027: Alisa Cohn, Conversation 1: Progressive daily wins (transcript)

February 21, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

Alisa Cohn

Alisa Cohn is at the top of her field. She is one of Marshal Goldsmith’s Top 100 leadership coaches. She is one of Inc’s Top 100 speakers. And in this conversation, she talks about how she became a leadership coach, how she became a speaker, not just how she became this but how she reached the top of the field. I think this is actually probably the most laughter that I’ve had with any guests so far which I think is related to her success. If you listen to her, she talks a lot about leadership practices and her views from someone at the top of the field. I’m going to call it one thing that perpetually I see leaders succeeding at which is that she puts the other people’s interests first. So, let’s listen to Alisa.


Joshua: So now we are recording but…

Alisa: [unintelligible]

Joshua: Yes, we will. What about this? Or with this? I like that too. I’m that way also. Actually, one of the things I’ve been doing and this part might stand because I like to keep the early part in. I don’t know how many podcasts you’ve done, probably a bunch, but the most fun part is just the beginning and just after the end is like when people are like they let their guard down and just talk person-to-person and not like trying to [unintelligible] anything off. I propose that we just talk person-to-person for a bit about leadership and then switch over to the environment.

Alisa: Okay, great.

Joshua: OK. I’ve got to say I’ve met you a couple of years ago through Marshall, right?

Alisa: Yep, of course.

Joshua: It was his book thing at the New York Public Library if I remember right.

Alisa: Is that where we met originally?

Joshua: I think so. I think we were definitely speaking outside…

Alisa: Yes! And we were walked outside and I didn’t even see you at the book thing but we walked outside and you were there with your girlfriend. You were all like, “Oh my God, we didn’t talk.” We just swapped cards and then we followed up.

Joshua: Yeah.

Alisa: Yeah. And you had this beautiful card with a lot of like leadership principles on the card.

Joshua: Yes, my meaningful connection and how to make people feel understood.

Alisa: Awesome.

Joshua: And let’s see. So we met through Marshall so it’s not a surprise to me that you would be one of… Can I talk about you being one of Marshall’s 100 coaches?

Alisa: Absolutely.

Joshua: So, you applied. He picked you. Was there anything more to it than that? But what I really want to know is like what’s it like doing it?

Alisa: Well, it’s phenomenal. I mean it is really, it is just phenomenal and is sort of inspirational sort of experience. It is definitely that. Spending time with Marshall just being in his sort of orbit is always like a pleasure and inspirational and super helpful. He’s built this incredible community around him. I mean you know there’s a lot of members of the community. And then this Marshall’s 100 Coaches is becoming one of its own community. The mandate around paying it forward is so beautiful to have like top off mind for me. I think I’ve always been oriented in that way.

Joshua: So for listeners can you expand on what do you mean by this “pay it forward thing”?

Alisa: Well, so maybe let me maybe… If this’ll be helpful. Marshall Goldsmith and I was in the room when it happened. He was in a seminar led by another of our coaches.

Joshua: Ayse.

Alisa: Ayse. Yeah. You were there too?

Joshua: Yeah, yeah.

Alisa: That’s right. Ayse Birsel, and she did this terrific workshop and part of the workshop was around thinking about our heroes and who we want to emulate as heroes. And so, you know at the end of the workshop I walked over to Marshall and said, “That was a great workshop. What did you get out of it? Did you get anything out of it?” He said, “Yep. I’m going to adopt a bunch of coaches and teach them everything I know for free. And the only thing they’re obligated to do is to when they get old as you said pick another 100 people and pay it forward.” And I thought, “Well, that’s fantastic.” I mean I just you know as always a very kind of a lofty goal and also a very great goal in terms of you know he is Marshall Goldsmith. And for those of you who don’t know, he’s top executive coach on the planet. And for him to also generously want to give to others is a legacy project.

So that was the genesis of the project. He then set about you know picking 100 coaches, really leaders to be part of this. And our mandate you know what he would require of us is we are going to teach everything for free and we’re going to build this community together. And what he always says, like he regularly says, “I’m looking forward to hearing what you’re going to do when it’s your time to pay it forward, to pick other people and give to them.”

Joshua: Now I can’t help but ask, even though I want to hear what’s coming next. Are you starting to think about that? Are you… I mean he’s got a couple of years on you so you got a little time.

Alisa: Yeah. Exactly. Well, that’s exactly it. So I got into coaching you know when I first became a coach the meme in my head, the sentence in my head or the phrase in my head was to make a difference, to make a difference, to make a difference. That was really my north star about becoming a coach. How can I make a difference? How can I really have an impact on this planet, in this world? And it was really through coaching which is where my natural strengths and talents lie. And I figured that out after I met a coach again you know a long time ago. So you know I go through my professional life and I think also about my personal life and I think about making a difference but I also think about you know everything we also think about, the muck and mire of life you know.

Joshua: Taxes, got to go do some shopping…

Alisa: Taxes, yeah, and also my own professional success and you know making sure that I’m building my brand the way I need to and you know we often make a living and also juggling the scheduling of all the clients and all those kinds of stuff.

And when Marshall kind of came up with this idea of the Marshal goes with 100 Coaches and then really begin to you know make sure that we remember that our job is to pay it forward for me that definitely took that thought and put it in the front of my mind. And so, I did a little mini project over the summer which was called The Summer of Good Deeds. And so, I you know inspired by this notion of paying it forward I thought, “Well, I’m not exactly ready to adopt the 100 Coaches myself and I’m not exactly ready to figure out what my real pay it forward project is going to be but I’m going to do a little mini project.”

And this summer this is what I did. I thought, “How many good deeds can I do for people? And it’s not good deeds like helping little lady across the street. Not that kind of good deed. But how many proactive introductions can I make to other people? How much sort of advice can I give someone to help set them on their way? How can I bring together a group of people who would all benefit from being together? How can I be more of a yes when someone asks me for help? And what Marshall has said was is, this is like an incredibly rewarding project for him, like he always says, “I think I’m getting more out of this than everybody else because it is so rewarding.” And I found in my Summer of Good Deeds that I got so much out of it. It was so rewarding to be able to be of service to other people.

And it came with no expectation that this has to be paid back. It’s not payback. There’s no expectation of that. It’s just, “Oh yeah, this summer I’m going to orient myself around kind of doing good works and acts of service.” And so I did. And also, I’m just reminding myself to you know I got more involved with my synagogue also as an active service. There’s a theater I’m involved, with children center I’m involved with I got more involved in the children center as active service. And so it just infused my world with a little more kind of proactive mandate around how can I do more acts of service and that’s really come out of in part being part of Marshall goes with 100.

Joshua: So can you share a couple of the… I feel like there’s a story behind it. I suspect the acts of service didn’t come out of like spring like Zeus or no, Athena. Or did they? Or was there a story behind how it happened and then the other stories about any of the deeds?

Alisa: Well, I would just say the only real story is that I look at successful people who I consider to be successful and especially certainly Marshall and others. And what I see is that in addition to doing the things that I need to do and writing and you know doing good work, they also are focused on doing like a favor for other people doing favors. And so I just thought, “Well, that’s cool. I’m going to do more of that.” But also I kind of want to just say like I was thinking unless you got into coaching [unintelligible] making a difference. And so, in the muck in my everyday life it’s always hard to do that. So if you focus on this this summer let’s just see it as an experiment if that changes the way you feel. That’s all. And it was only that.

And so, an example is that there is a colleague of mine who said, “I want to do more work in the Middle East.” So she’s a speaker. She wants to do more work in the Middle East. And I thought…Oh, was it in the Middle East? Yeah, the Middle East. And so, I thought well I actually have two contacts in Dubai. And so, in the past… She’s not a very close colleague and they’re not really great contacts but in the past, I’ve might have thought, “Well, I’m not sure if I can be helpful.” But because I was really focused on this sort of Summer of Good Works you know acts of service. I just decided, “Well, there’s no harm in asking.” And so, I said to her, “Well, I got two contacts that I can reach out on your behalf and see if they can be helpful. No promises.” And she was so happy! She said she was so thankful and so happy. Of course, she was and it made me happy that she was happy.

And I reached out to both of the contacts and one got back to me and agreed to be introduced and so they got introduced and we’ll see if it turns into something. But I really, really made my day. It just totally made my day that I was able to make that connection. Whereas in the past because I didn’t feel I had strong relationship with the contacts I might not have done it.

Joshua: So people listening to this hopefully they’re thinking a couple of things. One, “I should do that too” that we can help people each other out a lot more than they already are. And probably hopefully they’re also thinking, “If I get in touch with the Alisa Cohn, then I can tell her what I need and she’ll do it for me and I’ll make her happy.”

Alisa: Well, I have no [unintelligible]. If anyone out there listening to this could use something that I can be helpful with my commitment to you, Josh, is that yes. I will be helpful to anybody who reaches out to me if I can be. Now if they say to me, “I’m trying to speak in,” for example making this up, “Asia.” I’m not sure if I have any contacts in Asia. I might, okay but off the top of my head [unintelligible] second, I’m not sure if I can be helpful. So I’m only going to be helpful if I think I can be helpful, if I can be helpful. But if I promise you if I can be helpful, I will.

Joshua: And there must be some constraints in your time as well.

Alisa: Yeah, of course. Like all of us, right. But I agree… Can I just say, Josh? I really agree with your first point which is that I would invite and I would challenge everybody listening to this right now to make this the winter of service. So right now we’re you know it’s…

Joshua: I don’t add it as quick…Maybe it’s spring. I’ll add it as fast as I can.

Alisa: Any right. That’s great. Or spring. So you make it the season of service whatever’s going on right now. Make it a season of acts of service. Why not? And if you decide to do a month sprint on acts of service, fantastic. You’re a month sprint. That’s a great idea. But experience the experience of doing people favors, helping people out for the joy of doing it and see what happens.

Joshua: And not just saying it but doing it.

Alisa: Not just saying it but doing it.

Joshua: Now I have a challenge that I see a lot of times… A lot of times people say, “I’m going to help so-and-so.” But they do what they feel will help the other person but a lot of times if we have different values I might think I’m doing what I consider good and you consider annoying.

Alisa: That’s normal.

Joshua: I mean we all had like parents come to mind as people who…. they want to help you and then yet you are like really annoyed. How do you protect against something like that?

Alisa: What do you say protect? What do you mean protect?

Joshua: Maybe I try to help someone, I really annoy them, they’re too polite to tell me and I feel like a helped somebody but I actually bothered them.

Alisa: Oh, that’s so interesting. What I find in my coaching and really in my life although it sounds a little clinical sometimes when I say it to my friends. I will say, “So how can I be most helpful?” And I think what that does is it actually, first of all, puts [unintelligible] on the other person to be responsible for him or herself to really think, “Oh, yeah. What would be helpful to me here? Like seriously what would be helpful?” I think that’s really important. And the second is that it helps you not just jump in and do the thing that you think would be helpful but to listen to them and hear what they think would be most helpful.

Joshua: I’m glad you said that because that comes up a bunch of times in these interviews that leadership is almost always it’s the other person’s interest, the other person’s view that’s more important when you’re trying to lead them. I guess, I don’t if helping someone is necessarily trying to lead them. But really putting the other person’s interests first and trying to figure out how you can understand them before you start acting.

Alisa: Yes, I think that’s true. And even so… That’s a good question. How can I be most helpful? But then also I think in general stepping back and reflecting. So what I hear you saying is, I’m trying to give a good example, it’s hard to do off the top of my head, but so maybe even what I hear you say is you’re having a frustrating time and you don’t quite know how to network.

Joshua: That’s what you say to the person.

Alisa: Yeah, that’s you know. And is that about right? And they’d say, “Yeah, that’s right.” And then you could say, “Great. So what comes to my mind is I could actually give you a recipe for how best to network. That might be something that would be useful. Or would you rather talk out what you think are the right ideas and help me respond to them? Or is there another thing that I could do to be helpful to you?” So it’s just a pause by the way pausing is always a good idea rather just rushing in and doing what you think is the right thing impulsively, first, to always have the power and the space and the ability to give ourselves the space to put a little pause between impulse and action, then we can reflect on what’s going on, we can be in better communication and check in with the other person, we can read the room better. Just slowing down helps us do that and phrasing you know verbalizing, articulating, what we think is going on.

Joshua: Everybody, I’m like rewind this and listen to this a few times. This is like a high-level not personalized but high-level really great coaching, in my experience great coaches ask the other person their interest first. After you’ve helped them, check in to make sure like, “Do I understand you right?” Did this work out for you to pause?” Like if people just did that…

Alisa: Yeah, it would be different.

Joshua: I mean I certainly like people doing that with me. I certainly like people asking me what’s important to me first and checking in with me afterward of how things went and not like [unintelligible] but you know pausing, taking the time. All right. Done! Let’s move on to the…Wait. Let’s keep delivering value.

Alisa: I’m wondering did we thoroughly talk about the Marshall’s 100 Coaches because I did want to kind of go back to say that really has been a pivotal experience being with that community and also being in the presence of Marshall. And I guess I would say I’ve learned a lot from Marshall and maybe some one other piece of value I will deliver is his daily questions which you know Marshall has sort of popularized this idea of asking yourself a set of questions every day and you can do it anywhere you want, you can do it every day, you can do it every week, whatever you want to make sure that you’re staying accountable to the things that you want to stay accountable to. Because I think part of what I think a lot about from the point of view of coaching… What I just said, Josh, I think is valuable, this notion of checking in with the other person, of pausing, of reading the room. I think that’s valuable.

Now what’s in the way of people doing it? Well, people are reactive. People don’t listen. People don’t make time, people don’t think it’s maybe important or valuable. Now I don’t know. I mean it’s really up to you to think about what would be in the way of those things. And then it’s helpful to begin to practice your own accountability system to be able to do whatever it is you said you want it, whether it is to be you know like a better coach or a better helpmate but also to be helped better. You know if you are looking for a job, there are some basic practices that if you’re not doing you’re probably like denying yourself like the networking process, like working on it like a job every single day in a certain way. If you’re trying to be a better leader and you’ve decided that part of what you want to do is, and I think that’s a very good leadership practice is to be able to help people define progress for themselves. People you know they always [unintelligible] on purpose and meaning. Progress provides purpose and meaning. But it’s hard to make progress on large projects. So one way to think about that is as a leader to encourage people to think about what are small milestones and small progressive wins that you can declare victory on throughout the project to help them be able to sort of see their own progress. Well, you as a leader…Oh, sorry. Should I keep going?

Joshua: Is that where the questions come in? The questions are a way of checking your progress or are they the milestones?

Alisa: Well, I was going to say so as a leader if you aren’t naturally attuned to that, you might recognize I need to help my people find progress every day or every week. So a question you could ask yourself every day is “Did I help the people on my team define and celebrate success or progress for themselves? And it’s a yes or a no. And if on a Monday it’s a no, that’s all right. And then on Tuesday it’s a no, that’s all right. But if it’s on a Wednesday it’s a no and it keeps being no, you might want to check in and see have I made time to help them kind of define progress for themselves or do I really think it’s that important? Maybe you don’t think it’s that important. Or what’s getting in the way? So the daily questions help you just realize, “Am I doing the things that I said were important to me and if I’m not, what’s getting in the way?” and I think that’s very powerful as a process.

Joshua: So it’s a measure of accountability. It’s something in between… Out in Silicon Valley, there’s all these people who want to measure absolutely everything they do. And so, it’s not quite as intense as that because we’re not all nerds. Well, I am, maybe you are, but not everyone listening is. And so this is like something like that but not so intense. But it’s a wakeup call if you need it.

Alisa: A reminder. Think of it as a daily reminder.

Joshua: You know me with my SIDCHAS…Have I talked to you about SIDCHAS?

Alisa: No. What’s that?

Joshua: Alright. So people listening they might have heard this before but SIDCHAS is my acronym for Self-Imposed Daily Healthy Challenging Activity.

Alisa: Yes, you have told me about that. Like what’s it called?

Joshua: Burpees.

Alisa: Burpees.

Joshua: So I don’t ask myself, “Did I do my burpees today?” because I’ve done them every day since December 2011 and I don’t ask myself if I wrote it in a blog post because I just… To me the things that are essential I guess when there’s something in my life that I’m not sure about if I realize this is something important I just rather systematize it and never think about it. So I get the value of the thing without the mental tax of like, “Should I take the stairs or the elevator?” I just take the stairs.

Alisa: Yes, yes, I’m the same way about things that are important to me my life. It’s just helpful. You don’t have to think about it.

Joshua: Yeah, exactly. I got that from David Allen from Getting Things Done. He’s like it’s all about mental freedom. That’s what it’s really about. And I feel like the questions are kind of, both the SIDCHA and the check-on other SIDCHAS.

Alisa: Yes. I think it’s a great way to put it, if you know what SIDCHA is.

Joshua: Yeah if you’re in the SIDCHAS, yes.

Alisa: I was going to say if you speak the language of Josh.

Joshua: Yeah, which I do.

Alisa: Right. Thank goodness.


Joshua: Now, the way that you’re speaking is so clear so like no mystery it’s… It’s like it’s very easy to understand and follow. So now I have to give you more praise because you’re also on this… I was reading this thing in Inc. about the top 100 speakers of the year and there you are again.

Alisa: Yeah. Thank you.

Joshua: And so, can I ask how that came about and what prompted that? If you don’t mind sharing.

Alisa: Well, I think that sometimes you know… how do you get chosen as one of the top hundred speakers? I don’t know. I do not know. I will tell you this. I work every day on my craft, on honing my craft you know and so I work hard at writing for Forbes and for some of my startup newsletter, I’m sorry my VC newsletters about startups and for Worth. I do speaking, I hope I’m a good speaker. I try to be. I’ve also this year I have tried to be on more podcast this year. And so, I think all of that you know so-called brand building or maybe you know higher profile has helped me get more on the radar screen if people like how you think.

Joshua: So I hear this every day you work on it every. You’re working on it at this moment. You worked on it yesterday. I think that’s so important because people…Oh, man, people are like, “Why do you do it every day? You know, what about… Take a break every now and then?”

Alisa: Well, yeah.

Joshua: You act like I don’t want to do it. You act like I don’t like it. You act like I don’t see the value in it. And do you enjoy it? I mean does the work ever slog or is it… I mean obviously I mean sometimes it probably is annoying. Like your flight’s canceled, and you got to get to something and…

Alisa: Yeah, I think sometimes the work is a slog. And I think that you know there are a couple of things that I particularly like you know don’t love doing especially as they relate to not… Like I love being with my clients no matter what. Like I love my client meetings always and forever. I love being helpful. I love being a coach. That’s always fantastic. And I love speaking. And I even I’ve come to really love writing…You know sitting myself down and doing it can be a chore a little bit like just getting myself to do it. But once I’m there I really love it because to me writing is an opportunity to synthesize my thinking. And sometimes I don’t love the changes in my calendar or my schedule and that can be a little draining. And sometimes sitting down and writing a report of some sort can be draining of course.

But yeah, I think your point is… I think I’m blessed beyond measure to have found work that I love and so I can truly say that I love what I do and have for years. So I have no problem putting extra time, to call it discretionary time, but extra time into honing my craft into reading more and more books and learning more and more about the things that are important to me and it makes me better. It just makes me better. I think I do a good job efficiently learning and building good relationships and then over time as you know as you get better you have even more infrastructure and architecture to hang even more sophisticated and nuanced skills on. And I love that too. I love succeeding and achieving.

Joshua: Now when you talk about nuance that to me makes it sound like there’s an art to it that you’re an artist. Because I feel like…Or mastery I guess is a better word, as you master craft… People in the beginning, it’s all black and white. And then as you master, you get more nuance and subtlety and you can get much more finetuned. And so, when I hear you I’m hearing someone who’s mastered her craft. You have to be humble I know but…

Alisa: I was going to say that’s so nice of you to say.

Joshua: Now I’ll do it to myself like let the record show that she has all these books and when I was at your place my book was on your shelf.

Alisa: That’s right. Because I read them. I read the masters in the field so like yours.

Joshua: Oh, go on.

Alisa: Like yours, Josh, like your book. And also, yeah, I mean I think also you know shared with me you’ve in the past as we’ve known each other you’ve shared some great wisdom with me and I do think that that has been part of… I think all of us help each other in our journey and certainly you’ve been part of that as well.

Joshua: Oh, thank you. The feeling is mutual. And now I’m going to throw something in here that it may sound greedy to others but I think it’s not going to be. I think it’s going to be helping you as much as it helps me. Because you want to help people. And you know the goal of this podcast is to talk to people about their environmental values, well to share you know their leadership, if they’re a leader person, they share the leadership stuff, if they are an environmental personal, the environmental stuff. But I want to get increasingly influential people on the show because I believe that while it’s great to influence one person at a time if I can get like a Jay-Z or Beyoncé or like Bill Clinton or something like that on, then you know… Originally, I wanted it to be the Martin Luther King of the environment or the Nelson Mandela of the environment. Not that I wanted to do it but I felt like that’s what is necessary. There’s not a lot of leadership. A lot of people want to change their behavior and they’re not. And that tells me leaders help create meaning and purpose like this. And so, then I realized there are people with a lot bigger reach and a lot bigger influence than me and I want to make not myself the Mandela of the environment but I want to make them the Mandela’s of the environment. So all these people with super bowl rings because Philadelphia is in the Super Bowl, I’m from Philadelphia…

Alisa: [unintelligible] from Boston.

Joshua: Well, that’s…

Alisa: See you on the play.

Joshua: Yeah. And so, all these people with like you know Grammys and Oscars and successful entrepreneurs and stuff like that, I want to get them on the show and have them take on challenges and hopefully you will have an experience like this too of enjoying the challenge. So I’m going ask you in a second, invite you at your option to take a chance but also I’m going to put out to you that if you know people who are really big influential people who would like to share their values and act on those values to bring their whole crew in and help their people you know the people who they influence be more influential and so forth, then I’d love to be put in touch with them. So if you know like I don’t know, Marshal has already been on, Francis has already been on but that’s why I put it out to if you have time for good deed or to help, that’s a direction I could just help in.

Alisa: Well, that’s fantastic. I appreciate you’re asking me that. I’m going to definitely think about it and I’m going to… My commitment, Josh, is I am going to find and figure out and think about at least one person who fits that description. And what I mean by that is I am positive that I know somebody in my network who fits that description that we can ask. So yes, I promise you that I will figure out who’s a good person to ask and we’ll make that asked together.

Joshua: OK.

Alisa: How’s that for a commitment?

Joshua: Sounds great. I couldn’t ask for more. And I’m going to put in something here that I’ve said this to others as well is that if you can use this as an excuse to reach someone outside your network that you need an excuse for, then you know this whole… This is designed to make people to showcase the guest as a responsible, thoughtful, active leader who cares enough to act on what they care about.

Alisa: I love it.

Joshua: And so, it’s designed to make you and whoever influential and look good. So I hope it benefits you more… Let’s have a contest to see… I want this to benefit you more. See if you could outdo me.

Alisa: That so beautiful. [unintelligible] self-interest is always the right answer. Good. OK, Josh, thank you. That’s great.

Joshua: And then readers or listeners will get to hear how it all works out and hopefully they’ll think, they’ll say, “Oh, I can do that too.” And they can help people more or be available to be helped more.

Alisa: All of the above. That’s great.

Joshua: And please let me know how I can reciprocate as well.

Alisa: OK. Thank you.

Joshua: Now let’s talk about the environment. Is it something you care about? What about the environment? And if so, what?

Alisa: So let me talk about what I care about because I have thought about this. Here’s what I’m upset about, like really upset about. Our food system is poisoned, our food system is a disaster and it’s so upsetting. It’s like it’s sort of big farming and big meat and big poultry and it’s killing us and we’ve let this happen. And how did we let this happen? And also, I guess I just want to be clear about what’s so profoundly broken, it’s like pollution of course, more pesticides which should be illegal, and I understand that farms have no, like large farms have no way to you know mass produce food without using tons of pesticide and meanwhile we’re eating it. It’s totally… It’s terrible. And then also of course you know our fish are like poisoned with mercury and with other disgusting toxins…

Joshua: Yeah, or are just disappearing.

Alisa: Yeah. Or it’s just disappearing. Absolutely. And finally… So it’s all bad and then finally the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables has just diminished profoundly. And so, we’re just not even getting the benefit of… You know I’m a very healthy eater as you know and I love my vegetables and I’m so distraught at just knowing about the sort of the degradation of fruits and vegetables and kind of all of our food source. And so, I’ve been… I’m not exactly sure where this leads me because that is not exactly the most important area of focus for me. But every time I think about it my blood kind of boils. I used to belong to a CSA which I’m sure you know what that is – community system and agriculture.

Joshua: Oh, man, do I love my CSA.

Alisa: Yeah, exactly. I love it by the way I love that because you’re supporting small farms. And also, I do believe the nutritional value of the soil they sort of care more and so you’re getting more wholesome food and it’s super fun, [unintelligible] different things that you would never buy in the supermarket.

Joshua: And don’t forget the most important thing is it tastes delicious.

Alisa: It tastes delicious.

Joshua: My farm they’ve been doing it for 20 years, for 20 years. From a business perspective what’s successful for them is someone who’s joined this year to do it again next year right away. Because they don’t have to worry about where the money is going to come from and so forth.

Alisa: Or paying the money in advance. Also, you’re buying into the share and you’re kind of your fortunes rise and fall along with other people and the farmer…

Joshua: My point is that they don’t have to worry…They’re not thinking, “Is this going to withstand a truck shipment across the country? How’s it going look on the shelves next to whatever? Their number one thing – what gets people to sign up again? Is it delicious? Is it like variety? That seem like that’s what their motivation is. And so, they don’t want to tear up the farm. They want to make delicious variety of foods.

Alisa: Right. It’s beautiful. And those farmers when you meet them they’re so committed, it’s so great.

Joshua: I go every year it’s like [unintelligible] summer going to the potluck thing up at the farm. There’s a bus that goes up from Chelsea and people show up and they bring store-bought apple pie. I’m like, how do you bring store-bought apple pie to the farm? I’m sitting there…

Alisa: I know but people are busy, people are busy. You have to understand. They are doing their best.

Joshua: I guess I could understand them. I spent time with the people who bring the fresh stuff that they made themselves and I go to over like the tomatillo plants and just like [unintelligible]. Well, I don’t know what to think about what they’re doing their store-bought apple pie. I’m busy like stuffing my face with cherry tomatoes that are like right off the vine.

Alisa: Yeah, I know, that’s the best thing.

Joshua: I have to keep commenting on what you said. You said food is poisonous. You know people who know me know I eat the peels of citrus fruit. I eat the peels of the bananas, I eat the peels of the mango, and across the board, everyone’s first response is, “It’s poisonous.” Oh, that you say is poisonous. What about all the… What about all the pesticides? I’m like my first thought is, “Of course I wash it like I’m not an idiot!” But then I’m also thinking, “How is it the response to someone eating the peel of an orange? Which is the healthier part?

Alisa: I know.

Joshua: How’s the response, “Don’t do that because, “Keep the poison, don’t eat the healthy stuff” how is it not, “Stop the poisoning”?

Alisa: Right. Stop the poisoning. And it’s one step at a time. What I’m really encouraged by is a number of there’s something called Crowd Cow which is now helping you buy meat in a farm friendly sustainable way. There’s one also for fish. I think that this move… I think that some of the mass producers, what I mean by mass retailers like Walmart I think or like a Whole Foods are beginning to make organic produce more affordable. So I think that we are now beginning to see some motion on this. And there’s no question we have to do more. You know we have to sort of vote with our feet.

Joshua: And our mouths.

Alisa: And our mouths. And our wallets. Most of all their wallets. I’ve been thinking a lot more about how I spend my money.

Joshua: This is something you care about and you’ve certainly I could like… I’m forcing myself not to go on because you’ve certainly triggered something, it certainly tapped something in me. So at this point I invite you at your option to take on a personal challenge to do something… So here’s the thing. It can’t be something that you’re already doing although you know by all means keep doing what you’re doing. Something that you have to come up with it, not me. It doesn’t have to solve everything overnight. So if you’re thinking, “Well, if I do it and no one else does, what’s the difference?” Well, that’s…I’m relaxing that. You don’t have to solve the whole world’s problems overnight and it can’t be telling other people what to do. It has to be you doing it yourself and has to move the needle in some measurable way. So awareness doesn’t count. The environment reacts to the results of your behavior. And then, some people by the time I talk to them like this, they’ve thought of something sometimes before the conversation began and sometimes they haven’t thought of something and we just have to talk it out but you don’t have to do anything at all. So would you like to take on a challenge?

Alisa: Yes. I would like to take on a challenge and I’m a little torn because I just wax so lyrical on my concerns about the food system and I do really worry about the food system. So I guess I’m trying to figure out what would I actually do. You know the only thing I can say is that I really recognize what will be helpful to me would be to recommit to buying more organic. And so that’s hard to…When I say I more organic, I think what I’m going to commit to, this may sound small but this is significant for me, I think this is significant that when I buy produce whether it’s at the supermarket… OK, two things. I’m going to make a bigger effort to go buy produce at farmers’ markets. So for me that’s really hard, it’s time consuming. And so I’m going to just challenge myself to do that. I’m going to say once a month but the point is to make it part of my consciousness. Like, “Ok, don’t forget. You said you’re going to go to a farmers’ market.” So for like a three-month period I’m going to really focus on farmers’ market as in I’m going to try to get produce there. And the second thing is that when I’m in a regular supermarket or [unintelligible] something I’m going to again challenge myself to buy organic rather than buying conventional. So those are two small things that I’m going to do that I think are going to re-attune my attention to this problem that I really see.

Joshua: OK. So something that I want to mention is that what I find the big thing is not how big the first thing is but does someone act. And because over and over and I can’t predict what will happen with you but over and over doing something, see people see there’s this big thing that they want to do but as long as it’s a little thing they are not doing yet, they can’t get to that big thing. This is kind of like a logjam breaking for some people. So I’ve learned that you start with leadership and you got to get to management. So I find that making it a SMART goal is very effective. And so, you said more… You want to be more conscious. Can we quantify that?

Alisa: Right. I agree with you that typically a SMART goal is effective at least to make it measurable and that’s why I’m a little bit struggling but I’m going to say that I’m going to challenge myself to make it to a farmers’ market once per month for three months. But the second thing is this may not be quantifiable as you want it to be but for me I know what this looks like. When I buy conventional produce, especially in the top 15 that list of like the dirty dozen or whatever it’s called, I’m just going to ask myself, challenge myself, encourage myself, that is the right word, I’m going to encourage myself to buy organic instead. So those are the two things I’m going to do.

Joshua: Ok. For the second one, I want to try because we mentioned Marshall’s questions, this just popped in my head, could you make one of your daily questions “Did I get organic for the dirty dozen?”

Alisa: Josh, I’m just going to be honest with you. I’m not going to raise [unintelligible] question but I promise you I will… I guess for me this is really about consciousness and I promise you just as this conversation has already raised more to my consciousness and I promise you that I’m going to to sort of get commit to a three-month period and during the three-month period I’m going to really encourage myself to raise my consciousness. So you’re going to have to trust me a little bit that I find that to be measurable.

Joshua: OK. So then you’re the one who’s… It’s your life.

Alisa: It’s my life. Yeah, exactly.

Joshua: So now I’m going to go to my calendar and I’m going to look at three months from now. Are you up for scheduling our next conversation?

Alisa: Sure. You mean you want to schedule for three months from now?

Joshua: Yeah.

Alisa: Let’s schedule for four months from now so I’ve time to process it.

Joshua: OK. So today January 28, so May 28 is probably Memorial Day weekend…

Alisa: Probably.

Joshua: Maybe… I’m just looking around…

Alisa: Maybe Friday, June 1? Or if we can do it the weekend that would be even better. How about Saturday, June 2?

Joshua: Ok. Saturday June 2.

Alisa: Same time.

Joshua: Turns out I’ve got nothing scheduled six months from now.

Alisa: Yeah. Amazing.

Joshua: Is the same time, we’re now 3:30?

Alisa: Perfect.

Joshua: All right. So after we hang up, then you’ll get a calendar invitation.

Alisa: Love it.

Joshua: So I’m inclined to wrap up. Although before I wrap up, I’d like to ask is there anything I didn’t bring up that is worth bring up?

Alisa: No. I think that that is great. I think we did a good job covering many, many topics. I guess the only thing I want to exhort people to do is what you already suggested. Well, maybe two things. I’m going to challenge everybody listening to this, I encourage. I absolutely think you should practice your seasonal acts of service, season of service and let us know how that goes. And…Can I say how they can reach me?

Joshua: Yeah, please, I’ll put the link in but also OK let us know.

Alisa: So you can reach me at alisa@alisacohn.com, so it’s A-L-I-S-A at A-L-I-S-A-C-O-H-N.com and let us both know how your season of acts of service or your season of service goes when you just do favors for people with no expectation of being paid back.

Joshua: Because earlier we talked about coming to you to see if you could help them. Maybe you say first you got to say what you did…

Alisa: First do an act of service, then come to me and ask me for some help.

Joshua: Yeah. So. Okay, cool. So now… This is [unintelligible] started by Marshall who himself got it from I guess 2500 years ago Siddhartha Gautama and spreading it all around. I want to hear also…I wonder who’s going be the first person to do the next 100 Coaches.

Alisa: I know. Funny, right?

Joshua: Yes, so Marshall will have like grand coaches.

Alisa: Yeah, exactly, give birth.

Joshua: And great grand coaches. Like how many levels can we go out?

Alisa: That’s right.

Joshua: And you also preempted the next question I was going to ask. Is there any message for the listeners? But I’ll just put it out there even though you just gave a message to listeners. But is there another one if I ask more… I just always ask.

Alisa: No. I think I appreciate that. I think that’s great.

Joshua: Alright. So then when we hang up, we’re going to hang up for real because I want to give the listeners everything. So well, we’ll probably e-mail between now and then to share meals, something like that. Maybe I’ll run into you in the Union Square farmers’ market.

Alisa: Right. Exactly.

Joshua: Yeah. So we’ll talk before then but I’ll also talk to you in a few months and we’ll get to hear how the challenge went.

Alisa: Love it! Fantastic, Josh, how fun is this? This is great.

Joshua: I am having a good time.

Alisa: Good, excellent.

Joshua: Thank you. And I’ll talk to you again soon.

Alisa: OK, sounds great. Bye. Thank you.

Joshua: Bye.


Alisa had clearly done a lot of stuff with food before in terms of buying local and buying non-polluted stuff. I read that she looked at this challenge as an opportunity for her to enjoy even more what she’s doing, to augment that. And you can too. I hope that when you listened to it you heard the joy in this. One of my big goals with this podcast is systemic change and to change a system you can’t just change an element here or there. You have to work with the leverage points. In this case, or relevant here, is that it’s changing beliefs and goals. If you are used to see changing your diet or changing your shopping habits as a challenge, I hope that her example shows that these changes can be fun. I think that fun that she has here is totally compatible with her leadership style and her coaching style. In fact, it looks like that kind of fun augments her leadership style, living by her values, thinking about others and how she affects others and helping others.

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