The latest interview in our series is with Jamie Smart, author of the business best seller, Clarity: Clear Mind, Better Performance, Bigger Results. The book has been heralded as profound, not only by the business community at large, but by the individuals who embrace its philosophy.
Although the premise of the book may seem like common sense - a clear mind is essential for high performance - thinking about clarity and achieving it are two very different things. Smart openly admits that while clarity as a concept isn't new, his background in coaching and his developed model for high performance gives him the credentials to translate ancient understandings for the modern world of business. Combining Smart's insights with observable facts, it is accessible to anyone seeking self-improvement.
Is Clarity: Clear Mind, Better Performance, Bigger Results, a book or a philosophy of business?
I originally had a business teaching mainstream leadership development to companies and professionals. Then, six years ago, I had a "Eureka" moment which completely changed my direction. I had been learning the bedrock principles behind our psychological functioning. My sudden insight was that the principles behind clarity have far-reaching implications for individuals, business and all of society.
Here's a personal example: for many years, people had been telling me I should write a book, but something had been holding me back. The moment I started to understand the principles behind clarity, the obstacles cleared and writing a book became relatively effortless.
Can you talk us through your writing process?
The novelist EL Doctorow once said, "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." I had a very clear sense of where I wanted the book to start and finish. I knew what the end point looked like, but I had no idea what the journey would be like as I went along.
For the first draft, I wrote a chapter each week and sent it out to my community (5,500 subscribers). I had a rough idea of what the next chapter would include each week, but that was about it. Using social media, the readers posted their comments on the chapters. The first 24 chapters went out over the course of about six months. I then spent nine months refining the material before securing a publishing deal and writing the final version.
I wanted to write it in that particular way because the book - from a business perspective - is offering people a way to navigate in times of uncertainty, disruption and change. Traditional approaches are no longer universally relevant. While there can still be a place for five-year strategies, today we need to operate in a more flexible, responsive and innovative way. This means relying on intuition and insight as the journey unfolds. Clarity shows readers how to cultivate these innate abilities.
You touch on some big ideas. What is the essential premise to your book?
The essential premise of the book is this: when you've got a clear mind, you tend to have what you need in the moment to deliver high performance. Last year, the footballer Daniel Sturridge scored the first hat trick of his Premier League career (against Fulham). During his post-match interview, Sturridge revealed a copy of Clarity and said, "I am a lot more peaceful and I'm playing with a clear mind. Before, there were a lot of things going on and mentally it was hard for me. Being strong mentally is the one thing that can separate you from anyone else."
The fundamental point of clarity is that if you gain an understanding of how your mind works, you will have less interference, less anxiety, less pressure and more peace of mind, creativity and presence. This same logic can be applied to every aspect of business, including influence, decision-making, relationships, communication, resilience, motivation and more. From the classroom to the playing field, from the boardroom to the bedroom; when you've got nothing on your mind, you're free to give your best.
How does your book differ from other business thinking books?
In my book, I use a combination of stories, case studies, thought-experiments and current events. I also rely on historical facts that people have been aware of for thousands of years - first articulated as principles by a man called Sydney Banks in the 1970s.
The essential difference between Clarity and most 'business thinking' books is that it is presented as bedrock principles or 'facts of life'. For example, the principle of gravity is a fact of life. You've used your understanding of this principle 1000 times this week and you haven't had to think about it. That's because when you understand the implications of a principle, implementation is automatic. Similarly, as you begin to understand the principles behind clarity, you're going to start experiencing your mind's automatic 'self-clearing mechanism'.
The automatic implementation is one of the things people find so powerful about this understanding. I call this 'implication-based learning.' The whole purpose is to give you less to think about; it's about having less on your mind, not more. You can think of it as a kind of automatic mindfulness, without anything to practice, master or memorise.
What can be achieved by having clarity?
We know that every person has an extraordinary capacity for a rich experience of life: motivation, creativity, connection, authenticity, resilience, high performance. Small children are a poignant demonstration of this fact. Sadly, many people experience very little of this capacity as adults, because their mental state is being contaminated with superstitious thinking - a simple misunderstanding about how the mind works. Clear up the misunderstanding and clarity emerges. The formula is basically this: CLARITY equals CAPACITY minus CONTAMINATION.
Here's a metaphor for it. In the 1800s, people mistakenly believed that illness was caused by bad smells. That was simply a misunderstanding about the nature of health and illness.
People's capacity for excellent health was being contaminated by this misunderstanding. As soon as people gained an understanding of the pre-existing facts of germs and bacteria, their behaviour changed and everyone's health started to improve.
The reality is that our feelings are telling us about the principle of thought taking form, moment to moment. But it often seems as though our feelings are telling us about something other than our moment-to-moment thinking. I know it sounds too simple to be true, but that fundamental misunderstanding is the source of all the extraneous thinking that gets in people's way.
How does this translate to everyday life?
When our minds aren't cluttered with superstitious thinking, we have what we need to make good decisions, build strong relationships and deliver high performance. The practical realisation that you have everything you need already within you is incredibly empowering for people. Combine that with a simple understanding of how your mind already works, and it gives you the clarity you need in any situation. The world is changing so rapidly that we can't predict what tomorrow's business rules will look like. Instead, we need to harness our innate ability to learn, discover, decide and deliver. We each have this source of clarity within us; the key is to get an understanding of how it already works.
How will Clarity change the world of business?
The biggest problems we face as individuals, businesses and entire societies are the result of a fundamental misunderstanding. As a result, a lot of people's natural initiative, innovation and performance isn't rising to the surface. If large numbers of people started living with an understanding of clarity, there would be less conflict and more innovation. Although this may sound utopian, we could see solutions to the biggest problems we face as a society and a species.
Currently, we have a standard of living that has increased by ten-fold since the industrial revolution and yet we have record levels of stress and anxiety - clarity would take care of that. As a species, we are facing big questions - from war and terrorism, to energy and the environment, to information overwhelm and mental health. Yet in spite of all this, it seems to me that we have the capacity for a bright future.