Curiosity hasn’t been as celebrated in the past as it is now. In this time of uncertainty and transition, curiosity has become a superpower that individuals and organizations can wield to adapt and succeed. A global speaker, thought leader, bestselling author, and faculty member at Singularity University, John Sanei trades ideas with Dr. Diane Hamilton on the role of curiosity in reimagining the future for business and humanity. John also talks about a book that he just released, FutureNOW, The Guide Book, a timely repository of innovative thought that helps us embrace the unknown in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are right in the middle of the birth pains of a new way of thinking and doing things, and people like John are right at the tip of the spear piercing the shell of old narratives. Join them now in this insightful, predictive, and hopeful conversation.
I’m glad you joined us because we have John Sanei here. He is the bestselling author, Singularity University faculty member, global speaker, and trend specialist that you’ve seen everywhere. He combines human psychology business strategy with future studies. He’s the author of multiple books. You’ve probably read FOREsight: Awaken Curiosity. Cultivate Wisdom. Discover the Abundant Future but he’s got a latest book, which I’m excited to hear about. He is not only Africa’s first Singularity University faculty member and lecturer at Duke University, he is also an Associate Partner at the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies. He’s got a lot of educational background. It’s all tied into my interest in curiosity. I’m excited to see why he’s been in this onstage with some of the top thought leaders like Robin Sharma and many more. I am excited to have him here.
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Curiosity: Your Superpower In Uncertain Times With John Sanei
I am here with John Sanei who is a bestselling author, Singularity University faculty member, global speaker, trends specialist, you name it. He’s the author of FOREsight: Awaken Curiosity. Cultivate Wisdom. Discover the Abundant Future. It’s nice to have you here, John.
Thank you, Diane. It’s wonderful to be here. It’s nice to meet you.
It’s nice to meet you. We have a lot in common in terms of our interest in curiosity. You’ve talked about so many different things but you’ve focused a lot more on curiosity. I’m going to go right for that. You’ve got so many successful books. You are impressive in the things that you’ve done. How did you reach that level of success? A little backstory would be great.
I come from a single mom family and that propelled me to become independent young. I started in business young because I wanted that freedom of money, business, and what came with it which is what we didn’t have inside our loving family but still insular and financially challenged. I drove myself to become successful. What I did was I built many businesses. By 25, I had all the trappings of success. I was styling and flying high. By 30, I went bankrupt and I lost everything. As a boy, and I say boy specifically, is when you attach your personality to these grandiose exterior, extrinsic things and they get taken away, you have to question why and who you are.
I dive deep into my psychology and try to figure out why it was that I was doing well and why was that I couldn’t pay rent for the first few years of my 30th. I came out of that understanding human psychology much deeper than anybody else because I need to drag myself out of what situation I found myself in. I’ve always been a natural adopter, which means I am always finding new things. I have no idea why. From a very young age, I knew what brands would work. I’ve combined this idea of human psychology and futurism, business strategy, and neuroscience so that there can be a level of courage and clarity to the people I speak to in both terms of what the possible futures could be, what’s the underpinning trends and human needs states.
What is it in me that I need to let go of? What is it in me that I need to do in order to become prepared for this uncertain future? You spoke about FOREsight which was my last book and I’ll dive into that. My latest book payoff line for the FutureNEXT has not been in the media yet. You wouldn’t have found it online. The payoff line is re-imagining our world and conquering uncertainty. In a world of uncertainty, your most powerful gift is your curiosity because when you’re diving deep into your curiosity, you don’t need certainty. Your certainty is your curiosity at any way.
I love that you want to let go of certain things and that’s what I was looking at when I was researching curiosity. When I wrote the book that I wrote, I started to look for assessments about curiosity and see what it was. All the assessments told you if you were curious or not. If you’re not, then what? I wanted to find out what do you do at that point. I found a way to measure the things that keep people from being curious. You’re talking about letting go and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to say, “This is what holds us back. This is how we can move forward.” A lot of letting go is letting go of the fear. The voice in our head that tells us we’re not interested with all that type of thing. Using too much technology not knowing the foundation behind it or not using it to this fullest advantage or also our environment that held us back, our family, friends, teachers, or anybody who said these things to us. Do you want to react to that?
There are a few things I talk about letting go of. The first one is the doctrine, the story, and the narrative that society has created including the Industrial Revolution. How it was a linear production line, and created roles for us to play within society, these production lines, and these roles that’s called degrees. When you finished school, you were given this option to play ten different roles in this production line. You were an accountant, lawyer, doctor, or engineer. These were roles. What has happened is that our curiosity was never asked to be awakened. We were asked to play a role within the society. The first thing is how do we let go of the narrative that picture is success? It’s not success anymore. It wasn’t the linear world in this new multi-adaptive, uncertain world.
In fact, that could be the worst thing you could do. The second thing that I asked people to let go of is their future memories. We know that memories don’t have a time attached to them. They are timeless. Your brain doesn’t know if the memory you are thinking about is from your future or your past. What happens is we project our past into the future and we’re continuously doing this without even realizing. What I’m thinking about now because of COVID is we have to collectively mourn our future memories as a collective humanity.
Even in our individual capacities, how frivolous of future memories were from buying a pair of shoes, going on holiday, having a board meeting somewhere exotic. All of a sudden, all those got taken away from us. We found many of the people in the world caught up in denial, anger, bargaining, and grief. Many people haven’t catalyzed themselves to acceptance. Do you know what gets you to acceptance? Curiosity. It’s obvious. You’re basing your projections, expectations, and memories on stories you’re telling your mind, not on curiosity. Curiosity has a superpower moving into an uncertain world.In a world of uncertainty, your most powerful gift is your curiosity. Click To Tweet
A lot of people ask me how I define curiosity. To me, when I first started researching it, I was like everybody else. I’m thinking in new ways, exploring different areas, and all that but what it turns out to be in the corporate setting oftentimes, it’s getting out of status quo behaviors. It’s questioning things to the point of why are we doing things this way? Why aren’t we doing things another way? That’s what leads to getting out of the companies like Blockbuster, Kodak, and all these companies that kept doing things because it worked in the past, but now we know with COVID and everything else, it’s been a shot. You can’t rest on your laurels. I watched some of your talks. You talked about engagement in your TED Talk.
We know everybody is disengaged in the workplace. When I was writing about this, I thought about when did people hire me to talk about it? It’s engagement, soft skills, all this stuff. I would look into each chapter, emotional intelligence, and different things. I thought curiosity kept coming up in every single thing that I wrote about. I would have experts on my show like you and Francesca Gino from Harvard. She did a great HBR article on the case for curiosity. I’d ask all these people, “What comes first? Is it curiosity or motivation? Curiosity or engagement?” They all said, “Curiosity comes first.” What are you doing to help people develop their sense of curiosity?
I’m impressed by your research. It’s such an important thing. Before I tell you about that, we must also realize that curiosity was never celebrated like it’s been celebrated in nowadays world. If you think about it, many people were forced into going to religious class when we were kids because our parents thought it was the right thing to do. Not that it isn’t. For me, I didn’t enjoy it. I was never allowed to ask a question. You were told what to think. If you did ask a question and I was too curious, you would get kicked out of the class. By the time you got home, your mom would give you a slap over the head for embarrassing your family.
Curiosity is only now becoming this new superpower. The thing for me is that I’ve been speaking about the combination of curiosity and wisdom because those are the two most important characteristics to become naturally adaptable and flexible. Wisdom is best described by Alan Watts. He says, “The knowledgeable man has to learn something new every day but the wise man has to unlearn something new every day.” Other people say wisdom is having memories of no triggers. It’s almost like this idea that we need to heal the patterning that brings us pain, resentfulness, jealousy, and anger. These are all pre-programmed old software that memories that we’ve held on to because I’m sure we all understand that memories are subjective stories we’re holding onto. None of them are fact.
They’ve all been twisted somehow to give us our stun story on our own identity. When we are able to heal our pasts and then engage curiosity and not logic, you become naturally adaptive. You think about organizations like you were speaking about now is that most organizations have become prisoners of their past successes. The shareholder prioritization of profits also has created cancer or given us an inability to be adaptive.
They want you to be agile but it’s still a dictatorship of profits. Agility almost comes with a necessity to experiment, to be adaptable, and to be curious. It’s become easy for me to get my message across whereas over the last few years, people were like, “We’re doing well. I don’t need to be agile.” I understand I have to be in the characteristics I’ll get to but now you don’t have a choice because the more rigid you are, the more stuck you are in your old world, the less success you will have in this world that you have no idea what’s coming because it’s uncertain.
That sense of uncertainty makes people uncomfortable and it’s challenging. I see younger generations are a little better at feeling that desire to get to that uncertainty doesn’t bother them as much I should say. As you were talking about that, I was thinking about how much of what you said ties into my work in perception because we need curiosity to recognize the process of perception as well. If you’re working in a global environment, perception is huge because I look at it as IQ, EQ for Emotional Quotient, CQ for Curiosity Quotient, and CQ for Cultural Quotient.
If you get all these things together, you can look at somebody else’s perspective. It’s critical because if we don’t develop the sense of empathy, we’re looking at things from our own vantage point and then everybody’s not going to get along or progress. You need that curiosity to develop empathy. We’re back to emotional intelligence as what comes first. You’ve got to have to ask questions so it gets to the next level. I’ve got a question for you about your latest book. Tell me about your book. I want to know more about your book.
When lockdown happened, I was busy writing a book called The Evolution Of Value which was trying to demarcate ten major things in our society that are changing in value. For example, masculinity. If you think about what masculinity was years ago and what masculinity is now and the expectation of what masculinity should be in the future, it’s dramatically different. The value systems have changed, even femininity. We also understand that women that have most been successful in the past have had to be masculine to do so.
We understand that femininity itself needs to be celebrated again, the value system has changed. Whatever the case may be, COVID happened. My book became irrelevant. It was not irrelevant but I was like, “If my next book doesn’t have a filter of COVID to it, when you’re talking about the future and the past, it doesn’t make sense.” I started writing this book as COVID and the lockdown began. The very first thing I wanted to do was give people tools or mental and emotional set tools to help them and become more elegant, more calm, and more adaptable in a world.
I write eight different emotional tools down. One of them, for example, I called the Consciousness Trigger Points. We all have been triggered in very private ways depending on where our consciousness is in taking into account, the myriad, of different relationships with your body, with money, sexuality, religion, masculinity, femininity, the government, power, your name it. We’ve all got a specific relationship with these things. Each one of these relationships are either immature or mature. In certain aspects of our lives, you’re common elegance and others were children. We get triggered into jealousy and sulking.
The Consciousness Trigger Points highlights the characteristics that you can apply yourself in this changing world. One of them is called the Drama Triangle and the other one is called the Creator Triangle. The drama triangle has got three characteristics in it. The first one is the victim, “Poor me, I can’t believe this is happening to me.” The second one is the sympathy savior. The person is always feeling sorry for the world but not doing anything to improve anything but sitting on their couch. The third one is the angry person. They’re angry that this is happening to them rather than for them. We know a lot of people like that. Sympathy, savior, anger, and victim.
Can we be all three or you’re one or the other?
You can be because if you look at violence and terrible emotions. Guys are begging the woman to get back together with him and he’s in his total sympathy, victim and then when she says no, he rages into anger. He’s bouncing between the triangle. You get to create a triangle that’s got three characteristics. The first one is Victim To Creator. Where are the opportunities in this for me? The second is Sympathy To Empathy. In other words, I don’t need to feel sorry for people, I can empower people. A good example is Oprah. She doesn’t feel sorry for women. She helps uplift women. Here in South Africa, there’s an old girl’s school that she’s put up. The third one is From Anger To Challenges. I need to challenge myself and my community to be better rather than being angry. That’s one of the tools. When I was writing about that, I realized that the genius of victimhood is that you often don’t know you’re in the victimhood. That’s the thing is that you’re stuck in this invisible way. That’s the first part of the book.
As you talk about that, it’s interesting to me. I was watching some of the hearings as they’re trying to add a new Supreme Court Justice here. I was watching the comments that people were making underneath as they were asking the questions. The anger and the things that people say blow my mind sometimes. Whether you’re for or against her or not, there was no rational conversation going. Everybody’s talking at and you should think this. Is that what you’re talking about here?
They’re all in drama. Their survivor consciousness trigger point is immature. The reason is that society has never celebrated emotional intelligence. It’s celebrated IQ, not EQ. You go to university, you become accomplished, but you never achieve purpose. You’ve got all the trappings of success which is money or card, whatever you want. You get there and it’s empty and you’ve been duped. The whole thing is a big joke. People are angry.
It’s interesting because when I wrote my dissertation, I had no idea what emotional intelligence was at that time. This is a long time ago. I thought I want to write about what helps certain salespeople to be more successful. I had this crazy professor. He was nuts. I only kept him for a week and then I switched. I talked to him on the phone and he goes, “Welcome to the cave. I’m going to eat you up like Jell-O pudding. I’m going to spit you out and you’re going to not know what hit you.” He was a horrible guy. I wish I could remember his name because I would like to call him and thank him though because when I talked to him before I dropped him five minutes after I hung up the phone, he and I were talking about what my idea was for my dissertation.
I said, “I like to look into what impact sales performance.” For some reason, he heard me say, “Emotional intelligence and its impact on sales performance. That’s a great topic.” I’m like, “I wrote that down.” I never knew what it was at that point. I knew the theories behind it but I didn’t know what was called this or whatever. I ended up having Daniel Goleman on my show which was awesome. The guy for Emotional Intelligence is popular. It’s such a topic that at that time I thought, “That’s a cool topic. I want to write about that.” I had no grasp of how important this was going to be. All these years later, they’re not grasping. I could talk about this all the time. Why aren’t we grasping this?
Remember that in agricultural times, the most important thing we could have was brawn, muscles. Understanding of toiling the soil, working sixteen-hour days. When the Industrial Revolution came around, the most important thing was intelligence. It’s working yourself out of an issue logically using mathematics, engineering, accounting. It’s left brain, masculine, process-driven ideologies that we were taught.
That’s similar to what Sir Ken Robinson said in his TED Talk of how we’re educating people. We want math and science.The more stuck you are in your past, the less success you will have in this uncertain world. Click To Tweet
As we move into this quantum world, intuition will become the most important thing because logic will be sorted out by machine learning, AI, blockchain, and data. Logic is no more something we have to deal with. Neither is brawn. Your muscles don’t matter anymore. What is intuition? EQ. As we move into this world now, we must also remember we are in a transition. A lot in the world is still stuck in the past. Some people have their footing in the future. Even if the people with the footing in the future still have a little bit of a foot or a toe still stuck back there.
As we’re in this deep and massive transformation, we still have a couple more years for us to start to find new momentum in the world. I speak about transformation quite a lot. It’s got three sections. It’s got the sad, the strange and the adventure. The sad is because we have to say goodbye to what was familiar. The strange is when nothing makes sense, it’s all unfamiliar, and nothing connects and then we move into adventure again. We’re in the strange and we still have another few years of strange to go. We must buckle up and be okay with it.
That’s unlike what they teach in business on Teams and how they get together. The norming, forming, storming, and all the different ways that get together. It’s a changing time. What you’re writing about is important. That’s what I was trying to do as well on the show is interview people who are into what we can do to move forward. I had had Melissa Agnes on my show a long time ago. She was a crisis readiness speaker. I thought that’s a cool area to be in. I’m surprised more aren’t talking about that thing. I think we’re going to start seeing more of that too.
That’s about the second part of the book.
You started talking about these different components of the book. I want to go to the next one.
The first one is the mindset, heart set, and emotional sets. EQ comes first. Without EQ, all your decisions are going to be broken based on memories and trigger points. The second part of the book is trying to investigate the narrative that we’re living as a society, to question it, and poke some holes at it. I’ll tell you why. It’s because our societal’s narrative is always similar to when you’re riding or driving on the highway. When you’re driving on the highway and anybody zooms past you going at a hell of a speed much faster than you, you call that person crazy and a danger to the world. If anybody is going slower than you, you call them a hazard to the world. The only person going the right speed amazingly is you because everybody else is too fast and too slow.
As a society, what we do is we apply the same mentality to where we are in time. We think that where we are is right. The porridge is not too hot, it’s not too cold. Goldilocks is having a porridge at exactly the right temperature and let’s not change too much. If we think about it, 150 years ago, slavery was normal. A hundred years ago, women didn’t vote, that was normal. Forty years ago, children were in labor camps, that was normal. We have to question the narrative we’re living, this narrative that the doctrine of growth is more important than anything else. I will grow my business at the expense of my health, my community, my family, and everything so I can end up accomplished and have growth in my business.
We’ve seen that this doctrine has brought us so far as humanity but surely, we can mature up and realize that there’s a longer game at play. Almost a more elegant approach and conscious approach. We can be having to more sustainable, more fair process, and socioeconomic system. The second part of the book is about reimagining a new social-economic system that we could all become part of rather than sitting back and going, “That’s the way it is.” That’s what we always do to stories. Stories go from a whisper to wisdom, from fantasy to folklore, and to that’s how it’s always been. We’ve done the speed of a cause perfect. Let’s not make it any faster or any slower, let’s do exactly what we’re doing now.
I want to add to that because you were talking about this and it brings up some conversations I’ve had on the show about how everybody wants to be the next unicorn. There’s this fake-it-until-you-make-it mentality that’s promoted. You’re touching on that. How do we get the Apples, Googles, and what we’re trying to work on if you’re an entrepreneur without having a sense that you have to be a pufferfish to stand out? Should we not be doing that? How do you compete?
Look what you’re competing for. Money. The competition is not about that. It’s about trying to find a state of flow which is brought about by the gateway of curiosity and excitement. When you find yourself in that state of flow, nothing matters. It was Carl Jung that said what you did as a child that made time disappear is why you here on earth. I’m paraphrasing. That curiosity is your genius. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to achieve something, even having a miserable time of doing it, because the doctrine has told us, that’s success.
My work is saying and I’m sure yours as well is that success is being in a process of trying to make time disappear. If you can make time disappear based on your curiosity and excitement, that is winning. For me, the results will take care of themselves. What happens is most people become depressed because how many people become unicorns. You still become a unicorn and then what happens? They’ll fire you as the CEO of Uber. They’ll fire you as Steve Jobs. Even when you become the unicorn, it doesn’t mean it means anything. That’s the second part of the book.
Is that the impatience that you talk about?
Short-termism and I call it the immature masculine. That’s what it is. It’s an immature masculine. How fast is my car? How much money have I got? What stage did we become more elegant about how we go about living? The last part of the book, we wanted to write a guide book. I brought on a well-known economist by the name of Dr. Iraj Abedian. He is a Professor of Economy and he is an Advisor to Nelson Mandela’s presidency. He helped write the Economic Constitution for South Africa. He’s advised the non-corrupt presidents which have been two and there’s been one bad one. Everybody’s got a bad president. We all know that. I’m not pointing fingers, but every country goes through that phase.
What we did for the last part was trying to create a guidebook. The guidebook to how do we show up as citizens? How do we make citizenry an activist role? How do you become an activist as a citizen? How do you become an activist as a consumer? How do you become an activist as an employee, employer, and a policymaker? Write essays into the actions, the questions, and the behaviors that we need to develop in each one of these so that whatever role you’re playing in society, how do you become more actively involved in re-imagining? You will. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death devastated Europe. That’s the end of feudalism. It saw the rise of the wider dispersal of agricultural knowledge. It saw a new labor force being birthed. It saw the beginning of the Italian Renaissance in the late fifteenth century.
In other words, we needed the death of something to have the birth of something. Look what’s happening around us. We’re having the death and destruction of old ways of thinking. The challenge from the younger generation to the older generation. Do you know what the main challenge is? The way you measure success is broken and not leaving a world for us. When you did, you’ve got lots of money and we are dealing with all sorts of issues that have been left behind. The cut where we try and get people to be active involvement in the Renaissance that’s coming because one will be birthed again and it will be happening over the next few years. That is obvious to all of us because everything goes in cycles. The book is about mindsets, heart sets, the ability to reimagine and question the narrative we are living. Thirdly, a guidebook to try and get us to become more active participants in FutureNEXT.
I love that you start with a mindset and some of the work of Carol Dweck was important to my research in curiosity and how we look at things of the growth versus fixed mindset. I know we use that word a lot to mean different things but for curiosity’s sake, we don’t recognize how much things impact us from what we either tell ourselves or what other people tell us. What other people tell us will form what we tell ourselves. We have this monologue that goes along in our head. I called it our assumptions which is that voice. We all have that voice that tells us something. I don’t know if you’ve ever had Dr. Katz. We have this cartoon thing. Have you ever seen this cartoon show Dr. Katz?
It’s like a Bob Newhart cartoon thing where he’s a psychologist but it’s for kids. It’s more for adults in a way. You have these comedians come in every week on the show as the patients on the couch. I remember one patient and he said something like, “I don’t mind the voice in my head so much. I wish it didn’t have a list or a stutter.” That was such a funny thing to me but there is this voice in our head that we listen to that tells us that this is what we should do. That’s all confirmed. We talk about confirmation bias a lot in my book I co-wrote with Maja Zelihic. We talk about, you watch things, you read things, you reinforce what makes you feel comfortable. How are you getting people out of doing that?
Two ways. The first one is both mindsets and antifragile. You’ve heard of Antifragile with Nassim Taleb. The idea that if you drop something fragile, it get breaks. If you drop something antifragile, it gets stronger. Mindset is much the same thing. They were doing a test with kids that were trying to solve math problems that they knew they wouldn’t be able to solve and they were still loving the process, loving the pain, loving the challenge. That gives us this opportunity to have a growth mindset because what your seeking is the challenge, not the solution. The way we ascertain and give ourselves permission at what way in the process do we allow ourselves dopamine.
They’ve done the test around these Navy SEALs guys. The dopamine hits on not coming from finishing but during, and that becomes a big part of successful passion-led entrepreneurs. The dopamine hit is happening because of the curiosity all the time. The solution will eventually come to play, whatever it may be. If we start explaining that neuro-plasticity to people, for them to understand that their programming from a young age has been faulty because the programming has said, “I don’t care how hard you’re studying. I don’t care how hard you’re practicing. If you don’t win the match, you lose it. If you don’t get an A, you’re a loser.” In other words, I’m not giving myself any dopamine and then I also didn’t get any dopamine so I get depressed.We need to question the prevailing narrative that the doctrine of growth is more important than anything else. Click To Tweet
If I do get an A, I get a blimp of dopamine and onto the next goal. It’s about re-calibrating your neuroscience when you become aware of how you allow dopamine to arrive at you. That’s the first way. The second way is that many of the voices inside our heads, the noisy roommate as he or they often are called is based on memories. This idea of memories and how it impacts our future and our voice inside our heads is based on whether we are keen and, are we holding onto painful memories because it gives us identity and then that infiltrates a voice into our heads and mistrust into the world. For me, becoming a way of dopamine and how you play with it. The second thing is healing your past, letting people go, stop expecting perfection from people that you’ve engaged within your past, putting them down from the pedestal, and heal it so that you can have a future without any baggage.
When you’re talking about dopamine, you get this rush of dopamine from curiosity. It was interesting that the Max Planck Institute coined the term curiosity gene. We need this curiosity if everybody has it and you get this rush of dopamine when you do this. Even birds, if it didn’t have this curiosity gene, it would fly around a bush and then run out of berries. They didn’t have the desire to explore. We don’t want that, but I was thinking there are many companies that do well at this. When I get on stage, sometimes I’ll hold up a bottle of water and I’ll say, “How much does this weigh when we’re talking about assumptions and the things that we tell ourselves?”
Everybody will yell out 20 ounces, 10 ounces, whatever they say and then you’ll go, “It doesn’t matter how much it weighs. What matters is how long I hold it.” If you hold it for a little bit longer, it’s heavy. At the end of day, your arm is paralyzed. That’s our assumptions, that voice. We hold on to these things. Getting back to what I wanted to say about these companies developing curiosity in their employees. A lot of times we hold on to old ways of doing things. I work with great companies throughout the world, Novartis and Verizon, different companies that do big things to try and develop a sense of curiosity-based culture. What are you seeing companies doing? Are you focusing more on individuals? Do you go to companies and talk to them about this curiosity-based culture?
As a future strategist, my job is to get the leadership inside the organizations to think about things that make them uncomfortable and curiosity is one of them. I’m not there to hold their hands to look at how they’re implemented. That’s not my personality. For me, it’s about leading them into the story to get them to ask more questions about more things that they should be doing. You almost got to realize that it’s tough teaching an old dog new tricks. What you have to do in many businesses and watching do this are starting new parallel businesses solving the problem that they’re trying to solve with brand new capabilities and abilities.
People that understand data science, machine learning, more creative, why you still got what I call them today and tomorrow teams. You’ve got these today teams that have never been curious. Trying to change a culture from within is often difficult because how they were hired, what they were trained for, and how they measure success is not based on curiosity. It’s based on outcomes. What we’ve started to see both at Singularity and the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies is the people that are starting to win and get traction or developing parallel businesses.
Tomorrow teams, a great example of this is Japan Airlines. Japan Airlines have spent $17 million developing the future of travel. It’s a totally different business because the future of travel has got but nothing to do with a plane, airport, engineer, or pilot. It’s got to do with suits that you put on with virtual reality and a suit that gives you visceral feelings wherever you are with pain, hits, wind, cold, hot. What they’ve started doing is you can go anywhere in the world, in fact, anywhere in the universe.
You can go to Mars in your suits and they’ve already started testing it with paraplegic people, handicapped people that have never had the opportunity to do those things. You understand that the today team doesn’t necessarily always have to be curious. What we do is we find the toughest time trying to change 60-year-old Jeff’s personality, five years before he’s going to retire. It doesn’t give a shit. He’s like, “Whatever.” What we’ve got to do is to almost create this new parallel curious team that’s solving the problem for the future while this company solves the problem for the now and the past. We see this quite a lot happening.
I want to have one of those suits. You’ve got me interested in Japan Airlines. I’m definitely going to look that up. It’s funny to see the things that people are doing there. With COVID, some people miss traveling so much that they go up to the airport just to go to the airport and they don’t fly anywhere.
What’s the point of that? How depressing to get off the plane and get out of the same place you get on? What was that for?
First, they didn’t even take off. They got on the plane and then got off. I’m thinking, “I don’t know what’s worse.” It’s all bad but that’s not what I’d be interested in.
Whatever floats your boat.
I wanted to ask you about Singularity since you brought that up. Tell me your background with Singularity.
I was watching Singularity University for many years. I used to live in South Africa. I’m in South Africa but I lived between London and Dubai. Because of COVID, I came back to be with family. We’re far-flung from you guys. You guys own most of the media in the world. All of us are living America’s life. More people in the world know about your presidential election. It doesn’t even affect us. We enjoy the soap opera. It’s a comedic horror. We laugh and we’re like, “I can’t believe that happened.”
For us, I understand that America has got a pedestal place because we’re all the way out here in Africa. I used to watch Singularity online, I was a big fan, and I love the whole world around it. South Africa announced that they’re going to have a Singularity Summit. I got tickets, I went there, and I was so excited. I thought that the speakers would arrive and angels and hearts would be coming on the side for them. I don’t know what I was expecting but I was expecting unbelievable. They came on and they were good, but it didn’t blow my mind. No hearts, no angels.
I remember I wrote the email to our PA and I said, “I’d been accepted to go for an executive program in San Francisco. I’d applied, accepted, and paid for it to go with 100 execs for a week-long in San Francisco to the campus because I wanted to go and experience the executive program.” I asked my PA to make an appointment with me to get interviewed to be part of the faculty of Singularity once I’ve seen them speak because I was like, “I can do that. I’ve done stuff like that.” I got an interview with them on a Wednesday morning and I’d arrived for the conference on Sunday. Before the conference had been booked for an Autodesk Event in South Africa, I was the keynote speaker, and it went well.
I got onto the plane straight off to that. I flew to San Francisco, I arrived on Sunday night and Sunday night they told us that this guy called Jonathan Knowles is going to walk with us from our hotel to the donut shop that him and Steve Jobs used to sit at and design Apple product set, because he worked with Steve Jobs for fourteen years. With much excitement, I was up and there was only twenty of the execs. That wasn’t compulsory, but I was the first guy there. I met Jonathan Knowles. All the way there and all the way back, I am asking 1,000,001 questions.
You can see I’m enthusiastic, nature-wise. Also, because it’s a topic that I love so much. I asked 150 questions. I asked more questions than anybody else and we walked back to the hotel. While I was walking back to the hotel with him before we went to class, I made a Facebook video. I started explaining to my friends, “I can’t believe it. I’m at Apple. The Loop, it’s right here. I’m around Apple businesses.” This is all amazing to us all the way from Africa. I got Jonathan Knowles to come on the camera and I brought him into the camera and I said, “Jonathan, say hi to my friends in South Africa.”
He started chatting to them and we forgot about it. About an hour later, I got a message from the people that organize the Autodesk Conference. They said, “You’re with JK.” I’m like, “Who’s JK?” They’re like, “Jonathan Knowles.” I’m like, “Jonathan Knowles took us on the tour.” He says, “He’s a fellow at Autodesk. We bring him in for all sorts of different things. We love Jonathan Knowles. Please tell we send our regards.” “I’ll do that.” Later at college, I saw Jonathan. I said, “These two ladies send their love.” He says, “That’s amazing. I love them so much. Please say my love back.”
Tuesday morning, he’s doing the same walk. This time he’s talking about Obama and he worked for Obama for four years as Head of Technology or something like that. I’m a huge Obama fan. Again, I’m there asking 1,000,001 questions. I’m so enthusiastic. While we’re walking back to the hotel, he says to me, “Are you John Sanei?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Are you coming for an interview?” I said, “Yes.” He says, “Why don’t you come in the car with me, I’ll drive you to the college, and then let other people go on the bus?” I said, “No problem.” We had a long chat. He’s big into ocean conservation.
We got to the university. I said to him, “Jonathan, what do you do here? What role do you play at Singularity?” He says, “I’m the head of the faculty. I choose the speakers and the strategists that joined Singularity.” I was like, “No way.” He says, “I’ll see you at your interview.” I said, “I’m looking forward to it.” I’d arrived the next day and there was a letter from him. He said, “Congratulations, you’re faculty. I love your energy. I love everything you do. I don’t need to interview you.” You had spoken to the girls from Autodesk. They had given them a brief. They had spent two days with me and I didn’t even get interviewed. I became a faculty member by pure enthusiasm and being curious about the subject that I’m about.Success is being in a process of trying to make time disappear. Click To Tweet
That’s such a great story. That’s a great place to end this conversation because I am excited about you having another book. I love watching you and Ira Wolfe’s presentation. I’ve been on his events as well. He’s an amazing guy. This was so much fun to have you on the show. I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to follow you. They know that you’re at Singularity and in some of these places. Where is the best place for them to follow you, get more about your books, and your work?
Thank you. Out of 7.5 billion people in the world, there’s only one John Sanei. I’m on Instagram, on LinkedIn. I’m online and I’m continuously sharing. Every time I research something that excites me, I can’t help but share it. Join me on any of those. It will be wonderful to have you join me. When you do join, please message me and tell me why you’ve joined and you read about me on Dr. Diane Hamilton’s show. That’d be great for you to join. We’ll say hi and hopefully, we’ll see each other in real life one day.
That would be great. That is wonderful that you have the only name. The funny thing is that there is another Dr. Diane Hamilton who’s listed in yoga, meditation type, calm person. She’s the exact opposite of me. Somebody asked me to be on her meditation show once, she was calm. I thought she had asked the wrong Diane Hamilton. I asked her and she said, “I’m not sure.” It was nice to have you on the show, John. Thank you.
I enjoyed having John on the show and I’d like to thank him for being my guest. We get many great guests on this show. It’s fascinating to learn from all of them. John, especially, is tied in to what I’ve researched. All this stuff he’s interested in. I love having people like John on the show. Curiosity, perception, and some of the things we talked about on this show are critical to company success. You’re going to hear a lot more about it in the coming years especially with COVID and some of the things we’ve experienced lately that we need to have a little bit different foresight, different proactive skills, different things that we weren’t focusing on so much in the past because we thought we knew the answers to some things.
That’s what I’m trying to get my research base around is getting people out of status quo thinking and doing things the way they’ve always done them in the past. It’s critical to ask why. Why do we do things this way? Why don’t we do things this other way? Not enough people were asking those questions. A lot of people had to pivot and become adaptable. All the words that we hear are critical but now we’ve been tested in the last years on this. It will be interesting to see what comes positively out of all the negativity. John made some great points that a lot of its focus of how we look at things in our perception is critical.
It was interesting to research perception with Dr. Maja Zelihic in our book, The Power Of Perception because I talked a little bit with John but it is IQ, EQ, CQ, and CQ. The last two CQs are Cultural and Curiosity Quotient combined. We were looking at it as a process of what people go through in order to come up with decisions and interact with other people. Sometimes you think of perception and you think, “Do you see the blue dress or the gold dress?” That stuff is all fascinating but in terms of the business world, it helps us when we recognize that some of us see the blue dress and some of us see the gold dress. It goes beyond that to the area of how do we interrelate with one another and how do we see certain positions on how business should be handled.
I’ve had many experts on the show when we talk about culture and how everybody gets along in the workplace whether culture starts at the top. If it doesn’t start at the top whether it’s the changes can be made and all that is critical to everybody’s engagement. As leaders listen to people like John, my talks, or others of us who focus on curiosity-based, perception-based discussions, it’s critical to look at some of your competitors who were left behind when they weren’t prepared to pivot or to be adaptable. Aren’t maybe as agile and weren’t involved in as much learning and preparation. I taught a lot of courses on foresight. We always use Stephen Covey’s books The 7 Habits are critical because the first one is being proactive.
The more you can consider where you’re going to go and what your choices are is important. I remember speaking for International Project Management Day and project managers sometimes don’t like to have a lot of questions asked because they can get them off their schedule and they want to be on time with certain things. Sometimes, being a little bit off on your timing to have a much better idea that ends up better later, you’ve got to think of lost opportunities by not letting people ask questions, by not letting people explore the why and why not, and that’s something that a lot of people forget. It’s important in the business world. People like John have done a great job of showcasing different ways to look at things and to open up for exploration.
We talked about emotional intelligence and the value of it. For me, it kept coming back to emotional intelligence which was great because of my research. What was interesting is empathy is such a big part of emotional intelligence. I have somebody in mind who tells me she’s empathetic but she’s much more sympathetic to people who have something that she thinks would be awful for her. Sometimes, she doesn’t see what it would be like for other people to have something which she can’t relate to.
To get to that area where you can relate and understand that, you have to ask a lot of questions and you have to realize that you don’t always agree with other people’s opinions and you may have a different perception of reality. Exploring and looking at it from their vantage point, it can be important because we don’t recognize how much culture and experience plays a role in our decision-making process. I could think of a leader I had who was grumpy, cranky, and not easy to work for. I looked at his influences of who his leaders were and they were very much the same.
He was emulating what he was taught. That is one of the things that I look at when I talk to companies about curiosity. How much has your environment influenced how you lead? How much exploration do you allow? That guy would not let you ask questions or he would say things that were almost insulting if you did ask questions because that’s the way his leaders treated him. Once he got away from those leaders, I saw a huge difference in how much more open he was to people asking him things and exploring.
The culture comes from above. A lot of that trickles down. I don’t think a lot of younger leaders recognize sometimes how much they’re influenced by people to whom they report who have set this culture, this expectation for how you should be in the company. There are a lot of leaders in the past who worked well for them to have a difficult personality. We know Steve Jobs didn’t do well. We know Jack Welch would get rid of the 10% of the poorest performers even if they were great people necessarily. Some of those ideas worked well in a certain time but wouldn’t work in nowadays atmosphere where we have a little bit more focus on work-life balance and other issues.
You have to ask, “Why did it work then? Can it work now? Can’t it work now?” Focusing on some of those questions is what a lot of leaders don’t do. They figure it out as they go along. A lot of leaders don’t want us to be seen that they don’t know as much as other people think they know. That can be problematic. We’ve learned from some of the greatest leaders that they surrounded themselves with people who knew more than they did and could navigate some of these waters. We’ll see a lot more mentorship opportunities. I’m fortunate to work on the Global Mentor Network as Board of Advisor. It’s a great way that we showcase these mentors who’ve done amazing things with their jobs and their careers, and they can help others through some of their motivational stories, answering questions, and all those kinds of things.
We’ll see a lot more mentoring opportunities. We’ll see a lot more people giving back from what they’ve learned. We’re all learning. We’re all in unchartered waters as we’re going through different crises at the moment. If we recognize that this is getting us out of status quo thinking that there is some positive to come from this, that’ll be an important lesson for all of us to learn. I appreciate all the insight that John gave on the show. We get so many great guests on this show. You haven’t had a chance to read to all thousands or more people I’ve interviewed. If you’ve missed some shows, you can catch up on DrDianeHamilton.com.
If you don’t have time to read the whole episode, sometimes it’s nice to skim through and see what the topics were. You can also search at the top of the blog for certain topics. If you’re interested in emotional intelligence, curiosity, creativity, or whatever your hot topic is, you can search at the top bar. There are many great guests who I’ve interviewed who are amazing experts in their field from Harvard, top companies, CEOs, billionaires, you name it, they’re all in the show. I hope you take some time to explore the site. I enjoyed this episode. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- FOREsight: Awaken Curiosity. Cultivate Wisdom. Discover the Abundant Future
- TED Talk – John Sanei
- Francesca Gino – previous episode
- Daniel Goleman – previous episode
- Emotional Intelligence
- Sir Ken Robinson – TEDx Talk
- Melissa Agnes – previous episode
- Dr. Iraj Abedian
- John Sanei – Instagram
- LinkedIn – John Sanei
- The Power Of Perception
- The 7 Habits
About John Sonei
I am an author and speaker who writes and talks about the cross section of human psychology the future. Privileged to be a Singularity University and DUKE CE Faculty Member as well as an Associate Partner of The Copenhagen Institute for Futures studies.
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