169: Srini Rao: Surfing and Creativity (transcript)

April 17, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Srini Rao

Srini has run his podcast over 10 years. He’s written three books, hundreds of articles, interviewing hundreds of researchers, entrepreneurs, artists and more, plus me. His business is helping people develop themselves to dream, to play, to create, to go on adventures, to find their paths. In this conversation we talked about his development and how he got to help others so it’s more on the leadership development end of the Leadership and the Environment spectrum. If you aspire to more, listen. He shares himself. We talk about surfing, writing, flow states, daily practices, things that help you develop. Many people have gone through changes in their lives. Srini has learned to share such changes with others so you can emulate them and you can develop yourself as he developed himself. This was an early conversation from at least a year ago. I was still developing how to talk to guests about acting on their values so I sound pretty clumsy in my opinion but I think it’s a chance for you also to learn about the progress of this podcast so let’s listen to Srini.


Joshua: Hey. How are you doing?

Srini: Good. How’s it going?

Joshua: Very good. I’m doing something with you that you don’t have to do if you don’t want but I’ve been starting the podcasts from the moment it starts which I’m calling the Spodek technique of podcasting. Because I keep finding that the conversations that people have at the beginning were like really interesting and I couldn’t keep that from the listeners. Is that something you find also that you have like a couple of good minutes of really cool friendly conversation?

Srini: Yeah, there definitely are. I’m mindful of how many of those I want in front of people because sometimes they’re very private but there are moments when I’m like OK, we need to stop having this conversation and get the interview going because we’re going to end up wasting a lot of really good content just in this conversation because you know otherwise you have to have them repeat what they’re saying. Yeah. I mean there are definitely moments when you get these just brilliant nuggets of conversation that come out very unintentionally.

Joshua: So I want to make sure that you have the option of saying, “No. I don’t want to do it.” but it sounds like you’re cool to keep going. I want to make sure that the listeners get that because… I don’t remember how we met. I think it was Tom Marcus maybe put us in touch.

Srini: Michael Roderick.

Joshua: Oh, Michael Roderick. OK, yeah, superconductor Michael Roderick who if anyone meets him and he says, “Would you like to meet so-and-so?”, say “Yes”. It’s like very rarely do meet someone whose passion is so great and so successful at knowing whom to connect and why.

Srini: Absolutely. I think very highly of Michael.

Joshua: It’s something about you… We’ve interacted modestly over maybe… I did your podcast. I don’t think it was even a full year ago. And you’ve been one of the more supportive helpful people despite not having been around that much. And so I think it’s stuff that you said and I think of the stuff that you do as fundamentally… I feel like you like helping people and that’s what you do. And you’re actually one of the more prominent people that I’ve spoken to like if you search on your name, you’re out there a lot. Am I right that you really like helping people? Is that what you’re about? Is it something at the core of you?

Srini: Yeah. I do. I think you know and I don’t necessarily know that it’s like a sort of coaching capacity necessarily. I think that deep down I hope that… Like in my mind, yeah, I like to help people but more than anything I like to create. I think that at the core is who I am. Like I always like to be working on something or the other. And I think that and fortunately the byproduct of that is that you know the content that we put on the show and the stories that we tell all are actually incredibly ideally I mean they are helping people in moving their lives forward in some way. Like I’d like to know that… I guess I take great satisfaction in knowing that what we’re doing is creating some semblance of change in people’s lives.

Joshua: So you like to create and I think you like to help. I think creation feels like something that is universal that people really like doing it. And I think that you help people not just do anything but I think you help people create in their way. I mean I was just watching a bunch of videos and because you have a YouTube channel. Is that a YouTube channel? You have a bunch of videos…

Srini: I do a lot of stuff on YouTube. We’re working on that. We haven’t quite gotten it as dialed in as we’d like just yet.

Joshua: OK. Even so it’s like you’re helping other people to get their voices out there. You’re not like, “Hey, look at me.” Some people are more like, “Hey, look at me.”

Srini: I mean I think that’s the sort of natural byproduct of being an interviewer. I think at the core of what I do is I curate people like that is really I think the big part of what I do at Unmistakable Creative like the brand is really ultimately a brand that focuses on curation, curation of resources, curation of people, curation of ideas. And it’s strange because like I’m this really weird blend of curator/creator like I’ve used curation as a tool for creation which is a weird way to say it. I’ve never even said it that way before. But yeah.

Joshua: You heard it here first.

Srini: Yeah.

Joshua: And did you know that that was your goal from the start or did you come to that?

Srini: No, no, no, not at all. I think really it’s been a very sort of serendipitous and unplanned path to get here. I didn’t really… No, I had no idea that this was the goal from the start. I think you know it was very much an accidental all sort of journey to get here because I graduated business school without a job, didn’t know what to do with myself and I started putting my energy into just writing and other stuff and you know the podcast came about very much unplanned. You know I’d started a blog and ironically I started the blog to get myself a day job and of course that ship sailed about four years later. I was like, “OK, I guess I’m never going back to that.” So it was very much an accidental journey.

You know setting our goals is really an interesting sort of process because I think we start out thinking that we want something and we’re very clear on an outcome and all the research says, “OK. This is exactly how you should be about it.” But I think that when we’re two dead set on an outcome… This is actually you know now that I’m thinking about it out loud I’m working on a speech for a talk that I’m giving in Belgium and I’m working with a coach. And you know we came up with this sort of theory that you know what I realized is that there is a big difference between options and possibilities. And when we’re completely focused on one sort of end in mind what we see is solely the options that are in front of us. Maybe we see one or two of them. And what we don’t think is that we don’t have to choose from the options that are put in front of us. And we do this throughout our lives.

Take the example of school. I know you’re an academic in one part of your life so take the example of sort of college and how we go through it. So you go to college and you pick a major. And so the majors are the first set of options that are put in front of you and maybe you know college has like four or five hundred majors. The idea that you have to choose one of these alone is already you know that all of a sudden is your perspective and what’s possible suddenly has become much more narrow because now you have 400 options. Then based on the options that you choose for a major you get a set of options called careers. And those careers usually get narrowed down to like five or six sort of traditional paths like you go to grad school, you go to law school, you go to medical school or you go to the business world with the aspirations eventually getting back to graduate school.

And the funny thing is that you went from 400 majors to four career paths to you know less options that are in front of you. And this is kind of the sort of cultural and social narrative that drives our career paths and the way that we make these decisions. And the problem with that approach is of course that all you’re seeing are the options in front of you. And when all you’re looking at are the options that are put in front of you can’t possibly see all the possibilities that are surrounding you.

And so I think for me what happened was I got to this very strange sort of place in my life where I had graduated from business school which was the result of constantly choosing from the options in front of me and I got to the end of it and we were in the middle of a global recession. And you know nobody was hiring. It was very hard to get people to even bring you in for an interview and you know if they did, they were really abusing the market and you know like my MBA was worth effectively nothing and you know I honestly don’t blame some of the people who didn’t hire me based on MBA because I wouldn’t hire anybody based solely on an MBA. I’d want to see that they have tangible evidence of their skillset. And so I realized OK, well, if there are no options in front of me that means that there are potentially a lot of possibilities which is what started me down this path of the blog and the podcast and the podcast came about as a possibility because you know I did one interview as a byproduct of a weekly series I was doing for my blog called Interviews with Up and Coming Bloggers. And about 13 interviews and one guy said, “I think you’re missing a golden opportunity here.” He said, “You know you really have something here and you’d be one of the few…” He said, “You’re already unearthing like nuggets from people in these conversations.”

And so that’s how it came about so I would say that some of it was unplanned but you know I think that there was a point at which I really kind of got narrow in my focus probably around 2013 when I said you know, “I’m going to stop doing…” You know I had a blog called School of Life. I was like I’m going to focus entirely on the podcast for the next year. I’m going to keep writing and ironically I like when I stopped blogging because it meant my energy and my effort were scattered and so this is kind of the sort of flip side of you know options and possibilities is you do have to at some point make a choice as to where you’re going to direct your energy because you know the more focused your energy is, the more momentum you’re going to build around the thing that you’re focusing your energy on. And so the podcast became sort of the thing because I knew that I was always a much better interviewer than I was a writer so you know I realized OK you know I’m creating this podcast for an audience, writing I do for myself if people happen to resonate with my writing, great, and you know the funny thing is I became a much better writer in that process because I just wrote every day. So that I kind of hopefully is an answer to your question. So no, I wouldn’t say it was anywhere near planned. It was all very serendipitous.

Joshua: I have to say I really loved how you went… At first I said, “What’s the difference between an option and a possibility?” and you told the story about options and then you brought back in the possibilities at the end and I think that is the way someone who writes a lot would tell a story of like you left something hanging for a long time and then you brought it back and illustrate very well these differences. I think a lot of people out there and I’m talking about myself in the past as much as anybody else, you see the options because they’re easy to see, they’re there for you. And if you only follow the options, the word I usually describe that you talked about in the context of an educational system and then starting your work career I call that like you learn compliance. I mean you might learn a lot of facts and knowledge but I mean in today’s world you go online you can find out facts analogies really easily. That doesn’t make you special, it doesn’t make you more of a better person.

And I think a lot of people they see the options, they don’t see the possibilities. And one of the things I’m trying to get in the show is how, I think a lot of people would like to be better leaders, and how do you go from seeing the options to seeing the… Am I right that people don’t really see the possibilities until they sometimes have some sort of mental shift or something like that? The options might be obvious because the school says “Pick a major” and then the companies come to recruit but you might not know that you could start your own company or you might not know that you can find like… Who recruits the most? The people with a high turnover. Do you want to work in a job with a high turnover? I mean investment banking maybe you have an idea of where it’s going to go. That’s not the only place that recruits. But places that are awesome places to work where a job gets filled by people who know their friends because everyone wants to work there. They’re not recruiting on campus or recruiting anywhere on any place because the best places are really hard to find. Am I right that people don’t see the possibilities much? How do you shift from options to possibilities?

Srini: Yeah. I think the shift is a really interesting one and how you make that shift. I mean in my case the shift was the result of losing all of the options that were put in front of me. But I think part of it is just knowing. So many people are unaware like awareness is really where it begins. The moment you hear that notion of “Wait a minute. You don’t have to choose from the options in front of you.” I think it really causes sort of a perception shift in terms of, “Wait a minute like literally if I’m not choosing from the options in front of me you know instead of looking at what are my choices…” So maybe here’s a way to think about it. You can answer one of two questions and you know all the research shows that the questions we ask have a huge impact on our lives, the questions we ask ourselves because we constantly do this all day long. It’s how the human brain works. So one question is “What are my choices?” When you ask the question of what are your choices what you’re going to see or what are the options in front of you. When you ask the question “What’s possible?” that is incredibly expansive suddenly you know you’re like, “Whoa! Wait a minute. This is far different. Like anything is possible.” So I think really understanding you really asking yourself those two questions is one of the places where you could make that shift.

Joshua: OK. So I’ve just graduated school, imagine, and I see a bunch of options. I’m swimming in possibilities but my awareness is still low, I’m not really sure I could do. I would say go with your best option anyway, I mean you got to pay rent and stuff like that and keep looking like do the best you can and whatever is the best available but be aware that there are all these other things and try to sense like what can builds on the side or what can you like don’t let not knowing what possibilities are out there or what possibilities are right for you even if you know which ones are out there stopping you from doing the best you can whatever’s in front of you and don’t like lose sight that most people whatever they start doing is not what they keep doing.

Srini: Yeah. I mean that’s a really good way to look at it. I mean I think you’re right in that you know you don’t want to be stuck and paralyzed with nothing. Like you need that to move forward in some way. Here’s another thing that happens that people don’t think about is that, this is a metaphor I’ve always used for sort of goals and life experiences, you know when you are standing in two different spots in the same room, you go to one spot and then if you move to a different spot in that same room the view changes and it’s the same thing in our life. When you take a step forward in direction the view is very different from where you’re standing right now. You will see things that you can’t currently see because you haven’t taken that first step. And so yeah. I mean if you’re forced to choose from the options in front of you choose one but always remain open to the possibilities that surround you.

Joshua: Have I ever talked to you about the Samurai walk that I learned from a business school professor of mine?

Srini: No, you didn’t.

Joshua: I did a video actually on it. This is still pre-launch so I haven’t figured out how the web page will look but I guess I’ll put a link in it. It says that traditional business planning or business strategy is you figure what you’re going to do and you say OK, it’s going to be five steps. I am going to do step one, step two, step three, step four, step five. Then I will be done. And if I get blown off course, I’ll do what I can to get back on course and do it again and do what I needed to do with it and finish the plan. And a Samurai walk is you take a step and exactly what you just said. Now your horizons are different, new things are in your horizon, old things are out of your horizon. You can see the goal differently like step two after you’ve done step one. You can see the nuances more than you could before because you’re closer to it. And if you get blown off course sometimes you think, “Okay. I’m in a new place. What’s the best thing to do now? Maybe it’s to get back to where I was but maybe not.” And as you get closer and closer to your goal you start distinguishing things about your goal more than you could before. And it’s a very dynamic way of looking at things and sometimes the best thing to do is exactly what you originally planned. But oftentimes it isn’t. And when you do this you’re constantly 80/20-ing. You’re always kind of at the first step all the time and doing the most valuable stuff. Anyway, so I went back to the professor and told him how I kept teaching you know in my leadership class I talk about the Samurai walk. I said, “I always give you credit.” And he was, “Don’t credit me. I stole it from some samurai.” And anyone who reads or listens or talks to you for a little bit they will hear something that I think is very integral to everything you do which is surfing. Am I right about that?

Srini: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s a huge, huge part of my life. Even though I haven’t been in the water in like two weeks but that’s because there’s been no waves. But yeah, surfing is a massive part of who I am, what I do and it’s deeply informative. It’s a spiritual practice, a physical practice, a social outlet. I would not be who I am without it like I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s one of those I think you like in your life you have certain things that serve as sort of foundational practices or cornerstones that you depend on and count on. And you know like you have pillars in your life that support it. And in my mind surfing is really a pillar of my life.

Joshua: Is that something that… I mean you weren’t born surfing. Did you grow up surfing? How did it become this?

Srini: Coincidentally I started surfing around the same time that I started a lot of what you know me for as far as interviews and writing and all this stuff and I don’t think it’s an accident that both of these things happened at the same time because I think that what people don’t realize you know despite surfing stereotype of sort of just the [unintelligible] like, “Hey, dude.” and all that. It’s the kind of hobby or kind of activity that requires a level of commitment, that teaches you a lot about how to set goals and accomplish them, how to get back up after you fall, how to deal with adversity, how to develop grit, how to become resilient. It’s this really amazing teacher of life lessons that apply to every area of your life.

And so I think the truth is that you know surfing taught me that if you had the ability to stick with something even through the periods when it sucked because you know learning how to surf is a miserable experience, you’re falling all the time, water up your nose like you’re not you know you look at people riding waves and they look like they’re having the time of their life and you can’t figure out for the life of you how to actually you know get on one of these waves. And yet if you persist like you know it took me 15 times and when I finally got it I was like “Whoa! OK.” And I think the same thing could be said for a lot of things in life. Look we tend to want to have our successes or our experiences or our words, our wins. We want them to come quickly and easily and you know it’s not that everything should be a struggle. In fact, it shouldn’t be a struggle but like in our sort of you know excessive desire and yearning and you know if you think about this how often have you actually gotten what you wanted from wanting it desperately and trying so hard and how often have you gotten what you wanted from having a sort of playful lighthearted non-attached you know way of going about it. And I think that’s the other thing is surfing kind of teaches you to be present and to be mindful and so you know it brings in a lot of things that in our day-to-day lives are very necessary to navigate the sort of tumultuous nature. And like the one thing you realize is that the ocean is always changing, it’s always dynamic and life is kind of the same way.

Here’s another metaphor that I thought about the other day. I was thinking about like opportunities whether it’s opportunities for romance, opportunities for money, opportunities for business. If you stand on shore at the ocean, what you’ll see is that there is always another wave coming. There’s a bigger wave, there’s a smaller wave, there’s set waves and there are days when you know there are not a lot of waves coming but you go back two weeks later and there’s one wave after another coming in. You know when I looked at that and I saw it I thought this is such a profound metaphor for life because in our lives you know whatever that opportunity is whether it’s you know a romantic relationship, whether it’s a business opportunity there’s always another wave coming but we don’t like the idea that we have to wait for it. We’re impatient. We think that by resisting this idea that there’s another one coming or by trying to force the pace at which it comes we will actually make it much more likely to happen and you know what you realize as a surfer is that nature is on a timetable of its own. You don’t really get to control that pace at which it happens and if you can get to a place of accepting that, there is a really strange paradox. Everything happens much faster.


Joshua: Now you talk about nature and so I want to get into nature and the environment because that’s a big part of what this podcast is about. And if I bore the listeners, sorry about this, but when you said surfing is one of the things that when I don’t think about it I don’t talk much about it. When I do think about it the kind of stuff that you talk about is so… Ok, it can come from skiing, it can come from lots of other athletic sorts of things, it can come from autistic things that different people do. Nonetheless, it consistently I’ve never heard someone who surfs a lot not talk… Like they always talk about it like you talked about it, I mean in their special way. I’ve taken lessons a few times and when you were saying yes, you’re falling down all the time and what up your nose I’m like, “That’s me.” And you said 15 times. Was it 15 different lessons or 15 different…?

Srini: 15 paddle outs, not 15 lessons. I mean I was terrible in the first lessons like I didn’t stand up in my lessons.

Joshua: Well, I guess one time there were no waves so that probably doesn’t really count. And I’ve gone out a couple of times with decent waves and I once got up with a wave was kind of pushing me forward and I was like OK, this is kind of interesting. And I’m also 46 years old. Is it too late to get started? How far am I from getting to where I might get to feeling like, “Oh, my God, I’ve got to go out again.”?

Srini: OK. So no, it’s not too late to get started. I mean the beautiful thing about surfing is that it’s a low impact sport. It doesn’t hurt when you fall in water. You know I mean you can get hurt yourself but you’re not going… It’s not like falling when you’re skiing or snowboarding like you’re not going to feel it that same way. Like you don’t get your body all beat up. So that being said you know forty-six you’re probably not going to surf the bonsai pipeline or you know go out and hang with Laird Hamilton and you know a big wave lineup. But can you get to the point where you’re surfing four or five six foot days? No problem. Yeah, absolutely.

Joshua: OK. So you said people think about it like [unintelligible]. My touch point, I’m going to embarrass myself here, is Blue Crush. Actually, not just Blue Crush because there are a few surfing movies from maybe the 60s where they travel around the world and they’re finding surfing spots in different places but I think Blue Crush because there’s that scene where she’s going to give up and the football player talks about how he got mauled by some defensive guy and well, he got back in the game again and she is like, “Yeah, you won the game.” And he goes, “No, I lost the game but I threw this one amazing pass.” which I feel like was connecting with surfing is like sometimes there is a wave that transcends a lot of other waves. I’m not sure.

Srini: Yeah, absolutely. I mean you get one wave in every session that kind of makes it is what I say.

Joshua: And at the time I was playing Ultimate Frisbee and the Frisbee has this thing and the Frisbee community seems a lot like the surfing community of just… There’s a big community aspect to it, right?

Srini: Yeah. There is. I mean you see the same people over and over again when you surf.

Joshua: And I had good throw. Like I was kind of slow in running, I couldn’t jump very high but I’d really good throws and sometimes I’d throw something that was just like wow. And people afterward would be like, “How did you see that guy was open?” and so I think now that I can play Ultimate I’m too old to really compete. Surfing I really want to do that.

You know I hope I’m not talking too much but I do these interviews… I get interviewed a lot and people are like, “You’ve done a lot of things with all the burpees and the swimming across the Hudson and North Korea and Ivy League degrees and stuff.” and I’m still always looking for something… I feel like surfing is something that is a bucket list sort of thing that I would like to get to the point where I get really good at it. I don’t know if I’ll talk about it like you do but I feel like it’s something that I can plumb the depths and have no shortage… I’d never run out of it… What is it? There will never be a lack of things that I could find in it.

Srini: Yeah, absolutely.

Joshua: Do you get asked that stuff a lot?

Srini: You know I get asked a range of stuff. I mean surfing is definitely something that always comes up. I mean I think I’ve never hidden the fact that it’s a huge part of my life. I think you know it’s interesting because I think it has made my brand distinctive in a certain way. It’s kind of you know like usually you know if somebody asks a question about surfing on Facebook, somebody always tags me because like I’m kind of the go-to person. And you know it’s like I realized… In some way was that a deliberate crafting of the brand? Yeah, absolutely. You know like I wanted to make sure that was embedded because I think it adds a level of sort of… There’s something to it. Like I think that it is just you know because it’s this unusual thing like other people kind of look at it and they don’t quite understand it but there’s a mysteriousness to it for people who don’t do it. And I think that’s what it is is that there’s a sense of intrigue of wow, OK, that looks… You can tell there’s something very special about it, I think, even if you don’t surf.

Joshua: For someone who doesn’t surf and maybe you know a lot of people don’t live by an ocean or don’t live by a place where there’s waves, is there something unique and… Of course, there’s unique and special things about surfing. But if they’re not, and I imagine there’s something, a connection between you and surfing. If they don’t want to surf or they don’t have access to surfing, are they lost or are there other things, and if so, have you seen other things in other people as it like…?

Srini: Sure. So there are other things I think that you people can get the same sort of depth of spirituality. You know people who practice yoga talk about this like I think that what surfing ultimately does is that it provides you access to flow states. And I think that flow states are one of the highest sort of states of consciousness that we can experience as human beings. If you’ve never experienced flow in your life, you’re truly missing out. I think the creative work done the right way can also produce flow states. I mean obviously there are ways to trigger that singular focus on one thing. I try to make it a priority in my life to have some experience of flow every day you know and I mean like I can tell you so the way I start my mornings is I have kind of learned how to produce flow in that I have distractions blocked, I write for an hour straight, no interruptions. And some of my best work tends to emerge and the funny thing is like the first 30 minutes could be terrible but once you hit a flow state you start to just like I don’t know what happens, something just changes inside of you. And as a result you produce work that you kind of look at and you’re like, “Oh, wow.” and it seems as if it came out of nowhere. But really what it is is that you have accessed to something very deep inside of yourself because you’re connected to the present moment in a way that we’re typically not when we’re going about you know sort of our lives in the world.

Joshua: Is it safe then to conclude that everyone has universal access to flow states?

Srini: Yes.

Joshua: And anyone who doesn’t know flow states you look it up on Wikipedia and you’ll find Mihály Csíkszentmihályi did the research so if you’re hearing flow state for the first time, look it up, you’ll find lots of stuff. And what you’re saying about surfing, anyone has access to it whether they have a surfboard or they’re not a surfer or anything.

Srini: Yeah, yeah. I think you know anybody has access to this state called flow.

Joshua: And then to get it it’s not just look at a surfboard or you know start yoga. I think you need deliberate disciplined practice for a while to be able to create an… You’ve created an environment where you can deliberately create the situation but that took practice I guess.

Srini: Yeah, absolutely. That does take practice, it takes work you know so what they say, Stephen Cutler really has done some of the most groundbreaking work on this but you know he says one of the places that we have to get to is a midpoint between boredom and anxiety. And the thing is to get to the midpoint between boredom and anxiety takes a certain skill level because if something is too easy, you’re not going to find it challenging enough and if it’s too hard, you’re going to be paralyzed and there’s a midpoint. And the only way to reach that midpoint is by getting your skill to a certain level and it comes from what you basically just termed as a deliberate practice.

Joshua: I mean I’m reading this as some of the best parts of your life and I think it’s some of the best parts of anyone’s life and it’s all… I mean it’s available, I think free like it takes some time and focus and attention but nothing that is not inside you already if you set your mind to it. Would you agree with that?

Srini: Yes. I would say that’s true.

Joshua: Yeah. I mean a big part of what I’m trying to do is like make stuff accessible to people because I think a lot of people see this from the outside and think, “I wish I had that. If only I was born that way.” or something like that. And so now I want to switch to nature if that’s OK with you.

Srini: Absolutely.

Joshua: I mean you agreed to be on the podcast and I feel like a lot of your life is connected with nature and the environment. When you see Leadership and the Environment do you think of the environment? What do you think of? What’s meaningful to you about it?

Srini: So I mean you know like here’s the way I think about environment you know nature being one component of environment so maybe the bigger conversation here is to be [unintelligible] about environment. So something I learned a while back from somebody I interviewed was this notion that every area of your life is an environment. We had like nine key environments that make up our lives and I won’t bore you with the details of all of them but like you know the people that you interact with, the food that you eat, your physical body, the car that you drive, the clothes that you wear, the office that you work and all of these things are environment, every one of them. And each environment impacts us in some way or another – they’re either causing energy to be added to our lives and to our overall sort of sense of well-being or they’re causing energy to be taken away from our lives.

Now the other thing is that every single one of these environments, especially the physical ones have emotions, memories and events associated with them. So I’ll give you an example. I had Nissan Altima 2014 that I bought in one of the probably worst periods of my life like I was driving that car when I was really struggling to make any money. You know it was the car that I drove primarily after a really bad breakup in my life that had sent me into a pretty bad spiral of depression. It was the car that I drove when I lived in a place that I really couldn’t stand living. And it was a car that I drove in a year when you know our business was struggling and we really try and turn it around. And I didn’t realize just how much negative energy I had associated with this car until about a month ago or three weeks ago I just traded in my car for a new Mercedes and it was weird but when I drove off the lot there was this sudden sense of lightness that came about and it suddenly clicked to me that wow, OK, this car has a lot of negative emotion associated with it. So you look at your physical office environment – is everything in it something that brings joy you know Marie Kondo wrote about this in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up. You know it’s a simple filter – Does this thing spark joy? And if it doesn’t, there is a real question as to whether it belongs in your life or whether it belongs in your environment. You know I take this approach to the books that are on my shelves, to the bedsheets on my bed, to the clothes that I wear. And I think that you know what you’re doing is you’re nurturing yourself in the process of you know like nurturing yourself as a way of nurturing your environment and as a result you have this much more vibrant experience of life like the thing that happens often you know this is another thing and I’ll give credit where credit is due. You know this guy [unintelligible] we had as a guest on our podcast said you know like most people try to depend on willpower to bring about change but your willpower is limited. Whereas if you design an environment that’s conducive to the person that you want to become, you no longer have to depend on environment. The environment ends up pulling you into the sort of bigger version or the next version of who you want to be.

Joshua: So now you’re more deliberate about changing your environment to create the vibrancy, the nurturing, the flow that you want.

Srini: Absolutely.

Joshua: So of all the nine, I think I remember the number nine types of environment of clothing and your job and people, how does the nature part?

Srini: Well, I think nature is important because nature rejuvenates us, it disconnects us from our sort of logical mind, it allows us to sort of go into the sort of intuitive place. It’s important because it takes us away from our devices which we know are doing great damage to us neurologically like we’re in a very precarious state, I think, when it comes to the way we use our phones, the way we use our screens, the way we use our laptops. It’s not a coincidence that we’re seeing a great deal of work being done around mental health issues almost all of which in my mind are, a lot of which are tied to our use of technology in the way that we use it because what we’re doing is we’re creating false narratives based on how somebody else’s life looks on Facebook and you know we’re addicted because these things are giving us surges of dopamine so like you get to nature, you go to this sort of place of not really thinking but thinking you know you’re doing much more intuitive thinking it’s, “Hey, you know I need to just feel what it’s like to be outside without a device in my hand.” and you know I think that we don’t do that enough. I think that the more we do that, the happier we become.

And you know I think it’s interesting there’s a great book called The Nature Fix by a woman named Florence Williams I believe and she did an in-depth study of what impact nature has on us and you know we’re talking improvements and well-being and health and the reduction in stress, anxiety and depression. So I think that that ultimately is… Here’s what I would say. Nature is the most powerful emotional reset that you can experience. And we need that because otherwise we’re stuck in patterns that we don’t want to be in all day long.

Joshua: I’m so glad you said that because I keep reading…. People say, “We live today like kings could only have dreamed of before.” and they’re talking about 40-inch TV’s and they’re talking about Internet access. And I’m like that’s not… I get what you’re talking about but that’s only a part of what is valuable. I don’t think when Plato was trying to figure out what makes a good life or Aristotle or [unintelligible] whoever. I think they don’t need like they weren’t like, “Oh, if only we had a 40-inch TV, then it would all make sense.” I think these things, yes, I do like some of these things but I think oftentimes it really distracts us from like what nature gives you automatically if you go and enjoy a sunset or walking in the forest or something like that that maybe even kings didn’t have access back then in some ways. Or for me cooking is like I love fresh vegetables and I used to kind of like them but now it’s… I was like chopping up some vegetables and thinking to myself you know, “I think fresh fruits and vegetables are real access to self-awareness.” and I wasn’t sure exactly how to put that but then later I thought, “That says that fresh fruits and vegetables are unusual or abnormal and normal is not fresh fruits and vegetables.” And then later I thought, “That’s not the way I want to look at things. I don’t think there’s fresh fruits and vegetables… I don’t want to think of them as abnormal. I think of them as normal.” And then I thought, “That means that packaged food and prepared food that detracts from self-awareness but detracts from this wholeness…” This you know the reset that you’re talking about.

Srini: Yeah, absolutely.

Joshua: Well, okay. So I ask people in this podcast to take on a personal challenge to… And you’re one of the few that when I’ve talked about the environment… When you talk about environment in more general sense not just nature but other parts of the environment and you also didn’t talk about global warming or pollution or anything like that which a lot of people their first reaction is like mine most of the time which is that there’s problems and how do we fix them and stuff like that and global warming pollution and things like that. And you didn’t bring that up. So maybe it’s not, maybe it’s too much of a stretch.

Srini: Yeah. I don’t know that I’m qualified to talk about it so I tend not to wax on about subjects that I don’t know anything about or have personal experience with.

Joshua: So what I’m now looking for is like Are you an expert in this or do you know how many parts per billion or whatever, things like that. But how is your interaction with the environment? Are you leaving it better than you found it? Do you like it?

Srini: Yeah. I’d like to think I’m leaving it better than I found it. I mean I’m not you know trashing it and all that kind of stuff. So yeah.

Joshua: Then I’m going to ask you… I’ll say what I say to everyone which is I invite you at your option if you’re interested in taking on a challenge to do something that would improve your interaction with the environment. Because I think there’s a lot of people out there who are saying like, “You should change.” I’m thinking now of like Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie Before the Flood and he’s flying all around and saying everyone should pollute less but he’s not changing himself at all as far as I can tell. And it’s really easy to watch and think, “Well, if he’s not going to change, I’m not going to change.” and I don’t think that’s effective in getting people to change.

Srini: Yeah. I mean I think you know like when we look at change often we try to blame other people, we don’t look at what we can be responsible for I mean I think that’s the thing is that you can change but there’s you know some people actually say you know, “Hey, I’m not going to change until other people do.” But you know you really can’t… You have to focus on what you can control is ultimately you know what it is.

Joshua: So is there anything that has been on your mind that you’ve thought you’d be interested in changing about your interaction with the environment be it global warming or pollution or anything actually that you had been waiting to do? Maybe this would be a chance.

Srini: I don’t know. I don’t know that I have anything off the top of my head that really you know I think is you know like game changing like that.

Joshua: Oh, yeah. So let me say a couple of things that it doesn’t have to be game changing. It doesn’t have to be something that is going to… A lot of people get hamstrung they think, “Well, this little thing what difference does it make? And so why should I do it? Because if we’re not changing whole industries and factory farming and stuff like that, then what difference does it make if I do this tiny little thing?” And so the goal is not… I don’t want people hamstrung like that. It’s not supposed to make a big difference. It’s just something that is by your values, the person’s values, that does move the needle somewhat but it doesn’t have to move it that much because I think that ultimately once people make a little change even if it’s… I think that what’s important is not what little difference that thing makes with respect to the world but how people change their perspective on what they can do because then I think that leads to bigger changes and it leads to other people following suit. So if we take off the constraint that has to be something important to anyone else at all or making a big deal…

Srini: I mean I think mine is a reduction of unnecessary conspicuous consumption. I try to own very little but I try to own the highest quality stuff that I can. And I think that’s one of those things that some people buy at low quality stuff and they buy a ton of it. Whereas I think a better approach is high quality stuff and very little of it. So maybe there.

Joshua: Is there anything that you’ve been thinking of getting rid of or upgrading or something like that?

Srini: Well, I mean I’ve upgraded my whole wardrobe so that everything is super nice but I don’t have a lot. So that’s one place to look at it.

Joshua: Well, my question is is there anything that you haven’t done that this could be an excuse to do or an opportunity?

Srini: At the moment – no. Not that I can think of.

Joshua: This is interesting. On my side… So now I’ve had two people that I’ve interviewed that when I got to the environment part a change didn’t really make sense and I haven’t prepared for this. Because I’d like to have people on twice and the second time as posts after they’ve done this change. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s effective leadership to force people to do stuff that I want them to do. It’s what I’m trying to do here is lead by finding out what people want to do and helping them do something that they already wanted to do or they were thinking of doing. If that’s not there, I don’t think it’s effective to try to get someone to do something that they do not already have a motivation to do.

Srini: Yeah, absolutely.

Joshua: Or rather in your case it’s not that you don’t have the motivation, you’ve already acted on it as best I can tell.

Srini: Definitely.

Joshua: And so it’s something I want to do. I’m now in uncharted territory which is partly what I want the podcast to include. I guess maybe I’ll just leave it at this and think… Yeah, I guess I’ll leave this. If you think of something after this conversation that you think, “Oh, here’s the change I would like to do.” and you wouldn’t mind being like sharing what it was with my listeners, I’d love to have you back.

Srini: Yeah, absolutely.

Joshua: It’s interesting. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of things already like you’ve seen your wardrobe, the car was something that you did, of working on these things. What got you started on that and how was it? Was it easier in the start? Was it challenging?

Srini: No, I mean it wasn’t easy from the start. I mean I started with small things and kind of worked my way up to bigger things and yeah I think it’s something that you monitor constantly and like it’s not just you know sort of set it and forget it and be done with it because I think that’s where you run into trouble is if you’re not mindful of that consistently.

Joshua: Mindfulness is one piece. I think another piece is… A lot of people that I talked to they say, “Alright. I am going to do this challenge.” and then a couple of days into the week into it they aren’t able to finish it. They thought they could, at the time they committed to it they thought, “This is going to be easy.” Was that also an expense of yours?”

Srini: No. I mean I never go in with… You know some things that are easy, some things or not. So you know like I think that part of it is making whatever change you’re trying to make sustainable. So if you try to go and say, “You know what? I don’t work out at all and I mean I try to go to the gym every day.” you’re setting yourself up for failure like you or if you say, “I’m going to put in three hours in the gym every day but I’ve never been in the habit of consistently working out.” you’re basically trying to go from one extreme to another. So I try to avoid extremes, I think, is really the way to sum it up.

Joshua: OK. Alright. So I’m not going to try to force something here even though there’s something inside me like I’m trying to but I’m trying to get I don’t think that’s effective. Is there anything I didn’t think to ask or something to bring up that’s…

Srini: At the moment? No, not that I can think of.

Joshua: OK. So now I’m going to also resist that a lot of times podcasters will say, “OK, we’ll stop the recording.” but I actually do stop the recording so when we hang up, it’ll be actually hanging up. And so actually the stuff afterward it’s hard not to… It’s really easy to stop the recording and then go into like friendly mode. So I just want to give a chance if there’s anything last but I think we’ve covered things. I just have to learn from this experience what to do when there’s someone who’s in your situation. Alright. Is there anything coming up for you? Any…

Srini: At the moment? Not really like I’m just kind of working on my book and you know a few other things.

Joshua: OK. So I’ll put links up to your current books.

Srini: OK. Cool.

Joshua: With like five-star reviews and hundreds of reviewers like really great stuff. So thank you very much.

Srini: Yeah. My pleasure. Happy to help.

Joshua: Alright. Talk to you soon.

Srini: Bye, man. Sounds good.


Listening to the last half of that conversation now over a year later having developed the technique to work with major leaders it’s almost painful to hear my clumsiness and Srini’s generosity to play along with me developing how to talk to people about the environment and act on it. But it also shows how to develop. You have to practice. You have to make these mistakes. So if you aspire to leadership or to perform more effectively at whatever you do, I hope that hearing my clumsiness and dare I say my skills that have come later I hope that that helps you persevere.

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