Before Andy Andrews was helping corporations double their profits, helping special operations military personnel refine their techniques, helping sports teams win and achieve, before he became “The Professional Noticer” with listeners in 114 countries and the bestselling author of several books, he was homeless and hiding under a pier in Orange Beach, Alabama.
At age 19, Andrews lost his mother to cancer and his father to a car accident, all within a year. Between grief and bad financial decisions, he soon found himself with nothing and no one. And then he met Jones—a mysterious, white-haired man who would pop up out of nowhere before disappearing without a trace, who noticed truths no one else saw.
“He’d always say, ‘Not Mr. Jones, just Jones,'” Andrews said. “Just Jones” is the title and main character of his latest book. Jones was the one who told Andrews, “You can’t believe everything you think,” setting his life in a direction that would help him “move into the light.”
It got Andrews thinking about whether some people were just born lucky, or if successful people made the kind of choices that anyone could make. In search of answers, he read 200 biographies and later distilled the wisdom into “The Traveler’s Gift: Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success,” a book that 51 publishers turned down. It eventually became a bestseller, was translated into 40 languages, and was named one of the five books you have to read in your lifetime.
“The old man, Jones, he always called himself a noticer, so I’m kind of a second-generation noticer,” Andrews said. Jones called it a gift; he wasn’t a star athlete or talented vocalist, but he noticed little things that made a huge difference. Andrews realized he had the same gift; even as a child, he’d point out little inconsistencies or turn well-worn phrases on their head. The skill served him well as he embarked on a career as a comedian and later as a speaker.
“When Jones came along, I really saw there was value in thinking differently, in seeing things differently,” Andrews said.
Think Differently, and Seek Irrefutable Truth
Most people will tell you perspective is how someone sees something (glass half-full versus half-empty, for example), but Andrew says it’s a little more than that.
“It’s not just how they see something—it’s how they choose to see something,” Andrews said. “The glass just is what it is, but your perspective on that will move your life in one direction or the other. We all know what happens to what we call ‘glass half-empty people,’ those people don’t get as many opportunities as readily, we don’t follow those people, we’re not sure we want to be around those people a lot. ‘Glass half-full people,’ those are the people that get promoted, who get hired, those are the people who we want to be around.”
After Andrews’s book became a hit, companies and professional sports teams asked him to come work with their people. Sometimes it would be to address a specific issue they were grappling with, but once clients he’d worked with met with great success, such as doubling results in a year, other companies would ask him to speak more generally and “see what you see,” he said. “And a lot of times now I’m working with companies that are already in first or second place … Where do they go? What do they do?”
It sometimes occurs to people that Andrews has no expertise in these industries, but that’s exactly the point. If you’re a college football coach with more championships under your belt than any other working coach, where do you go for a seminar?
“Who can he possibly hire who knows more about football than he knows? Anybody that he gets in there, they’re only going to track him along a thought process that he already has. Not me. I don’t really know anything about it to begin with, so I’m thinking in ways you wouldn’t normally think,” Andrews said.
“One of the greatest impediments to corporate growth, tremendously, is that you know how it’s done,” he said. “This is how it’s done, this is how the industry works, this is what can be done, this is what can’t be done—I don’t know those things, so I help people compete in a way that the competition doesn’t know is going on.”
Over time Andrews would notice common problems and misconceptions, which would prompt him to write new books, leading to more speaking requests, and so on.
“I always make it very clear, I’m not a motivational speaker,” Andrews said. “I think encouragement’s fine, I think truth is better.”
A Search for Truth
At the root of it, Andrews is on an honest search for the truth. Many popular questions, whether it’s about leadership, parenting, or the divisions in this country, come from people who say there is no answer, and Andrews shifts the perspective a little to show that if you’re looking for the truth, there is an answer. Sometimes it’s in the form of a pithy one-liner (“If you’re not getting the answer you want, you need to change the question”), sometimes it’s a long anecdote from history (Did you know Lewis and Clark crossed the country defeating every tribe they encountered with the use of a single air rifle that never had to be fired at another person?).
What Andrews does is present proof to people that something works, as he has done in his first book about the seven decisions, which are really principles. Principles work every time, and Andrews tries to find ways to present them simply.
“There is a big difference between simple and easy,” he added, because if you can understand how a principle works, you’re in a good place. If you understand why a principle works the way it does, you’re even better off.
In short, he dispenses wisdom and explains how to mine it (“Wisdom is a constant search for deeper truth”).
“Now you know what will work and you know you can use it to make more money or make your family better or your relationships better,” Andrews said.
“I want to create simple ways to explain complicated things that are confusing people,” he said, because understanding is often what unlocks game-changing actions.
“People would rather stay with a problem that they understand than go with the solution they don’t understand,” he said. “Understanding is a huge feat, and I find that a lot of leaders, a lot of corporate executives, they know what to do and how to do it, but they can’t communicate it in a way that brings out the best in their people. And that’s what I help them to do.”
Finding Common Ground
With the sort of track record Andrews has, he gets questions, calls, and comments all the time asking him to help solve the nation’s problems.
In fact, not long ago, Andrews appeared in a television interview and got a call from a rather influential individual afterward.
“They were taking me to task,” he said, “They said, ‘You had them right where you wanted them and you didn’t tell them what they need to understand, what they better believe if our country is to be.'”
Andrews said they were right, and offered to explain why he didn’t lay out that argument they wanted to hear.
“The reason is because I have watched people argue about this stuff … and I have never once seen anybody right in the middle of these arguments go, ‘Well you know, you’re right, I agree with you, from now on I’m on your side,'” he said. “And the reason we don’t see that is because we have a leadership void in our world today.”
The essence of leadership is influence, and the essence of influence is agreement, he said.
“You don’t follow somebody you disagree with,” Andrews said. “There has to be common ground before there can ever be any conversation, much less leadership. We have to find the things we agree on.”
His caller said that meant we had a lost cause, because we don’t agree on anything anymore. Andrews disagreed.
“I think it doesn’t matter where you’re from, how old you are, what color, what religion you are or aren’t, if we ask you, ‘Do you want the best for your children?’ the answer is yes—we agree on that,” Andrews said. Then they said, but we’ll disagree on what the best is.
“But we can go on a search for it. If we honestly want the best for our children, then we have to understand the best is one thing … we’re not talking among the best, it’s one thing and we have to find what is the best,” he said. “And the only way we can find the best is to find the truth.”
And here we have a second thing we all agree on, Andrews said. “It doesn’t matter who you ask, if you ask, ‘Should politicians be able to lie to us? Or should they tell the truth?’ If we lie to Congress it’s a felony, if they lie to us it’s politics. Should they be able to lie to us? Everyone will say no.”
“If we actually want the best, then we must also be on an honest search for the truth,” he said. So if we disagree, it probably means “one of us maybe has information that is incomplete.”
Andrews suspects the leadership void comes from a generation or two of people being brought up without witnessing much civil disagreement.
“I don’t know when, but at some point someone drew up plans for a house without a front porch,” Andrews said. People didn’t have to interact with one another as much anymore, and the conversations from the front porch moved to the backyard. There, people might only keep to others who shared the same thoughts, but there was at least still conversation.
Andrews grew up watching the adults talk; he’d have to be quiet and go unnoticed of course, but the grown-ups’ conversations were illuminating.
“Our parents talked about politics and religion and what they believed and didn’t believe and how they changed their minds, and we listened to people disagree in an agreeable manner,” Andrews said. Then people started putting the kids in a room and occupied their attention with a movie or video game.
“Parents wonder why they don’t have influence with their children—their children have been raised by movies and games,” he said.
Families in Disarray and the Optimistic View
Possibly more than any other group of people, parents of adult children reach out to Andrews for help. They want their sometimes directionless children to do all these things Andrews suggests—choose to be happy, seek wisdom, and so on—but they don’t know how.
“Let’s put it this way, the explanation is lacking,” he said. He’s seen surly teenagers change their behavior, and permanently, after one conversation with their parents. The key is providing irrefutable proof.
“This is partially why I create books the way I do, in story form,” he said. “There is a big difference between knowing how to do something or knowing why you should do it, and knowing why it will work as it does.”
Andrews has two sons himself, both young adults now, and has written quite a bit of parenting material, too.
“When we had our children, we started reading all these books,” he said. He found many methods and the social science data to back them up, but there would also be statistics such as with this method 82 percent of children turn out in such a way, and with some other method maybe 64 percent of the children turn out some other way.
“And I’m thinking, I’ve only got two kids, I’ve got to have 100 percent. I can’t have a percentage of my kids turn out OK, I’ve only got two!” he said. So he did the same as when he first turned toward the question of success: He read through everything to find provable things that would work every time, and learned to explain why the principle worked and how it would work, and he learned once again how a shift in perspective might be necessary.
“Over and over again I would hear people say, ‘Well, we’re just trying to raise great kids … our kids are our priority,'” Andrews said. “There’s your problem right there. Because in reality, you don’t want to raise great kids, what you want to do is raise kids who become great adults, and that’s a totally different thing, and there are two different pathways that lead to each.”
Parenting and family may just be at the center of our current crisis.
“I do want to be able to help families more. I think about that a lot, just because I see disconnects in those families,” Andrews said. If you ask people what the most important thing is in their lives, family and their spiritual life top the list. If career is important, too, it’s probably No. 3.
“If you have disarray in one of the most important parts in your life, how could you possibly be most effective in the third most important part of your life?” Andrews said. That disarray follows people into work and into society. “The principles that govern great relationships between parents and kids, whether that’s adult children or little kids, those principles are critical, they’re just critical to every part of our life.”
“When you think about it, you can only be as happy as your unhappiest child. Once that gets on your mind it’s hard to think about anything else, right?” he said. “So to have a happy family, a family pulling in the same direction, it’s a big deal.”
Andrews is optimistic, partly because he says he has to be, but the proof isn’t bad either.
“This is not an irreversible challenge, but there has to be something, some point of agreement for people to come together,” Andrews said.
“If you look at just the history of our daily lives, we can be optimistic because confusion always precedes the answer—always,” he said. “Think about your life: Every time you got the answer, a second before you got the answer, you didn’t know the answer … A great sign of maturity in a person is their ability to live and be calm during confusion.”
Andrews still lives in Orange Beach, maybe 15 minutes from the pier he used to sleep under, and he says it’s the best beach in the world.
“There’s a hundred-mile strip here on the northern Gulf Coast they call the Miracle Strip. It’s one mineral, it’s crushed quartz, very fine, the color and consistency of sugar, and it actually squeaks when you walk on it,” he said. He met Jones on that beach, and when he disappeared the first time, Andrews wasn’t sure he’d see him again.
“When he was gone the second time, I didn’t expect to see him again, but this story [about Jones’s return] is the most compelling,“ Andrews said. “Just Jones” can be read as a sequel to his first two “Noticer” books, but stands alone as a fun small-town mystery as well. “These are real people, it’s a real place,” he said, and only two or three people in the book are made up. In the same vein as the other “Noticer” books, he blends his own backstory with some fiction, and he hopes people find a lot of the answers they’re looking for in this one.
“This new book, it’s like having to climb the mountain for me, because this book is going to solve so many tough issues for people,” he said. “I enjoy seeing the light come on in people, seeing the light come on in families, that’s what I was put here to do.”
Readers who purchase a copy of “Just Jones” (AndyAndrews.com/just-jones) in the month of October can contact Andy Andrews at Andy@AndyAndrews.com with a screenshot of the receipt to receive access to his four-hour seminar “Becoming a Noticer.”