Nathan Schwagler, Founding Co-Director of Dali Innovation Labs
From the summit of Kilimanjaro to St Pete's own Dali Museum, Nathan Schwagler shares his wisdom on creativity, entrepreneurship, and chasing the right flags.
On this episode of SPx, the man behind the Dali Museum's acclaimed Innovation Labs, Nathan Schwagler, shares with us his Kilimanjaro climb, his take on ketogenic-based vs. carbohydrate-based diets, and the ingredients for a successful and creative life. Fusing his training in both creativity and entrepreneurship, Nathan takes his knowledge bombs corporate by stretching minds, reforming the definition of creativity, and teaching creative-thinking skills through Dali Innovation Labs offerings.
- Nathan recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro on a research mission to test the effects of exogenous ketones.
- The research asked questions such as: "What does it do to people's taste, what does it do to their vision, what does it do to their strength, what does it do to dexterity, cognition, memory, imagination, things like that. So basically, I went up a mountain and took measurements along the way."
- Nathan's trip was the product of Dominic D'Agostino and his wife, Dr. Csilla Ari's work in nutrional ketosis.
- Exogenous ketones are "a synthetic formula of what your body can produce and turn into fuel, but instead in a powder that you just mix with water and consume externally." This produces the metabolic state of ketosis.
- The journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro included the company of US Special Forces. Nathan found their camaraderie compelling..."When they are kicking doors down and doing things that have a lot of question marks in terms of we don't know what's on the other side of this door. And that is okay, because I know that whoever I am running through this door with has my back. It is just a beautiful thing to see. In the business world we don't really see that, and non-profit or some cultural institutions world we are we don't see that."
- Nathan's high altitude climb required extensive training. He prepared his body at CrossFit 9, and spent a great deal of time reading and researching to prepare his mind for the trip.
- On climbing with Special Forces: "There were times where I could keep up with them, and then times where I settled back in the pack in the middle and was on cruise control and trying to make sure that I would have enough energy to conduct the research at the end of the day, and take good measurements and keep my head on straight."
- On a keto diet: "With carbs and being on sugar you get this kind of crashes, these highs and lows in your day. Whereas in a state of ketosis you get to keep a lot of energy. And I found myself going through experiences where what I was comfortably doing in an hours-worth of working out, maybe at the gym, I could do two. And then after two it became three. And then I was like holy crap, man. Now I can do four and I am not getting tired."
- Nathan is a big believer in planting flags to chase in personal and professional ventures. However, the deliberate and diverse nature of those flags are important factors in their placement.
- On the USF - Center for Entrepreneurship program - "I left with a pair of glasses on and those lenses are tinted towards opportunity."
- On finding our way to success: "I love the bumpers in that sense, the people who aren't willing to accept this middle ground of satisfaction with what they have, but instead they are going to keep planting flags that are increasingly further from where they are today."
- When Nathan graduated from USF's Entrepreneurship Program, the global economy crashed. It took him over a year to rebrand his creative problem-solving workshops into cost-saving strategy design workshops - despite using the exact same tools and frameworks.
- Breaking into the business world with creativity meant learning the language of business, Nathan says. "You got to know the language, you got to be able to talk about value propositions, you got to be able to talk cost-benefit analysis, ROI. You got to understand the rules of the game if you want to win that game."
- The Dali Innovation Labs offer three distinct services- the Solution Labs, Skills Labs, and Leader Labs - with specific offering and pricing tools.
- Creativity is more than ability to create art, or "how" creative you are. Nathan says, "It is not a level question, how much creativity do you have? It is a style question, it is how is this creativity coming out of you? Does it come out of you as a painter? Great. Does it come out of you as a musician? Great. Does it come out of you as an accountant? Cool. Does it come out of you as an engineer? Sweet."
- Shout-out: Thomas Paterek of Stevie & Fern "he is very active in the Surf Rider Foundation, helping to keep our beaches clean, leading the charge to ban the plastic bag in St. Pete."
I think personally – I don't know how this works for other people – but I am at my best when I have got some crazy, ridiculous thing out in front of me. It is like okay, plant a flag and then go get that thing."
“Are you creative?” Odds are that you’ve been asked this question at least once – in an educational, social, or professional setting. Unless you are an artist, a painter, a hand-lettering aficionado, a graphic designer or a first chair violinist, you may have even fallen into the trap of thinking you are not. Our Western idea of what constitutes creativity is skewed to the fine arts – the Dali’s, Kahlo’s, and Mozarts of the world – and the rest of us, whose markings on a page resemble the finger paintings of a toddler, are chopped liver.
Not so, says Nathan Schwagler, Founding Co-Director Executive Facilitator of the Dali Innovation Labs. He believes that it is our question and our metrics that are flawed, not our creative abilities. “In other parts of the world,” he says, “they think about creativity as problem solving, and that is a much more inclusive and open-ended definition… I think everybody gets to be creative when we talk about creativity as problem-solving. Because we all solve problems every day.” Nathan argues that we should look at creativity not as a level-question – how much creativity we each possess – but rather as a methods question, a “style” question.The manner in which we solve problems, and the kinds of problems we are tasked with solving on a daily basis (our vocation) help to determine our style. “Does [creativity] come out of you as a painter? Great. Does it come out of you as a musician? Great. Does it come out of you as an accountant? Cool. Does it come out of you as an engineer? Sweet.”
It is creativity, flexibility, idea generation and the skills of creative problem solving that Nathan and Dr. Hank Hine teach at the Dali Museum’s Innovation Labs. Their value-add to the companies they work with is to help employees understand that their personal creative method is valid, that “creativity is their job too,” and that creativity is a tool that can help hedge against the fear many large companies now have – falling by the wayside in the wake of innovative start-ups.
I imagine a world in which people who have expertise and have great imagination can work together in a frictionless way to create solutions for the problems that matter most to us as a species. It is the great promise of connectivity."
Table of Contents
(0:00 – 0:45) Introduction
(0:45 – 8:06) High Altitude Research Mission
(4:58 – 8:06) Nutritional Ketosis
(8:06 – 11:11) In Mission with Special Forces
(11:11 – 14:53) The Kilimanjaro Mountain Climb
(14:53 – 17:04) Back to Real Life
(17:04 – 21:22) What Makes a Meaningful Life
(21:22 – 24:59) Diversification of Identity
(24:59 – 29:22) Pursuing Your Passion
(29:22 – 40:50) Bringing Creativity in Companies
(40:50 – 47:20) Pricing Strategy
(47:20 – 50:27) Societal Perception of Creativity
(50:27 – 38:48) Social Media and Mass Access to Creativity
(55:46 – 1:01:56) Evolution of Humanity
(1:01:56 – 1:02:54) Shout-outs
(1:02:54 – 1:03:50) Conclusion
Joe: Hey, this is Joe Hamilton and I am here with Nathan Schwagler. Welcome, sir.
Nathan: Hey, thanks for having me.
Joe: And you are a co-founder at the Dali Innovation Lab?
Joe: Guilty. And how is that going over there?
Nathan: We are busy, man. It is fun.
Joe: Yeah, cool. So, one thing that I know that you have done just recently that is super cool and I’ve been dying to hear the story, so I am going to jump right into it. You took a little trip recently, you climbed a mountain and you had some interesting company on that climb. Do you mind sharing whatever is not classified of that story?
Nathan: Sure. Also, I think it is entirely possible that I have developed a time-consuming, expensive and non-Florida-friendly habit of high altitude mountain climbing. I had the good fortune to be able to follow some research coming out of the University of South Florida, there is a researcher there named Dominic D’Agostino. And he and his wife, Dr. Csilla Ari are pushing the science in the area of nutritional ketosis. Most people in the world are operating off a carbohydrate-based diet, and your body is storing those carbs into glucose and using that as a fuel source. But it turns out you have got this secondary fuel system that your body can run on, it can burn fat. It can turn fat into – and I want to be careful about the science, because that certainly his wheel house and not mine – but it can turn fat and process it into amino acids, into ketone bodies, and your body can eat those ketones and use them as a fuel source. And Dominic’s early research had led him down some really interesting paths with some really great sponsors like the Department of Defense, and the Navy and NASA, people have taken an interest in his work. I started following his science and we became friends through his wife Csilla. And at some point, it became an opportunity, they were actually interested in starting a company, taking some of their science and commercializing it, they have got some patent positions. And the University actually owns the IP, and they are pretty successful actually at commercializing that stuff already. But Dominic and Csilla were interested in becoming a little bit more entrepreneurial and thinking about how they might be able to play in both the business world and the scientific and technical world. So, I brought them over to the Green House for a One Million Cups and I wanted to give them a plug in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in St. Pete and the Tampa Bay region in general, got them an attorney and a couple of the nuts and bolts pieces that you need to have. And while we were there he said “Hey, do you have any interest in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?” I said “Yeah, actually, I do”. And he said “Well, we’ve got this research mission coming up. And there were two of them that we are interested in doing we’ve been asked to work on, but they are happening at the same time. And one of them requires us to be under water and the other one requires high altitude.” And they are both avid divers. And they said “We are going to go do the underwater one. Would you like to do the high altitude one?” So, I said “Yeah, absolutely.” And what this meant was becoming familiar with their research, but then also with a suite of products, and you can refer to them as exogenous ketones, a synthetic formula of what your body can produce and turn into fuel, but instead in a powder, you just mix it in with water and consume it externally. Basically, it can get your body into the metabolic state of ketosis without having to adhere to that strict diet. And the people in NASA and some other communities and the Defense world have been interested in this capability. So, they asked me if I would go there, go up the mountain with some folks from the military community and we would take a peek and see in an informal research capacity if there are any impacts from consuming these exogenous ketone bodies. So maybe two or three months ahead of time I started consuming them myself, put myself through all the research protocols and figuring out how do you this stuff in the dark, how do you do it when it is windy, how do you do it when it is cold. And in addition to making up little batches of this stuff to consume, you got to figure out what does it do to people’s taste, what does it do to their vision, what does it do to their strength, what does it do to dexterity, cognition, memory, imagination, things like that. So basically, I went up a mountain and took measurements along the way, and starting piling all that data now and trying to figure out… Good research should give you more questions than answers and I think that is what we are really trying to come up with. But it ended up being a very long walk up a very tall mountain, and very grateful for the opportunity to do that.
Joe: So, when you consume the ketones, is the idea that given the choice, your body will take those over the glucose?
Nathan: Yes. Right now, your body is going to default the glucose. But if you can trick it, so to speak, into ketosis through this synthetic stuff, then it will burn that too. So, you won’t get the full benefits of being in ketosis, but you can get some of them. And that is where the science starts to get a little bit interesting in that there is a lot of unknowns, we are not really sure how people’s bodies react and what some of the up side, or benefits of that, could be.
Joe: Interesting. And I know there were some Government employees that accompanied you. How did that fit into the picture?
Nathan: Well, as I said the Government is interested, the are scientific and technical groups around the world that are interested in what would be like if… Right now, we have got such a heavy influence, most of what we are eating is just based off carbohydrates around the world and I think there are significant dietary risks to having so much sugar, we are consuming this stuff at an alarming rate. The problem is that we are eating all this stuff and the down side outcomes don’t happen, they are so far removed from consumption. It will be interesting to see, as the science evolves over the next couple of years and decades, do we wake up one day and then realize that hey, we have actually been poisoning ourselves without even really knowing it. And NPR did a piece a couple of years ago where they had discovered that, I want to say in the ’50s, some lobbyist paid some researchers at Harvard to write a couple of articles that were pretty damming of fats in your diet. And for a long time afterward, the food pyramid that we all grew up with in our books and on the walls at school all reflected that research, that line of thinking. Because now I think people are starting to wake up to the idea of hey, actually your body loves fat for a couple of different reasons and it is used to consuming it, and we are going to bump up pretty quickly to the edge of my expertise in this arena, but at this point, based off anecdotal evidence and what have we been learning in the last couple of months and doing this research, I think we might do ourselves a favor if we were able to strip out the sugar and we are less scared of good fats.
Joe: Sure. And I think it is probably known for a while, but it hit my radar that the guy that was instrumental in the food pyramid, whatever the position is in the government, but he was actually the former CEO of General Mills or something like that. And so, the grains and there was some coordinated interest there to make sure that we ate as many of those types of foods as we could.
Nathan: Yeah, I think so. You are starting to align people who are responsible for providing guidance, who also have commercial interests. In a lot of ways, capitalism I think is the most compelling system the world has ever known in terms of being able to create value and create wealth. It doesn’t always work well and it gets blurry sometimes on the edges, and this might be one of those examples.
Joe: Sure. Self-interest doesn’t turn off and even people in the Government have it sometimes. So, I wonder if we can talk a little more about your companions on that trip, because I think that saying government employees is a bit of an undersell and I think it is kind of cool, and I am really curious as to what your camaraderie experience was like with them. So, as much as you are able to talk about.
Nathan: Sure. I had the good fortune to be able to go with a team of people who were all U.S. Special Forces, so a team – Green Beret designation and a mountaineering crew. And this was fun for me, because I was able to train for this mission and put myself up against them physically. And I had never spent close quarters time with people who had served in that kind of a role. I learned quite a bit about military culture and a brotherhood that comes along with that. I remember I was being blown away by… When you think about these guys are spending all day, every day with each other in very close quarters. Sometimes they are in a hotel room, sometimes they are in the bush, all sorts of situations. Whether they would be relatively comfortable situations, or situations of extreme risk and discomfort. And you know you and I are sleeping good at night because we don’t have to do the jobs that they are doing. And I left that experience kind of blown away, both by the way that they have developed their own language about how they relate with each other, and every day they are building another layer upon layer of a bond that, when they are kicking doors down and doing things that have a lot of question marks in terms of we don’t know what’s on the other side of this door. And that is okay, because I know that whoever I am running through this door with has my back. It is just a beautiful thing to see. In the business world we don’t really see that, and non-profit or some cultural institutions world we are we don’t see that. It is just a different game and those guys are operating in an extremely high level of Special Forces and they are really good at what they do. To get in there everybody speaks at least two languages, they have all got specialty training, they are a dynamic team and yeah, just a lot of fun to be around.
Joe: So obviously there is a time moment to that, they build up that bond over time, but another piece of that is systemic, because it is the nature of… In a lot of these situations they have to absorb other people. How did that impact your experience? Did you get at least a little bit of absorption into it? And then how did that change the process of climbing the mountain for you?
Nathan: Yeah, it is a big difference. If you are a civilian you stand out like a sore thumb when you are rolling with these guys. But at the same time, I think some of the principles that they adhere to show up, even when they are with a mixed group. It was obvious to me that they always had an extra eye open for us, for the civilians who were on the mission, in the sense that no man left behind applies to everybody on the team. So, I appreciated that and it just got this extra sense of awareness, it is kind of a beautiful thing, you know they are taking care of each other, but they have always got an eye out for the team.
Joe: Cool. It is nice. So, the actual walking up the mountain, what did that feel, and the altitude affects you? And what were your major take-aways emotionally from going through the physical exercise of that?
Nathan: Yeah, like I said, I had been training for this for a while. So, I had the good fortune of doing some preparation through a local cross-fit gym here called Crossfit 9, and a lot of ex-military guys and some active guys still on there. So, they took good care of me in terms of making sure I was in a good physical shape. I spent a lot of time reading online, trying to get my head right so I could mentally be prepared for that stuff. I had good gear, there is a local shop in town, Bill Jackson’s, that I was able to go and get outfitted up there. And when it came time to actually climbing, I started out a little bit low and slow. I think that is the way that touring companies want to make sure that you can’t climb that mountain without having some representation from a touring company. They regulate it to make sure that it makes big business for them, it is pretty much the only business for them, so Tanzania is an extremely poor country. Beautiful country, happiness index is off the charts, amazing people, lovely, beautiful humans and economically they are just coming out of the agrarian economy. You are looking at subsistence farming is still probably the most popular thing, it is mining going on there as well. But in terms of developing an economy it has happened slower for them than some of the other economies in Africa, so tourism is a very important part of their regional economy. And as a result, they make sure that tourists all have a great experience, so that when people are reading reviews online later and they have a decision to make between doing a safari in Kenya or climbing the Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, that I am not turned off by anything that I read online. So, they do a really nice job of that, and as a result those tourist guides want to make sure that everybody has as positive of an experience as possible and has the best chance of summiting, so they are going to encourage you to go low and slow. But those Special Forces guys, good luck at getting them to slow down, so they are scrambling up the mountain. And I took it as a personal challenge, knowing that those guys were really on top of their game, they were really good at what they do, so I was able to test myself against their performance. I was curious too, because I had been in the state of ketosis for a while at this point, I had been taking the supplements and pushing my body to the extreme, so I was curious what I was going to be capable of. And it turned out to be a really good experience, and those guys were an incredible benchmark to get the work against. There were times where I could keep up with them, and then times where I settled back in the pack in the middle and was on cruise control and trying to make sure that I would have enough energy to conduct the research at the end of the day, and take good measurements and keep my head on straight. In terms of altitude, one of the rules that these guys abide by is that you want to hike up pretty high during the day and then camp down lower to get your body to acclimate, so you hike high, camp low. We were able to do that pretty successfully, including on summit day, when actually we were able to go up to – I think the summit on that thing is 19,341 feet. And then there is a glacier when you come down, maybe 700 or 800 feet, and you’re in a crater. And there is a big beautiful glacier there. And I remember being so blown away, because at this point I was pretty exhausted, mentally drained, the altitude had started to affect my brain a little bit, and after a long day of climbing – after several days, several long days of climbing, but including summit day – these guys, when everybody else was just beat, they started climbing this glacier, they put on their ice climbing gear, and they were doing some additional testing and they have just got this extra gear, that is a beautiful thing to see.
Joe: It is cool. So, speaking of extra gears then, how do you come back? How does that affect your purview when you are back to the desk and the day job? Does that light the fire, build the hunger? I know it is not the only cool thing like that you have done in your life, but what is the transition back into the day to day administrative choice?
Nathan: I am not going to lie, it was tough to come back in the sense that I had never been to the third world, so I hadn’t spent too much time outside of a lot of the luxuries that we enjoy in our day to day. So, I have just an expanded sense of consideration now, worldview has been expanded and I am incredibly grateful for that opportunity. So, I am curious to spend more time in parts of the world that don’t look and feel like beautiful, gorgeous St. Pete. I think also it ignited more interest in high altitude climbing for me, so I am looking at a couple of those spots in the world now, to take on some more. I am in touch with some of those guys from the trip, and I guess that that interest is there from different corners of the government, and military, and science communities. Some people are really curious about should more people be on this kind of a diet? I think mass market too. Every day online through social media now I am seeing more and more people that are moving in this direction in terms of their consumption patterns; being more aware, cutting out sugar, cutting out carbs. There is a cognitive benefit to it, there is an energy benefit to it in the sense that with carbs and being on sugar you get this kind of crashes, these highs and lows in your day. Whereas in a state of ketosis you get to keep a lot of energy. And I found myself going through experiences where what I was comfortably doing in an hours-worth of working out, maybe at the gym, I could do two. And then after two it became three. And then I was like holy crap, man. Now I can do four and I am not getting tired. And I hadn’t pushed my body to do something like that, I was relatively… I have been reading books and writing papers for a long time let’s say, ten years worth of grad school and dad life. Hadn’t been doing much physical work at all, so to be able to jump into this new arena and take on physical challenges again brought something to life. And then I think also it is worth mentioning, when you talk about what did it do, I think personally – I don’t know how this works for other people – but I am at my best when I have got some crazy, ridiculous thing out in front of me. It is like okay, plant a flag and then go get that thing. Without that it is just so easy, the world offers you so many opportunities to be busy. And I wonder how many people get to the end of their life and realize holy shit, I have just been really busy for a really long time and I didn’t plant flags where I wanted them.
Joe: Yeah, this is an important part of drive, I know. Sometimes if I feel a bit of malaise, I can almost always point to the fact that there is not a flag ahead of me that I am going for, and it becomes a sort of cross the finish line on a few things and having to do the support the ground work, keep those moving, but not having that. For a lot of people it gets pushed in with vacations and that is the standard. I think everybody needs that and then it is a matter of society build in okay, your two weeks a year, or even the show you are going to watch on Friday night, because it is the show you watch every Friday night, you have these many versions, things to look forward to. I think that is a base need that people fill, it is just doing a better job at making them more meaningful things, at the end of the day.
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. So, when you are a kid you are like the next game, or the next toy, or the next thing, that is the flag. My birthday, or Christmas, or whatever, I want to go play laser tag next weekend or something. And then you get a little bit older, you are maybe in high school and all of the sudden Friday night becomes the thing. Like oh, I wonder what everybody is doing on Friday night, I want to go out to this party on Friday night or something like that, that is the new flag. And then you get into college and who knows? I don’t really remember what happens in college. But afterwards, to what extent we are being deliberate about our flags, flag placement, where we put them and why? And shifting, like you said, to be more thoughtful about planting meaningful flags. Even if it means there is a big distance between where I am now and where I am putting that thing. Because I think there is always a way to get there, usually more than one, it is just a matter of… And then here we are getting pretty close into goal setting, that is a pretty well-established field. But I don’t know. I am a big proponent of that.
Joe: And I see a difference in the nature of flags too. But I think that what I will call ancillary flags is the sort of things you do that you look forward to for the experience, and then you go back to your real life, and then there are the flags that are within the lanes of your core living. So, to me, one of the things I was going to move into is you talked about some of the elements that you are experiencing now, with this: a, you have this product, you have someone that you are helping build a business around this; you have the effect that it has had on your own body and in your own life; you have had an amazing experience, which then serves to reinforce that loop. And so now, how do you make those flags ancillary flags, things that you enjoy on the side versus something that as an entrepreneur, that to me now becomes a business and I am all over that. And so, how do you walk the line between making that flag sort of a hobby? Because there is a lot of cool stuff there going on, there is a triangulation effect, I think, that can make it something even bigger than that.
Nathan: Yeah, I am not going to lie, it has crossed my mind. I have got a really great program happening over at the Dali Museum and we are really fortunate to be able to do the work that we do. And at the same time, the world is full of opportunity. I think the biggest thing for me coming out of the University of South Florida, the Center for Entrepreneurship program, was I left that thing with a pair of glasses on and those lenses are tinted towards opportunity. When you are thinking off about entrepreneurship, you realize everything in the world could be better, could be more interesting, could be value add, just opportunities everywhere. You have a choosing problem more than everything else. And so that is where I am at now, we have such a great thing going over at Dali… Choosing.
Joe: And of course, then, option three is not making an either/or if at all possible.
Nathan: Correct. So that is choosing an “and.”
Joe: Sure, choosing an “and.” And then at some point you have to choose an “or”, because you run out of “ands.”
Nathan: Exactly. Last couple of weeks I have been seeing some stuff pop up online about diversification of identity. So, if you are singularly self-identifying in a particular area/domain of your life, like I am a writer, or I am a finance guy, or I am a doctor, or whatever. The rate of change in the world right now is not slowing down, I don’t think we are out at some kind of a cataclysmic experience or whatever, it is not going to slow down. So that means by extension that there is an increased chance that your identity, or the thing that you identify with the most will experience some kind of disruption at some point. So, if you aren’t diversified in the sense that I can identify or self-identify as participating in these different… Go back to the flag metaphors, right? If I don’t to have diversity of my flags, if I am singularly identifying with a writer flag and all of the sudden I get writer’s block, I am screwed, my world comes crashing down in a bad way. And it is an interesting mix, because I think to be the best writer possible, immersion and… Real K would suggest hey, if you can do anything other than write then you shouldn’t be a writer, only write if it is the thing that you can’t help but do. So, to be the best at that you have to be all of that, which then I think increases the risk that that can come crashing down on you some way, someday.
Joe: Yeah. I think a part of that is do you identify the thing that you are as the act, or the process? For me, I feel like an artist without any talents. So, I often refer to the businesses that I build as painting my masterpiece. Because at the end of the day, it just happens to be my medium. I am a business guy but I could just as easily go do something else, but it is the process of self-expression that happens to come out through business. And so, then you are looking at is it the act, or is it the intention? But I had noticed that a lot going back to that specific identifier. It was strangely evident in the small town that I grew up in Ohio, because people would always, at the baseline, collect one thing. So this is the person that likes pigs. So, for every gift you got them there was a pig this, or a pig that, and on their gravestone it was “This person loved pigs.” And people identified with it. And if you crossed somebody who was also collecting pigs, then it’s almost like their whole self-actualization was at risk, and they wanted to compete with each other who was more into pigs. There is that person in town who is the whatever person that loved this kind of music, or loved this… I am the Garth Brooks guy, or girl, whatever. I saw that play out, that need to hold on to that, and I think that comes to the arbitrariness of it really plays into it. Because pigs are sort of arbitrary and because it is arbitrary, it becomes an exercise in maintenance of that pig-ness, right? Because it is not who you are, it is what you do. And so, it becomes a struggle, and I think there is a general sadness that underlies it that you have to keep up this thing, you cannot let down your pig-ness, or else all of the sudden someone else might jump in or you might not feel that way. It was almost the reverse process of it, they were reacting to the social feedback to their need for self-actualization as opposed to driving it from inside. So, I think to me, the first step in figuring out your flags is to try to make sure, thoroughly examine what of it is social and what of it is internally driven.
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. I want to go back to the classic one-liner, “The self-examined life is not worth living.” If you don’t know in your core that you are a pig man or pig woman, if you are unsure as to the level of your pig-ness, keep looking. I have had a lot of students, or former students when I was teaching at USF-St. Pete that said “Hey, Prof, how do I know what I am supposed to be doing? I am about to graduate and I do not know what to do”. I said “Well, it is not a thinking problem, it is not something you can think your way through, you cannot cognitively try to work through whether or not you are supposed to be a pig person.” And I feel we are just going to run with this pig thing for a while now.
Joe: Why not?
Nathan: “But it is a thing that you bump your way into. You don’t think up a passion, it happens to you as a result of your lived experience.” So, going back to that diversification of identity, I think the way you get that is through diversification of experience. And I think if you are willing to go out and discover the range of animals on the farm… So, you are “Yeah, I come from a line of pig people.” Yeah, that is a great start, but guess what: there is these things called chicken, there is these things called cows, there are fruits and vegetables and planting, and retail agriculture versus wholesale agriculture. And it is interesting when you challenge people to get outside of the lane that they come from. I think that gives people a chance, if you can nudge them towards diversification of their experience, I think people find a way, they bump their way into being successful. Every once in a while, you encounter somebody who just knows. Like they woke up as a kid and they were like “I am going to be a fireman.” And they knew that when they were seven and now they are the best damn fireman on the planet. And I am all for that, that is amazing, but it just happens for such a small segment of the population. The rest of us need to bump our way into that, and I love the bumpers in that sense, and people who aren’t willing to accept this middle ground of satisfaction with what they have, but instead they are going to keep planting flags that are increasingly further from where they are today. My goal state is way out there, and I don’t have to know exactly where it is, but I am going to plant a flag in that direction and I am going to bump my way towards it. It is okay to have more than one out there, too.
Nathan: There are these two schools of thought when it comes to goal setting. One, I need to specifically define the future success state and then I will develop an action plan to get there. Another way to think about it is hey, there are these three areas that I am interested in becoming better at: one, fiscal responsibility, physical health for myself, physical wellness and I want to learn more about 18th century Russian literature, whatever, right? I am not specifically picking a book, I am not specifying a goal body-fat-to-muscle ratio and I am not specifically identifying an amount that I need to have in my bank account. But instead I can commit to these three things, and I don’t know which strategy works best for what kind of people, but I do know that it can happen, both can be equally successful. It is just a matter of what works for you.
Joe: I think a lot of times that most people run into a problem where they think it has to be the first one, they have to have the end goal in mind, this is to find and how to get there. And if they can’t have that, they get a little paralyzed.
Nathan: I think if you are going to go plan B, if you are going to go hey, here are the general themes that I want in my life and I want to increase my capacity or facility in these themes, it requires you to have a little more self-regulation, because if you will not plant that very specific flag in the ground and you got to be more willing to self-monitor and hold yourself accountable along the way. For me personally, to talk about it I will go back to that Kilimanjaro thing. There was a date for that trip, it was external to me, that was happening. You were either ready for that thing and you were ready to rock and roll or you were not. I enjoy that. There is another one coming up that is just significantly beyond my current capabilities, but I am going to sign up for this thing and I am going to do it. And just having that external… If we are left to our own devices, I guess that it is easy to get busy and caught up in the day to day. But other than time, what do we really ever have? And you don’t know how many heart beats you are going to get, that is an unknown quantity. But we know it is fixed. So, with that equation you are left with this question: what do you want and what are you willing to give up for it?
Joe: How is the best use of your heart beats?
Nathan: There you go.
Joe: Yeah. So, when you talk about the lanes that people play in, and some of them are fixed and some of them likes to take more monitoring and take more robustness. Overlaying that onto corporations, one thing that I have been curious to ask you about is how you talk about innovation to corporations. Because even feeling pretty comfortable in that space, when we run into this too with the St. Petersburg Group with how to engage with people – because there are fixed rails that people run on, corporations run on, we buy paper and we buy toner and we hire accountants and things like that – and typically when you get a template for the budget online and then plug it into your company, innovation and creativity are not on that list typically. So, what has been your experience in engaging with companies and translating what you do, which is fluid to what they can put on their budget?
Nathan: It took me a long time to figure this one out, and I still don’t think I have it, just because every company is different in terms of what they buy, and why and how. You have got some standard things that I have learned to use as beacons, but at the same time… I will give you an example. I got trained in creative problem solving and did an apprenticeship in applied creativity, come out of graduate school at SUNY Buffalo State, they have got this really wonderful program that operates out of a center called the International Center for Studies and Creativity, and you can learn the theoretical frameworks and the science behind individual and team-based creative problem solving. A couple of different categories of people that are into this program, a couple of different categories exit out, but one of them are referred to as facilitators, or creative problem-solving facilitators. And for me, that was the most high-leveraged, interesting work I was aware of back then. I remember I had a faculty member who looked at me and invited me to come work with him one day. And at some point, the budget for the thing showed up and I realized his day-rate was $4,000 a day. And I was like huh, I could probably actually pay down my student loans if I made $4,000 a day, I am used to making $9 an hour, I guess it is interesting. How do you do this? So, I started following him around. And I realized that basically in a nutshell what you are doing here is you are helping, convening teams of people, smart people, to have interesting conversations about problems that matter to them, to their stakeholders. Now, in a corporate context this can take a couple different shapes and forms, but shortly after I finished this apprenticeship the global economy crashes, so you got the great recession back in ’07, ’08. And all of the sudden here, Nate’s floating around in the business world, trying to sell creative problem-solving workshops. And I cannot even get my foot in the door, let alone have a conversation about a proposal, let alone selling a project, et cetera. I am just having the toughest time doing it. And entirely too long afterward, maybe a year later, I changed up the pitch substantially. Which really all that meant was instead of selling creative problem-solving workshops, I was selling cost-saving strategy design workshops. Now, exactly the same tools, exact the same framework, the same facilitator, the same everything. All we were doing was just using different words to describe the same thing. And at that point and ever since then I have done zero marketing and have never had to. It is all word of mouth and it is all about hey, do you actually create value with these things or not?
Joe: So, obviously it has been just pivoting 90 degrees in the day. What was that process? Obviously, towards the end of not seeing success with one way of presenting it, you tried so many times, frustration grew. What was that transitional process, how did you come up with the second half of it from the first half?
Nathan: Being broke is a great motivator. I was already a dad at this point, having the financial obligations and the responsibility and feeling that pressure, and I had the good fortune of spending time at the Center of Entrepreneurship at the University of South Florida. And going through that program I learned a lot about business and learned the language of capitalism and economics. And it is tough to come from an applied creativity or a psychology background and then sell into corporations. You got to know the language, you got to be able to talk about value propositions, you got to be able to talk cost-benefit analysis, ROI. You got to understand the rules of the game if you want to win that game. So, it took me a while to figure that stuff out and over time. I didn’t do it all by myself, either I worked for other consultancies and I worked for other firms who were selling this stuff as a service, so I became a sub-contractor for them and I would fly around in different cities around the world or in the United States. And drop in, facilitate sessions, whether they would be creative thinking workshops, ideation sessions, strategy sessions, trainings, retreats, that kind of stuff.
Joe: So, did the work feel good then? It was just getting past the hurdle and once you were dropped in, then things ran well or did you also run into…? Because obviously you have come in with this one thing and I guess, at that point, if you are coming in with the consulting agencies, they were probably selling those cost savings or whatever. So then, I guess at that point expectations were set and met and it was probably good once you were in.
Nathan: Yeah, most of the time. And every once in a while, if they have sold in something that you are not actually in a good place to deliver on, then there is going to be some friction there. And I have felt that before, there have been times where you get a firm based in the major market who is selling a high price point session and you fly to that client, go do the thing and there was a gap between what they were expecting, what they were sold over the phone or in through the prep side. But really, that stuff comes down to expectation management and co-designing proposals that work for both sides and hey, how are we going to measure this thing, how are we going to know we are being successful? All that kind of stuff. So, fast forward ten or 12 years or whatever, now running this program with the Dali Museum. And again, it is still difficult sometimes to sell creativity into corporations, there is a natural resistance to creativity inside the firms. And for a good reason, right? A business starts because it develops a business model, it develops a way to make money and then it grows. It’s like, hey, how can we preserve our money-making capability? Hopefully, put on a fence around it, protect it. But we are going to grow this thing. All of the sudden, a new idea inside of a business, or a new way to make money is a threat to the existing status quo. At one point, or at some point there is going to be a difficult conversation between the senior leadership in this firm, of do we deviate resources and move/shift resources from the thing that currently makes us money to this new thing? If we do we are putting the current thing at risk, or there are going to be people who are upset about this. At the same time, this investment in the future might be the best long-term decision we can make for the business. And those are really difficult conversations organizationally from a structure perspective, from a politics perspective, from a budgeting and planning perspective. It requires an incredible amount of courage and alignment. Difficult conversations happen at all sorts of levels of an organization in order to make this work well, and I think that is why you see so many businesses that grow, grow big, and then die. They are unable to pivot. At the same time, you see activity and acquisitions happen for this reason, they are acquiring companies, start-ups that are potential competitors of theirs. I want to buy you instead, and not only can I keep my R&D cost down, but instead I can buy my competition. And I don’t mind paying a premium for them, it is effectively outsourcing innovation. Now, at the same time there is an argument to be made that – and I am pretty sure a woman named Teresa M. Amabile at Harvard has got some data around this – but I am pretty sure that people who shoot ideas down inside of organizations get promoted faster than people who generate those creative ideas. And at first it might be a little counter-intuitive, because you can say to yourself wait a minute, people who are coming up with good, creative ideas are not promoted as quickly as people who shoot them down. And I think the thinking behind it is that people who can effectively kill an idea are perceived by others in the organization as being protectors. They have got this sort of paternalistic… I de-risk conversations. But think about what this does in our organizational culture now, you are promoting the people who are the idea killers, so when you do need new ideas, when you do face a corporate existential threat, what capability do you have left to come up with new stuff if you have been promoting people who their primary skillset is in shooting stuff down?
Joe: I think it is also because they never fail. If their job is to shoot things down then they never fail at that. Whereas if your job is to try things, you sometimes fail. And so, if you have a 0% fail rate then you tend to get promoted.
Nathan: Yeah, there is a good one-liner that comes from one of my favorite creativity researchers, his name is Gerard Puccio, and he says “With every idea, a person comes attached.” And I love that, because by extension every time you shoot down an idea, you are shooting down that person too. And if you are able to produce creative thinking on demand, meaning we can have new ideas, good ideas any time we need them, if you have got a track record of shooting down ideas and people, then you are screwed. When you do, when that start-up does come gobbling up your market share, if you buy into Clayton Christensen’s argument about the innovator’s dilemma and you start to see somebody from down market who gets some traction with a low fidelity version of a product that satisfies the same user job to be done, or customer job to be done that you are currently enjoying at higher price point, they are going to keep moving up market as their capability grows and eventually your market share is going to be in decline.
Joe: And do you think there is a complementary force that – I don’t remember – the body at rest tends to stay at rest and the body in motion tends to stay in motion? I think the status quo is there is only a segment of the company that has any motivation not to uphold the status quo too, because there is zero risk if you are collecting a paycheck. Then you are either going to collect that paycheck, or you are at risk of not collecting that paycheck. So, perhaps tying the tangible and intangible rewards to creativity is a critical first step in changing the mindset of the masses in a corporation.
Nathan: Yeah, I think companies have their own center of gravity and they certainly have their own momentum in different directions happening. And we see this too, and right in our line of work, where it is much easier for us to sell in a one-off kind of workshop, or a corporate retreat or an ideation session to solve a specific kind of a problem than it is to sell in a hey, we should do a three year-long organizational culture strategy. Because the buy-in you need at all different levels of a large corporation to do something like that, it is just a lot harder to get those levels lined up.
Joe: At the end of the day that starts at the top. So, when you go in to do sessions, is it relatively clear to you pretty quickly whether this is a check a box for HR or whether it is a true desire of leadership to make something happen?
Nathan: I think the litmus test is – senior leadership showing up, but are they there participating too? And if so, are they there paying lip service to the thing, or they are there actually trying to extract value from the process as well, contribute their own energy to it? So, when I see companies that try to do change management stuff, or change strategy and they do it well, they have got people who are bought in and people who are putting energy in at all different levels understanding that it is going to create friction.
Joe: So, when you moved from the creativity optics in the pitch to the cost-savings and things like that, what is the pricing process that you used? And I would assume that on the front-end you have to create perceived value and price accordingly. And then when moving into the cost-savings, then it becomes a little more tangible, there are actual numbers and then do you then have to price towards that savings? But of course, there is also some intangible value in addition to the savings that can be inferred. So, how do you price something like that and how did that change when you changed how you pitched it?
Nathan: So, the way that we describe the services that we provide now, we refer to them as our different Labs offerings. The first category of labs offerings, we talk about them as solutions labs. In a Solutions Lab an organization, a client can come to us and say here is the specific problem we are trying to solve. And through that conversation of me unpacking that problem with them I get a pretty good feel for what kind of a problem it is, how valuable it would be to them to solve this problem, how much energy they have to solve this problem, et cetera. And then what I think it would take to do it, who needs to be in the room, how many sessions is this going to take, that kind of a thing. So, it is really a listening process and then just leaning on experience, thinking about do we need to convene 15 Nobel-level scientists for this thing? Okay, well that is going to be pretty expensive to do. Or is this the kind of a thing that we can get your internal marketing, R&D, two people from finance who happen to be open minded and have subject matter expertise in this arena, and then three people from the ops team. Can we convene them to get this thing done, and if so how many days is that going to take? And then you are building it all based off of a cost plus kind strategy, from a pricing model perspective. Another way to think about it would be: we have a second category of services, we call them Skills Labs. So, in a skills lab, what the client really wants out of this thing – and they usually come as previous clients of Solutions Labs, so they will say hey, that thing that we did that solved that problem that one time, we really liked it, will you teach us how to do that? And at first, I was a little bit reluctant, because hey, if we start teaching people our process then they are not going to hire us anymore for the bread and butter, which is the solutions lab. But I quickly got over that when I realized that they really just wanted people in the organization to be more comfortable with the creative process. So, you got a lot of people who don’t think they are creative. In this part of the world we have got this really bad habit of thinking or associating creativity with the arts exclusively, so you are only creative if you are a poet, or a painter, or a musician, or a choreographer, or whatever. Whereas in other parts of the world they think about creativity as problem solving, and that is a much more inclusive and open-ended definition, and I love that. I think everybody gets to be creative when we talk about creativity as being about problem-solving. Because we all solve problems every day: what do I wear today, how do I pack three lunches and get kids out on time? We have big problems and little problems. But anyway, so yeah, just getting people more comfortable with the concept of creativity and flexibility of thinking and being open-minded and generating new ideas, understanding that creativity is their job too. That is really what these companies are looking for with a lot these skills labs, is teaching the toolset and the skillset of creative thinking. So, with those we can just charge a per cap flat class-based rate. So, it is 300 bucks a seat, or for a week it is $1,000 or whatever that is going to be. Corporations are pretty comfortable and used to buying that. Like you have said, they have got line items in their budget and they do this already. So that is an easier sell, I know who the buyer is, it is usually HR and there is a lane for that. Whereas when you are talking about those Solutions Labs – man, that is a different ball game. You really need to find the problem owner who also happens to have the budget, and if they don’t then you need to help that person find people who do have budget who can then get in on that proposal. So, you are actually helping your buyer solve their buying problem before you can even solve the problem that they want to solve in the first place. The third category of thing that we sell, we call them leader lab. So, these are really just corporate offsite retreats that companies were already doing, they were already buying and they are probably going to run them at a hotel conference room. When we started looking at the hygiene factors of what goes into running a successful corporate meeting, you got to have sufficient tables and chairs, preferably everything has wheels, wall space to hang stuff up, AV, good food, parking near a hotel, in a hotel, near an airport, near public transit. You get these check list factors that have to be there. And we started going down a list and said we can actually do this better, and not just a little bit better, we can do this quite a bit better. If you think about the core business of a hotel, they are there to put heads in beds. Whereas, if we were to specialize only on the meetings themselves, in addition to providing a infrastructure to have a good meeting, like most event spaces or like niche and boutique event spaces would, we can actually also provide the facilitators, and then we vent these deliberate creative thinking tools and experiences that we do through the art at the Dali Museum. Or if we go do these things at other museums or in other spaces, we bring the art with us. Not the originals, but obviously we can bring copies. We can provide a layer of meeting facilitation and value that you can’t get anywhere else, and for us that then became a differentiator that we could base pricing off of. So, you are not paying anymore for the rooms, and the tables, and the chairs and the food, but you are paying for the outcome of this session, which we can make an argument it is going to be exponentially better if you work with us than as if you just book through a hotel.
Joe: And I know you ended up with cost-plus, but I love that they started with value. I am a huge believer in value pricing, that is how we price everything at Big Sea. And it is the toughest way to price, because it is hard to know enough about a business to know what it really means to them. But I think that your service is uniquely positioned to have potentially major impact on the bottom line of a company, the bigger the company the bigger the impact. It could save them tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars with some of the changes that come forth from your efforts. So, is it possible to tap into that? I think to some extent it can be.
Nathan: Yeah, especially when we try to shift people over. Once they have had an experience where we get them over in our subscription, where they are buying us regularly or committing to annual amount and days of work. Now you are talking about value, as opposed to my hours are worth this much. We are not trying to squabble for that.
Joe: Yeah, I do not enjoy that. You mentioned a second ago about the way creativity is perceived in the States, or the West or whatever, in being tied to the arts. Since you have lived in this world, do you have any thoughts on why that is, why the American culture does not get the accountant or the more traditional non-arts professions and value creativity as a skill?
Nathan: That is a cool question, I have no idea. I know in ’76 a guy named Michael Kirton out of the UK developed an instrument, he calls it the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory, KAI. And it is a psychometric tool, self-report survey, you fill it out and you will get a score on a continuum. And he developed a line of thinking that there are two primary types of creativity: the first one is called adaptive creativity and the second one is referred to as innovative creativity. And in the UK, that phrasing around innovative creativity means a little bit something different than what we would think about it here, but we will start with the adaptive creativity. On the adaptive end of the continuum you’ve got people who, their preferred method of introducing their creativity will be to make something incrementally better from within its current box. So, it is an accountant who figures out how to do an accounting thing better. That is creative, I think we got to honor that, we got to acknowledge that. At the other end of the spectrum you have people who are borderline unemployable. No job will be sufficiently novel for them. You give them a problem, probably they are going to push back on your definition of the problem in the first place, they are not going to try to make the thing better from within the box, they are going to break that box. So, I think one of the things we can do if we are going to accept the fact that this part of the world has a limited definition of creativity is to just take it on a more individual level basis and think about everybody as being creative, it is a human condition to create. Instead of asking the question how creative are you, just play with it a little bit and ask how are you creative? So, it is not a level question, how much creativity do you have? It is a style question, it is how is this creativity coming out of you? Does it come out of you as a painter? Great. Does it come out of you as a musician? Great. Does it come out of you as an accountant? Cool. Does it come out of you as an engineer? Sweet. It is your ability, so take you for example. Your creativity comes out in a couple different ways, but one of them is through creative deal-making. Can you identify a couple of interesting opportunities or assets that currently are unrelated, or at least other people aren’t seeing potential connections between them? Can you string these three things together? And now all of a sudden 1+1+1=12. That is like the Joe Hamilton play book
Joe: I like it.
Nathan: That is incredibly creative, that is entrepreneurial creativity. It is like why do ten people look at this thing and their pattern recognition mechanisms all see one thing, but then this other person comes by and it is like “Actually, it could be this other thing”? And for me that is just the coolest stuff in the world.
Joe: Yeah, sure. A lot of it is understanding that we are already doing it, it is just attaching the appreciation of the label for it.
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. I think being more open-minded about the ways in which people prefer to create, understanding that people are going to have different preferences when it comes to that.
Joe: I think that it is getting better, I would say, pretty rapidly along with all things, now that we share information as freely as we do. With the Internet, my gut would be to say that this creativity – like you said before, ideas are attached to people and I think that a lot of times creativity was attached to eccentricity, and I think that in earlier days, America ’50s, ’40s, ’30s, ’20s, that eccentricity was looked down on. So, I think that we are shaking off that stigma a little bit, and it feels a lot better now. Especially, again, a lot of it is just what is and getting insight into what is. And so now, some of the people who are the most creative, we are getting insight into them. Like Steve Jobs for example, or even some more corporate leaders today are getting praise for that. And it feels better for me, I think we are moving pretty rapidly in the right direction.
Nathan: I think social has done an interesting thing here too, when you talk about daily now we have this appetite for novelty. What is the newest thing, what is the shiniest thing? And I am not suggesting that the newest thing we should map that over to also having value, but at the same time I think the appetite for differentiation in the marketplace is through the roof.
Joe: Because the frameworks there support it.
Nathan: Exactly. We can now scan the world in real time for inspiration, and I just think you are going to start seeing this multiplying thing, it is already kicking in. The Internet can be this incredible thing. And I hope it gets there, it is my dream. I imagine a world in which people who have expertise and have great imagination can work together in a frictionless way to create solutions for the problems that matter most to us as a species. It is the great promise of connectivity. And I think if the tools continue to evolve around AR and VR, and I can transport myself to another place and empathically understand a user problem in another part of the world, and then deploy resources in my workstation here, and then have the solution printed in another place in the world… This is happening, and I can’t wait.
Joe: Yeah. And the connections are so powerful. We have somebody who normally would be buying themselves their brilliant blue left-handed butterflies, and they would have been stuck in their room alone with that. And now they can find 37 other people in the world that are in the blue left-handed butterflies, and all of the sudden that becomes the thing and you get all the benefits of the social sharing with that passion, and the bar keeps getting raised on the awesomeness level in that arena. And the appreciation is built in there too, so many things die on the vine because they simply don’t have an audience, and now the people who do these things can find that audience amongst the whole world.
Nathan: Yeah, not only do the blue left-handed butterfly appreciators have a community to participate in, but then also the Joe Hamiltons of the world can come by and say actually these 37 people who like blue left-handed butterflies, I happen to…
Joe: Make a T-shirt.
Nathan: …yes, I see there is an opportunity here, it is a long-tail reach. Yeah, I think in a lot of ways with the Internet we are still in the cat video phase. But that is okay, we will get there.
Joe: I think the big challenge I see is… The way things were built was that there was an overarching sort of mechanism that somebody decided the fashion, somebody decided this music was going on the radio, somebody decided one thing or another, and so there was some down sides of that clearly, which we are correcting now. But there was some sort of organizational efficiencies with that, maybe that is not the best way to express it. But I think what we are going to run into is how do we take the blue left-handed butterfly community over here and then we mention that there’s an entrepreneur opportunity, but in what way does that play together to capture the efficiencies that come with mass involvement? Because I think our brains are still not able to process that yet, because I think our abilities up haste our social evolution in that regard. A lot of that you see with how terribly a bad Yelp review hurts peoples’ feelings, because really, we grew up with… It was a big deal to get a message out there, you didn’t the Internet, you didn’t have review sites until three or five years ago that have the magnitude they have now. And so, for someone to take the time to insult you it was a huge thing to a mass people, and so now it is just a click of a button. It could be nestled amongst a lot of other ones, but it still has that overweighed impact on people, especially people that are over 40 for sure. But I think we are catching up to that, so then it will become the norm where, because of such a low barrier, people will understand anonymity in a way that they never understood before, that they will start to devalue, it will be less impactful the negative Yelp review. There’s already fake reviews, fake news, all that kind of stuff starting to push into the psyche. Once we make that adjustment to the mass sharing of information, then I wonder what the next step is, and then reorganizing those value systems to find what isn’t important. And I think the fragmentation of people and the way we mix that, something that is hard to me to understand because I grew up with that homogenous identity creation mechanism on that.
Nathan: In a lot of ways I think it is a wetware problem, in the sense that a critical email from a coworker can elicit the same physiological responses to what it would have meant to have been chased by a saber-toothed tiger 10,000 years ago across the planes. And the challenge is that those chemicals don’t exit your body, it can take 30 or 40 minutes for the cortisol, the stress stuff to come out of you. A bad email can really mess with your day from a cognition and physiological, how are you feeling on a chemical level. So, I don’t know how we will do it, but at some point, I think we are going to have to overcome our biological limitations- not limitations- but our previous ways in which we have used our capabilities. We need to evolve to keep up with the tools that we are creating, because right now I think part of what we are seeing now is we are not keeping up yet.
Joe: Well, I think that is the powder I want for my drink, so if you come across it I’m gonna pour some in. Because I think that ties a lot into a lot of the global issues that we have. I think United States and Western society was set up not well, but better than everybody else to handle the rapid come-together in communication. But you look at a lot of the places that the Internet has been brought to, they were generations behind, living in way more of what we call traditional. There is a clear social evolutionary path that societies go on, and they follow a lot of the same tracks. We look at Jared Diamond stuff, “Guns, Germs, and Steel” and things like that. You can see that they move along the same track and then all of the sudden you come in and just give them this huge shot of adrenaline, of information and they can adapt to it. We barely adapt to it and we are still… And obviously, with the last presidential elections, just crazy, all the rules are changing. And so, that is affecting us at the forefront of it, actually some look at the creators of it and they look at the places that get dragged from way behind us up, I think it just blows people’s minds and I think that causes a lot of the stress and desire to get more fundamental or to find that sense of normalcy, or that truth that they can hold onto.
Nathan: Yeah, it is interesting when you look at it – I think Steven Pinker has got the datasets around this stuff, but he is always trying to make the argument that hey, the world has never been better than it is right now. Headlines are flooded, you get that old media line – if it bleeds, it leads. It is like we can sell ads based off trauma and terrible headlines, we are going to get clicks, clicks turns into eyeballs, eyeballs are monetization opportunities and that is the game. We will figure out a way to take your attention and convert it into my money, or our money. But at the same time wars are at an all-time low, diseases are being eradicated, scientific evolution… We are doing some really awesome things, it’s just… It is tricky. Taste making is distributed now, and I think we are waking up to realize that gate keepers may or may not belong there anymore. And all of the sudden the tools to circumvent these traditional channels exist. And as a society and as a country what are we going to do about that? Is our system still the best system? Has it outlived its utility? It is kind of a crazy conversation to have, and at the same time I don’t know. I think the idea of democracy back when it first started – it started 500, 600 or 700 years ago – we started talking about these ideas, they were crazy ideas to discuss back then. There is a Berugan Institute that is a cool foundation which funds radical reimagination of what democracy means, or could you imagine a new way to structure? When we think about the idea of governance and the role that it plays in society, it is like to build a government around block chain, all of the sudden if this transparency and accountability is built into everything that we do – because right now it is an incredible gap there in our government systems. I do not know what the future looks like. But my assumption is that it is tech driven and we just have to make sure we don’t blow ourselves up before we can get there to enjoy it.
Joe: Yeah. And the systems… Historically, can you think of a system that has existed that hasn’t been top-down? I think this is potentially the first bottom up system, which I think that it is awesome, also scary in the fact that the most resourcefully manipulative people will be the ones that can grab the land, the good real estate in that system. But even the newest systems were all top-down, there was a group of people getting together, saying “This is what it is going to be”, everybody else goes “Okay, we will follow along.” And now it is being built in real time by little pockets of butterfly and people…
Nathan: Yeah, it would be interesting to see when you start giving people choice. Right now, it is pretty difficult to make a choice to move somewhere else, that has a very different governance structure. But once we figure out how to live on water, to get it out in international waters, it is something on the internet the other day and I thought it was a cool idea. Scientists getting together who feel like the confines of the research community, or it is really difficult to do the research that they really want to do, so they are going to do it in international waters. If you can build labs on the ocean, then all of the sudden you can discover what you think needs to be discovered as fast as humanly possible. Fast forward another hundred years, after that maybe the idea of a multiplanetary species really is realized and the moon base is where I go to live with my fellow pig people, or my fellow left-handed blue butterfliers. When you look at Mars, which in a funny way takes us back to the original conversation we had about Kilimanjaro, there are people within NASA who feel like the first astronauts that we send to Mars should be on a carbohydrate-based diet, versus people who think that hey, they should be on a ketogenic diet. And there are different applications for this. We know we can grow potatoes on Mars, astrobiology – we have got a pretty good idea of what we can do there. But at the same time, we also know that your muscles atrophy when you are in space and there is downside risk too to being on those carbohydrate-based diet compared to some of the protective effects that you might see if you are on a ketogenic-based diet. So, I don’t know. We will see.
Joe: Well, we will pick that up next conversation.
Joe: So, I have enjoyed our time. I like to end each conversation with a shout-out to someone cool. You are deep in the soul of St. Petersburg and you have seen a lot, and so I am asking with great anticipation to hear who you would like to give some attention to in St. Pete for doing good stuff.
Nathan: So, I think I got to tip my hat to a young man, and he is doing incredible work in the community, he is busting his but, I am really trying to help him sing his song of St. Pete. And that is Thomas Paterek. And Thomas with his partner run a branding and a creative agency called Stevie & Fern, he is very active in the Surf Rider Foundation, helping to keep our beaches clean, leading the charge to ban the plastic bag in St. Pete. And just an incredibly active, highly thoughtful and creative guy, and boundless energy. I think more like Thomas would be good.
Nathan: Check him out.
Joe: Cool. And as always, all that information, everything we have talked about today will be in the show notes, so links and pull-out quotes and insights and all that good stuff. And you can check this out at stpete.co. And thank you again, Mr. Schwalger, it was good spending time with you.
Nathan: Thanks, Joe.
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About the host
Joe Hamilton is the CEO of Big Sea and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Joe brings a strong acumen for strategy and positioning businesses. He serves on several local boards, including TEDx Tampa Bay, which grew his desire to build a platform where the area’s thought leaders could share their valuable insight with the community at large.