Episode 50: Tech Maven Sasja Beerendonk

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts who bring a light to our world. I could not be more excited to have a colleague and friend on today, all the way from Amsterdam, not Amsterdam, Rotterdam. I almost messed that, up from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Sasja Beerendonk, and maybe you should say your gorgeous name for everybody.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Hello everybody. I think you, you did it really well, but yeah, Sasja Beerendonk. Maybe a bit, a bit of slightly different accent.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Awesome. Are you actually in, in Rotterdam today?

Sasja Beerendonk:  I am, yeah. I actually live in Rotterdam. Yeah.

Heather Newman:  Yep, that's right. Yes. So, so Sasja and I, funnily enough, did not meet there. Uh, we met in South Africa, so

Sasja Beerendonk:  We did. Yeah. We did. Where they, where they also speak sort of Dutch.

Heather Newman:  Yes, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, Sasja is, um, she's a digital innovation evangelist. Uh, she's an expert in user adoption and change management. So we know each other through the tech community and I got to see her speak in South Africa and I was blown away. Um, you are an amazing speaker. Truly. I was so,.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Thank you.

Heather Newman:  You're welcome. I was, I was so impressed. Yeah. Um, tell everybody a little bit about that session will ya? Um, that you gave in South Africa, cause it was super cool.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Sure. Um, yeah, I did, I did a session, um, in South Africa and uh, and folks were just sort of, uh, blown away that I would just come over for that. But, uh, it was, uh, it was a great, great SharePoint Saturday, I have to really say. One of the better ones I've been to so far. Um, yeah, but my session was, well of course everything is always around the topic of Office 365 having people use it more effectively. But this particular one was around, uh, co-authoring documents, um, using modern technology like Teams, OneDrive and also Office, um, features that a lot of people are just usually not aware of. So, um, what I tried to do there is showing people how you can, um, you know, get, get better at doing something, a process rather than, than doing a tool. So that's why it was a combination of tools and, and particularly changing behavior.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I think that's what I liked most about it is that, you know, we often get into these technology discussions and it's about, you know, features and it's, um, about, you know, the technology. And what I loved about it, and I try to do this in my presentations as well, is really showing that human side, the behavioral side of looking into people how, how they actually use software with use cases. And I loved how you did that. Yeah. Um, and let's see. So, we, uh, so after we met, uh, and had that great experience in South Africa, thank you all to everyone who put on that SharePoint Saturday, um, we, uh, Sasja said, hey, you want to come to Rotterdam? And I was like, well, yes, I love the Netherlands so I would love to do that. And, and you work for a company called Silverside and so she invited me to come to an end user adoption workshop, um, where they went over their pace, uh, methodology. And I, I was blown away by that too. I mean, you just have such a neat way of sort of thinking through things. Will you tell everybody about Pace a little bit and what that's about. The workshop was amazing.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Sure. Well, thanks again and I was really so, so thrilled that you said yes I'll come and joined us and provided us with, you know, lots of, um, interaction and, and fun and, and feedback. Pace is the methodology we developed at Silverside for doing user adoption. And it's, it's, it's particularly linked to technology and aimed mostly at Office 365, but it's, it's really not so much about a specific technology that, you know, that's, that's all the, the, that the end results of things of course will show up things using things in Office 365, but it's a, it's basically a methodology. The acronyms, p a c e stands for prepare, activate, capitalize, and enhance, which is just four stages across time, that combines a combination of eight different streams, um, around particular, um, expertise that you need to combine together across those four stages to really, um, have people, uh, in, in an organization adopt new technology.

Sasja Beerendonk:  So, it's got, it's got all kinds of streams basically in entwined. None more important than the other. Um, but all equally important. Um, and, and the, and the, and also interdependent to each other. So for example, there's of course the technology to consider. There's communications to consider. Um, there's a, the, the project guidance to consider, but we also combine a lot of stuff around culture and behavior, in those, uh, in, in the model as a stream that all interacts together to, um, yeah, for that one result. Help people embrace new technology in an effective way.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And you all, you've been at Silverside a long time now, so like about seven or eight years, maybe?

Sasja Beerendonk:  A little less. Five and a half. Yeah. But yeah, but good, but still quite a while. Yeah. We've, we've been doing this, this methodology for a while, um, mostly at our own clients and, um, and we felt it was time to make it more broadly available and also, uh, expand to, to train others in, um, in embracing that same methodology to be applied to their customers or, or even and customers that have their own change practitioners in house.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And it, and it marries so nicely with what Microsoft is putting out, you know, around user adoption. You know, I think, you know, the pillars or the, I guess acronyms may be just slightly different, but I think like as far as just sort of the phases, I definitely think that the, it marries and maps so nicely, you know, so that folks can, you know, continue to leverage what Microsoft is putting out, but also just what you have. It's just so, it seems so comprehensive to me, which is what I loved about it. We did this great game where we, um, took a little kind of poker chips or, you know, play money and we put it on this large grid to see where we would spend in the different sections. And it was so interactive, you know, everybody was out of their chairs and you know, discussing, you know, where you would spend on the different areas. I loved that piece of it. I love the interactivity of what you all bring to the table. Yeah.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah. I love to do it. I really wanted to not just, just, you know, give people lots of information but really make it, make it as interactive and fun as possible. Cause it's a long day to be otherwise just learning new stuff. And I still, I think, it was still maybe pretty, pretty tough for some, maybe more than for others. Um, but yeah, you have to keep it fun and interactive.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. That, and there were cards, like little flash cards for it, so yeah. It's really, yeah. So for those of you in the, in the technology space, um, the methodology is super cool and it'd be something to check out on their website and we'll make sure and put that in the show notes. But, uh, it's silverside.nl, is that right? Or is it.com?

Sasja Beerendonk:  It's both.

Heather Newman:  It's both. Okay. Yeah, I figured. Right on, that's great. Well, I'm gonna pitch around a bit. Um, so I know from your background, um, you know, I was a theater major turned, you know, into technology and, uh, you started out, uh, in history.

Sasja Beerendonk:  That's correct. Yeah.

Heather Newman:  Talk about that. Talk about your humble beginnings. How did history merge into technology for you?

Sasja Beerendonk:  It may not sound very logical at first, although I do see a lot of trainers and people in the more, in the, what they tend to call the softer sciences. They tend to come from, from all kinds of backgrounds, uh, and, and, and hardly ever from, from, uh, from computer technology, kind of, um, studies. Um, yeah, so I, I studied, um, to become a history teacher. I thought that's what I wanted. Um, and I finished it. Um, but there were really no jobs at the time when I finished studying for that field. I mean there was some jobs and it was like, you know, replacing somebody who was on pregnancy leave and then there would be 500 applicants and at the same time I'd already started during my studies and this was like, I can't even remember when it was like in the 90s. And, you know, computers, for young people listening, they may not understand this, but the Internet was new. We just had www, you know, I mean, we don't have that even anymore now, but that it became visual. That was a new thing.

Heather Newman:  Right, right. I, you and I are around the same age ish. So like I like I was looking at your history of your college. I was like, yeah, I remember doing about the same time. So yeah.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah, I think so. Yes. So, it was all very new with, with IT and basically I saw great things happening with IT in the field of history as well. Like museums were trying to open up virtually and libraries were becoming available online, um, you know, all that sort of stuff. Archives. So, so I sort of enroll into, into that a little bit, trying to do my thesis around how to use IT for education. And I also did something with, with some schools in a, in a city called Delft, which is a rich historical city. With the, you know, with, uh, lots of places to visit. So we, we did things interactively building things online with the children around history. So I'm basically rolling to IT a little bit. And then when there were no jobs for history teaching, there were loads of job for training in IT. So that's how I sort of stumbled into it. But mind you, not the kind of training that I'm doing today. I mean, this was like teaching people Windows and PowerPoint and Word. They still probably should be teaching folks those things. But we're not.

Heather Newman:  Right. Yeah, I know. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean kind of the, it leads to sort of the, you know, you and, um, myself and Tracy van der Schyff, uh, talk a lot about digital literacy and PC literacy and your presentation I think really sort of touches on that of like, you know, she always, she always says, uh, about the Windows logo on the keyboard, that that's not just like a pretty button. You know, that, that actually does things, you know, and I do think that we, we make assumptions about, you know, people's just computer skills, you know, and most of the time we, we, we barely scratch the surface of sort of all the power that's there for us because we're so busy just trying to get the job done. That Like trying to take a moment to like get there is really tough. Yeah. And Yeah.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah, absolutely. That's what I tend to choose to also joke about to people who come to my sessions that IT people think that other people love their computers and IT, but, but they don't. They, you know, they're not, they may not even hate it. It doesn't have to be like that, but they're not like, oh, wow, a computer and let's, let's try and find out things. It's a means to an end and they've got other things to do.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. I mean, all the time. Yeah. So when, so, you were looking for work, what was your first job in IT?

Sasja Beerendonk:  Um, well if you consider that training then that, that was my first job. Doing training in IT. Um, but then after that, doing that for a while, and then you had the whole, um, Internet bubble. So then the jobs became less in the, in the IT world actually. But, so, I didn't make the best bet, I guess. Um, no, but then, then I moved into, into a company, which was great, and I've been there for 10 years, E Office. Um, and, and there we really started working on user adoption. Um, so that, I would consider that to have been my really first job in IT was an IT company. Um, but I, I was specializing in user adoption and that was in the days that hardly any other organization was doing, it was a very new, new, new field. The only work person I knew who was doing something around user adoption was Michael Sampson who wrote about it.

Heather Newman:  Right. Yes. And you gave us copies of his books and I, I had heard that name before, but that's, yeah, I mean, he's kind of the Grandfather of that, not that he's a grandfather, but maybe he is.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yes. I think he is. Sorry, Michael, if you're not.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Right. But the grandfather of end user adoption for sure. You know, I mean, yeah, he was definitely the first person that was, that was, uh, doing all of that stuff. And, yeah. And, and, and uh, yeah, it's interesting that, you know, after so many years of just sort of like, let's renew licenses that we've sort of gotten to a place where it's like, no, actually let's not just renew licenses or add seats, but let's actually really make sure that we're productive and that you're, you're not wasting money by bringing in a piece of software and then not teaching people how to use it. That's I, I find that so exciting as well. You know, I think it's a really good thing.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Absolutely. And I think, I think, um, you know, the last year or two we've really seen an uptake in that where, where Microsoft is really understanding it, that that's what it's all about and it's, it's a very mature world in, in the meantime, in the field of user adoption. Yeah, that's right.

Heather Newman:  So, I know you're a busy person in, you know, running around speaking and you know, dealing with clients and you know, you have a life and all of that. How do you, you live in such a beautiful place and thank you again for the invitation. It was so nice to be there. Rotterdam, if you haven't been, it's just, it's, you know, it's surrounded by water and it's just boats and great places to eat and all that. How, how do you, you know, unplug and, uh, find some balance? What's, what's your, what's your ways of that?

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah, I'm kind of a, a run or stop kind of girl. So there's sort of no, no in between, for me. And so I either run or I'm completely still and flat, but uh, yeah. So, so what, what I do like a lot is, uh, is, is, is going outside with my dog. So that's the best unwinding that, that you can have because, um, you know, you just, you're just not dealing with anything else when you're just walking outside and, and making a connection. So for me, that definitely, yeah. Going out with (dog's name) in the outdoors.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And where did you grow up?

Sasja Beerendonk:  I grew up literally under this smoke of Schiphol airport, in a place. I grew up in Hoofddorp. So whenever you, whenever you've landed in Schiphol anybody, basically they say Amsterdam Airport, but it really is Hoofddorp airport, when it's geographically located. So yeah, that's, that's a tiny place, um, where my mom also grew up and my dad grew up in a village next door. Um, so yeah, small village. Um, but, but still, you know, it's not, not far away in it was a densely populated area. Close to, to Amsterdam. Yeah.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I think Schiphol is a small, a small town. Yeah. I think Schiphol is probably one of the cleanest airports I've ever been to in my life. Like it's so well signed and it's such a nice place. And I, uh, for a while when I was living in Seattle, Continental Airlines, uh, that does not exist anymore, had this great flight from Seattle to Amsterdam. And so I, uh, seemed to, whenever I was coming over to Europe for Microsoft events, I was, uh, it was just easier for me to always stop in Amsterdam and, and then go on. And so I think out of all the cities in Europe, I think I have been to Amsterdam the most because I always did at least like a day or two in out to get sort of like acclimated on the end of every trip.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Okay. So then you actually also go into Amsterdam.

Heather Newman:  Yes. Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So I spoke.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Not just the airport.

Heather Newman:  Correct. Yeah. I would go in and either stay with friends or whatever. It's just such a rich, beautiful place. I think I saw the Banksy exhibit the last time I was there. Which was super cool. Um, yeah. Do you, are you, are you a, an art person or, or theater and music and all of that stuff? Is that something that's in your wheel house in Rotterdam?

Sasja Beerendonk:  I wouldn't say I'm a big art person. Um, um, I do like, uh, I do like music, I mean who doesn't like music. Um, and I, I used to play guitar and I play a little bit of drums. I don't do that too much, but, uh, but I, I do like making music for sure. Yeah.

Heather Newman:  That's awesome. Yeah. And you know, I, we, uh, we've sort of talked a bit about, you know, I, as you know, I speak and talk a lot about the diversity and inclusion and, uh, I know that, uh, you've been, we've had conversations about that and I was curious how you feel about sort of in Europe, the state of diversity and inclusion today, you know, of what you're seeing and any trends that are coming out or, um, anything that you feel is like, kind of top of mind in that area.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah. I'm not sure if I can speak for the whole of Europe. Let's try the Netherlands.

Heather Newman:  Fine, fine, fine, the Netherlands. Okay, I was reaching a little far, but you're an authority.

Sasja Beerendonk:  It's funny because, um, if you look at any American based company for any, um, um, job ad or, um, events, this is a topic, you know, um, even in job ads, it says that they're, they're, they're inclusive. Um, and it, I don't think, I mean, I don't think most Dutch people actually even know the term very well unless they maybe deal with, with America. Um, it, it's not a, it's not a thing that is so, um, as a, as a concept is on top of mind. Um, I mean it may be that the more of the what it actually is about of course is happening, but it's not so much of a topic as it is, I think in America. We're probably going to be, you know, we're probably just lagging behind, which, which often is the case with these things. These, these trends tend to come and then, and we'll probably catch on in a few years where it's becoming more, but you definitely would not see a Dutch company, uh, jobs, ad post, anything like that. That's not to say we are completely not digitally, not inclusive, but it's not on, you know, there's not screaming about it. And I also think that American women are more into careers than it is the case in the Netherlands. I think we're also lagging behind there.

Heather Newman:  Hmm. Okay. Interesting. Yeah. Yeah. It's, it depends. It's, it's all very, I mean, I asked you about Europe, which I think is silly, so sorry, but like, but, but it is, you know, it's like, it's like your own neighborhood or your own businesses or your own friends. Is where you kind of see all of those things happen. So thanks that view into that. Um, I know you're also, you're, you are a writer and author as well. What, what, what, where can people find you? Do you have a blog and, or are you, do you have other books in there? I know that you produce content as well.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah, I do. Well, you can find things of course, through my social media channels on Twitter or LinkedIn. Yeah. Um, um, and, and I've got a blog, um, on, on, on the silverside.com website that you can find lots of eBooks and blogs. Um, I don't actually have a personal one. I tried it for a while and then, and then I stopped because it was just, you know, posting double things. So yeah, most of them are probably just on the, on the Silverside website. Yeah. And I do love, um, I'm creating content in that way as well and trying to engage people and trying to, to find a different angle, maybe to things then what others may be doing.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And where, um, where are you speaking? Coming up or, or you, are you hosting more workshops or what, what's sort of the future look like for you in the next bit?

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah, so the, the future is I'm going to make some trips. I'm going to be in Germany in October, November. I've got, um, what Paris coming up in December. One Workplace. Uh, I think I'll be in Barcelona in September. So there is a few things that, um, they are coming up.

Heather Newman:  How about vacation? Are we taking any vacation?

Sasja Beerendonk:  Ha! I just had a week and a half off. But I have actually been painting my house so I had to, so I didn't go away.

Heather Newman:  Right. You did a staycation or a work staycation. Huh?

Sasja Beerendonk:  I did. Yeah, I did. So, but I had some help and it was, it was, it was fun, but it was very, it was very due, so yeah. So it had to be renewed and, I don't mind it. I mean, so yeah. So I had a week and a half off and I think I spent four days painting.

Heather Newman:  The rest with the dog outside. Yeah.

Sasja Beerendonk:  The rest with the dog outside. Correct. Yes.

Heather Newman:  That is awesome. Yeah. And I'm excited, so Sasja and I were talking and uh, so she, uh, very generously invited me to co-speak with her at, uh, the, the Paris event, the Modern Workplace event in Paris in December.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yup.

Heather Newman:  We're going to work on that. What's the name of our session? How about that?

Sasja Beerendonk:  So maybe when I get, now they think that I'm all in charge of something, people are going to get wrong idea. Um, so what happened here was I had a session accepted and you were like, yeah, and I was supposed to submit something, but I wasn't in time. So that's why I said, just join my session. And we'll just change it and make it to uh, yeah, it is both of ours.

Heather Newman:  Yes. Okay. Fair enough.

Sasja Beerendonk:  But it's called Facebook Never Needed Adoption - Why Does Office 365? So, yeah, so we need to, um, we need to see, um, you know what you have to say about that.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Well, well, you know, I love, yeah, I know. And I, I had seen, I had looked up the topics so I didn't not know exactly, but I wanted you to say it cause I don't, I didn't have it in front of me, but, um, but yeah, I love that. I mean it's kind of, um, Facebook didn't need adoption. You know, Google has no, you know, instructions on how to use it as a search engine. And I, I do love that. I think, um, it'll be fun to talk about sort of, you know, how it's kind of like how people put things out into the world, you know?

Sasja Beerendonk:  And what I find interesting is, um, because the title is the way I normally do the session. I mean, we can do, of course whatever we want it to be, but the way I normally do the session, it's also a bit of a double title because does Facebook really not need adoption is also, you know, you can also question that. People may not always be using it wisely, but also I think these, these public consumer based tools, they do adoption, but they call it marketing.

Heather Newman:  Yes, we do. I'm speaking with my, my, my CMO hat on. Yeah, no, that's absolutely true. I mean, I feel like, you know, it's, it's, uh, it's cloaked, right? Instead of calling it end user adoption, you, um, you know, put together a content marketing plan and ads and all of that stuff and get people, I think it's more, it's about excitement of what you can do with something. Right?

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah. That's a big part of it. And then, and that marketing part, which we tend to then call the communication part in adoption, but that's really also partly, it's also marketing to the employees, um, you know, setting certain, certain stage and certain mindset and certain need. Yeah. So it's definitely, there's definitely, um, you know, similar aspects to it. And I also think in marketing, especially in online tools, a lot of them are of course brilliant, especially when you, when you look at mobile apps. They're actually brilliant at behavioral science, which is also a big aspect of user adoption. You know, there's many things that I see the same there because Facebook is making me addicted, um, by having these badges that I see others, that's again something new. And I'm, I'm wanting to scroll down the newsfeed and see if there's anything more new. So it's, it's, that's all based on behavioral science. And I try to do that also in the user adoption to try and see how can you make people want to use it.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I, you know, uh, I had, uh, a customer recently, um, because when we deploy Content Panda out to customers, we will, you know, we obviously train them, but you know, it's, it's pretty much you click the panda, you know, it's really, it's kind of one or two clicks, right? To get that in context help and training and, um, but you know, some people are like, why is there a panda on my screen? You know what I mean? Like, like a panda all of a sudden it shows up and they're like, what the heck is that right? So, you know, there is a bit of, you know, rollout that needs to happen with anything, right. A bit. I mean, you could also just roll it out and have somebody click it and be like, oh, that's super cool, but that doesn't necessarily drive that usage and adoption that you want. I do find that some of the most innovative ideas around that often come from our clients. You know, where they'll all of a sudden be like, hey, we, we just, you know, we did a campaign and I'll often, um, work with folks in or if, if they want to, you know, we have all those templates and stuff up on our site, but like, people will create their own videos, you know, and share them with us and be like, hey, we created this, you know, around the panda and it's this or that. And like some of that, it's the, it's like the fun stuff, it seems to me. Or the gamification or the, that group think of like, I want to be included in this, that's some of that behavioral stuff. I mean, do you find that, you know, when you're going through the Pace methodology and stuff that like that people will sort of take it and then run with it and, and do they, do they then share with you like some of those fun ideas that they, that they come up with?

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah, they do. Yeah. Through the workshop, the Pace workshop, but also through sometimes through presentations. People tend to sometimes really get completely blown away with certain concepts on a slide and then there'll be saying like, oh yeah, I've been using it at my client, or clients saying that , yeah, no, I'm using, I'm using it, but I'm mentioning you, that it's yours. So yeah, people tend to run away with things and then, and then, you know, I get, get excited about it and, and start using it and that's fun.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I love that and I really love that you all as a company decided to share, you know what I mean? Like I think that there's all kinds of, I guess what I would say coopetition you know, where we're all, you know, working in a similar space, but I love that about you all inviting people who do this do similar things or, or who have products that are in the similar ilk so that we can all share and help each other and use best practices. I really, kudos to you all for doing that.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Thank you.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, you're welcome. It's, it's sort of, I, I feel that way, you know, about like adopt and embrace with Daryl Webster and other folks, you know, um, in the, in the space who are just so willing, like we all talk to each other, you know, that's what I like about it. And it's like, oh, well that's super cool. I'm going to bring that in. And, and often, you know, like we give shout outs to each other too, which I think is super cool too. It's like we're all in this together, you know?

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah, it is. Yeah. Yes, that's what I meant with it's so mature, this field, um, within the technology sectors and that's, so there's so many great people now, you know, wanting to talk about this and share and that's just making it, it's just making it go to a higher level. So that's cool.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Absolutely. No, I really like that too. So, yeah, again, big thank you. It was, I really enjoyed my time there and I got to stay in that beautiful hotel that, uh, the, the old Canard building. That was amazing too. I was like, this is one of the coolest hotels I've ever stayed in.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah. It is a cool hotel. Hotel New York, which is a very old building where the ships used to go sail to America for all the people who are seeking new dreams. So that's quite panicle.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, it was a, it had a really good energy. I really liked that place, so that was cool. Um, so you know, for you, uh, there's always I think a spark or something that led you to where you are, be it a person or a situation or something. And I always love to know kind of what, what maybe one, I know it's hard to pinpoint one, but one maybe spark that kind of led you to where you are today, that something you would share with our audience.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Wow. Yeah. That's, that's, I was dreading this question. One spark that where you are today. There's, of course, many, many, many of these moments in your life. Like turning moments.

Heather Newman:  Yes. You can share more than one, it's all good.

Sasja Beerendonk:  We mentioned it before, but I think when I read the user adoption strategies by Michael Samson was definitely a defining moment in my life. So, when it comes to my work field, having read that book that was, it was just sort of finally someone is putting some thought in this and, you know, it's, it's, it's based on research and um, it seems to make sense. It really was very new at the time. Yeah. And that was a turning moment for me, reading that and then starting to apply whatever he wrote into, uh, into my work and it's definitely, it's definitely helped me to get where I am today.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. How about another moment, like a non-work one? Anything come to mind?

Sasja Beerendonk:  A non-work one. Well, you know, it may sound silly to folks who are not into dogs, but, but definitely Logic coming into my life has been a defining, uh, point. So, my dog. Um, because, um, she, she's taught me so much about being patient and about being sensitive and cause it's, it's a very particular dog. She's got lots of fears and since she, you know, she's, she's, uh, she's, she's, she hasn't had a, a steady start. Um, so, you know, we adopted her. Um, but um, yeah, so, so she taught me, she's basically everything that I am not so, um, except for slim and beautiful of course.

Heather Newman:  You are, all of those.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Definitely know what I am. She, she, she really taught me a lot and it's ended up, and the nice thing is, of course, she didn't want to teach me. Um, you know, it wasn't a conscious thing, but it's, it's how you have to really go down. So just to give you an example, she's, she's very much afraid of things and her trust can be very easily broken. So there were times where it was difficult and getting her back on the leash again. She listens perfectly, but when there's like a little tension or she's not sure what is the meaning of something, then you may not be able to get her back on the leash. And I remember this one moment, so when we're talking about defining moments where I was remembered there's one moment she, and again, she didn't want to, and I remember thinking to myself, okay, Sasja, just let it go. Right. She's not coming now. Just let it go. And the moment I decided that for myself and I took a load off, she came down next to me, sat down and I could put her on the leash. It's, you know, the moment that you don't want it, that's when it happens. When you can let go and just be with the moment.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. That is sage advice. And it applies to so many things. And I think, I know I have a dog as well who's, um, who was not living with me right now, but, um, and I've had two, well actually I've had three dogs in my life and yeah, they're huge teachers, you know, and, and they're, so like I, I would, I would put a pivotal moment for me of, of different moments with the dogs I've had too, you know, for sure. And I love that letting go, cause man, we hold on to things, you know, we just, you know, sometimes we have a stranglehold, so much on so many different aspects of our life. And sometimes when you do let go it, it's like, oh, wait a minute, there's the answer or there's the thing. That is awesome. Oh my goodness. Those are, those are awesome. Wow, very cool. Um, Gosh, well, so you and I are gonna see each other definitely in December in Paris, which I'm super excited about. And, uh, yeah, so folks we'll have a session there. So, uh, come see us. Uh, pretty please. Um, well, uh, do you, do you speak French? I don't speak French.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Not, no, not much. I mean I can probably get by ordering something in a restaurant and that's about it.

Heather Newman:  Me as well. Okay. All right. Fair enough. You know what's so funny, I've been playing with a pen and it, it is the, it is actually the new, the Hotel New York pen and I didn't even realize that. That's so funny.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Oh really?

Heather Newman:  Yeah, totally. I was writing and I was like, oh wait a minute. Look at that. That's hilarious. That's awesome. Well, cool. Well I just appreciate your time and your friendship and your colleague-ship and um, it's, it's such a delight to talk to you and share some of who you are with our listeners. I appreciate you coming on today.

Sasja Beerendonk:  And I want to thank you for having me and I think it's a, it's a great job that you're doing with the podcast. I've listened to several and it's always a lot of fun and uh, it, it's awesome.

Heather Newman:  Thank you.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Yeah, thanks.

Heather Newman:  I appreciate that. Okay, well Sasja Beerendonk. Yay.

Sasja Beerendonk:  There you go. Yay!

Heather Newman:  I had to say it with a little oomph, so there we go. So thanks again so much for being on.

Sasja Beerendonk:  Thank you, Heather.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. Everyone that has been another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast. You can find us on iTunes, on Stitcher, on Spotify, and on the Mavens Do It Better website. And uh, here is to another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere. Thanks everyone.


Episode 49: Poetry Maven Carron Little

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts that bring a light to our world. I could not be more excited to have a wonderful, wonderful artist on today. Carron Little and she came to me from dear friend Alison Gerlach out of Chicago. And, so we've been sort of chasing each other a little bit and I'm so excited to, you and I are busy women, so we're trying to get on a podcast and hello and thank you for coming on today. 

Carron Little:  Well, thank you for inviting me, Heather. Thank you so much. 

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. So you know, I know that, you know, Alison works, you know, in the Chicago cultural world and you do as well and you know, you're an artist in your own right and an educator and all of that. And how did you and Allison meet? I think that'd be fun for folks to know. 

Carron Little:  Yeah. So, actually it was at a conference that the Department of Cultural Affairs organized called Public Heart. And we were both attendees. But I had, I'd heard of her through a mutual friend of mine and, and the work that she's doing, so I was already familiar and I think, you know, because we both work in public performance as well, you know, there was, uh, a synchronicity there already in terms of the work that we're doing and our philosophies as well. So yeah, that was the, the spark to the beginning of the friendship. 

Heather Newman:  That's wonderful. Yeah. She's one of my dearest friends in the whole world and we're always saying, oh my goodness, you need to meet this person or have them on your podcast and all of that. We do a lot of sharing of goodness. So it's always, a big shout out to you, sweetheart. Yay. And you're the founder of Out of Site Chicago. Will you talk about that a little bit? I know that's your company. 

Carron Little:  Yeah. So, I started Out of Site and 2011 as a means of, um, really taking culture, uh, to the streets and, um, bringing, taking culture out of the museums and into public space and, and engaging the public and dialogue, in critical discourse. So we create, we prioritize interactive public performances because we're interested in like really facilitating a direct conversation with the public and people that wouldn't normally enter a museum context and really thinking about. And, and the other thing that I did was also to think about creating a funding structure, uh, to support artists in their practice. Because at that moment in time, a lot of performance artists in the city were working for free and not feeling, um, very supported. So, so it was also to create a support structure and then as part of that funding structure to also invite international artists so we could really build the performance dialogue, um, beyond the city and create opportunities for local artits and, um, facilitate more diverse conversations about practice with relationship to performance. And, um, yeah, really thinking about how public, you're breaking. I mean, what's quite unique about Out of Site is the methodology that I've used to facilitate the public performances. So we have a steward team who are in place to facilitate a critical discourse with the public. And, um, there, there as a support between, like a mediator, between the artist and the public because often, you know, when you come across performance art, it's like this weirdest thing happening on the streets. Um, so, you know, we really wanted rather than just confront people with the shock of what they are seeing, we really wanted to create space where they would unpack it and uh, create, you know, create a conversation to go deeper, um, into the ideas that the artist is thinking about and investigating. 

Heather Newman:  Right. That's great. I mean, so you're, you've created a methodology and I love it that you're advocating for, you know, fair wages and, and that's part of, you know, you're, you work in sort of public art policy as well in the city of Chicago as well. 

Carron Little:  Yeah. Yeah. So I sit on, I was invited on to the arts committee for Wicker Park Bucktown in 2010. And I've really, you know, from the get-go, I, um, created policies, um, and advocated for all the money to go directly to artists. Prior to that, often the money that is allocated to the arts and the neighborhoods was going to like one consulting firm. And, um, so we, uh, so I really like, we started creating RFPs so people knew we had the money. You know, so really putting in the basic infrastructure to make sure the artists knew about the opportunities and could apply for funding, but then also creating, um, minimum amounts. So, um, thinking about what does it cost for a muralist to, to live and produce the mural that might take two weeks or a month, you know, it's not just about paying for the materials. You've got to pay for the labor time and for their living expenses while they're doing the work. So really kind of, so I lobbied a lot in the early days, um, to create a minimum, um, in terms of our budgeting, uh, which, uh, we've raised over the years, I'm happy to say, cause that's an ongoing conversation about how we, how we kind of increase our wages with the rise in living standard. You know, and um, so and then also, and then when I was artist and resident for the cultural center, I thought, well, as artist and resident, I should, I could actually kind of write some policy. Although I was doing my work. I was like, oh, I could also like advocate for others so then I, one day I just happened to sit down and write this paper of all the policies that I'd created for the neighborhoods. And then quite, um, accidentally I went in to rehearse that evening at the cultural center and the deputy cultural commissioner said to me, ooh Caron, could I have a paper with all the policies you've written for Wicker Park? On my desk by tomorrow morning. And I was like, okay, actually I just wrote it today. I quickly went home after rehearsal, edited it and sent it over. And then they adopted those policies, you know, within the next, you know, within months. So, you know, I do think it's really important that artists sit on funding committees. I'm the only one sitting on our committee. And so often now I'm in the position where they'll look to me to actually decide how much something is funded. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, I mean, yeah, even, you know, art is, I, uh, I was a theater major in Seattle, but I think, I think we talked about this or you know this from Alison, is I grew up outside of Chicago. And so when I was a teenager, I would, um, tell my parents I was going to go to the mall and I would drive into the city and I would go to the art institute and I would sit in the impressionist room and stare at that Paris Street, Rainy Day, beautiful painting and the Chagall Windows. And I, you know, like I wasn't, you know, back in the alley, I was at the art museum. Um, but I do think, you know, there's a, 

Carron Little:  My kind of woman. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah. There is a business to art, you know, and there's policy and all of it. And I do think I agree with you 100% that, you know, if we're not in positions to make the rules and make the, you know, policies, then that's left to other people's hands. And we know what happens sometimes when it's left to other people, you know. So I love that, you know, you're an artist, but you also obviously, you know, it's another gift that you bring to the world as an artist of the business of the art, right? Or the business of being an artist. And, and I'm sure in part of your education and teaching and all of that, that's something that goes along with writing poetry and doing, you know, performances and all of that. And that's, that's really cool that you found your way into that, you know. Even with like all the sudden somebody asks you, do you have it? And you're like, I wrote it today. That's amazing. 

Carron Little:  Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting. You know, I am, I was either going to be a politician or, or an artist when I was growing up. And I think I was, you know, I was trained in public speaking when I was 10 years old, which was kind of crazy. And I think, you know, my parents, you know, really wanted me to go into politics in some form and, you know, but I was never happy with the didactic nature of politics. And then I saw that art was something and culture was something that could really kind of engage in this mutual conversation. It wasn't about converting, but it educated people, or it was, uh, a more, um, you know, gentle invitation to go deeper into ideas. And I think that's why I kind of decided to be an artist because I didn't want to go down the didactic road and be in the position where I was having to persuade people to agree with me. But I kind of believe, I do believe in the power of art to fundamentally change culture over time. You know, it is, um, it's a long road. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, that's for sure. I mean, and we stand on the shoulders of many giants, you know, in those, in that change, in that revolution, in the, you know, hearts and minds of people. For sure. I want to, um, I want to ask you, you mentioned your parents and, you know, I can, first of all, I could listen to you talk for like a week done. I am an Anglophile of epic proportion and a will you talk about, um, where you're from? 

Carron Little:  So, it's a long story actually, but I'll try and keep it brief. I was born in North Carolina, believe it or not, to Scottish parents. My father was one of two people selected to take an exam and the person that got selected from Scotland would do their PhD at Duke University. So my father, um, was selected. He was a theologian. And, um, I popped out the day after my mum finished typing my dad's PhD. And so yeah, 

Heather Newman:  Like one does because all those, every marriage and partnership and relationship, right. It's all, you do it all together. That's super cool. Wow. Okay, neat. 

Carron Little:  And then, uh, we moved back to the UK, to Scotland and then, then from Scotland, we moved to Devin and then to the north of England. And then I got into Goldsmiths in London, so I went to London. . I've only met one other person who speaks exactly like me and she grew up in America, lived in Glasgow, and then lived in London. So, we've kind of done the same, but opposite. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Yeah. That's awesome. Well, cool. Yeah, I love, I love it. I was like, ahh. Alison was like, you're going to love her accent. You're going to like, I know, I know, I know, I know. I love it. Music to my ears. Um, and, and you know, you, uh, we were talking earlier before we jumped on recording and we were just starting to talk about, um, this really cool project that you're working on The Spare Rib and then some, some of the pieces of it. And I would love it if you would share with our listeners what that project is about. I think that would be great. I think they would love it. 

Carron Little:  Yeah. So, um, for quite a while I've been writing poetry inspired by interviews with the public and, um, so I'm currently working on a project called Spare Rib Revisited where I'm invited by different cities to, uh, visit and interview women between the ages of 20 to a hundred. And, and after interviewing the women, I write poetry inspired by the interviews. And you know, I think when, when you're working in the way in which I work, it's really, so whenever I arrange with a city to go and, uh, do Spare Rib Revisited, I always ask the hosting producers to organize a performance because it's really important that I first share, um, the personal stories and, and the poetry that comes out of those conversations and that, um, future participants, um, actually get to see how I share people's personal stories and the kind of combination of how that transforms into poetry because it, it is, um, it's kind of, it's unique and it does take, each poem is constructed in its own lyrical form. So 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, I mean, you're writing something based on, um, a person's life and their story. That makes tons of sense. Right. So that's so cool. And, um, you had recited a poem, uh, to me earlier and I was wondering if you would talk about that experience and that poem a little bit and maybe give it to us for our listeners to hear too. I think that would be amazing if you would. Yeah. 

Carron Little:  Yeah, sure. So this poem was written for our Sylvia Hickens and Sylvia, uh, designed the pattern for the pink pussy hats that went viral for the woman's marches. And she's a long term activist and she's really focused on the health of women's bodies. And, um, she's a poet and writer. And part of this poem talks about a performance that she organized, um, to protest the potential closure of the only hospital that is dedicated to women, uh, that is in Liverpool. And it's the only woman's hospital in the whole UK. And Margaret Thatcher, um, tried to close the hospital in the 1980s. And Sylvia Hickens was really important in terms of, she organized the protest to keep that open. And, um, and she's also, she was also part of, um, so both Reagan and Thatcher had these lists and I know they existed under McCarthy as well, of people that were, um, you know, on the far left or radical. So Sylvia Hickens was also on Thatcher's list. Uh, so you know, it was, I think a Tony Blair, uh, revealed all the names on that list in the early two-thousands. But, um, this, this poem is for Sylvia Hickens and it's called The Long Road. 

Carron Little:  If my body were bound between two sleeves of book jacket, what would it see? Would it perform out of the page or would it remain stitched between the sleeves hoping to reach persparity stamped in different languages? If my body were you, what would you see? Would you dance on army tankers in the fresh morning dew or chant harmonies at Greenham Common and write dreams on pillow slips. Would you look the policeman in the eye who defied humanity as he stabbed me in the left shoulder with a sharp metal fork? Would your body be a witness to history stitched with the scars, marking the deep, sending viral news stories across media channels? Would your body listen to that visible spectacle wearing an orange jacket, flashing alarm bells marking the targets? Would your body bear witness to the violence of history past down the line of a ring tone written in Morse code the war won the war lost. It's all the same when the bombs drop. Killing our children, destroying our homes. Lives lost in the wreckage. Would your body, listen to the ghosts in this city. Would your body listen to the needs of this city. Walking and numbers, performing in silence. Wearing white doctor's coats, counting hospital beds. What does your body need? What does it need? Stitched between pages and words, if not liberty, a life dedicated to tomorrow. Tell me, what does that look like? Tell me. Speak it, tell me. Speak it 

Heather Newman:  you made me cry again. 

Carron Little:  Oh, that's really moving, thank you. 

Heather Newman:  Oh, thank you. Oh my goodness. It's like a, it's so drippy and dreamy of, of, of and so powerful. And then liberty. Oh my goodness. Okay. Um, wow. 

Carron Little:  Yeah. Well I think really I was really thinking about, um, you know, how writing is also a form of liberty. And I listened to, I listened to the Women's Hour daily podcast on the BBC and, um, they were talking about, how we're not going to reach pier equality until 2167. So I was like, oh gosh. A lot of work to do. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Wow. That's, that's too far off. I mean it's always been too far off, I guess, you know, but, um, wow. Yeah. I, and your process around this and these, so you sit down with someone and you have an interview and you speak with them and then you create the poem. Yes. 

Carron Little:  Yeah. So I, um, I've developed a process. I've noticed that if I take written notes, um, I actually am able to formulate the structure of the poem. It starts to kind of build in my head. I mean, some take, you know, some take days to write, I mean, every poem takes a while to edit, you know, and they go through and you performing the pieces actually kind of helps refine. That piece was actually a lot longer. And through performance workshops, I've kind of trimmed it down. But, um, yeah, there's, um, you know, definitely writing notes during the interview helps me formulate the structure of the poem. And then because there's this direct relationship between the hands and the brain. I think Albrecht Durer talks about drawing being linked to the precision of thinking. And, you know, I'm really interested in how this kind of, I always use a pencil and I have notebooks, special notebooks with special paper, you know, and it's, uh, yeah, definitely. And then after that process I do a lot of research, and then often in the morning I'll wake up and I'll have a rough draft and then I'll be able to work on that for the rest, you know, for a might take a day or it might take a week. 

Heather Newman:  I, yeah, I, I, you know, I have my own quirky things that, you know, I don't even know if it's quirky, but it's just if you're a writer of like the pen, the paper the you know, and I actually have found, I do both with, I write on my laptop, I love a program called OneNote. And I write there and I write in different things. It sort of depends, you know, but we all have our, I don't know what feels good. I love it that you mentioned Durer because uh, there's a, the, do you know the, his drawing, uh, the hare, it's about the rabbit. The one of the rabbit. 

Carron Little:  Yes. 

Heather Newman:  That uh, that's always hung in my parents' home and it was one of the things and I told my mom, I was like, do not sell that in a garage sale one cause I want it, you know, cause she's a big garage saler. But I was like, but I was like, how did you pick that? You know? And cause she's, you know, she likes art and stuff, but, you know, she was like, I don't know, I just thought the rabbit was cute and I was like, okay, perfect. You know? And it was always something in my, in my home when, as a kid, you know, and then I went and found it so I could, you know, see it, um, in the flesh one time too. So that was kind of cool. But yeah. So, wow. I think it's so cool what you're doing. Um, and uh, so with the Spare Rib Revisited, how many cities have you actually done this in? 

Carron Little:  Um, so I'm, I was in Lucerne, um, in Switzerland in 2016. And, um, then they invited me back last year to perform in, their spoken words festival called Words and, and then I did it in Liverpool last year. And then I'm hoping, I've just received an invitation to go do it in Athens this year. So we'll see what happens with that. So 

Heather Newman:  That's super cool. That would be awesome. And obviously, have you been, you've been doing it in Chicago as well? Yes? 

Carron Little:  Ahh, well Chicago, I'm still waiting for Chicago to fund me. 

Heather Newman:  Well Chicago. We have a message for Chicago, my hometown get on it. 

Carron Little:  So, I'm hoping 2020 will be the year. You know, because it is, um, a special year for women. So it would be amazing if we were a go for that, 

Heather Newman:  I know I've been finding, you know, I, um, I, I was in England, um, last month and I took a trip to visit a friend in Manchester and I hadn't been there before. Um, and I got a moment to go over and, um, go to the Pankhurst's house there. Um, the, you know, started the suffragist movement and that was pretty special. Um, and I don't know, you know, it's, it's interesting. When you talk about story in poetry, I think, you know, it's like the artist's job and writer and theater, you know, is to one to tell stories but also preserve stories. Right. Um, do you find that you feel like in the last bit with everything that's been going on with all the different movements, you know, are you feeling that sort of women's stories bursting out in Chicago and there's more call for that sort of thing? Or what are you feeling about sort of that whole movement, um, as an artist? 

Carron Little:  Um, well I think it's, um, you know, it's still, um, a struggle, you know, in terms of, you know, really, um, creating this space for a women's voices, and women's stories to be heard. I think we're still, I mean, there's a lot of phenomenal organizations in Chicago that are doing great work. And, but I did ask, you know, we, uh, lobbied the, the cultural commissioner to like, you know, really get behind next year's. You know next year is the centennial of women's suffrage in America. And we really, we're hoping that this becomes a big dialogue, you know, across America as well. You know, but you know, at local levels in cities, uh, because I think, you know, there is, um, systemic inequality here. And you know, there's the pay issue, there's the economic stability of women, but then, you know, that that also kind of manifests itself into a whole other, you know, whole other realms of, of issues that, uh, women are facing in their personal lives. So I think we really have to, um, you know, the whole idea of equality really needs to be, um, looked at, uh, at local levels and institutions need to personally reflect on how they are on the pay equity issue. And I think if we can start getting that right, I mean, I know in the UK that they just, um, had this, um, survey where they're, they're forcing all the companies throughout the country declare the salaries of women, of everybody in the company so that they can analyze where, you know, where there is inequality. And the BBC were the first people to do that. And they were, they were very embarrassed. 

Heather Newman:  I know, I saw that. So, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that's, when you don't, when you can't see something, you can't address it necessarily. Right. I mean, and kudos to them for coming forward and, and doing that and hopefully that'll bring more, more people, you know, and watching the US you know, or watching the FIFA, watching the World Cup, watching the soccer team, you know, there's all of it. It just, um, hopefully more and more of that will come, especially with next year coming, you know, it should be a celebration and also at time for us to have a bit of a reckoning I think of how we treat each other. And I speak a lot in the technology world on diversity and inclusion and women and I find that, you know, like people do want, are looking to help and looking to change and there's ally ship all over the place. But I, I do feel like one, it starts with each of us as an individual, but it also starts with companies stepping up, you know, and saying, we want to address it and look at this. Right. 

Carron Little:  Yeah. And it's not about like placing blame or, you know, being negative about it. It's just like, okay, we need to address, you know, we need to move forward. We need to, um, you know, create a world where, you know, people are thriving and striving. You know, I mean, it's not about. So, you know, and I think there has been a collapse, you know, especially, you know, when we look at academia, I think there's a, a large conversation happening across the country about how the majority of the part time labor force are in fact female or woman academics. And um, you know, there's a college in California that has 92% that are part time. And you know, where I worked at the art institute, you know, it's 70%, and you know, the rise of the part time labor force, you know, is having, uh, you know, we really have to be realistic that this is having a detrimental impact on the stability of the economy as well. Because when people, you know, I mean there's so many ramifications that are happening, but on the good point, I mean I could,. You know, I sit, I also sit on the National Women in the Arts Committee and we were able to, for the College Arts Association, which is an art history organization in America. And we voted unanimously for the conference next year that comes to Chicago to dedicate 50% of its programming to women and women identified scholarship and artistic practice. And we just found out this week that that's happening and that's gone through. So that's a huge, the fact that the organization supported that petition to move forward with that policy is, is wonderful. 

Heather Newman:  That's so great. 

Carron Little:  Step-By-Step. 

Heather Newman:  Yes. Inch by inch, step by step for sure. And what a, I just love what you're doing and what you're bringing to the world. It's so cool. Um, you know, I, I usually ask at the, at the end about, um, sparks, I'm, I'm very interested in moments, micro moments and the macro moments of our lives. And, and also what if there was a moment or a person or a, something that, that sort of led you down the path of like, yes, this is what I want to do with my life. Is there something that comes to mind that you wouldn't mind sharing with our listeners? Your spark? 

Carron Little:  Wow. Gosh, there's, there's 

Heather Newman:  I know there's always a lot, but you know, everybody's like, are you, are you kidding me? It's like asking me my favorite food. But you know, like, 

Carron Little:  Yeah, you know, there, I guess, you know, my, both my parents, you know, my where, you know, political activists and, you know, were very influential in terms of, you know, my life, both brilliant people. And so I think, that there was a moment, um, where I was, I've been still in touch with, um, all of my professors from Goldsmiths in London and they've been super supportive of my career my whole life. And, um, I used to live down the road from the critical theory person, Peninnah Barnett. And she said, she rang me up one day and she said, Carron, I've got a ticket to a conference called Sex, Shame and Sexuality at the Tate Modern do you want to come? And I was like, Oh yes, that sounds interesting. Sex Shame and Sexuality. Wow. It's organized by the Freud Museum. That sounds interesting. I went along. And then, you know, it was really one of those, the Tate does some great conferences and then I was invited to a lunch with Grizelda Pollack, Peninnah Barnett, and the director of the Freud Museum. And I think maybe there was one other person and it was one of those moments where I'm sat around the lunch table with these like phenomenal women and I'd been teaching, I'd done my degree, my masters, and I'd been teaching in London for, for like seven years, maybe at that point in high schools. And I said to myself, wow, you know, I've been educated by these women. I've been brought up by feminists even, you know, the, I take that I go out into the world and, and do things. So that was a moment. And then it was wonderful because I was walking across the Millennium Bridge and Jenny Holzer had a public art work projected onto Saint Paul's Cathedral. And there was the words, um, there was, um, the text, um, in Urdu, that means peace and you know, there was like god, you know, and she, and there was just all Allah and just all of these, um, these words that, you know, were speaking about peace. They were speaking to different religions. And so, you know, that was a critical moment. And actually what was special, uh, when I went and did the Spare Rib project in Liverpool, it was right after the, the bombings, um, at the Ariana concert in Manchester. It was, it was very, it was like within, like, I think I arrived like 10 days after the bombings and I was invited. And then when I arrived in Liverpool, I was, um, speaking with, I met some Asian women at an event, at a luncheon or a dinner, and they invited me to a meeting at the local mosque. And so I'm sat around this table and the table was like 50 feet long, you know, I mean, it was a long table and five women were sat at one side. All the men were sat at the other side. And I sat myself in the middle and, you know, I just listened. I was there to observe the conversation and listen and you know, at the end of the conversation, um, you know, they wanted my, uh, perspective. And everybody who spoke, spoke with intelligence and thoughtfulness. And because I grew up in the north of England, I'm various astutely aware of the hatred that is perpetrated to, uh, young Asian children growing up in the schools and the systemic racism that is so prevalent. Um, and particularly in the, in the north of England where there are large, um, Indian and Pakistani populations. And, you know, I spoke, I just, you know, I spoke about this at this meeting and you know, and I, you know, to share my perspective that, that if we, when we treat others with so much hatred from a young age as they're growing up into the world we're going to inspire angry young people. Who then do join ISIS and become terrorists. So we really have to think about, you know, how are we putting care into our institutions to care for young people at an early age as they grow up through the systems. Or through our societies. You know. 

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. It sounds to me like there, there was some sparks, but there continues to be and it's great to hear that you're a person that is one providing a table, you know, for people to sit at and to learn and to hear different stories and that you are also, you know, being asked to be part of tables where those kinds of dialogues are happening in our world. You know, that's, I think that's really important. Ah, wow. Um, I'm so blown away by all the good things that you are doing. So, great. Um, and, and maybe to close out what's, what's next, what's next on your plate, speaking of tables? 

Carron Little:  So, I, I'm doing Out of Site, um, at the end of July and in Chicago. And so we've got the Swiss artists, uh, Patric Gehrig & Saskya Germann and Sojourner Zenobia and, uh, Wannapa P-Eubanks and um, Anna Brown and um, Erin Evans Delaney who are doing, and it just kind of so happens that all of their interactive performances are really thinking about these ideas of care and how we, um, the, the Swiss artists are going to be singing the public's, uh, blessings in, uh, in this ancient Swiss tradition of the Betruf. So that's going to be fun. So, um, creating public performance and then hopefully off to Athens and I've been invited, um, to Budapest in August and I'm going to be running a whole series of workshops on interactive public performance and performing and giving artist presentations. And then after that I'm going up to Riga, Latvia, to do a public performance there and give a presentation. 

Heather Newman:  So, you're a busy lady. 

Carron Little:  A lot of travel and meeting fun people. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, I am a, I am a traveler myself, so I have friends in Budapest that I'm going to make sure and connect you with too, so that, 

Carron Little:  Ooh, that would be lovely. I'm actually, I do want to go to, I've got 6 days between, um, Sofia and Riga, so I do want to stop in Budapest and Prague on the way. 

Heather Newman:  Oh, lovely. Yeah. I'm going to go to Prague in December for a technology show and I've never been, I mean, I can't wait to go see the, all the Mooka, you know. Yeah, absolutely. Well, cool. Well, um, Carron, thank you so much for being on today and sharing your story with, with all of our listeners. I really, I am so, and that poem, my goodness. Thank you so much. 

Carron Little:  Well, thank you Heather, for inviting me. You know, it's special to have the opportunity to talk to you and uh, yeah, thank you so much for all the work that you're doing, you know. 

Heather Newman:  Yeah, yeah. It's, um, we mirror, we mirror goodness in each other I think, you know, when we're doing this kind of work and I just thank you for that and, and thank you for what you do. And, and you'll probably see Alison before I do, so you have to give her a hug me, so 

Carron Little:  I will give her a big special cuddle. 

Heather Newman:  Perfect. I love that. Even better. That's awesome. Okay, well thank you Carron. And um, yeah, absolutely. So everyone, um, we'll put all the goodness, um, in the show notes, links to things, and so you can find you on the Twitterattis and LinkedIn's and all that kind of fun stuff. And, uh, this has been another Mavens Do It Better podcast or you can find us on iTunes and Stitcher and Spotify and our website and all the great places where you listen to podcasts. So here's to another beautiful big blue day on this spinning sphere. Thank you. 

Episode 48: Compassion and Tech Maven Alcia Loach

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts who bring a light to our world. And I couldn't be more excited to have a wonderful friend and colleague on today. Oh my God. Alcia, hello. How are you?

Alcia Loach:  Hi. Hi Heather, yeah, I'm really pleased to have been invited to talk with you. I listen to your podcast. I love the stories. So yeah, really excited to share my story.

Heather Newman:  Yes. I'm excited to have you on today. And I was, you know what, I think I was trying to think of if I've ever actually heard you pronounce your last name.

Alcia Loach:  No, oaky, so my last name is Loach. I get all sorts, I just tried to stay away from being the insect variety. It's actually a fish. The loach.

Heather Newman:  The Loach, Alcia Loach. Oh yeah, that's awesome. Okay, cool. Well, cause I was like, I, we had a chance to meet, um, in London. Gosh, was that last month or the month before maybe? My goodness. It's like time is flying by. On the speaker scene for SharePoint Saturday London. And, um, just, you know, we were up in the London Eye, thank you Seb Matthews and, uh, the folks that sponsored that and we just could not stop talking. So, um, I wanted to know have you on, and just connect again cause we started talking about all the cool things you're doing in the world and will you tell everybody a little bit about, you know, what you're doing today? Let's start with where you work and what you're doing there.

Alcia Loach:  Okay. Yeah. So, you know, I work at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, formerly known as HP. So, back when I joined HPE as we're now known, the company split into two. So we have HPI, they do the sort of desktops and servers and, and that kind of hardware stuff that everybody, you know, identifies with the HP name. But I work for the other half, which is HPE, which is Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and specifically, I work in the PointNext services division. So we are the people who, we do consultancy, we help to sort of enable digital transformation, large transformation programs. Yeah. One of our major programs that people might recognize is Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Which is in North London. Yeah. It's an amazing stadium. I've got some really cheesy pictures of me like before and after, you know, here's the stadium being built and then, Whoa, here's the stadium and it's complete 100% pervasive WIFI that works.

Heather Newman:  Oh Wow. That's unbelievable.

Alcia Loach:  Yeah, it's awesome. I know it works. Yeah. Yeah, it does all sorts of fantastic way finding that helps to give an experience, you know, like a wow factor. So you don't have to queue up too long to get your hot dog or your burger and that kind of stuff that you can really enjoy the game. Yeah. So that's why I do, I'm a technical consultant, technical consultant there. So I help to deliver the project. I'm one of those resources that gets dropped in and we make the magic happen.

Heather Newman:  You know what? That's a perfect job title for you. You know, making the magic happen. I think that's definitely who you are.

Alcia Loach:  Yes, definitely.

Heather Newman:  That's awesome. Yeah, and you know, you and I were talking about diversity in tech and diversity and inclusion in tech, and we had a cool, we've had, we had a couple of very cool conversations about that and I love visiting other places, you know, outside the US where I live and getting perspectives from people from all over the world and different geographies and you know, from different places and all of that. And I know you're really involved with those initiatives inside of HP and maybe you'd share what you're doing there with everybody, with our listeners.

Alcia Loach:  Yeah. So, basically, the views I share now aren't HPE specifically. But I can share with you the activities that I'm involved in. You know, disclaimer time, just in case anybody, you know, gets offended by something I say. Basically, HPE are a really inclusive employer. I kind of tick the boxes on that score. If anybody looks me up, you'll, you'll know exactly what I mean. You know, I'm female and there is a real issue in the sector, just basically tech that women are underrepresented in technical roles. So HPE within the company, they're working really, really proactively to address those issues. And as a part of that initiative I sort of stepped forward to help to lead in the tech woman program. So that's a Europe wide initiative, EMEA as we call it, to try to, to sort of sign post women and also for people like myself who work in a technical career path, job to share our experiences and to, to let other women know that actually, do you know what it might be 17% in the UK, that is the statistics, 17% of female representative technical roles to 83% men. But you know what, the 83% men, they're actually quite cool. They're actually quite welcoming and they're great to work with because personally I've worked in this space since I was a graduate. So I've always been the only girl on the team and I've never really thought of myself in a lot of instances as the only girl in the room. You sort of forget your gender. When the people you work with empower you and support you and enable you and you see yourself as just a part of the team, it doesn't matter to you if the person who's thrown the ball, I like to work with analogies because I love netball. If the person who's throwing the ball is a guy or a girl it doesn't matter. It's whether or not they threw the ball to me and I could catch it. Yeah. So with the tech women initiative, the thing I stress the most in the program is that it's not so much about me being a female. It's whether I'm confident and capable at what I do. And that's the message that we want to say that look, confident, capable females, the roles in tech are just too good to pass over. Yeah. The opportunities are just, you know, they're amazing. The flexible working opportunities. The technology is actually quite mature now. Things like Office 365, I know that you are like a SharePoint girl as well. I'm a SharePoint girl, I was cheerleading for SharePoint, you know, before the world realized what SharePoint was.

Heather Newman:  We’re you on the Tahoe skis as well, you know?

Alcia Loach:  Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. I knew exactly what you mean. So, so the, the whole point is that the maturity of the technology that can be implemented in the workplace enables a kind of flexible working and that kind of working from home which never existed back in the early 1990s. Yeah. Which enables females to really create that balance in their life. You know, you can have the baby on your knee, but you're still writing the project plan, you know? Or if it's not a baby on the knee, you can still like load the dishwasher and you're, you know, you're running the meeting. So I just think it's just too good to keep as a secret. I could keep quiet and just not share it with anybody else and say, Oh, you know what, it's really tough. It's really hard work. It is really hard work. But you know what, if you've got the right tools, yeah, you can work smart and it makes your life just so much more enjoyable. For instance, today we have this new initiative. It's totally awesome. I really should keep quiet, but I can't.

Heather Newman:  This will come out in a few weeks. So maybe you'll be all right.

Alcia Loach:  Yeah. So we have this, we, we've been given Wellness Friday, so every Friday we can take, we can basically log out three hours before the close of play for the day and then you are encouraged to just do something for you. So either, you know, exercise, spend time with friends and family, be mindful. So I decided to kind of combine everything. I went off to the pick your own and I picked some strawberries and then I went and I got a bottle of champagne and I called my friend up and I said, I've got my Wellness Friday, how about I come over?

Heather Newman:  Aww, that's awesome!

Alcia Loach:  Yes. I turned up with, you know, strawberries picked by me, a bit of champagne, I managed to read a really good heartwarming book before picking the strawberries. So I said, I'm all yours and we can just like, just feast. And I'm actually talking to you from her kitchen. So yeah, it's great. It's great to have those kind of initiatives and to be able to do that. You know, I just, I can't help but share it and hope that other women, you know, other smart, capable, confident women step forward and say, you know what? I want a piece of that too.

Heather Newman:  And other employers hear something like that and go, you know, maybe that's an interesting idea. What about a Wellness Friday? You know, there's a lot of places that don't do things like that. And I think that hearing about those initiatives, you know, I think people are looking for ways to keep us happy, you know, at work, you know, and to keep us productive. Right? And so I think, you know, yes, people stepping forward and saying yes, we need that, I think one. And then also, you know, an employer going, you know, HPE is huge, right? I mean, that's a big company. So kudos in many ways. Okay. I want to know what book you read.

Alcia Loach:  Oh Gosh. Oh yeah. So you'll probably get it. You've probably read this. I don't know if I was inspired by you. It's called Slay in your Lane. I think you told me about it on the London Eye.

Heather Newman:  Yes. Slay in Your Lane, yes, that's a good one. Awesome. Right on. That's great. It's so funny. I don't know. I mean, I guess I'm sort of, since I run my own businesses, I guess I'm giving myself my own Wellness Friday, if you will. Cause I just flew from Los Angeles. I'm in Sonoma County right now at a friend's house. She's working and I stopped at the Mac Boutique in Alaska Airlines at LAX and got her some, a little Mac travel sized makeup. And I'm going to, I'm going to meet her and go have champagne at my favorite place up here. Cause I used to live up here, we're going to go to Iron Horse and do some tasting. So yeah. So, I think we're on the same plane lady.

Alcia Loach:  It's all about achieving balance in life, isn't it? Happy people are productive people and I was saying to my friend that, you know, my boss can always ask me to do something extra. Yeah. Because, you know, they give extra. Yeah. And it swings in roundabouts, isn't it?

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that's a huge thing. You know, it's like there's so much right now about I would say employee engagement and company culture and also diversity and inclusion. And I think, but it's, there's this, there's a larger, there's a, there's an umbrella that I think is, um, unfolding that's, you know, there's been a lot of rain, a lot of like, I don’t know, acid rain. So, if I'm using an analogy, an umbrella of thinking about mindfulness and I don’t know. So I was talking to somebody the other day and we were talking about balance and, another MVP friend Dux had said something about this and Brene Brown talks, there's a lot of people that sort of talk about work life balance and I'm Kind of the mind that, you know, we're on 24/7 now, you know, like I don't feel like we shut off. So work and life to me are so blended and I have so many friends that I work with and we're in each other's lives. And you know, it's like, I try to have conversations sometimes that are just about, I don’t know, like Salvador Dali or whatever, you know, but we do end up, you know, talking about work. And do you find that it's just a blend, you know, like,

Alcia Loach:  Yeah, yeah. Life gets a bit, yeah, it's because as you say, it's kind of like you're switched on. The Internet doesn't go down, does it? I mean, unless you live rurally. So, you're, you're always connected and also our brains, I don't know about you, but I really do have to practice mindfulness. To shut down my brain because it's on, you know? Thankfully cause I can breathe, so it's on. But it's on and it's sort of, you know, tallying lists of things to do. And my list of things to do, it's a blend, like you say, it's a blend of work, it's a blend of charity initiatives. It's a blend of, you know, just life happening. You've got to feed yourself, you've got to do the shopping, you've got to walk the dog, you know, you've got to push the hoover around. And, and yeah, my brain, even though my body wants to switch off cause my body's like I'm really tired brain, my brain can still keep going even when I'm like lying down in bed going, I want to sleep. So, yeah, you do need to find that, that separation or that moment where you just literally go and you switch it off. You know, I mean not saying that champagne switches it off but it helps.

Heather Newman:  It maybe turns it down a little.

Alcia Loach:  But you know, time with friends, time with family, time just, I love being by water. So time just stood looking over still water, stills me, as well. So yeah, you've got to find time for that.

Heather Newman:  I find when I don't, I try very, very hard to keep my morning practice of writing in my gratitude journal, of Meditating for a bit and not touching my phone until after I've eaten breakfast and done something physical and it's sooo hard. And I actually just got an alarm clock, a new alarm clock that isn't my phone. I have an Alexa as well.

Alcia Loach:  That's a good idea.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Well, it just, it was like if you're touching, somebody said to me, if you're stroking or your phone as you get up and before you go to bed, that's the bad thing to be stroking. And I was like, oh my goodness. And I was like, good point. But anyway, uh, yeah, no, I think that, that there's a lot of things that we can be doing and, yeah. Are you a meditator? Do you meditate?

Alcia Loach:  Well that's the thing, I'm not, I'm not terribly good at meditation. Cause like, because I just said my brain just like to show off. So instead of I get those moments when I run. Because just the sheer pain of running.

Heather Newman:  That's a Zen moment.

Alcia Loach:  is a distraction.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. That's a Zen moment, for sure. Yeah.

Alcia Loach:  It's a distraction. So I, I tend to, I tend to run and because I can feel the pain in my legs, I can feel my heart beat, and I have to concentrate on my breathing, you know, and there's so much going on, I have no time to really start to think through the things I've got to do. My list disappears and instead it's just kind of like survival mode. The other activity I've recently taken up at past couple years, which does that as well, which is awesome, is diving.

Heather Newman:  Oh yeah. I love,

Alcia Loach:  Talk about survival mode.

Heather Newman:  I know. It's so awesome and so scary all at the same time. And I love it. Yes.

Alcia Loach:  Yeah. Because I tell you what, there's nothing, there's nothing like submerging yourself under like 18 meters of water. With just something in your mouth for you to breathe in and out of. And then all the other stuff going on, you know, flotation and all buoyancy and all rest of it going on. To really, um, you know, clear your head.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, agreed. We'll have to go diving somewhere. I would, I didn't know you were a diver. We'll have to do that. That'd be awesome.

Alcia Loach:  Oh yeah, that'd be a, so I'm going to go to Mexico next week. My daughter is in Belize and she said the diving was awesome. They had five nurse sharks follow them on their dive. So, she's gotten to see do gongs and, and all sorts. So yeah, definitely. That's a date.

Heather Newman:  All right. Yep. We'll, we'll take that offline and like, cause I love Mexico as well. So. Cool. Okay, fair enough. Um, I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about, you know, you not only, you're obviously working in technology and working for HPE and doing all these great things and initiatives and I know you have another initiative in the charitable world that's super cool. Your Pocket Angel app. I would love for you to tell our listeners about that cause it's so neat. And before you do that, where, where are you right now in the world?

Alcia Loach:  Oh, so at the moment I am, well based

Heather Newman:  Where do you live, I guess?

Alcia Loach:  Where do I live? Yes. Yeah. Cause I'm actually at my friend's house. So I live in the southeast of the United Kingdom. So the southeast of England. Near Gatwick airport. So, for those of you who fly into Gatwick, if you look out the window to the side and you see fields just as you're about to land, my house is in one of the little villages around the airport. And so I live sort of in a village south of Dorking, it's called Newdigate. When the kids were growing up I said all the nudies are in Newdigate. They're not. It's just a very quintessential English village with, you know, two pubs, a church and a village shop, yeah, and lots of fields. That's where I am.

Heather Newman:  Fantastic. Yeah. And so did Pocket Angel start there? Tell everybody about that because that's just so neat. So please.

Alcia Loach:  Yeah. So, yeah, so this is one of those blended moments. Yeah. So as a part of my new job with HPE, which takes me across United Kingdom because I'm in delivery, so I go to the customer site. I sort of started traveling across the United Kingdom and I guess a bit like most cities in the world, most places in the world now we have a growing number of homeless people. And we have rough sleepers. So those are the homeless people who are sort of visible. Who you see sat on the curb, you know, on the pavement, asking for help. Yeah. And so as a part of my visits to customer sites I started to notice the numbers of rough sleepers and say in year one, let's just say hypothetically, you know, I noticed that there were five people on the pavement in a certain area. The second year that number doubled. And you know, by the middle of the second year it looked like something's going wrong in society. So the analyst in me comes to the fore, and you sort , you start to pick up the newspaper and you see the articles and you listen to the news and you hear the news. But not only that, I started to have really personal close encounters with homeless people with rough sleepers. And I have to clarify, when I say rough sleepers, I'm talking about the people who are very visible. The ones that we see begging on the streets who physically are sat on the pavement. Yeah. Because homelessness has a wide range of people. We have hidden homeless as well. People who are sofa surfing, okay. So the people who impacted me at first were the ones I could see who would ask me for food or a hot drink. And in England, we've got a bit of a reputation for cold, drippy, gray weather. Which personally I don't, you know, I'm not very good at. So when I'm wrapped up in my coat with my scar and my hat and my gloves and you see me and I look like, you know, like I'm, you know, equipped for Siberia. And I see somebody else who's sat with very little on, you know, asking me for a cup of coffee, I can't help but to help to help them. And it actually, I felt at one point as if my heart was breaking. So I started putting aside an allowance for coffees, you know, so you just have to ask me, you got a coffee. That's it. I'd have to go and buy the coffee because personally and it is a personal choice for me, I don't give cash because I don't want the person spending the cash on, you know, on certain items that I wouldn't personally buy myself and I don't want to perpetuate a cycle of addiction. So I would feel compelled to join the queue at Costa or Starbucks or whatever other coffee brands are available to buy a cup of coffee. And then I had guilty moments where I couldn't because, you know, as I said, I'm doing this for work, so I'm going off on a client visit and I've got a time that I need to get to the client for. And if the queue is too long, then I can't get you the coffee. And because of my own principle of not giving cash, I faced a bit of a dilemma, you know, that moment of crisis where you go, well, if I could give you something that isn't cash, but be sure that you got the coffee, you know, that'd be great. So I then called up like some of the major charities and asked, you know, do you have a voucher? Could I just buy some vouchers so I can give out to these people? And they said no, they didn't have a system like that. And I was quite surprised that they didn't have system. I just thought it was a de facto thing because we're all used to getting gift cards, I mean I get gift cards all the time for Christmas. And I was thinking, well, it's just a gift card, you know, loaded with money. It's not that difficult because of course we are techie people aren't we? So you know, it's not that hard. Oh, I'll tell you how much. Yeah. How much was I to learn. So,

Heather Newman:  Always learning, always learning.

Alcia Loach:  Always learning life is a learning experience. So I then decided to draft a design of how I thought a voucher system should work, you know, wire frame, storyboard, you know, the usual stuff that we do to design the system. I put it in a nice little package and I emailed all the heads of major charities and said, you know, like a gift, you know, here is a system I think you guys could really benefit from developing, you know, if you need any help, please let me know. But kindest regards, Alcia, really looking forward to seeing it. And I waited a year and nothing turned up. And I was just like, I can't believe they haven't done it. So I went on Twitter and then started following a few of these people and kind of like plugging it and nobody bit. Then you know, you know, sometimes life has a wonderful way of giving you a cliché that you then actually learned the true meaning of the cliché when you're living it. When people say if not you then who and if not now, then when? Yeah. I had that moment like last year, summer 2018, so the summer of 2018 I watched a program, it wasn't even the summer, it was the winter of 2018 so it must be January or February. I watched a program on the nightly news. Yeah. Where a homeless man died in front of a Bedlin superstore and the image was of a police cordon and the person was there and he was had partly frozen to death because we'd had a bit for cold snap. Yeah. And in the window, we're duvets and pillows on a lovely bed, and sorry, I have to struggle not to cry, cause I'm a bit of a crier. And I just thought, not on my watch. It should not happen. You know, and it's, it's dark. Yeah. To think that in one of the richest countries of the world, this could happen. And so I got really angry. But it's that kind of righteous anger that you feel that you think, well, do you know what? I'm going to do something about this. And so, I took the same plans that I had and said, okay, fine, they're not going to do it. I'll do it. And I sort of reached out to resources to ask if they could develop the app. But obviously, you know, a lot of the resources I know they're all stuck doing like their paid job and they're like, oh, we'd love to help but, really busy. You can see how busy we are. So, call it the universe or whatever. Yeah. I literally just went, I really need somebody to help with this app. And my mobile phone rang, and it was an Indian company who were looking for work in the SharePoint space. And I said to them, I'm not a decision maker when it comes to the, you know, who my employer employs, but guess what guys, I've got a great opportunity for you. And they said, okay, explain what it is. And I told them and apparently it pulled on their heart strings and they said, okay, so what's your budget? And I kid you not. I stood there and thought, well okay, how much could I reasonably expect to crowd fund? So I just went, oh 5,000 pounds. And they said, oh, and what does it look like? So I sent them all, all the design things, cause I've had those already done. They called me back the next day and they said, okay, from what, from the design you've given us, you do realize it wouldn't cost 5,000 pounds. And I said, yeah, but that's all I could think that I could reasonably get from crowd funding in a short time. And they said, okay, we'll do it at a discounted price for you as goodwill because we can see that it's altruistic and all that. So, okay, great. So that's it. We started, we started work and a prototype was made, I hit the 5,000 pound limit that I'd set myself , target that is on, get this, I will never forget this, on December the 31st, 2018 at exactly midnight, I hit the target.

Heather Newman:  No way!

Alcia Loach:  Yeah, yeah. I get the target. It was the happiest New Year's present I've ever had from anybody. And it was, it was actually a young girl that I knew who said that she just had this feeling that she had to just make a donation and she donated, you know, the equivalent of a month's salary for herself. Yeah. To push us over the finish line. But the message it just sent to me was, you know, this is going to happen. Yeah. And you know, like, like I was being willed, pushed to just do it. So, so yeah. So since then, oh, I don't know how to describe the story now. It's just been one, one bit of serendipity after another. It's just been wonderful. So, I door stopped the UK managing director of HPE, great guy called Mark Waters. Sorry Mark, I'm giving you a shout out. You know, I don't want to embarrass you or anything. But I door stopped him and I, I'd been practicing my elevator pitch for about two months. And anybody who knows me knows that being succinct is not my strong suit. So to get an elevator pitch down to three minutes to win over Mark was going to be like, I don't, you know, an amazing accomplishment for me. I did it and he just said, email me, email me what you want, yeah, I'll see what I can do for you. And off the back of that he basically obsolete, just sent out emails asking other staff if they wanted to volunteer. Yeah. Pro Bono. It's all about volunteering. I got a really good response from global marketing team, a really good response from the global legal team. So, off the back of that, marketing helped to secure a team of really young people who have a really cool name, the Bright Young Things from Brighton University, you couldn't make it up. So I had this team, can you imagine that when I wake up to a team, a team of really young, enthusiastic people, yeah, want to help you and they're called the Bright Young Things and you just need to direct them. Great So I got the bright Young Things. So they're doing the marketing and all of the promotion and all the events planning for us to recruit our partners because we need service providers to accept the vouchers. And then legal, you know, I got two people from legal who said they'll help to set up Pocket Angel, you know, to be a charitable organization. So, you know, the, the whole formality of all the paperwork that you have to go through and all the hoops you have to jump through. That was suddenly taken away from me. So I got a really vibrant, amazing, awesome young lawyer called Yashin who is now a part of the Pocket Angel leadership team. And she is formalizing the structure for Pocket Angel, so that we can, you know, we can meet a public benefit. We can help to get ourselves some funding and just basically have the right sort of structure, you know, so that the benefit of Pocket Angel will be for the vulnerable people that it was designed to help. Yeah. So you know, when they say, what is it, you can only reach a height by standing on the shoulder of giants. Yeah. For me, my giant was actually my, I can't call him my colleague, but he's, you know, he's like the, at the very top here in the UK is my managing director. And for you to be able to say that about the place you work and the person who is in charge of you I think is an awesome thing. You know, that that person actually takes the time to listen, actively and to act. Yeah. So that was brilliant. And so where are we now with this? So, painting a picture I've got marketing team, I've got, you know, a team of trustees. Well we have to say trustees in quotation. And in that team of trustees, I also have another colleague who I work with in the SharePoint space, Andy Gin has done everything imaginable from website editing to, you know, pavement pounding in Brighton to talk to service providers. You know, to just basically putting up a cardboard city to make it look like a homeless, you know, a homeless shelter for us to put on a VR experience, which is an immersive video in a Google Oculus headset. That transports you to the level of the rough sleeper. Yeah. So, you feel as if you’re sat on the pavement and the world is walking past you. And that video footage, the VR video for footage, we've been kindly given permission to use it by another awesome charity called the Passage, who do some amazing work in the homeless sector. So it's just been, I don't know, Heather, you know, how to describe the journey it's been, oh, awesome. Yeah.

Heather Newman:  It's amazing. And the, in the app, so the app itself provides a voucher. It's a cash alternative. And then there's products from businesses who have signed up to be part of Pocket Angel. You can buy that voucher using the app. You give the code for the voucher to the rough sleeper and then they can present it and get certain things. Is that how that works?

Alcia Loach:  Yes. Brilliant. Yeah. You got it. So yeah, exactly. So the, the, the app helps you to buy that voucher, like you say. And on the voucher it's a six digit code. And that six digit code, so for the providers, the service providers, so the business who will give the person the hot drink or the meal. Yeah. They only need to be presented with that six digit code. They don't even need you to print out the voucher. They just want the six digit code. They've agreed that the person could ever come with it scribbled in their hand. Or they could take a picture of the voucher. So you have the voucher in your phone, they can take a picture of the voucher. A homeless guy who spoke at an event that we had, he said he would just put it in his phone as a telephone number, you know, or in the memo field. So people need worry that that six digit code is hard to understand. You know, people will be able to write it, take a picture of it, you know, do whatever they want because the businesses so far have just said it's okay if they come in and say Pocket Angel gave me a six digit code, we will give them the goods. Yeah. The important bit is they will only get what the code is valid for. So if it's a hot drink, they get hot drink, they don't get any change and they don't get any cash. So we're also keeping cash out of the system, you know, out of that transaction. And the benefit of that is that any change will be put into a pool, which will then be divided to help the other charities who are doing like awesome work when it comes to mental health services. You know, cause it's usually a lot of emotional breakdown and mental health issues that affect homeless people. So there's some really great charities who are doing work there and they have a funding gap. There are also charities who provide, you know, other services that we want to support. So, you know, you needn't worry that any single aspect of your donation will be wasted. Yeah. Everything will go into a pool and everything will be directed to the services that help to give that wrap around service to help people out of homelessness.

Heather Newman:  And is it, so the app will be available later this summer, is that right? Fall summer?

Alcia Loach:  So, we're going to go for autumn, which you guys in the states called the Fall. I say Fall as well. I've got to like adjust here as well. So, um, I will say Fall to some people and they're like, when's Fall? And I was like, Autumn. Oh yeah. So, yeah, so we're, we're aiming for the Autumn for the app to be available in the Apple store and in the Play store. And that will, that will be specific to only Brighton because we're sort of starting small. We're learning our lessons in Brighton and then we hope to move on to the next city and to expand. We had extraordinary contacts from people asking, you know, can the app come to my city? I mean literally worldwide Heather.

Heather Newman:  No, yeah, it will be that. And I can't wait for that. That's amazing. Wow. Wow.

Alcia Loach:  But for now, it's a land and expand from Brighton. So unfortunately it will only be available in Brighton, but if people want to support us, you know, please feel free to, to help in whatever way you can. We've got a GoFundMe because we, we will need some kind of financial backing to help us with the, you know, the maintenance of the app. To get, for instance, we're thinking of getting like a charity worker on the ground in Brighton to support the initiative, you know, so that when a rough sleeper goes to the business, you know, that community aspect of it, we need to make sure that we have a person there who would manage relationships and manage things for us. So, you know, as with everything there's always costs, a lot of time, a lot of transition.

Heather Newman:  Yup. That's wonderful. So, um, amazing. This is so cool. And you know, to sort of wrapping it back into sort of everything else, talk about, will you talk about a spark that sort of got you to where you are, like with doing this sort of work with the tech, it's a huge question. I know, you know, of what's, what's your guiding, what's, what, what guides you, you know?

Alcia Loach:  What guides me. Okay. So, yeah, so, my guiding force is I guess the force that created me. And so yeah, so there are all sorts of different, it doesn't matter to me, I'm very open minded. It doesn't matter to me what you call it. If you call it the universe, because some people have said you know, the universe asked and you answered, or universe beckons and you do. Or if you call it God or, my friend calls it the divine WIFI, which I think is, it's pretty awesome actually. So it's, it's as if there's this driving force that drives us to do good, to be good, to be light in the world. And that's why I think I had that synergy with you when we met. Because I could see the light in you and I think you could also see the light in me. And, it's that, how do you put it, it's that desire to do good and to be good. To do your personal best. Yeah. I'm in no way bigging up myself and saying, I'm this great person. Yeah. No, I'm, I'm striving like everybody else is striving, you know, to be a better person. To do my best, to live my best life. And I think with Pocket Angel, it definitely, that spark was there because when I looked at that person on the pavement, I didn't see any number of derogatory names that people have for those people. Instead, I saw a being who wasn't being their best self. They weren't given the opportunity to live their best life. Yeah. And, and, but, you know, some people say, but for the grace of God, you know, but for happenstance or circumstance, there go I, yeah. And so that heartbreak that you feel, or that I felt in that moment that sort of triggered that anger, I felt was, you know, how can I walk past this person to ignore their plight? You know, Michael Jackson, God rest his soul. He, you know, when he sang about looking the man, the man in the mirror, you know, and it's about seeing that suffering and not divorcing yourself from it, but actually feeling it, opening your heart to it and feeling it, and realizing that sometimes we fall, but we need someone else to lift us up. You know, we need somebody to give us a helping hand and not everybody has the same strength. So we kind of have to lend our strength to someone sometimes when they need a little bit of support, a little bit of kindness. So, Pocket Angel, separate and apart from the app, we now have a long-term vision. So we have a short term vision, which is to have this app assist. Yeah. Which is what I call the life support mode, where you are giving sustenance and you're not letting the person freeze and you're looking them in the eye and saying, I care for you. What do you want? And we're giving them choice as well because remember without giving them cash if you go and you buy the coffee, you don't know if they want a, you know, a flat white or a decaf or, you know? Or if they want a veggie burger or a beef burger, which I made the mistake I went and bought a beef burger for a vegetarian homeless guy, you know, because you're on the curb doesn't mean that you've completely changed who you are. So the first phase is the assist. The second phase we see as restore and that's where I'm totally excited and I can't wait to get there. And restore is where we can voucherize and sort of crowd fund the journey of that person through a training course. So we can provide all the meals that they need, all the drinks that they need, and then we can break the course down into so many vouchers so we could sell so many vouchers to send, you know, I don't know, let's use a really you know, generic name John, so we can send John through a vocational course or whatever course to get him back on its feet and back in a job. Yeah. And then the final stage of that is we want to have Pocket Angel Home where we have like a brick and mortar home, but not just any old home, like a home that I would live in, you know, and a home that's comfortable, a home that they can choose how to decorate their own rooms. But also a home that's like a family. So they have a mental health specialist on, you know, onsite, they've got all the services that they need to help them on that journey back into independent living. And then the whole wraparound of all the this is that we see our website, eventually when we get great website designer to volunteer, is we want to have Pocket Angel inform. And that's where we give the world, the community, the resources that they need to help them to learn how to treat these people, you know, in a human kind way. Yeah. We inform them as to what services there are near you. So, you know, using geolocation, you're standing here, you see the guy there, you can tell him, you know, go there or you see the girl there, you could tell them go there. Just mean having that useful information to inform yourself and to also inform the person on the curb. We are also going to start a schools program and literally we started the schools program straight away because, we found a really great volunteer who's got the right kind of personality for it. He's a great public speaker and he is going to go into the schools with the VR headset with a great power point slide deck and he's going to start straight off in the schools in the, in the surrounding area around Brighton. You know, so teaching the young yeah. From, you know, from, from a really tender age as to, you know, the issue, the complexity of the issues behind homelessness, but also enabling them to see Pocket Angel as a tool that they can use to make a difference in whatever way they can.

Heather Newman:  That's amazing. You're amazing. This is awesome. Wow!

Alcia Loach:  Oh, thank you.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I'm so excited about this and everybody, we will put all of the information about how to connect with Alcia and also Pocket Angel. I'm sure that many of you will be interested in this and want to connect and want to figure out how you can bring it to your city and help. And so we'll make sure to connect all those dots for everyone. Um, goodness. Thank you for sharing all of that in your story. It's so great. I, there's so much I knew and so much I didn't, but that always happens. It's so cool. I love it.

Alcia Loach:  Oh, thank you. Thank you very much, Heather. It's been an absolute pleasure. Yeah, you know, you're great. Thank you so much for having me. I really, really look forward to your mavens episodes and I'll look forward to the next bit that I learn something on, so that would be great.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. Well, wonderful. And keep on keeping on because you're doing good things and I saw your light, you know, and it just, it was, I was like, aww. So anyway, so I just want to thank you for being a guest and thank you for sharing and thank you for everything you're doing in the world. It's really lovely.

Alcia Loach:  Thank you, Heather. Thank you for everything you're doing.

New Speaker:   Thank you. Absolutely. Cheers and tears. We'll have to crack those bottles of champagne soon. So yay. All right, well cheers and thank you everybody. This has been another Mavens Do It Better podcast. You can find us on all the usual places, iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify on our website. And here's to another beautiful, happy Friday, big blue spinning day on this sphere. And thanks everybody. Have a great day.


Episode 47: Compassionate Maven April Wensel

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts who bring a light to our world. And I am very excited today to bring you another wonderful podcast with April Wensel who, uh, I met via Twitter, which is a great place to meet. Um, she's the founder of a wonderful company called Compassionate Coding. She's a keynote speaker and engineering leader and lots more and I'm very excited to have her on the show today. April why don’t you say Hi to everybody.

April Wensel:  Hi everybody. And Hello Heather. Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Heather Newman:  Ah, absolutely. So yeah, it's, you know, it's always fun to, you know, see people that you like start following and you're like, I love what they're doing and it's so neat. And so April and I have kind of been having this Twitter relationship and um, and then I reached out and said, hey, why don't you come tell everybody what you do on the podcast. So, um, I know you, you're the founder of Compassionate Coding and I'd love for you to share a little bit about, um, that and who you are and give our listeners a little flavor into what you do every day. That'd be awesome.

April Wensel:  Sure. I'd be happy to a, so I started off working as a software engineer. So with a computer science background and you know, I came to lead engineering teams and I did all of that for about 10 years in Silicon Valley. And I noticed that although I was having fun writing code and doing the sort of engineering thing, I noticed there was a distinct lack of emphasis on the human side of things in the tech industry. And it shows up in a lot of different ways, whether it's the, the lack of diversity, which I think ultimately stems from lack of empathy and understanding of different types of people, to, you know, building unethical products or using people's data in questionable ways, which we see a lot coming to the surface now of how that's, that's happening. And burnout on a personal level. Like, people are burning out and that's, that's an issue. And also just like unproductive conflict on teams. And so I saw all these issues and people were trying to solve them on an individual level. And I thought, you know what the common element here is that we really just don't care enough about people. We're just not talking enough about our messy human selves. And you know, we're relying too much on the logic and the rational side of computing. So anyway, so all of that happened and that's why I started Compassionate Coding cause I was like, you know, these are skills that can be trained. You, you know, there, you can learn emotional intelligence, you can practice, compassion, you can grow these skills. And so that's what my company does is I inspire people and train people on growing their emotional intelligence specifically in the tech industry. And I focused on engineers because that's my background. But all kinds of people come to my workshops that work in any part of the tech sector.

Heather Newman:  That's super cool. Yeah, I was looking at April's website and it's all about, you know, a different approach and I, you're speaking to my heart sister.

April Wensel:  That's great.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And the, you know, there's a slide up on her site. It's compassionatecoding.com and "Remember that you're dealing with human beings, not machines". Where did, when did you get that how long has that slide been up as part of your presentations?

April Wensel:  Uh, you know, that one was from last year, I think. And uh, but that's always been part of it. I often say like we may be working on machines but we're working with and for human beings and sometimes I phrase it in that way. But that specific slide was from a great conference called Anxiety Tech that was all about building tech for mental health that happened in San Francisco last year. Uh, but yeah, I just think it's such an important issue and we lose sight of it cause we're so focused on the hot new technology and we're like, wait a second, why are we doing it in the first place? Except for the humans on the other side of it.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. And so you got started. So you're, I know you're coming to us today from San Diego, so we're, we're coming to each other, virtually me in Marina del Rey, you in San Diego. Are you originally from there? Is that where you got your start?

April Wensel:  Uh, no. So I was born in Palo Alto, but when I was young we moved to Texas. So I grew up most of my life, my early life in Texas and moved back out to California for school to Southern California, Pomona College, a little school in Claremont. And um, then I moved up to the Bay Area cause I majored in computer science and that's where you go, Silicon Valley. And then I spent 10 years there and only moved to San Diego a couple of years ago, partly to escape some of the tech culture that I was working to change and I needed a little like breather from all that and just the weather is so much better down here as I'm sure, you know.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. We're, we're both having a good day in California on the weather side. We were both talking about earlier. That's awesome. And you know, you're working in kind of all of the different technologies. I mean, we were talking a little bit earlier, you know, I grew up in the Microsoft world and so, but you're kind of more open source, a bit of everything, right? When you were talking about the different companies and different ways, I mean, human human spans everything, but do you tend to see that you're playing in certain sort of areas of technology more than others? Or is it just all over the place a bit?

April Wensel:  You know, it's really all over the place, which is consistent with my background because working as an engineer, I jumped around quite a bit as well. In terms of languages and platforms I was using as well as, uh, you know, even the sectors within tech. So, like, you know, I worked in education, tech, health tech, gaming, some bioengineering research, basically across the board. And so, uh, you know, my clients range from, uh, you know, big kind of tech media companies to like small open source startups that like I'm talking to like eight people to like some of the web companies, you know, social media companies. It's sort of, you know, one time too, like a hotel company that just happened to have like, you know, an IT department. And so it really just is completely across the board, lots of variety, which keeps it interesting for me. For sure.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And I know you have talks, like you're doing talks where you talking about compassionate tech values. Will you talk to everybody about that a little bit is what that means?

April Wensel:  Yeah. So I learned about this idea of compassion from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. They have this great definition that, that compassion is recognizing suffering and other people and then wanting to take action to alleviate that suffering. And when I first heard that I was on a compassion retreat and it struck me because it was about, it seemed very rational, whereas before I sort of saw compassion as this kind of fuzzy thing that I couldn't quite wrap my head around. And this made it very explicit and I was like, oh, that makes sense. I mean, even in tech we talk about alleviating pain points, customer pain points or pain points on the team. And that's really compassion. So compassionate, when I talk about compassionate tech values, uh, basically it's about bringing that concern for making people suffer less. Whether they're people building technology, the people using it or even people indirectly affected by it. And it's a way of using compassion to make decisions on a daily basis and on a large scale in terms of strategy for the company. And it's good for the bottom line because you know, when you care about your users and your customers, your employees and yourself, self-compassion is a big piece of this, you know, you do better work. People are happier, more productive. Um, and you're making your customers happy too.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It's funny the, in working in the, you know, the Microsoft world and helping build community, especially in Office 365 and SharePoint, you know, we've seen a lot of talk about inclusive behavior and then inclusive culture. And you know, I think that there's a, I don't know, a stronger appetite for it, right? We have a bit of a culture shift with kind of all the things that have happened in politics and also, you know, just in our world with a lot of movements with, you know, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo and all of that. Are you feeling and seeing that shift as well, where companies are like, you know, yeah, I want to spend part of my budget on this stuff. I mean, you have a business around it, I have a business around it. I'm feeling that shift. You feeling that as well?

April Wensel:  Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, people are kind of a lot of companies have neglected it for so long that they're kind of scrambling, you know, and they just really need, they really need help, you know? So I think they're willing to invest in this sort of thing because they, they see how important it is. And, you know, we talk sometimes about technical debt in terms of like, if we've neglected some of the code and it sort of gets a little rotten over time. I feel like we have a lot of culture debt and these companies where for so long they've been hiring and building cultures around know a very particular person, which is, you know, sort of the stereotypical tech employee of like, you know, white male, CIS, et Cetera. And now, like you're talking about, we have all these shifts and they're like, oh, we are, you know, the future is not more and more of these clones. We actually have to welcome in diverse people and not just welcome them in, but you know, keep them there and make sure that we're getting, uh, we're allowing them just to, to share their strengths in every way possible. Because that's, that's what benefits, you know, everybody.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I was reading through some of the posts that you had recently, and I gave a presentation last year about fear and toxicity in the workplace. And do you find, do you find that people are, you know, that some of this stuff is just based in a lot of just simple, plain fear, you know, like that the, you know, maybe there's not malice involved, but there's just those basic lizard brain fears that we come upon and that, that make people kind of the way that they are. I Don’t know, I keep, I keep going back to that.

April Wensel:  Absolutely. I think that honestly, like all of the negative behavior you see, I think all of it can be traced back to fear ultimately, no matter what it is. No, I think you're, you're spot on there and like when people kind of puff up and try to show off their ego, which happens a lot in tech. I think that that's coming from fear. When people like hire the same person and the same kind of person over and over again, that's fear. It's sort of fear of the unknown of something unfamiliar. Um, I think, you know, a lot of times it's insecurity, fear, uh, you know, which is a form of fear. Like it's all, that's what's causing these, which is why, you know, I talk so much about self-compassion cause I think if people are more compassionate with themselves, they can take care of that fear at the, at the root and then stop kind of projecting it onto the world.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. I always kind of go back to RuPaul with, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anybody else?"

April Wensel:  I love it. Yes, exactly. The wisdom of RuPaul right there.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. Um, do you see that, like as far as the "who" of who is responding to your message and your business, is it more, is it sort of that C-level, CEO or is it, I don’t know, Human Resources or is it all of the above? Um, is there, is there a certain person or persona that you feel like is like, ah, we need to get this done kind of thing?

April Wensel:  Yeah, I think given like my background and sort of my, the people I've attracted on Twitter and whatnot, usually the people who've reached out are engineering leaders themselves, whether they're just a manager, kind of middle level manager or the CTO. Uh, but that said, I also hear from HR as well because they're like, yeah, we have this huge problem in the engineering department. And uh, you know, cause the thing is there's so much emotional intelligence training already out there, but it's more general purpose. And to be honest, I know from being an engineer, we kind of tune that stuff out just because it seems irrelevant to what we do. And so that's the thing that I try to offer is like make it special for the engineers, like specific to the engineers so that they feel like it's somebody who's speaking their language. And I think that that helps ease them into this whole caring about humans thing. And so sometimes Human Resources will reach out as well. And then, you know, I will say too, also, I just hear from individuals who maybe can't hire me for the workshop, but they just, you know, appreciate the other content that goes out. Cause that's ultimately who I care about. And I'm very open about this. Yes, it's great when I can make companies more productive and that's why they pay for my services. But ultimately what I care about is the individual's happiness. And like if it's healthier for an individual to leave a company, then you know, I'm happy to support them in doing that. You know, my loyalty is always to the individual really.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. No, that makes sense. I mean, ultimately it's, it's about who we are, right? And each and each of us individually as human beings and how we can be the best version of ourselves every day, you know?

April Wensel:  Yes. It's an ongoing process. Yes.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. So, um, talk about the workshop a little bit or, or is it a set of workshops or is it one and will you tell everybody about how that works a little bit and what it's called?

April Wensel:  Yeah, sure. So part of my process is tailoring the curriculum to each client, which is why like instead of kind of doing a massive sort of corporate approach, what I've done instead is kind of a boutique approach in the sense that a company approached me, I have like in depth calls with them and people on the team, and then I shape a curriculum that addresses their specific needs. So for example, um, a recent workshop that I put together, it was called Leading with Emotional Intelligence. And it was specifically targeted towards technical leaders, meaning people who are, you know, engineering leaders and that sort of thing. I shy away from the term technical in general cause I think everybody's technical, but sometimes I use the language to communicate with people who use it. So, um, it was like directed towards engineering leaders and I do tailor it but usually it can be grouped into sort of three sections. We start off talking about the self because as we were talking about taking good care of yourself is so much like at the heart of all of this. Otherwise, you know, what are you doing? Like if you're not able to manage your own emotions and behavior, then it's really hard to lead anyone else. We always start with the self. Um, and that's something too that our society doesn't necessarily encourage. Looking Inward. It's sort of, sometimes people call it self-indulgent or you know, selfish or self-obsessed, but it's actually just so important and it helps you present as your best self. So anyway, so we start with some exercises around introspection and understanding how your own mind works. And so a lot of that's individual exercises to reflect on past actions. And things like that. And then once we've learned a bit about ourselves, then we move on to talking about communication with other people. So like I introduced the idea that all that stuff that you just found out about, like everybody else has a totally different set of like qualities and fears and preferences and all those sorts of things that are shaping how they're, you know, existing and behaving in the world. And then, you know, it's funny cause it's like a light bulb moment for a lot of people where they're like, oh, like not everybody cares about the exact same things that I do. And, um, you know, that they probably have a good reason for doing that weird thing they're doing and, cause it makes sense in their head. And so we talk about empathy and then we practice doing like, we practice through scenarios. So one thing I do is, uh, from the conversation with the company, I find out about specific scenarios that have happened there. Like maybe a conflict or like an awkward situation that got out of hand and then I try to come up with scenarios that are not that exact thing but similar to it. And then let people act out things around it and try to shape it into a healthier interaction to learn from it. And then ultimately we end with an action plan of some sort depending on the circumstances, either for the team or for the individual about how are we going to apply these principles going forward? Because one thing I remember not liking about some trainings is that it sort of felt like you were left hanging. Like you get a bunch of good information but then like how do you apply this on a daily basis? So I like to dedicate some time to like giving people a path forward and then I always stay in touch with clients so they can always reach out for like help troubleshooting, help implementing the practices. Because that's just so important to me. So I build that in because again, this is not just sort of a cookie cutter, like I just go there, present the same slides and then like leave, it's more like a relationship. And so, uh, so that's a big part of it too. And they're usually about half days. All the stuff I discussed happens in about a half day workshop.

Heather Newman:  Right. No, that's great. Yeah, I was, I was talking to some friends like, cause we play in a similar space, right. And um, as far as like workshops and working with people and you, you know, you're definitely targeting a different audience than I am, but it's similar work. And, I was laughing at like we were talking, I was like, yeah, you know, you can't just go in and be like, I'm going to throw a really cool Instagram quote up and then like hand you, you know, some self-help book and be like here, like watch my quotes and read this and you're going to be fine. You know what I mean?

April Wensel:  Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Heather Newman:  You know which, you know, those things are great as well, but you know, it is about scratching the surface and going deeper. And because I mean, I find that this work is, is so rewarding and wonderful, but it's also, it's tough, you know, like it's holding space for people's stories and you know, knowing, you know, that you're kind of a keeper of people's, some of their deepest, darkest fears and secrets. And, um, it seems that, you know, I, I've, you probably hear a lot of stuff. I would assume. A lot of stories.

April Wensel:  Yes. Yeah.

Heather Newman:  You know? Yeah. Do you find that like once, once you sort of are in there that people are willing to open up to you and talk to you about things as well?

April Wensel:  Yeah, they generally are. And I think it's because I try to be vulnerable as well from the start. So like, you know, one of the articles I have online is called Confessions of a Recovering Jerk Programmer, where I write about the ways in the past that I may not have been so empathetic and so caring about people. And it's a really vulnerable article where I talk about my own insecurities and how I projected those and all the other things. And so a lot of times I'll share tidbits from that in the workshops. And I think it's, it helps show that one that like everybody's human and we make mistakes and two, you know, we can learn from them. And so I think that helps open people up a bit more. But you're absolutely right. And I think, I mean, I feel honored that they're willing to share in that space because if they do share, it means I've done my job of creating a safe space for them to do that. And sometimes they share things that, you know, they never would've been comfortable sharing before, but if you establish that safe space, they do. And sometimes you can see the Catharsis, you know? And uh, yeah. So I, I'm sure you've seen the same thing and uh, yeah, I do find that that's, that is really rewarding as you mentioned.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. I want to switch topics of smidge. And so, I, you know, have read obviously on social media and stuff, but you're talking about you're an ultra-runner and an ethical Vegan. Talk about that. That's, that's awesome. So yeah. Yeah. Tell everybody what that means.

April Wensel:  Yeah, thanks for asking. So, the, the ultra-runner means that I run ultra-marathons, which are anything longer than a marathon. So a marathon is technically 26.2 miles. And so, if you go anything more than that, you're technically doing an ultra-marathon. Uh, the ones I've done have been 50 Ks, which are like a little bit over 30 miles. Um, and yeah, they're, they're pretty intense and I'm a slow runner so I don't claim to be a fast runner. And so they took me about like eight and a half hours, which some people are more interested in, in just the length. That's like almost a whole work day of just straight running, which, but, um, but so it's funny cause I actually in high school I sort of in, in grade school, I hated running the mile. Like in gym class, like I like running around the track.

April Wensel:  Like, I got out of breath, my face got red. Like I was not in good shape at all. And it took me until my mid to late twenties before I really found that running can be good for my mental health. So, instead of like using it as a punishment or like, oh I have to do this to stay in shape, it was like, oh, this can be a pleasurable activity. And so that's what led into the ultra-running. And so, um, yeah it's like totally transformed my life and gave me more energy. So that's the running side. And the, uh, the Vegan side. So, you know, I mentioned that compassion retreat I went to, it was actually when I became Vegan that I went to that retreat. And thanks for asking about it. Some people shy away from it cause it's like sort of a niche thing.

April Wensel:  And so, I appreciate your asking about it. Uh, but yeah, it's just, you know, I'd always loved animals and so, you know, I did this reflection and I realized that my actions weren't aligned with this idea that I loved animals and I, you know, that I believed in like nonviolence and stuff. Cause I, you know, if I really gave it thought, I was like, although society says it's okay and like I grew up in Texas, so I grew up eating barbecue. I was like, I thought, oh this is totally fine. I realized that for me personally, it felt like I was out of alignment doing that. And so that's sort of what led me into going Vegan and then I, you know, read about it and everything. And, um, that's what introduced me to compassion. So it's actually, I mentioned it in my bio and stuff because it's shaped so much of my worldview now, um, having connected with animals because animals are easy to connect with, cause they're pretty innocent, you know? And so that was my pathway into learning about compassion. And I'm like, you know what? Human animals deserve this love too. So, I guess I should, you know, be nicer to people, so, yeah.

Heather Newman:  yeah, yeah. That's awesome. That's a great story. Yeah. You know, it's interesting being, uh, so I came up actually through the theater, so I have a theater degree and then I got into technology later after college and have always been, you know, I would say a marketer first, you know, um, but also technical having worked at Microsoft and then, you know, having to learn about all of those things coming up and, you know, running events and building content and all of that. And you know, I think there is, there is a funny thing sometimes between the marketer and the coder or the engineer, you know, where it's like, you know, marketers and sales people even, you know, we're, we're trying to sell and market the things that engineers, you know, dream up and, there's sometimes a divide there that it's like you're not technical enough, you don't understand. And then there's like, you don't even think about how people use things and you're building in a silo. And so I think breaking down that barrier is one that, do you find that there's some of that at the places that you go into as well?

April Wensel:  Oh yeah. So much like everything you're saying, I was just like nodding along here and thinking yes, yes. And it's, it's, you know, it's so unproductive too, right, because I mean, what you're describing is like just a lack of empathy and you see it from both sides, right? Where it's just like, you know, different priorities, different ways of looking at things. And then it translates into this like kind of headbutts sort of conflict where like, you know, you're just butting heads and not really understanding where the other person's coming from. And so, a lot of times I think that's why companies bring me in, you know, it's this, um, inability for the engineers to empathize with the non-engineers, you know, and you know, that's why I mentioned earlier briefly that I don't believe in this technical, non-technical divide because I think, you know, marketers for example, the ones I've worked with have all these spreadsheets where they're looking at the funnels, the people coming in and conversion rates and all this stuff.

April Wensel:  Like that's technical stuff, you know. Um, and so I think, you know, all that stuff is technical. So for me, I'm just like, all these people are doing great, important work and there's no reason for any to feel like superior and more important or like more, I don't know, more a top priority compared others in terms of their, um, their preferences and their interests. And so I think, you know, a healthy dose of empathy definitely is in order there. But it's such a good point. I mean, yeah. So thank you for bringing that up.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, sure. I figured that you saw that because I see it as well. And it's something, I, I have a software company and, you know, there's times when, you know, our lead developer and I, you know, I'm like, when can I announce it? When is it ready? When it, you know, well, you know, it's another , you know, and I'm like, well, even if we announced it, it doesn't have to be completely ready because people aren't going to be ready to buy it. You know, that sort of back and forth argument continues.

April Wensel:  So common.

Heather Newman:  Completely. Um, so, you know, you have, you know, I love, I, I got to look more up about some of the, I'm going to talk to you more offline about some of this compassionate workshops and training. That sounds really, really cool. But I was, I was curious, you know, you are obviously, you know, connected to a lot of people out in the world and are there other folks that you know, that you, like, who do you look to for inspiration and, like, are there people that other folks might be interested in in following that you're like, oh, I love this person for x or y or blogs or people on Twitter or anything like that, that really, that are like, that speak to you and your heart?

April Wensel:  Yeah, that's a good question. So, uh, you know, I really take inspiration pretty widely from across the board. A lot of the things I read and the things I like consume, I feel like are so out there that like a lot of developers, or people in tech of any sort would not even feel uncomfortable reading or consuming.

Heather Newman:  A little woo-woo?

April Wensel:  Exactly. Like I process it and then I like, I put it out like in my, my own way. Um, but, uh, I feel like they wouldn't directly, um, you know, identify with it. But, um, but you know, I will say that compassionate retreat was a big inspiration to me. And that was run by a woman named Pauline Patrick Goudreau and, uh, she, you know, uh, speaks a lot about compassion and she comes at it from the Vegan angle, but she talks more widely about like how to have compassion for, you know, everybody in our, you know, people we deal with and all the sorts of things. So, um, she, it was one of the original inspirations for me on those terms. But you know, um, I love, uh, you know, uh, the work being done by groups like Black Girls Code. I think that's a great one, a great follow on Twitter because they're doing so much to, to help diversify tech from all angles. So they, you know, they're trying to inspire young girls. I volunteered with some of their workshops before and they're doing such amazing work there. Um, because you know, you get tired of hearing from people in tech like, um, oh this is just not something like women are interested in or something like that. And it's just so not true. Cause you see, like these girls, they're so excited about technology and so that's a great follow on Twitter. Um, yeah. So, I mean those are two that come to mind on the spot. But yeah, I mean I, it's interesting because I feel like the most, like the people I follow, so like if I see somebody follow me and it's like a woman working in tech in some capacity, like I'll follow her back because I want to find out, you know, even if like I'm one of her like, you know, 10 only 10 followers because I want to find out like her perspective. And so I think a lot of people in tech could stand to, and especially people in the majority groups, like to follow anyone from groups that are not yours, you know? Um, because their perspective is going to be really beneficial. So those are the ones that, that I'd recommend. Sometimes that's where the most interesting anecdotes and just experiences come from. And it really does help you build empathy to, to hear from somebody else's experiences.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And I love how on your Twitter that you, I see that you do that, you know, and I do it too. I love that. It's like, sometimes it doesn't, you know, I don't care about like some like 15,000 and blah blah or whatever, you know? And sometimes it's that one person who's struggling, who just needs a little pick me up and, or I love how you, you'll see something from somebody's feed and then you'll comment on it or talk about it or give them some Kudos, you know, or, or give them a little nudge of like, yeah, you, you know, like. I think that's super cool. And, and the fact that, you know, you know, some of us who may have more followers or who are involved in things on a deeper level that you take the time to do that says a lot about who you are, you know, so,

April Wensel:  oh, that's so kind of you. Thank you. Well, yeah, I mean like, people have done that for me and I feel like, you know, I, I especially feel like, you know, because I have a certain level of privilege and things that it's, you know, I feel like it's my duty to help give back in whatever ways I can. And so I try to do that. Um, and I'm always trying to, you know, learn from it and trying to figure out better ways to do that. But, uh, but you know, I think we're all doing what we can and I love, you know, what you're doing with the show too, just giving, you know, a platform to people who, uh, who, you know, inspire you. And I love this idea of bringing more light to the world. Cause I think that's what the world definitely needs right now is a little more light.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, no mutual admiration club I think here I just, it's been, it's been fun to watch, uh, you know, get to know you a little bit more in all of that. And um, oh, I so, so as far as, uh, the Compassionate Coding goes, you're doing workshops and you obviously do consulting with folks and sort of, I would say coaching, you know, adding on, staying in and building relationships. Um, talk about your speaking a little bit too. So I know you're, you're a keynote speaker and you go in and do that. And so I talk about what you do there and maybe one of the last ones you did, if you would.

April Wensel:  Sure. Yeah. Um, so that is sometimes paired with the workshops. So the workshops are limited to about 25 people. Uh, and sometimes I do multiple ones, whereas the keynote presentations, like any number can attend. So a lot of times companies will have me do the keynote and then a follow up workshop for more in depth for a smaller audience. Uh, so I did one recently when I was over in London, um, for Bloomberg Technology and they tweeted about it. Um, so I feel comfortable talking about it cause they tweeted about it. Cause some of the clients, you know, I'm like, I protect their identity, but this one was public. Yeah, but they a, so I did a keynote there and again, I do the same thing where I like to tailor it to the audience. So the presentations I give at conferences are pretty different from the ones I give at companies in the sense that I'm able to make direct references to the company's culture and use the same language and make references to past scenarios that have come up. So I do the same thing where I tailor it and, uh, yeah, those are, those are really fun to do because, uh, again you get to speak to a large audience there and, um, you know, kind of show a perspective that they may never have heard before. So for me, the awesome part of that is hearing afterwards, like from people, women and people from underrepresented groups, a lot of times they're just like, oh, thank you for talking about this because, uh, we need to hear it, you know, things like that. And that comes from, you know, all kinds of companies. Um, and then from other people in like the majority group are like, Oh, thank you, I never thought about it this way. And so it's those two types of feedback that keep me going. Cause I'm like, Oh yes, like we're opening minds here. So, uh, yeah. And that happens at companies like large to small and, and, uh, conferences too. Um, and so that's a, that's the thing. But all the topics are in the general space of, you know, compassion, emotional intelligence combined with technology. But it can range from focusing in on like burnout and preventing that and how to manage stress, to like very specific how to do compassionate code reviews. So it sort of runs the gamut there.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, yeah. Like one of our speakers in the Microsoft realm. Um, Sonya, she had a talk last year that was all about burnout. And, the room, like, you know, it was about 150 and I think the room was packed to the gills. I don't even know how many people were in there, but it was just one of those where everybody came, you know, and it was one of those like, okay, this is obviously a topic that everybody's interested in. And do you feel, so I, you know, I belonged to many, you know, in the past, especially say even five or 10 years ago, you know, it would be women in x, you know, women in tech, women in drones, women in whatever, um, whatever the x might stand for. And I'm finding that, you know, we still have those groups and all of that, but I also find that kind of like what you're saying is that when you're brought in, not just for the women in, but you're brought in as a keynote or you know, brought into the like larger conference. We're, we're getting, I don't know, we're getting more of the conversation, you know, like we're getting the ally-ship we're getting. Do you find that there's less women in and more diversity and inclusion? Do you feel like there's a shift happening in how groups are put together and what you're seeing and who you're speaking to?

April Wensel:  Yeah. It's an interesting thing because you know, I see the value in both still because those "women in" groups definitely provide a safe space a lot of the times for, for women to express these issues and to feel like comfortable sharing things and everything and to swap stories and get like, you know, real talk advice about stuff. But that said, I think, you know, the other side's important too because for example, I'm usually not brought in by the women in x group because, uh, and when they do reach out, they usually don't have the budget to bring me in personally because like, it's like, honestly, because a lot of times those groups are sort of grassroots organizations and I they don't have the budget that like the engineering department has for training. And so it's usually, you know, says a lot there too. You know, we should be giving more funding to these women's groups, but more often I'll go in through the general engineering group because again, these principles apply to all. And I mean, that's the approach I've taken with my company is, you know, I'm trying, I'm working to appeal to all types, not just, you know, here's how women in tech can do better. It's more, you know, if anything, it's more emphasized on the other side. Like, I think most of the people who have reached out to me to hire me have been men, you know, in the majority group. And, uh, because they, they recognize that these skills will help them and their teams. And so I think there's a place for both. And I'm glad that we're having more of both, I would say. Um, and, uh, I think that's important. Um, because, you know, some, some women will say like, Oh, I don't speak at women in x things, which, you know, I respect everybody's choice and all of this, but I still do because I feel like sometimes you need to see people in a role that, um, can help you, like, be inspired to apply things to your life. And there are certain issues that I feel like, you know, women in that position can discuss that men in that position can't discuss. So I think there's a good place for both and I'm happy to contribute to both. And that's my attitude on it.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I feel the same way. I, you know, it is one of those where we're constantly shifting, right. But also like respecting the fact that a lot of those grassroots efforts were what have, you know, launched all these other amazing efforts that have blossomed and bloomed. And like you said, understanding privilege and bringing along everyone into the conversation, you know, where something may have started one place and now it's, it's blossomed into something else. It's, I just, I find it all very exciting and, but, but definitely, yeah, both are so important. Um, you know, I always like to ask final question. Um, so you know, with doing this, what you do on a day to day basis with Compassionate Coding and that's compassionatecoding.com and you all should go right now to the website and sign up for April's newsletter to join the movement around that so you can hear about what she's doing and be informed. Can you go back to something that was like the spark? I love to figure out like what that moment or a couple of moments or someone or that spark where you were like, Yup, this is it. This was that moment that said, yes, I'm going down this path.

April Wensel:  Yeah. So, um, it's funny because I'd love to have a positive thing to share there, but it's actually, it's kind of a combination negative that led into a positive. Uh, I got fed up, so I was at my last tech company that I was working for someone else. Yeah. And I had been part of one of those grassroots organizations, uh, for diversity at the organization. And I got feedback in a one-on-one that people were afraid of me. Like meaning the other white male tech leads were afraid of me because I kept bringing up issues of diversity and uh, you know, like I'm a woman of small stature and I found it kind of amusing that people would be afraid of me first of all. But secondly, this is feedback that strong women get all the time. Like, if you speak up, you know, you're abrasive and whatever you're domineering or worse words. And so I got fed up and so when I got that feedback I was like, seriously? Like we have like an organization of 40 engineers and I'm the only woman. I try to speak up about it and people are afraid of me. It was just like ridiculous. So I got so frustrated that I was like, all right, I'm done. So I gave my notice that day, two weeks notice and I was like, I'm going to start a company to fix this because it's been bugging me throughout my career and I'm sick of it. So that was sort of why I left and decided to do my own thing. Cause I saw that the existing systems were not ones that I could thrive in. And so I had to create my own system that I could thrive in. And Compassionate Coding has been exactly that for me. Like I've been able to help others, but it's also just been personally renewing it for me. Like I used to be a Zombie, just like so burnt out from having to do all the emotional labor of being like a woman in tech. And now I have so much more control over my situation and I feel so much more empowered and I'm able to empower others, which all that does is help boost me up, you know, as well emotionally. So, uh, so that was sort of the spark was that was that one on one when I was like, seriously, this is, this is really going to be a problem here still? And so I was like, I got to start a company to fix this.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Birds of a feather, my friend.

Speaker 3:        Yes, a common experience like that across the board.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Yeah. No, I do. I think that there is a lot of like, you're too much. You're too heavy a crown to wear every day. You know, like could you tamp it down? Could you, you know, could you just stop bringing that stuff up? And, and I do think that, you know, that spark is a catalyst for a lot of folks, I think in this arena too, is that you see a problem. And also something that just personally that, you know, like being our true authentic selves is what we're meant to do. Right. And I think you know that there's a, do you know that, I'm sure you know that Maryann Williamson, who's also running for president, um, you know, that her, "Our Deepest Fear". Do you know that poem?

April Wensel:  yes, I do. Yes, about the light.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. About the light and about, you know, not, if you don't shine your light, then you're not inspiring others to shine theirs. So what are you doing tamping yourself down, you know, kind of the basis of that. And I kind of come, I go back to that a lot and what you just said made me think of that in a great way. So, yeah. Well, I gotta say I'm glad that you had a moment of feistiness and said, heck no.

April Wensel:  Thank you. It was a good one. Like I felt good afterwards. It's one of those things when you walk out, you're just like, yeah, I've taken back my power.

Heather Newman:  So yeah, so the invitation to I think, have other folks do that. April is amazing y'all. And she has a great website. And you have such a great, you know, Twitter following and I'm sure all the other social media stuff as well. So, um, yeah. Is there anything else you want to tell everybody about that you're doing that they can look out for?

April Wensel:  Oh yeah. No. If they subscribe to my mailing list at compassionatecoding.com, they'll get announcements about everything. And so right now I'm excited to be working on an online course to put some of the ideas I've been teaching in person in a more accessible format online. So that'll be announced through the mailing list soon, hopefully. So yeah, that's, that's Kinda the main place to go.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Awesome. Well that's fantastic. So everybody, we'll put all the information about April and her website and her company in the show notes. And I just want to say thanks for being on. What a pleasure to talk to you. Finally, it's scope. Great. Yay.

April Wensel:  Well, likewise. Thank you for having me, Heather. It's been awesome and it's been great to virtually meet you.

Heather Newman:  Wonderful. Well, everybody that has been another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast. You can find us on all the usual spots on iTunes, on Spotify, on Stitcher, Google play, and on our website. And here is to another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere. Thanks everyone.


Episode 46: Tech Maven Sharon Weaver

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts who bring a light to our world. I am super excited to have a great friend and colleague on today. She's a coach. She's a speaker. She's a consultant. She's a trainer and all around awesome gal. Sharon Weaver coming to us from Kansas. Say Hi to everybody Sharon.

Sharon Weaver:  Hello.

Heather Newman:  And where exactly are you in Kansas?

Sharon Weaver:  I live in a town called Lenexa, which is about 30 minutes away from downtown (Kansas City).

Heather Newman:  Okay, awesome. So Sharon and I have known each other for a long time now. Working with each other in technology and around that wonderful product called SharePoint. You know, I'm trying to figure out when we met, it's been a long time.

Sharon Weaver:  Yeah, it's been years. You know, I do this with a lot of people that are on the scene. I've just been rotating around so long we kind of meet at different events. Um, but being around for a while.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. So you, you, you're, like I said, you're a coach, you're a speaker, consultant. So, and, um, will you tell everybody about the business that you, that you own and run cause it's pretty fabulous. Will you let everybody know what that's called?

Sharon Weaver:  Yeah. So I own a business called Smarter Consulting. Um, and basically it's an IT consulting business where I partner with a bunch of cool people and I try to help people solve their problems using technology.

Heather Newman:  Awesome. How long has that been in existence?

Sharon Weaver:  So Smarter Consulting itself I've been doing for almost a year. Um, I have been consulting on and off for probably the last 10 years, but Smarter Consulting specifically has been around just almost a year.

Heather Newman:  Right. Yeah, that, congratulations. That's a big, that's a big thing. You know? Starting something on your own. That's great. And I know you're really involved with, the SharePoint communities there. In what capacity are you leading community efforts? I know you do a lot in that realm.

Sharon Weaver:  So, um, I am the organizer for SharePoint Saturday Kansas City. This is our, I think it's our sixth year, um, that we have run it. Um, and so I run that whole thing. I've had various committees that have worked with me over the years. I have, um, a handful of volunteers who show up every year no matter what. But ultimately I'm the person who books the venue and pays the bills and make sure that it happens. Um, and I also run our local Office 365 user group and I've been doing that for about seven months. And, same thing, I have people who volunteer to help with odds and ends. Um, and I'm actually in the process with that one, of forming more, putting together a more formalized committee that'll help run it long-term. Um, but at the end of the day, I'm the one who makes sure that we have a place and we have speakers and we have something to eat and um, that everybody knows that it's happening.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Yeah. I'm running the SharePoint Saturday LA and user group over here. Yeah, it's a big job. You know, I think people don't always see that, you know, it's something that we all do because we want to build community and love it, but we do it after, behind and beside our day jobs.

Sharon Weaver:  Absolutely!

Heather Newman:  yeah, absolutely. And so I think a lot of us came up in sort of different areas. In talking to different people on the podcast, you know, I talked to a lot of technology folks, a lot of our, a lot of friends that you know, and you know, for myself, like I, I have an arts degree and you know, Liz Sundet came up in the arts and I know you came up, um, having psychology, right?

Sharon Weaver:  Yes, yes.

Heather Newman:  So, uh, from the University of Kansas, so, you know, how did you get into technology from being a psych psychology major?

Sharon Weaver:  So, yeah, so everybody asked me that. I have like this really weird background. So, um, I tell people I have been, um, a techno crazy person. I love technology. I always have. Um, I kind of got addicted to it when I was about eight years old and they brought an Apple 2E to our classroom. Um, and within a little bit, within a few weeks, I kind of started figuring out how to, you know, take the stickers off the disks and things like that. Um, I could make computers and applications and programs do things that nobody else, they could barely leave and run them. And I was already making changes to them. Um, so we had computers in my house, basically my whole life, cause my mom was also, um, a tech junkie. I mean, she's super into new technology. Um, so she kind of brought it into our house all the time and so I got to play with it. Um, so on the personal side, I've just always been very, um, tech friendly, very into new things, um, and learn how to do a lot of it my own. Um, as far as my career and my education, I actually started out premed. Um, I had every intention of becoming a surgeon. Um, I was kind of thinking about maybe doing, um, neuropsychology or some sort of, you know, brain surgery. I thought that'd be super cool. And, um, so I started going to school and one of the things they recommended was having a year in the medical field while you're going to school to kind of get your feet wet. So I worked in pharmacy for the first seven years of my career. Um, and I got a developmental psychology degree and I, you know, throughout my whole journey and I started looking into going to medical school and I realized pretty quick that a pharmacy tech, uh, salary was not going to pay for medical school. And so, shocker, right? And, um, so I, um, started taking classes to learn web design. I started contracting on the side to make some extra money. Um, and long story short, I kind of got to a point where my IT career was, you know, paying me well enough that it just really wasn't worth my time and effort to go to medical school. And so I just kind of leaned more heavily into my IT career and let it go and kind of let go of the whole med thing and the rest was history.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Well, and I think, you know, that totally happens, I think when you start finding a path that may be different than what you thought and I don't know. Don't you feel like, I, I feel like I use my theater degree every day. I mean, you know, you probably use that psychology degree of yours everyday doing sales and creating marketing and all that stuff for your business, right?

Sharon Weaver:  Yes, absolutely. In fact, um, a few years ago, my husband, because my husband's super romantic for Valentine's Day, he bought me the URL, the domain, called the Devwhisper.com.

Heather Newman:  Oh, my goodness. That's fantastic. He's a sweetheart. I know Sharon's husband, Jonathan, he's a love. He's a sweet, sweet, sweet fellow. And I think, you know, a few years ago we all got to hang out, uh, during SharePoint Saturday Honolulu, which was really fun and did a lot of fun touristy things, uh, when we were there all speaking for a SharePoint and Office 365. So pretty cool. Um, so for you, you know, in the consulting business and you and I talked a little bit about this earlier before we got on the Pod, was that, you know, looking at sort of the landscape of what's happening right now, you know, as far as Microsoft technologies and what are you, what are you seeing the, the problems are, or the solutions that you know, you're coming up with for businesses that are either struggling with adoption or deployment and those sorts of things. What's the, what's, what's your landscape looking like?

Sharon Weaver:  Yeah, so I mean, I kind of get about half and half. About half of the people are kind of headed that direction and they really just need somebody to lead them in the right way. So I do you, you know, training and support around building a governance model and building user adoption. So for the people who really kind of have it pretty clear what they want to accomplish, it's really just coming in and kind of helping them strategize and answering questions and training their users. On the other side. We also get people, um, that where the landscape is changing so much that we have developers that are no longer able to develop the way they used to, I'm talking about SharePoint development, um, SharePoint administrators who for whatever reason, maybe they can't have the same level of privilege that they had before. And so, you know, it's, it's making them have to change how they manage their roles. Um, so a lot of it I think is, is getting people on the right track and helping them to understand what's out there. But the other part of it is there's a lot, you know, we joke about I'm using my psychology degree, there's a lot of therapy in terms of people understanding that there's a lot of change and that change is okay. And that as these things change, um, they're going to, they're going to be all right in moving forward in what it is that they're doing now as opposed to what they were used to doing maybe before.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I think, yeah, I think you're on point with that. I think that there's a, there's a culture shift. I'm feeling that I'm seeing that I keep talking about, or maybe it's just me talking about it, but um, but about how we relate to each other as humans, but, but how we relate to each other as humans in our workplaces and looking for building, you know, more corporate culture, more employee engagement and what a healthy, you know, a healthy, trust-based workplace feels like, you know, to be in day in, day out. Are you seeing that as well?

Sharon Weaver:  Yeah, that was actually, so I've been having a lot of conversations with certain clients, um, that because of the way the administration rules have changed in Office 365 so if you think about it before, so we've got our SharePoint guy and he is the admin for the SharePoint, um, server, right, for the farm. Um, and really for the most part, they could do whatever they wanted short of, you know, maybe turning the server on and off or maybe doing some Windows updates or something like that. But for the most part, they kind of had way big control of everything. Now when you think about switching to Office 365, that same SharePoint Admin, even if he has SharePoint administrator rights, is not going to have the same level of access that he had in the old days with just SharePoint administration. Um, and so I think what's ending up happening is you're starting to see these people who have kind of been able to control their own little areas, having to start to trust members of their team to say, Hey, I need you to help me with this. Can you get it done? Or Hey, can, you know, can you do this thing and can you go troubleshoot this thing? They're having to interact I think a lot more than they used to. And they're having to architect how that works and they're having to task each other and they're having to communicate more. And it's definitely changed the dynamics of the administrators and the developers in general.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, I at a company that I worked for, um, I, at one point, you know, came in and you know, they were doing their thing and I said to my team, it was a marketing team. I said, hey, um, you all are all in the same office, uh, here. Do you, do any of you know, anybody who is in the support or IT team? Like, do you know them by name or like, can you stand up and point somebody out to me that you know, that, you know? And I got a bunch of blank stares. And I was like, Huh. Interesting. And so I was like, everybody get up, let's go. And so we got up and we walked over and I made sure we weren't interrupting things too much but, and said, hey, how about you all meet each other?

Sharon Weaver:  That's so great.

Heather Newman:  You know, and, and, and then I set up a lunch where we all like ate pizza and all of that kind of thing. And you know, even things like that that are, that you think, you know, I mean, okay, it's hard, companies are big. You know, you're not necessarily going to do that in a company of thousands and stuff, but it was a company of a thousand at that time and they were all in the same office and it was like, hmm. You know, like getting out of our, I don't know, cocoons and our small silos, you know, is, is about exactly what you're saying is that there's been a force, it's forced in a way because of the way the technology is evolving. But again, it's like remember that we're human beings working on all this stuff together. Right?

Sharon Weaver:  Exactly.

Heather Newman:  And connection is kind of the key.

Sharon Weaver:  No, that's so true. I mean, I think this is always been an issue in IT. Whether you're talking about, you know, quote unquote IT versus marketing or IT versus the business or IT versus communications is, is these silos that everybody feels like, you know, we're on these different teams and now it's almost becoming IT versus IT. And it's like, guys, we're all on the same team. Let's get to know each other, let's help each other out, let's not worry about kind of who's responsible for what. Let's just get it all done.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And I think that there's like if you look at employees and a frustrated employee is not a productive employee. Right? And I think that sometimes the fear of asking a question because you don't want to look stupid or you've asked it before, is something that prevents a lot of that. And, and, and it's on both sides. You know, it's like, why does this person keep continuing to ask me this? I've told them 15 times and I can't remember, cause I'm so busy trying to sell stuff that I don't remember how to do that one thing. And then, you know, nobody's talking to each other because everybody's like, you're stupid and you're stupid and two stupids make lots of stupid.

Sharon Weaver:  Yes. It's just, you know, it's just people becoming defensive. And I think one of, you know, I'm dealing with this with multiple clients and it's really funny to me, you know, with all of this change, it's almost bringing team dynamics to a head. So things that were not an issue before are now becoming issues where they weren't before and they're having to deal with some of these team level resolutions to be able to move forward. And you know, some of them are doing a better job at it than others, but I definitely think it's forcing people to work together in a way that they've never had to do before.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, I agree with you completely. Well and I think there's a, you know, with a large focus on the word adoption, right. And um, and, and adopting software, uh, you know, that is, to me that's, you know, it's been digital transformation, but it's also that word adoption keeps cropping up. And I think, I don't know, you probably see this a lot cause you, you do that for living with your consulting, but do you feel like that word adoption is either just overused or not the right one? Or do you feel like that is on point and that it's something that we can all get behind to really make that change? You know?

Sharon Weaver:  No, I actually think adoption is exactly the right word. Um, so two of my kids are actually adopted and one of the, one of the things that I want to point out about adoption is that you are purposefully choosing to build a relationship with somebody who did not come to you organically. Right? And I think that when you go to look at software, these are things that are not organic as part of our daily lives. These are things that a lot of times, I would say more often than not, other people bring into our lives, but we are consciously making the decision of whether or not we're going to build a relationship with that application or not. Are we going to use it in our day to day life? Are we going to accept it? Are we going to be happy with it? Are we going to understand it? Are we going to be able to, to work with it on a regular basis? And so I think there's, there's more than just knowing that something is there. There's more than just somebody telling you this, here's this thing and you have to use it. I think it's purposefully and conscientiously making a decision that you are going to build a relationship with whatever it is that is being offered and then doing it. Right. So I think when we talk about adoption, adoption is definitely the right word. But I think the big thing that people forget about is that there's more to it than just pushing it in somebody's face and saying, here's this new thing. There's everything from educating it on what there is, giving them time to acclimate and get used to it. Helping them when they have questions. Um, and then also, you know, working through some of the emotions of this is a new thing and I feel kind of nervous about doing it and I don't want to fail and I don't want this to look bad at my job. And so I think there's all these different pieces that come into it, um, to help people be able to adopt new things.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I just feel like I threw you the ball and you just made the three pointer. What a beautiful way to describe it. And I didn't realize your, your kids were adopted. That's super cool hun. I did not know that. So I didn't realize that. Yeah, I was like, that was the best description of adoption I've heard in a really long time. So, it got me a little misty. I can tell it also comes from the heart, so yeah. And it applies, right? It, it applies no matter what and whom we're adopting and bringing into our lives, um, on a day to day basis. Yeah, it's super cool. Um, I know you're also, you're, you're a teacher as well, right? And you, you teach at one of the, um, community colleges there.

Sharon Weaver:  Yeah. So, um, so, you know, cause I have, I don't really need to sleep. So this all came about. I mean, I've always been in roles where I'm the one that's doing the user adopting, right? Like I'm rolling things out to people and I'm convincing them that they need to love these things. And what I learned early on is that if I educated people on what was available and if I educated them on how to use it, um, that my user adoption rates went through the roof. Um, and so if people understand what it is and they feel competent in using it, they're much, much, much more likely to use it and they're much, much more likely to continue using it. So I did a lot of internal training for a lot of years. Um, and when SharePoint was kind of a big wig, um, about five or six years ago, it was like super-duper hot. The local college actually reached out to me and said, hey, we have all these SharePoint classes and you're one of the few people in the area that knows this really well enough that we feel confident that you can come in and teach people on how to use it. And so, I became adjunct at the local community college and I was just kind of doing evening and weekend classes, um, teaching people basically basics of SharePoint, how to install it, how to run it, how to use it, what they could and could not do with it. Um, and I have maintained an adjunct relationship with the local community college for about five and a half years now. And along that, um, when that was happening, um, SLU, St Louis University reached out to me. They have some classes at my local community college that they do satellite and they were like, hey, would you like to teach some classes for us? So, I teach some business analyst classes. I teach some leadership classes, I teach some six sigma classes. Um, just some odds and ends for them that are here. Um, and then that has slowly kind of grown into private corporate, um, training. And so I've done training for most of the large companies in Kansas City. Um, in fact, my very first gig when I left, um, my job job, my day job to go consult, um, I actually sold a 24-week training program for SharePoint for a very large company in Kansas City. Um, so that, you know, I, I do a lot of private corporate training to help people understand all this new stuff, you know, all, all of the different products and how they can use them and what they can get out of them. So, yes, I've been teaching, um, barely professionally. It's about, it's honestly, it's about half of my business. Um, and I've been doing that for about six years.

Heather Newman:  That's awesome. I knew some of that, but I didn't know all of that. That's super cool. Um, wow.

Sharon Weaver:  It's one of my favorite things.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, that's great. And do you find with the, so that's, you know, what we'd call I guess, in person training. Do you find that, um, like, do you stay on, you know, and, or do you, you know, like on a consultative basis, once you've done training, are you there for them sort of coaching along the way as well?

Sharon Weaver:  Yeah. Um, so, I mean it kind of depends, but I always, you know, leave my information and one of the reasons that the community college actually hired me as adjunct is they were looking really hard for people who could provide that follow-up afterwards. That's not in their wheelhouse. It's not something they wanted to sell, but they wanted to provide that to their students. And so, I find that out of every single class that I teach, um, usually a minimum of one person, built a relationship with me probably on LinkedIn or some sort of social media platform. We continue to chat, have conversations, and I would probably say easily half of the consulting work that I have gotten has been a result of one of those training classes in some place.

Heather Newman:  Wow, that's super cool. That's providing a service and getting, you know, getting some revenue out of it, that's a win win all around.

Sharon Weaver:  Yeah. It's just an opportunity to build relationships with somebody who has a need for a service I provide by maintaining that relationship, you know, it, it almost always turns into work and yeah. So I kind of joke that I get paid to do lead generation.

Heather Newman:  That's awesome. Well, and how cool that, you know, I think there's something, you know, we, we talk about building community a lot, um, in our realms and we've got, you know, SharePoint has one of the strongest technical communities I think in the world. And I think there's also something, you know, you speak all over the world and all over, you know, the United States, cause I've seen you in many, we get together in many different cities, uh, when we're both speaking on the circuit, you know, but I think there is something to, you know, I would call it a tactic, but I think it's less a tactic than it is just about connection and about the fact that you've built yourself all of these great relationships in your community for your community, um, that, that helps people right there, you know? Um, that's, there's something to that that I think a lot of people miss sometimes when they're, you know, trying to boil the ocean and, you know, sometimes it's just about the creek behind your house. Right, that you want to connect to.

Sharon Weaver:  right. I think a lot of people, the technology comes first and the people come second. And I'm not going to judge that because for some people technology is their passion. For me, people has always been passion and technology is always second. That doesn't mean that I'm not good at it. It doesn't mean I don't understand it. It doesn't mean I want to, you know, that I don't learn it. But, first and foremost, my, my purpose in life is to help other people, to help solve their problems, um, to help encourage them along their path to help them, you know, whatever it is that they're kind of going through. And second of all is, is technology. But the great thing about putting those things together is that I am able to do my life's purpose by using technology to help people solve problems. And that can be problems all over the place. Um, but I think when you put people first and everything else comes second, um, that those relationships happen, and you’re not focused so much on what am I trying to force them to use. But what is it that they're dealing with? What is it that they're going through? What kind of pain do they have that I can help them solve the problem? And when you look at it that way, um, I feel like the marketing and the sales afterwards is just super easy because you're just helping them solve a problem. And that's how I always look at it.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, that's a great way to look at it for sure. Um, so I'm going to switch topics a little bit. Um, so for someone who is busy, uh, coaching, instructing, consulting and being wonderful, um, how do you, how do you find time for yourself? How do you find time to get away from things and, uh, like be creative and be inspired and be refreshed? What are, what are your things that you do?

Sharon Weaver:  So, um, I was a workaholic for a very, very long time. Um, and there was many, many years that I was working 40, 50, 60 hours a week and not taking vacations and about, um, I want to say it was been 11 or 12 years ago. My best friend was like, you have to go on this group cruise I'm doing. Um, all my friends are going, you're going to love it. It's going to be a blast. And she just sells me and sells me and sells me on this cruise. And she would not shut up about it. Like she talked about it for weeks and weeks and finally, and I'm telling my husband about this and he's like, yeah, let's do it. That sounds great. You know, let's just go have a good time. And I'm like, fine. And so this is, you know, 12 years ago, workaholic me was like, fine, I'll take a week to go on a cruise. You know? So they pulled my arm, um, and over Labor Day weekend, you know, I couldn't go on a regular week cause that would mean missing work. Um, I went on this cruise with my best friend and her friends and I just had a blast. And the reason I think it was such a big deal to me is because I was so plugged into everything that when I'm went on that first cruise, um, there you could not use your phone. It was, it just was absolutely outrageous cost wise to turn your phone on at all. So I shut my phone on off. I stuck it in the safe for a week. Um, and I went on this cruise and for the first time in a very, very long time, I experienced pure relaxation. Um, lots of sunshine, which we, I don't know if you know much about Kansas City, but, um, we're very, very overcast most of the year, so we don't get a ton of sunshine. So I got a lot of sunshine. I got really good solid sleep. I got some really good solid food. And also we took our kids and for the first time we went on a vacation where I wasn't stressed about what we were going to pay for because it was all paid for out front. And so I developed this love of cruising. And, uh, in May, I went on my 23rd cruise.

Heather Newman:  What? Oh wow. That's amazing.

Sharon Weaver:  I know. So I've averaged about two cruises a year for the last, you know, 12 years or so. So I mean, everybody's like, oh my God, you're always on vacation. I'm like, I swear I take like two weeks a year. It's really not that big of a deal. Um, but I try to take about two cruises a year. Sometimes it's a weekend cruise, sometimes it's a week-long cruise. Um, and I just, you know, you can get WIFI a lot cheaper now. But truthfully, I'm really just happy kind of turning my phone off and laying on the deck and enjoying the sunshine. Um, and really just being away from everything for a few minutes, just completely disconnecting and not having technology for a week or so. And I think it gives me time to just let my brain recharge and my body recharge. So yeah, somewhere sunny and ocean and happy for a couple of weeks a year.

Heather Newman:  So, since you've been on so many cruises now, that's amazing. And I'm so happy to hear that you do that one. And so, um, I think, you know, I may call you a cruise maven so that you know so much about it. Um, you might now get people knocking on your door to ask you about how to do it

Sharon Weaver:  you know, that's actually totally fine. Um, I've had a lot, over the years, you know, standing in line getting for a cruise and people are always like, oh, this is my first cruise. I'm like, okay, here's what you got to know. Right? Um, and then it grew into people watching my posts on Facebook. Um, and I'm actually going to start posting a lot more stuff on Instagram and I'm going to move my travel stuff out of Facebook and into Instagram because it's gotten kind of heavy. And people ask me questions about it all the time and I really enjoy answering their questions. Um, I've taken a few people on either their first cruise or a cruise to kind of teach them kind of how to, you know, how to get out there and how to do stuff and how to enjoy it. Um, and starting next year I'm going to start doing group cruises, uh, at least once a year where I'm just going to basically take a group, um, whether it's your first time, whether you've been before and you just want to go with a group or whether you just want to go with somebody cause you've never done it before. Um, I'm basically going to lead some small group cruises where I can show people the ropes and see, let them see how good of a time it is. Um, let him know if cruising is for them or not. But, um, I think it'll be a good time. So I don't mind if people ask me questions at all. I could talk about cruising all day long.

Heather Newman:  That's so exciting. That's awesome to take something that you know, was a way to, you know, that your friend was like, you must do this and now look, you know, you're going to help other people have a little bit more balance. Right? So that's so exciting. I'm really so excited to hear that. That's great. Yeah.

Sharon Weaver:  You’re going to have to come on one of my cruises.

Heather Newman:  Okay. Yeah. I, I'm, yes, I, I've, I've only been on one and I did really enjoy it and, uh, so yeah, I've always thought, you know, I do know, I think he's still the CMO of Viking River cruises and I've always thought that those are super interesting too, you know.

Sharon Weaver:  Yeah, fancy.

Heather Newman:  those are, yes, those are kind of fancy, I guess. But, um, but yeah, the, the, my, I think my, my folks like cruising, they do that a couple of times a year too. So, but yeah, I'm, I'm, I'm game for sure. So, you know, speaking of sort of inspiration, passions and all of that, um, where, like what do you read, look, who's your favorite person? Maybe, or, and you don't have to say just one, but you know where if it's on Instagram or if it's a blog or, or something like that that you know, is a go to for you when you're like, I just need something awesome to get me through what's going on. Is there something or someone you can point out to that you could share with everybody where, where you go to for that type of thing?

Sharon Weaver:  I follow a lot of different stuff. Um, I try really hard to kind of limit it to kind of some primary ones and then I kind of dabble a little bit cause otherwise it just takes up a little bit too much bandwidth. But I will tell you one person that I have followed since the very beginning of his career, it's Zen Habits. I think it's Zenhabits.net. Um, but he's Leo Balboa and he is phenomenal. He has written mindfulness. Um, I probably followed it for 10 years easy. Um, and I know, he's one of the few that I allow his blog to come to my email, um, because it's so good. And he, I mean, obviously he does have some guests writers, occasionally things like that, but his content is just always fantastic. He always just says exactly what I need to hear. Um, and it's just really about, um, focusing on what you're doing right now and making sure that you're not letting all the other little stuff kind of come into to spoil that. Right? It's not getting so distracted that you can't focus on what it is you're trying to accomplish. Um, but I love Zen Habits. Um, there's a site called Tiny Buddha with a, a big, uh, it's a number of writers, but it's a lot of women writers. Um, and they talk a lot about, you know, once again, um, purpose and mindfulness and things like that. Um, and, uh, I, know this is kind of Cliché, but I love Bob Proctor. Um, he's just amazing. So I love all the law of attraction people. Um, anybody who's into mindfulness and Buddhism and things like that. I'm not a Buddhist, but I do love the mindfulness concept. Um, and I just, you know, a lot of kind of good feels. I'm all about the good feels, so I follow a lot of like positive affirmation and um, enlightenment posts and things like that on, um, all of the various social media channels.

Heather Newman:  Right. Cool. Those are all cool, I've heard of some but not others. That's awesome. I'll make sure to put those in the show notes for our listeners. Um, so last, last question for you. Um, I am always interested in that moment or spark, um, that happened in someone's life of like, that like springs you to, to do what you do to be who you are is, is there someone or something that you can remember that you want to share with our listeners about that moment when you were like, this really catalyzed me or made me go, oh, Yep, this is the way that I want to go. Is there anything you can think of that, that might fit that bill?

Sharon Weaver:  I, you know, I don't, I don't know that there's been a specific catalyst. There might have been a lot of them, but I will tell you, and I know you know him, but I'm going to give a little bit of a shout out because I think throughout the entire time of my entire journey, my husband has basically been my biggest groupie. I know he knows that and I know he says it, but when you have gone through some of the craziness that we've gone through and being a woman in technology, and it's so great that he's in technology too, because we can speak the same language. Um, but he has, throughout this entire journey, every time I've said, I think I want to do this, he goes, do it. I'll make it happen. Just do it. And, um, no matter what, no matter how crazy it gets, I'm like, I'm like, Hey, what do you think of this? Every once in a while, I can always tell because hell kind of give me that funny look like, I mean, I trust you, but... Truthfully, he has been there rock solid. We've been married for 27 years this year. We've been together for 30. Um, and he has just been rock solid by my side the entire time. I don't know that there's really been kind of like a catalyst. There's a lot of little ones that had happened along the way. But when it comes to why I am who I am, I think he's a big part of it.

Heather Newman:  That's amazing. I love that. And he's such a love so that I, you know, that makes sense. And congratulations on anniversaries and stuff. That's a long time. And that's, relationships go through those roller coaster moments and you know, hanging on together and having, you know, one hand on the bar in one hand up in the air, you know, that's what you want. Right?

Sharon Weaver:  Yeah. And having a husband that was really excited for his wife to be gone all the time, work all the time, learn new technology, work in a very male dominated industry where I was the only girl, travel with a ton of men for all of these things. Um, and then also, um, I mean in general, I have earned more than him almost my entire career. And for a lot of men that could be debilitating or it could be something that would really, you know, be hard on them. And he has just cheered me on and cheered me on and cheered me on and said, no, go get him. Like, you can do this and I'm here. So, it's kind of a big deal.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, it's a huge deal. And I've been with him and heard him do that about you and around you and even when you weren't in the room, you know, so I, big, big Kudos over there to him for that. So for sure. That's awesome. Well, I want to say thank you for being on the call. It's always so good to connect with you and talk with you and I'm so glad you've got a chance to come on the podcast. So thanks for sharing everything you did today with us.

Sharon Weaver:  Thanks so much for having me. This is fantastic. And I think you're kind of awesome too, so,

Heather Newman:  well thank you. The feeling is mutual as they say, so I appreciate that. Well everyone, um, that has been another Mavens DO It Better podcast, and you can find us on all the normal areas where you look for us: on our website, on iTunes, on Stitcher, on Spotify, and Google Play. And here is two another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere. Thank you.


Episode 45: Museum Maven Adam Smith

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts who bring a light to our world. I could not be more excited to have a friend and colleague on today, Adam Smith who is the executive director of the Comic-Con Museum at Comic-Con International. And uh, if you know anything about the world right now, you know, there is a big gearing up because Comic-Con is coming up starting on July 17th, 18th 19th and 20th, that whole weekend. So there's a lot of excitement and I'm so excited to have you on. So Adam, say hello to our listeners. If you would please.

Adam Smith:  Hello Heather, hello listeners.

Heather Newman:  Hello. Adam and I got the chance to meet a couple of years ago. I got the privilege of uh, being a, a panelist, uh, a moderator for a panel on Comic-Con a couple of years ago and am again this year. And I've been working with the WonderCon team as well. So and I actually came down and saw the museum, um, with you, gosh, sometime last year when there was not a whole lot there. And, uh, will you tell everybody a little bit about the museum specifically and what's going on, um, with the building of that beautiful new place that would be awesome.

Adam Smith:  Sure. Um, I guess the story goes back two or three years. Um, Comic-Con were given the opportunity to take over the lease of a really nice building in Balboa Park, which is sort of the cultural heart of San Diego. There are already 17 museums there. And the city approached comic con and said, we know you sort of hypothetically been interested in having a permanent year round Comic-Con museum, but we have this awesome building and, and we can, we can let you have it basically free of charge if, if, if you're interested. So, um, that led to, um, me sitting here today, you know, sort of halfway through the, the journey of creating that museum. Um, I am a lifetime museum person. Um, comic-con recruited me, um, because I, I worked in museums and developed several museums from scratch previously. Um, so I've been working on the project for 18 months. There are 10 of us now on the museum staff and we're here to open the museum by May of 2021, so just under two years to go. Um, although we have the building, we do need to do a lot of remodel and repair and refurbishment to, uh, the building that was constructed in 1935. We've got 16, we got 16,000 square feet. And the, the, the ultimate goal is to sort of transform it into this pop culture wonderland that captures the magic of Comic-Con all year round. Um, and as we head into Comic-Con this year it's kind of exciting and kind of daunting for us because we decided a couple of months ago that we were going to essentially create a pop-up museum this year. So, um, for us, it's a really great opportunity to do a test of what it will be like to have the ultimate thing and test the location with, um, Comic-Con fans and things like that. So, um, yeah, so we're having, we're, we're talking basically, you know, right in the, roughly in the middle of what will ultimately be a three or four year journey to build this, this wonderful museum.

Heather Newman:  Right. Yeah. And you made that announcement today that the museum will be open, the pop-up, throughout Comic-Con and you don't have to have a Comic-Con ticket and it's free for anyone to come check it out. Correct?

Adam Smith:  I said to everyone, I have this podcast that I'm doing with Heather tonight, so we've got to get this announcement out so that we can talk about it.

Heather Newman:  Perfect. I know you sent it to me, and I immediately tweeted it. I was like, oh my goodness, this is so exciting. So, uh, that's so great. Yeah. And uh, I see you have a Paint Like Bob Ross. That's so cool. A make and take class.

Adam Smith:  Oh, interesting that that's caught your attention. I think we can probably talk about several of the features of this pop up museum. You've noticed that we're doing some Paint Like Bob Ross classes and um, there is a little bit of, you know, there is some thought behind that. Um, in the sense that we want the museum to be many things. We want it to be an awesome place to visit, you know, for young and old, and we want it to be a place that you can come and have a shared experience of watching a movie or trivia or see great exhibits and attend great panels and things like that. But we also want it to be an educational place and a place that people can come and be creative themselves and not just to consume the creative works of others, but to actually be inspired to create things.

Adam Smith:  So, as we were putting this popup museum together, I wanted to try and bring in different elements of what the museum will be. So we've got a beautiful art gallery show in the museum because we're going to be a place where people can see and appreciate the pure art of popular culture. But I also wanted to do something that was creative, where people could come and make art and, and uh, and then the Bob Ross, uh, folks walked in the door and said, hey, are you interested in doing something? And we thought, perfect! We'll all be making little happy trees.

Heather Newman:  Right. That's fantastic. Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, the art of Comic-Con 50 and it's the 50th anniversary of Comic-Con as well. So you get to, and that's part of that art exhibit as well, right?

Adam Smith:  It is. Actually, for the, for the ultra-precise people. It's the 50th Comic-Con. The 50th anniversary technically is next year. So, the first Comic-Con was 1970 and so, and this, if you count the years, this is the 50th, this is the 50th one. So maybe the best way to put it is that the 50th Comic-Con this year leads into the 50th anniversary of Comic-Con next year.

Heather Newman:  Perfect. Yeah. And we need to be clear about that because we know how Comic-Con folks are about the precision of the details, which I completely appreciate. Yes.

Adam Smith:  Either way. Um, we, we, we, we actually put it together and launched this in the museum in March. Um, we, we did the first opening of this art exhibit where over the years Comic-Con has created a, a program, event guide, um, or program book every year. And it has commissioned a piece of art to go on that cover. And it has created this wonderful collection of art works from, from many of the most famous comic art creators of the, the last couple of generations. So we, um, we staged that as a show early in the year. It's only been open occasionally at weekends. Um, but it's been very popular for the times that it has been open. Um, but we, we saw, you know, we saw the opportunity to, to throw the doors open to everyone that's coming to Comic-Con this year. And uh, one of the things we're adding to the show is, um, it's broken on social media over the last 10 days or so that Jim Lee, uh, created a really amazing program book cover for this year. As you're probably aware, it's highly unusual for characters from different, um, organizations to appear in the same piece of art. It's very rare that you would see, you know, Marvel and DC characters all, all commingling with um, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and et Cetera, et cetera. And Jim is not just a fantastic artist. He's a, you know, is fantastically well connected and was able to persuade everyone that for the 50th Comic-Con, it would be really cool if everybody, all the companies, all of the great characters in comics could be in the same picture. So, it's, it's been extremely well received by our fans. And we're going to show the original piece of, the original piece of Jim Lee art is being brought into the museum. Which I'm really excited to see.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, that's great. Well and when you and I met last year, um, and I came down, we were talking with and you know, it was super cool, thank you for inviting me cause that was really neat. Like looking and talking to folks about sort of all the, you know, experiential and interactive areas of the museum. And I know that's a big part of what you're thinking about of how, you know, how when somebody walks in, you know, what the experience is and, and um, you know, my theatrical brain, you know, was like going crazy and tech and, and have you made more decisions like I, the like I know there's, you've got the Batman Experience that's interactive and immersive and I take it you've made some decisions because you have that and you're going to show it off. Is that kind of a test run for some of those experiences that you were thinking about back then?

Adam Smith:  Yeah, it's, as we think about the museum, we've got a very large and diverse audience. And, um, what we're trying to do at Comic-Con this year is throw some things out that we think, you know will appeal to all the different parts of the audience. And one of the expectations that it's very clear people have about a Comic-Con museum, is if somehow, they, they feel that it needs to be technologically interesting, you know, somehow at the cutting edge. So, um, we've talked already about, you know, we want to have that creative piece and that the Bob Ross, we want to have that art piece which is the Cover Story gallery. Um, but we, we also want to have some experiential stuff in there and some, some technology, et cetera. Um, one of the really nice things that came together this year is that originally we were just planning to have a big event on the opening night of Comic-Con.

Adam Smith:  We are, we are raising money to build the museum. And I, I wanted to have a fundraising event where we could, you know, bring people in and have an auction and things like that. What came together there was that we, we were able to, um, find some, some great connections into Warner Brothers and DC and we, um, you know, we, we sort of got down this path of, of realizing that we could put a pretty awesome Batman display together, for the fundraising event. Um, and then what happened was the AT&T, which is the parent company of, of uh, Warner Brothers and DC, um, sort of independently was thinking about doing something relative to Batman because it's the 80th anniversary of Batman this year, was thinking about doing something that was sort of an activation and tech based and things like that somewhere in San Diego.

Adam Smith:  So, we realized there was an opportunity to bring that, bring AT&T together with DC and Warner Brothers and just do this sort of massive Batman thing. Um, though I do want to thank those organizations because they've been tremendous partners in the sense of, um, really bringing, bringing into our museum something we just couldn't possibly have done on our own. We're a tiny staff just trying to, you know, bring a, bring the museum to life. But, um, that this whole idea of a popup museum has come because the, the, the strength of the, you know, being able to go into the Warner Brothers archives literally and say, you know, they were basically saying, all right, choose what you want to bring to San Diego. A bunch of, uh, geeks and museum people liked to be able to look at every Batman costume ever. And we could choose, um, you know, however many we want. So it, it's all come together in a really kind of fun, really fun way. And, um, so the, this, this Batman Experience powered by AT&T, that's sort of, um, a big component of the museum, um, during Comic-Con is, um, really quite a significant collection of artifacts, but they've been able to bring some of these more experiential, um, elements into it that tech based. There's a video gaming component, where we're looking at, um, you know, how Batman has been covered in video games past, present and future and um, and things like that.

Heather Newman:  Wow, that's cool. So the, if folks are interested at a first look at exhibits, there's the Gathering, which is the inaugural fundraising event and that's the Wednesday, July 17th. And that's a ticketed event, special ceremony. And we'll put it in the show notes, the CCMgathering.org. So that's, that's one piece. And then obviously the open pop up for everybody else during Comic-Con, but there is a, if anybody is interested in the inaugural event and helping do some fundraising for the museum, that is available to everyone as well. So just to be clear, it's always good to be clear about that kind of stuff.

Adam Smith:  So, something I haven't, well we haven't talked about it that this pop-up museum that is running, um, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That is free of charge. And um, and also that you don't need a Comic-Con badge, um, to enter. If you have a Comic-Con badge, that's awesome, you're welcome too, but one of the things we wanted to do here was provide something for, you know, they're, they're often fans coming into San Diego that they might have a Thursday and a Saturday badge, but they don't have a Friday badge. You know, and they need something to do, but also we wanted to, to, um, to invite the community of San Diego into the museum as well. The, the community has been very supportive and welcoming of the effort to create a museum.

Adam Smith:  So, we just wanted this to be for everyone. Um, and it, it, it truly is a test. We don't know exactly how it's going to go. We're prepared for a lot of, if a lot of people come, we've got contingencies to, you know, to handle, you know, reasonably large crowds and get people through. yeah, it's, it's speaking to you sort of two weeks ahead of it actually happening, or two and a bit weeks. It's, it's slightly daunting, but you know, there's like an, there's an excitement for around that. I guess we are, we're asking people to, if, if it, if there are any issues, you know, remember that this is, this is not the finished museum, this is, this is us almost doing a Beta test to use one of your technology terms of what a Comic-Con museum could be. And um, it, for me, this is the, this is the third museum that I've developed from scratch but it's the first time I've had this sort of a sandbox, to play with, you know, and it's really valuable. I think it is going to help us make the museum even more awesome.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, for sure. I mean in technology, it's Beta testing. If it's in the theater, we're doing, you know, some previews, right. We're getting ready for our dress rehearsals and opening night coming in 2021 so yeah. And yeah, like why not pop it up and give, get some feedback and see what people like and yeah, I you don't often get that chance sometimes with things. So that's really exciting that, you know, you're getting to do that. Uh, Oh, you know, I wanted to ask you about something else, uh, related to the museum. So, uh, I'm a member of the Peterson Museum as well and oh my goodness, I haven't gotten there yet, but will you talk a little bit about the Hollywood Dreams Machines exhibit that's there, cause that totally connects to all of this as well.

Adam Smith:  Absolutely. And thanks for giving, giving me the opportunity to talk about that. Um, we were approached about a year ago by the Peterson Museum up there and in LA, which is a tremendous first class auto museum. You want, you want, you know, I'm a career museum guy and I've, I've been to a lot of different museums and the Peterson, you know, always is fantastic. And yeah, they came to us and asked if we would collaborate on an exhibit that featured, um, cars from science fiction and from Hollywood. So, um, Keegan, one of the museum's staff, really, really jumped on that opportunity. And, and for me it was great to give Keegan the opportunity to, to work on a major exhibit. Um, he learned a lot from the process and that we’ll be able to flow into Comic-Con museum, but, but also in the back of our minds, I think we have, we're feeling that this exhibit ultimately, or some, some version of it will appear down in San Diego.

Adam Smith:  Um, anyway, Keegan had been working on it. And I went up to the, uh, the exhibit opening, it was on May the 4th, which is a very memorable day for anyone who knows pop culture. Um, and I was absolutely blown away by the exhibit. I mean, I already had a high appreciation for, uh, um, the Peterson Museum but, you know, I've worked on a lot of museum exhibits in my life and you're always looking to have a few kind of hits, you know? Sometimes to fill out a really large exhibit space you've got to have some album filler, you know, but this exhibit at the Peterson is hit after hit after hit after hit, you know, you just kind of walk through and it's like, wow, there is the DeLorean from Back to the Future. Oh, and there is the Land Speeder that we used in the original Star Wars. And there is The Batmobile from 1989.

Adam Smith:  And you, you just literally go through a series of 50 or 60 vehicles going (astounded sound) you know? So I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm encouraging everyone to go there because it's, uh, it's, it, they, they did a really good job. And if you, if you, if you like cars and you like movies and science fiction, you know, this is one not to miss. I'll tell you who went to it, we, I follow the blog of, uh, George R. R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones. And I was so tickled to read on his blog him writing this gushing positive review about the Peterson exhibit. It was like, wow, we did something that, you know, that was appreciated by this genius.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, yeah. How wonderful is that? Yeah, no, it's cool. It's so cool. And I love the fact that you've, you know, I mean, it's so great when other people are like, hey, we have this really cool space and why don't you put something in it. You know, the collaboration of artists and people who all have a shared passion and love. Like I just, it's so great. And LA seems to do that a lot. You know, like the Los Angeles, even California community is, you know, really coming together and saying, Hey, you know, let's, let's do some things where we celebrate all over the place, you know, which kudos around and so yeah, it's like 40 different vehicles across 50 or 20 different movies across decades. And I'm looking, I'm looking at the, and I think, does Bumblebee actually transform in it? That's nuts. If that actually, yes, I see this, I see the video.

Heather Newman:  Oh, my goodness. I, yeah, y'all, you need to get to the Petersen museum and check this out too. That's so exciting. Wow. You know, um, you know, you, we've been speaking about, um, being, you know, a lifetime museum fella. Um, I'm wondering, would you talk a little bit about where you got started doing that? Cause I know you've, you know, you have, I mean just looking at, you know, we've talked about it a bit and just, you know, you know, if you look you up on LinkedIn and all that, you can see that, you know, you gosh did so much, especially sort of in, you know, in flight, a lot of your background has been in flight. Will you talk about how you got started doing all of this? Like go, go way back a little bit if you wouldn't mind.

Adam Smith:  Oh, you want to go way back. For me it begins, it begins as a child and I just had a fascination with the past. My whole life. I was, my accent is English and I was born and raised in a country that is full of history and knowing the landscape and then the stories that you'll family tell about the wars, and you know, and all of these, all of these things, and I was just, even as a five year old child, I remember going in the garden digging for pieces of old pottery. And just being fascinated by the thought of who might have left it there and you know, things like that. So I think my connection to, to the past is strong and deep and wherever I've gone in life, you know, that that's the sort of central thing. And um, eventually there comes a point in life where you've got to decide what you're doing as a job.

Adam Smith:  And there was this clear, clear sort of choice for me. It was either work in museums or become an archaeologist. Um, and I was accepted into two really awesome universities. And, um, the thing that took me down the museum path was I, it, I was at, it was Saint Andrews in Scotland, which is this beautiful medieval city sitting right there, um, on the coast of the North Sea. And I fell in love with the place when I went there. And that was the, you know, that sometimes you look and there’s a fork in the road and it's like, well I'm doing museums cause I have to live here, um, if I got the chance. So I ended up basically, um, doing, uh, doing a museums, museum studies degree at Saint Andrews. And that then led me to, you know, working on all kinds of crazy places that I've done farming and, uh, coal mining.

Adam Smith:  And, and as you've said, I ended up doing a pretty significant diversion for 15 years into airplanes. Um, so I ran three aviation museums, um, first in Scotland, then in Wisconsin, and then, um, while I was developing one in Dallas, which is where I came to Comic-Con from. So, um, one of the things on my journey that I think caused the Comic-Con opportunity to, to really catch my interest was, well there were two big things when, when, when the phone rang and someone said, hey, this Comic-Con thing is available. Are you interested? There were two big things about it that appealed to me. One was that it was in Balboa Park, San Diego. Um, because I knew that that was this really fantastic cultural place. And if I've learned one thing from 30 years of working in museums is that location is absolutely fundamental.

Adam Smith:  You can pick, it will make you or break you. And I know for a fact that Balboa Park as a location is a great location and you know, we can be successful there. The other thing that appealed to me was, it's Comic-Con, you know, and great, a great energy and a great thing. But, specifically, 20 years ago I worked on an exhibit called Game On, which was the first major touring exhibit ever done on the history of video games. And I consider myself, you know, sort of a first generation video game kind of nutcase. And I really enjoyed that exhibit. I really enjoyed working with something that was actually, when we were doing that exhibit 20 years ago, people are like your nuts. Video games don't have a history and this is, this is not worth investing a lot of money in and things like that. But it was super successful cause we, we sort of, you know, you, you're tapping into sort of a nostalgia. And so for me, one of the great joys of working with Comic-Con is that I feel that I'm every day working in that kind of energy. Um, where, you know, I, I, it, I'm inspired by the passion of the people around me. If that makes sense.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, of course it does. Yeah. I mean, it's, it's interesting that that was then, and you know, now it's just such a, you know, Comic-Con and I'm sure the museum itself, right? Like Comic-Con has changed over the years from, you know, really being about comics and comic books. And I mean, now we have like giant, like Warner Brothers and other companies, you know, launching movies and launching series and there's so much that is a part of Comic-Con now that's of culture that, you know, gives a place to folks that, you know, like just walking through, you're like, oh, there's the people that make Dungeons & Dragons super cool tables that you can have in your house that you can like, you know, move and it's the, you know, the, the, the Dungeons & Dragon game underneath. And then you can have it be just a nice table or, you know, like there's so much. Right. That's a part of it now that maybe wasn't years ago. Right. And watching that change. Um, wow. So I guess for you being a museum person, are there, you know, you, you talked a little bit about, are there other places that you've been recently that have gotten you excited that you're like, oh, I love the way they curated that or something that happened that you've seen. I mean, you've been so busy, but um, but anything that comes to mind.

Adam Smith:  Heather, if you toss me a question like that, how long do you want this podcast to be? I am a museum junkie,

Heather Newman:  I am too so that's why I asked you. Cause I, yeah, go ahead. Give us something.

Adam Smith:  The first day at museum school, I distinctly remember this, that, that the professor said, when you go to museum school, you never really enjoy your visit in a museum again because every museum you visit you will go into analytical mode. And you, you will stop, you know, you analyze it professionally and by and large that's true. I visit a lot of museums and a lot of galleries and a lot of experiences and a lot of the time you're analyzing it. You know, , as a professional thing. However, every now and again I think my professor was wrong because every now and again I go somewhere and it's like, wow, that is awesome. That inspires me, you know, that is, um, that's just what a great, what a great time I just had. So, just in the last, in the last 12 months or so, I'll tell you one, I think the number one for me in the last twelve months was I got to the, um, the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. Um, so for your listeners that are not familiar that the Studio Ghibli is, I don't know, it's kind of like Disney of Japan. Um, they, they create, you know, these wonderful anime films, um, over the last generation and about 10 years ago, they, they created a museum in a public park just outside of Tokyo. And it is definitely, you know, if you think about what Disney did, they create Disneyland and it's like, it is not Disneyland. It is, um, it's this really special place that if you've ever watched any of the Ghibli films, there's like this atmosphere, there's a depth about them that is almost, you know, you can't put your finger on it, but you know, it's there, and that feeling runs through the museum.

Adam Smith:  And so in terms of a place that was just utterly unique in the way it's laid out, the way it approaches its subject, the way it makes you feel something through architecture, light, sound, atmosphere, you know, that, that I'll never forget the time that I spent there. Another one I went to recently was a place called Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Um, that was really interesting. It's, I mean, they have hit the Jackpot. Actually, talking about George RR Martin, He lives in Santa Fe and was a big part of getting Meow Wolf started. He purchased the building. It was an old bowling alley that this sort of crazy interactive, immersive, art experience. Um, it's so hard to describe, but if you just, if any of you listeners are interested, Google Meow Wolf, uh, Meow like a cat, and Wolf like an animal one.

Adam Smith:  And it's, um, one of the inspirational things about that for me relative to Comic-Con museum was we've been conceptualizing the Comic-Con museum not just as a daytime museum, which most museums are, a place you can go and visit and do cool things during the day. But relatively early in our thought process about Comic-Con museum, we, we, we, we started to think that it was a really interesting opportunity to have a nighttime museum so you don't close. There are things you can do at night that you can't do during the day and there are audience you can reach that you can't reach during the day. And, um, when I went to Meow Wolf they have totally nailed that, that, that, that this whole nighttime museum concept. For me to be able to walk in this place and, and, and see it for real, you know, what we've been imagining.

Adam Smith:  It's, that's really, really great. So honestly, Heather I could talk all day about this. There's a few that, I mean just from the last twelve months I thought the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York was fantastic, really, really fantastic. Um, the Corning Museum of Glass in upstate New York, was fantastic. Really enjoyed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. There is a lot of parallels between rock and roll and the world of Comic-Con. The way you present that in a museum. I love National World War Two Museum in New Orleans. I think that's one of the greatest museums that's been developed in the last decade. Um, I could go on.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, yeah, no, totally. I know. I, I was at the EMP and went to see the Pearl Jam exhibit there and you know, and sometimes when you step into a museum and because I lived in Seattle and was going to college during that time, so I was in the middle of when grunge happened and that particular one just kind of knocked me, not because I just, I love Pearl Jam, but also because it was like that was the, the, you know, the sign, like that's the sign, the Rock Candy Center. The, you know, off ramp and stepping into that sometimes. You're just like, wow!

Adam Smith:  What you're talking about is, relates to the word nostalgia. And I, I think that nostalgia is one of the most powerful forces or the most powerful emotions that human beings have. And this is something I've studied and thought about a lot and is very pertinent to what you just said and Comic-Con museum, things like that. You know, the origin of the word nostalgia, um, it, it was, it was originally a disease. You could die, you could die of nostalgia. But like the last American citizen that had nostalgia listed as his cause of death was a, uh, an American soldier in World War One. Died of home sickness that, you know? Of yearning for his home. And, um, so it's a powerful thing. And I think the, what you just described about Pearl Jam, it was a cool exhibit for you, you know, because of that connection that it made to you and your personal story and your personal journey through life.

Adam Smith:  And I think that is so pertinent to the Comic-Con museum because everyone that walks through the door, their interaction with the content in the museum is related to what they like, what they have done, you know? So even now we've got people now that are becoming nostalgic about Harry Potter, you know? Sure, there are people nostalgic about Star Wars and about, um, you know, about Star Trek or whatever. People almost date themselves by where their nostalgic hits. In some ways the opportunity for me and the team working on  Comic-Con museum is to sort of grasp that and you know, give everyone, um, that personal nostalgia, and the shared nostalgia. But the challenge we've got is, um, there's so much variety, you know, and we've got 68,000 square feet, but I could happily take 10 times that. part of our answer to that is making the space extremely flexible. Um, so a lot of rotating exhibit space so that, um, we can, you know, we can go through different subjects and, you know, touch the maximum number of people.

Heather Newman:  Sure. Yeah, no, that makes sense. Yeah, no, I, I, I hadn't thought about it in that way. The word nostalgia in that, I mean, that absolutely makes sense. It's kind of like sense memory, right? You know, like you smell something, you hear something, you read something, you know, and it takes you back to a moment, you know, and has you experience it again? And that's, yeah, that's, that's super cool. Hey, I was wondering, um, I can't remember if we talked about this, but as far as the museum goes, are there plans to, um, hold events, like, so could people have an event in the Comic-Con museum coming up too, is that part of the whole thing as well?

Adam Smith:  Absolutely. Um, well for starters, we've already been made aware that there are a couple, um, are holding their wedding day when the museum opens so they can get married in Comic-Con Museum. Um, I'm not actually joking. So yeah, I think any, you know, any great museum, and we're really thinking hard about this as we're in a design phase right now with architects and thinking about food and drink service, not just as a museum cafe, but how do we, how do we cater for that. For the banquet wedding or whatever. Um, so, so, so actually I think maybe the difference with Comic-Con museum is that we are imagining it as almost like a community center. You know, we have that nighttime, we, we've, we've got, um, a couple of book clubs that are operating out of the museum right now.

Adam Smith:  You know, they meet every month. Just a great social experience. I think that's a little microcosm as you know, we imagine there's going to be people doing gaming, you know, people making costumes, people, you know, using the museum and the rooms inside it as a, um, as, as, as a place where events small and large. We'll Have small film festivals, we'll have small fan conventions, we'll have panels. You know, there will be a lot of things. What I, what I haven't got exactly right now is, you know, um, all of the building mapped out so that I could show someone and they could make a reservation. we won't be there for another 14, 15 months. We'll get there eventually.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. No, that's exciting. Yeah. So many museums have that great, you know, have, have either, you know, plans for event space and have so many, you know, so much programming and stuff. And I think, but you can, what is it? I think in the, is it the Rakes museum in the Netherlands, you can, you know, have a dinner, uh, next to the Night watch, you know, Rembrandt's big painting. Like I love that kind of stuff. Right. And you can have a meal that just like the meal in some of the movies and stuff or the different paintings and everything. That's so cool. So also, so you still, obviously you still have room, there's, um, people can be a charter member, right? And sign up for that as well to be a charter member of the museum. Yeah?

Adam Smith:  Oh yes. Any great museum usually has a membership program. Um, um, and we wanted to bring that to life as soon as possible because Comic-Con as an organization, you know, is of the fans for the fans. And we wanted to, um, we were, we really wanted to, to find a mechanism that fans could feel involved and feel a part of it from day one. So at Comic-Con last year we launched a charter membership program. Uh, we just, I think we just hit 12,000 charter members of a museum that doesn't exist yet, which is really awesome, you know. Um, and it's, it, it, it's a way, I feel like we're building this, this army of people that are, that are sort of massing in support of the Comic-Con Museum. And that definitely helps us in terms of fundraising, you know, from larger donors and foundations and things like that that when they can see this ground swell of people, um, coming is fantastic.

Adam Smith:  So, um, yeah, it, we want to make it affordable. So even for $10 we will consider you a charter member someone, this name will be immortalized as someone that, that, uh, you know, helped to create the museum, um, and the levels go up through for $50, then essentially what you're doing is pre purchasing a free year of admission for the first year of the Comic-Con Museum. so, um, and at $100 you get a t-shirt and some other goodies. And, uh, I joined myself at the $1,200 level cause I felt I have to buy the most expensive one. As it gets more expensive you get less but you feel like you're contributing more.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. No, I mean I think, you know, there's some, uh, I love that you've created so many ways to contribute and I remember that from last year and you know, I, I called it the EMP, it's now called the Mo-Pop cause they changed the name, but I was a charter member of the EMP when it started. And you know, you feel, you feel that connection and you feel that, you know, yeah. You know, you helped this thing become what it is. And you know, I have memberships too. Like, I spent a lot of time in New York, so like I'm a member of MoMA even though I don't live there, you know? And so I think that's really cool too, that this is, you know, Comic-Con obviously is a global experience and the Comic-Con Museum will be that as well. Right. So, you know, being able to contribute to something even from afar that you love.

Heather Newman:  I think I love it that you put that together. It's super cool. So thank you for doing that. Yay. That's exciting. Um, you know, I want to, um, I want to ask you one more, one more, couple of a couple more questions, but, um, so like, you know, with, uh, if you have advice for other people who are looking to, you know, who are, um, museum collectors like yourself, if you will. Um, you know, like you, you obviously went to St Andrew's and is, are there, you know, places and ways other people can get involved in sort of being a part of, you know, taking care of museums, curating museums and all of that, Other advice that you have for those coming up who might be hearing this and going, I want to do that too. I want to do what he did. That kind of thing.

Adam Smith:  Yeah, it's, um, it is, it is quite a competitive career. You know, there are, there are certain, there are certain, you know, if you want to be a famous comic book artist, you know there's a lot of people want to do that. And um, I'm not saying that, um, working in museums is quite, quite as important as that, but it, you know, that it, it is the kind of job that a lot of people feel attracted to. So, um, if you're halfhearted about it, then might not be for you because you, you are definitely going to be, um, sort of competing with people that are all in, if that makes sense. Um, but if it's something that you really feel drawn to do as obviously I did, um, then you know, they're there, there are different ways in, um, that probably the two easiest to describe, you know, you can do what I did, which is to do a do a degree in museum studies or, or a Grad, you know, so, um, postgraduate course, or, um, anyone can get involved by volunteering at a local museum.

Adam Smith:  Um, and you know, Keegan Chertwind who I work with, you know, he's, he's going to have a really successful career in museums because he's a really talented guy and he found his way in. He didn't do that university so you don't have to, um, you know that there, there are a lot of museums just would love, you know, some help, um, from a, from a talented person if they're able to get it.

Heather Newman:  Sure. Yeah. So, and sort of last question, um, you talked a little bit about the Game On experience and, um, I like to talk about and ask folks their spark or a moment and, and I think definitely that was one for you. Is there another person or place or thing or something, you know, you talked a little bit about your history, but was there another something that you, that happened to you or an experience where you were like, yes, you know, and that propelled you forward, that really sticks out in your mind that you would share with everybody?

Adam Smith:  Um, I, I think I got really lucky with my second job in the sense that I found myself aged 24 running really big airplane museum in Scotland. Um, and it was one of the national museums, but it was all a little bit sort of, it was a satellite museum of a huge organization with 3000 employees or something like that. And you know, it, it was, um, and I was, I was running the satellite and I had a lot of freedom to take this museum where I felt it needed to go and we had a tremendous amount of success. Um, the number of visitors to that museum in the five years I was there, went up five times. Uh, um, so there were lots of different times on that journey where I was just, you know, had that kind of wow moment.

Adam Smith:  But the one that stands out for me is we decided to do an air show and, and um, you know, as a, as a way of drawing attendance to the museum. And um, in America you have like the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels are your kind of big jet display teams. Well, for any British person it's the Red Arrows all the way. And the day that Red Arrows said they were going to come and fly at my air show, it was like that I will never forget that because I was that, you know, eight-year-old boy looking up into the sky and being just awed by these things. And so there, there are definitely things on, on the journey like that stand out at you.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, of course. That's awesome. And I, you know, I have one more question. So do you find, do you feel, I mean I just feel like museums, you know, if sometimes people about different art forms and you're like, you know, you'll get the critic or somebody that's like, oh, theater, live theater is dead and Dah Dah, Dah Dah, you know, or you know, museums. I feel like museums are just still so valid and, and people are going still in record numbers. Do you feel that and do you see that as well? I just, I feel like it's such like people are like, I love this. Maybe it goes back to the nostalgia thing, but I don’t know, what do you feel about this sort of the whole, I guess the industry of Museums, I guess?

Adam Smith:  Oh yeah. I mean, what do I feel about in the industry? It is, it is a strange industry. You know, there are more museums in America than McDonald's and Starbucks put together. There's a lot near there. And, um, I will say this, 90% of them at least are operating in some mode of business failure, you know. Museums are terrible economic models and, you know, one of the, one of the responsibilities I feel so deeply about the Comic-Con museum is to make sure that we're in the 10% that are sustainable from an economic point of view. Are museums here to stay? Of course, they are, um, there is, um, you know, for the human race, the things that museums preserved, I think only get cooler the older they get.

Adam Smith:  So, the, I, I don't think that any virtual reality display or internet or whatever can replace the experience of standing with your own eyes to look at an amazing artifact, whether it's arts or, you know, the, the Rosetta Stone or whatever it is. And so I think there is, there's an essential experience related to museums that will, um, you know, not go away. I think museums are in a state of change and flux though right now. There's definitely like a new generation of museum coming through that is um, heavily influenced by that word I just used the experience. like Meow Wolf that I was talking about in Santa Fe is a great example of that's a new generation of museum that is really caught the wave of what the millennial generation is looking for in a museum. Which is some of the, you know, the things that museums have done in the past, but that sort of idea of really focusing on the experience and giving them something that's memorable and shareable on Instagram or social media or whatever. That kind of thing is definitely influencing how we think about the Comic-Con Museum. We're certainly not going to be a boring museum full of dusty old things.

Heather Newman:  I don't think anything about the way you work in this world is dusty my friend. That's, yeah. That's awesome. So folks can find out and we'll put a bunch of this stuff in the show notes and some of the beautiful places that you mentioned, um, that, uh, folks who are looking to get on. It's a comic Dash Con museum.org and you can go and become a museum insider so you can sign up and get, you know, information that's coming, you know, direct from Adam and the team and you can become a charter member and learn about all the events. And uh, I'm so excited to come down and, and see your handiwork since I got to see sort of, you know, the, the open space, uh, not too long ago. It's so exciting. I'm so excited for you. Is there anything else you'd like to tell our listeners or, and if not, we'll get wrapped up here in a minute.

Adam Smith:  Um, there's maybe one feature of the museum that is happening during Comic-Con, we didn't talk about it. I would like to give, they've been really awesome to work with. We're doing a display of the fashion from, from the Her Universe fashion show. So for the past, for the past five or six years, Ashley Eckstein, um, has been creating this, this idea of Geek Couture, you know, that, that, um, we might be able to use pop culture references to have a really awesome runway type show and it's become extremely popular at Comic-Con. And there's is a lot of really talented designers now, you know, uh, uh, creating these awesome gowns every year. So, um, but they've never been displayed. So what we're going to do this year is display, five years of winners from that, uh, you know, from, from the passion show. Um, and, um, I'm really excited about that because I, one thing I learned is that fashion is a really great, um, display topic in a museum. So I think the, the, the gowns will look fantastic.

Heather Newman:  Oh yeah. Completely. Yeah. I, did you see the Frida Kahlo exhibit?

Adam Smith:  No, I didn't.

Heather Newman:  Oh, that was delicious. You couldn't take any pictures. It was like, I was like, Oh God. But that, yeah, that was amazing. And, and I think, you know, like thinking about sort of the, um, the Met Gala and Camp this year and that has become, you know, a much larger event on the world stage as well. Right. So that makes so much sense that, that you would have that, that's so cool. Yeah, you're right. And costumes, do you know, the Prince exhibit right where you get to see different things that Prince wears and all of that. And I mean, I could go on, maybe we'll have a chit chat off the podcast about some of the things we've seen because I can,

Adam Smith:  You just hit one of my heart buttons, by the way, when you talked about a museum where you're not allowed to take pictures. I personally, I think that is one of the most wrongheaded things imagined, you know? In the world we live in, um, I think to be able to share the experience is really, really important. Um, so definitely we're going to allow cameras at the Comic-Con Museum.

Heather Newman:  Cool. Yay. Let's do that. And let's see. I was just looking to see if there was, we looked at everything. Oh, in the Mondo Gallery, 80 years of Batman too. That was one of the other things we didn't cover. Will you talk about that a little bit too?

Adam Smith:  Yeah. Um, Mondo, I think your listeners will know as a, you know, fast growing, pop culture brand out of Austin, Texas that connected with the Alamo Drafthouse Movie Theater. And they, they do these really, well, they do a lot of awesome things, but one of things that they specialize in is sort of screen-printed movie poster kind of things that, that people really love to collect as art prints. And they did for the 80th anniversary of Batman. They did a show for their gallery in Austin, that was screen printed versions of some of the most famous Batman comic covers from, from history and that they very kindly sent that out to San Diego. They've never traveled the show before from their gallery in Austin. So, um, for me that's just a little, again, a foreshadowing of what we want Comic-Con Museum to be, I feel that when you create an exhibit it is a costly thing to do.

Adam Smith:  And if you, you can, you know, send that exhibit to two or three other places, then everyone benefits, you know, you're kind of spreading the cost a little bit. And I think, I think there's going to be a really interesting network that we can pull together. There are some good, um, you know, galleries and museums out there that I think we have some shared interests. So one of the things that I, that I'd like to do is to see exhibits created in San Diego, traveling to other, other parts of the country and even in the world and vice versa. Because I think, um, you know, that I was emailing this week with the Billy Island museum in Columbus, Ohio. And you know, there's no competition between San Diego, California, and Columbus, Ohio for a visitor. It makes total sense for us to collaborate on exhibits, you know?

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And some people, you know, like a trip to New York or even San Diego, that's like maybe once a year, maybe even twice a year. Right. So the more we can share with each other, you know, by, you know, trading out, yeah, like building those partnerships. And you're so good at that. I mean that's, that's super exciting. Oh, and one more thing. And then I just, I can't stop talking to you. Um, you, so daily panels, so you're doing panels in the museum theater as well. And I know you haven't announced and revealed the programming yet, but will you talk a little bit about what's up with those as well?

Adam Smith:  Yeah. Um, they're going to be released in a couple of days, um, as part of the normal sort of release of programming information by Comic-Con. And um, we're going to, we've got a 141 seat theater already in the building, so it made sense to try and use it. Um, and I was so happy when the programming staff at Comic-Con that do 800 panels already raised their hand and said, we'd love to help you. And, you know, can we, can we program that space? And I said, you bet. Because they, they're great people. They do a great job and um, what they've done I think is to put together a really nice schedule of, I don't want to say greatest hits it, you know, what they wanted to do was to sort of just repeat some of the programming that takes place down in the convention center, present it to the community of San Diego as you know, here's community programming that gives you an idea of the kind of education and the kind of cool things that go on there in the convention center. And I think, I think we got some great speakers and it's going to be really popular.

Heather Newman:  That's awesome. That's great. And I'll make sure and put the link to the announcement that's got all the details of how to get there and parking. And you know what all the logistics are around that, since it's, you know, it's, it's the Comic-Con Museum, you know, and you don't need a pass to get in, but it's, you know, you're not shuttling people back and forth and all that, that sort of thing. It's um, you know, getting there yourself and going in, but it is free and there's all kinds of great things that are going to happen with the museum, so that's great. Um, are you going to get to, uh, take a breather after, after all the big Hoopla after, uh, the show goes down. You taking any time?

Adam Smith:  I will, I will need one. Um, I'll say this, um, last year was my first Comic-Con as a member of staff and I thought, I got this, you know, I've worked some pretty big air shows in my life. I used to work as part of the world's largest air show. You know, it's sort of like the Comic-Con of aviation in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I thought, I got this, you know, I'll, I'll need like one day off to recover and then I'll be back at work. Well, I was dead for a week. I'm not joking. I said to my mother, I did not leave my apartment for five days cause I just needed, Comic-Con is so intense, you know, so, um, I'm, I'm stealing myself. I plan to do nothing except, you know, play video games and, and get caught up on all of the amazing television that I'm currently missing.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, completely. Well, a more of a staycation then if you will. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I'll say it was so nice after Comic-Con last year cause it was my first time moderating a panel and, uh, ending Comic-Con with you, you know, to, to celebrate was so fun. So thank you for that again, that was really special. So I really, really enjoyed that, um, doing that with you. So, well here's to, um, another amazing Comic-Con, but also, uh, an amazing pop up and, uh, preview Beta test, all of that, of the new Comic-Con Museum coming to us in 2021. I really appreciate your time and I love talking to you. So thank you for being on the show today. Truly.

Adam Smith:  Thank you Heather. It's been my pleasure.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. Folks. Well, we will have all the notes for lovely Adam, um, about the Comic-Con Museum and all the things going on there and all the great things that he told us about to go check out museums to see and all of that and how to follow him and the museum in the show notes. And so that has been another Mavens Do It Better podcast. And you can find us on all the usual places on iTunes, on Stitcher, on Spotify, on Google play, and on our website. So here is to another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere. Thanks a lot everyone.


Episode 44: AI & Marketing Maven Mark Fidelman

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts that bring a light to our world. I'm very excited to have a friend and colleague on today, Mark Fidelman from uh, coming to us, I believe here in California. Is that right?

Mark Fidelman:  Santa Monica, California, right next to you actually.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Not Too far away. So virtually, so I've known Mark, gosh, a long time and uh, we've played in the, the Chief Marketing Officers space and talking about social media and a lot of just seeing each other in the world at, at different events. And he and I caught up, actually at a Dodgers game recently, which was really cool. Thank you to our friend Jeff Willinger for that. I got to say thank you there. So, Mark, say hi to everybody. You kind of already did but say hi again. Why not?

Mark Fidelman:  Alright. Hi everybody. And uh, so happy to be on here with you, Heather.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Awesome. So, gosh, I think, you know, I know you back from guys, CMO Club and other technology, you know, going to events and so everyone Mark who was a regular contributor on Forbes and he wrote this awesome book Socialized back in what, 2012 I think it was.

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah, it's been awhile.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. So much has happened in social media since then.

Mark Fidelman:  It really has. Although the, I think the strategies that I laid out the book are still relevant. Definitely social media has changed.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think, I think you're right, strategy is similar but you know, just more of everything, more noise, more, more.

Mark Fidelman:  Well, it switched to paid more. It's a lot more paid where you can go viral pretty, I wouldn't say easily, but a lot more easily organically back then. You really can't know.

Heather Newman:  Right. Yeah. And I know you, you know, you contributed and still contribute to Forbes for a really long time. How did that get started for you?

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah, so first of all, I left Forbes about a year ago. Occasionally I'll write something, but just to let you know. So I got started, I got started back in college, believe it or not. Do you want to hear the full story?

Heather Newman:  Yeah, yeah. Lay It on us.

Mark Fidelman:  So, I got into college, I went to University of San Francisco. They basically said, hey, we let you in, but you got to take remedial writing. And I'm like, What? Yeah, you got to take remedial writing because you know, you can't string two sentences together. And I'm like, well, how did I pass all the, you know, English classes in high school? They're like, well, we don't know. But If you're going to remain at our school, you're going to have to be able to write better and at least string a couple sentences, coherent sentences together. So I was so embarrassed by that. Of course, I took remedial writing and I started to focus more and more on communication through writing. And I'd say ever since then I've been on a mission to improve my writing as much as possible. And so the first thing I did was start a blog. And this is in the late nineties, I believe? Late nineties, maybe early two thousands. Started a blog, I was pretty religious about it, I was pretty disciplined about it, getting it out at least once a week, and then a blog that had multiple authors reached out to me, Cloud Avenue and they said, hey, you know, we like your stuff. Would you write for us? I said, sure, I'll write for you. I started writing for them. Next, about a year later, Business Insider reached out to me and said, well, we like what you're doing. Would you mind writing for us? I said, sure, I'll write for you. And then a couple years down the road, I'd built up a good quantity of content that was out there. My writing had improved and Forbes reached out to me and said, hey, why don't you come write for us? This is literally how it happened. And I said, fantastic, love to, it's been a dream of mine. So, I spent four years writing articles, almost weekly for them. That's how it worked.

Heather Newman:  That's cool. Wow. It's so interesting. I mean, everybody's high school experience is different, right? Depending on where you go and what kind of teachers you have. And then levels of, you know, what is expected, I guess out of college for sure. You know, that's, that's cool though that they, you know, were willing to say, hey, we want to help you do better. You know what I mean? Instead of sort of letting it, letting maybe letting that go where they could have, you know. I mean that's, that's kind of a that's the show of a good college, in a way, I think.

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah. I'm sure there are thinking, you know, for the next couple of years we've got to read this guy's exertions or what have you and it's not going to make sense. It's going to be embarrassing. We can't, we can't graduate somebody that, you know, can't write a paragraph

Heather Newman:  completely. Yeah. And then you are the Chief Marketing Officer of Fanatics Media and will you talk a little bit about that, that a piece of your life there as well?

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah. So, you know, Fanatics Media is focused on Marketing strategy, uh, things like AI solutions, chat bots and Alexa skills, as well as influencer Marketing. So that those are kind of three main pillars of the organization. And you know, our job is to, to help companies grow their business. It's, it's more about growth than anything else. It's not so much about the tools, but we know that the tools and influencer Marketing, and chatbots and funnels, and all that are really moving the needle for companies, especially now today when it's just so noisy out there.

Heather Newman:  Right. Yeah. And I know that, you know, your focus has shifted a bit. Like you were saying AI, I guess, what are you, what are you seeing out there that's the, you know, will you expand on what's exciting you and what you're seeing in the Market?

Mark Fidelman:  Well, absolutely. I mean, you all know that sales people and customer support people they can work 24 hours, seven days a week, but you need multiple shifts. And what we found both for sales, customer support, and even in a Marketing context is that about, depending on the industry, about 60% to 70% of the questions are repeated by everybody. So if they're going to be repeated, why are you paying people to just repeat what you know, everyone else has already said a hundred times? Why don't you create a single chat bot? I'll use as an example, uh, that can handle thousands of conversations all at once by the way. And answer is 60% to 70% of those. And then if you need to move it to a senior salesperson or if you needed to move it to somebody in customer support, the chatbot is smart enough to redirect it and that chatbot's working 24, seven.

Heather Newman:  Right? Yeah, that's super cool. Yeah, I was at Microsoft Build earlier this year and I was really taken with some of the stuff that, they had a whole Starbucks area there where you could go in and see how they're using AI to like monitor, you know, the espresso machines and monitor their stock and all of that. And I, I really liked the experiential sort of way of displaying that, you know? Like where it's not just, cause some people understand AI and what it is, but then to really see it, you know, like the example you just used, that's very visual and visceral. You're like, I understand that. And, and are you seeing more sort of experiential and how people talk about AI so people can actually get that visual? Are you seeing that at events as well?

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah, I mean, I don't see enough of it. Which is why I started a podcast about it, but I am seeing it. It's very early days. You know, I kind of make it, I kind of look at it as the early days of email. Email first started as, there's this whole debate about should we email or should we use direct mail? No we all know who won that debate. It's not been close. I still think, I think chatbots and email will, I mean, at least in the sales and Marketing context, will have a fight and I'm, but I'm 99% positive the chatbots will win that one.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And I think the other piece of sort of Marketing that I continue to hear and see, you know, video little short bite sized videos, have been sort of the, you know, thing of the day. And I feel like there's more and more of that. Do you, how do you feel about, you know, advising people on how they break through the noise, you know for Marketing their products and services?

Mark Fidelman:  You know, Heather, I think about this every single day you know. Not only is it noisy, but you know, Marketers are getting really good because they listen to podcasts, they watch videos, you know, they're up to date on everything that's going on cause they're forced to be. And so, you know, how do you rise above the noise? It's really having a great story, number one. And then number two is getting not just the company to tell that story. It's getting influencers, it's getting your customers to tell that story and live that story. So, if you've got a, you know, a fashion line for example, you know there's something unique about that fashion line, you've got to tell that story, you're got to keep repeating it. You got to make sure that everybody that's in, you know, your organization's repeating it and then you subtly kind of infuse your customers with it. So if they're telling that story and when they talk to friends, they're saying, hey, you know, every time I buy a pair of Tom's shoes, I know this is an overused example, but you know, they, they donate another pair. And then when you get influencers on board, and influencers start talking about it, that's what really moves the needle. And you know, what we've been excited about for, for the last five or six years.

Heather Newman:  Right. Yeah. And I'm going to jump back a little bit. So we talked about, you know, college and you know, like I, I started out as a theater major, you know?

Mark Fidelman:  I can tell by your runway performance. I don't know if you've seen it, if you haven't, you should post it Heather, but your RuPaul runway performance, in front of Ru Paul was pretty amazing actually.

Heather Newman:  Thank you. Yeah, I posted it and I did write about it. So yes, the RuPaul show, slay of the day was very fun. So yes. Thank you. So yeah, I guess I'm always curious about all of our humble beginnings, if you will. And what that maybe spark was, I mean, I, I don't know if people sort of get out of bed in high school and they're like, I'm going to be a Marketer, you know? There's usually some steps that lead to that path. And can you pinpoint maybe a spark or a, you know, a path that you've had that sort of led you to where you are, right in this very moment that you can share with us?

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah, I wish I could. I really, I started out in sales because I just had a knack for convincing people to do things. So I figured, okay, I should just get into sales. So I started at a Best Buy competitor, and then a real estate mortgage company, and this is going from high school to college and working my way through college. And uh, I learned how to become a pretty good sales person and that I don't, I can't think Heather of a certain spark, I can't think of a certain time that it hit me, but I just know that it, I was led to it by the offers I was getting from employers. That was it.

Heather Newman:  That's a path. I mean I think that figuring out that you're good at sales and good at talking to people, right, is a huge thing because that's, there's, there's some of that that's learned, but I definitely think that's a talent, you know, of being able to, you know, sell something or persuade and all of that sort of thing. Right? So, that makes sense. I say sometimes there's that one moment and then other times it seems like there's like things along the way that leads you, you know, along to where that is and that makes sense. That makes sense for me, for about you, for sure. Do you, is there anybody in particular that, that kind of inspired you along way on that, on that journey, sort of in that journey, a boss or a manager or someone that you were like, Ooh, that person, I really like how they do what they do.

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah, it took a while, but you know, when I started working at Autodesk for three or four years and from, from Autodesk, I was recruited into a small startup, really the first SaaS company and they were doing project management on the web, very early version of Asana that looked like, and it was for the construction and building industry, but it looked like an outlook interface. And that was revolutionary back then because it was all on the Internet. But, the sales, I remember the sales VP took me into his office cause they were recruiting me out of Autodesk to come work for them. And I told them how much I made. He said, you are significantly underpaid. The first thing he said. And I'm like, I might, as a sales person, I'm like, okay, what do you mean significantly? I'm at a big company.

Mark Fidelman:  And he said, I'm prepared today to offer you double what you're making Autodesk. Anyone asks you, you know, who tells you, Hey, I'm going to pay you double. You know, you sit up and listen. Right. And he just went on and completely sold me on the organization and I was left speechless. And here I'd been in sales for five or six years at the time. And uh, you know, I'm like, I got to learn his talent. Yoda, teach me because you convinced a salesperson to come join you. Yes, he offered me double what it was more than that. It was the opportunity and the outlook and everything about that organization. So that's the first person that comes to mind. There's been others that have helped me along the way, certainly. But a, he's probably the first.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Well, it's interesting about when someone reminds you of your worth and your potential worth, you know? That's really exciting cause not everybody does that. You know, there's a lot of people that are just willing to keep you kind of where you are and burn you out. And then not take you forward. And hey, do you have a name for the podcast yet?

Mark Fidelman:  Yes, it's going to be called AI Marketing. In fact, we're going to, I just got the first episode out of editing I'm uploading it as we speak. We're shooting 10 before we release it. But, and Heather, I was going to ask you this, how long does it take to get approved in iTunes? I might just start the process now knowing it's going to take some time.

Heather Newman:  yeah, it'll take a little time. So yeah, it, it can take a couple of weeks. Sometimes it can take days depending, and there's some things I can send you some stuff on what you need to have kind of in, behind it. They are like a blog post as well. And a couple of other things so I can give you a little list of what you can make sure to do. Yeah, that's exciting. So, and as far as the podcast goes, is it going to be interviews with other people or are you going to highlight technology or all of the above?

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah, great question. So, it is only focused on artificial intelligence in Marketing and sales, more on the Marketing side. So, these are interviews, this is my own experience, this is how you bring AI into your Marketing and sales process in order to increase your leads, sales, engagement, what have you.

Heather Newman:  Oh, I love that. Okay. Yeah, I think that's, that's great. That's like a, you know, an open field.

Mark Fidelman:  Nobody's doing it. That's what I saw. I was looking, it's a lot of podcasts on AI, but nothing focused on sales Marketing performance.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, no, definitely. And I think it's something that, you know, for example, I use HubSpot, right? For my Marketing automation and you know, it's not cheap. It's cheaper than some of the other larger, I would call, you know, larger enterprise plays out there. But I think that's something like interesting for the small and maybe medium business to where can you look at leveraging AI, not in lieu of a Marketing automation tool, but I don't know, but maybe, I don't know, like what are your thoughts on that? You know, is it, does AI give an entry point to smaller businesses without giant Marketing budgets? I guess, you know?

Mark Fidelman:  I mean, that's exactly why they should use it because it's so much less expensive. Than, you know, hiring a sales team or hiring more people in Marketing. Literally, you know, if you were to hire us at the low end, you could pay $1,500 set up and then there's a small monthly maintenance fee, and that Bot could handle 70% to 80% of your questions and traffic and help you close deals. I mean it's a no brainer, every small business should have one. Or two.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cause I don't think because I see more and more people using, you know, WordPress is still the standard, right. For, for websites, for the most part. And then you've got like the Wix's, the Squarespaces and those as well. And I don't think, to my knowledge, I mean there's, there's chatbots you can put on through your Marketing automation tools, but I don't if all of them have that kind of that functionality built into a website that you can just turn it on, you know, as part of your template. Right?

Mark Fidelman:  No, I don't think so. You can plug one in, it's pretty easy on WordPress to plug a chatbot.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And with those chatbots, do you feel like the chatbots themselves drive any sort of Google analytics or is, or are those trackable in that? I'm sure they're trackable with analytics on the back end, but I wonder if that drives anything there, you know?

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah. It really depends on how you set it up. Think of it as an open book. Literally there's been like hundreds of millions of books written and they're all different. The same thing for chatbots. I mean, you could literally do almost anything with it. So if your goal is to drive more page views on your website, you could certainly create one that, that'll do that. And, and you're right, on the backend, it's even a lot better than email. You could see it every step of that chatbot, what the engagement is, what the conversion is, which choice they made. You could, you know, it's like a chatbot CRM system.

Heather Newman:  Right. Wow, that's super cool. Yeah, I definitely, I leverage some of that stuff. And you know, the one thing that I find is that with the one I have that's more on the sales side of things that, you know, it's, uh, it's a, it's more of a live chat than a chat bot. But what happens sometimes is that, you know, say I'm traveling and, and it comes to me and one other person and it's like, you know, people are like, Hey, are you there? And I'm like, uh, no, we're not. Or, or it's a time zone issue. Right? So I think having a chatbot that does that work for you, like that's exciting to me, you know, being someone who, you know, my business, you know, is pretty, you know, small as far as the number of people. But I think it's large in the people that I want to reach and the, you know, the client base that I'm trying to reach out to. So, you know, for someone, you know, in a, you know, small or medium business or consultants or that kind of thing, I think chatbots are really interesting for that. So that would be very cool. Hmm. That's interesting.

Mark Fidelman:  Well there's many use cases for chatbots. I mean, it will pay itself off very, very quickly. So I want to reiterate to your audience that if you don't have one, you should, especially given the price point.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. So I know you're a busy guy and I always like to ask how you do that balancing act that we all have. You know, like,

Mark Fidelman:  I don't think I'm the right person to ask for that. I don't think I am very balanced Heather. I don't have a, I mean, one day I'll work 14 hours and then another day I'll work five or six because there's a bunch of things I'm going to handle. So I'm, I'm constantly struggling with that and what is balance anymore? I didn't even know what that is and so I kind of listen to myself and I, you know, ask myself am I feeling tired, am I feeling motivated? Am I feeling, what am I feeling? And why. And if it's like I'm feeling burnt out, then I will schedule in, and I hate to say the word schedule, but I'll schedule in some time just some downtime just to hang out with friends and family.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. No, I mean, I think, I mean, don't you think that if it's not in our calendars, we don't do it?

Mark Fidelman:  That's me.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I mean, that's, that's me as well. And if it doesn't get on a to do list, you know, I just find that there's so much going on all the time and that if I don't write things down, if I don't leverage some sort of to do list or project management tool that I, I forget things, you know?

Mark Fidelman:  I'm glad I'm not alone. Cause that's the number one complaint of my friends, I'm constantly forgetting things. We got to get it on the calendar, or at least in some kind of a task lists or, we use a Asana a lot. Yeah. It's even worse because there's so much coming at me in terms of social media. I'm looking at my chrome browser right now. I probably have 62 tabs open and I'm not exaggerating, it's 62. I probably have 62 tabs open.

Heather Newman:  Seriously. Yeah.

Mark Fidelman:  And, you know, I'm being pinged constantly and so yeah, I feel like I'm overwhelmed and it's, there's too much going on and, and the only way to organize that is through a calendar, a task system. Unfortunately, not everything gets on it.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Yeah. Agreed. Yeah, I've started leveraging, you know, I'm a Microsoft Geek and an MVP, so I tend to play in that space mostly, but I've been using Microsoft To-Do, and I've just set up Siri to, don't, don't, okay. I always forget that when I say the names of those, my Google one and then my phone, and I say them on a podcast and then they pipe up, but I'm like, no, no!

Mark Fidelman:  It goes off. Don't say anything!

Heather Newman:  I know. Totally. I finally started sort of, I use it a larger one too, but like for that one, for just when I'm anywhere where I can just start, even if it's, uh, like one word, that's been helping me do what I do. Not saying her name out loud, but the Google assistant, you mentioned that as well. Will you talk about what you're doing around that and you can say her name and hopefully she won't pipe up. But, um, yeah, with Miss Alexa.

Mark Fidelman:  Yes. If I say , Alexa! Now how many of you had her turn on when I said that? Alexa, buy 1400 candy bars. I, uh, so it's something called Alexa skills and it's been around for a couple of years, but you can literally program an Alexa skill to do just about anything that the, you know, that is within the realm of possibility. So for example, you know, if you want it to get the weather or the score of a baseball game or there's so many different things that you, you could ask for and create a skill for that. And that you could monetize them because you could charge people to install it. Or You could charge advertisers that want to advertise on it. You know, for example, if you say, what's the score of today's baseball game? And then, you know, somebody comes on with a, a pitch to buy the local, it can be localized, local jersey of the top, you know, baseball player. That can all be done within an Alexa skill. So, very interesting, you know, going into that much harder to put up then a chatbot. But still you know think about the possibilities if you have some kind of service or some kind of product that could be easily added to, to something that you could command. So there's a lot of products within Amazon that you could say, hey, Alexa buy the tide detergent and you know, sure enough, it'll be put into your shopping cart. So, if you got a product like that that's easy when it's easy to talk about or discuss. But you can do that and you can even program it to quiz you as to, you know, here are five questions and based on the five questions here is what we recommend that you do. I mean, there's, there's infinite possibilities again, just a little bit more difficult to put together then a chatbot.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And just so you know, I turned her way down to the lowest setting, but I now have Tide on my shopping list. So thank you so much because I needed some laundry detergent.

Mark Fidelman:  Well, have fun with the 1400 yeah, the laundry detergent at the 1400 candy bars. I don't know what you're going to do with that.

Heather Newman:  I know, I'm like, I'm going to go ahead and cancel that out after this, but that's hilarious. But, but it is interesting. I, you know, it's also like doing a podcast like this, it's uh, you know, I always set these up and I'd said to Mark, I said anything that jingles or clicks or whatever, right. You know, and trying to like keep the sound really good. And that's another thing trying to figure out on your machine where to turn off every sound that happens is absolutely ridiculous and you know, turning off any sort of assistance you have and all of that stuff. I mean, just our lives are full of noise,

Mark Fidelman:  Full of noise and full of was it a serotonin that hits you once you see on a little red dot appear next to your Facebook app? On your iPhone. I mean, I literally have my phone on permanent silence because of all the notifications and then I've gone through most of the notifications and turned all those off to try and reduce the noise. But inevitably, you know, I'm still checking those same apps where I know I'm being reached out to and contacted. I try to put down when I'm around my kids and family and friends. Because I've been called out numerous times. I'm sure I'm not alone here. I just don't want to be that family that is looking at their phones at the dining table or you know, you're out to dinner and everyone's on their phone. You see it. We've all seen that. I don't want to be that family.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, I agree with you. I'm trying to be very mindful of that myself. I've also been called out for it and you know, I think sometimes when you work for yourself and all of that or if you work, you know, or I've seen it with people who are like, I'm very, very important and busy. It's like the excuse of either any of those things. Right. Takes you out of the moment of being in the moment. Right. And

Mark Fidelman:  It's just rude. I think it's rude for people to do that on a consistent basis. We all know if we're going to get texts from our kids or it's an important phone call, we got to take it. But you know, there's those people and you know them, Heather that are constantly on their phone. Like Facebook is more important than the two people or three people that are in front of you. I just find that inexcusable. But I'm guilty of it. I've done it. I am mindful of it. And I do my best to kind of put the phone down.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I do experiment sometimes where, you know, I'm with a bunch of people and my phone is down and I was at an event and I was talking to somebody and I was like, I'm not going to touch my phone cause I'm talking to this person. And some other people were over in another area. And finally a guy walked up and he was like, hey. And I was like, what? And he was like, did you see my snapchat? And I was like, uh, no. And I was like, what was it? And it was literally a picture of me sitting there talking to somebody else and I was like, really? You know, come on, you know, which is kind of funny. So, um,

Mark Fidelman:  I have to say though, how strong is that pull from the phone though? I mean, are you just itching to grab it or are you like, can you shut it out of your mind?

Heather Newman:  I can shut it. I can shut it out in my mind. It sort of depends. It depends on the time of day. You know, where I am, you know, like, you know, it sort of, it depends. But I've made a point, I've been writing about that a little bit too about, you know, what it is to, you know, disconnect from your phone and disconnect from social media and, you know, and that's hard for me to talk about being a Marketer who wants everybody to like watch everything and read and see everything I do and what I do for my clients. Right. So it's that funny push pull of how do you tell people to, you know, work on mindfulness and meditation and, you know, being present and then, you know, understand my story so you can buy more of my stuff or a client's stuff, you know, like what's that balance? Yeah. I don't know the answers to that, but I'm working on it all the time. Um, you were talking about, you know, all this things and uh, I guess keeping up, are there, like aside from like the tasks and that kind of stuff we were talking about, do you find the like what you use to I guess be informed about AI and like who are you reading and you know, like do you use something to kind of pull all that stuff together someplace or do you tend to sort of go all over to get it and what leads you sort of down a path there. Is there someplace that you're like, oh this is an authority on x that I really like that inspires you about that particular subject about AI?

Mark Fidelman:  Great question. So, I'm, I'm becoming a bigger fan of LinkedIn. I've essentially left Twitter, although it pains me to say so cause I had so many followers out there. Super high engagement. I just find a lot of people are leaving it for Instagram or LinkedIn or even Facebook of course. So there's two ways I learn about subjects that I'm really passionate about. One is writing about it. Two is doing some kind of, uh, uh, search on Hashtags, whether it's Twitter or LinkedIn. I guess there's a third, you know, I'm starting a podcast, I've got a video channel on YouTube with 22,000 subscribers on Marketing strategy. So for me it's, it's a matter of going out and finding experts, interviewing them and learning about best practices that way. And then secondly, it's following hashtags on the subject, on LinkedIn. It used to be Twitter but I find LinkedIn's got quite a few hashtags that are related to AI and chatbots and everything to related to my field.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, I agree. I feel like I still,

New Speaker:   How do you do it?

New Speaker:   I, yeah, I'm similar. I find that I, I use Twitter for hashtags and sort of a quick hit in news. You know, I, you know, I wish I could say I went to CNN or MSNBC or something like that in the morning, but I can get a smattering of the things that are, I guess important to me from, you know, from Twitter. And, and I do, I'm using LinkedIn more and more, for, you know, posting articles and reaching out to people. I do, you know, I, I'm pretty good about, I, I don't share my connections, but I do pretty much, you know, I connect with a lot of people that, even folks that I haven't met, a lot of the time. But I also find that I, I just, I get so much LinkedIn sort of cold Marketing emails like all the time, you know, and I guess the thing about that is I'm just amazed at the amount of companies that are doing little teeny, nichey things. You know, there's, and there's so many right now that want to help you, you know, get more leads and, and you know, help you with your SEO or build this or build that. And it's just, I mean, I, it's probably 25 to 50 emails through LinkedIn messages a day that I get about people, somebody wanting to show me something.

Mark Fidelman:  I get the same, and I'm wondering, you know, how are they successful with this? Because it's the same old, it's almost like they all copy the same template. It's the same old pitch. I don't know about you, but I just hit delete and most of the time I just hit unfollow. Because it's not specific to me. It's just a random message that they send out to anybody that will connect with them. And it's pretty sad. I wish there was a spam button for that. So that LinkedIn can be notified. I guess you can report it, but there should be like a quick spam button that says, okay, this guy's a spammer unfollow.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And LinkedIn's not a dating app. Let's be clear. Everyone.

Mark Fidelman:  I do know lots of women. Nobody ever comes to me in and wants to date me. That's probably a dude thing. But I hear that a lot from women that, you know, guys are using it as a dating service.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. It's, it's, yeah, it's, you could kind of see it a mile away, but then you're that, you know, it, it starts off, you know, can I connect with you and then it's like, hey girl, or how you do or whatever and you're like, oh my goodness. Really? So, yeah. Um, it's kind of funny that way.

Mark Fidelman:  So, can you swipe, and you swipe left on them?

New Speaker:   No. LinkedIn new feature. I guess, but yeah. And hey, I have a question. It's sort of talking about emails and Marketing and that stuff. How do you feel about the traditional nurture Marketing email sequence?

Mark Fidelman:  Yeah. So, just had a podcast on this actually where we debated the chatbots versus email. I think, you know, email's great for telling a story that's a fixed story. And if you know your audience really, really well and you've experimented and you know that you've got to send a drip every two days or some people do it every hour, it seems, and it's effective for you, then that's fantastic. I think that can be effective even though the open rates are steadily plummeting. Whereas when I look at chatbots with their 80% open rates and you know, CTA's 25 to 35% range, and that's click through actions, by the way. The story is clear for me. People want to be able to engage with something really quickly and get the information they need and not have to wait seven days until all the drips have gone through. So my, my focus in terms of nurturing is moving it to a bot that you can interact with at any point in time, 24, seven. Not having to listen to somebody tell you a story over seven days and it may or may not be relevant to what you want. So that's my position. I'm not saying emails, funnels are dead, they're certainly not, but they will be replaced. I believe most email will be replaced by just interacting with a very powerful and smart chatbot.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, I mean I think, I mean, don't you feel that people like to, people like to shop, you know? And, and it could be for that great pair of, you know, patent leather, Mary Jane shoes or it could be, you know, for the things that they bring into their business. And I think being able to self-service and that leads to the chatbot, right? So like, and maybe I don't always get interrupted. Like I go to your website and you know, it pops up or you know, and I can interact with it or not, but then I know it's there. Right? If I'm thinking about, I want to go a little deeper and understand more about your business, I can go back to the chatbot and I can ask the questions I have and all of that sort of thing. And that's an interesting way of just letting people, instead of having to click through like five pages down in a website, right. You're interacting with the chatbot. So yeah, that makes sense to me. Huh. I'm excited to hear your first podcast. So you're going to do 10 in the can, I did that too. I think I told you that, that, you know, I put a bunch together first and then I launched. I like doing that a little bit better. So you have a nice chunk

Mark Fidelman:  I think I got the idea from you and, and my final question is, do you have a certain day that you release these or do you have, is it just kind of one a week, two a week, do you the formula for that?

Heather Newman:  I do weekly, and I drop them every Thursday. And that that was kind of, you know, what, most people in sort of doing research and looking Wednesdays and Thursdays seem to be kind of when podcasts come out, but I mean, they come out every day, but that, that was just for production and you know, so like for example, like with this, what I'll do is, you know, I'll grab the recording and post it up and, my producer, you know, will take it and do all the, you know, adds to it. And then I write up the show notes and usually we get it, we have a good rhythm and usually I have a couple, like two or three in the can anyway, so it's, you know, I'm not scrambling, but a couple of weeks ago I was traveling so much that I didn't, I just, I didn't have one happen. And so I ended up doing one myself, you know, just sort of talking about what was going on with me and the experience of doing the podcast and that, but sort of that cadence of dropping on Thursday and then sort of producing the rest of the next week. You know, on maybe one or two or three out seems to be the right motion for us. So, yeah.

Mark Fidelman:  And how do you find your guests? Do you, do you always find them at Dodgers games or are there other places you find them?

Heather Newman:  You know, I, I think, you know, you, and I've been in our fields a while, you know, and I just sort of look around and being in my forties and I'm like, gosh, I'm surrounded with really beautiful, interesting people that happen to be my friends, you know, or that I'm, or that I've, you know, been with at an event or that I see speak or that are people that I admire and find interesting. And so it's a lot of the times it's just me asking folks, you know, see if they listen and if not, hey, give a listen, see what you think. And if you want to be on it, I mean, maven means expert, right? So to me, it's people who have been doing what they do and have become experts at what they do and how they got there. And I really like focusing on people's stories, where they come from, what they're doing. And so it's a lot of times it's, you know, most of the people on my podcast are people that I know in some way that I've probably broken bread with, you know, that have been in my house or you know, that it's not, it's, it's not just, you know, folks that I sort of randomly know. But, I don't know, like the Flamenco Guitar Guy I had on, Juan Carlos, I walked into his restaurant and he all of a sudden started playing and figured out that he is like one of the best Flamenco guitarists in the world and hung out with Salvador Dali and, you know, played in the White House. And I keep, I, like I told you, I have my podcaster on me all the time ready at the, at the, you know, whatever I can pull it out. So that's kind of how I find people. Um, yeah. I don't know.

Mark Fidelman:  That's interesting, and do you find you get a lot of value from reconnecting with people you already know? Is that why you're doing it or do you, have you ever thought about reaching outside your network to try to bring in interesting people that you see out on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook into your world to, to meet them?

Heather Newman:  I find, I definitely find value in it. I find that, you know, a lot of people have helped me, in my career and I think having a platform where you can share somebody's story and help them promote what they're doing is a nice way to give back as well. And so that's part of it. Funnily enough, you know, I'll be, this is, this'll probably be like number 45 in the podcast series ish. And, I'm now doing more of that, reaching out outside of my network. I met a woman at the post office the other day who happens to be an Olympian and we got to talking and I was like, oh my God, I'd love to have you on my podcast or, or if there's a product that I really like, a brand that I love. I've been seeking out CEOs and makers of those things to reach out to them. So I am going outside a little bit of, of my network as well. So yes is the answer to that for sure. So, I'll have Gina Belafonte will be on this week. Well it'll be on after, before we air. But, so, you know, Harry Belafonte's daughter and activist and artist in her own right that I met doing a project a couple of years ago. So, you know, it's also going back and going, who's in my life that's doing amazing things and bringing light to our world. That's who I want on, you know, so that's how I find them.

Mark Fidelman:  That's wonderful. Yeah. I mean, I use it as a tool to reach out to new people as well. I mean I start with my network. But then I want to reach out and you know, get people like, ah, I'm going to shoot for Elon Musk, we'll see if that happens. But I actually know a lot of people around him. But, people that are in the industry that are doing interesting things and you know, once they see a podcast is launched and it's consistent and you know, the host has a little bit of intelligence. Then perhaps they'll come on it because they want to get their message out. And I've got a pretty good understanding of how to get a message out there, especially when it comes to social media. That's why I'm using it. I've gone a little dormant for about a year. Just kind of been refocusing and retooling and trying to figure out what I'm going to do, it's a welcome break and I'm ready to get back in and start going at it again.

Heather Newman:  Totally. Well, I'm so glad we caught up at the Dodgers game. That was so, it's so fun when you, you know, the, I, our world is so small, you know, like truly, you know, whether it be technology or sometimes I'm in my theater world or whatever and I turn around and I'm like, wait a minute, it's you, you know?

Mark Fidelman:  It was so random having you there, Jeff doesn't do a very good job of communicating obviously, who's going to be there, who's not to be there and especially what time to be there. I'll tell you a story. We have a mutual friend who might, might have been on the podcast already, I don't know Heather, but he told like four people that, hey, we're going to go on the, you know, the Dodgers have invited us out to the field before the game starts. And there's like four of us or maybe five of us that get out there on the field and we're taking pictures and videos. And I got in a little bit of trouble for stepping on the holy grass there, but the, later the rest of the social media club of LA shows up and they're like upset because you know, Jeff had told them about the fact that we could get on the field, although I did some research actually, and Jeff did send out an email to everybody saying, hey, get there early. And you can get on, you know, he did. So I think those complaints weren't justified, although there were a lot of them.

Heather Newman:  I think maybe he needs a chatbot

Mark Fidelman:  A chatbot could have reminded people, automatically reminded people, that's a good plug for them that they could go on the field, they just got to leave early. And they could have connected to like a navigation system, say, hey, you know, if you're going to go to Dodgers stadium, like for me it's literally like 17 miles, but an hour and a half. You got to leave now. And, that, I relied on Waze for that, which is part artificial intelligence in terms of the, when to leave and when you're going to arrive.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I love Waze. It's such a good product. Yeah, no, he did send out an email cause I was one of the last people to jump on for the ticket and I was there on time and I knew where all that. So, um, but yeah, that's so funny. Well cool. Well Mark, I could probably talk to you for another four hours about Marketing and chatbots and AI and all of that, but I'm going to bring us to a close and just say thank you and how fun it is to, I love your brain. So interesting to talk to another Marketer about all of these things and, and you're so prolific in the world and I'm so excited to see to hear your podcast and to see all the new things you're doing after some retooling. Like you said, it's really exciting.

Mark Fidelman:  Well, thank you Heather. And I've never done a podcast before. At least my own podcast. I'm pretty excited about it and I hope I can continue to learn from you. And, I hope it's a success and if you want to tune-in it's called AI Marketing. Should be, hopefully by the time we do this on iTunes, Google Play and the 15 other places, I need to put it on. Turns out.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. Well, thank you again, Mark. That's great. So yeah, everybody, you'll have to tune into AI Marketing, and we'll make sure when it gets set, we'll put all that stuff out through our social media channels on Mavens DO It Better. So folks that's been another episode of Mavens Do It Better. And kind of like Mark was saying, you can find us on iTunes, you can find us on Spotify, you can find us on Google Play and Stitcher. And here is to another big beautiful day on this blue spinning sphere. Thanks.


Episode 43: Artivist Maven Gina Belafonte

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts that bring a light to our world. I am very excited today to have a wonderful woman on our show, Gina Belafonte who needs no introduction, but I will do a little bit of an intro. Born and raised in New York City, spent your life in entertainment and activism and I got to meet Gina a couple of years ago working on the INTO Action project and I'm so thrilled that you're on the pod today. Hi Gina.

Gina Belafonte:  Hi Heather. Thanks for having me.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. It's been awhile. I haven't seen you in a bit because we've both been running around the world doing lots of awesome things. So, I was so excited to grab you for a moment. I know you're super busy with all the things that you're doing and I was hoping that we could talk a little bit about the activism part of your life. I know that's a very important part. And I know you're working with Sankofa and lots of other organizations, can you give everybody a little scoop into kind of what's going on in that sort of the world for you?

Gina Belafonte:  Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, I want to thank you for the opportunity and, you know, to have this platform and to share more about the work that I'm doing. So currently, I'm an artivist and I work in the intersection of art and activism using art as a tool to communicate thoughts and ideas and open hearts and minds. I am the executive director of Sankcofa.org. That's s a n k o f a.org and it's founded by my father, Harry Belafonte. And we educate, motivate and activate artists and allies in service of grassroots movements and equitable change. And we develop and create cultural content in a deep partnership with our artists and community partners.

Heather Newman:  That's so cool. How long has Sankofa been around?

Gina Belafonte:  I think officially it's maybe five and a half years that we've been putting ourselves out there and doing our best to be on the front lines. We really started right after so much, I mean, I'm realizing we and also so many other artists and activists started activating themselves and creating agency for themselves and platform themselves after the Trayvon Martin murder. And especially after the verdict, the George Zimmerman verdict, but many organizations were birthed during that time. Like Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives and BYP 100. And there's just so many organizations that have emerged out of that time period. And Sankofa is one of them. We began a bit before that, but we really activated ourselves during that time period to be in service of the grassroots that were emerging and the victims and families of just police brutality and those awful, awful, just murders that seemed to happen like one a month, that were really put forward through social media. And we wanted to find a cultural way to respond, to get the word out for people to be more informed about the totality of the issue. Not just what was forward facing on mainstream media. And, we really also thought culture could be used as a healing opportunity as well, to give more agency to the grassroots in cultural ways for them to express their trauma, their fear, their anger, and to empower them to find nonviolent ways to respond right to the issue that they were facing.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. There's a lot of anger and being able to channel it, deal with it, and move it into a positive swim lane is huge. Right. And I think the, I just read the Ryan Twyman, who was just killed and so sad and 37 bullets, right. For that man. And so it's something that, you know, a friend of mine, we were talking about it and he was like, yeah, you know, that happened. I was like, no, it's happening right now. Like right now it's happening somewhere right now. And I think that your organization is one of those lights in the world that's helping people for sure. Wow. And with that, so I guess what are some of the ways that, like, I guess the programs that are inside it, I would assume that there's multiple programs that are inside of it, but like is there like a larger piece of it that you're working on with folks?

Gina Belafonte:  Well, we do our best to support the grassroots. Often there are initiatives, there are movements, there are fundraising events. There are things that we can do to support the grassroots because they're busy on the ground doing the one on one projects and community service projects. We have a few of our own that we do engage and Sankofa is in great support of many different organizations. We've partnered with the Women's March Los Angeles Foundation. I am one of the cochairs of the Women's March. So we've been working very intentionally with them and finding ways in which we can bring a cultural perspective to the work of women and the issues women are facing. Sankofa and myself are on the advisory board and partnered with the World Human Forum, which is an international organization. It's a small group of initiators of various origins, cultures and life experiences who are concerned about humanity and nature. And, we've brought together ourselves around common purpose to have a conversation around breaking down borders and to sort of respond holistically to all cultures in all facets and places in need, and to bring to light what people are doing in their communities that are really best practices in a way that we can sort of use and share different ways in which one can live and exist and have a whole human experience in their life. And then there are, where we get into direct service, where we get on the ground with specific organizations and artistic companies to do very specific work. We're a big support of 2nd Call, which is Second Chance at Loving Life, which is an organization that works with formerly incarcerated individuals as well as, individuals in the community who are looking to find ways in which to create careers and also to do life skills programs, to do nonviolent direct action work and find ways in which to communicate and to respond to things that happen in their communities as first responders in a nonviolent way and to accurately sort of be accountable for their community. And they also have a great workshop. And then from that workshop, men and women find career placement in trade jobs, union trade jobs, which is really, really exciting. And then there are just so many, there's the Get Lit Players, there's Community Coalition, there's Barrios Unidos, there's Creative Acts. There's just so many organizations that we work with. And then last year we were able to partner with the For Freedoms Collective and do the largest cultural initiative in US history where we did a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to take over some billboards across the country. And it was the first time Kickstarter allowed an initiative to be multi-state simultaneously and we requested $3,000 from each state. We hit our goal and we did a billboard campaign in all 50 states, including Puerto Rico and Washington DC. And it was really quite amazing. I mean, the billboards really varied in their messaging. For Freedoms is a nonpartisan kind of space. So we engaged artists all over the country and all over the world to participate. you can go to the For Freedoms f-o-r freedoms.org website and you can see there sort of the initiatives and what happened. And one of the things that we did for this initial outreach was Hank Willis Thomas came up with a reimagining Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms f-o-u-r freedoms, which is freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to worship. And so actually where we met at our interaction event, which is another way in which Sankofa and I sort of partner, we did a beautiful photo shoot. And so we reimagined Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms with the diversity of what America provides as it relates to how we look, how we present ourselves, how we eat, what we eat. That initiative was and continues to be extremely rewarding. We got the cover of Time magazine and we've had lots of really wonderful town halls in museums and community centers across the country talking about the diversity of our communities and the issues in our communities and folks that are living in ways that are not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. So we have a lot of folks that we engage that are living in poverty and we talked about those issues. And also the Los Angeles Poor People's Campaign is part of the nationwide larger initiative. And I've been very participatory in that struggle as well to create platform for those folks who are living below minimum wage who are having difficulties in finding a way to live in this capitalist society. And yet here we are in there they are. And so we have to get rid of the us and thems and become the we-s and work with our community as a whole because, you know, like when they say you're as good as the weakest link or weakest player in sports teams and things like that, I feel that way too. Like we're only as good as society as our most marginalized are and we really need to create ways in which that we can uplift and find equity with our fellow citizens.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that campaign was beautiful. I didn't realize it was called Four Freedoms, but I saw it all over the place. Eleuthera and I talked a lot about it too because, yeah, just beautiful. You are involved in so many things and, you know, it's all about lifting people up and bringing light, right. And trying to connect and how do you like just take care of yourself doing all of this work? You're a busy woman and it's also, you know, this work isn't easy. You know,? It's the tough work. It's the, you know what I mean? Like, and I know it's, if you love what you do, it's not work. Right. But, you know, how do you, how do you find some balance in that, in your life?

Gina Belafonte:  You know, I think that finding the balance is a moment to moment experience. You know, I think that yes, it would be really nice for me to take a two week solid vacation and get offline. I think it would be nice. I think it would be more actually a struggle for me. And so I would probably need to take a longer amount of time to actually like come off of the rhythm that I've sort of find myself in my life. But I, so what I do my best to do is find balance in each moment and in the work that I'm doing to take a pause when I really need it to be as nonviolent as possible, not only to others, but to myself. Being less reactive and to be more sort of suspending my judgment and to take a breath. You know, it's an ongoing work or human beings. None of us are perfect and it's important for us to acknowledge when, you know, we're being mean or rude or cruel. And a lot of the time I think that comes from not taking more time for oneself and checking in with oneself. But I meditate, I play with my dogs, I visit with friends. I engage in cannabis related activities to help like my shoulders, you know? And I love to dance, so that helps. Those are all things that help and I do my best to eat well. You know, I, but I also like to, I like chocolate and you know, I like, you know, certain things sometimes to like eat and I like to watch certain shows on TV or relax and kickback and space out. So, you know, I do my best to find all kinds of different ways, you know, to relax them, to heal. You know, cause in this work there's a lot of trauma. Not only do you witness, observe, and take on some of some of the time, but then it also sometimes unlocks your own personal trauma. So it's important to stay sort of present with yourself and gentle with yourself and give yourself an opportunity to really, you know, look within sometimes, and give yourself a break.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. No, I agree. I think when I get angry about things I've learned to sort of, not react, I still react sometimes, but I find that those are the things that I write about. Those are the things that I create presentations about. Those are the things that I connect with other people about because I have to sort of channel that instead of holding it in. Right. And I, yeah, it seems like similar with you. I, yeah, cause sometimes it's heavy. I did a presentation on fear and toxicity in the workplace and my phone blew up and people started, you know, coming to me and telling me stories and I was like, whew. You know, like, and that happens when you, when you do this work where you're like, okay, I want to hold space for you and I'm a keeper of your story and your secret. But, whew that's a lot, you know, it's like, wow.

Gina Belafonte:  Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And I think it's important for us all to uplift each other, you know, and recognize each other and send each other like little hellos and, you know, silly gifs and fun, you know, kind of messages to remind ourselves that we're here, we've got each other's back, and that we're not alone in this work. You know?

Heather Newman:  Completely. I've started something recently where I was like, I want a Kudos committee. And, you know, and it's like reaching out to people in your life and being like, you know what, I need some Kudos right now, or I need some like help spreading a message and being deliberate about it, you know, like, why not, why not support each other when something cool is happening or important or whatever and say, I need you to retweet this or to share it or to whatever, you know, and build that for ourselves. People sometimes do it anyway, but I think it's okay to be deliberate about that kind of thing. You know? And like you were saying gifs and emojis and I don’t know, little scarfs.

Gina Belafonte:  Absolutely. You know, it's interesting because most recently I'm part of a group of women who, it started out by a friend of mine Stacy Lynch who is the daughter of Bill Lynch. And Bill Lynch was a political strategist, on the east coast in New York. He was national, but he really focused on New York elections and issues and just a great mastermind really behind the scenes. Not many people, you know, who are not in the know, know of Bill Lynch, but those who are in the know, know how a strategic and important he was to so many experiences in New York City, you know, and he helped, he helped get Mayor Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York elected and worked very hard also on the visit to New York in the United States of Nelson Mandela when he came. Anyway, his daughter Stacy, who is really wonderful reached out to me and to another girlfriend of hers and just said, Hey, let's have dinner and let's invite some other sort of folks who are in our world, other women. And so, we had this dinner and out of that dinner we had more dinners and then out of those dinners there were seven of us that emerged in a collective to create I don't even know what to call us yet because we're still in the process of figuring it out. We call ourselves Daughters of the Movement. And so, it's Stacy Lynch, Bill Lynch's daughter. It's Ilyasah Shabazz, who is one of the daughters of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz. It's Hasna Muhammad, who is the daughter of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. It Is Dominique Sharpton, who was one of Al Sharpton's daughters. And it's Keisha Sutton, who is the granddaughter of Percy Sutton, who also a lot of people who are not east coast, don't always know who he was. He was the creator of the Amsterdam News. He started a really amazing radio station on the FM dial called WBLS. But anyways, so his granddaughter, and then there's the daughter of Diahann Carroll and Monte Kay, and myself, you know, the daughter of Harry Belafonte and Julie Belafonte. And so we formed this group and then we decided that we would take our stories, you know, to a broader audience and see if there was interest, you know, for people to hear what we have to say, what we have to contribute. And so, we've been panel discussions and speaker series and we have just recorded our first test, sort of draft podcast. And we're really excited about like where we might go with it. You know, it's all daughters of the civil rights movement and our family's legacies that we're bringing forward who played a big role in the civil rights movement. So that's another exciting thing that I've just become a part of.

Heather Newman:  That's amazing. You just gave me goosebumps with everybody's names. I was like, wow, that's so impressive and, and, and wonderful that you've like that you found each other, you know.

Gina Belafonte:  Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Some of us have known each other since we were little. Some of us met when we were in our teens, and some of us just recently, you know, really began a friendship. I feel like we've all been sort of circling around each other as well in terms of our family's connections to each other because all of our parents know each other in one way or another. We're connecting through either art or politics. And so, it's just been a really beautiful process of discovery for, for the seven of us.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, that's fantastic. Well, and it's, you know, in a way it's like, oh, right. Like, why wouldn't you? Daughters of civil rights activists and movement, you know, it makes, it makes so much sense, but at the same time, people live all over the place and have their own, you know, that's real, that's super cool. I can't wait to hear more and see more from you all about that. That's amazing. I guess

Gina Belafonte:  We're so excited because there's so many people to include, you know. There's just so many walls. So we're excited to, to see where it goes and how we build and, and what comes forward from it.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And who else is out there, you know, that you can bring into the fold. That's so cool. And I guess, you know, sort of speaking to being, you know, a daughter of an of activists, you know, your childhood, I would assume was, we've talked about this a little bit before, but like that was in your house, right? You know, like, yeah. Will you talk?

Gina Belafonte:  I sat on the laps and held the hands of all the aunties and uncles of the civil rights movement. So many, so many. You know, my father and Dr. King formed a very, very, very deep and close bond and they were best friends in some ways, you know, and my father and mother both created sort of a safe haven and a space and a place where many civil rights leaders could come to our home and just relax and let loose and feel like they didn't have to, you know, be on guard. I mean our phones were tapped, but we don't think our house was tapped. SO we were able to, you know, really come and just relax and also strategize. A lot of the strategy of the civil rights movement, you know, so critical to so many major moves was discussed out of our home. You know, and of course I was quite young, but like a sponge, I used to just, you know, do my best to keep my ear to the door and, you know, be introduced to such iconic notables, you know, like Fannie Lou Hamer and Odetta and Dr. King himself, of course. And Julian Bond and Bob Moses and Diane Nash. And I mean, it's just so many incredible icons. And you know, my aunt who was my father's youngest sister, moved in with us. She was very young and then she became one of the first members of SNIC. And so, and she was, until my daughter was born, she was my most favorite person in the whole world. She's my second most favorite person. So yes, I was just completely immersed in civil rights and then in her own right, completely, my mother is quite a force. She is a Russian Lithuanian Jew, born in the United States on the lower west side of New York. And brought up during the depression, quit high school, got her GED. She quit the music and arts school of music and art and got her GED and then went to school at the Katherine Dunham School for Dance. And then became a teacher there and then became the only white member of an all-black dance company that toured the world in the forties. So that was a very unique story life to live. She's 90 now and very much still alive and still campaigning for different politicians, you know, out on the street, registering people to vote. In New York City. And she always was very, very political and I learned so much of what to do and how to strategize also from her. And she's the one who really pulled me in, in a more intimate way. She would have any common, you know, lick stamps and envelopes for the fundraisers or for the notices or for the petitions. She'd have me go out into the streets for petition signing. She would have me help paper, lick envelopes, the whole thing. So I was put to work very early in that way. And, it's just part of my DNA it feels.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I just had John Erickson who's the director of public relations for Planned Parenthood on, who's become a friend. And we were talking about, you know, strategy, you know, and the strength of strategy and that, you know, movements and change don't happen necessarily with just let's go put on a show, you know, or that sort of thing. Do you feel like, you know, the civil rights movement had momentum and then also a lot of tragedy and with the deaths of, you know, Malcolm X and, and Dr. King and looking at, you know, today in strategy, in creating change, do you feel like things are more together, more fractured or, you know? I, sometimes I look around and I'm like, can't we just get together? And it seems like there's people who are like, oh, I have to lead this, or I have to own it or whatever. And I don’t know, I think I have a lot of people ask me about, you know, where, where should I go to help and who should I align with? And, and I often, you know, what does your heart speak to and what do you, what are you passionate about? And go to those kinds of organizations. I don't know. Do you, do you find there's, there's a, a wholeness to this or, I mean, I know it's a work in progress, but I don't know just your take on the temperature of that.

Gina Belafonte:  Yeah, I mean I think that you've sort of unpacked a lot. I think it's not just one thing. I think that as it relates to a person, a person's individual contribution, I think it's the same as it's always been in some ways. I mean, you know, a lot of people often don't know what to do, who to trust and who to engage and who to follow. And who to walk beside, you know, I think that, I think that was the same in the civil rights movement and it is in all movements. I mean, the civil rights movement itself also had a lot of fracturing and a lot of infighting and people disagreeing and wanting to do one thing one way or another way or other people feeling like one person was getting too much of the attention. I mean, Dr. King himself, you know, at first was not really up for what he ended up sort of doing, how he sacrificed so much of his life literally for the movement. But I also want to say this, that we have a responsibility as human beings to treat people in a certain way and to make sure that our fellow citizens are, you know, living their life as responsibly and as fully with choice as they can. And you know, I think many of us, especially, I'm 57 and I know I'm a direct beneficiary, but we're all beneficiaries of the work that our parents and our communities did before us. They wanted, at least many wanted, in their own eye to make the world better for us than it was for them. And in many ways it did. And in some ways in doing that, we as a generation, you know, didn't learn how to do stuff because I think in many ways, some of our families didn't want us to ever have to do it. They didn't want us to come up against all of the trauma and the disappointments and the challenges. Not quite even acknowledging themselves, the deep and great reward this work has, especially when you're building with people who you do trust and people who do bring exquisite imagination to healing and engaging people in a better way for all. So yeah, yeah, yeah, there's a lot of people who want us to like, you know, steal the mic shall we say, or take over the mic or don't want to share the mic. And I think there'll always be that. I mean, I think that there is a deeper need in the movement, I think, for mental wellness and healing for people to actually do the work as human beings that it takes to just walk through the world. And I think, you know, the challenges that we face with each other are just a dynamic that we need to find a way to heal. And I personally feel that, you know, nonviolence is the way to go and the first place to be is nonviolent with yourself. And really check yourself. And the more you check yourself and see where your own shortcomings may be or your own fears may be, you can create more empathy within yourself for someone else who is maybe reacting sometimes the way you react or you know, you can see an insecurity or a feeling that you can feel more connected to because you're acknowledging it in yourself. So, yeah. You know, I think, you know, we're all human, so I think some people are going to want to take the light blue road and some people are going to want to take the aqua blue road and other ones are going to want to take the deep blue or the royal blue. But we have to acknowledge at least we're all in blue. No political pun intended. But, you know, yeah, we do things different ways. And also I think we also have to give a greater awareness to the ancestors and to those sort of more ritualistic and holistic ways other civilizations worked. And, you know, take a pause and say that maybe our way is not the way to go at this time and in this moment, and what we have to do is live up to this moment as fully and as best as we can with what's happening and not force something else to be another way.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, I, yeah, I agree. I always sort of go back to my, one of my favorite quotes from a very authentic person, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else? Can I get an amen?" from RuPaul.

Gina Belafonte:  Yay, woman!

Heather Newman:  For sure. Thank you for all of that. I can listen to you talk for days. I really love connecting with you. It's so nice. I, and to have your wisdom and experience on the podcast for our listeners is so great. So thank you for that. That's terrific. I have a question about, so Beetle Juice, have you been to it in New York to see it on Broadway?

Gina Belafonte:  Oh, the musical play? I haven't. I have not, but I know the film pretty well.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, of course. A friend of mine who's also been on the podcast, Jim Keirstead is one of the producers. And I was like, well, they're singing Day-O in that for sure. So I was like, okay, that's kind of fun. And I had wondered if you've maybe seen it or not. So

Gina Belafonte:  No, no, I haven't seen it. I mean, you know, in the film they use so much of my father's catalog. For the film, which is so quirky and fabulous that they choose him as opposed to, you know, someone, some other contemporary of his. So, I just love, I just love that. But no, I haven't seen, I haven't seen the musical.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Yeah. I haven't seen it yet either. I think it won a Tony for something as well too, which was really fun. So, and speaking of acting and all of that, you know, you're also, you're a working actress and are you doing, is that playing into all the other things that you're doing right now? Are you doing anything in that realm?

Gina Belafonte:  Acting wise, no, not at this moment. But you know, you never know what might come in a couple hours.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Right. I know the phone will ring and

Gina Belafonte:  I'll put it to you this way, I am and it's, it's hard for me to say it out loud but here I am going to say it out loud. I'm working on creating a solo show that I'm going to take a few years to imagine and put together. So that is something that I'm really excited about and I'm also a part of some really wonderful cultural initiatives that are taking place currently. Like I also mentioned the 50 state initiative with For Freedoms. So that's an ongoing concern. And, you know, I just last night I went to the NAACP theater awards here in Los Angeles because I was nominated or I was nominated for best director for a show that actually won best solo show. Lyrics from Lockdown, Bryonn Bain's, Lyrics from Lockdown. So I'm super proud about that and I really, really love the theater and I love directing. So, you know, acting is my first love. If someone said to me, you can only do one thing that will sustain, you have to choose, I would choose acting because acting, you can be so many other things and so many other people that you don't need to be anything else. As an actor you can take them all on. And, and so it's just my first love and I really feel so whole when I'm, when I'm doing it. But the theater and film, through documentary, narratives, everything, just all of it, I just art, dance, music. I want to do it all.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I know. I know. Being a theater major too, I was like, I need to get back to the stage sometime. Arrg, you know, but I mean, you use your voice and like I speak, you're out there speaking and giving presentations and all of that. So it's like the muscle gets worked, but it is a little bit of a different muscle when you're actually, you know, creating a role. But, um,

Gina Belafonte:  Yeah. Very, very true. I mean, creating a role, you really get to immerse yourself in so much that is not you while using all of who you are. You know, so it's super exciting, you know, to do that though. I will be producing a really exciting projects coming up with the Get Lit Players. We're going to be collaborating on a civics project that is creating thirty second to three minute video content around civics and we'll get youth and predominantly the Get Lit Players to develop, write, direct, and star in these videos with the adults of Sankofa.org and Get Lit to be producers on the project to help guide it in that way. And so I'm really excited about that because I feel it really will be for all ages, but I'm interested right now in developing and creating something that is, you know, from our youth that speaks to our youth about civic engagement and about the electoral process and about politics and about community engagement. So I'm really, really excited about that.

Heather Newman:  That's awesome. That sounds amazing. So, that "no" is actually all those amazing other things that you're doing.

Gina Belafonte:  Yeah. Exactly.

Heather Newman:  And I love it that you said it out loud that you're doing a solo show. We have to say things out into the universe. Right. I do that too. If I put it in my newsletter I have to do it. Right. You know, I always like to ask also, you mentioned moments and sort of sparks and I like talking about sparks with people and is there something, it can be right now or way back, that is sort of that a spark or a moment that led you on the activism path like that? Like if there was one thing that you could be like pinpoint and go, that was a moment when I was like, Yup. Is there anything that comes to mind for that?

Gina Belafonte:  Well, I think there were like several unconscious ones. Because you know, I think about as a child, like my mother working on, you know, a campaign with Bella Abzug and her running as a delegate for Shirley Chisholm when she was running for president. And, you know, meeting Shirley Chisholm and meeting Bella Abzug and having these incredible women in my life that my mother, you know, was the bridge to introduction to. And, but I think really in my adult, young adult life, I had already been sort of following my mother and father around with all of the major incredible work they were doing. Like my mother was working with the UN with this project called School in a Box. And my father, you know, initiated We Are the World which kicked off Hands Across America and Live Aid, and Farm Aid, and all those kinds of like big events with a lot of really incredible outcomes to it. But right after I had my daughter, she was about two, I met a man through another incredible fem-tor of mine. Connie Rice, civil rights lawyer, who is just phenomenal, an amazing woman. My father was getting an award, he was getting the Thurgood Marshall Award and Connie brought to the event a group of young men and I was there and we were all sitting at the same table and this one guy was sitting across from me, you know, he and I struck up a conversation, then he came around and sat next to me and we just super hit it off. Just talking about the work that he was doing. He referred to himself as a gang interventionist. And, I thought, oh, that's really cool. And so we got into a pretty deep conversation. And anyway, the night went on and was over and we were all leaving, and he turned to me, he said, you know, I would really like for you to come join us in our community for our celebrity softball game. And you know, this was in Los Angeles. And so he said, celebrity. And I thought, oh, that's kind of fun. I was like, cool, thank you so much for including me. Absolutely. I would love to. So gave me the address. It was in, um, yeah, I'm not sure if it, I can't remember now if it was South Central or if it was Inglewood, I can't remember which, community, in the Los Angeles area it was in. I took my then two year old or two and a half year old daughter and we went to the park where this softball, celebrity softball game was and we come to the park and we park and we're getting out and this man, his name is Bo Taylor. He's the young gentleman that I met, he comes over and greets us and we come over and I'm looking around and I'm like, Huh, that's interesting. There's like a barbecue off in the distance a little bit, but I'm not seeing any celebrities per se. So we go over to the, you know, softball diamond, baseball diamond and I look in like sort of the two dug out areas and he goes come over and meet the team and then I go over with my little girl and I'm looking at massive, predominantly all men, massive men, with tattoos on their necks and really, really muscular. And, if I had to guess, knowing now I would just, if I had to be like totally judging from the outside of who they were, I would say formerly incarcerated, former gang guys, you know, and I go in and they are totally beautiful, warm, loving, how you doing, striking up conversation. Then the game begins and I'm looking around and I'm still not seeing any quote unquote celebrities. So, I'm thinking, all right, well that's unfortunate. I feel so sorry for Bo that, you know, whoever he invited to come as a celebrity didn't show up. So it's time to play the game. I go up to bat, I get a base hit and then, actually, before I go to bat, I hand my daughter off onto one of the guys in the dugout, like some big brother with like tattoos all over and the two of them are having a great time, they kind of bonded a little bit. And so I'm off at bat. I get on base and then the next batter comes up and hits a home run and brings me home. And so I'm running into the dugout and I'm seeing these guys, big guys just yell out, yay, yay, look at your mom, look at your mom, she got a home run! And there's like in these squeaky little voices talking to my two year old and they're like gimme a high five and we're all high fiving and we get in. Anyway, I turned to Bo and I say, oh my gosh, that was so beautiful. And I say, Bo, listen man, I'm so sorry that no celebrities have shown up to your softball game and to support you. And he looked at me, he looks at me like I was from another planet, literally. And he was like, what are you talking about? And I was like, well, you said it was a celebrity softball game. And so, and he cut me off and he said, Gina, look around you. All these men that are here today that are playing, that have come back home from being incarcerated or who are formally engaged in gang activity. They are the celebrities. They are the heroes of our communities who are now turning their lives around and choosing to do the right thing. And when he said that to me, I looked at him like a deer in the headlights, eyes glazed and just was like, oh my God. And that's, the first thing that came to me was when my father told me about the first meeting he had with Dr. Martin Luther King. And it was supposed to be a 45 minute meeting where Dr. King wanted to solicit my father's support and they spoke for upwards of four hours. And my father always said that after that conversation, he knew that he would be in Dr King's service for the rest of his life. And, that is exactly what I felt when Bo said that to me about the men that I was surrounded by, that they were the celebrities. That those were the men that were being honored today and in celebration of, and I just was totally blown away by that. And so, I think that was a real push for me and a catalyst for me to become more deeply involved. And more deeply nuanced and even more deeply committed. And so, I feel, and unfortunately Bo is no longer alive, but I have been and will continue to be in service for his life and legacy. And I also do most of that work with 2nd Call and Skipp Townsend and the men and women of 2nd Call, which is again, Second Chance at Loving Life. And I would look them up at 2-n-d-c-a-l-l.org, 2ndcall.org. They're a beautiful organization. They deeply keep it real and I'm just so grateful that you know, Bo came into my life and that he remains there and his legacy remains with me. Always.

Heather Newman:  Thank you for sharing that story. The air quotes around of service, right?

Gina Belafonte:  Mm hmm.

Heather Newman:  For sure. That's amazing. Thank you for everything you do in the world and all the light you bring and the inspiration and grit because I know those, those are all of the things that you bring. Last question. So I know there's a million people that you could probably pluck out, but is there anyone right now that you're like, this person is just making me so happy with what they're doing and inspiring me? Is there somebody or something out there that you're like, you've got to check that out. Someone that's sparking you?

Gina Belafonte:  Well, Jeez.

Heather Newman:  I know that's a tough one.

Gina Belafonte:  That's tough. There's so many, there's so many people I work with. Well I would say, I would say one person who I'm deeply inspired by would be Emiliana Guereca, who is the cochair of the Women's March Los Angeles. She's really amazing. And she also sort of like, Bill Lynch, is very quiet about what she does and how she does it. She's really, really fantastic and very inspiring. And I would say, you know, Skipp Townsend at 2nd Call. He's just an amazing person. And all the men and women that work with him are really incredible. You know, I would say, oh, there's just so many, there's just so many. I don't even know where to begin. There's a lot of, there's a lot of, you know, even traditional production companies and theaters that are doing really important work around the country, bringing stories to us and networks that are stepping up to, airing, you know, works that we really need to see, to hear and to listen to. Because for so long the African American experience has been brought to us by the same folks who wrote the Bible, if you know what I mean. You know, the true and authentic stories need to be told really through the mouths of the people that are experiencing them. And, even in narratives, I think it's important to have one's self surrounded by the authenticity of the period or the incident or the issue and the people that were most affected by it. And I feel like there's a lot of artistic work and a lot of people who are really stepping up and contributing to the opportunity for all of us to get more woke and more organized and more educated. So there's a lot of really beautiful and great work out there. And I think that's why we see the counter of that in our current political climate in the United States and around many countries around the world. Coming to a point of such heightened conflict, shall we say? You know, because it's being met with a really good amount of reverb shall we say, and I think we need to be, to own that and to stay conscious of that. That there is balance in this work. And that we need to elevate into the consciousness of everyone, the light and the beam of the cool things that are being done and the, you know, all the counter activities that are going on in support and in honor of the tragedies and the conflicts. So it's hard to just pinpoint one thing. I would say my daughter also very much inspires me. A young woman just graduating from university, having the privilege of having gone to, you know, great educational institutions and she is really finding her way. And it's really beautiful to witness and to be a part of. And, yeah, just, stay current and, you know, being a part of stuff has just been so rewarding.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. That's awesome. Well, you're wonderful and amazing and thank you for being on the show and sharing all of that with our listeners. I really appreciate it.

Gina Belafonte:  Absolutely. And always, I just want to honor the ancestors and those who've come before us who paved a way for us all to be here. To share and to walk this path together. So, than you Heather. Thanks so much for including me and offering me this platform.

Heather Newman:  You're welcome. Absolutely. Thank you, Gina. So everyone that was a another episode of Mavens Do It Better. You can find us on all the regular places, iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher. And here is to another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere. Thank you.