October 19, 2022

The Little Book of Big Scale: John Hittler

My next guest is a transformational business coach. He’s worked with over 200 companies and has helped more than 8,000 people discover their unique genius talent. He’s a member of the Forbes Coach’s Council, author of the Motivation Trap, and an in demand corporate speaker. 

What’s up, everybody, welcome back to the Author Hour podcast. I’m Hussein Al-Baiaty, and today, I’m honored to be going on a journey with author, John Hittler, to talk about his newest book, The Little Book of Big Scale: 5 Counterintuitive Practices for Exponential Growth. Let’s get into it. 

All right, everyone, you’re in for a treat. I’m with my guest here, John Hittler, new author of The Little Book of Big Scale. I am excited man, because I have been doing some research about you, but before we get into all the good stuff about your third book, I want to give our listeners an idea of your personal background a bit.

John Hittler: Sure, I’m a founder of nine companies. I’m a coach by trade, I write books, but I write books for fun, and really, what I do is I’m a transformational business coach. I like to work with CEOs who want to outpace their competition, want to scale, but what I call scale. Married, I’ve got seven kids with six sets of DNA because there is three that are adopted, two are step kids, and I’ve got two from two different marriages.

So it’s like, it’s a little bit of a freak show, and it works out great. Very happy, I’m a competitive athlete. Life is good.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that, I love hearing that. I know for a fact you have stories. Just with those kids alone, outside that, there’s all the professional stuff and all things that you’ve been able to do. A big family dynamic. I come from a family of seven, same mom, same dad, all brothers, all siblings, but I know that dynamic very well, and it’s hard to navigate sometimes, so kudos to you, but thank you for joining me today. 

I’m excited to talk a little bit about why you decided to write this specific book because I understand you’re a coach. What is it about scaling, whether it be a small business, maybe a handful of employees? I once had a print shop, and I knew the importance of hiring a coach to help me get through things. 

All the way up to, in your case, you got Fortune 500 type companies that you work with and CEOs that have to make some really big decisions. So tell me a little bit about why you decided to write The Big Scale?

John Hittler: It’s a great question. I’ve been a full-time coach since 2007, but I started coaching on a contract as a side gig in 2000. So I’ve been doing it for a while, and what you notice after a while is that any three founders or any three CEOs, you think, “Gosh, they’re equally talented, they have to get the same amount of opportunity, they got good funding, they’ve hired well. Why does one of them kick butt, one of them does okay, and one of them their company eventually fails?” You think really their success should be better.

Well, for funded companies, VC funding or whatever, one in ten is about the success rate. That’s dismal. So you just do the math of it and say, “Okay, if nine out of ten are following a playbook that fails, doesn’t it intuitively make sense to do the opposite?” So it had me going on this quest of, what are the people that are kicking butt, what are they doing that everyone else either scoffs at or says, “Why are you doing that?” 

There’s this playbook out there that is broken if it’s only going one for ten, and I thought, “Huh, I had done nine companies myself, and two were good successes.” And people would console and say, “Two for nine, you did way better than venture capitalists.” I’d say, “You know what you think about? It is the seven that failed.” You don’t congratulate yourself that you had two hits, you say, “Gosh, I should have done better than on those other seven.”

I was in the same boat, and I was doing stuff that was considered, if you will, by the book. When I finally figured out that there’s got to be something that’s different, and the word I came up with was counterintuitive, and sure enough, there were people doing things that were counterintuitive because they just didn’t care.

They said, “This is what works for us, I don’t care that people think it’s not the right thing to do. It works, and we’re crushing it.” And you go, “There’s got to be a whole group of those.” So I interviewed 275 CEOs looking for counterintuitive practices that actually scale, and we came up with, at one point, we had 27 ideas, we settled on five because we could prove them. We could back it up and check it out and check with other industries and say, “These five actually, we can promise that this work.”

Advocate for What You Want

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s so powerful. And then just to approach that idea of like, you’re right. A lot of people ask, “Well, how come this company’s more successful than this one?” It does come down obviously to a lot of leadership and those kinds of things, but it’s also how to approach those certain sets of problems and, obviously, you went out and found some proof as to how things were differently. 

From my perspective of running a small business and things, like, I know that man, it is hard to scale a business. It is difficult, especially in areas where your funding is low or you’re trying to find the right talent, which I know you talk about in the book, but then the reality is, man, I was young when I started my business, when I was like 24, 25, right out of college and I sold it last year.

So that space, that reality of time, I was trying to “balance” my work life, but man, that was extremely difficult, and a lot of sacrifices had to be made in different ways. You talk about that in your book. Can you brush on that, this idea, and we’ll go deeper into the structure of the book, can you brush on that idea? 

Because I feel like in life today, whether you have a job or you’re an executive or you’re a CEO or especially high demand work, police officers, medical people, where’s this blur of work life balance? Where did this idea come from, and how do you tackle that in your book?

John Hittler: It’s an interesting dynamic because it’s an epidemic right now. Every company, the pandemic brought it into full fashion as well that keyword, we’re out of balance. What we found from the most successful people, dealing with this with their entire staff, is they just dismissed the idea that you’ll ever have any balance because if you think about it, the analogy we give is, let’s say you could have a private chef. 

You could afford a private chef or your mom’s a great cook and every day, you had unbelievably nutritious, organic, low fat, low carb, perfectly suited food that was both visually appealing, unbelievably tasty, and exactly to your caloric and vitamin standards. Would you feel the need to balance that out by downing a two pound bag of hot Cheetos?

Hussein Al-Baiaty: No.

John Hittler: No, you have none.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah.

John Hittler: So the problem is not balance. The problem is, people are not advocating for what they want. I deal with this with everyone of my CEOs because CEOs tend to overwork and say, “Well, what do you really want?” and they’ll say, “Well, you know, my spouse wants me home for dinner, at least a couple of nights a week.” And I say, “So, why aren’t you doing that?”

“Well, I never get home until nine,” and the answer to the question I didn’t ask. They’ll say, “It’s like the job goes ‘till nine.” “Says who?” So if it’s important to you, let’s say your number one priority, and regardless of your job, is to be home for dinner with your kids and your spouse, let’s just say that’s the thing. Then, you set-up your life and everything else adjusts as that is your first priority. 

I actually think that’s the wrong first priority, the first one I would put is sleep because that’s the other thing, you know, “work imbalance” or work life imbalance, people cheat on sleep, and you think, “But you know, that’s funny, I saw a post by you that you saw Game of Thrones twice during the pandemic because you were bored. So how can you be low on sleep if you’ve got time to watch 85 hours of Game of Thrones, it just doesn’t make any sense.” 

It’s that people haven’t declared and advocated for themselves. The word we prefer is integration, you make choices and you live with them and some choices preclude others. 

So if you say, “What I want is I want to be home for dinner every night by 6:00,” it may mean that you have to do some work after. Let’s say you have kids, after the kids are either occupied if they’re older or to bed if they’re younger, you may have to do a little bit of work at home, and you say, “I happily make that choice because my highest priority is to be home for dinner with my family, because that’s important to me and it’s important to my spouse, and it’s important to my kids.” 

There’s no conflict at all, but people have this sense, and I think it’s a form of entitlement, “That I’m entitled to get nine hours of sleep. Only work 40 hours a week, make 250,000 a year, work out the way I want,” and you say, “Great, just put it in ranked order,” and eventually what happens is once you get your top three or four priorities, you say, “That’s what I can do. That’s what I can do right now,” and it doesn’t afford me an hour and a half to work out every day. 

So what I have to do is figure out how to optimize my workouts in smaller amounts or have one long workout in the weekends or whatever it is. It’s just choices, throw out the entitlement of balance because you’ll never be balanced. Life is never balanced, how about if you have – do you have kids or no?

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I don’t have kids yet, no.

John Hittler: Okay, wait ‘till you have a child. Any balance you had goes upside down.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right, out the window.

John Hittler: Right, you don’t then say—

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Friends that do, yeah.

John Hittler: “What the hell do I do with this kid? I’m out of balance.” You just say, “This is life, I chose to have children, I’m thrilled to be a parent” or “I’m reluctant to be a parent, but I’m a parent now. That’s the life I choose.” Stop complaining about it and just say, “Now, how do I not be a zombie and be wondering around with no sleep with a newborn in the house?”

It’s a hard thing, it will pass, and then you have a second kid, same thing. You say, “Well now, how do I still keep moving in my career, how do I keep my health? How do I sleep well? How do I–“ because your life changes by your choices and if you don’t like your choices, make new ones. 

That sounds a little harsh, but it’s really, you advocate for— sleep is easiest. I’ve never found that people don’t have enough time for adequate sleep, but they talk themselves into it, that they can only sleep five or six hours a night and say, “That’s crazy.” You have plenty of time for sleep.  

You just have to say, “Oh, but I only watch TV four hours a week” or “Six hours a week” or a lot of people 20 or 30 at the expense of sleep. There’s nothing wrong with sleep, there’s plenty of time to sleep, you’ve just chosen differently. That’s not a balance problem, that’s a choices and integration problem.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes, and I love, love your metaphor of, if you have the perfect balance set of meals workouts and have the trainer for it and all these kinds of things, you wouldn’t have the urge to – 

John Hittler: There’s no reason to balance it with gut feeling, yeah.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right.

John Hittler: Right, because that’s all it is, it’s gut feel.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that you’re kind of equating these things to ingredients, and it’s like, what ingredient do you want to choose? What one do you prioritize, and if you can’t prioritize sleep, there’s something off in your thinking because if you don’t sleep well, you’re not going to perform well, that’s just the bottom line. So if you want to hit these X, Y and Z goals, we got to start at the root of all of these, which is —

John Hittler: Well, or if you want to be an active parent, then you got to figure out how to be integrated in your children’s lives. It’s not a balance thing, you just say, “I can’t necessarily get home every night. So Tuesdays and Thursdays and then on the weekends, yeah, okay, but Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

Now I have to talk to my team or my coworkers and say, “Hey guys, I need to be gone by 5:30 every Tuesday and Thursday because I have promised my spouse.” And you know what they’ll do? They’ll do the same thing. They’ll say, “That’s a great idea.” They won’t say, “Why are you bailing on us?” 

They’ll say, “We got you man, go. Go home and be with your family.” And if you want otherwise, you say. What you’ve really done is chosen not to be integrated with your kids and you’re going to pay a price at some point when your kids just say, “Yeah, we kind of figured it out a different life without Mom” or “We figured out a different life without Dad, because he’s just never around” and that leads to divorce and live some place else. 

“He just gets home when we’re asleep and we see him for an hour or two here on weekends, but he’s distracted.” Yeah, well, you’ve chosen that. So choose something differently.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: You know, it’s just asking yourself those deeper questions like you said, right? It’s really, pointing that direction of questioning your reality towards yourself, and then from that point, deciding if you’re doing the 300,000, whatever, I have a million-dollar job, you know, that’s great.

But if you’re really doing it for your family then I think it’s like, where does the work stop and then the family begin? And so how do you take those ideas and implement them and have boundaries around them, so that you are truly living out how you feel and think about those things that are really important?

So I love that, I appreciate the fact that you brought that forth in your book. You still think about that, right? 

John Hittler: It’s funny because when we say counterintuitive, some people who read the book early on said, “Well, that’s kind of harsh on this subject or that subject.” I said, ‘It’s not harsh.” The question we ask was, does this part of the playbook actually work or people going along with it because they think it does and they’ve just never questioned it. 

So we just said it doesn’t work, and statistically, you got a nine in ten chances that it doesn’t. Is there a formula or an alternative? I will call it a formula, but is there an alternative that has had better statistical results? We said, that’s interesting, this works 75% of the time as supposed to 10% of the time, and yet, most people aren’t following it. 

That’s interesting that people are brainwashed enough or they’re just convinced. As a friend of mine said, “People will die for what they believe in, but they won’t die for what there is evidence for.” 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Oh man, that is like—

John Hittler: You are militant about this actually works. You say, “It actually doesn’t.” Yup, and your company, if you will metaphorically, is going to die or has a nine out of ten chance you’re going to die because you’re following that belief that just doesn’t have any data behind it. There’s just no— 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right, it’s structured around a belief instead of the actual, “Here’s how you actually…”

John Hittler: And they’re willing to stake the whole company and all the funding and people’s jobs and go, “Why would you do that if there’s a nine in ten chance you’ll fail?” That doesn’t make any sense to me.

Talent or Culture?

Hussein Al-Baiaty: This brings me actually to my next question. I mean, I feel like we talk about this, this is a huge buzz word in the world of business culture. This is a huge buzzword because we’re talking about culture, we’re talking about how to make it better, how to refine it. This, that, and the other.

Of course, diversity and inclusion, of course all of these things that make powerful teams, tribes if you will, people that are connected, that work well together, and all those good things. However, if you put something in front of that but you said, “Structure eats culture for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” which I literally laughed out loud when I read it because, man, I’m not going to lie, that’s a very true statement. 

Because structuring my company, growing up, I was a kid running this company, and I have employees. I have three and they’re all of a sudden six and all of a sudden, I’m like, “How did I get to ten employees? This is crazy.” We have to get organized here, and so structure was huge because that helps what your culture could look like, it starts before that. Can you talk about that a little bit?

John Hittler: Yeah, it’s probably the most controversial topic because people are in love with the idea of building an inclusive culture and award-winning culture. The biggest was award-winning. We found a lot of companies that said, “Here’s our formula, we’re going to build an award-winning culture. That award-winning at culture will attract, tap better talent, and with that better talent, we will scale.”

I totally get the theory. The problem is, it doesn’t work very well. What we found is that talent attracts talent and culture attracts people looking for what I’ll call an employee experience, and so what companies do is they say, “Well, we got to vet for culture,” and they take lesser talent because “it fits our culture better,” and what we found is that companies that we just did it based on liquidity event.

We said for companies that sold, were acquired, went public, whatever success measure that included a check, we found three out of four paid little or not attention to their culture. It doesn’t mean they had a bad culture, it just meant that wasn’t their focus, and here’s the – it’s in the book, the story, and I do it as a hypothetical.

Let’s say you and I play coed volleyball on Thursday nights at the YMCA, and we’ve been doing that for ten years with our group.  Six people play, you’ve got ten on the team after which we go out for pizza and beer. We know each other, we know each other’s spouses and kids, we’re thick as thieves, our culture is unbelievable, and we’re pretty darn good.

Randomly three US Volleyball Olympians, male, female, or mix, show up at the YMCA and say, “We only got three of us, but we’ll take on your team of six.” They will whoop you badly. They don’t even know each other, they never played together, but they’re just way more talented. They don’t rely on culture, they just go, “Well, we’re six inches taller, we got a better vertical leap, we know where to be, we know how to cover the court with only three when they’ve got six.”

You have substitutes, they don’t, they will whoop you like a huge can of whoop ass and people want to say, “The culture’s better.” It’s not. If I have nines and tens across the board in my team with talent, guess what the cultural statement in our company is? We attract and nurture the top talent. Guess who shows up? 

The people that say, “That’s the team I want to play on. I want to play on the top talented team.” And if they don’t, maybe what they’re saying is, “I don’t really want to play on the top talented team where I have to kick ass. I want to play on the top talented team only if they have my values too.”

So these companies have good enough culture, but what their culture ends up being, it’s all about, “We build a culture that revolves around the top talent. If you’d like that, come play with us, and if you don’t, we’re not offended by it at all. Go work at a second-tier company.” What we found is, three out of four companies that had a liquidity event focused on talent over culture fit.

They didn’t pay attention to culture fit, and one out of four had an award-winning culture. Well gosh, if you’re looking for a check or a big success, if we’re going to Vegas, I’m going to bet on talent because it wins three out of four times, and the story, though, is that you need to build award-winning culture, and the real question to ask is why, why is that so?

When we ask people their theory why, the people that didn’t go for the culture fit and went for the talent fit, a lot of them said, part of the problem was in such a tight labor market, in such a tight talent market over the last five years, it’s been here for a long time and it’s not going to slow down, CEOs could actually invest and do something culture related if they couldn’t hire the talent. 

So they would try to compensate for lesser talent by building an award-winning culture as if culture would beat talent, and it’s a good theory. It doesn’t have any standing in reality, at least based on liquidity events at the end. So we went and interviewed companies at exit and said, “Tell us about your culture, tell us about your talent,” and they said: 

“We didn’t worry that Hussein wasn’t a great culture fit, we just worried that he was a great engineer, and we figure, unless he’s a sociopath, he’ll fit in. He’ll fit in well enough, he’s an adult, he’ll figure it out, and he and the team will work out because is really our culture that different than everybody else’s? No.” 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right, yeah, and there’s like a sense of gratitude for people that are good at what they do. So there is an instinctual trust in that, and I think it’s kind of like human nature, right? I trust that you’ll do a great job at what you do, and you trust that I do what I am going to do really well, and so that in it of itself develops a culture of teamwork and effort and all these things because there is a knowing. 

There is a deeper knowing. I feel like when you are just there to fit the culture, you’re maybe perhaps trusting in you, in the ability that you may not have, which could lead to not being able to trust you. I just love that you put that the center of your book, it is really fascinating. 

John Hittler: Yeah, imagine that you’re hired the first day and you realize when you get there, you say, “Oh my god, the guy that sits next to me, the cubicle next to me, is unbelievably smart, way more talented than I am and the guy in the right I think is too. I’d better step up, I’d better play at full and step my game up.” 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, exactly, I was going to say I’d got to step up.

John Hittler: Yeah. Well, here the cultural impact is that I have to raise my game and play at my best every day, just to fit in for people that want that and didn’t picked at a lot of them research on this. One of the things they want in their career is mastery. What better way to have mastery than to say, “Hussein, you’ve never done this, but I trust you with this. You take three people from the team, you got until the end of the month. I need a prototype for this, and you guys have to go figure it out.” 

You say, “We’ve never done this.” You say, “You know what? We’ve got talented people, you guys will figure it out.” It is kind of like given the three of you a million piece Lego set with no instructions and saying, “Why don’t you build something amazing, and we need it by the end of the month.” And you go, “Wow, all right. We better…” you’d have a blast. Now, you’d be challenged beyond belief, you are going to hit all kinds of obstacles, and at the end of it you say, “That was awesome.” 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes, you are a 100% right, and you know what’s funny, what’s really – because I – what you just said, I was literally living that right now. At Scribe, amazing company, all these good things, the leader reaches out says to me, “Hey Hussein, I want you to take on the podcast and let us reinvigorate it, let’s bring in, and here’s the team,” literally saying exactly what is happening in my life right now. 

I am excited. I am eager to meet with my crew and again, step my game up even further and how to speak and equipment and whatever else I need to make sure that my guest feels a certain way, that I feel a certain way in these conversations. So you are a 100% right that you level up when you’re trying to meet a standard of not what the company proposes and puts on you, but what you are truly capable of. 

Allowing you and your team to rise up to this challenge, and it feels like you’re in your heroic journey, and it’s so empowering, it’s so fulfilling, and you want the team to work, right? 

John Hittler: The ironic thing – well, it’s not the ironic thing, but it’s a funny thing is, let’s say you’re in over your head. So the leader says, “We want you to revamp the entire thing. We want this to be different than it was, better than it was.” And you hit a roadblock that you say, “I think I am in this part over my head.” What do you do in an organization where they trust you and you’ve got a project that you are in over your head? 

You have to, have to raise your hand and ask for help. Well, that’s a good thing because it doesn’t mean you’re let off the hook for the outcome. It just means you have to say, “Hey, I’m going to need some help here. There is some technical things here or there is some stylistic things here or there is some artistic things or some marketing things or there is a piece here that is a waste of time for me to try to become a master tech, because I never will be.”

Who in the organization can I help? Well now, imagine what happens with the podcast? It is even better now because you bring in a total badass in that segment and say, “I just need some help with the graphics for the logo.” Who? That’s part of the project. You say, “I’m the wrong guy to do that. I am going to have to go find somebody and get help.” 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Throw Johnny in there, right. Yeah, exactly, and that’s the cool thing about leaning into your team, right? It’s like, who can help me with this thing here because I have this vision and, yes, you are 100% right. I think in leadership, especially, is that idea of being allowed to be vulnerable and being allowed to feel like you can’t contribute in X, Y, and Z, but perhaps, you know, L, M, N, O are like the things that you are not here for. 

You are here to design this vision, but these other people are great at what they do in those departments, those get them on the team, or let’s bring them in for a few hours, but whatever it may be, I love that idea. I love – 

John Hittler: Or go outside the organization and say, “We don’t have that skillset here. Can I have a little bit of budget to hire a graphics person to do a logo?” And they’ll say, “Yeah, keep the train moving.” 

Choosing The Chip On Your Shoulder

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Keep it moving, yes, I love that. You talk about — there is a lot of tools in order to scale that business, part of the business, but you also talk about this idea of having a chip on your shoulder, and if you scale better, if this thing on your shoulder, this urge to want to improve, can you talk about that a little bit? I didn’t get to read that chapter, but I kind of wanted to hear your input around it. 

John Hittler: So it’s a fun chapter because we ask the question, there is actually four different options for a chip on your shoulder. One is, “Eh, we don’t need it,” and we go what I call zen. We just do the best we can, no problem with that. There are companies that do that and they do fine. The most common and usually the most useful because you can rally the troops in ten minutes is to say:

“A competitor of Scribe is eating our lunch. They are taking authors from us and they’re beating us. You know what? In the next month, here’s our deal, we are going to win this many contracts against them and take business back from them.” And everybody goes “Yeah” and it is what I call the bully on the playground one. It’s externally focused. 

See, you just told me a lot of them. They said when I first got the role, and usually it was when they took over from someone else who had gotten in trouble, they said the first thing I did, and I quote, “We invented a common enemy because it rallies the troops.” If there is a bully on the playground that steals everybody’s lunch money, if one person says it, comes in and says, “If we all get united, the bully is done.” And you say, “Cool, we’re behind you.” 

So that is the easiest one, and it works pretty well. What we found though for companies that are better performers, here is the trick, though, you can’t just choose this second one because it has better results. You can’t do it usually until you have done the externally facing, the bully on the playground one, that is external of our organization. Then after that you say, “You know what guys? It’s really not about our competitor.” 

“We closed 21 author deals in this month, why can’t we do 25 next month?” Now, it’s internal. It is only us competing against us. That is actually more effective than focusing on the external bully because it is about us optimizing ourselves and saying, and then if you do hit 25, you say, “Well, we hit 25. Why can’t we hit 30?” and you just keep competing against yourself. It is much more effective, but it tends to be more effective after you have gone after the bully. 

Most companies that try that first don’t do very well because competing against yourself, what tends to happen is you make yourself the enemy. You want to go beat up the bully and get a taste of we did better doing that, and then you turn it on yourselves and you optimize and then the one that’s most powerful but again, you can only deploy it if you are the right company is if you’re chasing both the financial and we all call it an impact result. 

So I think he’s the best CEO in America, his name is Tom Szaky. He runs a company called TerraCycle in Trenton, New Jersey, and their calling or their corporate mission — and they’re a for-profit company — is to eliminate the idea of waste. So people think they’re a recycling company, but they will literally take anything you give them and have none of it ever be wasted. They recycle used pampers, they recycle uranium spent rods from nuclear power plants. 

They’ll take anything because if you think about it, take up used pampers. They go in your garbage can, they’re in a landfill. It’s a disaster, it is an absolute environmentally, that’s a disaster. They take them and they have them have zero impact on the environment. Well, they are a for-profit company. Imagine now they’re recruiting you and I for the team. Every day when we get out of bed, we’re competing against ourselves to get better because that’s all we have and we’re making a difference on the planet. 

Never do you or I call in sick when we’re not really sick because every day you’re living a very high life purpose. Every day matters, but you can’t do that unless your company is really about that and claiming, it is a very Silicon Valley thing to say, “Well, we’re changing the world through cloud storage.” And you go, “Yeah, probably not. You are probably not changing the world through cloud storage because cloud storage doesn’t really have the…”

“You are lowering the price and that is not changing the world.” Well, if you keep waste out of landfills and you take plastics out of the ocean and you recycle everything on the planet so there is no waste, you are changing the world, and imagine going to work for a company like that. They never compete against anybody but themselves and they measure it in terms of yes, in terms of profits because they are a for-profit company. 

But they really measure it in terms of impact, like they have zero sickness. People do get sick. They know if you and I call in sick, we really are sick, and we’re not coming to work because that’s safe for the organization. Nobody ever sandbags. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right, what sounds so empowering in that story, too, is that like for example, that company, right? Let’s say, [someone] starts to work with Scribe recycling books. I don’t know, I am just making up. People out there throw away books, and these guys go out and try to recycle it, whatever, shred them, use them in different ways. You know, for me, there is no company that you are in competition. 

Every company is your collaborator. If there is another recycling company across the street, like we have the same purpose. Our purpose is to clean up the environment, clean up the communities in a way that doesn’t harm our world. So technically, it’s best that we collaborate, maybe there are things that I have that you don’t and so on and so forth. I mean, I am just kind of setting out an example here of like how to think collaboratively as opposed to competitively. 

I feel like that could potentially be just as much power and collaboration in working towards something. What’s the old proverb, the old Arabic proverb, right? The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? It’s like it’s sometimes, when our enemy is trash everywhere then everyone can collaborate to work in that, and it is just so powerful because then you start to think really, there isn’t a competitor across the street. 

Our only objective is to clean up the environment, and so you wake up differently. Like you said, you have a different type of purpose, and to think about and go do at work, which is really empowering, I feel, more driven behind this idea than just to wake up every day and be like not that there isn’t any competition in our world and in business. Let’s be honest, that is never going to go away, but thinking about it a little bit differently is really powerful. 

John Hittler: But that is the chip deal, is you’ve got to deploy the correct one. That’s the trick, being honest with yourself and saying in my language, “We’re a money grabbing company going against other money grabbing companies.” We shouldn’t kid ourselves that we are changing the world and try to do a purpose-driven internal chip that won’t work for us. We need to fight, if you will, or compete against our biggest competitor. 

That is the most optimal chip for what kind of a company we are, and that is the trick with it, that’s the counterintuitive piece because what people want to do is declare themselves a purpose-driven or impact-driven company and deploy the wrong chip because, again, it’s a very popular notion that if you have a why, the market cares and really the market doesn’t care very much about your why. 

They don’t care that your grandma inspired you to start the company, they really don’t. They go, “Can you ship it on time, and is it lower than the guy across the street?” “Oh.” So don’t kid yourself that your “purpose” is dominant and the people are believing that they don’t even know it exists. 

Your ‘why’ normally matters to you, but rarely does it matter in the marketplace, and for these guys it does matter in the marketplace because they go, “I love these guys because they’re literally helping me be a better human by not leaving a carbon footprint.” So it is rare that you can use that fourth chip, but it is a good one if you can. 

Writing Is Dedication

Hussein Al-Baiaty: It is a byproduct, your purpose is what’s left in the memory bank of who you work with, right? It is not something that you drive with, it is something that’s left behind in a way. I don’t know if I made that, yeah. Wow, John, I learned so much today, man. So in of itself, writing a book is, let’s just be real, exponentially difficult. Writing a book, this is obviously your third one, so what’s one thing that you want people to take away from this specific book? 

John Hittler: You know, it’s funny because writing a book is, in frame, is very similar to scaling a company. You don’t get up one day and say, “We’re scaling.” You say, “I work on getting better. I work on growing. I work on…” whatever metrics or OKRs you use, “I focus on those and we keep putting one foot in front of the other,” and sure enough, after months and quarters and years of that, “Oh my gosh, we’re scaling. Cool.” 

Books are the same way. People ask me a lot, “I have always wanted to write a book, I don’t think I can.” One of the reasons I love Scribe, and here is my shameless plug, is because you guys will write it for me if I want to do it that way. The platform works that way. I actually like the process and the discipline of writing and then what it really becomes—and now you’re back to the work-life balance thing—now it’s I actually have to schedule on my calendar blocks of time to write. 

Kind of like exercise, you could say, “Well, I blocked out time for a workout, but I went to the gym and I was tired so I didn’t do anything.” No, no, no, writing is the same way. If you block out 90 minutes for writing, you have to have a promise to yourself that I am going to write 1,500 words. I am going to write 2,000 words, and you don’t have to write about your subject matter, you just have to write because once you get into practice of writing, you’ll figure out the book piece. 

You will figure out. If you don’t know how to start the book, which is always for me the hardest, start with the middle piece, the meat of it and say, “Well, here’s the process.” You go, “Good, write the chapter.” Maybe it is chapter six or seven on the process, right? Come up with a table of contents. Now, that is not 1,500 words, but you say, just the thought of organizing your ideas, but you have to book it out. 

You have to have the discipline to say, “I am going to do 90 minutes twice a week, and I am going to find time to do that, and when I get that time, I am not bailing it out. I am not cancelling it for other things. I am going to have the discipline.” It is a promise to myself that I am going to write, and if you never publish a book, you’ll still love the process of writing because if you enjoy that, it is a great thing to do, and maybe you do a blog post.

That is fine, you write really good blog post, maybe it will help your social media content because now you are writing. Good for you. It’s not a lot different than anything else. Working out is physical, writing is not. It is more of a mental thing, but it is the same thing. Block the time, show up and give your best, and there’ll be some days where you go you read what you wrote the next day and say, “This is worthless. It doesn’t help me and the book.” That’s okay. 

The practice is kind of like having a lousy workout. You say, “Yeah, I wasn’t very good on the pushups or sit-ups today,” but you showed up and did them, you’ll get better. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that so much. You know, I am working on my second book, and you’re 100% right. For me, it’s like, “Okay, I just have to write for ten minutes.” The moment I tell myself that, it just clears away the fog, if you will, and I just write. I literally will just time it on my phone and just go for ten minutes, and obviously once you’re sucked in, you can go for 30, 40, an hour, but I just give myself that window to ask myself, “Can I write for ten minutes?” 

The answer is pretty much all the time yes, you can, you know? So you’re right, it is setting that up, have it at 8 AM, ten-minute writing, and then dive into anything else you want. So I give myself that treat, and then I go from there. Sometimes I will go for ten minutes, and that’s it, sometimes I’ll go for two hours, which is incredible, right before I start everything else. So I love that, I love the idea of just build a habit and everything else will work itself out. 

John Hittler: The other one that I tell people a lot is there is no such thing as writer’s block. Writer’s block is a myth that people who don’t write have. They say, “Well, I don’t know what to write about. I got writer’s block.” And you say, “Wait a minute, you can write about anything you want.” Writer’s block exists if you say, “I got to write about nuclear physics. I am not ready to write. I need to do more studying, more research.” 

You go, you write about nuclear physics, say write about your favorite birthday when you were a kid, because the practice of writing helps you to be able to write about anything, and then somebody could drop any topic and say, “Guns and butter, there’s your topic.” You have to write, you got to write for 20 minutes about guns and butter.” And you go, “Isn’t that some sort of an economic sort of mind,” right? 

You figure it out, you can make it humorous, you do a parody, you could do economics, you could do social, you could – anything you got to write about and that discipline of just being, “Well, sit down and write,” at least at the beginning, you could write almost anything. It is just getting in the practice of writing. It is doing the calisthenics necessary to then say, “I think I am ready to take on this topic.” Yep, that is easier to do. 

I don’t think there’s anything such thing as a writer’s block. If you know it’s on your calendar, and you’re going to wake up at 8:00 and write for ten minutes or half hour or 45 minutes, you start to look forward to it even if you don’t know what – even if it is 7:59, you don’t know what you’re going to write about, you could sit down and write. 

Hussein Al-Biaity: I love that so much. John, there’s so much today. Thank you so much for sharing your stories and your experiences. The book is called, The Little Book of Big Scale: 5 Counterintuitive Practice for Exponential Growth. So besides checking out the book, where can people find you? 

John Hittler: So I am blessed with an unfortunate last name, my last name is Hittler, like the infamous. So if you Google Hittler, you get the historical guy, but no one else wants the SEO. So I haven’t carried a business card since the Internet because if I go to conference and you meet me, you never come home and tell your buddy, “Yeah, I met this guy, but I can’t remember his last name. I just can’t remember it.” 

So that’s the simplest thing is just Google it even if you don’t remember the first name, it’s two T’s but – 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s two Ts, I was going to say. 

John Hittler: Yeah, for the first thousand places under my name, I own the SEO, there is nobody else. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s amazing. Yeah, I mean who would, right? 

John Hittler: Right. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: But you do, I mean, you created a whole business around [it]. I mean, you adopted it, you made it a part of who you are, you accepted it, and then you just ran with it. My name is Hussein, do you know how many times people told me to change my name doing podcast and doing things and working in the world and putting myself out there as a business, and how many things I didn’t get, how many jobs I didn’t, you know? 

For me, it’s like it means so much deeper than what the media likes to portray it as, and so I commend you for that, to be honest with you, you hold onto what you believe is true about who you are, isn’t it?

John Hittler: Yeah, it’s funny. If you had asked me at ten years old, I would have said, “Please mom and dad, please change our name,” because you got beat up for it, and now as an adult, it’s an amazing advantage because name recognition, who knew that when I was ten there would be an Internet and now it’s like, “Oh” nobody forgets your name. That’s amazingly powerful, as I call it, the unintended gift of a dirt sandwich because the name is a dirt sandwich, but it came with unintended gifts attached. So I’ll take it. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s a gift, I love that so much. Thanks for joining me today, John, I really appreciate you. 

John Hittler: Thank you for having me, I had a blast.