Erik Qualman: An interview by Bob Morris

Called a “Digital Dale Carnegie,” Erik Qualman is the author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business and, more recently, Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence.  Socialnomics made Amazon’s #1 Best Selling List for the US, Japan, UK, Canada, Portugal, Italy, China, Korea and Germany. Socialnomics was a finalist for the “2010 Book of the Year” awarded by the American Marketing Association. Fast Company Magazine listed him as a Top 100 Digital Influencer. He also has one of 2010’s most viral videos on YouTube in “Social Media Revolution.” Qualman is a frequently requested international speaker and has been highlighted in numerous media outlets including: BusinessWeek, The New York Times, WSJ, Mashable, USA Today, Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, CBS Nightly News, and The Huffington Post. He has been fortunate to share the stage with Alan Mulally (Ford CEO), Lee Scott (CEO/Chairman Walmart), Jose Socrates (Prime Minister of Portugal), Lutz Bethge (Montblanc CEO), Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo (Nokia CEO), Julie Andrews, Al Gore, Tony Hawk, and Sarah Palin.

Qualman is an MBA Professor at the Hult International Business School. For the past 16 years he has helped grow the digital capabilities of many companies including Cadillac, EarthLink, EF Education, Yahoo, Travelzoo and AT&T. He is the founder and owner of which PC Magazine ranked as a Top 10 Social Media Blog. He sits on the Advisory Boards of Manumatix and Bazaarvoice Inc. With regard to his formal education, he holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas. He was Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State University and still finds time to follow his beloved Spartans while living in Boston with his wife and daughter.

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Morris: Before discussing Digital Leadership, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Qualman: My parents. They instilled in me the belief that if I wanted anything bad enough that I could achieve it.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Qualman: Ralph Bartel, CEO of Travelzoo who taught me the art of simplification and also the art of doing what you are passionate about

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Qualman: Yes, I realize that I had a lot of great ideas, but so does everyone else. The way to separate yourself is to stop dreaming your ideas, and making them happen. That was an epiphany for me.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Qualman: The networks of friends and learning I developed outside of the classroom have been invaluable in my success.

Morris: To what extent (if any) have reactions to your book, Socialnomics, surprised you?

Qualman: Becoming the #1 marketing book in seven different languages/countries really floored me. Also that it was a finalist for the American Marketing Association’s Book of the Year (2010).

Morris: Robin Dunbar has suggested that roughly 150 is the “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.” What do you think?

Qualman: I believe that is true in an analog world, but can be expanded in today’s digital world. That being said I do believe you are best off going deep with a few people rather than wide with many.

Morris: Although the term “social media” is relatively new, people have been gathering in groups since fire was first used for domestic purposes. Here’s my question: What are the most common misconceptions about the nature, benefits, and limitations of social media? What in fact is true?

Qualman: Social Media is simply Word of Mouth on Digital Steroids.

Morris: In your opinion, what is the single greatest challenge that CEOs will face during (let’s say) the next 3-5 years? Why? Any advice for them?

Qualman: CEO’s need to learn that in order to learn in this digital world they need to increase their rate of failure. This is difficult for publicly traded companies.

Morris: If there were another monument comparable with the one on Mt. Rushmore for social media entrepreneurs, who would be your four choices? Please explain your reasons for selecting each.

Qualman: Guy Kawasaki, Chris Brogan, Gary Vaynerchuk, Mari Smith

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Digital Leader. When and why did you decide to write it?

Qualman: Touring the world for Socialnomics, I realized that Soccer Moms to Senators to CEO’s were wrestling with three main challenges due to this digital revolution: How to Lead their best life, How to lead their employees, friends, family, peers in a digital world; and how to understand their digital footprints, digital shadows and their ultimate Legacy and how that impacts their leadership today.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Qualman: The research that showed just how inefficient multi-tasking is. That multi-tasking is 2x worse than smoking marijuana.

Morris: Which of the five habits do most people seem to have the greatest difficulty adopting and then [begin italics] sustaining [end italics]? Why?

Qualman: People struggle the most with Simplification. We have so much coming at us digitally and we make the mistake of saying yes rather than saying no. It’s a difficult trait to learn. For example I’m not answering all the questions you have supplied because I’m in a constant state of simplification.

Morris: What are the primary purposes and benefits of the “Digital Deeds Sidebars” that you have “peppered” throughout the book?

Qualman: That digital leaders are made, not born. Meaning if you want to lead your best life, lead other and leave a legacy that matters you need to be:

o  Simple (digital life is complex, those that simplify it win)
o  True (to your passions)
o  Act (do it!)
o  Map (be flexible in your path, firm in your destination)
o People (you need to network before you need your network both online and offline)

Morris: In your opinion, what are the most important leadership lessons to be learned from Forrest Gump?

Qualman: Gump’s Genius is that he is a simple man. So simple that he just hyperfocuses on one task at a time – accomplishing a tremendous amount in his life. He never listens to the naysayers or complains of his current plight.

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Erik cordially invites you to check out this website ( follow him on Twitter @equalman.



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