You wouldn’t think it possible for a little girl to dream about being a railroad professional, but that childhood fascination turned out to be the future for Roquita Coleman-Williams. With her unique leadership experience in an industry traditionally dominated by men, Roquita soon had herself thrust upon the TEDx stage as a thought leader in diversity and inclusion. Joining Dr. Diane Hamilton for this interview, Roquita discusses how servant leadership can strategically bridge the inclusion gap in organizations, how change can start from the middle and how to achieve sustained cultural change. Roquita is one remarkable woman who has a knack of finding herself in places where she “isn’t supposed to be” and challenging the status quo. Listen in and partake of her wisdom and experience.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” as the old wives’ tale would have it, but that age-old “wisdom” misses the point of curiosity being a catalyst for change. Emily Mishler is on a mission to challenge this outdated way of thinking by planting seeds of curiosity among the new generation. Out of that passion was born Esmè the Curious Cat, a children’s book series that inspires future generations to be the change that they wish to see. Going by the penname of Em Valentine, Emily created a character that is a reflection of herself but also of a bigger movement towards promoting curiosity and creative thinking. Listen in as she shares the genesis of Esmè and some revelations of future directions with Dr. Diane Hamilton.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Roquita Coleman-Williams and Emily Mishler. Roquita is a sales and marketing leader in the rail industry. She’s got a great TEDx Talk and I’m looking forward to talking to her about that. Emily is a philanthropist, a creative and managing director, and author of children’s books that focus on curiosity. I hope you’re curious because it’s going to be a great show.
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Railroading Diversity And Inclusion Through Servant Leadership With Roquita Coleman-Williams
I am here with Roquita Coleman-Williams, who is the Assistant Vice President of Sales for Patriot, a class one railroad professional business development expert, and civic leader. She specializes in coalition building commercial partnerships and the management of strategic market development. She’s also a TEDx speaker and thought leader in diversity and inclusion. It’s nice to have you here, Roquita.
Thank you for having me.
You’re welcome. I was looking forward to this. I loved your TED Talk, as you know I’ve seen and we talked a little before the air about that. I was impressed that you did a TEDx. I watched it on TED. How did you get on TED?
That’s interesting. I scratched my head sometimes wondering how that happened. It came about because I serve on several boards in the Memphis community. One of the principal roles that I’ve had for the past few years is as a commissioner on the Board of Commissioners for Tennessee’s largest Transit Authority. It was that particular role where I saw myself having an audience in those circles of thought leadership and quite honestly, someone who had the privilege of being a TED speaker in the previous year made a recommendation. They were saying I had a unique story as a woman in railroading, a sales leader, and had the experience of putting feet on the ground. They thought it was a story that should be told.
It was a great talk. I enjoyed it. I’m interested in the whole fact that you wanted to be a railroad professional, to begin with. I know you said you grew up in not the greatest areas and that you’ve pulled you into this amazing work that you’ve done and you’ve accomplished all these things that a lot of people don’t do. They don’t get out of certain areas of town and they don’t succeed as you have. I want to get a backstory on you so people can appreciate that.
I still have to say, I have a commitment to being where I don’t belong. I keep finding myself in spaces where I’m the only person who looks like me, sounds like me, or similar backgrounds. For many years, that’s how I started. I grew up in the 38126 ZIP code in the poorest community in Memphis. In fact, up until a couple of years ago, the ZIP code that I was born in had the lowest economic mobility in the country. We’re looking at a greater than 90% chance that I’d be able to make more than $15,000 or $16,000 a year.
Statistically speaking, there was little chance that I’d be able to move out of poverty and let alone for my children to be able to move out of poverty in a single generation. It was a challenging set of circumstances. The intervention as well as people believing and building inclusive environments also believe that no matter what your circumstances are of your birth, those should not be the predictors of your overall success and ability to reach your potential in life. I’ve been blessed to have those individuals to be pulled into my life and to have them lift me up even when I didn’t know quite where I was going.
That is amazing but I’m curious, why trains?
Most people talk, “Someday I’m going to do this.” It’s an unusual way to go and it’s interesting, but I don’t know what would direct you in that area.
My father. This is what happened. I started my career years ago in transportation working for UPS. I started out in transportation. I wasn’t setting out to be a logistics professional. I wanted to work for a good company that values people so UPS was where I started my career. I spent ten years there and ironically, a recruiter called me about working for the railroad. I called my dad and I said, “Dad, I have a progressive career with UPS.” I grew up loving trains. We literally live blocks from the train tracks. In fact, for the company that I later went to work for. I would stand there and check out all these big beautiful machines and how powerful, dangerous, and all of that. I was overwhelmed by that as a little person. I said to myself, I can remember, I had to be 8 or 9, I was like, “I want to drive one of those one day.” That was my thought.
When the recruiter called me and told me they were recruiting for a role with the railroad, I called my dad and it’s like, “I’m not sure about this.” He says, “Look here. The railroad is the granddaddy of logistics. You’ve decided this is what you’re going to do so either you’re going to go all the way to the top or you got to check out and do something different.” I said, “You’re right about that.” If you’re committing to a career in the supply chain, as I have, at some point, you have to wrap your hands around the role that trains play in as an enabler in moving our economy forward. That’s what I chose to do.The circumstances of your birth should not be the predictors of your overall success and ability to reach your potential in life. Click To Tweet
Like I said, I’ve been fascinated by trains since I was a little person. I didn’t ever believe, quite honestly, that I would have a career in the rail industry. I never saw people who look like me as a professional. I didn’t think that there was such a thing as a railroad professional. If you drove the trains or you worked on the track, I’m not sure that there was an idea around other people that do business in the railroad. It wasn’t until I started working in the industry a couple of years ago that I started to get that there’s a whole business around railroading in and there was a space for women in that.
I’m envisioning Chris Pine and Denzel Washington movie in my head all the people in the office. Is there anything like that? That’s what I have in my mind.
There was a bit of dramatization in that.
It’s not that quite glamorous?
Not quite like that.
I could imagine that it’s a unique industry for women to want to get in. I remember when one of my first jobs was an egg cabin, when you say being in a place where you’re the only one who looks like you. I was the only woman. There was no one else and it is a weird position to be in. Your message was great about doing things that were challenging the status quo because my work is all about that. My work is with curiosity and developing curiosity in organizations, is when they asked me what of how I define curiosity, a lot of it is getting out of status quo thinking. Where did you get that? It sounds like you had strong family members who influenced you. Do you think that is part of why you challenge the status quo?
A couple of things. One is, the women in my family are dynamites. We have a lot of women in our family that are entrepreneurs we have a considerable entrepreneurial spirit. I watched my mom, my grandmother, and my aunt deep dive in there and create their own path for themselves. It’s certainly from that, but early on, I have a couple of good bosses, both male and female. Instead of trying to make me conform to some sense of what corporate culture looks like, they helped me to look at what my strengths were, how to play to my strength. To look at some of the areas that was a deficit that I could build on without focusing completely on. How do you take some of these things that you need to grow into without abandoning your strengths and focusing all on this stuff and play to my strengths? Playing to my strengths meant walking into the room and saying, “Let’s consider a different way.” That was one of the things that I was encouraged as a young professional to do to ask, “Is there another way?”
I love that you do that. I know you talked about servant leadership and other things in your TED Talk and I teach a lot of classes where I teach servant leadership and the value of it. It’s an important discussion of what companies get from their leaders, if leaders sit at the top and dictate down or if they’re at the bottom of this pyramid. Invert the pyramid and hold people up. You talk a lot about inclusion and you said it starts in your head. I love that. I love that quote that you gave of Verna Myers. Do you want to give me that one? That was great.
“Diversity has been invited to the party and inclusion has been asked to dance.”
That’s such a huge difference. Are you seeing that we do a good job with diversity and not inclusion or do we need help with both? What is your point with that?
There has been an effort at representation in creating diverse environments. There has been a legitimate effort and we’re seeing the benefit of that effort. Where there has been, and there needs to continue to be evolution in the space of inclusion. You brought up servant leadership. Servant leadership has an opportunity to close that gap. Here’s the thing, coming into this industry, I said, “I didn’t feel I belonged.” I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be in the room. I was like, “Let me get in here and play to my strengths.” While all the time not feeling there’s a space made for me. Instead, I felt like I was in the room and I had to accommodate every need that existed in the room except for my own.
That was the rhythm in which I walked in as an employee of a company of your organization or industry but it was that pathway to servant leadership. It was in that space where I was asked to contribute to a greater good that didn’t involve me earning a living. That real sense of belonging happened and when that sense of belonging happened, I went from seeing myself as an employee as someone who could give and create culture. I thought, in the beginning, that culture is created by the executives by the senior members.
I’ll do my work, I’ll perform and when I get to the top, I can create culture. I’ll create a space where a peacock or peahen can walk into the room and there will be a space for you amongst the lions. It was in that role of servant leadership that I realized that I don’t have to wait for the title or until I get a former title of Vice President. From this middle space, there’s an opportunity to create a culture and that starts with myself. That starts with reconciling my own sense of not feeling like I belong in the stories and narratives that you tell yourself in order to feel that way.
That also starts with educating and advocating with people who get it and want to understand how to be power brokers, leverage their power for the benefit of other people, and wants to be allies. I can do that from the middle. I don’t have to wait until we get to the top. That’s where servant leadership is an opportunity for all of us, and especially for middle managers to close that gap between the frontline people’s experience of their organization and executives who are focused on policy and system changes. Where can we close a gap? Middle managers do have an opportunity to do that through the roles of servant leadership.
I’m often asked the question that brings up is, “Can you develop a sense of curiosity in your employees if CEOs don’t buy into the need for change for that cultural change?” You’re saying that you can have an impact on the middle leadership roles. Do you think that if you encourage curiosity in the middle leaders would the top people say, “No, we like status quo ways of doing things?”
There are going to be some challenges but the thing is every professional has the right to choose for themselves. It’s like parenting. My husband and I have our own sense of our strengths as parents, but we have some blind spots. We don’t go out and try to remake ourselves in the image of perfect parents. Instead, we’ve met people and developed relationships with people over time. I’m not good at crafts, but I have the best friend in the world. When October comes around, she’s going to sit there, and she’s going to carve out a pumpkin with my son. It’s going to be the most beautiful pumpkin. I’ll never have to carve out a pumpkin ever in my life.
I have another set of friends up in West Virginia, who hike and pick rocks. I don’t want to hear about rocks. I don’t want to hear about dirt and I don’t want to know about the minerals, they’re made up. She goes out and she spends thirteen hours talking about rocks. The same thing exists in our executives. You don’t have to recreate yourself. If what you find is your people need something that you can’t yourself deliver, that’s where you go out to the community at large and say, “Mr. Nonprofit Organization, Mr. Civic Organization, Mr. Municipality, I have people in my middle that need to be developed. Here are some areas that as an organization, we don’t have the ability now to focus on. There are gaps in our culture that we want to feel. How can we collaborate to have a program by which we send middle managers, not only our executives, out into the world as nonprofit leaders or civic leaders, in order to develop them in spaces where we don’t have the resources to do internally?”
That’s where those partnerships can exist and if you find that at the top of the organization that mentality and shift are taking place, you have the responsibility to take control of your own career, own path and to make that decision for yourself and say, “This is the type of environment I want to work in. In order to have that, I have to start with me first.” “Where do I want to serve? What organizations out here align with the greater good that I’m that I want to invest my time in?” As I’m doing that, how can I develop parts of myself as a professional that helped me to grow in my ultimate career while I’m also serving?
I’ve had a lot of people who said, “Sometimes it’s time to cut bait.” You have to know when to move on and others. Sometimes it’s a communication thing and sometimes management leaders, they haven’t had this conversation. Sometimes we can open up that dialog and that’s what I’m trying to do with a lot of companies with getting them out of that status quo way of doing things. First of all, your rock friend needs to meet my ex-husband. They would get along famously. He’s a nice guy, but he loves all that stuff which I’m not a real big rock fan either.
It’s interesting to know the things that make you passionate and I was thinking about the passion you expressed in your presentation. I always like to watch TED Talks and TEDx Talks, because I know everybody whenever asked about them, they’ll say, “It’s super stressful and all the stuff they have to go through.” You did this crescendo when you started to talk about the status quo towards the end, and I loved the way that came across it’s powerful and that it is such a powerful time. That’s a time for emphasis. As I was listening to so much of what you talked about, you brought up many important things.
We’ve already talked about a lot of them with your civic leadership, inclusion and you talk about passion, purpose, and values. You start out giving by making fun of yourself a little bit in your enunciation and things that you said at the beginning. You don’t need to take yourself super seriously sometimes when you’re communicating. Do you find that as a leader that it’s fun to do a little bit of self-deprecation and then prove that we don’t know everything and we can have fun at our own expense?
One of the things that annoyed me is I saw this and I can’t remember if it was Inc. Magazine, but someone posted how women who use humor and presentations are not looked at in the most favorable manner is when men use humor in presentations. All that annoyed me. That did it for me particularly when I know that humor is one of my areas of strength. When I was doing my talk I was looking at what my values are. What are the things I value? What are my strengths? How do I play to my strengths this year? That kept sticking out. In my head, I’m thinking, “What does that say to a female professional, when you say to her, the thing that makes you strong, and that has propelled you in your career at some point could hurt you?”We all get to choose who we want to be and the most important part of it is authenticity. Click To Tweet
I agree with that because a lot of men can get away with saying certain things and women get criticized more.
I wanted to demonstrate that there’s a flaw in that and that at the end of the day, all of these roles exist. It’s like, “If women do this, it’s a double gain. You’ll get the tax if you do this. There’s no penalty to it this year” All of those roles, at the end of the day, are generalizations that have nothing to do with you as a person.
That’s a good way of looking at it.
We all get to choose who we want to be and the most important part of it is, is it authentic? There was a time when I was pretty disingenuous, where I’d make fun of myself for the purpose of disarming other people? It wasn’t to connect. It was to disarm and have them lower their shields a little bit but it wasn’t with the intent of building a genuine connection. What changed it for me was when I flipped that switch to believing I’m the smartest person in the room and I’m going to make you believe that I don’t believe I am. From that to an effort of it doesn’t matter how do we collaborate? How do we connect and how do we build trust? The intentionality of it matters more than whether you take yourself seriously or not. What is your intention? Is your intention to be right, to be smart, or is your intention to inspire and to lead people?
You talked about that in your message. You told yourself you had a nagging voice in your head that said you’re not as smart as they think you are and a lot of leaders have that imposter syndrome. We’re worried that we’re going to be discovered but do you want to be the smartest person in the room? Don’t you want to learn from everybody else to some extent? Do you think that younger generations are less like that than maybe Boomers where we felt we had to be the smartest, the best, or whatever leader? Do you think they’re more collaborative and don’t hold on to that as much potentially?
I do think that there was certainly an urge to have a mastery of everything that in order to be considered a professional you had this deep endless bucket of knowledge. If you ran across an experience that you weren’t 100% prepared for then you have to go back to the drawing board and get some more depth and return to the table. I do believe that the younger generation is like, “No thanks. We’re good.” A, they don’t want to invest that type of time and B, they do want to get to the impact.
Ultimately, if you’re focused on the impact you’re having and how you’re landing, you don’t tend to dig as deeply. There are some positives to that and some freshness to it. It is definitely an environment that breeds creativity and innovation but I also think that it breeds a bit of impatience. When you’re talking about sustained cultural change, sustained change that sticks and stays, there has to be a bit of patience in that.
You talk about many important things as we’ve gone through a lot of them and I’m curious most people are doing TED Talks. I have consulting businesses, speaking businesses, and books. What other things are you doing on the side? Are you completely focused on the railroad?
I’m completely focused on the railroad. I have to admit that when I came into community leadership and working with certain nonprofits and in civic leadership, a portion of that was motivated by burnout. A portion of that was motivated by simply getting to the point in my career where I was like, “Hold up. I’ve hit the seven-year mark and I don’t know where to go.” The rail industry has an established rooted culture.
At the seven-year mark, I still hadn’t quite figured out, how do I play this game. I wasn’t even sure what game it was. In order for me not to check fully out and disengage, I had to create a space that I could focus on something positive. I had to be able to create a space where I could focus on the greater good. That’s what I had to do for myself and I’m glad that I did that. Eventually, I started to understand the culture. I started to understand my motivation, and how my motivation and the culture aligned. I started to understand how my values and the company’s values aligned. In that spirit, I could align more of my energy and my time to my career and make sure things integrated better.
A piece of that exploration in servant leadership is how does this integrate with what you do for work? How does this integrate with what you do to make a living so you’re not exerting and burning much energy being pulled in a lot of different ways? Everything that I do now integrates well. If I serve, I serve in spaces where there’s integration between my work, my passions, and those things that I want to contribute to. I’m not feeling like I’m turning off one side of my brain and turn on the other.
A lot of leaders could use a lot of the advice that you give here and in your talks. It was motivational. To me, I love that you are tied into the status quo and getting out of that, and all the things that we need to talk about more. I hope people take some time to watch your talk and check out your information. Is there a website or some way they could follow you or something you’d like to share?
I’m on LinkedIn. Send me a note and let me know that you read the blog. Give me a message and let’s connect on LinkedIn. I’m an active LinkedIn user. I love to connect with other professionals. I am on Instagram and on Twitter. I’m not a bit of a Facebook user these days. It’s the social media thing that like most people found myself a little burned out with all the content that’s out there and it’s harder to not see things you don’t want to see. I’ve removed myself from taking in much content, but I’m always looking for opportunities to connect with people who are willing to say, “How can we do this differently?”
Roquita, thank you for being on the show. This was fun.
Thank you for having me.
Planting Seeds Of Curiosity With Emily Mishler
I am here with Emily Mishler aka Em Valentine, who is the driving force behind the Cultivated Group and The World of Esmè the Curious Cat on a mission to ignite empower individuals and organizations to be the change you wish to see in the world. It’s nice to have you here, Emily.
Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here.
I’m excited to talk to you about this. I was looking at some of your work like the Esmè the Curious Cat books and I love anything that deals with curiosity, as you know. Our good friend Justin Breen introduced us and I could see why he would see that we would have plenty to talk about. I want to start with a little bit of background on you and what made you interested in writing about a curious cat?
I know we’ve all likely heard the old wives’ tale, if you want to call it that, the old saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.” In something that I found to be a driving force in my own life is curiosity. What I found is that within the context of my own life, and many of the other adventures I’ve heard of other people going on, curiosity not only has been a driving force but it’s done a catalyst for change. I don’t necessarily think that’s something that’s talked about through that old wives’ tale.
In a serendipitous series of events, I found myself in a position where I had within my own life gone through a few different transitions. One of which was finishing up an MBA, doing the whole mid-twenties trying to figure out life thing, wanting and craving some significant impact in the world, but didn’t understand what that could look like or what the possibility of that could even look like. I found myself in a position to be able to travel and explore while consulting full-time. Doing that, I leaned into that driving force that is curiosity and exploration. Not only explore the world but also explore myself and the ways that I believe that I am meant to be here to impact others.
The results of that, not only exploration of myself in the world, but a lot of the experiences and adventures that happened along the way where much of the fuel that is this new brand and children’s book series that we’re launching called Esmè the Curious Cat. I don’t know that I ever imagined myself to be an author. I don’t know if I even imagined. It has been on my bucket list to publish a book or do anything like that but we’ve found that we’re on a mission to pave the way for a new generation of leadership through this children’s book series. It happens to be a beautiful vessel to be able to do that and plant seeds for future generations to be the change that they wish to see. We are excited to be here excited to be launching this brand and looking forward to talking about it further.Curiosity is a catalyst for change. Click To Tweet
It’s an interesting concept and I noticed you had Erin Spencer as the illustrator and we talked about Esmè as the name of the cat. I’m curious about why Esmè and why the glasses on the cat. I’m curious how you came up with the look and the whole thing?
It was fun. Erin and I, as we were designing and developing the character, we both are specific and have a tight vision of who we knew Esmè to be as we were developing who she is, how she acts, and how she visually and verbally expresses herself. As we co-created this entity or this person or figure, for lack of a better term, myself being the author and the driving force behind this knew that we wanted her to have elements of things that were not only reflective of me. Not completely indicative of myself but reflected and little nods to things that were important to me as the adventures were intertwined.
The way I like to think about it is that they were fictional but true. She goes on being inspired by my own, much of the character also is inspired by my own experience and also Erin’s experiences. Although they are fictional in some cases. The glasses are to my own glasses, they’re an exact match for glasses that I wear. We wanted to make sure that she was a little bit gender-neutral and also culturally ambiguous because we think it’s important to communicate the importance of diversity and the asset that is diversity in many circumstances. We didn’t want her to be locked into one specific culture based on not only her name but also visually how she looks, which is also part of the reason that she’s in fact a cat.
It brings to mind some of the cartoons where this character’s blue. I like that where it makes everybody in the same realm when you’re looking at this. You say it’s a she but did you ever think of having it be a he?
It hadn’t crossed my mind, but I don’t believe at this point but the fact that we identified her as a She is a defining characteristic.
You’ve got to pick it. Eventually, it’s going to be something. Writing from a female perspective, you’re going to probably pick a female and I understand that. I see that you say that Esmè got all these different lives in your book. You have extra curriculum guides and stuff. Did I see that? Do they come with PDF and teaching tools? What’s all that about?
As we’re looking to build and grow this brand, we’ve launched our first few books so we’ve been working diligently on this and it’s something we believe in. It’s been a fun project to lean into and a fun light in the midst of the chaos that happened in 2020 in many different ways. As we’ve lean in, we realized that students were going back to school and teachers were needing resources that they didn’t necessarily have access to. Teachers are teaching not only in a digital format but also in person and money circumstances and parents, guardians, friends, family members are being asked to become teachers, without any training.
We realize there is a beautiful time now for us to be able to invest in a different way in the community that we’re building through this “World of Esmè the Curious Cat.” Rather than creating random different materials, it started off as a whiteboard exercise. We were trying to figure out how we can help. What do we need? What do people need? We ended up creating curriculum guides that are aligned with a core curriculum within about 40 states of the US that are educational principles for grades K-3.
We’ve aligned exercises based on math, science, technology, and social studies, even arts are in there too. It’s to be able to provide resources and tools for kids to be able to walk themselves through activities or guardians to be able to also walk them through activities that are helping with their cognitive development while also helping with their emotional, mental social development as well. Leaning into creativity as an exercise as a part of that curriculum and curiosity while also making sure to hit on those core standards. We realized that there was a beautiful opportunity to be able to do this, and we’re excited to be able to provide those for free on the website.
I’m curious why the pen name.
In a past life not my own lifetime, but about a few years ago if I’m being honest. In my “past life” I was involved in beauty pageants within the Miss America organization. I had a tremendous experience but much of that revolved around frankly my face, and my name. Being a competitor in an organization like that, your personal brand and yourself becomes much a staple of the entirety of that competition as you continue to move forward.
Through that, I realized that I don’t want the emphasis to be on me, especially when it comes to creating an entire world of impact through this character. I don’t need it to be about me. I do realize at the beginning, as we’re launching this, it’s going to be important for me to have a human advocate to be able to help spread the word and have conversations like we’re having now. I fully understand the importance of it but I’m eager and excited about a time when it doesn’t necessarily need to be like that and make it a little bit more established.
The pen name is because although they are in many of Esmè’s adventures are inspired by my adventures, they aren’t in fact mine. This is an art. It’s a project that I feel I have the privilege of nurturing, growing and it doesn’t need to be about me. That was a nod to that. Valentine is in my family. It’s both on my mother’s and father’s side so it was a nod. Although it is a pen name, it’s also a nod two things that are important to me.
For the people who are reading, the book shows the author’s name of Em Valentine. That’s what I was interested in because you go by Emily Mishler and it is important that everybody can find the book so I wanted to make sure they understand. That’s why I asked you that. You do philanthropy now. Is it tied to this book at all? Is it something else because you list yourself as a philanthropist?
Yes. It’s both tied to the books and something else. Full-time what I do in my “real job” if we even have those anymore as entrepreneurs, sometimes that one can get a little bit blurred but I run a series of organizations. It’s an umbrella company with subsidiaries called The Cultivated Group. What we do is mostly service-based and it is all about connecting the business brain to the servant’s heart of many impact based organizations. A lot of what we do ends up being fundraising and ends up being a lot of things within the philanthropic space because the majority of what we do is impact based but within the subsidiaries, we have one that is focused on the nonprofit sector.
One is focused on the for profit sector and one is focused on the creative sector, which is where the Esmè the Curious Cat brand lives in that creative piece. A lot of what I do is within the world of philanthropy. It’s connecting those business brains to those servant’s hearts and making sure that the entirety of your “business body” is healthy enough to be able to last as long as it means or for as long as you’d like to in order to make your mission, vision and values a viable reality within the world.
It’s admirable that you do all these things and I love that you’re focusing on children in this respect. It was interesting to me when I studied curiosity. I had to study it in kids even though my work deals with developing it in adults. It was surprising to me how much of a dramatic decline we saw with curiosity around age five. It piques up until that point and it tanks until we get into adulthood. I love that these books are aimed at the young generation. I’d like to see more focus on adults because a lot of us have already tanked, unfortunately, and we’re at that spot.
What was interesting to me was what kept people from being curious and I’m wondering if any of your books deal with the four things that I found that inhibit curiosity. The four things in my research were fear, assumptions, which is that voice in your head that tells you that you don’t want to do something, technology, which is over and underutilization of it and the environment. It’s everybody you’ve ever met in your family, friends, teachers, social networking, or any of that stuff. Did you touch on any of those topics so kids won’t tank as we have in the past?
You were speaking my language. I’m grateful. I’m excited. That was much of the intention behind not only this brand but we’re going with it. What we realized is it wasn’t necessarily fear but it was in much of our own experience. Fear holds us back from many things and it is much to do with that voice that holds us back from even pursuing any inkling of curiosity, which is a set agent for change within our own lives. In order to bridge the gap from the life that we wish to be living from where we currently are it ultimately takes a bigger step than sometimes we feel we’re capable of making.
As we were leaning in, I mentioned it a tiny bit earlier when we were talking about the curriculum guides. Something that we’re hoping to hit on is both cognitive developments. Some more “book smarts” but also leaning into emotional and social development when it comes to kids. For us overcoming challenges, and being brave and talking about courage, and also leaning into curiosity, connection, the value and importance of diversity. As we’re walking through these books that are exploring different parts of the world, we’re also teaching life lessons much like those things. Those are absolutely things that we’re looking to hit on because within our own lives, particularly as adults, I didn’t know that it was about the age of five that curiosity tanks.
Frankly, I’m not surprised, because that’s when we’re introduced into a totally different system within the education system and introduced to different social situations that we might have been otherwise. We also get introduced to the stark idea of comparison to those around us. Much of the heartbeat of what we’re building with this is to teach kids to learn to value their own voice, own experience, and lean into the gift that is their imagination and that inherent curiosity.
You brought up many important points. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on emotional intelligence so all the cognitive and social, emotional development that you’re talking about is critical to discuss in a lot of the work. I had Daniel Goleman on the show, who is the big leader of thinkers in emotional intelligence. I talked to him about curiosity and he said he thought it was a key skill for the future. That’s quite an endorsement coming from the guy. You hear all about the value of curiosity but it ties into some of the other things that also tanks. Creativity tanks at the age of five too. I don’t know if you’ve seen Sir Ken Robinson and George Land’s TED Talks. They deal more with creativity but it’s the same thing. They talk about how we educate ourselves out of some of our capabilities.Kids need to learn the value of their own voice and lean into the gift of their imagination and inherent curiosity. Click To Tweet
It’s important to get these things focused on early because once they get into higher education, by that time, we’ve focused on some of the hard skills but when you get into the working world, you’re hired for your knowledge, but you’re fired for your behaviors. I want to see a lot more curiosity tied into building these social skills because, in addition to studying curiosity, I also studied perception. What I found in my research is perception is a combination of IQ, EQ for Emotional Quotient, CQ for Cultural Quotient but CQ for Curiosity Quotient as well. If we can build all this in kids, by the time they get into the working world, they’ll be more ahead. I love that. I’m curious if you plan to do any additional things you added in the PDFs and the different things. Are you considering toys or any other component?
We are so we wanted to introduce essentially down the line, we’ll do something called Letters from Esmè. It’s highlighting a different place every month. It’ll be a subscription model. You’ll be able to go on adventures every single month with her as she travels from place to place focusing on those skills, but also introducing new locations around the world especially throughout this time that we are a little bit more physically isolated than we ever have been and access to travel doesn’t feel as accessible. It’s leaning into learning about the value of cultural diversity and even different cuisines, how to cook different things, how to try new things, play, and explore the experience that is life.
We’re looking to do that. We’re also looking to eventually have more products. We do have a shop on our website if anybody is curious. We have something that we’ve created called Passport to The Planet, which serves as a mindfulness journal. It’s something to write little tidbits on, sketching, or whatever you’d like. It’s a blank journal that we’re working on different activities to be able to prompt more not quite regimented, but a little bit more of an event fluid framework, if you will, for using that intentionally as you go about your day, life, or you’re working out through your issues or anything like that. There are a few different things that we have on the docket that we’re excited about much of which is available on the website.
It reminds me of a little bit of Carmen San Diego when my kids were young, but that was more of a geography-based thing. I know you’re doing some of that, though. In the first book, the cat was on a globe, and later in airplanes and different things. Two of them had airplanes. Are you looking at this as a geography thing or is it in general curiosity about everything?
It’s more curiosity about everything but it is the core pillars of this are creating connections, cultural awareness, emphasizing the value and importance of diversity. Also, learning and teaching the importance of cuisine within cultural connections, advocacy, conservation, providing opportunities to learn life lessons, all whilst traveling the globe. It’s not necessarily about the travel or the life lessons exclusively. It’s how life is.
You’re in perception too.
You go for one thing, you end up getting something else out of it and that’s what we’re hoping to plant seeds about this with.
It’s important when we talk about the perception aspect of what you’re saying. Developing empathy is such a big part of emotional intelligence and we’re back to those emotional and social development skills. For people that have empathy, you don’t know other people’s perceptions until you start asking questions and get curious about them. To build that empathy, you have to develop that curious nature. Otherwise, you only see things from your own perception. I love that you’re teaching kids this skill. I serve on a board for LeaderKid Academy, which is out of New Jersey. It was started by a husband and wife team. He was one of my students in the past and they go to K-12 schools and help develop these soft skills in these students because this is such a critical time of development. Do you deal with schools? Are you mostly dealing with this on the internet and other ways?
We’re looking to get into schools, libraries, homeschooling, camping organizations, or day camps for kids. We’re looking at a few different avenues to get involved with and that’s something that we’re actively building. If anyone’s reading or even you would like us to connect us with anyone, it might be beneficial even if nothing comes out of it, to connect based on heart and like-minded mission, and we would be open to that. That’s part of the strategy we’re in the middle of building out and we’re excited to lean into as we continue to build the adventure in the world that is Esmè out there.
I think Rishi Dixit who I mentioned was a student of mine, and his wife would be interested in what you’re doing. With a lot of these schools and these areas, with this K-12, they look for so many different ways to expand. It’s such a great time. It’s sad to me when I saw the statistics when I was doing the research. What I was interested in when I studied curiosity was how can we measure what’s holding us back? When I started to write the book about it, I thought, “Let me look at the assessments that are out there.” When you look at the assessments, they all tell you if you’re curious or not, how high or low or whatever but they don’t tell you what happens if you’re low. What do you do?
That’s what my research did. It was to find out what holds you back and now you can move forward. You can look at that. It would be fun to see that the adventures deal with those four factors with things like fear, the voice in your head, the technology being overwhelming and scary, or whatever it is for kids from a kid perspective and environment of how people tell you what you’d do is maybe not interesting. Siblings can be brutal at that age or whatever it is. I could see many of those things being developed at a young age to avoid some of those four-factor influences that I see inhibit adults. I am going to be interested to see the transformation of Esmè. Are we going to see more airplanes or is that unique to those two books?
No, there are tons of more airplanes. There is much more world to see we’re only getting started. We’ve done three books within about ten months, we’re looking to do I believe two more before 2020 should be out. We’re positioning ourselves to be able to crank these out, but in intentional ways like highlighting different areas of the globe, different cultures, and leaning into the value in the difference. We’re excited to be launching even more in 2021.
Since the cats don’t have any particular skin color, how do you bring in cultural differences like skin color and things like that? Do you bring that in?
We do and that’s something that we’re looking to address not quite yet, but in a little bit down the road. I’m not going to go there. I’m excited about this
That’s great because you don’t want to expose all your cards yet. I’m glad that you have some things in the bank that we don’t know about because there are many ways this could go.
There are and we’re excited because as we’re building and growing this is how creativity and curiosity create beauty and magic because they feel each other and the momentum that comes about. The momentum of possibilities that come about as a result of the two intermingling is outrageous. We’ll absolutely be bringing more talk about the differences in skin color, the beauty of all of it together, and the beauty and diversity.
That will absolutely be a part of the conversation. The ways that we are showcasing that and our curriculum guides are through three different little cultural fashion shows or leaning into talking about the individuals in your classroom who are from different places and learning more about those around us that we have immediate access to. That’s one way that we’re doing it now. I’m excited about the ways we’re planning to do in the future as well.
I’d love that. Leave me on the edge of my seat. That’s a good place to end and a lot of people will want to know more about how to follow you. The books are authored as Em Valentine. If you look it up on Amazon, but Emily, why don’t you share any websites or any place they could reach you?
Absolutely so if you’d like to follow along on social media, we are @EsmèTheCuriousCat. If you’d like to take a look at our website, it’s EsmeTheCuriousCat.com. If you’d like to take a look at the consulting services that we do, that is TheCultivatedGroup.co as well as social, which is @TheCultivatedGroup on both Facebook and Instagram.
This has been interesting. Thank you. I’m excited for you and your work because it complements everything that I’m hoping to accomplish with my work. Thank you for being on the show, Emily.
Thank you for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
I’d like to thank both Roquita and Emily for being on my show. We get many great guests on this show. It’s so much fun to talk to many different speakers, authors, CEOs, philanthropists, you name it. Everybody’s on the show. I know it’s over 1,000 people now because we’ve had more than 500 and whatever shows and every time I talk to somebody, I learned something from everybody. I know you probably haven’t listened to all 1,000 people or more. If you’ve missed 1 or 2 you can find them at DrDianeHamilton.com. Take some time to explore the website. You can find out more about curiosity, perception, speaking, and consulting. Everything is there in addition to the show. I hope you do that and I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you join us for the next episode.
- Roquita Coleman-Williams
- Emily Mishler
- TEDx Talk – Roquita Coleman-Williams TEDx Talk
- LinkedIn – Roquita Coleman-Williams
- Instagram – Roquita Coleman-Williams
- Twitter – Roquita Coleman-Williams
- Facebook – Roquita Coleman-Williams
- The World of Esmè the Curious Cat
- Justin Breen – LinkedIn
- Erin Spencer – Facebook
- Daniel Goleman – Previous Episode
- Sir Ken Robinson – TEDx Talk
- George Land – TEDx Talk
- Passport to The Planet
- LeaderKid Academy
- Rishi Dixit – LinkedIn
- @TheCultivatedGroup – Facebook
- @EsmèTheCuriousCat – Instagram
- @EsmèTheCuriousCat – Facebook
About Roquita Coleman-Williams
Award winning servant leader and sales executive delivering consistent and profitable top line growth to outperform the North American economy while advocating for equitable and inclusive organizational culture.
– Growing top line revenue in the most challenging circumstances
– Solve Problems where others are unable
– Pull teams together and get positive outcomes
– Elevate reputation of company as subject matter expert and thought leader
– Leverage front line operations experience to break down silos and deliver greater value for customers
C-Suite Sales, Sales Leadership, Service Design, Optimization, Performance Management, Commercial Negotiations, Communications, Change Management-
MultiModal Supply Chain, NVOCC, Freight Forwarding, Precision Scheduled Railroading, Intermodal, Warehousing and Transloading
About Emily Mishler
Equally analytical and creative, Emily Mishler is the Founder and Managing Director of the Cultivated Group. She specializes in business development, creative & brand strategy, strategic planning, and fundraising. Emily launched her first company at the age of 22 and has since raised and distributed over $20M of private investment for private clients, for-profit entities and NGO’s.
Born and raised in the rural Midwest of the United States, Emily Mishler is an intrepid optimist with a keen sense of adventure, eye for design, hand in fundraising, and heart for philanthropy. She received degrees from Purdue University (B.A. & B.S.) and the University of Notre Dame (M. B. A., specialising in Philanthropy (M.N.A.)). She is on a mission to ignite and empower individuals and organizations to “be the change you wish to see in the world”.
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