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MSU Alumnus shares The Focus Project: The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less


Erik “Equal Man” Qualman is a 1994 Broad College of Business graduate and a motivational keynote speaker with an emphasis on leadership, innovation, and digital trends. The last time I spoke with Erik in 2017, he told me his life goal was to empower 7 billion people. By his estimates, he's reached 35 million thus far today.

Today we're talking with Erik about his latest book, The Focus Project: The Not so Simple Art of Doing Less, and how the digital landscape has changed since we last spoke three years ago and will continue to change in 2021. Erik is a five-time number one bestselling author and motivational keynote speaker. He's performed in over 55 countries and his work has been used by the likes of the National Guard, NBC Universal and NASA. His keynote topics focus on innovation, leadership, digital trends, and digital transformation. In our last conversation, Erik mentioned centering his next project around finding focus in a world filled with distractions. This past July, Erik released The Focus Project.

“The inspiration for the new book came to fruition because focus is something I was struggling with,” says Qualman on the MSU Today podcast. “Each day when I got home my hair felt like it was on fire. And I'm sitting there going, ‘Wait, I own the company. I control my time. What is going on?’ I wondered if I was alone in feeling this way. When I traveled the world to speak, I talked with CEOs, school principals, superintendents, and stay at home dads and found that everyone wrestles with the same thing.

“I talked to top performers to ask their key to success, and many told me they thought they could just focus better than most. They added that their biggest challenge was often maintaining that focus. I knew I wasn’t alone.  I always start a book with a readership of one, meaning will this be helpful for me five years from now for me to reference the book? That's why I undertook the project.”

The ability to say no is a key part of staying focused, says Qualman.

Credit Russ White | MSU Today
Erik Qualman

“Steve Jobs said ‘Sometimes the most important thing you do is deciding what not to do.’ And it's exactly that. It's just really understanding doing the big versus the busy, and all of us kind of fall on the busy because it's a little easier and it gives us that dopamine hit. It's like our mind tricking us, ‘Hey, you took your emails from a hundred to zero.’ It feels good. You get a dopamine hit. But unfortunately, as you look back over the years you go, ‘Did I get the big things done?’ Often you did not.”

Qualman talks about how the pandemic moved up the publication date for The Focus Project. And he talks about how systems are important to building and maintaining focus.

“The top three things I learned during writing the book are that focus is really hard but can be learned. Second, people who are really good at what they do are better at focus because they say no to almost everything. And then third is to strive for progress, not perfection.”

Equal Man explains how and why he defines digital leadership with one word: empathy. And he describes how the digital landscape has changed since our 2017 conversation. And trends moving forward?

“I always advise people to invest in the trend, not the tool. Always invest in your people (customers and employees). If your tool is My Space and you over invest in it, your customers and employees don’t come with you when Facebook emerges. If you invest in people, then they come with you even when My Space becomes Facebook, Facebook becomes Instagram, and Instagram becomes Tik Tok.

“The trend that I'm most interested in is anything that removes friction. So why is Amazon dominating? They remove friction. I don't want to go to the store. If I want to return something, I want it to be free. Everything's been Amazon. They removed friction. They're in the business of removing friction.”

Qualman talks about the future of U.S. tech giants Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, and Amazon and where they’re headed. And he talks about the value of social media.

The Focus Project is an antivenom to Socialnomics, my first book. I recommended that people get into social media. This isn't just for teenagers. It's going to change the way we elect politicians, it's going to change the way you communicate, it could change business, it could change the world. People went too far into their phones, and they're at a disadvantage because they've got these trained PhDs who get paid millions of dollars to make sure that you stay on the site. Now the proponent of the social media outlets would say, ‘That's a good thing. We're giving you something that you want to see. We're just reacting to what you like, so that we serve an ad up for something that's relevant to you.’ The opposite side of that, people would argue that that's a bad thing because sometimes the stuff you serve isn't in the best interest of that person.

“And so my take on it is that it's a scalpel. All these digital tools and technology going back hundreds of years, like even the telephone, they're all scalpels, meaning that they can save a life or they can take a life. So it all depends on how you use it. And so my whole purpose on why I'm here is to help people understand how to use these tools. These tools aren't inherently good or bad; they actually can be very good. They can connect the world like never before when you break down those barriers of culture. I can understand you better and it's less likely that we're going to go to war.

“That's the vision at the highest end, but it can take a life because someone can get served something that makes fun of the way they look and all of a sudden there's a person that commits suicide. And so it is literally those two extremes when you think about world peace to someone taking their life. The whole point and my mission is to make sure that everyone lives their best life and understands how to use these tools in the best way.”

MSU Today airs every Sunday morning at 9:00 on 105.1 FM, AM 870, and however you stream at home. Follow and subscribe at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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