Impact to Influence – Interview with Peter Chan

Well this is a real treat today I'm Joined by Mr Peter Chan from Heron's Bonsai and uh this was the longest of Long shots for me to ask Peter to join This conversation because he does not Consider himself an educator in the Traditional classroom sense but as I Just told him Before We Begin he has Taught more students than any educator I Have ever or will ever meet because uh He has this YouTube series that I have Found along with 42 million other Viewers and Bonsai is one of my hobbies I would like to say it's a passion but It's my skill set is certainly Developing but you have been a teacher For me and one of the unique things About your YouTube series is you don't Charge for it uh you constantly produce Videos and you have a really Um I think influential way in a very Positive way of delivering your message So welcome to the conversation it's very It's truly an honor to meet you sort of In person Okay thank you very much Um and one thing I've learned already About Peter whether viewing him or now Speaking with him a bit is he is humble But I'm going to brag about him a little When I read this bio so uh and this is The one of the words I found in a bio Was no accident Peter Chan is the doian Of bonsai in the UK and well known for

His record tally of 21 Chelsea flower Show gold medals which is a feat no Other Bonsai specialist has ever Achieved now that word doing that is no Accident and no that's no small word it Literally the the definition is the most Respected and prominent individual in a Particular field doesn't mean the best It's not a bragging term Um but that most prominent and respected We're going to come back to that Um and when that word is associated with You that's quite a message and when that Work is your passion it shows in Everything you do plus I've seen at Least two pictures of you with her Majesty the queen and not many people Can say that Uh many throughout I'm going to read This little bio here because it's a Great way of introducing you to people Who may be expecting only other Colleagues and teachers in this Conversation many throughout the world Have been inspired to take a bonsai as a Hobby after reading one or more of his Nine best-selling books seeing his TV Appearances or more likely discovering His wildly popular YouTube series in Recent years he's also a graduate from The prestigious Indian Institute of Technology where he uh you were an Electrical engineer and then moved to The UK as a senior administrator and

Speech writer I am fascinated how all These pieces fit together in your story And then it was through those speeches And talking about privatization Entrepreneurship that he was inspired to Set up his own business which is Heron's Bonsai so again welcome to the Conversation very pleased to meet you Okay so where shall We Begin we shall Begin by talking about this YouTube Channel and the series of videos that You have had 42 million viewers and what Gave you the idea to do this because you Don't have to you have a successful Nursery you are highly regarded author You don't have to give away your secrets For free what is it about you and your Background that brought you to create This Well YouTube like the founders of YouTube which were these two young guys From San Diego they just went to San Diego Zoo and they did a short video of The elephants in the zoo and that's how It started so my uh entry into YouTube Was very similar to that I just did it Purely by accident I had a Young Apprentice who was learning to do Digital marketing for me and he said hey Why did you do some YouTube videos and See how it goes so the very first YouTube video is still on my site which Is only like half a minute of two Minutes and it was very rude eventually

One and that's how it started and then We found that uh it was getting quite Noticed uh and before I knew where I was Getting some other entrepreneurs mainly From United States could see what I was Doing and I wasn't charging for it so They approached me why don't we get into Collaboration and we could make your Fortune you know you sell it to us and We'll send it to other people but I Didn't go down that route so my YouTube I Deliberately kept it free so that it is Freed for everyone to see I know I get Some income from the YouTube viewings And the advertising but that is not the Main purpose of the thing my main Purpose in sharing my videos is to Spread knowledge because I feel that Knowledge is a human Birthright which Everyone has a right to enjoy That's that's no small statement I mean That's profound it speaks to your work Your mission and that translates across Bonsai about art about teaching I mean It's purely uh That's a mission statement for any Educator whatever the medium happens to Be Um and it's interesting because yes you Did kind of find it by accident and I Wonder if you hadn't I wonder if that You know that Apprentice hadn't Suggested it or have you had turned away

There's a quote that I found where you Talked about it says after all these Decades of bonsai making I was learning Losing interest I was set in a routine The goal of which was to sell trees what Helped me overcome this route was Shifting priorities and objectives now That's good advice for any teacher Anyone who is developing their craft Your it says my love for Bonsai never Wavered but doing it solely for the Business became Troublesome it wasn't Until I discovered YouTube and started Talking to my audience that I Unearthed A new drive a desire to teach and help Others on a much larger scale when I Read that that's what this whole book And project is all about it's scaling That amplifying that voice and so many People have found individuals along the Way who have found ways to either give Them opportunities give them voice for You it was just this literally pressing Record and making yourself available so Seeing how far and with which impact Your experience could reach you said That you felt a new bout of energy in Your work and it's a blessing because You can maintain and even grow in your Bonsai practice so I want to thank you On behalf of your audience because it's Great that it's free people would pay For it and that's but it's really Powerful that that's not what it's about

And that you have a very successful Nursery you have Um your books and this is your Livelihood but it's also your passion What do you think it is about you and Your personality and your background as An electrical engineer that pushed you To just try these things and keep Sharing and demonstrate it shows and and Like you said it's that Giving that knowledge out and sharing That knowledge I've heard you say no one Has a monopoly on it Right I enjoy what I do and of course Like many things in life There are certain Situations and circumstances and Experiences that Cannot find a logical explanation Call it what you will it could be divine Intervention or whatever I don't like to Bring religious significance into this Discussion but many things happen in Life which you may consider to be Things that happened by accident or Chance but they have on uh reflection or When you look back in retrospect that There was a purpose for that thing Happening and I believe this was such a Situation where it was almost like a Divine intervention that it came to me And then I was able to Help both myself and the audience from That so had it not happened you know I

May have stumbled across it later on in Life but the fact that it happened in That way I'm eternally grateful for Because in life there are many things That happen By chance I don't like to use the word By chance or luck although I do believe In luck to a certain extent Much of life You say that you're lucky or someone is Lucky we all get luck but it's what you Do with the luck that matters there's Another expression which says you make Your own book The Luck can come your way But you don't notice and you don't grasp It so it's lost forever so I would say That this is something that happened by Chance and I was able to seize upon it And make the best of it so I wouldn't Say it's entirely due to me I think There is some you know a more powerful Element of power that intervened and Introduced me to that I hope you get the Feeling of what I'm trying to convey I Do what we do we try to be very proud And say oh I did it Jordan it was all Due to me I don't say that I'm just Grateful that these things happen and You're able to make use of it in that Way I think that's great and you there is a Humility to you because you are also are Incredibly skilled you are at the top of Your craft and that along with luck and

Opportunity and whether it is divine Intervention whether it's other Philosophical means that you share all Of that you it just comes through you And when someone watches you working With a tree they see your relationship With nature they see your relationship With the tree and one of my favorite Things is there's no doubt how seriously You take your craft and the art in the History but you don't take yourself as Seriously you wear fun shirts you wear a Silly hat and you'll you'll clip a Branch off and say well maybe sometimes We need to break the rules or bend the Rules or challenge conventional thought Without doing so in a way that uh in any Way demeans or Or insult tradition especially a Tradition which has thousands of years Of history and craft and art behind it But like I said you don't take yourself Seriously you'll take a tree more Seriously than you'll take yourself You're not selling trees or pots or Tools I've heard you say so many times a Good pair of scissors is really you know You can buy high-end tools but if you Have the right Clippers and scissors you Can achieve these results and Before I pressed record I asked a Critical question about a maple tree of Mine and Peter said to me you're not Going to kill it go ahead try it of

Course you can do it and it's there is You encourage people with that and it's Like I said you take your work and your Craft seriously which has brought you I Think those opportunities it has what Maybe you can call it making luck but It's a lot more than just being in the Right place at the right time so I guess A question I would ask is What if someone is feeling whether it's A teacher someone who is maybe stuck in Their particular role and wants to reach An audience whether it's YouTube maybe It's teaching something they have to Share because you clearly have not just The skill set for Bonsai and the Artistry and literally the the skill Honed years and years of bonsai Artisanship but you also have that Ability to teach very well and whether It's workshops at the nursery or these YouTube series how would you encourage Someone else who's beginning to feel Like okay I've done something for 10 Years maybe it's in the classroom maybe It's a different skill and they want to Begin to turn around from that impacting Of small group to influencing a large Group what advice might you give them Well there are many factors I think First of all you've got to be uh humble Really you know many people who go to Teach and consider themselves Masters in Their art uh they have very inflated

Ideas of their own worth and that is I Think the wrong place to begin you've Got to be humbled and say that I have Something to share so let's start from The very beginning put yourself in the Students shoes you know what are they Wanting to learn and then start from That very low level don't consider Yourself a great Master just think of Yourself as someone who is sharing Something that you can do I don't Consider myself a great Bonsai master I'm not a great Carver and all these Great artists they have many more finer Teachers and Craftsmen than me but I'm Able to con communicate the simple Aspects of bonsai which encourage people To get into the hobby so it is really a Very basic level I believe that the Students should Excel the master at some Stage and that doesn't bother me it Doesn't bother me a lot of people are Afraid of that I've noticed it many of The Masters will go so far once they Realize that you're learning more than Them they stop telling you anything and That's that's for sure yeah it's not a Good thing so I think you have to be Humble and say that you know you've got To be prepared to uh guide a person Through and lead them to greater things And of course you got to know your Subject and basic things like learning How to communicate because there's so

Many things you can learn in this Digital age you can learn almost Anything from the digital world so learn How to communicate there are ways to Learn it and do it that way if you can't Speak properly or a bit nervous there Are ways to teach you how to overcome Your nervousness to take it slowly speak One sentence at a time uh simple things Like that help so as we say it's not Rocket science it can be taught it can Be learned but the mindset should be There and I think what is most important Is that you should should be In the mindset where you're really Serving other people you know the Teacher is like a servant you know You're there to serve others not to Dominate them or do anything like that And once you get into that Mindset your students will appreciate it I don't like to say respect you but Maybe they will appreciate and they will Be able to Empathize with you Um so those are just simple very basic Things that I like to pass on That's great advice I mean whether Someone has been teaching for 20 or 30 Years or in a particular role and maybe Thinking about shifting roles and that Also speaks to being a lifelong learner As well and Educators an Educators Should always be learning and you model

That Um the most recent video I watched from You was this crazy heat wave that we've Been in the middle of and you've had to Find Solutions on your Nursery to deal With 100 degree Heats in the middle of The summer for a prolonged period of Time and it was very interesting the way You explained Maybe just might be risk-taking but it Might be experimentation and you talked About Um always thinking of finding new rules Um and trying to always be solution Oriented and I that connects with this Idea of being the teacher being the Servant But the teacher is also modeling That lifelong learning so I guess that Leads to a question of Where do you look for inspiration I know That you learn from you learn from the Trees because there's constant Maintenance that has to happen Especially at the scale of materials you Have but you're always learning things And finding out things that work things That don't where do you also learn Technique or even look for inspiration Yourself Well being from the engineering Background when you're always trying to Find solutions that I think helps Because that is how my mind works I have Employees on my Nursery

And I don't like to say it whenever I Ask them to do something or present them With a problem their first reaction is That they can't be done it's very common It can't be done Maybe because they're lazy but I don't Know why but I always look on it as how Can we get it done And this I think is how an engineer or a Scientific person will always uh tackle A problem how can it be done finding the Solution not why it cannot be done so That I think helps uh I think if we look Back to my very young days I don't want To dwell on the past or bring the sub Story element into it I wasn't born into A rich family in fact my grandfather Although he was the entrepreneur and he Was able to send my father to the USA my Father studied the Milwaukee School of Engineering electrical engineering 1928 To 1932 but he didn't get into the Family business and he died when I was Six and a half years old and my mother Was left to Widow looking after four Daughters and myself five children with Very little means of support so we grow Drop not penniless but in very difficult Circumstances so trying to be frugal Trying to be Thrifty is all part of my upbringing Which I still practice to this very day I never waste anything from my videos You realize I don't waste while recycle

Why things like that I think help you in Later life so all these things the Totality of it helps to shape your life And the way you approach life generally So this is my approach to Bonsai where I Use simple cheap things you don't have To be a millionaire to spend lots of Money you can make things make Bonsai From simple things and that applies to Virtually anything you can find a Solution The Simple Solution are the Most elegant it don't have to be the Most expensive The most flamboyant so that pervades my Entire approach to life I don't know Whether that helps you or not it helps Quite a bit because I see it in your Videos it's different from other whether It's commercial workshops or nurseries Where you'll yeah you'll just reach into A pile of used wire and unwire unwind And wire again or whenever you clip a Branch it goes into a separate pile Because you're going to propagate from That and all those subtle things I think Your audience watches that and picks up On that because it's a respect as well It's a respect for materials it does not Feel like your work is commercial in Nature and the first thing when you Talked about being Frugal the first Thing I thought of is when you clip off A branch even if it's you know little Maple shoots I know those are going to

Be rooted and that will build your stock And when you share that it's pretty Interesting to watch because that Encourages your viewers like myself to Go you know trim up a tree but save all The materials or try wiring and I've had More well no I've had more failure than Success with my experiments but you've Encouraged me to try it with all these Things and so if you take 20 cuttings And maybe six of them root great no no Loss but you you've incurred encouraged A lot of people Millions literally Around the world and and you know it and It's it's fascinating because people Come from around the world to meet you Um so for me like I said this was a long Shot before we wrap up I'll just ask you One silly question which is almost Embarrassing to ask you but if you were To get a tattoo this afternoon and your Tattoo read right across your arm Um rule breaker risk taker or change Maker which do you think it might be by The way I'll show you I have a nice uh Bonsai tattoo There it is with five five Birds up top Because that's my family of my uh Ourselves and our three kids so but I Don't have one that says risk taker rule Breaker or change maker which might you Consider yourself I think I would prefer Change maker although I do break rules I Don't do that in an arrogant sort of way

Um to break the rule is to get uh Pleasing end result so I think to make a Change to the world or make a change to Someone's life is more important than to Just say I'm a rule breaker because a Rule breaker sounds a bit arrogant you Know or I'm breaking the rule just to Break the rules the so that is what I Would prefer I like that that makes Sense and I've I've heard you talk about Breaking the rules in a non-arrogant Sort of way when someone brings a tree To you one of the things you'll say is Some people would look at at that branch And say that doesn't belong there but That's what makes that tree unique so in That sense breaking the rules is Accepting something for what it is and Maybe challenging a traditional thought Because it's not out of arrogance it's Actually to appreciate the individuality Of a circumstance so Um Mr Peter Chan it's been an absolute Pleasure I I really appreciate the time And I know that the readers and viewers Of this project will take inspiration From you as well Okay thank you Jen for interviewing me I Enjoyed that chance

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