In these unprecedented times where people have been forced to stay at home, you have to quickly adjust to your life to survive. Paul Estes is an unstoppable advocate for the gig economy and working remotely. In this episode, Dr. Diane Hamitlton talks to Paul about moving from traditional office work to remote work. Paul shares his insight on the need to re-skill to stay ahead of the curve and find jobs online that would not have been otherwise available traditionally. As the need to stay at home increases, the gig economy blossoms. Learn about this new economy and Paul’s book, Gig Mindset.
Also on the show is Cameron Brown, an international TEDx speaker, executive coach, YPO Resource Board Member, and musician. Here, Cameron talks about curiosity and technology and how it serves as a gateway to where people want to be. Cameron shares his process for creating and unlocking creative potential, highlighting curiosity and how technology magnifies it. Learn why having time away from technology is important and how it can fuel your curiosity to allow you to deliver your best creation.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Paul Estes and Cameron Brown here. Paul is the evangelist for the Talent Economy. He’s the Editor-in-Chief at Staffing.com, best-selling author and podcast host. Cameron Brown is an international TEDx speaker, executive coach, YPO Resource Board Member and musician. We’re going to talk about all kinds of interesting virtual working relationships. We’re going to talk about TEDx Talks, and being a musician as well as being curious. It’s going to be quite a show. I’m looking forward to it.
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Embracing Remote Work In The Gig Economy With Paul Estes
I am here with Paul Estes who is an unstoppable advocate for the gig economy. He is dedicated to creating opportunity for everyone, reskilling by doing and bringing diversity to work. He has a book called Gig Mindset, but he’s also a big advocate of remote work. I’m interested in talking to you about that. Welcome, Paul.
Thank you for having me.
I’ve done so much work remotely and that whole gig thing where I don’t have all my eggs in one basket kind of jobs. I’m a huge advocate as you are for the remote work lifestyle, which we’re forced into. This is an odd time for a lot of people. I want to get a little background on you before we go into that. I know you’ve got a lot of people focusing on your work because of all that you’ve done. Give me a little bit of background of how you got to this level of success because you and I both spoke at Hacking HR and I know you’re one of the top speakers out there. How did you get here and tell me a little bit about what got you interested in the gig mindset and working remotely?
I spent twenty years in Big Tech. I had traditional technology jobs working at Dell, Amazon and Microsoft. A few years ago, I had a moment where I felt my life was out of balance. It’s in the book and I’ve also blogged about it as well. I reached out to a virtual assistant. It was one of those eye-opening moments, like the first time that you touched an iPhone or use Netflix for the first time. Those kinds of moments when you realize that things would be different and you’d be operating differently.
I leaned in and started using all sorts of services. It changed not only the way I worked but also the way I lived. I started experimenting with myself, saying, “There has to be a better way to find balance to both get the work that I want done and reinvent my career.” I was looking at my career and saying, “This isn’t sustainable. I’m probably going to have to be valuable until God knows how long we’re going to live.” I leaned in and tried to do that and realized that I needed to leave Corporate America to follow this path. I became a freelancer working remotely.
It’s challenging for some people to work remotely because they’re not used to it. For me, I’ve almost always worked remotely because I started as a pharmaceutical rep for twenty years. That’s basically working remotely, you don’t think about it that way, but you’re not going to an office. When I went back to banking, a couple of years of being in an office again, which I hadn’t been for a long time, I found it harder for me to work when I’m in a building than when I’m home. A lot of people don’t feel the same way though. They’ll go, “Look at the squirrel, look out the window,” whatever they’re doing. To me, I can’t stop working when I’m at home. Where are you on that spectrum?
For me, it was a natural transition. One of the things I realized about myself when I started working remotely is I’m an extroverted introvert. As much as I like getting on stage and doing the podcast and all the work that I do, undisturbed alone time is powerful to me. It helps me creatively. I have been able to get that in Corporate America. The number of people that you bump into in the flybys and the meetings. All of the energy that happens in a traditional office building was a fluent way that I personally work.
My transition is a little easier. One of the projects that I’m doing in this unprecedented time is interviewing people who are suddenly remote. These people who are middle managers and people who had worked traditionally and maybe discouraged remote work, but now we’re all in the same place working distributedly and remotely. My wife and I talked about it at the dinner table, because she struggled for the first four days of what this meant. How to work remotely, how to start to create structure, how to cancel some meetings and give ourselves some space to walk around. The first day she sat in her chair for nine hours and didn’t get up and it was challenging. It is a different way of work. It’s one that you are able to master. I talked about flexibility, I don’t think it’s binary. Either you work in an office or you work remotely. People are learning a lot of skills that will be valuable going forward that they wouldn’t have necessarily learned any other way.Dream big, start small, but most of all, start. - Paul Estes Click To Tweet
It is difficult with the conference call situation. I’ve worked teaching online for many years and everything was conference calls. It was fun having Tripp Crosby on my show because he did that Conference Call in Real Life video that was so popular on YouTube. What happens is sometimes they overdo it with the conference calls to compensate for you not being in the office. Do you find that’s a problem?
Traditionally, when I was working in Corporate America, it was just meetings back-to-back, emails and meetings. When I transitioned to work for a distributed team, we used different technology. We moved to Slack and we use Zoom. I find a couple of things different. One, we write things down a lot more. A lot of communication happens real-time and we write things down where historically it would have happened in a meeting and been talked about. We document things more.
The other is video is always on. When I worked and did conference calls, nobody used video that much. Here, everybody I talk to is on video and present. You can’t fake not being engaged if you’re on video because everybody’s staring at their screen. You’re looking at the camera and you’re engaged. That makes the conversations a lot more efficient. You get on, you do fifteen minutes stand-ups, and then you get off and you go about your way, everybody continues the conversation. For me, that was a new way of working. When I first started working with a distributed team, I’d send an email and my colleagues would cut and paste email from their screen and then put it into a Slack channel. That got me off of email and the way I was traditionally doing stuff and into more asynchronous set of communication. It is a different way of working. You can’t just say, “This is how I work,” and now I’m at home in front of a computer. It’s completely different.
The video things are something that I’ve had a lot of my women colleagues and friends we’ve talked about. Sometimes they’ll call a quick video meeting during the day. For men, they don’t think it’s any big deal working at home. They turn on the camera for a minute. That takes an extra hour out of the women’s day where they can get in front of a camera for them. Have you found that women have a little bit more challenges with all the video conferences or is it just the friends I have? They probably don’t tell you?
I can empathize. One of the things that have been a trend in my conversations as I’m doing these interviews is that you still need to get ready for work. When I started, I go out of bed, I do my stuff. I sit down and I still have structure. As I talk to people, they still go to the process of getting ready. Maybe you don’t dress as nicely as if you were going to the office, but that structure of getting ready for work and getting in a zone where you’re going to be productive and do whatever your profession is, is part of the process. For me, it’s a part of my process. A lot of the suddenly remote people are finding it’s an important part of their process. A good friend of mine, we were talking about his experience. He dresses in his full consultant gear. It’s probably harder for women but I think a lot of people are getting camera ready as part of their process.
It’s definitely a different way of life for a lot of people and a lot of people would like to work remotely. If you try to find a remote job by job searching that way, you’re going to get these get rich quick work out of your home, small money jobs a lot of time. Do you find that people have a hard time finding jobs? Usually, it seems like they have good jobs that they started off in the office and now they let them work remotely. Can you search and find ones that aren’t trying to sell you some work at home schemes?
There are a bunch of sites that list companies, primarily technology companies. We’re starting to see more and more areas adopt remote. We’re also seeing more companies adopt flexibility. Go back to that idea that it’s not binary. There might be an office, but you don’t need to be there in the hours. We’re starting to see a lot of that. There’s an active discussion happening online about what’s the new normal in six months? Are there more flexible and remote jobs? There’s a great podcast that I listened to that talked about when the tube shut down in London for 2 or 3 days, 25% of the people did not go back to riding the tube or the subway because they found a different, more efficient way to travel or to work from home. The next couple of months will have an impact on the way work gets done from a flexible and remote perspective, because we’re all learning real time together. It’s an interesting time from that perspective.
This is a tough time for a lot of small business owners. Some of them are not going to be able to go back and do what they were doing. If they’re reading this, what advice would you give them about finding work remotely?
I was talking to a software tester whose job was doing training. He would get on a plane, he was a consultant, and he was doing training. He was now forced to figure out how he moves that to online and how he does his training and his work remotely. One of the things that I talk about in the book and in my talks is the need to reskill. There are going to be life events that happen to all of us, whether you’re unfortunate laid off, your business fails or this again is unprecedented. I’ve found safety and security in the idea of diversifying my portfolio of where I can provide value and monetize that value.
I work primarily with freelancers who are always at the cutting edge of valuable skills. That’s one of the things I experienced when I started working with freelancers versus people inside the company. Freelancers are out there competing and keeping their skills relevant by working with a diverse set of clients, but also because they need to be on the cutting edge to monetize their value. The advice I give to people at this time is take a step back and think of a path where you have diverse income streams with the value that you provide. That’s one of the things we all learned in economics in college. A lot of us haven’t applied that same strategy to our careers. It’s one of the things that I’ve been actively exploring, advocating and teaching.
I was talking to somebody about these multiple streams of income as you’re talking about. A lot of speakers are having a hard time because they can’t travel. They can’t do the things that they usually did and the way they did them. In my teaching, I never taught for just one university, I taught multiple universities and radio shows. I do a bunch of different things and different ways of keeping busy. It’s going to be interesting to see how many people do that one job only thing. Do you see that that’s going to change quite a bit?
There will be people that start to realize that it needs change. I talk often about my father and grandfather who spent 40 years at a company and had a pension. The Gen X is probably the first generation that’s going through that, trying to figure out, “This promise doesn’t exist for us anymore. What does that mean in the later stages of my career?” A lot of people are starting to lean in. That’s why you’ve seen the word moonlighting transitions to side hustle. People learn by doing and find their passion projects and things that will keep them not only engaged but monetarily valuable going forward. The example you mentioned about speakers, I’ve had eight speaking engagements cancel over the next months. We built a studio in our house and I’m now doing a lot of speaking virtually. That was a fast pivot. I’ve never learned how to use live CDN technology, broadcast and stuff, and we learned it. Adaptability in times of acute change is an important skill. I encourage everyone just experimenting.
You and I both spoke for Hacking HR. That was an effective way to communicate. We’re going to probably see a lot more of those kinds of speaking gigs. In one month alone, I had five trips canceled. You think, “This has got to change.” It will be interesting to see who picks up on uberizing or whatever this different industry of how we’re doing things. Everything is going to change. You talked about the half-life of learned skills is around five years and you’ve got to constantly be reskilling. I’m curious about your TIDE model. You want to talk a little bit about that? What do you help people do to reskill?
I had a virtual assistant then I started using all sorts of services like Clarity.fm, which is a platform where there are a bunch of experts. When I started my podcast, instead of spending a week learning a podcast, I actually reached out and talked to an expert for 30 minutes, which probably saved me a months-worth of learning. I talk often about telemedicine. I use Teladoc. I was running and I rolled my ankle. The sprain was high and it looks a little different. I called my Teladoc on FaceTime and was able to talk to him. I use Stitch Fix and you see all the online stylists and stuff.
There are a lot of these platforms and technology that are bringing people who have the expertise to people who need their expertise. The thing that I started to see was a pattern and I call it TIDE. The first part was taskify. How to take a large project or a large objective and break it down into its parts and find, “Is there an expert that could provide a better outcome faster or a specific task within a project?” We talk about taskification. Another is identify. How do you identify whether it’s myself, freelancer or somebody on my team to do the work? How do you create a system where you’re taking these tasks and you’re identifying.
The D stands for delegate. One of the hardest things that I had to retrain myself to do and others is how do you delegate? At the end of the day, when you’re accountable for a deliverable in a professional setting, how do you take that trust leap? Find an expert, delegate to them, set clear expectations and stuff. It takes writing it down and there’s a lot of advice that I provide on that, but delegation is a critical skill. E stands for evolve. That’s taking all of those learnings and continuing to build your process. For me, I couldn’t imagine years ago, doing the amount of content creation and the work I’m doing now without this process. I get people to reach out to me daily on LinkedIn and say, “How are you able to create the amount of content and work?” It’s in partnership and collaboration with experts around the world, all over the United States and around the world. It’s been unlocked for me creatively and from a career perspective.What you think about is the path that you will follow. - Paul Estes Click To Tweet
It’s interesting what you can learn to do in a short period if you have help. When I learned to do my radio show, I went to Guitar Center and you find somebody who knows this. If I needed help with voiceover stuff, you can go to Fiverr. There are many things out there that you don’t even know how to find them. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. You’ve talked to a lot of people who have learned to transform into working this way, this new gig economy, this new gig mindset. You had mentioned you interviewed fifteen people personally about their experiences?
Over the past couple of days, I’ve interviewed fifteen people for a project we’re calling Rising Remote. People who are suddenly remote. It’s not about embracing freelancers. It’s specifically what are people learning as they’re taking this jarring step into remote work? In order to work this way, in order to be able to reach out to experts around the world, as you said on Fiverr to get a voice expert, you have to train yourself to work remotely with people. I imagine that when you went to Fiverr to engage with a freelancer, they were not coming to your house and sitting right next to you. Learning the skill of engaging with experts remotely and understanding the platforms is 101 to unlocking the ability of collaborating with freelancers and on-demand experts around the world.
You say there are some myths that need to be busted about working with freelancers. What are some of those myths?
There are a lot of them. There’s this idea that freelancers don’t provide quality work. One of the things that in my experience and we’re starting to see is that a lot of the experts that companies want to engage to do work are choosing to be freelancers, instead of being captive employees. We’re seeing a lot of expertise out in the freelance market. It’s like in any talent market, there are people that do great work and there are people that have different quality levels of work. You have to train yourself to figure out, is it a right fit for what I’m trying to accomplish?
There’s this idea that, “I can go to freelancers and just not pay a lot of money and I’ll get quality work.” I go back to what my father told me growing up, “You pay for what you get.” A lot of times I’ve engaged freelancers that maybe cost the same as another model of engagement, but because they’re an expert in this specific thing, or they have a creative perspective and aesthetic that is exactly what I want, I get a better quality product for the same money. That’s something that I’ve learned is a myth.
The third one is that the gig economy is only good for things graphics and web design. There’s this idea that the only types of freelancers in the world are people that help you create a website and do some social graphics. We’re starting to see freelancers across the board, whether it’s in finance or lawyers. There are a bunch of platforms that have freelance lawyers. If you look at TurboTax, they’ve put CPAs in their software product. A lot of those CPAs at Tax Time are independent freelancers as well.
I encourage people when they think about freelancing, when they think about remote, when they think about a world of experts to push themselves and realize that almost every profession is starting to be impacted by this idea of on-demand remote work. The example I shared with you, ten years ago you would have just said, “You would need to see a doctor in person.” Now, we see the explosion of telemedicine. Something that everybody said would not be possible. It was interesting, I was down at a family event and all my family down in Louisiana are doctors. All they were talking about was how a lot of doctors are going freelance and doing telework and trying to figure that out. This was a lot of people who are senior in their careers as doctors having to rethink how to provide services to their patients. It’s not just web design and graphic design.
They’re starting to do a lot more distance type of things through the medical profession. I used to work in pharmaceuticals, I get a pension for my twenty years doing that. I’m one of the few people I know. They started to do the sales presentations remotely and everything’s starting to get a little bit more remote. While you’re talking about this, I’m thinking platform-wise, how we find these people, the quality people. Is there going to be a Fiverr-Amazon-Monster combination that you could find people but you can also get jobs?
What we’re starting to see in the market if I just think about the freelance online talent platforms is everybody’s finding their niche. There’s a company, Toptal, that has the top 3% in certain categories. They have developers, designers, finance, project managers and they’re good and specific in curating the top freelancers in the verticals. We see platforms like Upwork and Fiverr that are broad. Those marketplaces that are broad. We have platforms that are just for lawyers or just for financial people. There’s Business Talent Group, which is a platform for consultants.
We’re starting to see many platforms find the vertical and service that particular vertical. It doesn’t feel to me like there’s going to be an Amazon freelance site. I do think over time, we’ll start to see as a lot of the traditional staffing firms, partner and/or acquire some of these platforms as their clients start to have less location bias. They’re saying, “I want to find an expert. It doesn’t matter where they are.” Staffing firms now, for the most part, are local. They have local talent that they can put on site. I think staffing firms are going to feel a lot of pressure to be able to provide expertise outside of their local pool of talent.
Do you think that they’ll get to the point where say, “I want to work, but I have no idea who could utilize my talents?” Would there be some form you fill out online and then they somehow job match you? Is this already out there for different types of part-time virtual gig type of work? “I don’t know the company that could best utilize what I do but I know ten things.” If I could answer this survey, it’ll say, “This is where you should be working?”
There are some companies in technology trying to do better matching. The challenge has never been the supply of people that want to work that way. It’s always been the demand. One of the most interesting things that will happen after the current situation is that companies will not use location bias as a gate on engaging experts wherever they might be. Historically, we live in Seattle and I talk about this often. If you weren’t able to move to Seattle, buy a house, uproot your family and all those things, you probably wouldn’t be able to work for Amazon or Microsoft. While they are global companies, primarily their headquarters are their headquarters.
Companies spend significant amounts of money on their buildings and their infrastructure. They want to have a high utilization rate of that real estate investment. When people come out of the current pandemic, they may be relooking at that. Both the talent they want to retain will come back with a different value proposition saying, “I want more flexibility.” Companies will also start putting more dollars into the on-demand and the remote category where those dollars haven’t been.
I think we’ll see less age discrimination. Teaching online, all the interviews I had done, no one ever saw you, no one knew how old you are. There will be less of that factor, as long as you have talent, you have the qualifications and you can do these things. That will help a little bit on discrimination. What do you think?
I wrote an article for Fast Company that was published. It’s called Remote Work is the Next Diversity Frontier. One of the things that I realized early on as I was going through this journey is that location is biased. There are a lot of managers and companies that will not bring on somebody, even if they’re the perfect fit for the job if their location is not at headquarters. They say, “There’s no way we can work remote this position. It has to be on campus.” Guess what we figured out with the situation now? That many companies can work remotely.
It’s not a matter of not being able to, it’s do you have the will and desire to transform the way you work to get the right expertise, people and diversity? When I talk about diversity, it’s not only gender, race, and age, but it’s also the diversity of experience and thought. When I look at my freelance pool of about 50 people that I’ve been working with on and off for years, it’s an amazingly diverse group of people that I learned from every day. That group of people, whether they’re writers, producers, graphics people like Tim, who’s in Ghana, Africa, who helps with my newsletter, we share stories. I get energy from interacting with them and learning from their diversity. It was a completely different way and that’s why I was happy to write that article for Fast Company.
We’re going to see a lot of changes. A lot of people reading this are interested in working remotely and finding these jobs. Do you have any last advice to give people who want to do this more?Curiosity is one of the greatest assets anyone can develop. - Cameron Brown Click To Tweet
“Dream big, start small but most of all start.” That was Simon Sinek’s, it’s not my quote. One of the things I learned that I talked about in the book is if people are sitting on the sidelines waiting for some big thing to happen. What I found is I started investing my time and money into finding a path that better suited my lifestyle, better suited the work that I wanted to do, better suited my longevity in my career. Start looking at the various sites. Start engaging with freelancers to see what it’s like. You mentioned Fiverr, start to imagine how you can use this gig mindset to help you transform the way you work. What you think about is the path that you will follow. If you start experimenting with remote, you start reaching out to people, you use LinkedIn to help create a brand and curate a conversation, you’ll find a path. People are sometimes gun shy to get started.
That’s great advice. My concern on some of these like Fiverr and other ones is you’re competing with people in India charging $5 to do something that would take quite a bit of time maybe. Do you think that it’s going to be challenging to make the kind of money you want to make?
It depends on what you do for a living. I tell people, “Start working with freelancers first before you figure out what platform.” There are lots of different types of platforms. That way of working with that is you have to understand, would you work well as a freelancer? Starting to work with freelancers and working remotely and working on-demand gives you a feel for what that kind of work is like, and then you can find the right platform or company that can utilize your skills. I started working with freelancers while I had a full-time job and learn a lot about how that works. Where it can be valuable and navigated my path. It all came from my first experience of engaging in the gig economy as it relates to knowledge work.
There are many areas to research in this and you could spend so much time. What you’re doing is helping narrow it down for people so they understand the potential and the pitfall of doing some of this stuff. A lot of people would probably like to know more about you. How can they find you? How can they get your book? Do you want to share some of your links and information?
You can go to PaulEstes.net where I have some information on the book. It has a selling status and is getting good reviews. It makes me happy that it’s being helpful to people who are starting to think about this different way of working. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Staffing.com where we’re igniting a conversation about remote work and on-demand platforms. There’s a podcast, The Talent Economy. We’re trying to produce a lot of content to help people navigate this transformation, not only in the short-term during these unprecedented times but on an ongoing basis. Those are some content. The best way to follow it is to follow me on LinkedIn. I do a weekly newsletter every Tuesday that has about 80,000 people that engage. There is a bunch of content out there.
Thank you so much, Paul. This was interesting and I enjoyed speaking at that event with you and having you on the show. Thank you.
Thank you so much for the time.
And Creating A Lasting Change Through Curiosity With Cameron Brown
I am here with Cameron Brown who empowers people to create lasting change. He does this through executive coaching for C level executives and their teams delivering experiential talks with grand piano live on stage and writing music about human behavior in the world we live in. It’s so nice to have you here, Cameron.
It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
I had originally found you through your TEDx Talk from Italy on stage. The presentation was called What Future are We Creating?. You bring up the word curiosity a few times in your talk. Since I’m a curiosity expert, I love that you talk about curiosity being a gateway. Let’s talk a little bit about what led to your talk and your background. Let’s get a little background on you.
I love we’re having this conversation around curiosity. I believe it’s one of the greatest assets anyone can develop when it comes to our own lives, when it comes to leadership as well. Curiosity is the gateway between where we are now and where we’re wanting to be. It allows us to play in the unknown and then take steps towards that as we reach further commitments to what we’re going to do. The talk came about when I was approached by the organizer of TEDx in Rome. We’ve been connected for a period of time. We got talking about the theme and brainstorm some different ways that we might be able to create a solid and ideally experiential type of talk to close out the conference. We had a grand piano on stage and the topic that we ended up going through and working out like, “This would be great,” is how that blend between human curiosity and technology can magnify and speed up the rate of impact and change that we create in the world.
The way that a lot of people use it or the way that people say that people are using it is detrimental to people’s health and well-being. Creating more connection but more disconnection and things like that. While that can absolutely happen, I found it to be the exact opposite where it’s allowed me to create even more impact around the world and being in all these different locations around the world. I wanted to show and be an example. Rather than just talk about it, I wanted to show how it was done. I shared insights on it as you saw in the video. Those tuning in, you can check it out. What I did that lead up to it is I secretly worked with more than 80 people from 40 different countries around the world.
We had each person film something that was inspiring in their countries. There were people in front of mountains, castles, rivers and ruins. All these different countries around the world on their instruments playing the song that I perform live on stage. We transported a grand piano out to a place called Garden of the Gods in Colorado in a time when it was definitely much colder than I would have preferred. For anyone tuning in, if you check out the video, you’ll see it looks nice and sunny. It’s like a beautiful morning, but it was literally freezing cold at that moment.
Luckily, your fingers didn’t freeze for the piano.
They stopped working after a while but you couldn’t tell too much. It was a beautiful experience. What we did then is pulled together all the people’s pieces of footage and music into this animated split-screen video that played on the big screen while I perform the song live on stage. Every single person that you see in the video was a complete stranger to me four months earlier. It was a showing of if we can do this in four months, what could you create in your life? What could you create in your companies? How could you innovate if you utilize what I went through in the talk to your advantage and allowing you to create an even greater impact in the world? It was a fun project. It’s intense but totally worth it because it drove home the message that I was looking to drive home there.
Did you travel to all those places yourself for every one of those videos?You're never too old to be insanely curious about the world. - Cameron Brown Click To Tweet
No, definitely not.
I was going to say that’s a lot.
That would not have been financially feasible or good from an environmental point of view either. This is a way of creating impact in the least amount of negative impact in terms of emissions. We donated collectively as a group 1,000 trees planted. It helps to offset emissions as well. We want to make it as carbon neutral as possible. I’d love to get to all the different countries. In saying that, the producer who’s in the music video, the guy who was the audio engineer for the entire project is now my full-time music producer. I go over to Europe each year now. We are producing a bunch of new music. It’s funny how we met of all places in a small city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We would have never met if it weren’t for that project.
When you say music production, are you creating CDs? What are you producing?
I’ve been writing music for many years. I’ve written hundreds of hundreds of songs. I write music about the human experience. All the songs on the stage for example. There’s a music video we did that was about unlocking creative potential. We filmed that in southern Spain. We had actors involved in helping to tell the story about unlocking creative potential and have delivered that multiple times to audiences, to organizations and perform that live on stage with the music video playing on the big screens. They’ll get synced up with media monitoring. All of the music, the background, drums, bass, guitars and all the other instruments are playing in sync with my performance as well as the music videos. It’s this experiential event and talk versus just being a talk.
That’s one way we do that. The other way is simply releasing music out to the world. One of the more popular ones is released a number of years ago. It’s a song about bullying and suicide. That’s passed about 2.1 million organic views on YouTube alone. It’s being used in school projects, film projects and dance projects all over the world. It’s being heard by people in 195 countries. There are other songs as well. I had a comment come through on one of my other songs about following your dreams and going for what you believe in and overcoming the challenges that you face.
Someone commented, “This was on my list of content that I had to look out for my English class.” I have no idea where they are in the world but it’s amazing and this comes back to curiosity. I couldn’t have even begun to imagine the impact that some of the pieces that I’ve been able to put out to the world have had in the world and on people that I would never have had the opportunity to meet if I hadn’t had that curiosity to wonder about what could be possible, and then execute. It is an important part there because curiosity on its own is just wasted potential. Because you come up with these amazing ideas, but then you don’t actually execute. What a waste.
You’re an executor, but you’re also a National Geographic Explorer. What exactly does that mean to be a National Geographic Explorer? Do you work for National Geographic?
National Geographic Society has an explorer’s program where they provide assistance to different projects. They could be researchers, storytellers, scientists or different people that are utilizing their skillsets to create change in the world for the benefit of our planet. A few years ago, I was in Colombia and I was living there for a number of months. I filmed there with a drone and filmed the natural beauty of that country like the waterfalls, beaches, rain forests. On my journey there, I was involved in a number of different projects out in the wilderness. One in particular impacted me.
It was a beautiful project where they’re looking to ensure that there is sustainable development in this specific region to make sure that the biodiversity is protected because there are many endemic species that live there. It’s a location where flora and fauna come from the Amazon and from the central Americas region. It’s this mass number of animals and plants, and it’s this beautiful part of the world. I’ll be heading back there to create a short film about the importance of sustainable development in that region and utilizing my skillsets there. We’ll do that as well as create a soundtrack for it. Hopefully, create a piece of content that is seen many times in the world and brings about change for the betterment of the planet.
Are you looking to do anything that focuses on the current situation? You can’t travel so much and are you coming up with music that focuses on anything like your 2.1 million-viewed video on YouTube? Do you have something in mind for this current situation with the coronavirus?
At the moment, not really. I’m scheduled out for the next months in terms of the content that’s being created. If something comes up maybe. I don’t know the answer to that. I’m open to it. I’m in 5 to 10 different countries each year. I’m in Boulder, Colorado. I’m in this beautiful two-story three-bedroom house on an acre property. It is a stunningly beautiful place. The day after I got here, I had a grand piano put into the living room for the next few months of creating. I’m in a more creative space than I’ve ever been. I’ve written more music than I ever have before. There are songs about different topics. I like to allow the inspiration to flow through me versus saying, “I’m going to write a song about this specifically.” I find that that’s a great way for me personally to create because it allows whatever I’m inspired or impacted by at that time to have the opportunity to come to fruition.
When you’re talking about all this on stage as you eventually did play on the stage, I was reminded by somebody who was on my show. I can’t think of who told me but they gave a TED Talk and the video wouldn’t play. What would that have done to you? Were you worried about that?
That’s where preparation comes in. I remember there was one talk that I gave, it just didn’t work. It worked in soundcheck, everything checked out. Everything was perfect and then it didn’t. It was brutal.
There’s a technology aspect.
When you add different aspects to the technology, you’ve got to prepare as best you can. There was another talk that I did where I didn’t have the right chords in terms of cables. We were scrambling for the right cables until about two hours before my talk. We had a soundcheck the day before, getting set up in a big conference. The power of adaptability when it comes to speaking on stage, I found you’ve got to be adaptable because no one’s trying to screw it up. Everyone’s on your side. They want you to be successful. They want the event to be successful. The best thing you can do there is you’ve got to be firm, but you’ve got to be flexible and be proactive in how you’re solving whatever challenges might come your way. If something happens like a video didn’t work, you’ve got to be adaptable and roll with the punches.Curiosity is the gateway between where we are now and where we're wanting to be. - Cameron Brown Click To Tweet
When I was watching your talk, I was fascinated by the whole curiosity angle and how you combine it with technology. It’s interesting as I wrote the assessment that I created to determine the four things that keep people from being curious. It was fear, assumptions, technology and the environment. Sometimes technology, we over or underutilize it. What made you think of putting curiosity and technology together. You said you guys had just come up with something unique for the TED Talk, but have you always thought of combining curiosity with technology? That’s an interesting slant.
I love that we’re having this conversation because this is an important thing to distinguish. As you mentioned, too much technology can impact curiosity in a negative way. On the other end, it can magnify. The way I see technology is it’s a magnifier. It magnifies who we are as human beings. If you are a judgmental person, then you’re going to be posting those comments, trolling everybody, judging everybody and what they’re doing. If you, on the other hand, love yourself and the experience that you have of life, you’re going to be out there supporting people. Same with the type of content you create. It’s going to be an example of who you are as a human being. Technology then allows you to magnify that. You could be curious on your own but if that’s not getting out to people, then how big of an impact can you make? It can still be impactful to a small group of people, but maybe not to a larger population.
When it comes to technology and curiosity, it’s about having time away from technology to be able to then utilize technology to its full potential and I did this. I was over in Europe with my producer. I decided that I was going to remove social media for what was only going to be a couple of weeks. I deleted everything off my phone. I logged out of all of my accounts on my laptop. A week went passed, two weeks passed and it felt good. I went three whole months without a single piece of social media. I was still on email and calls because I had my clients, but that was it. I was limited in terms of that as well. I wanted to immerse myself in the creative process.
There was a cool insight that I had. I was walking up this mountain in Bosnia and towards this old castle that was nearby. It took about an hour to walk up and I was about halfway up. I know exactly where I was. I was walking out this cobbled pathway and this question dawned on me, “How many masterful works of art that have been created over the past say 100, 200 or 500 years would never have been created if the technology that we have right now was available back then?” I thought, “Probably a lot,” because people are creating a transactional type of creation. They’re creating what’s going to get the views or what’s going to get the likes. It was at that point where I feel like I’ve been creating in this way anyway, but it took it to a whole other level of, “What am I creating in a way that’s timeless? What am I creating that’s going to be valuable not only now, but also well into the future?” That takes time away from technology for me.
The second part to this, which will be valuable for those tuning in, I have what I call tech and time free days where I am not only completely free of technology but also completely free of time for the entire day. The night before I turn my phone off, I make sure there are no clocks or time anywhere in the house. For the entire day, I do whatever I feel like. Apart from looking outside, looking at the sun, I have no idea what time it is for the day. I’ve done that a lot because I’ve realized how impactful it is for me. It allows me to recharge my energy at a rapid rate. It’s like recharging on steroids. It also allowed me to be much more creative. I’m writing much more music that I have had before and I’m more consistent in these tech and time free days.
I’m using them with my clients as well, and it’s helping them recharge. For me, it’s allowed me to be creative. Let’s say I write a song on one of those days off, I then record it for my producer over in Europe the next day, technology. He then starts producing it. Hopefully, depending on the situation, I’ll be over there in a few months’ time and we’re finishing off the songs. We are then traveling to another country in Europe, getting them mixed and then getting them mastered. It then gets put out into the world in terms of technology. There’s a time and a place with technology that magnifies your curiosity, but it’s not always that you need to have curiosity and technology together. Sometimes, it’s great to be curious alone without technology because that allows creative thoughts to come into existence.
If you only knew how to use a calculator and you didn’t know the math behind it, you might have been the best mathematician in the world. We’ll never know kind of thing. I’m wondering, you have three kids, at least the last I checked.
Nieces and nephews. Uncle to three remarkable humans.
The three kids, what do you find with them in terms of curiosity? Are they over five or under five? Do you see a big difference? When I was researching curiosity, I found that around age five, we peek in our curiosity and then it tanks as we get into school-aged. Are you finding that you’re seeing them super curious still?
For me, yes. They are still super curious. They’re in Australia where I grew up in Outback Australia. I spend anywhere between one and two and a half months with them every single year even though I’m in different parts of the world. It’s something that’s an incredibly important part of my life. When I’m back there, we’re just creating. We’re playing and exploring.
Are they musical like you?
I don’t know yet. I’m not sure. They get on the piano, they’ve got the different songs and they’re dancing around and stuff like that. Maybe, I hope so but however they want to be. For me, I want to be an example of what a curious life looks like. A life that is truly worthwhile, a life that is well-lived. Part of that is showing them that you’re never too old to be insanely curious about the world and what you’re capable of. It will be interesting to see the experience. To me, it’s changed a little. My oldest nephew we’re doing different things now like going out, camping out and sleeping outside under the stars for example. Whereas the younger niece and nephew, the twins, this time around it was a lot of hide and seek. Finding each other and them thinking that they are hiding in some good places. It’s an interesting experience that they think the game is, “I’m here.” It’s a beautiful experience. To see absolute wonder in their eyes, all three of them is amazing and I truly hope that I can be an inspiration for that going forward as they go through their lives.
I’m sure you will. I think of this scene in Elton John’s movie and how much impact his grandmother had on him playing the piano. You don’t know how you’ll touch other people’s lives. I love that you focused on curiosity. Technology and curiosity are two of my favorite topics. I was looking forward to having you on. A lot of people want to know more about how they could reach you, where they can watch your TED Talks and that type of thing. Are there some links or anything you’d like to share?
CameronBrown.co is the website and then on most of your social channels, it’s @CameronBrownReal on things like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. I would love to connect with those of you tuning in who resonated. As far as the TEDx Talk for example goes, you can either search that online. You shared the title of it, What Future are We Creating?. It’s on Ted.com, and YouTube TEDx channel. Check that out. It’s on the website as well. If you need anything from me just shoot me a note.
This has been so fun to talk again. Cameron, I was so interested in your TED Talk and everything that you’ve done. A lot of people get a lot of inspiration out of watching that I hope they check out What Future are We Creating?. It’s nice of you to be on the show. It was so much fun.
It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me again. I appreciate your time.
I’d like to thank both Paul and Cameron for being my guests. We had so many great guests. I hope you enjoyed this episode and join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
- Talent Economy
- Cameron Brown
- Gig Mindset
- Tripp Crosby – previous episode
- Conference Call in Real Life on YouTube
- Stitch Fix
- Tax Time
- Business Talent Group
- Remote Work is the Next Diversity Frontier – article
- LinkedIn – Paul Estes
- What Future are We Creating?
- @CameronBrownReal – YouTube
- Facebook – Cameron Brown
- Instagram – Cameron Brown
- LinkedIn – Cameron Brown
- Ted.com – What Future are We Creating?
About Paul Estes
Paul Estes is an unstoppable advocate for the gig economy who is dedicated to creating opportunity for everyone, reskilling by doing, and bringing diversity to our work. After twenty years of driving innovation in Big Tech, Paul transitioned into working as an independent, remote freelancer. He shares his insights from main stages as a keynote speaker and offers his thoughts and advice through articles on LinkedIn. Paul is the author of The Gig Mindset.
About Cameron Brown
Cameron Brown empowers people to create lasting change. He does this through executive coaching for c-level executives and their teams, delivering experiential talks with a grand piano live on stage, and writing music about human behavior and the world we live in. As a result, Cameron has been featured in the media in 7 different countries, spoken at events across 4 continents, and his music has been streamed millions of times across 195 countries and been featured in a range of short films and documentaries. Cameron loves inspiring change through embarking on bold projects of his own. He delivered the closing talk at Italy’s largest TEDx, collaborated with people from 40 countries to produce a music video demonstrating how to magnify creativity, and recently returned from shooting new music videos with a grand piano in unique outdoor locations in Spain.
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