ELEVATE’s opening Main Stage session speaker Alex Banayan, author of The Third Door, has obsessively been studying success since he was a freshman in college. He shared with attendees some of the surprising lessons he’s learned along the way from individuals such as Larry King and Steve Wozniak.
Growing up, Banayan was expected to become a doctor from a young age, but at the age of 18, he began to wonder what to do with his life. A few days before finals, he ended up hearing about some free tickets to get on The Price Is Right. Instead of studying, he went about planning to hack the show and won a sailboat that allowed him to fund his mission to interview successful people.
Over the seven years he spent interviewing these types of people, he realized they all had one thing in common. He compares this mindset to getting into a nightclub. While most people think there are just two entrances: the front door and the VIP door, he says successful people find the third door, which may be down an alley and through the kitchen.
This third door is only found through a tremendous amount of persistence. One example of Banayan’s persistence took place when he happened to see Larry King go into a grocery store.
While his fear gave him the excuse of not wanting to bother King, his friend encouraged him to go find him. Banayan ended up yelling his name in a parking lot, and asked if he could meet him for breakfast. King gruffly told him a location but wouldn’t say a time until Banayan asked him several times until he said 9 a.m.
The next day Banayan went to the restaurant and waited while King had breakfast with his friends. After an hour, King got up to leave and Banayan called out to him. King asked what he wanted and when Banayan told him he just wanted advice on how to interview people, King smiled. Banayan went on to have breakfast with King about 50 times over five years after telling him about the book he was working on.
“The truth about persistence is you have as many at-bats as you are willing to give yourself,” Banayan says.
One thing Banayan has learned over the years is the difference between the explicit and implicit messages that society tells us. An example is telling your staff that you support taking risks, which is explicit. Yet if you fire an individual as soon as they try something and it fails, you are implicitly telling your staff not to take risks.
Another lesson Banayan learned was about the relationship between success and failure. After failing to make an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, Banayan met with record producer Quincy Jones. While Jones had a story for everything, the main thing he wanted Banayan to understand is that your mistakes are your greatest gift.
Failure isn’t the opposite of success, but rather two sides of the same coin. The opposite of success is not trying at all.
During the Q&A portion of the session, one attendee asked how to channel your creativity into productivity. Banayan says that in today’s day and age, we are dealing with weapons of mass distraction and distortion with our phones.
He suggested using his seven billboards system, where he uses seven sheets of printer paper and writes his one-sentence goal and places the sheets in seven different locations to inundate himself with that goal.
Another attendee asked about how to achieve contentment in a world constantly focused on bigger, better and faster. Banayan told the story of how when he talked to Steve Wozniak, business partner of Steve Jobs, he realized that success is anything you want to define it as. In Wozniak’s case, he considered himself successful as long as he got to build something with his hands and have fun doing it.
“Who’s to say Jobs is more successful?” Banayan says.