Episode 197: Josh Spodek on cultivating initiative
August 26, 2019
Our guest today is Josh Spodek, who last joined us on Episode 25 of this show.
I was very pleased that Josh agreed to return to discuss his new book, Initiative: A Proven Method to Bring Your Passions to Life (and Work).
In today’s episode, Josh shares some of the exercises from this new primer on how everyone can make change happen in the world.
Josh is a busy professional:
In addition to writing books, he writes a daily blog
He is also the host of a podcast, Leadership and the Environment, with over 200 episodes, that feature an A-list of guests including Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Dominic Barton, Sir Ken Robinson, Ken Blanchard, Marshall Goldsmith, David Allen, Jonathan Haidt, and many other luminaries.
To find links to all of Josh’s activities, visit http://joshuaspodek.com/
Will Bachman: Hello Josh, welcome back to the show.
Josh Spodek: Glad to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this.
Will Bachman: Josh, you were a guest on an early episode, Episode 25, and it’s fantastic to have you back. Today, let’s talk about initiative. First tell me what do you mean in your new book, first part one, you say, “Who stole initiative?” Tell me who stole initiative, and what does that mean?
Josh Spodek: Yeah, it hit me that there’s a lot of people in their jobs that don’t really like what they’re doing, and they’re not at their potential. And it’s not just because they’re not doing enough. And they feel like to do something different means that they have to start a whole new company from scratch, which means filing with the state, and figuring out benefits packages for employees and they have to get funding, all this other stuff. And that’s one way of doing something different, that’s one way of taking initiative. It’s not the only way, and somehow our culture has made a big show of, they celebrities of CEO founders, and the Shark Tank, which is this really big spectacle, and even Lean Startup which is an effective way of helping people start businesses or grow businesses, it still makes a big hurdle. Like you need an idea and it’s huge.
Josh Spodek: Its funny, in universities, if you want to take a class in entrepreneurship, there are certainly the classes that are traditional, just read and write papers, that’s not going to help you start a project. The one that are based on Lean, for a lot of them, you have to write an application to get into a class, and it’s very rare that, in college that you have to apply to take a course. And the application generally says, “What’s your idea? And what’s your team?” If you don’t have an idea and a team, you have to join another group that does have an idea and a team. Not everyone has an idea and a team. And to put that hurdle in there, I believe, is knocking out a lot of people who would make great problem-solvers and team-builders, that would love to be able to start a project, but that hurdle keeps them out.
Josh Spodek: Now the people who put up that hurdle, well a lot of those resources that are vying for Silicon Valley engineers are types like that: seekers and makers and STEM people. Very effective within one group, but the other groups, it puts up a hurdle. But the people in that group feel like, “Yeah, of course, we belong here. If you didn’t have an idea and a team, you’re not really an entrepreneur. And see, the end result is that people in a certain community feel great, and they’re doing a great job with one part of one segment of the population. But the rest of the population is not only underserved, they’re pushed away. And that means that people in their jobs that could do something different aren’t. And that means that we have fewer options. You make do, you settle for less pay, less responsibility, less desirable relationships with your managers and your coworkers. And you just endure it more because you have fewer options.
Will Bachman: Okay, so the idea is that you don’t have to go start a startup do demonstrate initiative. It’s possible to do it in the job that you’re in. But maybe all of us just kind of take things for granted, and for some reason, feel we’re held back from taking initiative. Your whole book has a whole set of exercises around, with the thesis being that you can actually learn to take more initiative, and you build that as a muscle. I’d love to talk through some of those initiatives today, but maybe first, give us kind of overview of how you developed these initiatives and how you’ve tested them out, with your coaching clients or with your students. Tell us a little bit of how the book came about.
Josh Spodek: So I go back to the earliest point. If you hear passion in my voice, it’s because a lot of is personal. I got my Ph.D at Columbia, and then I got an MBA at Columbia, and I’m at the pinnacle of Western, U.S. education with super-advanced degrees. And yet, I felt very trapped. I asked myself, What can I do with a Ph.D in physics? And the answer is a small number of things. But that’s the opposite of what an education’s for. More education, in my view, should not lead you to fewer options; it shout lead you to more options. And there’s a lot of people out there, and they feel, “Well, I have this degree. What can I do with it?” As opposed to, “What are all the different things that I could do and not let the degree constrain me?” But that view is all over the place. And a lot of people feel that way.
Josh Spodek: So when I started my first company, which got me out of academia, I felt liberated from all of this constraint that education, by teaching me a bunch of facts and figures, but not the social and emotional skills of how to do things myself, it broke me out of that. But then, I went into that whole spectacle world because this was the late ’90s, and thought, “Oh, I’m going be do some celebrity CEO.” And I didn’t run the company for the clients, for the employees. I mean, I thought I did, but I was also going for big investments and grow big and stuff like that.
Josh Spodek: So I went back to business school and I started learning, taking leadership classes and entrepreneurship class, and I saw that you could learn some of the things that I didn’t think you could learn. But I don’t think that the schools taught them that effectively, because they’re still based on case studies and reading white papers, not experiential. I didn’t know that experiential learning was so effective until I started teaching. And then I started really digging into, “How can I teach students to be able to do what I learned it’s effective to do?”
Josh Spodek: And then I started learning about project-based learning, experiential active learning, and I started applying these principles and really connecting with communities of teachers who taught this way. It’s much bigger in K to 12 than it is at the university level, but it’s just as useful at the university level as well as appliance for professions who’ve bought and sold companies. And they didn’t learn systematically the social and emotional skills of leadership and entrepreneurship and being able to take initiative.
Josh Spodek: And one of the big things that I learned, for example, is I would give the students in my entrepreneurship class, a project. I would give them a project, said, “You have to do a project, and here’s what you should do. It has to solve a problem, it has to work with people in the world that you care about.” And I’d give certain conditions that they have to work with. And I found that a lot of students would switch projects in the middle of the course. And I would let them do that, that’s fine. And of course, when they switched, they always liked the next one better than the first one, otherwise they wouldn’t have switched. And I struggled, “How can I help my students skip the first one and go in the second one without wasting time on something that they ultimately would switch against?” And I struggled with that for a time.
Josh Spodek: And I would tell the story about how I learned this. But eventually, I realized, trying to solve that problem for them, based on ultimately what they’re going to like, is based on their values, what they like. I don’t know those things. And I realized it’s much more effective to give them the opportunity to switch and actually guide them toward the possibility of switching, and let them switch if they wanted to, and not deprive them of the chance of learning their values from experience.
Josh Spodek: And so that’s one element of the course that I’ve put in there, which is that switching is something that, if it doesn’t happen during the course, it will certainly happen as you take on projects. And that’s a learned-from experience. That they learn to identify the value. That they’re learning become sensitive to what they like and don’t like, what they want to do and don’t want to do. Because usually, a lot of people, at the beginning, they say, “Oh, I want to make a bitcoin app. Or I want to make a blockchain app.” And they’re stringing together a bunch of things that are out there, that are popular, and they think could make a lot of money. And then a little while into it, they realize, “I don’t really like bitcoin. I don’t really like making apps. I want to do something different.” And I can’t learn that for them, I can’t teach them that. If I tried to teach them that, it would deprive them of learning how to find out what they care about and what they don’t care about.
Josh Spodek: And so I bake that in as part of the course. Part of the course is to help you start find your values, to figure out how to act on them in a way that keeps you flexible so you can switch as you discover different things about yourself. It’s not just teach you facts and figures, or it’s specifically like, “Here’s exactly what to do,” although it does [happen but 00:08:37] that. But it’s also the learning social and emotional skills: self-awareness, sensitivity to your values, and things like that. So that goes along into it.
Will Bachman: Great. Lot’s get into some of the exercises that you have developed. So you have a set of 10 exercises in the book, and let’s give people a quick overview of several of those. So maybe we start with just number 1, a personal essay. Tell us about that.
Josh Spodek: If it’s okay, I want to give a high-level view. My leadership book is also similar structure, and that’s 20 exercises. And those exercises, they are a progression that starts from simple and gets to very advanced. But a lot of them stand on their own. Now, in the initial book, the exercises are a progression of 10 exercises, also beginning from simple and leading to complex. But they are less stand-on-your-own. Each one needs the next. So all of them together create one coherent unit. And so talking about them separately is less useful and makes less sense than it does with some of the ones from the leadership book. So what I thought is that when I speak about them, when people have done all 10 of them, “Wow, this is amazing.” And now see how they all fit together. But before, it’s not always obvious. So I wanted to give that caveat.
Josh Spodek: And by parallel, if someone wants to play piano, and play Carnegie Hall, it’s not obvious that to express yourself emotionally and really expressively, uninhibitedly, that playing the scale will make a lot of sense, because the scale is mechanical, and it doesn’t seem like it’s very emotional. And yet, that’s how everybody gets to Carnegie hall.
Josh Spodek: So okay, the personal essay, I do that. Of course, most people have written personal essays here and there. There’s a couple things that I make sure to put in there. One is that I want people to take a field that is interesting to you. And most people have more than one field that could possibly be interesting. But often, they’d think of at least one. And that’s not so hard. Part of it is I want to show that there’s just a few types of people: people who are role models; people who are in that field, they have access to; people who are valuable people in that field, whether they have access to that person or not. And I make a point of saying, “You can’t just say, like, ‘the CEO of company X.'” It also has to be the person’s name. Because these are social and emotional skills, and I think a lot of people think about entrepreneurship in the abstract, or initiative in the abstract. And moving and connecting with a lot of these people.
Josh Spodek: So I want to make sure that they are in touch with the names and faces of the people that they’re going to work with. So the personal essay’s like that. And it’s not a particularly difficult thing. And a lot of people might think, “Well, I can just skip this one.” But it’s valuable. There’s also a second personal essay that comes in later, in which you see what you’ve learned and how you changed. And that enables people to do things when they see how far they’ve come, that’s step nine, leading into step 10.
Will Bachman: Okay, you want to walk us through some other ones, just give us the overview? So you do a personal essay, and this is really, it’s just identify, feel — not just — but it’s identify a field that’s interesting, and identify people in that field that you consider role models, whether you know them or not. But it doesn’t have to necessarily go beyond that. It’s not what you’re going to do about it.
Josh Spodek: Right. I want to lower the barrier. I want to make it accessible for people to develop ideas that may turn into a project that they can work on, which may be a product or service, it may be a community organization, it may be something to go to your manager with and get new responsibilities at work that may get you promoted or a raise, or just more responsibilities. And the next step is to write down … Usually, I recommend that people take about a week to do this, but sometimes if people are ready, they can do it in a couple days. And sometimes, if you’ve already started a project, this one might be really quick.
Josh Spodek: But over the course of about a week, identify problems in that area and write down five of them. And if you can, write down rudimentary solutions for each. And these do not have to be effective. They don’t have to be things that, if someone looks at them, they think, “I’m going to fund that. Because that’s a really big hurdle, and that makes it difficult for a lot of people to start.
Josh Spodek: The way we look at these problems and rudimentary solutions is not that we’re going to go to market with these things. These are going to be the seeds that we use to develop our skills in the next couple steps. So at the end of this step, you’re going to have almost five pairs of problems and solutions. And by the way, some of the skills you’re learning here, some very simple ones with identifying problems and focusing on problems first and solutions second.
Will Bachman: And again, to your, I think, earlier point, this is not necessarily problems that are outside your company. It doesn’t have to be about starting a startup. It could be you’re in the finance department, it could be five problems in finance. Or if you’re in HR, it could be, “Hey, we’re not getting enough recruiting leads in. Or how do we process something more efficiently?” So it could be something internal to a company, I imagine, problems that you think exist and that aren’t being addressed.
Josh Spodek: Yeah. Let me give you a story about Jonathan. He’s one of the people in chapter one. And I think that illustration may help a lot. So Jonathan was a lawyer making six figures, and I think his law degree was from Penn. So he has an Ivy League degree. And I didn’t know this at the time, before he took my class, but he went to one of his mentors and said, “Work is fine. I’m doing great. I have eight clients. I’m making good money. Not really satisfied. I don’t really feel like there’s a lot of meaning to what I’m doing.” And his friend and mentor said, “Take a class.”
Josh Spodek: And so he ended up taking a class at NYU, and it happened to be my class, and neither of us knew what would come of it. All I knew at this point was there was some guy in my class named Jonathan. And we go through these exercises.
Josh Spodek: And one of the outcomes is that he decides that he wants to work on bankruptcy. I didn’t know this, and I didn’t really think about it until I started talking to Jonathan. But bankruptcy keeps getting harder and harder. Creditors keep making it harder for people who owe them money to declare bankruptcy. And so he saw problems with bankruptcy, and his solution was he was going to work one on one with people to help them through this bankruptcy process. He didn’t really know where it was going to go. And that’s not a scalable, just working one on one with people, but he liked it a little bit more, and he found it more meaningful.
Josh Spodek: As he was doing it, the later exercises have you go out and talk to lots of people in various structured ways. And he came across a programmer from Harvard who was, they got along. And they got the middle steps, but the two of them decided to take what Jonathan was going to do one-on-one, to take it all on. And they decided to make, not an app, but an online service to facilitate people’s declaring bankruptcy. And there’s all sorts of chapters, and I don’t know the legal ins and outs of it, but not long after that, they went from [inaudible 00:15:52] to Harvard, they got some seed funding, and soon after that, their project took on a life of its own. They were written up in The Wall Street Journal, and in Washington Post. And ultimately, they got funded by, among others, Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt, and they got into Y-Combinator.
Josh Spodek: And while I was writing the book, Jonathan was out at Y-Combinator telling me about it in [their stands 00:16:15] out there, which I only knew about because I called him to ask how things were going, and he was like, “Beyond what I had heard before.”
Josh Spodek: And the idea, again, at the beginning, most people would say, “This is not scalable. You can’t make a living off of this. It’s not going to work.” And next thing you know, by following the steps in the book, it grows and grows and grows. And his goal was not just to get into Y-Combinator. It was not to get funding from titans of industry. And why did he get funding from titans of industry? Because actually bankruptcy is a major piece of capitalism. If you don’t have it, you get into some serious problems of wage slavery and things like that. And most problems we solve, if you’re solving a problem for one person or one class of people, they tend to be able to solve problems for lots of people. It’s rare that there’s a problem for only one type of person in the world, a very small number of people in the world. And everyone has the option of taking these things to whatever level they want. And it turns out that, for Jonathan, he decided to take it to a society level. And that got the attention of people who work at that level.
Josh Spodek: And I wanted to give this as an illustration, what can be the outcome. His original idea at the stage of, “Write down five problems and solutions,” really wasn’t viable. But it was an input to the later stages of getting advice from people and using that advice, and using that advice, and the relationships you connect with people, to create more relationships with people who are closer to your field, and higher up and more valuable.
Will Bachman: Okay, great. So now, say our listener has created exercise 2, done five unsolved problems, come up with a rough solution. Exercise 3 is five close contacts. Tell us about that one.
Josh Spodek: Okay, I want to go back to step two because more that they’ve learned from that. It’s not just the idea that’s developed. They had developed skills. They have developed skills to share a set of ideas that aren’t necessarily great, but I had a structured way for, if people have their relationships with people that they ask at the beginning, and they can make their original connections based on that relationship, but I also recommend a specific way of asking for advice.
Josh Spodek: Because when you tell people about your ideas, a lot of times, people will give you judgment. They’ll say, “Oh, it’s a great idea.” Or, “I don’t think that idea will work. I think that’s a bad idea.” We fall back on that. Certainly school takes us to expect grades and to give grades. But we’re actually asking for advice. We develop the skills of how to pose your problems and solutions in a way that people are prone to give you advice rather than judgment. And then, if they give you judgment, to deflect that, to say things like, “I appreciate that you think this is good.” Or, “I appreciate you think it’s bad. What I’m really looking for here is advice.”
Josh Spodek: And then you take that advice. Some of it you take; some of it you don’t take. And of the advice that you take, you apply it and you iterate your — at this stage — very early stage idea. And oftentimes that advice will improve it, and will also lead you to have a different relationship with the problem and solution, that you start feeling things. You start feeling like, “Oh, this could really work.:
Josh Spodek: Now, this early, your skills are not particularly strong, but we’re going to develop those over the next couple exercises. So these social and emotional skills are incredibly valuable. At this stage, they’re much more valuable then simply the new iteration of the idea, because ideas come and go all the time, but the social and emotional skills, that’s what most people don’t have. When you have those, then you can do more.
Josh Spodek: Okay, so step 2 give you, you have a greater attachment to the idea or a greater confidence of the idea, and you’re now prepared to ask for advice with greater skill and dexterity than you did before. So the first set of people, you still have spoke to, I recommend being people that are supportive and nonjudgmental in your life. So it can be a close friend. A close friend, they’re going to be supportive and nonjudgmental; that doesn’t mean they’re going to give particularly useful advice, because the odds of them knowing your field are not very high. So we want to start moving away from just people who are supportive, because there are more people in the world than that.
Josh Spodek: So the next step is to pick one of the ideas, the problems and solutions, pick one of them, go with that one. You don’t have to stick with it forever, but use that for the next stage. And now, you’re going to talk to ten people about that one. And instead of hearing general advice on five different things, you can get specific advice on one. And you’re going to ask them, based on the skills that you developed from the exercise 2, for advice. And now you’re going to get, specifically, more pointed advice, because there only would be one problem and solution, not five. And they’re going to be less close to you, so you’re going to have to work a little harder to lead these relationships, to lead these conversations, to get useful advice. And by the end of this exercise, you talked with 10 people, and you get advice from them. And you should iterate along the way, as you get advice. And choose not to act on some advice.
Josh Spodek: And by the end of this one, you’ve developed your skills, to present your ideas quickly and effectively. A lot of times, people will get into long conversations. People really like hearing about entrepreneurial ideas, or initiative-based ideas. So people are going to often wax philosophical and talk about stuff, they still need to give you advice. So there’s an important skill is to say to someone, “I appreciate that you want to talk about this in this way. I want to get to that. Can we hold onto that for a moment and come back and if you give me this piece of advice that I can use.”
Josh Spodek: And funny, a lot of people think, “Is that going to [inaudible 00:21:53] them? Is that going to make people not want to talk to talk to me any?” Actually, people like when you lead them in a conversation, to keep the business side first, because then you can feel free to enjoy the more social crowd later. And at the end of the stage, if you talk to 10 people, each of them giving three pieces of advice, you got roughly 30 pieces of advice. Rarely all of them are going to be unique. Some people are going to give the same advice as other people gave you, and you’re probably going to implement that.
Josh Spodek: By the end of this stage, you have something that’s roughly 10 or 30 times improved. You’ve developed your skills. I also recommend you end each conversation asking people, “Is there anything I didn’t think to ask?” And also, “Is there anyone you could put me in touch with that I could follow up with?” And so you start building a network, and start realizing whom to talk to next.
Josh Spodek: So that’s almost what the next exercise is about. And again, what I’m saying now really does not convey. It’s like saying, after you’ve played scales, then move onto simple pieces. And you start playing some simple Bach pieces. Playing the Bach pieces, and hearing that you will develop the skills to play simple Bach pieces, very different things. Playing is very different than hearing that you long to play, or hearing what it’s like to play.
Will Bachman: Sure. No, this is just a quick overview of the whole methodology. And then you suggest going on to exercise 5, five people who feel the problem. Say more about that one/
Josh Spodek: Most people have a sense of what problems they’re going to solve. And if you just leave it at that, people will try to solve the problem as they understand it. Very rarely does everyone feel the problem the way that you do or that you think they will. And so I have you go to people who feel the problem. And the assignment is simply to write the problem in their words. Not from a very brass tack perspective. A lot of what they say is going to be your sales copy for later. And they’re going to say how they feel it. And later on, you might say, “If you have this problem, I can solve it for you.” But it’s much more than that, because there’s a sense of empathy that you get when you hear something you thought you understood, but it’s slightly different for them.
Josh Spodek: After this exercise, when I ask people, almost always, they say, “Rhe project that I have now took on a new reality. It gave me a new sense of purpose.” And that empathy that happens, when you have to state the problem from another person’s perspective, you feel it from them.
Josh Spodek: Another thing that often happens for the first time in this exercise. Sometimes it happens earlier, but usually in this exercise, is the person says, “When’s this going to be ready? I would like to buy this product. I would like to hire your service. I would like to help you with this project, because it’s going to help me with my life.”
Josh Spodek: And that inspires people. There’s an inspiration where people feel at the beginning, it’s like “Oh, this is my project. I really want to work on the project.” It’s a very different sense of inspiration when it’s an inspiration to serve and help others. That inspiration is a whole other level, and the first inspiration can often fade when it’s often you. “Oh, I want to be the next [inaudible 00:25:04]. I want to be successful.” That’s cool. I’m all for it. But often doesn’t endure past the first big hurdles.
Josh Spodek: It’s kind of like a New Year’s resolution: you feel inspiration in December, and it often fades by February. In this case, when somebody’s like, “This is going to improve my life. I would like to give you money so that you can solve this problem for me.” That inspiration lats a lot longer.
Will Bachman: Okay, got it, right. So when you actually have direct evidence, and hear it from the front line of people who are experiencing the problem, then you have some empathy and some real life people you’re trying to help. So that makes sense. And then you suggest, exercise 6 is 10 people closer to your field. Tell me more about that.
Josh Spodek: So now I’m getting so far afield from where people are who are listening to this. It’s kind of like you’re asking if someone’s learning to play tennis, and you say, “Okay, you watch the net.” And the person might give you love, or they might drill it right at you, or they might do a passing shot.” And if you haven’t done the ground stokes, if you haven’t practiced everything else, until then, it’s really far off. Each exercise builds on the next. And there’s so much emotional experience and social experience that comes from these, that it’s really, we’re way out on a limb to just talk about these things.
Josh Spodek: What happens is you start becoming a member of a community. People see you as a problem solver. They see you as a peer. They want to help you. They feel invested in your success. And you start finding people not just giving advice, but connecting them with people and saying, “I want you to work with this person.” Or, “This person can help you.” And you start feeling like this project has taken on a life of its own. And you can’t wait to get it going. And it’s funny because at this stage, a lot of people have not spent one penny on this. They’ve spent a bit of time, but it’s mostly time building relationships that people really enjoy. But as with other work it’s kind of difficult to go into the details of it without people having done the stuff that’s led up to this.
Will Bachman: Okay, so do you want to just complete the picture of the remaining steps in the process, just the overview, recognizing that it’s really the experiential part of it, of going through it, that’s the value. So it’s not like you can just get it from the show. You actually need to do the exercise, but to kind of give people the full range of it, what other remaining exercises look like.
Josh Spodek: Well, what it leads up to, exercise 10 is to get advice from valuable people in the field. And there’s a bit of exercise as to what valuable means. Because it’s going to be different for everybody. Sometimes it’s a funding source, or someone with deep connections. Sometimes it’s someone who might be a potential valued employee. Sometimes it’s a potential customer. And everything has led up to where you these people about your project, everyone you’ve spoken to before, you develop the skills to present it effectively and succinctly. You know how to lead the conversation, deflect judgment. You know how to make the person feel valued, and they want to be a part of it. And when they give you advice, they have a sense of, “Since I’m giving you this advice,” they feel, “your success means that my advice is useful.” So they’re vested in your success. They want you to succeed, because they’ll see, in your success, their own success.
Josh Spodek: You will have worked up the way to speak to these valuable people. You had spoken to people you have closer access to before. So oftentimes, when you’re speaking to them, you came in with a warm connection, not cold calling. Someone had told them, put you in touch. And so you’ll be friendly with them.
Josh Spodek: And oftentimes, they will not know that your idea may not have existed a month before. They’ll feel like you’re simply a problem-solver, with common goals, common interests, a common community. And they’ll feel like, “You’re one of us. You’re inner circle. I want you to succeed. I want to put you in touch with people in my world.”
Josh Spodek: And along the way, you’ve also done some financials and you’ve gone into the depths of really getting into the details of the nitty-gritty. So if they ask you a detailed question, you will give detailed answers and they’ll assent to like, “You really care about this. You really want to work on this.”
Josh Spodek: A funny thing that happens on this. People keep getting job offers. Routinely, people come back and they say, “Someone wants to hire me to do something like this in their field.” And it’s an effective way to get job offers.
Josh Spodek: And there’s actually an aside in there. It’s how to identify when people are ready to give you a job offer, and to prompt that so that you get these offers. Because some people, they don’t want to file the state and find office space and things like that. They just want to have responsibility and authority and the resources to make something happen. And if that comes through working somewhere else, great. That’s still initiative.
Josh Spodek: It’s not Shark Tank. If the Shark Tank model of presenting to a business-line competition or something like that, if that’s the best way to serve your customers, for you to serve the community that you want to serve, great. But if it’s not the best way, the initiative opens you to doing what works best for you on a project that you feel passionate about, to serve people that you want to serve. Which may or may not be entrepreneurial. It may be staying at a company, may be getting hired. A lot of these things are community based. It might be something you’re organizing neighbors to stop the mall from expanding to that park you like, something like that.
Josh Spodek: But ultimately, you will be seen, by valuable members of the community you want to serve, as a problem-solver, as working on something greater than yourself, that they feel feel vested in the success. They want to help you succeed. And they will make their resources — generally connections, access to capital — they will make those things available to you. And you will feel comfortable getting these things, because you’re working together to solve a common problem.
Josh Spodek: It’s glorious, the feeling people get at this stage is. Even at the beginning, they’re like, “I want to be an entrepreneur.” Which to me is putting the cart before the horse. It’s not that you want to be an entrepreneur. From the outside, you want to have the success of an entrepreneur. What it really comes from is really solving people’s problems so much that they just want to pay you for it, that they want to reward you for it. And it’s a glorious feeling when people see you as part of making their life better.
Will Bachman: That sounds fantastic. So it sounds like you’ve had some real success with students taking this course that you’ve developed at NYU, and leading them through this process to build their entrepreneurial muscle. Do you want to share one or two of success stories of folks, students that have gone through your course and the effect it had on them?
Josh Spodek: Well, I’m going to tell the Rafael story. Which i deliberately started with this one because it’s not, on the face of it, entrepreneurial. In fact, it’s achiever got away from entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship in the sense of starting a company from scratch. Also, he was a coaching client. He was a professional. He had an MBA by the time he contacted me.
Josh Spodek: So he contacted me, and he said, “Josh, you have to help me start a new company. You started a company, often coaching. Can you help me start a company?”
Josh Spodek: And we started going through exercises and all the stuff we talked about. And at one point, the structure was we’d meet roughly once a week. I would give him an exercise, he’d do the exercise, and then the next week, we would review how it went. So it’s basically going through as the book was. And one day, at the beginning of the meeting, he says, “I don’t have to start a company anymore.” I said, “Why not?” And he said, “While we’ve been developing this project, I’ve also separately …”
Josh Spodek: Oh, I’ve got to go backwards. I’m sorry. I forgot to mention why he wanted to start a company. Because he worked at a small media company, and he kept going to his managers with ideas that he saw would increase profitability, increase market share. And every time he would give the project, the managers would always say, “This sounds interesting. We’ll think about it.” And that would be the end of each project. So he’d try to come up with better and better projects, that they would have to say yes to. They never said yes. So that’s why he wanted to leave. He was like, “I never wanted to work for another company again.”
Josh Spodek: So I’m having him build a company to leave and start something new, and one day he says, “I don’t want to start something new.” And I say, “Why not?” And he said, “Because I haven’t told this, but all the skills that we’ve been developing to start a new thing, I’ve also been developing, practicing, with my managers back in my company.” And instead of bringing them complete projects that they could say yes or no to, he went to them with early, early ideas, and asked them for advice on them in style of what I described to you. And because he wasn’t saying, “Take it or leave it,” he was saying, “How can I improve it?” They saw part of themselves in this project. And in the week before, when he said he didn’t want to start at a company anymore, they gave him a project and said, “You have authority and responsibility and resources to do this project.”
Josh Spodek: And he realized he didn’t want to leave and go without salary for a while and all that stuff. He wanted resources and authority and support to do it, and that’s what he got. And that’s why he decided not to leave. And in fact, because he liked to lead it more, he was able to do it faster and he had more responsibility and less time at work. He ended up leaving work an hour or two early every day. So they were satisfied with that.
Josh Spodek: So this is someone who intended to start a company, and stuck with a situation that he didn’t like longer than he needed to because he felt anything else would be such a big hurdle. But then when he developed the social and emotional skills to involve other people in the process in an effective way, he realized he could’ve done this a long time before had he had the skills.
Josh Spodek: I think there’s a lot of people in a situation like that, where they’re nowhere near their potential. If they wait around for the manager to help them, the manager’s busy doing their thing. And even if they go their managers with things that could help, but ineffectively, the managers are busy doing other stuff, and you often, if I ask you to judge me, it puts you up on a pedestal and forces you to look down on me. And now it is like a game of Battleship, that, “A-7.” “Miss.” “B-4.” “Miss.” It’s not helpful. You keep trying and trying and trying, and eventually a lot of people just give up and figure out, “There’s nothing I can do.”
Josh Spodek: But there’s not nothing you can do. Involve them in the process, you say, “Well, how about this? Can you help me improve it?” And then they say, “Well try that.” And you try that, and you say, “Well that worked. Can you help me improve it again?” And they’ll help you again. And sometimes you come back and say that the suggestion didn’t help. And they’ll say, “Well, try this.” And if it gets invested to them, and they’ll see, in your success, their own success. It’s the whole point of the other stories.
Will Bachman: Awesome, well let’s-
Josh Spodek: I like telling stories in there.
Will Bachman: Yeah, let’s tell one of your stories, your personal story, where an area that you’ve taken initiative, Josh, is a podcast become very popular in the area of environmental leadership. Tell us a little bit about your podcast. You’ve had some amazing guests on the show.
Josh Spodek: Yeah, this is the application of initiative into my life on a major scale. And if you go back a long ways up until four or five years ago. The environment is important to me. I rarely take taxis, I don’t eat meat, and all sorts of things like that. And I gave myself this challenge, not intending for it to go anywhere. Seeing how much garbage I had produced, I gave myself a challenge: Could I live a week without buying any packaged food? And there was lots of ins and outs, and I think we talked about it last time. So people can go back and listen to that conversation. And I found that I could get by with a lot less food packaging, to the point where the last point where the last time I threw out my garbage, it took me 16 months to fill up a load of garbage, where it used to be once a week.
Josh Spodek: And I had no idea that that would happen. It was just all these improvements in my life kept adding up, and a lot of the improvements were around eating fruits and vegetables that I got from the local farms and things like that, unpackaged. And that led me to a lot of other reductions in my environmental impact.
Josh Spodek: And to Trump, I would like to admit a feeling that he wasn’t going to lead the country in a direction that I thought was right for the environment, and I thought, “I should take on a leadership role here. I teach leadership, I practice leadership. This is a place where leadership’s in great demand.”
Josh Spodek: And so I felt like there’s a place to take initiative and I didn’t really know what to do. And so I started talking to people about various ideas. And one idea was a podcast. Actually, before that was to lead people through a series of in-person lectures. And I got a lot of feedback from that, that lecturing is not effective. It’s not effective leadership technique. And that led to improving that idea through getting suggestions and ideas from other people to do a podcast. And then, once I started the podcast, I started working with more people who were more in the field, and getting advice from them as how to improve. And some of it was low-level stuff. It’s like poly-microphones and how to schedule things and very low-level stuff. Some of it was high-level things.
Josh Spodek: And as I started developing my service, my projects, the podcast, I started finding, early on, that when I did it effectively, based on my experience and getting the advice from people, in the lectures in the early podcasts, I developed a technique that people responded to positively, which was a surprise to me, because most of the time, when we talk to people and suggest environmental behavior like less than used plastic or driving less in favor of public transportation, people kind of push back and say, “Look, I’m doing what I can. [inaudible 00:39:05] to do stuff like that.” And I started stumbling on a technique that people responded positively to. And I started getting people like Anne [Penk 00:39:12] and Marshall Goldsmith and Pulitzer Prize winner and a Super Bowl winner. And i started getting people that were valuable members of communities. And out of this emerged a lot of middle steps here.
Josh Spodek: I found that, unexpectedly, that people respond more to community norms, when you’re talking about social and cultural behavior, like our environmental behavior, more than they do facts and figures and doom and gloom. And so I developed a strategy, which was to work with people who are in the most numbers of other people’s communities. Because I think that, when people hear that someone in their community’s doing something. Or what I heard was the number one predictor of someone installing solar in their home was not how much money they would save, or how much money they had, or what their politics was, it’s how many people in their neighborhood already had solar installed. And I thought, “Well, who’s in lots of people’s communities?” And I started thinking about people like Oprah Winfrey or LeBron or Serena or Madonna, Elon. A lot of people look up to them. And so my goal became to work with the most influential people in the world, to walk them through, basically my technique.
Josh Spodek: In entrepreneurial terms, I think of it as like a technology that helps people go from lethargy and feeling like, “If I ask anyone else this, then what I do doesn’t matter.” Which is a very prevalent belief, and it comes in many different forms. But after they’ve been on my podcast, they feel like, a lot of them say, “I wish I’d done this before. I could’ve done this a long time ago. I wish I had. I didn’t realize how easy it was.” And they start willing to share their experience, as a joyful experience, a meaningful experience, with others, as opposed to coercion or seeking compliance. It’s seeking to share the joy that they felt.
Josh Spodek: And so as a result, I have a strategy that drives me to working with the most influential people, and the most well-known people. And so I recently interviewed the three times global managing director of McKenzie, and I’m working at just [inaudible 00:41:18] Nobel Peace Prize winner, and tons of number one best-selling authors and the person with the most TEDx talk views of all time, and people like that. And I’m constantly striving for more. And to me this is the greatest passion I’m working on. It’s putting together everything I’ve learned from entrepreneurship, everything I’ve learned from education, everything I’ve learned from science. And I love what I’m doing. I’m driven to more all the time. I wish that I didn’t live in a world that needed environmental leadership, but we’re lacking it.
Josh Spodek: And of course, I want to point out, there’s plenty of other things that people are doing. Like legislation, and education are other things. I support all of those things. I don’t want to say other people should stop doing those things. But I think what I’m doing is important and essential. And it emerged from the same process as in the book.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. And Josh, where are the places online where people can go to find out more about your podcast, about your books, and about your blog, which we didn’t even get to? Where do you want to point people to?
Josh Spodek: Well it’s all at joshuaspodek.com. So if you scroll down from there, that’s my blog. In the upper right corner, you can click to get to the books, you can click to get to the podcast. You can also click contact connect if you want to reach me. And so it’s all right there.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. Well, Josh, you’re doing incredible things. Your second book is “Initiative”. People should check it out. Your podcast, incredible guest, thanks so much for being on the show.
Josh Spodek: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for having me.