Buzz Bissinger: From Friday Night Lights to Fatherhood

Image courtesy Buzz Bissinger

A Personal Journey

Buzz Bissinger has so many awards for his writing that I’m not sure where he can keep them all:  the Pulitzer Prize, the Livingston Award, the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award, the National Headliners Award among many others.  He is best known for his nonfiction book Friday Night Lights.  His newest book is called Father’s Day, a deeply personal and moving book about his relationship with his two sons.  Born premature and just minutes apart, his twin boys ended up very different because of a few precious minutes.

After reading his newest book about his son, I spoke with Buzz Bissinger about this very personal story.

I described this story, or as the subtitle aptly points out, this journey, to someone recently.  I’m curious, though, how would you describe the book in a few words?

Father’s Day is a journey across the country. But it is really the journey of a lifetime, both to discover a son who is different from the mainstream and also my own journey to better understand myself and the degree to which my relationship with my own father, my ambition, my insecurities, have informed me as a parent and father.

In this very personal, and remarkably candid journey, we meet your entire family.  But obviously the focus is on your extraordinary son, Zach.  You take a cross country trip in part to know your son. I haven’t met him, but you can’t finish the book without feeling you know him as well as it may be possible to know him.  When I finished, I flipped all the way back to the first pages where I underlined this: “I love my son deeply, but I do not feel I know him nor do I think I ever will.”  By the end of the trip, did that change for you?

Yes. I found all sorts of emotions and abilities in Zach I never knew were there—remarkable empathy, his determination to be responsible and independent, his powers of observation even when I didn’t think he was paying any attention, his steadying influence upon me when I grew volatile. 

Heading Out to Wonderful

By all accounts, Robert Goolrick has lived a difficult life.  Writing the word “difficult” doesn’t begin to do justice to some of the horrors he experienced as a child.  The depth of family dysfunction in his childhood is impossible to communicate in a few words.  He wrote a detailed account of these depths in his first published book, The End of the World as We Know It.  Pick your poison and he tasted it:  neglect, sexual abuse, alcoholic parents, not to mention the filth, the rats, the despair.

Robert overcame all these obstacles and went on to become an advertising executive and then a best-selling author.  His book A Reliable Wife was a #1 New York Times bestseller and was widely praised by critics.  When I asked him how he overcame such great odds, he credited a strong imagination and strong interior life. 

John Smoltz on the Benefits of Failure

On June 8th, the Atlanta Braves are retiring the jersey of John Smoltz, and naturally when I think John Smoltz, I think about success:

  • 21 year major league career
  • One of the most beloved men in Atlanta Braves history
  • 1995 World Series Champion
  • Numerous awards from the Cy Young to the Roberto Clemente

When you talk with John Smoltz, however, it isn’t success he talks about.  It’s failure.

He sees failure as: 

Make Work Happy

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On a recent business trip, I was reading Work Happy at breakfast.  A server walking by noticed the book’s title and said, “I’m all for that!  Who doesn’t want to be happy at work?”  Then we started talking about what makes a great workplace.

The author of the book is Jill Geisler.  She leads the management faculty at the Poynter Institute.  She has one of the most popular management podcasts, “What Great Bosses Know,” with over seven million downloads on iTuneU.  When I read her book, Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know, I was thrilled to find so much excellent management advice packed into a single book.

I didn’t just read the book; I put it to immediate use.  For instance, I recently followed some of her advice on giving feedback.  It was remarkably well-received, and I credit Jill for that.  In another example, how do you answer an employee who stops you and says, “Got a minute?” when you truly are swamped and don’t have 20 seconds.  Jill offers tips that I have already used. 

Why didn’t you write this book much earlier in my career?  You could have saved me from making many mistakes!  What inspired you to write it?

Skip, you and I apparently share the same goal: to help managers avoid the mistakes we made as bosses!  Your blog is a great contribution to that end, and for my part, I’ve been teaching, coaching, writing columns and producing podcasts on leadership and management in my faculty role at the Poynter Institute. But the book’s inspiration came from discovering that my “What Great Bosses Know” podcasts on iTunes U have been downloaded millions of times by people all over the world.  It was evidence of an unsatisfied hunger for credible, practical help among men and women on the frontlines of leadership. That’s why I wrote this workshop-in-a-book. 

How Hard Is It to Be Honest?

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The New York Times bestselling author Dan Ariely has a new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.  As a fan of his previous books Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, I was excited to delve into his new area of research.  That new area of research is all about dishonesty, and I guarantee you that it will open your eyes.

It’s easy in today’s society to point to others who are unethical or liars.  Watch the news and you can’t miss the new corporate scandal or some form of corruption in government.

 

Dan’s research shows why we may think it’s okay to lie or cheat.  It shows how one lie can build into another, and affect others around us.  It shows that none of us can claim perfect honesty.  The research then shows what we can do to improve honesty for ourselves and our culture.

About Dan Ariely


Dan Ariely is a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.  He holds two PhDs, one in business administration and the other in cognitive psychology.  His work has been featured in numerous publications from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal.  He has also been a keynote speaker for TEDTalks.

What sparked your interest in dishonesty?

I first became interested in dishonesty after Enron. And the basic question that I asked myself at that point was, what’s a better description of the Enron catastrophe—is it that there are a few bad apples who plan and execute and create some terrible, economic devastation, or is it better described by lots of wishful blindness that is created by lots of sort-of good people.

And the reason I thought this is an important question is because dealing with these two very different types of dishonesty is very, very different. If you think that dishonesty is mostly created by bad apples, then you basically want to change hiring procedures and make sure you won’t hire bad apples.