I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. We’re on a mission to make you remarkable.

Get ready to be inspired today as we have a special guest on the podcast today named Tina Wells.

She is a business strategist, advisor, and founder of RLVNT Media. She founded Buzz Marketing Group at just 16 years old and worked with big names such as Dell, Apple, and Oprah Winfrey Network.


Tina is also a bestselling author of seven books, including Mackenzie Blue and The Zee Files, and a board member of several prestigious organizations, including THINX and the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council.

Tina has recently released a new book titled The Elevation Approach: Harness the Power of Work-life Harmony to Unlock your Creativity, Cultivate Joy, and Reach Your Biggest Goals.

With so much experience and wisdom to share, we can’t wait to dive into Tina’s story and learn from her insights.

Please enjoy this remarkable episode with Tina Wells: Harmonizing Your Work and Life!

If you enjoyed this episode of the Remarkable People podcast, please leave a rating, write a review, and subscribe. Thank you!

Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Tina Wells: Harmonizing Your Work and Life:

Guy Kawasaki:
I'm Guy Kawasaki and this is Remarkable People. We're on a mission to make you remarkable. Get ready to be inspired today as we have a special guest on the podcast named Tina Wells.
She is a business strategist, advisor, and founder of RLVNT Media. She founded Buzz Marketing Group at just sixteen years old and worked with big names such as Dell, Apple, and The Oprah Winfrey Network.
Tina is a bestselling author of seven books, including Mackenzie Blue and The Zee Files.
She's a board member of several prestigious organization, including THINX and the United Nations Foundation's Global Entrepreneurs Council.
Tina recently released a new book called The Elevation Approach: Harness the Power of Work-Life Harmony to Unlock Your Creativity, Cultivate Joy, and Reach Your Biggest Goals.
With so much experience and wisdom to share, let's dive right in with Tina Wells. I'm Guy Kawasaki, this is Remarkable People.
So first, just a little bit of background, can you just bring us up to speed, what you've been doing since sixteen.
Tina Wells:
Just those few years since, Guy, I'm going to be forty-three in a few weeks, and I can't believe that I have been so fortunate to have a career for twenty-seven years and to really have a career where I started out loving product and pop culture and it's almost come full circle where now I get to create product and bring it to market and I still love product and pop culture. And so there's definitely been a through line I would say in my career over the last twenty-seven years.
Guy Kawasaki:
Buzz Marketing Group is in your past now?
Tina Wells:
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay. You're Tina Wells or what's RLVNT? And I don't mean relevant in the sense of, I'm asking you what's R-E-L-E-V-A-N-T? I'm asking you, what's R-L-V-N-T?
Tina Wells:
That's RLVNT Media. And for years I was in marketing. I was one of the first in millennial marketing at a time when it was really emerging. I fell into this space of really understanding millennials, I became dubbed the millennial whisperer.
I participated in a program through the Aspen Global Leadership Network called the Henry Crown Fellowship and realized I was indeed at an inflection point. I don't think I went into the fellowship feeling that I was, but I was.
And about three years ago realized, you know what? I don't want to be in marketing anymore. What do I want to do? Something I had done for fun back in 2009 is I launched a middle grade fiction series called Mackenzie Blue. And three years ago when I had that aha moment, I thought, I really love middle grade, I love the space and I love content.
And so I really thought that the evolution would just be RLVNT Media and it really was this idea that it would be about representation, it would be culturally relevant in every way, shape and form. I started working with Target in a partnership to create and distribute middle grade books. And that partnership expanded into product.
And so now I have both RLVNT Media and RLVNT products. And the goal of RLVNT products is to create innovative brands that launch in partnership with retailers. And Target is my first partner. I have Elevation by Tina Wells that just launched and it's a home office line. I have another really excited launch that I hopefully can talk about soon.
And so right now I feel like I get to bring my research background, my marketing and understanding emerging demographics background, my love for products and create these brands and tell these holistic stories.
Guy Kawasaki:
Listening to this, and I'm sure other people are listening to this and the immediate question that comes to mind is exactly how does one get into Target? What do you do? You just call 1-800 Target, can I come in and show you my book and my daily planner and would you put it in stock in 3000 stores? How does that work?
Tina Wells:
I've always had this feeling my entire career that relationships matter. And if you know me personally, I just had a celebration with my dearest friends, to celebrate my book launch and my launch at Target. These are people who I've just known forever.
I'm just a person who really cherishes relationships. I have five younger siblings, very close to my family. My mom is one of fourteen, my father's an only child, but I grew up in a really big family and it just was a value I think from my parents that you treat people well and relationships really matter.
And so it's a long answer. It was through the Henry Crown Fellowship, which came through a relationship and there was a Women's Weekend and there were fellows over twenty years time and there was someone there from Target, and I didn't actually approach her that weekend, a dear friend of mine did on my behalf and said, you should be talking to Tina, you should get to know her.
I am very indebted obviously to that friend, but I think for many of us we have that moment when opportunity really meets our experience and what we've been working towards. I think it is showing up as a person that my friend would feel so confident to recommend that she even needed to talk to.
And so being diligent about my work, and it was twenty-five years in the making to get that introduction and then also to be able to perform and to deliver what was needed. And so I think so often we want to go into a place like Target and sell.
I came in very different because of my marketing background and said, let me listen and let me hear what the opportunities are. And you have to sometimes quiet yourself, stop trying to sell, let a buyer talk to you, talk about what's not showing up in the store and then say, what is my opportunity to bring something that's going to add value?
And then before we come in and say, I'm selling you this, I'm selling you that. And that's always been how I've operated in my career. Where can I add value? So whether it was a CMO at Dell Technologies or the CMO of Oprah Winfrey Networks, I approached every client the same way and said, what are you really asking me for? Because a lot of times, especially coming from me, coming from the service industry, people may say one thing and they're actually asking you for something else. And if you're not allowing them the opportunity to just speak, allowing them the space, a lot of time when we're in conversation, someone talks and we talk and someone talks and you got to pause sometimes and just see, is there something else they're trying to say? And that was really my philosophy, approaching the target relationship. Where can I add value? What are their goals and objectives?
There's a huge corporate objective right now around reaching more black guests and bringing the more black customers into the store. Where do I see an opportunity? It's a lot of listening to be honest.
Guy Kawasaki:
So when you went to Minneapolis, they didn't stick you in room number seventy-three, I've been to Walmart, I've seen what it's like at Walmart. It's not like that for you at Target?
Tina Wells:
Oh my gosh, no. And I actually got to shop the most incredible Target store with an escalator, and I was really upset that my Target back here in New Jersey doesn't have that. I'm also a Target shopper. I know the different layouts and footprints of the store and it reminded me so much of my marketing career where I would get to work with brands and I really was such a big fan of or was able to learn so much.
And I think this process really did take me back to that when I was the creative and marketing person who had to really get to know a brand and understand a brand. I felt like every opportunity to engage or go into a store, I was learning more about what it meant to move from being a marketer to a merchant.
Guy Kawasaki:
I can tell you that any store that has figured out how to put a shopping cart on an escalator deserves some respect. I have simple tests for determining quality.
Can we jump into the deep end of a pool right now?
On my podcast so far, we've had a chimpanzee whisperer. Perhaps you've heard of her, Jane Goodall. We've had a cattle whisperer, perhaps you heard of her, Temple Grandin.
And now we have the millennial whisperer. We're upping our game every week here. This is my first question in the deep end of the pool. Let's suppose Joe Biden calls you up and he says, “Tina, you're the millennial whisperer. My administration is thinking of banning TikTok and we are afraid that all these millennials who love TikTok, they're going to not vote for me in reelection. What's your advice, Tina? Should I ban it or not?”
Tina Wells:
Oh goodness. You really threw me into the deep end with that one. The first thing I would say is whatever decision you're going to make, my first piece of advice to you is to be incredibly clear and to be incredibly authentic about why you are making that decision, what the repercussions are going to be.
And don't sugar coat anything, be clear. I think what I have learned most as a marketer, especially dealing with emergent demographics and younger consumers, is they want the truth. We live in a different time where if you grew up as a classic marketer, you could build a brand and you could tell people whatever you wanted because there wasn't the internet.
I always jokingly say if I wanted to know what Jane Cosmetics used back in 1994, I couldn't Google, ‘Does this product have this?’ I didn't have that opportunity.
Customers and younger consumers now do, they can find out whatever they want to know within seconds. And not being authentic, not telling the truth, it serves no one. But I still think we have this idea in our head as marketers that we can kick the can, it's very old school, we can just push it to the next news cycle. I would say be very direct, be very honest and be very clear on what's next. And also, we're talking about a demographic who are incredible creators.
And not only are they incredible creators, they actually have figured out how to monetize their creativity. We're talking about a loss of a technology, potentially that could mean the loss of income for so many young Americans who have just figured out how to make money in this creative economy. So you have to speak to how are you protecting that.
And then I also think the other side, and I've definitely I would say gotten a crash course in my last two years as a manufacturer. There are so many things that sound great and are great marketing taglines until you get into the nitty-gritty of what it means to manufacture a product and land something on shelves at a price that serves customers and allows access.
And what you really start to realize is so much of this conversation is gray. There are things that are in black or white. If this happens or that happens, it's a bad situation. But I would also start to have a really honest conversation with younger Americans about the relationship with the US and China and our relationships around products and making products and accessibility and affordability and what that really means for our two economies.
But all the things I'm saying goes back to the idea that we're going to have an honest, authentic conversation. I think the biggest issue we see in politics today is people are not really engaging in honest, authentic conversations. They're engaging in sound bite conversations.
Guy Kawasaki:
Now I'm going to throw you in a deep end of the pool holding a twenty-five-pound weight.
Tina Wells:
Oh no.
Guy Kawasaki:
What if Ron DeSantis calls you up and says, “Tina, you're the millennial whisperer. How do I get young black people to vote for me?”
Tina Wells:
I would say, “You have made the wrong call. You clearly are not looking for young black people to vote for you with these policies. And then I would say, and I would love to have a follow-up call with you about the current policies and how they're serving no one.”
It's funny, what's more concerning to me, what I see a lot of what's happening with DeSantis, and I consider myself a very independent voter, but I'm a business owner. I'm a small business owner in America, and I always think through that lens of what policy is going to serve me as a small business owner? What policy is going to hurt me? And the last thing I want to see with any politician, period, is fighting with companies. I start to look at where's it coming from? Why are we doing this?
And we obviously have seen things where we're like, no, we need regulations, we need things in place. But when you look and you see any politician in any party that seems to pick a fight with a business owner, for me, that's what I'm like, okay, that's my interest now and I want to understand why that's happening. But I think DeSantis has already made the decision that that's not who he wants voting for him anyway.
Guy Kawasaki:
After this episode, are you going to call up your PR person saying, “What the hell did you do? Why did you make me interview with Guy?”
He wasn't talking about what I want to talk about. He is talking about politics half the time.
Tina Wells:
Guy, I love this conversation. I always say, even though I'm in the product business now, I am such a marketer through and through. And when you're in consumer behavior, I wouldn't say my job is politics, but my job for so many years was listening to people, really listening to people.
And when you listen to people and you listen to their concerns, whether it's what they want in a new product or how they want to live their life, that is the same thing that you listen to or you should tap into as a politician, how am I going to make this person's life better? And so I love having this conversation because it's what I see and it really reflects the work and how I view different things.
But I am that person that watches any news network and I'm angry and saying, “But you only told 30 percent of the real problem”, or “You only presented this and you skewed it.”
And that used to be the thing that would irritate me the most as a researcher, when people would take data and the data would show one thing and they would just decide that they were going to skew it in this way to say what they wanted.
And I felt like that was to me the moment of Santa doesn't exist as a marketer, was when I started realizing, but I read the same data and that's not what it said. I like this kind of conversation.
Guy Kawasaki:
We're going to get out of the deep end of the pool. Now, you just alluded to it in this last answer, but exactly how does one go about understanding youth culture? If I'm a CMO listening to this and I'm saying, okay, what do I do? Do I do focus groups? Do I hire social media influences? I have no idea how to sell electric cars to millennials. What do I do? How do you gain that knowledge?
Tina Wells:
The first thing you don't do, this is the biggest mistake I would see clients making. We'd start to have our first conversation and they say, my kid. And I'm like, this is going downhill from there. I'm sorry to say this to all of you. Your kid may actually not be the coolest, most popular person.
So if your entire marketing strategy of what you think a whole entire demographic of people are going to do is based off of what your kid is doing, not a good place to start. And what I would always say is, I am an expert in this field and every time I put out a survey, I am caught off guard by what the demographic is saying. They are teaching me.
So if I'm the one who in this room knows the most and I don't always understand what they want and can't predict, how are you just deciding that because your kid does X, Y and Z, that's the cool thing?
And a lot of times in marketing, the opportunity for that CMO or that marketing team was to understand where things were going. And so think about for the people who got onto TikTok before it became TikTok, they skyrocketed. That is what the marketer is always looking for, is understanding where culture is heading, getting there a beat before so that your brand can then capitalize and skyrocket. Marketing is not a game where you want to get what you pay for; you want to get like a 10X return.
And the way to do that is to really understand culture and understand where it's going. Now, there was a period where marketers-controlled culture, very many of us remember that old school, amazing PBS documentary, The Merchants of Cool, that really explained how a lot of those big brands in the nineties could control it.
We could control media a lot more than we can now, if we can control it at all. And so that is our job, is to understand where things are headed. But you cannot do that if you're trying to steer. You have to really observe. And I think that is the hardest role for people who are used to executing, used to making decisions, used to having the answer to all of a sudden not have the answer.
It is not a muscle that they have really worked before. And so I've gone into situations where it's been a little tough, intense at first, or you get the person who “We really failed and so we need you to come in and fix it.” And now this is a triage situation where we didn't really have to be here.
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay, so you've told us what you're not going to do. Well, what do you do? Is it surveys? What is it tactically?
Tina Wells:
Here's one thing I do often and I talk a lot about this. I love airports. I actually happen to be in them all the time, and I love them because it's a really unique place to observe people. It's a place where people cannot, for whatever reason present the best representative of themselves.
People are anxious when they're traveling, they're unhappy, they're delayed. So there is not a facade of who they are in some ways when they're traveling. They're not dressed up like they're going to work, they're wearing whatever. There is a version that is the real life person that appears for some reason at the airport. And I love to grab a cup of coffee and sit and watch people in the airport.
I like to watch what they're doing, what's with them. I remember realizing Toms was going to be a major trend because I was on a flight and mom, daughter and grandmom all had Toms on.
We saw the same thing with UGGS. And so I think it's one getting out of our safe zone. There was a time I was working with a very well-known massive record label company who was trying to understand illegal downloading. And where would I take my meetings? On the fiftieth floor at the private dining room for the heads of labels. And I remember thinking, that is your problem.
You are here in rarefied air and the problem is on the street as soon as you walk out of the front door. And so surveys that's important, once you put yourself in an environment to just observe without an outcome. So that's the hardest thing. Because in marketing, we don't want to observe. Marketing is an art and a science. The artsy part is let's see how it comes together. But so many of us are committed to the science part and we forget about the pure discovery.
And so we go in asking a survey in a way that's already loaded questions because we haven't given ourselves the opportunity to discover and to see what's emerging, to see how are people interacting with each other, what trends are emerging. We don't always do that. We go in with, “I need to know if I can sell this cell phone to you at this price point.”
You're asking really specific questions instead of saying What technology best serves the consumer today. I'm assuming it's a cell phone because we manufacture cell phones. Imagine Blockbuster doing this survey. They never thought that Netflix was coming. So they would've asked, what's the best way to get you a video? Instead of saying, what's the best way to deliver entertainment to customers?
Guy Kawasaki:
Now let's suppose I'm the CMO of Ford and I say we think that the future is electrification. How do we get young people to buy electric cars? You're not going to do this in the airport. Maybe you could do it in the airport parking lot, but now what, what do you do?
Tina Wells:
Then we do a little more ethnographic research, which is just observing casually for a few weeks a group of people and their behaviors, because now we want to understand the behavior. You've given me a very easy layoff, Guy, for the first time today. I just want to tell you, you've given me a layoff question.
Guy Kawasaki:
Makes me a great host.
Tina Wells:
Because we're now talking about a demographic that is so committed to everything about sustainability. This is the earth that they are inheriting. The hard question to answer for you would be, how do you convince someone in an older demographic like a Gen Xer or a boomer that they need to buy a car that's very different from what they're used to?
Because the hardest part is changing behavior from people who have existed with something for a long time. So then the bigger question becomes how does that CMO begin to allocate their funds? Do they allocate funding to the customers who might be in an older demographic who are currently driving sales but not the future?
And I find that for any organization, especially when they're serving customers across generations, that is the question, when do I shift in my spending from who I have today, to betting on who I believe my customer is going to be in the future?
Guy Kawasaki:
Well, you opened the door, so what's the answer?
Tina Wells:
The answer is that you have to look at where you think things will be five years from now. Too much of what we do is respond to what's happening today. If we are in a long-term business, not everybody is, let's be clear, but Ford is, right? They're in it for the long haul.
They really need to understand who their customer is, the core customer that they're going to be speaking to, and they need to understand from a business perspective when they're going to make that pivot. And that pivot really, there's a lot of data that has to come into it.
What is the age of that customer we're talking about who really wants a more sustainable future? Too often what we do is we make them younger than they actually are. We did this with millennials as well where we kept saying, very classic Hillary Clinton, kids on college campuses.
And I remember hearing that one time and saying, wait, this person you're talking about is thirty-five, with two kids and living in the suburbs. But in our minds we sometimes think young people, college campuses, that's just the way things work. That's the same way for us as marketers.
And so again, the problem, someone might have at Ford, is if they think young person, college campus, not twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty-year-old making first big purchase. We've got to get rid of our own blinders that help us mislabel generations. And so I would say it's really a reeducation going into it like I don't know anything. And then answer that question, because if you go into it thinking, am I going to allocate budget to that kid on college campus, you're not asking the right question. You've got to go into it saying, am I going to allocate my budget to a person who is going to be my customer for the next thirty-five years? Yes, you would have a different answer to that question.
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay, I'm satisfied.
Tina Wells:
You are tough, Guy.
Guy Kawasaki:
All right. Listen, I promise you we're going to get to your book. Okay.
Tina Wells:
This is so much better.
Guy Kawasaki:
I promise you. What are you telling your clients now or even telling yourself about ChatGPT?
Tina Wells:
It's so funny, Guy, this keeps coming up for me at dinner parties. My new book, The Elevation Approach is my twentieth book and I get it, what do you as a writer think about this? I said, here's what I know. I don't answer the question about what I think about for me as a writer. I answer this question saying, what I know is when at any point in history, when we have tried to resist an emerging technology, it's not ended well.
How many Blockbuster stores do we have today? Classic example. And I keep going back to that because it's like they didn't have to end up where they did. It is when you think you're going to stop something from happening that is happening, that's the problem. I'm a writer, I have great ideas, and what I hope is that technology is going to help make those ideas better.
I was chatting with a friend who's a doctor at Hopkins and he was telling me that he's like training AI to read scans and eventually it's going to read it better than him, but it's going to help his patients. And so I think we have to not find a way to ignore it.
I think too often we tell ourselves stories about things and when you're in these companies and corporations, they're actually massive groups of people who can tell themselves the same story and start to believe it. What I would say is you got to get to know it and you have to get to know everything about it and figure it out.
And I don't think it's going to replace, I think it can enhance, but I think it would be detrimental to any writer to ignore what's happening and just think that it's not going to have a huge impact on the entire industry.
Guy Kawasaki:
Just for the record, I am a writer also, and I think that ChatGPT has made me two or three times more efficient as a writer, no question in my mind.
And everybody's afraid of this situation where it writes the book for you. And that's total bullshit. It is the ultimate research assistant. It is second only to Madisun Nuismer as a research assistant. I have MadisunGPT and ChatGPT.
Tina Wells:
I have amazing editors and that's what I said. I'm like, “They're not going to replace these amazing, incredible editors who push the content. Maybe it'll help you get your first draft done, but when those editors get there and rip it to shreds and make it a book, can only do but so much.” But I agree. I think it really, for me, I feel like it'll help me do more.
I look at my process now and how I would love to write more and have so many more books and series out there serving different groups of readers, and it's hard to replicate myself and my writing partner. And so again, I think it's understanding how it can really enhance what we're doing, but I have to have the idea. I have to have the thought of what I want to talk about and I have to have a voice and a way I write and a way I communicate and a tool like that can only really be helpful.
Guy Kawasaki:
Last night I have access to Bard already and I also have access to ChatGPT-4. I asked both of them the same question, which is, “What should I ask Tina Wells in a podcast interview?” And I'm not using one question. Every question was along the lines of what kind of challenges did you face in your career? What was the most exciting development in your career?
It's like NPR on steroids kind of questions. So believe me, if ChatGPT-4 had said, ask her what Joe Biden should do about TikTok? I would be in the hospital with cardiac arrest this morning when we would be postponing this one more time.
But anyway. So now you're forty-two or forty-three years old, black female, and you started at sixteen. Did you ever encounter imposter syndrome? And if you did, how did you get over it?
Tina Wells:
Guy, I'm going to be very honest with you.
Guy Kawasaki:
No, I want you to lie.
Tina Wells:
Oh goodness. I'm trying to be serious, now you're making me laugh. I told you I'm the oldest of six and every February my father would make us Black History coloring books. He would print out this black and white sheet that had a bio of really incredible African Americans and we would make fun of like, oh my gosh, here's dad again with these coloring books.
And I realized at a much older age the impact of seeing the best of who we were and how that was a big part of my family culture and the storytelling and what we were allowed to consume and allowed to watch and not allowed to watch. My parents very seriously saying, this is how we want to raise our children. I have five siblings who are all college educated, all in different career trajectories. I have a sister who became a dean before she was forty.
I have a brother who had a number one song in billboard charts I think by the time he was thirty. I come from a really accomplished family. I didn't have imposter syndrome I would say, until the last two years when I took a turn and got into manufacturing. And I absolutely had imposter syndrome because what I had to learn to manufacture and get a product in stores, there is no faking it till you make it in that field. But I'm a marketer, we can spin things, twist it, add a little sparkle, we can polish some things up. You can't polish something up through customs. It either is what it is. Like the formula either is what it is. There's no being cute to get a product into the US.
That was the first time I remember literally having a moment of, are these people crazy at Target? Why are they letting me do this? I don't even think anyone should trust me to do this. This is absolutely insane.
And I think my mind was blown that every day I have friends who, whether they're scientists, they work in these highly regulated industries that have very specific do this or don't do that, where you actually can't be 95 percent correct. You have to be 100 percent correct. I've absolutely over the last two years had imposter syndrome. And one, because I had to learn something I just didn't know.
And when you are an expert at something for the majority of your career, I really thought, who after forty decides to completely change what they do and to know nothing and have to learn all of this. And now that I'm on brand two, I don't feel like so much of an imposter. I feel like I've learned and I know so much, but I definitely had two years and those were the toughest two years of my life to wake up every day and say, I don't know what I'm going to deal with today and I don't know the answer and I'm not used to that.
Guy Kawasaki:
And so how did you get through it?
Tina Wells:
A lot of funny text messages with friends, a lot of venting to friends, a lot of asking questions. It was for me a level of vulnerability I didn't like. Again, my whole career I would come in and show up with the answer for people. That millennial whisperer is here, she's going to fix this. I had more questions than I had answers to questions for a few years.
And that was really difficult. And the honest truth is I dealt with it with advice Oprah has given very publicly. I think it's brilliant advice, which is to do the next right thing. For the first time in my life I knew where I wanted things to go, but I didn't have the willpower every day to will it to the end. I only had the willpower to just get to the next step.
I didn't know what was going to happen at that next step. Every day in my mind I was like, “And this could be the end because I might run out of steam and I can't do this anymore.” One thing would propel me forward or I would get a sample of my product in the mail and say, okay, I'm excited now.
The creative part of the job that I love would come back in a way that would say, okay, I can do the next step. But it was a couple years of not fully seeing the entire process for sure.
Guy Kawasaki:
Your advice to people is, what?
Tina Wells:
Do the next right thing.
Guy Kawasaki:
Take the little victories, make little steps.
Tina Wells:
Understand where you want to end up. Don't have the expectation that you have to run the marathon in the day. And that was me, was I have to get this marathon done in this day and I have to do a marathon every day.
And I realize actually I'm training for one and I'm learning how to run and I'm learning how to do this new thing and then I'm going to get to the finish line. But my expectation was I could just do it and like that get there, and that was not reality at all.
Guy Kawasaki:
A few months ago, we interviewed a woman who was diagnosed with ALS nine years ago. Typically you get diagnosed and you die in two years, she's lived nine. And when she was diagnosed, she made it a life goal to run a marathon or finish a marathon in all fifty states.
Tina Wells:
Guy Kawasaki:
And last year she did it. So if you ever want to be connected to someone who has knowledge about marathons, I have the world's best person for you.
Tina Wells:
Apparently the world's most inspiring person too.
Guy Kawasaki:
I'm deaf. And when I tell people that, all sympathetic and empathetic with me, and then I think, what would I rather be deaf or with ALS? Duh. You think Steve Jobs wouldn't rather be deaf and alive here but have pancreatic cancer. It's all relative.
Tina Wells:
Guy Kawasaki:
I don't know how we got on that topic. Anyway, now, believe it or not, we're going to get closer to your book. So first question from your book is, I want you to explain the difference between joy and happiness.
Tina Wells:
Going back to the last few years of my life, really from the time when I talk in the book about my dad getting sick, I really started to understand joy versus happiness. The real idea is happiness is temporal and there are a lot of things outside of our control with happiness, something happens, it makes us happy or not happy. Where joy is a state we choose to exist in.
And I learned so much about joy from my dad when he had gone into heart failure, then realized he was going to have to live his life with this device called an LVAD. And for me, obviously I was deeply unhappy about it. And then I watched my dad show up as the same person. And my dad is a very joyful person no matter what's happening. How are you doing? I'm great. And I would take him to the doctor. He's not great, A, B and C is going on, but my dad is like, my daughter's here, it's a sunny day, I had tea this morning, I'm great.
But I really started to think watching him and in that particular year spending so much time in the hospital and every time saying an encouraging, inspiring word to someone else. And I thought, wow, this is what it means to live in a state of joy, when you don't let your outside circumstance determine how you're going to show up, how you're going to treat other people.
For me, if I were in that situation, knowing myself at that time in my life wouldn't have been able to show up at all in the way my dad did. And I really started to think about what I want to do is create joy. And in my line, that's why I have this everything bag that has the phrase “Create Joy” on it. It's a constant reminder, because we cannot control the things that make us happy, but we can start to build some controls around how we can create joy for ourselves.
Guy Kawasaki:
Topic, the myth of work-life balance. You have a long diatribe about work-life balance and I completely utterly agree, don't get me wrong. What's wrong with this concept of work-life balance?
Tina Wells:
I think what we're all realizing, and we definitely have realized it after a pandemic, is the idea of just adding more stuff on the scale. It keeps it balanced, but do you really want to have a ton of work and a ton of play and a ton of work and a ton of play and you're doing this and all the time just adding more, adding more, adding more.
When in reality what we're seeking is a life that works for us. However we put language to it. I want time with my partner, time with my family, and I want to do the work that I love. I don't want to have to sacrifice between the two. So what does that look like? And during the pandemic, when we're all home together, we're on Zoom, and then what do we do? Have a break and go have a meal together as a family.
That's something that hadn't really existed for quite some time and we couldn't really put the language around I like this feeling and people tell us we should work at a time and then carve out other time to do personal things. But what if I need to take a call on the way to picking my son up from practice? Why shouldn't I be able to do that?
And so I think we all started feeling this way and then you hear about people not wanting return to the office. I don't think that people didn't want to return to their work. I think they didn't want to return to the way they had to work, and I think they just weren't the same people going back into offices. And we need a new way of talking about this.
I'm certainly not the first person to bring up the idea of work-life harmony, but what I hope I can do is provide people with a framework to actually achieve it.
Guy Kawasaki:
And what's that framework?
Tina Wells:
Framework is really, one, a lot of what I talk about in the book is taking a minute to quiet yourself and ask what do I really want? Because we start creating a bunch of things and we don't really know why we want them.
So a big part of the book, it might take you through a four-phase approach that I call the elevation approach that starts with preparation and inspiration and recreation and transformation. And I tell the story about how I got into burnout and I was constantly doing two out of the four things and never could really get myself to a place of realizing or transforming because I was always burning out.
So while it's important to bring in recreation and play and all of those things, if you don't know what you want and why you want it, you are just really like the hamster on the treadmill.
You're just running the race and you don't know where you're going, why you're going there. You have to give yourself some direction. But part, again, it goes back to even our earlier conversation around authenticity. Really being honest with yourself about what you want. And I think society tells us we should want so many things, but I'm a marketer who definitely recognizes all of the messages that we have crafted.
We've crafted very specific messages for women, we've crafted very specific messages for men. We have them set up in very specific ways for specific reasons. And what we're all saying collectively is those labels no longer fit us. We no longer want to be defined in certain ways. And we're in this very interesting time when the labels we've been given don't match the lives we want to live, and we don't know how to quite reconcile that.
And so then you have people that just call everything woke. And I remember at one point saying, what is woke these days? Is it a catchall for whatever we don't feel comfortable with? We just call it woke, wokeness.
But in reality, no, we've just mislabeled a lot of things and people are finally standing up and saying, “I reject the label.” “I reject the idea that I have to be nine to five”, or “I reject the idea that I can't take a paternity leave.”
And so we're in this very interesting place, which I love. Obviously I'm the kind of marketer that loves to see people mix it up and I love to see consumers and people take back their power and people are saying, I don't want to work like that, then I won't come to your company. I know my value and my skillset and I don't want to do that.
And that's the area of discomfort we're having, where people are just saying, I reject the idea that I have to do things this way, that it's been prescriptive to me and I want to do something completely different.
Guy Kawasaki:
At the foundation of what you just said is good goal setting. So you now have a moral obligation to explain how to set goals.
Tina Wells:
Yes Guy, I absolutely have to tell you I have a planner at Target that takes you through how to set smart goals. Although it's in the book.
Guy Kawasaki:
Because I believe in giving people tools to realize these things. And I'll be honest and say when I start creating these tools, in my mind, and I do think as marketers we have to create things with a person in mind. I would always give my clients that advice.
Name that person who has the attributes and who are you trying to serve? And I thought about a lot of my friends who had chosen to either step away from their careers for some time to raise their children, or they felt overscheduled or overworked and they said, “I don't have time to realize goals.”
And what happens, we sit down with these frameworks that are like spend two hours a day, and you've lost me there. On average, women are doing an additional thirty hours of caregiving per week with a full-time job.
The way you set goals, you don't need hours and hours. You need to be smart about it. There's a framework about being really specific, making sure things can be measurable and actionable and having a timestamp to them, they're realistic.
And then you have a timeline. And when you get into that framework, what I'm actually doing, you might even start to dub me like the dream killer, because I do write fiction and I am very creative in that way, but I do not think we should have any fiction involved in the goals we want for our life, because we don't have time for that.
If you in your mind, if you spend so much time thinking about this imaginary bakery you're going to open up, but in reality, when you start to go through The Elevation Approach, you get to the first step preparation and you realize that isn't feasible.
You know the awesome thing that happens? You let go of something that is not serving you and you open up space for the thing that can fill that time. I do really believe in being very disciplined around your goal setting and your goal planning, because we spend a lot of time and it's very culturally driven. You can have the life that you want, have a vision board, and you know what we're doing?
We're putting these things there that can't become a reality for our life because of choices we are making. And it is okay to want what you want, but it's not okay to be unrealistic about it and then unrealistically goal plan around it because you're just wasting a lot of time that you don't have.
Guy Kawasaki:
One of the things I didn't quite understand is, I understand the steps of preparation, inspiration, recreation, and transformation. There, are you proud that I can just rip those four things off from your book? I just want more information of going from preparation to inspiration. So in preparation now I form this goal, but why do I need inspiration? If I have this goal, I just go out there and do it? Why do I need external inspiration? Shouldn't I be self-driven to do this?
Tina Wells:
I think about some of the greatest entrepreneurs we know who were self-driven and then what did they do? They made an MVP. And then what did they do? They let people beta test it. And then what did they do from that beta test? They corrected and kept innovating until they got to the product that was revolutionary and changed so many of our lives.
And it's almost like I'm inviting you to create your MVP because it's again, when you socialize it with people who have knowledge, that is the key point. Too often we do our research, and then where do we go? To our friend to say, I want to open a bakery. And what does the friend say? Get it girl. Yeah. Instead of going to a bakery owner who's like, I'm going to tell you these five things you need to know.
I remember in my early thirties I was thinking about selling my agency and I'd done all the prep work, I knew a lot of the answers, and I went to a friend who had done the very thing I wanted to do. And she very clearly said, I'm going to define for you what this looks like year one through five.
Year one, it's great. Year two, you're cruising, year three, not feeling so good. Year four, you want out and you got to stay through the end of that year. When she really broke it down, someone who knew what I was trying to do, I said, that is not for me. And here's all the other things you need to know. If I had just gone to friends who were here to cheer me on, I wouldn't need inspiration. I would've gone and done the thing and it would've been the wrong decision.
And so I will tell you, inspiration is hard if you do it the right way, because it's about checking your math. You've gotten curious, you know your numbers. It is now checking it with people who are doing the thing you want to do. And that's the key in that phase.
Don't socialize and go have drinks with your friends. That's a ritual you're doing. That's in recreation. This is going to the people who know what you are trying to do and getting really clear on what I think I learned in preparation isn't really true in inspiration.
Guy Kawasaki:
Well, whoa. Tell me how you really feel.
Tina Wells:
Now do you see why you need recreation after that? You need a break because you're putting yourself through the ringer.
Guy Kawasaki:
I do. I do. I need recreation after this podcast. Madisun and I will go surfing.
I loved your concept of rituals. I would say maybe the world's greatest ritual whisperer, which is Julia Cameron. And so like you she really believes in rituals. I want you to explain why rituals are necessary.
Tina Wells:
I think rituals are necessary because they ground us. And a lot of what I'm talking about in my book is a very practical approach. I want you to do the thing you need to accomplish in your life. And I am going to be that real talk friend. I am not your hype woman.
I'm not here to make you spend one ounce of any of your time on a path that's not meant for you, because you are wasting time being the person you need to be. And what I love about rituals is it's a way of grounding yourself wherever you are.
And as you bring more into your life and things and you start to create the work life harmony you're looking for, there might be a moment where you… imagine getting swept away by a wave. What I'm trying to do is ground you and say, for me, no matter where I am in the world, I love a hot drink in the morning. It could be coffee, it could be chai, it could be a lot of things.
I love the idea of taking that time to create that thing for me. I love drawing a bath or doing different things and I have a life where sometimes I can be all over the world, different time zones. I love finding a way to connect with my siblings. I have a brother who lives in Italy who's been there for over twelve years, and I have another brother who's wherever he is in the world, and we have to find a ritual to ground us.
My friends, I talk about my supper club. I was with them last night, where we had one day that we would commit per month. We're all busy in our careers, one meal per month, we commit to each other. And so those are the things that really bring us back to who we are when we're on this path of all the things we're trying to introduce into our lives.
And so I think they're really important to remind us of who we are. There are even rituals I have that I feel really connect me to my ancestors in a way, like my grandmother, my great aunt, if I'm preparing a tea or something to keep me healthy.
And I remember my aunt did that when I was younger and made it for me what I was feeling under the weather. And so somehow we've got to find the right rituals that really do bring you back to who you really are at the core that has nothing to do with your work.
Guy Kawasaki:
Another thing I love from your book is this belief that you should deposit before you withdraw. And why is that?
Tina Wells:
Almost it's like we're having a full circle moment when you asked me how I got into Target. That goes back to what I talk about with how I view relationships. And I really deeply believe this, and I'm going to process right now where I'm on tour and doing things. And when you are launching a book, people tell you, you go out and you ask a million people for everything in the world.
And I say, “I'm not doing that.” Everyone's very, but this is how it's done. I said, “No. I have written a book about how I have to make a deposit before I make a withdrawal. And it's incredibly important to me to be in integrity with what I'm writing and how I'm teaching people.” And I think the response is different.
I think that just the idea that I want to serve and I want to give before I receive, it just sets you up in a different way. But I talk also about hating the idea of networking, because to me, networking means I look at who you are and your role and title, I assign value to that, and then I go after you for that value.
Do you want to be dealt with that way? Why are we teaching people this? Instead of just saying, I'm interested in you as a person. Again, I am a researcher who is generally interested in people for who they are. And then I decide we're friends. And I can't tell you Guy how many times in my life someone has said, “Can you connect me to this person?” “I'm like, I don't think I know them.” “Well, they're your LinkedIn connection. Can you connect me to the CMO?”
I don't think I know that person. Then I look at him, I'm like, “You mean my friend Diane? The girl that I met at a girls' camp in the summer and we went to an eighties prom, that's my friend. She's at Goldman, but she's just my friend.”
And that's literally how I look at things because I believe people are more than the job that they have. I really think about how am I benefiting you in your life? How are you benefiting me? What's the reciprocity? And we have to stop being on a mission to collect people than service and not think about how we're in service to other people and what we have to offer.
Guy Kawasaki:
I guess I shouldn't ask you to introduce me to Oprah to get her on this podcast, but you know what? I am perfectly willing to connect you to any of our previous guests, just FYI.
Tina Wells:
See, you have a really great deposit, so you're not asking for that big of a withdrawal. But when people just text me, can you give my book to Oprah? No. When I was able to work and produce the Super Soul 100, I got to do that in service of this bigger idea that Oprah had to really elevate humanity through all these amazing people.
I learned a lot about reciprocity, and I learned a lot in that season of working with her and the team about believable, the withdrawals people would make, not even thinking that she needed the deposit. That was what was really remarkable to watch in that process.
Sometimes we take people's humanity away because they have such a big role in how we see them in the world and don't realize they're also a person and don't want to be looked at as a transaction. But I think we see that in a lot of people. They become larger than life and we don't allow them to be human beings. I am often troubled when I see that.
Guy Kawasaki:
Just so people truly understand this, you're not suggesting that you make a deposit with the expectation that this is an investment for a withdrawal someday?
Tina Wells:
No. Imagine if I had said, I'm going to get to know my friend Kim, because one day she's going to introduce me to someone at Target who's going to change my life. No. I just became friends with Kim because I just like her. You know what I mean? And we had common interests and we did things together and we traveled together.
And because we had long conversations of making investments into each other, she understood my heart. And I'll tell you this too, Guy, she knew before I knew where I needed to transition in my career because she knew me. I wouldn't have even known what to ask her for. And that's what's so great about really cultivating real relationships.
I was almost too scared to go for what I wanted because I'd become good at a thing. This was my gig. I would've never to connect to that person at Target to even expand what was possible because I wasn't in a place to do that.
And so I think it's really about being authentic, not collecting people, just getting to know people who you genuinely like and then seeing, that's why I talk a lot about the idea of friendtors and not trying to have a mentor, but getting a group of people where you have different skill sets and you're going to challenge and be accountable to each other. And it was in that accountability and in that peer group that I was able to get to my next step. But it's all about authentic relationships.
Guy Kawasaki:
This is my last two question collection. The second question is going to throw you back in the deep end, but the first question is in the shallow end.
So the first question is, what is your advice to a teenage black girl listening to this podcast?
Tina Wells:
Oh goodness. My advice is to do your own research about who you are and where you come from, to not let any outside societal force impact how you view yourself. Really understand, the most critical thing for you to understand at this place in your life is how to filter out other people's projections of who you are.
You are not responsible to those projections. You are not responsible to anyone else's interpretation of who you are. You have to make your own path and understand. One, you have to understand the game, whatever game you're participating in and playing, you want to understand the rules of engagement and how you need to show up.
But I have a phrase I would say often, which is, “I can't take that on.” And understanding and being really conscious of, if I am taking on an idea you have, let's say, of angry black woman, I'm not angry.
I am black and I am a woman and I have an opinion. But if you translate that as angry black woman, I actually don't have to take that on and I don't have to internalize that. I think the most critical thing to know as that teenage girl is you have power and don't let anyone teach you your history.
Know it for yourself. I was very fortunate to have two parents who took on that responsibility of teaching us black history. You can see in how we show up in our careers and in our life, that was incredibly important. Create your own filtering system. Don't let anyone steal your joy. Show up happy and joyful and really do what you need to do to protect your emotions and protect how the outside world might view you.
Guy Kawasaki:
You couldn't ask for a better segue to my last question, which is, what if this black teenage girl now says, “I'm finding it so hard to learn about black history and culture because I live in Florida or I live in Texas, or my school board has taken all the books out of my library. What am I supposed to do, Tina?”
Tina Wells:
I would tell her, I went to a very lovely Presbyterian private school where I got an incredible education, but one of the things they decided to teach us was that black people should be happy that they were slaves because at least they got to hear the gospel.
Guy Kawasaki:
Jesus. Are you kidding me?
Tina Wells:
I am not kidding. But you know why I was very fortunate, I came home and we had conversations at the dinner table about what we were learning at school, and my parents filtered that right out and very clearly explained. And so I think that what my parents taught us is like outside of this house people might have a lot of ideas about who we are. We are going to teach you who you are.
And I'll never forget that because culture is so strong, but whoever isn't part of that tribe, we have to do a better job as tribe members. I write middle grade fiction focused on representation for that specific reason, because I want children to be able to understand who they are, and I want to give that tool to parents. I think parents, all of us, aunts, uncles, we've got to get very involved in helping our children understand who they are and stop giving so much credence and noise to people who very specifically want to be seen as taking that away for very specific political agendas.
And again, I'm a marketer. I'm viewing this in a cynical, very different way where I'm looking at time and saying, it is so critical, especially at those younger years for children to be taught their history. But if we can go back to the beginning of time, right? Storytellers, how was our history translated? It was oral.
Our families would sit down and say, “Here's who you are, here's where you come from, here's how you got here.”
And that's a tradition that needs to continue for all of us. Here's who you are. And within that family, have that completely reinforced as well.
Guy Kawasaki:
Wait, can we just back up for sixty seconds here? You come home from school, you tell your parents this story, and your parents don't say, “You're transferring”, or “I'm going to call up the president of the school and just jump up and down on the table.”
Tina Wells:
They absolutely dealt with it privately. But here's what I really appreciate about my parents. They understood that that school was the tip of the iceberg for what my real life would be like. And so what my parents were very clear about is, this is not going away.
Kids need to understand how to show up fully is who you are. And you need to understand this. It is unfair, what happens to people who look like us in this world is not fair. And now we are going to teach you how to be the best version of yourself, but you cannot fall apart at someone else's interpretation of who you are. We need to reinforce who you are.
So taking me away from that school wouldn't cease racism in my life. You know what I mean? Now, I just understood from a young age, I can trust my parents to tell me who I am.
I can go back to that school and say, actually that's not correct. And it's so funny, I see it in my niece. She is so clear about who she is, how she shows up when something's fair, when it's not fair. And I see it rise up in her.
And this strength and confidence that I realize now, I had that from my parents as well, and it's my sister and it's us reinforcing and her being able to ask questions and not avoiding the tough questions but removing me from that environment wouldn't have helped. And now I'm just this tough woman who it's like you can say what you want, it's going to roll off me.
But I needed to have those experiences to train those muscles so that those words and things could roll off of me and not destroy my day or my afternoon. And now it's just like having Teflon and saying, here we go again, moving on, not allowing it to be so destructive.
I love that they minimized it and I learned later that they definitely had words with those teachers and principals and made it clear, but it also wasn't brought to me like, and we went to the school. And I like the way they handled it, because if you think that every time someone's going to show up and fight your battles, they just taught me how to really comport myself so that I could deal in these situations.
And there are a lot of those pressure situations. And I'm an entrepreneur, Guy, if I'm honest, I've been outside of that system. For the last two years when I've seen how people are treated, I'm like, are you kidding me? Somebody asked you questions about your hair. There are things that happened that I can't even believe happen to black people in the workplace.
And as an entrepreneur, I built my own company, I built my own infrastructure and not really existed there. I credit my parents a lot with what they did. But yeah, I can see how one might think they should have just taken me out of the school.
Guy Kawasaki:
Wow. Did you see that story about the school principal who got fired because they showed a picture of David the sculpture naked. So that's porn. And so the principal got fired. You can't make this shit up.
Tina Wells:
I hope that parents who are that involved in getting teachers fired are just as involved in teaching their children at home and teaching them the values and history and things that they need to know. There's a lot of noise going on, but it's incredibly important the values that are modeled in the home are what that kids are picking up.
And I can see that from going into classrooms and interacting with young readers. There's a lot of deflection. And again, I wrote a book asking you to really look at yourself honestly, have an honest conversation.
Guy Kawasaki:
I think you build a case that what some of these politicians are doing now is going to have the exact opposite effect of what they want and what they think is going to happen. It's going to be the mother of unintended consequences.
Tina Wells:
This is the one petty thing I will say. It gives me immense pleasure to watch them go out and think that they are crusading and doing something amazing. And I'm like, “You have no clue what's coming back for you. That is going to backfire in a way.”
And guess what? You're not even going to be in the workforce when all of the things that are going to happen start happening. It has no ramifications or implications for you. And that's the scariest thing for me I think with any politician of different ages, is you're creating policy and you're, you're coming up with ideas and theories that ultimately are not going to impact your future. And that is really difficult.
If you're a CEO of a company and you do something, it could impact your bonus. You want it to go well. We are allowing people to just create things that they can walk away from and then not have to deal with the consequences. I think in general, there's some issues there. But Guy, I do take a little pleasure in thinking “It's not going to end up how you think it is, but keep going with that talk of yours.”
Guy Kawasaki:
Until this podcast I had two Republican listeners and I just lost them, but that's okay. This has been just remarkable. And because you're a marketer and I'm a marketer, which is the highest calling, I'll give you this opportunity just picture book.
Tina Wells:
I love it. At the end when I'm exhausted of all the big questions, it's now talk about the book. It's very smart.
The Elevation Approach is for anyone who really thinks work-life balance doesn't work, who is searching for something new, but also for the person who is trying to figure out how to make their dreams a reality, and really how to bring to life the life that they want. And it's also an invitation to take a minute, pause, get to know yourself in this season, get to understand what you want, and have really a full-proof plan to help you get there.
Guy Kawasaki:
Thanks for listening to today's podcast with the remarkable Tina Wells.
We hope you enjoyed listening to our insights about marketing, entrepreneurship, and work-life harmony. Tina's journey is a testament to the power of hard work, dedication, and vision.
Until next time, keep learning, growing, and chasing your dreams. My thanks to Jeff Sieh, Peg Fitzpatrick, Shannon Hernandez, Alexis Nishimura, Luis Magana, and the drop-in Queen of Santa Cruz who dominates Jacks, Madisun Nuismer. Until next time, mahalo and aloha.