Video Overview

#8 episode of Helping B2B High Ticket Service Providers Grow – One Lesson at a Time, with John Varney.

John is all about personal and team effectiveness. He says that you can’t have a high-performing team with under-performing individuals.

Having a farm, John and his wife had a lot of visitors, that were going through rough patches.

He had a chance at living a peaceful life, but he thought that helping people was more important. So he took the challenge.

John found his purpose in helping individuals go back on their feet, and boost their confidence.

He is the author of the book: “Leadership as Meaning-Making: Take the Hero’s Journey to Transformation”

Leadership, Teamwork, Strategy: Centre for Management Creativity
Creative Thinking Processes: Logovisual
Venue for Leadership Events: High Trenhouse Centre

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Dancho Dimkov - The CEO of BizzBee Solutions

Dancho Dimkov
CEO of BizzBee Solutions

John Varney
Breakthrough Facilitator and Author

Interview Transcript

[00:00:07.730] – Dancho – Hello, everybody. Welcome to another episode. Welcome to the Helping B2B High Ticket Service Providers Grow – One Lesson at a Time. As you know, by now, every session we have a different B2B expert, that we talk and we actually steal all the secrets they have, actually at least one. And for today, I’m actually happy to announce my latest guest, John Varney, who is the founder of Hightern House. It is Center for Management Creativity. John, welcome to the show. And I would love to get a better understanding, what does management creativity work?

[00:00:44.430] – John – Thank you for having me on the show. Management creativity. Well, I used to be an architect and that’s kind of creative profession. So I was very interested in creativity. And then I was also a mountaineer, so that’s kind of adventurous, going out on a limb, taking risks and so on. And I was not very good student of John Goodolf in Bennett, who was an interpreter of Gojeff, amongst others. He was eclectic. He looked at all teachings, and he was by training, he was a scientist, a mathematician, and his life work was trying to find the relationship between science and ancient wisdom. So he was an influence. And then I had a little architectural practice in the London suburbs. I was very happy with a young family and so on. But from somewhere came an idea I should set up a learning center. Apparently, this was a thesis I was doing in architecture had an influence on it. And at the time, in the UK, national parks were setting up National Park city centers. So all of these ideas, I suppose, came into relationship in my head. And as a result, I set off to establish this learning center, which is a high tren house. I bought high trend house after studying with Bennett, intensively for a year and then searching for property for a year. So that was a big quest and a big change in my life, from suburban bliss to post suburban bliss.

[00:02:55.110] – Dancho – Yeah. And John, I’m actually curious, from the high city, from the traffic, from the crowd. You actually went to Dale’s National Park if I got it right? In Yorkshire? And you’re now bringing managers to come there, to get out from the crowd, right?

[00:03:14.850] – John – That’s what I do now. It didn’t start off that way. My then-wife and I with two kids, we bought what was a tumbledown farmhouse out in the wilds, and we had to learn everything. We were into self-sufficiency, at that time. We had cows and pigs and ducks and all the visitors got involved in this husbandry. It was the medium for learning, and we learned through the relationship. But then we found after a few years, we learned an awful lot. But we were getting poorer because these groups that came to us had no money. And also we were dealing with people who were falling through the system, the casualties of society. And helping them enormously to get back onto their feet, boosting their confidence and so on. Then we began to look at, well, how do we move upstream? We want to influence the influencers and what we’re doing is excellent. We know it’s really good, who needs this? And that’s what got us to move towards management as clients. So after 15 years, it was in ’99 that we established a centre for management creativity. By then, I had a different wife, and she and I were faced with a huge challenge. The place was big, but it had been exploited and a bit run down and we could have gone off to a nice place in the sun and lived happily ever after. But we thought, well, actually, this is half-finished business. We will take on this huge challenge and run a management center. So I think this is one of the things, because we were actually in that challenging situation ourselves. We were able to share something of that with the client groups. So through the 90s, we were working with management teams from organizations of all shapes and sizes, including multinationals. And that took us abroad occasionally to work with corporate clients. But the core of the work was the work that I was doing at high trendhouse. And I think you asked about expertise. I know nothing really about management as such.

[00:06:04.510] – Dancho – That gives you the unique aspect, actually.

[00:06:08.350] – John – I run a small business. I don’t need to know much about management. What I know about is what makes groups effective, what makes teams effective. I don’t teach anything about management. I expect them to learn that at business school or somewhere or just in the school of life. But what I do is bring people into a relationship and awaken them to their potential. And you do something of that in a very short space of time, people get a taste of something, they get a taste of what they could be, and then hopefully you can support them in becoming that. So it’s not about business expertise at all. It is about effectiveness, personal effectiveness, team effectiveness. And people respond in an extraordinary way to that. It’s as if you’re awakening people to lost memories. We all enter the world as innocent babes. But, we don’t have a tabular, it’s not a blank sheet. By the time we’re 30 years old, we’ve got an awful lot in our memories. If we know how to access it and it’s the accessing, I think that is what comes out in this kind of group work.

[00:07:53.310] – Dancho – John, your logic is that if you take out the managers and isolate them on a deserted island or in a National Park, in your case, you’re actually taking all the destructions in terms of day-to-day operations so they can actually slow down, reflect and actually, as a team be more effective, right?

[00:08:15.990] – John – Yes. That’s roughly. It is not quite as simple as that.

[00:08:21.330] – Dancho – What did I miss?

[00:08:25.450] – John – You could send everybody to a desert island, and they’d just have a lovely time and not necessarily learn. So there’s something else that’s required. There has to be something that’s disturbing the status quo.

[00:08:40.810] – Dancho – Ah, the ecosystem. So they have to figure out something.

[00:08:44.710] – John – Yeah, this work can be done. So, for instance, last week, I had a group here. There were eight of them present. One joined us via Zoom, which was an interesting experience, and another was on holiday and has to catch up somehow. But in two days, they went from being their normal selves to being an extraordinary group that could see potential. They could see what was possible for them as a senior management team. Now, there’s a very simple thing. You can’t have a high performing team of underperforming individuals. So if you’re going to have a high performing team, then every person in that team has to access something of their what you call a hidden potential. It’s not what they need for the day to day, but they’re going to be extraordinary beings. They’re going to do extraordinary stuff. And it’s talking to somebody and getting them to see that that is possible for them. They don’t have to be the ordinary person they were yesterday. They can begin to be something much more with much more potential, much more capable, much stronger intent. And it’s awakening that in people. I think that’s what I’m able to do to some extent, in a way you can say, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m doing it. I’m not naive, I’ve had 50 years experience of development groups, and I’ve had 40 years experience of development groups, management groups. So out of that experience and with lots of study and reading and so on, I can bring something about. It’s kind of magic in the sense that it’s not subject to ordinary explanation.

[00:11:13.170] – Dancho – Yeah, it’s not like a framework, you do X, Y, Z, and it works. It’s more like a secret ingredient that you are the secret ingredient in this. You know what to do in that particular case.

[00:11:20.070] – John – It’s a little bit of nudging and a little bit of provocation, a lot of life experience I would say that goes into it. So there are probably better people than me. But you could say in the world at the moment, there are a few thousand people who can do this kind of work. I would say a few thousand. If you find such people, then they can help you to progress in your own life, whoever you are. If you want to progress, find such a person, work with them as a coach or whatever they call themselves, a facilitator, a coach, a consultant. These words get exchanged around, but it’s somebody, a guide who can take you forward on your unique path in life. And the same applies to groups. So in this particular case, for instance, the MD of this company that came to me asking for work to be done with his senior team, he came here when he came to visit me. He said, well, I was here 20 years ago. I came with a different company that had only just joined and we did this work. So I know that you’re the person that can…

[00:12:58.450] – Dancho – The right guy.

[00:12:59.470] – John – …that can do something that changes the game that we’re in. That I think, is what I’m privileged or burdened with. It’s a gift that I have, and I’m unique. But I’m not the only person in this game. There are others, I’m glad to say, because the world surely needs people who change the game. What’s the point of just being better at what you already do? That’s kind of good if you’re better. But you want to lift your game to a new level.

[00:13:39.890] – Dancho – Yeah, ascend to a different level. And John, I was also curious because many times you’re saying, as individuals, people need to ascend to a higher level, but also you’re doing it in a team. So to which degree you’re differentiating the individual as individual, as a unique person compared to as you’re working with whole teams?

[00:14:01.910] – John – I do some one to one with people, which is fine. It’s good that people want to make progress individually, but if they’re in a corporate situation, then it needs to be a collective change of game. Now, of course, as you well know, a lot of people who call the management team certainly are not a team at all. They’re the senior managers, but they’re not a team. The word team is attached them just as a kind of convenience, a way of identifying the group. So to get the team to be a team that is already a good piece of work. And they talk about team building and so on. But often a lot of what’s called team building is very superficial.

[00:14:58.950] – Dancho – Bring to a pub and getting drunk, get to know each other.

[00:15:02.550] – John – Absolutely, yes. We go off and have a good time. And that was team building, because that way we can charge it to the company. But, if you really want the team to become a team, then that’s quite intensive work. And you need somebody who knows what they’re doing to help you do that.

[00:15:21.090] – Dancho – Yeah. And I’m interested, really, because we do, even in Macedonia, we do like a team building. Let’s go to a restaurant or let’s do some nice stuff together. But that is just getting to know the people. Actually building the team requires, as you said, giving an external variable distress that they need to respond as a team, and then they start bonding.

[00:15:44.790] – John – Yes, it has to do with the quality of relationships between, we normally see ourselves as separate human beings. It’s a convenient way of doing it. The only human beings that we don’t deal with in that way tend to be our family. We have close family relationships. Some of us do. But if we’re going to be a team in a corporate setting, then that’s quite an ambitious idea. And it does involve really each individual has to buy into that and say, okay, I’m in for it, because once you become a team, then each individual within that team raises their game as an individual as well as part of the team. So if the team succeeds, then everybody in that team is also succeeding or growing. I think you talk about growth, but a lot of people, when they talk about growth, they just think more. It’s quantitative. But I’m talking about qualitative growth and these two worlds of quantity and of quality coexist. But in the modern western world, the emphasis is on quantity. I’m interested in quality. And there you need a different language and you measure and you measure different things. You perceive different things.

[00:17:23.350] – Dancho – And, John, I was also checking you out, of course, before the meeting. I saw that in December, you actually published a book, “Leadership As Meaning Making – Take the Hero’s Journey to Transformation”. Yeah, that’s it, on behind. And I was curious, this is where you’re trying to capture the knowledge about the quality over quantity and about the team growing and as an individual?

[00:17:49.570] – John – Yes. I think I’ve discovered a few things, and I’d like to pass those things on to whoever can make use of them. Now I thought I’d find a success in my business, and I think I might have done that now, but also it’s the succession of the ideas. The ideas are not mine. They’ve grown in me a little bit perhaps. I’ve interpreted some of them, some of them I might say I even initiated, but it’s a set of ideas that fit together to make a philosophy, a philosophy of management development or management creativity, if you like. So that’s a philosophy. So I thought I should write a book about, before I die…

[00:18:46.070] – Dancho – Leave it as a legacy. Well, for me, it was interesting, John, because when it comes, you are really an experienced consultant and facilitator, and our target audience are high ticket consultants as well. And in this management world, everything is metric oriented. Like what are the KPIs? What are the metrics-driven, as you said. And I just wanted you to come on the show in order to show you that it’s not just metrics. And when I saw Center for Management Creativity, in my head, it’s like management, which is numbers, metrics, KPI and creativity, which has a lot of management, but it’s perceived that it has nothing to do. And you’re actually trying to bring back that aspect of management. And that was really interesting for me. And perhaps that’s why I wanted to bring to the next question, which was actually the one single thing that you want to be remembered by. I mean, we ask everybody here on this podcast, like, if you have that one thing that you want to be remembered by, even after hundreds, your legacy, you put it, well, what would that be? Is it actually the thoughts that you put in the book, the philosophy that you’re trying to support?

[00:20:04.430] – John – I think in a way you could say it’s in this little book. It’s only a little book. The second book I wrote, the first one didn’t find a publisher. The first one had a lot more material in it. But publishers want short books. So I had to write a shorter book. So it’s an abbreviated version, but it’s complete in itself. So you say, yes, it’s in the book. But it’s also in the place. I don’t know whether you’ve been to the high tren house website. You look at that High tren house website. It’s a lovely place in a beautiful setting by anybody’s standards, globally. We had somebody turn up yesterday, no the day before yesterday, and this was a woman, part of the client group, and she was wandering around open mouth and saying, oh, this is just fantastic, I can’t believe it’s such a place, it’s beautiful. Now we know that you might say people with a certain sensitivity tune in immediately to something. I don’t know what this something is that they’re tuning into and they can’t put their finger on it. But it is certainly something that they perceive it’s there in the places. It’s not in, they like the food, they like the gardens, the ambience, the surroundings, the fresh air. It’s just a combination of all of these that, in my view, is life. This is life. It’s a unique combination that enables a flourishing to take place. So although I tried to put ideas in the book, I’ve also put them in the place. They’ve flowed together in this place. It is a life force. And I think that idea of life forces is what I bring to a group situation. I was just watching a video, actually, the thing that I did last week, which was recorded just because there was this guy who was in a different location. The video was awful. I can’t use it. This is terrible. I’m supposed to be a life force. This is dreary and boring, but actually, that’s when you watch it, you take it out of context for the people there at the time, clearly, something worked. It’s like this woman in the driveway saying, this is a fabulous place. At the moment, there’s something about time that matters. It’s like stepping out of time. You take a group, you take them out of time and out of place. As you mentioned earlier, you’re taking them away from their workplace, away from all the factors that support a normal worldview. We’re delighted that we don’t have mobile phone signal here, for instance, because it disconnects you. There are so many traps in society. I don’t know how people live in cities, because in the city, you’re really caught up in the zeitgeist. You can’t escape the way things are today. That’s very exciting. However, if you want to be exceptional, then stepping back, stepping out of time, stepping out of all those habits, discovering that you are part of nature, I think, is important. And then being with colleagues who are also exploring, wanting to find new meaning and search for meaning, there must be more to life than this idea. Do you want to be just on the treadmill, just getting bigger and treading faster all the time? Or would you like to step off the treadmill and really discover deeply your own meaning in life? That’s the question. And I think when people awaken to that, then they and their colleagues…

[00:25:02.230] – Dancho – Magic happens.

[00:25:03.310] – John – Yeah, magic happens. People come, you go back to the treadmill and all of that. But now you’ve had a taste of something else. So you have a chance of making a profound difference.

[00:25:17.230] – Dancho – John, I think that even a month ago, when we initially discussed, I told you that I actually spent two weeks in Sri Lanka without Internet, without meat, without alcohol, without anything. And just those two weeks actually helps getting out of time, out of space just to actually recalibrate yourself. So when I come back in BizzBee, I had a very clear vision of what I want to do with the company, but also with my life. And I think that that’s why I understand when you’re saying, you know what? You need to get away from the operation of day to day activities in order to become a better version of yourself.

[00:25:56.290] – John – But it’s not quite as easy as that. Because people go on holidays, even with the pandemic, you can jump on a plane and you can be in a different country. You can be on a beautiful Adriatic beach or something for a few days. But people do that and it doesn’t happen for them. They spend a lot of money, they have a lot to drink. They have a good time, but nothing changes. So it isn’t just going away. It’s going away with the right frame of mind, with inquiry. Going away to discover something is not the same as going away for an adrenaline shot, which I’ve done lots of I said I was a mountaineer, so I got quite used to the idea of going off to remote places. But then I realized that if just going to remote places, did it for people, then all those mountaineers and you must be quite evolved beings. And clearly they weren’t rowdy bunch of drunkers.

[00:27:20.550] – Dancho – That’s true, John. I’m looking at the time in parallel and I think that there is a big topic here to further discuss. But I wanted also to give you the opportunity to actually, for all the listeners that want to get in touch with you, John, how they can actually find you?

[00:27:39.390] – John – Well, they can find me on LinkedIn, which is the easiest way to search for “John Varney” on LinkedIn because I’m about to relocate and no doubt will change my email address.

[00:27:55.690] – Dancho – What I will do is that right under the recording, I’ll actually put your LinkedIn, so whoever is actually interested in first, as an individual or as a team to want to reach higher levels, they should actually also take your book, buy your book, read it, and then take it to the next level. But the whole point that as we are having this discussion, I’m also actually as a student here taking notes as we discussed. So, John, if you don’t mind at the end, I just wanted to summarize what kind of few golden lessons that I actually learned from these 20 something minutes. So I had three, four, five, actually, that I wanted to just to summarize. The first what I really like is that when you’re saying, you know what? I have no idea about management, it’s not my expertise, the management. What I know is what makes teams effective. And that’s what you bring to the table. And that’s the unique angle because the management they can do at any University or anywhere. What I really liked, and I want to think a bit more about this is that you cannot have a high performing team with underperforming individuals. So that was for me, like a golden nugget. And like, okay, well, yeah, the individuals needs to be overperforming in order the whole team to overperform. And awakening the potential and building the relationship actually is the crucial thing if you want to have an effective team. And the fourth thing I had was that it’s not enough just to change the individual. You need to change the collective in order to change the game. And in that case, you cannot just work with one guy that wants to become better. You need to change the collective, the whole environment in order to get to the next stage. A funny note for me is that drinking in a pub is not a team building, that’s more for me personally, because we still do that in all honesty, that okay, 20 something people, let’s go to a restaurant, drinks and stuff. You get to know the people, you do get to know who has a sister or a daughter or cousins and stuff. But making an effective team, it is a great starting point, but you need a bit more than that.

[00:30:10.210] – John – A lot of it is self-deception. There’s something that I haven’t touched on. I’d like, just to add that leadership, it’s not in an individual. We think leaders are important, but leadership exists between people. Teamwork exists between people. It’s an emergent phenomenon from a complex set of relationships. Teamwork and leadership emerge. They’re not as we normally understand them. Things that you…

[00:30:50.170] – Dancho – Yeah, some guys are a leaders. Got it. And my last part, John, that I had is that you need to take the people out of time and out of place and without phones, to disconnect in order to be able to escape and take a step back in order to become better. So it was not one lesson, it was six different lessons that I actually took out. And I really usually love doing a summary like this at the end of the podcast, because sometimes the golden nuggets are a bit hidden. Sometimes they are more obvious. But for me, I’m actually collecting them because at the end of the day, yeah, if our tripe, if our high ticket service provider starts growing, everybody grows collectively. As you said, John. With this, I was actually finishing John, unless you wanted to add something.

[00:31:40.030] – John – I just want to say that it’s been a pleasure to talk to you. I hope we’ll actually make face-to-face sometime.

[00:31:48.410] – Dancho – Open invitation, we’re going to do our way of team building if you come to Macedonia.

[00:31:54.050] – John – Absolutely, I’d love to join you.

[00:32:00.810] – Dancho – Yeah, I really wanted to thank you for coming to the show. I really hope that all the listeners that are here will actually appreciate the golden nuggets, the value that we got from this lesson, and we will leave you the contact information just below the recording so people can actually look at the book or actually read more from you or actually even get in touch. So thank you very much again, for coming to the show. And for the rest of you guys have a great day until we have another lesson that we want to share.

[00:32:31.830] – John – Thank you, goodbye.

[00:32:33.510] – Dancho – Bye, bye.