Interview with Jane K. Cleland
Author of
"Putting First What Matters Most: Proven Strategies for Success in Work and Life"

Question 1. First of all, thank you for you for taking the time to talk with the Insight section of business-in-asia today. Your book, entitled Putting First What Matters Most: Proven Strategies for Success in Work and in Life, has just been released from NAL, an imprint of Penguin Putnam, and audio CDs are also available. I notice from your biography that you have an MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA. How did you come to write this book, and why do you think such a book is needed today?

Answer: I have spoken to hundreds of thousands of people in the last ten years on a variety of communication topics. It became clear to me that a lot of people weren’t focused on success, they were simply coping. Many people feel overwhelmed – they’ve been down-sized, right-sized, and re-engineered to within an inch of their lives. They don’t need more ideas on how to be productive – they need ideas on how to succeed at work and still live the life they’d like to live. I wrote the book to offer practical tactics to help people move beyond mere coping, and to begin to achieve their greatest dreams.

Question 2.What is your work experience and how much of what you write about in the book is based on your own experience?

Answer:: In the mid 1980s, I founded a marketing consulting company, and for ten years, my company assisted our clients in their efforts to communicate effectively in person and in print. We did copywriting and graphic design, market research, and strategy development, as well as speech-writing and presentation skill-building. I closed the company about eight years ago because I found I was spending all my time administering things…and I hated it! In the last fifteen years, and full-time for the last eight – I’ve written about various communication topics and provided seminars and workshops on everything from business writing to creating winning marketing plans.

Putting First What Matters Most is based on mine and others’ experiences. In addition to the tens of thousands of seminar attendees I’ve worked with over the years, I conducted dozens interviews with very successful and often quite famous people. I looked for trends, for strategies that transcended any one person’s success, and analyzed the trends so as to identify how other people could model on the successful strategy.

Question 3. In your book, you explain that there are four types of people: Accommodators, Optimists, Producers, and Data-collectors. Could you define the four types and answer whether these are absolutes or are people really on a continuum with parts of various types?


    • The Accommodator likes people, but prefers small groups. Accommodators are kind, gentle, calm, methodical, and prudent.
    • The Optimist is sunny in spirit, impulsive, dramatic, fun, articulate, emotional, and sensitive. Optimists are party animals.
    • The Producer is impatient, focused, ambitious, goal-oriented, competitive, and intolerant of peoples’ foibles. Producers are terrific problem-solvers.
    • The Data-Collector is independent, self-reliant, rational, curious, systematic, and self-contained. Data-Collectors love research.
Most people are mixtures of all four types. When I ask people how many of them act differently at home than they do at work, most reply that they do. Yet we have only one personality! What most of us do is bring forth different aspects of our personality depending on the circumstances.

For example, perhaps you’ve learned that your boss hates it when you bring up a problem unless you also propose a solution. If you’re a Data-collector, this is difficult for you; Data-collectors prefer to state a problem first, then carefully research and analyze potential solutions. But because your no-nonsense, be a problem-solver, Producer boss demands different behavior than that which you prefer, you’ve learned to change what you do. You’re able to do what’s necessary by bringing forth the Producer part of your persona. You may never like it, but you do it, because you realize more of your priorities get met when you do so.

Question 4. Which of these four types will be the one that is more likely to read your book and religiously put it to work? Which will be the least likely and why is this so?

Answer:Producers will be most likely to read the book and put it to work because they’re highly motivated to get things done. If they perceive the value, they’ll embrace the system. Optimists are least likely to read the book. In general, Optimists aren’t great readers. Also, Optimists are more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sorts of people, so it’s unlikely they’d religiously put any system to work.

Question 5. In the book, you give many examples which help the readers to understand and practice their skills in communication and problem solving. In your book you use the term "high-impact communications". Can you define this and explain why this form of communications is important in business and in other fields?

Answer: It’s interesting that you picked up on that phrase. I got the term "high-impact" from the title of two of my other books – How to Create High Impact Design and How to Create High Impact Newsletters.

The first issue in communications is getting your points across, which is way easier said than done. But even if you succeed in making yourself understood, there’s still the issue of affecting change. In other words, in order for you to consider any communication successful, you must ensure you’re understood – that’s the minimum. High-impact communication takes the process further. High-impact communication means that in addition to understanding you’re able to persuade someone to your point of view. Both in business and in personal relationships, in order to have our own priorities met, we need to persuade other people to our points of view.

Question 6. Another term you use is "put the tools to work". In your experience, how long does it usually take for a person to "put the tools to work" and gain "high-impact communication" with others? Why is this so?

Answer: You can put the tools to work right away, and you’ll succeed immediately. The changes that I recommend that people make are small, hopefully painless changes. For example, if you can identify that someone is an Accommodator, ask them for help (a prime motivator to that personality type). Vocabulary is powerful, and choosing your words with an eye to creating high-impact communication is an easy-to- implement change.

Question 7. I believe that your guidelines in gaining high-impact communication can be applied to multi-national and multi-culture contacts in international business. Could you explain how to use these techniques keeping in mind the possibility of language barriers or cultural differences?

Answer: I agree with you. In fact, I’m delivering a series of seminars on this subject throughout Asia this spring.

Some people believe that our personalities evolve from our environment, and others believe that we’re born with completely developed personality characteristics. Still others believe that both of these factors, plus others, come into play. For our purposes, it’s irrelevant how people get to be as they are, all that matters is that we’re able to identify our own and other people’s personalities, and that we’re able to use that information to get our ideas across well.

This means that cultural and language differences matter to us only to the extent that they impact someone’s personality. Knowing how the culture in which you’re operating differs from your own allows you to adapt appropriately, and predictably. Successful business people choose their words carefully whether they’re speaking to a person who is fluent in their native language or not, and whether they’re using a translator or speaking directly.

Which means that all of the principles explained in the book to create high-impact communication will work in all cultures, and in all languages. Adapting your communication to suit your listeners whether for cultural, language, or personality differences shows respect. And I believe that high-impact communication is respect-based.

Question 8.  Would the same considerations you note above, also apply where the communications between peoples in various continents is occurring in e-mail communication?

Answer: I would say that they matter even more in e-mail communication than they do in person-to-person communications or on the telephone because you’re relying on the words alone. Research has demonstrated that body language and tone of voice share in creating impact, so when you’re relying on words alone, adapting to suit your reader matters even more than when you have visual or verbal clues to help you.

Question 9.. Do you believe that your observations about communications and for developing strategies for success in work and life apply internationally in other countries in Asia, such as China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam etc? Also, have you any plan in the future to publish you book in other languages, e.g. in Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Vietnamese?

Answer: Each culture has a unique definition of success. For some it’s money, for others it’s family, education, self-sufficiency, and so on. Achieving success within any culture requires that you know how the society defines success. Once you know that, you’re in a good position to develop a winning strategy and to communicate it effectively.

The book has been published in the U.K. by Piatikus, and they’re distributing it in Singapore and Hong Kong. I’m meeting with a Thai publisher in May about the possibility of publishing the book in Thai, and the book may be available in Chinese later this year. The audio CDs are only available in English.

Question 10. From your advice, can you give a step by step approach to assess and set priorities, that the readers could utilize prior to attempting to start to "manage" these priorities?

Answer: Your question is very apt, because in order to manage priorities, you have to set priorities. It’s critical that people define success for themselves. If you don’t do this, you are condemning yourself to living your life according to someone else’s standards. As you start thinking of what you value, I encourage you to use a five-step checklist to ensure that your goals are properly framed. If a goal satisfies all five of these standards, you have given yourself a real "leg-up" in the achievement process. To make the five steps easier to remember, I formed the acronym CAN DO.

The C stands for Concrete. In other words, in order to set a goal you have to understand what you’re talking about, and you have to know what you need to do to achieve. I run into people all the time who tell me that they’re stymied by not knowing something. For example, if you want to have a mutual joint business venture with a client in Vietnam, but you’ve never done this, you need to get yourself the knowledge you need before you continue on to step two.

The second step is Attainable (and realistic). If your company is fully occupied with maintaining your business, creating the new joint business venture this week isn’t realistic. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be created at all. That’s the difference between attainable and realistic. Attainable asks you to consider if you’re capable of doing the activity. Realistic asks you to consider the parameters you’ve set. Just because it’s not realistic to create the joint business venture this week, doesn’t mean that it can’t be created at all.

The N stands for Narrow. The more specific and narrow your goal, the more likely you are to achieve it. It’s almost always better to have more goals that are narrower in scope rather than fewer that are broader. It’s easier to understand something small, and it’s easier to motivate yourself to act. For example, it’s better to state your goal as creating a joint business venture with your Vietnamese client rather than creating sales with all clients in Asia and leaving it at that. Certainly start big. But break it down into manageable units.

The fourth step is to add a Deadline. Without a deadline, you don’t have a goal. Probably what you have is a dream. Dreams are excellent starting places – but you need to convert the dream into a goal, and to do that, you need to add a deadline. I recommend writing it in pencil though, not even ink. And don’t carve it in stone – because a goal is not a vow – it’s a statement of direction, nothing more.

The final step, the O, is to ensure that you can answer the question, "How can I tell when I get there?" You need an objective form of measurement. Use examples to illustrate success ("I know I’ve succeeded when my Vietnamese client and I celebrate the launch of our company over dinner."), or insert a quantifiable form of measurement ("I know I’ve succeeded with our shared company when we receive our first paid order.")

Once you satisfy all five variables, you have completed the first step to achieving success.

Question 11. You’re a successful business woman and an author who has used books, newsletters, CDs and a website,, as marketing tools to promote your products (books, tapes, and CDs), and your services (writing and delivering keynote speeches, and conducting workshops that are customized to the needs of the audience or organization). In your opinion, which mediums have been the most effective for you in reaching out to customers and why?

Answer: Word of mouth remains my most successful marketing tool. But I’m excited about the possibilities of e-mail. I’m experimenting now with creating and maintaining an e-mail data base. I feel very strongly that e-mail has to be "opt-in" in order to create positive goodwill. So far, no one has "opted out," which I take to be a very good sign. But neither have I received any registrations or product orders that I can track directly to my e-mails. I’m going to stay with it for awhile at least, because I think anything you can do to stay in the forefront of your customers’ minds is positive.

Question 12. Does your observation above in your opinion apply generally or are there classes of businesses that you believe would reach customers better through one medium than another?

Answer: Each company has to do its own cost/benefit analysis. It’s easy to say that personal contact always generates the most sales, but that’s only true if there’s a reliable way of reaching your target audience, say at a trade show. But if the cost of reaching them is so high that breaking-even is impossible, it makes sense to consider other options. It’s even more complex that that, however, because you need to factor in the "life value" of your customer, and not simply analyze value based on the amount of a first sale. Which is to say that it’s almost always cheaper to generate repeat business than it is to acquire a new customer.

Question 13. You’ve just written a highly successful book and we know your very busy promoting it and holding seminars. What are your plans for additional projects and are you planning more international travel in Asia to promote your book and other services?

Answer: I usually travel to Asia twice a year, in spring and fall. Next November I’m scheduled to deliver a series of seminars on one of my all-time most popular topics – How to Write and Design Successful Promotional Materials (including Marketing via the Internet).

I have two books coming out. One book will be called Everything You Need to Know to Bring Out the Excellence in Everyone Who Matters to Your Success. The other will be called Business Writing for Results.

About the Interviewer:   Christopher W. Runckel, a former senior US diplomat who served in many counties in Asia, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School.  He served as Deputy General Counsel of President Gerald Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board.

Until April of 1999, Mr. Runckel was Minister-Counselor of the US Embassy in Beijing, China.  Mr. Runckel lived and worked in Thailand for over six years.  He was the first permanently assigned U.S. diplomat to return to Vietnam after the Vietnam War.  In 1997, he was awarded the U.S. Department of States highest award for service, the Distinguished Honor Award, for his contribution to improving U.S.-Vietnam relations.  Mr. Runckel is one of only two non-Ambassadors to receive this award in the 200-year history of the U.S. diplomatic service.

Copyright, 2007 © Runckel & Associates

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