Interview with the Authors

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Interview with the Authors

John Below is a transcript of a recent interview John and Peter did on the subject of Crocodile Charlie and the Holy Grail.

You can scroll through the interview, and jump back to the top at any time.

Pete

 

Interviewer : 

Well, I've read Crocodile Charlie, and now I'm curious about the two of you.  Can you tell us exactly what you do when you aren't writing books?

John : 

(laughs) Well, that's a bit of a puzzle.  We were both doing very well in our own jobs and businesses before we met, about ten years ago.  Pete was already working with teams, and I was looking for answers as a senior corporate manager.  My original interest was what the difference was between teams with good resources and big salaries - who can still have lousy ethics and a lot of unhappiness -  and other teams with no resources, no status and no rewards, who can sometimes still create a fantastic environment with a lot of spirit.  Pete had been looking into this for a while with his own work, and he had the same need as I did to discover the Spirit of the Game for his own use and for use with others.  So we started to investigate further.

Peter : 

We have very different backgrounds but we'd both seen a lot of leadership in the world that was all in the intellect and didn't work.  And of course we'd faced those problems in our own lives as leaders, like everyone else.  John brought along a work team for a program, and we got involved.  We had some mentors along the way and we became very passionate and curious about what it is that creates the human at work and in life generally.  By this stage both of our lives were pretty much on hold, because we decided to work together full-time and look into it.

John : 

Sounds crazy, doesn't it.  But we quickly discovered that other people shared our passion to find the answer too, and that a lot of them were very senior people in top companies, and that they really needed it for their businesses.  So we had help and support from day one.

Peter : 

What was different about us was that we didn't pretend we had the answer.  We really wanted to find out.  So we concentrated on ways of finding out, and we just kept getting clients who wanted to be part of the Quest.  We had to give up our day jobs.

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Interviewer : 

Is that how you got into this line of work?

Peter :

We were working with street kids.  One of the fathers was a CEO.  One day he rang me and said "Whatever you did to my son, can you do the same thing with my management team?"

John : 

So that was really the first team and leadership program.  And there were a lot of other people involved too; some at the time, and some who had a critical influence on both of us long before we met.  In some ways we just got the right influences at the right time.  We were steady in our purpose and we got a lot of help and pushes we both want to acknowledge.

Peter : 

And our purpose was not to make money or make ourselves important.  We think people mostly have their own answers, but what they need to do is reflect consciously and deliberately on these and unify around what they already know.  So we set out to help teams find their Spirit and hidden strengths...

John : 

...without getting stuck in the intellect in a classroom, or carried away doing a high ropes course when what they really need to do is, say, find some effective team strategies that help them keep their spirits high and at the same time crack a deadline, or make cost savings...

Interviewer : 

And it worked, I take it? 

Peter : 

Yes, it definitely worked.  We've been flat strap ever since.

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Interviewer : 

What sort of clients do you work with?  Are they all in suits?

John : 

Well, let's see.  Some of my recent leadership programs have been with scientists, shop floor supervisors, board Directors, floor workers in a tannery, senior managers in a foam company, people in China who spoke Mandarin,  medical staff, park laborers and police officers.

Peter : 

Some of my recent ones were top people in a government department from the Secretary on down, a road construction company, an international team of top-line financial analysts, grain workers in a silo, top military brass and dock workers.

Interviewer : 

So what do they have in common?  What do they want from you?

John : 

What they have in common is that they're all dependent on having some kind of picture together, and they know it.  What they want is not lectures or textbooks but the chance to get some simple answers and strategies that really work for them and help them every day.  The devil's often in the detail.

Peter : 

They want to have good Spirits, feel their role is important to the team goals and be happy at work.

John : 

I think we are all on a Quest for our own Holy Grail.  But we vary in how much we acknowledge that consciously and deliberately.  We've found that the best companies, people and teams know they are on a Quest and are always looking for help and ways to pursue the Holy Grail for everyone involved.  There's no doubt that that's what separates the elite organisations from the merely good ones.

Interviewer : 

Can you give me a specific example?

Peter : 

One team came back from a program and found a way to save $660 000 a year; they saved all their jobs.  Another team got an $11 million project delivered on time, on budget and to spec for the first time in the company's history.  Another team resolved some issues that had been "untouchable" in the business for about twenty years.

John : 

And sometimes they just fine-tune and preserve an already good picture.

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Interviewer : 

How do you know that you get results?

Peter :

Well, we might give slightly different answers on that!   Right from day one, we have always been told by our clients.  They said we got results no-one else could get and that we were unique.  And they continued to say it for years after the programs and even the follow-ups were all over.  And these are some pretty tough people - they don't just say things to be polite.

John : 

And of course they kept re-engaging us...

Peter : 

And then we introduced some measurement techniques.

John : 

We developed an instrument called Team DashboardTM that directly measures the contribution of team performance to business Key Performance Indicators.  So for example, if Timeliness is 50 percent of your project performance and team performance deeply affects Timeliness, then you know it's worth the money to invest a bit in safeguarding team strategies before the project gets too busy.  At that point people engage us for exactly the same reason they buy insurance. 

Interviewer : 

Is there any scientific basis to Team DashboardTM ?

Peter : 

Well, John used his math and psychology degrees.  And we now have a database of thousands of responses for validity.  All our clients use it almost without exception.

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Interviewer : 

Okay, one more question about the two of you, and then on to the book.  There seem to be a lot of “team building” companies about.  Is that really what you do, too?  Or is there more to it?

John : 

There's more to it.  Which isn't to say that traditional "team building" and indeed classroom training are bad things.  They can be very effective sometimes.

Peter : 

But we tend to work with clients who have tried those approaches already.  In fact they are often quite expert with them, and sometimes run their own classroom training and teambuilding exercises internally.

John : 

They come to us when their needs go a bit beyond those approaches.  Or when they see the limitations of those approaches.

Interviewer : 

Which are?

Peter : 

Well, let me agree with John first that traditional approaches can be okay sometimes.  But most of our clients tell us that classroom training is all in the Intellect; people learn and forget facts and it doesn't change their behavior.  And our clients also tell us that teambuilding, ropes courses, trust falls, pen and paper exercises, building towers out of drinking straws, fire walking, outdoor adventure, whatever - are great for the Spirit and the Emotions but they sometimes create no understanding and no really relevant team and personal strategies.  So the results are great for a couple of weeks and then often tend not to last.

Interviewer : 

And you run "Simulations"...

John : 

Yes. (nods) Until very recently that was all we did.  It's our specialty.  There's more on our website www.teamresults.com.au .

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Interviewer : 

Why did you write the book?

Peter :

We were kidding around one day in the kitchen of "Silver Wattle", about a year ago.  John said we should write a book if we ever feel we've learned enough from our experiences with clients to be worth saying.  And I said, "Why not?".

Interviewer : 

And the title?  I love the title.

John : 

I suggested "Crocodile Charlie and the Holy Grail" in the kitchen almost immediately.  Pete and I worked on the "Crocodile" angle a bit and came up with the idea that it's not actually a heroic title like Crocodile Dundee or The Crocodile Hunter, but something Charlie really doesn't want.  Maybe they call him Crocodile Charlie because they think he's a bit of a...

Interviewer : 

Watch it...

John :

... a drongo?  A dill?  (laughter)

Peter : 

And maybe he spends the rest of the book getting rid of his "Crocodile" persona and having really big adventures.

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Interviewer : 

The book sounds unique, but let's be cynical for a moment.  If you go into the Self-help or Business sections of a bookstore the shelves are literally groaning with books that offer easy answers, good advice, all kinds of things.  What’s different about Crocodile Charlie? What’s the message in your book?

John : 

I think there are three differences.  First, Crocodile Charlie isn't just aimed at managers or leaders or people who see themselves that way or who want to be.  The book has something proven and tested to offer to everyone who works for a living.  Second, the book doesn't live in a narrow world where everyone wears a suit or everyone wears overalls or everyone works in manufacturing industry.  Charlie's experiences - even his adventures - are based on real-world events and they have something to offer to everybody.  And third, it's simply fun!  It's a great story that doesn't take itself too seriously.  It treats the reader as an equal and a smart person who can take what they want and draw their own conclusions.

Peter : 

Also I think it's important that people know we don't have yet another "Five Secrets Of..." or "Six Steps To..." book of procedures and formulas to impose on their lives.  We know from our work with real clients every day that people need their own answers, not formulas, and that all they need is a bit of fun, help and space to reflect and to build their own "Mongrel Dog".  Which is all explained in Charlie...

Interviewer :

So have you actually been to all the locations in the book?

John :

Yes, sure have.  All the descriptions are based on first-hand experience.  Especially "Gunnatown".  (laughter)

Interviewer :

I suppose they'll have to read the book to find out what we're laughing about...

Peter :

Yep!

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Interviewer : 

Did you write the book jointly, or what?  How did that work?

Peter :

John wrote the actual book, but the contents were based equally on what we had learned over many years, both before and after we met.  We planned Charlie's Discoveries four chapters at a time, and then we talked for hours every week to improve the previous four chapters and plan the contents of the next four.  

John : 

We also dug out our notes from ten years of Team Simulations, plus all the work Pete had done with teams before to lead up to that, plus my own diaries from various leadership jobs in industry.  We came up with 32 categories of Discoveries that we thought were right at the heart of sustaining the Spirit of the Game.  That was too many chapters, so we paired them up at two categories per chapter.  And that's how we came up with sixteen chapters. 

Interviewer :

And then what?  Did it need a lot of editing?

John :

No, very little.  The people at Penguin were terrific - I can't praise them highly enough.  We made some tiny changes but the book in your hands really is exactly what we wrote.  It maybe helps that I've been writing for magazines for about 20 years.

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Interviewer : 

Who should read your book?

John : 

I say "everybody who works for a living".  That's a broad sweep but I really think that if you can set a few hours aside on the train or in a hammock in your backyard, and if you can stand to read a story of adventure that's really quite fun, and you have a bit of passion and interest in the human being at work and play then I think you'll feel the twenty bucks was well invested.

Peter : 

Every client I've got has been asking after this book.  They want to see what we've written because they know it'll be fun and practical.  That tells me there's still a lot of passion in the world for people to find their own Holy Grails and get their own answers that work for them.  Also it maybe tells me that we're offering something that hasn't been offered before, or at least, not in a format that really engages people as equals.

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Interviewer : 

What can I get out of the book?

Peter :

I hope you'll get out of it a bit of what we got ourselves from running all the years of team programs that led to the Discoveries in the first place.  

John : 

I think you'll get insight into what the Spirit of the Game is really all about; and also some very specific ideas and approaches that you can start to use immediately.  And yet it's not artificial or formulaic because the ideas and approaches are more to do with how to find your own answers quickly and effectively than they are to do with serving the "canned" answers themselves up to you on a silver platter.

Peter :

It's an adventure; there's fun and a terrific story.  That's critical to success in life.

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Interviewer : 

What is the Secret?  What is the "It"?

John : 

If there is a "secret", it's to do with hard work and a bit of courage and finding your own answers to happiness and success at work and in life.  I don't believe there's any way around it.  If there is, then the top executives and line workers in the world - people we work with every day - certainly don't know it.  And neither do I.

Peter : 

It certainly isn't a mathematical formula or a dogma on a wall chart.  Those things have been tried for years and if they created the Spirit of the Game, we'd know by now.

John : 

That isn't to say that help, advice, books, charts and formulas are of no use.  Far from it.  With a math background I could never say that; and Pete was a fighter pilot!  We know the essential role of systems and procedures.  But everyone has systems and procedures.  What has interested us for all this time is the question of "what then?"  What comes next?  When you have read the books and done the courses and looked at the systems and procedures, what comes next?

Pete :

And the book summarizes our Discoveries from our experiences with clients about what comes next and to that extent, it's our handbook for finding your own Secret and the "It".

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Interviewer : 

How are you making it work in  your own life?  What motivates you?

Peter :

Finding out more about myself.  More about how we can all create camaraderie and friendship and satisfaction with life.  More about people having personal freedom to find the Spirit of the Game and share that with others.

John : 

And sometimes I really experience the need to have good strategies like Charlie's to keep that vision elevated enough.  When it's two in the morning and you're hobbling in pain from an old frostbite injury and you still have to load the trailer and drive seven hours to start a team Simulation the next night with a brand new group and a brand new energy, well... that's when you experience the strength of your vision.

Interviewer :

That really happened?

John :

Two years ago, to me in Canberra.  But that's nothing.  I don't want to spoil the surprise for those who haven't read Crocodile Charlie yet, but there's a big accident in there that may seem unbelievable...

Peter :

...but it really happened to me, and the experience in the book is pretty accurate.  I still have a left ankle that's mostly pins and screws to prove it.  The only real difference is that John didn't injure Charlie as badly in the book as I was injured in reality, because Charlie had to go on with his Quest.  In the real world it took me a year to recover and I nearly lost my foot.

John :

And here you are, riding a bike 20 miles every day.

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Interviewer : 

So do you still run those team Simulations, or have you retired?  How would I sign up?

John : 

I'll never retire.  It's what keeps me inside reality.  You definitely can still book us for a team Simulation, and in fact there's some information about that on the Crocodile Charlie website.  [Editor's note : Click here to find that information.]  Also we now have a small but very good team of people who can help.  We have permanent bases in Australia, the USA, China, Singapore and New Zealand and we can in fact deliver Simulations almost anywhere in the world.

Peter : 

It's taken us ten years to refine our approach to the point where we can do that.   We not only have a unique approach but we also have a lot of proprietary equipment designed by some very clever people.  Our approach is hugely satisfying to the human individually and collectively; we heighten the intrigue and enjoyment aspects, which gives it an Indiana Jones/Mission Impossible, Monty Python aspect that provides fun, motivation and satisfaction.   We can design literally thousands of different Simulations.  And we can get most of it in a suitcase.

Interviewer :

So you can run them anywhere?  Do you have any preferred places?

John :

We can run them literally anywhere.  We do like to have a say in the choice of facilities but we can always find something suitable.   We have tried and tested venues with who we have very good relationships and good deals in Australia, the USA, China, Singapore and New Zealand.  You aren't compelled to use them but frankly you'd have trouble finding better places or better value.  We've also run Simulations in the middle of cities such as Shanghai, Bangkok, Bombay, Melbourne and Sydney.

Interviewer :

John and Peter, time is up.  Thank you very much for coming in today.

Peter :

It's a pleasure.

John :

And thanks to you.

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