In today’s episode, Joshua Berry highlights the benefits of being purposefully and openly naive and how it can change how we see business, leadership, and personal and professional relationships. Joshua is the Co-founder and Managing Director of Econic, an innovation, transformation, and strategy consulting company, and the Author of “Dare to Be Naive: Unleash Ripples of Impact in Life and Business.”
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, and we are honored to have you with us. We have a special guest with us today. He is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Econic, an innovation, transformation, and strategy consulting company and Certified B Corporation. Along with his team, Joshua has partnered with a number of national organizations — US Bank, John Deere, Procter & Gamble, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, among others. He is dedicated to practicing unlearning, identifying limiting beliefs, and shifting business practices. Welcome, Joshua Berry!
Joshua Berry: Steve, that was an amazing introduction. I really appreciate that. I need to bring you along everywhere I go I think.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, we’re so excited to have you, Joshua. I’d like to tell our listeners just a little bit more about you before we get going. Prior to starting Econic, Joshua worked in global talent management consulting for clients like The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, H&R Block, Stanford Medical Center, and Mercedes-Benz USA, as well as mentoring and leading workshops for early-stage startups at seed-stage accelerators on topics like Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Change Management, Innovation Accounting, and Business Model innovation — so these are really very thoughtful topics. He was the previous co-host of the nationally recognized “Inside/Outside Innovation” Podcast, and we are delighted to have him with us. Let’s just go ahead and jump right into things here, Joshua. The first thing that I think would be interesting is, please tell us about your background, especially any turning points in your life and how did you get where you are today?
Joshua Berry: Well, I appreciate that Steve. It has been a varied background. I live currently in Lincoln, Nebraska, and tried to leave a few times; once, to go to school in California but started dating a girl, and that turned out pretty good so decided to stay here in Nebraska; went to school for international business and Spanish and again thought I was going to leave, but that talent management company that you mentioned needed me to be in Barcelona, basically, the day after graduation. And that began about a decade’s worth of travel around the world, helping organizations select and develop people. So, a lot of turning points in there. After about 10 years of that, I had the itch to go into my first startup. We put our house up for sale with our fourth kid on the way, and that didn’t work out exactly as we thought it was going to be. So, lots of issues and a whole story for another day on that. But it eventually led to the discovery of how specifically startup companies get going, where I worked for a couple of years in that space. And then that eventually led to the cofounding of Econic in 2015.
Steve Shallenberger: Great. Tell us about that. Tell us about Econic.
Joshua Berry: Econic has had a lot of different iterations. But today, we primarily serve organizations, some of them that you mentioned there, and helping them evolve how they work. So, it can be everything from helping set up an innovation lab at a company to shifting the culture of work practices. We have a remote team scattered throughout, everywhere from DC to Nebraska to Chicago to all over the place.
Steve Shallenberger: So, how in the world do you set up an innovation lab? What’s that like?
Joshua Berry: Well, there’s a lot of organizations, obviously, with all the complexity and everything that is going on today, where they need to have a dedicated space to be able to practice more of the behaviors that kind of grew out of overtime. A lot of the best companies were extremely innovative and curious at the beginning. But as you continue to evolve, you start to standardize and operationalize those things. So, starting an innovation lab really just starts with a spark of a leadership team saying, “We need to do things differently.” And it’s really hard to ask the people who are asking 95% of the time to do things a certain way to also go and practice some of those other behaviors that might be more innovative. So, there are a lot of steps to setting up those labs and some of the work that we’ve done with startups has helped us inform how to help corporations do better at that.
Steve Shallenberger: So, Joshua, how does a company encourage innovation, innovative thinking, to not only be really exceptional at what they’re doing now but also, at the same time, keep their eye out for ideas that become vital for a successful future?
Joshua Berry: It’s really difficult, Steve. Some of the best organizations have found that you actually have to practice that ambidexterity. There was a great article in Harvard Business Review, now over a decade ago, talking about the ambidextrous leader. And that idea was specifically that you have to be able to set some of that over to the side and practice it. Now that said, you can absolutely encourage more innovation from every person in the organization, and one of the places that start with is creating greater psychological safety for any team. Because any of the managers and leaders we run into keep saying, “Man, I wish people were more curious or they actually spoke their truth a little bit more.” It starts with the systems and the management environment that are created to be able to invite more of that — for instance, making it safe to try.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s good. Well, Joshua has a new book coming out, Dare to Be Naive. I’m going to invite him to talk about that just for a second — what’s in the book? Why did you write the book? This podcast is going to be released just about the time, just about a week before his book is released, or at least really close. So, tell us about Dare to Be Naive. Why did you write it? What’s in it? And then we’re going to ask some questions about it.
Joshua Berry: I appreciate it, Steve. Dare to Be Naive was inspired by a desire to evolve how we do work. As I set out trying to understand how some of the best leaders behave, I started to notice a pattern that a number of really progressive leaders would start a statement like, “This might sound naive, but…” and they would share an amazing business practice or truth. And I started to figure out, well, why not just be naive? What actually holds people back from being naive? What is our fear of naivete? And that led down an amazing journey of really trying to understand what it is that keeps so many people in the mainstream and not really thinking further about some of those transformational leaps that they can have by not just going along with the flow. So, the book itself, again, is a pretty short book — 160 pages. I’m not a big fan of long books. Looks like yours is pretty bite-sized and sizable as well, Steve, so I also encourage people to read your books. But it’s a short book that not only explores the concepts of the impact our beliefs have on the practices in business but then also gives a lot of fun anecdotes, research, and stories that help create space, really, for people to question what they believe about business and how it’s evolving.
Steve Shallenberger: So you advocate for being more naive. Why is that? I love the thought. I was mentioning to Joshua before we started, I’ve not really had anyone on our podcast in all these years. It’s talked about kind of like this approach. So, let’s get a little deeper into this. What is it, specifically, and what are the benefits of having maybe greater naivety?
Joshua Berry: I’ll talk about why and then we’ll talk about the benefits. You have to think about naivete as a spectrum — it’s not binary. I’m not saying be naive or don’t be naive. It’s within the first chapter. It’s about being a spectrum and how you can be more naive in what you’re doing. In fact, some of the best leaders that I studied actually embraced a chosen naivete. It was something beyond just rational thinking. The idea of really wanting to be more naive is opening yourself up to being more curious, being able to admit that you’re wrong, and being able to believe. And this is where it starts to get more nuanced, and I think it gets into your first principle of the strength of character. It’s this idea of being able to be authentic to the values that you hold dear, and being able to speak those things out there even if other people might think it’s naive. I’m not advocating on the far end of that spectrum that we should just walk around being gullible or ignorant. But I also am not advocating for the other extreme, which is being so pragmatic or so cynical that we constrict ideas, we constrict the power of what business and work could actually do for people. And also, some studies have shown that cynicism is linked to greater issues of heart disease and cancer. So, there are good health benefits that also come from being a little bit more open and, at least, what I call, naive.
Steve Shallenberger: I love that approach, Joshua. There are some really powerful concepts here of highly successful leaders. And I like how you’re couching this around this quality of being openly and purposefully naive. In other words, it’s not a ploy, it’s nothing else; it’s just saying, “Listen, I want to be open.” And there’s this innocent quality, I think, about that that’s really powerful. So you mentioned being more curious, this opens the door to being more curious. And you know what, as a matter of fact, I don’t know at all, there is a chance I could be wrong. So I think what you’re talking about here is so powerful and it’s a great discipline. And I’ve seen this, as you’ve mentioned also, in highly successful leaders. It’s something they pause on and say, “Listen, I may be naive, but that means all those things. Let me be sure I’ve got this.” Is that what you’re saying?
Joshua Berry: 100%, Steve. And you also hit on something that is crucial to this, and it was astounding to me in the research. Our ancestors didn’t use the word ‘naive’ in a pejorative sense. Naive, if you go back to what it actually means, the word ‘nativus’ just means natural or innate, or that thing which was in you from the start. How beautiful is that? It was only until a few 100 years ago, when being native during periods of colonialism or age of enlightenment that that became a bad thing, that we started to say, “You don’t want to be like those native people.” So we started to give naivete a bad rap. Pile on top of that, it’s a foreign word. It’s misused a little bit. So there’s the secret that’s in there that what I love about the word “naive,” is it’s coming from a place that was likely from you from the start, there’s a seed inside of you that is good, that is full of potential, that I believe is trusting. And when we make space to actually pause and listen to that, some of our ideas might sound naive, but that’s an okay thing. And I want to create space for people to make more of that real.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, in your new book, as I read some of the information on it, I’m excited to get it. So, looking forward to that. You talk about ROI. Now, we all know that that means Return On Investment. But you also put another spin on it for what the definition of ROI is. Can you talk about that?
Joshua Berry: Absolutely. Everybody in business wants to ensure they’re getting a good return on investment. But I stumbled across the concept from a gentleman named Chip Conley and some of the faculty at the Modern Elder Academy. They were advocating for an idea of a different ROI, something called Ripples Of Impact. Again, through the research, I was able to see that it is quite possible to get a good return on your investment, to be successful in business, and at the same time, pursue ripples of impact. So, in the book, we get into the idea of what does that actually mean? How’s doing good in business actually good for business? And why it’s important now more than ever for each of us to own the ripples that we could be making in the world?
Steve Shallenberger: Can you give us a couple of examples of that, Joshua? Because I think you’re spot-on on this. People make a difference all the time. They may not even be aware of it, but that impact sometimes carries on so much further than they ever know. So, what are some things that you are thinking of?
Joshua Berry: One of my favorite examples goes back to a gentleman who, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, ended up creating the largest outdoor climbing business in North America. As they approached that pinnacle of success, they realized that the damage they were doing to the environment by using batons and other things to pound into the side of walls was creating more damage, and it created an ethical or a moral rub. They decided to actually stop that entire line of business and put all of the profit of their company at risk in order to advocate for a different approach to climbing that was unheard of here in North America. It would have been a kiss of death for most people, like, “You’re gonna throw out your entire business because you care about the environment?” Especially, I think back to the ‘60s and ‘70s. It ended up being a great success for them. That gentleman is Yvon Chouinard, many of us know now, he was the founder of Patagonia. There are several times all throughout that history, and I cover that case study in my book, that they chose to come back to listening to an authentic voice of what mattered to them and what was really built around their character. And that not only led them to a good return on investment but also allowed them to create greater levels of impact for their employees, their customers, and the environment.
Steve Shallenberger: So Joshua, before we leave the subject of being naive, naivety, how can you cultivate that? How do you cultivate a good healthy naivety?
Joshua Berry: You need to create space for that. I believe, again, one of your principles is persistence and practice if I saw that in your book. Having a daily meditation or prayer practice does help with that cultivation because what you really need to do is continue to create—as Viktor Frankl talked about—that distance between a stimulus and your response. If an idea comes at you and your immediate reaction is clenching up and the ego starts to speak there, one of the best things you can do is figure out whatever the practice is for you that helps you create space before that reaction. So, that’s one idea. Another idea for practice is to continue to put yourself in unfamiliar situations because the act of trying and then finding out “oh, it wasn’t as bad as I thought” actually helps continue to create a flywheel effect, and will increase the likelihood that you’ll put yourself out there further. We have other ideas in the book around how managers and leaders can actually do a better job of creating that safe space for people because I think another belief that I have is that work and everything there has a greater calling than just productivity. I think work actually can be a space to help people practice the behaviors that grow themselves.
Steve Shallenberger: So really just pausing and not just being so busy about going through the checklist, and all of the transactions that everything is going on, but just pausing and saying, “Okay, let me just tap into this feeling that Joshua was talking about here, this natural, innate thing that’s there, and listen, and let me think about things. I may be a little naive about some things here and don’t think I know at all, and see if I can see some new ways.”
Joshua Berry: You have to create space to listen for that voice, that innate thing that was inside of you from the start. There was another etymology, the lineage of the word “naive,” there was a word called “insinuate” that was used. And basically, that word was also used for free people during Roman times; those people who were not enslaved. If you were this, you were noble, you were not enslaved by what other people had. So you need to listen to that voice inside of you and maybe let it free up a little bit because it might be telling you a truth that’s deeper than what you actually can appreciate.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I love some of these thoughts, Joshua, great job on addressing them. How does your book dress in your thinking and your experience having a growth mindset and being emotionally intelligent? Because this seems, in our discussion today, these are important topics for you.
Joshua Berry: You’re exactly right. I think in today’s world, where there’s so much volatility, complexity, and uncertainty, all of those things require leaders to step into the ability to constantly learn, unlearn, and relearn what’s happening. So that growth mindset is extremely important. And I think a growth mindset starts with an understanding that you have room to grow, there’s self-awareness there. So, the book itself, it’s a little bit different from a traditional management and leadership book, it doesn’t advocate for a bunch of new business practices or traits; it uses examples to provoke the reader to say, “Okay, here you just have this example of a different business practice. What do you believe? And what do you gain? And what do you lose by holding your belief in this particular area?” So, that’s absolutely important in a growth mindset. And in terms of being more emotionally intelligent, when you’re able to practice the idea that other people have different points of view on the world and being self-aware, those are cornerstones to good emotional intelligence.
Steve Shallenberger: I’m always amazed at how fast these podcasts go. We’re here knocking on the end of our podcast visit. And before we end, I’d love to get any final tips that you have for our listeners today that might be helpful. We’re talking today with the author of “Dare to Be Naive.” Joshua is just awesome. I’ve loved visiting with him before, a few minutes, and the insights that he’s providing us to think about today, they’re terrific. And I think they lead to really powerful outcomes of getting to good, better, best. So, final tips.
Joshua Berry: Final tip, Steve, the first one is a quote from Douglas McGregor, which is that all management decisions and systems are based on assumptions of human behavior. So remember that how we’re making decisions in business and everything, it all is rooted in some assumptions we have about people. If I believe people are trustworthy and I enact policies and procedures and stuff that starts with trust first, you’re likely going to get more trust from those people, you’re going to generate trust in life. That leads back to the concept we talked about of ripples of impact. If we want to manifest some of this change that we want to see in the world and continue to evolve business for good, we need to start with ourselves in understanding that the management decisions we make have a huge impact on that. So, be intentional about that. And finally, when you are pausing, and you hear that little tiny voice and you’re afraid to speak that out, remember, don’t play small, you’re meant to rise up large like a flame and let all that is good dance in that shadow.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great. Now, I can’t let us end on that. You just said something that’s really important — we make decisions based on perceptions, what we think others are thinking. How do we get past that so we don’t blow it?
Joshua Berry: Part of it is pausing, as you said there, part of it is creating space. It’s not kicking yourself about all of that. A friend says, “Your first reaction is likely something that evolution put in you, and that was fine. But you have to own your second reaction and your first action.” So, give yourself some grace and some space when you react in a way, but cultivate a practice that allows you to have a second reaction and a first action, and maybe you can continue to do it. And then also realize that nobody’s perfect, so make sure you’re extending a lot of grace to the other people that you’re working with, too.
Steve Shallenberger: Good for you. I love it. What a fun interview today. So, Joshua, how can people find out about what you’re doing? Especially tell us about when your book is going to be released. I think it’s coming up here soon.
Joshua Berry: It is “Dare To Be Naive: Unleash Ripples of Impact in Life and Business.” The official launch week will be the week of March 24, I think. They’ve just been shifting it. I know it’s only about six weeks or so now, but people will be able to find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and all of the book websites likely by the time this was published here. The website is daretobenaive.com. We’re extremely excited about how the launch has already gone. We’ve already pre-sold a few thousand copies of the book. Organizations are really excited. There’s definitely a timeliness to this where people are wanting to continue to see how they can move and grow into their most authentic selves and use business for good, and I’m excited to be a small little part of that.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you for being our guest today, Joshua.
Joshua Berry: Thank you, Steve. This has been an honor. You have great questions, and excited to see where this goes.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, a total delight. We wish you the best and all that you’re doing. Keep up the good work.
Joshua Berry: Thank you, Steve. Take care.
Steve Shallenberger: And to all of our listeners, thank you for joining us today. I hope you had a few things hit you that have been helpful, I expect that’s the case, I sure have and it makes me want to be better, and that is the spirit of Becoming Your Best. We’re glad that Joshua could add to that today. So, we wish each one of you a great day today. You’re making a difference. We wish you the best today and always. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, signing off.
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Co-Founder and Managing Director of Econic