Interview 24. – Peter de Jager


A globally recognized speaker known for insightful, provocative and entertaining keynotes, presentations and workshops. He’s written for 100s of publications including the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal and Scientific American. He’s spoken in 40+ countries including the World Economic Forum in Davos.


Twitter:  @Peter de Jager

Online talks:

Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel 

It’s hardly recent, but the amazement has continued to this day. Decades ago I visited the Corcoran Gallery of art in D.C. and stumbled across a piece of art entitled ‘The Veiled Nun’ by Giuseppe Croff. It’s a marble statue of a woman wearing a veil.

He didn’t carve the woman’s face – he carved the veil… but we can SEE the woman inside the marble. While the technical artistry is amazing, what stuns me is something else. The audacity, and confidence of the artist to believe that he could pull off this sleight of hand.
More recently? We landed a space probe called Rosetta, on a comet as it flew through our solar system. Same type of experience – the technical skill is amazing – but what stuns me again is our audacity to think we could accomplish such a thing.


How would you personally define wonder, awe and curiosity? And how do they relate to each other?

The easy one first – Curiosity is ‘simply’ the desire to see what’s on the other side of anything and everything – to not allow or accept any boundary to what we experience.

Awe is next – Looking at something that seems at first glance, and likely after many glances, to be beyond our ability… hence my fascination with ‘audacity’ mentioned earlier – Audacity informs us that we CAN achieve that which holds us in awe.

Wonder is when we see something that moves us, usually something we find beautiful, that we believe is beyond us. Even audacity cannot bring us to it, and our curiosity will go unsatisfied – we just have to hold still and savour it.


What inspires you to be creative?
Need. Frustration. Discontent. — all of these spur a desire to fix something to make it better – and since its current state IS generating these responses – we need to seek a different way. A way that is more suitable to us. We need to make connections that others haven’t made yet. To do the new.


Do you have any ‘rituals’ or an environment that aids your creativity?

It depends on the type of creative work. A new talk? I’ll need a few decks of 3×5 cards, an open space to work with, various pens, a carved out chunk of ‘me’ time. Beer or coffee depending on my mood and the weather, and a clear to-do list.

A new webinar? Pen and paper, a database of art work, and music in the background. Time and coffee.

A new article? Pen and paper. Time and coffee.


What do you love about magic?

The ‘enthralment’ part. When I’m taken to a place where I believe for just a moment, that it’s real.


What do you think hinders an audience from experiencing wonder when watching a magician?
Not being willing to be a part of the experience. I’m a hardnosed skeptic – labelled a curmudgeon by many – but I check that at the door when watching a magician at work. I WANT to be tricked into believing that something beyond me has happened.


Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?
Hmm. Be careful what you wish for. ‘Wonder’ is something we should all be capable of. It means that we’re capable of experiencing the joy of something new to us AND that we’ve traveled far enough from our own native surroundings to find such an experience. ‘Wonder’ is of value to us because it’s a rare experience.

IF we somehow fell into a state where we ‘wonder’ at everything around us, then it will become mundane by repetition.

How pleasant

just once not to see

Fuji through the mist


You specialise in change management and were a key global figure in bringing awareness to the Y2K or Millennium Bug problem that computer systems faced. Looking back on the project, what did it teach you and how did you change?

It was a project that spanned more than a decade of my life. Many lessons. One stands out – people don’t like being told they MUST act. Even when you can prove that action is necessary – we resent being told. People need to come to their OWN awareness that change needs to happen.


What are the main reasons that individuals and organisations are resistant to change? And what can we do to be more open?

See above… people are incredibly resistant to being told they must change. The phrase ‘buy-in’ is seen something we must strive for. As in, how do we get THEM to buy-in into OUR change? Yet? In actuality seeking buy-in to a specific change *IS* the problem.
The concept of ‘buy-in’ can be used. Get people to ‘buy-into’ the notion that we have a problem. Once they nod their heads in agreement that a problem exists? Then we can ask the simplest of questions, “What would you do to fix the problem?” and we’re immediately deluged with suggested changes – labelled ‘solutions’.

There’s a phrase on your website that stood out to me where you say that your presentations are “irreverent to mistaken ideas”. Can you tell me more about your role as a fun provocateur?

People know everything they need to know about change, we just aren’t aware of what we know. We don’t look deep enough into our own experiences to structure what we know and apply that internal wisdom when we need it.

Example… ask anyone if people resist change, and you’ll likely be met with an emphatic YES!…

Now ask them if they’ve changed jobs, gotten married, had kids, acquired new skills etc. etc. and the answer is ‘yes of course’

There’s a contradiction between those two sets of answers. On one hand we believe people resist change, on the other hand we embrace all types of change, regularly. Both of these cannot be true.
So? How do we square the circle? By realizing that we don’t resist change based upon our OWN personal experience – but we DO resist nearly all change that someone else tries to foist upon us – usually without explaining WHY the change is necessary.
The ‘fun’ in all of this, shared by the audience AND myself is when, by asking the right questions, they are convinced by their own answers that they’ve been thinking about change mistakenly. Once we clear the myths? They can make tremendous progress on their own. We know change. We know what works, and what fails. All I do is shine a light on the mistakes we make when thinking about the subject called change.

I suspect I get my bliss slightly differently from a magician. I get my joy when I see the penny drop in people’s eyes as they ‘get it’… the magician gets their bliss when the audiences lose all sight of the penny and can’t figure out where it went.

What stood out for you? Any questions? Things you disagree with? Write a comment and join in the discussion.

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