137: Why Famous Guests (transcript)

February 15, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Joshua Spodek headshot

So far this podcast has featured some pretty world-renowned people. Several number one bestselling authors, TED Talk speakers with collectively about 100 million views, a Pulitzer Prize winning New Yorker writer, a Super Bowl winner, a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, a C-suite officer from a Fortune Five company and [unintelligible] the British Empire, a Victoria’s Secret producer, professors from our most elite educational institutions plus West Point and so on. And just looking at the webpage, looking at some of the names, I’m sure you recognize some of them – Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Beth Comstock, Marshall Goldsmith, Frances Hesselbein, Elizabeth Kolbert, Ken Blanchard, Jonathan Haidt, Vincent Stanley, David Allen, Dorie Clarke, Jordan Harbinger, Doug Rushkoff, Dave Asprey. So these are some really big names and more are coming up. I have more bestsellers, more TED speakers with more views, more athletes with bigger wins, Olympic gold medalists, Victoria’s Secret models, celebrities and more.

I love meeting accomplished interesting people. I presume you like meeting them too but that’s not the point. I have two goals for this podcast. One is in leadership and the other is in the environment and I gear everything about this podcast to those two goals. The goal on the environment is to make measurable material differences, to lower the extinctions, resource depletion, deforestation, pollution, global warming. You know the rest. You’ve seen the headlines. You know what I’m talking about there. The other big piece of it that most people miss is the leadership part which is for people to enjoy their experiences. By that I mean joy, discovery, personal growth, meaning, value, importance, purpose, passion, things like that. It kills me to hear people spreading doom, gloom, guilt and blame. Those things may have worked for some people but the people those things would work on they’ve acted and for the rest it’s alienating. I think when people hear people spreading doom and gloom other people feel, “That person is going to make me feel bad. I’m going to move away from them. I’m going to move toward people who make me feel good.”

And people can vote how they want. If we make them feel bad, they’ll likely vote for someone who makes them feel good. So I think those techniques contribute to populists getting elected which is leading, at least this nation, in the opposite direction that I think we should move environmentally. Well, you might say, “But the situation is bad.” Well, maybe that’s why I held off undecided to try on a leadership role for so long in the area of the environment until I felt I could share something that would lead people, not just unload facts on them. I couldn’t try to lead them. I call unloading facts venting. That’s not leadership. It’s effective but not inspiring people to follow you. As for me, I’m sharing what I consider the best parts of my life. The acts I did were avoiding polluting, not accepting so much stuff, not flying, things like that. But look at the emotional results – joy, discovery, meaning, value, importance, purpose, passion, delicious food, community. These are the things that I’m sharing. I couldn’t share unloading facts on people. That wasn’t going to work. If you can’t share those things, if you aren’t making your own life better, I don’t know what you’re doing. If you are making your life better, how can you help other people also live their lives better?

People know the facts. They want to act on them. Telling them what they already know doesn’t help, as far as I can tell. Leaders help people do what they already wanted to do but didn’t know how. Facts alone rarely influence behavior. Want an example? People who know the problems arising from say sugar, they get their limbs amputated and go blind from continuing to eat sugar. What more does anyone value than their own hands, feet and eyes? Yet people knowing the facts do it. Of course, these are extreme cases but still there are plenty of people shortening their lives spending unnecessary money on food, sacrificing their quality of lives and their time with their children knowing the facts.

So I hope I just illustrated my two goals: to help people enjoy acting on their environmental values in material, measurable ways – joy and material change. And by the way, I believe that leading by example can work but I don’t see it working in the area of the environment. Just because I enjoy acting on my environmental values doesn’t mean others will follow. More often people will see you acting sustainably and think, “Great for you. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.” And what they’re doing is generally pretty polluting, especially if they’re American or Western. Actually, if they’re basically anywhere in the world. Last I heard there are no cultures that are living sustainably. In any case, why would people do this? Why wouldn’t people change their behavior when they see you changing your behavior? The top two I see is that for most people their communities are also polluting so their idea of normal is very polluting. Cultures that associate material stuff with happiness see less stuff as depressing no matter how unhappy their stuff makes them, no matter how much plastic in the ocean or in their land they see. The other is that people who know what they’re doing hurts others, they still have to sleep at night so they tell themselves stories that they aren’t really polluting, that others are. So when they see you actually polluting less than they pollute it makes them feel guilty or helpless or in some other way reveals themselves that their stories that they tell themselves to sleep at night are just deceiving themselves. They’d rather protect their identities and feel green however superficially than challenge themselves. They keep themselves in a precarious position of maintaining a false identity with denial. But think of people you’ve known in denial. Does telling them that their son or daughter is an alcoholic help? Usually it leads them to double down on their denial. Again, like venting, pointing out someone’s flaws in their own mind it’s effective at something but not leading them in the direction you mean usually.

So what does work? I’ll give you a couple of examples. One was a conversation I had with a former student after a series of NYU talks. You might know that before this podcast I gave a series of talks at NYU. I could get space there, it’s great location, I could bring in my former students, I could bring in clients and friends and I gave talks on the environment. They did not go well at all because I was lecturing and telling people what I thought they should do. People didn’t want to hear that. There were so many times I’ve wanted to give up in the process of coming to where I am now. In any case, after these talks I wasn’t really sure what to do. I was having coffee with an old student and I mentioned him how I have this practice of picking up a piece of trash every day when I walk around the streets of New York. Actually, I do it when I walk around anywhere. Everywhere I’ve gone there’s always been trash to pick up even when I’m off in the middle of the country where no one’s around. Sad statement of the world we live in today. Anyway.

As I’m talking and he just says, “You know I’m going to try that.” And on his own he decides he’s going to pick up 10 pieces of trash for the next 30 days. I didn’t suggest it to him, he just decided to do it. At the end of the 30 days I asked him how it went. He had several results. One was that at the beginning he said he felt weird picking up trash. At the end he felt weird passing by trash without picking it up. I didn’t cause that change. I didn’t look for it. That happened on his own. The other was that on his own he felt there’s more that he could do and he decided to look up what other changes he could make and he decided that he would stop eating or decrease the amount of meat that he ate. And he goes to the gym a lot so he’s got his dietary patterns that he had to figure out how to make work despite having the amount of meat that he had. I didn’t talk to him about diet at all. So that told me when people act on something, they generally like it when they’re acting on their values and if I could share that with others then people like that change.

Another story was a leadership client I have at a major fossil fuel burning company. He has a PhD in physics like me, well, a geophysics degree and he’s moving over to management leadership so I’ve been coaching him. As it happens with a lot of my clients there’s the hour that we coach but before the clock starts we chat a bit and after the clock stops we chat for a little bit more. And I share with him you know stuff going on my life and at one point he says that he’s also been polluting less. I think at the time he said it took him about three weeks to fill a load of garbage at his home. So that was a big change from before. That wasn’t something I led him on. Not intentionally. I just mentioned it to him and told him that I liked it. So that’s kind of interesting. The big thing was that a little while later he shared with me that the skills and experiences he developed doing that at home informed his decisions that he made at work except there when he made those decisions they affected Latin America. And that told me that these skills no matter how small they start off or how small or minor the effect when you develop these skills they can apply in major big areas. And so that told me if I can get people developing these skills not focusing on the magnitude of the first implementation but developing the skills and then seeing where they would go that told me some big changes could come from this. Not to look at the scale of the first things that they do but to look at them as skills they develop.

Also let me tell you about another guest Sandy Reisky. I recommend going and listening to his episode with me or his couple of episodes with me. And so he’s big on developing wind and solar and providing sustainable energy sources like that. He said to me, and listen to the podcast to get it exactly right, but as I remember he said the number one predictor of somebody installing solar on their homes it’s not how much money, nor how much they would save, nor how much money they make, nor their politics. It’s how many people in their zip code already have solar installed. There’s a lot of things you could take away from that but what I take away from it is that community motivates social and cultural change more than facts and education and doom and gloom and things like that.

So I started looking for ways to use community to influence people. One of my dream guests as a result is Oprah Winfrey. She is in everyone’s community. I believe that if she were on the show or I were on her show and I worked with her in some way to have her share her environmental values and to act on them and to share the results of what came from that I think that would help a lot of people change from, “If I act but no one else does, then what I do doesn’t matter.” to “Oh, someone in my community’s doing this.” Someone in everyone’s community is acting. It’s high time that I did because Oprah is in everyone’s community and obviously it’s not just Oprah. There’s plenty of people who are in lots of people’s communities. Let me clarify. I’m happy to get compliance because she’s a celebrity that people would do what she does. But what I’m really looking for is people to reflect on their values and act on what matters to them. So maybe for her I don’t know what her environmental values are but I can guarantee that most people their environmental values are slightly different or maybe very different.

And so I hope that they’ll listen as I hope that they listen to all my guests and say, “Alright, that person cares about forests. Well, I care about my dog in the park at the end of the block.” You would act on the value that matters to you because if I can help attach a value of yours to an action that imbues that action with meaning and then you’re doing things that are meaningful and purposeful. The world craves leadership in this area – people acting on their values so that they can act on theirs. Today it makes people vulnerable as I can attest from personal experience. People think I’m weird to bring a fork to an event. I know we’ll have plastic to avoid getting the plastic. How is that weird? I don’t know. I mean I can kind of see it. And then when I get results like a fit body while eating to full every meal because it’s all healthy food, they accuse me of being privileged and they start lecture me on food deserts which is incredibly patronizing. So it can be difficult. They can feel like swimming upstream today. It won’t feel like that for a long time but it does feel like that today. And I want to help that change come quicker. My goal in world-renowned guests is to show people that people in their communities are acting to change cultural norms. Now it would be very quick to get a small composting program started or a recycling program started but those are small elemental things. They may make some change often in long term in the opposite direction. That’s the difference between efficiency on a small scale and overall waste reduction but that’s another topic. Cultural change takes longer and you don’t often see the changes at the beginning but I’m working on changing cultural norms.

There’s a headline I saw and I probably mentioned it here. It’s said The top three executives at Google have eight airplanes among them. Eight airplanes for three people the leaders of that company they can make Google carbon neutral as much as they want but as long as they as people use multiple jets people will want to emulate them. They will see success means having lots of jets. That’s the cultural norm of today. So leadership by example. I don’t think it works. Not in the area of the environment but un-leadership by un-example does that is people will take any excuse to choose comfort and convenience over acting on their values no matter how emotionally rewarding acting on their values will make them feel. It’s like someone who doesn’t really want to be on a diet. You put some chocolate cake in front of them. Eventually they’ll feel like the right thing to do is to eat this cake. They may regret it later but it’ll feel like the right thing at the time. That’s how a lot of us feel. That’s what I think basically everyone feels. Тhey want to just keep doing what they’re doing and they don’t want to feel guilty. And so as long as someone is doing what they want to do they’ll say, “Well, that person’s doing it. I can do it too.”

My goal for guests is to showcase them as authentic, genuine leaders who act on their values. Many of them no matter how prominent fear acting because people will accuse them of not doing enough. Even people who themselves aren’t acting by their values. Actually, even more so by them because it allows them to say, “See, they have multiple jets so it’s OK for me to fly.” People who are already acting on their values they want to share the joy or whatever they like about this stewardship, not tear other people down. And since most people aren’t acting by their environmental values, they want to tear people down so they themselves don’t have any standards to live by. In any case, I see a main role of a leader as supporting people starting from where they are, not from where you are or from where others want them to be or where you think they ought to be but where they are. So LeBron and Serena they may be superstars in some areas but they’re as vulnerable as anyone else and others and the environment can be complex. Most people don’t see the difference between efficiency and reducing waste for example not realizing that LEDs and recycling will increase overall pollution in time or stand a good chance too if we don’t change our system’s goals which I’ll get to in a second just as incandescent bulbs increased overall pollution over using whale oil to light your house. And Uber increased congestion even while decreasing personal car use. That’s a subtle point. And people are vulnerable to it. And so when we attack leaders for making any little change it stops them from making those changes.

So when leaders act publicly when they share their values on my podcast I support their actions no matter how small they are at the beginning for the reasons I described before. I see it as if you want to play at Carnegie Hall, you have to start with scales. Scales don’t feel like music or artistic expression. They’re mechanical. They feel like the opposite of musical expression. If you think that little things don’t add up, you’d have to conclude that scales don’t work but they do. Everyone who plays at Carnegie Hall, played a lot of scales so that view was wrong. In my view I’m helping great leaders in other areas play scales in an area of global demand, the environment, helping them create a legacy. If you know great leaders, please put them in touch. I’d love to help them be the first among many to be leaders among leaders in an area of demand by billions of people. Yes, the world will hear them play scales and sound like beginners in an area others are experts in in contrast to their expertise and what made them famous but great leaders share their flaws. As a result, if they share, millions will follow liberated to act where they feel vulnerable, liberated to feel like they’re not swimming upstream anymore. Liberated to feel like “People in my community are doing this. I can do this too.” Maybe tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, maybe billions of people will follow them.

We live in a historic time. Rarely in our species history has our species future lay in the balance as in our lifetime today. If we continue on our current behaviors, predictions say that billions may die, culture, human culture on a planetary basis may not survive. If as some described, Syria the current situation in Syria resulted from disputes over access to limited resources, imagine what’s going on in Syria today on a global scale. That’s what people are predicting. It seems plausible. If on the other hand we change our cultural norms from growth and externalizing costs to what’s the opposite of growth – enjoying what we have, the opposite of externalizing costs – to taking responsibility for how our behaviors affect others. The leaders who do that first, the leaders who bring about that cultural change they will be the ones to create legacies. Those legacies will not come from Google being carbon neutral no matter how successful they are at that if its leaders continue flying on multiple jets each.

This podcast emerged from seeing the missing element from the environment as being leadership in the style of Gandhi, King, Mandela, Vaclav Havel. I thought I don’t really want to do it but if that’s what’s missing and I want to do what’s most valuable, I’ll be the Mandela of the environment. It sounds weird for me to say but if that’s what it takes, if that’s what’s missing, I decided that’s what I would try to do. As this podcast revealed how much people enjoyed acting on their environmental values, I really didn’t expect that, when that happened, when they enjoyed it, when I supported them in sharing their values when they were vulnerable so that they could act on their values, not being battered into submission to comply or being shamed, I saw that I could make people happy leading others here. And then it occurred to me I doubt that I’ll catch up to be on say Tom Brady in influencing others. I can make them the Mandela’s of the environment. The scale of change though is bigger I believe than what Gandhi, Mandela, King and Havel did for being global. The legacy available for leaders today is a legacy that could endure millennia. This is like Jesus and Buddha and Confucius level.

So Sergey and Larry they can live however they want. Siddhartha Gautama before he became the Buddha was a prince. He could have lived however he wanted. He tried luxury. He tried deprivation. In the end as I see it he lived by his values and shared those values with others. Today everybody remembers him. Nobody remembers any other princes from that time. Why? Because he’s happier than they were and shared with others how to be as happy. I’m looking to create a community of leaders to live as happily as I’ve found living sustainably with nature. As I’ve seen nearly all my guests become no matter how small the change and that they want to change more and then they want to share the joy, the discovery, the meaning, the value, the purpose, the importance, the passion that came from it as action, not talk leads people to want to share what they discovered with others, not to browbeat them into compliance. And that’s why I want to bring famous world-renowned guests to this podcast. Why I want to work with these people? Because I believe the community will work and they’ll look great in making it happen. Again, if you know famous people, if you know very influential people, please put them in touch and help them become leaders of leaders and create a lasting legacy.

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