Share experience to forge bonds

When batting around ideas with a colleague, start by talking about the past rather than the future. Share personal anecdotes, compare notes and see if your experiences align.

Once you establish that you’re like-minded, you can build on that common bond to brainstorm.

Consider how Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin decided to collaborate on a business book about the importance of solitude in helping leaders made sound decisions. Kethledge, a Sixth Circuit judge who is often mentioned as a potential Supreme Court contender, met Erwin in a pub. They didn’t know each other well, but the conversation took off when Erwin mentioned a speech he heard about the importance of solitude in helping leaders think clearly.

Kethledge could have theorized about the topic and speculated about its viability as a book idea. Instead, he opened up about his personal life.

“I talked about my barn office in northern Michigan, in a forested area overlooking Lake Huron,” Kethledge recalls. “I told Mike that I get an extra 20 IQ points from being in that office” with no Internet connection.

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Erwin, a West Point graduate who had completed three combat tours in the Middle East, opened up as well. Reflecting on his first deployment to Iraq, he told Kethledge that he preferred to walk to and from the chow hall—a mile in each direction in 100-degree heat—because he gained peace of mind during this daily, solitary stroll. He used the time to settle himself emotionally.

From there, the two men realized that their shared experiences could lead to a promising collaboration. And that led them to work together on a successful book, Lead Yourself First.

— Adapted from, “Lead Yourself First: An Interview With Judge Raymond M. Kethledge,” David Lat,