72. Changing the Way We Change with Caleb Gardner

Episode 72: Changing the Way We Change with Caleb Gardener (Summary)

How can leaders manage disruption when disruption never stops coming? What are the best practices for those struggling with the pace of change? My guest today says that our future depends on changing the way we change. It’s happening now on Boss Better Now.

Links:
To learn more about Caleb Gardener, visit his website Calebgardner.com.
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Transcript – Episode 72: Changing the Way We Change with Caleb Gardner

Joe:
How can leaders manage disruption when disruption never stops coming? What are the best practices for those struggling with the pace of change? My guest today says that our future depends on changing the way we change. It’s happening now on Boss Better Now.

Jamie:
You’re listening to Boss Better Now. This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Now here’s your host – speaker, and author, Joe Mull.

Joe:
Hello again, BossHeroes. And welcome back to your weekly dose of advice, humor, and encouragement for bosses everywhere. As always, thank you for sharing a small slice of your week with me here on the show that aspires to be food for your boss soul. Now, if you’ve been listening for a while, you may have noticed that our recent episodes have featured a lot of guests. That has been an intentional choice. As you know, I speak and write about commitment in the workplace. And over the years, this has led to me meeting some brilliant, funny, innovative, and inspiring people. And as the audience and the profile of this show have grown in its second year, I decided that I wanted to connect you, our BossHero listeners, to some of these incredible people and especially to some of their gifts, and their expertise, and their personalities.

Joe:
And my guest today is one of those people. I met him in sort of the most casual way possible. We were both attending a conference and we ended up sitting next to each other at dinner one night at one of those group meals that gets pulled together by one person who knows everybody, despite the fact that none of the people there knows each other. And so, we ended up sitting next to each other. And when I found out about his background, we quickly got to chatting about the upcoming election. And we’ve kept in touch ever since. He is a big thinker who makes me think every single time I get the chance to chat with him, which is why I’m so excited to introduce you to Caleb Gardner.

Joe:
For more than three years, Caleb was the lead digital strategist for OFA Barack Obama’s political advocacy group.
He led one of the largest digital programs in existence, including the most followed Twitter account in the world @Barack Obama. I cannot wait to ask him about that. But his decades of experience don’t just include work in government and politics. He has built operational frameworks for a variety of organizations in both the public and private sectors. Now as the co-founder and managing partner of 18 coffees – great name – an innovation and consulting firm. Caleb helps businesses with a mission to change the world, get a foothold in the future, solve impossible problems and bring new ideas to life. He works with global clients, including United Way Worldwide, Bose Corporation, Comcast, and others. And he’s also appeared in a variety of media, including Forbes, NBC News, Entrepreneur, and Entrepreneur Magazine, among others. And he has a brand-new book, which I’m really excited to talk with him about. It’s called, No Point B: Rules for Leading Change in the New Hyper-Connected, Radically Conscious Economy. And that book is going to be released on August 9th. And so, I am so excited to welcome to our show, my colleague, Caleb Gardner. Welcome to Boss Better Now, Caleb.

Caleb:
Thank you so much for having me. This is exciting.

Joe:
Do you remember that meal where we met? It was at the Influence Convention, and it was in the summer of 2016.

Caleb:
I do. Oh, I was just smiling when you were saying that, because it was such a, such a pleasant memory. It feels like it wasn’t that long ago, but when you say it’s 2016, oh man.

Joe:
I was doing the math on that. I thought, oh wait, was that before the Trump/Biden election? No, that was like back in the Clinton/Trump election. Cuz I remember we were talking about HRC, and it’s not a surprise to anybody listening that my politics are decidedly blue and we had that in common. And we talked about that quite a lot that night…and it’s just been fun to see, uh, the direction that you have gone and the work that you’re doing and the agency that you’re running now. A lot’s changed for you since then, is that fair to say?

Caleb:
Very fair. Yeah. I mean there’s a reason why that feels like a lifetime ago.

Joe:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, well, let’s start with that first sentence in your bio. You were @BarackObama on Twitter. What is it like to manage that account and talk to millions of people every day?

Caleb:
Stressful. I mean, I’d like to say that, you know, I wasn’t as gray when I started that job as I, as I am now much like the president himself. Right? Um, you know, we were — on one hand,  you can’t say that it wasn’t an amazing experience, and you know, one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done, um, just getting to work with the people that I got to work with. I mean the people who dedicate their time and their careers and their, their volunteer efforts, whatever degree to making the government work better so that it serves people. So that it, you know … people who, uh, want to do government for all the right reasons, get elected, whatever degree of, um, you know, public service that ends up being are just the most inspiring people. Um, they’re most fun to work with and can put up with all kinds of crap when it comes to like the actual workplace, right?

Caleb:
Like the squalor that a lot of government employees end up working in is, is insane. Um, but they’re always so inspiring. I mean, these are people that if you talk to them day to day, they come off as completely cynical and, and, and dry and hilarious, but they’ve dedicated their career to this big inspiring vision of making the world better. And so, it was just, just an amazing experience from that point of view, not to mention getting to work on, you know, the launch of the Affordable Care Act, the Paris Climate Accords, you know, and all the policy actual things that we got to work on and help launch.

Joe:
Yeah. When I think about how I got frustrated earlier today because my Bluetooth keyboard, wasn’t connecting to the computer in the right way… and it’s one of those things you’re like … this is ruining my whole day. And then you remember there are people out there who are doing much more important things like that. It sort of puts it into perspective. And you’re right. The folks that I’ve met who are in public service — it could be a really thankless experience, but they have this sort of internal deep commitment to purpose and to, to serving the common good in a way that you don’t find in a lot of other places. And so, I guess that sort of tees up my next question. Uh, so much of our discourse around many topics is standoffish and even toxic, right? Both at a national level and for many folks in their day-to-day lives, right? We’ve all learned that there are some conversations we can’t get into at work or that, or even with certain family members. So as someone who ran one of the largest digital programs in existence, what do you think we have to do to encourage more civilized communication?

Caleb:
It’s, it’s funny to think about how much communication has changed even from when I was, you know, working in with the Obama organization. I mean, there was still an optimism inherent to things like social media. I think up until 2016, there was, we had the Arab Spring in what was … a … 2014. We, we had just positive movement in terms of empowering people, giving people a voice, putting, being people, being able to organize and, uh, you know, make change both in their local community and on more national international levels. It wasn’t until 2015/2016, and going into the Trump administration where we really started to see the downsides of connecting people without guardrails of online bullying behavior. We started to see, um, data coming out about the mental health issues inherent in, um, things like Instagram and other social platforms. So, we really started to lose some of our naivete.

Caleb:
And I say this personally. I started to lose some of my naivete about, um, the impact of the internet at large, but especially social media platforms, right around that time … and started to really kind of swing the other direction in terms of advocating for more regulation, um, both from government regulation, but also internal regulation of those companies, themselves, more media literacy and digital media literacy, especially when it came to us as individuals and understanding where we’re getting our information from who we’re being influenced by all of those things. Unfortunately, we haven’t made a lot of progress since that time. I mean, there’s been some friction that’s been created on things like Twitter. For example, when you go to share an article, it knows you haven’t clicked through and read it, it will say things like, are you sure you want to share this? Like, so things like that, you know, maybe

Joe:
Read the second paragraph, Joe that’s right before you share it. Yeah.

Caleb:
More than just the headline. Um, so, you know, we’ve added some friction, you know, obviously, there’s been some regulatory pressure on things like Facebook around its advertising platform, but they really haven’t done much with their organic, um, platform, which is where a lot of the problems arise. So, there’s still a systemic problem that we absolutely need to address. I think we, as a society, especially in American society are becoming a lot more sober about the positive versus the negative effects of the internet. The tech industry has lost a lot of its “halo effect“. Um, so we are, we are, you know, reconciling that a little bit for ourselves. I think that ultimately it has to come from a three-prong solution. Like it’s gonna have to come from you. And I am learning about, uh, the internet, how we consume information, being more, uh, tech and media literate.

Caleb:
It’s gonna have to come from government regulatory pressure and it’s going to have to come from internal change in those companies, you know, employee pressure, especially, um, wanting to do the right thing and, you know, really trying to figure out a lot of these tech and ethics issues are not easy. It’s not easy to do moderation at scale, for example. And so, there’s, there’s a lot of effort that has to go into doing that well and, and really thinking through some of those thorny ethical issues. So, when you solve that, Joe, you just let me know, cause I’m gonna be over here, you know, doing other work,

Joe:
I’ll text you and we’ll celebrate together. Sure… and, and sort of the through line, I think that, that I pick up on both in terms of the big systemic issues that we see and then the day-to-day issues that exist in our personal lives. They both come back to the degree to which our thinking can be so easily manipulated, not just by misinformation, but by the absence of information. Right. And when I, too, when I talk to a lot of managers and do a lot of training with frontline leaders, more often than at any other time in my career, I do get this question of, you know… my team gets along, except we have these political divides in our office, and we can’t talk about these kinds of things. And so much of what people sort of gravitate toward and decide that they believe is based on the limited exposure that they have to a certain sort of tailored amount of information. And so, as someone who has worked in politics for a while, and now in business for a while, I imagine you’ve had to develop some really diplomatic ways to challenge people, to open their minds, to thinking differently or, uh, that they might not know all that there is to know on the subject or that what they do know might be misinformed. Can you guide us in any way toward some diplomatic ways of challenging folks when we know that they are maybe being victimized by some of that manipulation?

Caleb:
Yeah. I, I touch on this a little bit in the book for that exact reason that you’re talking about Joe, which is that the outside world is seeping into our workplaces much more so than we realize. And then I think this is especially true in a remote work environment because we are all we’ve individualized work to the extent where, you know, my Slack is right next to my Twitter. I mean, I’m getting messages about work at the same time as I’m getting messages about what’s going on in the world. And so, that culture outside of our workplace is really starting to seep in, in ways that I think we don’t even realize. And so, I do address this a little bit in the book. One thing that I, I want to call out is there’s this, uh, practice called “calling in”, instead of “calling out” that I think is a really important one.

Caleb:
Um, it comes from obviously, the idea of call-out culture, which has been critiqued a lot. And, and, you know, to some extent, I think some of those critiques are valid. I think some of them tend to be used as scapegoats, but I think if you think about how do you actually change minds? A lot of that naming and shaming is good from a macro level in terms of how society changes, but it’s not actually great from an individual changing, you know, people’s minds. And so, the idea of calling in is we actually invite someone into deeper understanding of an issue. We personalize it for our own experience. And then we actually make room for that person to, for their mind to actually change. And we see people on a journey of understanding instead of, you know, as a zero and one you’re either with me or you’re against me on this particular issue.

Caleb:
And so, it requires a lot of patience. Yeah, it does require a lot of, um, understanding the cultural and political nuances of the language we use. When we use specific words, explaining why we’re using those words, for example, um, requires a ton of patience and just kind of trading on relational equity we have with individual people, um, we can’t make people’s minds change if we haven’t done the work of creating some kind of bond and, and shared trust with those people. So true — being able to trade on that when we’re asking people to do really deep work of learning and changing is really important.

Joe:
It’s why we can’t change a stranger’s mind, but we can have some influence over ways that, uh, our friends and loved ones think because the distance that we have in those relationships is much shorter. And when we have those bonds of right trust and familiarity and even camaraderie, we actually have some more of that relational capital that you’ve talked about. That’s why we do a Camaraderie Question of the Week on our show every week. Because we want leaders to understand it’s not just about accomplishing the tasks and getting things done and, and maximizing the productivity of your team. You have to build underlying sophisticated relationships if you really want to maximize the performance and the productivity. I’m sorry, go ahead. But it’s…

Caleb:
It’s context-specific, right? Like there’s certain people, we have historical relationships with where it actually makes it harder for us to hear them and understand them. Yes. So, like family members is a great example. Like if I go and try to try to convince, you know, my cousins of, you know, my progressive point of view, they all, they’re all very conservative and they live where I grew up in Oklahoma and we are, you know, night and day in terms of our political beliefs. It, I carry with it, the history of them knowing me my whole life. Right. Yeah. And it, it, I have to understand that context. Whereas, sometimes if we hear something from a perfect stranger, we can hear it in a different way than we hear from the people we hear in our everyday lives. And so, it really is context-specific.

Joe:
Yeah. And, and I always think of that relationship almost like in the shape of a bell curve. Like there’s this sort of peak time when we have influence over people. But if you have two coworkers who work together for a long, long, long time, and they eventually, uh, learn each other’s, uh, is, uh, desires, best practices, worst practices, bad habits. We eventually start to dismiss them, even though we’re extremely familiar with them. So, it’s not familiarity alone. That gives us that influence. Right.

Caleb:
Right. Exactly. Because you can either that familiarity can create stronger bonds of trust. Yeah. But it can also create antagonistic relationships, whereas, oh, that person always says this, that person always does, you know, it becomes this absolutist, you see them as an antagonistic force in, um, in an organization, which is why we, we tend to, when we work with our clients, try to power map the organization a little bit in that way. Like which departments kind of naturally stand against other departments, even if it’s not explicitly said, like, we try to look at some of those, uh, cultural and power dynamics within an organization.

Joe:
Yeah. Well, I want to talk about this new book. Uh, tell me the story about how it came to exist in the world.

Caleb:
Oh. Came to exist in the world because, um, you know, I had several people tell me that I should write a book for many years. That was one way, but it also, um, uh, there was work that we were doing as 18 Coffees of the organization for many years that I thought was just super fascinating cutting-edge work. Um, obviously I’m biased cuz I was a part of it and helped, helped conceptualize a lot. But I also thought it was work that no one else was doing and that there wasn’t, we hadn’t put on paper, our point of view about the world and the work that needed it to happen. And especially coming from my Obama background, coming from some of the digital strategy and digital transformation work I’d done, I felt like I had a pretty unique point of view on that work, and could kind of story tell along with telling about the kind of work that we do. Um, and so, you know, it was, that’s, that’s basically how the concept of the book came about the actual writing of the book, um, as you know, was, uh, uh, labor of love over many years and…

Joe:
Emphasis on labor. Yeah.

Caleb:
…that’s right. Um, but you know, that’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, uh, writing in general, but especially writing a book is just such a great forcing function for what do I believe about X topic? Yes, yes. Right. Like it’s not, it’s not even, you know, I can have ideas floating around and as we’re in conversation, they can come out kind of directly in, in external processing. But man, when you’re sitting down to write a book, you’re really like, oh, I’ve dedicated an entire chapter. This I really have to flush out what I believe about this thing. Yes. Um, and it’s a, it’s a great, stressful, um, uh, exercise.

Joe:
I, I always have this experience when I’m writing, I’m in throes of writing book three right now, and my audience has heard me talk about that a little bit. And, and I know that you know that, um, and it’s, it is an, an intensely challenging experience at times. And I constantly hear this voice in my head when I write a statement, prove it like, okay, you just made this assertion, how are you going to prove it? And it’s funny how I quickly want to go to data and research, but I also need to prove it in real-world case studies and storytelling and I need to prove it in terms of, um, understanding the background for why things happen. And so, uh, you’re absolutely right. It is a labor of love for me, it’s a little bit more labor than love… but I heard a couple of years ago, uh, a friend of mine who works in the book industry said something really smart.

Joe:
And he said, “If there are no surprises for the writer, there are no surprises for the reader”. Um, and oh, I know that when I sit down to write, I have to write to discover and uncover, right. And, and I know a lot of folks who will make their whole outline and then they’ll sit down, and they’ll knock out like 35 minutes a day. And then in three, four months, poof, I have a book and I can’t do it that way. I have to sit down and kind of get lost. And where is this taking me? And, oh, I need to answer this question. And that’s a really surprising thing. So let me go find out more about that. And I end up having some of these surprises and I think, I think it’s better in, in the end. And it sounds like that’s a part of the experience you’ve had as well.

Caleb:
Yeah. To a certain extent. I mean, I did write a proposal and worked with an agent on the proposal. So, I feel like I almost did that more in the proposal stage than I did the actual writing stage. Yeah. Because you have to put the idea so much on paper to be able to go out and sell it to a publisher. But, um, I’m actually reading right now, Steven King’s “On Writing”. If you are interested in the writing process, it is such a fabulous book. Definitely highly recommend it. But in that book, he, uh, talks about the process being very close to what you were just saying, which is he, he uses the analogy of it being a fossil that he uncovers, like he’s got this kind of loose idea and he’s slowly kind of pulling away what it isn’t. Right. Like he’s pulling away, he’s uncovering the dirt. He’s, he’s cleaning, he’s polishing off like parts of it. Yes. But it’s this, it’s a thing that exists in the world that he’s uncovering. He’s not necessarily like creating it. Yes. I always, I love that analogy.

Joe:
The two books that I see pointed to the most for writers, and I’m sorry to the BossHeroes who are listening, if, if Caleb and I are nerding out a little bit right now on the whole writing process, but, um, is the Stephen King Book and then William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. If you’ve not picked it up, it’s in like its 30th edition. And I remember the first time I read this thing and I was like, this is the most useful, brilliant, simple little tool that I’ve ever encountered for writing. Have you, are you familiar with it at all?

Caleb:
I’ve heard of it. Yeah. I haven’t read that one, but um, I’ve definitely heard of it. I’ve referenced many bags stuff.

Joe:
Good stuff. Um, well I’m going to, uh, keep my promise to our, uh, friends who are listening because I told them we were going to talk about change today, which I know is at the center of your expertise. And you’ve, you know, at the center of this book that you’ve written is, is navigating change. And so, let’s start here when it comes to change. What are some of the core principles that you would adhere to and that you use to advise CEOs and guide organizations when it comes to managing and navigating change?

Caleb:
I mean the first one is that things are changing faster and in deeper ways than we even realize mm-hmm. And I think that the last few years it’s been much easier to see that come to the surface, right? Like we literally just living through a global pandemic, we’ve got war and Ukraine. We’ve got all these macro elements that are changing, you know, things that really matter to us day to day, you know, this, especially the war and inflation, right? Like you can draw a straight line between macro things that are happening and impact on our actual wallets, right. That doesn’t always happen. But in the last few years, it’s been very easy to convince people about the pace of change. But even before that, if you think about the incremental elements of technological advancement that are changing society, as we know it both from an individual consumer shopping behavior, from how we do work, which has changed in the last few years from, um, you know, the connecting the dots of internet connectivity in rural areas and parts of the world that have never been connected.

Caleb:
Like there’s just so many macro things happening that we have a hard time with our puny human brains, wrapping our head around all of the implications and how they intersect in ways that are going to change how we work and change our lives. And so that that’s always the biggest one is like, we cannot wrap our heads around how much our work, especially, but our lives, um, are going to continue to change and then change again and then change again. But the second principle, I always tell people is it doesn’t have to be scary. And we do have agency over the direction of that change. It’s very easy to get. Um, you know, I’m going to geek out with you and say a Kierkegaard quote here. You talked about being lost in the infinite mm-hmm, it’s very easy to get lost in the infinite of all the things that are changing and do nothing about it.

Caleb:
Right. And get, really get, you know, the paradox of choice means there’s so many things we could do that we do nothing. Yes. And a lot of the organizations I work with are at that point, maybe they’ve created a committee over here to kind of investigate something or, you know, you’ve got one kind of leader with the bee in their bonnet saying like, we’ve got to do this thing, but no one’s really listening. You know, it looks like a lot of different things, but oftentimes it’s very, a very par uh, causes a lot of organizational paralysis. Yeah. Because it’s just so much. Um, but it doesn’t have to be scary. There’s a lot of opportunity that comes with change. I think there’s fascinating opportunity when it comes to connecting the world in ways that we’ve done in the last two years. Like the positive unintended consequences of that, of this pandemic are going to be, have incredible ripple effects for decades.

Caleb:
Yep. Um, that’s exciting to think about, so there, there are new areas of value in an organization, new product lines, new, new, you know, places that we can innovate. There are new, um, opportunities for learning for, with us as individual contributors, in an organization opportunities to stretch our own thinking, to do things that we never thought would be parts of our job. Um, you know, there’s just, there’s lots of positive, um, things that come along with change. And so, I always want to frame it in that way, but it takes a lot of mental, uh, agility. And that’s where it gets to the third principle I always bring up, which is organizations. Aren’t what changes. It’s people that change because organizations are just a social construct. This is, this is something that always baffles people. When I talk about, I’m like my company doesn’t exist, except that we all agree that it exists, right?

Caleb:
Like I’ve got a bunch of things on paper. Sure. Right? Like I’ve got legal documents, I’ve got policies and procedures. Um, but the only way it actually creates value every day is we, we all agreed to work together towards specific ends and serve my clients in specific ways. Like it is a social construct. And so, if we want to change a company, we have to change the mindset of the people in that company and help them see their jobs in different ways. And so, when we are scaling up change and how we work with organizations, we have to start with what behaviors need to change at the individual contributor level. How do we get people really excited about a new direction for this change, get them bought in seeing their own power and their own agency and making the change, seeing how it’s going to change the organization for the better, but also give them new opportunities and their own jobs. And that way we scale up change and make it a conversation between what are leadership priorities and what are individual priorities. I mean, that’s really the only way it ever works. If it becomes a big top-down initiative, what is the big, big McKenzie study that’s always, uh, referenced like 75% of the time. It doesn’t work.

Joe:
Right.

Caleb:
Right. Because you didn’t get the people that were actually going to implement the change involved in where the change was going to go.

Joe:
Right. One of the things I love about what you just said is sort of an acknowledgment that we can’t possibly predict the future. And I think for so many leaders, especially in senior leadership roles, especially for folks who sit in high-level administrative or C-suite roles, they are for years, they’ve been told, you got to have some idea of what the future’s going to be like so that you can lead. And so, you can guide your teams, your organization, your products, and services appropriately, but it feels like you just said, it’s not possible to really know all the various iterations or, or, or potential paths that we could go forward in. So let yourself off the hook with that. And while you, and maybe I’m, I’m oversimplifying this, so correct me if I’m wrong, but what I think I heard is you can’t possibly know what’s going to happen, but you still have to know where you’re going.

Caleb:
Yeah. I mean, uh, the whole first chapter of my book, I’ll just spoil alert is about how bad we are at planning. Yeah. Like how bad we are at predicting the future. Even smart people get the future wrong all the time. And so, we have to see the future as the business of what we’re in now and be actually agile and, and, and overlapping like different plans and different scenarios. And think through strategic planning a lot differently than this linear process that we had gone through before. It’s the whole point of the, the book, right. It’s called No Point B because there is no linear process to get from where we are to where we’re going, it’s going to inevitably change. And so, yeah, it doesn’t mean we don’t plan. It just means we do it in shorter cycles. We have agility both on paper and in our thinking and we, you know, listen and get a lot of data a lot more quickly.

Caleb:
I think the one thing that when I work with leaders and I, this is me coming from a digital background, having worked with these massive data sets is that sometimes people have this perception, that data gives us certainty. Right? When we’re looking at planning, it’s like, oh, we start to use that as an excuse, not to move because we don’t have the data. Um, it also sometimes gives us confirmation bias about a direction we want to move in depending on how the data is interpreted, but data doesn’t really give us, uh, wisdom. It gives us signal. Sometimes it gives us insight, but ultimately, we have to be able to move before we have a lot of the data points that we actually want to confirm that that’s the right direction.

Joe:
Absolutely. Well, we are going to pause because I have like at least three or so other things that I want to ask you about that tie into what you just said, but we’re going to pause to keep the other promise that we make to our listeners every week to do this, we have a little something that we do around here. Caleb called the Camaraderie Question of the Week. We know that bosses build camaraderie on teams, by helping people find things in common with each other that go beyond the tasks and duties of their roles. And when people get to build more sophisticated relationships with each other, that actually powers performance. And so, every week on our show, we give leaders a question they can ask in huddles or during meetings or on zooms or even one on one, just to help people make those connections and develop more camaraderie. And it comes with this catchy little theme music. And so, our Camaraderie Question of the Week is this Caleb – What is a hobby or activity you enjoy that only a few people around you know about?

Caleb:
Okay, first of all, that music was delightful.

Joe:
Thank you. And

Caleb:
It was related to what my answer’s going to be, which is that I play music. Okay. Play guitar, um, like to sing used to actually minor art and music in college, believe it or not. Ah, so I still, I mean, obviously I’m very busy now both with my business, but also with having a family. So, I don’t get to do it as often as I would like, but you know, on the weekends I’ll still play the, you know, pick up the guitar, play for the kids, you know, do it as a way to honestly do it as a way to separate myself from screens for a little bit, right?

Joe:
Yes. Yes. Did you know that we have that in common cuz my bachelor’s degree is in voice?

Caleb:
I did not know that

Joe:
My answer to this question was going to be, I play the guitar and every once in a while, for years I would do like the occasional open mic night and not be very good. Like my voice in my, my music background was more musical theater. And if you’ve ever seen a musical theater guy, try to go do like coffee house, open mic night, it’s not always the smoothest transition to make. Right? Um, but we have that in common. That’s so interesting. So, were you doing music a lot in middle school, high school, and decided you wanted to maybe pursue it as a career? Is that how it became a minor?

Caleb:
Actually, this is funny. I did more theater in high school than I did, uh, music. I didn’t do music really. I did music personally, just like, you know, in my bedroom and high school and stuff, but I didn’t really think, oh, I should learn some musical theory and you know, make myself smarter about this until college.

Joe:
Okay. All right. And so, when you were minoring in music, what were you majoring in?

Caleb:
Uh, history.

Joe:
Okay. All right. And so, did you marry those two together in any way? Were you doing any historic musicals, anything like that?

Caleb:
Not really. No. I mean, I, I, for a while I thought I was going to be an attorney and would go to law school after, after college, which is part of why majored in history. But no, and then I decided not to do that. I just ended up graduating with a major in history and a minor in music and I can say my parents were thrilled and they were like, what are you going to go do with that? I was like, I

Joe:
… well…

Caleb:
I think it’s worked out okay.

Joe:
It’s worked out. I was going to say, and, and it nothing else. You can reach over for that guitar every once in a while. And I don’t know if it’s like this for you, but for me, it’s almost like at-home therapy. When you run your own business, it’s hard to stop thinking about the work. And that’s one of the things that when I get to do music, it helps me completely unplug from all the other noise in my head.

Caleb:
Same. I mean, I, to me, I’m very futuristic in terms of my orientation. Yeah. It actually came up when I did a strengths finder from Gallup a few years ago. Yeah. Futuristic with one of my, one of my strengths, what it means is that my head is rarely in the present and I have to actually like contentment ends up being a practice for me. Otherwise, it’s just, you know, future, future, future. Um, I like to make the joke that, and this is something that’s actually happened. My wife and I will sit at the dinner table, and she’ll be like, what do you want for dinner? And I’ll be like, I don’t know, where do you want to retire? Like that’s, that’s those are our orientations. Yes. Um, so like playing guitar or really doing anything with my hands, like doing the dishes, whatever. Yes. Really helps me stay in the moment and, and stay outta my head a little bit.

Joe:
Oh man. That is so true for me too. I’m feeling very, very triggered by everything you just said. But we, we talk at home about how I have to work hard to just be, to just be, you know what I mean? And to not think about, um, what’s the next thing I can knock off the list, you know? And…

Caleb:
I think a lot of entrepreneurs are like that.

Joe:
I guess. So, I guess so, well, hey man, thank you for sharing. That is the Camaraderie Question of the Week. All right, Caleb, I’ve got you for a few more minutes. And so, there are two or three things that I want to ask you about before we get you out of here. Um, one of them is, uh, a phrase that you use in the book. Uh, you talk about building adaptive capability. That sounds like a really important skill or trait for leaders to embrace in the world today. What does that mean? And how do we get better at it?

Caleb:
I like to use the analogy of the organization being like a muscle, right? Like, uh, I mean a series of muscles, right? But the reason I like to use that is because it — when we don’t use our muscles — when we don’t exercise, when we don’t build endurance and then a crisis happens, we end up having to run a mile to do, you know, like you, your kid’s sick and you got to run a mile to the hospital to get medicine. I don’t know that was a terrible analogy, but you get what I’m saying?

Caleb:
Um, we are, don’t have the endurance to be able to handle it, right? Like we’re asking our body to do something we’ve never trained it for. I think that change is a lot like that for the organization. Building adaptive capability means that we are stretching ourselves, building endurance, building strength, to be able to tackle hard challenges before those hard challenges actually happen. Um, you know, again, they happen all the time. We might not know they’re happening all the time, but before the big crisis creation, you know, happens where we’re really getting disrupted, we’ve got a leadership turnover, you know, some of these huge things that really trickle down in the organization, um, we need people to have both the mental agility, but also things on paper to know what to do in different scenarios. And so, creating that adaptive capability is about seeing around corners to more than just what’s happening day to day in our organization and preparing everyone to be able to change quickly.

Joe:
Well, and that tees me up perfectly to the other thing that I wanted to ask you about that, that I encountered in the materials for the book, which is you talk about how important it is that we’re never resting on our assumptions about how to best navigate, change, navigate the world, navigate what’s happening. How do we make sure that we don’t do that? Uh, what does that look like?

Caleb:
It looks like periodically creating the opportunity to self-evaluate and, and, you know, it’s a little bit subjective depending on what kind of, you know, department we’re in, what kind of problem we want to want to self-evaluate but I’ll get, I’ll give you a spec-specific example of a client that I was working with recently, who wanted to look at their product development process. And they wanted to critique specifically the design process used in that product development process and the reason they wanted to critique it is that in the last few years, there’s been a lot of critique of the design process when it comes to, um, inclusivity and marginalized communities, basically seeing like, look the design process, if you know anything about this, you know, it goes from I ideate, empathize, you know, those are big parts of the design process. They basically said, how can a, you know, white man, like me ever truly empathize with people that have disabilities or people that are in marginalized communities, we’ve, we’ve created this expectation that we can do something we actually can’t do without the direct involvement of those communities.

Caleb:
And so that critique from a pretty ethical, you know, standpoint, um, has now started to go around in design circles. A lot of the design process itself hasn’t changed yet, but this organization we were working with said, we wanted to take that critique seriously. And we want to look at the design process and look how we’re developing products and look at the output of how we’re developing those products and say, is it having actual positive benefits to marginalized communities? Or is it having harm to marginalized communities? We don’t always have to take big moments in time, like build bringing in a consulting firm like ours to reevaluate the tools we’re using. Oftentimes it just takes some intentionality about putting things on the calendar and giving things an expiration date and say, at this point, we are going to consider whether or not this, these assumptions we are making these tools we are using actually are still good, or we can continue to use them, or should we actually reevaluate them, critique them, adjust them.

Caleb:
This is a big part of complexity theory. If you know anything about complexity theory, it means like complexity theory basically says, we are systems you and I that work in systems groups, mm-hmm <affirmative> organizations that interact with other systems, the rest of society, our political environment, et cetera, et cetera, in that kind of complex environment, we can never actually know fully the unintended consequences of our decisions. And we have to be able to self-critique in a recursive repetitive way, what our assumptions are. I think that organizations can do that. It just takes some intentionality. It takes literally my, I used to have a mentor that said, if it’s not on the calendar, it’s just a good idea. Yeah. Put it on the calendar. Like it’s, it’s not hard. It’s just, it takes some intentionality.

Joe:
I, and I think that’s so translatable to a lot of the frontline and mid-level leaders that listen to this show and because that intentionality can become a practice in my day-to-day life as the supervisor of a team of nine – when as things continue piling up on my plate, I step back and say, does it make sense for me to continue doing these other things that I’ve always done? Does it make sense for me to continue putting these fires out in the same way? Are there, uh, are there practices that I have always thought of as, um, non-negotiables that actually are right. And, and then also going back to the assumption point that you talked about is what don’t, I know what perspective don’t I have, what, what perspective am I incapable of having, because of the chair that I sit in or the nature of my role or the nature of who I am in this world. So that intentionality can absolutely be translated, not just from kind of a corporate vision, uh, and corporate practice, but into the way that we individually lead.

Caleb:
Yeah. I mean, going back to what I was saying, I earlier about the, you know, organizations being made of people and the only way organizations change is that the people change. I think that it can’t happen unless the people who are leading those teams of nine, right or whatever in an organization commit to doing that because the, at their corporate level, at the leadership level, they often don’t have the visibility to see whether things, how things are working in the day-to-day process of the actual application of the tools. Right. So, they just assume everything’s fine. Yeah. When actually there could be things that are, that are very broken about the process.

Joe:
Or somebody will tell me if I should, should think differently about this or if I stop using this. Right. Right. Yeah. Well, let, let’s kind of wrap up on this. You know, so many of our listeners, uh, who are in those frontline and mid-level roles, they endure change that is brought about by people and by forces, beyond their control, uh, they endure change more so than they get to drive it. What advice do you have for leaders on the front lines who often find themselves at the mercy of change with limited power to influence it?

Caleb:
That’s such a good question. And one that we’ve addressed many times, because we get, we get asked this, we get asked to come in and talk to, you know, groups, uh, that are experiencing a lot of, especially external change. They don’t have a lot of control over, right? And are experiencing a lot of, a lot of stress, you know, like we’ve all experienced a lot of stress the last couple years, but…

Joe:
A little bit…

Caleb:
Especially folks that don’t, when you don’t feel like you have control over your destiny, it adds a level of, um, taxation in our mental capacity. Yes. Um, so there’s two things. I would say that one is going back to framing changes and opportunity. There are things that happen in the organization where decisions are made, and you don’t have full visibility into why those decisions are made. And hopefully, there’s a level of trust that’s been developed between management and between the folks on the frontline. Um, if not, I would actually say that you have more agency to figure it out and to ask questions than we often realize you know. Like I don’t think, I don’t think anyone in leadership necessarily wants to create a lack of transparency or wants there to be a disconnect between the vision of where the organization is going and what’s happening on the front line.

Caleb:
Oftentimes those just happen out of, um, a lack of communication. Like they’re not, they would love more transparency, love people to get engaged. The larger vision, love people to be plugged in. But what happens is people are just so busy doing their day-to-day jobs, right. That they aren’t really paying that close attention. So, I think you have a lot of agency to create clarity for yourself. I think where you don’t have clarity, or you disagree. I actually think you have a lot of agency to speak up and to organize other people with a different point of view and bring that point of view to people that you report to mm-hmm <affirmative> obviously you want to do it diplomatically. You want to do it in a way that, you know, it’s not going to create a lot of internal dissonance. If you do, maybe that’s not the right place, the right word.

Joe:
Different.

Caleb:
Right. Different, big questions. If they really can’t take any critique of the direction. Right. Like otherwise I think if you are, if the organization is healthy and functioning, like it should be, they should want feedback from people on the frontline. Yes. And they should want, want engagement from people on the frontline. And so, I think oftentimes, um, you know, individual contributors have more agency than they realize.

Joe:
Yes, absolutely. Okay. So, the book is called No Point B: Rules for Leading Change in the New Hyper-Connected, Radically Conscious Economy. It’s coming out in a few weeks. How do they find it, Caleb?

Caleb:
Right now, you can go to Calebgardner.com/pre-order. And that will give you a few options for where to pre-order the book. Um, like Joe said, it comes out August 9th. I’ll be doing some, um, you know, different events between now and then, uh, to promote the book. And after it comes out, as you know, like it’s a whole, whole song and dance I’ll be doing between now and August 9th, that should be pretty fun.

Joe:
That’s exciting. And if people want to follow, you learn more about 18 coffees or get in touch with you. Uh, what’s the best way for them to do that.

Caleb:
Yeah. Uh, you can follow me all over the internet @calebgardner.com, including, um, on all the socials, which my handles are usually just Caleb Gardner 18 coffees.com for our consulting firm. We’d love to hear from you.

Joe:
Well, thank you so much for being here today. You gave us a lot to think about I’m really grateful.

Caleb:
Thank you, Joe. Always great to talk to you.

Joe:
All right, friends. That’s our show. Remember to please share and subscribe. And also remember this. You got to take care of yourselves out there, BossHeroes, which I know that you sometimes forget to do amid a relentless flow of work and demands and change and fires to put out every day. Remember that you don’t serve others well unless you’re taking care of yourself and that’s not a thing you have to find time for when you can. That’s a thing you must intentionally plan for first. After all, we fill up the gas tank before we need the gas in order to get where we need to go. Not the other way around for now. Thanks for listening. And thanks for all that you do to care for so many. We’ll see you next week.

Jamie:
This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Remember commitment comes from better bosses. Visit joemull.com today.

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