Act 2: You're On!

Season 2 Finale: Lessons in Business & Humanity with Author Adam Sulkowski

July 25, 2022 Kate & Rhonda Season 2 Episode 11
Act 2: You're On!
Season 2 Finale: Lessons in Business & Humanity with Author Adam Sulkowski
Show Notes Transcript

Ready for one of the most inspiring conversations that will get you thinking about how you can change the world? Interested in understanding how entrepreneurs achieve success? Are you curious about the mindset of those who see and create opportunities in their lives? Do you wonder how our world will reinvent itself to address our climate’s needs and come together as a global society? Today's guest has the answers.

Adam Sulkowski is an associate professor of Law & Sustainability at Babson College. Adam specializes in teaching research and consulting in law, CSR, corporate social responsibility, green business and sustainable development. He has earned tenure twice, won teaching and research awards, published over 50 times and was a Fulbright Scholar. In addition, he ran a business and worked as an attorney, and his book, Extreme Entrepreneurship was the number one best seller on several lists.

Highlights include:
The universal theme is start, don't wait. Nobody that I've met says, oh, yeah, take an extra day to plan. It's not to say don't plan at all. But the point is to start, and there's magic in starting, because by sharing your crazy idea, your crazy plan, somebody will nudge you in the right direction, or give feedback. People will come out of the woodwork wanting to help. It's happened to me, it's happened to others.

“...starting doesn't mean… get in the car and cross into a warzone today. Start means maybe ask and say, “I do intend to do this, so how do I do it? And that's a form of starting that is short of, you know, quitting your job right now, which some of your listeners apparently are thinking about career changes; it doesn't necessarily mean quit everything now, divorce your family and walk away from your kids and jump into this new life, right? It could be iterative steps of here's my crazy idea. How can I do this? In a way that makes sense. And it's still a form of starting - the instinct to begin.”

“...that quote, that we're not scared of ISIS, we're scared that we're not prepping the next generation to think about sustainability, to think about entrepreneurship that was kind of mind blowing. To be this close, as close as I am to this screen right now talking to you, and have the guy who's literally called in airstrikes. He was like the equivalent of national security adviser I think, literally the guy who's paid to obsess about national security and bombs and guns and stuff like that. And when he says, I'm actually more scared that we're not training people to be entrepreneurs. I'm scared about sustainability issues. That was when I turned to my friends who writes about war and terrorism and stuff like that. “

“...how do you authentically get the value out of corporate social responsibility or sustainability, some of the big takeaways to boil it down a few sentences is frame your story, right? And make it authentic and set up measurable milestones towards a big goal. And if it is a good story, and you're making progress, and you can show that you can deliver progress towards a better reality, that is not just something that helps you sleep better at night, it's the killer business tool, it is the ultimate superpower that we humans have is storytelling, people will die, we're watching it, they will voluntarily die or risked their lives at least for a good story. Your job as a business leader, your job as a human right now is to find the stories that matter to you find the stories that checkout because there's plenty of BS stories out there. But find the stories that matter commit to them and be ready to pivot on the way but it's storytelling. That's that's really the power and setting measurable milestones towards a goal that is better than what is today.”

Support the show
Rhonda:

Welcome to Act 2 You're On. Join Us Weekly at our studio roundtable as Rhonda

Kate:

and Kate invite spectacular guests to weigh in on staying vibrant and healthy.

Rhonda:

or a martini,

Kate:

and let's set the stage for a grand entrance. It's Act Two.

Act 2 Share Our Stage:

You're on.

Rhonda:

Greetings friends. I am Rhonda Garvin Conaway, and I am joined by my co host,

Kate:

Kate Leavey and we are also joined by our talented producer behind the scenes Cathy Carswell.

Rhonda:

Well, we have a very special episode of Act 2 You're On today. Friends, I'm curious, are you interested in understanding how entrepreneurs achieve success? Are you curious about the mindset of those who see and create opportunities in their lives? Do you wonder how our world will reinvent itself to address our climates needs and come together as a global society? Today's guest has done extensive research on these topics. And we are thrilled to have him on today's podcast. Adam Sulkowski is an associate professor of law and sustainability at Babson College, the number one entrepreneurship school. Adams specializes in teaching research and consulting in law, CSR, corporate social responsibility, green business and sustainable development. He has earned tenure twice, one teaching and research awards, published over 50 times and was a Fulbright Scholar. In addition, he ran a business and worked as an attorney, his book, extreme entrepreneurship was the number one best seller on several lists. Adam, we are thrilled to invite you into the A2YO studio.

Kate:

Welcome, welcome.

Adam Sulkowski:

Thank you. That was that was quite an introduction. Thank you.

Kate:

That's a good bio, you didn't make any of that up? So,

Rhonda:

This is who you are my friend. I'm holding the book that's all you, huh? that you wrote. And I'd love us to begin our conversation today by talking about this very book. Now, if you're listening, and you think I'm not an entrepreneur, I am not in business, how might this book pertain to me, I don't want you to rule out this conversation, because I personally found this book to be a beautiful glimpse into humanity across the globe through stories as well as full of entrepreneurial advice, wisdom. So, I would love you to take over Adam and tell us how did you come to write this book, give our audience some of that insight. What was the inspiration and describe a little bit about what it entailed. To put it all together, because it was not an easy adventure at all.

Adam Sulkowski:

I think it would be most authentic and true and candid and open and helpful to acknowledge that when I entered full-time teaching in a business school in 2005, I realized I actually had not seen enough to feel qualified to talk about business in the world. In the modern era, it came out of the realization that I've only seen reality in Europe and the United States. That's not where you know, more than 90% of humanity lives. They live in places that are not the United States or Europe. So that began a phase of life where I traveled a lot. And at first, by accident, started observing and meeting people that had great stories that could be brought into the classroom to use this teaching examples. And then, I became more and more deliberate about it. As time went on, two things came together, first of all, an accumulation of good stories. And second of all, a realization of a pain point. And that is that I teach law, in a business school to people that never signed up to take a law class, you know, they're forced into it. And, sometimes, they don't want to be there. And so you got to make the topic, real, you got to make it relevant to students, sometimes 80% of whom are not even from the United States. They want to know how well what you're going to teach us American law, when we don't even want to stay here. You have to find the general big themes of my subject area, right? And, make it relevant to everybody. You need to come up with some good stories, some stories from all over the world that where you see that there are universal challenges, right, like making an agreement with people, and how do you make that stick? How do you know when you have an enforceable agreement? And what happens when the system of laws maybe doesn't work? What do you That's actually a universal challenge, whether you're in fall back on? Boston, or whether you're in Dubai or Bangladesh, some other themes, you know, how do you protect an idea or exclude others? Or is there any value to even trying to exclude other people from your intellectual property? When do you share when you keep your secrets? What kind of organization do you form? What kind of harms should you consider maybe, you know, negotiating with people to settle if you cause harmful side effects, and then more broadly speaking, I think the stories I noticed worked in the classroom because they were just universal themes of the hero's journey, you know, somebody who has an impossible challenge in an impossible environment, and they somehow figure out a way to make a new organization. Change lives around them, create some have value and make their own lives better and make lives better for people around them. That's not to say that every story is a fairy tale. A lot of these stories happen in places that are war zones or world war zones, places where there's extreme poverty, places where their sustainability crises, right, the environment falling apart, etc. But that somehow made the stories even more captivating. When there are existential struggles, you know, life and death struggles, that's what we go to the movies to see. That's where we go for, for entertainment. So if you can bring a story to the classroom where you can, you know, there's some teachable themes. There's some just universal, awesome human stories. That's the moment you realize, oh, my God, they're putting down their phones, they're actually not swiping left or right on Tinder, they've stopped, they've stopped date trading, I really have some pretty good day traders. Actually, it turns out in my classes, you know, they've stopped doing the homework for some other class that they realize is due next period. And they actually their eyes are here. And you notice a few people are on the verge of crying, a few people will laugh at certain funny stories. And that's what also there was a realization. And people started telling me, you know, you're an idiot, if you don't package these stories, some of them had already won awards at academic conferences, and people think you've got a package this, you're only hitting 30 people at a time. That's stupid. If you got a collection of good stories, package them, put it out there for the world to stumble upon and read and learn from. And lately, people are also saying, you know, you got to turn this into a video series.

Kate:

I love that idea. It reads beautifully. For anyone who's looking for a good book, this will absolutely - like you're saying - it keeps the kids eyes attuned, but I think their hearts show-up as well, because there's so much humanity in there, so much compassion. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about those common themes that you sort of spoke of that have emerged throughout your travels?

Adam Sulkowski:

Well, so the one that I was just speaking about, and that I wrote about, if anybody wants to look up on a channel called Medium, it's a place it's basically a blog, a blog, platform. I was just in Ukraine and Poland. And that was not planned until, you know, a certain country decided to invade another. And somebody said, you know, you speak the language, you have context then you've got to go and collect the next round of stories, right, you're already planning your next book, get the there and start collecting, and the same themes, I bring that up, because if somebody wants to see, you know, stories that are along these themes that are in the book, you know, that are we're just collected matter of days ago, the same themes came up in both the stories of the people that I was interviewing, responding to a humanitarian emergency on their doorstep overnight. And the same themes were echoed in the the process of collecting stories. Start, the universal theme is start, don't wait. Nobody that I've met says, oh, yeah, take an extra day to plan. It's not to say don't plan at all. But the point is to start, and there's magic and starting, because by sharing your crazy idea, your crazy plan, somebody will nudge you in the right direction, or give feedback. People will come out of the woodwork wanting to help. It's happened to me, it's happened to others. By starting, you stumble. And you learn, okay, well, that's not you pivot, you immediately learned that's not perfect. We'll try this next time slightly differently. By starting and reaching out to people, you also find the next lead for the next idea of how to improve whatever your plan is. So the universal theme, if I could boil it down to one thing is that all these people in the book that I met over the last few weeks, my own experience, and stumbling across these people and continuing to try to gather these stories is start, start, start, period. That's it. That's the message. Mic drop, we can go home.

Kate: Ya know, we often say:

ready, fire, aim.

Unknown:

There's, there's truth to that, too. Yeah. If you want to expand on it, because actually, if we wanted to slightly refine it, one of the people that I the person that I went into Ukraine with who does supply running, you know, he's one of these people who did start, but he also warns fellow people that you know, just have the impulse to jump in their car with some food and clothing and medical supplies and just go into a warzone. He's like, people do disappear, you know, it's much better to start share your crazy plan, including with, you know, members of the regional Red Cross chapter and get the official legal permission to carry morphine, find out what the other side actually needs, get the manifests and all the permissions so that you know you're not subject to bribery, solicitation on the border, or or any kind of problems of that variety. And try to reach out so that their contacts on the other side that can you know, get you out of problems if should they arise. The same holds true. ready fire aim what you just said. You started starting doesn't mean necessarily always get in the car and cross into a warzone today. Start means maybe ask and say I do intend to do this. How do I do it? And that's that's a form of starting that is short of, you know, quitting your job right now, which some of your listeners apparently are thinking about career changes, it doesn't necessarily mean quit everything now, divorce your family and walk away from your kids and jump into this new life, right? It could be iterative steps of here's my crazy idea. How can I do this? In a way that makes sense. And it's still a form of starting - the instinct to begin.

Rhonda:

So starting could be making a decision. It can be mapping out a plan, it can be beginning process. Yeah.

Adam Sulkowski:

Yeah. Not necessarily throwing caution to the wind that I guess I should add that cautionary note.

Kate:

Considering the places that you've been in this book, and in y I don't know, take on these big challenges.our life, you are telling us something that you certainly have experienced, because this is clearly more than wanderlust, right. Have you always had this high tolerance for discomfort or risk, or did your work just kind of compel you to take on these big challenges?

Adam Sulkowski:

So yes and no. You're asking you a really deep question. And I honest, no, no, I really should figure it out. No, I honestly don't know how to answer it. Because there's a weird dichotomy. Like any other human being when I see my retirement savings crater like they did earlier this year. I just like everybody else, and I hate loss. At the same time, have I invested in early stage companies I've been lucky enough to be able to and I have. Did I wake up? Like, what the night before we went into Ukraine? Did I wake up periodically, starting at two in the morning thinking, Gee, I really like having 10 fingers. That's that really sucks. The tomorrow, I might not have a vote in whether I get to keep them. Somebody calling in random bombing of civilian senators gets the only vote on that. That sucks. And I hate it. You know that your question was I forget exactly what words you use. But it sounded like I really don't mind risk. No, like everybody else. I don't like the idea of loss. Now, I'll share with you that when I have gone to places like the ISIS front in 2016 Or when I was just in Ukraine, there's there's always enough of checking whether the people that I am going with have done their due diligence. And what kind of people are they? I did not just jump in a van with somebody now I again, it's like I think you can find some generalizable lessons for your listeners. Was there an openness to go to these places? Yes, was a tempered with I'm not going to trust anybody. I want to know who they are and how much they've planned and what the backup plan is. And, you know, the worst case scenario, what are what are options if this not happens? That's just common sense for business common sense for life. And common sense, if you want to go to a slightly riskier place that the State Department says, probably don't go. There are people who've called ahead and have connections. And then you know, you got to decide what's the worst case scenario? And are there people that rely on you emotionally and in terms of livelihood? I don't have kids and the people that are kind of sad, but nobody and I don't have dependents. So what I, I had a cousin on the border, and he was going over the border as well until, you know, the airstrikes started getting closer. And then he said, I'm out, I got a kit that just that changes everything. I am not going to leave my life partner and my kid without me. So that can change over time. I guess the bigger point that to answer your question is just like any other human, you got to balance what's what's the best that could happen? What's the worst that could happen? What will probably happen? How do you control for the downside, and then get ready to bail if a plan really doesn't feel right. I've been lucky enough that in the case of going forward operating bases, including outside of Mosul, in 2016, I was going with folks that had connections. And in this case, the person that I went into Ukraine with had people that he could call ahead and find out what does it look like? And what's the response time if something goes wrong? How soon can somebody come from the nearest checkpoint, he knew that he could get in touch with somebody. So the reason that he urged and he himself shared some of these cautionary notes is that there are plenty of very well meaning good hearted people that did jump into their cars with some supplies, and then nobody heard from them and nobody has ever seen their car again. When you get to certain places, certain things can happen and crime happens in the United States to do we avoid going to the United States. No, you just take reasonable precautions to know where you're going. Do you know anybody there? What's the worst that can happen? Have you ever thought this through? The instinct is to start but be ready to pivot and be ready to gather information about alright, this opportunity. Does it check out? I hesitate to say no,

Kate:

I said it you You didn't say you can be humble. I don't have to be humble for you. This is what I my interpretation of reading your book. I mean, it's it's very inspiring. I was gonna say you were quoted somewhere as saying, or maybe you're quoting someone else. I guess this is not the crisis. It's economics. Can you speak to that a little bit.

Adam Sulkowski:

you've done your homework. We try. Of all the interviews I've done. Nobody has been this prepared. I can tell you. So I'm very impressed. You've done the 2016. USA Today, Op Ed, written from Iraqi Kurdistan, hello to our Kurdish friends, if you're watching this, so yeah, the really big surprise there is that we had a really intensive something like 10 days and two weeks on the ground. And through my former students, we were connected to people in the Kurdistan Regional Government. I mean, they're they're semi autonomous, they're technically within Iraq, but practically operating sometimes as their own country. I think at the time, they hit over a million and a half refugees, I forget the exact number, but it is as unbelievable as what's going on in Central Europe right now in terms of displaced people. And you get there and they're not scared of ISIS over the border. I mean, we're openly you know, dark humor, caution, dark humor, warning, you know, struggling with people before we left, and I kind of like my head where it is, I don't know if this is good I did. We get there and you realize, everybody we're talking to whether it's in the refugee camps, the universities and businesses, even the person that calls in the airstrikes, this was actually a quote from him at the end that summarized everything, we're not scared of ISIS. This is literally the guy who calls him American airstrikes on to ISIS at the time, I'm not scared about ISIS. What keeps me up at night is our economic situation. And I think he expanded a little bit, he said, it's when we got into the topic, maybe he elaborated that it relates to sustainability. And it relates to entrepreneurship, my concerns. The young people in the universities cannot assume that you will get a job in some kind of a bureaucracy, part of the government and get your share of the oil revenues, and be on Facebook for hours of the day. You need to be ready that, you know, oil prices were going down, oil prices will continue to be unpredictable. And they shouldn't be relying on just getting their share of some oil, this oil money distribution, but they need to realize, learn from somewhere by some example, through some kind of content, the imperative to come up with your own your own ideas on how to make money and deliver value to other people to make a living for yourself. The other thing he said this ties into the whole idea of of both sustainability, economic sustainability and environmental sustainability. And the idea of of entrepreneurship, how do you start something new a new activity, that might entail risks, risk of loss, but also the possibility that you deliver some value for other people and make make a living that way. He said that's what scares me is that we were not doing a good enough job. And if oil prices continued to crater, if the government in Baghdad continues not to give them their share of the money at the time, that was the situation, then we have a generation of people that need to learn how to fend for themselves. And this was his opinion at the time. We're not doing a good enough job of that. That was the existential crisis. He was scared of the ISIS people on the other side of the border that we were so terrified of he's like now that they're under control, you know, they have their sort of version of a militia sort of like the Peshmerga is what they call them. We have enough Intel to know what they're about to try to do. We we keep them on their side of the border. We're going to win this thing that eventually they did. Maybe not everything went the way everybody would like in that region. But the point was, yeah, he was more scared, not of attacks from ISIS. He was scared of what we're talking about entrepreneurship, themes of sustainability, how to how do you keep the system going? If it's based on something like oilprofits, that that's where I think the whole world is learning how risky how shaky how undesirable it is to rely on Petro oligarchies, or any kind of a Petro state. I mean, Norway might be the only place that pulled off being a Petro state and doesn't have some kind of troubles. I mean, you could you could argue that there are places in the Middle East that are weaning themselves from an oil based economy and are doing it wisely, right, the Emirates, but they would all say that that's the imperative is not to continue to be an oil based economy. Because what do you get? There's, there's something called the oil curse. Anyways, I'll stop there before I get too academic, but that quote, that we're not scared of ISIS, we're scared that we're not prepping the next generation to think about sustainability, to think about entrepreneurship that was kind of mind blowing. To be this close, as close as I am to this screen right now talking to you, and have the guy who's literally called in airstrikes. He was like the equivalent of national security adviser I think, literally the guy who's paid to obsess about national security and bombs and guns and stuff like that. And when he says, I'm actually more scared that we're not training people to be entrepreneurs. I'm scared about sustainability issues. That was when I turned to my friends who writes about war and terrorism and stuff like that. And I said, I think that confirms this whole story. More relates to my, my areas of what I write about.

Rhonda:

Wow, that's an incredible story. And it affirms the fact that my perception of you.... I'll gush a little as well... is that you truly are a global citizen. And the fact that you can speak through your firsthand experience and teach your students and teach us more about how these systems are working. I do have a question about this other piece of economics where you talk about corporate social responsibility. So how do you do that without just checking a box fully, ritually commit as a company as an organization to what it means to be socially responsible?

Adam Sulkowski:

Great question. And I can only imagine that people listening or two are watching this are rolling their eyes, at least half of them and they wouldn't be right to. Because there's a whole lot of BS in this. Arena, companies, including oil companies, putting out with beautiful glossy reports with as one person in the industry said, smiling faces of poor, poor brown kids, that look what a responsible company, we're doing some charity somewhere, really, we're green, there's so much greenwashing as we call it, right? For those of you who are cynical, and those of you who are hopeful, please please bear with me. We were just literally answering your question with somebody who's has a big role in this, who's a former student and just started at a fortune 50, meaning one of the 50 most valuable companies in the world. It's a consumer brand that everybody's heard of. And he's, he's finding out information from different parts of the company. And we talked about, you know, what is the value? What's the meaning? And how do you actually deploy these ideas, so they're actually meaningful and drive change. And I would really urge everybody and I urged him to go back to the book, Confessions of a radical industrialists by Ray Anderson, somebody who set out to conquer a market, which he did somebody who did not set out to be a tree hugger, he was an industrial engineer, I'll skip over a whole lot of powerful parts of the story that are in his book. And you can find, I think, a TED Talk and YouTube clips of Ray Anderson talking about his journey. But here's the big takeaway, they set a big, exciting goal. And then he let his managers debate whether it's a good idea, and then they accepted it as yes, this is going to be exciting. The goal was to be an example, for the rest of the industrial world, the first industrial company to have the goal of zero environmental harm. What they discovered in the journey is all kinds of things that you know, whether you're into entrepreneurship, whether you're a corporate person, whether you're working in government or education, I don't care who you are, there's so many awesome anecdotes of what that huge goal led them to discover. One of my favorites that I shared with my students that I shared with my friend, former student who's now doing this at a at a company, start with the easy stuff, cutting out waste, you start with the next challenging stuff, once you've gotten by in the Yeah, we can save money by becoming more efficient than you realize we're wasting over 90% of our energy bill just running inefficiently you conquer that, then you have enough confidence to tell everybody look, what's the next goal. And the next goal would be well, is there any way we can recycle this material interface was a carpet company, I should say. So not a glamorous company, very energy intensive. And ultimately, they're turning oil petroleum into basically toxic waste that along the way people put under their feet in office buildings, that's kind of the business model as it used to exist. What is so awesome is that if they could do it, if they can eliminate over 90% of their environmental footprint and become, you know, twice as profitable, there's a lesson to learn there. So again, I'm skipping over a lot. But the few last fascinating things to see people's curiosity about this company, once they realized that we can recycle material, they realized, well, we can even recycle our competitors waste, we can recycle our own waste seven times. And at that point, it hits you from a financial perspective, from a legal perspective, do we really want to be selling these atoms? Don't we want to get them all back? Well, that changes the whole agreement that changes the whole financial modeling of the company, why don't we convert to leasing a service instead of selling a product and guarantee that we get those atoms back, it turns out that that means you're locking in predictable revenue into the future. But that waste never becomes waste, which it shouldn't waste is an obsolete idea that we should eliminate completely. So in other words, you've just become vastly more profitable, eliminated environmental harms. And here you are looking me I'm not even a paid advertiser for that. You become the story, you become the role model that people can't resist talking about. Tesla, to some extent, has shown this, that by being buzzworthy, by doing something that exciting is what they've been able to do. They don't have to pay a cent for celebrity endorsements, or Superbowl ads, what a waste of money - focus on creating a kickass product or service. In fact, don't create products anymore. Focus on services, leasing services the way this carpet company did, and you become somebody that people talk about, they can't resist talking about as the answer to how do you do this authentically. And that leads me to my last point, because you asked how do you how do you actually get value out of these ideas? Well, the first thing is stop the BS focus on real world goals that you can measure big, hairy, audacious goal. The reason that some managers loved it and endorsed it said we got to do this is some of them were old enough to remember the Apollo years when we were trying to get people on the moon. And they said, I missed that. I missed that I missed those stories of how even somebody sweeping the floors at night in a factory when they were interviewed by a foreign journalist and they were asked what are you doing right now? They said I'm helping put somebody on the moon that's and he said, You know, I remember that I remember the excitement. You know what I'm willing to risk having egg on our face and fail Filling up this and people saying, Oh, this is the latest greenwashing. This is the flavor of the morning, I'm willing to risk all of that the risk of failure is fine. I missed that excitement of trying to do that with a bunch of people. And that was apparently the one of the winning arguments. But here's what I'm getting at that feeling that authentic sense that this is worth it. This story, this story I am buying into. And I'm willing to bleed for this story that ultimately explains so much of what we see in the world when things work. Look at the Ukrainians kicking ass right now, whether I don't care if they're even a Russian right now, you got to admit they believe in their story so much that they're willing to die for it. Others have already written about it. That is one of the big takeaways look at the power of a story that people authentically buy into that the goal is worth it that this is the hopeful future that I want the alternative is unacceptable, unacceptable that I'll make the ultimate sacrifice. In the arena of business and sustainability. You could frame it that way. You could frame it, as Ray Anderson did that. My grandchildren will read about me the same way that German children read about their grandparents and wonder, I wonder my if my grandfather put on a uniform actually had an SS insignia and was knew about and is actively taking part in extermination of human beings. And he said I had a stake through the heart moment because as a business leader who did a waste audit and realized how much toxic chemistry we're putting out into the world and I'm profiting from it. If I don't do something, my grandchildren will read about me the way that grandchildren read about their grandparents and wonder what did you know, what did you do? You were live them and you had a choice? What was acceptable to you. I'll end with a story about this anecdote. Ray has most of these stories in his book, but here's one that I don't remember, if it's in the book, I met him twice at speaking events, and I walk up to him and this is some of the stuff that he shared in person. He said, one of the most remarkable X factors of having a good story, a big goal, a positive goal that people want to work for, and that you can measure your progress towards and that lead to innovations that actually have awesome impacts. He said that he was approached by somebody that had a PhD in Engineering from MIT. And the person said, Ray, do you know why I'm working here at a carpet company in the American South, instead of working for Elon Musk trying to put humans on Mars? Because I could be working for a rocket company. I could be working for breakthrough technology that for the first time ever makes an earthbound species multiplanetary. That doesn't happen often. I'm working for a carpet company. Do you want to know why? Yeah, I could put people on another planet. But I really love the mission of making this planet habitable. And when we're close to losing them, anybody who's close to the science says it's too late to do what we should have done. It's not too late to do something to stave off the absolute worst nightmare scenarios. If you don't like death and suffering, then it behooves you to do something to raise awareness of these issues, raise awareness of role models in the world. And I hope some of the stories in the book highlight whether it's the rainforest reforestation, whether it's the solar powered mini grid re localizing economic activity, whether it's the the former intelligence officer that works on anti poaching, they're the stories that hopefully glamorize people that do something that's sometimes not very glamorous, planting trees, restoring the environment that is arguably the world war three that we're already in and don't realize it and all the other battles, all the other wars, all the other conflicts, yeah, they matter. Leave me with some of my closest relatives living on that Polish Ukrainian quarter. It matters and I couldn't live with myself if I didn't, don't do something over there. And people keep a light shining on some of the people that are doing incredible things over there. But we can't lose sight of the fact that that arguably is one battle Ukraine, I would argue as a battle in a larger world war that we're already engaged in and World War that we're in, are you pleased with the status quo, it's with a dependence of almost all of us on surely and based economy with all of the evils that come with that, whether it's autocrats that have their wars paid for by well meaning good hearted people buying their product, whether it is mass extinction, whether it is climate change, these are multiple fronts in one war, and that is the status quo of how we do business for the last 100 plus years. And I'll end with that. I'm sorry to go off on a sermon like that. But the question I think, was how do you authentically get the value out of corporate social responsibility or sustainability, some of the big takeaways to boil it down a few sentences is frame your story, right? And make it authentic and set up measurable milestones towards a big goal. And if it is a good story, and you're making progress, and you can show that you can deliver progress towards a better reality, that is not just something that helps you sleep better at night, it's the killer business tool, it is the ultimate superpower that we humans have is storytelling, people will die, we're watching it, they will voluntarily die or risked their lives at least for a good story. Your job as a business leader, your job as a human right now is to find the stories that matter to you find the stories that checkout because there's plenty of BS stories out there. But find the stories that matter commit to them and be ready to pivot on the way but it's storytelling. That's that's really the power and setting measurable milestones towards a goal that is better than what is today.

Rhonda:

Well, that is a lesson for us all. And typically at this point in our interview, we would pose the question, can you leave our audience with a bit of wisdom or golden nugget and you may have already done so. I don't know if you care to elaborate if you've got one more thing because boy We've heard several,

Adam Sulkowski:

Let me restate the whole magic of starting. Did I go through that? Yes, you did. Because it's so fresh in my mind about people that I met in that region over there in Central Europe right now responding to the refugee crisis. None of them are people that delay action, or at least they don't delay asking questions. How do I achieve this outcome? Starting, but I think that there was another big golden nugget there, which is recognize the power of storytelling, recognizing the power of a big goal, like how do I eliminate negative environmental harms of a business? What would that take? What would that entail? I think those are those are the big nuggets that I wouldn't want to dilute the message away from those.

Rhonda:

No, I think you said it all. And I'm walking away today feeling a little bit more inspired and knowledgeable about what it can look like from us microcosm, to the bigger picture is a corporation. And wow, if we all shift and pivot, we can be unstoppable on this war.

Adam Sulkowski:

Yeah, the funny thing is, I'm generally not an optimist. I do plenty of ruminating and indulging in a hyper pessimistic views of the world. But I think you're right. So I wanted to get that out there. So people don't think that I'm a Pollyanna or an optimist that is blind to how crappy the world is. Right?

Rhonda:

I hear that. And we see it too. We have to acknowledge it.

Adam Sulkowski:

Yeah. But I agree with you. I think that one of the things we're seeing one of the reasons that everybody I met was actually profoundly optimistic. The people I met in the refugee response effort, it was almost off putting at the beginning, when I showed up at the border, and all these people are like smiling and happy. I mean, they were appropriately concerned and sad when you have their attention on the topic of Do you know what's going on? Have you heard the latest news, or here come a batch of 45 Orphans that are being basically dropped at the doorstep of, you know, a tent right at the border at night? And then they might be seeing people for the first time in their lives that, that look and speak the way that they look and speak? What's that like for those kids? Right? And what have they just been through? What have they seen, but everybody, their their default state was so much more grounded, centered, calm, happy, and when I asked them, so what do you think, can humanity last another 10 years, the way things are going even before this war? I mean, things don't look good for humanity? And they said, No, I'm an optimist. And I said, How can you be an optimist and I said, look around you, there are people coming together from all over the world giving, ascending showing up opening their homes, people that you know, they're stunned at what their own neighbors are doing that somebody who is keeping their business running, and they have cleared out their workshop and their apartment or putting themselves up in a hotel, I found more than one example of this, keeping their business going while simultaneously using every square inch of free real estate to house between 100 to 200 Refugees per night, and then play matchmaker when people show up from the other side of Europe. And then they make decisions about we trust that person can we do? Is there any way to check out how credible and trustworthy they are? And then you make a decision about which families might be comfortable residing with them for a few weeks? Or could be a few months? They're distributing aid handling logistics, why am I mentioning this, I wanted to make it credible and tangible and specific, why people in the midst of the fastest growing refugee crisis on the planet are optimistic about the future of humanity, because they see how many good hearted people with every last scrap of spare resources are giving our helping, it almost felt like anything that I did there was woefully inadequate and barren. And they said, no, no, no, you're your gift. And your position right now is storytelling. tell our story, share it. And so I take this from their lips, to your listeners and watchers, and to you guys that they are optimistic about the future of humanity because of what they're seeing, because of the behavior that they're witnessing of people coming together. But what is it going to take? I guess they're better people than I am. I can tell you that. But what I see them doing is keeping your eyes on what do I have? What needs to be done? How do I match those two things? If we want to get academic about it, I could that there's a whole line of research that confirms that actually good entrepreneurs start with what do I have? What do I have? And then what do I do? There's a balance there of what are the exigencies of the moment? And what do I have to give some of these people it's I have real estate and I'm within a few 100 kilometers of the border, I need to be a waystation that matches people with their onward destination for me it was damn and they told me Don't your storyteller. I'm going to tell you my story. You pass it on.

Rhonda:

Oh, thank you

Kate:

for that. These are people who are deeply in the in the now and in the moment and living with purpose driven lives. I do understand the the pessimism, but boy find your writing really optimistic and compassionate. And I think that maybe we can't move the needle, maybe we can't change things if we stay in that pessimistic place. So it is good to do what you're doing, which is going around the world and you know, finding this inspiration but also evidence of the entrepreneurial spirit in the most desolate of settings. And that's why I'm sitting here thinking, wow, I would love to be a kid in your class. And if you don't get to be a kid at Babson in Adams class. The good news is that you have this wonderful book, Extreme Entrepreneurship that people can find on Amazon and it it's it is a really great read. You know, it's not the you know, when you think about it, I don't know, a business book about entrepreneurship. That wouldn't really normally be my jam, but it's a great book. It's super fascinating. So I have to say I have the unfortunate task here of being the timekeeper. But before we go, I wonder Adam, if you can tell us what's next for you?

Adam Sulkowski:

I'm glad Yeah, so I got a sabbatical approved. If we talk in a year or two, and I don't have a video series, One of the nice things about academia is that you can take the option of having, taking a drastic pay cut, but taking some time away from from campus duties, been over a year, don't hold it against me. But hopefully, there's at least actually, of time where I'm not tied down to showing up in Volume Two of the book, just want to quickly address the point that you made people succeeding in desolate person for anything. And the plan is up until the the environments. So I don't want to underplay that some places do invasion of Ukraine, the plan was to try to get to as many of the remaining countries in the world as I could and gather more stories for volume two, and also work on a video series. People seem pretty desolate, and dangerous, and desperate and have been telling me for three years I first scoffed at them. I said, it's ridiculous. Anthony Bourdain, you know, even in my most vain moments, I don't have quite those kinds of delusions of grandeur. More seriously, my students have said that some of the videos that I shot in Ukraine and on the Polish Ukrainian border, they'd be great for Tick Tock 92nd formats, but other people, I am talking to some people that know how to do video production about you know, maybe it is right to do something in the spirit of Anthony Bourdain. But borrowing a little bit from Guy Roz and his podcast series and book, what's it called... How I Built This. And I think that's one way to frame of my first book, and hopefully a follow up book bad. And at the same time, there's sometimes I get back in that'll be coming out within the next year or two, extreme touch with these folks, place where somebody people make less than $1, a day, a place where you know, people do horrible entrepreneurship, Volume Two, maybe it combines a little bit things to each other. Sometimes there's sometimes beaming and happy. And I sometimes meet people here that have everything of the whole travel genre where people can live vicariously or that may could be in the top half of percent of income earners in some of these other countries. And they're get inspired by watching or reading about somebody else miserable. They're focusing on what they don't have, they might be living vicariously suffering, and images of war through a going somewhere, what they observe about culture, history, video screen. And then you talk to somebody who's actually in one of those places. And they sent like I said, it's almost sometimes cognitive dissonance like why are you happy? Should economics, and just context and the human stories. And then you be happy? Shouldn't you be miserable? Look at the everything about their life circumstances should make you there's that other genre that I've been trying to incorporate, miserable. But there's something about these people that are taking action in those places. And that's why maybe this is one which is here's the universal hero's journey that is in reason I'm so fascinated with them is that they, they're such better people than then then the kind of person I become when I'm entrepreneurship, of somebody that has a vision experiences, sheltered in, in the first world here in Cambridge, or when I go to my campus and Wellesley, you know, you go to these places challenges and somehow makes something happen. That's where there's more existential stuff on the line, and some people you savor the basics and what matters and I guess in the hopefully what we can do with volume two of the book is process of making things better, they find a whole lot of heartwarming, meaning at the end of the day, whereas you know, continue that tradition of the first book, and maybe shoot just checking on what how your investments did, or looking at the world's latest bad news and dealing with the latest, you enough video to convince somebody that besides just a know, whiny student or whining colleague can put you in a bad mood even when you by comparison are not in a desolate place. YouTube channel, that it's worth turning this into some kind of a Yeah, my main my point, that's always the desolate, but since it doesn't like places I prefer to be in that the consequences streaming video series, we'll see if that works out. That's are more real, it's more real. And this people are sometimes better people than than who we become when we have everything. the stretch moonshot goal. It's a I've never quite said it that way.

Kate:

We actually had a very similar comment made made by a friend of Rhonda who's doing incredible work throughout South America. And so it isn't interesting, these common

Rhonda:

It reminds me of the documentary, we did review on themes. Happiness, where they traveled around the world. And it was true those volunteering with Mother Teresa in the face of death and decay day in and day out. Were some of the happiest people around, because they were on purpose. So thank you.

Adam Sulkowski:

So when we use the word desolate, I wonder whether it's not too much of a stretch, I don't mean to disrespect anybody's depravations and horrors, especially right now. But you know, maybe we are sometimes the people that are most at risk of being desolate inside and in our heads and in our in our mental reality, which after all, is the reality that you have is what's in your head? Well, doesn't matter what's around you as much as how you see what's around. And I think that we sometimes are at the risk of being in a more desolate place than some people in these in these extreme environments. Not maybe not everybody, I'm sure not everybody, not everybody's a good person or a saint or sees things that optimistically but that's been my experience is that there's a risk of actually being more desolate place when you have everything rather than when you're pursuing certain activities and certain places that might not first appeared to have everything

Kate:

Oh yeah, rich in abundance, but poor in spirit, for sure.

Adam Sulkowski:

Yeah, I'm normally not I don't consider myself especially spiritual, but there's something to it that really is. And there's really something to bring your focus back to things that matter and not getting caught up in every shiny temptation that tries to distract you in our current society. This came up in an interview today with somebody about why go to Ukraine and Poland and there was a mutual realization with a cousin that we were brought up with stories of an odd that took out a German tank with a Molotov cocktail, and an uncle that volunteered at the age of 15 to fight and then survive to death camps and a death march, I'm going to cut out all the other details to say this, their example, the fact that they while everybody else was wiped out in parts of those families, but those two survivors, and what they did, on some level, I think, influences what we focus on the goals that we set, and we pale by comparison, we're nowhere near that level of sacrifice, or that level of existential risk and existential consequence of what you're doing. But in our own small way, it's got to echo in the back of our heads, like what we both looked each other because because when suddenly, we're on the same border near each other, these two cousins that show these common ancestors, and at some point that evening, we looked at each other the first evening and said, you know, you think about your aunt right now, how much? How much was that on your mind when you came here, and I share that because I want to give credit to people, you know, both in the past and the present that that set those examples and to maybe say it out loud to remind ourselves, there's lightning gladiator what we do now echoes in eternity, pretty awesome line. And it's something else that your listeners, if you're pondering your next steps in life, it sometimes does pay to think about Alright, if when I'm on my deathbed, or when I'm already going, what do I want people to say about me whether they were related to me, or not related to me people do tell stories? And do I want to be remembered for petty, petty stuff and dumb mistakes? And think you know, we've all been silly at times? Or do we want to be remembered for doing good? It's actually never been on my mind when I do things, but but it might help some people process life decisions, will this matter in 30 years? And what I want descendants? Would they ask, what were you doing? And when would I be able to justify this?

Rhonda:

Thank you, Adam. Because I think this conversation mattered. We appreciate your time and your insights. And the stories have been told and heard. So I personally walked away a little bit better. Thank

Kate:

Thank you. And I know that folks listening are gonna want to hear more about you. So again, you can find Adam's books on Amazon or you can get LinkedIn you can link in with

Adam Sulkowski:

This helps to me when I'm listening to books or Adam. podcasts to hear somebody spell a last name so that they know who to look up. So my last name is really easy to remember. It's basically an English word salt, like I'm sad, my puppy just died. Oh, oh out, like Ouch. Or like James Brown out, right? Or, and then and then three, there's a third English word ski as in downhill like my jokes. But um, or as somebody pointed out last week, you really had to reverse the order skiing with the last part of your last name, you could have an accident and say out and then You're sulking. So one more time in case anybody was trying to look me up and I've SULKOWSKI So sulk ow ski. And the book is Extreme Entrepreneurship,

Kate:

and find out more about what adventures and what great knowledge you are offering up to the world. We have to thank you for having well you don't want to say courage and bravery, but the courage and bravery to go to these these challenging places and, and give us an intimate kind of look of what is happening. And I think it is it is inspiring, you know, we can get away from swiping left or right or whatever it is you do. The minutia and the nonsense and the way we waste our time that we really don't have any time to waste our time. This book is so it's easy to read. It's tough stuff. But it's there's so much wisdom, so much wisdom to gain and and we're grateful that you were here today with us

Adam Sulkowski:

really, really appreciate you guys. We got to follow each other. Can we promise to do that and maybe talk again in a year or something?

Rhonda:

And let's not forget to thank the person behind the scenes who may make this

Kate:

happen. Yeah, special thanks to our very skilled producer behind the scenes who actually was our connection to Adam Cathy Carswell.She's the greatest and so it is left for me to say go forth, be brave, live well and do good. It's aAct 2...

Act 2 Share Our Stage:

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Rhonda:

Please download listen and subscribe. Wherever you find your podcast. You can support us using Patreon or buy us a coffee. I do like coffee. No no, you don't need any more caffeine Kate - Buy us a coffee is a platform that folks can use to support entrepreneurs and artists like us.

Kate:

So we keep providing resources for the doers and dreamers to find connection, purpose and the skills needed to create a sustainable, fulfilling life to better serve the world. And also so we can buy more coffee.

Rhonda:

Oh Kate, thanks for listening everyone.