Practical AI Application with Dr. Abraham Othman and Connecting Through Relational Leadership with David Wood

Specific AI tools have been widely applied in the way computers interface with society and humans over the past several years. It’s easy for people to think that it’s going in a scary direction with what they see in movies like Blade Runner or Minority Report. However, Dr. Abraham Othman, the Chief Data Scientist of RadiusAI, says it’s just our imagination getting ahead of ourselves. He says the reality of technology advancement is that you’re not enabling anything new or scary, but scaling processes that already exist but might not have been cost-effective. Dr. Othman’s research interests involve the practical applications of artificial intelligence, optimization, and computational economics. He talks about their unique work at RadiusAI such as video tracking and how various industries can benefit from such technology.

Mainstream Corporate America is heading more in the direction of relational leadership, a model that focuses on that idea that effective leadership has to do with the leader’s ability to create positive relationships within the organization. High-performance coach David Wood says being relational versus being transactional gets you the results. David coaches high performing entrepreneurs, executives, and leaders, and has built the world’s largest coaching business. As he dives into practicing being relational and revealing and telling the truth, he also introduces the concept of circling and outlines his four-step plan to a regret-free life.

TTL 571 | Relational Leadership


I’m glad you joined us because we have Dr. Abe Othman and David Wood. Dr. Abe Othman is a Chief Data Scientist at Radius AI. He’s a visiting scholar at Wharton School. He has a Harvard and Carnegie Mellon degree. This guy is bright. He’s interested in what he’s doing with artificial intelligence. David Wood is a high-performance executive coach. He’s number one on Google for life coaching and find out how he got there. It’s going to be an interesting show.

Listen to the podcast here

Practical AI Application with Dr. Abraham Othman

I am here with Abraham Othman who is a PhD. He’s a visiting scholar in the Operations, Information and Decisions Department of the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania). Abe received an AB in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University and a PhD in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon where he was supported by a Google PhD Fellowship. His research interests involve the practice applications of artificial intelligence, optimization and computational economics. He’s been named a Forbes 30 Under 30. He lives in San Francisco. He’s the Chief Data Scientist at Radius AI where I’m on the Board of Advisers. I’m interested in their work. That’s how I got to know Abe. It’s so nice of you to be on the show, Abe.

It’s wonderful to join you, Diane.

You’re obviously bright. That was quite a history of education. I’d like to know how you got to that point that you got into such an intense track.

I always had an interest in computers and computer science. It’s a common path for a lot of people that end up getting a PhD and the discipline is that they start relatively early and get enraptured with the world of programming and the world of code. For me, when I went to school, I went to college, I originally maybe like a lot of undergrads enrolled with the idea of becoming a premed. I remember the sophomore or the spring semester of my freshman year. I took the organic chemistry class at Harvard. I also took CS 51, which is the second class in the intro track of Computer Science at Harvard. I found myself spending all of my time on organic chemistry and not doing particularly well.

The computer science part felt like running downhill. It felt easy for me. Frankly, I followed the path of least resistance. I end up being an Applied Math major, which is a flexible major at Harvard. Essentially, I could take a real smattering of any mathematically rigorous class that I thought would be fun. I got a broad base of mathematical underpinnings and computational underpinnings in undergrad. When I went to school, school is different in terms of academic experience than it is nowadays. We’re back on campus for my wife’s ten-year college reunion. That was the start of the Facebook era. Facebook launched at Harvard in my freshman year. I would describe computer science at Harvard then as being much on the periphery, not in terms of being of the periphery of campus. Maybe a dozen people did it. It was not that big of a deal.

TTL 571 | Relational Leadership
Relational Leadership: Computers are employees that are fast but not particularly bright.


There was a general sense that the students who would want to do computer science would generally end up at MIT and not at Harvard. Certainly, that has completely changed right now. The instructors of the computer science class are the largest class at Harvard. The idea of people minoring or majoring in computer science is common among people who are graduating now. That’s one of the biggest changes in terms of the academic. I feel like with the lucky accident that the thing I happen to have ended up riding a ten-year boom before I finished. That’s wonderful and interesting.

To go from Harvard to Carnegie Mellon, especially back then, was a different experience because CMU is a school that’s defined by two programs, computer science and theater. In terms of physical footprint of the campus, it’s something maybe you could probably call it an averted campus, is devoted to the study of computer science. Depending on how you count, they have a large computer science faculty in the world and it’s a dedicated place towards the study of computer science. Going from a place like Harvard, especially back then where computer science was looked at a skew to a place like Carnegie Mellon where computer science is so core and central to the campus was a big change.

The form of AI that I got my PhD in, certainly at that time felt cutting edge, but rapidly it became supplanted by a special AI that emerged maybe starting around 2009 and 2010. That’s the second rise of neural networks or maybe depending on how you count the third rise of neural networks. Those are the technology that is depending again how you count it, have either been probably known since the ’50s or maybe the ’80s. What happened was that the hardware finally caught up with the underlying algorithms. You saw this huge explosion of progress in neural networks that was essentially from a failed technology. It’s unfortunate, I personally don’t believe in any biological representations of what’s happening on computers. I don’t believe that computers are in any way a model of the way our brains work.

I feel like even the name neural network is not a good name for the technology. In short, the way they work is reinforcing pathways. They can essentially learn the behavior of any function. The specific tools that have been widely applied over the past several years are convolutional neural networks in particular. If you want to look for a biological analogy, it may roughly work the way our eyes work, which is looking for small patterns and surfacing those through the level of small patterns. You start with edge detection. If you do edge detection, you can get textures, you can get surfaces. Eventually, you start being able to detect sophisticated things like that’s the head of a bird. That’s the curve of a chair. That’s the way that has driven computer vision, particularly in the past several years.

The state of computer vision a decade ago involved quite a bit of delicate hand tweaking of features, edges and points. It was not entirely successful in terms of what it would look like. The pace of technology, the pace of improvement has been so fast that we’re at the point where the things that you might need a team of six PhDs and a couple of years to do can be done in probably a couple of months by one person. The scale on it has been dramatically shortened. You can iterate so much faster, which means that the pace of technological improvement has been ferocious.

Our imaginations always get ahead of ourselves. Click To Tweet

It’s interesting to see what we come up with versus what we’ve thought could be possible what we’ve seen in movies. Tom Cruise’s Minority Report came to mind. He’s got a new eyeball in his eye that they’ve transplanted. I’m sure you’ve probably seen that. As he walks in, it recognizes the eye and calls him Mr. Nagamoto. He had a name that didn’t go along with him very well. What was interesting to me is will we be seeing much more of this recognition of people and what their habits are? How is this information going to be helpful to us?

My preferred way of thinking about the way computers interface with society, the way they interface with humans, I choose to view them this way and other people don’t. I choose to view computers as an employee that is fast but not particularly bright. If you can precisely write down the set of instructions, you can use computer technologies as a low wage employee. You have to make affordances that there’s going to be no creativity in terms of the way things happen. It’s very pedantic in terms of the execution there. When I think about particularly video tracking, which is something that we do at Radius, that’s the thing where you could imagine having a security guard sitting there and looking over hours and hours of footage, and figuring out or tallying where people are going, or even for like a gas station. This is relatively common for market research.

They’ll have a human stand in the gas station and tally up the fraction of people who go from the pump into the convenience store, where people spend time in the convenience store, maybe the average ticket in the convenient store. This is probably fundamental to the way that I think about at least near-term technology advancement. You’re not enabling anything new or scary. You’re enabling scale for processes that already exist but might not have been cost-effective. The information those researchers gather in the stores is useful to the store owners. They wish they had more of it. It’s a little bit too expensive to do any more than once a year or maybe once a quarter.

If you can replace that person with an iPad or a person with a legal pad writing down notes on where people go from the stores and the fraction that go into the convenience store with a computer technology that automatically counts for you, that enables better intelligence faster. I view it as unfortunate that my sense is that our imaginations got ahead of ourselves. The direction that I choose to look at it is that we’d like to do more frequently, but they’re too expensive and lowering the cost of it. That’s the way that I would prefer your audience to think about this technology is that we’re not doing anything new or scary. We’re taking things that are too expensive now and lowering the price.

As you talk about what you could do with this data and people want it so much because they’re tracking it anyway. What you do differs from something like Amazon Go where they track who’s buying in the store and they put in their card so they don’t have to pay for it later or whatever. I’m not sure exactly how Amazon Go works, but I’d like to know what you do at Radius AI versus that.

TTL 571 | Relational Leadership
Relational Leadership: Humans could offer a high level of service but they’re expensive. If we can replace them with technology that offers close to a similar experience but dramatically cheaper, everyone benefits from that situation.


There are a few principal differences. The first one is that the Amazon Go stores are architected specifically for this, we know who you are, no checkout technology. Generally, there are a lot of video cameras. There are also multiple sensors. There are weight sensors. They’re doing something with body heat as well in terms of where people are. They have the identities of people as they enter and exit from the cards that they use. Amazon Go is a custom-built solution to solve the problem of checkout-less checkout. With the Radius technology, we try to work as much as possible within the existing network of security cameras that are already present at a gas station and a convenience store, which is certainly one of the lines of business that we have.

What we’ll do with that is we will not know and we don’t want to know actual individual identities in the same way that Amazon might know possibly all the way up to your Social Security number when you get into it to an Amazon Go store because it’s tied to your Prime account. They have your history of the several years’ worth of stuff you bought on Amazon. They know exactly where you live. They know your address history and all of that. With the Radius solution, we’re much more interested in two things. Primarily is tracking people in a single visit to a store between cameras, which is a very interesting technology leap that I believe we’ve made. Mostly because if you think about the way Amazon Go stores are laid out, there are no blind spots for the cameras.

You can be pretty sure that you can always tie together. There are at least two cameras on somebody the whole time through the store. There’s never an issue of like, “Is this the same person as the same timestamp?” in our setting, especially because we try to work with the existing set of cameras. We have blind spots. We often have spaces where one or more than one camera is set up. Our solution as much as possible we try not to know anything about the underlying geometry of the store. What that means is that what we solved and a real core piece of our technology is the ability to track people across cameras and time without necessarily knowing anything about geometry or overlap.

That’s based on our database of what people look like from various perspectives over time and how people move through space. That’s a big core technology. The tech that’s used there is to make sure that the counts of people are correct. We aren’t double counting people that we are missing people. The second technology is individual. This is not in every store. Using a high-res image of people’s faces, we can identify people between visits. The other way that can be done is also, although a little bit less reliable if they’re driving the same car. Generally, the most reliable and the most technologically interesting one would be the high-res image of somebody’s face. That’s identified people between visits.

That identifier with the database we have no other information on the outside of that store. I don’t view that as any different than a clerk at a store recognizing you if you’ve been there a few times. This is maybe a manifestation of the way that I think about this technology. I view this as a way of doing what people already want to do, which provides customers with a personalized experience. To understand their dynamics as they go through a store, what’s attracting them more or what have you. Humans are too expensive to use for that on every single person. We know that humans could offer a high level of service, but they’re expensive. If we can replace them with computer technology that hopefully offers close to a similar experience but dramatically cheaper, everyone benefits from that situation. The whole shopping experience becomes much more efficient.

Curiosity is a lost skill. Click To Tweet

When you talk about the benefits, if I was reading this as a gas station owner if I’m running a gas station, why would I need this data? What could I do differently if I have it?

If you were a gas station owner, the idea of the worst kept secret in the retail gas industry is that it is all about the convenience store. The fuel sales are not a loss leader, but they are not the source of profitability. The source of profitability is the convenience stores, which is why virtually every gas station has a convenience store. The idea of even understanding the dynamics of what fraction of people who use the pumps enter the store and what fraction of those people purchase something that’s incredible data for understanding, “Is the layout of my store good? Could it be improved?” The other thing that we are working with now is the ability to target promotions directly on gas station displays. For instance, if it’s a very hot day, we could push a promotion to your gas station display that says that you’d have a two for one on slushies or something. The ability to tie into the gas station displays and try to drive more people into the convenience store is also a benefit. There’s probably this passive data part that helps store owners make better decisions. There is an active part that also tries to drive volume into the convenience store as well.

We’ve talked about gas stations and convenience stores, but what other industries might be interested in this technology?

In general, any retail shopping experience could be improved by having this. I say that in the sense of one of the ideas that have become common on the web is a personalized or tailored experience or products you might like, shopping on the web. Not just re-targeting but recommendation engines or whatever. The core point is that it’s very unlikely that probably if we both went to Amazon right now we would see completely different displays. There might have some common elements, but probably a lot of our Amazon experience has been personalized. The difference here is that if you or I went to a retail store, we get probably exactly the same experience. The question is, how can we bring some of the personalization of the online experience into a retail experience? That’s something that we are actively understanding.

You started that as more of the passive side of like, “Where are people in stores congregating? What are they doing? What fraction of people enter and don’t purchase anything? Building on that into more active technologies or acts of personalization, possibly you could go and have a relatively small floor team go in and work with certain customers based on what they’re doing. There are a lot of steps that can be taken in general in retail stores. I do want to say the huge differences in terms of the Radius technology versus other approaches is that we’ve tried to build something where we don’t need a physical model of the store layout or as limited as possible physical models of the store layout. The part that excites me the most are what are described as geometry-free approaches where all we use is visual intelligence of what people look like in cameras to try to match them between different cameras in different times in different views. That’s a technology that could be much more widely applied.

TTL 571 | Relational Leadership
Relational Leadership: Radius’ access to a real data moat enables it to produce good algorithms which get them even more data.


Why is that important to not have that limitation?

If you had an unlimited budget, you could probably go and build an Amazon Go store. It’s extremely capital intensive and also there are some frankly disturbing implications about the tracking that they do there. If you had an existing network of cameras, they might not all overlap. You might have dead zones. Sometimes someone might be on three cameras simultaneously. Sometimes they might be on one. If you have that setup, it’s a more viable thing for you to do to use the technology that is like Radius AI where we don’t necessarily need this camera mounted at seventeen feet, six inches high and is pointed at an angle of 31 degrees down. It can be useful. It improves the speed of deployment. It lowers the cost of deployment to have one of these geometry free models.

That’s a big change from the past. It is something that leverages the improvement in digital recognition technology and the ability to say, “Even though I have a picture of this person from the front and this person in the back, they’re the same person because they’re wearing the same clothes and they look the same.” That is something where we have made tremendous strides over the past decade. A lot of past approaches are explicitly geometry-based because of the idea of being able to understand what the same person looks like from the front, from the side, from the back, from different angles, from different heights. That was thought of as somehow not possible. It certainly wasn’t possible with computer technology. Now it is possible. Something like the Radius technology takes advantage of that in a way that ends up lowering the cost of deployment and making the decision to deploy technology like that easier for the decision maker.

I know Susan Sly who was on the show said, “You’re the smartest guy.” She knows. I could see why. I’m curious why you said this hadn’t been done before and now you’re capable of doing this. You obviously are the smartest guy. Is that the reason nobody else could come up with this? Why this is unique to what Radius AI does and other people haven’t come up with this?

I certainly think and know that many people have this idea. This is an interesting part. I think the building, not on the technology side, but on the company or on the business model side. There is something we are beginning to recognize in terms of an AI company is I’ll describe as a data moat. What that means is if say I was an upstart competitor and I was like, “That sounds good. I want to build my own multi-camera tracking engine system.” You would need to have a data source for all of these images, tag human identity is in realistic retail or gas station or conventional settings.

You would need to figure out how to get that data source. You’d have to figure out how to tag it. That in a way the underlying algorithms, while I enjoy working with the Radius team on them and thinking about them that they’re not particularly special. What’s special is the data that Radius has on thousands and thousands of people and what they look like as they move through space. Not in the sense of, “We have this enormous database of every human on the planet.” In the sense of like, “We can train a machine that the image of this person and this person, those are all the same people.” If we see something similar, we can learn to recognize the same hair color or when cameras are taken from different perspectives or they’re skewed a bit that it’s still the same person.

It’s not a question of, “Radius has smarter people or we came up with this brilliant technology or something.” It’s more that we had access to a real data moat. We were able to exploit that to build algorithms that facilitated our ability to harvest even more data and improve those algorithms even more. Essentially if you’re an upstart competitor, you would need to have a good answer. Where Radius is at now because of the amount of data being collected, not only are the algorithms good, but they’re also improving much faster than you would if you set out on your own to start this company. There is a broader trend or something that is of interest there than what you see.

What people are worried about maybe over the next decade is that this tends to create a centralizing effect where it’s learning by doing system. You get winner-take-all dynamics there because the company that’s amassed the most data can produce the best algorithms, which helps them get even more data, which helps improve the algorithms even more. You get this quickly centralizing effect. It tends to lead to large players. You look at some of the topics that are going to come up increasingly over the next decade is the centralization of these enormous technology companies because what Radius does is a little bit more on the fringes and provide core internet infrastructure.

I don’t worry about competition for one of those larger players. They’re much more likely to acquire or partner with Radius. I do think that we are sitting on a data moat. The right answer to that is, frankly it’s flattering. What Susan said is very flattering, but I don’t think that it’s not that we’re smarter or that we work harder. It’s that we were lucky to get a whole bunch of data and produce good algorithms with it, which facilitated us getting even more data. That’s the key. That makes it challenging to compete with us because you’re not competing with individual technologists. You’re competing with a technologist that’s equipped with the ability to innovate faster and improve faster and by default.

You could see why you made it to Forbes 30 Under 30. You have one of those beautiful minds. What you’re working on at Radius was interesting to me. That’s how I got involved. I was interested in Susan’s work and your Chairman Jeff’s work and everybody that is involved with Radius AI. I’m excited about the future of what you’ve been able to do there. A lot of people are probably interested in knowing more about the company. Is there a website you’d like to share so everybody could find out more?

You can find out more at There are one of those little chat agents on the site as well and some contact information there.

Thank you. This was fascinating, Abe. I’m glad you joined us on the show.

I enjoyed it. It was a great discussion. It was fun. I appreciate the kind words from you and from Susan. It’s been a pleasure to work with Susan. She’s amazing herself.

That’s definitely true and so is Jeff Cox. The two of them are unbelievable. What a combination? Thank you for everything.

Connecting Through Relational Leadership with David Wood

I am here with David Wood, who is a high-performance coach to executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders. He built the world’s largest coaching business, becoming number one on Google for life coaching and serving an audience of 150,000 coaches around the globe. I was looking at some of these people who you’ve been alongside, thought leaders, the top of the top. I watched a lot of your videos. I’m excited to have you here, David. Welcome.

Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

That’s good because this is going to be fun. I loved the energy that you have when you give your talks on the stage. I watched some of the stuff that you did. I could see why Jack Canfield had such wonderful things to say about you. He wrote the foreword for Get Paid For Who You Are?.

He did.

I want to go back before you answer how you met Jack Canfield or even know him, to the background of what got you to this place. What made you interested in becoming a coach? Can you give a little background?

I started life as a consulting actuary. I was great at math. I figured, “I’ll do the hottest thing I can I think of.” I went and became an actuary. I was consulting to Fortune 100 companies in New York. That was great but something was missing. Someone suggested I do a personal growth program. I went along and they were all smiling way too much. They all had name tags. I thought this is some cult, but I’ll get in and get out. I’m not going to be a self-help junky that seemed important to me. I saw people who did that thing as weak. I went and did a course. They cracked my cynicism. I started to see that these people had devoted their life to transformation, leadership and creating an army of leaders who could transform the world. I was like, “This really exists.”

TTL 571 | Relational Leadership
Relational Leadership: Mainstream Corporate and Business America is heading more in the direction of relational leadership.


I did the first course. I did the second course. I was like, “I’m not doing it anymore.” I found that if you did the third one, they would train you as a coach to support people going through it. I’ve got a taste of coaching during one of those programs when I couldn’t help coaching the people in the program. I couldn’t help saying, “Where are you stuck? Why did you try this?” One woman had an affair several years earlier and never told her husband about it. He’d also had an affair several years earlier and he told her. She used that to consult him for several years in their marriage. Sitting with me, she found the courage to go and confess to him and say, “I did it too.” She whisked the marriage. I was so inspired by her and her courage. I thought, “I want to live my life this way with that truth and courage.” If I can help others to do that, I can’t think of much now as a career. That was many years ago and now have been a lot of coaching under the bridge.

It’s interesting that perception we have of coaching. I was like that where I’m like, “Is it drinking the Kool-Aid thing when you go to these things?” I’ve been to somewhere I feel like they’re not very helpful. I’ve been to others that are helpful. I like that you focus on truths, keeping secrets and the problems that can bring later. You say even the small secrets are big problems though. How do we know what they are and in what respect?

I saw the metaphor for leadership. I want to talk about being relational versus being transactional, which is one of the things that I’ve been learning for many years. Now as leaders, if someone says something that hurts us, how often do we say ouch?

We are afraid of ramifications if we do.

I learned not to show that, but it’s a new word for me say in the last several years is to go, “Ouch, I feel the sting of that.” The other person knows that it landed and that it did hurt. That’s one of the powerful steps we can have in being relational versus just getting stuff done.

It’s hard for people sometimes because it’s daring. We want to play it safe. We don’t want to cause somebody to react in a negative way. We sometimes bite it up and that can be dangerous.

It’s exciting to get into someone's life and find out that they weren't at all the person you thought they were. Click To Tweet

It is. This whole concept of truth as I speak about truth daring and caring if you’re going to play for real. It seems to be coming up in our conversation and even now you said to me how did I meet Jack Canfield? I thought it was part of this truth. It was about being relational versus transactional. I met Jack at a conference where he was speaking. I was blown away by him. If I’d gone up to him and said, “Jack, would you write the foreword to my book?” That’s being transactional. I’ve got a transaction with let’s get practical, let’s get stuff done. I didn’t have any agenda. I went up to him and I said, “I admire your success and your books make me cry.” That was it. We got chatting. When he found out that I had an email list of coaches, he suggested we cross promote each other. I noticed that over the years, I tend to practice revealing and tell the truth of what’s happening.

I told him that I didn’t have a mentor and that felt like a vulnerable thing for me to want that, and to want him in that role that was a big risk of sharing that. I shared with him about all the Byron Katie stuff that I was doing. He seemed interested. When I had a way and got a month with Byron Katie to bust off and all the crazy thoughts that as humans have gone into our head, I told Jack about it. I said, “You live close. Would you be on for lunch?” He wanted to hear about it. I ended up going to his house and met his wife. It was all relational. I love who Jack is. He’s an amazing man. Some people are like, “How did you get Jack to write the foreword to your book and how did you get him to come to your event?” It was that I love the guy. I was practicing being relational instead of, “I’ve got this thing that needs to get done. Would you help me?”

I relate to that because I do this show and have people go, “What do you do? Do you charge people or do you do?” I’m like, “No, I want to talk to people.” What I learned from everybody I like to share with the world. I do that. A lot of this eclipse ends up in the courses I teach because I still teach for a lot of places and people have asked me how Keith Krach, the billionaire behind DocuSign, to write the foreword for my book. It’s the same thing. We started talking to each other from the show. We liked each other. We talk. I’m like, “You’d be great for this later if you’re interested.” He was wonderful and did it. These things happen naturally when you’re not looking for people to do things for you. You don’t have ulterior motives. It’s just, “You’re a cool person. I’d love what you have to say. Are you interested?” We don’t ask enough about that. What do you think?

I agree. You feel very relational to me from the second we got on the phone. You seem like a people person. That fits for me. On the topic of being relational, I could feel it with you. I’m wondering if you agree that mainstream Corporate America and business America is heading more in the direction of relational leadership.

I teach a lot of courses about transactional versus transformational leadership and different aspects of developing emotional intelligence. My dissertation was about emotional intelligence. I talk about empathy. A lot of what you’re talking about is what we talk about in the courses and the talks I give are about a lot of these things because my focus is on developing curiosity. My book was about curiosity. My research is about how to improve curiosity by finding the things that hold us back. I do think that this is important. That’s why I loved your stuff. You’re on my show. I’m so interested in learning from you.

I’ve only discovered curiosity. I feel like I’m a beginner in the curiosity movement. Have you heard of the authentic relating movement or circling?

TTL 571 | Relational Leadership
Relational Leadership: At the end of the day, we want more connection and live a life of zero regrets.


Tell me more about that. I’m not sure.

A dear friend of mine, Jack has been doing this thing called circling for years. He’s got this training program where he teaches relational leadership. I’ve been hanging out with him and sitting in on some of those training and this thing called circling, which is basically they practice curiosity. They have something called the curiosity game. I have gone into prison here in Colorado. We’re teaching this in prison. We’re having them practice being curious about the other person and navigating solely from curiosity. What would you like to know about the other person? It’s a lost skill and I’m excited to rediscover it for myself and for everyone else. How wonderful when someone is honestly curious about you and they want to know about your life? Let’s have more of that.

When I started to write the book, I wanted to work on it for those reasons, to build the skill because if you’re asking questions, you’re building empathy. You’re getting interpersonal skills. You’re getting a lot of the soft skills. There’s so much behind it because it leads to motivation, drive, innovation, productivity, you name it. It all comes back to curiosity. What I found was you had to figure out what was stopping people from being curious. That’s when I decided to write the assessment to determine those things. Once you can figure out what stops people, you can have an action plan for going forward. That’s interesting to me what you’re doing because it’s important to develop curiosity, but we’ve got to stop and think, “Why am I not?” There are four things that hold people back. They are fear, assumptions, which are the voice in your head, technology and environment. I imagine in the prison environment that would be a huge one of what would hold people back. People probably keep to themselves to some extent, be for safety reasons or whatever. You get fear and you get the top voice in your head. It’s all tied in right there.

I had an inmate ask me. We’ve started doing Zoom calls to support them after their training. He asked me, “How do I know when I’ve made the assumption? How do I catch myself having an assumption?” The answer is anything that you haven’t checked out with somebody, every thought you have about a person that you haven’t checked out is some assumption. We swim in it like the fish can’t see the water. We can’t see our assumptions. How exciting when you get into someone’s life and find out that they weren’t at all the person you thought they were. I’m excited about this for leaders because if you aren’t interested in the people that you’re leading, I can’t imagine you’re going to get the same performance out of them as if they know you care and not pretend to care. That’d be another course. If you get curious and you practice compassion and empathy, leading from that place seems way more interesting to me. We’ve got a goal. We’ve got the bonuses. This stuff has got to get done. Let’s go. You can do that too. Let’s do that on a foundation of being relational.

Tying into that, I give an example of baking a cake. You’ve got all the ingredients for the cake. You’ve got the mix for me. For other people, maybe flour, eggs, and they get down in the nitty-gritty. They mix it all together. They put it in a pan. They put it in the oven, but they don’t turn on the oven. If they don’t turn on the oven, they don’t get cake. That’s the thing with curiosity. Curiosity is the oven. You can have all these wanting to motivate people and have motivation in different things. If you want engagement, you want all the things that we’re trying to improve at work, we’ve got to turn on the oven. That’s curiosity. It’s important. It’s all about making connections, being empathetic and understanding all these things. Many people know certain things are important and they know they want to improve engagement. It’s such a huge topic in the business world, but we’re not building these connections. We need to ask questions and learn to reach out to people. How are we connecting? What do you see out there? Are we connecting enough? Are we getting enough of that in the business world?

I don’t think we’re getting enough of it in almost any world. I don’t have the statistics. There was a study that showed how many times people got touched on average in America versus some other cultures. There are some tribes and cultures where it’s in like an average of 150 times a day someone gets touched. In America, it was something like three.

Out of every deep dark time you have, you will learn something that'll give you a new tool and a new empathy for other people. Click To Tweet

Some people feel uncomfortable. I remember when I interviewed Ken Fisher. He was talking about that. It’s interesting because he was saying, “Some people you can touch them and they don’t like it. You could tell them not to and they won’t stop.” In America, we sometimes get uncomfortable because we don’t know where the line is. There’s so much going on with #MeToo and everything. Now everybody’s even more afraid of that. How do you get around all that?

My mind is seeing all these different angles and levels that I want to respond to that on. Firstly, if we take it to the meta-concept of connections, we don’t have to touch to feel connected. That’s a little easier in Corporate America. Firstly, I want to say if any readers are thinking, “You are starting to sound pretty touchy-feely here.” We’re getting touchy feelings. I want you to know I grew up thinking that too. I still like the loss of hippies even though I like hippies. Woo-woo spiritual stuff, that’s crazy. I tend to date women who are into that. It’s okay to be cynical and to laugh about it, but at the same time, we’re all heading in that direction.

At the end of the day, we want more connection. I want everybody to live a life of zero regrets. At the end of the day, when you’re on your deathbed, if you can imagine it, it’s going to come down to how deeply connected were you with the people that are mad at you. I’m an evangelist for a deeper connection. In Corporate America, it’s different. We can talk about context. In general, if we can at least acknowledge, I know I want to connect. I went and got a puppy because this is scientific, I want limbic connection. I want my limbic brain to feel a connection. I’m getting face snuggles. We snooze with our faces touching. This is incredible for me. I don’t think I’m the only one that wants more connections.

When we go into corporate land, you’ve got legal issues if you want to create. I can’t say enough about Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski, who created the Cuddle Party several years ago. They’ve created it as a project out of the same personal growth program that I went and did. They’ve created this. It’s spread worldwide. It gave people a place where they can have touch in a nonsexual safe environment. Now in Corporate America, I don’t know what the legal ramifications in creating that are. You don’t have to be in a puppy pile cuddling with people to get to know them and to be more deeply connected. One thing you can do is ask uncommon questions you can get curious about. You might not know this about me, but I created an app called Get Real. It’s a game to go deeper because I wanted something I could pull out, scroll through and find a question that I wouldn’t think of myself. It goes deeper than talking about the weather. It might have a question like, “If you could travel back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say? What advice would you give?”

I want to know your answer to that.

It’s going to be hard at times. There are going to be times when you don’t know if you can physically make it and you will get through. It will be hard. Out of every deep dark time you have, you will learn something that’ll give you a new tool, a new empathy for other people and you will survive it.

TTL 571 | Relational Leadership
Relational Leadership: Train yourself to set up goals, create a plan, and be more productive not because it’s the right thing to do but because it feels good to take action on the things that you say are most important.


When I first started doing the show, I asked a lot of people, “If you could go back in time, what would you change?” A lot of people would say nothing because they learned so much from what they had at the time. It didn’t feel that great.

When I asked that question of people and I’ve asked that of myself, it’s almost nothing I can find that I would change. Isn’t that incredible? Another part of our brains is in complaints and feeling sorry for ourselves about some of the things that happened, maybe some tragedies. There’s another part of us that knows that’s all fine. Everything that happened is fine. If that’s true, if we can get to that point and have that flash of realization that everything in our life or almost everything was perfect. What does that mean for the present and for our future?

Fortunately, when you’re young, it’s hard for you to grasp that sometimes. As you get older, it’s easier because you go, “I survived.” It’s almost like the Simpsons, the Kwik-E-Mart guy goes, “If you survive, please come again,” after he eats whatever he bought at the Kwik-E-Mart.

Let me throw it back to you. If you could travel back in time and talk to your younger self, what advice would you give? What would you share?

I’d tell myself try not to worry about what’s coming up because what comes up is what shapes you. If you are upset over every decision, you can’t second guess your decisions because it’s already done. You have to move on. A lot of people go, “Should I have done? Was that the right? Was that the wrong?” It’s already decided. Going over it in our minds doesn’t help. A lot of us do that. I know you have a four-step plan to a regret-free life. It might be a good lead into what are those four steps? We need to have to get rid of regrets.

These tips are embarrassingly simple. For the audience, when you hear the steps, if you’re not following them, I hope you’re embarrassed by the fact that you’re following and that’s okay. This is human nature. These steps are not rocket science. This is all fundamental to creating things in time and space. Here’s a simple recipe to get fully in action and creating the life and business that you want. Number one, do you have real goals? Real goals are goals that inspire you. It’s specific and measurable. You can imagine a huge smile on your face and your body feeling great when those goals are achieved. A lot of people do not have written down goals that inspire them. That’s one thing. Do you have a clear direction of where you’re going?

Real goals are goals that inspire you. Click To Tweet

The second one is, do you have a real plan? Even if you know what you want in your life, do you have a plan? Let’s go even further. This is super uncommon. Have you chunked it down into what needs to be achieved each month, the next several months? Month one, that’s got to be done, month two. Have you gone down further and say, “Each week this is what I’m aiming to achieve?” That’s real planning. The third one is real action. This may sound funny, but you have to implement the plan. I’ve been watching my mind and the minds of my clients. The mind is like a monkey on crack. It’s incredible. It goes off all these different tangents. The two most important things for me to feel good about my progress towards the goal that I’ve said is most important in my life. This is what has to happen. I get distracted on Facebook or someone calls me. I’m off track for fifteen minutes. Someone comes into the office and wants to talk about something fun. I get a text message or I go and do something else that maybe I’m responding to emails. I’m lost now in email or I’m doing something else that I can see how I can get it done. I feel the energy for it. I’m not doing those two most important things. Does any of this ring a bell?

I’m not saying you should get all these dialed in overnight. This can be a step process to train yourself to set up the goals, create the real plan, and to train yourself to be more productive. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it feels good to be in action on the things that you say are most important. I call that integrity. Step four is if you’re doing the goals, you’re doing the plan, you’re in action, that’s great. The growth is probably going to come. I needed to slip it in there in case it’s not there. Have some attention on going and doing landmark education, the Landmark Forum, which is a great initial program to challenge your mindset and give you a totally new frame of thinking or work with a coach. You can read all those spiritual books. Maybe that’ll do it for you. Do something that is going to keep you finding your edges. Ultimately, I want you to have a deeper connection. Keep growing, keep connecting and that’s a four-step recipe for a good regret-free life.

Everything you talk about was so fascinating to me when I watched your videos. You have a great site, great information on there. A lot of people would want to know more about what you do, how they could go to your events and watch you speak. How can they reach you if they need to?

Two things you can do, one is take the five-minute Life Assessment. Go to PlayForReal.Life, click on Life Assessment at the top and you’ll get some great information in ten minutes about yourself and about your life. If something I’ve said resonated with you and you feel you’d like to create a plan for your life and business, I don’t charge for those sessions. One because I love doing them, but two because it’s how I find the right clients to work with long-time. I would love if you go to the website, do the Life Assessment and click on Request Session. If you qualify for the session, I won’t charge you. It may be that one session is all you need. Off you go and implement it on your own or if it looks like coaching will make a great impact, we can talk about working a deal.

Thank you so much for being on the show, David.

I’d like to thank both Abe and David for being my guests and we get so many great guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Dr. Abraham Othman

TTL 571 | Relational LeadershipAbraham Othman, Ph.D., is a visiting scholar in the Operations, Information and Decisions Department of the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania). Dr. Othman received an A.B. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University in 2007 and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University in 2012, where he was supported by a Google Ph.D. Fellowship. His research interests involve the practical applications of artificial intelligence, optimization, and computational economics. In 2015, Dr. Othman was named to Forbes Magazine’s “30 under 30” list. He lives in San Francisco where, among other roles, he is Chief Data Scientist of RadiusAI, a company that uses video analytics for personalized shopping recommendations.

About David Wood

TTL 571 | Relational LeadershipDavid Wood is a high-performance coach to executives, entrepreneurs and leaders. He built the world’s largest coaching business, becoming #1 on Google for life coaching, and serving an audience of 150,000 coaches around the globe. He now coaches high performing entrepreneurs, executives, and leaders to play the best game they possibly can, deepening connection and living a regret-free life. How? By setting life-changing goals, taking laser-focused action, and increasing their levels of Truth, Daring, and Caring – in both life and work.



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