Nilofer Merchant (@nilofer) is one of the world’s top business & management thinkers, and is also one of my new favorite humans. As an operator, she was involved with the launch of over 100 products that collectively generated more than $18 billion (yes, with a B) in revenue, and has gone on to write 3 books, and has taught at Stanford, Santa Clara University, and lectured at Yale as well as to board rooms and audiences globally.
The part of her work that we go deep on in this conversation is the concept of Onlyness, which is that spot in the world only you stand in, a function of your distinct history and experiences, visions and hopes. We explore how to connect with the thread of purpose that only you can see, create belonging with yourself and others, and by doing so make a dent on the world.
Nilofer and I share a belief in the power of including all people’s potential, that if the we could benefit from the ideas and potential in every person, there is no problem we couldn’t solve. This is a conversation about how to connect with your Onlyness and bring it into the world to make the contribution only you can make.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES
- Nilofer Merchant (@nilofer)
- André Delbecq – spirituality in business
- Brené Brown – Braving the Wildnerness
- Amy Edmondson @ Harvard Business School
- Amy’s book: The Fearless Organization
- Clayton Christensen
- Leah Georges – How generational stereotypes hold us back at work
- True – Spandau Ballet
- ENLIVEN episodes mentioned
Nilofer’s clarity/belonging table:
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
ANDREW: Nilofer, thanks for being here. I’m so excited to spend time with you today. How are you today?
NILOFER: Awesome. Thanks for asking.
ANDREW: Awesome. Well, this is going to be a really fun conversation and I just wanted to ﬁrst off just express my gratitude and my appreciation to you for your work. I feel like I am personally encountering your work, particularly the topic we’ll spend most of today on, in terms of Onlyness at what just seems to be like the perfect moment, right? It’s like it couldn’t have come at a better time in my own journey. I know we’ll spend a lot of time on that today, but I just want to ﬁrst off say like it’s at least for me as one person, it’s the perfect thing at the perfect time. So I’m just really excited to spend some time with you today.
NILOFER: Awesome. It already makes me happy. There we go. Done. Check it off for the day. Done.
ANDREW: Yeah, that is efficiency. One thing that just so stood out to me as I was getting ready for this conversation and thinking about what I’d love to talk with you about is just somewhere where you and I really connect is this shared belief that if we could really just, if we could just access everyone’s ideas and potentials, like there’s nothing we couldn’t solve. There’s nothing we couldn’t do. I thought a fun place to start would be, I wanted to, I know you’re an etymology fan and I was hoping you could maybe a starting point would be talk to us about the idea of singular, but not separate.
NILOFER: Yeah. Singular, but not separate. One of the things that we often do is we think about, like when you think about yourself Andrew, you think about the isolated you, and not how you ﬁt into a web, a family, a network of people and network, not in the networking way, but network of humans. So we think about ourselves in this sort of private way and not in the social way. So you are part of both the linear family in which you were born. You’re part of work groups that you’re trying to create value with. You’re part of the city that you belong to. You’re part of the passion groups of people who are doing podcasting. You are part of many things, and yet you are distinctly yourself. So ﬁguring out what that looks like, so that you get to be you and you were always yours and recognizing there’s this ﬂuid dance that’s happening, where we are intertwined at all times. So it’s the drop in the ocean. It’s the ways in which we’re just part of a larger thing and we sometimes just can’t see that and it makes us feel so lonely.
ANDREW: Yeah. It reminds me, please correct me if I’m getting this person’s name wrong. I think his name is André Delbecq, who sort of pioneered the idea of spirituality, sort of spirituality in business, which is a concept that I absolutely love and I’m so thrilled to dive deeper into, but I think I’ve heard you talk about that. He said to you something like you’re pointing to a secular version of basically the deepest spiritual insight that there is.
NILOFER: It’s true. He did say that. So André was a professor of mine in Santa Clara University and I took a course with him called spirituality in business, which you just pointed out. And then co-taught that course with him over the years. He since passed away. Yeah, it was a really good learning experience. And his role in inviting me into the class, when he was saying, please join us. He was saying, you’re an operator and these people who are in the room are operators and he goes, “I’m just an academic. So if you can talk about it from your perspective, it will bring it to life in a different way.” So slowly but surely I think it was his way of enrolling me deeper into the work anyway.
ANDREW: Clever André.
NILOFER: Right. Smart teacher. I will hook you in, by making you do the work. And André had of course then taught me about this notion about how do you even understand who you are in relationship to the world? I mean, he basically did a series of coursework that got you to start thinking about that question. And then later on, when I coined this term of Onlyness and was really trying to say, what is that distinct thing that only you bring? He was like, “Oh, you’re ﬁnding the language that will help this idea spread that we can all see each other as the light of God.” And he would use that language. And what I’m saying is each of us has valued to add. They’re the same, right? And yet, for those of us who might get stuck because maybe we were raised in a particularly difﬁcult religion, or we don’t understand our version of God or whatever, it’s just, things can get in the way. But if you can just say, “Gosh, each of us has value.” And as long as you can light that up, you can ﬁgure out how to add that capacity in the world, that’s the universal truth.
ANDREW: Yeah. That idea that we all have that spark within us and similarly that it’s the… the other way I’ve heard it said is that it’s recognizing that same light in another. So it’s that interconnection of it’s like, yes, we all have our sort of individuation of it, but it’s underneath, it’s the same thing.
NILOFER: Thank you. And thank you for pointing that out because sometimes people hear Onlyness and they love the concept when it applies to them, like, “I’m now special.” You can almost see them like [inaudible 00:05:16] the feathers go and [inaudible 00:05:18] think like I’m so special and they want to start around. I’m like, actually you are special in the way that each of us is special. And until you can recognize that the person you’re sitting across from has value to add too, equal to yours different than yours, mind you. But not different in that we sometimes dismiss people each distinctly our own. Then you start to think about how do you contribute what you contribute and welcome that dance of other people contributing with you.
ANDREW: Why do you think that’s hard for people?
NILOFER: Well, in American Society especially we are conditioned right from early on bootstrap. This said show some grit and you should be able to do on your own. We send a lot of messages to people that are actually contrary to the human condition because human beings are social beings. We’re shaped by each other with each other. We have been since the beginning of time. And so it deﬁes logic and yet from the early days of Western Civ, there’s been this sort of rational mind and economic self interest. And you can see all the air quotes even without seeing [inaudible 00:06:28] are all constructs that were largely deﬁned by white men to say, “Here’s how awesome I am. And here’s how rational I can think. And here’s how I can delineate my value.”
NILOFER: And at the same time, they didn’t want to recognize the value of let’s say the black person in their own cotton ﬁelds. So that’s the dichotomy is that they liked the separation because it created a hierarchy and it beneﬁted them. And then unfortunately, a bunch of us have been taught by that logic and then [inaudible 00:06:59] to unlearn it in order for us to understand that we are all absolutely connected. Our fates are linked and not ranked.
ANDREW: Really quick. Let’s lay a conceptual foundation for anyone who hasn’t had the beneﬁt of already encountering your work. So what is Onlyness and why do we need this new word?
NILOFER: Yeah. Onlyness, each of us stands in a spot in the world. Only one stands in and from that spot from your history and experience, as well as your visions and hopes you contribute that which you can. So it is centering correctly on the source of all ideas. And the reason we needed the word is we didn’t have language that centered correctly. So if I say, you’re special, well, then it creates a hierarchical model. If I say your unique, unique is a relative word. Unique to what? If I say you’re the only one, “in the room,” it centers the room instead of centering the person and speciﬁcally the source of that person’s capacity to add value. And we didn’t have a language, even when we say, “See my humanity,” well, that’s what 100% of the people have in the world, so it’s not speciﬁc it’s general.
NILOFER: o instead of telescoping out to see that, which I can add, I wanted to telescope in to the very source of where all value creation starts. Value creation starts with a person and that perspective they have. And then from that place of uniting with other people, we get to shape an idea. We get to spark an idea. We get to scale an idea. So ideas are how those things get connected up, but it starts because of Onlyness and that perspective, that one person, singular person has.
ANDREW: Perfect. Thank you. I think what you said to me in one of our prior conversations was that what’s distinct about this idea relative to many of the ideas I’ve already encountered, whether in books or on the show or whatever is that it’s sort of moving, I think, to put it in slightly different language, it’s moving from a comparative to a contributive mindset. Or maybe moving from a place of relativism to whatever the opposite of relativism is to sort of like a singular place that it has no need for comparison.
NILOFER: Exactly. That’s exactly right.
NILOFER: Contributed [inaudible 00:09:26]. It gets you, when you understand it, then when you can say is what is the only thing I can bring? And you stop looking at other people and saying, “Well, that person over there is writing three books and that person over there has a podcast and that person over there is rich.” And you’re like, shut, like stop looking outside yourself to then go, what is it I can add value on. And that’s the stuff that requires some self awareness ﬁrst of all, it requires a celebration of everything that you bring, even if it’s quirky and odd and doesn’t match anyone else’s, right. And then to go, okay, from that perspective, like I’ll tell you a little funny little side story that I’m so amused by that is of the day. So I started a column relatively recently and it’s on Substack and we’re probably like six columns in like it’s early days. I’m writing a column on this topic about taking Onlyness at work and I’m answering reader’s questions and I’m basically applying Onlyness in the process.
NILOFER: And here’s what I’m ﬁnding really amusing. I’m ﬁnding all my headlines are 1980s songs. They’re like the clash, they’re… So yesterday I found another one and it was the song True. So I can have it for you, but I have a terrible voice and I would not do that to your poor listener.
ANDREW: True by… we’ll add it to the show notes, but the song is True by which artist. NILOFER: What is it? It’s starts with an S and it’s like, oh my gosh, why can’t I remember it this morning because yesterday I totally remembered it.
ANDREW: Is it Spandau Ballet?
NILOFER: Spandau Ballet. Thank you. That’s exactly it.
NILOFER: There we go. Spandau Ballet and I was listening to last night and the theme of the piece, that piece was about how do you be true to your own voice? So I just was like, as soon as I was sitting here thinking, what is the sun that captures that notion? I came up with that song and so the reason I’m going on this little narrow story about my own life is I love ’80 songs because I was born in such an era, the ’80s was my sort of deﬁnitive music era. So I could basically be like, “Yeah, I’m not going to do the ’80 song because it might date me.” But instead I’m like, “I’m all in.” Because it is such a quirk of mine that when I think of something, I think of a song. So the last week by the way, was the Urban Cowboy song, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places. So I ended up changing out just one word and said, looking for praise and all the wrong places. But to me like the melodies in my head when I’m writing and so I’m integrating that. Where that pays off is not clear, but what I have learned…
NILOFER: So what I’m trying to say is, it’s not about like, “Gosh, will anybody like my ’80s reference song?” Like if I sat there and thought that, then I might just dismiss it. But instead what I’m saying is, gosh, it’s so true to my writing experience and how I’m thinking about it. And so why not add the video link? Why not make it more explicit that by the way, this song that was about somebody wanting to write something really meaningful and therefore owning their own voice in the process really captured me. So my idiosyncrasy shows up in the work and therefore makes it so much more true to my own voice. So it was interesting that I’m writing about voice and then I’m like going, “Oh, is it important for me to reference an ’80s song that?” Yes. The answer is, yes.
ANDREW: Yes, do it.
NILOFER: Right. See how that is and some people could be like, well, that’s unimportant. But it’s relevant to me and the more we end up adding that thing that only we can add, we end up getting to claim ourselves, however somebody could be like, judge me and be like, well, that means she’s like 52 years old or whatever. They could actually judge me for that. I’m like, “Yeah, whatever. I’m 52 years old, which means also I’ve gone around the barn a bunch of times and therefore has some wisdom to offer on things.” So just it’s two sides of the same coin. And you could view it as a negative or a positive. What I’m saying is if it’s all yours just own it all. Dark and light. ANDREW: Yeah. I love that. So let’s zoom in for a little bit here on the topic of Onlyness and your work. So the grossly oversimpliﬁed book everyone really should read, and we’re going to link to this show notes and for God sake listener, go buy this damn book. You kind of outlined in the book, a three part process. So the ﬁrst is claiming your Onlyness and ﬁnding that thread that is what is truly and only yours. Then second is talking about belonging and ﬁnding to whom do you belong. And then third is sort of gaining traction and taking that idea out into the world. I speciﬁcally want to zoom in more on parts one and two of that today. Just based on the conversations that I’ve had with listeners, I think that’s where what will be most helpful to them.
ANDREW: So let’s go in that order. Let’s start with ﬁnding the thread and then let’s talk a lot about belonging because I know going back to the idea of the social constructs, that’s huge and really a core inside of your work. So let’s talk about this. It seems so simple and yet the world needed your work. It needed your voice to put this into it. So why are we getting this wrong? Where are people tripping up? Because I think everyone, we all have this innate need to do this thing to ﬁnd that thing that is only ours and to express it in the world. So why is this so hard and how are we screwing this up?
NILOFER: Just think about some books that you’ve read in recent times, some more popular books and we could take a few, just as… and I’m not picking on any of them when I’m picking them, but I’m going to just kind of point out what most of us are inculcated on and they’re indoctrinated on. And then to hear why this idea of holiness is harder to hear. They hear it and they go, “Yeah, that doesn’t make as much sense as the other 99 points of data people have told me.” So it’s like, “Yeah, I’ll toss this outlier out.” So here’s what we’re told. We’re told that you should have grit and that in spite of what other people say, you should just push on through the Nike strategy. Right?
ANDREW: Just do it.
NILOFER: Just do it. Then we’re told that if you have an original voice, it will just manifest without regard for, by the way, most of us who face bias, women, people of color. So well over 50% of the population, if you can write something on originality without acknowledging the role of bias, then you’re bullshitting a lot of people. What’s another one? The most, I mean, we could just go through the collection of forks. Oh, bad-ass. Bad-ass is a really good one. The [inaudible 00:16:08] one, which is just overcome your doubt as if [inaudible 00:16:11], it’s just a mental strength of will issue that you have not done what you needed to do. What I’m coming along and saying is human beings are social beings. We do not function independent of other people. We are always interlinked and interdependent.
NILOFER: o if the people around us say things to us, that box us into a small box. We might crawl out of that box, but we’re also shaped by that box. I’m saying the strategy is to ﬁgure out to whom do you belong so you can actually share that early idea into a context where that idea even has a chance to be heard. And Andrew you recognize that you’ve probably sat at some brunch or across beer with friends and shared some “crazy” idea of yours. Maybe it was this podcast, maybe it was something else. And that group of people kind of looked at you like, “Hmm, no, hmm, no, no.” And you’ve been across a different group of people. It’s like, I totally see why you’re passionate. Maybe don’t do this, but do that. Make sure you take this other friend’s advice into consideration. And let me see how I can help you. Like those two are two opposite approaches. Well, context change therefore you’ll do.
NILOFER: Now, it could be the ﬁrst time you get sort of naysayers, you could just go ﬁnd the other group. But the challenge is, if you don’t have the other group, you’ll think you’re the crazy one. And really it’s that you might be offering something into the world that is so new, that that particular group that you’re presenting it to and think about the work contexts in which most of us operate we’re in contexts where like most of the times people’s ﬁrst response is, “Well, we already tried that. We tried it 10 years ago in a completely different context, but we’re going to dismiss you because you don’t sound like the guy who always talks loudest stuff.”
NILOFER: So that’s the big shift is to go, you can’t do it by yourself and you don’t want to do it by yourself. You want to know who to lean on and be soft with. You want to know, do a dialogue, so your idea gets better. You want to know that you can trust the other person so that when you start actually building out that idea, you can count on them and what [inaudible 00:18:28] on ﬁeld. Those are things you need. It’s not like a nice to have thing. It’s what you need in order for that idea to actually become real.
ANDREW: Yeah. I love the way you’re saying, like what you’re speaking to is the idea that social constructs are what create possibility, right? It’s that idea of having even the chance to give the idea of voice and have it be heard and not dismissed that in and of itself is a super powerful and important step that we overlook, that I think what you’re saying is widely overlooked in. Whether it’s grit or lean in, or ﬁlling your popular book here, that we are like, we live in… most of our world is deﬁned by agreement. It’s like, it’s a reality only because we agree it’s that way like that’s what law is.
NILOFER: That’s right.
ANDREW: It’s an agreement reality. So I think that’s such an interesting point that everything we’re doing is in this marketplace of ideas and we literally can’t do that alone. Marketplaces don’t exist when there’s just one.
NILOFER: nd we do ourselves a disservice. So when lean in ﬁrst came out, which is now ﬁve or six years, I remember I was part of a listserv of women, entrepreneurs, executives, et cetera. And it was about 500 people. I remember saying, does this not, this makes no sense to me, like the whole, like go ask for more pay all the data that I know. And I’m pretty well read like I’m one of those research hounds. So I was like, all the data I know says, you’re going to be penalized if you ask, so anybody else have this question? And I got shut down pretty hard. Like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We’re going to support this book because we support this feminist writer. And I was like, it doesn’t jive with me. And I remember going, “Am I the crazy one in the group?”
NILOFER: And of course now six years later, most of the things that were put forward in that book had been debunked. And of course people can now see really clearly that if Cheryl had wanted to create pay equity, all she had to do is turn to the board on which she sits and create pay equity. And if pay equity happened at Facebook, it would happen throughout the rest of tech. So she could have done the actual change but instead, what she chose to do is say, “Go jump against this electric fence wall and enjoy yourself. And I will make money off of you doing that because I get to sell a book.” So we’re selling the, taking a systemic problem and making it personal so that we can sell the fact that you could try harder. And instead of actually just ﬁxing the problem. And it’s just a really painful thing for me to watch because we need to understand that how we create change is a combination of both individual voice and context into which that voice exists.
ANDREW: Yeah. Talk to me a little bit about, I think the way you phrased it last time we spoke was we sort of framed out this idea of like a two by two. It was almost this like two by two I believe it was belong… A two by two explore kind of the tensions and the dynamics between belonging and voice. Tell me about that two by two.
NILOFER: Yeah. So let’s do the two by two. So this is what Onlyness is built on. So what we just ﬁnished doing was sort of pointing out how a bunch of different ideas ask you to do all this stuff by your self. And they’re basically telling you how to have high voice. How to go from not believing in yourself, to believing in yourself. From thinking that maybe because like your parents told you, you didn’t know anything that you do know something, all that. So they’re asking you to go from low voice to high voice. What I’m doing is adding one more dimension. So in the two, by two, I say it’s both voice and belonging and let’s just kind of take it apart so that we can visualize it. So if you have low voice and low belongings, so you’d be in the lower left quadrant, you’d basically be, feel small yourself.
NILOFER: Like, you’d be like, Oh, I don’t really count. And the world in which you exist would say, “Yeah, you don’t really count.” So you [inaudible 00:22:23] have a job as a paint maker at one of those companies where you show up somebody else gives you a little paint swab, you mix the paint, you put it in a thing, the shaker, you hand it to the person. And your job, you’d smoke marijuana all day long because your job would suck. And they basically told you, you’re relatively inconsequential, you have no decisions and creativity to make. And you’ve put yourself in that position where that’s the… so you feel small and inadequate. And in work language, we would say that person’s highly disengaged. So lower, we kind of know that box is nowhwere no one wants to live yet, by the way, 70% of jobs live there, it’s a sucky place..
ANDREW: Yeah. It’s a sucky, sucky place.
NILOFER: Suck place. So high voice, but low belonging says that what matters is you and you alone. So you are going to try to perseverance inspite of everything. So you will have a brilliant idea. You will make it all about you. You will ﬂame out on that idea in about two or three years, because you’ve not enrolled anyone else in that idea. You’ve not ﬁgured out how to build momentum. You think it’s all about you and how smart you are and how hard you work. Every entrepreneur who’s ﬂamed out after two or three years is basically living this thing where they think it is about their “vision,” and not about whether or not that thing is shared by many people. So I call it the lonely only. And because it is about you owning that thing that only you have, but you’re not actually owning it in some context that allows other people to share with it.
NILOFER: So you’re all alone. So it’s high voice, low belonging, then go to a low voice, high belonging. So you belong, yay. Most of us think that we have to give up ourselves in order to belong, but you belong like you’re a member of the Borg. So if you remember the [inaudible 00:24:18] metaphor, right? It’s like everyone’s the same. In the Star Wars metaphor, it would be all the people in the white suits or black suits or whatever.
ANDREW: Right. All the stormtroopers.
NILOFER: All the stormtroopers. Exactly. So they belong what’s so beautiful about the last part of that story, where one of the stormtroopers is like, “I have an identity, I could have a voice outside of bigger stormtrooper.” Right. But until then he belonged as a unit and he felt so good about the fact that he belonged. So some of us feel like we’re not allowed to both have a voice and belong. We think that tension is one or the other. So we give up ourselves. That’s why we take jobs where we’re like, sure, we’ll do whatever you ask so that I can work. It’s only when you have the two together, when you have high voice and high belonging, where you get to show up fully alive and bring what only you have to offer and you get to join with other people.
NILOFER: So that, that thing that you’re working on together is owned. And you start to run balls down the ﬁeld because you don’t have to like check in. You don’t go, “Hey, Andrew, I need to tell you what to do.” Because Andrew knows what the touchdown looks like and if I or that the ﬁeld goal or whatever. So we start playing really differently with each other because I can bring what game I have and you can bring what game you have and we get to play. So high voice, high belonging is when things start to really create scale and impact. And that’s why Onlyness and so in that box, I’m describing what agency is voice and belonging combined. Agency is really falsely described as “personal agency,” which is so funny to me because what we’ve just ﬁnished describing as we describe agency, is that it is a social construct. So I ﬁnd that very funny if the naming convention says personal agency, but what they’re really trying to get to is what is your inherent capacity to add value? And that is what Onlyness is.
ANDREW: Yeah, 100% I love everything you just said that I was just, if I nodded harder, my head would probably fall off. I would literally hurt my neck. So I love what you just said and it would really jumps out to me that like what you just said resonates strongly but on an intellectual level, with how that changes the way I view things, I think is that voice is the pathway to belonging as opposed to the block to it. Am I understanding that right?
NILOFER: It’s both at the same time. So you’re running two vectors at the same time. So like that example, I said over brunch, where I said, you show up to that brunch and that group of people who really don’t get you and you kind of wonder what the hell you’re even doing there at the end of the brunch. That group is going to negate you. And I’ll just tell you, just how many of us go to work and no one else around us looks like us, feels like us. I’ve been thinking a lot this week because of the situation that happened in central park and the loss that we just had in Minnesota, how many people of color, especially black people are going into work and feeling just torn apart on the inside. And they may not even be acknowledged at work for essentially a social pain that is affecting 12% of a population.
NILOFER: And if they work in a setting that is not aware enough, not paying attention, not inclusive, they’re going to feel so lonely. And they might even be a little bit more [inaudible 00:27:57] than normal and they might be a little more… All these things and people might even like look at them and go, “What is wrong with you?” And yet that same person in a setting where people get it, will go, “Oh my God, you must be hurting.” And all of a sudden we’ll open up to each other. That’s the shift of context. So I can not be fully myself. I will be interpreted through the lens of a group if I belong to the wrong group. I could give you example after example and I’m sure the next question will probably lead to another example.
ANDREW: No, I so appreciate you sharing that. Listening to you, I’m reminded of Brene Brown and her point that hopefully I don’t butcher this too badly, but that belonging starts with belonging to oneself. And it’s only through that, that we ﬁnd the others to whom we belong because ﬁrst we belong to ourselves and then from there we discover who else we belong to.
NILOFER: Yeah. And I think it’s the way I say it is only as we are valued, can we add value and that starts with oneself. So it’s interesting to see the parallel of Brene’s work whom I know and adore her work. She’s such a gift, but those are the same, right? They’re the same truth. And most of us don’t know how to value that which only we bring. Like I have entrepreneur that I’ve been working with a one-on-one during a consultation and she’s really got a brilliantly new idea she wants to work on. And yet what she’s struggling with is, well, she doesn’t know how to earn money off it yet and the keyword there is yet. So here’s what she says to herself. She says, “I have this brilliant idea, but since I can’t ﬁgure out how to monetize it, I can’t chase the idea.”
NILOFER: And I’m like, well, could you maybe like develop the idea long enough so somebody else can even see it so that it could then be valued, right? What you’re doing [inaudible 00:29:55] giving up on yourself before anyone else even has a chance to vote, you have given up on yourself, your own idea. And I go, and then you’re asking other people by the way, to validate you for something you have yet to even show up to because you won’t even show up to yourself. And it’s the circular loop that a bunch of people do and what I’m trying to teach her so far not working, but is that value creation and value capture are not the same thing. And if we understand what is it we can distinctly add value to and just start working on that.
NILOFER: No one [inaudible 00:30:29] go, “Oh my gosh, Andrew, you are so gifted as a listener. You know what? You’re really great at doing a podcast because you like learning new ideas and you like ﬁguring out how to engage those ideas.” So until you showed up to it and are clearly demonstrating in this conversation, until you start doing it, no one else could maybe see it that, Oh my gosh, that’s what you’re good at. And that is true for all of us. We give up on ourselves long before other people even have a chance to choose us.
ANDREW: Yeah. It reminds me, talk to me a little bit about the… I think you called it the zero to 30% phase of an idea.
NILOFER: Right. So the early phase of a project is always this. So all ideas show up is nascent, ﬂedgling, little things. So it’s almost like a baby that shows up basically, ready to die almost the minute it’s born kind of thing, babies are [inaudible 00:31:19]. So that’s why everybody who has a child is so freaked out because it’s like the least resilient thing. If you think about it, right? Like it needs food every couple hours, blah, blah, blah. And you’re like losing your mind because you don’t know what this little thing means because it can’t signal very clearly. So it’s just such a desperate time. Well, ideas are kind of the same thing in that early, early stage, they show up as these ﬂedgling things. So what happens to it in those early days really matters. The person who says, “Oh, I totally see how your idea relates to Brene’s.”
NILOFER: And maybe next time Brene could endorse your work and then other people could see the linkage better. Then all of a sudden it starts to grow momentum because someone would go to Brene and go, “Brene, do you see this other work in this woman of color who’s working right alongside you and these two bodies of work could really play?” Then it would grow. But the other, but somebody could just as easily say, it’s like, “Nilofer, who knows her? Brene is so well known. Oh, never going to get those two things together.” So the response to it, the nurturing of it, the feeding of it, the tendering of it, it’s all about community. So for those of us who are in settings, I think, it sounds like you’ve listened to a lot of work I’ve shared, but one of the stories I sometimes share from stage as this experience that happened to me, it’s now probably been ﬁve or six years.
NILOFER: I had been working on what was the second book. So 2012, this would have been, I was working on a book with Harvard and the basic idea was pretty solid and stuff. And I was basically making the argument that social, as it was seen right then was really viewed as a media asset like, “Oh, social can be used for marketing.” And I was saying, actually social could be used for the entire part of the value creation cycle that you could have customers co-create with you. You could have just this beautiful interlinkage so that there is no perimeter between a company and the marketplace. And this false dichotomy that we have had for a long time that we’ll be competitive and strong and build ourselves up and then we’ll tell you what we’re going to market. It’s just so antiquated.
NILOFER: So I was working on that idea and I had gone to somebody who’s really good at naming stuff and said… and with his permission, I said, would you mind if I asked your advice on this because I think you’re going to, ﬁrst of all, get it and you might be able to offer me back a reﬂection of what it is I’m saying, so I can tighten this message. And this is what he said to me, “As a brown woman, your chances of being seen in the world are next to nothing because in order for you to be seen, you’d have to be edgier to stand out from the crowd. But if you’re edgy, all the people in the business world who need to adopt your idea won’t.” I totally remember where we were standing because we were in an old church building. So he looks up at like these angels and archangels that are depicted in the stained glass. So I think he’s going to come back around and like circle and be like, so here’s the way we’re going to get through that challenge like instead he says, “So yeah, you’re never going to get heard in the world.”
NILOFER: This is someone I trusted. This is someone who many people would consider us contemporaries and stuff. So I trusted him enough to ask him this difﬁcult question and to seek them out and to sit down with him. I remember sharing the story then with my editor at the time was Sarah Green at Harvard Business Review. And she was like, hmm. And then I shared it with Lisa Gansky, who did all the beautiful work in the early days of the sharing economy stuff and she went, Hmm. This went on for months to the point where I was like, no one has told me it’s wrong, even though it really doesn’t feel right. So I think he’s actually trying to help me. I think actually I am being too bold or wild or crazy or whatever to think that my ideas actually matter. All these people, every single person in the circle has not challenged the question. NILOFER: This [inaudible 00:35:28] not challenged the premise of the question they basically said, “Yeah, I heard what he said. Hmm, okay.” So for three months, four months I had fully internalized it like all right, well, if I can’t [inaudible 00:35:39], then maybe I can help the next generation. I’d fully toggled over. Like now it was a truth. His truth had become my truth. And that I was like, “Okay, well, if I can’t do it for me, maybe I can do it for the next generation.” And I mentor quite a few wonderful people. One of the groups that I spend a lot of time mentoring was the TED fellows who are really big change agent type folks. I was talking to someone about why I’m going to double down on that mentoring work that I was doing, because I could help them design business models and so on. I could basically get this next generation through. And somebody overheard me saying that.
NILOFER: So standing like 10 feet away, but over hearing me say, “I’m not going to make it through the wall, but I’m going to help the next group, make it through the wall.” And she came over and knocked on my shoulder and she’s like, “What did you just say? Tell me a story again.” I repeated the story as I had repeated it to Sarah Green and to Lisa Gansky and all sorts of other people. And she goes, “In case, no one’s told you that story’s bullshit.” I remember when she said bullshit, I was like, ” Uh, like I can’t believe she just said that.” I totally had this like, “Uh,” because like I was like she was challenging the premise of the question. And up to that point, every other person for four months. So mind you, I was in so much pain for four months and every person who was close to me, sat there and went, “Hmm, must be true if he said it.”
NILOFER: That’s how context changes someone’s capacity to contribute which is why I say here was someone who technically had high voice, right? Like if to the degree that I had a book being developed at Harvard, you would think, I didn’t need to sit there and justify this, but then being told to be smaller, step it back and that’s where we then get to say to each other, tap on each other’s shoulder and say, “That is not true. That is not true.”
ANDREW: It’s almost like we’re asleep and we need people to wake us up sometimes.
NILOFER: Well, contact, right? We’re social beings. We understand who we are, like think about how children learn. They learn who they are based on what their parents teach them. And sometimes you have to unlearn some shit because we leave our parents not as healthy as we need to be and all of that, but we learn. Human beings that have been amazing. Like we don’t reinvent the wheel. Quite literally, we don’t reinvent the wheel because somebody comes along and says, “Oh, by the way, we already invented that. That’s got covered. You can move on. You can invent that next big thing.” We’re great at teaching each other what we already know. Social context is how we do that.
ANDREW: I’m reminded of James Altucher and his whole thing about like, choose yourself, right? Like you got to vote on you ﬁrst in order to go on that ride basically.
NILOFER: But if you’re, so this is where the zero to 30 really matters. You also got to choose who you like put in that inner circle of people because if you’re surrounded by people… like I thought that guy was my friend.
ANDREW: If they’re going to tear you down, then nothing’s going to even making to 30%.
NILOFER: Exactly. You just got it over the ﬁnish line. Thank you. And thanks for that collaborative work. That’s it. So the thing is for a lot of us and I’m using us in this really broad sense for a second. If we’re surrounded by people who say, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, you don’t ﬁt into the world the way we expect you to,” then we have to do additional work. So James is really lucky in that most of the world in publishing, for example, where he so successful looks a lot like him. So when he shows up, they’re like, oh, got you. I totally see who you are. And then I show up and they’re like, “Huh, really?” Right. So I have to do double the work that James does in picking myself. I get to pick myself and I have to build a construct and communities that will help me pick myself. That’s the duality that we got to learn to live with, which is why both parts matter.
ANDREW: Yeah. I [inaudible 00:39:45] get to that idea. I’ve heard you talk about it. That power and status are selfreinforcing loops and it’s not in a good way.
NILOFER: Yeah. Right. So the data says that what happens is those who have power and status get heard. And given that context to be like, “Sure, James, you’ve done a stock market then cool. Like we totally want to see a book from you.” And someone like me who has been behind the scenes and then a bunch of tech company launches was behind the scenes, not in front and helping those executives of Nokia make a decision. But Nokia guy gets a book deal and I don’t because I was behind the scenes. So I have to work twice as hard then to show the capacity. And that’s just important for us to realize when there’s… I’m talking to every woman, every person of color. So that’s at least 70% of a population. I’m not talking to a minor group. And yet most of the messaging that we say is pick yourself and I’m like, yeah. And if you’re in this other 70% crowd recognize that power and status act as reinforcing loops, which means that we have to build our own loop early on in order for us to be able to succeed.
ANDREW: Yeah. And that’s something that I hope everyone listening to this really takes on. I mean and I say this as someone who’s had an incredible privilege in my life. I’m a white male at a time when it’s a really good time in history to be a white male for the entire time I’ve been alive. And it occurs to me like one of the things I hope everyone listening to this takes away is this idea, the social construct, because as each of us understands that idea and our impact on the ability for other people to tap into and express their Onlyness, we can start to shift that construct. We can build companies that have a different construct. We can build groups, tribes, friendships, whatever and it’s something that I hope people really get.
ANDREW: And it just occurred to me why… I think one of the reasons why your work landed with me so much. I mean, and I say this again as a someone, who’s had a very privileged life and everything. I think part of the reason that I resonated with it so strongly is because even though that is true simultaneously, what’s true that most people don’t know when they look at me, is that my earliest experiences of life was that the being the other. Because my earliest memories, I was a little white kid in Africa and so I didn’t ﬁt in. So I actually remember this early what that feels like, and it just occurred to me that that’s why your work landed so hard.
NILOFER: Here’s the thing, right? That’s the real irony of originality is some people are seen as “different” and some people are seen as distinct. Some people are seen as centered in their own story and some people are seen as subjective. Like we only see the outer shell of who that person is. And that’s why otherness, which is what you’re describing is so harmful because then we don’t get to include. And then when we do, man, not only does it, like I said, the right thing to do, blah, blah, blah, but it actually gets us everything we really want, which is better people to come co-create the world we want to live in, better ideas that we can make money off of before investors or whatever. So this construct will only help us to see the value of each person.
NILOFER: And by the way, you’re one of the things that you’re probably you could relate to also, besides that experience in Africa is age is often a way in which we ﬁlter people too. So I’ve been using race or gender just because it’s in my mind right now, but millennials are often told, we often talk about that as a group of people. Like millennials want this and the rest of [inaudible 00:43:23], but millennials are not a group. Like, do you know a millennial? No. You know Andrew. So what is it [inaudible 00:43:31].
ANDREW: I know people.
NILOFER: Right. Exactly. So like so beautiful talk by a woman named Leah George who’s a professor out of, I want to say… Gosh, I’m sorry if I’m not remembering it, but I want say, it’s out of Vancouver. But we can Google that and insert that in. But Leah George did a beautiful talk on we got to stop understanding people by age groups and start seeing and celebrating that which only they can. So she used the Onlyness construct as a very speciﬁc way of how do you center correctly. And then when you center correctly and you stop viewing them as a category of people, you actually can see what that person has to offer.
ANDREW: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about and spending a lot of time reading around sort of Buddhist thought. And one of the big fundamental truths in that philosophical system is that of impermanence, everything changes. How does this idea of Onlyness evolve as we evolve?
NILOFER: That’s exactly. You just answered it. So as we evolve, our understanding of Onlyness evolves. It is that moment in time of where we are on that spot in the world only we stand. So think about that, that spots always moving, but it’s like that little red carpet that goes with you.
ANDREW: I ﬁnd that very freeing. I think the reason I ﬁnd that’s so freeing is because so much of the stuff I’ve read and I think at this point I’ve read most of, at least the popular stuff that’s out there around call it purpose, call it your reason why, vision, it’s ﬁll in the blank here. It often presents or seems to frame the idea as one that is ﬁxed and non evolving, right? It’s like, no, you have, “one purpose in life.” Maybe there are some core fundamental intentions that we bring to everything we do and those will never change. Like for you, I see you as someone who is especially given your personal story of not feeling seen in your family and the tension between being born in India and then coming to the States as a young child. You’re probably always going to really care about helping people see and be seen. See themselves and be seen by others for who they really are. Like, I don’t think it’s ever going to change for you is my guess. But I think what you’re saying, this idea of an evolving Onlyness is the way in which that’s expressed will always be evolving as you evolve.
NILOFER: Right. And that’s the beauty of it. That’s the beauty of it is our understanding of our own story grows as our depth and ﬁdelity of understanding of who we are and what we’ve then created. So people often talk about conﬁdence and as if somehow you can just click it, like fake it till you make it as a phrase that people use. Yeah. And I’m like, “I have conﬁdence about some things and not so much competence about other things.” Because it’s based on, what’s my competency in that area? What do I know? What do I not know? What’s the breadth and depth of experience I’m offering? So I can be competent and lose that conﬁdence almost instantly if the context changes because it’s dependent. Like what do I know about this group?
NILOFER: Like accountants in whatever city I’m going to speak at, I got to learn a lot more before I can go, “Oh, here’s the hook point. Here’s where I think I can build a bridge to this group.” So we act as if somehow it is a static thing and the fake it till you make it just darn it as a persona. I’m like, “No, that’s so ridiculously unhelpful.” Because here’s what you can do instead, if you can say, “Gosh, I’m presenting to this new group and I don’t feel very conﬁdent.” You could go, “Okay, well, what is it you need to know in order for you to know how to serve that group?” And then you might make a list of questions. You might do some pre-interviews and you might talk to them more and you might even beta test an idea with a couple of the attendees and so on and so on.
NILOFER: So by the time you get on that stage, you’re like, “Oh, I know what’s going to land. I know what will serve this group.” Because you’ve done the work but if you just say, “Well, gosh, I should just fake it till I make it.” You’re good. You’re bullshitting your way through and by the way, not giving yourself the room to keep learning.
ANDREW: There’s a line I heard you say, getting ready for this conversation. I think you said intimacy means we’re willing to be shaped by someone. And that just seems so like such a great way to summarize this idea of the shared context and that sort of interface or overlap with the inner and the internal, the external come together.
NILOFER: Right. It’s that soft spot. So who we let into that inner circle helps. We get bruised by them because [inaudible 00:48:18] close with them. So we have to make sure that those people know that when they bruise us, they got to apologize and they got to make it right and all that stuff because we’ve let them into that soft spot. So people who can’t be “trusted” in that case, the people who can’t be trusted are people who really shouldn’t be in that inner circle. It’s ﬁne. Like you can be who you are, go for it, but you just can’t be in my inner circle. You get to be out there in the world just much further away from me so that when I am developing an idea, when I’m working on tough things, I don’t accidentally turn to you and have you shit on me. Or so it’s like, ﬁne. You can totally exist just not near me, somewhere further.
ANDREW: Yeah. It’s like the math of that equation, it looks very different for people in the inner circle versus acquaintances versus whatever.
NILOFER: Exactly. Right. And that’s exactly right. I think that’s the piece we’re trying to teach ourselves as who should be in that inner circle, including by the way, am I being consistently true to myself in this inner circle way?
ANDREW: I think I want to, I want to sort of start to shift gears here and close out with some rapid ﬁre questions. Short questions. Answers can go anywhere, anywhere they take us. So the ﬁrst one is this book’s been out for coming on three years now and I’m curious, how has the idea evolved since then?
NILOFER: The idea has evolved in a couple of ways. One is I’m being more with people about this idea of voice and belonging and like the two by two kind of grid that you saw and you found. And so because I was using pros and as soon as I put it in a two by two because it’s not like it was a new idea to me, it was 100% like in the text. But as soon as I put it in a two by two people are like, “I get it. Oh man, I should’ve done that sooner.” I usually make fun of the people who used to by twos. But it turns out it’s such a big construct that you do need a simple way of really understanding that. So that turns out to be quite useful. Another thing is to really do the it’s not this it’s that. So years of being on stage and realizing what people were hearing when I said Onlyness was, “I’m special.” They were internalizing it like that and not, we’re all special.
NILOFER: nd I only got that feedback after I was like sitting backstage with people and people would be like, so you just ﬁnished telling me how special. I was just like, “Oh dude. Yous so didn’t hear me,” kind of thing. So I’m just learning to be more reﬁned and kind of go against what’s the American mindset of individualism that is taught. Etymology of individual is that you are, it is the smallest measure of a human kind. So it’s interesting that we talk about individualistic culture in America, but we don’t understand that that means it’s still the connected you. We act as if this is isolated person instead of connected. And that is the deep sadness of our common culture right now.
ANDREW: Yeah. Because all the way back to where we started. It’s singular, but it’s not separate. I love that. I love the things that I am also a budding etymology geek. And I just like, it’s so cool when you start to dig into the history of words you ﬁnd out like, oftentimes the colloquial meaning is not at all the original meeting. And you’re like, “Oh shit, we lost that one.”
NILOFER: Right. I have actually kind of have fun wondering around. There’s a book I have called the origin of words and I’ll sometimes just ﬂip, open. I bought it at some garage sale somewhere and I’ll just ﬂip it open and just be wandering around the like, “Oh, what’s that?” The other day I Googled the phrase, what fresh hell is this? Probably by the way I told you what kind of day I was having a…
ANDREW: Yeah. Sorry to laugh.
NILOFER: Right. But it told me a lot too, like, oh, that’s interesting that you just Google that because I was like, what does that mean exactly? What is the origin of that phrase? Because I kind of want to use it, but I don’t want to use it if it’s wrong. So those are fun ways to kind of spend time.
ANDREW: Going back to the idea that we’re shaped by our contexts and by others. Who, or what has had a really big inﬂuence on how you show up?
NILOFER: Well, you actually did this earlier in the interview that André Delbecq, I took this course from this guy. And in fact, I took the course funny enough, because the person I just met this guy in the MBA program named Kurt Beckman. Kurt Beckman was telling me how he was taking this course. And he’s talking to me about it and it sounded like a super easy A, like super easy because how could you possibly grade spirituality? So I was like, basically, you’re going to show up, you’re going to write whatever bullshit you can make up in like an hour. And there’s no way somebody could say to you, that’s wrong. So I was like, “Oh, this is the best class.” And it turns out André ended up doing the reading at our wedding. So Kurt Beckman and I ended up getting married because we had such rich conversations from both of us taking this class on spirituality business that I really got to know his heart.
NILOFER: And we ended up getting married and so on and André ends up reading at our wedding, doing your reading. So it’s funny. So that was one person. In more modern day, let me just think, like here’s another thinker Amy Edmondson’s work who writes about psychological safety. I’ve been so inﬂuenced by her work over many, many years. I’ve now since gotten to know her and become, dare I say, friends. And what’s been lovely is when she said to me recently, she said, “My idea is 30 years old.” And she goes, “Don’t give up on your idea because like, it hasn’t caught traction yet.” So she’s been just so supportive in that way of saying, I really believe in you and I believe in this and just keep pushing your own thinking. So there’s people like that who are encouraging even if they’re not in my direct inner circle.
ANDREW: What are the small change you’ve made in recent memory that’s had an outsized impact?
NILOFER: Small change I’ve made in recent memory. Well, we’re living in COVID times. And I used to really enjoy the process of being on the road and meeting people backstage, or all that. When you’re signing a book, signing people, whisper, beautiful little stories in your ear about like something that’s happened to them or whatever. And being at home, I was just like, “Ugh, I’m going to miss out on everything. I’m going to miss out on all those moments where you really feel that connection.” I did this thing which I would never have done before, which is for the people who are newsletter subscribers. I just wrote them an open invitation and opened up my calendar, just create a Calendly appointments and said, anybody who wants to meet with me, “No agenda, no whatever. Let’s just connect.”
NILOFER: And other than one meeting out of the 20 some meetings, they were all just amazing. One was psycho, but all just ridiculously amazing. And each person showed me their view of the world and shared their vignettes and what was going on and everything. And it created this connection in a way that I just felt so intertwined with people’s lives and I thought, well, why didn’t I do that before? Great. I think it’s because I thought maybe it was a waste time or I didn’t want to like create an expectation. I don’t know. There were all these other noises in my head and I thought, how simple an act it was to say, “If you want to connect, let’s connect, no agenda. And let’s just go from there.”
ANDREW: I hope more people do that. For anyone who’s been engaged in this conversation and wants to start this work if they haven’t already, or if they’re saying, “Okay, Nilofer, I’m in, what do I do?” What’s step one? NILOFER: Well, ﬁrst of all, I’ve been writing this Substack column, so it’s called atwork.substack.com, I think is the website. I’m writing this column that is really focused on an application. And really what I’m trying to do is say, “What does it look like in the world when you’re asking for someone’s approval? What does it look like when you’re thinking about taking that big job, but you’re worried about the people you’re working with?” And like one person said, “Can I really feel joy in my career if my parents don’t get what I do?” Different questions and I’m taking each one on just as it comes in and I sit with it and I ponder it. I think about like what’s it take that would be useful. And also illustrative. And I feel like the thing is the person asking the question is doing that step of what’s the questioning?
NILOFER: I’m really deeply inﬂuenced by Clay Christensen’s legacy, business thinker from long ago has been just hugely inﬂuential. He was the one who came up with the idea of disruptive innovation. And now he’s since passed, but leaves behind like 30 years body of work. One of the things he taught me was this notion that until you have a good question, there’s no place for an answer to come. So I love it when people show up with a question. I always encourage people to go, what is the question you have? And if you can reﬁne the question, then all of a sudden an answer has a place to come. And if the question is like, and sometimes when you ask a question, then someone [inaudible 00:57:51] else, goes, [inaudible 00:57:51] the right question. But if we’re unintentional about that, then we’re seeking but without realizing there’s no space for it to go. So I always say identify the question you have and then you can go seek an answer for it. Because you can go, “Oh, here’s really what the next question is in my heart.”
ANDREW: Yeah. What’s your question right now?
NILOFER: I have a lot of questions about this. I really believe there’s a difference between value creation and value capture. And yet almost everybody I know links them so tightly together. And they think that if they can’t earn money from it, it shouldn’t be what they focus on. And all the research says it’s about a seven year gap between the time you start a brand new idea to the time your ability to monetize it. And that was research I did in the process of Onlyness. And I’m trying to ﬁgure out how to decode that piece for people. So that’s the big question in my mind because it seems to me that as long as we so tightly link them, and we say, “Gosh, if I can’t make money off this podcast, if I can’t make money, then we shouldn’t do it or we should bail or whatever.”
NILOFER: I’m like, wow, there’s got to be a better model out there. And because I’ve designed business models all my life, I get that they’re a secondary factor. You don’t design the business model ﬁrst and then go, “Oh, well that succeeded or didn’t succeed.” No, no, these are two independent things. First you design the value prop, then you get to ﬁgure out what’s the best business model behind it. That’s so obvious to me and it’s so obvious to other people. So that’s the question I sort of have in my mind is like, why is it so obvious to me? And what assumptions am I making? And what’s the law? So I’ve just been like, “Hmm, I know something that I know would be useful, but honest to God, can’t ﬁgure out like, why? Like how do I even decouple it in my own head? How did I start to think about it?” So all that. So it’s a big morass of stuff.
ANDREW: That’s a good question. And that’s a fun one that too, like you can see a whole journey that that’s going to spark. One idea for you that just occurred to me as I’m listening to you is, maybe another way to consider it is that you don’t have to capture the value in the same place you create the value.
NILOFER: Right. I mean, that’s so true that by the way that is one of the deepest truths, so that thank you for that reﬂection. That is a really deep truth that you just nailed on. I hope your readers get it. You don’t have to capture value in the same place you create it. I write and think my main value creation is about an idea of Onlyness and its application. I speak, I write all these different ways in order for me to do, I even now do consultations so people can ﬁgure out what is the application of Onlyness for themselves in this really like beautiful process I’ve designed and far undercharging for what it is I’m actually doing. What I’m really focused on those, those are all ways in which I’m learning. The writing is a way in which I’m learning about the idea. The speaking is a way in which I’m learning about the idea.
NILOFER: I’m actually doing R&D. Every single time I’m doing a consultation, I’m actually sitting there listening for where are people stuck and I’m doing R&D against the idea. So my value creation is about the idea and all the other stuff is just, I mean, I need to do it in order to eat and all that stuff, I get it, but that’s not my metric.
ANDREW: What’s your metric?
NILOFER: Engagement. So like here’s the thing, what will happen after we share this beautiful podcast is people will write to you and you will forward some of those to me and I will learn something. And then that will teach me something more about [inaudible 01:01:31], the way I meant it. Did it land? What was the next logical question? So it feeds the R&D. In fact I was telling you about that keynote I gave, and that same group of people wanted me to do a 45 minute download talk, Zoom call in and talk at the audience for 45 minutes because that’s what a lot of keynoters do. And I said, actually, I don’t recommend that model because I said, what would be most useful for most leaders is to identify their own question, have me talk to what I know, and then engage in a dialogue. And my metric, by the way was that the little Q and A section on the Zoom call had 19 really solid questions.
NILOFER: And by the way, 45 minute time span and each question got better and better. What that told me was they not only got the idea, but they were working hard at ﬁguring out how they apply it. And they were helping each other in that process. And they could see each other’s questions. Those are the courageous people who even shared their questions. There were private questions, too. That to me is a metric because it means that people are sitting there literally taking the paint out of your paint box that you’ve like been sitting here trying to create and they’re painting on their wall. Here’s how I’m going to go apply it.
ANDREW: Yeah. I have this quote I heard you say that I wrote down, I literally just wrote “so. much. yes.”
NILOFER: I totally want to know the quote.
ANDREW: It was that business is designed to automate us, not actualize us.
NILOFER: Boy, that’s good. I didn’t even know I wrote that. That’s really good.
ANDREW: Good job, earlier you! And I literally wrote so much yes in all caps. And I was like, yeah, you talk about central questions. I think that’s become my central question at least at this stage of my life is, what is the role of business in creating and actualizing human potential and creating a fully alive world? And I’ve become obsessed with that question and it’s like a beautiful obsession. It’s driving to make a little bit crazy, but in a good way.
NILOFER: Well, this is the work. This is the work. And by the way, some of us have central questions that we work on all our lives and we never get to see the answer. But it’s a worthy question of our own pursuit and people get to build on it over time. So I think about it also as a lineage of how you contribute that, which only you can without owning the outcome and then knowing that that is good work.
ANDREW: And letting that be enough. Beautiful. I think that’s like the perfect place to end it. What I hope will be, I think this is going to be, I feel, I sense there’s going to be a round two somewhere down the line here, but I think this is a beautiful place to wrap up for today. So ﬁrst of all, thank you, deep gratitude to you for the time and for sharing your lessons and just the generosity you’ve approached, not just this conversation, but all of your work with. So thank you for that and for being that kind of person and that kind of leader in the world. What would you like to leave the audience with?
NILOFER: Well, so we mentioned that it’s about having a question, right? And to really, as you exit this kind of podcast to go, what is it I’m curious about? About myself, about the world, about my place in the world, about how I add value. Whatever that question is, give yourself the time. It’ll literally take a minute and instead of rushing off that next thing to be productive, to let yourself own that question, because once you start to shape a question, you get to also decide how you’re going to grow. So let’s leave with that.
ANDREW: If I didn’t need the mic, I’d drop it right now on your behalf. All right, Nilofer, well, this has been a blast. Thank you so, so much and a true pleasure.
NILOFER: Thank you, Andrew.