Say the name "Jack Canfield" and one of any number of epic cultural phenomena leaps to mind. Bestselling author of The Success Principles (2005), Jack holds a Guinness world record for having seven books on the New York Times bestseller list—at the same time. He is one of the most prominent stars of the 2006 runaway hit DVD and book The Secret. And of course, he is originator and coauthor of the omnipresent Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, with more than 500 million copies in print in forty-plus languages. (He holds another Guinness world record, too: for the largest-ever book signing, held for Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul.)
What may not so readily spring to mind are a few lesser-known facts about the Canfield phenomenon. Such as, for example, that he is an Ivy League–educated psychotherapist who took his bachelor's degree (in Chinese history, of all things) from Harvard and his master's in education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Jack is passionate about education—the kind of education that stirs people's souls and moves them to become their greatest possible selves. This fall, as he joins the faculty of Networking University, we thought it was the perfect time to sit down with him and talk about the role of education in his extraordinary life. — J.D.M.
You have this Ivy League educational background, and then you go launch this highly unconventional career. What led you from there to here?
I was studying Chinese history at Harvard, and in my senior year I became very interested in psychology. I took an elective that was really more like a personal development course than it was a class in psychology. We got to talk about our feelings, interact with each other and give feedback, things that no one did back then.
I loved it all and wanted to do more of it, but I couldn't get into grad school in psychology. I don't know if there even were that many programs that taught what I wanted to learn. My advisor said, "Why don't you go into education? And you can sneak in the psychology over time."
That's where the real transition occurred in my career.
I enrolled at the University of Chicago, and as part of my academic training, I taught at an all-black, inner-city high school in 1968. That was the year Martin Luther King was killed. It was a very radicalizing time. I went to Jesse Jackson's church and met a lot of black leaders.
Little by little, I became more interested in radical social change and social growth. For me, the bottom-line question was, "How do I inspire inner city kids to want to achieve?" These kids were part of a culture that said, if you studied you were copping out to the white man.
At the same time, I took a class with W. Clement Stone, who was a self-made millionaire and an ardent student of Napoleon Hill's (the two even wrote a book together). So I was steeped in positive thinking, law of attraction, Think and Grow Rich, and all of that, at the age of twenty-three.
I took the technologies and techniques I was learning in that course on achievement and motivation and starting using them in my classroom—and my kids started really doing well. They got so motivated. Once, when one of them was kicked out of school for a week, he would sneak back into school to come to my class and then sneak out of school again!
My first year of teaching, I won the teacher of the year award, and it was because of what I was learning about experiential education.
"Experiential education" meaning what?
That's a great perspective to have!
I taught some self-esteem and peak performance training at her husband's company, and they loved it.
Along came the recession of 1990, and all the school money dried up. By this time I was doing public seminars and starting to do a little more corporate work, so we morphed all of our training over to the corporate world and started working with lots of network marketing companies ... which is how I came to do what I do today.
Shortly after that, in 1993, we wrote the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, and as that took off, I stopped doing as much training. We've done over 200 Chicken Soup for the Soul books since.
Finally, about four years ago, I decided I wanted to go back into training and speaking full time. Probably half my clients are network marketing companies.
Is there anything that distinguishes the network marketing milieu as compared to other groups you work with?
People in network marketing are more motivated.
As a manager in a traditional corporation setting, unless you really screw up badly, your job is pretty well handled whether your division grows or not. But when you're in a sales position based on commission, as with network marketing, you really need to get it right, and there's a lot more motivation to learn how to be more effective.
I like helping people break through their limiting beliefs, fears, sense of unworthiness, or whatever else might be blocking them. A lot of people in the corporate world think they know everything already, because they're often very successful. In network marketing, you have a lot of people who have not been big-time successes before or are coming out of jobs where they've been downsized, so their self-esteem is not at the highest level, and they're often more open to the kinds of things I teach.
Do you see any other distinctions in the training of network marketing groups?
At the high end of the corporate world, people are already very successful. I've worked with people who run billion-dollar companies, and they've handled the success side—but often they haven't handled the quality-of-life side. For them, it's more about balance, feelings, relationships, health.
For people in network marketing, often their quality of life is better than that of a CEO at a major corporation.
That's one of the great things about network marketing: When you're successful, you can take more time off than the average person with a nine-to-five job. Parents get to spend more time with their kids, people get to travel more, or do more of whatever it is they love to do.
Starting in the mid-nineties and on into the 2000s, more professionals started coming into network marketing—lawyers, doctors, college professors—and we started seeing a sort of reverse learning curve: they would bring their professional knowledge into this business, and it wouldn't work for them. Almost like an unlearning curve. Have you observed that?
Most people coming out of the corporate world are used to being little gods in their own world—especially doctors and lawyers. The old-world model of business is kind of a command-and-control model: I'm giving you a paycheck, so when I tell you what to do, you better damn well do it.
That doesn't work so well in network marketing. What works in the network marketing world is a coaching model. In network marketing, you have to learn how to coach, motivate, inspire, and lead people in a totally different way.
The really interesting thing is that the corporate world is starting to learn that now, too. I'm working with an insurance brokerage firm right now that does about $150 million a year with about 6,000 sales agents—and they're running up against the same issue. They're finding that if they're going to be successful, their top people have to learn to be coaches and inspire people. To become visionary leaders rather than command-and-control leaders.
That old model is not working much in the corporate world anymore, either—but it definitely won't work in the network marketing world.
What distinguishes the kind of training and education a good networking company needs?
I've worked with a lot of network marketing companies, and I've noticed that the super-successful ones always have five attributes:
First is a good product that delivers on its promise, whether it's losing weight, having better energy, or whatever.
Second is a good comp plan, one that compensates people with enough profit in short enough time that people are motivated to stay involved.
Third, it has a charismatic leader somewhere at the top. It could be the founder, the head of sales, the president, or whatever—but there's got to be some inspirational, charismatic leader there who can lead large group events where people get really fired up.
Fourth, a super-successful network marketing company has a transcendent cause. Whether they give five percent of gross profit to the Children's Miracle Network, or they help feed kids in some part of the world, or build houses for the homeless, they have to have some concrete way they feel they're part of something bigger than themselves.
Finally, it has to have some kind of built-in personal development program, where people are reading and going to seminars and not just learning product information and about how to sell, but they're growing as people. They're becoming better parents, better spouses, they're developing higher self-esteem, they're learning how to better motivate themselves, to eat better, to take care of themselves, to bring more balance into their lives, to communicate better, to overcome their fears and psychological blocks.
For some people, that personal development becomes the principal reason not to quit.
To what extent does the classic teaching model need to shift today?
A friend of mine has a saying: we've gone from the sage on the stage to the guide by your side.
If you stand up there and pontificate ... well, that can be valuable for people. Sometimes they get new insights that radically transform the way they think about things. And there are some great motivational speakers out there.
But the kind of education I'm most excited about is the kind where you don't just talk at people but you take them through exercises where at the end they say, "Oh my God, I get it!"
In one exercise I do, I give people a puzzle to solve. At a certain point I'll say, "Okay, everyone stop. If you've already solved the puzzle"—and typically only about a third of the people will have solved it at this point—"and if you'd be willing to assist others, raise your hand. Now, if you'd like assistance, raise your hand."
The only help they're allowed to give is to clap when the other person is making the right move.
Here's what happens: Half the people who need help won't ask for it, because they think they have to do it themselves—and half of those who do don't listen to the help they get! It's amazing to see people suddenly realize, "Hey, I'm making this a lot harder than I need to."
The education isn't really about the puzzle!
Exactly. With good feedback and paying attention, you can solve that puzzle in twenty-four seconds—and they'll make it take anywhere from five to twenty minutes.
Then I say, "How is this like the rest of your life?"
Let's say people have issues with fear of rejection. We can tell them not to fear rejection, that it's a numbers game, and all the rest—but unless we actually get them up there and have them do some exercises where they actually experience rejection in a different way, they may get the concept of what you're saying, but they won't really go, "I get it!"
On the other hand, when you do give them that experiential learning, then they really do get it. And it's like learning how to ride a bicycle. Once you've done it, you cannot ever not know how to ride a bicycle.
There's a lot you can learn from books, from webinars, from teleseminars, and I think those are great. But ultimately, I think the greatest learning comes from experiential training.
My father grew up in Germany and went to a school that was founded by Martin Luther. I don't know if it gets more traditional than that. He tells a story about how one day in class his teacher paused at the lectern and said, "At this point in the syllabus, I am accustomed to telling the following joke..."
Education has come a long way from that model!
That is so true! You know, according to my grandmother I'm actually a direct descendant of Martin Luther, which may be part of my radicalism.
That's great—Jack Canfield's 95 theses.
I know ... pounding my little documents on the door of the church there.
If there were one thing to which you'd attribute your success, what would it be?
I've never stopped learning. I've read over 3,000 books and have listened to over 600 live seminars. I've listened to almost every program Nightingale Conant ever published. I attribute my success to that willingness to keep learning—and applying what I learn.
That's something my mentor W. Clement Stone taught me: as soon you learn something, apply it, and then take the feedback from what you've learned to see if you want to keep doing it.
I teach something I call the Hour of Power. Every day, meditate and visualize for twenty minutes; read for twenty minutes; and exercise for twenty minutes. If you do that, you're going to be happier, healthier, and wealthier at the end of a year.
And that twenty minutes of reading is a minimum. Most people are not doing even that. Of course, if you make a habit of reading for twenty minutes, usually you'll get hooked and read for an hour!
Like eating just one potato chip...
Exactly. And there are some books you'd do well to read over and over. I know Bob Proctor reads Think and Grow Rich and As a Man Thinketh every year, and I have several books I do that with as well.
If I were to redo my career, I think I would read fewer books, but read them three or four times. There are books that have hardly anything new in them, but when you find a book with real value, you can afford to read it three or four times over.
Now, when I read a book, I underline quite a lot—and before I go to a new book, I go back and read my underlines in the book I just read.
What has led you to become interested in participating in Networking University?
We had Josephine and Chris Gross from Networking Times come to an event I did and we got to know each other pretty well. I really liked what they were doing and saw the possibility of some tie-ins with Networking University.
For me, being part of Networking University means working with more people who are doing the thing I feel most drawn to support.
Which is what?
The people I love working with most are authors, trainers, and network marketers. I do this three-week training program—a week in February, a week in June, and a week in October—where I train anywhere from seventy to a hundred people in how to do my work. When we put on this program, we often find a good fourth of the group are leaders in network marketing.
These are people who are involved with empowering and inspiring others. When you offer another person your opportunity, in a sense you are taking responsibility for helping this person grow and believe in themselves.
Regardless of what product or service you're selling, you are trying to help other people create their dream life. It's more than a product; it's more than money; it's about helping people realize their dreams.
I love working with people who are doing that; it feels like we're part of the same tribe. I call them dream coaches—and I feel like we're part of the same brotherhood and sisterhood.