Keep enjoying the ride, and if it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.


Dr. Mac Powell is an innovator and educator whose passion for leading change is exhibited consistently in his work. He has been in numerous leadership roles, including as the President of Bastyr University, WestMed University, and John F. Kennedy University. Dr. Mac Powell has written over 100 articles on the importance of higher-education and performance and has dedicated his life to improving the community around him.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I am definitely not a work-from-home kind of guy. I like being around co-workers or business partners, and the office is more likely an airplane than at a desk in Seattle. For me, the day starts with clearing emails before leaving for work, then a short ride on my motorcycle into the office (or a flight from SeaTac). I like to do my business writing and calls in the morning – then I usually drive back home for a quick bite to eat and to walk the dog. Afternoons never seem to be as productive, so I try to read and be engaged with the “big” ideas in the world that I can integrate into my own work. I attend the gym in the late afternoon, followed by another dog walk and dinner with Tuan. If I’m lucky, I have time to read a book in the evening or do some writing. The key for me is to keep being productive and creative and to adapt my routine or what I’m doing so that it always feels fresh and productive. If I am feeling bored or stalled, it’s time for a walk or shifting gears.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I think it’s hard not to be excited about the speed and volume of information sharing. It comes with tremendous challenges, but the idea that you can share your thoughts and experiences with someone in real time around the globe is mind-blowing to a guy who grew up in an era where much of the formal knowledge we had about everything was in a volume of books that were sold door-to-door.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Staying fresh. I work out, eat, and choose who I spend time with so that I can come prepared to be my best at everything I tackle. If I’m tired, I sleep. If I’m burned out with a project, I stop. I used to say I give up easy, but what I really mean is that it’s important to stay excited about the things you’re doing. If the passion is gone, it’s time for some serious reevaluation.

What advice would you give your younger self?

My friends would universally tell me the same thing they’ve said to me for the last forty years: “FOCUS. If you had just done one thing, you might have been good at it!” But my advice is keep enjoying the ride, and if it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Well, I would start with the answer above. There’s so much pressure to specialize and what’s often missing is people’s ability to think critically across areas of expertise. People get fixed onto ideas about how things “should” be done – almost always equating what should be done with what is already being done. I realized very late in my career that people generally hate change, whereas I think of change as refreshing and a sign that you’re likely getting better at something (provided you’re changing consciously). So, what no one agrees with me on is something like this: change is refreshing and invigorating and part of the natural evolution that leads to improvement: no change, no improvement.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The best part of my work in education is that I get to meet very smart people who are trying to make students better and smarter. I love being in a room of smart people trying to make the world a better place, and I think everyone should spend their time (at work or volunteering or in their hobbies) with the smartest, kindest, and most interesting people that they can find. Don’t settle for co-workers or acquaintances that don’t have a sense of greater purpose that they’re willing to share with you.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Well, I went to school for a LONG time. I was always going to school at night, or online, or taking certification courses. I would definitely start with the idea that continually learning and evolving is key, but all of that knowledge was only useful when it was valuable to people in key positions. I think being approachable and friendly with peers and having a solid relationship with people in positions of influence make all the difference. Every promotion or job I got was because someone with influence recognized what I might be able to accomplish, and I try to say thank you to those people as often as I can.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I would say my failures as an athlete or partner or employee or leader have all come from the same challenge, and that is misaligned expectations. I have consistently tried to achieve at a very high level, and I have tried to communicate why I want others to do the same. And that doesn’t always mean that I consistently achieve or that others agree what high achievement means.

For me, taking the time to go through the exercise of defining what success will look like, getting everyone on board, and then trying to hit the goal is critical. When I’ve failed to define success in my own life or in the lives of the institutions I supported, people can get anxious or angry or excited about the wrong things. It’s not just about communicating. It’s about building buy-in and opt-out opportunities. Everyone has to be on the same page or have a strategy for opting out.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

How about $5? Chips and guacamole in Mexico. Every day. For a week. We were trying to corner the market on avocados. Tuan and I love food.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I am one of those multiple screen people who have to be continuously reminded to shut down applications. I seem to use them all, simultaneously. and Google fight for the most attention in terms of software/apps, but even they are just getting a sliver of the action.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Well, the best book I read this year was “Never Split the Difference.” I think that’s an amazing book that can help anyone in any field understand how to negotiate better and with more integrity. And “The Old Man and the Sea.” For me, it’s the best book ever written — an existential commentary, fable, and literary masterpiece in a tiny little book.