Richie Norton was 16-years-old. Like many teenagers, he wanted to make some money and spend it how he wanted.

1: “Although Richie came from a middle-class family and lacked nothing, he longed for control,” write Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy in Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork.  

Richie’s story highlights the primary message of the book: To maximize our effectiveness, we should focus on “Who” not “How.” The author’s state: “Who Not How is about utilizing relationships, and being transformed by them.”

Richie decided he would get a job at a grocery store or gas station. He told his dad his plan.

“I don’t want you to get a job,” his dad replied.

“But I want one.”

“You’re a kid. You’re going to be working your whole life.”

“But I want money.”

“Okay, Richie,” his dad said. “If you want money, then go to El Centro, to the watermelon farms. Ask if you can buy all the irregular sized and shaped watermelons. The farms can’t sell them, and they just end up getting rotten and being thrown away.”

So that’s what Richie did. He removed the backseats from the family van and drove two hours south from his home in San Diego to El Centro, California. His dad had agreed to loan him the money to buy the strangely shaped and thus severely discounted watermelons. Richie filled the back of the van with all the watermelons that would fit.  

Back home, “Richie opened the neighborhood phone book and started calling down the list of potential watermelon buyers, including his friends’ parents and his local community,” Dan and Ben write. “He told them he had watermelons that were totally delicious, just oddly shaped, and that they could buy one or more from him for cheaper than they could get at the grocery store. It was just days from the Fourth of July, so he knew the refreshing fruit would be in high demand.”

Richie sold all 100 of his watermelons in a single afternoon. He made more money than he would have made working minimum wage for the entire summer.

2: When Richie initially decided he wanted to make money, he had asked, “How can I make money?”

“This question led him to the solution of getting a job that is typical for 16-year-olds,” write Dan and Ben. “By asking ‘How?’ Richie was going to give away his entire summer.”  

“How” costs a lot of time.

Richie’s dad thought differently about time and money. He was an entrepreneur. “When Richie talked to his dad, his dad became Richie’s “Who” in showing Richie a more effective way to make money with the least amount of effort.”

It’s unlikely Richie would have thought of the watermelon idea on his own. “But with his dad’s solution, Richie didn’t have to give away months of his time and freedom,” Dan and Ben observe. “That’s the power of having a Who – you instantly get access to knowledge, insights, resources, and capabilities that are not currently available to you.”

“‘How’ is linear and slow.

“‘Who’ is non-linear, instantaneous, and exponential,” they note.

This experience changed the trajectory of Richie’s life. He decided never to sell his time. “And he never has,” write Dan and Ben. “By saving his summer and by creating his desired result much faster, Richie radically increased his Freedom of Time.”

3: Freedom of Time is the first of four freedoms Dan and Ben write about in Who Not How. “Time is not fixed, but flexible. It’s not finite, but infinite,” they write. We “never reach a place where [we] can’t improve [our] Freedom of Time, because it isn’t solely about having all the time to do what you want. It also involves using your time on increasingly quality activities.”

Richie is now in his late 30s. He lives in Hawaii with his wife, Natalie, and their three sons. Like his dad, Richie is an entrepreneur who creates products and services and consults with other entrepreneurs. “This Freedom of Time also allows Richie and Natalie to write books, foster children, travel the world, and serve others in a capacity that would have not been possible without learning from a Who,” the authors write.

Richie’s family was struck by tragedy several years ago when one of their sons died. This terrible experience served as yet another reminder of how precious time is. Richie “lives every single day like it could be his last, and even created an acronym for time: Today is My Everything,” note Dan and Ben.

Richie’s story spotlights that we have Whos all around us. Our lives are full of Whos who play specific and unique roles, enabling us to be and do what we otherwise could not, Dan and Ben observe.

We have a mail carrier who brings us our mail.

We have friends who encourage us.

We have mentors who inspire us.

“But as is true in all relationships, both parties are Whos for each other. Richie is a crucial Who to his dad, giving his life deep meaning, purpose, and joy.

“We all have Whos in our lives we rely on, who help us achieve our goals and support us in various ways,” note Dan and Ben. “Likewise, we are all Whos to other people, providing some form of support or connection they need or want.

“Think about the Whos in your life. What would your life be like without them? How would you be different without them?” they ask.

And, what could our life be like if we were surrounded and supported by an increasing quantity and quality of Whos? How would our vision for the future change if we had more Whos to help us?

In business, finding specific Whos to support us in achieving our goals is an investment, often requiring money. However, as Richie’s story shows, not all Whos require money. The advice from his dad was free, and it changed Richie’s life forever.

More tomorrow!


Reflection: When faced with a problem or challenge, do I typically ask “How” or “Who”?

Action: Discuss with a colleague or with my team.

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