John Lee Dumas is one of the big names in entrepreneurship. I started by talking to him about Puerto Rico where he lives because when I first met him in person it was right after the hurricanes that hit there and I thought this was going to be a natural connection to the environment. It looked at the beginning like it wasn’t going to happen. The environment wasn’t a big issue for him. He was there for economic reasons. And then as often happens with a bit of reflection he started thinking “Yeah, there is something that I really care about.” And it turned into one of the most long-term, most involving other people personal challenges that anyone has taken on and it comes from really deep inside. So, listen on for John Lee Dumas’s personal challenge.
Joshua: So, I hope it’s cool with you that I just started recording. Actually, it’s funny people who listen to my podcast know that I put on the recording as soon as I can because the interesting conversation always happens just before and just after.
John: Yeah, I love the fact that we’re already recording so let’s ignite.
Joshua: Cool. And then, you actually say ignite and now people who think of your name I think generally think entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship on fire, entrepreneur on fire. And my podcast is Leadership and the Environment. I hope it’s cool to talk about leadership and the environment as opposed to typically entrepreneurship.
John: This is your show so let’s have fun on your topics.
Joshua: OK. And actually, I looked up when we met and we met, it was September 27, and you were on your way to Puerto Rico. And Maria had just hit on September 20. And so talking about the environment…I take it you’ve been there since.
John: I’m here right now.
Joshua: Oh, you there right now? OK. Is it something you’ve talked about a lot? I’m really curious because it’s an environmental thing. Have you talked about a lot or is it something, like about what the situation there was like?
John: Yeah. I mean you know it’s slowly but surely recovering. Puerto Rico is a really tough island because it’s very mountainous, lot of the islands doesn’t have a great infrastructure. So when something like this happens I mean the infrastructure that does have collapses and then we only have the resources, the money, the manpower, the womanpower to get things back up and running you know kind of like… I’ve heard a lot of people kind of equate like Houston to Puerto Rico where when something like this happens in Houston it’s like everything is lying aside, like just put back a pull, run the powerline, you’re off to the races. Puerto Rico, you have like mountains and canyons and gullies and rivers and rainforests and it’s just like when something happens like you have destruction, devastation on just like a whole different level. And we’re not just talking days like, we’re talking years before things are going to get back to normal.
Joshua: And so I’m curious, I don’t know how you chose to live there. Was the environment part of it? If it’s not a too personal question. Is that what got you there? Like living in a place that’s going to take years to recover but the natural environment?
John: Well, I’ve been living in Puerto Rico for about 16 months prior to Maria so I had already kind of made that my home. So that really had nothing to do with the thought process at all. For me what it was is for a number of years my business has been very successful dairying a lot of revenue and remember just having like a candid conversation with my CPA one day and saying, “Josh, like what can we do to legally start paying you know [unintelligible]? Like I want to do everything above the ground, of course. So give me some options.” He’s like, “Well, you can move to like a tax-free state like Texas or Nevada and I will help out some.” He’s like, “Or Puerto Rico has this thing called Act 20 where if you move your business to Puerto Rico, set up shop, you pay [unintelligible] 4 percent taxes. So, if I am paying 51 percent to 4 percent, hence as I am in Puerto Rico making the best.
Joshua: Oh, so it was an economic thing. And I thought it was… The reason I was asking was because I was going to go in the direction of, I mean you came on this podcast Leadership and the Environment and I figure environment…. I was curious like what the environment means to you? Is it something you care about? Is it something big for you? Or is it something that’s like a side thing for you?
John: Define environment in your words.
Joshua: So usually I think of this is the air, the water, the land that we share. So, I’m talking about a physical biosphere environment.
John: Yeah, I guess at this stage, at this point in my life not that big of a thought process.
Joshua: Interesting. So when you hear about people talking about global warming and extinctions and things like that is that just something you’re like, “Oh, I’m glad someone takes care of that.”
John: I don’t really think anybody is taking care of it which is kind of too bad I think. But, yeah, it’s not really anything that is kind of like you know in my top, my priority list right now.
Joshua: So this may be a short conversation.
John: Or it could be long, it could maybe you should be convincing me why I should be.
Joshua: What I don’t want to do is I don’t want to try to change people. What I’m trying to do in this podcast is…
John: I think [unintelligible] changing you can maybe educate people.
Joshua: Well, even that is something that I think there’s a lot of facts out there. Here’s what I think there’s a lot of. I think there’s a lot of people telling you a bunch of facts. There’s a lot of people telling a bunch of doom and gloom. I think there’s a lot of people saying, “Here’s some tips for you to do.” And I think that we have enough. If someone wants more facts, they’re out there. If you search on the internet, it’s there. I think if people aren’t acting it’s not because they don’t have enough facts. I think it’s more something like they don’t have enough meaning, purpose or it’s not connecting to them. If other things that are more important…
John: [unintelligible] that is not really connecting to me would be the way I would use it, I’m afraid.
Joshua: What I usually do is if someone has something that they connect with, then I ask them if they’re interested in acting on that, doing something that they you know ask them to take on a personal challenge. And what I’m not doing is if someone says, “Not a really big deal to me,” then I’m not going to say, “Well, it should be!” Because I think that’s… When people do that with me I’m like, “Go tell someone else.” You sound needy and I don’t sound needy and then I don’t want to… Don’t make me needy, that’s like your business. So I don’t want to do that.
But if there is something that you care about, like a lot of people… It’s like maybe not the first thing that they think of what they think of like… You know it’s a lot of different this for a lot of different people. Sometimes it’s like the park at the end of the block with their dog, sometimes it’s going fishing with their dad when they’re growing up. Sometimes it’s like some fear of some dystopic future or something like that. And does any of that stuff conjure up anything? Any feelings of like, “Hm, that’s important to me.”
John: Yeah, you know I can say that one thing that’s really important to me because it plays such a big role in my life and that’s education. And not traditional education. Like I’ve done the whole high-school-college-blah-blah-blah-law-school thing, none of that really is important to me but just the opportunity to be educated and to learn and to self-educate and teach yourself. And so for me, what I always try to say like what do I want to support, what do I want to get behind? To me it is always about education. So you know one huge [unintelligible] I support now for three years is Pencils of Promise. In fact, I just went to Guatemala a few months back because we built now four schools in Guatemala you know where prior there no schools, like being able to go there and see the schools and the teachers and the kids being educated.
And I think you know a little bit that is all about education and all about like giving people the ability to learn and to read and to just at least get to the level where they can then do something amazing in the world because they have that basic level of knowledge and understanding and access to education and knowledge. But I think one thing that there may be a little environment in there now that we’re talking is, and maybe [unintelligible] better maybe clarify it, like one thing they really struggle with there’s clean water as well and so like sanitation is a huge problem in places like Guatemala. So along with the schools we’re also building these public restrooms. And these are really the only clean places. Number one, use restroom facilities. Number two, actually wash your hands. Because there was just so much sickness going on and kids weren’t going to school, [unintelligible] like.
Well, what’s like the core problem here? And it was well, the kids were getting sick and they weren’t coming to school because they were sick because they weren’t washing their hands because they were you know frankly to be kind of blond defecating you know in their backyard and then getting sick because they had no place to safely you know go to the bathroom and no place to actually you know understand like what it meant to wash your hands before sticking your fingers back into your mouth and stuff like that. And so, they’re starting their education process doing that as well. There’s a kind of that side by side big things that you know we were doing down in Guatemala with the education school systems as well as kind of the sanitation that was going on down there.
Joshua: Yeah, this is… A lot of people when they think environment, they are really quick to think, “Oh, global warming. That’s the big one.” But clean air, clean water, pollution, litter, these are like big things too. And I’m reading a bit of caring here like this it’s not like I’m trying to drum up some feelings here.
So along these lines I wonder, you’re already doing something there. What I try to do, what I like to do is to ask the person, the guest if I invite them to take on a personal challenge along the lines of something that they care about… And there’s a few things: it doesn’t have to change everything, it doesn’t have to fix the whole world overnight because a lot of people are like, you know, “If I do this and no one else does it, it doesn’t make a difference.” So I’m not saying you have to do everything. And it can’t be something you are already doing but it has to be something that makes a difference. Would you be interested in taking on something new?
John: You know when you said that the first thing that kind of pop to mind is something that’s kind of been in the back of my mind is bugging me as something that I haven’t done even though I feel like I see it fairly often is I live here in Puerto Rico and I live in a beautiful community and I go for runs fairly often three, four, sometimes five days a week and it’s a trail run, it’s a mountain run and it’s beautiful and I get to the top and it’s like a panoramic view of the ocean and it’s just a gorgeous like run. And then I kind of on the way down I stop by this beach but because of the fact it’s like an east facing beach and whatever it is with the currents and all of these things, there’s just always a ton of like trash, just was washed up onshore and it looks gross and all these things that I’m just always like, “I need to come back here and clean this up.” But I never do.
And I’ve been here now for 20 months and I still haven’t done it. And I say it to myself every time I go for a run but then I forget about it until I go back there. So maybe this is something that I need right now to just be like… You know what? I’m going to commit on air to not only just going and like picking up a few pieces of trash but like cleaning the beach, potentially even bringing some friends out to help me do or with me but keeping up on that as well. And like making that you know this a place where people actually start to care so because like there’s other people that bike and they run and they utilize these trails and beaches and I think you know if I ever saw somebody else picking up trash, like I would run down there and help them, and like maybe that could start something.
Joshua: So I have to come in a couple of things. One, this is the first day in New York that it’s above freezing in like a month and you’re like “beautiful trail” and I’m like, “Oh, man.”
John: We all make choices, brothers.
Joshua: So the other is that you’re not the first person who’s like, “Yeah, environment. It’s not really a big thing” and then when we talk about it more, they’re like, “You know, there is this thing that’s been on my mind.”
John: [unintelligible] global warming and I do kind of just feel like that’s this bigger picture thing that frankly I know is important but like I don’t personally see like what I want or can do about that at this stage of my life and I have other things that I’m focusing on. And I mean I see that a lot of sound selfish I get it. But that’s just reality, I’m being honest. But when you kind of drill it down for me and I kind of like think of my day-to-day and what I can do to make a difference like there is some things.
Joshua: Yeah, that’s what I… Because global warming is the big one. But, man, to me, by 2050 there is supposed to be more plastic in the ocean than fish and I’m like the Pacific is really big, plastic didn’t exist not that long ago. So yeah, these are like really big things. I have this thing…
John: Not cut you off but have you ever watched the show, have you ever seen this show How I Met Your Mother?
Joshua: I haven’t seen it.
John: So one of the characters on there is like this lawyer that wants to change the world and impact the environment and all these things. And what he’s talking about over and over again that does like resonate with me is that like there is an island of trash in the ocean that is twice the size of Texas and like just that visual, it’s so sad to think about.
Joshua: You know what? There’s more than one of them. There’s like in the Atlantic does more than… And they’re growing. And also, what you say, what got this whole podcast started for me was that when I started… I pick up a piece of trash every day. Sadly, in New York City I usually don’t have to cross the street. Like I walk out the door and I’m like, “Oh, my God, there is this piece of trash I have to pick up.” And then when one of my past students started doing it. I was like, “Wow, he’s really changing.” So, are you up for making a challenge out of this? And then what I’d say is can we make it a SMART goal? So something specific. Would it be organizing others, just doing something yourself or…
John: I think that I’d like to do a combo of that. Number one, I like to challenge myself because I’m the one that goes and runs by myself fairly often. So I’d like to say at least once a month like I’m going to go with a trash bag and completely you know clean the beach, hopefully be seen by others and inspire others to do it. And then once a quarter, so four times a year organize some kind of multi-person kind of I guess maybe we could call it like a trash hike or we would go in together and clean up you know our beach because this is our beach, this is beach within our community here. It’s called Palmas Del Mar in Puerto Rico and you know we should start being proud of it.
Joshua: This is pretty big. That’s like you’re committing… I mean you’re saying a lot. I mean I take it you have a lot of pride in place in your community. I feel like that’s a big piece of it.
John: Yeah, it’s big. And that’s why like I’m not trying to be like you know I’m going to do it every week and that’s like I feel like setting like a reasonable goal, you know that’s part of a SMART goal is the fact that it has to be reasonable on some level. But this is something that I feel like I can definitely stick to and hopefully honestly exceed.
Joshua: And you’ve said projects… One of the things I like to do is make sure someone’s not like overcommitting or…I’ve take it you’ve set goals like this scale before and you know what you’re talking about. It’s not like… Because there’s lots of unforeseen things that come up. But you’ll be like this… This feels like a good scope for you?
John: This really does feel like a good scope. It feels very doable at the same time like you know I don’t want it to be too easy like I want this to be something that it’s going be on my calendar, I’m going to make it recurring, you know calendar like “Did you do the trash run this month?” and like the answer’s “No”, you know I keep pinging it every single day until [unintelligible]. So it’s like I’m very accountable on those things.
Joshua: And are you up for having a second conversation to review how it went?
John: Yeah, yeah. Let’s do that. Let’s say… When are you thinking? How much time we should go?
Joshua: Actually, I am thinking probably like one quarter from now and then a year from now if you’re up for two more conversations.
John: I was thinking let’s have the next one in six months from now so I should have now two of these joints you know multiple person trash hikes. And you know what? I will be providing pictures of that as well.
Joshua: Alright. Now I feel like maybe people will be, “I’m going to Puerto Rico and clean up trash with John Lee Dumas”.
John: Hey, come on down, people! I’m going to smoke you on my hill run and then I will pick up some trash.
Joshua: This is going to be cool. And by the way, you’d like the second person who did a six month. Mostly these are like one to two to three-month. Dorie Clark just did it. She’s like making a restaurant near her be her vegan restaurant. It’s not a vegan restaurant but she’s going to be totally vegan there. I was like, “When should we talk again? She said, “Six months.” I’m like, “It’s a long time from now. I want it to be sooner because you know I want you on again.” She’s like, “No, I want to make sure it’s for real.” I’m like, “All right. Six months. Let’s do six minutes.”
John: Dorie. I was just hanging out with Dorie in New York City.
Joshua: Yeah, she’s great person to hang out with. So to schedule it, can we schedule it now or should I go on your site or…
John: Shoot me an e-mail and I will open up some time six months from now and choose one of those and we’ll look at them.
Joshua: OK, cool. So then, I wanted to keep this brief and to the point. Is there anything to… I’m happy to keep talking. I don’t know what your schedule is but I mean you…
John: My schedule [unintelligible] so near the end of it but I really want to say out loud that I appreciate you not just like having people commit to something but really following up without kind of doubling down and getting in the scheduler, holding the [unintelligible] like it’s important stuff so I’m glad you’re doing it, my man.
Joshua: I have to say that at the beginning I didn’t do that. This is all like what I’ve learned. Like I teach leadership. But then when you actually try and motivate people to do stuff that they don’t have to do. What doesn’t work quickly falls by the wayside.
John: No trail. Honestly, I feel good right now and I haven’t even done anything yet.
Joshua: Like earlier you pumped your fist, now I am pumping my fist. This is a big thing. Like when you act on what you care about it feels good. It makes your life better. It’s like you’re talking about bending over, picking up trash, like most people aren’t like, “Hey, I’m going to pick up some trash.” But actually, it’s the values that really I think that that’s what it’s about.
John: I like it. Thank you.
Joshua: Right. So I’ll e-mail you, we’ll schedule next time, I’ll talk to you again in six months. Maybe we’ll cross paths in the meantime. Thank you very much.
John: Take care.
This is the value about leading people without relying on authority. You have to find what people really care about. I thought this was going to go nowhere because he was talking about being in Puerto Rico for economic reasons, he said didn’t really care about the environment. When he was talking about school and education it sounded like he was going to suggest something where he was going to get other people to do stuff, not himself. And then he found something he really cared about and wants to act on these things. That’s what happens when you tap into what people really care about. It was already on his mind. Now he’s doing it for his reasons, not for mine. By the way, I have to add that when he said, “We all make choices, brother” you couldn’t see this but he pointed the camera out the window so I could see Puerto Rico through his window.
I am going to add one little thing here. The people who know me from my blog know that I’ve been putting out to the world that I want to be able to sail across the Atlantic. I don’t know how to sail. I’m not going to get a sailboat. But if there’s anyone out there who’s interested in going to sail and help John Lee Dumas pick up trash from his beach, I would love to learn about that because I’m trying to get places without flying. So if you know of a sailboat that’s going to Puerto Rico or something like that, let me know. Otherwise, I look forward to hearing from him back every couple of months and in six months as well.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees