Creativity is a form of self-expression. All human beings have it. But some have creativity buried deeply that they may not identify themselves as creative people. Jason Wrobel & Whitney Lauritsen’s guest is Kirk Westwood, co-founder, and CEO of Glass River Media. In this episode, you’ll discover different forms of creativity. You just have to dig deep into yourself and release it. Tune in to Kirk’s story and find out how he releases his creativity.
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Communication, Creativity, Storytelling With Kirk Westwood
I’m excited about this episode because we have a guest that I have not seen in what we determined has been several years. We go way back to a special time in my life when I was working in the film industry, pursuing a whole career making movies. I went to the Cannes Film Festival for my second time. I had gone previously to this festival to do an internship when I was in college basically. A few years later, I went another time as what they called a mentor, which meant that I was coming back as somebody that had graduated college and was working in the industry, was mentoring people that were in my position as interns. Both times I went to the Cannes Film Festival was really special. Going to Cannes on the South of France is amazing. When you’re working as a young filmmaker and you get to go to the biggest fanciest film festival in the world, it’s pretty spectacular.
One of the points that made it extra special was meeting amazing people like Kirk, who has stayed in my life since. I’ve kept in touch with a lot of people from that time. Just reflecting on it, I have made a few lifelong friends from that experience. Kirk, we haven’t been in touch lately, but I was so amazed at your work and how you’ve transitioned, too. Part of what makes this interesting is that neither you or I work in the film industry anymore. We have pivoted and we have used our backgrounds in film and storytelling to create different careers for ourselves.
I love how you focus so much on storytelling. You do an amazing job with your video content and pretty much everything you do. You have a natural charisma that I’m excited about. For the readers, I encourage you to check out the video version of this show because when somebody has charisma, it’s nice to watch them. I wanted to start on the subject matter of storytelling because this is actually something that is incredibly important across human life. We love stories. It’s also something that comes up a lot for people that are creating online content, which I know is part of your specialty, Kirk. It’s a subject matter that can be helpful and insightful to learn how to tell a good story.
For you, Kirk, you are naturally good at speaking I believe. We should start right there. Do you perceive yourself as naturally good or are you similar to Jason and I where you’re very practiced? A lot of people will look at someone like Jason, who I also think has a lot of charisma, and they think like, “He’s naturally gifted.” I believe that’s true for both of you, but both of you have also had a lot of practice. I’d love to know how do you feel like you became a good storyteller and this same question could go to you, Jason, so I hope that you jump in as well.
It’s an interesting question. I don’t know the answer to that. As far as speaking, my father was a speechwriter, good diction in the way you said things. If I came home and said, “I got a good grade.” I’d have been ridiculed. He’s like, “You what? You got, you received, you have, you were awarded. You didn’t get a grade.” My father is a journalist and professional speechwriter. That was a little bit of my childhood rebuking.
I’m going to pause you there for a second because that’s amazing. Jason and I are passionate about conscious languaging. Jason is cracking up. I wanted to pause you there, Kirk, because that is one of the best things a parent can do for us. I didn’t quite have it as intense as you did, but there were moments in my childhood where people corrected the way that I spoke that have impacted my entire life and I’m so grateful for that. I want to know why Jason is laughing before we get back to your story, Kirk.
I have been accused over the course of my life for being the language police. The reflection of your father, Kirk, of stressing diction and stressing correct usage of grammar and him taking you to task, I have to laugh because I’ve been accused of the same thing. My girlfriend, Laura, will take me to task because she’s so wonderful as a communicator. I’ll slip up sometimes and she’ll take the piss out of me for it. I laugh because I do it to people and I still have it done to me. I secretly love it when people do it to me.
This also makes me curious, Kirk. Is this showing up for you as a father? Are you encouraging your children the same way or are you purposefully not because it sounds like maybe you didn’t like it as a kid?
I’m doing the antithesis of it where I will do things that are intentionally incorrect but sound funny. I do the good speaking. I will do the same thing. If they say, “Me and my friend,” I will say, “It’s my friend and me.” That one’s more reflective than anything else. That one I hate myself for, but I was like, “My friends and I.” Let’s speak right. A big part of storytelling and this is a big thing that I’ve learned is that channel, language, and wording matter. There are a lot of times that speaking good is not right. You need to speak in a language that will be received by the audience.
Sometimes if I am speaking to a board of directors, I am going to be speaking in absolute perfect diction. I’m going to be speaking with my lower register. I’m going to be doing a lot of different things through the diction and standing. I’m going to be doing a lot to tell the story that I want with more than just my words. If I’m giving a talk to high school students, there’s no way to get them disinterested faster than talking like their English teacher. Audience matters and that goes through not just your diction but your pitch, your pace, your poise, your pause, which brings me to my next thing.
I was raised by someone who was big into that, but I have a Master’s Degree in Communication, which included rhetoric and debate. I was in the Army. I went through what’s called DINFOS, the Defense Information School, where I took a broadcast writing and announcing class, which meant that I had to be able to emulate and de-emulate any accent within reason. I had to do a lot of different things. I started at a disadvantage because of my dad and then I have had training beaten into me. Somewhere between yes, I’m both practiced, I’m actually over-trained. I’m not a radio announcer. I’ve had voice and diction training, a lot of it. I was already a pretty vivacious storyteller to begin with.
Kirk to reflect my experience and mirror what you were discussing with Whitney’s question when she said was it a matter of having this innate ability to be an orator, communicator or presenter versus being over-trained as you alluded to. For me, it was a matter of having specific natural abilities that my mother took notice of as a child, and then shoved me out on a stage as a theater kid at a very young age. Not in a sense of being an oppressive, heavy-handed stage mom as we see outlined in certain narratives, but I think she noticed that I had this ability and wanted to really just magnify it and enhance it and turn the dial so to speak.
For me, it was a natural ability combined with a hell of a lot of training from say age four onward. To your point, Whitney, when people say, “Jason, he’s on stage and he just looks so natural and looks so comfortable,” it’s because from age four, it was like, “You’re going to get your ass on stage and talk. There’s a crowd of people. Go and act like you take voice training, take dialect and do this thing.” It’s both. It’s nature and nurture combined in my experience.
I know people with my roughly same background that it’s never been something they got well and it was something they have shied away from because their anxiety trumped their training. I’m an extrovert. I’m not afraid of crowds. I’m not afraid of telling a story and then throw a lot of training at that.
My curiosity as an artist and a creator and this go for all of us. I want to throw this to the collective here, is practicing I think the delicate balance of wanting our art and our creations to be received well. That’s probably a natural instinct for most artists I know. We want to know that our song, our stories, our speech, our movie are going to be received with a modicum of enthusiasm and celebratory response. Yet I also think that there’s a level of detachment as an artist that we would be wise to cultivate of not giving a fuck, so to speak. Putting the creation out into the universe and training ourselves to care less about what people think. To me, that feels like a razor’s edge. A very fine line sometimes of, “I want you guys to like this, but I also don’t give a fuck because that feels mentally healthier.” I’m curious for Kirk and Whitney and I’ll chime in, too. What’s the relationship to that? I want my art to be received well. I also need to train myself to, on some level, not giving a fuck about what you think.
I think that Gary Vee is drastically over-quoted, but this is one of those quotes of his that I just love. He says in one of his things that when someone says, “Your stuff sucks. I hate you.” Someone says, “I love you. You’ve changed my life.” He holds onto both of those with the exact equal amount of zero. He’s like, “I don’t care that I’ve helped you. I’m happy for you but I don’t care. You think my stuff sucks? I don’t care.” I wish I could say, “That’s how I try to look at it.” No, I am the exact opposite. When someone tells me they like my work, it means the world to me. When someone tells me, they think I’m talentless, that hits me way harder than it should.
I have major approach-avoidance due to like, “What if people laugh at me?” I try to go out of my way as much as I’m an extrovert, as much as I’m not afraid of crowds, as much as I’m not afraid of criticism. Criticism hits me personally. If you’re an idiot, I don’t care. If you’re someone I respect, if you’re someone whose credentials or opinion is anything approaching sentient thought, then I take everything, both the good and the bad, a little bit too much to heart.
We did something that we’ve never done before on this show, which is completely change up the setting mid-recording. This show is about not always doing a lot of editing, not because we’re lazy. We have an incredible team of editors that support us. However, it’s more the authentic experience. Another reason to watch this on YouTube is because when you do, you will see that Kirk not only changed his microphone mid-recording, but he also changed his background. He is in a professional studio and Jason and I have a little bit of studio envy right now. Kirk was very kind because he said he was recording in a different room because he wanted it to match our backgrounds because Jason and I record in our offices. We don’t have a fancy background like him. Jason started to ask Kirk some questions that I’m eager to hear the answer to.
I just noticed there were tentacles growing out of his scalp and I didn’t see the logo behind his head. Again, we encourage you to go to YouTube. I didn’t see the logo type, the font, and I said, “Is that the Kraken?” Then he moved his head and I was like, “Indeed, it is the Kraken.” Kirk, do we have a mutual affinity for not only mythology, but the film, the Clash of the Titans? Tell me about this.
I was told there was only an hour and fifteen minutes left and I don’t know that we can cover that in the amount of time that we have. First off, the Kraken, I had a book come out in 2020 and not in a substantial amount of the book is an analogy around the Kraken. It is a mythos and ethos I can go deep with. A few years ago, when I opened my agency, people were like, “What do you do?” I was like, “I work in strategic communications.” They’re like, “What does that mean?” I was like, “It means that I help you strategically communicate.” They’re like, “Is that an advertising agency?” I’m like, “No, but sure. We’ll do your ads.” He’s like, “It’s a PR company.” I was like, “Again, not exactly, but I’ll take it.” It kept going back and forth. I was like, “Just think of it this way. I’m a tap-dancing octopus. I’ve got my hands in everything.” That was my go-to. It shut people up. They’re like, “What do you do?” “Strategic communications.” “What does that mean?” “I’m a tap-dancing octopus. I’ve got my hands in everything.” That was to end the conversation. That was my tap out.
A few years later, I had bought three more companies and absorbed other these things. I acqui-hired people and done some not hostile takeovers because that’s not my style. I’ve done all these things and one of my now-employees that had been previously a competitor said, “You are not a tap-dancing octopus. You’re the Kraken that is just taking people down.” I’m like, “I wish that didn’t excite me as much as it is.” When I started my spinoff agency a few years ago, we were looking for a name. My main company is Glass River Media. There’s a whole story behind that as well and our logo is the Viking ship. I then made the sub-brand our more aggressive brand is Release The Kreative. The whole idea of being sometimes you need to make waves. Sometimes it’s Glass River Media. Sometimes it’s smooth sailing. Sometimes you want to be corporate, polished, pristine, professional. Sometimes you want them to take notice. That’s what Release the Kreative is all about.
That is definitely a multi-tentacled answer and way deeper and more interesting than I could have even imagined. I also love the energy that you embody when you’re like, “I’m a motherfucking Kraken.” Your energy shifts to this very powerful embodied masculine when you say it and a step further.
It’s the only masculine thing about me.
Have you considered or have you already had a tattoo put on your body of the Kraken? Because immediately I’m like, “This dude needs a back piece of a giant Kraken.”
It’s going to be a full shoulder cap and I’m working with two different artists right now. I’m working with neither of them as a tattoo artist. I’m working with layout artists and things because if you look up Kraken tattoo right now, which I’m sure you’ve done. I feel comfortable thinking that you have Googled this. Maybe not Whitney, you definitely have. They’re all blues and greens and they’re all destruction. The Kraken was a destructive force. It was the eater of islands and destroyer, and I’m about that. I’m fine with it, but the whole ethos that I am is Release the Kreative, which is about creation. It’s about production. It’s about making something new. I want a crazy, still masculine, still daunting Kraken tattoo, but I want it in yellows and reds and I want it watercolor. I want it to be bright and about encouragement and building something and not just taking things down.
The companies I bought, I didn’t buy them to shut them down. I bought them because I wanted something they had. I wanted to build with them. I saw these more as partnerships than taking out my competition. Whereas it meant by the now-guy who worked with me as a joking slant at me taking him out, I didn’t view it that way. It was about building. I want this tattoo to still be very Kraken-esque, but I want it to be in yellows, reds, bright and cheerful which is a contradiction. It’s why my logo is yellow and black in Release the Kreative.
I had this instinct. I’m like, “I know this dude is going to get a Kraken tattoo.” I love your version of it and I love the intention behind it. This brings up a more macro-level conversation about the waves of creation and destruction in life. It feels to me, Kirk, like we generally speaking on a global level are very much in this period of deep reflection, deep change, and deep evolution. Yes, the pandemic. Yes, COVID. Yes, the financial system. I also think in a lot of ways with looking at Black Lives Matter, creating more equality and having more empathy toward people that are different than us and LGBTQ rights, and we could blow this out to a very macro conversation.'I'm a tap-dancing octopus. I've got my hands in everything. Some call me a Kraken that takes things down.' Kirk Westwood Click To Tweet
In terms of creation and destruction, I’m curious with your relation to that on maybe an esoteric level, as a human being, an artist, and an entrepreneur. How do you, I suppose, on a mental, spiritual level, etc., handle these waves of periods in your life where it’s radical creativity, output, growth and abundance versus the seasons in your life that might be more about tearing things down, reinvention, the phoenix rising from the ashes, and that sort of mythological archetype? How does that land for you? How do you as a person handle those waves and when you’re in a “low period” or a period of reinvention or destruction, ride those waves?
This is genuinely not intended to be self-promotional, but I wanted to go back slightly into the Glass River Media and where that came from because Release the Kreative was meant to be a spinoff of that. Glass River Media was intended to be a joke that was intentionally that no one was going to get it. We wanted people to not think it too far. Rivers are moving. They’re not still. Glassy rivers are dangerous. They’re not a safe thing. There’s still waters run deep as the oldest trope of like, “Just because a river looks safe, still waters run deep.” Glass River Media, the concept upfront was let us give you something that looks beautiful and we will hide the danger. We will be the insulator from the stuff you don’t want to deal with. Let us handle the communications. Let us handle the strategy. Let us handle the angry people. Let us handle all of that ad we will give you smooth sailings. We will hide the destruction. We will hide the tumult, the undertow because we understand how to navigate these waters.
Again, I didn’t want to be Still Waters Run Deep Media. That sounds terrifying. I wanted it to evoke peace and calm, but if you think it through, the name of the company is This Shit is Dangerous. It’s Glass River Media. It’s what you just said. It’s that whether you are a small company or you are a major corporation, the most dangerous thing you can do is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where you interface. It’s your story. It’s your communication. If you build widgets, making the widgets is the easy part. It’s selling the widgets. It’s getting the widgets out there. The hardest thing to do is that.
I’m jealous of and slightly don’t believe the companies that I’ve talked to like, “COVID didn’t touch us. We were super fine.” I’m like, “You’re either lying or not paying attention. It touched you somewhere and if it didn’t, I don’t understand your industry at all.” It hit us hard. I had a staff of seven. I now have a staff of two. It wrecked us. It wrecked everything. It wrecked most of my clients. The reason they had to walk away is that they didn’t have staffs anymore either or they lost their business. For the last several months, it’s been exactly what you just said. You can’t tap out. I have a studio. I don’t have staff anymore, but I still have a story to tell and other people have stories to tell. The channels matter and the audience matter.
I’m big into cognition. The state of cognition has changed a little bit but that hasn’t changed our obligation, responsibility and ability to tell stories and move people. Getting past their own bubble of destruction, failure and hard times is an extra hurdle, but it’s also an extra exciting challenge, especially when you’re going through it, too. At the same time, if you don’t kick against the current, it will pull you under. You don’t have much of a choice unless you’re just going to succumb to it and that’s not my style.
There are times that are intense creativity and you’re going to attack it. You’re going to take it down. There are other times when the winds shift and waters change, and you have to take a moment to figure out what’s going on. That’s what those are. There are minutes of rest. They are minutes of catching your breath, but the least you can do is tread water because less than that, you’ll go down. You take those minutes to see what’s changing, see the people, the audience, the channels, how is the story different now than it was yesterday, and you adjust.
You’re so articulate on the subject matter and we’re grateful for it. As Jason said, you have a good combination of you’re adding fun and you’re adding seriousness to this conversation. You’re approaching it from a very deep level. This is incredibly important because I believe that everybody has some part of creativity in their life. Some of us lead with it more than others. Some of us make it our profession, like the three of us. Some of us maybe creativity is drawing or working on some project at home like painting.
Creativity is so incredibly important to us as human beings. It’s a form of self-expression. Some of us find that it’s buried deep down that we wouldn’t even identify as being a creative person at all. Going back to the example of storytelling and how telling a good story is a form of creativity. That’s another thing of it. When you’re talking about releasing your creative and releasing the Kraken, maybe there’s something that’s buried deep down within you that you want to release into the world and express in a different way.
One of the things that I’m passionate about is idea suppression. Anyone who’s worked in the corporate world for more than about fifteen minutes has been at a board table where someone says like, “What if we?” “Shut up, Steve. Not now.” “What if Steve had a good idea?” “He didn’t. We checked.” Poor Steve. For all the Steves reading this, I just picked a name. It’s not you. It might be you.
Is Steve like the equivalent of a Karen?
It’s more or less. Steve is the name I use for like the office reject. Again, Steve, I’m sorry. I don’t know you. I was working. When I started writing my book, it was 2013 and I was working on a government contract. For all of you who’s reading, if you’re on a government contract, I’m sorry. If you aren’t, Nancy Reagan, “Just say no.” Government contracts are where all creativity and good ideas go to die and I will back that up. I’m on this contract in 2013. There’s this guy I’m talking to. He’s brilliant. He’s like a Rhodes scholar that went to Princeton. He’s stupid like Mensa-level smart.
We come out of this meeting and he’s grumbling. We were all grumbling. It was a stupid meeting. I’m talking to him and he’s like, “You know what we need to be doing?” He outlines in a hundred words the solution. I’ll just keep it really top level but I was like, “Yes, that’s what we need to be. Let’s do that.” He’s like, “They’re not going to listen.” I’m like, “I’ll write it up for you. I’ll bring it forward. I’ll take the heat. I’ll write it up. I’ll bring it forward, your name on and everything.” He’s like, “No. Look, I’ve been in the government for seventeen years. I need to get my head down for three more years, get out and I’m going to go open my bakery.” He didn’t say bakery, but you get the point.
I was like, “I just want to make sure I get this right. Your life goal after your level of intelligence, your goal is to get out with making as little impact as possible.” He’s like, “I wouldn’t have said it like that, but more or less. I’m tired of being told by people that don’t know what I’m talking about, that my idea is wrong when they didn’t let me finish it. They didn’t let me explain. They didn’t let me explore it.” I started studying this. I started asking people and conducting interviews on my nights and weekends and finding that idea suppression. There are whole departments of large corporations and whole agencies within the government that their entire function is to say, “No.” Their entire function is to weed out.
You’re like, “Otherwise, it would bloat.” That’s true. I’m not saying that there was no value in shutting down bad ideas, but I’m saying that there’s a lot of value into hearing out bad ideas. There’s a lot of value in not suppressing someone’s bad idea because you don’t get it. There’s no one in history that made an impact by doing things the way other people understood them. Every person you can name from Socrates to Edison, you can name them because they said something that didn’t fit the wavelength of the people at the time. Standing out means you’re doing something very good or very bad. We’ll figure out which later.
There’s so much to crack open from this incredible nugget you dropped, Kirk, in the sense that I think we can blow this up because you brought up the government, of looking at ways of governing our nation or on a state level from financial system to taxes, to corporate bailouts, to UBI, to welfare. We could look at so many permutations of this conversation. In some sense, we’re up against some deep primal neurological desire for safety and safety through familiarity. If we have these systems in place that have been governing us as a human society for decades or hundreds of years or thousands of years depending on the example we’re using, why deviate from that? We’re safe. We’re okay. This is a very one-pointed sometimes narcissistic, egotistical point of view of like, “I’m safe. I have food.” What do you mean something’s wrong? Not looking at some of the endemic flaws in the systems that are perhaps not supportive and not beneficial for human life and for making sure that people’s basic living needs are met, but why change? It’s because things keep running along.
To your point, when someone comes up with something that is viewed as rogue, renegade or contrarian, that could be more beneficial if one is looking at this from a more humanistic or utilitarian perspective of, “This would benefit more human beings on the planet, maybe be better for the environment and maybe lessen the amount of suffering.” “It’s going to be hard to change. Let’s not do that because that’s uncomfortable. Let’s not do that because that’s painful.” It’s almost like human beings would rather choose one pain over another.
The pain of a decaying system is a pain we would prefer rather than the pain of changing it and making it more compassionate, equitable and “fair.” What you’re saying is so brilliant because I feel this is almost like a virus mentally that plagues humanity. Let’s just stay safe and familiar because the thing over there that we don’t know yet is scary. Even though it might be better, let’s not go there and the lack of progress through this mentality. I’m getting fired up and frustrated because I feel like this mental virus infects so much of human existence.
I work in marketing. I’m the least self-promotional individual ever, but you basically described my book. It’s called The Very Best Bad Idea. It’s available everywhere. I break down a lot of the why and what that virus is. Think about this for a second. How many people do you know that are afraid of spiders? A real question.
It’s pretty much everyone.
How many people do you know are afraid of household dogs?
Only a few who’ve been bitten as a child.
Thirty-one people died to a household dog attack per year and six people die every four years aggregate from spider bites, but dogs are cute, so that number is completely irrelevant. Why are people afraid of snakes in North America? You can almost not die. Rattlesnakes are bad, but the chance of dying from a rattlesnake bite in North America is if you get to the hospital, you are fine. Other countries, this is a different thing. Many people are viscerally afraid of snakes and I’ll tell you why.
That’s firmware they’re running from 7,000 years ago. Your limbic system, your neocortex is up here. It’s what you reason with. It’s where your language center is. That get your pins and needles, that fight, flight or freeze, that unbelievable visceral emotional reaction, that’s your limbic system. Your lizard brain as it is affectionately called because it’s the oldest piece of your brain. Right now, you are running firmware from the times when you lived in a cave. The mega-shark took millions upon millions of years to become the top of the food chain. Several thousand years ago, men weren’t nothing. We made the top of the food chain in a disproportionate amount of time. Our brains did not evolve as fast as our society did.
Jerry Seinfeld said it best that the world’s greatest fear is public speaking and the second greatest fear is death. A majority of people at a funeral would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. He said that as a joke, but I’ve checked the numbers. It’s actually true. The world’s largest fear is public speaking and why is that? I break this down. The answer is because being ostracized by the group historically got you killed. What you call as a virus, it’s actually firmware. It’s standing out. You have been trained to fear as death because up until now, banishment was still being practiced. Banishment was still a thing in recorded history, in this era and getting kicked out. The reason they didn’t kill you is because they didn’t have to. Let the wolves handle it. Banishment and standing out, historically, the fastest is a threat. The slowest is a liability. The safest place you could be was in the middle of the pack without a name.
I’m going to write this proposal. I’m going to take it to my boss. He might love it or he might steal it and take credit for it, or he might fire you for not staying in line, Johnson. We have been trained and not even trained. We are biologically inclined to want to be faceless. There are those of us that are the extroverts and love the attention and the applause, but even then, you said it. Back when I was working in the film industry, I didn’t know a professional actress or actor that didn’t struggle with self-doubt and struggle with putting themselves out there and had to hype themselves up to go out on auditions because of the loathing and the self-hatred. They make it sound like the greatest job ever, but it’s because your limbic system is telling you, “Sit down, shut up and stay silent or you will die.”
My question is then, for lack of a better terminology, how do we override that? We might perceive it as this is going to ruffle the feathers. This is going to because too many ripples in the water. This is going to ostracize me potentially. People might not understand. They might think I’m a freak. I might lose my friends. I might lose my job. I might end up homeless. Some people have this burning desire to express this thing. I’m curious, Kirk, in your cosmology, what do you recommend for people who have that inkling inside of themselves to start to practice overcoming those fears and take the leap of faith, even if they’re labeled as a freak or an outcast or no one’s going to understand me. How do we begin to move beyond these ancient primal fears of the reptilian brain and do the thing we want to do?
It’s an amazing question with two answers. I’ve had clients talk to me about this and they had some very real fears that were rooted in their circumstances. They weren’t lizard brains. They’re like, “No. They have a lot to lose.” The first thing is to address how much of your fear, “Is your mother still going to love you if you fail?” “Probably.” Are you going to be banished, rode out of town on a rail? If you fall on your face, is it going to be more than embarrassing? Probably not. The biggest thing is to step back and make accounting and make an audit of, “Is a saber-toothed tiger going to jump out of that bush and maul me if I wander away from the campfire?” No. This might not be as scary as I’m letting myself think. That’s the first and that’s a head game. Intentionality, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, nothing can get you past that. You are your biggest enemy. Get out of your own way. That is the hippie answer.Your brain only saves the noteworthy. Click To Tweet
Let’s get to the functional answer because everyone loves a good system. Let’s say you lived in a shack in a dirt lot. You have no money. I come to you and I say, “I’m going to give you a Corvette if I think you can take care of it.” I look and I was like, “You can’t. You don’t have a garage. You don’t have a driveway. You don’t have anything.” I swear this is going somewhere. It’s an insane analogy, but it works. I’m going to give you your dream car. You have nowhere to take care of that. That day you go out and you get a broom, you sweep out a part of your dirt lot, you get a stick and you draw the driveway. This is the driveway and how much did that cost? Nothing. Over the next few days, you pick up rocks and you now make a driveway. You line it and you make it pretty. A few days later, you find prettier rocks and then you replace them. You get sticks, logs, stones, and mud. Over the course of 1 or 2 years, slowly, zero impact. Little Bets is a book by Peter Sims. It’s awesome.
You do little things that were low impact and nothing. All of a sudden, when you go out and say, “I want a Corvette.” Instead of saying, “I can’t afford one or even if I bought one, I’d have nowhere to put it.” You have solved the infrastructure problem. Let’s take this from a government contract standpoint. This is why I left the government. It’s that they agreed with what I was saying, but still wouldn’t do it. I’m like, “I’m out.” If I say to you, “I have this idea for this project. I’m working 30 hours a week on a 40-hour week contract. I have ten hours a week that is doing nothing. I have this idea. Here’s the project. Here it is.” They go, “We don’t have the money for it this year. Let’s talk in the fall, the new fiscal year.” I was like, “Right but I have ten hours of my week that is doing literally nothing. Can I start doing the research for this?” They’re like, “No, because if X, Y, Z, they see that we’re spending ten hours a week, if they see that we’re spending time and money on this, on a project that hasn’t been approved.”
With that ten hours a week spread out over a year, that’s 520 hours. That one person that is skilled enough could have put in incremental things. The next year when the fiscal year was up instead of saying, “We have this idea.” They’re like, “What have you done?” “Right now, it’s just an idea.” Now, I have 520 hours’ worth of collated research. I have the numbers. I have the dates. I have the data. Many people play into that fear on the hippie side. They see it as a leap of faith, then don’t take the leap. Get in the shallow end. It’s more painful, but we get in slowly. Go to the water’s edge. Test the water. Do the things you can do with the resources you have because the other big stump speech I have is that you right now have the resources to do that thing you want to do but think you can’t. You do. You might not have the give a damn to make it a priority. That’s probably true.
You might have a full plate and are unwilling to give up other things. That might be true but that thing you want that you think you can’t have because you don’t have the X, you have the X, period. I don’t even know what it is. I don’t know what the X is. I know that you have it. I’ve proven this with hundreds of clients that if you get out of your way and stop being scared, stop making excuses, and simultaneously you don’t need to buy the car before there’s a garage. You don’t need to hire the team before there’s a proof of concept. You don’t stop aiming at the finish line. Aim at the starting line and that’s how you get there, both from a fear standpoint and a system standpoint.
This is super valuable because what you’re bringing up is reminding us that most people get stuck in the fear. First of all, it’s okay if you’re in that stuck place because it’s very common and normal. It’s part of our wiring. It’s part of how we’ve been conditioned in society. A lot of people get stuck there partially because they’re beating themselves up so much. They try to take a step and they’re like, “I’m so afraid. I’m the worst person ever. I’m going to fail.” It’s like they start to beat themselves up for having those thoughts. They’ve got two things working against them. They’ve got the fear and then they’ve got that self-loathing. It’s paralyzing. It’s important to remind people that it’s easier said than done and it does take a lot of practice because we have to push ourselves so much and we might have to push ourselves every single time we do it.
I often think about this in terms of fitness or eating the way that you want to eat, however, you consider eating healthy. Every time I work out, I face a point of resistance. I have it on my schedule every day to work out for 30 minutes and every day, I don’t want to do it. Every day, I dread it and I’m like, “Do I have to do this?” I know that it’s going to benefit me. I know I’m going to feel better, but the mental challenge of it is still there no matter how many times I’ve been consistent with it. Another part of this, Kirk, I’m curious if you have another tip.
As human beings, whenever we face something over and over and over again that we don’t like, we are very tempted to give up. We take that as a sign. This is too hard. It’s never going to get better. It’s never going to get easy. Why am I bothering with this? It takes a lot of resilience. Some people are very naturally good at overcoming that. I’m one of them for the most part. Not to pat myself on the back, but I’ve noticed that about myself. Sometimes that works against me when I’m trying to support other people because I forget that not everybody is able to get over those hurdles. I also know that in some parts of my life, I’m one of those people. In some parts of my life, I’m someone that’s like, “This is too hard. I’m not even going to bother with it.” I’m always tinkering on that edge when it comes to working out for example.
It’s a remarkably valid point. Again, it’s that fear of being ostracized from the group. It’s that fear and that is a remarkable hurdle. I’m not ever going to say, “Some people just can’t do it. No.” For some people, that is a much bigger hurdle than other people. I spent so much of my youth getting made of and I’m not trying to be all down. From first through ninth grade, I didn’t go to the same school two years in a row. I moved constantly. I’ve joked with people that the only thing I know about a group of boyhood friends, I learned from Sandlot. I don’t have that sense memory. I was the outside kid my entire life. For me, it’s a low bar. It’s like, “You mean I won’t have friends again?” People that grew up in safe and stable environments, sometimes find that harder. I’m not trying to be overly gullible about having a family unit that is safe and stable, but there are people that are less comfortable with the uncomfortable.
That’s something that you have to work on. It becomes less comfortable, the more mentally prepared you become for it. If taking the leap off the high dive is too much, as long as you get in the pool, that’s the goal. The goal doesn’t need to be the fall. The goal doesn’t need to be the splash. The goal needs to get in the water. That can be done in a number of different ways. The thing that I like to point out to almost everyone is this. The people you can name that are your heroes, unless you are a scholar on them, I can almost guarantee they didn’t do the thing you think they did.
Henry Ford, for example, did not invent the car nor the production line. He did neither of those things. Edison didn’t invent the light bulb. Alexander Graham Bell is hotly debated whether or not he invented the telephone. He certainly wasn’t the only person in that era to have done it and he used pieces from other people. The Wright Brothers are hotly contested in every country except America if they were the first to do a manned flight. Every accomplishment in human history, they didn’t do the thing you think they did. Let’s talk about Henry Ford for a second because he’s one of my favorites. What did Henry Ford actually do? He didn’t invent the production line. Royale Olds did of Oldsmobile eight years earlier before Ford even opened.
Why do we herald Henry Ford, who was pretty much a horrible human being? Because before Ford, the car was something that rich people in cities used and Ford put it and made it the Ford F150 farm truck. He made the model T Ford something that middle American Minnesotans had to have where fifteen minutes earlier, only rich kids in San Francisco had them. He didn’t invent anything. He changed the way we thought about the way we lived our lives.
It’s the same thing with Edison. Edison invented nothing. He stole everything. What Edison actually did was change the way we thought about living our lives. I can do this with everyone you can name from Ayn Rand to Friedrich Nietzsche to Sigmund Freud. Everyone you can name, you can name them because they changed the way you thought about something. Steve Jobs did not put an iPhone in your pocket. He changed the way you thought about access to your stuff. They’re like, “No. He’s the inventor of Apple.” Sure, but that’s not what his contribution was.
People get so caught up on the “What am I going to build?” When I am done with this, what will I put on a velvet pillow and say, “I built that.” It’s really important to know that all of your heroes didn’t do that. All of your heroes, they’re your heroes because they added to the way you thought about the world. Stop trying to build a thing and start trying to change minds because changing minds through storytelling is the way you make impact.
We would remember Steve Jobs, even if he didn’t give us the iPhone, because what he did was bigger and more disruptive than that. He gave us a disruption. He didn’t give us tech. It’s the same thing actually with Bill Gates. He’s a little bit more tech on the tech side, but what Bill Gates did was make email a thing a decade before email was supposed to be a thing. He changed the way we interfaced. He changed the way we thought. He made the banking industry get rid of their entire infrastructure and go to digital before that system was ready. You’re like, “That’s the thing. He gave the thing.” No, he changed their minds first. He told them a story that had them behind the curve if they didn’t adapt.
This is a remarkably long answer to what was a fairly simple question, but the answer is yes. Lots of people are terrified, but if we remember that is something you have to live with, deal with and overcome, it’s a lot easier when you realize your heroes didn’t do the thing you think they did. All they did was convince someone of something. That’s it, all of them. All they did was think differently. That’s a much lower bar. Think your way and don’t apologize for seeing the world differently. Anyone who will listen, help them see the world the way you see it. If you do this enough, that is how you build, whether it’s widgets or tech or a philanthropic endeavor, all of them. They’re not capitalistic. They’re not building something. They are changing minds 100% of time.
Jason, I see your quizzical expression and I feel like you’re forming a thought right now to respond but also overwhelmed. Am I accurate with that?
I don’t know that overwhelmed is the appropriate description of how I’m feeling. It’s more accurate to say that the wisdom and the poignancy of your statement, Kirk, resonates deeply for two reasons. We’ve talked on the show about our tendency as humans to deify these avatars. Henry Ford, Elon Musk, Thomas Edison, et al, all the people you mentioned. We deify them. We make them almost godlike. We’re doing it now. Athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and innovators, we make them into gods and goddesses truly and we treat them differently. To your point, it’s interesting.
If I also look at a musician. I’m a huge fan of musicals. I love music. I think about genres of music and who’s credited for innovating or “creating a new genre.” If you go way, way back to musical history and you look at African music, tribal dances, look at the roots of classical instruments, who created guitars, and who created pianos. You look at the foundations of music now. This can all be traced way, way back, the roots, the chord structures, scales, and notes.
In terms of genres, it’s a rote and very maybe banal example, but it comes to mind. When you think of, in people’s minds, the biggest punk bands or grunge bands or whatever. It’s like Nirvana. Nirvana was the one who broke through. If you look at what Kurt Cobain, as an example, he’s like, “We’re like the Pixies meets Iggy and the Stooges.” He even admitted they weren’t doing anything new, but they sold millions and millions of records. People in their mind go, “Nirvana. They’re the penultimate band. They’re like the ones.” You don’t necessarily hear about the contribution of the Pixies. When you look at punk rock, it’s basically blues scale sped up and played more aggressively. You look at the blues musicians taking from African songs and slave songs in the fields.
My point is to piggyback on what you said, Kirk, certain people are deified as these innovators and creators. If you look at the history to your point, they didn’t actually create anything. They created an amalgam of their influences and packaged it perhaps in a way that was particularly digestible to the public. The public heralds them as heroes and innovators. You’re like, “They didn’t actually invent anything. They stole from a bunch of people.” It’s not to throw them under the bus.
There’s this book. I can’t remember the name of the author of Steal Like an Artist. His pooled proportion was most artists are creating an amalgam of all their influences anyway. There’s no creation from scratch, so to speak, which is an interesting thing. I think that a lot of artists will berate themselves and be cruel to themselves of like, “I’m not innovative enough. I’m not actually doing anything new.” To your point, to be “successful,” you don’t need to make anything from scratch or new. As creatives or artists sometimes some of us obsess over being “innovative.” What is that about? Why do we need to be innovative?
The brain has a hard time holding on to intangibles. If I explained to you that it’s way easier for me to say that Henry Ford invented the car. First off, in no way is that even almost true, not even kind of. If I wanted to tell you that he invented the concept of the car as a work vehicle for the working class, that’s a way more words and harder to codify, harder to understand. I go, “He invented building things for cheaper.” I actually interviewed some people at the Henry Ford Museum again when I was diving deep into this concept. The answer was that he was the first person to not look at the car as a toy. He was the first person to not look at the car as a status symbol. He looked at it as horsepower. He looked at it as an efficiency machine, not a status symbol. What did he invent? Nothing. What did he do? He changed human thought.
Why do we conflate invention and innovation? Innovation takes two paragraphs to explain and invention, I can hand you. Telling you that Steve Jobs invented the MacBook that I am talking to you on, is super simple. It’s not accurate at all, but it’s simple. We love bite-size, fortune cookie, easy, tactile things. This AirPod is brought to you by Steve Jobs. No, it wasn’t, but even a little bit, because disruption is hard to explain. I’ve tried with my mother many times. It never goes anywhere.
We get so tied up on things we can hand our father and say, “Are you proud of me now?” We get so tied up on the picture of the mayor handing me the key to the city. We get so tied up in that which we can touch. When truly, can you tell me the architect of the Great Wall of China? Can you tell me the emperor that commissioned it? Can you tell me any substantive fact other than it exists outside? The answer is unless you work in history of the Far East, you can’t because building a wall wasn’t innovation. Building a wall was building a wall. The only reason we care is it was a big ass wall. Had it been the invention of the wall, which it clearly wasn’t, we’d know that guy’s name.
You know Socrates. What did Socrates invent? Nothing. What did Socrates write down? Nothing. If Plato wasn’t walking around him with like a notepad and everything, we’d have lost Socrates entirely. He wrote down nothing of his own. Plato wrote everything down for him. Socrates invented non-conformity *clearly not true. He invented thinking outside of society. Plato invented democracy and the republic. Aristotle invented science, not in so much as that he invented science. He was the first person to explain that two plus two equals four is different than plants need sunlight. He was like, “One of those, we’ll call math and one of those, we’ll call botany.” Thinking outside the box wasn’t possible before Aristotle because there was no box. He’s the one who categorized thought. We can name these men who gave nothing. There was nothing. There’s nothing that they left behind.
As we moved past that and to a more modern society, we start wanting the thing to hang on the wall because I convinced someone of something cool once. It’s the same thing you said, “It’s borrowed. It’s stolen.” They can say, “I had thought of that before once, too.” A thing with a patent number is the ultimate claimed territory and we crave that. I’m not sure why. I’m not one of those people, but we do. We want credit. Credit over a thing that you can register at the patent office is easy. I thought of this cool thing once. Think about it for a second. John Nash, Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, it was still a concept. What he developed was a concept, not a thing. That’s my bloviated long-winded answer, but that’s why. It’s because we can see it and we can show it to our dad. We can hang it on the wall. We love that stuff. For the record, I have a great relationship with my father despite the fact that whole rant made it sound like.
This is incredibly important because reflecting on the motivation about why we do things is so important. We’re big advocates for awareness because we feel like everything begins with awareness. I also love understanding why. I’m a big questioner. Have you ever done the Four Tendencies Quiz? Do you know about that, Kirk?
It sounds remarkably familiar, but I take a lot of those types. Nothing springs to mind on that one.If you don't kick against the current, it will pull you under. Click To Tweet
There are four results that you can get. I am a questioner. Jason is a rebel. I feel like maybe you’re a rebel, Kirk, but also with a little bit of questioner side to you.
I’m a rebel. I remember this now. We took it in grad school. What’s the other two. I’m a rebel with something else, and you haven’t said it yet.
I always forget the other two because I don’t resonate with them. Upholder is one of them and the fourth one is obliger.
I wanted to say that I was that weird polar opposite of, “I’m the rebel who likes to please people,” which is again loathing and self-hatred. It runs deep.
I appreciate that transparency because it’s so relatable. For me, as a questioner, I like to know why. I’m a big why person. I’m driven by why we do things. I like to understand and put into context. It actually is a part of a coping mechanism, too. When I understand human nature, it’s like, “I feel comforted by that.” Now that I understand the why behind anything, it feels more comfortable to me. It helps me cope with challenging things. All of this, reflecting on the motivations behind wanting something like credit and status is a big fascinating point for me, especially because our lives are so digitized right now.
We’ve talked a lot about that on the show. We talk a lot about social media and the role it plays on us mentally, emotionally, the comparison trap and the roots of a lot of self-hatred. I don’t know if any of those are truly the roots of self-hatred, more as like they’re amplifying it. It’s because when we can compare ourselves to other people, we then get triggered into thinking about all the things that we don’t like about ourselves because we see somebody who we perceive as not having those things and not having their life figured out.
Also, that oversimplification is a big part of this, too, Kirk, and that ties into social media. It’s like, “How can you blame anybody for putting up their highlight reels?” They’re trying to quickly simplify who they are and what they are a value to other people. When we step back and reflect on how we present ourselves to others, we’ve been trained to show our resumes. Our resumes are just simple ways of describing what we’ve done in our lives and put it into context for other people if they want to hire us, work with us or appreciate us. You look at people’s bios.
One of the first episodes where we got fired up on this show was about can you truly call anybody an expert? In my opinion, no, but we use the word expert to quickly convey that somebody knows a lot about a certain subject matter. It’s not that they know the be all end all. It’s not that they have all the answers. It’s not that they’re a perfect human being on any subject matter, but I can see why you’d use that. Every time I write my bio and I have to write a one-liner about myself, I get very uncomfortable with it because I don’t like simplifying. It’s too simple but as human beings, that’s the way our brains work. We work in these sound bites. We work on these quick little snippets to understand each other. I think that’s actually part of the challenge that we face. It’s human nature and yet it leads us to a lot of these challenges. We’re very complex psychologically.
It’s remarkably true. Once you understand the why of things, you can either lean into that or circumvent it. You can ease up on something or double down on it. I think one of the coolest things I learned a few years ago was that from a cognition standpoint, your brain has a single function and that’s to predict what’s about to happen. You are a fortune teller. That’s why memory is the way memory is. You don’t remember every step you’ve ever taken. You don’t remember every breath you’ve ever taken, but you do remember that time you were so out of breath, you thought you were going to die. You do remember the time you stubbed your pinky toe on the edge of the coffee table and screamed for five minutes. You remember that like it happened five minutes ago.
The reason is because both broke the prediction. Your brain was like, “You have stepped a 1,000, 10,000 times, 10 million times and they’ve all been eventless.” Clear that data. This step hurt. We should catalog that one. Running hard made me want to throw up. We should catalog that one. Your brain is doing nothing, but saving things that are relevant for a future date. It’s making predictions, which is what those trigger warnings are. For people that have experienced this trauma. They have stubbed their toe on this coffee table, warning, we’re going to be talking about coffee tables and that might bring up some things. We want you to be aware that there will be coffee table talk now and we know that coffee table hurt you. I’m not trying to be glib with that. I’m trying to not be overly specific. There are many levels of trauma and it’s because we are prediction engines and our brain catalogs the things that hurt us, the things that stood out, the things that made us happy and the things that made us sad.
The brain does not save the mundane. It doesn’t know how it. It doesn’t save the routine. Unless it was routine, you were bored, you thought you were going to die. COVID, I didn’t leave the house for six weeks. I was bored. That’s no longer mundane. That’s noteworthy, but your brain only saves the noteworthy. When we get into these things like trigger warnings and past trauma, what we’re talking about is that your brain kept this and we’re going to be talking about this. That is going to potentially bring some things up.
It’s good to know that’s why our brain is doing it. Your brain isn’t trying to punish you. People are like, “I have a daughter that suffers from anxiety and she will have meltdowns from it.” We’ve had to walk her through it. You can’t logic out of a panic attack, but you also kind of can where you’re like, “Look, this is your body responding to a similar situation that is not happening right now.” You are safe. You are loved you. You hear all these affirmations and why do affirmations work? From a cognitive standpoint, your lizard brain, your lizard is at the wheel and you can neocortex it away from the edge. You can talk it down, but you do that by reminding it that prediction was wrong. You’re thinking about a coffee table. There is no coffee table in the room right now.
Once you understand that’s why you have panic attacks, triggers and get upset, it makes it a lot easier, no matter what that trigger was. It makes it easier to walk yourself away from it because you understand why your brain is freaking out. Your brain is a prediction engine and it feeds on pattern interrupts. When you see something that triggers a former pattern interrupt, it can bring that back up. Knowing that makes it a lot easier to handle that.
To reflect on what you said, Kirk, as I’ve talked a lot about my anxiety. Whitney and I have talked about some of our mental and emotional health challenges. Not to be reductive, woo-woo, or hippie, although it might come off as that, is we hear a lot about being present. We hear that over and over again. It’s parroted in different ways. For me in terms of dealing with trauma which you brought up was the idea of if I’m practicing being in the here and now, even though I can acknowledge I’m being triggered, there’s a past trauma being activated, if I look in this moment, I acknowledge that I’m having anxiety or a panic attack or whatever it is, but the reality of the moment is I’m sitting at a computer. I’m speaking to two people. I’m safe. I’m housed. There’s no immediate threat.
Instead of trying to get myself out of this uncomfortable emotion, push it away and act like it’s not happening, have a tactile sensation of what is happening right now in this moment. There are times when I’ll even be in the car in LA traffic and feel some anxiety or certain uncomfortable emotions start to arise or being triggered by another driver, which happens often. Being like, “Stop. What’s real here? What’s real right now? You’re in a car. You have music playing. You have your water. You’re safe. You didn’t get in an accident. This person who triggered you is miles ahead.” For me, it’s almost like a very tactile practice of being in the moment like, “What is happening right now?”
That’s the way that I’ve found that I’ve been able to proverbially speaking reel myself in. You’re okay and it’s okay that you’re feeling this, but it’s not reflective of your reality. I love the depth in which you explore this. I want to pick up a copy of your book. I want to stalk you now. You’ve literally released the Kraken for me, Whitney. I’m getting a man-crush on Kirk and I’m going to stalk the crap out of him. That’s what’s happening now.
It’s mission accomplished.
Kirk, I have one very quick, final question. I’m putting you on the spot here. We talked about death a lot and fear of death. If you had to pick your epitaph, what would it be?
I already have my epitaph picked out, so that’s easy. I’m a big J. M. Barrie, writer of Peter pan, and it is, “To die would be an awfully great adventure.”
Kirk, this was absolutely delightful. It’s one of my favorite episodes we’ve done so far and you’re an incredibly insightful, deep, loving, bright, entertaining human being. I really mean it. I’m so grateful to have connected with you, especially under these auspices.
This was great. It’s good to see Whitney again. It’s been a decade. It’s great to meet you, guys. You know where to find me. I look forward to us collaborating on something in the future.
We got to bring him into Clubhouse, Whitney.
He’s on Clubhouse.
Let’s get this man in a room and blow people’s minds.
We’re going to make it happen. Check out the YouTube video. I can’t wait for what you do next, Kirk, and what we do next together, especially in Clubhouse. Thank you, everyone.
Thank you, guys!
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- Kirk Westwood – LinkedIn
- Glass River Media
- Release the Kreative
- The Very Best Bad Idea
- Little Bets
- Steal Like an Artist
About Kirk Westwood
Kirk Westwood is a storyteller. He is the co-founder and CEO of Glass River Media, named a Top 25 strategic communication agency by the Washington Business Journal. Kirk has contributed to Hollywood films, television programs, national commercials, and music videos. He has worked freelance as a photographer, blogger, web-streamer, and consultant; and for the government as a Communications Specialist and Public Affairs Specialist. No matter what his professional title has been, Kirk’s job description has always been a variation of the same thing: to tell stories.
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