Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Gary Keller (@garykeller), the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Keller Williams (KW), the world’s largest real estate franchise by agent count. In 2019, KW, which also ranks number one in units and sales volume in the US, was named by Fast Company as the “most innovative company” in real estate.
In 2015, Gary began driving KW’s evolution into a technology company, now focused on building the real estate platform that agents, buyers, and sellers prefer. He is competing with multi-billion-dollar, venture-backed companies using his own money.
Gary is the bestselling author of The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, The Millionaire Real Estate Investor, and SHIFT: How Top Real Estate Agents Tackle Tough Times.
Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors.
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Tim Ferriss: Gary, welcome to the show.
Gary Keller: Thank you, Tim. Happy to be here.
Tim Ferriss: I have heard your name dozens, hundreds maybe, of times since moving to Austin and certainly heard the name many times before that. And that relates to much of your work in the written word. And I think we’ll get to that. But I wanted to start with something I came across in doing research for this conversation. And feel free to fact check this, because you don’t want to believe everything you read on the internet, of course. But I want to talk about your childhood a little bit and maybe your later childhood.
Gary Keller: Yeah, sure.
Tim Ferriss: So it seems like it was the summer before your junior year that your dad had you shadow appointments with a banker, an attorney, and a realtor. And then —
Gary Keller: And a lawyer.
Tim Ferriss: And a lawyer.
Gary Keller: Yeah, lawyer. Yeah. No, you said it right. Accountant, and a lawyer and a banker and a realtor.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Gary Keller: There were four of them, yep.
Tim Ferriss: And so I’d like to talk about that—if you took anything in particular away from that. And also a quote from your dad, which was—or in effect, what he passed on to you. He said that anyone he knew who had any money either made it in real estate or put it in real estate. So could you talk about that period of time, and what impact that had on you?
Gary Keller: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. Actually, in high school, I thought I was going to be a rock musician. And I gave no thought to college whatsoever. And the summer after I graduated from high school, I came home one night after our band had performed, and my mother and dad, who were both educators, were waiting up for me. A little spooky, where I had to turn the lights on, and there were my parents, in the dark, sitting there in the den. But I just plopped down on the couch, Tim. And I said, “You know, I don’t think it’s going to work out. I’m not that good and I’m not motivated to practice enough to overcome that I’m not any good.”
And my parents just looked at me—and I think they knew that, by the way. And both being educators, my dad said, “Well we actually applied to a college and you were accepted, if you’d like to go.” And I said, “Really? Where?” And they said Baylor University. I went, “Cool.” I’d been there once, because I had an older sister who had just started going there. And so that was kind of—yeah. So that’s how I got to college.
And at the end of my sophomore year, beginning of my junior year, that summer, my dad, he said, “You probably should get a major.” And I went, “Yeah, okay.” I hadn’t given it any thought. And I love to tell the story to the kids when I teach, because I said, “Maybe you can relate to the fact that I was clueless about everything.”
And so Dad said, “Well, why don’t I set you up to spend some time with some guys?” So it was an accountant, a banker, a lawyer, and a realtor. And I liked the realtor, Tim. And I liked it. I liked it because it was entrepreneurial. It was very people oriented. He didn’t have a tie on. He wasn’t in a stuffy, corporate-feeling environment, right? All those sound reasons why you should choose a profession, right? But anyway, that appealed to me. Got back to college thinking real estate. What that guy did was something that was very appealing to me. And Baylor University had just announced they were launching, that semester of my junior year, first semester, a real estate degree program. And it was in real estate and insurance.
So that’s kind of—so I signed up. And you know, the rest is kind of history. So I got my degree in real estate and came out, interviewed on a couple of places, and landed in Austin.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about—and this is maybe one of those places, New York Life, for a second. Because I would assume, and again this is a dangerous business assuming things, but that you are spectacularly good at selling or at least persuading, conveying ideas. And my understanding is that you were put through some type of assessment.
Gary Keller: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: Could you—yeah? What happened in —
Gary Keller: Yeah, that was in college. And my senior year, my degree plan was in the marketing department and it was real estate and insurance. So you know the college, they don’t teach you much of anything about leaving the college other than teaching you how to interview.
So one of the guys that came on campus was with New York Life. And I later discovered that that guy—I thought I was interviewing with New York Life, the corporation; but I actually was interviewing with the top New York Life salesperson in the area. So anyway, I went to the interview and they gave me a behavioral profile assessment. And I got what felt like a form letter a couple of weeks later that said I didn’t match the profile of their successful salespeople, and so I would not be made an offer to join them.
And the funny thing is I was so mad about that, that I chose real estate. I was furious. I mean, you know, I have a degree, right? I have a degree in real estate and insurance. I go to interview for my job and they tell me I don’t have the job match requirements. It’s almost like you got a degree in law or whatever, and then when you got out, the law firms all told you’re really not a good match to be a lawyer. It was kind of a—you know, freaked me out a little bit. Right? But I tend to respond pretty strong to that kind of stuff. So I got really mad and I just interviewed real estate companies.
Tim Ferriss: And when did you strike out on your own? How was that capitalized?
Gary Keller: Well, that was in ’83. So when I got out of college and interviewed, I interviewed two firms. I chose the one in Austin, Texas and had been here I think maybe once or twice before with my family. But I drove here and interviewed with a firm, liked them, agreed to go to work there and literally launched my career, if you will, through—I guess that would be after the end of the—yeah, the end of the summer, yeah. So I did that. And I sold six houses my first 30 days in a city that I’d only been in a couple of times before.
Because I kind of believe in business by the book a little bit. You know, one of the things that—and I don’t know where this came from, Tim, but I had a—well, I had a professor make a profound statement once. And he said, “Mr. Keller,” he says, “People have lived before you. You might want to study what they know before you go out and start doing your thing.” And that makes a lot of sense to me. Right? So while I was still in college, I was reading the books and studying how to be a successful realtor. So when I hit the ground in a city that I knew maybe two people in, I just did everything by the book. Sold six houses, closed five of them. I got my picture in the paper, woo-hoo!
Tim Ferriss: What do you mean, by the book, in that case?
Gary Keller: Well, meaning meaning that I went to the books. I went to the books of the best real estate trainers at that time.
Tim Ferriss: I see. By the book meaning following the playbook of the people at the time who were well-respected.
Gary Keller: Exactly. That’s exactly what I did. So I outlined all of that, created a plan for myself and then just executed on the plan, and things went well. The funny thing is, is at the end of my—I guess it was the end of the 11th month of my first full calendar year, my manager came in and said, “You’re going to be the rookie of the year. You’re 22 years old.” Or, I’m now 23. “This is amazing. It’s awesome.” And I went, “No, I’m out of here.” And she goes, “What do you mean?” And I’m saying, “Well, I hit all my goals. I made the amount of money that I wanted to make, bought a condo, got a dog, got a new car. I got some Cerwin-Vega tower speakers that were like four feet tall and so I’m done. I’m gonna go take a month off.”
So I left. Anyway, came back and I discovered that I was really kind of a closet trainer. Meaning that I was over there helping people. And I’ve been in the business a year, year and a half, I’m helping people. And I think I just came by that naturally, Tim. So long story short, I ended up applying for a management position in the largest firm in the city at the time. And the owner said, “I am not going to hire you.”
Tim Ferriss: Why not?
Gary Keller: Well, once again I’m getting rejected, right? He said no one liked me. And you know, the truth is is that’s probably correct. But here’s what I said to him, and I remember it, as clear as day. I said, “I understand that, but I come into the office and the receptionist is doing her nails, and I have clients coming in. And silly me, I thought the environment was supposed to support my goals. So I asked her to put it away and she gets mad at me. And then I go around the corner and there’re agents and they’ve got all their smelly food put out, and it’s a mess and it’s right by the reception area. And I asked them to clean it up or put it away or something, because silly me, I thought the environment was supposed to support me, and they don’t like me doing that.” But I said, “If you hire me, they’ll like me and we’ll all make more money.” And he said, “I’m not hiring you.” And I don’t know where this came from, but somewhere deep inside that was offensive to me. And so I said, “Well, give me a test. If I pass it, you have to hire me.”
And I don’t think anyone ever talked to this multimillionaire businessman. So he actually got a sheet of paper out. He wrote down the things that I needed to accomplish, handed it to me, and said, “Go do that.” And I had no training in what he’d asked me to do. And I had no support, right? I wasn’t getting paid for it. I was just entrepreneurially going to go out and achieve this list to get a job.
Well, I think he blew me off and forgot about it. I don’t know.
Tim Ferriss: What were some of the things on the list?
Gary Keller: Well, it was things like, go recruit people to the firm. Right? But here I am, a salesperson with no training in that, right? And then the other one was teach, and we’ll see what your ratings will be like. It was just a series of hurdles that I was told to go do. And I did.
My first recruit was actually out of a bookstore. I was in the B. Dalton Bookstore. And I saw a woman that was looking at the real estate section, and I went over and said, “Can I help you?” And she goes, “No.” And I was taken back, right? I said, “I’m so sorry,” and I walked away. And a little while later she came over to me and she said, “Hey, you know, I want to apologize. I thought you were trying to pick me up or something.” And I said, “Well—” because I’m a smart aleck, Tim. I said, “Well, the thought crossed my mind, but —” I said, “No.” I said, “I actually have a degree in real estate. I sell real estate. And I love learning, and I’ve literally read or browsed almost every book on the shelves regarding real estate. So I thought I could just help you.” And she said, “Well, I’m thinking about getting into real estate.” And so that was one of the things on my list I had to go accomplish. Right?
So checked that off the box. And it’s really cool. When we later started our firm, she was one of the first 20 agents to come join us. But so that was it. So essentially, I then did that for a about a year and a half to two years. Well it was easily two years, now that I think about it. And the company did something that I didn’t like, and I went into resign. Because the owner had promised me—when he hired me, he sent me to the goat pastures outside of Austin. They call it Round Rock now, but it was a goat pasture. And he didn’t give me where all the growth was going, because he’d already hired a manager for that, he said. Well, turns out that he hired three managers and none of them could ever launch that office. And he just had to eat the lease for three years before he could get out of it. Me, on the other hand, went up to Round Rock Georgetown and built a business that’s still there today. It was hugely successful.
But he then did something that created a problem in my office. So I went in one morning at like 6:30 and said like, “I quit.” I said, “I’m going to go back. I’m going to build it back after you tore it down, and then I’m out of here.” Now, the table’s reversed though, Tim. And then this owner says, “Well, what would it take to keep you?” And I just thought that was—wow, full circle, if you will. Right? “No one likes you, and I’m not hiring you,” to, “What will it take to keep you?” So I wrote a number on a sheet of paper and it was the largest sum that he’d ever guaranteed anybody. And he agreed. He said, “Okay.”
Tim Ferriss: How did you come up with the number? Did you already have it in your mind before you walked into the office?
Gary Keller: No! No, I went to quit.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Gary Keller: I had gone in to quit. I didn’t know—and this is all back to what was the starting of Keller Williams.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Gary Keller: I had no plans to, Tim. I’m not going to be talked to that way. I’m not going to be treated this way. I’m not going to build something, and then you, because you’re the boss, that you can just tear it down and do that. And so I was leaving. No, I just wrote a big six-figure number that I knew he wouldn’t pay, or I thought he wouldn’t pay. And then of course he paid. Right? So I went out and launched that business for him.
Tim Ferriss: Can you say, and if you can’t, I understand, but can you say what he did that was so disruptive or damaging to your office?
Gary Keller: Yeah, it’s real simple. And this is all leading up to your question of, so how did we start Keller Williams?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I’m in no rush.
Gary Keller: Yeah, so what happened was he had a policy and guideline manual. And the policy and guideline manual for all of his offices in three cities had a clause in it that said that if the company changes a policy, you have 48 hours to give notice that you don’t agree with the policy. Otherwise, you’re now under the policy. And so on Christmas Eve, he went to all his offices and changed a policy about how people got paid.
Tim Ferriss: Oh! Oh, that is a terrible, terrible move. Wow.
Gary Keller: It was, it was. And in fact, the policy had to do with what happens when people leave, which I thought was really interesting. Anyway, so I had built this highly successful business with literally no new people. These were all really seasoned vets, great people. And they weren’t going to take this. So they left. And literally, what he did destroyed the office. And so I went to him and said, “Okay, I quit. I’ll go back in and put it back the way it was. But when I get it there, I’m out of here.” And that’s when he said, “What will it take to keep you?” And I wrote a number down and he said, “Okay, I’m going to put you in charge of—VP in charge of expanding the company. And your first job is to go back and rebuild that business.”
So I went back and rebuilt it and then I got sent to another location in Austin, down south. And I would say maybe a month and a half into that, at most, he called me up out of the blue and wanted to know what I’d done for him. Now I understand that my office was in an office building in South Austin, and I was in the broom closet. And I know it was a broom closet because there were brooms in it. And it did have a window, however. And they gave me a folding table for my desk, a folding table as a credenza, if you will. And then they gave me two folding chairs and a flip chart and a phone and said “Go build another company.”
Well, I did. And had I stayed—this was in 1983. Had I stayed, he owed me a huge bonus, but it was never about the money, in the end. And so I just quit. You know? And I didn’t know what I was going to do. That’s the thing. I really didn’t know. I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for someone who talked to people that way. And the other thing that was going on in his firm were—there were men and women who had been with him a long, long, long time. And he had promised to them compensation in the form of stock or profits interest and what was happening was now he was taking all that back. He was undoing all of that and trying to pull everything back into himself. And I saw the writing on the wall because I’m looking up going, “Well, what’s my future with a guy like that?” And in other words, I, too, could work for 20 years for a guy like that, and then have him pull the rug out, and not have anything. That’s the way I internalized that.
So I quit. And my wife at the time—I had been married now for approximately a year and a half. And my wife became his assistant, and she was already in the firm. And she had actually had been an administrative assistant in the firm. And so he recruited her up to come work directly for him. So end of the day, he called me and treated me that way. I went in the next day and quit. And this time I didn’t name a price. I just said “I’m done.” And I gave him all the names of all the people I had recruited and all the info I had on him. And it was, I think approximately, it was 14 people. And they were all terrific, terrific real estate agent prospects. And I just gave him the list. If I had just stayed a little longer, he’d have owed me a huge bonus check. But I didn’t care about it. And I walked out.
And there was a gentleman that was in the commercial area of that company called Joe Williams. And I approached Joe and I said, “Why don’t we form two companies? I’ll form a residential, you form commercial. We’ll each own 50 percent of each, and we’ll go build this.” And the commercial company never took off. But the residential side took off immediately and never lost money. We had borrowed $44,000 to launch the business, and we paid that back in a little over a year. And to this day, we have no operational debt on the company. I’ve never borrowed money and I’ve never taken any outside money to build Keller Williams. We all did it by internal cash flow.
Tim Ferriss: And is there—aside from having the cash flow to do that, since a lot of people in many industries will leverage and borrow, what were the main reasons, if there were others, aside from just having plentiful cash flow for not taking on debt to try to grow faster?
Gary Keller: Man, that’s a wonderful question. You know, I’ll cheat and I’ll give you a quote from Robert Kiyosaki, which is, “Assets feed me, liabilities eat me.” And that mantra kind of plays in my head a little bit, that if you have to borrow money, it means you can’t afford what you’re fixing to buy. Even though, by the way, that’s not true, right? It’s not true. I definitely use debt to buy real estate when it makes sense. I use debt when it makes sense to buy a business. So I’m not the no debt guy, but I do come from a position of—I want to be smart with money such that money doesn’t leave me. And debt’s a way to do that.
So other than that, the reality is, is that it didn’t take a lot of money to build a real estate business, because real estate’s one of the few careers where you can come in as a job and then as you generate more income, you start shedding the jobs. And it naturally leads to a business with employed people. I don’t know if that makes sense, but you can literally leverage your way all the way from being a salesperson to owning a business.
I contrast that to the people that do the maintenance in this building. There is no natural path from being in the maintenance crew on a building to owning the building. It’s not a natural path. It doesn’t lead to that. But in real estate, it actually does. You can literally—you do all the jobs from day one and as you lever up and bring in other people, so you ultimately get rid of all the jobs.
So maybe that helps explain why I actually didn’t need the capital. I didn’t need it because I was organically growing and generating more cash flow.
Tim Ferriss: And my understanding is that, and you can correct me if I’m off on the timeline for this, but two or so years later, KW, Keller Williams, is the largest office in Austin. And —
Gary Keller: Yeah, that’s right.
Tim Ferriss: As you mentioned, you don’t necessarily need a lot of cash to get started or to enter the game of real estate. So it’s a very competitive industry.
Gary Keller: Yes, it is.
Tim Ferriss: To what do you attribute your ability to not only become the largest office, and obviously that’s expanded to nationwide and so —
Gary Keller: And worldwide.
Tim Ferriss: And worldwide. But in that first two years, let’s just say.
Gary Keller: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: To what do you attribute your ability to stand out and grow so effectively?
Gary Keller: Well, I understood value. So what I understood was, is that the real estate agent has the relationship with the client, and the real estate brokerage company has a relationship with the agent. And I understood exactly what the value proposition needed to be to attract and retain really terrific people. So I understood that. And the way I like to say it is, Keller Williams was my third business, if you think about it. Because I’d already launched two businesses for my former boss, so —
Tim Ferriss: You’d been learning on someone else’s dime, so to speak.
Gary Keller: Yes, absolutely. And the best way to learn, right?
So I had intimate knowledge with the financials, in what it costs, and I understood how much revenue I had to generate in order to cross the hurdle into positive cash flow. And so I just knew it. So I set the business up that way. I kind of play a game that I call red light, green light. And meaning that if I’m doing well, then green light. Keep going that direction. If something happens, I don’t keep hitting the green light. Right? If something happens that should cause me to pause in any way, particularly from a financial standpoint, then I’m going to hit red light fast, and I’m going to back up and ask the question, “What do I need to do? What did I do wrong?” Whatever would happen.
So the building of a real estate company, you can generate all the cash flow you need to do that. Even in these times right now of—I have competitors who have raised over a billion dollars and are just spending the money like crazy in the real estate space. But what I understand is it doesn’t take all that money to do that. It takes smart money more than it takes a lot of money.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, for sure I mean, no certainly no lack of examples of companies that have pissed away hundreds of millions of dollars or more.
Gary Keller: That’s right.
Tim Ferriss: I’d love to hear an example, if you could give one, of a time when you saw the red light or hit the red light and then how you did a post game analysis.
Gary Keller: Well, probably the biggest red light that I had to hit early on was the commercial side red light. Because it never made a profit. And we would literally just take the money that I was earning from the company I started and hand it to the other company that was being run by my partner. And he’s a good guy. He’s a great guy, Joe Williams. Just salt of the earth, just a wonderful human being. But it was losing money, and I hit the red light immediately and said, “I’m not going to give you any more money.” And his response was, “Well, how am I going to pay the bills?” And my response was, “Exactly. Exactly. How are you going to pay your bills?”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Gary Keller: And then he voluntarily shut the company down within a few months. So that was —
Tim Ferriss: How did that conversation, if you don’t mind me—I apologize for the interruptions, but I’m very interested. How was that sort of dissolution or separation handled? This is a very common situation among co-founders. It happens all the time.
Gary Keller: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Were there any particular things that you feel that you guys did right or that you did right in handling that? Were there things that you would have done differently in retrospect?
Gary Keller: Actually with—between he and I, no. It was a natural thing. We didn’t have an agreement that said that we had to take one pot of money and give it to the other pot. And it was amicable. I mean, there was no—I would say that I don’t think that Joe and I ever had a cross word. I think that it’s a testimony to him. He’s just a stand up guy. But on the other hand, I’m not going to keep putting good money into a bad situation —
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Gary Keller:—that you can see doesn’t have a plan that it can execute successfully on. So it was really that simple. They were separate business, and I wasn’t obligated to give them money, so I just stopped. I hit the red light, and I just stopped. And so it’s kind of—I would say if you want to ask the question of, “What have you learned over time?” not “What did you learn from that?” was that your agreements between you and your partners—I call them disagreements—because the only time you’re going to read it is when you disagree.
Tim Ferriss: Right. That’s so true, yeah. Right.
Gary Keller: Yeah, I said—and that really informs the way you look at a document when you call it a disagreement. Because it should be there to deal with things when you disagree. Otherwise, if you agree, you’d never read the document; you’d never go back to it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s genius. Yeah, that’s a good way to reframe it.
Gary Keller: Well, I find the biggest issues are who has control? Who’s the decision maker? Can that decision maker be relieved from that, if you have to? How are you going to handle cash flow? If there’s profit, are you gonna distribute it monthly, quarterly, annually, never? What do you going to do? And then the other one is the dissolution. And that is what happens if this isn’t working out and one of you needs to buy the other one out? One of the things that happened to me was—so we ended up forming this firm. And in February of ’84, and I’d now been married less than three years, the company was just a little over one year old. And my wife at that time said she didn’t love me and she’d never loved me, and we headed to divorce. And they started out at a million-dollar valuation on a one-year old company that, if you took me out of it, would be worthless. And I ended up negotiating my divorce with my former boss.
So if you want to read between the lines and think about that, you’re welcome to do so. I turned to my attorney and said, “Why am I taking the deposition of that guy?” My attorney just looked at me. He says, “Well, time will reveal all.” And it did, by the way. But the agreement to break up, right? If someone passes away or if someone wants to sell, to me, that becomes one of the biggest clauses in those agreements. And candidly, you’d be really, really, smart at this, because this is where people go, “Oh, we get along, we’re good friends,” or whatever. “We’re going to found a company together.” And they look up later and they realize that they don’t have a disagreement. They basically have an agreement.
Tim Ferriss: This is so important. Yeah.
Gary Keller: Yeah. They don’t have it. They have no means of reconciliation. They have no means of parting without bankrupting the other business. So what happened to me was, when it got to the divorce, I had a buy-sell agreement, by the way. And it would have meant that I could have gone into my bank account and written the check for what I owed under the buy-sell agreement.
Tim Ferriss: Can you define for people who don’t know what that means? A buy-sell agreement.
Gary Keller: Sure. That simply means that if I’m one of the partners and I want out, what happens? Right. Does the document address that at all? Can I sell the stock to anybody? Does the company have to buy it? If the company has to buy it or wants to buy it, what are the terms of that or are there no terms and it’s just strictly a cash deal? What happens? Does that make sense?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Gary Keller: Okay. That’s basically a buy-sell. It’s a prearranged way that things are going to go if you decide to part company for any reason or you need to part company for any reason.
Well I had one, Tim, but the judge in the case says, “Well, okay, I see you have a buy-sell agreement. Who represented you, Mr. Keller?” And I said, “My attorney standing here.” He said, “Who represented her?” And I said, “My attorney standing here.” And they threw it out because we had used the same attorney. Good attorney, and he hadn’t cheated anybody. It was a fair buy-sell agreement. But they threw it out.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I want to underscore a couple of really, really important things that you’re saying. So number one is—I mean particularly, I would say, in personal relationships like a marriage, how critical it is to have separate counsel for a million and one reasons. And then also, a pattern that’s come up in a lot of these interviews, which is, from the outside looking in, many interviewees who are viewed as risk-takers are actually experts in capping the downside.
Gary Keller: That’s right.
Tim Ferriss: And are very good at thinking through the worst-case scenarios and setting if-then plans for the divorce proceedings or the escape plan, so to speak.
Gary Keller: That’s right.
Tim Ferriss: If the worst-case scenarios come to pass.
Gary Keller: That’s exactly right.
Tim Ferriss: Like the very first thing I look at in every contract that gets sent to me, especially if there’s some type of personal guarantee or I’m involved personally, is the termination clause. Not because I want to weasel out of something, not because I want to plan for failure. It’s for all the reasons that you just mentioned. If you don’t have a plan for the disagreement, which it’s such a smart reframe, you’re dead in the water.
Gary Keller: That’s right.
Tim Ferriss: Because when you’re going to need that document is when you do not see eye-to-eye or have a problem.
Gary Keller: So let me tell you a funny story. Or I don’t know how funny it is, but. So after that divorce, I met the love of my life, Mary, and we’ve been married for 32 years. And her father, when he was alive—her mother had passed away from cancer many, many years ago—and father was now getting remarried. And I now having lived this, Tim, I turned to my father-in-law and said, “I’m getting you a lawyer and your fiance needs to get a lawyer. And they need to be separate and there needs to be essentially a prenuptial contract,” which is very closely related to the buy-sell. Basically it’s a disillusionment agreement. So they did. They each got separate attorneys and they did this prenuptial.
Well, fast forward to the last year of my father-in-law’s life where he was beginning to get dementia. And he then passes away. And within a few days after him passing away, we get an envelope that in it is a handwritten, “I give all my money to my wife. I give all of my liquid assets to my wife.” And it has his signature. And at the time we didn’t know that he actually had been diagnosed with dementia. We were unaware of that. And he had actually said just a month or so before he died, he said, “Watch her, she’s going to try to take everything.” And it happened.
And the weird thing is, for that little sheet of paper, she took a gentleman who was suffering from dementia and she took it to her lawyer, the same one that had drawn up her side of the prenuptial. And of course we hired a good law firm and that took about five minutes, the law firm had to recuse themselves. And then to basically explain that we would drag this out forever because the man had dementia and it was documented. We went back and checked and it was documented. But the spouse had never told the kids any of that. So my little lesson turned around and paid huge dividends for my father-in-law and his estate because they could not pierce it.
Tim Ferriss: Yup. That’s a great example. And it’s really important. Very close friend of mine, one of his uncles has dementia, very well documented. And he’s suing other members of the family and there are all sorts of headache and heartache as you as you might imagine. And it’s really important for yourself, and we’re gonna come back to your story in a second, but broadly speaking, to determine who will make decisions, who can make decisions for someone else if they are incapacitated or dead or diagnosed with something like dementia.
Tim Ferriss: I recently helped a friend who did not have any of this in place to figure out a way. Thankfully her parent is lucid, does not have dementia. They just didn’t have the cash to set this up beforehand. But to talk about things like power of attorney documents when things are reasonably stable so that people can make decisions for someone else when the time comes and lawyers say or hospitals say, “Show us the documents.” You want to have those beforehand. So I’d like to come back to —
Gary Keller: So one statement about that.
Tim Ferriss: Oh sure.
Gary Keller: One of the lessons that I’ve learned, Tim, is that money won’t change you, but it will reveal you. And when people have an opportunity to have a financial windfall, their character is getting ready to be revealed.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. Completely consistent with my observations as well.
Gary Keller: And having a document, whether it be helping loved ones protect themselves or in business. It’s really important. People have asked me over the years about Keller Williams and what’s important about it. And I always get the same answer and that is, “Our most important asset is our franchise document.” Which is a massive disagreement.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s actually, I’m going to veto my earlier pivot and talk about that for a second because I want to spend a good amount of time talking about focus because you are famous for your ability to focus. But before we get to that, you’re talking about this franchise document and I know very little about real estate, but a friend of mine when I was doing prep for this said that you redefined franchising through regional ownerships. And then he went on to say how the company has made more money year-on-year since they started in ’85. I think at one point it was like 40 percent per year for a decade or something. I mean, really incredible growth.
Tim Ferriss: So you have the franchise document, you also innovated in terms of model, as I understand it. What does redefined franchising through regional ownerships mean? If that’s accurate. Yeah.
Gary Keller: So you actually asked a couple of questions.
Tim Ferriss: I did. It’s my tendency.
Gary Keller: No, no, no. So let’s talk about that regional. So when we as a company were ready to go out of state, if you will, we began to study how others had done it. And we discovered that in the real estate industry and in other industries as well, at the time they did what’s called master franchises. So a franchising, remember, is just another financial vehicle, right? If you don’t have the money, franchise and ask other people to come in and front the cost that it would have been had you employed them. So that’s one of the ways you keep from having to borrow money, understand, is you can use franchising and essentially use other people’s money.
I had actually expanded into four cities and all of them did great as long as I showed up. And then when I didn’t show up, they all started failing. So I took a year off in ’89 and began to document the business. There’s an incredible story about the McDonald brothers in Behind the Arches that really just changed my world. And one of them was around franchising and the other one was about building a successful model.
And the franchising part was that we looked into it and we discovered that the way that franchising had been done was flawed. And that was called the master franchise approach. So Dairy Queen was a perfect example. So Dairy Queen at one time was like the kick butt, take name, fast food place in America. And what they had done is they had sold the rights for the franchises, what you would call the regional franchises to then be the franchisor of the franchisees. So the parent company, all it was franchising was these regional businesses to then go and then they would sell franchises and they would support the franchises.
Tim Ferriss: Just to restate, so I understand. So you might have like arbitrarily, let’s just say you cut the country into four quadrants. You have four regional people. Those are your only kind of direct reports who pay you. And then they have a downline of sorts where they then go out. But you only have agreements with those four regional franchisees, who then become franchisors, meaning they’re granting these licenses to other people.
Gary Keller: That’s right. And it’s called sub-franchising. So I read The Dairy Queen Story because when McDonald’s came out with their playground, that was actually an amazing value hack, right? They realized that if they could get the kids wanting to come to McDonald’s, the parents would take them. And there’s a playground. So there was a famous meeting where these master franchisors, if you will, the sub-franchisor, met. And I don’t know how many there were in it, but they met and they decided that they didn’t want to do the playgrounds.
Tim Ferriss: This is for Dairy Queen or for McDonald’s?
Gary Keller: For Dairy Queen.
Tim Ferriss: For Dairy Queen.
Gary Keller: So McDonald’s was doing it and really making inroads fast. And so Dairy Queen calls a meeting and says, “Hey, our franchisees need to be putting in playgrounds.” And the sub franchisors, the regional people, said, “No, not going to do it.”
And by the way, that was the beginning of Dairy Queen sliding into a much smaller company than they could have been. And they never really recovered from that.
So I read that and my plan then was, I’m not going to repeat that. So we did what’s called a regional representative agreement. So the financial opportunity is the same. So we have 31 regions in the US and Canada. And those are owned by individuals, but they’re not sub-franchisors. They are simply representatives. So they have the same job description of a sub-franchise. They have the same financial opportunity of a sub-franchise. They don’t have the authority.
Tim Ferriss: And I would imagine the franchise document that you have prevents the type of logjam if you were to say, “We want to install playgrounds” in your offices, metaphorically speaking, in those 31, the home office has the ability to insist, let’s say, on certain types of things so that they wouldn’t run into the same type of Dairy Queen problem.
Gary Keller: That’s right. Without having to go into the weeds on documents, you said that very well. The document lays out the rights of the franchisor. And the reason is because if a right isn’t acknowledged in that document, the judge will automatically give it to the franchisee.
Tim Ferriss: Yup.
Gary Keller: If it’s an unstated right, the courts will take it away. They’ll take it away.
Tim Ferriss: If it’s not explicitly assigned to you, KW the franchisor, it will be in a vacuum of mention in the document, automatically assigned to the franchisee.
Gary Keller: Every time. Every time. So when people read a franchise document, if they don’t say, “Heck no, I’m not signing this,” it’s an intelligence test. That should be your first reaction. What I explain to them is that “This is a disagreement and that the odds are pretty strong that anything we don’t address here as my rights become your rights by default. So this is going to read like the most one-sided agreement you’ve ever seen. But I just want you to realize that anything that isn’t covered in this document automatically goes to you, and you are the decider.” So that was the regional side of that story.
Then the other side of the McDonald’s: Behind the Arches that just really profoundly impacted me was the story of the French fries. Do you know that story?
Tim Ferriss: I don’t know if I know the story. I watched the movie with Birdman, I’m blanking on the actor’s name, Beetlejuice. Somebody will—Michael Keaton. But I don’t have any background beyond that.
Gary Keller: So this is a great story and it hit me like a of bricks when I read it. I’m just going to paraphrase and tell it to you as if it’s a bedtime story —
Tim Ferriss: Please do.
Gary Keller: Yeah. So this guy, Ray Kroc, this is Keller all the way, right? So Ray Kroc, he hears about these McDonald brothers and people line up around the block to get their food. And he’s a salesman. And so he wants to go down and meet with them and understand their secrets so he can go back and take it to his customers so then they could order more Dixie Cups and whatever he was selling them.
He got down there and was enamored with them and asked could he franchise. And it was a tough negotiation. They ultimately allowed him. He goes back to Illinois. He builds out the stuff that he needs to build out in order to be able to deliver stores that sell food exactly like the McDonald brothers. And the challenge was, the French fries didn’t taste right.
So he calls the McDonald brothers and says, “Tell me what we did wrong” or whatever. And nobody could figure it out. So what McDonald’s did, and I love this phrase, they suspended their need to understand. And they went all the way back to where they bought the potato. And they tracked and documented all the steps from the field to the table. And they discovered something. And that is, the McDonald brothers had not invented a way to cook a French fry. They had stumbled on a way to cure a potato. The step that the McDonald’s brothers never told Ray Kroc was that when they got the potatoes, they put them in open air burlap sacks. And the climate where the McDonalds operated, when you put potatoes in an open air burlap sack in that temperature, the potato cures.
Tim Ferriss: Amazing.
Gary Keller: And then, oh by the way, you can cook it any way you want. It tastes great. So end of the story. So Ray Kroc went back to Illinois. He duplicated the curing process and the rest is history.
Tim Ferriss: That’s incredible. So this then brings us back to the year off in ’89. I have a bunch of questions about that. So ’89, paint a picture for how the business is doing. Because I’m sure a lot of people are thinking to themselves, “Man, I’d love to take a year off. My business is hectic. How in the hell did Gary take year off in ’89?” How did you decide to do that? Was there a straw that broke the camel’s back? And then practically speaking, how to do it.
Gary Keller: Keep me on track here, but I want to go back and I want to build to the moment of ’89 so you’ll understand and what happened. So we launch in the last quarter of ’83. I end up in February of ’84 going through a divorce. And now I am in debt because I didn’t have the cash, so I had to sign a note. And then I had to take an insurance policy, in case I died, my former spouse got paid. And then within a year, Joe Williams came in and said he has to sell his shares in the residential company. We’d already shut the other one down, commercial down. But he needed to sell his shares because he’d bought a lot of real estate. This is now ’87, right, this is ’88, the markets are crashing. And he doesn’t want to go bankrupt. And he didn’t. To his credit, he did not. He’s just a stand-up guy.
But he came to me and said, “Hey, I need to sell the shares.” I didn’t have the cash so I had to sign a note to the bank to take out another insurance policy. So essentially whether I live or die, everyone’s going to get their money. Does that make sense?
Tim Ferriss: It makes sense.
Gary Keller: Yeah. And the way I kind of describe it, particularly when I’m talking to kids, is that it was like I’d been going through life hopping seven feet and fell in a 10-foot hole. That right there has become the central theme of my life since that happened. Because I’d been going through life and competing as a business person in a sort of organic, progressive way. In other words, it’s the next thing I should do. So I do there, I go there. But I wasn’t on an exponential path. In other words, I wasn’t running my business out of a business plan that would deliver exponential growth. I was living off of an organic plan.
Now I looked down and I realized, oh my gosh, it’s going to take me 10 years under this current earnings path I’m on. Maybe sooner, but not much, before I’m debt-free. And that depressed the heck out of me. And so I got really creative.
Then one last thing happened. Then one of my competitors with a RE/MAX office set up shop down the street and they were a lot less expensive than what we did. And I had five of my top 10 producers leave the firm. And I had grown to over 70 associates. The economy going down took me to 38 associates. We were still profitable, nicely profitable. And then I lost five of the top 10, and so now I’m at 33 associates. And then they came back and they got my bookkeeper, my receptionist, and my relocation coordinator.
Tim Ferriss: That sounds like a really hard 12 to 18 month period.
Gary Keller: Yeah. Absolutely. So now—I just want to set the stage for ’89. So now what’s happened is I’m in debt up to my eyeballs. The market is crashing, right? And my competitors are taking my people. So I’m literally sitting at the desk with no one to run the business other than me. And I’m in desperate need of a plan that would actually help me hop higher. And so I created that plan. And one year later we were the largest real estate company in Austin. And the next year we sold more real estate than anyone. And the next year after that I paid everybody off in cash. And I was 31 years old, towards the end of it, 31 by the way. I paid everyone off in cash, I was debt-free, and I was the number one real estate company in my city.
Tim Ferriss: So that plan was the plan that you drafted during your year off, is that right? Or —
Gary Keller: No.
Tim Ferriss: No.
Gary Keller: No, that’s a separate issue.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, it’s a separate issue. Okay.
Gary Keller: It’s a separate issue. So the plan is what ultimately created a model that I could go teach other people and I could franchise that model. So then let’s go to ’87, ’88. So I go around the state of Texas and I’m showing how I’m doing business. And people are buying at that time license agreements, because I wasn’t franchising at the time.
So they bought license agreements and the agreement said, if I ever franchise, you have to become a franchisee or I have the right to buy your business.
Tim Ferriss: Could you clarify what the difference is? Licensing, they’re paying a percentage just to use your name?
Gary Keller: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: And that’s it.
Gary Keller: Licensing to use your name and systems, but you don’t really have any control or influence.
Tim Ferriss: I see.
Gary Keller: With the license versus franchising. So I was using a simple license agreement. Well, I was literally traveling four days a week, right? If it was Monday, I’m in San Antonio. If I’m in Houston, it’s Tuesday. I was living my life that way. And all the businesses that we launched were successful and profitable. And me, I’m thinking I’m a genius. So I come home and then they all fail.
And so what I did was, I did two things. Number one is, I hired an individual and that individual—now we’re getting to ’89, okay. So I then take that year off, if you will. I’m not franchising, I’m not licensing, I’m not doing anything. I hired a manager to run my Austin operation. So I have the freedom, and I hired a gentleman and gave him a video recorder, an audio recorder, a notebook and pen, and a camera. And I said, “I want you to follow me around and I’m going to go launch another office. And I want you to document every little thing that I do.”
Tim Ferriss: That is brilliant.
Gary Keller: No, that’s the French fry story.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Exactly.
Gary Keller: Yeah. So I read the French fry story about that time. And then I said, “The number one thing I’m going to do is I’m going to go do that.”
“The second thing I’m going to do is I’m going to create an operating set of manuals that absolutely show how to launch it, how to run it.” And the second thing I did was I discovered a list of the top 10 franchise attorneys in the country. And I started interviewing. And I ended up hiring this amazing individual out of Dallas. And she was the one, it was her who said, “You do not want a master franchise. You want to use a regional representative approach.”
Tim Ferriss: Now just to clarify, at the time, were you interviewing them to potentially be your attorney? Or are you interviewing them and paying them for their time as part of your research?
Gary Keller: I actually hired them to help me build a franchise document, the lawyer. And then she came back and said, “You don’t want to do what the others do.”
So the way we built our document was we went and got our hands on our competitors’ documents and we got our hands on McDonald’s document. And then we took them by sections. I think it was like 19 manuals. And each manual had how each of these franchisors dealt with issue number one. The next manual was how they dealt with issue number two. The third manual was how they all dealt—so I now could pick up manual one and I can see how all these franchisors have dealt with that issue in their document.
And with Joyce’s guidance, we went through and made decisions chapter by chapter, if you will, on how we wanted to build our franchise, if that makes sense.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, this makes sense.
Gary Keller: Yeah. So at the end of ’89—by the way, I did spend all my money. I just want to be clear that—that attorney said that—she gave me a bid to build that document. At $100,000 she quit billing me. That’s how expensive the document was, it was a serious document, absolutely. Then I take this document and I take —
Tim Ferriss: May I pause for one second? You’re saying $100,000, how much money do you think that document has saved you, excluding the headache and heartache and —
Gary Keller: I will assure you, it is the most valuable asset of the company. Hands down, it’s the most valuable asset. There’s not even a close second. It is the key asset. Now I take these manuals, and I take the franchise document. I go back to Houston, I meet this lovely individual who sadly just passed away last year, but this is 1989. I go back, sign her up, I give her a two week training program, and then I leave. I hold my breath and go, “Come on sevens,” right? I’m holding my breath because I’m not coming back, right? I can’t scale this thing if I have to go do it; I can only scale it if others can follow the model. She did really well, and that is a hugely successful business today.
In fact, it’s funny that—she had told her son that I had basically saved her life, and when my son was real little, Mary, my wife, and our son were in a grocery store here in Austin. This franchisee happened to be here visiting her sister, and they ran into her at a grocery store. My wife tells me that she got down on her knees to stare at my little boy, and proceed to tell him, though he couldn’t comprehend a word she was saying, how what I did had changed her life. So anyway, that’s the story of ’89. The story of ’89 was I took a year off and I reinvented how I did business. I basically created the platform, if you want to call it that, for building a nationwide real estate franchise.
Tim Ferriss: What a story. Thank you for telling that.
Gary Keller: You’re welcome.
Tim Ferriss: I want to talk about—the flip chart that you mentioned at the beginning of the conversation, when you were in the broom closet. KW is very heavily investing in technology, it’s in many respects becoming a technology company, yet my understanding is you still use a paper, month-at-a-glance calendar and a pencil. What is the story behind that?
Gary Keller: You know, I believe that—I didn’t always believe this, right? You learn as you go, and if you learn you grow, right? I’m having trouble visualizing my life, and I get this month-at-a-glance. Instantaneously, I can see where all my energy this month is going, I can see it. I can see how I’m investing my life, and so I begin this practice back in my 20s of using this month-at-a-glance, I could see everything at one time. I use an eraser because if you erase, you must replace. I go through the month and I kind of mark what I think I should be doing on these days in order to hit my personal, professional, and financial goals. I’m happy to erase if I need to, but by doing it this way—if it was important to do it, it can’t disappear. I have to move it someplace else in my calendar. It’s really this simple idea that—I really struggle with the idea of doing planning off of a technology based day timer, for that reason only.
I’ll tell you a funny story. There’s a guy by the name of Larry Braggs, and he was the lead singer for Tower of Power. I didn’t know him personally, but I was coming back from Vegas on a trip and I’d gone to the Southwest Airlines gate early. There was only one guy in front of me, and I recognized him as the lead singer of Tower of Power. I looked down and he had a briefcase, and it had a tag that said Tower of Power on it. I went, “Okay, I’m pretty sure this is Larry.” I said, “Excuse me,” I just introduced myself, and we had a great talk. I’d just seen them perform a year earlier in Austin. We had a great conversation.
Somehow, we turned to—Kenny Loggins was coming to Austin to a concert, and in a venue that—we love and support. Somehow it came out, and Larry had sung with Kenny Loggins and loved him. He said, “Man, I’d love to catch that show. My family’s still there,” and I said “Well, I can get you in.” He said, “What date is that?” I knew the date off the top of my head, and I said it. Then he pulls out his electronic calendar and starts going through it, and I went “Whoa whoa whoa, hold it. You’ve gone to the dark side?” He’s laughing, he’s going, “What do you mean?”
I said, “Okay, let’s have a gunfight at the OK Corral. You put your phone back down, and I’ll lay my calendar out here. When I say go—I’ll go one, two, three, go. When I say go, we both reach for our guns and see who’s the first one who can shoot.” He just looked at me and I said, “Let’s do it, let’s see what happens.” He says, “Okay.” I go, “One, two, three, go.” I just pick up my calendar, pull it open, and go, “There it is,” and he’s still trying to get into his phone. I said, “Oh, by the way, I can tell you what I’m doing tomorrow at 3:00, and tell you what I’m doing two weeks from now. I can tell you everything I did last week,” and I’m just peppering him with my vision for my life. He’s still fumbling, trying to get to see if he could even go to the concert, which he did, by the way. It was awesome, and he and Kenny hung out afterwards.
Tim Ferriss: Where does your month-at-a-glance calendar live? Is it something that —
Gary Keller: It sits right in front of me.
Tim Ferriss: Is it on your wall in your office? Is it —
Gary Keller: No no, I carry it with me at all time, everywhere. It never leaves my sight, actually. It’s in my backpack. But I create a day—I create kind of a daily worksheet, so as the day is going on I don’t actually need my calendar per se, ’cause I’m working off of that. But the second that I need to do planning, I got to get back to—I have to see the month. I can flip easily and look at the other months, right? For me, when I’m planning out time off and vacations and other things, it really helps for me to see the spacing of my life, to see the things that I’m doing that give me energy, to see the things that take energy away from me, so that I can always be fine-tuning my life quickly, at a glance. Anyway, it’s a really good way to do it. It does fly in the face of the way that other people look at time and using electronics or digital time management systems, but I just can’t get rid of it because it makes me so aware of my life.
Tim Ferriss: I think that’s really important to underscore, right? It’s not just about the efficiency and speed, it’s about the awareness that it cultivates.
Gary Keller: It’s actually all, the speed was just a funny joke that happened. But it really is more about my ability to see everything at a glance, and it’s easy for me then to see how many times in the last 30 days or looking forward to the next 30 days I have planned—back in the day, to go to lunch with my son, right? I can actually see it, I can add it up and show you quickly at a glance. I can say, “Well, we did that three times last month. This month looks like we have planned for five,” blah blah blah. For me personally, it gives me great vision if you will, and so I can manage my energy. I can always make sure that I have enough time set aside for the things that really matter, and I can see that better at a glance when I’m looking at a bigger picture. That’s the value, that’s the only value.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk a little bit about spacing. Two things you mentioned; spacing and energy. I don’t know if you still think about treating your time like going to the movies. This is something I came across which I thought was—very helpful as a comparison. Could you speak to what you mean by that?
Gary Keller: That one is about time blocking. I’ll just speak for myself. It is very hard to have a perfect day every day, and as the research will tell you that willpower is on will call, right? You don’t have a steady stream of willpower. When you wake up in the morning—it doesn’t matter what time, if you got up at six, if you got up at noon. When you wake up, these are your power hours, and I used to tell people, “Look, the goal is to have a great day by noon.” In other words, get everything that matters, that is important to you, get it done. Don’t put it off, get it done, and then let the events of the morning drive your afternoon. Time blocking is just this idea of you pre-planning your time, because if you needed to exercise, and that’s what you want to do, you’re going to find the time to do it and then you’re going to have to block that out.
The movie analogy was this idea that you don’t really need to time block more than two or three hours a day around your core activity for your business, whatever that is. You’re not equally effective all day long, so what you want to do is you want to make sure that the world doesn’t infringe on the time that you know you need to give, for whatever it is is the key that makes your professional life run. I just time block, and I encourage—go ahead.
Tim Ferriss: I was just going to say, in those two to three hours are like a film. If that is—if you go to see a movie, you are there exclusively to see a movie; you turn off your cell phone, you get snacks in case you’re hungry, you might make a pit stop in the bathroom beforehand. You do all of that so you can have an uninterrupted two to three hours.
Gary Keller: That’s it, you’ve said it perfectly. That’s exactly what it is.
Tim Ferriss: It’s kind of wild to think how much—if I look back at periods when I’ve been able to time block that way successfully, consistently—by consistently, I mean even for two weeks—how much can get done if you set aside the equivalent of one movie to single task on one important thing? It’s really remarkable, and I think that’s perhaps a good segue to—the focusing question. This is in your book, The One Thing, which has come up over and over and over again with interviewees on this podcast, particularly those who are in the growth phase and citing it as extremely important in the first—it’s always important, this question, but particularly important in the make or break it years, in the first handful of years, for entrepreneurs that I’ve interviewed on this podcast. Could you—tell us about the focusing question, but perhaps how you got to the focusing question.
Gary Keller: You know, if we just talk for a second about the focusing question, which is: what’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything is either easier or unnecessary? It’s an understanding that you can’t do two important things at the same time. You could definitely multitask but the second that something really matters to you a lot, you don’t multitask. You hone in on that and you do that thing. The idea of the focusing question is, are you present in the moment? You don’t do this every day, minute by minute, where you say, “What’s the most important thing I can do right now? What’s the one thing I can do right now? What’s the one thing I can do right now?” But it is kind of a way of life, meaning that if you make your moments matter, matter as in you’re appropriate in the right moment, everything falls into place for you.
The whole idea behind the focusing question was to keep—when it matters, when it’s important to you, making sure that you’re doing the priority right now that will lever your life, grow your life, expand your life. It’s the idea that if two people are standing in the same spot, and one has a clear focus and understands the thing they need to be doing right now in order to get where they want to go, their next step is an appropriate step. For the individual who doesn’t know what they should do, they’re most likely going to take the wrong step, and then another wrong step, and another wrong step. Over time, they are worlds apart. Everything that we talk about, from calendars to setting goals to creating plans, all of that is so that you get one thing. That is, in the moment right now you’re doing the thing that matters most, such that by doing it, what you’re fixing to do next will either be easier or could turn out to be unnecessary.
Tim Ferriss: I want to comment on a few things here. First is for people who are maybe in Portugal listening to this, fixing to do something is getting ready to do it, and the second is how powerful—this question is and how important the phrasing is. What’s the one thing I could do, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary? I’d love to hear you riff on this, but a lot of people listening to this, I’ll plead guilty myself also, very often end up with a to-do list which is this spontaneously generated—non-hierarchical brain splatter of tasks. You may then just proceed in a given day, if you don’t give any thought to it, to start knocking those off in order top to bottom even though they’re not ordered in terms of importance. “Such that it makes everything else—easier or unnecessary” is the key, right, because you’re finding that lead domino that kind of knocks everything else over. I’d love to hear—maybe some of the results or effects that you’ve seen in your life as a result of using this, or for your company for that matter. But how do you suggest people use this? Do they think about it for the week and then set something to remind them on a daily basis? Do they do it the night before and then write it down? What’s the protocol for actually implementing this?
Gary Keller: Remember, and we said it in the title of the book, and that is the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. This is, in my mind, the concept of The ONE Thing is like adult Play-Doh. This is a nuclear idea, it is an extraordinary idea in order to get extraordinary results. If you’re inappropriate in the moment, the next moment you have not set up to succeed so you’re behind, right? We have to be appropriate in our moments. I think I understand, I have always understood that—naturally, to be honest, but I think at some point, and I couldn’t pinpoint it, I grabbed it as an idea and began to aim my life around that. Simple ways to think about it is I come home, I pull into the garage, what’s the one thing I could do with my wife when I walk in the door such that by doing it, everything else for the rest of the night will be easier or unnecessary? The answer is go find her and kiss her. That’s the answer, and it’s actually that simple. On a weekend, what’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary? The one thing is I wake up in the morning, make a quick list of things I need to do around the house, and I do that because I know that my wife is going to make a list for me. The one thing I can do, such that by doing it my weekend is better, is to make that list and go knock it out. That’s the right thing, right? My dog: what’s the one thing I can do with my dog in the morning, such that by doing it everything else is easier or unnecessary? By the way, the answer with our dog Millie is always the same: get on the floor and hug her, right? That’s what she wants, and as long as I do that, life is great. If I don’t do that, everything else is irrelevant to the dog. She just wants me to love her. I’m just giving you a variety of different ways, right? What’s the one thing I could do with my diet such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? What’s the one thing I can do? That affects my cholesterol, affects my heart, affects everything about me, right? For me, the one thing is eat vegetarian. That becomes the one thing for me. I’m just giving you a variety of different ways to think about this.
Tim Ferriss: No, this is—just to comment on the last one too, eat vegetarian. Part of that, I would imagine, is setting up your environment so that you require less willpower, right? You just get rid of anything that is not compliant with that that is in your house, whether you decide on vegetarian or something else. That makes everything else easier or unnecessary, like self control—looking at a box of whatever it is you’re not supposed to eat that’s staring you in the face when you open your refrigerator.
Gary Keller: In business, a good example of using this would be in my business, who’s the one person I could hire such that by hiring them, hiring other people would be unnecessary or easier?
Tim Ferriss: How might you have answered that for yourself in the past?
Gary Keller: In 1994, I answered it by firing myself and hiring a CEO. I’m asking the question, what’s the one thing I could do right now such that by doing it, everything else would be easier or unnecessary in growing the company? The answer was fire myself and hire somebody better suited right now, at that moment in history, to do that. Then I asked the question. Okay, I understand hiring now is my one thing. Then the question becomes, “Who’s the one person I could hire such that by hiring them, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?” Then I go on a hunt for that person, who when I hire them I believe they can fulfill what I just said. It becomes the one hire, if that makes sense.
Tim Ferriss: It does. One —
Gary Keller: Same with —
Tim Ferriss: Go ahead.
Gary Keller: Same with technology, right, in moving the organization from being a company that buys technology to a company that builds its technology, which is the distinction between being a tech company and not, right? You can’t be a “We’re a tech company; we buy all our tech.” You’re not a tech company; tech company builds tech. Then the question becomes: “What’s the one tech product you can build, such that by building it everything else is easier or unnecessary?” We play the game.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a line in The ONE Thing that I really like and I’d love to hear—how you think about it, or how you suggest people—how you could elaborate on it, perhaps. “A clear path to a lesser goal is the problem” is one of the lines that I have jotted down here, and the way that I interpret that is—at least for myself personally, is that it’s not the terrible ideas, it’s not the awful propositions and opportunities that are the problem past a certain point. It comes pretty early for a lot of folks and a lot of people listening; it’s these kind of cool, easy to commit to opportunities that are actually more threats and temptations than opportunities. They are the biggest threat to the one thing that you might decide if you ask that question that we’ve been talking about. Is that the right way to think about a clear path to a lesser goal being the problem?
Gary Keller: Mm-hmm (affirmative), I think so. I think that the—one of the things that I—I think it surprises people when they find out that I’m not focused all day long. In other words, my goal is to have a really great day by noon, and then if I want to be distracted or can be distracted, that’s fine, doesn’t really matter. I’ve already done everything that mattered, I’ve done the thing that mattered the most which is going to drive—really is that it’s kind of the cousin of the 80/20 rule, right?
Tim Ferriss: For sure.
Gary Keller: That’s all it is, and the way Jay and I described it in our book, we’re just saying that The ONE Thing is the 80/20 principle on steroids. It’s a nuclear way of looking at prioritizing, and distilling it—the other side of that is that it all comes down to the fact that you have to live in the moment, so the question is: are you living appropriately or not?
The other issue is: do you always have to do that? Do you always have to fight off distraction? My response to that is heck no, what you need to do is protect yourself. I put forth this idea that the morning is the best time for you to deal with your energy, so I just recommend that people get up and have pretty much a set routine when they get up in the morning, to ensure that they get the key things in their personal life nailed. You then go to work and you just do that work. What is the thing that’s most important today, and do that. In the afternoon, if you still want to pursue lesser goals or other things, who cares? It’s not going to impact your success, so you don’t have to be this 100 percent, always on focus.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s a huge relief, in respect. It’s not like you have to maximize every minute of every day from Monday to Friday.
Gary Keller: That’d be horrible, wouldn’t it?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it would be.
Gary Keller: That would be horrible. I mean, I don’t even know how anybody would do that. It would be a horrible life. The point is is that we don’t want to be—this is just me talking for me, but my life is better when I’m spontaneous after I’ve done my most important thing. Being spontaneous before that, that’s where it becomes a distraction and does me harm. I’m free to pursue all kind of trivial pursuits after I’ve done what matters most. It just doesn’t matter, right? If you like it and you want to do it, do it. It’s not going to harm you, because tomorrow morning you’re going to wake back up and you’re going to be focused again from the time you get up until about noon or whatever it is, whatever time you get up. That six hours, that five and a half hours, whatever that is, that’s your power time. That’s where you take over the world. Be great for that length of time, and you’re good to go.
Tim Ferriss: One of the most popular highlights—this is from GoodReads from The ONE Thing is: “Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.” That alludes to the fact that there are categories of activities or different—I wouldn’t say silos because they certainly interact so much, but areas in your life where you can ask the focusing question. How do you think about ordering them, if there is an order?
Gary Keller: That’s a great question. I kind of order it this way: I lump in there spiritual, physical, mental. I lump those into this category, and my personal relationships, and I lump all of that into one category. My goal in the morning is to make sure that that works. In other words, that I get those things done. That’s what matters most to me, because if you don’t take care of your health, that’s like a glass ball that shatters. It’s hard to recover from that. Ignore your family too long, and you’ll lose your family. I kind of see spiritual, mental, physical, and key relationships as the most important things that matter to me in the morning. I live by kind of a mantra that says “I don’t want to die of regret,” right? I want to say on my deathbed, if I’m even coherent, that “I’m glad I did, not I wish I had.” Does that make sense?
Tim Ferriss: Makes perfect sense.
Gary Keller: So by the way, I played that game with my mom. She was a pistol after dad died, and I kind of became the man in her life. She was a pistol, she was difficult at times. Mom, if you’re hearing this, you were difficult. I loved her dearly but she was difficult, and so I had to play the game. I had to say, “What’s the one thing I can do with my mom, such that by doing it everything else is easier or unnecessary?” My mom would—I don’t want to go into any details of all that, but she could go off on tangents and do things and say things that could be hurtful and harmful. So I asked that question, and the one thing was play dominoes with my mother. So, for the rest of her life, with few exceptions, I would go to lunch or early dinner one day a week, and I would play dominoes with my mom. You’d be surprised, because number one, she loved it. Number two, it kept her preoccupied. She had to stay focused on trying to beat me instead of verbally beating me up. Right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Gary Keller: Yeah, and after I did that, that went so well, I said, “Okay, now what’s the one thing I could do? What’s the next domino?” Mother loved basketball, so I bought her the NBA channel every year and made sure that she had the printed laminated copy of the game schedule with her, right there by her easy chair. Then we made basketball the thing that we talked about, because if we didn’t talk about basketball, Tim, we were talking about my sisters or my spouse, her sisters, in a negative, derogatory, gossipy way, just very destructive. I just kept away from that with Mom because I just played the game. What’s the one thing I can do? What’s the one activity? It’s dominoes. What’s the one thing we could talk about? Basketball, right? To me, that’s just another way of thinking about the one thing. I think that —
Tim Ferriss: You know, I’m embarrassed to admit, it’s so sensible, and I’ve never applied this question exactly as you’re describing it to individual people. It makes perfect sense, and relationships with those people, but I’ve never applied it.
Gary Keller: Totally.
Tim Ferriss: I think that’ll be really powerful for a lot of people listening. Certainly, I’m going to do it probably today or tomorrow, sit down with a journal.
Gary Keller: Yep. So the thing is after I exercise, I ask the question, “What’s the one thing I could eat or drink such that by doing it, everything else is easier and unnecessary?” and I play that game.
Tim Ferriss: When do you exercise? What time of day, how many times a week?
Gary Keller: So I exercise five days a week. I exercise in the morning, so I get up, and by 6:30 at the latest, my goal is to be in the gym. So I do my cardio in my 20 to 30 minutes in my target heart rate zone, but I do four minutes on and one minute slow, four minutes on, one minute slow. Right? I do that because if you exercise at a steady pace instead of doing the high-intensity interval training HIIT, H-I-I-T, that the arteries, if you go with the same speed, you’re training your artery to be more brittle and rigid, but if you train your artery through high-intensity interval training with cardio and weights, you’re going fast, then slow, fast and slow, and your artery is contracting, expanding, contracting, expanding. So when I get up, I go right in there, and I do my 20 to 30 minutes in my target heart rate zone, and then I move to weights. So we have a very specific schedule. Clarence Bass is kind of like my physical hero. Do you know Clarence?
Tim Ferriss: You know, I know Clarence, not personally, but only because I saw his black-and-white photographs in old muscle and fitness magazines and so on —
Gary Keller: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I would always think to myself, how on earth, because he had this shiny, bald, bulbous head, kind of like I now have, and I would think to myself, how on earth is that old guy so ripped?
Gary Keller: I know.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, just incredibly defined. So that’s all I know of Clarence Bass.
Gary Keller: Well, that’s his one thing, by the way. Right? He was a health and fitness—he still is a health and fitness journalist, but he used his body as proof that what he was writing and talking about actually worked. But I only use it as an example that I believe that we have the opportunity in life to choose our prophets, and most people —
Tim Ferriss: Prophets with a P-H.
Gary Keller: Yeah. Yeah, and most people tend to think of that as religion only, but you could have a prophet, or you can call that a mentor or role model. I just call it a prophet. Right? But everyone should have the individual that is kind of their guru for those things. Right? Who’s your health guru? Who do you listen to? Who’s lived before you? Right? Just as an example, Jack LaLanne and Clarence Bass are two perfect examples, gentlemen that started bodybuilding or just taking care of their body at a very young age when the thinking was one way, and as the thinking has changed over time, both of those men changed the way they thought. Right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and Jack LaLanne was incredibly prescient.
Gary Keller: Oh, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, he was so ahead of the curve on many things that then became mainstream and and scientifically reported. It’s wild.
Gary Keller: It’s wild.
Tim Ferriss: Also quite a character, where he would wear that kind of crazy onesy jumpsuit, and he would say, “Sure, you don’t have to exercise, but on the days you don’t exercise, you’re not allowed to eat.” I mean, very uncompromising, which I appreciate.
Gary Keller: He was awesome. So then let’s ask that question. So who’s the one person that you could follow for your health such that by doing that, following anyone else would be easier or unnecessary?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah, that’s great.
Gary Keller: So if you don’t ask the focusing question around the people in your life, you’ll end up following too many people. So, again, how many prophets do you need around health? Right? If you just followed Jack LaLanne, whose goal was to live to a hundred, what a loser. He died at 96, right? But Clarence Bass has the same goal. So if you wanted to live to a hundred, let’s just pick that as a target. I want to live to at least a hundred. Then what’s the one thing you could do that would make that easier or everything else easier or unnecessary? In my mind, it would be go find the person that exemplifies that better than anyone else, and make that one person your true north. What’s fun, you could then go dive into the Jack LaLanne approach or the Clarence Bass approach or whoever is your prophet for health, and you could then distill down what they do right into one thing, believe it or not.
Tim Ferriss: You could also, this is something that I do in a few areas, just ask yourself—for instance, my friend Matt Mullenweg is one of the calmest people under fire I’ve ever witnessed in any capacity of any age as a young guy, but incredibly calm when making high-stakes decisions or facing tough circumstances, and I tend not to be that. I mean, I think I’m reasonably calm, but I also—as my mom would say, “Patience has never been your strong suit.” So I will ask when I feel myself getting spun up sometimes, upset about something that I know in many cases is trivial, I’ll just ask myself, “What would Matt do? What would Matt do?”
Gary Keller: Yeah, exactly.
Tim Ferriss: You can do that for Jack LaLanne or whoever you choose, and if you have seven people as your true north, you don’t have a true north. Right?
Gary Keller: That’s right. That’s right.
Tim Ferriss: It’s scattered, and you really need, at least I do, that specific person, that image. Guess what? If it doesn’t cover 100 percent of all decisions, who cares? As long as you have one who helps you to navigate the majority of decisions, you’re far better off.
Gary Keller: Yes. That’s it. I couldn’t have said it better. That is exactly right. People tend to not understand that that actually is life-affirming. It’s life-expanding. It’s really the—if you want to live the biggest life possible, then ask big questions of yourself, and go find individuals who in fact have—they’re doing that thing that matters to you. Not that I know what Jack LaLanne’s morals were or anything like that. I don’t need to know because I’m not saying he’s my prophet in morals. I’m simply saying he’s my prophet around health.
Tim Ferriss: We’ve been discussing up to this point primarily how to say yes to the right things, and it’s not necessarily a long list, but how to hone in and say yes to the right things. Do you say no categorically to anything across the board? Are there any decisions that you’ve made along the lines of, “I’m not going to do X?” I’ll give you a personal example, just because I find it incredible how stress removing these things, these types of categorical decisions, have been for me. So I used to stress about, this is probably 2008, 2009, speaking engagements. I didn’t particularly enjoy speaking engagements generally. Sometimes I did, and I found myself traveling all over the place. It was similar to your travel schedule, the four days a week, one day in Houston, one day in San Antonio, et cetera.
Furthermore, because I didn’t have any strict policies, because I never expected to be invited to speak before the first book, I found myself and my assistants constantly negotiating one-off deals, and then one of my friends said to me, who does next to no public appearances, he said, “Yeah, I have a simple rule. I either do full retail, I never negotiate, they pay my list price, or it’s a no-go, or I do unpaid for groups and causes I care about.” He said, “I do nothing in between. I never negotiate.” He said, “If someone pays me an absurdly high rate, that becomes my new high watermark. That becomes the new retail price.” I remember coming away from the call thinking, “That is so simple and so profound,” and I implemented that, and it just removed this gigantic energy suck for me. So I’ve started to make more rules like that, and I’m curious if you have anything you categorically just decline.
Gary Keller: Pretty much everything. No, I know that sounds a little weird to say that, but the people around me would probably confirm that, that essentially, anything that’s a distraction or anything that interferes with what I would I deem is my path or my relationships or whatever, I just say no. I mean, I literally—I am a definite no person. Right? Time is a big issue for me, and we have a limited amount of it, and so saying no to talking to people is, right? I have this saying in my head that says that people that work with me are more important than people that don’t. So the fact that you and I are talking right now, my team will tell you that, “You must really love Tim.”
Tim Ferriss: Well, I appreciate you making the time.
Gary Keller: Because I say no to everyone. This is the only one I’ve done, and I just say no to everybody, categorically no. The reason is because when I woke up this morning, talking to that individual was not on my game plan. So, at the end of the day, if talking to that person, if I have a spare moment and it’s a kindness I can do, love to do that, love to do that. But given my life and how big it is, there aren’t many of those moments, because I look up and I go, “Hold on. I have a spare minute. I need to go hug my wife again.” I mean, that’s the way I think about it. I need to go hang out with my dog more. Right? I need to go do whatever that is within my list or at least within my focus categories or the things that matter most to me. So I’m very much a no man. I just say it over and over and over and over and over again.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have any preferred or default language that you like to use or that you tend to use? How do you convey that to people? Let’s assume it’s not Joe Blow from Muckety-Muck Incorporated who is just a random inbound, because I’m imagining you have filters for that type of thing, and even if you didn’t, you would just ignore it, but let’s say an old friend you’ve kind of drifted away from manages to somehow get ahold of you and invites you to be on the such-and-such board of some type, and you’re like, ah, and you listen to your—A, it’s not on your list. B, you don’t really want to do it, doesn’t feel good. What do you say?
Gary Keller: Well, I’m fairly direct about it, but I believe in the love, tough love sandwich approach. Right? So I say, “Hey, Tim.” Typically, this is in a text or an email. Right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Gary Keller: Because I don’t allow people to talk to me, get to me via a phone or standing in front of me, because that then becomes awkward, and now I have to deal with it on their time schedule instead of mine, which throws my schedule off, throws my focus off, right? So my standard line is, “Hey, Tim.” This is me typing at something, and it says, “Hey, Tim. I really appreciate you thinking about me. To be honest with you, I would love to say yes, but the problem is —”
I have several scripts after this. “The problem is, if I say yes to you, I have to say yes to other people, and because I don’t have time to say yes to everybody, I have to say no to everybody. I’m so sorry, but I just can’t do this. Good luck,” or, “Have you tried Tim Ferriss?” Right? I’ll definitely, if there’s someone else, but that’s kind of a standard line for me. My line is—you were looking for a script, and the underlying script would be, “I can’t say yes to everybody, so I’m going to have to say no,” because I get those requests. I get them every day.
Tim Ferriss: You must.
Gary Keller: They just fly at me, same with you.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I do.
Gary Keller: I mean, we get it. Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: So I’m asking partially because I want to borrow.
Gary Keller: Well, the other line that I give, and it’s totally true, by the way, and that is, “I plan my time months, even years in advance.” Now, I understand I can always erase, so I’m not a rigid person at all about that, but one of my standard scripts is, “I’m so sorry. I can’t do that. I plan my time years, a year in advance, years in advance, and unfortunately, I’m booked then.” Oh, yeah. Remember, I’m the guy that when they recognized me as the second person ever recognized from my high school, I didn’t go to the awards. When I graduated from college, I just drove out of town. I didn’t even go to the graduation. When they named me the most influential person of the year two years ago, I didn’t go to the convention to get my award. When Austin recognized me as the entrepreneur of the year, I didn’t go to the ceremony.
Tim Ferriss: All right. I have to pause. These are great. Is the line, “I’m sorry, I plan years and months out in advance?” Do you remember specifically what you conveyed to these folks or had your assistants convey?
Gary Keller: On which one?
Tim Ferriss: Any of them.
Gary Keller: Oh, that’s exactly right. No, that’s the line. It’s, “So sorry. His schedule conflicts with your date, so he will not be able to attend.” Now, we then offer up somebody else that they want to go. So for entrepreneur of the year, one of my partners went, and it was so funny because I think that was the same year that John Mackey of Whole Foods was recognized. He and I were co-recognized, and after—so she got up, and she spoke about me, right? It’s really hard if you win an award to go in and say, “I’m awesome. I’m great. I’m terrific. I’m all these things,” because that would look stupid. Right?
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Gary Keller: But if you send a proxy, the proxy stands up and says, “I want to tell you about my dear friend, Gary Keller. He’s the most amazing guy I’ve ever met. I want to tell you a story that exemplifies just the wonderful guy he is.” Right? Apparently, yeah —
Tim Ferriss: Oh, wow.
Gary Keller: So I’ve heard this more than once, where they’ll come off the stage, and the person, whoever they were with goes, “Wow, I’m going to get a proxy next time. That was awesome.”
Tim Ferriss: That is one of the most genius workarounds I think I’ve heard in a very, very, very long time.
Gary Keller: Just put that down as one of your time hacks, man.
Tim Ferriss: I will. I will.
Gary Keller: That’s how you do it though, and it works.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, my god.
Gary Keller: It works really well, man. It works just —
Tim Ferriss: That is genius, so genius. Well, I know we only have just a handful of minutes left, and then I want to let you get back to hugging your wife and wrestling with your dog and doing all the other things that you have to do today on a business level. I’d like to ask a question that I ask pretty often, and that is the billboard question. So if you could put a quote, a message, a question, anything on a billboard, metaphorically speaking, to get a message of some type out to billions of people, let’s say, something non-commercial, what might you put on the billboard?
Gary Keller: Think big. Aim high.
Tim Ferriss: Think big. Aim high. Why is thinking big important to you? It’s a theme that runs through a lot of your writing.
Gary Keller: Warren Buffett said it really well when he said that the habits of our life are like chains that are too loose to be noticed until they’re too tight to break. When you think about our life being built upon habits, you realize that most people accrue habits instead of form good ones. So when you think big and you aim high and you start running towards that, you have to develop big habits, scalable habits, in order to implement that plan. So if you didn’t say think big and aim high, what would you say? Think small? Would you think low? Would you say think average? Well, if you didn’t say think big, what are the other choices? Most people, by default, because they don’t think big, they don’t aim high, they end up developing very average or below average habits. They underdevelop, right?
Your thinking leads to action. Action over time becomes a habit. So if I’m thinking small, then I’m forming small habits. Here’s the problem, like Warren Buffett said. Now I’m a person of small habits, and all of a sudden I look up, and I go, “Wow, I really do want more out of out of my life.” Then you have to go break these habits. That’s really hard to do, whether they’re eating habits or exercising habits, or you name, work habits or relationship habits. It doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, if you have a choice, think big. If you have a choice, aim high, and then ask yourself, “What do I need to do to do that, and what are the habits, or what’s the one habit I need to develop such that by doing it, everything else is easy or unnecessary,” and go get that habit. But if you don’t think big, what’s your choice? Right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Gary Keller: Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of like the joke I tell to the kids. I say, “So think of it this way. So you fall in love with someone and you want to ask them to marry you, and you go, ‘Will you marry me? I’ve dreamed of our life together, and it’s going to be average. We’re going to live an average life and live in an average home, drive an average car, eat average food, take average vacations, read average books, go to average movies. We’ll have average friends. We’ll have average parties. If we have kids, we’ll have average kids, and we’ll teach them the virtues of being average. Let’s get married. It’s going to be awesome.'” Nobody does that, do they? Not purposely.
Tim Ferriss: Not purposely.
Gary Keller: But what you and I both know is that if you don’t choose your life, if you don’t choose the direction of your life, you’ll go in any direction. You’ll end up in places that you didn’t want to be at because you didn’t choose where you wanted to be. So think big, aim high. I’d put that on the billboard.
Tim Ferriss: I want to also note that you made a very deliberate decision to look at and change your habits long ago when you noticed that you were on this linear incremental path that maybe was in some ways just kind of reacting to whatever was in front of you or whatever was expected to be the next step you. You were able to redirect that crucial handful of degrees that over the long term is not a few feet. It’s not a hundred feet. It’s thousands of miles in terms of the difference between where you could have ended up where you did end up. Right? So it’s a very inspiring story.
Gary Keller: You know, one of the things that I ultimately developed was the habit of being able to develop a habit, because in the end, that singular skill becomes your superpower, the ability to—just call it the habit hack, if you will, but it’s the ability to form a habit, and it’s hard. It’s not easy. It’s really hard. I’m 62 years old. It takes time to develop the ability to say, “I want that, and I now see the singular habit that will get me there. I’m now going to develop that habit.”
Tim Ferriss: Aside from deciding on the habit, as you just mentioned, have you found anything in particular to help you to develop or stick with new habits?
Gary Keller: Mm-hmm (affirmative), other people, your support system. It’s the phrase that I used earlier, and that is your environment has to support your goal. So your environment has to support your habit, too. So you literally—if you want to form a new habit, you’re going to have to have your environment support that. You’re going to have to have the people around you cheering for you and supporting you to do that. Right? Mary had an aunt who passed away a few years ago. She was a wonderful, wonderful woman, but she was the size of—I don’t know how to say it. She was massive, just massive. Her husband, by the way, was Jack Sprat. In getting to know that family, what I came to understand —
Tim Ferriss: I don’t know who that is. Who’s that?
Gary Keller: Oh, the skinny guy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So Jack Sprat knew no fat. Right?
Tim Ferriss: I got you.
Gary Keller: Yeah, this is a skinny, skinny, skinny man, and his thing was, “Dear, you can go pursue anything you want around health as long as the kids and I have three square meals ready for us. They have to be different meals.” Again, she cooked for them, and she couldn’t help herself. She had to taste it, and then she had to eat it, and given her body type and the way she was, for him it didn’t affect him. For her, it completely blew her up, and once you realize that, you go, my gosh. Your environment has to support your goal. So to me, the habit hack is go find somebody or a group of people that will support you, and then build that support mechanism. Right? Make sure that your spouse or significant other or best friend or whoever, make sure that they’re in alignment. Right? Tell them what your goal is. Don’t hide it. “I want to do this, and I need your help. Give me permission. I give you permission to help support me to do that” is the secret. Right?
Tim Ferriss: Good advice.
Gary Keller: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So critical. Yeah. Don’t rely on being the best captain in rough seas that you manufacture yourself.
Gary Keller: That’s exactly right.
Tim Ferriss: Set your conditions. I have just, perhaps, two or three questions left. One I have to ask because I don’t know the answer. Why do this interview? I know you’re a busy guy, and you just mentioned you do very little media, so why do the podcast?
Gary Keller: Because I really like and respect you, to be honest with you, and you do a lot of good. When your first book came out, I’ll be honest with you, I looked at the title and went, “That guy’s full of it,” and I read the book, and then I went, oh, my gosh, this is a significant book. This is not a trivial book. He has a cool title. But to be honest with you, what you wrote, everyone should read. I firmly believe that. So, to be honest with you, I’m just here to honor you.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you, Gary.
Gary Keller: It’s an honor that you would ask me, but more importantly, just the ability for you and I just to talk for a couple hours is a thrill for me, and I just want to be supportive.
Tim Ferriss: I really appreciate that, and I want to give us time for me to disappoint, so hopefully we’ll be able to grab a cup of coffee or break some bread back in Austin.
Gary Keller: We’ll do it.
Tim Ferriss: This has been really fun. I really appreciate it —
Gary Keller: Yeah, it has.
Tim Ferriss: —and valuable. I took tons of notes. I have four pieces of paper in front of me with notes scribbled all over them that I’m going to clean up afterwards, good notes. Is there anything else you’d like to say or suggest, mention, websites, social, anything like that? Of course, I’ll link to all of that in the show notes so people will have that on the website and via email either way, but is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Gary Keller: If you mentioned sending people to some places—so [inaudible 01:54:53] and I started our new podcast called Think Like a CEO, and so yeah, telling people to come and check us out and see if that’s a cool place to go learn would be awesome.
Tim Ferriss: Perfect. Well, we’ll send some traffic. So we will put Think Like a CEO, the link to the podcast, and we will put links to the books, and certainly the company and many other resources in the show notes. Everybody listening, those will be available, as always, at tim.blog/podcast. Gary, thank you so much for taking the time.
Gary Keller: You’re welcome, Tim. It was a blast, my friend. Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: To everybody out there with earphones in or otherwise, thank you for listening.
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