Education is the Boon to Fear — Insights from 7/11 & Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyesby@scottdclary
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Education is the Boon to Fear — Insights from 7/11 & Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes

by Scott D. ClaryMay 11th, 2024
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Insights from former CEO of 7/11 and Blockbuster on mastering your fear and using education as an antidote to anxiety.
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A new podcast just dropped with Jim Keyes, CEO of both 7/11 and Blockbuster. I’ll break down his thoughts on fear and education.

If you want to listen to the full podcast, listen on or on YouTube.

Remember Blockbuster? The video rental giant that seemed invincible, until it wasn't? What about 7-Eleven?  You know… those ubiquitous convenience stores slinging Slurpees and questionable hot dogs.

Hold on a minute… these aren't exactly hotbeds of innovation, right?  Yet, here's the twist: the former CEO of BOTH these companies, Jim Keyes, has some seriously profound wisdom that every single one of us needs to hear.

Jim, recently on the Success Story podcast, dropped a bombshell of a statement: "The antidote to fear is education."

It seems obvious, but is it really? Let's break this thing down…

The Disease of Fear

Think about a scary moment.  Maybe a job interview, making a big decision, or a moment of public speaking. That pit in your stomach, those racing thoughts, the desire to just RUN? That's fear working its magic on you.

Keyes explains what happens on a deeper level. Fear shuts down our higher-level thinking. It triggers that primal "fight or flight" response. We can't focus, we overreact, and we make terrible choices. This doesn't just happen at an individual level; it happens to entire societies.  Fear breeds anger, misunderstanding, conflict…all those things we desperately need less of.

The Cure: A Different Kind of Classroom

"Knowledge is the light you turn on, and you discover there's really nothing to be afraid of." Keyes says it with such conviction, but what does it really mean? Education isn't just about book smarts.  Don't get me wrong, IQ is valuable, but it's a tiny piece of the puzzle.

Jim talks about two other critical ingredients:

  • Emotional intelligence (EQ): Being aware of your emotions, understanding their impact, and managing them for better outcomes.
  • Character Quotient (CQ): This is about things like integrity, humility, and compassion. Our core values and how they shape our actions.

Imagine a person with a high IQ but zero EQ and CQ.  That's a recipe for disaster. True wisdom, the kind that creates flourishing individuals and societies, needs all three.  This is the education Keyes is championing – an education of the mind and the heart.

Alright, enough theory, right? Let's get to some examples...

Remember the fear we talked about? Keyes isn't saying it magically goes away. But with education, we reframe it. Instead of a monster under the bed, it becomes a puzzle to solve, a challenge to overcome.

Think about 7-Eleven.  Convenience stores aren't sexy. So, how did it become this massive success? Keyes saw fear driving huge companies to ignore a whole segment of the market. Busy people needed essentials at odd hours, and no one was serving them.  That's an opportunity born from addressing an overlooked fear.

But what about Blockbuster, then? The video giant that, well, kind of exploded. Fear played a role here too. Fear of change, of the unknown. They saw Netflix coming, but instead of pivoting and embracing streaming, they doubled down on their outdated model.

See the difference? Knowledge gives you options. If 7-Eleven had stayed scared of an unproven customer base, we'd never have those 2 a.m. snack runs. If Blockbuster had understood the shifting tides, they might still be here.

It's Not Just About Business

This "fear vs. knowledge" battleground is everywhere. People afraid of immigrants, of technology, of "the other."  Our society can feel like a minefield because so many are acting from a place of fear instead of understanding.

Jim Keyes believes education is the solution, not  "feel good" slogans.  Understanding history, economics, sociology – these things dismantle the scary stories that keep us stuck.

But Here's the Tough Pill to Swallow...

Education, the real kind, is hard work. It takes effort and time. It's not passive. It challenges you to truly think, not just adopt a set of talking points.  We're in an age where instant gratification is king. That's the enemy of this kind of learning.

Jim isn't talking about formal schooling only either. He's a huge proponent of lifelong learning. Reading, questioning, seeking out those who are different (those are often the best teachers!).  He compares it to aviation: You don't get a pilot's license and call it a day. It's a "license to learn" forever.

I know you're probably thinking, ok, but what do I DO with this knowledge? That's a fair question, and here's where things get REALLY interesting…

Fearless Opportunity

Here's where Jim Keyes gets even more counterintuitive. He argues that disruptive change, the kind that terrifies most people, is where the true opportunities lie. Think about it – those who understand and harness something like AI, while others run away screaming, are the ones positioned to create miracles.

This mindset shift is HUGE. Instead of seeing uncertainty as a threat, we see it as fertile ground.

Think back throughout history: after war – rebirth. After economic collapse – new industries rise. It's not always pretty, but progress follows in the wake of destruction.

This isn't some insensitive cheerleading though. There's a compassionate side to Jim's philosophy. When people's deepest fears are addressed through knowledge, we build better societies. Think poverty, crime, prejudice – these things fester in ignorance.

The Challenge to You (and Me)

Jim Keyes isn't saying we all need to become rocket scientists.  But there's a level of deliberate, focused learning we need to adopt.  Here's a few questions to get you started:

  • Where are your fear-based blind spots? Do you automatically distrust certain technologies, cultures, or ideas?
  • What are you avoiding learning about? There's usually gold to be found in the things we find most difficult!
  • Who challenges your thinking? Do you surround yourself with people who simply echo your existing beliefs? That's an intellectual death trap.

This isn't about being the smartest or most "woke" person in the room.  It's about cultivating a relentless curiosity and courage to venture outside your comfort zone. It's hard, but it's the ONLY way we evolve as individuals and as a society.

A Final Note from Jim

Jim Keyes isn't an inexperienced guy. He's seen decades of economic booms and busts, societal shifts, the birth and death of whole industries. His confidence in education comes from hard-won experience.

I think that's important to remember. The path out of fear isn't a quick-fix, but it's the ONLY path that leads somewhere worth going.

If you want to listen to the full podcast, listen on or on YouTube.