Interview with Curt Steinhorst
What got you interested in human behavior and distraction?
I was always the kid growing up that annoyed everyone else in my family because I constantly asked “why?”. “Why do people behave the way they behave?” is a question I’ve asked my entire life.
And as I got older, I became particularly interested in and did my undergraduate studies around communication — how do you put words and actions together in a way that makes other people change the way they approach the world. And that’s how it really grew.
The distraction piece was the confluence of the personal and professional journey. I grew up with ADD. And yet, when I started my first business (around helping people with a big platform to communicate more clearly to a changing audience), the overwhelming number of emails and all the things coming at me made me feel, for the first time, incredibly ill-equipped to cope with the diagnosis I had when I was a kid.
So I started to study — myself at first, but eventually I was talking with CEOs, team leaders, neuroscientists, psychologists, pastors, anyone that would talk with me about how to thrive in this new age of distraction.
How did you begin your speaking career?
A large generational research firm reached out to me years ago and asked me to participate in their work by helping them communicate it. And so really they launched my speaking career. And while I still contribute to those to that group, what I learned over time was that this issue around connectivity and distraction was larger than any single generation. In fact, it was the biggest driver of challenges around performance.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
You know, being diagnosed with ADD comes with real challenges. And those include a tendency to not want to do work that doesn’t feel good at the time. You tend to get bored by the things that are too easy, and then avoid the things that are perceived as too difficult. So the very thing I speak on is really the source of the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome.
While there are a lot of successful people that have ADD, statistically having ADD is is a disadvantage in today’s world. And I’m really proud of the fact that I now have a team and systems in place that help to play to my strengths, while limiting my weaknesses.
What do you gain personally from being a public speaker?
I believe that in an increasingly distracted world — where we have more inputs than ever — that there are few better opportunities to create real life change than being in front of a live audience. You have the chance to outline a series of arguments, and plead with them on a human level to consider what’s important. So I don’t think that there’s any more important thing that I could do right now than then the keynotes that I am so lucky to work on.
How do audiences gain from your keynote presentations?
Of course my hope is that there is much to gain. Specifically, I’m aiming for three things:
- They get a clear understanding of what’s at play after this massive shift in our foundational economy;
- They feel equipped with very tactical things they can practically do in order to win the battle for their attention; and,
- My hope is that they they leave not feeling guilty — that they leave feeling encouraged. To know that this is something we’re all fighting with, and shame is not the right way to handle it.
How do you avoid digital distraction in your personal life?
The real answer here is complex, because it’s a system I’ve built over a long period of time. And my system very much depends on specific answers to a series of challenging questions about what I’m trying to accomplish, what’s standing in my way, and what I need to overcome those obstacles. So my system is very much attuned to myself.
But there are a few practicals that I use: I have my phone on silent virtually all the time and I don’t even use the vibrate feature. Of course, this annoys some people because I don’t see their message for a long time sometimes, but it’s crucial for me. I also use a few apps like for instance Freedom that turns off the internet when I’m trying to get focused worked done.
Distractions are a problem at work, but they can be even worse at home — because work itself becomes one of those distractions. So every day, I make sure I take a few minutes in the driveway to close the chapter of work. And then when I walk in the door and my young kids come screaming yelling “Daddy!” and greeting me, I put my phone on a charger and don’t pick that phone up until we put the kids to bed.
Now, I should admit, I do have an Apple Watch so that I know if something that is an actual emergency comes in. But this is really about simply managing my FOMO, while actually raising the barrier to actually checking random emails and notifications. The extra required effort helps keep me from doing it.