Going deep in a narrow space for great success. An interview with William Vanderbloemen…
Learning to navigate new modalities and overcoming adversity with innovation.
An interview with Christian ” Boo” Boucousis about crossing over from talent to CEO and leading through changing times.
The past few years have seen shake-ups in almost every aspect of thought leadership.
Big challenges can – and have – pushed a lot of people out of the field.
But what some call a “big challenge” is everyday fare to a fighter pilot.
Our guest today is Christian ” Boo” Boucousis, a former fighter pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. He’s an inspirational keynote speaker, author, and CEO of Afterburner; an org that helps corporate teams execute with the same precision and accuracy as elite pilots. After Boo’s Air Force career ended, he reinvented himself numerous times by transforming his ways of thinking and working using the skills he acquired as a fighter pilot. This eventually led to the purchase of Afterburner a globally connected group of current and former fighter pilots, U.S. Navy Seals, and other elite military professionals that use the discipline and strategy developed in their previous careers to enable organizations to achieve new levels of success.
Much of the Afterburner experience came from in-person speaking, which instantly became impossible when COVID shut the world down. Boo, shares how he led his company through the turbulent time, moving to virtual mediums to deliver immersive movie-quality experiences.
As an author and speaker, Boo is keenly aware that audiences have a shrinking attention span. He shares advice for understanding the differences between information, knowledge, and wisdom – and how to walk your audience through those phases over various modalities using humor and emotion to keep the audience’s attention. If you need advice for making your content soar, this episode is the one for you.
Three Key Takeaways:
- As a thought leader you should be infinitely curious. Not just about your domain but about how you communicate that information.
- You need to be versatile with your content. Delivering important and valuable information but also including humor and things that maintain the audience’s attention.
- We remember what we feel more than we remember what we see or hear. That is why you must evoke an emotion that is connected to the message.
If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.
Peter Winick And welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Peter Winick. I’m the founder and CEO at Thought Leadership Leverage and you’re joining us on the podcast today, which is leveraging thought leadership. Today. My guest is Christian “Boo” Boucousis and I hope I pronounce his name right, but if not, you’re near enough. Momentarily. There we go. Christian’s a really interesting guy. He is the currently the CEO at Afterburner. He is an author. He’s a speaker. He’s a former fighter pilot. If you Google him, you’ll find out all sorts of interesting stuff. But let’s just given that we’re here, let’s just talk to him. What is up, Boo? What’s going on?
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Oh, settling in. You’d be paid in Australia. Not paid out because we abbreviate everything. We are just six weeks into settling into beautiful Miami. Starting to find our feet and, you know, embarking on the next life chapter. Don’t ever be in a hurry to get to the last chapter in your life book.
Peter Winick Yeah, well, you’ve had several chapters, right? So the current one is sort of the culmination of lots of things. Right. So the early career of fighter pilot.
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Speaker Crescendo.
Peter Winick The crescendo. Yeah. So I want to talk now about, you know, you’ve been you’re one of the few folks that have been on sort of both sides of the house, meaning as the talent, you know, creating thought leadership, delivering it, being a keynoter, etc.. But now that you wear the CEO title at Afterburner, you know, there’s a business, a big piece of the business side of the hat that you have to wear, which not all thought leaders wear well. So how does that crossover or integration maybe been for you?
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Yeah, look, I mean, fundamentally, I consider myself a businessman, a business founder. Before I before I got into thought leadership, I didn’t even know what it was until I’d been speaking for about two years. And I saw this thing called the Thought Leadership School. And I’m like, I wonder what that is. Now I understand what it is, but at the time, you know, I didn’t start speaking until I was in my forties. I was I was already a business owner. I founded a humanitarian business in the Middle East, which grew to phenomenal size in a very short period of time. Right. I was a property developer, built a built a hotel, set a record for a vertical structure, a 17 story hotel, a publisher bought a publishing business and grew that and digitized it from a paper publishing business. And about ten years ago, I saw this this event run by a company called Afterburner. A very good friend of mine in Australia was a fighter pilot. He was presenting to one of our biggest insurance companies, and as he was delivering his keynote, I sort of watched it and I was like, Oh wow, that’s really interesting. That’s a whole bunch of fighter pilot ways of working and the way that we think it translated into the business world. And I saw the reaction in the room and people were just wrapped by it. And I also it resonated with me because, you know, the big part of my career that is almost a footnote these days was as a fighter pilot for 11 years as well. And it was until that point in time, I kind of realized the value of the training. You know, I, I saw it probably the way everyone sees a fighter pilot and everyone sees afterburner, which is what you know, it’s a bunch of guys and gals in green suits that run around and fly at a million miles an hour and play volleyball with their shirts off Top Gun style. But in that moment, I had this this, this kind of a ha ha feeling where I was like, it’s not the flying that is the fighter pilot thing. It’s the way of thinking. And we’re just equipped with this incredible, fast, agile mindset which had been codified over the years. A fighter pilot called Jeff Sutherland created Scrum and created the Origins of Agile. And, you know, a lot of fighter pilots sprinkled around the world doing some pretty amazing stuff. And I bought Afterburner earlier this year, the whole grid, because I thought what an incredible platform to distribute what I believe is some fundamentally sound intellectual property.
Peter Winick So stay there for a moment. So the acquisition of Afterburner. So if you go back and if you don’t know afterburner, look them up because it’s a fascinating organization. So old school afterburner, the model was here’s a bunch of fighter pilots and there’s a new crew coming out every year into retirement or whatever the case may be. And nobody became famous individually because it was really about the afterburner model. Right. And they would go out, travel around various groups, delivering an essence, you know, corporate keynote speeches. Right. That was the business model. And I don’t know how old the firm is. I’m going to guess. 20 plus years old.
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Yeah, 27 years now.
Peter Winick Yeah. Okay. So I want to talk a little bit about the transformation that you’ve taken and you’ve seen that business go through, because obviously we had this little thing called COVID where if you were in an event based business, probably not the place you wanted to be. How does afterburner deliver value now where it’s not 100% dependent on we’ll come to your city, talk to your event and talk to your people and whatnot.
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Well, I think like everyone, we just we just pivoted into no, I don’t really like that where we evolved into virtual delivery. And Zoom was great for us. We were we were first movers on Zoom. We adopted the breakout rooms on Google and Zoom, like literally the day they the day they were launched, we ran it, you know, in a very sophisticated format. We understood that during COVID, there was lockdown in different states and different everyone had different rules. But because we were a distributed model, unlike other thought leaders, we had people in every state in the US, every country around the world. So we could be live in some areas and virtual and others and hybrid all at the same time. So we actually did.
Peter Winick Question some basic assumptions that were fundamental. And I would say and tell me if I’m wrong, but some of the old school or older assumptions about afterburner was it’s the afterburner experience. It’s being live in a room watching these amazing people that have done things that most of us will never do get up, look you in the eye and tell you the story. And I know lots and lots of speakers were like, Jeez, does that translate remotely? Like, you know, you know, sitting at home in their underwear or whatever? We don’t control the music. We don’t control the theatrically, we don’t control the environment of the room. We don’t control, you know, there’s so much less control that you have over this, this sort of visceral experience. How did you make sure that you were able to deliver such impactful and powerful content?
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Well, first of all, that was a perception and a belief system from speakers, which is which is ultimately flawed. You know, you can control what you can control. And one of the great things about being on a computer screen and people with headphones on is you can actually create really immersive TV shows and movie like experiences. So we just really leant into 4K video. We, you know, we had wires hanging off the roof and jury rigging. How do you get sound from that camera through this set? Like you should have seen the stuff that we were coming out with to try and get a high definition video playing with it with someone. Now, that’s all old hat. Now you’ve got ABS platforms. Yeah, there’s so much to support it. But the two weeks leading up to it was amazing. And look, don’t underestimate happenstance. Most of my life is is is really, you know, serendipity and happenstance in in that I had a publishing company that I had just sold to a big digital publishing powerhouse. And I and I became really great friends with the owner of that. And he was also on the same journey. So together we would just sit in his studio while everyone else was in lockdown as essential workers and just pull apart pieces. And together we created this, this model and we yeah, it was a pretty dynamic time, actually. But I think we did we did a pretty good job, which we operate independently from the US at the time out of Australia. And we, I think we kind of jumped ahead a little bit there in Sure how we adapted to that.
Peter Winick So stay with me for a minute here. So then, you know, the radical change in terms of the modality, the format, the adoption of technology at a rapid pace and speed, etc., that had to be done or there’s no business. Right. But I would then say, but what has not changed? What is evergreen, what is universal are some of the key core messages that Afterburner delivers around teamwork, around collaboration, around courage, around risk, around all those things. So sort of square that for me.
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Well, it’s evergreen content. It’s actually created in a global network of fighter pilots that work for us and still fly. So it’s constantly validated in the real world. And what we codified, we don’t we don’t call it plane prefix debrief in the Air Force. It’s just what you do. It’s the it’s the way you live. Or as they say in The Mandalorian, you know, this is the way. So we just had to codify that into something that was workable. So and the way that we do it as fighter pilots really hasn’t changed since the Vietnam War era when Top Gun was created. This is when all these systems were created. So, you know, my opinion of thought leadership is intellectual property is one thing and distribution is a completely different the thought leadership and distribution of IP. So you just have to you know, everyone connects differently. Even post-COVID, some people still prefer the experiences virtually than live. We say live is important because you got to, you know, even though as fighter pilots you operate, you’re not in the same room. You could be hundreds of miles away from each other in a coordinated fashion. You still kick things off together. You plan together, you breathe together, you execute individually, and you come back and debrief together.
Peter Winick If you’re enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about our podcast, please leave a five-star review at ratethispodcast.com/ltl and share it with your friends. We’re available on Apple Podcasts and on all major listening apps as well as that thoughtleadershipleverage.com/podcast.
Peter Winick Yeah interesting. So I mean I think that life peace whether you have a personal preference or even quantitative required requirement, qualitative data that says in person is better. I think the reality is it kind of doesn’t matter if the market says, well, there’s a big piece of the market that will now be delivered, not live, because, you know, we’ve done the math and we’ve seen what travel cost. And this is, you know, we want things on demand, etc.. So I want to touch on some of the changes in not just the modalities, but like 27 years ago when the organization was started. I would argue that attention spans were longer, oh.
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Five years, that in five years we’ve noticed the change.
Peter Winick Right. So talk about this adopter, because a lot of thought leaders struggle with, oh, geez, you know, nobody reads the book anymore and nobody wants to go through one thing or, you know, I’m forced into the short term, pull it down, you know, on demand instead of instead of pushing content. A lot of things are pulling on demand. And my reaction to that is, well, you have a choice. You know, you could remain you could do it your way or you could be relevant. Right. And a lot of it is adopting two different formats, right. And adopting to different expectations. People don’t want to read an entire book until they’re convinced you got to give them a little nibble of something that you do that might be juicy. Let me try a little more and a little more. A little more. So how do you see that?
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Yeah. Look, we have this concept called situational awareness in, as fighter pilot said, it’s fundamental to it to our success just in awareness of what’s going on all the time. But another way of saying it is, is information, knowledge and wisdom. So information is noise. Knowledge is information that allows you to make good decisions, and wisdom is information you pass on to others in their decision making. So so when you’re a thought leader, that’s what you’re asking yourself is I’m offering information. So is it is it just is it just noise? And it’s a bit click? Baity My knowledge is my book. So now someone is interested in consuming my book, but equally, your book should be a YouTube channel, which you should have multiple videos of that content. Because if you’re looking at a, you know, 25 and under don’t read books, they just consume video. So and then and then the wisdom is your coaching, mentoring and your engagement in experiential works. So it’s I think I think what happens is thought leaders is and I’m guilty of as much as anyone else is, you just get all caught up in it all and you have these great ideas and you’re like, I think the more you do it that you more realize, is it a great idea or just an idea? Because every one of those needs to end up as wisdom, right? Not just as an information.
Peter Winick Well, great idea by what standard? Right. So I like that framing that you’ve got, because ultimately you want to get to a place where you’re accumulating wisdom for the purpose of passing it on to others. Right. So that they can make decisions, do things differently. They don’t have to accept at face value everything that you give to them and say, here is wisdom, right? They could beat it up, they can punch it up, they could add to it, they could take away what they like, etc.. What are the other things that you’re seeing in the marketplace? Because I think a lot of people think that the creativity as it relates to thought leadership comes in the creation part, not meaning the ideas, the ideation and all that, not in the formatting, the packaging, the marketing, the distribution. And I would argue they should be at least equally weighted, maybe more weighted sometimes towards the latter.
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Yeah, I guess it’s the equivalent of a medical journal versus a best selling book. On the same subject, you could have really rich content that’s very well researched and fully supported with logic, but for most of us we can’t deconstruct it. Yeah, marketing is a funny one to me. Just, just when you sort of have it figured out, the whole thing changes again. I would say three years ago, just before COVID felt like we’re in a pretty good rhythm. There were still like brokers and bureaus and it was still human to human. Then it flipped on its head. And now what we’re in is just this pipeline of content. I mean, we you just have to. But what’s happened in the last 3 to 6 months is the commodity of information is better service. Now, you can get videographers now that can churn you video around in less than an hour into multiple formats that didn’t exist even six months ago. So I guess as a thought leader, you should be infinitely curious. And to your point, I guess you can’t just be curious about your domain excellence or your field. You need to be curious about how you communicate that to his broader church as possible. And that’s, I think, where a lot of people fall short.
Peter Winick I think it’s also the willingness to experiment, right, Because most thought leaders are not used to being wrong as it relates to their work. They are, in many instances, the world renowned expert on X, whatever X might be. So whatever they’ve done must be working in how they create, how they develop, how they deploy thought leadership. So when you tell someone who is a great author, meaning they’re a really good writer, that’s their that’s their canvas. That’s what they do to say, you know, you should play with short form video because we’re missing a whole generation. They freak out. What do you mean? The first is to resist the change. Well, they should read okay with it. Whether they should or shouldn’t. Isn’t the point. The facts are they aren’t as much as previous generations did. You want to reach them where they are and have the courage to try something that may feel uncomfortable, like we don’t have the beginner’s mind anymore once we reach a level of expertise. And then you have the courage to to fail and have that blank slate. How do you how do you think about that?
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Yeah. And I think also there’s a fear of the work that’s involved as well. I mean, you could you could write a book, and that was kind of it. Yeah, the book was finished. You could take a break, you know, get into quickly did a speaker circuit for a year after have go and go into Bermuda in the Bahamas for a while. Write in, spoken a while. You go. Your book launch is lost in the noise within a week. So you’re you’ve got to constantly keep pushing that out to your network. And I think what what’s challenging for people that that maybe have a more I guess sophisticated view of the world is some of the some of the stuff you’ve got to put out there has to be a little bit a little bit grabby. You know, it has to you have to appeal to a belief system. And I think what we’re lucky with afterburner is an element of great intellectual property, is people believe what you say. And when you talk about performance and you’re in a green suit and you’ve got another pilot with you on stage or on a virtual presentation, we don’t have to spend a lot of time, I guess, building a platform of credibility before we deliver the intellectual property so we can accelerate. So part of being a, I guess, thought leader is what is that like? What is that what is that thing that immediately establishes trust and credibility and means people pause on a feed and engage in that one minute video.
Peter Winick Well, there’s a fine line on that. Paul’s peace between being clickbait and really being a thought leader, right? So that I think is a real challenge because we’re living in a world where the scarcest commodity is undivided attention, right? That is the rarest of rare. So we have to break the trance and do the stuff and a lot of the tactics that work for many, again, click baity. The five things to whatever just don’t really work when it comes to high quality thought leadership. And if you try to sort of lower the bar, it could dilute the brand. If you stay too sort of highfalutin, nobody’s going to listen. So you have to do it in a way that I you know, my personal recommendation is like, it’s got to be authentic. You don’t want to become the person that makes you cringe when you see them on your feed. But maybe it’s a different style than you’re used to.
Christian “Boo” Boucousis So it’s I went through this journey in a publishing business, a highly credible aviation journal, the biggest aviation magazine in the southern hemisphere, one of the top four globally. And it was a very credible that’s what we built its whole reputation on for 40 years. But then social media hit and then digital hit, and all of a sudden it just was tanking. Yes, I drove part of rebuilding. It was having that balance. So if we posted an airplane almost crashing off a runway or some sort of spectacular flight maneuver on social media, we get one and a half million views. Yeah, put an article on there. We might get 4000. But the point was, it was the balance of both, because that’s how humans work. None of us want to sit and watch a documentary for 8 hours. We want to watch a documentary. We want to have a little bit of a laugh. So if you capture the audience with on theme, with both, say your comedic or fun side still resonates. If you’re if you’re a thought leader on human performance fail videos and people underperforming. And we can still draw lesson from that right like the optimism bias or the planning the flawed planning bias. You know, there’s always a lesson you can you can draw. So I think clickbait can be contextualized entertainment or infotainment is I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but it is a fine line. You can’t just, you know, have Kim Kardashian’s, you know, a. Popping out of a bra by accident on a red carpet. Think that that’s going to that’s going to resonate, right? If you’re a bra maker, it probably would. So.
Peter Winick That’s right. But I like what you said in terms of. You know, it could be fun. I think sometimes when we’re in delivery mode, we’re like, okay, we are serious, we are the expert. We need to deliver this in a very sort of academic way. And I think that obviously, you know, after burners, there is a fun and dramatic and engaging, almost theatrical component to it. And what does that do? That increases the level of engagement and lean in and therefore quality or maybe the speed of the consumption. Right? Because if you took that same work and transcribed it and had somebody monotone delivering it. Yeah, Yeah. Well that’s it’s not going to be as sexy and engaging.
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Yeah. I mean we remember what we feel, we don’t remember what we see or hear. Yeah. And that’s, that’s why you have to have a, you have to invoke some emotion that’s connected to the message and, and we’ve completely, you know, we afterburner had a keynote in the last six months we’ve completely redrafted it It’s completely different now because it has to be it has to be more entertaining, but it has to be relatable to the people in the in the room. And whereas, whereas at the end of a keynote, you know, eight, seven, eight years ago, people would remember four or five key points. I think if you get 1 to 3 now, you’ve done a good job in a keynote.
Peter Winick Yeah, I think three is probably the top of the upper limit there. All right. As we start to wrap, I’ll ask you something I’ve asked folks before because I like the question, which is someone out there now or several people out there now listening are where you were ten or 15 years ago. Right. They’re on their journey as a thought leader and a business person in the thought leadership space. What would you advice would you give them? Would you tell them?
Christian “Boo” Boucousis I would say if you’ve got no idea what you’re doing, hit your wagon to a thought leader Academy, a thought leader school, a community that understands what you’re trying to achieve. I did that even five years into doing. I was already doing keynotes for five years, but there’s definitely a formula to it and there’s knowledge. So I think that’s really important. And if you’re if you don’t really know what your intellectual property is or you have a rough idea, just buy into some intellectual property. But I. Brown or, or someone or a Tony Robbins, just, just find someone who’s already who already has some great intellectual property. And then as you learn and get your own feel for it, then start to go on your own way. But I think writing a book I wrote a I wrote a book which is really, really hard and in fact was ghostwritten. I didn’t do it myself. My next book I’m writing, that’s probably the best thing to do to actually give yourself some rigor around your intellectual property. Understand who else is doing it, where you where your point of difference is. So, you know, I think no.
Peter Winick No one else has answered that question in that way in terms of basically licensing someone else’s IP, whether it’s Bernie or Maxwell or I mean, there’s probably a dozen other options there because you’re able to deliver immediately to the marketplace stuff that is deliverable and high quality. And then you can figure out, well, what might you want to do differently? What could you learn from that? What would be the nuances? Not from necessarily exactly that strain of intellectual property, but the delivery side, the business side, etc.. I love that great stuff. Well, been great talking to you today, Boo. And I appreciate your time and your energy and wish you the best.
Christian “Boo” Boucousis Thanks. Really appreciate the opportunity. Take care.
Peter Winick To learn more about Thought Leadership leverage, please visit our web site at ThoughtLeadershipLeverage.com to reach me directly, feel free to email me at Peter at thoughtleadershipleverage.com and please subscribe to Leveraging Thought Leadership on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to get your weekly episode automatically.