004: Michael Bungay Stanier, Conversation 1: 100-mile food, full transcript

November 30, 2017 by Joshua
in Podcast

Michael Bungay Stanier

Joshua: I really enjoyed interviewing Michael for this podcast. First of all, as a coach myself, his book The Coaching Habit has nearly 1000 reviews on Amazon. Basically five stars. It’s the standard in the field. He’s also a Rhodes Scholar but very approachable, very fun to talk to. He’s a senior partner at Box of Crayons, which teaches people how to manage better, how to lead and coach. You’ll hear that we ended up interviewing each other putting the other one first, learning about how the other one operates. And so we talked a lot about how to lead and motivate without using authority based on people’s existing motivations. So when he talks to me you’ll hear some behind the scenes of how I get people to share what they care about and connect that to their personal challenge on this podcast, so you see that behind the scenes part. There’s also a lot of systems thinking which I think is essential for thinking about and working with the environment. So there’s a lot to listen to here. I think you’ll like it a lot. So let’s take it away.

Joshua: Hey, how are you doing?

Michael: Joshua, I’m good. How are you doing?

Joshua: Very good.

Michael: Excellent.

Joshua: It’s been a little while. I was trying to member when did we last speak? Was it a month or two ago?

Michael: I think it might be longer than that actually. Yeah, maybe two or three months.

Joshua: So I hope you’re doing well.

Michael: I am, I am doing well.

Joshua: As if without me, you can’t be going well.

Michael: Thanks for asking. No, everything’s good. I am right in the middle of a road trip so I’ve just been away for ten days. I work two days back here and then I’m off for another 15 days. So I have some [3:28] kind of unpacking and repacking going on.

Joshua: I hope that’s exciting and not too much of a burden as travel can be so often.

Michael: It’s almost entirely exciting and it is yet still a bit of a burden like sleeping in unfamiliar beds and being on planes and all of that stuff. The thrill of that has somewhat gone but I’m going to some interesting places so I’m up for it.

Joshua: Cool. So you said interesting places. I thought you were going to say to some interesting groups to talk to and I hope that you get to check… Because I imagine you do a lot of hotel, conference room, restaurant. Do you get suck in that too?

Michael: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, for sure. That’s part of the deal but then you hope that the group is the right group for you. They like what you got to say. They respond to it in the right way.

Joshua: Yeah. Part of the glamour of being a writer, a speaker, a public person. Yeah.

Michael: Yeah. Glamour may be overstating it a bit but yeah, it’s actually. How are you doing?

Joshua: I’m doing very well. Actually, I just got off the phone with a professor at USC who is using my book as the book for his class and…

Michael: That’s pretty cool.

Joshua: Yeah. It’s like a very, very pleasant surprise. And so it’s kind of neat. He asked me these questions like “How does this work? How does that work?” I was like, “Oh yeah, that was a real problem that I had to work through how to make that work and…” And he just said, “Oh, I am going to do that.” Really, very, what’s the word? It’s flattering, yes. What’s the word? It feels good. It’s definitely a good feeling.

Michael: Yeah. It’s that feeling that your work is making a difference in the world. Every snappy phrase for that is for that.

Joshua: Yeah. All those hours my shoulders and but hurt from sitting at the keyboard and what I’m trying to say here.

Michael: Yeah, exactly.

Joshua: So I have a couple questions that I wanted to start off with if that’s okay.

Michael: Yeah, sure.

Joshua: First, is it safe to say that you were in the business of motivating people, of figuring out how to help other people motivate others as well?

Michael: Well, the business of Box of Crayons is narrowly defined. So we say we take 10 minute coach so busy managers can build better teams and get better results. So we’ve chosen the HOW to be a very specific tool. But the point of the HOW and the WHY if you want to kind of [5:39] to the Simon Sinek way of thinking about things is to allow people to be more human in the work that they do, both the managers and leaders who are trying to lead teams and also the people who are being led.

A previous book of mine I talk about how do you do less good work and more great work. And so if good work is your job description, great work is the work that has more impact. In other words it makes more of a difference. But it’s also the work that has more meaning, in other words it speaks to who you are and who you want to be. So I reckon striving to alter the balance so you’ve got the perfect blend of good work and great work in your life makes for better humans, which probably makes for better [6:19] and communities and stuff like that. And I think coaching is really the tool that we’ve gone. Yeah. Let’s double down on that as a way of getting there.

Joshua: You’re mostly talking in the context of work. How much of what you do is… I guess the companies that probably hire you. I would guess that stuff… How much of it applies outside of the professional sphere?

Michael: Well honestly if you interact with other human beings, a bunch of the stuff that we take and talk about is helpful. So if you happen to be a monk, a soloist Monk dwelling in a cave, then I’ve got nothing to offer you. But so much of the stuff that I teach is just how can we as human beings do a better job at interacting with each other and how can we as human beings do a better job at allowing ourselves to step forward into who we are and who we might become. And certainly for us it’s not just for sales and marketing point, you’ve got to say here’s who I try and serve. But what’s lovely for me is that the books that I’ve written happen to be kind of cross-disciplinary if you like. [7:23] just yesterday the education conference so everybody in the room were teachers and kind of principals and assistant principals. And there was this fantastic task group to work with and I’m thrilled but you wouldn’t call that the classic corporate group by any means.

Joshua: Yeah. And I wouldn’t. And glad to hear that you’re talking about not just that…It’s funny like I ask you to do it in a corporate environment. You’ve given an example that’s not really corporate environment. But also what you talked about doesn’t sound exactly like how people… It sounds like I guess how enlightened people or more forward thinking or talking about how work can be time talking about how people can be more…. I want to use your words but I didn’t write them down. But it’s like to be more themselves, to be more a better version of themselves.

Michael: Right. I mean when we teach that kind of differences in bad work, good work, great work, we say look, these definitions even if it take good work, we say the definition of good work in the fastest ways it’s your job description. But whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or stay-at-home dad or a solopreneur or work for a huge company or something else a kind of habit a job description, that’s what I’m expected to day to day to day. When I get it done I have [8:34] crisis. And so the tools we take which are like what do I care about, what makes the difference, where do I want to focus, how do I be courageous enough to actually start the stuff that scares me but I think really matters, how am I resilient enough to keep pursuing it when things get difficult or confusing, all of that is separate from context. You can apply that anywhere.

Joshua: I’m glad you’re saying this because the reason I’m getting at outside the work environment and outside of the traditional places of where people think of one person coaching or influencing another is in the end of the environment. What’s been motivating me is that there’s a lot of people who are…. I think that they think that they’re leading when they’re doing things like telling other people what to do or trying to pass laws where….The United States is not exactly backing…I mean people say a lot about polluting less and emitting less but they’re not actually doing very much of it. If they vote by how they what they do, there’s not a lot of backing for a lot of the stuff that people are trying to…It’s a lot of like, “You change, but not me.”

Michael: The NIMBY thing not in my backyard. And it’s true. It’s always curious for me that eve now particularly primary schools at least in the places that I’ve lived you get the sense of kids being fired up about the world they live in. They collect pick up litter, they kind of draw pictures of the earth, it creates that sense we’ve got to look after mother Earth. But it’s tough when you get into being an adult and you feel like a very small piece in a large system and a part of that larger system is called capitalism. And so that kind of economic imperative keeps driving us forward and it’s much harder to stay committed to that sense of environmental commitment.

Joshua: Ironically, the people who pose as leaders find themselves shying away from leading because if you’re going to do what was against what the system is I mean you can be crazy but sometimes it’s also you are a leader and if people aren’t doing something yet and you’re going to be the first one to do it, that’s leading. I don’t want to get in the definitions of leadership.

Michael: Interesting. I mean think of what Al Gore did with his documentary and then he did, I think it was the last year or in the last six months or so, he’s done a follow up from that. And that caused such a big splash when it happened. Literally I guess, metaphorically with that kind of polar bears swimming in the ocean. And yet now that whole sense of an inconvenient truth has lost its urgency and failed.

Or taken Naomi Cline who’s written about simple stuff and how her message… those that want to hear it hear it loud and clear, but those that don’t want to hear it just manage to shut that out. I mean you’ve thought about this longer than me, Joshua. Think of Al Gore. Because he is a high-profile leader. What do you think stopped him having the impact we were kind of hoping that he might have? Because my perception is that it slipped away a little bit. I don’t know if that’s the same for you.

Joshua: Yeah, I’ll answer that although I have to say it’s like the flip version of the exact question I was going to ask you. I was going to say what works and… Well I kind of want to ask you, you wrote a book on malaria that I think has got to be a lot of overlap and I suspect that you took a lot of what works in coaching and leadership and apply that to an area where people aren’t really doing it. And I mean that’s what I did.

So to answer your question about Al Gore. There are a few things that I think have gotten in his way. One is that whether he likes it or not a lot of people view him as a political figure and so he’s going to get all the stuff, all this baggage caught up with it. And so some people are simply going to disagree with him because it’s a different party. Some people are going to disagree with him because they see where it’s going to go and their profitability is going to drop a lot. And whether he’s right or not, that’s going to be an issue. Those things are I think tragic and might be difficult for him to get away from. He was in the White House for eight years. What was it? Eight years?

Michael: That’s right.

Joshua: Yeah, he was in the White House for a long time. And then there’s some other things that are different also. He takes a fair amount of heat for still producing a lot of greenhouse emissions and that’s good.

Michael: Right. He has a big house.

Joshua: If you’re going to fly around all over the world, that’s going to happen. Now a lot of people who support him will say, “That’s part of the job and there’s no other way to do it. So yes you don’t want to fly that much but this job requires it.” But that opens everyone else in the world can say, “Well, I also agree that I shouldn’t but this particular thing that I’m doing does require it.” I mean when my dad goes to visit my sister I say, “It’s a lot of pollution.” He’s like, “Yeah. Well it’s my daughter and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

And I remember someone writing like, “Look I mean that’s the way it is. I like steak if the planet has to suffer for it, that’s the way it’s going to be.” So getting around that is going to be really difficult. And I think he took a very fact based approach and he made an emotional appeal. But I think that just spreading facts and science while essential does not motivate people’s behavior. The example I give is like we have more knowledge about nutrition and diabetes and diseases of excess than ever. And people with the knowledge…

Michael: And we’re all fat.

Joshua: Yeah, it doesn’t make Ben and Jerry’s any less delicious. And you want the Ben and Jerry’s and so you back rationalize why it’s OK. And now you have this reason that it’s actually OK to eat Ben and Jerry’s. No I’m not saying everyone works this way but I’ve certainly watched my mind do this. It’s like I say I’m going to go exercise tomorrow and then tomorrow comes I’m like, “Oh you know what I have this thing and it’s OK if I don’t exercise today.” And then the next day I say like, “What was I thinking?” But the logic makes sense and then if someone pushes against it and then you push back, it tends to reinforce the counter… It reinforces the beliefs that it’s actually not what you believe or not what you want to.

Michael: Yeah, there is some interesting stuff that says being argued with tends to reinforce your position rather than shift your position. So it’s a conundrum and this is a hard topic to take on which is like, OK so fact based stuff doesn’t always work because people go, “It’s fake news” or “I don’t agree.” I found one scientist in a hundred that thinks global warming is not true so I’m just going to quote them arguing from a fact based position often just enhances people’s positions because if they’ve decided the planet is flat or fine or whatever, it’s very hard to get them to shift from there.

Joshua: Yeah. And when I first started doing this that is taking on leadership in the environment role it was like the way I would describe it it’s like walking through a minefield of people’s emotions not only to the entrenched in their positions but their pushback becomes intensely emotional. If you want to get someone really angry, talk to them about not flying and how flying pollutes and they’ll start giving you all the stuff about how the plane is going to fly anyway and there’s going to be solar planes one day and all the stuff that I’ve just come to say is just fatuous and specious. But when they want to fly it holds weight in your mind and then if you push on it, they get really angry.

Now I don’t push on it because my goal is not to get people angry at me I mean that’s not productive. But I have to go through this minefield and try this, try that before to try different things at work.

So that’s where the podcast came to be is I realize working with groups I hadn’t yet gotten enough experience to handle the different perspectives of the diverse set of people you can’t just look at someone and understand what their perspective is on it. And working one-on-one with people I started seeing that people when they would change their behavior, yeah they make a little difference of maybe they’re picking up some garbage or eating less meat. That wasn’t the big effect. The big effect was that once they actually did the change that they liked, they would start finding bigger things themselves. And so that’s why the format of the podcast is a way that it is that it seems to work on a small scale and maybe it’ll scale up to millions or billions of people.

Michael: Yeah, that would be a fine thing. So in a new part of what you do is you ask the guests challenges to take on. I’m curious and I don’t want to I know I’m kind of changing the topic here by interviewing you but I’m sure you’ve thought about this more than I have and just enough reading to know that there are… You know the Pareto principle about 20 percent of what you do makes 80 percent of the difference. I’m wondering when you think about the challenges that your guests take on or maybe the challenges that you’ve personally taken on, which ones do you kind of hold up as going this is probably having the biggest impact because when you don’t do this, this happens but this also happens and this also happens. I’m wondering if you get a sense of which challenges have the most kind of systemic impact.

Joshua: What I’ve found is that it’s not the challenge but it’s the relation between the person’s challenge and their values. Because I’ll tell you one of the things that I do and we’ll do this in a second is that I ask the person to pick their own challenge based on their values. And because if I don’t know their values, then if I say, „Here’s something you could do that will lower your carbon emissions.” But they really care about pollution or litter, then it’s not going to resonate with them. Whereas if it’s something that they themselves when it works then when I have a second conversation with them, it’s all about how they improve their life.

Now that could be right through not eating meat or not getting bags at the store or take public transportation or stuff like that but it’s in their minds it’s self-improvement or whatever their thing was. Maybe it’s the relationship with their father that got them to think about streams when they were kid. So if sometimes I have a conversation with someone and I don’t do an effective job of getting why the environment means something to them. And if that’s the case, then they’re not going to have as strong an attachment to or the task, the challenge is not going to be as meaningful for them. Every now and then I’ll have someone who just can’t think of a project and if they ask me enough times, “Can you think of one?” then I’ll give them one. But often those don’t work as well.

Michael: So I like where you’re going with the whole piece around, what are your values and how do you go from something you actually care about to turn it into an action or a new habit or a new way of trying to show up new world. How do you connect people to their values? I mean how do you help me figure out what I care about in the first place so that I could think well when you put it like that not eating meat is the right thing to do?

Joshua: Well, actually part of my research when I prepare for things is to find out something about the person see if there’s something in the public persona that reveals something about that. Often I generally ask the person. I say something like, “You know this is Leadership and the Environment and we’ve been talking about leadership for a while. Let’s talk about the environment.” And I’ll ask them what’s a passion about the environment feel, like, what do you care about? I mean you saw the overview of the podcast. And so you know that there’s a challenge coming up which is at your option. You don’t have to do it. So you didn’t have to but you’re on. So I imagine there’s something in the environment for you. What do you think about when you think about the environment? What do you care about with respect to environment?

Michael: I’ve been mulling that over and there are things we do, my wife and I [2010] the choices we’ve made that we can kind of put up on the little trophies list of good environmental actions. So we live downtown Toronto. We don’t have children so we never had to have a car. We don’t eat a whole lot of meat or that we do occasionally eat meat but mostly we don’t. We do the recycling and all that sort of good stuff. I do fly a lot so that against that and we support, we donate to things like the Nature Conservancy group, they buy by our plan to preserve them.

But what was interesting is when you kind of posed that question even in absentia. I was like what are the drivers for me are around trying to do that? And I think part of it is just that a sense of commitment to the commons. You know they talk about the tragedy of the commons, the commons being the shared land and a community would have an agreement about okay so it’s a shared land, so everybody can graze two sheep per day on the land. But then somebody goes, “I’m going to just graze four because I want to” and then somebody else goes, “If they are grazing four, I’m going to graze four.” And then the other guy as well, “Damn it. I as might get my whole flock on there” and then everyone is, “I want to put my flock on there as well.” And before you know it the commons ends or the grass is gone and it turns into a desert and now it becomes a resource nobody can use.

So I think it feels to me that maybe the thing that’s at the root of some of the stuff that we do is around trying not to be part of the tragedy of the commons. Where you go, well I don’t know. Who cares about the larger group? I’m just going to get what I want because I want it. And I think that what I’m trying to self-manage around.

Joshua: OK, so I’ll kind of narrow it what I’m doing as I’m doing it. Except at the very end you mostly talked about what you did as opposed to the reasons behind it. And at the end you talk about your eating habits, your flying habits, where you donate and things like that. But that doesn’t say why you do it, it just says that you do it. And you said you don’t want to be part of the tragedy of the commons. So what? What if you were? Or what’s better for you about not being a part of that game?

Michael: Yeah. I’m probably starting around with what do I do at the moment is going… Let’s assume that what I do at the moment point to some values of mine. And part of the reason we’re doing this is trying to figure out which you kind of on the air as we speak. Well what does drive me to do those things? Because I’m not entirely sure, I don’t have a clear articulation or a clear understanding about why it is that I would care about the tragedy of the commons. I don’t know if it’s just that that’s in it of itself or just something about my upbringing. I’m coming to be a kind of elusive annoying interviewee here, Joshua, but I’m trying a little bit to figure out what’s the core driver or the core value for me around some of that.

Joshua: On the contrary there are several conversations that have gone like this and I think it’s mentally valuable for there going to be some people listening who also feel the same way, they are like, “Yeah, I do want to do this but I don’t see what the differences are. Like maybe in my life would be better if I bought a Hummer and just throw random whatever I want but I do kind of feel like there’s something there.” And sometimes it takes another person asking the questions to see what you don’t see yourself. But if you don’t make that connection, then anyone suggesting that you change your behavior without a motivation behind it, there’s no meaning or purpose to it. So I don’t know. What do you think about when you think about… I mean what’s the difference between a world in which everyone’s thinking for themselves versus a world in which people think of others? Is it an economic issue? Is it an empathy issue?

Michael: I think it’s about that kind of thin veneer of civilization and how quickly that can get stripped away. What I read this as a kind of gruesome metaphor around if your island is infected by rats, what you do is you don’t set out to poison them. This is a really gruesome metaphor so not suitable for work if you’re listening to it. You collect all the rats and you throw them all into the same barrel together and then effectively what happens is the rats start eating each other. And finally you’re left with kind of two rats facing off against each other and any other rats that show up either get eaten or I mean it just turns into a self-management page where you’re like okay it’s kind of mutually assured destruction thing going on and it just doesn’t take much for that to come out. I mean look at Trump and what’s his name in North Korea at the moment kind of posturing over nuclear missiles and how quickly that just escalates. If Rios is like sitting here vaguely terrified about what’s going to happen with that. And it feels to me that honoring the commons is one of the ways to go. This is how we stay in relationship with each other.

Joshua: Is it a fear of that or is it that you don’t want to go there or you do want to go to someplace else? Is it anxiety or maybe it’s passion for the alternative?

Michael: There’s two ways of reacting to a core value. You either move towards it or you move away from its opposite. I think it’s probably moving away from …Do I can to move us away from stripping away that and I love the phrase that thin veneer of civilization. That’s the stuff I am kind of seeking to avoid that rather than necessarily being about or about the commitment to relationship. As I think about it those kinds of apocalyptic movies around, OK it’s Mad Max, it’s whatever. It’s all gone to hell. I find this quite depressing and scary.


Joshua: OK, so at this point in the conversation one person might talk about how much he likes to take on challenges so that I ask him to take on a challenge with respect to the environment, the environment part is not as important. He just likes the challenges. I kind of have faith in a situation like that. And this is borne out that when they do take on a challenge that’s in the environment, it’s not just that they learn about themselves and develop discipline or whatever but they also pick up new things about their world, about the environment, they start caring more.

Sometimes people will talk about… There’s a lot of family connections things with their parents going camping or outdoorsy things when they were younger and in that case it can be a much more family oriented thing so we’ll still be talking about emotions and what people care about. But the connections may be very different. And it’s not to say that they might not also have a system. I hear you and I keep thinking like from system perspective because I think of the tragedy of the commons is like a systems type thing that’s where I learned about the term from. Others might see it as economic or other but that’s the one that comes out in the…Whatever comes out in the conversation I work with that. If I had many conversations with them other things might come out.

I’ll do with it you and tell me how it feels when I do with you is if the issue for you is avoiding the thin veneer of civilization from disappearing or protecting that. Then I invite you at your option. You don’t have to do it but if you want to take on a challenge that would affect that. Maybe protect it more strongly or keep it there or something that would help reinforce it.

And now I have to say a couple of things to make sure that people don’t misunderstand. So it doesn’t have to solve everything overnight because a lot of people have this feeling like if it doesn’t …

Michael: That’s a relief.

Joshua: Yeah, like a lot of people have this reaction of like, “Well you know, if this other industry doesn’t change what I do doesn’t matter.” OK. This is just a personal challenge, it’s not trying to save the world right now. Then it has to be something that you yourself do. So no telling other people. You can’t say, “Here’s my challenge. I am going to get someone else to change but not me.”

Michael: It’s disappointing because that would have been much easier.

Joshua: That’s what a lot of people are doing and that’s in my view …That’s a lot of what’s gotten us in this mess. It’s OK for me to do this. I mean Al Gore did it.

Michael: So that be the change that you want to see in the world.

Joshua: Yeah, it’s certainly Gandhi. It’s like people with the poster up on the wall of like Gandhi Be the change you want to be and then they’re like, “Well, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll get someone else to change.” What does it mean to you if not… Anyway.

Then it can be temporary. It’s I mean it’s temporary but I hope that when you do it if you choose to do it it’s something you think about doing long-term. So you don’t just… You can do it for whatever limited time. But I hope you think about making it longer term and I think those are the main things. And it can’t be something they are already doing. So is there something that comes to mind of something that you could do that might be relevant to the tragedy of the common or to this thin veneer?

Michael: I wouldn’t say and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve got nothing at the moment.

Joshua: That’s a common thing at this stage.

Michael: I’m looking forward to the coming of the second conversation because it’s a new insight for me around, what’s the driving motivator behind this. I haven’t really had time to process it to go well, what would I do differently as a result of a commitment to that belief in that value.

Joshua: So let’s work it out because we’re here now and also I’ve seen that usually when someone has something that they care about, there’s something usually there oftentimes. Speaking for myself I usually inhibited even without realizing it of sharing things that I care about because it makes me vulnerable. And so even if there’s something there and usually it can take me a bit to get to it. Then other things sometimes just talking about it gets like makes it more clear. I’m also thinking of my hopefully large listenership that they’re probably much people out there who are also thinking to themselves, “I don’t know either.” And so I think I really like when someone who is a leader and an influential person allows themselves to be seen as I don’t know, because it’s really easy to look at you and be like…

Michael: [30:30] a leader and an influential person to be perfect. That’s all right.

Joshua: Well, I mean I’m sure that a lot of people look at you and they’ll say like, “Yeah, Rhodes Scholar of course blah-blah-blah, it’s easy but it’s not the case. And I’ve had people who were like really great coaches and really great leaders and they’re, “Come on,” and they’re like the second time like, “You know I was just going to get bags from the store and [30:52] brings me back to the store. And I kept not doing it. And this is just something I can’t do right now.” And for someone who’s already gone through it it’s kind of like putting on a seatbelt. I mean when was the last time you did not put on a seatbelt?

Michael: I can’t really remember. I mean I drive a whole lot but let’s say it’s been a long time since that hasn’t been [31:00] habit.

Joshua: Yeah, exactly. And so for me like when I go to a store it’s like bring a bag and I don’t think twice about it. And so for someone to say, “I don’t have time for them.” Time? There is no time involved in this but of course that’s you know they have other priorities and things like that and so the mind isn’t there yet. And that’s actually one of the biggest outcomes that I find is that people get this mindset shift is what I’ve been calling it, someone else made that term, and once you make that mindset shift it’s done. Like now you’re thinking about like you are someone who picks up trash off the ground and puts it in a trash can. It’s not something you think about. It’s just like you see it, oh it should be there and you put in the trash can. Someone didn’t, I will. And it’s not like a time, it’s not big time [31:56] like that.

So to the thin veneer civilization is kind of interesting thing. I certainly think about the tragedy of the commons. I haven’t thought so much about what to do about it. I’m kind of playing with my head, I presume you’re too.

Michael: Yeah. So [32:09]. There’s just quite a lot of information out there about the 100-mile diet and in sourcing your food grown closer to you rather than the bagged spinach that’s been flown all the way over from Africa or California or wherever it might be. And it feels to me that part of the… One way to frame it it’s a small thing that could make a difference is actually just being more conscious about where the food that my wife and I buy, where is that grown and where is that sourced. And kind of tap into a more low cost sense of growing rather than the “I don’t really care the price of what it really took to have this lemon here to me from wherever it’s coming from.”

The downside is of course we’re just about to slide into autumn and fall and winter here in Toronto and it’s like all right so that rules out some of my some fruit and vegetables because I’ll be eating all winter based stuff is grown locally. But I think that could be the challenge versus to increase the amount of 100-mile food that we buy and consume.

Joshua: So now let me ask you because you came up with that and it’s something that a lot of people are doing. I wish more people were doing it. And I suspect that over time more and more and more people will do it. How did that come to mind? Was it already there and like it got revealed or did like…

Michael: It kind of, I am going to say it probably it felt like it just popped. Either way there was some sort of connection between literally thinking about commons in a field and a field is like where you grow stuff and growing stuff leads to the diet piece, it could just be the sort of subliminal connections happening through that.

Joshua: Yes, you think a lot of people have this stuff floating in their heads. And I’ll give you two stories from my life. One is when I first learned of how much pollution flying caused I was on a flight and I was watching a guy who wrote the book what’s called Without the Hot Air that was at Cambridge, Mackay or some like that. Anyway he was talking and he said that flying New York – L.A. and back is roughly a year’s worth of driving. And I did not want to hear that because I wanted to travel. And I also wanted to maintain the sense of “I’m leaving the world a better place than I found it.”

And living in a city and I don’t have a car, and so I was like crap this is not helping my identity, my own self-identity. And so I did what I think most people would do and I suppressed the information. You know I put it in the back of my mind, farther away off the back burner and figured and I’ll do it later. And I think most people do that. We hear all these ideas. Like the world is filled with, here’s 20 tips that you can do to reduce your footprint, here’s 10 tips that you can do, blah-blah. And if people aren’t doing them it’s not because the tips aren’t out there, it’s not because people don’t hear them or they’re not available because if you search online, you can find thousands and thousands of tips. If people aren’t doing it, there is something stopping them. And if they’re not getting information it’s not because the information is out there. They don’t want it.

Michael: Right. It’s not. Once I heard somebody say, “It’s not a knowing problem, it’s a doing problem.”

Joshua: And also it’s like an anti-knowing problem because I didn’t want to know that information. I think I could have looked it up any time. It kind of got in just a moment when I happened to be open to it. And so that led me to suppress it. And much later act on it. And in fact the next time I was flying and then I was like, “Oh, I can’t stop. This conflict is eating me up inside.” And I think there’s a lot of people are being beaten up inside by doing one thing saying they believe in one thing and actually behaving a different way.

Michael: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think there’s a conflict [35:42] not just in thinking about the environment but just in general which is like what do we say our values are, what our behaviors actually reveal behaviors to be and what’s the gap between that.

Joshua: Yeah and that’s just asking and dealing with the answers and then acting on it. You know I think you hit the nail on the head of all of this without doing is interesting conversation I guess. But then once if you make your goal changing behavior which is if you don’t change behavior, the carbon dioxide levels, the pollution levels are not going to change.

So if you set your goal of changing those things and all you do is talk I think the reason not many people are taking on changing their own behavior and try to influence others is that it’s really hard. I think doing what I’m doing and trying to influence other people to actually take on responsibility and change and I’m not trying to work with people who don’t agree. If you disagree, that’s your business. I’m not trying to change anyone’s beliefs. But if you believe…

Michael: That’s not a fight you want to have.

Joshua: Yeah, yeah. That’s I think that there’s a lot of people who want to change behavior and can’t yet see their way to it. They don’t know what to do or they don’t know how to do it or they’re afraid of pushing back on them or they tried and failed and don’t want to try again. And I want to that’s my audience now. Maybe I’ll work up to other audiences later. And even within that audience I’m only trying to reach the people that like… I live in certain worlds in the United States, on these coasts, well-educated, male, lots of different things about me that’s me.

And I’m hoping to get along with a few… Like you are one person. I think that you’re an influential person. You may act like you’re not but I think … I’ve seen the book reviews. And there’s a lot of them and there’s a lot of stars on there and either you have like a lot of really good friends or I think people you don’t know are reading the book and getting a lot out of it. Books I should say. And so I’m trying to work with people like you so that your listeners will hear and if they found you useful before I think they’ll find you useful again. And I hope also there are a lot of people listening thinking, “Hey I like what Josh is doing but it doesn’t resonate at all with my community. I’m going to take it to my community.” And so you know and as leaders often say, “I want to train leaders to create leaders not just followers or leaders and followers because some people don’t want to lead.”

Michael: Right. And I think that’s a dance we all have which is like your whole leadership and followership thing. We get to play both those roles really all the time. So you know it’s a small way you can be a leader for a moment and sort of all sorts of ongoing ways we can all play better followers.

Joshua: Yeah I have to say I’m really enjoying this conversation. And you called attention to like you like I’m interviewing you back. But I think there’s a rule, a general practice when you’re interviewing it’s like you shouldn’t talk too much and maybe listeners are like, “Josh let Michael talk.”

Michael: You failed that rule, Josh, I’m sorry.

Joshua: In my mind I was letting you interview me back. You’re I think you have a lot of experience interviewing people. And so I was allowing myself to be led back and I think that that’s what happened. I like that style of leadership of it’s not obvious who the leader’s anymore because we understand the common goal and we’re trying to get that out there and I want people who are listening to become leaders and like hear of what at least one person’s path was in… If they’re listening to this at least they’re not completely bored, there’s some value in it. And so I’m trying to share some of that. How do you feel about this interview?

Michael: Like you I mean I think it’s interesting because you know it’s like that back and forth. So you know it’s not just you firing questions at me and me doing my best but there’s a kind of mutual exploration. If I was a listener both you and I, I would say my judgment fairly cerebral. You know we talk that is somewhat abstract high-level kind of way of thinking systemically, theoretically and I’m just wondering if it’s being a bit too much of that for some of the folks but I don’t know you know that… There’s only one way. I mean we still have a different feel than some of your other interviews perhaps. So you get to kind of throw it out there to the audience and to see what people think.

Joshua: Yeah I guess hopefully people will respond and write what they liked and didn’t like. I think also the second ones are probably more emotional and probably more stories. And I hope that it’s getting people’s appetites like, “OK Michael’s talking this way. Let’s see how it goes. And let’s see…” Let’s at some point I want to make the goal a SMART goal. So would you be up for as you said be more aware or be more having foods local? Would you care to make it more specific?

Michael: You know I’m going to say no to that right now just because I don’t really know what my baseline is so I don’t know what I’m building from to improve towards. Here’s what I will commit, my SMART goal will be to articulate to change I want to see in terms of eating more 100-mile food.

Joshua: So I’ll push a little bit back because I want to if possible can we put something that will reduce your effect in some way?

Michael: Well what I promise you what won’t happen is I will increase the amount of 100-mile food that I’m eating. So I’m going to have an effect. I just don’t want to commit to exactly what that is in that specificity that a SMART goal demands. Because I don’t we’re moving towards yet. I don’t know where I am at the moment. So I don’t know what it means, to what extent I can increase the 100-mile food in my life. So change is going to happen. I just can’t give it to you as a SMART goal right now.

Joshua: OK. It satisfies my interest in that it’s above zero.

Michael: It is. Yeah.

Joshua: So that’s where it’s quantified other than zero is I’m interested here because I think you’ll come up with that anyway. But as long as it’s something because action as opposed to analysis…

Michael: Exactly, yeah, pontification. Exactly.

Joshua: And how long do you think it will take you to work it out?

Michael: Well, I’m about to go on a three-week traveling jag. So my goal of eating a 100-mile food within 100 miles of Toronto is going to be thwarted by the fact that I’m not in Toronto over the next three weeks. So I think what that means is that by the end of October I’ll have figured something out on this.

Joshua: OK. Would you begin for scheduling next conversation for the end of October or beginning of November? Or does that to go through your…

Michael: That has to go through my assistant because I’ve been forbidden from randomly putting stuff on my calendar because that it just makes life miserable for everybody. So we could say end of October or early November, we will see what Marlene can, what magic she can rustle up on the calendar.

Joshua: OK so I’ll follow up with her after we hang up.

Michael: That makes me sound very kind of fresh. But that I am going to follow the rules in the company or I can get my hands sacked . Marlene is scarier than you might realize.

Joshua: OK that’s cool. So I’ll contact her and see about that and then schedule something for then. In any case for the people listening they probably most of them are just going to get to go from they will hear the end of one and they get to start the next one right away without even knowing how much I’m going in between.

Michael: And in fact what we really should do is think about doing it in the kind of end of November or December because from traveling for the next three weeks end of October is not going to be long enough for me to actually have made a whole lot of traction on this. So let’s give me a chance to actually make a difference.

Joshua: So end of November?

Michael: Yeah. I think that’s going to be a good target area.

Joshua: OK. And I liked it that you’re already taking it on yourself to act like. I think that you are envisioning coming back and reporting not just like, “Oh I found out how much I ate and that was the average distance was,” but to act on it before then before we speak. Which is one of the big things that happens is that people once you start it’s that mindset shift as I think already started to happen.

So I mentioned a couple of things that give you one challenge, a challenging thought and then also mentioned some things that come up with people. So one is that you can still do the 100-mile thing 100 miles from where you are and maybe wherever you are you could tell the people…

So you may or may not want to incorporate that in because the next thing I was going to say is that the big challenges that I see people face is not so much their own willingness but it’s two big things. Other people who push back, sometimes it’s like a crabs in a bucket sort of thing, sometimes it’s like they just want logical explanations for things and it makes it difficult. And the other is a travel, when you’re away from home you have less control over your environment. So people face the like… You know if you’re trying to avoid packaged food and you’re traveling it’s really you know you don’t have a fridge and a place to cook so you’re kind of stuck.

So that makes your… If you’re traveling around it makes it doubly harder because you to be dealing with those people who are trying to help you and you like… It sucks if they’re like, “Oh, we’re taking to you this great restaurant and it’s all imported food,” and you’re like, “Oh, I’m trying to do the opposite.” You have a double whammy be away from home and that and other people. On the flipside, if you’re just figuring things out you can be like a big testbed. See what happens if I do this. Yes. I leave it to you if you want to make that part of it or not.

Michael: All right. I’ll experiment while I’m traveling as well.

Joshua: Cool. So let’s wrap up there unless if there’s anything else that I didn’t think to bring up that’s worth bringing up.

Michael: I think we covered a bunch and I’ve got my marching orders.

Joshua: Yeah I look forward to hearing how it goes because every now and then someone says something that’s really new and yours is a different perspective and so I’m curious to see how it plays out.

Michael: Me too. Well thanks. And then have fun traveling this couple of weeks and experimenting with the observations.

Michael: Thank you.

Joshua: And I’ll talk to you again in about a month and a half.

Michael: In a couple of months. Perfect.

Joshua: Cool. I’ll talk to you then.

Michael: All right. See you, Josh.

Joshua: See you. Bye.


I’m interested to hear how Michael does this because he did something that a lot of people do when I talk to them about the environment which is at first he’s not really sure what to do. He’s done some things already but he’s not really sure what to do next. But when I talked to him it pops out that there was something. This 100-mile diet, 100-mile food term. I didn’t come up with that, that was something he’s already thought about. I think a lot of people when they hear this podcast it gives them a chance to try something that they’ve been thinking about for a while. So I hope if you’re listening to this and you’ve thought about maybe there’s something I could do and you’re not really sure what, go through some of the questions he and I did for yourself and see if something doesn’t pop out. Also since this recording, Michael and I got to meet in person, this is kind of cool insider thing, he was in town with Marshall Goldsmith who held a party and we were both there so we met in person. So I look forward to the next time I think it’ll be in even closer connection between Michael and me. So I look forward to it and hearing how his challenge went.

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