why so many people place so much effort on being the perfectionist because when you play that role, it’s actually another disguise for fear. So I want to ask you being a task creator, because this is something that I do every day and it’s a help. And I’ve been doing this for the last 21 years. Every morning I have a task list. There could be five or even 10 things on that list that have to be done. They don’t necessarily all get done in their day, but when they’re done I cross them off my list. Now these are what I call micro steps. They’re evidence that I’m moving in the right direction or something will happen if I implement that task. And to me, this is where there’s a massive gap between people who are starting a hobby or a side hustle and people who are business owners and authorities. There’s a massive gap outside of behaviors and all these wonderful things that you’re talking about. I think breaking things down into micro tasks is a really important part of becoming successful. What’s your view on that?
John: I start with the strategy – mission, vision, purpose, values – the foundation. But then it goes to goals, which are huge objectives. Initiatives are usually a yearlong thing and or less. And then actions. Every single Sunday, I sit down and I pull out last Sunday’s to-do sheet. I pull out my two-page quarterly plan, I set those in front of me, and I write out what I’m going to do in my goal areas. Sometimes I have must-dos that have nothing to do with goals, like getting my hair cut. Then there are things I would like to do, but I don’t necessarily have to get them done.
And then I have the fun things I want to try to do. And it’s funny because I used to have these in equal squares on a piece of paper. And over time, I’ve slowly moved that line down so that my goal area is huge because I have so many things that I put in it. I’ll even put stuff on the list that I did but wasn’t on the list originally, just so I can cross it off because it makes me feel good.
Mary: Just to add to that, John, there are also financial tasks. And I find it astounding that when I’m talking to a prospect on a strategy call, I will ask “Do you know how many leads you need to generate each month to get you one step closer to your end financial goal?” I would say 99.9% of people say no. And this is a mathematical formula, which is pretty easy. When I’m working with my clients, I make sure they understand that leads are not necessarily qualified leads. Qualified to me means that you’re having a conversation. Then we break down the mathematical formula, and we work backwards to the figure of what they want to achieve in 12 months. This is the price point of their services. Maybe we find that they need five qualified leads every single week for them to close one of those sales, to be able to move closer to their financial goal. And people just get blown away by this because they don’t think like this. So to your point: When you’re talking about planning, financial planning is a massive part of that process, too, which people forget.
John: When you talk about qualified leads, I think a lot of people struggle with even identifying who their key customers are. A lot of times in a sales environment, people will just go after whatever. They’ll grab anything because they’re trying to make money. They don’t understand the importance until it’s too late. I work with a lot of startups, and they don’t have any contracts with people to start. So they get these clients in the beginning that they stick with and then they start abusing them because they don’t have a contract with them.
But they also start to realize that some of these customers that they have brought in aren’t very good ones, and they don’t know how to fire them because they don’t know really what to look for. That’s the biggest challenge that people have: being able to understand who their key customer is, and what makes a qualified lead.
And you have some specific things that you look for in people. This magazine is focused on coaches, consultants, and business owners. And that’s fine because it’s full of great stuff, but that’s not the key audience. When you understand the key audience, you understand how much money they make, because that equates to how much they’re going to pay you. You understand how big they might have to be to be able to have the same issues that you might face as a coach and consultant; you start to understand how to fully qualify that. And often it takes a lot of help to get people there.
Mary: It actually does. We’ve been closely connected on LinkedIn for a while, through a global publication for what … a year now, I would say. And I hear you talk a lot and write a lot about success multipliers. Can you just tell us a little bit about what you mean by multipliers?
John: When it comes to becoming unbelievably successful, there are three things that I think are really important. They’re business transferable skills, volunteering, and being a recognized success.
So what do I mean by those things? Business transferable skills are really important in any business. If you hire people only to do a job, they will never let you get rid of that job easily. You may get rid of it. You may outsource it. You may automate it, but they’re never going to help you because it’s their job, and they’re scared to lose it. But if you develop your people with business transferable skills, skills that transfer to any job, you have created in these employees the ability to learn to do anything in your company.
So you learn things like strategy, process, change management, project management, agile, and I’m not talking about becoming experts or certified; that’s not necessary. But understanding the concepts behind those business transferable skills is powerful.
The second thing is volunteering. If you ever want to get really good at anything, get involved in a volunteer organization. And I mean, really get involved. You want to be a good leader? Lead in a volunteer organization because you know what? Volunteers can walk away from you at any point. And if you’re not a good leader, because you’re not paying them, you’re not giving them any incentive to stay. So you’re going to learn all about employee engagement, maybe more than you ever wanted to know, because people will leave if you’re a bad leader. When I talk about self-actualization, there’s the place where you’re going to learn how it feels to self-actualize.
I’ve been volunteering at a leadership level since ’92, and I learned this: It’s one thing to say I’m successful, but if nobody knows about it, it’s like the tree that falls in the forest and nobody’s around. Nobody’s hearing it. So are you really successful? I was working with a CEO who was making this comment about wanting to call himself innovative. And I said, “You can’t call yourself innovative. Your customers need to call you innovative. If your customers recognize you as innovative, then you are, but don’t call yourself innovative before they recognize it.” That’s what a brand’s all about, right? It’s what customers see. It’s not what you tell them. When I talk about being a recognized success, in this case I was talking to a CEO. We ended up working through a program with an executive’s whole team. At one point in this workshop, the executive turned to the CEO, and I was standing right next to him, and he said, “You guys aren’t like anybody else in this industry. You’re like Apple or Google.” And you know what that felt like to him? He was like, okay, we’ve achieved. He self- actualized in that moment right there. Wow.
Mary: Absolutely. Oh, my God, John, I love it. That’s a masterclass right there. Seriously. You know, too, I need to call you Dr. John.
John: Don’t. I’m never going to adopt that title…
Mary: John, there’s one last question. If there is one person who is no longer living that you would like to meet, who would it be and what would you ask them? Or what would you want to know?
I’d love to see my dad again, because I’ll tell ya, we bought this horse farm. You talked
about this at the very beginning when you were introducing me. And one of the first things that we bought was a brand new tractor. And my dad would have loved that tractor. He always remember when we bought the loved tractors. And I just remember when we bought the home on the trailer and we up with gas, and I’ll always tractor, we were bringing it stopped at a gas station. I filled it remember just thinking, man, my dad would love this. He’d love to meet, and there are probably be riding on the tractor while I was towing it home. But there are a lot of people in history that I would probably love to meet, and there are people who are still alive that I would love to meet, but I would love to be able to sit down with my dad and, you know, walk him around and show him the farm and let him ride on the tractor.
John is a COO with over 30 years of experience in military, non-profit, and commercial leadership and operations. He has an extensive background in strategy, change, process, leadership, management, human capital, training and education, innovation, design, and communication. John is a 21-year Air Force Veteran, was a former consultant with Booz | Allen | Hamilton, and was a strategic business advisor with USAA. John owned a consulting business, Crosscutter Enterprises, since retiring from the Air Force in 2008. He’s been very involved in non-profit organizations since the early 1990s.