Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
Richie Steadman: Every day, tens of thousands of Americans have access to words shared by Boyd Matheson. Some have his words delivered to their front porch or bookmarked on their web browser. Others access him via his daily radio show, while still others access him on demand interviewing some of the nation's greatest thought leaders in this, his weekly podcast, "Therefore, What?"
But who is Boyd Matheson?
How did this college dropout go on to be the head of the Sutherland Institute, chief of staff for Utah Sen. Mike Lee, become a regular contributor on CNN and Fox News, and end up becoming the opinion editor for the Deseret News? What were the lessons and principles who made him who he is today? And, as we celebrate the first 50 episodes of his podcast, what were his biggest takeaways and "Therefore, What?" moments? That and more on this episode of "Therefore, What?"
Well, I have to say that it is an honor to be able to be in this chair and have you, Boyd Matheson, in that chair, as we engage in this episode of "Therefore, What?"
Boyd Matheson: This is new territory to be on the receiving end of the question, as opposed to the one lobbing the questions, but I have great trust. I'm going to reinforce that — I have great trust in you, Richie, that this will be a good conversation.
RS: We should probably just briefly introduce people to who I am. My name is Richie Steadman, I'm the producer or editor of this podcast and have been for the last year. And so that's why Boyd has asked me to come and to be on this end of the podcast. And so I guess the first thing, let's just clear it out of the way. College dropout?
BM: Well, college dropout, yes. Learning dropout? No. A lifelong learner is really it. You know, my dad was a big reader, he had a library just filled with all kinds of business books and motivational books and leadership books. And the rule at our house was always if you wanted to learn something, you read five books about it, you asked three people who knew about it, and then you went out and did it, you had to apply it. So the traditional college model as it was 30-plus years ago just didn't really fit my style of learning. And I'd already started to do a few consulting projects. And so yes, it was a short-lived stint at Brigham Young University. But fortunately during that very short stint, I did meet this awesome person named Debbie Casper, who became Debbie Matheson.
RS: Wait a minute, your wife.
BM: That's right. And we just added today our fifth grandchild. I have to get this on an official podcast. First we have four grandsons, brand new baby granddaughter today, Savannah Jo Knight. So a big welcome to the world and celebrating our 51st episode of "Therefore, What?"
RS: And she'll definitely be the most spoiled as she's the first daughter.
BM: Grandma's already on her way.
RS: So having that — you have that structure, that background of this is life and the purpose of this life is to learn. You decide college is not the thing, but you do get that blessing of a wife. But then what? What's next.
BM: To me it was always about — and something I still tell college students today — that the most important thing you're going to take away from your college experience is learning how to learn, and learning to love learning. Because especially with the pace of society today, I mean, we have more changes and breakthroughs in 24 hours than our grandparents had in decades of their lives. And so a graduate has just prepared themselves to be a really good intern. And you know, somebody once said that it's what you learn after you know everything is where learning really begins. And I passionately believe that. And so that was kind of my course, was just to constantly learn, develop, figure out new ways to do things and explore what's possible.
RS: So what was the first thing that showed you what was possible?
BM: So I was always intrigued with personal development, human potential, excellence and particularly sustaining excellence over time. I grew up playing a lot of sports, and so watched a lot of that. I coached a lot. I started coaching when I was 13. I started coaching the little kids in soccer and basketball and we started having success, not just winning games, which we did, which was important. But I had these kids, you know, keeping their room clean and memorizing poetry. And you know, parents loved it. So they started to ask me to do summer camps and workshops, and I started giving speeches at the grade schools as I got older, you know, junior high, high school. So it's kind of been a lifelong thing for me. But after I got married, there were some consulting projects that I was able to dive into to really start exploring what is it that really helps people change? And then more important, sustain the change over time?
RS: So what was it that help you change and then sustain that change over your various jobs and to where we are today?
BM: Yes, my wife very politely says that my career has a certain staccato effect to it. I've done a lot of different things over the years. But part of it is it's kind of a consultant mentality. And to me, a great consultant or a great coach is someone who's quick to observe, shows up, has something to say, and then is willing to just push it all the way through to the end. So I had the opportunity early on with a guy by the name of Dennis Waitley, who was author of "The Psychology of Winning," still one of the most listened to audio programs in the world. He was chairman of sports psychology for the Olympic teams back in the '80s.
RS: So no big deal. No big deal.
BM: Great guy, total fluke that we connected. But I was able to work with him. And we developed the very first tele-coaching programs back in the late '80s. Working with executives. So we had a curriculum, and it was 12 weeks. And it was all about done by phone, by fax. That's how old we are. Phone and fax. And the model that I had developed for myself, in terms of sustaining change, was really what we tried to implement. And that is that change always happens when you get some education. So you got to get some knowledge. You need some inspiration, you need to understand why it is you're going to do what you're going to do. You need some application, go try it. And the most important, you got to have someone hold you accountable. And so we'd do that on a weekly phone call with these executives from organizations around the world to say, OK, you say you want to do some time management? Fine. Let's talk about time management. And we talked about a principle, we talked about some inspiration around that principle. We'd give them things to apply during the week. And then they knew seven days later, I was going to call and we were going to have another session. And so that was really a great model to work through.
RS: So how did that experience then, with Dennis Waitley, take you to your next experience? Or what did you take from that experience into your next experience?
BM: You know, there were so many things. Dennis is a great writer, and really one of the great thinkers, really one of the pioneers in the field of human development. So there were so many things that he did, you know, that I was able to watch at a young age and say, OK, that worked, that didn't, here's how you deal with this. I watched him show absolute integrity. There was a marketing firm that had done some things that were not responsible and ended up going under. But his name was on what they were selling. And even though it was just a contract, he literally poured millions, over a million dollars into delivering a service people thought they had paid for when he could have walked away and been on absolutely solid ground. But that integrity probably influenced me more than anything. To see someone say, I'm going to take a million dollar hit on this. But it's my name and my integrity matters. So that's always been a big piece.
RS: And because it's the right thing to do. Sutherland Institute, of the things I mentioned, was the next. I'm sure there's things in-between.
BM: A whole lot of in between there.
RS: Yeah. Being the head of the Sutherland Institute, and for people who don't know what that is, give us a quick preface.
BM: Sutherland Institute is a 501c(3) organization, a think tank. So they deal with a lot of public policy. And our mission there was really to elevate dialogue, to get people to focus back on principle, we were always looking at community-driven solutions, civil society, how do we make the world just a little bit better? Not necessarily through government, but through principles.
RS: What was it about that position or about that organization that drew you to it? Or did they come to you and say, please come do this?
BM: Well, part of my career has just been the analogy if you ever want to make God laugh, just tell him your plan for your life, right? And every time I seemed to do that, something else seemed to happen. And so I had come back from being chief of staff for Sen. Mike Lee, and my plan, which was I thought a great plan, was going to go back to mostly business consulting, and then sprinkle in a little political consulting to keep it fun. And that lasted for about three weeks. And anyway, the Swim family, who founded the Sutherland Institute, called and they were looking for a new president, and it was just one of those like, OK, I guess that's where we're going to go.
RS: So what are the experiences that you take from that phase of your life, that lead you to where you are now?
BM: So you know, one of the interesting things that we worked on at Sutherland was just raising the right kind of voice and just what happens when you show up. Showing up is just such a big deal. If you show up, if you have something to say that matters. And if it ties to a principle, if you can elevate a conversation, that's really what the people across the country are really looking for. They're really starving for. People are exhausted by this left, right, shout talking points at, past or through each other. And people want something different. They don't know how to describe it. That was probably the one thing I learned at the Sutherland Institute is that it's never going to show up in a Pew research poll that, hey, we want to talk about principles, and we want to have elevated dialogue. People don't know how to ask for it. But I'll tell you, when they experience it. It's like oxygen. It's like, Oh, yeah, I so want to be part of that. So that was a really engaging and really informative time with Sutherland was to really push the boundaries on that. How far could we go? Could this little think tank in downtown Salt Lake City really have a national voice? Would people really listen, would people be interested, would it matter? And I think we proved out that you can do that.
RS: So anecdotally, just real quickly, share an experience where the work with the Sutherland Institute did elevate a group of people or an individual.
BM: You know, I think there's a number of issues there. One that we worked a lot on was with the public lands and the Bears Ears National Monument. And of course, the Obama administration had done that by executive order. And again, that's part of the problem in Washington. Congress abdicates, so then the executive branch does what they want to do with a cell phone and a pen. And what we noticed at Sutherland was that the voice that was missing in all of the arguing that was going on was the voice of the people who actually live there, right? And so we actually sent our team down there, a very gifted videographer in Erika Huff, and went down and captured their stories, and what the land meant to them, and why they wanted to be sure they would have access to it, no matter what. What it meant in terms of their children and their children's ability to dream big dreams and do big things.
So to me, that was an experience where we were able to go help a group of people who didn't really have a voice in a crucial conversation for them, for their lives, and for their ancestors, that full connection there, and able to lift that and tell that in a story that really mattered and was really meaningful. And ultimately, you know, moved the needle in terms of the conversation.
RS: I know it probably feels like we're taking big leaps in different parts of your life. But, you know, it leads us to today, where you are the opinion editor for the Deseret News. You do a half hour radio show on KSL. Talk about how you got from there, to what it is that you do today.
BM: Another, you know, interesting thing. I honestly thought I would be at the Sutherland Institute for a decade or so and, you know, hang up my hat and ride off into the sunset. But then, you know, it's one of those things, life takes really interesting twists and turns. And there was one moment in particular where several years ago you had Elder D. Todd Christofferson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had given a speech at Oxford on the 45th anniversary of Watergate. And he gave just a masterful, powerful talk. And what many people didn't realize was that Elder Christofferson as a young man, was the law clerk for Judge John Sirica in the Watergate case. So he was literally the first person to hear the Watergate tapes. He and the judge together would go down in this basement room and lock themselves in and pull the drapes. And they actually invented a splitter so they could both listen on their headsets. But he gave this masterful talk about Watergate, and he basically boiled all of Watergate down to the numbing of conscience that often happens when you are isolated in a leadership role, and then a lapse in personal integrity. And it was a masterful speech. And the only thing that really came out of that was, you know, a little 550-word news article. I thought, man, what a miss. You know, he could have sold out the Kennedy Center in Washington and led a very national conversation.
And so for me it's very interesting to look at who's shaping, who's driving conversations, and what are the conversations that actually matter to the country? So we actually ended up doing that here at the Deseret News, we convened in Washington, D.C., at the Newseum. We had Elder Christofferson and Bob Woodward, who was sort of the other end of the Watergate series, and had a really fascinating discussion about some pretty timeless principles. And so those are the things that I love to do, is to look at any situation that's going on and trying to figure out how do we pull that to principle? What's the principle behind that? How do we create space so that someone who's either on the left or on the right will at least exhale long enough to consider something different, will be willing to set aside their own prejudice, their own bias, their own instant certainty, and actually explore that something else is possible. And those are the kinds of conversations, that's what we try to do on "Therefore, What?" every week, it's what we try to do on radio, it's what I try to do in a column or an editorial, is to just creates space for people to have a different kind of conversation, even if that conversation is just going on inside their head.
RS: So the next question could be a several hour podcast. But I would be curious as to your thoughts on this, the importance of the press in the United States of America.
BM: Obviously, working at the Deseret News, you gain a real appreciation for the First Amendment and how critical that is. And I would actually go back to something we did last year. So there was a point last year where — there's always been this natural tension between a presidential administration and the press, all the way back to Washington. I mean, Washington always grumbled about what was being written and printed in the presses. So that's a natural tug and pull. And it's part of our democracy. It's a very important part of it. But about a year ago the battle between President Trump and the press escalated and escalated. And it got to the point where you had 305, I think, newspapers across the country ran their editorials as a rebuke to President Trump. That, you know, calling the press the enemy of the people, all of that was just not acceptable. And so they wrote in protest.
Well, we're a bold, noble and independent operation at the Deseret News. And while we didn't agree with the president, in terms of how he was characterizing the press, we also acknowledge that there were some in the press, particularly the national press, who had really made it all about themselves. And so we chose to do something very different. We chose for our entire editorial for that day the First Amendment to the Constitution, and the word ditto. And that was our message. That the First Amendment does not belong to the President, nor does it belong to the press. The First Amendment belongs to the people. And that's why it matters. And so that was sort of our statement. And it was interesting, because that started to change the national dialogue. I went on several national programs, sat on panels with editors from various papers from around the country. And they were all, you know, yelling and screaming about this or that. I said, No, you don't own that. You don't own the First Amendment. That's not yours. And nor is it the president's and he's wrong too. This is the people, it's a "we the people" issue. And so again, it was a chance to pull things to principal and have a different kind of conversation.
RS: You know, speaking of different kinds of conversations now, as we sort of reflect back on the last 50 episodes of "Therefore, What?" Are there moments that stick out to you of the guests that we've had or of their takeaways? I have a couple that I'll share with you kind of at the end. But are there things that either you have extracted from guests or that you've thought back on that have struck you?
BM: You know, people have questioned the sanity of doing a podcast every single week for a year.
RS: Everyone in this room.
BM: But I have to tell you, part of the reason why I keep kind of nudging us along towards every week, is because I love to learn. And every guest that comes on this show, I learn something from. And often it's surprising. And I love the surprises. You know, a recent episode we did with Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy from the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. You know, I have to admit going in I was thinking, OK, not sure where we're going to get with this one. But let's see. And then we came up with the greatest leadership principles ever. When we talked about, you know, how do you take all of these talented voices, many who've been soloists since they were 5 years old, and blend them into one voice in the choir? And Mack Wilberg just gives this epic answer of, you know, I remind them to listen louder than they sing. Holy cow, that's like universe, mind-blowing kind of stuff. To be part of the greatest choir in the world, more important than your singing ability is your listening ability. Imagine if we applied that to leadership in Washington, D.C. Imagine if we applied that kind of leadership in our homes, in our personal relationships, if we listened to a little louder than we spoke, and we paid a little more attention to the nuances of what was going on around us, as opposed to what's in our own head and what we want to say. I mean, that's world-changing stuff right there.
RS: I have to ask you this: going into the podcast, this idea of doing it. What were you thinking?
BM: Many have asked that question as well. Some people still ask that question.
RS: No, but I mean, was it that you would learn and gain these principles alongside? Or were you hoping to just convene these thought leaders and let people take away stuff? or What was your intention coming into this whole thing?
BM: So my hope was that it would always be a podcast that was kind of a lean in and listen podcast. A place where thought leaders could come to talk and share ideas and principles. But where really smart people would come to listen and learn new things. And so to me, I always picture it — and I wish we could do it this way. If we did it on video, I'd do it around a kitchen table. And I would sit across the kitchen table from our guests. And then I'd have the end seat be a point of view camera. So that everybody across America and around the world that listens could literally slide up to the table and join us in this conversation. They'd kind of lean in, you know, overhearing the conversations of great minds is a great thing. And it can be a life changing thing.
RS: Is there another moment within the last year that comes to mind as you think of — whether it be quotes or principles, or "Therefore, What?" takeaways from the guests that we've had?
BM: You know, we had the president of St. John's College on, which is a fascinating little college where they don't really have textbooks, and they don't have professors and teachers. But it's this fascinating place of a different kind of learning that's going on. And that was exciting. It was like, wow, I want to go, you know, how do I get in? How do I get in? Because they're doing it different. And we've seen that in a lot of different things. I loved our interview with President Astrid Tuminez down at UVU, a real gritty university, where students just get in, and they're hard-charging. They're not above anything. They're not entitled, they're just working hard and going after it. I loved our conversation two days after Mark Pope became the head coach at BYU basketball, you know, to have him on and to literally hear the sound of his chair breaking. And then for him to immediately pull that to a principle, a leadership principle. That we're going to break stuff around here. And if it was broken, we'll break it more and then we'll figure out what's right. If it's going well, we're going to break it and see if we can't do it better. So I love that coach Pope immediately had that principle centered. We're going to teach leadership, we're going to build better people as a result of all of this.
RS: I have to tell you, for me, the thing that as I look back over the last year, the biggest takeaway for me, and I really did rack my brain, I was like, well, I love the quotes about — and you'll have to help me with the name of the organization — where they are ex-cons. The Other Side Academy. They talk about, well, how do you get them to do all this? And it's like, well, we ask them, we give them the chance to redeem themselves. And we just ask them to live accordingly. And I thought of some different moments and some things like that. But I think the huge takeaway for me about all this, is that it's not just a conversation, and then at the end, you go oh that was a nice conversation, I can take a little quote, and put it up on Instagram and be like, you know, we break things, we break them more, and then that's it. But either you, or you and the guests, or the guests, always say, OK, great. So we just talked for 20, 25, 30 minutes, but so what? So therefore, what?
And then it takes that moment, and I love those that don't expect it, I love that look on their face where they're like, huh, yeah, I thought we were just going to talk. But actually, there's this further step, there's this action, this isn't just ear candy for a little bit or something to put on your resume. It is thought leaders talking about how we can make a change to make something better. And as you talked about in the very beginning, to continue to learn. Maybe it doesn't look like how we would think — getting a piece of paper at the end or something like that. But that we continue to learn.
So you knew that this was going to come at this point. So then, what is your "Therefore, What?"
BM: So to me, the reason we have a therefore what is because there's a big myth out there, that knowledge is power. And we say that, we throw that around a lot. And it's actually a lie. Knowledge is only potential power. And it only becomes power when we actually use it and apply it. So to me that "Therefore, What?" question is always the ultimate test. Anybody can get excited sitting in a business seminar, you can get motivated. You can go to church on Sunday, and you can get motivated to be better. But that feeling is going to go away. It always goes away, it usually goes away before you hit the pillow that night. And then what are you going to do? Are you going to go back to the old neighborhood, you going to go back to the old ways, the old patterns, the old habits, are you going to be content with the status quo, are you going to justify not doing anything because you're too busy or too tired? Or, you know, it just doesn't work in your world. Life got in the way.
So to me the "Therefore, What?" is everything. Because can talk about principles all day long. But if we don't apply them, it's just potential. And we sort of end up like Charlie Brown, you know, permanent potential. And that's not where we want to end up. And the people that I've seen, I've been fortunate to be able to study a lot of great thinkers, a lot of great leaders, people who have achieved some extraordinary things. And it's how they choose to apply the principles that makes all the difference. Because to be honest, the principles are timeless, they're eternal. And they don't really change. I mean, they might get repackaged every couple of decades. But the principles are the principles. The application is unique to individuals. I mean, you're going to apply it different with your family and your personal life and your goals and your dreams than I would do or anyone else would do. But the test is will you do it? Will you apply it to your unique situation? And so to me, everyone should always be asking themselves, when you're listening to anybody, any podcast, reading any book, listening to any teacher or leader, your question always has to be No. 1, how does this apply to me? How does it apply to my unique life and my situation and my goals and dreams? And then No. 2, what's my "Therefore, What?" What am I going to do about it? How am I going to apply it, use it and make it happen?
RS: Thank you for being here Boyd.
BM: All right, great to be with my show.7 comments on this story
RS: Remember after the story is told, after the principles are shared, after the discussion and debate have been had, the question for all of us is "Therefore, What?" Don't miss an episode. Subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcast or wherever you're listening today. And be sure to rate this episode and leave us a review. Follow us on Deseretnews.com/Tw and subscribe to our newsletter.
Boyd Matheson: This is Boyd Matheson, opinion editor at the Deseret News. Thanks for engaging with us on this special episode of "Therefore, What?"