Cities and even small towns aim to grow into better places, not just for recognition but for the greater good of its people. Joel Carnes, the President and CEO for the Alliance for Innovation, shares the wonderful tasks that his company is doing for the betterment of communities. It is through innovation that people and nations achieve greatness. With this, Joel dives deeper into the three main approaches to innovation and how they work with the local government.
What is simplification and how can we achieve it? Gary Collins, a life simplification expert and the author of The Simple Life, answers this question on today’s show. Finding our life purpose may not sound so simple, but Gary shows how we can determine it and teaches us how we can answer the magic questions of life – why am I here and what am I going to do with this time? Moreover, he points out how to be healthy in the simplest way possible and not be lured by consumerism promoted by America.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Joel Carnes and Gary Collins. Joel is the President and CEO for the Alliance for Innovation and Gary is the Creator CEO at The Simple Life. This is going to be an interesting show.
Listen to the podcast here
Innovation Strategies With Joel Carnes
I am here with Joel Carnes who is an internationally recognized leader in purpose-proven innovation. He is also the President and CEO of Alliance for Innovation, a social impact organization dedicated to building thriving communities by transforming local government strategy operations, culture and ecosystems and hundreds of leading-edge cities across North America. It’s so nice to have you here Joel.
Thank you, Diane. It’s my pleasure.
I heard good things about you from different groups from the ENP Institute, from the Global Chapter in Phoenix and wanted to learn a little bit more about you. For those who don’t know your work or haven’t had a chance to meet you yet, can you give a little bit of background about how you got to this point and what the Alliance for Innovation is?
I personally have built a career in innovation after a stint with the Forest Service and some time as a visual effects camera person. I moved on to management consulting and internet development. From there to a startup and through some corporates engagements and on to work with XPRIZE and SecondMuse but it’s been a progression from products, to teams, to organizations, to systems. I’ve been really fortunate to have a career that allows me to continue to expand my thinking. To level up my approach towards innovation to become less rigid, more organic, less mechanical, more agile and focused at this stage of my career in system transformation and impact.
We heard the word agile a lot. I’m glad that you brought it up. It ties into the last step I research for curiosity and my research is to try and get people more agile, more curious, and more driven to learn and become more innovative and I was fascinated by what you do. From forest ranger to CEO is quite a background. You work with local governments. What do you do and how do you work with the local governments? What drew you to your CEO role?If you put the challenge out there and invite the world to solve it, you've given yourself more resources without increasing cost. Click To Tweet
I was contacted by a recruiter for this particular role. The Alliance for Innovation is a 40-year-old organization. There are hundreds of communities that are members across the country from Phoenix and Dallas down to little towns and cities all across the US and Canada representing some 30 million constituents. The recruiter contacted me and said, “Do you want to work for Alliance for Innovation?” and I said, “What is it?” She said, “They drive innovation in local government.” I said, “By God, somebody should.” I had no idea what this was and immediately piqued my interest. Like many people, I was not up to speed on the amazing things that are happening in local government, the innovative things that are happening there and it’s a breath of fresh air after a lot of the cynicism and doubt that pervades our national conversation around government. Local governments are killing it. They are doing great work across the continent and it’s my privilege to be able to work with them to identify those things that are going well, to help spread the word and share those best practices to our members across North America.
You’re dealing with all of North America. Tell me about Arizona?
Arizona’s is near dear to our heart. We have a strategic relationship with Arizona State University. In fact, my office is on ASU’s downtown campus. We have a number of ASU grad students, something like that.
Tell me a little more about Arizona and what you’re doing with ASU?
One thing in particular is I’m such a fan of something called the Valley Benchmark Cities initiative. This has been going on for a number of years. The whole idea was to get a number of cities in the Valley there from Tempe, Mesa, Glendale and you name it around that we have eleven some cities participating. The idea is what would happen if they started sharing data and started benchmarking against each other? Understanding where they were, it’s one thing to understand what your police response times are. It’s another thing to understand what your police response times are compared to other cities in the area. By creating these benchmarks by working together, the cities have been able to understand where they’re excelling, where they’re challenged and they could dig into the why of that if I can see that the Tempe is excelling at something and yet lacking in something else. We can start to ask why questions. What is allowing Tempe to be terrific over in wastewater treatment but to be lacking in police response? Those are examples and those are not accurate. I’m just pulling stuff about it.
You are looking at the potential competition then. Is that good or bad?
That’s the thing and the transformation is that for decades, cities have looked at themselves as being in competition with each other and trying to one-up each other. The entire intent and the way that this has played out has been much more collaborative and cooperative. The group looks at the valley as the area of impact they’re trying to work with and by understanding one city’s response to opioid overdose, they can start to work on mitigating their own responses to opioid overdose and become more moved from competition to collaboration. Eventually, to cohesion and thinking about themselves as a unit, as a Valley and what is best for citizens that their lived experiences, they live in one city, they work in another city, they go to school in another city. They drive through three other cities and they shop over here and they go recreation over there. The lived experience of the citizens of the greater Phoenix area is that they’re in multiple cities and so when these cities start to work together, start to come together in cooperation instead of competition, it’s a relief for everyone.
Do this and in most states or just in certain states? I’m curious, are there other people doing the same things elsewhere?
This is the beginning of a national movement. We at Alliance for Innovation have spun up an organization called NAIL, North American Association of Innovation League, and we have identified some 80 organizations across the country that in some way, shape or form resemble in innovation league. We’re doing our best to knit them together. What are the best practices? What makes a great innovation league? How can you form them? How can you sustain them? How can you fund them? We’re working to create a national and international movement around this moving from communication to collaboration to cohesion.
ASU has been talked about a lot in a lot of innovative things. Crow gets a lot of attention and I had met somebody who was on my show. He was working with blockchain of what they’re doing. They’re cutting edge, some of the stuff I hear. I’ve heard you say something about three main approaches to innovation and you talk about closed to open in network innovation strategies. I’m curious what that is and are they doing that there? What is that?Get yourself in a mindset to demand the best. Don't accept the status quo. Click To Tweet
I would say ASU is doing all three of those things and let’s discuss what they are. This is either innovation strategies that I’ve teased out over the years in my career. Closed innovation is the typical innovation strategy, locking yourself in a room maybe even pulling down the shades and not coming out until you achieve greatness. I think Bell-Labs or Apple or in my case was working at Disney in Imagineering. We would go off literally into a dark room and create something new and fun and spectacular. This is great and it fosters a sense of team and the expense of let’s get this thing done and we’re not going to stop until we do it but the drawback there is that you are limited to the resources you have in the room. That’s why it’s closed innovation. It is a closed-loop and if you may have great engineers and great creatives in the room but you don’t have the best in the world, you can’t possibly.
The next step is to open the innovation process. You call your shot. They were looking for X. This is we’re going to open this problem to everyone. Think of the Netflix prize, I’m trying to increase the efficacy of their algorithm or in my case professionally the XPRIZE model. Let’s say we wanted a private spacecraft. We’re going to award $10 million to the first company if they can build one. If you put the challenge out there and you invite the world to come and solve this challenge, you have immediately given yourself exponentially more resources without increasing your cost because you are only paying for success. You are not paying every team that competes, you are paying the winners. You are paying for the best solution. That’s what I did in XPRIZE. The group work at XPRIZE continues to go. This is a great way to spark a particular innovation, a particular technology breakthrough. What I saw an XPRIZE was that often the technology breakthrough wasn’t the greatest impact.
What might happen is creating an ecosystem around attempting the technology breakthrough and this was happening accidentally. It turned out that if you do it purposefully, you can have a tremendous impact. I moved on to work with an organization called SecondMuse where I was the CEO there and this is the greatest company that no one has ever heard of. The SecondMuse is a consulting company working around the world to build purpose-driven business incubators. A purpose-driven business incubator is different from a typical VC-backed incubator. A typical VC-backed incubator puts ten companies in and they expect eight to fail, one to break even and one to come out so successful that it pays for all the rest and throws off capital return on investors. In a purpose-driven incubator, you expect eight companies to succeed because you redefine what the definition of success is. They don’t have to be a unicorn. They don’t have to be a billion-dollar company. They can just be successful businesses because what you’re trying to build is an ecosystem.
An example of a purpose-driven incubator might be in Tanzania, building an aqua celebrator business that is supporting the creation of aquaculture industry in Dar es Salaam. In New York City, it took the form of Futureworks, an incubator with over 100 companies in it backed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. It has as its goal not to build companies, but to build the capacity of New York City to be next-generation manufacturing hub. They want to build not only the companies but the individual to build the infrastructure, to build the legal frameworks, to build the supply chain. When you start to look at building incubators that way, an incubating system, you’re at a level of impact that lives on far beyond any particular technology breakthrough.
That’s interesting to me because I do a lot of work with trying to get people to be more curious. Have you seen great innovative stories based on people just exploring curiosity? I know I have a lot of stories that you created, Post-it notes by accident or what do you know? There are so many great ideas, Teflon and microwaves, we know all of those stories. Have you witnessed any in your experience of really creative curious people and success stories from developing that curiosity?
One of my favorite creative curious people in the world is a gentleman named Mohammed Al-Rawi. He drives a lot of innovation programs for the County of Los Angeles. He was the Chief Information Officer for Parks and Rec works over in the Public Defender Office. When he came in Parks and Rec, he started going out and meeting with all the park superintendents and saying, “I’m from the government, I’m here to help.” They would look at him and say, “Good, my printer’s broken,” and he would say, “No, I don’t think you understand. We’re talking about technology breakthroughs. How to leverage the latest AI, a machine learning and all the rest of that.” They look at him with a puzzled look on their faces and say, “It does not compute. How can we do this and use those things here?” He brought his beginner’s mind and was thinking about what are our problems? What are we looking at? He came across the problem of drowning in public pools and this is a thing when you have tens of thousands of people swimming in these public rec center pools. There are going to be drowning and so they’ve done everything they can and they have terrific lifeguard programs and the rest of it but there’s room for improvement.
He went looking for solutions to this and was able to find a vendor that had a video technology that could watch people swim and theoretically identify by the movement who might be drowning. Drowning victims don’t make any noise, they don’t do anything, and they’re just underwater. You don’t see them immediately below the surface, even a lifeguard in a tower. This doesn’t see them but by putting cameras in the pool behind the lights, having them scan the system then back those cameras with an AI. They were able to create a pilot program that demonstrated that they could indeed detect drowning victims in the process of drowning in a crowded public swimming pool. This is leading to an implementation of a huge program that will undoubtedly save many lives while saving the economy untold millions of dollars for each wrongful death suit that happens with each drowning. It’s a solution that pays for itself instantly while returning an amazing benefit to the community in saving actual lives. All of this because he went in and started asking questions about what are your problems? What’s going on here?
Do you know what the company was? I worked on the Board of Advisors for Radius AI here in Arizona and AI software to recognize certain activities like that which it’s interesting to me. I would be curious of who that was? What company did that?
I don’t know, but I’ll connect you with Mohammed. I know with someone from Italy.
It’s a fascinating field and I’ve had Susan Sly, the CEO. I’ve had different people like Dr. Abe Othman on the show from Radius AI and what they can do with technology. They’re doing a lot with smart cities and doing with gas stations to follow people into stores to see what they buy and different things that they used to have to do manually. I could see that their technology could definitely do something like that and I could see so many life-saving advantages for that. I had posted on LinkedIn because Radius was listed in the top ten best startup tech companies in Phoenix. I’m fascinated by all this and there are a lot of trends. I know they’re trying to do great things with AI. What do you see as far as the trends in public sector innovation?When it comes to remote or off-grid living, you need two things - money and a plan. Click To Tweet
I look at it in a lens of horizontal and vertical. The horizontal innovations are those that run across the organization, in operations, culture and ecosystems. The verticals are law enforcement, transportation, climate crisis and opioid. Organizationally, we focus on those horizontal, we want to help develop organizations build their innovation capacity so that they can then choose their own vertical that they want to focus on. We become much more innovative. We built our capacity, our culture and our ecosystem. Let’s take that capacity and apply it to law enforcement. Let’s take that capacity, apply it to opioid and then we’ll take those breakthroughs and return them back to the ecosystem. What I generally see across the sector is this huge desire and energy to level up. There’s no secret, there is no denying that the government sector is lagging in its adoption of not only next-generation technologies but in agile structures and next-generation thinking of management.
There is a big generational transition going on in local government where a new crop of leaders are coming in and they’re more risk-tolerant. They may be more open to being transparent and letting the sunshine in and being data-driven. There’s more of a willingness to take risks and to think ahead and truly a commitment to inclusive solutions that serve all constituents. Rather than just feeding the barking dog or the one that’s making the most noise, but to me the thing that’s nearest and dearest to my heart is a true spirit of collaboration and an understanding that innovation doesn’t stop at the doors of City Hall. We see these networked collaboration structures, these networked innovation structures emerging and that is a trend that we’re hoping to recognize and accelerate.
As you’re talking about aspects of culture, you are right at my alley of stuff that I love and so I had Amy Edmondson from Harvard on the show talking about collaboration. How they were able to get the Chilean miners out and how they were able to be teaming with people they didn’t even know and able to do all these things. What do you think are the biggest cultural problems that organizations are facing? Is it all not being proactive? You mentioned having foresight proactivity type of things. Do we need to be more curious, ask more questions? Culture comes from the top and we have a lot of people who maybe could use some help in that area. I’m curious what issues you see the most up?
Trust is the big one, it is. Trust trumps it all, it starts with that. The elected officials have to trust that the community supports them. The community has to trust the elected officials have their best interests at heart. The administration has to trust that the elected officials are going to give them a strategy that is meaningful and can drive change and not be reactive. The departments within the organizations have to trust that they are going to be given space to do experiments and to have small failures and to learn along the way. In organizations where we see high trust, we see high accomplishments and in organizations where there’s low trust in any elements of that chain then you see status quo.
I shared a thought experiment about how people were tested to see how much they went along with status quo thinking. That tied into what I was researching with curiosity. We found that fear is a big factor in an environment and some of the things you’re talking about which all ties into trust. Once somebody’s shot you down or said something or people shut down, that’s in all sectors and all industry. Everything that you could think of it all comes back to that. That’s what my interest was in studying it and I was interested in some of the stuff you do to help people. You deal with some challenges and you’re helping alliance members with what? What’s your biggest thing that you’re doing?
We are working with our members to what we call to level up. We take them where they are and level them up one level. I’m a gamer. Everything is always leveling up to me. The challenges do come back to these core issues of trust and communication, but we have to take it a level deeper than that. We have to get more tactical. When they say, “That’s great, but how?” We need to improve trust. Don’t just tell me that, tell me how to improve trust. Tell me how to build resilient and organic systems? Our role in this is to develop training programs and to develop an ecosystem that provides the how that works with these organizations to say, “You’re at a level four over here. If you want to get to a level six, how do you do that?” We may have some coaches on staff at Alliance that can work with them but more likely we activate ourselves as a platform where we then reach into the combined mind of the hundreds of organizations that we have. Say you should talk to some folks over here in Durham. They’re doing a great job with this. You should talk to some people over here in Fort Collins, Colorado. They’re killing it with that and they’re facing similar problems.
We act as a platform and as a connector to get people beyond knowing what to do, knowing and figuring out how to do it. I’m creating that plan and doing and supporting them. A key challenge we see is the flip side of trust is risk aversion. The local governments are historically risk-averse and for a lot of the reasons that we’ve already talked about, one of the things we can do is to lower their risk by building their support system. That way when they go into a council meeting or when the department head goes in to talk to their mayor, city manager, they can point to other organizations and say, “Boulder is doing this, Tempe is doing, Pasadena is doing this and you’re not out on an island all by yourself.” It’s not yet maybe a leading practice but it’s certainly not something that you made up. There are good proof points behind the data behind it and we can help be risk innovative practices for our organizations that way.
If people are reading this and they want to bolster this movement to transform their local government, what would they do?
Begin by looking at your role in your community. Do you work in local government? Do you work in the private sector that works with local government? Are you a concerned citizen? No matter what it is, get yourself in a mindset to demand the best. Don’t accept the status quo. Don’t accept the government is slow and the government is reactive. It doesn’t have to be and it isn’t in every organization across the country so once the appointed officials react to elected officials, elected officials respond to public pressure. As a culture, let’s demand greatness and accept nothing less. In order to learn more, I would invite people to join us at Alliance for Innovation, come to our website, it’s TransformGov.org where you can learn about a lot of case studies and different things that are going on in Alliance membership. You can join our mailing list. Lastly, connect with me. Meet me on LinkedIn and I’m always looking for great partners and partnership opportunities for an alliance. We believe we’re stronger together and would love to hear from others.
This has been so interesting and I appreciate you sharing this for everybody. You’re doing some amazing work and thank you for being on the show.
Diane, it’s a pleasure, thank you for having me.
Life Simplification With Gary Collins
I am here with Gary Collins who’s a life simplification expert. He has an interesting and unique background that includes military intelligence. He is a Special Agent for the US State Department Diplomatic Security Service, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Food and Drug Administration. He has a unique background. He has got some interesting books. You might have seen The Simple Life and some of his other work. I’m excited to have you here, welcome Gary.
Thanks for having me on Diane, I appreciate it.
I am looking forward to this because this is completely different. Simplification, we all need a little bit of simplified life. We were talking a little off the air about how you don’t use a whole lot of social media and you do things a bit different, you’re a little more off the grid, working on your work and doing some stuff. Can you give me a little background on you? What got you interested in life simplification?
It goes back to my roots. I grew up poor rurally. I didn’t have a whole lot of things. I grew up in a town. My main town was like 1,800 people. I was 20, 25 miles outside of that town, in a town of fewer than 100 people so as you can imagine. I grew up in the mountains. I grew up hunting, fishing and I always say a dumb little poor redneck figuring things out. I was the first kid to graduate from college in my family, I realized I didn’t necessarily want to live this way the rest of my life and there’s nothing wrong with it. Looking back, I learned some valuable lessons in life but my most important things were my bicycle, my dog, my baseball mitt, my basketball and my football. Ozzie in my Walkman, I go that far back in the ‘70s, ‘80s kid and my shotgun which came later on but that’s what it was. I didn’t have many items per se.
I grew up and left, went to college, went to San Diego State which was 38,000 people so you can imagine culture shock and that was my introduction to big-city living and being around a lot of people. I was a mechanical engineering major in the beginning. I’m analytical and I have a creative side, they both fight each other is what I tell people. Both sides of my brain are always constantly in a clash. I wasn’t any Doogie Howser anything. I was a boy. I had to work to get to college and there’s no way I’m going to be able to make this major work and work 30 hours a week. It wasn’t going to happen so I ended up changing to something.
I went through the catalog, criminal justice looks like a good thing. No one was guiding me, just a dumb eighteen-year-old kid going, “I’m going to change my major,” and I did and that’s what started me in that path. I’d got accepted to the Naval Academy prep school, declined it, another rocket science decision. I did all of this on my own. I didn’t have a whole lot of people guiding me besides my college counselor who was helping or my high school guidance counselor and stuff. I did go through college, graduated and the economy was bad. I decided I want to go to the military anyway. I went to the military, ended up getting my Master’s degree while I was in the military. It worked out well and went into the private sector in between and worked for a computer networking company and went back into the government.
My dream was to be an investigator. That’s what I went to college for and that’s what I did. Fast forward, I spent half my life by the time I left in the federal government or in a government agency. I think a lot of people go through this. I hit 40 and I went, “What am I doing?” I was burned out, unhealthy. I felt like life didn’t end up the way I wanted it to even though my life was still good in comparison, I went but I’m not happy. I’m not happy and there was a whole host of other things. Imagine my job and spending half your life in it and you’re just burned out. You’ve seen the worst of the worst of people and it starts to wear on, you need to do something else and that started this journey. I sold my house, sold most of my belongings and started over. I rebooted my entire life.
Were you single or did you have other people relying on you?Don’t lock into your life purpose because there's a good chance it's going to change as you age. Click To Tweet
I was single so it did make my decisions a lot easier, but also the job and for me I saw enough divorces and bad marriages in the government. It kept me away and I had serious girlfriends and dealing with relationships, but I traveled a lot. I came back a couple of times, my girlfriend was gone. There are a couple times that I’ve gone 30, 40 days, you come back and they’ve already found a new boyfriend. They’re on with something else. I realized that probably being married and trying to start a family in this atmosphere was probably not the best decision to make. It was purely analytical which is weird. It was part emotional but most probably not a good idea and by the time you get a certain age you realize that time is almost past.
I went, “I’m single, okay fine,” and didn’t think about it. That made the transition definitely easier because I couldn’t have just uprooted and sold everything and said, “Okay kids, you’re going in a tent in the backyard of this new place we rented.” It’s not going to happen so I was able to downsize drastically. I went from a typical three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath, and two-car garage in San Diego to a cottage that was 475 square feet. I knew that I had to make a drastic change. Things were not working out. I’ve always been better with money than most Americans. The only thing I owed was on my house but even that was crushing me. I got to get rid of this thing and I did I took a massive loss on my house. Unlike most people at that time, it was during the housing boom. I did everything right. I put 20% down. I remodeled, I lost $250,000 in my house. I walked away from it and said there are more important things than this house and letting it take me down in life.
That’s the decision I made. I said, “I’ll contribute to the bank CEOs bonus for this year.” I want to say that’s how I felt. I felt like I was the one who got caught in the wheels of doing things right. What are you going to do? Are you going to just whine about it? No, I said I have to rip the Band-Aid off and start over and that’s what I did. I hatched my plan and started a side business and it was in primarily in primal health, nutrition. I was training college athletes or high schoolers who were aspiring to be college athletes and then once I got to college, continued to train them. I had personal clients, was speaking, consulting, became a college professor in between. I did whatever I needed to do to pay the bills and figure everything out. I ended up renting that place for several years and then moved into my RV. I took another step and bought twenty acres that evolved. There were a couple of life events that happened and shocked me into if I’m going to do this, I need to do it. I am excited to have this planned several years prior to living more remotely again and getting away.
What do you do out there?
Anything I want, that’s what I tell people. It’s how I grew up. I still work. I’m an author. I speak. I am getting ready to start the podcast. I am getting ready for an online report. There’s a whole host of things that keep me busy and it is still life. I’m not a minimalist. I don’t live with 100 items or less but I do live a minimized lifestyle. My house is beautiful. I live in the mountains. I have 50 acres and I had two things I like. I hunt on my land, my dog and I go for walks every day, I work out, I work. I have a shooting range.
How do you pay for that? If you’re not a good speaker, if you want to live like this, is there advice that you give?
I do and I always talk about that in all my speaking events when it comes to remote or off-grid living. I say you need two things. You need the money and you need a plan. A lot of people tend to skip those two things who want to live off the grid and that’s why it’s littered with failures because people watch TV shows, they go, “This family uprooted and they’re living off the grid.” I go, “It’s TV. It doesn’t quite work that way.” The plan I do, I coach people how to get started and I wrote the books. I say you first want to figure out where you’re at? How are you going to change that? If you own a home, you’re renting or live in a city or do you live rurally. These all are factors that are going to decide where you’re going to go in this progression. Most people, I go, “Don’t rush into it. Don’t sell your house or turn it into rental and just go by land and live.” You need to figure out what you’re going to do.
My question is you’re paying for land or you’re paying for a house or whatever it is, you’ve got to pay for it and if you’re working like an author or whatever out of your house. Does it matter if you’re in a city in a house or if you’re out on a farm on the land and an RV?
It doesn’t and that’s why I also teach the three primary things. You need to get your health in order and in this country, we are number one. We are the most obese country in the world by quite a bit, we are successful at that. I tell people, “You need to get healthy if you want to live the life you want and you want to be successful, live a long life.” It just fits in everything. It decides relationships. It decides mood. It decides sex drive, cognitive function. All these are related to health. You need to start there. It’s the biggest elephant in the room. You then need to get your personal finances in order. Live debt-free. Don’t be the ultimate consumer that we’ve been taught and you must find your life purpose. If you do those three things everything else falls into place.
How do you determine your life purpose? That’s tough for some people.
It is but that is the primary thing I have found besides health that people lack in the US. I always try and focus this to the US because that’s where we’re at. Most Americans I find when I speak to them, they’re lost. They’re in a job they do not like. Their life doesn’t seem to be what they wanted to be. I’m not talking everyone. I’m talking that the stats say it’s about 70% of the general population feels this way. They’re dealing with depression. They’re dealing with health issues and I tell them your life purpose can be as simple as being the best mother, father, son, daughter or friend. It can be that basic and don’t lock into life purpose because there’s a good chance it’s going to change as you age. Mind it, I went from government, but it was always about helping people, even though my life purpose changed in a way. I’m still teaching. I’m still helping people. That’s what I do. That’s my life purpose. I tell people I could do something and make a heck of a lot more money than what I do now. This is my life purpose.
A lot of people feel the golden handcuffs, they’re stuck to whatever it is that they’re doing. I knew I felt like that when I was in pharmaceutical sales. I wasn’t crazy about that job, but other people tell you, “Yes, they get that, it is another great job. I heard it’s a great job.” It wasn’t aligned to what I like. It would be a great job for someone but maybe not for me and you find a lot of people maybe listen to what other people say. Everybody’s perception is a bit different of what is a great job and I remember sitting at a conference with a bunch of people who had the same job and everybody was sharing what they like best about the job. I remember for me the worst part was driving, I hated it, because if you’re in Arizona, it was so hot your car never cools down. I remember almost everybody at the table loved the driving part. I’m looking around and going, “What? Really?” Everybody has different things that they love. For me, the best part was doing my expense report because I like paperwork and I was the weird one out. There’s going to be the people who like to drive. There’s going to be the people like to do the expense reports. How do you know what your best things are?
That’s the magic question of life. Why am I here? What am I going to do with this time? I tell people it’s tough because you hear a lot about following your passion. My grandfather tried pounding at my head and I didn’t listen until I was much older. I did but I was falling more of what society expected me to do instead of what I truly wanted and it’s a tough decision because passion doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t feed you all the time. It makes a good plaque, but it doesn’t necessarily work in real life, but I have found that you can make it work. You just have to figure out what that is and there’s going to be a good chance of failures in there. How do you react to those failures? Do you pack it in? Do you give it up? I have failed on this journey many times but I said this is what I’m going to do and I made it work. I made it work by taking jobs doing things that I wouldn’t enjoy. They were always in the field that I believed in, but I consider myself unemployable. I cannot work in a cubicle; I can’t do it. It would literally drive me nutty.
It’s harder the older you get. If you’ve gotten away from it and you’re used to working on your own, do you think that’s harder to go back to than if you’re just in on it?
I hung around with a bunch of entrepreneurs and we all say, “I can’t go back. I’ll live in a box under a bridge and play the banjo before I’ll do that.” It’s the mindset and I tell people it looks daunting at first and everyone thinks of like “I’ve got to be like Elon Musk then. I’ve got to be like Steve Jobs.” No, think small in the beginning. I always use this as a perfect example, say you’re really passionate about artisan chocolate. If you love it, you make it at home all the time for the holidays, everyone comes over and get your special treats. I go, “Think of that,” and they go, “How is that a life purpose?”
I go, “Here’s how you need to think. You take that, you start a small store. You start selling your artisan chocolate and this specialty treats that you’ve made. You use all the best ingredients. Everyone knows and you slowly build this community.” This is how things were done many years ago, mom and pop shops. You take that passion and everyone comes your shop. I’ve done this. I’ve been to shops like this. Everyone drives for miles around because they want your special chocolate. They know you’re the brand, you’re the personality, you run it, you sell it to them, they trust you. You then pass this on to your kids. Guess what they do? They bring their kids to this shop. It’s generational you’ve created. That’s your life purpose and people will come back years from now and go, “My parents brought me here. I love this place. I still can smell the smells when I’m not even here.” That is a simple life purpose but people overthink it and would you be miserable running a business like that? I don’t think so.Life simplification means eliminating all the clutter and noise that we deal with that is burning our time. Click To Tweet
You talk to people about this and in your training you talk to colleges, you talk to organizations. Who hires you? What is their main goal of having you come to speak?
I’ve spoken at a lot of different events over the years but primarily I’m speaking at indie author conferences and also I speak for all the news fairs across the country. I do multiple events for each fair on multiple topics. I’m looking at some other stuff to come in. I can’t talk about them yet. We’re in negotiations trying to figure it out but I speak to over a wide variety of crowds.
Is it all about making your life simpler?
It always revolves around that so I speak about health, decluttering your life, living off the grid, just general life simplification. I talk about a multitude, but it always flows back into life simplification and people go, “What does that mean?” I go, “It’s eliminating all the clutter and noise that we deal that is burning our time.” It’s more in getting nothing out of it.
Give some examples of that.
A perfect one is social media. The average American will spend seven hours watching TV on their smartphones and on social media every day.
Do you watch any television or whatever?
I do, I fully admit all these bad things I do, but my TV’s a little different and I’m not saying this is an excuse, but I primarily watch Discovery, Science, History and National Geographic. I listen to a lot of podcasts. They’re usually all educational. I tell people there’s off time but there’s also you need to look at everything you do as a tool to make your life better. Does that mean every single thing you do has to be something to better your life? No, there’s a time when you need to shut things off. In watching a movie, the problem is we don’t watch movies, we binge-watch. How many people do you know spent twelve hours on Netflix straight and they went to bed at 4:00, they’re at work at 7:00 and their eyes are glazed and bloodshot? That’s the problem.
It is a little different you because it used to be you had to wait for cliffhangers and you had time, but now there’s no end to things. It continues on like a parade that never stops.
That’s what I try and teach people is that we’re in a consumer nation. The US is truly the only economy on this planet that is primarily based on consumerism. In order for our economy to grow and you’ll hear this on any business report, any business news station, they always talk about growth, the consumer. What is the consumer doing? What is the consumer index? That’s all based upon us to continue to spend more money than we make. That’s how it’s based upon and I go you have to look at that model and realize what it is and understand that you being the ultimate consumer is not to make you happy. It is to make other people rich. I hate to be that brutal about it but that’s what it is.
I know a lot of people who shop though. I saw your note that women spend eight years of their life shopping. That’s a lot. That’s high. I know a lot of people who shopped because they just are bored. They don’t know what to do with themselves on weekends or whatever. What do you recommend people do with themselves on weekends if they find themselves bored?
It’s a life purpose. If we focus on the things that matter, family, community, relationships, those are the important things in life. What most people do is they fill their free time with empty time is what I call it. It is things that aren’t accomplishing much of anything and we are taught with our free time to shop because we’re in a consumer economy. We’re blitzed with ads, I record everything. I don’t watch any TV live. I skip through all the commercials. I don’t use social media hardly at all, if rarely, and I use it for the business here and there. I get far fewer ads than most people get because I don’t let them mine all of my information 24/7.
If you are not buying products though, how does that impact if everybody did the same thing for the economy?
I get that question a lot, because our economy would collapse. I go, “It would not collapse, it would change.” Instead of being a consumer-based economy, we need to be a producer-based economy. What happened is with all the outsourcing and all the things that we import in, this is harmful to our economy but big business, big government, big financial services, they don’t want you to hear that. They want you to consume. You can consume but you want to consume things made here. You want to consume things made in your community, offered in your community.
I understand. I buy things on Amazon too. I’m an author, I’m on Amazon but I first search for the item locally. If I can’t find my item locally then I go on and buy it somewhere else and that’s not how we think. We instantly think we jumped to the big store and none of that money comes back. That money goes to the big corporation. If you buy locally, it stays within your community and that allows your community to improve to have better schools, better roads, better community health care. It all revolves around that and what’s happened is we’ve gotten away from that and understanding that by us importing all these goods that we don’t need. We also throw away 40 to 60 pounds of clothes a year in this country per family. It may have been per person, I thought was per family. I’m trying to remember that statistic and that’s absolutely ridiculous. We spend a few months buying the perfect 70-inch TV or 60-inch TV, but we just go through a simple list to find our doctor. Our priorities are twisted around and I tell people with the free time, as in the health world, I’ve heard these excuses non-stop. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough money. I’m stressed out. It’s all self-perpetuated.
Do you spend any time on the internet? I am curious how you found me because I’m on a lot of different sites. You said you listen to podcasts. I’m curious how you heard about my information?The US is truly the only economy on this planet that is primarily based on consumerism. Click To Tweet
I wish I could remember. I don’t know, I hate to say that.
Is that funny? I know that you had contacted me through the site but I’m still figuring out. Are you doing much on the internet? Are you watching any YouTube for information?
I rarely do.
You have to do some to get noticed by companies to hire you for speaking and some of that. Do you have a website?
I do things a little differently. I’m an in-person person. I wasn’t going to conferences until recently. I was building a house. I spent a few years building my house and I’m debt-free. I own everything. It took a while and there’s no financing for off-grid houses so you have to pay cash. You have to be creative with how you do it. It’s interesting because I do things differently and I like to build my relationships and everything usually one-on-one and it’s through people I know, networking in person but I also do it online as well. I do use LinkedIn. I wonder if we found each other there.
I found your note. You said you saw my book, Cracking the Curiosity Code, on Jim’s reviews.
Jim is a friend of mine.
Was it word of mouth?
It was and that’s how I do a lot of things and also the people who work for me. I have contractors. I don’t do all this stuff. I never could do all this stuff on my own. We’re all friends and I have a business model that I tell people if we can’t be friends, I don’t want to do business with you, if I can’t have a 30-minute conversation with you about other things beyond business. I find that it makes the business side not fun because it’s cold. It’s callous. It’s chasing a buck. It’s paying you for a service without any personal interaction. I don’t like that.
It’s all interesting what you do because I think that I have a lot of people on the show who talk about different things, culture and some of the same issues come up a lot, but this is unique. A lot of people are burned out and want to look at something different than the conventional life, the typical expectations and all that stuff that we have. I could see what you would have a definite niche where people are looking for this and this is fun to explore what the potentials are and what we’re doing too much of. I had somebody on who was telling me how Steve Jobs didn’t have his kids have an iPad and certain things that they knew that they want him to build certain skills that they weren’t going to get if they use too much technology, which is ideal with that somewhat in my book about curiosity. Technology is either underutilized or over-utilized sometimes. Everything that you’re doing is really fascinating. A lot of people would like to know more. We mentioned The Simple Life, your book, and different things that you have. How can they reach you and if they want to get your books or have you speak and all that?
You go to TheSimpleLifeNow.com. That’s where I primarily do everything. You can contact me. I answer all my emails to this day. I feel it is part of what I do. I write books in different pieces and I always told people this isn’t just about living rural and away from a city. Those three things that I teach work anywhere. They work within a city, without a city, more rural. I don’t just exclude people. I go everyone can do this.
It’s a fascinating look at what kinds of things we overdue and what we could do without. Thank you for sharing your story, Gary. This was so fascinating.
Thanks for having me on Diane, I appreciate it.
I’d like to thank both Joel and Gary for being my guests. We get such great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. If you go to the radio part you can listen to it. If you go to the blog you can read it and all the information about Cracking the Curiosity Code book and the Curiosity Code Index is there. I hope you enjoyed the episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead radio.
- Alliance for Innovation
- North American Association of Innovation League
- Susan Sly – past episode
- Dr. Abe Othman – previous guest
- Amy Edmondson – previous guest
- LinkedIn – Joel Carnes
- The Simple Life
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
About Joel Carnes
Joel Carnes is an internationally-recognized leader in purpose-driven innovation — working to develop technologies and systems that level-up our individual and communal capabilities to build a more equitable, sustainable, and vibrant world.
Carnes is the current President and CEO of Alliance for Innovation, a social impact organization dedicated to building thriving communities by transforming local government strategy, operations, culture, and ecosystems in hundreds of leading-edge cities across North America.
About Gary Collins
Gary Collins is a life-simplification expert. He has a very interesting and unique background that includes military intelligence, Special Agent for the U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Gary’s background and expert knowledge bring a much-needed perspective to today’s areas of simple living, health, nutrition, entrepreneurship, self-help and being more self-reliant. He holds an AS degree in Exercise Science, BS in Criminal Justice, and MS in Forensic Science.
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