Bad at School but Good at Learning and Teaching

(From the project Dialogues with Julian Moody: On Life, Business, Sustainability, and Other Things by Julian Moody and Brandy Walker)

BRANDY W: Through your experience at Four Winds Nursery, you found that you had a natural ability and talent in certain areas. So it was a combination of these abilities and what you learned from your life experiences, such as the war and your bankruptcy, and your exposure to Socrates that helped make you effective as a consultant later in life? You also talked about the Carnegie program in the past and showed me your old Carnegie materials.

JULIAN M: That and I was also a very eager learner—I learned from my mistakes and failures. I absorbed everything. I was fascinated by everything, especially in work environments that I liked such as Four Winds. And I was a very eager learner in the Carnegie program, which is where I got my start in my consulting career, although in the beginning, when I first started in the Carnegie program, I was just learning things like effective public speaking and communication. Also, over the years, I did my best to pay attention to whatever was happening in the field or related fields so I read a lot of periodicals and books. There weren’t that many books available back in the fifties regarding management and leadership, so I read whatever was available at the time and whatever seemed related. I can’t remember most of them, and I’m sure many of them are probably now out of print. So over the years, I did a lot of random reading. Many of the books I didn’t necessarily agree with as a whole, but I did gain a lot of insights just by examining whatever was happening or being written about. But there are two books on education I remember quite well. Probably because of my very negative experience in high school. One of the books was remarkably helpful for my consulting when I led groups—it was called “Learning Through Discussion” and that was a very simple, slender book written by a professor at the University of Buffalo named Nathaniel Cantor. His original area of expertise, I think, was actually criminology, but he wrote a small book on discussions. His teaching approach was more experiential. In his classes, rather than lecturing, he was very skilled at discussion—he would get the students involved in discussions which he would lead so it did not get out of control. This enlivened the students and got them excited about what they were learning. He found that they learned some of the subject matter, in some ways, better than if he had just lectured them. And I read that book, I bet you, twenty times. And I became very skilled at leading discussions. Problem-solving discussions of all kinds. Another book related to education that was helpful and insightful for me was Freedom to Learn by Carl Rogers. Even though I don’t quite agree with everything Carl Rogers teaches and believes, I gained a lot of insights on learning and education from reading it. My experience in high school with traditional education had been so miserable—I wasn’t able to learn very well in the traditional academic system—I felt inadequate and lost. And this book helped me to understand that I learn experientially and that there are other ways to learn other than the standard, rote method you find in many classrooms.

BW: What I find interesting is that you failed miserably in business, yet you became a very effective and in-demand consultant to businesses. How in the world did you become a consultant? What happened in between? You said you got your start in the Carnegie program and that this was the beginning of your consulting. Can you explain? And how did you become involved or interested in the Carnegie program?

JM: This happened in San Diego. As you know, soon after the bankruptcy and foreclosure, we moved to San Diego because I thought I could get more nursery and landscaping type work year round out there in California. A long-time friend of mine back east, Don Messinger, had always been telling me, “If you’re ever down and out, take the Carnegie Course,” but I looked at it one time and I was scared to death. This was way back when I was still working at the Four Winds nursery. But after moving to San Diego after my bankruptcy and foreclosure, this would be 1954, I was dead broke and Don knew about it and he wrote me, “This is the time to take the Carnegie Course.” I think this was the spring of 1954, so I looked in the newspaper and found that there was what they called a demonstration session at no cost, in downtown San Diego. At that time, a Carnegie demonstration session was four hours and they would demonstrate and give an overview of the whole course for free. So I went and it really grabbed me. There were fifty to sixty other people there, all scared to death like me. George was the instructor and seeing what he was able to do in four hours, it got me. So I signed up for the course. They gave out a small red book which was the guidebook for the students. And there’s fourteen sections to it, one per each session. Each session was four hours. The sessions were mostly about communication and public speaking, like how to make a compelling public speech, but they also covered things like developing courage and self-confidence and also developing friendships and also how to be more of a leader. Most of the learning was based on participation. For most of the speaking exercises, we weren’t allowed to speak for more than one to two minutes. I had some experience in public speaking since I taught gardening classes and was a Victory Gardener on the radio during the beginning of World War II when I was at Four Winds, but I never had much confidence, and this class really expanded my abilities. And it was all through participation. I was amazed by what they were able to do with the fifty to sixty people who were struggling and learning like I was. There they were beginning to learn how to communicate better, how to relate to people better, how to find friends, how to be more of a leader. It was a wonderful experience that was for me a major beginning point, it opened up a whole new world for me, this basic Carnegie course that Carnegie started around 1912. I realized it was so unusual that I went on and helped the instructor for I think three classes and the classes ran sixteen weeks and then I got permission to go to the instructor school in LA. My friend Don Messinger loaned me the money to pay for it. And that was a key starting point. And that instructor school ran every single day and evening up until midnight with a guinea pig class. We were experientially learning how to be carrying out every one of the Carnegie lessons which were really unique. And then when I went back to San Diego, George didn’t have any extra classes so that he could hire me, and I was kind of stuck. I was driving an old, beat up car and working to survive and support my family selling fences and selling door to door with Fuller Brush. Then out of the blue came an offer from the Carnegie sponsor in Cleveland, who covered all of Ohio. Carnegie had a sponsor in, I think, every state in the country, or most of them. They needed an instructor. And they offered to pay my expenses in Ohio and help me get started. So I had a job as an instructor starting in late 1954. So I just needed to get from San Diego to Cleveland. That was sort of an adventure getting to Ohio. And this was probably in September, October. Because I had little to no money, I advertised in the paper for anybody who would like a ride back east who would pay part of the expenses. And because San Diego was a Navy town, I found three men who would share in it. And so we started eastward in my old, beat up car, and after we had gone about thirty miles, the car rattled and snorted and stopped. We found the radiator was overloaded. So we got that repaired and we headed east again. And then we were probably not too far from Gallup, New Mexico—that’s a town that’s kind of in the center of a lot of the old Indian territory. And we were driving along a remote road—there wasn’t much of anything anywhere—and suddenly the car rattled and gasped and stopped again. And so we didn’t know what the hell to do. It was in the afternoon, and one of the men spotted a big, old, broken-down barn quite a distance ahead that had been splashed with paint and that read, “Car Repairs.” And so I walked over there and found a negro fellow that existed by taking care of cars. I could see that not many people lived in that area, but I guess a lot of cars broke down on that road. And so I told him what our trouble was and he got his mule out and took the mule down to bring the car up to his shop. Well, we knew we would have to be there overnight since he had to go to Albuquerque to get the parts. Fortunately they had a couple little, oh, kind of cabins, I guess you’d call it, and for a dollar a night, we could sleep there. And so we slept overnight, repaired the car over two days time—the cylinders had blown out—and then we headed east again. Very slowly. Because of the repairs and problems and spending a buck a night for a place to stay, we were running out of money, because I only had a little bit of cash. And the men didn’t have any more money on them. And we were in a small town in New Mexico. I said, “I’m going to go into this bank and see if they will take a check, even though I’m a stranger.” And I went into this little country bank, told them my story, and said I was totally broke, but I had some money in a bank in San Diego, and they cashed my check for, I think, fifty dollars so that we could continue. And on we went. Again, very slowly. And then it was about fifty miles from Cleveland, the car gave up the ghost again, and we were in a small town, not too far from where one of the men lived. And so his family put us up overnight—they were farmers—and the next day they drove me into Cleveland and I met the people that I would be working with for a year. And they got me set up and soon I was organizing and setting up classes all over Ohio. I got a commission for all of the classes I set up, and I was also paid for each class I was teaching. I was instructing about five nights a week, and organizing classes and traveling during the day. So I was now a full-fledged instructor, not only in the basic Carnegie Course, but they had now recently added a course in salesmanship.

BW: How did you set up the classes? What was your typical routine when you were starting out?

JM: Wherever I went, I would contact any graduates from the Carnegie program—they kept a good mailing list. Small towns of ten or twenty thousand usually had about two or three graduates. And I would meet them, get to know them, and the graduates would set me up, give me a place to stay or find me a place to stay and help find sponsors. The way we usually did this was to contact local organizations that had a lot of local businessmen and community leaders like the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Lions Club. And so I would try to contact the presidents of these organizations until I found somebody that would sponsor us. And we paid fifteen percent for every student they brought us. Through all of this, I met a lot of business people. And that was a wonderful experience for me. It was all brand new to me, but I began to realize I was good at it. I was able to build trust and connections quickly, but at the time it wasn’t fully clear to me why. And so it was through these connections that I started to be requested to come to companies and help with specific problems, and how my private consulting, over time, developed.

BW: I’ve looked through the red Carnegie book that you still have a copy of. What made an impression on me is that the Carnegie program seems to build self-esteem in a low-key, healthy way, not in a typically competitive way. In the training book, Dale writes the yardstick for measuring your progress should not be based on comparing yourself with other people in the class, but with yourself at the beginning of the class. Which is typically different than traditional education which often grades on a bell curve and the grade has nothing to do with an individual's rate of progress over time. Self-esteem based on comparison is precarious. I can see why you thrived in the Carnegie program. He also brings up the point that tests, such as IQ tests, fail to measure enthusiasm which is so important. Someone with a low IQ can have tremendous enthusiasm and do well, and someone with a high IQ and low enthusiasm can fail or be completely ineffective.

JM: Yes. And I think what was also amazing and radical about it, after looking back on it after many years of experience, is that Dale was confirming what I was observing—that relationships and effective communication are at the center of everything. Not that things like knowledge, analysis, or technical ability are irrelevant—they aren’t—those things are needed. But you can have all the knowledge and expertise in the world, but if you are poor at handling relationships, you are going to have a difficult time. So that was one of the things that was so different and helpful about the Carnegie program and it really filled a vacuum. But since then, I have read his popular books over the years. After fifty years of experience, I don’t quite agree with everything he says, especially some of his views on self-improvement and motivations, but a number of his principles on building better relationships and influencing people are insightful, definitely sound. His courses certainly helped me to be a better communicator and make connections. I owe the beginnings of my career to him and I am grateful to Dale Carnegie for that. And his courses were also a great antidote to my bad experience in high school. They helped build my self-esteem after feeling so inadequate in high school and also after my business failure.

BW: I did a little research on him. He had a diverse, meandering background like you did. He grew up on a farm and then worked as a salesman. Then he went to school for the dramatic arts in New York thinking he could be an actor. When that didn’t work out, he started a public speaking class at the YMCA in New York City. His classes took off from there. As you said, the classes helped fill a vacuum—they emphasized important areas that are not covered in traditional academic education.

JM: Even today, there is little emphasis on what Carnegie covers in our education, and the academic world laughs at it and looks down their noses at something like the Carnegie program.

BW: What do you mean? Can you give an example?

JM: Over the years, I’ve been asked to be on boards to evaluate people getting their graduate degrees in areas related to my work, so I’ve had the opportunity to be around many professors, academic types. I’ve also met professors and those types in social settings. Because I like to discuss things and kick topics around in discussion, I might bring up the Carnegie course. The professor might say, “Well, I understand it does some good. It teaches public speaking.” And I’ll say, “Actually it teaches a lot more than that,” and I’ll list a bunch of things that are covered in a Carnegie class. And they will usually say something like, “Well, that’s fine and wonderful, but what’s really important is the knowledge you gain in a degree. Without that, you can’t have a career.” And so I’ll get the professor talking and say, “What kind of career?” And they will say, “Well, we’ll say a career in marketing.” “Well, with a career in marketing you need everything the Carnegie program provides.” And the professor will say, “No, not really. They may help, but the important thing is the knowledge.” The professor types—not all of them—but many of them are out of touch. They often don’t understand what people need to be effective in the work environment. For example, they don’t know that many people come out of school with very high marks, but they do not know how to speak well. These students do not know how to communicate which is different than public speaking. That's essential in life. So much of being effective in the real world has to do with how you are able to relate and get along with others and communicate. Even in the very technical fields. And some of these students may not even know, depending on their backgrounds, just basics like making and keeping friends.

BW: This brings up an important point. What I also remember about the Carnegie training book—he explains that the aim of education is not knowledge but action. Some people accumulate knowledge, get many credentials, but they don’t seem able to apply anything or be effective.

JM: Whether that is ultimately the fault of the person or their education, it would depend on the individual. Maybe both is true in a lot of cases.

BW: You seemed able to take everything you learned and apply it. That’s important. And in spite of your negative experience in high school, you proved to be a good learner, an enthusiastic student, and obviously a good teacher. They would not have let you teach all of those classes unless you were.

JM: I was extremely fortunate to have good people in my life who helped me. Most of all, my wife Thelma. I don’t know what I would have done without her. She knew me better than I knew myself. She helped me countless times in countless areas. She gave me many insights into myself as well as whatever I was grappling with at the time. Many specific instances over the course of a fifty year career so too numerous to mention—specific problems I was mulling over and preoccupied with. She often gave me valuable insights. She also helped me in my self-awareness, self-examination, and in areas of character, which was invaluable in my career. She also helped me to gain insight into the spiritual nature of problems which she can talk about much better than I can. Unfortunately she passed some years ago. Without her, I would not have had a successful career.

BW: You were very fortunate to have good people in your life, but I think it is also important to point out that your basic nature is humble and teachable. You are open and receptive to having people give you feedback. If their feedback is correct, you absorb the information. You don’t get insulted or upset. Also, if the feedback isn’t correct, again you don’t get riled up or upset. You just calmly brush it off. That’s my sense and impression of you. You’re calm—you don’t rattle or take offense easily. Many people aren’t like that. Many aren’t teachable. As you said, you had to turn down clients because you could see that they weren’t willing to learn or change.

JM: Yes it takes a very deep eagerness. All my life I’ve had an obsessive eagerness to learn. So no matter what happened, I learned. Some people have that eagerness and some people don’t. It’s very important.