Kevin Williams: Is interviewing an Art, a Talent, a Science or possibly all three or a combination thereof?
Ken Coleman: I think it is definitely an Art and there is definitely a Science to it. You can develop a talent in doing it. It takes time and it takes a lot of practice. There is some science to the development of the interview from the preparation side of things and then conducting the interview itself is certainly an art form. You have to have some talent to do that.
For me, there is a process by which I develop my interviews. There are certain questions that I ask [myself]… number one “What does the audience need to know from the person I’m interviewing?” That is the first question. And whoever that audience is, you have to think through that. A quick follow-up question is: “What does the interviewee have to say from their experience or their expertise in the area that the audience needs something [from]?” So, you are really matching up audience and your guest. You have to really try to pull something out of your guest that helps your audience. In my opinion, that is the art form. Because you want people walking away going, “I feel like I just listened in on a conversation that I wasn’t invited to. And I really got something out of it.” And when you do it like that, that is an art form. When people feel so very comfortable that you invited them into a living room situation.
Kevin Williams: If you have that great question that gets to the heart of the matter and elicits a great answer, a better answer… should it be a point of you asking that question and getting out of the way?
Ken Coleman: Exactly right. And in the process of getting out of the way, you need to be totally listening. If you have prepared a storyline, which I do in my interviews, of kind of where I want to end up… you’ve got to really listen. So when you ask the question, make sure you are listening not just with your ears, but with your entire body so the other person really feels you there. This is more important when you are face-to-face. Over the phone, you just have your ears. The idea is to really listen to what the answer is and finding the nuggets and if there is a nugget in there you feel that you need to go deeper with – stay there! Dig deep and come back to wherever you have to go. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever gotten from people is through follow-up questions.
Kevin Williams: What motivated you to write “One Question”?
Ken Coleman: The motivation was to highlight the power of a question. In singling out just one question, it indirectly shows the reader that you can really discover a lot. You can learn a lot from just one question. And in doing so, it allows us to really think through what are the questions in life that I need to be asking? We found some research that a University of Michigan study showed that by the time we reach 8th grade… most of us are only asking two to three questions a day.
Kevin Williams: That is surprising.
Ken Coleman: Juxtapose that with the reality of who we are as human beings who come into this world with an insatiable desire to know. Little kids ask hundreds of questions a day. What is happening there? I think what is happening is we live in a Western culture where our educational system is unintentionally beating the curiosity out of our kids. Because we are teaching kids how to answer questions, not how to ask questions. I’ve interviewed some of the greatest people from every walk of life and one thing that they all share in common is an insatiable curiosity to continue to learn.
The only way to learn is to ask questions and so for me, this is important stuff and I wanted to spark this within parents specifically. As I share in the last chapter and this is something I’ve done every night since writing the book… at dinnertime or bedtime I’m asking my kids, “Hey! What do you want to ask? Is there any question of Mom and Dad that you want to ask?” To keep this idea of curiosity alive and to create a habit of inquiry [in my kids] so they are just always asking questions and never accept the status quo. Why? When we stop asking, we stop learning and when we stop learning, we stop living.
Kevin Williams: I have young children and can especially appreciate that. My youngest has questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” while my daughter who is older asks, “Why does God exists?”
Ken Coleman: That’s right and that is great because here’s the deal – we as Parents and Leaders need to be okay with not being able to answer every question. There is a false security that comes with trying to have all the answers. The reality is that our people and our kids learn pretty quickly that we don’t have all the answers. And that is actually okay. You can model for them, this comfortability of “I don’t know the answer, but I’m much more comfortable trying to find the answer than trying to act like I have all the answers.”
Kevin Williams: In “One Question,” you incorporated life stories from either a friend or your own life in framing your question to the leader in each chapter… why did you do that? Did you use those life stories to help relay to the reader that it is okay to go through that experiences or just question things?
Ken Coleman: Well, two things. One, I wanted to connect with the audience. When you are a first-time author and a non-celebrity, nobody knows who you are. So, I really wanted the reader to connect with me. “ Okay, I get this. This isn’t a guy who thinks he knows everything. He’s just observed some things and those observations and experiences led to this big question. So, I wanted [the readers] to connect with me and more importantly… I wanted them to see how their experiences and observations of life all lead to good questions. Even small questions are important questions. I wanted them to go “I get where you are going here. I see this and I understand this. I now understand how you are wired and why you asked what you asked. So what are the burning questions that are bouncing around my head and heart that I have not listened to and I need to ask?”
Kevin Williams: Well, do you think your book is relatable to people of all ages?
Ken Coleman: I do. I wrote the book for people from eighteen to sixty-eight. I really think that if we stop asking questions in life and we stop asking, when we stop learning… we stop living. I think that is really true. For years, I was able to work with the legendary TV host Art Linkletter and I asked him, “What do you think the key is to your longevity?” He said, “I’m living so long and so healthy at a later age simply because I’m still learning.” You keep your brain active and the rest of your body is going to be active. The key to longevity is learning, learning, learning something every day.” That was never lost on me. We have three sections of my book and the questions are divided into what I feel are the three seasons of life. Succeeding, Surviving and Sustaining. Even if you are in the 48-58-68 Category, you are thinking about sustaining your success through passing things on and building something that will last. Even if it is something that isn’t physical, it is something that lives on in the spirit of your family and those you lead, those you love and beyond. I think the questions that I’ll ask in my sixties are very, very different than the ones I’m asking in my thirties right now. But, just as important.
Kevin Williams: With so many Americans out-of-work right now… it seems that there there’s a lot in your book that might help inspire some people to maybe start a business or look at their education and apply it in a different way. You made your book applicable to helping people see themselves in the questions you present and how the answers might help them. No matter their age group.
Ken Coleman: Absolutely. No question. I believe that this book is so applicable to so many people. It is great for leaders, it is great for parents. I think it is good for students and if nothing else, I have compiled a book that is absolutely vital for people who are just looking to grow personally. Like you have seen, each one of the questions are based on a major life issue.
Part 2 of this Ken Coleman interview… Coming Soon!