A CONVERSATION WITH - Kyle Ingham
By Anthony T. Eaton
Do you know how to cook the perfect steak, make a classic cocktail, and tie a bowtie? What makes a gentleman, do the cloths really make the
man? If you are like many men today you may not have had the opportunity to learn these and many other essential skills that can take you and
your style from ordinary to extraordinary.
When I think of classic male style the likes of Cary Grant, Fred Astaire or Frank Sinatra come to mind. Today it might be George Clooney, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or David Beckham. But what is behind that style, the form, the function? Where does a man today learn how to pick out that perfect white shirt or get it tailored, discover what it means to be a gentleman?
The Distilled Man, a site created by Kyle Ingham is the perfect source for today’s man looking to develop those skills we may take for granted. “The Distilled Man features article and videos about essential skills every man should know.” Mr. Ingham took some time to answer my questions about The Distilled Man, how it came about, his own experience and his thoughts on leadership and more.
AE: You talk a little bit about how you started The Distilled Man but there is more to the story, what is that?
KI: It all started a few years ago in my early 30’s when I realized I couldn’t grill. I was at work one day, and the best way to describe is that all of the sudden my biological grilling clock went off. All I could think about was getting a barbecue and cooking meat. So I went out and bought a barbecue and learned from my friends, bought books, and watched cooking shows to improve my grilling. And through this process, I kept thinking: “shouldn’t every guy just KNOW how to grill? Why don’t I know this?” But I realized that unless your dad or your big brother teaches you, you never really learn. I also realized that there were tons of other skills every man should know that don’t come naturally: how to mix a cocktail, how to change a tire, how to tie a tie...And I thought, wouldn’t be nice if there was a place you could go to learn about this stuff? And with that, The Distilled Man was born.
That’s the story on my website. What is lesser known is that my original vision for The Distilled Man was not a blog at all. It was to hold in-person classes in all of these subjects—and I actually did that for about a year-and-a-half in San Francisco. I hired instructors and held barbecuing classes, poker classes, a wine class, a guitar class...and it was a ton of fun, but the event-based business model was too hard to sustain. So I ultimately pivoted to begin the online magazine. And the rest, as they say, is history.
AE: How has the website been received?
KI: I am continually floored by the number of heartfelt emails I get from people telling me how the site has helped them and impacted their lives. Like the man who ended up watching my video on how to tie a bow tie and used it the day of his wedding, or the mother who was so thankful to find my site because her teenage son needed a male role model, or the man who had been nervous about making friends and got over his fear of getting out there after reading my article on male friendship. It really makes all the hard work worthwhile.
AE: On your website you say “These days, a lot of guys grow up without many of the classic skills their fathers and grandfathers had. Like knowing how to cook a perfect steak. How to mix a cocktail. Or how to give a toast.” Did you learn any of these things while you were growing up?
KI: I didn’t really learn a lot of these things from my dad growing up. But my grandfather made it a point to make sure I knew how to make a perfect Old Fashioned. He would show me how to make it each time I visited, and after awhile it became a ritual to make the cocktail together. For him, it was a way to relate to me. But I think he was also trying to impart a larger life lesson about the importance of craft, and of appreciating the subtle details of something made well and made with care.
AE: Your website covers a lot of topics, from Cocktails to Style and Grooming and much in between. You describe your own inability to grill the perfect steak. Are there personal connections and stories with the other subjects as well?
KI: I think all of my articles are personal in some way—or at least the best ones start that way. Since I’m not an expert in all these things, I usually start with: well what would I want to know about that subject? What am I curious about? And usually it ends up that other people are curious about those things too.
AE: In your resource section it states “No matter how smart of skilled he is, any man worth his salt knows there’s always more he can learn.” What has been the greatest thing you have learned recently?
KI: I feel like I often re-learn things that I knew before. In this case, I recently re-learned how important it is to look for root causes before jumping to conclusions. Sometimes when things don’t go our way, we shut down and simply accept defeat, telling ourselves “well maybe I’m just not good at X.” But if you think about it, that emotional response is not only counterproductive, but it’s lazy as well. Instead, if we can get in the habit of objectively identifying reasons and root causes for why things happened a certain way, we can learn from them and do better the next time. Such a basic idea, but when we’re looking at our own lives, it’s often easy to forget.
AE: I read a number of posts on your website; where do you find your inspiration?
KI: Much of my inspiration comes from simply having a personal curiosity about a subject. Or often, I will put myself in the mind of my readers, and try to think about what questions they would have about a topic, or what problems they might be facing. Many of my readers email me about challenges they are facing or questions they have about particular subjects. If I start to hear the same question enough times, I know I need to write about it—since it clearly can help a lot of people.
AE: You wrote “Even if you’re dressed and groomed perfectly, none of it matters if you can’t connect with other people…” In our increasingly digital, social media and email driven world, how do you connect on a meaningful level?
KI: I’ve found that “social media” is really only social if you truly care about connecting with the people you’re linked to. For myself, I’ve learned that even if I have a bunch of friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter, I still get the most reward out of finding that small handful of people I click with on a meaningful level. I think it’s important to recognize those people who inspire you and encourage you, who make you laugh and to try to actively nourish those relationships. And more often than not, that means going “analog”—taking that relationship out of social media and making sure you have face time, coffee time, beers at the pub, etc.
AE: Do you have a tip or suggestion on how to connect better?
KI: Simply getting out there and meeting new people is the simplest way. But having the right mindset is key: you should go into it knowing that you are not going to connect on a meaningful level with everyone—and that’s okay. You have to get comfortable with the idea of establishing “weak ties.” One of the things that has inspired me recently is the idea that if I shift my focus to helping other people rather than gaining something for myself, I actually reap tremendous rewards and find it more enjoyable meeting new people. Adam Grant has a terrific book about this that I highly recommend, called Give and Take.
AE: On the site you write “Being a well-rounded gentleman isn’t just about how you dress and how you carry yourself…” What is the most important thing for you to personally be well-rounded?
KI: Being a truly good listener and being able to entertain other’s viewpoints even if on the surface they conflict with your own views. If you can try to learn something from everyone you talk to—whether they are a friend or an adversary—think of how wise you’ll be!
AE: You share 10 personal development books every man should read on your website. Have you read all 10 and do you have a favorite?
KI: Yes, I read all of them—they were some of my personal favorite self-development books. It’s hard to pick one favorite since they’re all so good. But I guess I’d have to go with How to Win Friends and Influence People. Not only the are principles in this book tremendously helpful, but the stories are what make it a fascinating read. I couldn’t put it down.
AE: You offer subscribers of your site a free download of your42 page book 48 – Hour Gentleman. Where did the idea of a book come from?
KI: There are tons of books filled with fabulous tips and psychology, but often you finish them and think, “Great book, now what?” And nothing’s really changed in your life. With 48-Hour Gentleman, I wanted to create an action manual. And since I’m a big fan of cooking, I thought of it like a cookbook. Each chapter includes a section at the end with the “recipe” of what you need to do: first the ingredients you need, then the steps.
AE: Have you thought of publishing a book for sale?
KI: Yes, I will probably publish afull length book in the near future.
AE: Have there been any “ah ha” moments since launching the site?
KI: One of my big aha moments since launching the site was the realization you have to have a community. You have to connect with people in a real way—both socially and to help partner to grow your business. Even though this is a web-based business and theoretically it all occurs on the internet, I’ve found that the relationships I’ve built away from the computer—whether at conferences, through masterminds or through personal phone calls—have been the biggest fuel for my motivation and the biggest drivers of growth.
AE: What did you do before you launched The Distilled Man?
KI: Before launching The Distilled Man, I worked in advertising agencies, but it wasn’t as romantic as it might sound. If you’re familiar with Mad Men, I like to say that even though I wished I was Don Draper, I was really Pete Campbell or Ken Cosgrove—the account guy, not the dashing creative.
AE: Some may wonder where the connection is between leadership and men’s style and lifestyle. I think there is a pretty clear connection. What do you think?
KI: There is definitely a strong tie between leadership and improving your personal style...and overall self-improvement. One of the parallels I see is that great leaders and men who invest in improving the way they dress and their overall lifestyle always challenge themselves and those around them to be better. They firmly believe that by focusing their efforts in a positive way, they can turn the present situation into a brighter future—whether that means creating greater opportunity for their team or company, or simply stepping up the way they dress or starting to present themselves to the world in a more confident way.
AE: I think of leadership in a very broad sense beyond that of career, politics etc. To me anyone can be a leader and it has everything to do with one’s actions. How does a sense of style and refinement help in your opinion?
KI: Clearly, making great decisions and doing the right thing at the right time is part of what makes a great leader. But leadership also has a lot to do with simply inspiring and motivating people on a visceral level. And rightly or wrongly, studies have shown that appearance and posture play a huge role in people’s perception of others. So when a leader has the smarts and makes all the right moves, he can create an even greater impact if developes his presence as a leader—so that even without words or actions, he is communicating confidence and purposefulness...simply in the way he looks and the way he carries himself.
AE: What do you think the biggest mistake men make is?
KI: Probably the biggest mistake men make is accepting their own limitations and not challenging themselves to do better—to settle for their current state. Or, related to this, when men think they have nothing more to learn. I feel like learning is what keeps the mind young and what keeps life exciting.
AE: We see all kinds of bad behavior from athletes to politicians. How important is it for men to be positive role models to each other?
KI: This is so important! Of course, most people think about the way celebrities are role models for everyday people. But I think that role models can exist on all levels. One thing I have witnessed first hand is the “halo effect” that can happen when one man makes positive changes in his life—he starts to work out, starts dressing better, starts speaking and walking with more confidence. When that happens, the men around him take note, and often they try to step up their game as well. It’s a great reminder that you, as one person, really can have a positive effect in your community, your workplace, your city or wherever your travels take you.
AE: What advice would you give the younger you?
KI: I would tell myself “take more risks and be gentler on yourself when you fail.” Because—to paraphrase Mark Twain—in 20 years you will regret the things you didn’t do far more than the things you did.
AE: Do thecloths make the man?
KI: The clothes help reveal the man—or at least can bring out the best version of the man. There is definitely a chicken/egg phenomenon that happens when a man starts dressing more intentionally: he looks more put-together, yes. But he also feels put-together, so he acts more confident. And in turn, he appears more confident to the outside world.
AE: Is chivalry dead?
KI: Good question. For awhile it seemed there was a backlash where men were afraid to open doors for women or insist on picking up the tab on a date, because they were worried they would offend women—and some women even reinforced that by misinterpreting those innocent gestures as attempts to control them or to suggest that they were less-than-equal to men. (which of course was never the intent). I’m not certain, but I would like to believe things are changing for the better now. Everyone seems to be coming to terms with the fact that men and women are equals—but still different. And everyone seems to have relaxed a bit, and most women understand that a selfless act of chivalry is really just that: a selfless gesture meant to express goodwill and attentiveness to someone you care about.
AE: What is next for you and The Distilled Man?
KI: I’m going to continue to write articles and do videos on topics that interest me. And I’ll probably start a podcast in the near future since I love to do interviews with smart and interesting people.
AE: I find inspiration and motivation in quotes. Do you have a favorite?
KI: One of my favorites, from Dale Carnegie, is “Every day is a new life to a wise man.” It reminds me that it is never too late to course-correct, to discover what you are truly passionate about, to learn something new and exciting...or to re-commit to.
Visit The Distilled Man and download Kyle’s free guide “48-Hour Gentleman: Your One-Weekend Plan to More Confidence, Poise, and Manly Know-How”. Follow The Distilled Man on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.