Feb. 13, 2023

Jennifer Garvey Berger | Unleashing Your Complexity Genius

Jennifer Garvey Berger | Unleashing Your Complexity Genius

Listeners can tap into their natural complexity genius by reflecting on their emotions and connecting with others. This episode provides the tools needed to create a thriving environment in an uncertain world.

In this episode, Jennifer Garvey Berger offers practical methods to harness complexity and overcome anxiety and overwhelm. Listeners can tap into their natural complexity genius by reflecting on their emotions and connecting with others. This episode provides the tools needed to create a thriving environment in an uncertain world.

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Jennifer Garvey Berger: The other major reaction I get is, oh my goodness, I've been talking about doing that for years, but it looks so daunting. How did you get it right? How? Like, how were you brave enough to do that? How did you get all the pieces in place to do that? And I think what people mean is like, how did you get the first 10 years' worth of things in place to do that? And the answer is you do not. You don't, you would never do it. The question of how you get to the next feasible step in the direction of the life you want to live in feels riskier to people because you can't see seven steps ahead. But actually, you can't ever see seven steps ahead. It's a delusion to think you can see seven steps ahead. And so admitting that you can't, and then just taking a step and then another step, and then another step. Actually, we get more done if we treat complexity that way.

Jennifer: Oh my goodness. Welcome to the Unmistakable Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us. Thanks so much for having me. Absolutely. So you have a new book out called Unleash Your Creative Genius, which I think is fitting, considering what a complex world we're currently living in. But before we get to that, I wanted to start by asking you, what did your parents do for work and how did that end up shaping the choices that you've ended up making with your life and career?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So much. Oh, it's amazing. My father's an English professor. And from him, I think I get my love of stories and of writing. He's an incredible writer and storyteller. My dad and my mom were actually one of the first executive coaches and she got me into this question of complexity.

Mom and I geek out and read complexity books together, and she pushes my thinking around. And so, in my case, my parents and their careers, like their fingerprints, are completely on what I do for a living these days. Yeah.

Srini: What was the narrative around your house about making your way in the world?

My dad's a professor too; especially in an Indian family, it's like you are headed to academia or some version of it. That is going to lead to a high-paying job no matter what. And needless to say, I'm the sorting error that God made by giving me to my family.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: The story in my family was, if you take an academic job, you're going to be destitute and grading papers all the time. So I became a professor and I spent a lot of time grading papers. So the, yeah, the advice my parents gave me was to do the thing that you love. And the path I took was always toward how could I make a difference in the world. How could I make people's lives better or easier in some way? And I kinda fell into this profession on that quest.

Srini: Okay. You just mentioned that despite being told that you'd be destitute and doing nothing but grading papers if you became a professor, you did become one. Why?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Because I love it so much because I love ideas. I love the power of ideas to change lives, and I love the power of education to open doors for people. So I became a professor of teacher transformation to help teachers and then principals change their schools in a way that made kids' lives better. And then over time, looking for leverage, I went towards leaders and their constituents because I thought maybe that was a more direct way to change lives. And that's the niche I've found myself in. Also there, I stepped off the professor track because we moved to New Zealand. So I've also done a lot of finding my way through professions that allow me to live in the places I want to live.

Srini: Wow, okay. It's funny because every time I have an academic, I talk to them about how they would change the education system, and you just happen to be the person whose entire work has been centered around that teacher transformation.

So I have to ask you, we've got a situation where people are coming out of school with mountains of student loan debt. Chase Jarvis said that basically, we have an education system that is not designed to prepare people for the future. They're going into where they're going to have five jobs at the same time, and as a failed byproduct of an elite university.

I wanted to ask you if you were tasked with redesigning the entire system from the ground up, what would you change and how would you do it? I realize we could talk about that for an hour, which I think is perfect because it'll make a great segue into complexity.

Srini: Yeah. I've talked to so many people about this and from looking at it from different angles I think the thing that has always struck me, particularly based on my experience, was that I felt like going to college was like choosing items off a fast food menu, even though there's just this diversity of possible experiences that you could have.

And yet these are the options that are put in front of you. Choose them and ignore all the possibilities that surround you.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: It's exactly right. The most interesting, I think now my career has done a lot of this kind of planning, but for me, the most interesting questions are discipline planning questions. And you're talking about fast-food menus. This is like a, how do you become the chef of your own experience? And there are some universities that do this well, but by and large, universities are tied to these kinds of traditional pathways that are interesting and they have been interesting for others, but they are not keeping up with the complexity of the demands made on people as they graduate and as they join the workforce.

Srini: So one thing that I am very curious about, obviously this is a book published by the Stanford University Press. So what role does status play in all of this? Because I think that we've put these elite universities on a pedestal, and as a result, you have students who are willing to go to the end of the earth—or even hell—to have their parents spend fortunes to pay somebody to take tests for them. When their parents are people like Lori Loughlin.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah. Yeah. The connection between status and American universities is just it's fascinating, right? My doctorate's from Harvard and I had my bachelor's degree from a really fantastic state school called St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Nobody cares about that degree, right? As soon as you go to one of these places that have the big-ticket name, that's the thing that matters most to folks. So that is a somewhat American, not wholly American, but it's a somewhat American desire to chase the name brand, I think.

That I see less in the other countries in which I've lived. Yeah.

Srini: I wanna bring back a clip from an episode that we did with Scott Galley, where he talks about this idea of educational institutions becoming luxury brands. Take a listen, despite the fact that the number of people going to college has increased dramatically, the number of seats that have been offered by the top universities has stayed flat.

So Stanford's applications have tripled in the last 30 years, but the number of seats they've increased has, they haven't increased their freshman class by anything substantial because we, as academics, and I include myself in this, have become drunk with the notion of exclusivity. And that is we no longer see ourselves as public servants. We are seeing ourselves as luxury brands. And every fall, the head of admissions and the deans brag about how impossible it is to get into the college. And you can't be at a party without someone joking that they could never get into their alma mater today. But that's a bad thing because, on a risk-adjusted basis, it's likely that your children will be somewhere in your weight class.

So as a Harvard alum, what do you make of that? I

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Agree that this is a problem. The question is, do we want to make some of these institutions larger? Do we want to expand their footprint? Or do we want to figure out what's the value of a college education from, Iowa State? And how could we care more deeply about that? Could we be valuing more than just a name brand? Could we be valuing, like, what education does? I taught for a while at a place called George Mason University, which is not a name-brand school. But the reason I went there is that they had amazing redesigns of what a student experience would be for adult learners. That just floored me with how sophisticated they were, and how thoughtful they were. I think, rewarding what the universities are doing instead of the shortcut of rewarding their brand name of them would be exciting. That would be exciting!

Jennifer Garvey Berger: We could talk about this for so much more than an hour.

I think that the education model is very old. It comes straight from a kind of elite idea about what the learned should know, and how do we segment those subjects into specialties that were divided a long time ago? The way the world works now, there's no room for specialties like mine.

Like, where does complexity go? Where does leadership go in these curricula? And how do we get some of the emerging necessary skills and ways of being to be part of a curriculum? And you have to let go of traditional ideas of subjects to be able to do that. But to change that is really hard because actually, parents do a lot of insisting that school looks recognizable to them.

I was in New Zealand, my kids were in school, and New Zealand pivoted to a curriculum that looked to me to be really effective at, if you dig into it, what people need to be learning in school. And the parents basically went ballistic and said, “Yeah, but where are my kids practicing long division?”

Like, I really wanna understand how they're practicing long division. So there's just

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What did you see as the differences in

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I've lived in places where the structures are really quite different, so New Zealand is the most. It's the most flexible curriculum in the world, and the way teachers enact that curriculum is incredibly flexible. All the way to, the way you get into university is more flexible. Whether or not you need an undergraduate degree to pursue a master's degree is more flexible. So you have all of these lines that say there are a lot of ways to be successful here. Then you travel through the US and come to England, where I spent some years and where my son went to university and graduate school.

And there that system is actually pretty rigid. You take a series of tests as a teenager, like a 16-year-old. And the choices you make on those tests pretty much lock you into what university you're gonna go to and what you can major in. So there, the choices get made really early, and so those tests become a driving force and just a complete set of misery in the lives of those families because so much rests on the results of those tests.

So I think there are lots of ways to do it. Like all things that are complex, how do we, how do we

Srini: One question I realized is absolutely ludicrous that we ask kids is, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Yeah, it's ridiculous. Wait a minute, you're asking me how I want to spend the rest of my life when I've barely lived a fraction of it?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Ask the 40-year-old that question and they often can't answer, right? Why don't we expect a 16-year-old to be able to answer this question? It's ridiculous. And I, my daughter came home from school one day when she was, I don't know, 12, and she was furious and she was like, 'Mom, my teacher told me today that the job I'm going to have in my career probably hasn't been invented yet.'

She was like, 'What are you grown-ups doing? That means there's so much uncertainty in my life.' I'm like, 'Yeah, that's fair.' And at the same time, why do we believe that we should be able to map out what our career's gonna be like when in fact, we who have careers are somewhere in there know that it's just been a series of this choices and that choice that has happened to open up a particular path that we've followed or hacked out of the wilderness for ourselves.

And we've gotta teach kids how to compile, how to create, how to craft a career as opposed to how to follow a particular train that gets you in a particular job that happens

Srini: Yeah. I realized, people would make decisions like, "Hey, I'm gonna be a doctor". Have you ever set foot in a hospital? What do you know about being a doctor? This is very common with Indian people. It's like, "Wait a minute, you're going to college and you've decided how you're gonna spend the next 10 years of your life and you have no data points". And that was one thing that became very apparent to me as a byproduct of doing this work and talking to hundreds of people like yourself, where I realized Tina said something to me that always stayed with me. And that was that "passion follows engagement". And that was what I realized is like nobody tells you, "Don't pay attention to the things that you find engaging". It's more, "Go do this and you'll get this job". Whereas there's no question of whether you're in the right job, to begin with.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: No, I completely agree. This question of how do we use the things that we are the best at? How do we figure out what our strengths are, package those strengths together in a way, this beautiful idea about where my longing meets the world's hunger, right? How do we help people understand that process instead of having people look at kind of the known careers at this moment and then try to get on a path toward one of those known careers?

I think a lot of people end up doing things they hate. Because that was what they knew how to do. They knew how to get on that path, and it's scary to not be on that path. So they got on a path and if they happen to hate it, whatever. But I think that costs those individuals, but it also costs the world.

And what could those individuals have done if they were on a path that they were passionate about and that they were great at?

Srini: I think that makes a perfect segue into talking about the book. So what was it that sparked your idea for writing this book about unleashing your creative genius?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: The book I wrote before this one, which is called Unlocking Leadership Mind Traps, was about all the ways our brain is misprogrammed to try to help us in complexity or all these little traps we fall into because our bodily system is very often trying to shield us from complexity, as though complexity is our enemy.

In fact, it turns out to be true. I've discovered in the research for this book that your body metabolizes complexity as a threat. And so it makes sense that we fall into these traps if what we are feeling is threatened by a fact of complexity. But I got really curious about what our resources are, right?

There must be a ton of resources. I figured what are they? Could I name them? And then could we expand them so that we could look at what would be great about them and what we have at our fingertips? If we could just mobilize it. And this is where this book came from – an opposite question to the book before it.

Looking at how could we craft our momentary experience, our bodily state, to handle complexity better. And then over time, how can we craft the conditions of our lives? If you buy the idea that

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And most of the habits, most of the hobbies and things we do for enjoyment. Are unpredictable. Sports are unpredictable. That's why we like them. In movies, we want an unpredictable ending. We watch TV shows because they have a cliffhanger or whatever it is, right? We read books that surprise us. So we really crave this kind of unpredictability in our leisure time if it's safe and fenced away from the actual conditions of our lives. In the actual conditions of our lives, we want to know that our kids are going to be successful, that we're going to have an appropriate job, and that everything's going to go swimmingly for us.

Srini: No, in the opening of the book, you say that we've set up our organizations, our schools, often even our families, to create predictable spaces where we mostly believe we know what's going to happen next. We've created systems and structures that enable us to handle difficult situations. What looks like a kind of predictable ease. All this uncertainty wreaks havoc on our systems, financial systems, political systems, and social systems. But the first stress system that leaders must deal with is their own nervous system. We cannot handle the complexity outside us unless we are able to notice and ultimately change what complexity does inside us.

And when I read that, my first thought was thinking about this whole idea of uncertainty and complexity and how we do everything we can to increase simplicity and certainty in our lives. Like we resist uncertainty. And I don't remember which book it was, but I remember seeing this sentence that uncertainty is beneficial because it makes us feel alive.

And I thought to myself, yeah, if you didn't have any uncertainty, your life would be like, Groundhog Day would be pretty mind-numbing.

Srini: Yeah. I'm laughing because I, I, at 44 there's only one thing I know for sure and that's that nothing in my life has gone according to plan.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And almost always, we look back and say, "Thank God!" Yeah, thank God I didn't, because the plan I had was so much less interesting than the life I've ended up in. So if we could just harness some of that and understand that complexity is a force for creativity, innovation, and newness, it's got all kinds of good features. We just have to lean into those as opposed to leaning away from them. Let's

Srini: Talk about harnessing this because you say that one of the core paradoxes of complex systems is that a lot of effort can have no impact, and a tiny bit of effort can have a lot of impacts.

And of course, in complex systems, the bummer is that you can't know which until afterward, right? So, one, talk to me about why you can't know which it is until afterward. And then, with that in mind, how do we keep ourselves from just spinning our wheels? So, you...

Jennifer Garvey Berger: We can't know until afterward because the nature of complexity is unpredictability. Like its very nature there are so many moving parts, so many interdependencies that you can't know how this set of things is going to turn out. If you knew how it was going to turn out, it wouldn't actually be technically complex. So, by its nature, complexity is unpredictable. And yet, we crave, we totally crave, predictability, right? Our bodies actually are predictive machines. We have evolved to this place by predicting, in relatively straightforward ways, what things are dangerous, and what things are not dangerous. Things that were dangerous yesterday, probably going to be dangerous tomorrow. The modern world kicks a lot of that up in a new way that we have to teach our nervous systems to be able to handle.

Srini: I was thinking about this idea of, actions that have no impact and a tiny bit of effort can have a lot of impacts. And my friend Julian Smith has been mentoring me, and if I were to identify one theme in our calls, it's not about what I should do. It's literally every week we talk about what I should stop doing every time I meet with them. So talk to me about that, because it, you're right, that is a paradox in that I'm actually in one way simplifying, but, trying to solve a complex problem and we'll actually frame this for, in something concrete, once we go through these themes, but yeah, it just struck me that was so interesting that here I am, getting help on what to do and 90% of our conversation is about what not to do. Yeah. It's

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Fascinating. One of the quirks of human psychology is that we tend to think in additive ways about improvement. Uh-huh. So if you give, most studies will show you that if you give somebody the chance to, quote, improve something, you tell them that this is their goal, they'll almost always put something on. We rarely think of improvement as taking something off, but of course, in complexity, we have to try a lot of things to figure out where the high-leverage issues are. And to try a lot of things, you'll have to give them up, right? You have to say, "Oh, this is the high-leverage; I'm gonna stop doing that."

I had it, it was teaching a bunch of leaders about experimentation, and one of the forms of experimentation I encourage most is experimentation about stopping things. And this leader, I think she was the CFO, found that her people were spending some huge amount of their time creating reports, financial reports of, somebody asks for a financial report cut this way. And so they make that report, and then they make it next month, and then they make it the next month. And they were doing like whatever

Srini: I think that speaks to this idea that you talked about in the book, where you say one of the most important ways to unleash your complexity genius is to notice this action urge, pause, stay with the discomfort you might feel, and then make a choice about whether to act or not.

And I don't know what it is lately, but I feel like I'm reading books about productivity that are all about doing nothing. And I'm like, maybe this is a message from the universe to me to slow the fuck down. So, I've been thinking about that and thought to myself, you know what, there are probably three or four things I do every week that are honestly impactful.

What if I did less of them? And I said, okay, these are the non-negotiables. The rest of them are optional and would anyone notice? And it's amazing because you are actually more effective, but 'quote unquote' is less productive. Because I think that what I noticed was there's this big difference between being effective and productive as we think of it in the modern world, which is just crossing tasks off a list. It was like, this is such a terrible way to

Jennifer Garvey Berger: And it's generally the productivity that you get from crossing tasks off a list. It is very satisfying, right? It feels delightful. We get a little dopamine hit when we do that, but it's almost always a diversion from thinking hard and creating new stuff.

And actually, it's thinking hard and creating new stuff that is most value-adding. That's the particular gift we each bring into the world—what's the combination of our skills, our knowledge, and our experience pushed up against the problems of the world at this moment? Do you really need to run this report or do this thing again? That's been done a billion times. Probably not. Yeah.

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Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah, the noticing where I am right now, which the human mind is not good at, right? The human mind is really good at relit[ing] the past. It's really good at dreaming about and often catastrophizing about the future. That's what the human mind really wants to do.

So paying attention to where we are now and thinking about what's a reasonable next step from this moment is that [that] unlocks an unbelievable amount of possibility. As an example, last year a bunch of friends and I bought a big house in the southwest of France and we live in this house. We live in a community, in this house.

And when I tell people this story, people almost always say. Some people say that sounds awful. I would never wanna do this. This is one of the reactions I get, but the other major reaction I get is, oh my goodness, I've been talking about doing that for years, but it looks so daunting. How did you get it right?

How, like, how were you brave enough to do that? How did you get all the pieces in place to do that? And I think what people mean is like

Srini: Yeah, it's a bit like you're pulling out of your driveway expecting all the lights to be green when you want to drive from LA to Chicago. This is something that I realized. It took me a while to come to this realization. I said it's like standing in two different spots in the same room.

If you change where you're standing, the view changes and you'll see things you can't see. Now the only way to see those things is to take a step.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah. Yeah. The, and reason why you were talking about stopping things is to free up the time and space for you to be able to take a step and then notice what happened when you took that step. A lot of us take steps without noticing, and therefore without seeing the new possibilities that are emerging by virtue of the fact that we just took that step. A lot of us are sleepwalking through our lives. Complexity demands that we open our eyes and look around.

Srini: You say that we think we see the world clearly, but it turns out it's not as if you can see the world as it is. There are so many things happening all the time that to see it all would be crippling if it were even possible. So we filter out most of the world and then try to make sense of what we filtered.

So when I read that, I couldn't help but think of the role that biases play in distorting our perceptions of reality. And the choices we make. And I'll give you the most asinine example. So I have a theory that I should not date women with small dogs because I've dated three and they were awful.

So in my mind, now that I've offended all my female listeners with small dogs, I think there are, and it's a joke. A friend of mine said, "Your sample size is not large enough." And I was like, "Yeah, an economist named Allison Traeger validated my theory," and then my friend looks at me and he's like, "You're an idiot!"

He was like, "You don't even like dogs that much." But the thing is that, and it's funny

Jennifer Garvey Berger: This is why we have to take notice. You might choose to do that. There might be enough women in the world that you could forgo all of the women with small dogs and still find happiness, right?

Srini: Yes, exactly. So now you just supported, my decision.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So I'm not gonna contradict your decision. Knowing that you have a cognitive bias gives you the chance to say, "Do I, is it, is this a thing I wanna be in or not? Do I wanna fall into this?" We have biases about so many things we have to choose which are the ones we want to overcome and which are the important ones.

And you can, you could be running an experiment for the next year that, that your small dog theory, right? You might go with it as long as you know it's an experiment, you know what you're learning and you're open to changing your hypothesis if the thing that you're learning is that the woman you fall in love with has a small dog or before you knew that she had a small dog or that you don't like women with cats or whatever it is, right?

Maybe you have an anti-bias, I don't know. Yeah. But paying attention to what our biases are and how they are getting in the way is really pivotal for us because our biases create our reality. And our reality has to be created by something. But the thing I learned more than anything else in the research for this book

Srini: I think that, when you think about conditions, I think about the fact that people spend all this time trying to figure out their values, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like if you can figure out the conditions, they'll reveal your values.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I think that the thing we want to do is notice how much is revealed to us. I absolutely agree. If you find out, if you look at the conditions that you've created in your life, you can see what your values are, and if your values are different than that, then you might want to think about what conditions you need to change in your life.

Srini: Let's talk about the body itself because one of the things that you say is that the single most powerful communication channel we have for our nervous system is our breath. It's not only the way we can find out which nervous system is running us, it's also the way to switch gears. The genius of our breath, like other geniuses, is that it is both an automatic and an intentional process in our body.

There aren't many of our vital processes like that. So talk to me about the role that something like breath, which most of us take for granted, plays in your ability to handle complexity.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I have started to think of the breath as the most underrated, underutilized leadership tool at our disposal.

Just because I see so many leaders race through their meetings, their days, and their tasks on autopilot, not noticing what they're doing. I noticed this particularly during Covid, during the sort of most lockdown days of Covid when I would watch, executive teams at work or I would talk to leaders and I saw that they were rarely actually present, right?

And leaders had this sense that they needed to be on camera all the time. But they were actually multitasking a lot at the time, which means you can be on camera and not be paying any attention, and we can actually walk through our lives that way. We're on camera without paying attention.

The breath helps us understand where we are, and it helps us return to this place, this place where we are in this moment and actually be present in this space because one of the core things we need as we're leading anything, as we're in a relationship, as we're leading a team, as we're leading an idea is presented.

And we

Srini: I think that makes a perfect segue into the other one, which is sleep. And you say that to enable us to see patterns, in order to address complex challenges, we need to be able to hold onto what we're seeing in the present, especially the deep sleep that happens early in the night. It's astonishing at updating and pruning our memory as it moves memories from the brain's short-term storage area to the more stable and long-term memory space.

So talk to me about this because I think that all of us are aware that we need more sleep. And most of us are hyper-aware that we're not getting enough. I remember talking to my friend Anta who wrote this book about Avela, and I told her, we have all these sleep-tracking apps. And I realized that at a certain point, I was not getting enough sleep because I was so obsessed. Not just me. I had a friend who spent more time worrying about his sleep score than the quality of his sleep. And I'm like, wait, who gives a damn if you got a great sleep score? And I read a New York Times article saying that this actually ends up being a huge source of anxiety for people who are

Jennifer Garvey Berger: their sleep. Yeah. I have tried to get people to track time in bed as opposed to the particular quality of sleep for this exact reason because oh my goodness, what you don't want is to take a thing that's supposed to reduce stress and make it into a thing that increases stress. But I think that if we understand how much a part of our job it is to create the conditions for us to be able to sleep even if we're not particularly sleeping that night or even that week. But understanding that there are some really classic things we can do, which I swear is the number one rule for me and that I try to offer to the leaders I work with is just watch when you schedule calls.

I have so many leaders who in, in the desire to have more quality family time and the desire to lead a global team, they'll do things like take calls with this part of the world before six because their kids get up at six and then they've gotta be with their kids for breakfast. Then they work a full day. Then they don't take any calls after six, between six and nine because they wanna be with their kids. And so then they take calls only after nine.

Srini: Let's talk about emotions and curiosity. Curiosity is one of my favorite subjects, but let's talk about emotions first because I think that we spend so much time letting our emotions wreak havoc on our lives, and yet we also obsessively try to control them.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: It's beautiful, isn't it that they both flow through us like a tsunami and then we try to deny the existence of most of them. I think it's a great human pattern. No, but my life was changed by this idea that emotions are the story. Our mind makes up stories about sensations and our bodies. We experience sensations. We look at the context. We make up a story and we call that emotion. We say, oh, I'm sad. I'm angry. I'm disappointed, I'm delighted whatever it might be. And actually, this idea is, so for me, this idea contrasts with the notion that we have these things called emotions. These things called emotions arise in us as just fully-fledged things. There's a thing called sad. There's a thing called disappointment. If you believe this kind of constructive idea about emotions, we can begin to reconstruct our stories about emotions. And that reconstruction actually changes the emotions we're having. And so it convinced me that we have a lot more power to reshape the stories we tell ourselves about what we're feeling and therefore to reshape how we're making sense of ourselves and our interactions with the world in a way that's more helpful and more empowering for

Srini: Probably is one of my favorite parts of any story. Everything I do is driven by personal curiosity. Every choice I make about podcasts, yes; every book I read, every creative project I work on, is the driving force. And you say curiosity is a powerful antidote to the perils of certainty. Certainty is like a poison and complexity because it robs you of your senses. You could become blind to new evidence, have the depth of the perspective of others, and narrow your view and your data. Curiosity as a self we can apply over the poison of certainty and it works to open up that which was closed to restore our ability to sense into the unknown, to think and feel alongside others.

And, I can't help but think that this is something that just gets diminished with age. And I feel like part of that is because we are socially programmed to be less and less curious. If you ask yourself, you talk to a kid, every parent has had this kid ask them why, to the point where their only answer is, "Because I said so."

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Ask why I think this is another piece of the education system - the trait and the education system is that we begin to teach that answers are the important things and questions are annoying. And yet the minds that we are most drawn to, excited by the things, the engine that can power us to live a vibrant, creative life is curiosity.

And so when you say almost everything I do is influenced by curiosity, this is an amazing engine for innovation and your own personal growth as opposed to a lot of people I work with because society pushes it. And because there are certain career paths that push it. They, the thing that they trade on is their expertise. And expertise is a real double-edged sword in complexity. Expertise is your, if you can use it as a building block, it's incredibly useful. But if you use it as the thing you fall back on, like the thing that just is, then it blinds you to all kinds of possibilities. My curiosity opens up.

So this question is about how do we deal with our expertise and how do we help stay curious anyway? I think this can be taught. I think curiosity can be a force we can tap into

Srini: Yeah. It's funny because that just ties so perfectly to this other idea in complexity where you say, in order to thrive in complexity, we need a whole ecosystem of connections, deep and lasting connections. We can foster widespread connections. And this means that creating connections of all varieties is profoundly important for any of us who are creating or supporting human ecosystems in an uncertain world. And it reminded me of something that Robert Greene said to me when I interviewed him about his book Mastery. He said the analogy is biodiversity. He said, the more species you have in an ecosystem, the richer that ecosystem becomes. And that, to me was pretty much the foundation on which I chose every guest. That's how you end up with porn stars, drug dealers, bank robbers, and people like you on a show.

Srini: We're in a world that is becoming more polarized and divided specifically because of this thing. People tend to gravitate towards their own kind. Confirmation bias is rampant. I feel like the internet and social media are breeding grounds for confirmation bias. And you talk about this idea that monocultures are brittle and they don't handle change and uncertainty well, and yet the way that we've shaped our political landscape or social systems, our economic landscape, are literally turning into the kind of monocultures you're talking about. That's terrifying.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Podcast. Yeah. Diversity becomes a diversity of connection. Diversity of perspectives becomes fundamental to flexibility and agility. Because the more unified we are, the smaller our capacity to take perspectives. The more similar our whole ecosystem is, the more fragile we are. It might be pleasurable because there are things that are easy about it. But it's a dangerous pleasure in a world that's advancing as quickly as ours is. Yeah. And...

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I agree with you. And this is what an algorithm does, right? These algorithms are invested in giving and figuring out exactly what we like and giving us exactly that thing. It's like the research that kids get sick more once they go to school because their parents have been more successful at creating germ-free environments before school.

And so they have less tolerance. We have increasingly smaller amounts of tolerance for difference and increasingly smaller amounts of tolerance for people who don't think or dress as our little crowd does. And that, I mean, complexity, diversity is one of the great strengths you have. And so how do we make sense of the sort of diversity that matters to us?

It doesn't have to be every kind of diversity. The diversity of shoe-wearing probably doesn't matter very much, right? But there are some forms of diversity that really matter. How do we get access to those forms of diversity? As the US becomes more polarized, it also becomes more ridiculously ungovernable, right?

There was something about the weaving together of the progressive and conservative perspectives that creates just a whole bunch of possibilities. You segment those things totally away from each other and you say, there will be not one

You say, "Our regular habits were probably imported from the complicated world where we could figure out the best outcome and build a plan to get there in the world. We could use our past experience to figure out the various steps to arrive at our desired end. In the complex world, that kind of step-by-step approach won't work."

And if I realized that this question would probably be ridiculous because it seems like it would be impossible for you to answer it based on my reading, but I thought to myself, "Okay, let's tie this all together with a concrete example. So, let's say somebody like me comes to me and says, 'Hey, I have a product. I want to increase the sales of that product.' I've overly simplified everything now, I realized my immediate thought was I want a step-by-step approach, which I realize you can't give me. So, since you can't give me a step-by-step approach, what would we do?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: So I think the first thing we do is we pay attention to what we know now, right? We pay attention to the present. What are you learning about the product and what are you learning about who values it? Who cares about it? Who, who couldn't, what markets you just completely can't enter into? And so there's this whole investigation of now that complexity really matters.

And if you can get there, there's the investigation of now with a team that's diverse enough to be able to notice the questions you're not asking. I worked once with a beverage company. They made alcoholic beverages and as they began to pay attention to now, they began to ask their question was basically, who are we not paying any attention to? Who have we written off?

And they realized, in something that felt like an epiphany to them, that the fastest-growing adult beverage category is non-alcoholic stuff. People want to drink a grownup drink but don't want any alcohol on that grownup drink. When they included that, they found an incredibly fertile area. But they found that because they used a diversity of people, not just alcohol brewers and sellers, they

Srini: Stop? It just makes me think I did this survey of my audience for one of these products and just had her hearing you say that it, like my instinct, was to immediately act, but I'm realizing I probably should spend more time just reflecting on the responses.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah. And seeing what surprised you. One the, of the interesting findings, is that the most creative people are really oriented to surprise. Yeah. But for people who aren't that creative, who don't go after a surprise, we tend to pick up, because of our cognitive biases, we tend to pick up on the patterns we expect. So we're like, oh yeah, that's, this is what I expected. So every time you put a question out and you hear what you expected, then you can ask like, how much of that is just my bias filtering out the stuff that's unexpected because it's in the stuff that's unexpected that the real possibility for growth and innovation lies. Yeah. I

Srini: I don't remember where I read it, but somebody said that when the founders of Google came up with the PageRank algorithm, it was from noticing anomalies, not predictable things.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Yeah, this is what we want. We want to be tuned into that. Yeah.

Srini: A billion dollars later, I think you can say those results have turned out pretty well.

Jennifer Garvey Berger: It worked for them.

Srini: Yeah. This has been fascinating. I have one final question for you, which is how we finish all of our interviews at The Unmistakable Creative. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: I think being the entirety of who we are is what makes us unmistakable, right? I think really developing the particular organism that is us and valuing the whole package of our humanity; the likes, the dislikes, the quirks, the brilliance. Bringing all of that to the table, I think is what makes this unmistakable.

Srini: Amazing! I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story, your wisdom, and your insights with our listeners. Where can people find out more about you, the book, your work, and everything else that you're up to?

Jennifer Garvey Berger: Check us out at cultivatingleadership.com. And we have because we believe in getting these ideas out there to change the world, a ton of free stuff, and free resources on our website and on our YouTube channel for people who are interested in dipping their toes in and playing with these ideas, which we're playing with and learning more about every day. That's our job.

Srini: Amazing. And for everybody listening, we'll wrap the show with that. Have you ever heard our podcast guests say something that you wanted to remember, or maybe you read something in a book, and then the day goes by and you can't remember what it was or where you heard it, or where you read it? And in the world we live in, there's so much competition for attention. We're constantly inundated with blogs, social media posts, text messages, emails, Netflix, whatever it is.

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If you want to be able to put the information that you consume to use and organize your digital life, be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Building a Second Brain and Map. You can learn more@unmistakablecreative.com