Matt Watkinson is the author of The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Services, a book which has propelled him into the business limelight. He is now an internationally renowned author, speak and consultant on the subject of customer experiences. Matt’s book was voted ‘Management Book of the Year’ by CMI. When he is not helping the world’s businesses provide exceptional customer service, he enjoys surfing, photography and playing piano or classical guitar. I enjoyed Matt’s interview a lot, and think you will too. Here is my interview with the brilliant Matt Watkinson…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – how do you respond?
Well this is a funny question. My wife is a TV producer here in LA, and every now and then I get to tag along to one of these Hollywood industry parties. People always ask what you do first, and as soon as they find out I’m a civilian who can’t get them a step up the ladder they literally turn around and walk off. Incredible. I learned early on from these experiences not to say “I’m a writer” because it’s crushingly disappointing for them that I’m not the sexy script writing kind. I just say I’m an Uber driver or something, which is what most aspiring entertainment folk are too.
Other than that, being the a bashful Brit I am, I normally mumble something modest about writing, and speaking at events. I normally avoid mentioning that I’m a consultant because I don’t want people to think I’m a complete tool before I’ve had a chance to prove it.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
I grew up with Roald Dahl – I loved all his books, especially The BFG- I would just disappear into the world he created. I loved the Discworld Books too, and actually I had this amazing massive book of random facts – like that a spider has it’s penis on it’s leg – that kind of thing. I would read it for hours and it blew my mind how amazing the world is. If any topic seems boring you’re either looking at it from too close or too far in my experience.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I went through phases. I always wanted to do something creative – designing stuff like cars or planes. I spent my childhood building models – airfix kits, and balsa wood gliders, that kind of thing. I have always been really passionate about classical music too, and I had the serious desire to become a concert pianist. I trained four or five hours every day for a few years until I ran out of talent and gave up on that dream.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
I think he’d still recognise himself in there. I’m still pretty juvenile, free spirited and I can still land a kickflip on a skateboard which would score me some points – which astonished my neighbours kids the other day.
It’s funny how the things you are often criticised for when you are younger actually become your greatest strengths as an adult. I recently discovered a school report from when I was sixteen or seventeen that said I was always “questioning received wisdom” and “going against the tide” as if these were bad things. But actually that’s been the basis of my career – questioning current ways of doing things, trying to plough my own furrow.
We desperately need more people to think independently and critically and pursue their own path. Our progress as a species depends on it. It’s tragic that many spend their formative years being told to fit in, keep quiet and follow the curriculum, then they get into the workplace and are suddenly told to “innovate” and “think outside the box”. It’s a bit silly really.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
Probably Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin. As we enter into the workplace I think it’s important to be clear on what our motivations are for working and to start out by developing a healthy relationship to money, something most of us struggle with, at least at some point in our lives.
If it’s important I try and read when I’m freshest, which is first thing in the morning. Long train journeys are good, but for some reason I can’t read on the plane. Sometimes I read something light before bed but nothing too inspiring because my brain will start fizzing and I won’t go to sleep.
Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far?
I suppose the obvious answer would be the one I’ve written, The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences.
It is no understatement to say it totally transformed my life, not just my career. I went from being a completely unknown kid from a village in the English countryside to being flown all over the world to talk and work. I met the most incredible people and it really opened up huge opportunities for me. If you’ve got something to say – you should say it! You never know what might happen.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
None that come to mind immediately.
It really depends on their inclinations.
I have very strongly recommended that people read The Lonely Crowd by David Reisman for some reason, but few take me up on it because it’s quite heavy duty by modern standards. I’ve always recommended The Origin of Everyday Moods by Robert E. Thayer which is a fun book on how we regulate our moods through our behaviour. The Pursuit of Pleasure by Lionel Tiger often gets a look in. As does the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser, to go totally off topic. The Victorian style of writing leaves me in hysterics every time.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I don’t know that I prefer one to the other, but I hardly read any fiction. I’ve always got a stack of non-fiction I have to read as research so if I pick up a book it’s almost always that.
Do you think reading is important?
Reading a good book has the highest return on investment and time of any activity full stop.
I think it’s absolutely one of the most important things you can do. It’s value can’t be overstated. I’ve never met a very successful, interesting person who wasn’t well read. The correlation is undeniable. I think specifically reading books rather than blogs and that kind of thing.
Long form prose exercises a different part of the brain to hypertext where you are constantly scanning for the highlights. Spending too much time online is literally destroying our ability not only to concentrate but to contemplate – reading books is the antidote to that, for sure.
When you read a lot you realise just how little you know about anything. It’s very humbling and keeps you open minded. I’m terrified by the people I run into in my day to day life who are full of confidence but don’t really know anything – the two go hand in hand I fear!
Mastery by Robert Greene. A bit late to the party on that one. His economy, clarity and message make him a true master himself, in my opinion. I have enjoyed all his books.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
I love the kindle because I can take it everywhere, highlight interesting sections and I don’t have to wait if I’m impatient to get started. The kindle is kind of a pay as you go super-wikipedia for me.
That said, I love to see books on shelves – whenever I visit someones house I always peek at what they’ve got lying around – and what looks well thumbed. Not that I’m judgemental or anything…
Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.
Wow, that’s tricky. I think it would have to go to Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows, as odd as that sounds. It’s hard to overstate the impact this simple, engaging book had on me. It literally changed the way I saw the world, it’s problems and the way we make decisions over night.
We live in a world where everything is part of a system, whether it be the economy, environment, our communities; and yet we tend to make decisions with no appreciation whatsoever for their impact beyond what is immediately visible to us, often with catastrophic consequences.
There is no way we can solve the problems we face with the same thinking that created them, and I strongly believe that everyone should be taught to think in systems – it is essential! I cannot overstate the importance of this book, however dull its title may sound.
The Buddha in Daily Life by Richard Causton. When my wife and I got together I discovered that she was a Nichiren Buddhist and I wanted to understand that part of her life, so that is the first book I read. It was all about understanding the role of cause and effect in life, taking responsibility for our environment and the lives we want to live rather than blaming others, consciously appreciating the things we have, and respecting the dignity of our own lives…it really set out a framework for living that resonated with me. After reading that I adopted that practice too and it has had a transformative effect on my well-being and happiness.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Literally hundreds. It’s so difficult to try and narrow it down! Hopefully your other interviewees will do a better job!
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I’m mid way through writing my second book which is due out next year so I’m really having to read a lot of diverse material as research for that, which includes a bewildering array of topics from weather prediction and evolutionary biology to military strategy and cost accounting. Really I try to just read anything and everything that is interesting and then try to connect the dots afterwards. I think it’s better to take inspiration from outside your field or you becomes dangerously inward looking.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Something suitably cringe inducing, I’m sure. I really struggle with titles…fortunately I’m planning on living for a while longer so I’ll have some time to think of something really terrible.