Adventures from Back of Beyond

Friday, April 03, 2009

Jim Newman

The first time I met Jim Newman he hypnotized me. It took all of a split second, just like that. For him it was like the snap of a finger, simple eye contact, a glance ... and I was toast.

James W. Newman was the creator of the PACE seminar. He passed away a few years ago, but the company he founded in 1961 still lives on.

In a nutshell, PACE (Personal And Company Effectiveness) is the science of positive psychology applied to training human performance for maximum results.

Jim studied the habits of very effective people in all walks of life -- athletes, artists, businesspersons -- and discovered many commonalities among them, certain characteristics and attitudes that helped separate them from average persons. From this beginning, and using precepts from his study of applied positive psychology -- including such topics as communication skills, goal setting and achievement, and stress management – he created the PACE seminar.

I first attended, at my father’s urging, a PACE youth seminar when I was 19. I was floored by the simple yet profound instruction I received in achieving excellence in human performance, and especially by the positive nature of the self-esteem building seminar.

Over the next several years, and while attending college, I would go on to work for the PACE organization as a counselor at the youth seminars. I worked dozens of programs, from many different instructors. But during the first couple of years I never actually met the man himself. Jim usually subcontracted out the teaching duties, and rarely was on site.

But during one seminar on the campus of Occidental College in Eagle Rock, California, Jim showed up to spend a few hours with us. That was the first time I met him.

We had advance notice he was coming, so I began to prep in my mind what I would say when I first shook his hand. After all, this was the man who had profoundly influenced me in so many ways, and helped determine what I was doing and who I had become – although Jim and I would be the first to tell you I was and am 100% responsible for that.

He was standing around with several others when I approached him and stuck out my hand in greeting. He shook it and looked me in the eye. I remember his steely blue eyes from that first glance. I have no idea what I planned to say, because whatever it was, I didn’t. He hypnotized me on the spot.

My mind went completely blank. I had to look away. I was dumbfounded. I remember mumbling something about being pleased to meet him. Everyone laughed, maybe at me being so sheepish, I don’t know. But Jim was if anything good natured, smiling, and above all positive. If there’s anyone to make a fool of yourself in front of, Jim’s a great choice.

Later, Jim would personally instruct one of the seminars I worked. To see him in action, the creator of all these wonderful concepts applied, was wonderful.

As part of my counseling duties, I led small discussion groups, which we called D-groups. Jim once sat in on one of my D-groups during that week-long seminar. He listened attentively as I worked through the discussion questions and the group went back and forth with the ideas. At one point I remember struggling to find the right word to explain a concept I was trying to represent, something about the evolution of human thinking and why as a species human beings are at the place we are now.
Jim said nothing until the very end.

At that point everyone turned to him to shed some light on our discussion, and the great and brilliant mind did not disappoint. He used the word “phlyogenetic” to describe what I was trying to say. Just dropped it in casually, like it was everyday conversation. Later I looked it up. Turns out phylogenetic was exactly the right word to best describe the concept. And to think he had vocabulary like that right on the tip of his tongue. To this day I like to use the word phylogenetic whenever I can work it into a conversation, and it never fails to impress.

The man was brilliant. A proud member of MENSA. A true genius.

In addition to an impressive intellect, he was also a superbly skilled prestidigitator, a magician. I once saw him shuffle a deck of cards in one hand. I used to have this trick of spinning and balancing a volleyball on one fingertip for long periods of time, and he loved that, encouraged me to do more of it.

Later in my career, my path crossed more than once with Jim’s, and the experience was always special.

My first job after graduate school, working in political public relations, was coincidentally in the same building as the PACE offices on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. I visited him there once, and he offered his positive thinking services to support any of our candidates. He was always the salesman for his ideas.

Years later, while working in Phoenix as Education Officer for the American Institute of Banking, I attended a brief introductory program on PACE that was presented by Jim. That was unusual because he normally had salespeople in the field. When I heard it would be Jim presenting himself, I made sure to be there.

It was wonderful to see Jim again, at this point some 12 or 13 years after our first contact. I remember how positive and uplifting even a short 15-20 minute session was with him. But I also remember the fatigue in his voice, barely discernable but there, as he explained some of the PACE concepts, terrific as they were, for what must’ve been the umpteen zillionth time.

We stayed in contact. He urged me to sell PACE products, which at that time were available for the first time on videocassette. He was ever the salesman.

I never did go to work again for Jim, but today I still use many of the concepts I first learned at PACE almost 40 years ago.