“You won’t believe what happened last night” is a great way to start a conversation. It grabs your audience, piques their interest, and connects you with them. When it comes to public speaking, storytelling is a critical skill for building a strong relationship. And the key? To tell a story that will make you relatable and gain the audience trust – only then will you have their loyalty. In this episode, host Adam Markel and his guest Chip R. Bell discuss this and other ways to create customer connection. Chip is a world-renowned authority on customer loyalty and service innovation. He is one of the best keynote speakers in the world, a war veteran, and the author of several books, including his bestselling book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination. Learn how to connect with your audience and build customer loyalty differently so that you can stand out.
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How To Build Customer Connection When Speaking Publicly With Chip R. Bell
I want to acknowledge how blessed I feel in this moment to be able to say that I’m your host. I’m not taking that for granted in this moment. I know we take a lot of things. I tend to take a lot of things for granted and more and more, I’m finding myself wanting to stay in a true place of gratitude. I’ve even started when people ask me, “How am I doing these days?” I say, “I’m good and grateful.” I feel good. I want to feel good but more than how I’m feeling in the moment because I don’t know if you’re anything like me. My moods change like the weather. Sometimes, it clouds, sun, rain or something else. My moods are shifting. What is constant and what is always producing my best self, my best outlook, the sunny outlook is when I feel grateful.
I am good and grateful to be here, I feel excited and lucky as well to have a colleague on the show, somebody that I get to interview but we are going to have a conversation. He’s somebody that I absolutely look to as a representative of what’s best in the industry that I’ve been in for the better part of several years. He’s been doing this a little bit longer than me and I think he’s somebody that has done this remarkable job of modeling what thought leadership is about. It’s not just a term but a way of living and this man models that. He is the author of 24 books. I’ve written a couple of books. I’m in the process of a couple of more. The idea of having 24 books under one’s belt is pretty amazing. I did post in a couple of places about his latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services and Solutions.You're in this world to have fun, make a difference, and make a contribution. Click To Tweet
He’s also a bestselling author of Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. I was so blown away by the creativity of the project of his book. I thought there’s a lot to learn there and most importantly, I think he’s modeling exactly what he teaches at places all around the globe. Virtually, Chip Bell is my guest.
He served as a keynote speaker consultant trainer on innovative service to the major organizations that probably all of you have heard of, GE, Microsoft, Nationwide, Marriott, Lockheed Martin, Cadillac, KeyBank, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Caterpillar, Eli Lilly and the list goes on and on. He teaches them, speaks to them, and enlightens leaders on topics such as customer loyalty and partnering with customers, creating an innovative service experience and the list goes on. He was also a highly decorated Infantry Unit Commander in Vietnam with the Elite 82nd Airborne, served as guerilla tactics instructor in the US Army Infantry School. His training programs have won awards including the Stevie Award in 2018. Without further ado, I want to say thank you to Chip for making time out of your day to be with us and thanks for being on the show.
Thank you, Adam. I’m grateful to be a guest on your show. I’ve been looking forward to this, having a good time and hopefully making a difference in the lives and the work of your readers.
One thing I want folks to know just at the outset is that Chip and I weren’t introduced by anybody else. We may be running in some overlapping circles or parallel paths if you will but Chip was kind enough out of the clear blue one day, it was after the pandemic had begun and in the public speaking world things changed pretty radically overnight. Gigs that were booked and events that were scheduled were put on hold, some were canceled and a lot of things were up in the air. All of a sudden, I get this introduction email where Chip Bell is introducing me to a very good client, a company that regularly puts on events and hires speakers. He said, “I think this is your guy and you guys ought to talk.” Chip and I had never spoken before.
I thought there’s a word that you don’t hear very often anymore. It’s a word that maybe is going to make a resurgence at some point but it’s the word is magnanimous. I think about Chip in that act. What he did was wonderful. He was wanting to be of service to his client but he did something magnanimous that I appreciate. Chip, if you don’t mind, I’d love to ask you about that. Is that the way that you operate typically?
I’m on this world for two reasons, Adam. It’s to have fun, make a difference and to make a contribution. I have had many who’ve been before me that have done that for me and it’s always an opportunity to give back. It’s an integral part of my company and what it represents. I always say, “To deal with your clients and colleagues in a way that would make your mother proud.” That is where I come from. It’s your mama proud.
I’m lucky that my mom is still alive and I call him my mama. It’s funny. I never did that for several years or something. I would call her mom but the last a bunch of years, I call her mama and she likes it. Chip, I read a lot from your bio just about all the amazing things you’ve been up to in the world. What’s one thing that’s not a part of that beautiful bio that you would love for people to know about you?
I want to open for the Backstreet Boys, not to maybe we’ll get to do that. The operative word out of is once and it’s a great story that I sometimes tell at parties but it is a true story. I did open for them. I’m enjoying music, writing music, performing music and study music. It was a situation in which they were performing in a concert. I knew the organizer producer. They were running late. They needed somebody to entertain the crowd. They rolled out a grand piano and I got to do my Billy Joel routine and get the audience to sing until I could arrive and set everything up. It gave me a chance to meet them at the time. This was at the peak of their career. I’m serious. It did. I’m proud of that.Deal with your clients in a way that will make your mama proud. Click To Tweet
How’d you get into public speaking? If you don’t mind, let’s get the origin story. You come out of the Army and you’re a decorated veteran. How does it turn into this?
I’ve always been somebody that got sent to the principal’s office for talking to me. I’ve always enjoyed being in front of the group and was president of the student body when I was in high school. As you read in the vow, I was a guerrilla tactics instructor in the military. Teaching, training and presenting have always been a part of my professional expression. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’m still learning a lot about it and it’s been interesting to watch how it’s changed that whole world of the keynote. Public speaking has changed over the years. The challenge is to create continually new content so you’re not a one-trick pony and you can continue to have something that’s of interest to people that they want to hear you year after year. You can’t give the same old speech over and over. That’s exciting to me because I love to learn. It’s a part of who I am, I guess.
Being relevant. It’s pretty important in a world that is rapidly being altered by technology, many things are predictable and many that are disruptive in a way that’s not so predictable. What was it like for you to get started in this industry? Give us a sense of how that journey, as you say, lots of things have changed? Could you pinpoint some major catalytic moments?
Ralph Waldo Emerson was misquoted and saying, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” That’s not true. They won’t do that unless they know about your mousetrap. When people get in and speaking, I coached a lot of news people who are getting into that. They think, “I’m a great speaker. I got a great message.” That’s terrific unless people know about you. In many ways, the most important part is building the brand, the publicity and most important the networking so that if you do have a great mousetrap, people will want to come to your door so to speak. I think that’s the hard part. It’s like a great chef who says, “Let’s opened a restaurant, not remembering that.” People got to know about it so people will find your restaurant.
It’s the same thing. The critical part is the never-ending marketing, promoting and network. There’s a lot of competition but it’s a small community in the sense that you want people to be connected, like you and I over my client who was saying, “Who’s the greatest mind in the world on resilience?” I go, “I know who that might be.” It’s having the connection and having the network. There are a lot of components to that. It’s like selling a book. If you sold a book to your village, it wouldn’t be enough. You got to borrow other people’s villages. There are a lot of great keynote speakers out there but they don’t get to get on the stage. Now it’s all virtual unless they are known and got a reputation.
No surprise, the events that we had scheduled for the latter part of 2020 or even just a few months later were put on hold or canceled. Moving to virtual, what was that like for you? What’s been some of your big learnings there? Where do you see that there are some best practices that have evolved to those other keynote speakers or other people that want to have an impact in the world and have a bunch of fun doing it where these best practices might help them at this point? I still hear from a lot of speakers. We have a lot of people in our community who are struggling.
There are several reasons why they might be struggling. Part of it is there was a decision made by particularly new speakers that they would give it away. I’ll do my virtuals keynote for free. That way, the bureaus or meeting planners will hear about me and when it’s back live again, they’ll invite me to come back and speak. Obviously, what that did was deteriorate the value of a virtual keynote. That’s one impact. Organizations are still having virtual meetings and still bringing people together. It’s not the networking opportunity that it once was when it was live. It’s not the exciting opportunity where there’s an energy in the room when you get a speaker on the stage and you’re trying your best to be passionate and electrify the audience. It’s not the same feel. I missed the stage but we don’t have the stage now and I understand that.
Through it all whether it’s live or virtual, the most important component of being a great speaker is the degree to which you are authentic and genuine when you’re with your audience. Having an audience whether it’s virtual or live, that feels like you’re a neighbor and your keynote is not just an oratory perfect practice, you’ve done it 100 times and you got every nuance down and every movement down like an actor might but rather it feels like a conversation and interaction. Even though you may have done it 100 times, the degree to which you come from who you are, not what you remember and deliver a transparent, authentic, genuine presentation that’s delivered with great confidence and relevance.
The authenticity is the critical part. It’s much harder to do that through the camera. It’s much easier when you’ve got real people and you can see their faces and see the impact you’re having on them by the non-verbals. When I’m doing even a virtual keynote speaks, I’m not in the room alone. I have people in the room. Usually, my wife and sometimes friends are in the room so I can feel that human connection with that audience.
Chip, that’s a really interesting best practice. For some folks that are struggling with having to break through that imaginary fourth wall, speak into the camera as though there’s somebody there with you. The option is to have people live there in the room. We’re seeing it in other places too. The late-night folks like Seth Meyers or Jimmy Kimmel, they’ve got a scant audience or they’ve got their camera crews, other producers and people that are around there. They’re not providing the support of holding space for them but there’s this exchange of energy.The most important component of being a great speaker is the degree of authenticity you have with your audience. Click To Tweet
I think for those of us who’ve been doing this a length of time. You know that there’s something you don’t hear often but with speakers, you’re managing energy. Contents are important but the context is the king or the queen. In that context is how you’re engaging with an audience conversationally where they can feel you and where there’s a sense that this is unique and special, not just Memorex.
The late Charlie Daniels who we lost not too long ago wrote a book called Never Look at the Empty Seats. It’s a powerful line, both for the speaker and the audience and that is, “You don’t worry about who’s not there. You focus on making it as great as it can for those who are there and even if it’s 1 or 2 people in your studio, that’s what you want to connect with and not think about the empty seats or people who are not there.” I’ve remembered that line, which was the title of one of his books. It’s always helped me to say, “Why am I here and who for whom am I here?” It’s those that you’re connecting with.
That’s a serious takeaway that you can have people in the room. Part of our business, in addition to the keynote speaking aspect is we train speakers. We train people to do TEDx events, TEDx Talks as well as other high-stakes speaking engagements. Certainly, those events were done live as you’d expect and we could coach people live, film them, give them feedback and all that stuff was intimate. We weren’t sure whether we’d be able to do it virtually. The first time we did the entire program, we did it in April 2021 virtually. Now, we’re completing the second round of that. We started in September 2021. I’ve been shocked at how well people have been able to do it through this artificial camera.
It’s one of those things that just practice. If I’m going to look at a lot of what we found and have now thought if it would be best practices, practice it enough. I don’t mean practice to become memorized robotic but practice so that you feel comfortable like you and I. We’ve never even met before and yet we’re having a conversation. We could very well be in the same room and it wouldn’t be any different. I don’t think you necessarily do that by default. It’s something you have to get comfortable with. I had this interesting conversation with Nick Morgan. It’s one question conversation around what’s the status of our industry. Do you see that the buyers, the companies, the bureau or the planners are now appreciating the value of the professionalism that an experienced keynote speaker delivers in a virtual setting versus wanting to get it for cheap, get it for free or something like that?
I’m looking at the keynotes I’m booking in 2022. They’re clearly recognizing there will be a life after a vaccine and the context of a live event where a great speaker is important. I’ve talked to some of them that I have booked as I do some of my homework about what you expect as we all do as part of our preparation. They’re recognizing that the keynote speaker is not just a deliverer of content but they’re a catalyst for energy and connection with people because bringing people together in a big convention room or a ballroom in a hotel is more than anything. It’s a chance for people to connect with each other around a particular topic. Otherwise, you could do them all virtually. Why would you spend the money on a hotel or a convention center to bring people in except for that connection, the opportunity to network, get to know each other and all the things that come with a major gathering like that?
More and more are viewing the keynote speaker again as a catalyst to that connection. How it changes for me is, as we go into the future, much more things will engage the audience with each other not as people who sit in the audience and listen. There’s going to be much more of that requirement going forward than we’ve seen in the past where they quietly sit and applaud but they don’t connect with each other. There are speakers who do that. I ask the audience questions or raise your hand. It’s a quick small group back then. It’s turn to the person beside you and do this. I think that connection is going to be much more a requirement and not just a talking ahead.
What we’ve come to know as accelerated learning where it’s much more interactive and now when it comes to virtual speaking, what we’re finding is going on for more than about five minutes. You have a great story. Any of us have got our stories and things but my stories now tend to be 2 to 3 minutes long and then I’m asking a question or putting them into a process so that they’re engaging with each other or with the larger group because people have Zoom fatigue.
Their attention span is a lot shorter than it used to be. Part of the reason is that it’s not interjected with what I call water cooler conversations because I’m on a Zoom call and I’m ready to get it off. Efficiency becomes much more important and a priority on how we do it. Therefore, they’ve trained their psyche to be much more short attention span. If you’ve got a story, it needs to be quick, get to the point, cut to the chase and most important, give me the stuff to take away that I can do something where I can use it. I think it will change the way in which keynotes are delivered going forward.
How does this dovetail with the work that you teach? You teach on innovation and on customer experience. Everybody is going through this now. That’s one of the most interesting parts. It’s about global change. Rarely in our lives do we ever see one thing that’s a catalyst for across the globe change to the way we conduct business and how we interact with people.
Here’s the parallel between service as it’s delivered at its best and a keynote. People don’t talk or tweet about good service anymore. It’s got to be unique or something over the top and different. We used to say, “I want to retain the customer. I want the customer I keep.” I think there’s a level higher than that. Loyalty goes higher than that, then we got in on the bandwagon and it says, “I want people who will recommend. We’ve got the Net Promoter. Would you recommend me to a family member or friend?” There’s a level higher than that. That level higher than that is where it dovetails the keynote. When you have a customer say to another, “You’re not going to believe what happened to me,” and they tell a quick story. Storytelling, to me, is the highest form of loyalty. It is an expression of advocacy rather than, “I would recommend them to so-and-so. Let me tell you a story about.”
That turns the customer and we’ve done research around this to say, “What causes that to happen? What causes somebody to want to tell a story?” They tell a story about service that’s innovative, different, unique, ingenious, not just good and effective. Therefore, the more we are the creator of stories in the minds and lives of our customers, the larger their advocacy and the pinnacle of their loyalty.
The same with a keynote speaker, if I can just stand up there with a PowerPoint and go through facts and figures, my audience is not going to be moved or remember it but if I can make my audience feel special, valued and important because of a short story that I tell them, their lives are going to be influenced and they will tell people that was a great speech. We think back over the greatest teachers that we all can name over history and they all use stories, parables, coins or whatever we called them. It was a story metaphor approach and I think it’s the same way great speaking and great service.
It almost sounds like people that are not speakers, the work of being able to craft a story and deliver has been impactful. An effective story helps them in a variety of ways outside like if you were ever going to present anybody.Storytelling is the highest form of loyalty. Click To Tweet
It’s a mark of a great leader. If you think about the greatest Lakers, we just lost one, Tony Hsieh. They were storytellers. Herb Kelleher was a storyteller. We can go down the list and they tended to speak in stories. I think it is a leadership art and certainly, at the keynote speaking art. It’s the way we now influence people because their lives are so filled with short facts and figures that goes in one ear and out the other. Taking the time to say, “Let me tell you a quick story that will illustrate this point.” To me, that’s where it’s going to go. We’re going to see more of that.
I read this article about how companies like KPMG, Microsoft and Google can bring in consultants to help their folks. Their leaders learn how to speak their personal narrative as well as the company narrative more effectively with impact. I want to talk about resilience for a moment, as you might imagine. We’ll want to get your beat on it, your definition and where it is that you’ve even seen it in whether it’s a recent or not so recent time you had to develop your resilience. What did that look like?
I start there. There’s no place has requires resilience more than in combat. I had the good fortune or misfortune to spend a lot of time in combat. That’s particularly when you’re a commander and you’re in charge of a number of troops. Not only do you have to be tough, resilient and keep going long after your body’s screaming at you to stop but you have to be the role model for that and to keep your coup. One particular incident that will be embedded in my memory as long as I live was I was with the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam and we were getting overrun one night on ambush. We were outnumbered by about 10 to 1. I realized that in the middle of the night, 2:00 in the morning, if they kept sweeping the area they were going to come walk right over us and we wouldn’t live.
I literally called in artillery from behind and walked it up to where our site was. They can’t move in and I kept dropping the artillery rounds to the point where we’re getting shrapnel all around us. The last one I called was literally on our location where the artillery battalion had us located and you can hear it coming. You’ve just fired usually 2 or 3 miles away but you can hear that round coming. You’ve whispered to all your troops, “Here it comes.” We’re going to say our prayers. We’re not going to take these folks out with us but this is the only way we’re going and we might as well take them with us. It’s the worst sound you can imagine. You can’t hear for 2 to 3 days after that because it’s right on top of you.
A miracle happened. We took the enemy out but I didn’t have one single soldier get hurt and we walked out the next morning. Being able to know that they’re approaching us, walking at artillery behind them and had sounds is, “Drop to 5 meters,” and they keep firing one round after us and it comes toward you with them in the middle. That takes a lot of courage to know that the next one is going to be your good back but you’ve got to do that because you’ve got troops who are dependent on you. I learned after it that I’m here for a reason and a person. I should’ve died in that moment but let me tell you, when I walk into a CEO’s office, I’m not nervous. I think to myself, “This is nothing. This isn’t nervous.”
You’re moving beyond an event like that and not just that event but the duration of a conflict like that. Part of your definition of resilience hinges on what fear looks like because you are able to be courageous in the face or in a moment where you were facing almost certain death. As you said, “Getting on stage or walking into a CEO’s office is not the same fear.”
I don’t mind and I’m playing safe with this. The people who don’t want to wear a face mask that calls it personal freedom is the one that I just flat don’t get. I say to those people sometimes who are saying, “It’s my personal right not to wear a face mask. Nobody can make me wear a mask.” I go, “Walk in your kid’s grade school class, light up a cigarette and see how long you get to stand there and smoke.” Why do we do that? Why do we say no smoking in a public area? It’s because people don’t want to get exposed to secondary smoke. Why do we want to have people wear masks? It’s because people don’t want to get COVID from somebody who may have it. It seems to me that the principle is identical.
The cigarette example is a good one. It’s the one I’ve been thinking about. I just thought to myself, “How about the seatbelt? I’m old enough. I didn’t have to wear a seatbelt.”
If this highway patrol stops you, you’re not wearing a seatbelt and you say, “It’s my personal freedom not to wear one.” You’re still going to get a ticket. That’s a silly concept to me. I believe in freedom but we learned a long time ago. It’s because you got freedom doesn’t mean you can create fire in a crowded theater. There’s a limit.
I couldn’t agree with you more. I want to take this opportunity. I don’t know that you ever can hear this enough times but thank you for your service.
My pleasure. There were a lot of people there who supported me that I’m always grateful for.
It’s a team. It’s an effort of so many people who are committed to the same important ideas. It doesn’t mean you do it perfectly. It doesn’t mean you have never done it perfectly but we learned from all these experiences and that’s what I think matters greatly. Chip, as we wind things down, I want to ask you about your personal rituals for your resilience. I’m not disclosing how long you’ve been doing this but you’ve been doing this a while.
I started my company many years ago.
Years ago and you have written 24 books. You’re out there on the trail although our trail is virtual.
I still can’t wait to get back on that airplane and go to the stage.
You’ve got gigs lined up in 2022. I’m imagining, in addition to maybe some good constitution, some good genes and all that.
We were talking about our mama. My mama lived to be 102.
There are genes that are working on.
I hoped. I’m counting on it. I could be walking across the street and get a beer truck.
I want to know what you do to take care of yourself.
I’m an early riser. I get up every morning at 6:00 whether I need to or not. I’m at work by 7:00 because I love my work. I have exercise, walk every day, eat right and drink good whiskey. I’ve been happily married for many years, I have a deep faith in the almighty. I get plenty of sleep and I don’t have any trouble sleeping. All of that from a physical standpoint helps. I feel a very fortunate, blessed person.
A lot of people do believe that even when they hear a story like the one that you shared, resilience is the physical ability to continue to move forward, no matter what’s going on. Bombs could be dropping around you but you still keep moving forward. What we find in the research is pretty clear that it’s not just physical. It’s mental, emotional and even spiritual. What you outlined is the rituals that you keep very much were mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.
All of which are important. I got a cartoon that hangs on my wall. It’s a blue heron on the edge of the water. He’s got a bullfrog in his stroke and the frog has his front legs wrapped around the blue heron’s neck. The caption is, “Never ever give up.” It’s a clever cartoon
It’s wonderful to have you as a guest. I’m closing it out. I’ll go back to not my mama but to my grandmother who would say, “Leave the house and start the day on the right foot.” I thought later in my life about what that means. I’ve done everything from the way ballplayers don’t step on the lines as they walk across like the manager doesn’t step on the foul line. Before I’m going to leave for a speaking engagement or any of those things, I always consciously leave the house with my right foot.
I started to deepen that practice some years ago and thought, “What’s the first opportunity to do that?” I thought it’s just waking and the moment I wake up, that’s the opportunity to start on the right foot. My own personal ritual which was the subject of a TED Talk I gave a couple of years ago was about four simple words to start the day. It’s a three-step process. The first is the wake-up. Can I get your agreement on this?
It’s interesting because you just agreed to that. I was a lawyer for several years, I got you on record. You agreed. We all know that none of us have a contract for that. It’s God’s grace. However it is where you give your thanks to that, which we can understand. When we wake up in the morning is a miracle on some level because at that same moment that you’re waking up, they’re not waking up. You’re taking that first breath but somebody is taking their last. Step one is certainly that waking piece. Step two is the importance of gratitude. For a moment, feel what it is there in the moment to be grateful for so much including the breath that you take in and then those four simple words.
My four simple words, not easy all the time, not easy when things aren’t going exactly how you want them but they’re profound. It’s, “I love my life.” I’ve got an advanced copy. We’ve got a book called The I Love My Life Challenge. It’s a 28-day workbook and there’s a companion book that comes out some months later. This idea of I love my life and how do you love your life even when there are things about your life that you don’t love. It’s ironic. Chip, are there words that you say at the beginning of the day or near the beginning of the day?There's no place that requires resilience more than in combat. Click To Tweet
My daddy always told me, “Don’t forget who you are and what it means.” A little backstory is he was somebody who took great pride in the family honor, family tradition and the family values were a super big deal. What he will say usually when I was going out the door, with the guys, on a date or whatever, he would say, “Don’t forget who you are and what that means.” He was reminding me of those core values that made you and made the Bell family who they were. Every time you leave, don’t forget who you are and what that means. I passed that on to my own son who now has his own family.
From time to time, he and I have talked about and revisited some of those values like honor, integrity, sense of fairness and those things that were very important. A sense of kindness, those were all a part of who we were as a family growing up. I think grounding is what I’m talking about. The more we find grounding is as important as the allegiance to a higher power.
That’s what I find is the reason I started to say those words. I did this legal work for several years. In much of that time, I would put my feet on the floor and I’d feel this anxiousness. Sometimes, even anger or dread at the beginning of the day. That’s not grounded to use your words. You’re not grounded when that’s the feeling. I wanted to feel something entirely different about my life. I started putting my feet on the floor and I started to say, “I love my life.” Even when I was in the midst of change and love, that change can be messy. I so appreciate you. Thank you for being here on the show.
It’s been a joy to be with you, Adam. This is great.
We’d love to get your comments. You can go to AdamMarkel.com/podcasts, leave a comment, subscribe, tell a friend if you know somebody that would benefit from reading this blog. Please, feel free to share. We’ll see you soon.
- Chip Bell
- Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services and Solutions
- Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles
- Never Look at the Empty Seats
- The I Love My Life Challenge
About Chip R. Bell
Chip R. Bell is a world-renowned authority on customer loyalty and service innovation. In fact, in 2021 for the seventh year in a row, Global Gurus ranked him in the top ten keynote speakers in the world on customer service. His newest best-selling book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination, won a 2021 Axiom Business Book Award.