Have you ever thought about what it means to innovate?
Like actually? How do you innovate? Where does it start?
Well, in today’s episode, we’re tackling those questions and talking about where innovation begins – with curiosity.
To help us understand this, we’re talking with Nic Haralambous. In the past decade, he’s sold three businesses and learned many tough lessons through failure and success.
He’s learned that businesses at their core don’t have an innovation problem, but rather a curiosity problem.
And more than anything, after 20 years of building startups and consulting with the biggest brands in the world, he’s learned above all else, culture creates change.
And embedding curiosity in culture is where innovation begins.
So, don’t ignore this episode. This seriously was one of the most valuable episodes we’ve ever recorded. It doesn’t matter your business size, you need this episode.
Let’s dive in!
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Listen to the Podcast 🎤
Show Notes 📓
✅ Check out Nic’s site to learn more, buy his books, and connect with him personally: https://nharry.com
📷 Watch the video version of this episode and subscribe for updates on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYAr3nGy6lbXrhbezMxoHTSCS40liusyU
🎤 Thank you to our sponsor, Libsyn Studio (formerly Auxbus)! Want the best podcasting solution out there? Learn more here: https://www.libsynstudio.com/
🚀 And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources at https://speakerflow.com/resources/
Read the Transcription 🤓
Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of Technically Speaking. Now, have you ever thought about what it means to innovate? Actually, how do you innovate? Where does it start? We’re your hosts Taylorr and Austin, and in today’s episode, we’re tackling those questions and talking about where innovation begins…with curiosity. And to help us understand this, we’re talking with Nic Haralambous, and in the past decade, he’s sold three businesses and learned a lot of tough lessons along the way through failure and success.
He’s learned that businesses at their core don’t have an innovation problem, but rather a curiosity problem, and more than anything, after 20 years of building startups and consulting with the biggest brands in the world, he’s learned above all else, that culture creates change; and embedding curiosity and culture is where innovation all begins. So, don’t ignore this episode, this is seriously one of the most valuable episodes we’ve ever recorded; we learned a ton and we were so excited about some of the insights he had to share.
And it really doesn’t matter your business size; if you’re in corporate, if you’re an individual speaker, coach, consultant, trainer; learning these lessons, reframing some of the thoughts we’re talking about today has been absolutely monumental for us, and we definitely hope it is for you. So, as always stick around until the end for some awesome resources and we hope you enjoy this one, see you in there. Alright, and we are live. Nic. Ugh. So, good to have you on the show today, man, welcome.
Nic: It’s an absolute pleasure, thanks for having me.
Austin: Oh, man, we’re always happy to have another beautiful beard on the show, so thank you for that.
Nic: Yeah, they’re surprisingly hard to come by, right?
Austin: Yeah, well, you have a very full beard and a really nice mustache to pair with it. Man, that’s all, I’m a little jealous.
Nic: And I’m already getting the grays come in. They’re trickling down like a little waterfall, and so it’s showing my age, it’s hard to hide behind it.
Taylorr: Yeah. How do you feel about that? I’m pretty excited for the gray age, honestly, salt and pepper look, you know?
Nic: I am so stoked; I wish it would just come in quicker.
Taylorr: Because it’s the patchiness that really kills, you just want it to be consistent one way or another, right?
Nic: Absolutely, and this is too much overshare, but in the world of zoom, the gray hairs in my mustache often look like a little booger or something.
Taylorr: You just have something right there.
Nic: Yeah, dude, what’s there and I’m like, it’s a gray hair, it’s a gray hair.
Austin: It’s just my age showing.
Taylorr: Until that one time it’s not and you just leave it there. Well, for those of you listening, definitely check out the video version if you have it yet, so just a slight plug there. Oh, man, Nic we talked last week from Rich, I think Rich Mulholland, a previous guest a couple of times on our show introduced us and we just hit it off really great, and I think for all of you listening, Nic has some just incredible insights in the life of an entrepreneur and a speaker and his journey that he’s been on, and so we’re really excited to pull all that out today. So, Nic, where I want to kick this thing off, man, is to tell us about your life as an entrepreneur, where did it all start? What was that journey like?
Nic: Cool. So, I’ll give you the shorter version of a life story. I’m a lifetime entrepreneur; I taught myself to code when I was 11, I built my first website when I was 12, I hacked my first computer when I was 13, I didn’t like the feeling of doing that, so I haven’t done that ever again. And I think it’s important for some context here, in the South African context, when I was 11, it was 1995, we were one year out of apartheid and there were about 30,000 internet-connected computers in the whole country.
So, I was extremely privileged to one, have a computer of my own and two, have it connected to the internet, so I’m well aware that I have had steps ahead of most people in South Africa, which is where I’m from, I’m now based in London. So, in my early life, I was very privileged, went to a private school, had the best education, my parents were not formally educated in any way, entrepreneurial and wanted me to never do that, they wanted stability, the typical old-school Greek parents, be a lawyer, be a doctor, get stability, get a salary, and I was like, Hmm, I don’t think I’m going to do that, let’s do something else.
So, then started my first business when I was 16, since then the bug bit me, it’s kind of all I’ve really known how to do, I’ve screwed around with other stuff just because I wasn’t really sure how much of the system I could buck and go against. So, I got a degree in journalism, politics, and philosophy from Rhodes University in South Africa, I’ve kind of always been a writer, always enjoyed writing from the age of about seven or eight, it’s how I express myself. So, I thought, oh, well journalists, that’s the thing, and while I was getting my degree, I started a band that I was in that did relatively well, we were about to sign a record deal when our lead singer got a job because he was crap scared of not making money as a band.
And then also started a student news network when I was in university, which they didn’t have, where you could get news from all the campuses around the country, and this was around about 2003, so WordPress had just come out. People, it was still, when you wanted to build a website, you had to code it yourself, WordPress was the first Wizzy Wig builder; so, everything was changing, journalism was changing, media was changing and I just saw an opportunity; so I built a business there, and then cut my degree short by a year, so I could go out into the big world and build more businesses.
At the age of 20 raised my first venture capital with two of our co-founders and four days later gave that money back to the investor because we had no clue what we were doing with that money.
Taylorr: That’s scary.
Nic: It was. And luckily, and I don’t know if this was lucky or not, but luckily I thought to myself instead of burning this bridge and wasting this money, let me just give it back, let me not do this because, in South Africa, it’s not like in the US where you can just raise endless amounts of capital and there’s VCs everywhere, it’s a very small place, there were very few investors at the time.
So, we gave it back and my tail between my legs got a job, that was my first and really last big job, working at Vodafone in South Africa and then moved to Cape Town, built another mobile internet company, raised my first venture capital, exited that business two years after building it or two or three years after building it, and then built a consulting firm that I would basically go into Africa. Dangerous countries like Kenya and Ghana, and Nigeria, which are not dangerous by any stretch of the imagination, extremely amazing places; if you get the chance, go there, they’re incredible, but big Western businesses would pay me danger pay to go and travel into these countries and help them launch their businesses.
So, I launched WeChat in Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria, launched a bunch of other tech startups in those countries, and then sold that business to another company, then started a sock company for shits and giggles, just excited to see.
Taylorr: Wait, socks, as in socks, the things you wear?
Nic: Actual, I don’t have any, yes, I don’t have any around me right now, but so there was a specific goal here, this is an interesting story. So, I had two exits now under my belt and I was like, well let me do something completely different, instead of doing tech, let me do something old-school; I want to make a physical product, I want to understand logistics and shipping a bit better, and I want to understand eCommerce. So, I looked around on a snowboarding trip in Italy and noticed that all of a sudden there were these insane socks that were coming out, specifically Italian brands that were amazing and brilliantly crafted and I thought, oh, there’s something here, so I went back to South Africa and decided to start a sock company.
So, we used bamboo fiber, all-natural, antibacterial, moisture-wicking, blah, blah, blah, and the goal was to spend $300, six weeks building and turn a profit in 30 days, and if I couldn’t do that, I would stop take another $300, six weeks building 30 days to turn a profit, and luckily the first business stuck, I got to a factory, they allowed me to make one sock, not a pair, just one sock of each design.
Taylorr: Which is hard by the way to do, any manufacturer is like, at least buy 500 of these.
Nic: Dude. And so, they were like, well, we’re not going to let you make a pair because you’re never going to come back, you just want one pair of cool socks, so they gave me one sock of three designs and I Photoshopped them to be a pair, listed that pair on a website, partnered with someone who had a bigger database than me, emailed it to their database and sold 500 pairs in the first two weeks.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah.
Austin: Yeah, nice.
Nic: And then I was like, oh, shit, I don’t have any stock, so we then had to scramble, take the cash flow we’d made, go to the manufacturer, get them to make this stuff, and seven years later sold that company after building five stores around South Africa, shipping to 20 countries around the world and managed to sell that business. And that was kind of me having a break, and then I got into crypto a little bit more aggressively; I’ve been in crypto from 2014 as an individual investing, but in 2019, 2018-ish, I joined and built a crypto trading platform in South Africa for the African continent and exited that in 2020, and now I am a professional speaker and write books for a living.
Taylorr: Whoa, what a journey.
Austin: So, much going back.
Nic: So, many things, that’s why the short version of a long lifetime of stories.
Austin: Yeah, so what is that, four, five exits?
Nic: It’s actually, it’s more, but it’s three big exits and one or two little exits and about 12 failures that I haven’t mentioned. Yeah.
Austin: Wow. Can you tell us about one of those failures that taught you something?
Nic: Hell, yeah. So, I told you about the first one where I raised money and then gave that money back, that business very shortly after shutdown, but actually, also on my websites, I list all my deadpool startups because I think that failures are something to be learned from, I’m not afraid of failure. Failure is a through point, not an endpoint, and the phrase that I like to tell people is I’ve never, and I mean this, I’ve never met a successful person who’s avoided failure towards success. It just doesn’t happen, it’s not a thing, if you believe that failure is something to be scared of and avoided, you will never be successful, it’s just not a thing; you have to get comfortable with failure, so, yeah, I’m happy to talk about my failures.
Look, I consider some of my exits, failures, even though they were exits, the sock company, we exited, and it was profitable, but it didn’t make me a billionaire, so even in that, in the success there are failures, but let me just go through my Rolodex of businesses because there are really enough of them that I forget. So, I started a social network around about 2005, 2006 called Dig Spot, which was a spot for people who lived in digs to go to, to learn from each other; what is rent when you are out of your first year of university and you live in digs and how do you find a recipe when you’re 19 and you’ve never cooked anything before.
The problem though, with that startup was I had no coding skills at that level, I could code, but it was dangerous, we had no designer, so I was designing everything, and I’m a subpar designer and I had no idea how to go to market. So, we saw the social network thing as a gap, especially in South Africa where Facebook was still a few years from becoming a thing, but I just didn’t have the skills to capitalize, and after spending about two years and a lot of my savings building that it just didn’t work, that was it, it just didn’t work and it slowly disappeared and petered away, and that was the end of it.
Recently actually in line with what we are doing in terms of Speaker Flow, when COVID hits, almost all of my speaking gigs just died, obviously, like basically any of your clients, and none of us were really equipped for the virtual thing. So, in pretty quick order, I’d say about three weeks, I purchased the domain and built a website, gathered about 15 international speakers onto a platform called Remote Keynote, and promoted it as the place for people like myself to go to list their keynotes, to get booked virtually.
And the problem with that was everybody shifted to remote, they didn’t need a platform, they didn’t need to find Remote Keynote to book a digital speaker, all the speakers realized they needed to be digital. So, I very quickly wrapped that up, apologized to all the people that I couldn’t get gigs booked for, and moved on, and Remote Keynote is now happily in my Deadpool.
Austin: Man, the persistence, I just, I can’t believe it, and I know we’re going to get into the main topic, yeah, curiosity and innovation being your thing, I can already start to see the through lines there that connect all of these different things together, but, and clearly, you really live by that motto of yours, that failure is just this starting point for the next thing, as opposed to the end all be all.
I love, in fact, one of the people that’s really inspired Taylorr and I, is Gino Wickman, he runs an organization built around the book he wrote called Traction, EOS, and a lot of the people that go and implement that framework that he developed, they say that the goal of this business framework isn’t to help you be successful at all actually, it’s to help you fail faster. Because if you can fail faster, you’ll learn the lessons that you need in order to actually be successful down the road, and so anyway, I think that you’ve reinforced that idea for me, so thank you for sharing.
Nic: I think that there’s a very important thing to note on that, especially around failure, whether you’re an individual or a corporate listening to this, we think of failure in too big of a way, and this is an old-school way of building stuff that’s still prevalent is that I’m going to pour my life, my soul, my savings and three years into this one thing, and I’m not going to talk about it until it’s ready to launch.
And then when I launch it, it’s a catastrophic failure and the word catastrophic there is the key point for me; if you’re waiting to launch something and you’re fearful it might be a catastrophe you’ve launched too late, if you can launch more often and test more variables, more frequently, the failures are smaller and manageable. They don’t break the back of your business or your ego or your cash, they’re smaller, and that means you can learn quick and iterate, so it’s that idea of a catastrophic failure that I always try and avoid, but to do that, I launch more things more often.
Taylorr: Yeah, for sure you’re buffering it, and you’re getting used to it, and there’s some intentionality behind it too, when your mind is right around the idea of failure and testing, you start to think of things more of experiments and then the outcome is neutral regardless. If it succeeds, that’s exciting, we’re excited about that, but if it fails then great, we have more data to go and do something else with now.
Nic: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Taylorr: Yeah, for sure. So, obviously, as Austin mentioned, we can see kind of the through line, so to speak of curiosity and innovation kind of throughout your career so far more or less, but were you always aware that was the thing you were going to talk about? How did the speaking come into play, the thought leadership, what was that transition like? And, yeah, fill us in.
Nic: I’ve never really considered personal branding to be a thing, it’s always just something I’ve done and understood pretty intrinsically, that to promote a business sometimes it’s useful to promote the founder or to promote yourself as a thought leader. So, I’ve always positioned myself as a very opinionated person whether I’m right or wrong; and one of my Nicisms, I have a list of 12 Nicisms that I live by, they’re kind of my philosophical raises, one of them.
Taylorr: We’re going to need a list of those, Nic.
Nic: That’s cool. One of them is strong opinions loosely held. So, I have no problem holding a strong opinion, talking about it, and then being proven wrong, I think that being proven wrong is a superpower, if you can admit that you’re wrong and move on; you’re the fastest learner, you’re the quickest to adapt, you’re more resilient. So, I think that from a young age, I understood that to have an opinion you have to talk about it, you have to show people; I also went too far in the other direction and didn’t listen enough, my grandfather used to say, two ears and one mouth for a reason, I never listened to them until I was much older.
So, the speaking thing kind of just stumbled into it, I’ve always known how to be good at marketing myself, and having a journalism degree really helped; so, with my first major VC backed business, within months of launching, I was on BBC talking about how we were changing the face of mobile networking and social networking in Africa. And that got me on the BBC, and to do that, you have to be kind of confident enough to not fumble over your words, not stutter, not have ums and ahs, and I was really fortunate that genuinely from a very young age, public speaking was something I thrived on, I’d looked for.
And the very first speaking gig that I can remember doing was, I was head prefect at my school and my school was a relatively well-known private school in South Africa that partnered with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund to do some work, and in my head prefect year Nelson Mandela actually came to our school. That was the fifth time, a little bit of a brag, the fifth time that I’d met him in my life, so I’ve been very fortunate, and I had to do a 15-minute talk in front of Madiba sitting behind me and a thousand people in front of me and I smashed it.
It didn’t bother me, I didn’t trip up on my words, and then I went and sat next to him for the next 40 minutes and had a fat chat while we were on stage, and it was kind of at that point that I remembered thinking, yeah, this is fun, that was good. And my first paid speaking gig was probably when I was about 24, and that was after having built a couple of startups and getting known as an innovative young guy, and that was kind of useful for my brand was; oh, this is the dude who’s building startups, this is the guy who knows how to disrupt corporates, and when you can leverage that openly and be humble, but confident, it kind of just trickled from there.
Austin: Yeah. Humble but confident what a grade line there, I love that.
Austin: That’s kind of what you want to exude from the stage too, I know that’s kind of the ultimate demonstration that you know what you’re talking about, but you’re still an approachable human being, and when you’re standing on stage, it’s not impossible for that ego inflation to set in. And then the funny thing is, although that serves us, it totally distracts from the audience, anyway, I really love that phrase, everybody listening, remember that.
Nic: And you know what? You highlight something really interesting; culturally, South Africans are very humble to a fault, and I remember distinctly going, one of my businesses, I was raising money and doing a bit of a VC tour, so tried to raise money in Germany, in London, in New York, in Texas. And in New York, I did an angel pitch, and those, back then, when it was still popular, you had 12 startups in 90 minutes each get 5-minute pitches, and at the end, if the angels were interested, they literally would put their hand up and go, yeah, we’ll give you money. And at the end of my pitch, one of the American angels stood up and said, tell me something, are you the best at what you do?
And I was like, yeah, he said, well, why the hell didn’t you say that? And I was like, whoa, that’s a good point, and there is a point at which humble becomes a negative, so that’s why I think only recently I’ve understood the humble, but confident combination because it’s okay to be confident if you believe you’re good at something, that’s not arrogance, that’s, look at me, I can do this, I want to do this, let me do this, versus I got nothing to back this up, I know I’m shit hot. There’s a difference. So, as South Africans, it’s very hard to get out into the world and be like, hey, look at me, I’m good, it’s something I’ve really had to work at over the years.
Austin: That’s funny. Man, I can resonate with that. Yeah, I think there’s an ethical component that I think it’s applied to being humble where anything that’s not that can be seen as a negative, but you paint a good point. Well, I just wanted to kind of bring us back to center here because one of the reasons that this conversation was so exciting to us is this combination of a couple of words that we’ve heard as it relates to your stuff, and, obviously, going through website and everything, and that’s curiosity and innovation. So, I’m hoping we can sort of take the conversation there a little bit how did you land on those two things, and why is that the focal point for you at this point?
Nic: So, when I decided in 2020 to shift, basically full-time to being a speaker one of the things I tried to figure out, and Rich was instrumental in helping me understand that this is what’s needed is what is your area of authority? What is the thing that you can talk about that other people will probably struggle to, or won’t be as authoritative, and then coupled with that, I’ve thrown in, in the intersection of authority I have had added to that is interests, and I think this isn’t necessarily a unique ability that I have, but it is something that I’m obsessed with is curiosity, I’m voraciously curious, it’s to a point where my partner must absolutely hate sitting next to me, we’ll be watching TV, and I’m like, oh, I wonder who built that?
She’s like, just shut up and watch the show, please. Then I’m like, well, I wonder how much it costs them, and look at the actor, I bet you he’s so curious and interested, it’s to a fault that I’m curious, but I thought that’s actually the thing, that’s the thing that separates good people from great people and great people from absolutely stand out, excellent human beings. The most interesting people I know are the most curious, and there’s a saying that isn’t mine, but interesting people are interested, and I fully back that, if you’re interested in other people or interested in other things, you’re interesting, you’re interesting by doing that.
And so, I kind of started to think, well, if curiosity is the defining thing for me and the way that I think, and the way that I see the world and the businesses that I build, how does that relate to corporates? And if you’re looking for an area of authority in speaking, it’s very hard to find a niche within a niche, within a niche, and then get booked by corporates; you kind of have to talk about leadership or innovation or change or resilience, so some of the big things. So, I picked innovation recently and thought, how does innovation relate to curiosity?
Because I don’t know necessarily if innovation is an action and I’ve always been frustrated by corporates who try to innovate and divisions and departments that are innovation departments, so I started to try and think very clearly and read very widely about innovation. And the thing that I never saw anybody talk about is what is the verb of innovation…to innovate is the verb, but what is the action associated with that verb? And the question that I ask corporates and startups and founders that I invest in is how do you act innovatively?
Do you use words that have never been spoken before? Do you sit in a chair in a way that no one has ever sat in a chair before? Do you build a boardroom like nobody’s ever built a boardroom? And nobody really has an answer. So, I built one, the answer is curiosity. Curiosity is the God particle of innovation; curiosity is the answer to basically everything, without curiosity, you and I would not be sitting here literally hundreds of thousands of miles away from each other, we’d be in a cave trying to figure out how to light a fire.
We are obsessively curious as humans, and I think it’s a fallacy that people say, oh, well, I’m just not naturally curious, no, you’re just not naturally curious about things that other people are naturally curious about; you just haven’t embraced what you’re curious about. So, that’s kind of where this whole thing stemmed from, was I just don’t know how else to be, I’m obsessively curious as much as I’m an obsessive entrepreneur, and actually now that we talk about it, I do believe that my entrepreneurial spirit stems from my ability to see things and then want to fix them. Well, how do you fix them? You either get a job or you build the solution.
Taylorr: There you go, wow. I love the phrase, the; curiosity is the God particle to innovation; when we first talked a week and a half ago, or so, that just stuck with me, it’s been ringing in the back of my head, and one of the questions that are evoked over the last couple of weeks because it’s just been ringing is, and you said you have the solution to innovation, which is curiosity. But you said you have to find the thing that you want to embrace that you’re curious about, is curiosity something to be forced?
Is it something that gets practiced more and more, if we acknowledge that curiosity is the root; what if someone doesn’t deem themselves as curious or might not even portray features of being curious, is that a behavior thing to be fixed? Is there a process to curiosity, what’s the inherent solution to that?
Nic: There are so many solutions that it’s actually difficult to know where to start, and I’ll start with an anecdote on some research that I came across around boredom, and we live in a world where this thing occupies everything we do. We are never bored, we’re never allowed to be bored; we have a phone, we have a Kindle, we have a laptop, we have Netflix, we have everything, but research indicates that if you are bored and I mean bored like you sit in a chair for 45 minutes and you don’t do anything, you just sit.
And if you do that consistently and repeatedly, your brain starts to process the things that you’ve learned and starts to wonder about the stuff that’s in your brain because your brain is a computer, and when you shove more things in it, you don’t process the other things that you’ve learned already. So, being bored has been proven to allow people to think about the future and the big T, the big if, the future, where do I want to be in 10 years, instead of worrying about right now, so how that ties to curiosity is how can you be curious if you’re constantly shoving a 15-second video into your brain on TikTok?
What are you curious about? You’re not. So, there is this need for us all to do short bursts of information that distracts us from thinking deeply about things, and that’s kind of where for me, curiosity kicks off, is the deep thinking and boredom allows you to think deeply. So, if you sit for an hour without anything in front of you, and I promise you, that is the most difficult thing that you’ll be asked to do in recent memory is sitting for an hour with nothing to do. Don’t walk, just sit in a chair and see, you’ll be stunned where your brain starts to wander to, after about 30 minutes, you’re going to start thinking about this book that you read one time, this thing that someone said, and then you’ll be like, oh, that’s interesting, and then the process is to follow your interests.
What I like to tell businesses, unfortunately, curiosity is not an efficient way to solve a problem, but it is an effective way to solve a problem because ultimately the more curious you are, the more you investigate, the more you learn and the more you learn, the more you’re able to solve problems. And this is where corporates kind of get the innovation thing wrong, is if you are trying to innovate, the solution isn’t to stick people in a room and say to them, innovate, it’s to let them go and explore the things that interest them, and your best A players will spend their curious bored time investigating their job and being curious about their work and expanding on adjacent and parallel interests.
If you don’t give them that time and all you do is plow them with the next piece of work, they’re never going to elevate themselves, they’re never going to go out and learn more than they’re actually doing, and I think that mix is super important. And then one other thing that I think is a really easy, quick shot to being curious, is to read and consume things that other people are not reading and consuming; last year, one of the ways that I did that was I didn’t, I stopped reading books from the year in which they were published.
So, if I’m living in 2022, last year, I didn’t read books from 2021, I actually started reading books from 200 years ago from philosophers, from people who were doing things that I didn’t even know were able to do 200 years ago. One of them was a guy called Henry David Thoreau. And one of his essays that I read is 200 years old, and the opening paragraph says something to the effect of, I walk through the streets and all I see is busy people bustling, running around, not paying attention to what is around them. That was 200 years ago…what has changed? Tell me what has changed…nothing, but we think we’re different.
And that for me is a very unique perspective. Also reading different things. So, my favorite genre to read is sci-fi, it’s not business. I’ve read enough business books to last me a lifetime; sci-fi gives me a long-term interest in things, so I’ve just finished re-reading The Three-Body Problem, which is absolutely one of my all-time favorite books, it’s a monstrous read. But I’ve just listened to the audiobook, but what that helps you understand is, are we alone, is what we’re doing significant, and if aliens were coming in 400 years, how would we react? That’s a very strange thought experiment, but one that makes you put your life into perspective and reassess your worldview.
Austin: Yeah. Wow. Man, there are so many good things there.
Taylorr: I just learned so much, I hope I can take notes.
Nic: Too many, sorry.
Austin: No, it’s okay.
Taylorr: Oh, my goodness, this is awesome. Nic, you’re awesome. You’re just blowing our minds over here.
Austin: Yeah, well, we have to address a few of these things. I’m going to go back a little way. Your whole concept of boredom is fascinating to me because you’re completely correct in that we’re never bored; I’m personally pointing the finger at myself. Very rarely am I sitting there doing nothing, I just read a book recently, and they talked about this art teacher that they had, and one of the assignments that the art teacher gave every student was that they’d have to go into the university art museum, pick a painting and then sit in front of that painting for three hours straight without looking at anything else.
That was the assignment, if you broke your attention, you went and did something else, the timer would restart; you had to sit and look at one painting for three hours. And he talks about this.
Nic: It sounds like torture.
Austin: Right. Well, then that’s how he describes it. He’s like, you sit there for the first hour and you’re just in agony because you can’t do anything else, and you feel so antsy and you feel you should be doing something, and it’s this passive thing that you’re trying to participate in, but you resist it so hard. But then over time as your brain slows down a little bit and you realize there’s nothing else to do, but just sit and look at this painting. He outlines this process that started unfolding for himself, where he started noticing little details, subtle expressions on the faces of the people in the painting, and a shadow coming in from the side of the painting, suggesting there’s a person in the background that you can’t even see.
And you start to get these motifs that the artist was going for and kind of go deeper into the whole point of the artwork, and otherwise, you would’ve just missed this, just three guys standing in the street or whatever the painting was.
Austin: I think that’s maybe an analogy that ties into what you’re saying there, where if you let yourself take intentional space to process, whatever it is, either it’s something that you learned today or five years ago, or the painting that you’re looking at. Your brain starts to interpret things that otherwise it would glance right past because it’s in this lizard brain mode where you’re just moving on to the next thing. It’s like I’m capturing that.
Nic: I think the word intentional, absolutely. The word intentional is the key phrase there. And I think a lot of the time we think if we’re just sitting, there is no intent there, that if I’m not being fed a media of some kind and my labor isn’t actually active, then I’m not doing anything. But my therapist helped me with this because I struggle with that, I’m a brute-force kind of guy, if it doesn’t work, I’m going to brute force it until it does, and he said to me, let’s reframe this; have you ever considered that waiting is an action. I was like, what? And he said, well, it’s an action, it’s not a passive thing, it’s an active thing.
And I was like, holy shit; could you explain that to me? And he said, well, okay, you have a plan, and you think about this plan and you put it in place and you activate the plan, all you can do after that is wait. That is an action. Alternatively, you could do something else that disrupts and is destructive to the plan you’ve just put in place. And it really reframed everything for me; that it’s okay to sit. You don’t have to fill every minute of your waking life with a screen or with a book or with a conversation, silence and waiting are actions in and of themselves.
Austin: I feel I need to go lock myself in a room to process that.
Taylorr: Yeah, I know. I think I’m going to have to go, just wait for the next three hours in a chair and just stay.
Nic: Weekends are a good time to do this, and especially, look; it’s much easier when you ease into this. So, on your next dog walk, don’t listen to a podcast. Don’t put music in. Don’t have earphones on. What I started doing was the Sam Harris’ Waking Up app is just absolutely incredible, it’s the only app that’s ever gotten me to commit to meditating; started with the 10-minute daily sessions, and now I’m at the 20-minute daily sessions, 20-minutes a day; it’s enough to be bored. It’s enough to let the thoughts in your head soak through you. So, try that if somebody’s listening and you need some inspiration, Sam Harris’ Waking Up app.
Taylorr: Wow that is awesome.
Austin: Dude, thank you for the tip.
Taylorr: Nic, this has been a powerful episode, I am going to be taking notes forever and continuously referencing this; so, thank you so much for just coming on the show and adding so much value. If somebody wants to learn more about what you’re up to and what you’re working on, what’s the best place, area for them to do that?
Nic: So, my website is currently the best place to do everything, it’s nharry.com, N H A R R Y.com, but I’ve also just released my latest book. Third book, it’s called The Business Builder’s Toolkit, also available on my website, on Amazon, and everywhere else. I have a new show that I’m producing, in my sixth episode, it’s called It’s Not Over and its stories of business near-death experiences, survival, success, and failure. Really some incredible guests talking to me about the moment their businesses were almost about to die and how they spun it around.
Quick for example, a hundred- and fifty-million-dollar logistics business almost went bankrupt because it lost three clients, and how that entrepreneur saved his business. Really interesting stories. And then just search me on LinkedIn; I do most of my thinking on LinkedIn.
Taylorr: Wow. That is awesome. We’ll make sure all of those links are in the show note, Nic, thanks again so much for coming on the show and hey, if you like this episode, don’t forget to read it, like it, subscribe to it, and if you want more awesome resources like this, go to speakerflow.com/resources. Thank you so much for chiming in. I just wanted to take a second to thank our sponsor Auxbus; Auxbus is the all-in-one suite of tools you need to run your podcast and it’s actually what we run here at Speaker Flow for Technically Speaking.
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