I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. Our team is on a mission to make you remarkable.
Helping me in this episode is the remarkable Caleb Gardner. He’s worked side by side with startups, global nonprofits, Fortune 100 clients, and even a past president, Barack Obama.
In fact, for more than three years Caleb was the lead digital strategist for Barack Obama’s political advocacy group. This means, he managed the most followed Twitter account in the world: @BarackObama.
Barack himself once said, “He’s a better Barack Obama than I am.”
Caleb is an expert in innovation and change, and he is the co-founder of 18 Coffees, a consulting firm that helps organizations implement change.
Caleb wrote a new book called NO POINT B: New Rules for Leading Change In the New Hyper-Connected, Radically Conscious Economy. It is a guidebook to embracing continual change and mobilizing the next generation of leaders.
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Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Caleb Gardner:
Guy Kawasaki: Caleb Gardner: Caleb Gardner:
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People.
Our team is on a mission to make you remarkable. Helping me in this episode is the remarkable Caleb Gardner.
He's worked side by side with startups, nonprofits, Fortune 100s, and even a past president, Barack Obama.
In fact, for more than three years, Caleb was the lead digital strategist for Barack Obama's political advocacy group.
In short, this means he managed the most followed Twitter account in the world, @BarackObama.
Obama himself once said, "He's a better Barack Obama than I am."
Caleb is an expert in innovation and change, and he is the co-founder of Eighteen Coffees, a consulting firm that helps organizations implement change.
Caleb has written a new book called No Point B: Rules for Leading Change in the New Hyper-Connected, Radically Conscious Economy.
It is a guidebook for embracing continual change and mobilizing the next generation of leaders.
I'm Guy Kawasaki, this is Remarkable People, and now here is the remarkable Caleb Gardner.
Anybody who reads your background's going to immediately want to know how did Barack Obama's social media work.
There are aspects of it I can tell you and there's aspects of it I can't for a government secrecy reasons, but we were part of a communications infrastructure that was separate from the White House.
So Obama came in with this Powerhouse Communications campaign from OAN.
Everyone who had organized it ran into the dynamic of government archives and communication rules and all these things. When you're elected official person who's been in office in any capacity, not just the president, there's rules around what you can say, what you can't.
There are rules around what you can advocate for in office versus what you can't, and there's rules around what has to be archived as part of official presidential archives. The president was really one of the first people to say, "Okay, I'm going to keep part of my communications infrastructure and organizing infrastructure outside of the White House, and I'm going to keep these assets as part of the official White House communication that are going to get passed to different people who hold this office."
We were part of that first outside the White House, but officially supporting White House policy and advocating on behalf of the president who was in office at that time.
We had our team, the White House had its team, and we basically coordinated, but we couldn't coordinate because of rules about how you work with 501(c)(4)s and political action groups outside of your official capacity in the government. We supported Barack Obama's policies, but officially we're not actually part of the White House. This confused many people when we were running.
Including me right now.
Yeah, to this day we had reporters quoting our Twitter account, @BarackObama, as if it was the voice of the president, even though we tried to be as transparent as possible that we weren't actually the president, we are part of the president's communications infrastructure.
It was a strange, honestly, time to be in politics, and since then has changed so much a lot because of President Trump and how he came in and basically just ignored all of those rules that had been set up that we tried to abide by so closely.
He just came in and said, "No, I'm not going to do this." No one really punished him for it. Just changed the rules of the game right off the bat.
Are you saying that @BarackObama was not really Barack Obama or it was his non-White House role that it represented?
Yeah. Again, we tried to honor that was his voice, but it wasn't actually controlled by him or his White House staff.
Did he actually see before someone pressed the send button?
No, this was what was wild about that time, honestly, is that 80 percent of what was published on his accounts on barackobama.com and the entire infrastructure was seen by me as its editorial director and then went live.
Yes. That's why I have so much gray hair today because that was-
... a very stressful time in life for me. But another, I would say 20 percent, had a little bit more policy nuance, a little bit more research that needed to be involved, had to be communicated in exactly the right way. We would get people deep in different parts of policy involved.
We would get people deep in this is exactly how the White House would talk about this, and maybe we should think about talking about it this way, people who are really smart who've been a part of the Obama's organization for a long time, to come in and actually make us smarter about how to say that exact thing in a very small amount of character count.
We had to get it exactly right. We would get outside experts to help. For the most part, we were publishing hundreds of pieces of content a day at a pretty advanced pace of publishing.
When you're reacting to a new cycle every single day, you don't have time to have seventeen steps of governance for every single piece of content. We did a peer review process. I would see things and say, "Let's go live," and we would go live.
I have to tell you, Caleb, my head is exploding right now.
Hypothetically, if there's a school shooting during that Obama administration and you have to jump on it, "We're sending our thoughts and prayers."
That's you? He never saw it, DOJ never saw it, White House never saw it, press secretary never saw it. It just bada bing, bada bang boom, it goes?
That's right. One, we encountered exactly, unfortunately, that scenario many times during the presidency. What we would usually do in those scenarios is actually just go dark and allow the traditional political process to play out in terms of official statements from the White House, from the president.
The more thoughtful communication channels happen and then follow their lead as opposed to trying to be out in front of the White House accidentally in those kinds of scenarios. Mostly our protocol was just, okay, we're going to be quiet. Let the official policy people speak and then we'll amplify them.
Did you ever like a tweet or retweet a tweet?
Yeah. All the time.
That was also you?
That was also us.
Now, we didn't like or retweet things from people outside of our fear political influence, intentionally.
If you went out and tweeted something that we agreed with and then Barack Obama happened to come by and retweet you or hit a like, you would have then more press attention than you actually want.
We intentionally didn't engage with so-called average citizens for that reason. We didn't want to make them the next Fox News story.
When we would retweet or engage with folks, it was usually folks either on the hill coming from some people in the House and Senate that were our friends, supporting particular policy positions, in the progressive advocacy infrastructure, like organizations, like Everytown for Gun Violence, for example, that were supporting the things we might actually be coordinating with them on or things coming from, again, official White House channels like the press secretary or the @WhiteHouse account, those kinds of things.
What tools did you use? Were you just ... Name names. I want to know, what applications did you use? I'm so fascinated. Were you using Hootsuite or were you using Canva to make your graphics? How did this ...
We actually had a pretty robust design team that helped us produce things on an everyday, again, responding to particular news cycles or designing things for our website. There was a burden of content production that was pretty fast moving, and so we needed to have those people in house.
We had a pretty robust team helping us with that. In terms of actual applications that we gave access in terms of third parties like Hootsuite, we really limited who had access to the president's account, for good reason, right?
Those things tend to get hacked. The best intentions of those kinds of third party, we just couldn't guarantee necessarily that someone couldn't sneak in the back door and cause some international incident. We tended to not actually allow those kinds of applications to have third-party access.
The closest we came was we actually managed fifty state-based accounts that were part of the campaign infrastructure that came from his two presidential campaigns that we used to help advocate for everyday policy decisions, and we used to help amplify what volunteers in those states were doing to advocate in their local communities.
We had OFA Florida, we had OFA Michigan. On some of those, because we had started them so early, as far back as 2007, 2008, had more followers than the governors or legislators in those accounts or in those states, which was always fun.
Actually, that's where we partnered with Sprout Social based in our hometown of Chicago and helped us manage that from a volunteer engagement perspective because there were so many accounts that we had to deal with.
To put it mildly, I'm a huge fan of the Obamas. I don't know how frank I expect you to be in this question, but-
I love that intro.
Basically, are the Obamas as cool as their image?
What do you expect me to say to that? Of course, I'm going to say yes.
Well, I mean-
Of course, I'm going to say yes. No, they're so used to both being on a local one-to-one individual level and engaging with people and charming people individually and being up on stage and having just great rhetorical flare and being able to bring an audience along with you.
It's a very hard thing to do for anyone, especially a politician, to both be great at retail politics and be great at the big important speeches.
I think both the Obamas have that gift where they walk into a room and you're hanging off of everything they say, and they can charm you, make you think that they only have eyes for you for a couple minutes, and they're just both great at speeches. They're great at threading the needle of exactly what they need to say in a way that is captivating.
I think that the Obama campaign, and probably you, maybe pioneered this aspect of the dichotomy between depending on the press to get your word out versus going around the press or avoiding the press or going directly.
It seemed to me, in the Obama campaign, it worked extremely well. But it seems to me again that this is so open to abuse because there's no filter. There's no Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, whatever, I just named three liberal organizations but ... Where are you now on this? Have we let a monster out of the box or is this the democratization of information?
I have very much come around to believing that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. I think that's right.
Even pre my time working with the Obama organization, social media was so new, politicians especially on social media and making good use of it was so new that being able to bring a message to an audience directly away from the traditional, not just cynical gatekeepers of political journalism, but of Washington D.C. itself, and take it directly to people, it was a game changer, especially for that first Obama campaign.
I really was able to stand on the shoulders of giants to be able to continue that as part of the everyday advocacy of being a part of the White House and holding the office of the presidency.
We were able to, again, go beyond the traditional cynicism of Washington D.C. and speak directly to people who wanted to see the president succeed and wanted to see him succeed in some specific policy areas like the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Paris Climate Accords, or some of the great things we got to do, and were able to basically create some bottom-up support for those policies by being in their local states, supporting those policies, calling their senator, whatever it might have been to make sure that they knew that that was something they wanted to do.
However, again, largely because of the swing from President Obama to President Trump, but even before that, and I would say as early as 2015, 2016, you saw how this power to be able to speak directly to people could be abused by going past the gatekeeping from a fact standpoint and from a research standpoint, from a thorough analysis standpoint of traditional journalism.
People started taking advantage of the fact that they had these great megaphones to basically deride the entire media ecosystem as broken and inherently liberal and all of the things that we hear about media all the time now.
I think that the Obama organization and the president himself felt a responsibility to that Fourth Estate, that yes, they had all these megaphones and like the @BarackObama Twitter account, yes, they would use them forcefully to advocate for policies that we felt were right, but they also respected third-party engagement by media and wanted them to understand why we were advocating for the kind of policies that we were and wanted them to come along with understanding why we were advocating for those policies.
I think that's been derided a little bit as an old strategy, but the Biden administrations tried to bring it back a little bit, I think obviously. Jen Psaki and when she came in as a new press secretary really tried to restore some of those relationships, but it's not going to be the same. Things have shifted, things have been redefined. We understand now the power and ultimately hopefully the responsibility of having these amazing, huge megaphones.
I think we've also, since then, which you and I could probably talk about a lot, understood the power of the internet and technology and social media in general to create disinformation and misinformation flows that hurt the ability of the media to do thoughtful analysis on specific issues and have influence over those kinds of issues. It's been a perfect storm the last five years.
One could make the case, what have Barack wrought? But okay.
You could. I honestly feel a little bit of a weight of responsibility of that as I've thought about the last few years. I do think that some of the things that have happened over the last five years are the natural conclusion of something that the Obama organization started for better for worse.
Let's dive into politics a little. Okay? We were just touching on the edges there.
I'm going to quote to you from your book. You say that you have never been more hopeful about our ability to solve what's ahead of us. I'm sure that those words were put in the book months and months ago.
I'm an optimistic half full kind of guy, but I got to tell you, man, I am not so hopeful that we have the ability to solve what's ahead of us, and maybe it's going to come down to making two countries. Tell me if, A, you're still this optimistic, and B, why?
I will say that my optimism changes from day to day. Let's stipulate what day you catch me on is going to affect how optimistic I am. That's definitely for sure.
But I think in general, I trend toward cautious optimism. One of the reasons why is I get to ... I have this amazing job where I get to talk to these innovative people of all kinds of political walks of life. For now that I'm outside of politics, I really, more in the private sector, engage with people who believe all kinds of things.
But the ones who are outside of the day-to-day cynicism of the news cycle, who aren't caught up in the political back and forth that you and I probably see as heavy Twitter users probably more than we should for our mental health, there's a lot of people doing a lot of really innovative things and they don't necessarily call it progressive, they don't necessarily call it conservative.
They don't have the same kinds of mental labels that we tend to give it. A lot of them aren't that engaged with the new cycle every day in general.
But they're trying to make their companies better, they're trying to make their communities better. When I say better, better for society, not just better in terms of profits or better in terms of return on investment. They're actually saying, "Can we make a more ethical and inclusive company?
In what ways can I make my community better?" I think there are small innovations happening across the country that get lost in this nationalization of the dialogue around where we're making progress.
Just this week as we're recording this, we're recording it in the aftermath of a horrific school shooting. We're seeing the cycle of the national conversation around gun violence play out as it always does, and it's so frustrating and can create so much cynicism. But what's lost in that conversation is how much progress has been made at the local level and the state level on gun safety issues.
Organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, organizations like Moms Demand Action have been doing a lot of local advocacy at the state legislature level to promote common sense gun safety legislation. It's not in every state.
There are still state houses that are actively resisting that. Makes sense. But a lot of progress has been made over the last decade in that. If you just pay attention to the national conversation, it doesn't look like much has happened. If anything, right?
If anything, it looks like it's gotten worse because it probably has at the national level.
We lose sight of some of the most hopeful things by the fact that our aperture now is so wide in terms of the media we consume, and that media tends toward the most negative versions of events. There has been lots of studies going about the negativity bias of media, and now we consume so much of it, we have a negativity coming at us from all parts of the world.
Not just our local community, not just our state, not just our country, all parts of the world, all we hear is how everything is broken all of the time, and it is exhausting.
Thank God that the Washington Post has The Optimist newsletter. If it weren't for that, I'd really be in a dark place here. I want you to explain the title of your book because that is a very subtle thing, that it's not exactly everything you wanted to know about sex, but was afraid to ask kind of title.
No Point B is the name of your book. Please explain that title.
It comes from a very basic idea that I've been talking to a lot of my clients over the last five years about, which is that we have a linear thought process when it comes to how change is made. We think, "Oh, I've got to do this thing.
I've got to, on a local level, implement this piece of technology in my company. On a national level, oh, we've got to pass this very specific piece of legislation." I've seen this at a massive scale and I've seen it at a minor scale.
We always have this bias toward thinking there's a start point and there's an end point. What we don't realize is there is no end point, because as soon as we go to implement that thing, we're going to realize, one, that thing wasn't as perfect of a solution as we thought it was, two, the market has shifted out from under us and now it's demanding different kinds of solutions.
When it comes to being innovative within our company, I've seen time again, this is where it comes from me coming from a digital strategy background, is that I've seen time and again when we are very invested in an idea and it feels very innovative and the exact solution to what we need, again, “Social media, great, we got to do that. Once we do that, it'll solve all our marketing needs. CRM, once we do that, it'll solve all of our sales needs.”
... we just ... Yeah, big data is a great one. Oh God, there's so much about big data that just feels like it's going to give us the source of all knowledge, right? A lot of what ... I actually put this in the book. I worked with some of the most massive data sets you can ever imagine, millions of data sets as part of the Obama organization, and I saw the limits of what that can actually tell you.
Anyway, whatever we go to implement is going to be imperfect, it's going to seem like the wrong solution once it's actually implemented, or at least the solution that came too late.
We end up getting disrupted time and time again because we put all our eggs in that basket, and once we implement it, we haven't made any kind of allowance for what needs to come next, and we get stressed out by the pace of change.
We just did this thing and now we've got to go do this other thing. This mental tax happens on us when we think about it in this linear way. What I'm trying to do by writing No Point B is get people outside of thinking about it from a linear one thing after another, and think about actually building more adaptive capability and get out of our heads a little bit and think more about how we can actually change all of the time and just see change as a core capability.
That's what I'm trying to make the argument for, is we are going to have to change and again and again. We're going to have the mental flexibility to do that.
We're going to have the planning process to be flexible and change when we don't have all of the answers yet, and we're going to have to understand where our own biases come from when we are really gung-ho on one solution and then all of a sudden it turns out that's not the right answer.
Basically, you're saying we need plan B, not point B?
Yeah, plan B and then C and then D, and then plan to the nth power.
Oh, yes. Yes. Do you think a democratic participative political system can move fast enough?
It can. Yes, in theory. Well, not right now. You and I would both agree. We're not right now. This is my personal opinion.
I think that we put too much stock in our founding document even though our founders thought that founding document should change more often than it actually has.
They built in adaptability into the constitution. It's one of the things we brag about in terms of it being a "living, breathing document," but we don't actually change it that often, and we depend on it.
We've got this mythology about what did the founders think about X, and we all agree that their perspective on lots of things was pretty broken, but even they knew that it was limited to their time and they wanted the constitution to change and adapt much more so than it has.
We could be building in much more flexible institutions into the system that we have. We don't even have to change the system. We could make it the system we have more flexible.
We just aren't really into conversations about infrastructure, whether that infrastructure is in person, physical infrastructure, or whether it's institutional infrastructure. We want to talk about the policies and the policy outcomes.
We don't want to have conversations about voting rights or changing the Supreme Court makeup or whatever it actually is. People don't give money to those causes that much. They don't vote because of those causes. It's a real problem.
Caleb, I wish I could physically show you my document here of my notes because, I swear to God, the next question was going to be, is the constitution more of a help or hindrance at this point?
Let's say you're the second coming of George Washington or Sam Adams or whoever was the major architect of the constitution, how would you design a political system to be able to innovate and move fast enough?
Are there three branches of government? Is there still a filibuster rule? Are there two houses? What are you going to change?
The filibuster is a great example. We have lived with the modern filibuster only for about sixty years, I think. It's a pretty modern invention. It wasn't built into the constitution. This reverence that people have for the filibuster feels like a tradition, but it's actually not that old of a tradition.
It's a great example of where ... It would be very easy for us to change the rules, to adapt, to move faster, and in fact, we are just stuck in tradition for tradition's sake.
Where I would change the constitution, oh God. There should be a lot more amendments. The amendment process is burdensome and it was designed to be burdensome, but it was designed to happen a lot more often.
We have the technology to be able to communicate the need for it and to be able to focus on it and to be able to move a lot faster in terms of getting the voting across and all of that. All that process could happen a lot faster, but it just doesn't.
I would like to see more updated interpretations of Supreme Court precedent.
That's 100 years old now. There's a lot more of that could happen, although the direction that it's going now, in my opinion, might not be the best reinterpretation of some of that law.
To me, it's not so much the institutions themselves are broken. Although a lot of the people that I've worked with in the past have advocated for things like tiered voting and other kinds of things where you could innovate a little bit on how the process of democracy happens.
I think those are interesting ideas. But to me, the bones of it are still healthy. It's just we've gotten so much toxicity into the system and so much, again, tradition for tradition's sake that it's not going well right now.
Okay. If God said to you, assuming you believe in God, if there is a God, that you have one magical wish. You can change any one thing about the American political system, what would you change?
Oh, that's a tricky question. I would probably change the way that campaigns are financed and run, and I will give you a very specific example of that.
In the House of Representatives, elected every two years, it means that our people in the House right now spend most of their time fundraising for the next campaign. From the minute that they get into the office, they spend half their day fundraising for two years and then they get elected and then they do it all over again.
That's one of the ways where if we had different kinds of campaign financing infrastructure, if we didn't have to raise millions, billion, increasingly insane amounts of money for every presidential cycle, that money could go to different things that could help support, again, democratic infrastructure as opposed to one campaign infrastructure, I think it would make a big difference.
I think it would help get out the influence of money in politics, which I actually think is overstated in some cases and understated it in others, to go back to the gun issue. I think that the influence of money in the gun lobby isn't as much of an issue as people believe it is.
I think it's much more the influence of Republican voters and how they think about gun rights in different parts of the country. But overall, the influence of money in politics I think is a toxic issue, and I would probably aim it at that.
Supreme Court blew it, huh?
To provide one example, yes.
Do you think an autocratic political system, which would be much more efficient ... Having worked for Steve Jobs, I can tell you it's very efficient. You just have to have the right autocrat. Is the risk worth it? Or perhaps another way, is an autocratic system possible where the autocrat is still moral and ethical or is it by definition going to get corrupted?
You're going back to the idea of Plato's philosopher king, right? Can you actually have a-
Not intentionally, but ...
Can you have an ethical leader who's considerate about specific issues and blah, blah, blah? Or does power corrupt and absolute power corrupts? Absolutely, and in any kind of autocrat is automatically going to be corrupted.
I tend to word the idea that it's more the latter, but I will say that if the past few years have proven anything, it's that autocrats can move faster, it's that they can solve problems that feel urgent for their people faster and create loyalty faster.
I think that we've been frustrated by the slow pace of Western democracy in ways that China, for example, hasn't. They’re in a bit of an awkward spot with the lockdowns, but pre-COVID at least had very high satisfaction scores with their citizenry.
There are benefits in terms of the pace and decision-making quality that you can have as autocrat, but do you get more ethical and inclusive in the kinds of democratic outcomes? Probably not, I think in most cases.
We have the lesser of two evils insistence?
I think so. Yeah. I think that's a way to think about it. I think there are real critiques of democracy as an organizing system. If you go into political philosophy, I don't think that any system's going to be perfect.
I just think it's the best one we figured out how to do and bring all the people along.
I have to tell you that from the outside looking in, this just totally befuddles me. I just can't even wrap my mind around this. Okay. This is how confused I am about this. If you thought I was confused that Barack Obama's not actually posting @BarackObama, this is really confusing to me.
I see these political leaders and they went to Princeton, Harvard Law, Yale, Debate Champion, Harvard Law Review editor, Stanford, et cetera, et cetera, which in my mind are proxies for intelligence.
Then they come out and they espouse theories like, "Well, our schools would be safer if they just had only one door? Or why don't we give teachers guns?" Now these are the same teachers that we don't want them to pick textbooks because there might be Black issues or sexual issues.
You can't pick the textbook, but we want you to pack a forty-four in the room.
I'm a little bit of a diatribe here, but maybe you're inside the tent so you can explain this to me. What happened to those people? How do those people with such education, they espouse certain things that are just not scientific, factual, believable if it's as simple as a dichotomy? Do they know they're full of shit and lying? Or are they in an alternate reality now where they think they are doing right and telling the truth?
It goes back to your original premise, which is that is going to an Ivy League School or getting the kind of Ivy League education is a proxy for intelligence. I think that we would like to think that it is, but I think it's actually more of a proxy for wealth and privilege.
The people that get to go there come from the right families, have the right alumni in their backgrounds. Yes, in some cases that can be the case, but it's not a direct correlation to actual intelligence.
But I think there's something else that is baked into your assumptions, which is that people make the kinds of decisions and the kinds of public statements that they make because they know it's the right thing to do or not, and I think that likely a lot of politicians, and this includes on both sides, have the kinds of positions they have because they're attempting to represent the viewpoints of their constituents.
Whether or not the viewpoints of their constituents are correct or not is a big if, but a lot of the folks saying that, trying to find reasons why a gun violence problem in schools is not about guns, which is what you were just saying, is because they know that if they said it was about guns, they would get voted out of office and they would get primaried, somebody else, deeper advocate for the Second Amendment or however they would spin it would come in and primary them and they would get voted out.
That's an unfortunate reality of how our political system works, especially in red states-
... and how a lot of districts have been gerrymandered, et cetera, et cetera. I think in some aspects, they have come to believe that to be the right thing to do and actually believe it. I think in some aspects, it's a crass political calculation.
Does it ever enter into people's consciousness that I have just sold my soul? Do I want to be reelected so bad that I will just do whatever it takes? Is that how it works?
Yes, it is. That's the unfortunate part about our politicians in general. I don't think that's a uniquely American phenomenon. But I do think that they make that calculation and then they have to live with it one way or another.
We've had times in our history where people have made courageous political decisions and either lived with the consequences of getting voted out of office or have come to face their constituents.
We had John McCain vote down and overhaul the ACA in the Senate in a very dramatic fashion. We've had Liz Cheney step up and vote against her party and really call out President Trump, especially after January sixth. We've had different examples of political courage. I think we feel like they're so few and far in between because they probably are.
I feel like I should take a shower after that series of questions.
It's serious. Seriously.
Last topic, leadership, which is probably the topic you want to talk most about because that's your book. But your subtitle just opens a big door for me, which is what are the new rules for leading change?
When I was writing this book, I was thinking a lot about complexity, and a lot of the things that we've talked about are very complex issues. But I've gotten really into thinking about complexity as an organizing principle and complexity theory in the last five years as I've been working with my team at Eighteen Coffees on some really complex issues for some of our clients.
What complexity basically says is we are systems. We as people, we are systems, we have our own biases. We have our own organizing principles, our own political beliefs, our own messy infrastructure, who work in teams that are systems, that work in organizations and businesses that are systems, that work in society which is its own system.
When you think about complexity on that kind of scale, it's amazing that we get anything done. To me, the new rules of leading change are understanding that complexity and trying to tackle it all on different fronts at different times.
We try to change people's mindsets. We use the tools we have of communication and persuasion and we try to deal with people as individuals.
We organize people within systems like companies to make the kind of change that we want to see in those companies. We use things like we did in the Obama organization around power mapping and try to figure out where our influence centers and who are people influenced by.
We bring those people along and try to educate them on an issue and try to organize them around specific thing, and then we as companies try to say what we believe and use our influence within society to try to make society better. I try to tackle all of those things in the book.
It's very complex, as you would imagine. But to me, being a change leader now means that you can't just address one of those kinds of systems. Issues are too intersectional. You have to be thinking about it in a more complex, intersectional way to be able to make any kind of progress.
Whether it's, again, something really tactical and specifically implementation driven or something more ambitious like we want to be a net zero company here, we want to be a fully diverse and inclusive company.
If I'm a CEO and I just heard you say that and I'm nodding my head and like, "I'm all in, Caleb," now, what do I do?
You mean besides for higher us?
Besides higher you, yeah. Yes, yes. Let's just suppose there's another way you can achieve this Nirvana.
Yeah. It's not easy. The whole point of it calling in No Point B is it's not going to happen overnight. I think what we do when we come into companies is try to map out where are some natural, low hanging fruit?
Where are we already making progress towards some of these goals? What have we already put down in a strategic plan or some kind of strategic document that's trying to organize a principle? Where have we put things out into the world where we've tried to say what kind of company we want to be?
Let's start there and then let's work backward from there in terms of what needs to happen to make that vision true? Who needs to be brought along in the organization? Where are we finding detractors?
Who do we need to organize around? How do we repeat the message of who we want to be as a company over and over again?
We often underestimate how much time and energy we actually have to put into internal communication. We don't spend as much time persuading our employees that we need to go a direction as we do our shareholders or the marketplace.
We often release one memo or put out one big statement and email to employees and we go, "Okay, everybody good? Let's go." When in fact creating clarity internally should be just as important, right?
There's lots of those where we would look at what tools we're already using? What tools in our tool set do we need to add? How do we make progress on this goal we've already put down in paper?
Then let's start spreading the aperture and saying, "Where are we going to be really ambitious and try to move the whole marketplace forward in the next ten years, let's say?"
Other than your firm, do you think experts are overrated?
I like it. Thank you for carving out the exception for our firm. I appreciate that for one thing.
What's funny is the first chapter I actually talk about how experts are overrated. Not so much for their expertise, but for their ability to predict where the world's going.
I think that experts have their expertise because they have zeroed in on a very particular thing and they become very good at that thing. But my thesis, that I've already talked about, is that the world changes too much for us to actually rest on the things that we assume to be true.
Even us as experts had to be constantly reevaluating things that we assumed to be true, taking in perspectives of people outside of our expertise and challenging ourselves and our worldview.
Otherwise, we risk siloing off that expertise in ways that aren't helpful when we have to collaborate with people outside of our expertise. I think honestly, looking back in the last two years of the pandemic, we saw that in terms of how some public health experts operated.
We saw people who were very blinded by this is what I know.
I know this area of public health and this person would know this area of public health and this person would know this area of public health, and trying to figure out how to coordinate all of that siloed subject matter expertise became an ongoing challenge.
The more we can spread that out and figure out new ways to integrate other people's thinking into our own thinking, I think the better off we're going to be.
Speaking of the pandemic, don't you think that the pandemic, for all the tragedy and pain and sorrow it has caused, you have to look at it and say, "Oh my God, we can move fast?"
In California, for example, there are many cities to this day where streets are closed and sidewalks are now converted to cafes, and it's a different experience.
If you had told me that that kind of change could go through zoning and local municipality rulings and all that in a year, I'd have told you are nuts. What have we learned in this pandemic?
I think exactly that, we can move quickly when we want to. I think that we just don't have the kind of outside catalyst that the pandemic was as often as we need them. Most of what happens, in terms of how our society changes, is slow burning happening in the background, things that aren't at the forefront of our minds every day.
Some of the most disruptive things like quantum computing, for example, are having amazing leaps forward in technology right now in ways that are going to completely change society. Do we have them at the forefront of our mind? Absolutely not.
What the pandemic did was be a forcing function for something that we all understood had amazing clarity on. Here's why we're changing, here's why it needs to happen. There was no questioning, is this real? Is this urgent?
All the things that we used to debate, whether a disruption is something we should have to pay attention to. It didn't have any of that. All the hallmarks of the climate change conversation for the past twenty years, very frustratingly, right? It didn't have any of that.
It had this is an urgent thing we're all dealing with. We don't have to do a lot of persuading people to come along with us. Everyone understands what's happening. What happened, we watched it happen. There was that golden three to six month period where so much change happened, and then we naturally got back into the same rhythm of getting back into our political corners, starting to debate about whether some of that change was necessary, how much it was permanent.
When it became normalized is when it started to become obtuse and not really understanding the urgency anymore. But there was that moment we had and that's where some of the most interesting change happen.
Do you sometimes think that maybe we're living in a simulation? That would explain a lot. Let's throw this disease at humanity and see what happens.
Now, let's say that the outgoing president claims that the election was stolen. Let's see how they happen, what they do. Anyway, I digress.
In my darkest moments, I hope that's the case. Because then there's another future that's out there and people are living a little bit more happy than we are, maybe.
We would just have to open another door.
Now, mind you, you're speaking to an evangelist, and Caleb, not an evangelical. Okay. That's a huge difference. I want to point that out.
I'm an evangelist. I believe in bringing the good news. I have to say though that if I understood it right, this concept of movement versus conversion, Hiebert's theory, I just love this.
Can you explain this? Because I would not do it justice. Tell me about the hybrid theory of momentum as opposed to binary state.
Yes. This is something that I've thought about a lot and both when I was in political organizing world and also just how I thought about social media, community building and how you interact with people at scale.
Paul Hiebert was a Christian sociologist. He studied church communities. What he basically said was there are too many church communities out there that treat being a part of the Christian faith as binary proposition. You're either in or you're out. That's the zero and one, right?
Either you understand all the culture, you understand all the rituals, you understand all the language that we use or you don't, and you've got to be indoctrinated into that in order to be one of us. What he said was that it leaves a lot of people with a lot of nuance out in the cold, people who might be turned off when we say things like “The blood of the Lamb.” Like, "Whoa! What are you talking about? That sounds pretty violent. I've never been exposed to this."
What he said was we've got to leave room for the idea that people are on a journey of faith and be able to reach people where they're at and bring them along with us and have a vision that is compelling that makes them want to turn in our direction, but we have to make allowance for them to be at all kinds of different places in that journey.
It's really more about the journey that it is about this hard and fast definition of what it means to be a Christian.
I think that actually applies to a lot of the kinds of organizing that we do around making change. We've seen the same kinds of ideological rigidity and dogma when it comes to things like social justice issues.
It's some of the critique that the left gets from the right about being "woke." It's like you've got to be perfect. Part of the right's compelling vision, the reason why it continues to have a little momentum is because they use the word freedom to mean freedom from that kind of perfection. Right?
We don't have to worry about not offending people. We don't have to worry about saying the exact right thing. Come be part of this freedom that thinks all of that is BS.
What I'm saying is there's lots of reasons and compelling pathways we can give people that don't make them have to join exactly what the right answer is right now, but can actually just meet them where they're at and call them into something deeper.
I think that's a pretty compelling idea of calling them in instead of calling them out. It was something that Loretta Ross from ... Oh, I forget what institution she teaches for. I think NYU or something like that. It's a pretty compelling vision of calling in instead of calling out.
That goes against much of my evangelistic training, but okay. I love that concept. Do you think we could apply this to reproductive rights and gun control?
I think we could apply it to all of it. There's room for nuance in the gun control debate, for example, about gun safety, hunting. When do we actually need a firearm in the house and when do we not?
In reality, if you look at the polling on many of these issues, even ones that are broadly popular, like universal background checks in United States for gun control, there's nuance in how people think that should be applied, there's nuance in what communities people think that should be applied for.
Same thing with the abortion debate. It's not binary. It's not either or in terms of how people in general think about that issue. There is nuance in terms of at what point in a pregnancy should a woman be able to cancel a pregnancy.
There's nuance in terms of state-by-state application or situational application. These are really important issues and obviously I've got my point of view on them, but it doesn't mean that someone has to hold exactly what my point of view is on those issues in order to be able to engage them.
I think we need to have a lot more allowance for where people are and meet them where they're at so that we can call them into a deeper conversation about that issue. When we're actually doing the leadership work of trying to change a culture or trying to change an organization, we have to be able to engage people at all those different points of the journey in order to not turn people away and make them detractors and start having them organize us on the other opposite end of that.
I think, yeah, all points in the political spectrum are guilty of this right now.
Yeah, for sure.
This is the unique perspective I feel like I have coming from ... having grown up in Oklahoma, which is basically a very culturally conservative community.
Having grown up in a very Bible Belt environment, and then having worked for a Democratic president and being really engaged in the nuances of progressive politics. I've seen the same kind of ideology and dogma drive very different kinds of communities.
What do you say to someone who says, "That's a slippery slope? First thing you do a background check, next thing you're taking away my AR-Fifteen, next thing you're taking away my pistol and I'm defenseless?"
It's always hilarious to me the selective application of the slippery slope argument. We only want to apply that argument when we want zero accountability as if mandating seatbelt laws meant that eventually you weren't going to allow me to drive a car.
What applications has that actually come true on? Very rarely does it actually slip into some other deeper, yeah.
But then let me ask you this. You require identification to vote. That's a far away from saying Black people can't vote.
Why do you think requiring identification is going to lead to disenfranchisement of minority voters?
That has to do with how often those communities don't have access to the kinds of identifications or proof of residency that some people have in more wealthier, privileged communities.
If you think about what it takes. I will actually give you a very specific example of this. My license has expired. My driver's license has expired and I have been putting off going to the DMV for weeks.
My wife is yelling at me about it. She is like, "When are you going to get this renewed?" It's stressing her out. The reason I keep putting it off is because I'm going to have to block off an entire afternoon to go do this. I don't know what the lines are going to be like. It's going to cost me money.
It's just going to be a whole process. I am someone who's comes from a relative amount of wealth and privilege, and I am dreading it.
Now imagine someone who doesn't have a car, has to get there on the bus, doesn't have a lot of money, and to be able to take out what might be wages from an hourly job, you start compounding circumstantial things that actually make getting some of those forms of identification pretty difficult and that's when you start talking about, are we disenfranchising people by requiring that in order for them to exercise what is a guaranteed right of theirs, which is to vote?
Not that I agree with what I'm about to say, but one could say so. You mean liberals can have slippery slopes, but conservatives can't?
I don't think that's a slippery slope to me. That to me is either you get to exercise it democratically, guaranteed, or you don't. The more friction that we put up around exercising that.
If you think about how much friction we already put up around exercising your right to vote on a Tuesday, why do we still do that? Who knows? In a location that you have to find, there's a lot of friction already involved in the process.
You're just talking about adding more friction, which is that identification that's going to affect communities that let's be honest the people who are advocating for that identification usually want to disenfranchise and sometimes have come out and said they're doing it in order to disenfranchise those communities.
Okay. The last topic is about ethical guideposts.
First, what is an ethical guidepost?
What we call an ethical guidepost are organizing principles that a company puts down on paper that says, "This is the kind of company that we want to be and here are some very specific use cases for how we're going to apply our values and our principles."
They are not to be taken lightly. I think we underestimate how difficult it is to create some of those documents because we underestimate the nuances of a lot of the kinds of issues we tend to have, especially in the corporate side.
We tend to say we want things like inclusion and diversity and accessibility, and we put all these values that we want to live up to as a company, and then you start getting into the nuances of them and you realize, oh, we don't actually share a lot of the same philosophical grounding for how we think about these issues or even some of the same language.
The process of creating some of these ethical guideposts has been pretty emotionally and intellectually rigorous when we've worked with companies to do it because we have to facilitate those kinds of conversations. What do we mean when we say inclusivity?
Does it mean that we are going to prioritize marginalized communities when we are doing user development over maybe some extra profit we could have had if we had not prioritized certain communities?
We start asking those kinds of questions, and in what situations are we going to make what kinds of decisions? We start to put it down on paper. Much like the Bill of Rights is meant to be organizing principles, this is meant to be something that's going to help us when we have to make tough ethical decisions.
What we found is that the language on paper is usually not enough because we can't capture every single type of issue that a company is going to face. There's going to be nuance.
There's going to be situations we didn't think of. Going back to our conversation about change and not ever resting on what we assumed to be true, things are going to come up we didn't anticipate.
We are going to have things like people who are experts or an ethics board or something that's going to have to make the final call around some thornier ethical issues.
But ethical guideposts are a place to start. It gives people creating products, people making business decisions reasons to say yes or no to things that may go against application of a company's values.
Let's say the miracle occurs and Mark Zuckerberg hears this podcast and says, "I'm going to hire that guy. He's going to help me write the ethical guidepost for Facebook." Assuming you take that job-
The question in and of itself.
That's a big question. Or maybe it's Twitter. Okay. Caleb, pick one. Wayne LaPierre calls you up, Mark Zuckerberg calls you up, Elon Musk calls you up, or I don't know, Mitch McConnell calls you up and says, "Help me create the ethical guidepost for my organization."
Pick any one of those or you can do all four. What would it be for an organization like those?
It's tough because I think some of it is pretty subjective to the type of market you're in. If you're in more of a founder-led company, obviously it's going to have a lot to do with what was the founder's vision, and if you're in a more public facing company with shareholder accountability, you're going to have to take into account what do our shareholders want? What do our employees want?
There's a lot of facilitation around, again, how do we find common ground when it comes to these more thornier ethical issues that has to happen?
I would say that the one issue that it probably applies to all of them, but it especially applies to Tesla, would be where are we going to make ethical tradeoffs when it comes to impact on climate?
Musk tweeted just a few days ago his critiques about ESG and how that's measured and how they didn't take into account Tesla's actual business that it's in versus something like Exxon when it came to ESG ratings.
I think that's a fair critique, even though he, in typical fashion, applied it a little inelegantly to say the least. I think there's questions that have to come up about what business model are we in? What industry are we in? What do our employees want? What do our shareholders want? What do our founders and leaders want? All of that has to be in that conversation. But I'll give you an example since you're asking.
If you were going to make one about climate impacts, you actually might say something on paper like, “We are not going to make a product decision that contributes to a net positive carbon impact. We're going to keep it at net zero, and that means if we have to pay a little more in our supply chain over here, we need to say no to this product over here, that's something we're going to do.”
You could put a line in the sand in an ethical guidepost that is about keeping your company at a net zero contribution to carbon emissions.
Could Facebook write an ethical guidepost to say, "We will not foster violence or we will not foster false medical information?"
They could. I think that they would have a really hard time with the way their current product works actually living up to that ethical guidepost. I think that would be a consideration.
I think the hard thing about talking about Wayne LaPierre or even Mark Zuckerberg is that I have problems with the inherent contribution that their actual product has to society.
Okay, if we want to start talking about ethical contribution, we need to start from scratch about some of your assumptions about how your product even works. I think that's what makes those conversations really hard.
Wow. In that sense, the bandages are not going to help. It's a fundamental flaw with the advertising model, for example?
Yeah. At least the advertising model as pushed by Facebook's algorithm. With Facebook, it's not even the advertising model. To me, and yes, you could draw some ethical issues to that, but it's how their organic content get distributed and engaged with and amplified that it's really the problem.
They have made almost zero effort to try to tamp that down. It's less to me about their ad business model, which I think obviously needs its own ethical guidepost.
But to me, it's about their organic content, how their organic content fosters the distribution of disinformation and misinformation, makes it so what you engage with creates filter bubbles and information bubbles, and ultimately can radicalize people who use the platform in ways that they have not fully reconciled with.
Okay. There's no point B, there has to be a plan B, and if I'm listening to this and I'm all psyched up and you've rejuvenated my optimism, what can I do? What tactical thing can I now do if I want to make the world a better place?
The biggest advice that I usually give is try to figure out what corner of the world do you want to have influence over.
The hardest thing about the world that we live in, which we touched on earlier, is how big it feels now and how much of its brokenness you can take in on any given day, how overwhelming all the world's problems can be. I always try to tell people I mentor, to people I talk with, you've got to be able to find your own context, your corner of your company, your corner of your community, getting involved in politics.
Whatever it looks like for you, try to figure out what strengths do I have, what do I have to offer the world and then give back in that way so that you feel like you're a tangible difference in whatever areas of influence that you have. I actually have a tool in the book that helps with this.
I call it the personal impact canvas. It helps you to see what time horizons you want to make influence on, what areas of your knowledge that you have to give, or you might want to supplement?
What assets do you already have that you could use to give back? It helps to try to map out some of that so the world doesn't feel so overwhelming so that you don't fall into cynicism so that you feel like you can still be a part of making change.
Because the only way that change happens is if we all can figure that part out, where we have influence, where we can lean in. Collectively making change that way is the only way changes ever happened.
I hope that Caleb's wisdom will help you become a remarkable implementer of change. Remember, the name of his book is No Point B. The message is plans never go from point A to point B.
Change is not a linear process. You have to be fast, flexible, and empathetic.
I want to thank my fast, flexible, and empathetic team, Jeff Sieh, Peg Fitzpatrick, Shannon Hernandez, Madisun Nuismer, Alexis Nishimura, and Luis Magana.
Until next time, I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is the Remarkable People Podcast. We are on a mission to make you remarkable. Mahalo and aloha.
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