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So You Want to Build a Luxury Vodka?

posted by Joshua on March 30, 2017 in Entrepreneurship,, Leadership
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My Inc. article yesterday reflected my journey from a pipe-dream I had in business school of starting a vodka brand to meeting the CEO of Absolut’s attempt to regain the lead it lost decades ago, Jonas Tahlin. He’s taking on the challenge in part by connecting himself personally with the brand.

He has lots of resources but a lot to lose.

The article, “So You Want to Build a Luxury Vodka?,” begins

So You Want to Build a Luxury Vodka?

Premium is more personal and vulnerable than ever. Do you have the guts to do it? Jonas Tahlin shares what it takes behind Absolut’s foray with Elyx.

I had a great idea for a vodka in business school. Starbucks had just acquired Ethos Water and their model of branding and differentiating a commodity with helping others seemed perfect to apply to vodka. The word “vodka” comes from the word water, after all.

I would create a vodka where a share of the profits would help others. Tom’s and Warby Parker didn’t exist yet, so my brand–Social Spirits was the planned name–would have been at the forefront.

I did my research and found it wasn’t hard to start a vodka. I assembled a team and got started.

Then we learned the hurdles of starting a premium vodka and stopped. In fact, I came to believe you’d have to be crazy to do it.

Read the rest at So You Want to Build a Luxury Vodka?

Joshua Spodek Inc. premium vodka

My interview of Jonas Tahlin, CEO of Elyx, Absolut’s foray into retaking the lead in premium vodka

From Astrophysicist to Leadership Coach To Bestselling Author With Josh Spodek: The Smashing the Plateau Podcast

posted by Joshua on March 29, 2017 in Audio, Leadership
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No matter how successful you are, there’s probably at least one area where roadblocks are keeping you from fully achieving your goals. The Smashing the Plateau podcast focuses on overcoming these challenges. The host, David Shriner-Cahn of TEND Strategic Partners, interviews experts one thing in common—they all know how to fix problems that keep people and businesses stuck.

I was honored to be interviewed by David.

We talked about getting through the difficult times, the emotional nature of those times, how to develop the relevant emotional skills, examples, role models, mental models, and so on.

Listen to the conversation!

Smashing The Plateau Joshua Spodek interview

Click to listen to my interview with David Shriner-Cahn of TEND Strategic Partners for the Smashing the Plateau podcast

David’s show notes:

In today’s episode of Smashing The Plateau, Josh Spodek talks about his personal transformation from distinguished astrophysicist to nationally recognized leadership coach and bestselling author. During our conversation, Josh explores what it really means to follow your passions, shows us how to overcome emotional roadblocks, shares his thoughts on vulnerability and community, and much more.

Topics include:

  • Why relationships are more important than profits
  • What you can learn from acting and storytelling classes
  • The true importance of practice and rehearsal
  • Leading with motivation
  • How to overcome unexpected challenges

Listen to the conversation!

The experience and results of Leadership Step by Step

posted by Joshua on March 28, 2017 in Audio, Education, Leadership
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You’ve read the reviews of Leadership Step by Step—51 so far on Amazon, 98% 5-star—and are interested. You wonder how they got so positive.

Leadership Step by Step 51 Reviews

Leadership Step by Step, so far 51 Reviews, 50 of them 5-star

Chris is a professional who did all the exercises in the book as an online course from I interviewed him to learn his experiences taking the course and his results afterward.

I edited the interview. Here are the highlights (I recommend listening):

The full interview is available here.

Absurdly Useful Leadership Tactics That You Can Use Today: the second interview with Jim Harshaw

posted by Joshua on March 27, 2017 in Awareness, Exercises, Leadership, Models, SIDCHAs, Stories
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I don’t know if the interviewers are getting better, if I’m developing in conversation, or if I’m just enjoying podcast conversations more, but it feels like the interviews are getting better all the time.

Yesterday, Jim Harshaw (scroll down to learn more about him) of the Success Through Failure podcast posted our second conversation. Second conversations lead to greater comfort, depth, trust, and intimacy, so I recommend listening. We cover a couple exercises from the book, connecting leadership to everyday living, sports, and more.

Jim was a division 1 athlete and coach, among many other achievements so he knows leadership from multiple angles. He’s taken on and overcome challenges many of us don’t even try. All this comes out in his podcast. When you don’t have anything to prove, you can enjoy a conversation.

Click here to go to the podcast!

From Jim’s about page:

Let’s start with you.

You’ve set goals and maybe even set records. You’ve definitely failed and at some point found yourself questioning if you were on the right track.

You’re working hard, but you aren’t quite where you want to be. And to be honest, you’re not sure exactly where you want to be let alone how to get there.

You need time to figure out what comes next, but time is the one thing you don’t have. You’re too busy, and you don’t have a framework to help you figure out what the right goals are.

I can show you how.

My name is Jim Harshaw. I’m a speaker, consultant and former Division I All American wrestler.

I grew up in a blue-collar home so learned the value of hard work early on.

I have spent my life surrounded by Olympians, CEO’s and millionaires. They’ve all struggled and failed on their way to success. Just like you.

You need to understand this…

Every success story includes crushing failure. Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Phil Knight, Elon Musk have all failed.

When you realize this, you’ll see that failure isn’t the opposite of success. It’s a necessary step on the path to success.

But we live in a society that tells us that when we fail it means we’re not good enough or not smart enough or not capable enough. When people fail, they lower their goals and settle for less.

On March 20, 1998, my sixteenth year of wrestling ended in a locker room with blood on my face and tears in my eyes. I’d just lost the match to become an NCAA Division I All American.

But I had one more season at the University of Virginia. One more chance. And exactly one year later, in front of over 14,000 fans at the NCAA Championships, I did it. I earned a place on the podium as one of just eight wrestlers in the country with the status of Division I All American.

I followed a blueprint for success to get there. The same blueprint got me invited to the Olympic Training Center and took me overseas to compete on a US National Team.

Unfortunately, no one taught me how to apply this blueprint to life outside of athletics.

Fast forward 15 years, and I’m working below my potential and feeling stuck. But then I started noticing patterns in my life. Patterns of failure and success. I noticed them in business, in personal relationships, in my health and well-being, and in my level of happiness. These patterns reminded me of how I’d failed as a wrestler. And how I’d been successful.

I began to see how those lessons could be replicated throughout my life. When I looked at other former athletes who had been able to achieve success, the same patterns were there.

That’s when I knew I’d found a framework for creating a path to elite success in the real world.

Since then, I’ve shared this blueprint with others. They say things like:

“I’m shattering the goals I’ve set for myself already. I feel pretty much unstoppable. Every aspect of my life has been affected positively.”
-Neal Ewers, marketing director, Beat the Streets Toronto

“What I found most valuable was getting a level of clarity on my most important goals that I haven’t had since I was competing in college.”
-Sam Shames, MIT grad, entrepreneur, 4X All American wrestler

“[Your program] helped me get clarity and knowledge on my life. It helped me develop a system for getting the right things done.”
-Jake Bloom, M.A., LPC, NCC, Counselor, AOD Program Specialist

“I took away two game changers that are now a regular part of my life.”
-UFC veteran, author and motivational speaker, Charlie “The Spaniard” Brenneman

“I  know it sounds cliche but I really do think it helped me change my life.”
-Trevor Kittleson, Engineering Teacher, Football and Wrestling Coach

My clients include Olympic coaches, professional athletes, and entrepreneurs. They’ve achieved their personal best and now you can too.

You can regain the confidence, clarity and accountability that you had as an athlete. Once you do, failure will be your secret weapon for success.

You have unique skills because of your background as an athlete.
You can achieve success by harnessing the power of failure.
You just need the framework to put it all together.

I will teach you.

To take the next step today, click here.

Why Do We Dream Big About Everything Except Changing Our Behavior to Pollute Less?

posted by Joshua on March 27, 2017 in Entrepreneurship,, Leadership, Nature
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My Inc. article today, “Why Do We Dream Big About Everything Except Changing Our Behavior to Pollute Less?,” responded to a New York Times opinion piece yesterday that I found lame, even sad.

My piece begins

Why Do We Dream Big About Everything Except Changing Our Behavior to Pollute Less?

A New York Times editorial illustrates our limited vision about our shared world

Inc. readers are resourceful. We dream big.

We entrepreneurs and visionaries are inspired by our predecessors in science, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, NASA, and so on. People who launched humans to the moon, doubled transistors per chip every 18 months for generations, worked for equality and fairness, beat humans at chess and Jeopardy!, and more.

We look to Mars, fusion, and artificial intelligence with optimism despite, or even becausethey are hard. We take on big challenges.
Except changing our personal behavior to pollute less

The New York Times yesterday published an opinion piece, “What You Can Do About Climate Change,” that is the climate-change equivalent of President Kennedy challenging the nation, instead of going to the moon, to build a building a few feet taller than than the Empire State Building.

We would have created a new world’s tallest building, but a far cry from reaching the moon.

Read the rest at Why Do We Dream Big About Everything Except Changing Our Behavior to Pollute Less?

dream big Joshua Spodek Inc.

My Inc. piece today

Non-judgmental Ethics Sunday: What Should You Do With Your Father’s Nazi Keepsake?

posted by Joshua on March 26, 2017 in Ethicist, Nonjudgment
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Continuing my series of responses to the New York Times’, The Ethicist, without imposing values, here is my take on today’s post, “What Should You Do With Your Father’s Nazi Keepsake?

A few years ago, before my father died, my two brothers and I were going through his things with him. He wanted to have some say in where his belongings went. We agreeably found a home for most of the things: Brother No. 2 has children; Brother No. 3 and I have no children. When it came to my father’s World War II box, which had not been opened for years, we thought it best to give his Bronze Star, Purple Heart and other military decorations to Brother No. 2, so they could be passed down.

My father spoke little of the war until he had been sober for more than 20 years. After the rest of the family left that day, he handed me a belt buckle and said: “Do something with this. I don’t want it with the other things.” It was a belt buckle from a Nazi uniform. I said I would take care of it. I have kept it stashed in my desk. I’m now in my 60s and really don’t want it in my house, either. I have checked resale sites, and it does have some monetary value, but I do not want it to fall into hands that may use it symbolically for what my father fought against.

What is an ethical way to deal with this piece? Peter Hulit, Los Angeles

My response: I’ve never seen value in taking responsibility for other people’s behavior, even Nazis’.

Anyway, you asked for an ethical way to deal with the piece. What’s ethical depends on the values of whom you ask and people disagree. Nazi supporters would consider it ethical to sell it to them, but you don’t mean their ethics. You probably mean some abstract set of universal ethics that everyone would agree to, but they don’t exist, as evidenced by the Nazis’ ethics differing from yours.

If you think you’re right and they’re wrong in some absolute sense, then you already think you have access to absolute right and wrong. If so, you can answer the question better than I can, at least according to you, since you have perfect knowledge.

Absent that perfect knowledge, which asking your question implies you don’t believe you have, you’re left with doing what you think is best, accepting that others will disagree with you.

I can’t help but comment on how you put, “for what my father fought against.” You can just say you don’t want to support Nazis. Since you bring up honoring your father as the main issue instead of Nazi ideology, I can’t help but wonder how he got the belt buckle. The overwhelming majority of times I see belt buckles that aren’t mine or in a store is when people are wearing them. We’ll never know, but wouldn’t that imply he got it from a dead man?

The New York Times response:

I remember once visiting a small antiques shop in Swakopmund in Namibia and being astonished to see a great range of Nazi artifacts — copies of “Mein Kampf,” Iron Crosses and the like. Namibia was German Southwest Africa until the end of World War I, and there are many Namibians of German ancestry, descendants of the settlers who came to the area when it was a colony. I wondered whether the interest in these legacies of the Third Reich reflected some sympathy with its aims. Either way, there was something creepy about the experience.

Why creepy? Well, we are required not just to act in accordance with morality but also to have the right moral emotions. And having this stuff around suggests that you just might have a problem there. Indifference toward a genocidal regime is bad. Active approval is, of course, worse. In the United States today there are some people who say that they identify with Nazi aims, and they use Nazi symbols and memorabilia to express those sympathies. Because you, like me, are repulsed by this sort of celebration, you naturally don’t want to allow this belt buckle — presumably it’s the kind with the eagle and swastika — to be misused in this way.

Now, here’s the problem. As far as I can see, if you want to ensure that the buckle is never misused, you can’t really sell it to anyone. You can tell buyers that they must not use it in this way, but that stricture isn’t enforceable. Even if you gave it to a responsible museum, it can’t stop people coming in to look at it for the wrong reasons. And again, the museum could always decide to sell the buckle later.

Are you right to be concerned about the uses that might be made of the object? No doubt most buyers of this sort of thing are military-artifact collectors with no untoward predilections. And we’re not generally responsible for what people do with the things we sell them, mostly because we can’t be expected to foresee those things. Still, the more obvious the possibilities for an object’s misuse, and the more serious its consequences, the more diligent you need to be in avoiding selling that object to the wrong buyers.

If there were no legitimate uses for the buckle, you would, in letting it out of your control, be guaranteeing that it would be misused, and you’d bear some responsibility. That’s not the case here: The buckle could, in fact, be used in an anti-Nazi display or join a general collection of wartime memorabilia. The impulse to destroy troubling historical artifacts is usually best resisted. Even if the item did end up in the wrong hands, the primary responsibility would lie with those who used this relic to celebrate Nazi ideas.

Finally, in any sale, you’re connected with those who would use the buckle to signal pro-Nazi attitudes, because their preferences are one source of the economic demand that sets the price. I’m inclined to think that this connection is too remote to worry about, though. Many objects have morally unattractive elements shaping the demand that sets their prices.

A sensible precaution would be to identify an interested buyer who doesn’t intend to sell it and whose collecting interests don’t seem guided by neo-Nazi sentiments. But if you’re really determined to avoid any possibility of misuse, I suggest you give your father’s buckle a decent burial.

I work for a large company that has a scholarship fund for employees. Some of the grants are need-based, others are not. The fund is administered by a nonprofit employee group and has a finite amount to give each year.

I earn $100,000 per year and am pursuing an advanced degree. A $1,500 grant would be nice but would not impact my lifestyle. Many of the other employees who apply work front-end jobs and make below $50,000 if they are full time and much less if they are part time. Some are trying to get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. I think that $1,500 might make the difference for them between being able to attend college or not or between taking on manageable debt and missing repayments.

I am not planning to apply as others have a greater need. If it were an employee benefit that was available no matter how many employees asked, I would. Did I make the right choice? Name Withheld

My response: You sound like you want a pat on the back or recognition that you made some noble gesture.

Without knowing the point of the grants, we don’t know the point of the grants, nor do we know the others’ situations. The part-timers may make more than you per hour for all we know or value their freedom more than you value your money.

You sound like the money should be distributed by how much it affects lifestyle, which seems to imply that you should start your own grant where money you give away affects you less than it helps others. I don’t see how you giving away money differs from not getting a grant you could have won.

Hm… what would the difference be if you applied for the grant and won and gave it to one of these other employees? For one thing, you might not win, so that strategy exposes a vulnerability. For another, if you won and gave it to them, you’d expose that the granters felt you deserved it more. Depending on the criteria, you might expose a vulnerability of the non-winners.

That’s speculation. You asked if you made the right choice. “Right” depends on values. By your values you seem to have made the right choice. Other people have different values. Some would agree with you, others wouldn’t. You knew that already: people with different values disagree on right and wrong. Are you comfortable with people considering you wrong?

The New York Times response:

It’s the job of the people who run the system to decide what weight to give factors like income in deciding who gets the grants. For your strategy to work, other well-off employees would have to make the same choice. You’d collectively decide to override the preferences of those who set up the scholarship fund. But that’s not your role. The need-based grants exclude the likes of you; this one, by design, does not. Unless there’s something unethical in the administration of this grant, you should feel free to compete for it.

I work for a tutoring company that charges $60 per hour, of which I receive $30. If a session happens to end early, I notify the company to bill the student less, and then I invoice the company. I recently learned, however, that the company often bills the students for the full session even if I tell them it finished early. Is it unethical for me to invoice the company for a full session, knowing that if I don’t they’ll just pocket more of the money they (and I) didn’t earn? Name Withheld

My response: What does the contract say?

One reason I don’t like the premise of this column is that it supports people asking these abstract philosophical questions instead of thinking for themselves about their personal relationships with the people their actions affect.

Asking about the “ethics” of this interaction isn’t elevating it to a higher level. It’s distancing yourself from the people in your life, your emotions, your responsibility for your actions, and your caring about how your actions affect people. You signed a contract agreeing to behave certain ways if they did. You have the written agreement and a relationship with the people. You have everything you need to resolve this without involving a philosophy department or newspaper columnist.

The New York Times response:

First, what does the fine print say? Services provided at a per-hour rate aren’t necessarily prorated at a per-minute rate when they go a little over or under. But it isn’t O.K. to bill the client in full and not pay you accordingly. If your assessment of the situation is correct, money is being stolen here. So I understand your logic. Your employer isn’t entitled to the overpayment. Your client isn’t going to be able to keep it. Why not take a share? It’s the logic of the person who steals the TV from the looted store during the riot. Someone is going to take this stuff; why shouldn’t it be me?

I wonder how this situation is even possible. Maybe the students aren’t telling their parents that you’ve let them leave early. Rather than go along with a dishonest practice, though, why not insist that the students stay for the time their parents have paid for? It can’t be that you’ve got nothing more to teach them.

The Fierce Focus interview with Ryan Ross

posted by Joshua on March 25, 2017 in Audio, Fitness, SIDCHAs
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Ryan Ross hosts the Fierce Focus podcast. A friend put us in touch. We had an engaging conversation that I enjoyed a lot, probably because he asked direct questions that led to meaningful answers. Also because we actually sat together face-to-face to record the interview, which opens the conversation, in my experience.

Here are the show’s notes:

Josh Spodek has done 90,000 burpees. He has a PhD in astrophysics from Columbia, and an MBA from the Columbia business school where is is a professor at Columbia Business School’s Program on Social Intelligence. He has a new book out, New book: Leadership Step by Step.

This is a LONG episode, and we cover subjects like what a SIDCHA is and why Josh has done 90,000 burpees, how and why he went to North Korea, and talk about his leadership course.

If you listen to the whole thing, you’ll find a special code word. And if you email josh with that code word in the subject, he will give you a special 15% on his leadership course. If you email him after you’ve done 30 days of SIDCHA, he will arrange to get you the book too.

Fierce focus Joshua Spodek interview