The Power of Narrative: A Conversation with Mohamed Amer

You are in for a treat today.

Today I am excited to share a
conversation with Mohamed Amer.

Mohamed has a rich, C corporate
history, military history.

So many pieces and parts to this
conversation, but he's also a PhD

and we're gonna talk about his PhD
work and the unique perspective

that brings him that he brings to
just the world, the way we look at

things, but also to advisory boards.

And so, I am excited uh, this
extended conversation that I

had with Mohammed and I know.

That by listening to this, whether
you're an advisor, whether you are

a C E O, whether you are somebody
who serves in a capacity supporting

advisory board, small business, large
business, whatever role you play, this

conversation will be valuable to you.

So buckle up.

Here we go.

Mohammed Amer, welcome to the
Advisory Board Insider podcast.

How are you today?


Thank you, Tom.

How are you?

I am great.

It's great to have you on the show today.

So let's begin with your coordinates.

Where exactly are you in the world today?

So today I am in Ventura,
California, and that's about halfway

between Malibu and Santa Barbara.

If you can kind of visualize that.

Got it.

Alright, so, let's begin with
your morning drink of choice.

I don't know why I've decided to do this
crazy thing on this show, but what's

your typical morning drink of choice?

What do you drink to start the day?

Well, it's, uh, a little bit
complicated, but the short answer

is, is tea, just regular tea?

But in reality, the very first
thing that I drink is warm

water with lemon, half a lemon.

I do a little bit of intermittent fasting.

So the first, how I break
it in the morning is through

that warm water and lemon.

And then after that I have
my, my tea and I'm set.

I'm ready to go and it's decaf.

So yeah, I don't, I don't need
the caffeine to, to get going.


You, you've got lots of energy
working for you to begin with.

So, how do you start your day?

So you just mentioned that you
start with lemon or what, but like,

what's a, what's an average day
when you're starting it look like?

Like are you an early riser?

Are you crack of dawn?

Are you four in the morning?

What's your, what's your
normal start of day look

it, it, I have an early start.

My normal start is between four
30 to 4 45 is, is when I wake up.

And I rarely have ever use an alarm clock.

It just, the body just, it doesn't
matter whether it's Monday or Sunday,

that's when I'll wake up and get going.

and is that when you have your
water or do you like, do you

read, do you do you go for a walk?

What, what's your start
of the day routine?

How do, how have you or, or
has it evolved over time?

What's, what's the thing
that gets you started?

I usually walk, so, so right off the bat,
I'll wake up within five, 10 minutes.

I'm, I'm ready to go.

the brain's turned on, body's
ready to go, all freshened up.

And I, I will do a walk listening
maybe to N P R listening to

some old time radio shows.

Then I'll get into uh, a sequence
of reading digitally, the newspaper,

the LA Times, New York Times.

I, I tend to look at the newspapers
and they're breaking news versus

relying on, curated news feed that's
delivered by an app or something



Got it.


So, so that gives us a sense
of where you are in the world,

how your morning unfolds.

let's start with your history.

So take me back to roughly 1974, and
I don't know what's special about

1974, but I was playing on your
LinkedIn profile and I assume that's

before you, you went off to college.

And so what's happening in your life
in that sort of pre-college timeframe?

What's happening?

What are you dreaming about?

What are you thinking about for your life?

well, you know, I was born in Egypt,
so came here as a young, preteen.

And for someone like myself and my
sister, very exciting for my parents.

Scarier than anything,


there's no job necessarily.

It's a, it's a real immigration, you
know, file, you know, paperwork, all that.

You, you know, you have your green
card, but you arrive and there isn't

necessarily a job that's waiting for you.

There isn't your here is
your living arrangement.

Your, Ecosystem support is
thousands of miles away.

So as I look back at those, those days,
I'm going like, how in the world did

my parents take a major leap like that?

but they did it for myself and
my sister for a better life.

So 1974, you know, we've been in the US
for a few years still in high school.

And my dreams, my hopes, my
aspirations are all about

how do I pay back my parents?

How do I fulfill the
dreams they have for me?

and that equates to, of course,
you go to college, that was a no

brainer, but you gotta be a doctor,
an engineer, something like that.

Has, has certain caliber,
has a certain cache.

It, it ensures your future.

It says, yes, the sacrifices
that were made were worth

it, et et cetera, et cetera.

So that was the whole mentality.

And, and you don't realize it as a
16, 17 year old that you're really

living somebody else's projections.

You're not really true to yourself.

You don't even think of that.

At least I certainly did not.

Maybe today's youth are far
more ahead in that sense.

So it wasn't till I was really in
college that I began to think about

that and am I really going down the
right path that I wish for myself

as a pre-med student and so on.

But 1974 was that.

transition kind of from
high school to college.

And it also happens to be the year
that I met my wife at, you know,

so we were high school sweethearts.

so delightful.

And so, you meet your wife, you choose to
go to college, you just said pre-med, but

so what, what's the decision sequence?

So you want this kinda life for yourself.

What do you choose and why
do you choose that specific?

So you said pre-med, so I saw a
biology degree on your resume.


So, I thought pre-med was a major,
but no, it was like a, a direction

that you take and, and discovered
towards the end of my junior year you

know, the registrar, the University of
Minnesota says, okay, what's your major?

I said, pre-med?

no, no, no, your major.

I said well, which courses am I closest?

Which major am I closest to?

You know, look at all the, the
courses I've taken and so on.

And it was biology, microbiology.

I said, biology sounds good.

So it was really backing into
something rather than being, you

know, going forward to something.

and, and that was, that was
the major you know, my college.


What I really enjoyed the most
were the humanities things where

I really, I, I did well enough in
calculus, physics, chemistries,

microbiology, all that stuff, virology.

But where I really was intrigued
was reading the humanities, reading

history art history, you know,
things where multiple aspects

of, humanity come together.

and that's what I found really
intriguing because in, in math, in

sciences, you have a question, a
problem, and you have an answer.

It's discreet.

It is one and only one.

There is no, maybe if but in the other,
in the humanities, it was like, wow,

you can write an essay, you can put
your own thoughts and why and how, and.

And it was just like, there was no
right or wrong, but how well you

support it, how well you were able
to bring the pertinent information

into, into your essay and so on.

So I found that to be just really cool.


So did that transition you
from that pre-med direction?

Did that, those humanities, the,
integration of that into your world,

did that start to change your focus?

Or did you stay true to the focus,
but that was just informing it?

so I had a tremendous appreciation
for the scientific method.

the experiments hypotheses,
looking for evidence, collecting

data and all that, that, that's
a foundation I still have today.

But what I discovered is that the
world is not just black and white.

It's not just such simple terms.

There are a lot of gray areas,
things that I just never appreciated

within the science track.

So, where, where I went
was basically that winter.

So a few months before graduation
still on, path for a medical school,

but not really my heart in it.

And this, my best friend in college
came up and said, Hey, did you

look at the, the daily today?

And I, you know, the paper.

And, and he goes, look, there's a picture.

There was a F 14 banking with clouds.

And I said, you too can fly Navy.

He said, I'm going to interview with
the Navy, with the submarine guys today.

Maybe you want to go talk to them about.


And I said, I don't even, I, you know,
I can't comprehend this, you know,

I thought you had to go to military
academy or something like that.

But I did.

I went and I talked and I discovered
that, hey, as a college graduate,

there's another way to get a
commission as an officer in the

military, Navy Air Force, et cetera.

And it, it just all of a sudden opened up
a vista that was not there the day before.



So, so, uh, you did something
with that then, because it shows

on your resume that, that in
1978 you end up with the US Navy.

So what did you do in the Navy?

So in the Navy I went into
aviation officer candidate school.

So that was the other
path to become an officer.

If you had not gone through the
Naval Academy, for example they,

were looking for officers that
will be in av, Naval Aviation.

So as an aviator or a naval flight
officer, basically a pilot or a copilot.

And I remember going to the interviews
and taking the tests and all that.

And at the time I didn't,
wasn't even wearing glasses.

I didn't realize that I wasn't
exactly 2020 perfect vision,

but they said, that's okay.

You can be a naval flight officer.

You know, you can tell
the pilot where to go.

I said, okay, that sounds pretty good.

So that whole idea was that the Navy
Was on a recruiting binge at that point,

and they needed people, officers in, in
naval aviation, but they sent you down to

Pensacola, Florida to get that commission.

But before they do that, before they
do the commitment and you commit

to them and all that, they send you
down there just for a, a look, see?

Oh, okay.

They, they take you down,
they fly you down there.

You think you're on top of the world.

You're, you do great things, but they
show you what you're gonna go through.

You can see, you know, the, the
pressure, physical pressure, mental

pressure, psychological pressure,
the stamina that you need and so on.

And, and they basically weeded you out
with, through that look, see, visit.

So people will self-select, they said, you
know what, I like it, but it's not for me.

I, I said, you know, this
is exactly what I wanna do.

As a little boy in Egypt, I remember
during the air raids, I would come

out of the shelter outside the, the
basement of the apartment buildings

and look at the sky trying to spot one
of the, you know, phantoms or MIGS up

there and thinking, wow, wouldn't it be
cool to be flying up there doing that?

So it, it's kind of funny to be
able to, you know, nine, 10 years

later have an opportunity like that,

so to to just dig in a bit
uh, you've done sort of your

pre-med process biology degree.

You get this opportunity, you decide
to go to the Navy, but, but what are

your parents thinking about this?

I'm, I'm intrigued by that connection
because that's such an important part

of your, story, which is immigrant
parents and you now are serving in the

military for the country they immigrated


And, and, and it's interesting in that
one of the reasons they they also left is

they didn't, you know, I was the only son
and they didn't want me to be involved

in a, in a war and die and, and so on.

And here I am in the, in my
adopted country, wanting to,

to be part of the military.

And so my parents, my, my father
was supportive in his own quiet way.

My mom was more vocal like, you are
making the biggest mistake of your life.

How can you be doing this?

We did this, we did that.

You're, you're gonna, and I, and I'm,
I'm jumping the gun a little bit.

10 years later when I resign my
commission, she goes, you are making

the biggest mistake of your life.

How can you resign?

You have such a great career.

They're doing, you're doing great.

They love you, blah, blah, blah.

How can you do this?


I'll, I'll never forget
those, those two end,



So looking back at your time in,
that span of years that you were part

of the Navy, what were the biggest.

Lessons, insights that you feel have
come along for the journey with you?

What, what are the things that profoundly
affected you from that time in your life?

going through college, I, I lived at
home or off campus, so I didn't have the,

the same kind of socialization that you
would have being part of a fraternity

or sorority or something like that.

And University of Minnesota is, at
that time even still was huge, you

know, 35, 50,000 students bodies.

So going in the Navy, it was,
it was really a tremendous

socialization experience.

The comradery in the military and
especially in the Navy, when you're

involved in the mission where
you're, you're putting your life on

the line every single time you're,
you're doing a sort is nothing that

I could have described, understood.

I may have read about it, it
would not have made much sense.

But actually having experienced
that, so that camaraderie and

to this day, I still have very.

Strong relationships with some of
the guys that I was in the squadron

with that, that initial sea tour.

the leadership, you have got to take care
of your, crew, your troops, your shipmates

otherwise there is no leadership.

So it's, it's so integrity your word.

Those, those are really things
that unless you've experienced it,

unless you've had the opportunity to
exercise it and to understand it it

just does not translate when you're
just been in the civilian world.

Only they talk about leadership in,
in, in the boardroom, in C-Suite.

But it, it is really managing people.

It's different from leadership where
you are inspiring somebody, where you

have somebody's life in your hands
and they have yours in theirs, and you

have that reliance, that trust and that
common vision of the, and the mission.

And that's something that really
is very difficult to generate

in this, in the corporate world.


So that's come along for this long
ride with you, those, those pieces

and parts that you got there.

But evidently, you know, you
reach the point where your mother

says, no, don't, don't do that.

Don't quit.

What's happening in you that
says, okay, my time's done?

What's, what's sort of fueling
this desire to keep moving forward?

So, you know, the, the way the navy
and military in general works, you

know, they put you out in the field
you taste that and it's fantastic.

You're, you're making things happen.

creating headlines that people will
be reading the paper the next day or

something like that, or at least around
the corridors in Washington DC they pay

you back by sending you to, to get a
master's in something or but eventually

you need to come to Washington DC to
the Pentagon, to the see the power.

And that's when you really
begin to realize that.

Being in the squadron,
being out in the field.

That was the fun stuff.

Now this is payback.

Now you're in the political arena.

You are more administrative things,
your policy, nothing wrong with policy,

it's just that how you get things done.

Then it's more of that organization,
politicization process.

And, at some point you ask yourself,
how in the world did we get anything

done out in the field, out in the
squadron, out on the ship, given this,

What you're


You know, and the nickname for
the Pentagon is the five-sided

wind tunnel from Abba Hot Air
There you, it is just basic.

So, again, I also appreciated what it
takes organizationally to get things done.

I just thought it was a very high price to
pay for the tip of the spear where I was.

And the


of the tip of the spear was not
the same once I was back there.

And that's what made me think
about, okay, this is cool.

There are ways I can still be at the tip
of the spear, but there are trade-offs

and you know, going into c i A, the n s a
d i a, you know, things where I can still

be doing similar things 'cause I was in
naval intelligence and naval aviation.

But I decided that, you
know what I've put in 10.

fantastic years I've, to this day, I
can't imagine a better period in my

life where I really packed in a lot
of action and activities and, and

growth and self personal development.

But let's wrap all that up and
see how far I can throw that.

Where can it go?

What, so I was just, as my parents
were willing to do something new, I was

willing to resign my commission before
I was accepted in, in business school.

And I just said, you know what?

I'm pretty sure I'll be able to get in.

' cause you have to apply within
a certain period, but then you

have to resign your commission.

Like, well, well before
that decision's made.

It's not like I can, cover
my, my bet here or something.

You just have to commit and go for it.

So why business school as opposed to
going back to this history that you

had created with biology and pre-med?

Is there a distinction that happened
somewhere along the way that made

you think business versus go back
to that path that you had started?


The biology, chemistry,
science and all that.

That was good to get my foot in
the door as a commissioned officer.

Without that, I could not have
been a commissioned officer.


So I, I resigned my commission as
a lieutenant commander oh four.

But my love was in the action was in
learning new things, was applying it

now to organizations you know, teams.

It was no longer looking at research,
you know, bacteria and virology

and spending X hours in the lab.

No, I wanted to be out doing things,
making a difference in people's lives

more directly versus through a test tube,


So, so it seems to me, and
I, I'm putting words in your

mouth, but just bear with me.

You, sense coming out of this world, you'd
inhabited in the Navy, that you could

best do that in the context of business.

So you go do an M B A, that's, that's
where you head and you do an M B A

and is that sort of a full-time gig?

You just put your head
down and got that done.

Tell me a little bit about that and then
where you went from there and what, what

was the, the path coming out of that M B A
and how did this desire to actually be in

the action and doing really cool things?

How did that translate?

You get your M B A and
then where do you go?


Yeah, so, so to transition to
the corporate world, you, you've

gotta take the skillset and all
that, that you brought in from the

military into, and apply it there.

Well, the, the corporate world doesn't
have a, a whole lot of demands for

intelligence analysts or people that fly
airplanes or people that did missions

around, know, electronic warfare,
fair battle of order, et cetera.

So the M B A made, made a lot of
sense to gain that credibility,

make the transition, be able then
to get into general management, so,

first of all, I had, I had a
terrific two, two years full-time

program at Northwestern, at Kellogg.

And it was a great place for our kids
uh, for my wife walking to school.

It, it was, it was just very convenient.

I also got to taste things around general
management, around merger acquisitions,

marketing, finance, and realized that
I really like, General management.

I like being able to have an
operation, a business and so on and,

and, versus let's say going to Wall
Street and doing something like that.

Moving piles of money from one side to
another side, and getting a cut was less

interesting than dealing with people


Building teams getting people pointing
in the right direction and all that.

So that, that made a lot of sense.

Also gave me an appreciation for.


I mean, you know, this is late
eighties nineties, you're talking

about spreadsheets galore.

But it also told me that that's not where
I wanted to live day in and day out.

I understood you needed to do that,
the value making models and so on.

But I wasn't just like a test
tube, I didn't wanna spend

my time in the laboratory.

I also didn't wanna spend eight hours, 12
hours a day mired in, in a spreadsheet.

So, being, you know, so I, I, I got
into office products with Boise Cascade,


general management out
there in, on the west coast.

Was recruited to another office
products company on the east coast.

And from there had sufficient now
grounding in business where I can

enter the management consulting field.

and really there you really have another
spurt of growth where, Each engagement

is new, it's different uh, and you're
advising senior members of executive team.

You're dealing with people in, in the
distribution center or a factory floor.

So you're dealing the entire spectrum
and communicating and presenting

findings and solutions that are gonna
be feasibly implemented as well as, uh,

being bought by, the senior executives.

So then this interesting
thing happens is you get this

massive chunk of years at this.

Really small company, SS a p.

So, and, and that I, you know, as I read
it, it's like 16 years or so at SS a P.

So, so give me a sense of, you get to SS
a p or tell me a little bit about that,

and then because I realize 16 years is a
lot, but give me sort of the highlights,

the lowlights, the major lessons in s a p.

'cause s a P is not a slouch company.

This is a, this is a global company.

So, you end up there, gimme
a little bit of the story.


You know, a, after doing consulting saw
an opportunity in the late nineties to

start my own company with a colleague.

So we, we, we started, we a software
company looking at supply chain, looking

at, so it's a technology based, and
we used leveraged them for, you know,

the knowledge that we had developed
and we were able to sell that company.

We were acquired, and so I
was, I was the president.

He was both co-founders and were able
to, Go through that successful exit and

stayed on with the new company for about
a year and decided that I'd like to spend

a couple years with the family, especially
the children, because we I've been

gone so many times traveling and so on.

You, you give up something.

So I wanted to, to make sure I was
there did that for a couple of years.

but one of the things that I did before
all that was a, a very one of the

very first successful SS a p retail
implementations in North America.

And it, it was very well received and
I was, charge of the, the testing for

the, the final, the go lives and so on.

So, you know, what you don't know
through life is you build relationships

and you never know when these will.

Pay off if they pay off.

And, and of course you are helping
people along the way as well.

It's not just a one-way street.

So after those, those couple of years,
I had a call and one of the people

I worked with during that that time
was now part of SS a P and they were

building a practice retail, and I got an
invitation to, Hey, come on down, apply.

And I joined them.

And it was a 16 year ride.

So went from kind of, looking at
products where I was the owner

of the grocery segment globally.

which really means that you are
looking at what are the solution

sets that you are offering grocers.

Okay, from, not just HR financials,
but also, you know, merchandising,

supply chain pricing, et cetera.

So that as well as I also had supply
chain across retail for the Americas.

So, did that and for a few years.

Then after that, I actually was in
charge of the business unit, retail

business unit in the Americas.

from there again you don't
know where things will go.

And we had SS a P was really pushing
community, building, virtual communities,

and they were building something that
they really wanted consultants, partners,

customers, they're all coming in here in
this virtual community and contributing

to it, adding knowledge and tapping
into all the resources that s a p had.

So I was in charge of being a
champion for something like that which

took me after a couple years into
communications, strictly looking at

strategic communications, internal,
external for retail, then eventually to

consumer products and consumer sector,
which involved multiple industries.

And then the last two years or so across
all of industries supporting the, the,

you know, the co-presidents of industries.


So a and progressively you are how I hear
it, you're morphing from being someone

who's focused on product to, to industry
focus, but eventually you, you are in

a communications focus where it's about
how communications happen, how that


E executive communications, internal
communications in, in concert

with hr, external communications
with pr crisis communications.

So it, it, and, and having that background
around product, around going to market,

around, you know, customer facing roles
it gave me insight and understanding about

the narrative, the messages, and, and
how to project the executives forward.

what's a good story,
what's not so good story?

How do you support you know,
what you're trying to accomplish

out in the marketplace?

So my, my question for you in that is,
are you aware that you are becoming more

focused on how stories are developed?

How, how communication happens?

Is that something that internally
you're guiding yourself towards?

Or is it just people started
recognizing you had an insight around

that you had a way of doing it.

is it something that you were
determining or is it like this

superpower that other people were seeing?

It's, both.

It's, it's being like co-created so
we, we like to think that we control

where we're going and what we're, you
know, but in reality, You influence that

direction, but the, the opportunities
you get, the conversations you get

into the, the relationships, you people
that you have, they also bring you

into conversations and opportunities
that you would not have anticipated.

So it's a, it's a question of You're
sitting at this table playing this

game, and you're getting dealt cards.

You have, but no one's telling
you these are the rules.

You get so many cards you just
discovering at the same time.

So there's self discovery as well
as, you know, taking opportunities,

taking advantage of what's in
front of you and deciding, you

know what, this sounds intriguing.

Let me go down that path a little bit
more and see what that feels like.


to all that, I, I started
working on a dissertation in

the PhD program around 2009.

So while all these transitions are
happening, I'm sitting there also

thinking about, okay, I wanna get
a PhD in organization leadership,

business stuff, you know, things that
I'll correspond to what I'm doing.

So, hey, you know, things
were pretty interesting for

Got it.

So you've got this, this
whole big, massive career.

There, there's the initial one,
and then there's SS a P rising

right up to very senior roles in
internal executive communication.

But you're doing the PhD.

So tell me a little
bit about the PhD work.

Tell me about what you're thinking
while you just insinuated there.

It's related, but what are you
doing from a PhD perspective?

Where are you digging in?

I'm, I'm really intrigued by
this part of your, your story.

So, one of the things I learned about
myself is I, I get bored easily.

I have to always be constantly learning,
constantly doing something that

challenges the way I think my beliefs,
I, I've gotta always be challenging

myself and adding more knowledge.


In that, that 2009 timeframe or so
I was gonna get a, a doctorate in

organization and human organizational
systems, but it was going to be

around strategy, strategy formulation.

So, and I was looking
at strategy as practice.

' cause in the, in the historically,
you know, the McKenzies, the

Bains uh, Boston Consulting Group,
they would come in smart people.

But, you know, here's the, the file,
you know, the binders, and there it is.

But by the time it's
delivered, it's obsolete.

Things have changed.

And one of the things I really was
intrigued with in, in my studies was

something called the practice turn
in, in sociology, where How you act,

how you behave, how you think the,
the doing and the thinking that they

all really come together and they are
situational and you really need to, to

kind of understand the, the objects, the
artifacts, the context and and so on.

It's, it's not as simple as sitting
down and saying, looking at a problem

and coming up with solution and
typing it up and presenting to that.

It, it's a lot more complicated,
but yet it, it's, it, the human

element plays in that, and time
is a construct in all of that.

So, so I had, I had my, my
dissertation laid out my, you

know, methodology and all that.

And then something happened
in January of 2011.

Tahir Square blew up the Arab
Spring, and so I was glued to the tv.

So, and, and you know, when I was in
the Navy also, my they sent me to Naval

Post graduate school in Monterey, one
of my favorite spots in the world.

And I did a master's and it was
on the Middle East, north Africa.

So, so even, you know, the Navy
saw that also because of the work I

did when I was in the squadron that
they can benefit from, from that.

So I had academic
grounding in that as well.

So looking at that, I said to myself, I.

I, I have got to switch my dissertation.

I, I can still be looking at things
similarly around practice, you know, but

what happens to society, change crises?

How do you transform, how, why are
things unfolding the way that they are?

So I wanted to really focus around
the Arab Spring, looking through

the lens of the Egyptian experience.

And I subsequently came up
with the lens of nationalism

to understand the unfolding.

I wasn't out to explain why it happened.

I was more interested to understand
how did it unfold the way it did.

So more understanding
rather than cause effect.

Got it.

but, but the, you know, appreciation.

process unfolded versus the


Why did it unfold the way it did?

Why did it unfold differently?

Oh, got it.


so what was your thesis around that?

because I, I know this is a massive
thing to talk about in a short

period of time, but what's the, what
did you come up with or what, what

kind of perspective did you take


So, so the way I looked at it is really,
it, there's, it's a contested futures.

The future is, the, that's the, the battle
everybody's battling for the future.

You know, what does that future
of the country look like?

So, my, the title was Contested Futures,
the Emergent for Faces of Nationalism in

Egypt, from Tahir Square to CC'S election.

You know, that, that three and a half
or so years you had four different

forces, the Muslim Brotherhood, the
military, the liberals and really

the, the, the women that were there
during, during the Arab spring

diarrhea square, but they went missing.

They, they did not
share in that unfolding.

And I, and I put quite a bit of
the material in the dissertation

around that because it just goes
to, demonstrate the patriarchy.

The nature of it in, in that society.

it's not to say that women are not
respected, it's just that there's a

rule for them and, and they're expected
to fulfill it, just like the, the

man is, is expected to fulfill it.

and even though you had an opportunity
to really break barriers in many,

many different ways through that
experience at Tire Square, and

during those 18 days, they did, but
subsequent to that, that experience,

that experiment, dissolved, dissipated.

so looking at nationalism as then becomes
the tool that the military will use to

bring legitimacy to the things they're
doing that the Muslim Brotherhood

tries to use to bring legitimacy to the
secular, the liberals try to, to use.

And, and so on.

And in the end the military was able
to make a more compelling story.

And the story is not just a story,
it's narratives, it's actions, it's

behaviors, it's, you know, consistencies.

And they were of, of course helped by
the missteps that were made by president

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood when they


opportunity to be in power.

So in that though, something emerges
for you because it's the story of

what happens in Egypt, but there's,
there's an, there's something else that

you're learning through this process
or exploring and seeing what's the,

and, and I, I have lots of friends
who are PhDs, but I've never done one.

But they're, it's almost like you,
get this focus you're in, but then

you learn something as a result of it.

That's just not the story that unfolded.

It's something behind that.

What's, what's showing up behind that.


so one of the things when you're
doing a, a dissertation or a PhD is

you've got to have a methodology.

You've gotta have a, a research, yeah.

Research methodology that is
recognizable, credible, et cetera.

And, and it, and it adds value.

It, it helps to explain, you know,
your dissertation, your points.

And, and for me, I, you know, I had
looked at complex adaptive systems.

I looked at historical sociology.

I, I looked at a lot of different means
of, of looking at dissecting this.

But what really struck me was the
power of something called critical

discourse analysis, c d a, sometimes
called critical discourse studies.

But that to me became a really powerful
way of understanding the narratives,

understanding the relationship between
power authority top down, bottom

up you know, all those things that
really come into play to understand

how new new vocabulary comes about.

How how crises increase the options
that, that are in front of you all

of a sudden, while before when you
have the status quo, everything

is moving forward the way it is.

Everybody knows how to behave.

They know their place.

they, and they.

Behave as such.

The language they use is in concert and in
conformity with their role and and so on.

So the language in use is really
guided and limited when crises happen.

Real fabricated, not what, when crises
occur, all of a sudden the those

guidelines, the the parameters expand.

All of a sudden things
become more possible.

So the potential increases.

Is that because language starts to change
and there's new vocabulary, there's new,

there's new ways of using vocabulary
as a, as just one point of that.

But what, what's actually occurring?

So what what's occurring is the
possibilities, what is possible

goes beyond the the norm.

Because once you, once you have protests
all of a sudden there's new languages,

new slogans that you're using, right?


Down with the, with the
regime or, or, and, and so on.

So few months before you'd have been
in jail like that, but it opens up

vistas, it opens up opportunities
that weren't there before Songs

become written that poke fun at the
authority, at, at the current leaders.

So placards, signs, symbols, even Tar
Square itself, the physical location

becomes a new symbol, It becomes much
larger in life than what it actually is.

And the, the contest over who controls
it becomes paramount regarding how you

control the, the way the language is
unfolding, the way you know, symbols

are, are perceived and, and so on.

So, you know, in anthropology there's
something called liminality where

you're, you're going from one where
you are today to something else,

and you've gotta pass through this
darkness, through this dark cave.

And you need a guide of some sort.

Well, when, when you're going through
that, all rules melt away and you get

an opportunity to, it's reestablish
rules and reestablish new norms

and behavior when you come out.

Well, those that are in charge today.

Have to be aware of that and have to
control that, knowing that they can't

just stomp on it, but they have to jump
in and play with it and guide it the way

that they would want it to be guided.

So that's, that's what happens.

So I'm, I'm just, I, and this is just
me grasping at something, but you

said earlier that strategy, which is
often delivered by the big consulting

firms, comes in a book and it's
delivered to the company and you're

just sort of supposed to follow it.

But is it, those don't get done
because the liminality that you talked

about, the words, the language, the
practices, the, the importance of

space or certain symbols, is that why
those often fall sort of on deaf ears?

Is that why it doesn't
really emerge to a new place?

a tremendous intellectual exercise,
cognitively superior, but they are

not rooted in the human factor.

They're not rooted in
the human experience.

They, they are not cognizant of, I don't
wanna use the term execution, but 'cause

it goes more far more than execution.

strategy is really, should be a living,
breathing, adapting, changing thing.

It is not one, it's,
it's in, in the military.

You, you, you can lock on a, on
a target, you can set that target

fire and forget and no, here,
you can't just fire and forget.

You've got to constantly be engaged


have that feedback loop.

And modify and adapt, and that
can't happen through a six months,

one year, two year, whatever it
is, the study, it just, you've got

to be writing it as you're moving,


You're writing it, but it's writing you.


There's nothing that you can do that
doesn't also impact you in retrospect.


But, but given, given your, your thesis
or your PhD work and what you learned

with Arab Spring and what happened in
Egypt, when you translate that over

into trying to change systems you can
have the theory, you can have the end

goal, you can sort of set the target.

But part of what's unfolding as I'm
hearing it, is the people that you're

trying who are part of this system
have to not just buy into this thing

that their language changes the way
they see the world begins to change.

The, the, that liminal space
has to be transversed by

people, not just by leadership.

That's correct.

That is correct.

Absolutely correct.

It's, it's everybody in the organization
and they have to be brought along.

They have to experience it.

they, and by doing that, they
will actually impact it as well.

It's not going to be the same as,
as they thought it would, would be.

Oh, that's fascinating.

That's fascinating.

So how has critical discourse analysis,
how uh, and the use of that structure

and also what you learned in your PhD
work, how has it affected your own life?

Like, how, how has that thinking and
that awareness changed you and how you

work or how you operate in the world?

Uh, You become very sensitive
and very aware of words of

ideas you become aware of.

What comes out of the mouth of the c e o?

What she puts out in a statement.

What comes out during their
quarterly earnings report?

All, all of a sudden each
word is, is weighted.

It has meaning and it has to.

you know, relate to what's
happening in the organization.

It, there can't be a separation between
how life really is and what's being stated

that, so we talk a lot about transparency
and authenticity and all that.

Well, I think people are more
and more sophisticated in

understanding those things and
you know, data, information, news.

it's instantaneous.

So, when things aren't quite right
it becomes apparent pretty quickly.

So, the, the language and use
becomes even more, more critical.

And I think that you can't just have
one conversation at every 90 days

with Wall Street talking about why
your margins are up and how you're

going to reduce costs and all that.

And then turn around and be telling
the people that you're not going to

cut headcount and that you know it, the
two are connected and you can't have

two different kind of conversations
and expect that they're not going,

you're not gonna be found out.

You're going to lose respect, you're
going to lose trust internally and.

You know, you may not be believed
credibly on Wall Street either.

So internal conversation, the external
conversation become really important.


So that, that's been a real focus for you.

So where do you see companies,
organizations making mistakes given

this unique way you look at the world?

What are they, what are companies
getting wrong in, in terms of the way

they construct their communication,
the words they use, the, the

narrative that they're expressing.

They really under.

State the effort it takes to get everybody
inside a company to understand the

mission, to understand where they're
going and thinking that they had it in

a press release or that they shared it
during an all hands, or that you know,

they put out an email that that's enough.

You've gotta repeat things over
and over and over in different

ways, different venues before
people start to say, you know what?

Maybe this is real.

I heard that before.

Oh yeah, I remember that.

And it becomes more internalized.

under, under-estimating the effort it
takes to get the message internally

understood internalized and lived.


And that live part is And
connecting the dots here.

That live part is the team, the people
who are part of this organization

are actually saying the words maybe
differently than you want them to say

it, but they're saying the words that
are aligned with where you're going.

they're putting up their own placards.

They're acting in certain ways that
have become aligned or have helped

to realign the strategy document you
put out in the world or the strategy.

But there's that, that,
that ever present evolution.

But, you know, and you need to
keep talking about it because you

gotta get it into their language,
into their way of speaking.

Am am I following


Yeah, exactly.


without, the level below the, you
know, the managers, the people that

are actually getting the work done.

If they don't have, feel
that ownership that belief.

And, and they can tell
when things aren't right.

and, and right now companies, a lot of
companies are going through a downsizing.


Just a few months ago they were
talking about uh, remote work and

that's the new way and all that.

And lo and behold, now they're telling
everybody that you've got to come back to

the office, or you've gotta have at least
three days out of the week in the office.

Yet when they get to the office
now, now they've gotta drive

to the office there and back.

They've gotta spend more money on
gas when they're in the office.

There are more distractions, you know,
and they were getting a lot more work done

before, and now they've gotta find some,
somebody to take care of the kids maybe.

So the whole idea as if Covid
never happened and so on.

So the, the, the point is the credibility
of the leaders is not just something

that's tested once and you're done.

It's ongoing.

It's that, and people are, your
workers are thinking about that and

checking, are you still being honest?

Are you still being truthful?

Are you, is this just BSS or, or what?


So, this, this show is about advisory
boards, and not that that matters, but

how do you see this perspective that you
have learned, that you have dug deep in?

How do you feel like this now
affects advisory board activity?

How, how this language evolves,
how, how, saying it over and over

again, but now throw a board,
an advisory board into the mix.

How, how does, what
you've learned impact that?

so with critical discourse, I always
think about different power relationships.

You know, whe when you're sitting in a
room, you know, the c e O says something

and everybody kind of chimes along, or the
chairman says something and, and so on.

That, that doesn't do anybody any service.

So you've gotta be able to
open up that conversation.

So, being aware of the, the power
relationships and the hierarchies.

Actual perceived whatever
they, they exist.

Now, in a smaller company, a
business owner, you're gonna have

less of that, but you have to still
understand that when you say, this

is where I think we just need to go.

It's gonna be very hard for
somebody that reports to you.

to tell you something different than that.

They're gonna have to dance around
that to get you to think about it.

That, that wastes a lot of time.

It, it just doesn't do
anybody really any favors.

So, so that's, that's one thing
about critical discourse that just

to understand where you sit and
what you say imp has an impact.

And how do you purposely, intentionally
get other voices into the mix?

That, that's important,
that, that's one side.

Just, communication in general.


So discourse, just having those
conversations, it's important to have

open conversations whether you're
with your board of directors, with

advisory boards, with your C-suite.

Because that is how we
validate information.

That's how we understand, that's
how we collect information.

So all, all those things
happen through conversations.

And the richer the conversations, the, the
greater the variety of the conversations,

the better everybody will be off.

and that is really important.

So bringing the different perspectives,
being able to listen and not be

not to squash points of views.


So I, I, I'm intrigued by just trying
to connect back to some of your

unique perspective, which is how
important is amplifying tension in a

board setting in these, these deeper
conversations or being a stable presence?

Seems to me there's a tension that
exists in being effective when you've

got a, a person of power who's now put
It maybe equals or people that don't,

don't report to them in that setting.

And I'm, I'm not even
sure what I'm asking.

I just feel like part of this, this, this
perspective you bring is that there's,

there's sometimes you have to go through
these liminal spaces to get somewhere.

And sometimes somebody who has
a, a, like a c e O has a, a, a a

sense of this is where we're going,
this is how we're gonna get there.

This is why I think we should do this.

And you put the right people in the room.

Some of them will amplify tension.

Some of them will be stable presence,
some of, but, but you've gotta

have that in the room somehow.

I don't know what do, what
do you think about that?

So the experience that I've had,
there are times, moments when

you do need to amplify tension.


Sometimes everybody's so,
so in agreement that there's

actually no tension whatsoever.

And when everybody's in agreement,
you know, that should be red flags.

You know, there's, there's something
not quite right because there's got

to be some different perspectives
in, in that, in those conversations.

So, to amplify tension as long as
it's purposefully done to, get

a, perspective uh, heard, to get
people to ask better questions,

to explore things that are left.


You know, there's nothing worse
than accepting unstated assumptions

with and, and not surfacing them,
because sometimes they're wrong.

You know, conditions change in the market.

Your business changes, yet your
underlying assumptions that you've

internalized all these years, if
not decades, have not changed.

And everybody's taking them for granted.

How do you bring them up
without causing some tension?

You have to,

at other times, everybody is
running around like chickens

with their heads cut off.

You've got to bring things down and calm
things down and just, Hey, we're here.

Let's focus on one question, on one thing.

We're not gonna solve everything.

Let's not boil the ocean here.

So you've got to be able to assess, you
know, you've gotta read, assess, and.

Really quickly figure out, you know,
which leverage you're going to push.

How hard and how loud.


And, and it seems to me though, as
you sit on boards, because I know

part of your function now is to
serve as an advisor, serve as a board

member, serve in those capacities.

When you come to these equations, when you
come to these when you come to the table,

what unique perspective are you bringing?

There's the, you, you said earlier
that you, you really hone in on the

language, the way people use language.

But when you're sitting around a board
table whether that be you know, more of

the, the governance style or more of the
advisory board, what are you trying to do?

Like what, what's the, what's
the function you wanna bring?

What's the unique perspective
you wanna bring to the


It, you know, The world isn't
short of smart people, these

boards, you know, and, and they're
well-meaning people and, and so on.

So it's not about being smarter than
somebody else or wiser than somebody else.

It's really about looking at each
situation as its unique self.

And, you know, the things that I, you
know, we talked about in the military,

leadership and camaraderie and, but
there's also a lot about analytical,

you know, tools about thinking
connecting dots finding things that

don't necessarily appear at first.

So, and then of course you go through M
b A, you're, you're gonna be strategy.

So my.

Value that I bring is really be able to
bring a big picture to understand the

strategy, understand the capabilities and
the capacities of the organization, where

they're at, and where they wanna go, and
what's the delta, what's the gap in that?

And make sure that there's understanding
about the marketplace and whatever

products or services that they're
offering, you know, is there a good fit?

And then if there is a good fit, how,
how can we scale that profitably?


the, the, is it the right.

Model is it the right product market fit?

Is it the right scalability?

Is it, are the right people
around the table in, in the

organization and what's missing?

What can be added?

How can you boost the, you know,
this person or that person?

So it you're almost like cutting and
slicing all at once and not losing sight

of the minutiae or the big picture.

Be able to do up and down.

And then language just becomes
a tool within all that for being

effective or not effective.


I, I just sense though that you are
also, I, like, I, I feel like one of

the, the superpowers you bring is the
ability to tie the language to the

action, to the thing, just because
that's a, that's an area of expertise

you've built, not just, not just with
your PhD work, but with your history.


So that ability to kind of sit in, in
a space with both a company leader and

other people, and uniquely connect some
of those interesting dots that you see

that I, I suspect a lot of people don't
see just because of, of that unique

background and perspective that you

You know, and, and action.

That that's, at the end of the day, we,
we gotta come up with an action plan.

You know, we gotta do something, okay.

And, doing something to be able to
articulate that and to be able to

understand that and measure that,
those are all very important things,

but words, the thinking and the doing.

the, the action to change.

You're in a, you're stuck in a, in
a certain tradition or status quo

that you've got to make some changes.

you, you've gotta push and take specific
actions that gets you where you'd want to

be, where you'd want to go, and language
becomes an important tool and a lever that

should be used that helps you get there.



I'm, I'm fascinated.

I, I wish I could talk more hours with
you 'cause I, I feel like there's so much,

behind what we've already talked about in
terms of how things work and how things

operate and, and how the world unfolds.

I love that concept of liminal spaces
and how, we get into situations

ourselves where we have to process it.

And sometimes we don't even
have the words to process it.

And until you get the words, you can't
make sense of the world you're in

'cause you don't have the words for it.

Even a


One of the, the, the biggest dangers
I I see with especially it comes with

more business owners, more so than in a
C-suite, because they built a company.

they've invested their time and
so on, that they feel certain

about what they know, what the
problem is or something like that.

But, you know, max Weber wrote
something or said something years ago.

Something like doubt is
the father of knowledge.

I mean, you've got to have some
doubt if you, if you're so sure about

something, you'll never learn something.

You, you, you'll never learn anything new.

So you've gotta have some doubt otherwise.

You're really in trouble.


Well, it's been delightful and I, like I
said, we could go on, but I, I feel like

when, when I complete these conversations,
I always like to just have a random

set of questions to throw at you, just
quickly, just to remind us that you're

both the incredible wise person and
you're just a human, like the rest of us.

So, Android or iPhone.


what's the book that has shaped
you more than any other book?

Oh wow.

There, there's a book that I read
when I was going through Naval

Postgraduate School that stay stuck in
my head, and I even used it during my

dissertation, and it's by Carl Manheim.

It was written in 1936.

It's called ideology and
Utopia, if I remember correctly.




What was the first question you asked?

Chat, G p t.

How can we avoid World War iii?

Oh, interesting.

It was a, it was a, it was a
lame, lame response, but yes.

if you could have coffee with any
historical figure, who would it be?

John F.



What's something outside your
professional life, this very

professional life that you're in, that
you're irrationally passionate about?


Uh, Day trading, stock market day trading.



And final question.

What would your closest family members
like uh, maybe not your, your spouse, but

maybe kids or, or siblings or something,
what would they define or what would

they say you actually do in the world?

How would they define what you do?

Writes a lot.

They'll just say he, he writes a lot.

It's beautiful.

Mohamed, this has been an absolute joy.

I, I appreciate your, your perspective,
your wisdom, and thank you for taking

the time to just share it with all of us.

I think it's it's been amazing.

So thank you.

thank you, Tom.

And, thank you for allowing me to, to
share all that with you and the audience.


Creators and Guests

Tom Adams
Tom Adams
An Executive Coach, Tom Adams helps entrepreneurs & executives expand the vision of their lives so that they flourish & as a result, their businesses will too.
Mohamed Amer
Mohamed Amer
PhD, Ind Board Member, Certified Advisory Chair
The Power of Narrative: A Conversation with Mohamed Amer
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