In this episode of The 2pt5 innovator podcast my guest is Lara Stein. We are talking about building movements and communities, scaling education, inspiration and positive impact, shared values and passions, global and local, about being driven by larger causes, global events and climate change.
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About Lara Stein
Lara Stein is Chairman and Founder of BOMA. Prior to founding Boma, Lara was the Executive Director of Women’s March Global, where she built the Women’s March Global platform and oversaw all Women’s March initiatives outside of the US. Previously she was MD Global Development at Singularity University, responsible for Singularity University’s global expansion and implementation vision and strategy. Prior to her time at SU, Lara was the founder and director of the TEDx program at the TED Conferences, creating and leading the effort to bring TED to the world by developing a program that granted free licenses to third parties to organize independent TED-like events. Lara also currently sits on the board of Equality Now, dedicated to creating a more just world for women and girls and Lalela, a non-profit dedicated to education through the arts in South Africa.
Connect with Lara & find out more
Mentioned in the episode
- Singularity University
- boma circles
- Bill Gates: How to avoid a Climate Desaster
- Al Gore: An Inconvenient Truth
- #klimaretten Book
- B Corporation
- Jay Coen Gilbert
This manual transcript was created by podcasttranscribe.com.
Klaus Reichert: This is The 2pt.5 – Conversations Connecting Innovators. My name is Klaus. I’m an innovation coach in the southwest of Germany. Innovators from around the globe help others to grow by sharing the highs and lows of a creator’s life, their motivation, creative passions, as well as their favorite methods, tools, conferences and ideas. Every episode is enriched by links videos and the transcript, which you find on the the2pt5.net website. Today, my guest is Lara Stein. We have a conversation about building movements and communities, about scaling education, about inspiration and positive impact, about shared values and passions, about global and local, about being driven by larger causes, global events and climate change. Here is my conversation with Lara Stein. Welcome.
Lara Stein: Nice to be here. Thank you for inviting me onto your podcast.
Klaus: Hello, Lara. Welcome to the 2.5. [laughter]
Lara: Excited to be here this morning.
Klaus: Thank you for taking your time. One of the funny things about global is it’s morning for you, and it’s late afternoon for me. How do you cope with these things, with the time changes that you’re facing all the time when you speak to people around the world?
Lara: Yes. So, firstly, I’ll go on record to say I’m not a morning person. I’m a late night person. So I’m much better off talking to, you know, New Zealand at later night than I am waking up early to talk to, you know, whoever else I might have to. But I’ve… you know, the last 15 years I’ve been building global communities around the world, and so it just becomes part of your lifestyle where you know, you’re on pretty much 24/7. We have a global team right now in nine countries, and we have all hands on meetings every few weeks, and we sort of rotate them. So sometimes we’ll do it at, you know, six in the morning for me, which, you know, is, you know, crazy times for other people. And then other times, it will be three o’clock in the afternoon, Eastern Standard Time. And so, you know, we also record them, obviously, living in Zoom right now. And so, you know, the people who can’t make those times, they’ll just watch them virtually at some other point.
Klaus: Mm-hmm. Do you get different results when you do, say, pick meeting times like early in the morning, and some people are more grumpy than when they usually use to meet in the evening?
Lara: We know our teams well enough, and we know who are morning people [Klaus laughs] and who are evening people. And so in the morning, I don’t run the meeting. I give it to one of my other two teammates and Backer, who is a morning person, and she runs the 6 a.m. meeting. She’s based in Toronto. So I guess you’ve got to know the people on your team and what their preferred time of working is. But, you know, I’m a person who loves late night, right? And so we have much more productive conversations if it’s 11 o’clock at night.
Klaus: Okay, I would be falling asleep at that time, but that’s okay. [laughter]
Lara: We generally have our management meetings ‘cause several founding partners are in Europe, at what is, you know, 10 p.m. at night for them, and we go from, you know, 9, 9 to 11, sometimes. It’s pretty normal,
Klaus: Lara, we wanted to talk about movements, building movements and building communities. And what I think right now as the perfect start is… we talked about global things, and it sounds very strange and very simple to talk about the time differences and time changes. But sometimes it’s hard to get together with people because of these things, not just cultural things or language and other barriers that might exist, but there’s so many things with working with so many people around the world. So starting or building a movement, a community, is very, very difficult from a lot of angles. Could you share some of other angles that sort of have helped you to start to build that or that were difficult?
Lara: I mean, there’s a lot to unpack there. When I founded TEDx, it was this decentralized global community, 3000 events around the world. And what was really interesting, as it grew, was, you know, the licenses that people are holding at TEDx events and their teams often had more in common with each other because it was a set of values and… yeah, a set of values and principles that they shared with each other. This idea of infinite curiosity and passion and figuring out the interesting voices in their communities and giving them voice in the stage and researching who was doing interesting initiatives in their community that they could elevate. And so they had this, this shared passion and this shared value set for helping shape the world through ideas. And I would always say to my team, and, you know, TED in general, that often these people had more in common with each other than they did with their next door neighbors. And what was really amazing was there were a couple of touch points quite early on and we’ll end up doing one of the TEDx, early Asian TEDx licenses, was a head of school for many, many years of professional development school, a little monastery under the Great Wall of China, and he decided to do a TEDx Great Wall event and as part of the invited there was a small group of people, all the other TEDx organizers from in and around China and the whole Asian region to come, and we did the TEDx and then we spent two days doing scenario planning around what TEDx could be on the Great Wall of China, and everybody was from, you know, everywhere from Taiwan to Japan to, you know, Bali and that group of people still have an incredibly strong bond to this day because they had this shared experience and they had a real shared set of values. And then they continue to have these shared experiences by organizing TEDx events, and they went on to do, create a whole lot of different initiatives with each other. And then the other way it played out is, you know, four years into the TEDx movement, I organized what was like the one and only sort of “epic” gathering of all the TEDx organizers from around the world in Qatar. And there were people from their little villages in different parts of India and Africa who’d never left their villages, who’d never seen the ocean. And then we had, you know, people like Carnegies who were doing TEDx events in the US, and it was an amazing gathering of sort of cross-cultural exchange of communities who just shared values and ideas. It was… it was epic.
Klaus: So what you did was basically offered these people something that… I mean, I was a several times TEDx organizer myself. So you offered, sort of… like a basket, or a point, a meeting point, and wrapped around some rules, gave some inspiration and then you, sort of, you answered their questions for their own values that they already had, and you just helped them to come together. Is that something correct?
Lara: Yeah, I think they just shared similar values and similar passions for the idea that through innovation and great ideas, or at least giving people the stage to voice their stories, that you really can have an impact on your community and thus have an impact on the world. And, you know, while that was just a volunteer network of storytelling, you know, the work I’ve done since is really to play that out in a way that it’s more about innovation and action. And how do you bring like-minded people together to find that local innovation, but then act on it, right, and show that the impact you can have by doing that. If you think about where we are right now, as humanity, many of our big global challenges, like you know, whether it’s nuclear war or, you know, the environment or, you know, technology disruption, all those issues connected with those subjects need deeply local inputs to design one global output because if everybody doesn’t buy in, we’re not going to solve those problems. And if we don’t find systems or some kind of framework to allow for multiple local inputs that roll up globally and all come to some consensus, we’re never going to solve those huge problems that are sort of challenging humanity right now. And so I guess what I think about a lot is, sort of, this concept of bottom-up and top-down change and how you really build a system that could help us think, as we say at BOMA, which is my new company, more intentionally intelligently about the world. How do you get leaders to think more intentionally intelligently about our future? And what sort of educational programs can you provide for all stakeholders to think differently about how we need this sort of both deeply local and global kind of input to design the future?
Klaus: Mm-hmm. So you really have to have the sort of a balance of that bottom-up and top-down of a local regional movement and connection with others around the globe that helps you to do the regional work also. Because that might be really hard if you push a new idea that is too far out for many people at the moment.
Lara: Yeah, and I think a lot of what you’re seeing, the tension in the world, is really somewhat about that, right? If you look at what’s going on with climate change, for a very long time, a lot of the big companies have been, you know, at least leadership has been understanding that we live in a small planet with limited resources, and ultimately, what they’re doing is not good for the planet. And it’s taken them a very long time as a diver strike last year to finally get to a point where they’re even acknowledging that. But acknowledging it isn’t enough, right? They need a… they need a blueprint to get them to a more sustainable future and 80% of CEOs right now, so they’re reevaluating their purpose. But that doesn’t mean the revised purpose, and Covid adds layers of complexity, is going to be a one that has a deeper understanding for how we live more sustainably on the planet. and how do we create a value system that includes people’s purpose profit in that output, right? And so part of what we’re trying to do at BOMA is create educational programs that scale, that don’t just stay at the C suite, but they can scale all the way down inside of the institution. Start to educate people a little bit more about what that means and why it’s important. And it’s obviously just about sustainability, you know, exponential technology and the impact of disruptive technology. It does amazingly, massively good things, but there’s a lot of things going on right now, as we’ve seen with Facebook and the U.S. Elections, and and many, many, many other examples around how we need to figure out a set of global ethics when it comes to some of these disruptive technologies, or we’re all pretty much doomed in a lot of ways, right? And you know, so…
Klaus: Isn’t that one of the hardest things to get, say, a global understanding of a very important thing? Because we have many cultural differences, for example. Also there’s different religions, there is different history and so on.
Lara: No, as I say, it all comes down to education. If you think about religion, it’s just a group of people that were educated with the same story. It’s all about the stories we tell, firstly. If you think about a modern day NBA, which is offered at pretty much every university around the world and the narrative of, you know, the primary responsibility for companies to deliver value to their shareholders, right, and and the complex NBA program that lies behind that and what NBAs have taught, well, that’s just an educational system and a set of stories that we’ve taught young kids that if you’re going to be successful, this is what you’ve got to subscribe to. So if that’s just a story, we can create a different kind of story, right? And why not?
Klaus: I understand the shareholder value principle is not God-given, it’s something that was designed or created 30 years ago. I think it’s not that long ago. Okay, I see where you are going. So one of these key elements is education and giving the same type of education to basically everybody. So there is a common ground that people can talk, can use to talk with, and do that discussions on.
Lara: Yes, you know, just a set of basic values and an understanding of why disruptive technology, if we don’t have shared inputs, could do great things but also could land up driving really negative outputs on the planet as, again, as I said we’ve seen, or how the fact that we are all sharing one tiny little blue planet, and I know lots of our techy entrepreneurs, like, you know, get really excited when you talk about Mars and other planets, but for right now, we’re pretty much stuck on planet Earth…
Lara: …and a lot of the underlying technologies have gotten us to these amazing other places and then help solve problems on Earth, but I think we need to, you know, understand that unless we come up with some common education and agreements we’re not going to be able to get to where we need to get to with climate change. You know, a nuclear war, any of these other big overriding challenges we have facing humanity on the horizon…
Lara: …you know, whether it’s feeding nine billion people or, you know, any of these other issues. So I think about that a lot, but I also want to be clear. I think ultimately it’s not a background in huge value. As a CEO, you can be equally successful, but refocus your company in a way that it is good for people and the planet, and ultimately, the value systems of the youth are shifting. And I really believe if, as a leader, you don’t understand that ultimately you will, your company will be disrupted, you will not be successful. And so, while it’s not gonna happen tomorrow, that is the general… you can feel the Titanic kind of turning a little bit.
Klaus: [laughter] Okay. Away from the iceberg or towards the iceberg?
Lara: Oh, hopefully away from the iceberg. [laughter]
Klaus: [laughter] Okay. But in order to have somebody listen to you -I understand that the word “have” is not a good choice of words right now, but I don’t have another one- is you have to establish trust with people. You have to establish trusting relationships with people. You have to… it’s not a one time thing that we are talking about. It’s something that, well, anchors trust with people. Is that an important part of…?
Lara: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, when I started TEDx, it was a community built on trust. We had guidelines, we didn’t even have rules, right? We had a set of guidelines, and if you stuck to the guidelines and your audience gave you a certain net-promoter score, your event got renewed. But it was a huge amount of what we did was based on trust. And if you think of any relationship, whether it’s… I’m fundraising right now for BOMA, you know, and Zoom. It’s very hard to create that authentic trust relationship in an hour on a digital platform, right? It’s much easier in person when you can look somebody in the eye. But anything successful that you build, or any personal relationship that you build has to be based on trust. If that isn’t there, you know, you don’t really have anything. So trust is a key part. As humanity, we’ve got to get to a point where we trust each other more. I mean, if you look at what just happened in the US, before the elections, it was all based on our absolute distrust of one another, and our bifurcation was… we went… we got further and further polarised. Even within families, we couldn’t find the space and the trust to have a civilised conversation. And that’s when there’s a you know, that’s when things disrupt and we lose, really, the underlying values of our society.
Klaus: Mm-hmm. Does that mean that there is also a lack of education if you lose, if you’re not aware of the values anymore?
Lara: Yeah, I am a firm believer that all of the problems in the world go back to education. If we could provide an intentional intelligent education of a decent value in a way that was delivered that motivated people and met them where they were, that also took their cultural and, you know, family law nuances into consideration, but gave them a great education, I think we’d change our path as humans, but… And layering on top of that we had a point where we could do that. We have the ability to do that through technology, to level a great education.
Klaus: Could you elaborate a bit about what you mean about education? Is that… are we talking about a university degree? Are we talking about something that is informal? Are we talking about kindergarten?
Lara: I’m talking all the way through, right? I think that we can dive into each one of the demographic groups, whether it’s educating kindergarten, all high school students or future leadership or lifelong learning. But we should all have the opportunity to learn throughout life and we should all have the opportunity from a very young age to get a great education. And we must certainly should all have the ability to have free higher education, which is completely possible right now. I have two 19 year olds, and one of them is sitting on campus right now. And I went to visit him because he was so… felt so alone, right, I had to fly there. And he’s sitting in his dorm room, he said, “Mom, I don’t have any connection to the school. I know you’re paying them a lot of money, but I have no school spirit. I’m sitting in my dorm room on Zoom all day learning. The only time I may wonder out of my dorm room is if I decided to go practice in my little practice piano room on campus. But otherwise I have no connection to this university.” And I think universities have to think about that, but also the idea that their role in society will change. But the idea that they have these amazing professors that actually you could provide education to a much broader group of young people around the world and do it in a way that it gives access to those that would normally ever have this kind of access, Why not? And there’s obviously they’ve got to make the economics work. But there could be a scale based on, you know, what different people can pay, realistically pay, based on the income. I mean, I think one of the Nordic countries has that for driving tickets. I think if you get a fine because you’re speeding, it’s based on your income, right? So if you’re a billionaire and you’re speeding, you get fined $36,000, you know. And if you’re a, you know, less well-off human being, you get fined $6 right? So there could be a different system whereby people who didn’t have access could have access.
Klaus: We have something like that in Germany. It’s basically for everything where you have to pay a fine. It’s about how many days of your wage or income you have to… you are fined. And so if it’s five days, that might be a different amount, for… For everybody it’s a different amount, but it’s five days, so that’s kind of adjusting. Also education, higher education, is free in Germany. But also, there’s a different tax system than, for example, in the US. And I think we have a very different understanding of taxes, of the necessity of taxes also in these countries. So that might be kind of difficult to get together. But I understand what you’re saying about this scaling of the educational part because I remember early mook, massive online courses had lots, thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands of people participating. And that was okay because it was possible through technology. And it was free at this moment, it was an experiment. You can’t live forever on free. So I understand that that kind of works… could work well. So education is one of these main things. Trust is another thing. That is very important. Then you have to have some sort of passion for the project, for the content that you’re working on. I mean, you have been a person that is very passionate about the things that you do. But you also have to transfer that to some other people, person, to sort of participate with that and share in. How do you do that? How do you do that?
Lara: How do I personally…? I mean, I have, you know, innate… so I can go back. I started off in, you know, I grew up in South Africa during apartheid, so my focus on education has always been based on what I saw growing up, which is, you know, the idea that systems can generate great suffering, but also, if you don’t educate a whole class of people, it’s very disruptive. And so I’ve always had passion from this idea of how do we create equality education for the world? And that passion comes from within. But I also started off as a ballet dancer. The first.. until I was 19, my passion was dancing. And so, you know, I lived and breathed and slept something that I was deeply passionate about, and it also gave me a lot of discipline. But I think I’ve always been that person that I can’t really work on something unless I believe in it deeply and I’m passionate about it. I don’t… And I think if you look at any great community groups or any great leaders, it comes from within. It’s not something that you can… you can’t teach passion, right? And so it has to be authentic. And I think that was great about a lot of the communities I’ve been associated with because after TED, I went to Singularity University, which was very much a community that was deeply driven by the concept of exponential technology and, you know, the good it can do in the world, not necessarily bad that they focused on. But, you know, and then I ran the Women’s March, the Global Partners March for a year, and it was all very much communities that were driven by a deep seated passion, but also a framework and a perspective on a specific kind of narrative, right? And so, whether it was exponential technology or, you know women’s rights or, in the case of TED, just the idea that ideas can have a powerful impact on your local community. And I do think that in all three of those global communities, the people that joined did share a deep passion for those ideas and wanted to understand them more and wanted to figure out how we could make the world a better place leveraging those ideas.
Klaus: So the big thing was finding the people that had… shared the same passion than you did in that moment.
Lara: And again, I don’t think a movement… if it’s a true movement or true community, I don’t think you find them. I think you put it out there and it resonates so strongly that they find you. If it’s authentic and true to what the narrative is, if it’s a strong enough idea, then the people find you and they find each other.
Klaus: And then you just have to build the trust so that you can actually work together.
Lara: Yeah, and in the case of all three examples, I gave, well, especially two of them, the guidelines and the rules were definitely a framework.
Lara: And then also in the case, of, you know, both TED and Singularity, there was an application process if you were going to be a partner, either a community partner or a business partner. And so at that point, at the beginning with TED, anybody who started TEDx then was sort of part of the very close, small TED Conference community. But as it grew, those circles got wider, and so we did have to do more due diligence on the applicants and understand their motivations and where they were coming from and whether they were leveraging it, the brand, for the right reasons and, you know, were not using it with an agenda in mind. A lot of the guidelines did stipulate, however, that you couldn’t do things like sell from the stage, you couldn’t organize an event if you were going to speak at your own event. So there were guard rails put up to try to make sure that people’s motivations were true. And… but obviously, as a movement grows, you have to… it was a continuously shifting line around how much control you had and how much you had to let go in all cases, because, as the global community grows, it just necessitates it.
Klaus: I remember some of these discussions in the beginning. I got first into contact with TEDx around 2009, and I think the first event was in 2010. And in the beginning I was really amazed about opening up the concept and brand of TED to such a large group. And I understand there were these rules or guidelines, which I like a lot as an idea for building movements. It’s like… I believe very much in methods, in innovation management, which is my field and because there’s always some sort of result, and you can always sort of work with the guidelines and adapt the guidelines a bit and work with the people to get better results, in a way, speaking generally. Okay, so that was really interesting to see how this developed over time when in the end, there were like 40,000 people and events happening all over the world. But it’s a large group of volunteers. They’re doing sort of their own thing. Right now you have sort of cut that back and what you’re working on right now with BOMA is nothing like that, as I understand. So it’s a much smaller circle and you have much more focus on impact, I think, not just on inspiration, which TED was.
Lara: Yeah. So it’s absolutely a very different model to TED. I say it’s sort of an evolution of TED to Singularity and now BOMA, which in its pre-Covid version was a decentralized network of partners, country partners and community partners that were working on educating for a more intentional and intelligent world. And so pre-Covid and we’re still doing it in some countries that are open, we’re very much focused on big global impact events focused on global challenges. We’ve done a series of events on, like, the future of regenerative agri or ethics and technology. And these are in-person events. And how we find and drive solutions for some of these big global problems. And then we focused on, also, corporate training, where we go into companies and we work with them on how do you drive your company towards the… you know, as a leader, to a more intentional intelligent future. And so we have curriculum training. And then we were doing the bottom-up movement piece of it, whereas how do you find the local innovation on university campuses and elevate this into some of our events and connect them with some of our corporate partners. So in its original, audacious vision, it was very much a systems change network with lots of partners around the world supporting us. We launched our community initiative two days after Davos last year. You know, 3000 people, a hundred BOMA circles around the world. But, you know, Covid shut a lot of our in-person initiatives down, and so we had a pivot like everybody else. It’s been challenging. And we did around the World Summit, two hours, three weeks after Covid shut down the U.S. Three hours… two hours in every country, 12 countries, because our Chinese partner was really eight weeks ahead of us around what we could learn from each other. And we had a lot of great partnerships with Zoom and Facebook and Google, and we got a lot of attention. And then within three weeks, we tried to do a second one on public health and mental health and everybody had an online offering, and so pretty quickly, we realized it can’t be a revenue generator, anyway, but it can be an impact generator. So we created a sort of non-profit studio where a lot about nine partners are now programming digital content for brand building and thought leadership. And then we focused very much on taking all our corporate training, digital, and focused on what you need to know and who you need to be. So we have these modules using some of our best, you know, intellectuals that we know from both TED and Singularity. We were building out a library of modules with them around both the externalities, like, you know, disruptive technologies, climate change, ESG. But we also have a series on the internalities, who you need to be in order to be these future looking leaders. So courage, vulnerability, ethics and the kind of work you need to do to make this change happen, and the cultural change happen. And so that’s a big part of what we’re doing, at least on the for-profit side. And then we’re just starting back up with our community groups right now. It’s been really challenging during Covid to, you know, do it all. And so our focus has very much been on this, you know, migrating our corporate training into this sort of the platform and this library of content that we wanted to develop with people we know that we respect and think differently about the world.
Klaus: Mm-hmm. So this global collaboration at BOMA basically helped you by learning from your other partners how to evolve and adapt to Covid. Because, for example, the Chinese had a head start, let’s put it that way, on solutions and were able to transfer that to the other parties.
Lara: Yeah, well, you know. I think we started this conversation about, you know, the idea of these global communities, and their people are often culturally… they just are very different. And how often through these networks that I built people have a lot in common with each other more than… they’re sort of neighbors. But one of the things I taught my team was, when you’re dealing with the global community like this, you know, never to presume right and wrong and never presume because somebody says something they mean what they say because they’re speaking other languages and are coming at it from a very different point of view. So you have to look a lot more deeply at the context of, you know, who they are, where they’re coming from. And when you’re sitting in an office in New York City not to judge what’s happening on the other side of the planet or try to be the arbiter of truth. And I think as, you know, you’re building a global network, whether it’s a for-profit company and you have offices all over the world, or it’s a nonprofit entity building a community, I think it’s important to take that into account and often people don’t, right. It’s sort of… it’s at least in the top-down model. It’s a one shoe fits all model and you know, these are the rules, basically. So I always try and design with both local and global inputs, literally, and allow for that evolution and the local inputs and localization of whatever we’re doing. And that’s most certainly what I’m trying to do with BOMA, is understand that we have to create a set of common values as humanity to move forward, but we also have to be very respectful of the local input and the local culture and build a system that’s flexible enough to do both.
Klaus: It’s also much smarter because nobody has the truth, the truth, let’s put it that way.
Lara: And also I think it would be a more successful company. Again, diversity. What a lot of data is showing is the more diverse your workforce is, all the more diverse your borders or the more diverse your leadership team is, ultimately, your company is more successful because you’ve got a much more complex series of inputs driving your ultimate product, right? And so you know, we live by that at BOMA. You know, our partners all over the world develop things, and we have a common, where we share, and we have a system where we are constantly listening to each other and learning from each other. And so I think a lot of companies don’t yet understand how and why the diversity piece is important.
Klaus: A hundred per cent. That’s one of the key ingredients for innovation, I think. You’re talking about learning from each other. How do you balance learning from each other with your own ego? Can your ego be in the way? And how… what can you do to get it out of the way, if you are aware of that problem?
Lara: I mean, I don’t know if you’re asking me personally, but as me, I will say that ego is probably the one… um, piece of any leader that has to be put aside in order to lead responsibly in the future, right. You have to put your ego aside, and you have to understand that there are often young people under you that know more than you about things, or have much more… can add diversity to how you’re thinking or your value or… you know, I mean, take something obvious. You know, I don’t live on Clubhouse. I don’t live on social media. I don’t live… and some young people do, so obviously, if my success in my company and creating whether it’s a community or product, depends on understanding that the world has been driven right now by, you know, influencers or social… or whatever the case maybe. I need to defer to people who know more about it, and if I have an ego and… or I feel threatened, that’s not going to happen. And me, I’ve always been somebody who’s enjoyed working with super smart people, and I’ve always tried to hire people that are smarter than me. And I’ve also tried to hire people that have… I know my weaknesses and have… they can fill in my weaknesses and they can challenge me and, you know, that I’m willing to listen even when, you know, I’m being challenged. And that’s, you know, for a leader is hard, but you do have to put your ego aside… And humility. Humility is a very important trait to have in this moment because nobody knows everything. And the problems whether you’re CEO or you’re, you know, running COP is that you have to understand that the solutions are going to come from all sorts of different places, and if you don’t have the humility, you’re not going to be able to acknowledge that and build the kind of system or company you need. So you know it’s a lonely place when you get to the top and your CEO and I also think that many CEOs get there and the ego does take over because they time the big corporate ladder and had, you know, this definitely monetary success in their lives. And so they get to this lonely place where they are not willing to kind of just open up, and put the ego aside and have the humility to take the inputs from all sorts of places. Or admit they are wrong, more importantly.
Klaus: You kind of have to switch back and forth all the time but still be able to open up and then sort of amalgamate that into a vision or decisions or whatever it takes to get things done in the end or to steer into a direction, because a community itself cannot stare clearly. Is that correct? I’m just trying to think about that.
Lara: I think the other thing is that as a CEO it sort of flies in the face of a traditional old school CEO where you are the pinnacle of success. It’s you’ve got into that place where you’ve had all the success, you know, you’re there to make decisions and lead and if you show any kind of vulnerability, it’s seen as a sign of weakness versus a sign of acknowledging that no one human being on the planet knows everything, right. And so, you know, it depends on your board and the culture and your company, but obviously that goes back to the diversity piece, that is, if you create a diverse board then, you know, you’ll be able to shift your culture and the way you lead in a way that it is more inclusive and less about the sort of top-down, strong man who is always right.
Klaus: Or strong woman.
Lara: Strong woman. Less so in the USA
Klaus: Do you also have…
Lara: …and less so in Germany, from what I understand, there aren’t that many female CEOs.
Klaus: We have Angela Merkel. She is the most respected politician on the earth, probably.
Lara: I’m talking about CEOs, not politicians.
Klaus: Okay. [laughter] Does it help to be driven by, say, larger causes?
Lara: Yeah, I think most leaders have their personal values and what drives your personal values and then your your work, you know, and you have to be able to ideally, especially the younger generation, they want to align their personal values with their work. It’s very important to them, right? And so I think for a long time there was a huge gap between what you did for a living, you know, you’re running… I don’t know, Shell or, you know, one of the tobacco companies, versus what your values are, and you didn’t have to align them. But I think we’re at a place where our youth are demanding it. They’re demanding it from their leaders, and mostly when they get to a point leadership. You would hope they would want to align their values with what… their decisions they’re making inside their companies, or they are in government, inside the government. They’re definitely holding the older people’s feet to the fire and saying, you know, “How can you do this with your company? How can you act this way and then have these values, personal values? And kids, you know. I know examples of kids whose dads are CEOs and they come home at night… you know, when … was running, and they would… maybe Republican CEOs, and they would have deep family discussions about values, right? And so I think the young people are demanding, you know, sort of narrowing that chasm between, you know, who you are inside, as a human being, and the kind of work you do, and wanting to align those two things and bring meaning to what they are doing every day.
Klaus: And I think this is especially important, when you were talking about designing the future on a, like a grand or global scale. Yes, it is important if it’s very regional. But if I want to spread an idea and have a global… a big impact, I have to do… I have to align these visions and goals with my own feelings and causes that I have in me, myself, and that I can actually… I’m passionate about a current example which fascinates me, right, at this moment, is this new book by Bill Gates. He’s talking about climate change and how to solve climate change, right? And I know people that work in climate change for 40 years, that have written books that are very influential on their level, that are very respected as scientists and so on, but nobody would have listened to them for a long time. And even now, after… today, it’s just there’s always critique because there might be something wrong with climate change and with the data and stuff like that. And now Bill Gates is coming, he’s publishing a book and he’s saying, “We have a problem. We have a goal. We have to do this and that,” and suddenly everybody’s talking about it, it’s a launch impact.
Lara: This is just putting funds of $2 billion again.
Klaus: [laughter] Yes. And it’s really big funds, right.
Lara: I mean, just a little bit, just a little bit. And look, Al Gore tried it 20 years ago and had an idea way ahead of it. I was a TED when Al Gore presented Inconvenient Truth, and it was a nice idea at the time, but nobody really acted on it. And then he got this, you know, in his Inconvenient Truth he did this… these community teaching kind of circles, which is a little bit along the lines of what I think we need right now, but just for a broader set of values where he trained trainers, you know, to go out into communities and talk more about it. And so it’s been a long road. I don’t think any one person is responsible, but I think the timing of Bill Gates’s book and his decision to put a lot of, you know, power and money behind it is the right time. You can feel the tipping point. You know, when I was at Davos last year, you could feel people talking differently, not necessarily knowing how to act or if they… and there were definitely those who are, like, still talking, not necessarily believing they’re going to have to act any time soon. But they will be disrupted. And if there’s enough… it’s all about capital, and capital markets. So if there is enough investment behind this idea, it will greatly expedite it, and I don’t know about you, but I most certainly definitely have that sense of urgency around nine billion people on the planet. I fly a lot, pre-Covid. I’ve even flown since, and I’ve never before seen wherever I land in the world, it’s like there’s a thick layer of smog. I come from South Africa. We never had a thick layer of smog. I flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg twice, and the air was just dirty. I was in, you know, when I landed in Davos, in the Alps, it was dirty, like the whole world is just layered in the smog right now. And so I have three kids and I have a sense of urgency of how do we fix this in a way that companies can align behind it and make money, but just do the right thing, in this moment, and stop talking, and stop making the issues little petty squabbling because, you know, it’s just going to elongate the timeline. We have to go there, you know, and so, you know, delaying it is just forcing the next generation to inherit it, and we don’t have that much time. And so I have a lot of hope for the COP this year. I think for the first time, there’s a lot more momentum and authenticity behind it, especially since we don’t […] in the US anymore, not to get political, but I feel like there’s a lot more aligning behind it. And so at least for the climate change pieces, I have more hope than I’ve had in a very long time, but ultimately it’s gonna come down to big companies and their willingness to authentically make a change and create that timeline and that map to change it, right, and strategy. And so they all have to. It’s not nice to have anymore. And I think that’s where Bill Gates’s leadership is deeply needed and appreciated. And, you know, other leaders around the world, you know, presidents, who are willing to really do what’s needed in this moment rather than create delay tactics.
Klaus: Climate change is basically troubling me for 25 to 30 years, and one of the big things was for many, many years nobody was interested in me, in that around me. And it was hard to understand because it was such a pressing problem and it was obvious that we are running into that problem and feeling that personally on a personal level very, very soon. And that’s what we do right now. 20 years is nothing on a human or a world scale. So I’m very much with you. It’s more than about time.
Lara: Well, I was in… I was actually in a conversation in Canada, about a year and a half ago, with three ex-top CEOs of three of the biggest consulting firms. It was a design session that they were giving me their time, and I said to them at one point, I said, “when you were in the boardroom, like, what are the 10 biggest topics that you talk about? What are the big threats right now that you see?” And you know that climate change was not on their list, and nor was diversity, right? And so after they set them all, where is this factor in, right? And so… but that moment was really telling because it made me realize that, you know, it still wasn’t really on the agenda, right? And so… But I think things have shifted even since then, and I’m hopeful. You know, I wasn’t then and I think I am now. I think Covid has also made us acutely aware of how interconnected we all are and how very vulnerable we all are and how we… because however interconnected we all are, we don’t find ways to come together to solve some of these big challenges. This was a really real example of what could happen, right? And so it’s amazing if you look at the medical community right now and how they’ve been collaborating around the solutions for the vaccine. I mean, politicians haven’t been doing as well, and the distribution of the vaccine and who gets it and who doesn’t get it also hasn’t been doing as well. But the scientific community is a great model of real global collaboration in this moment, right? So it’s a good model to look to, to say, could we find ways to, you know, replicate some of what worked here?
Klaus: It is important… when you work together with others, it is important, once in a while, to meet in person, but it’s also limiting if it’s based only on these personal meetings. Also, on the other hand, if you meet digitally, virtually, only via Zoom, for example, you have many advantages, because you don’t need to travel, it’s very… We talked about that in the beginning. So I guess it’s a combination of both. But Covid has changed a lot. We don’t meet that often in person anymore right now -that might change again- but what do you think will be the highest…? What will be, after Covid, in terms of collaboration and working together on these big projects or big ideas or big communities? Will there be many more conferences, for example, where we meet again in person? Or will we have more formats that do that on a virtual level? Has Covid slowed down all these movements, or has it propelled it and advanced it?
Lara: So obviously there are a lot of different opinions on this. The fact that everybody is now completely… and I’ve worked online like this for years, globally. But the fact that everybody is not comfortable doing that… And if you look at the education system, you know, we couldn’t get the teachers union to move on so many things that were technology based in New York City and suddenly overnight everybody’s teaching on Zoom, right? So there are profound changes happening in the world right now when it comes to working on Zoom. And early on, everybody wanted to get on Zoom and they could meet people, and it was fun. But I think a lot of people are realizing that we’re human and what turns us on is our human connections to each other and meeting each other, and that after days of living in Zoom, you feel profoundly isolated, and sometimes a lot of people are feeling very depressed, and that living in this digital world is not necessarily, while convenient, the ideal way for humanity to connect. And so I think in the post Covid world, if I were to map it out, it will be a combination of leveraging this digital technology to the best of its ability, there lots of new called tools coming up where it makes it a little bit more humanized, it will never be completely humanized, you know. But there’s a lot of innovation going on when it comes to the actual connecting piece, digitally, and so… But I do believe that people are craving to meet. I was talking to someone, the other day, that runs a big company and has thousands of employees, and he said, “I have not seen my partners in two… and two… not two years we haven’t had a corporate meeting,” he said, “When we eventually all get together, it is going to be the party of the century because we’re all craving just to sit in a room with one another.” And so I think, you know, a lot of people are feeling like they would like to go back to the office but have the best of both worlds. There are days where they can go to the office and connect with people and there are days when they are able to conveniently stay home because their daughters, you know, got a doctor, or whatever the case may be, and they can balance their lives using this digital technology. And it’s not frowned upon in any way by the leadership of that company. And so you have the flexibility. Ultimately, I think that would be where you know, it hopefully comes to me… We talked to a lot of millennials. They’re like, “Well, we just want to be these digital nomads and we wanna be able to work from Bali or anywhere in the world we want. We don’t want to ever show up at the office.” And I think that’s fine for a select few groups of people. But for a lot of people, they’re gonna value having an office. And I said to you earlier, I think having an office will be like a benefit, in a way that you’ll be privileged if the company decides to give you an office because it’s overhead and if you allowed a show up rather than just work remotely, right, and so… because you want to have the opportunity of connecting with people. And so I think offices will be designed differently and you will have the opportunity to hopefully do both and balance your life in a way that I mean sometimes has been complicated, especially for women. And Covid’s definitely put women back, the WIFE says 55 years, because a lot of the expectations of family life that come with your kids being home-schooled on Zoom or having to stay home and work falls on the shoulders of women and so they’ve had a hard time, at times, balancing work life even more so than pre-Covid. And I think, you know, a lot of the… a huge percent of unemployment or jobs lost over Covid has been women losing their jobs for that reason, and so I think we have to come out of it the other side, understanding that, respecting that, and creating some kind of a balance that allows us as humans to have… lead a better life and design a more intentional intelligent world for us all, right, and allow us to… I mean, you know, Germany has much, much -I have a German partner- better benefits. I know one of my partners had a couple of young women who were pregnant and they went off and they took a year off and their job had to be there when they got back. You know, we don’t have a lot of those sorts of benefits in America, which makes for a young couple balancing work-life very complicated. So I think the idea of being able to do remote and in person, if designed well, could actually work well.
Klaus: It comes down, also, to a matter of trust. I think that’s a very important thing. It comes down to having a good understanding of what the vision of the company, the project, the product, the conference and whatever you’re working on is about, and sharing that also. So one of these key things of an executive is… I mean, used to be, for a long time, is sharing the vision and sharing the motivation in a true manner in a believable manner with all the people that you might not even see personally because they are online, connected via the Internet.
Lara: If you’re, you know, better off in a huge room with 20,000 employees and you’re standing on that stage and motivating them, um, it’s very different to sitting in a Zoom room trying to motivate people around the world. And, you know, then… and there was a lot of frontline workers and teachers that have to show up in person, right, and have been struggling, especially in low income communities in America. If you’re a teacher trying to balance this idea of Zoom school with your… with some kids being in the classroom and those kids that are on Zoom cameras are… often don’t have good connectivity, it’s really complicated to motivate those kids. And it’s more complicated as a leader to motivate people in a Zoom room.
Klaus: Lara, I have just read that BOMA, your company, is now a B Corporation. Could you talk about the motivation for you, for the company, to do that, to make that switch?
Lara: So, to be honest, we had B Corp, a lot of the B Corp requirements were built into our bylaws when we started BOMA anyway. You know things around… you know, just the right thing to do when it comes to inclusiveness, gender, gender equality, supply chains and how, as a responsible company, you should treat your employees and the products you’re creating, right, and your supply chains. And so for us, getting, uh, the B Corp stamp of approval was just more of a stamp of approval. You know, I’ve worked for companies who are B Corps that say they are impact companies. They don’t behave like impact companies. And I’ve worked for companies who aren’t B Corps who have amazing values. So, you know, I think again it comes down to just being authentic, about, you know, wanting to create a, you know, as a leader wanting to lead in a way that is good for your people, is good for profit and is good for the planet and being authentic about what you need to do in order to do that. And so you know, we would… we’ve done that from the very beginning. Everything we do, um, ultimately any profit that we make, we want to eventually be able to give some away to build our impact community. We also… we build curriculum for corporations. We give that away to communities around the world who wouldn’t be able to access our leadership curriculum. And so we’re constantly thinking about how to be inclusive and how to drive the impact we want to see in the world. And so for us, to be a B Corp was more just like a stamp because companies who are trying to find a way to align their values, generally a lot of them are trying to, you know, get the B Corp certification.
Klaus: So it was not a big thing to do to get the certificate.
Lara: It was a big thing, too. It’s a process. [laughter]
Klaus: [laughter] Sorry, I phrased that incorrectly.
Lara: It’s not a big thing to do. I definitely… I love you, Jay, but I definitely… as a small company was questioning the amount of time I spent working on it, and my team has been working on it. Um, but that’s important because you want to make sure that people are… companies are what they say they are, and they’re not again just leveraging the stamp, right. So I understand why it is a big process.
Klaus: I phrased that incorrectly. I understand that it is a big… it is a… maybe sometimes, a cumbersome process. But it was not that hard for you because it was… most of these things you implemented from the very beginning into the company. A company that is a, say, regular company, let’s put it that way, at this moment, how hard will it be for them to transform into an authentic B Corp?
Lara: So, again, I’m not an expert on this, so you should probably ask, you know, Jay and a couple of other people who founded the B Corp. But I have heard from big companies, like Unilever and others, it’s difficult, like it doesn’t really work for big companies for different reasons. And so even at one point there was a series of larger companies who were trying to create their own metrics and their own kind of stamp. I don’t know where that went. This was a few years ago, so I don’t… for an existing large Fortune 500 company, I don’t… it’s not as simple because they’re not starting from the ground up. They’re not architected that way.
Klaus: Yeah, okay. I understand that you’re not the expert on this, but I think it’s good to have your perspective on that because it might be a path from many companies to go the B Corp way. But it’s just you have to have those perspectives that it’s a lot of work to do.
Lara: And again, I think… I don’t think they have to get the stamp of approval. If they looked at the metrics and the requirements of being a B Corp and then just started to internally, you know, trying to line behind, as an organization, how they do it, the fact that they are authentically committed to doing it is more important than getting a B Corp stamp, right? And so, ideally, that’s what they do.
Klaus: You’re saying that right now, and I understand that I’m asking maybe these weird questions and you’re talking about the B Corp stamp and I had to think of the TED stamp for TEDx organizers, also. We didn’t… we’re talking about communities, but I think for many of these communities, it’s also important to have sort of that brand recognition and against such a Corp or B Corp stamp would be some sort of brand thing that you might be leveraging. Is there a good community without a good brand? I mean, normally you would think of a brand like toothpaste or a car company or something like that. But if we take brand as something positive and not just advertising or something like that, is there a community without a brand possible? Or do you have to have a brand? Does it help the mission?
Lara: I guess if you’re trying to assemble a global community, it would be hard to probably do it without a brand. Um, I don’t know how… you know, it probably helps the framework for a global community. For a local community, you could gather just with a set of principles, I guess, and it would be fine, a set of principles and values, and it would be fine, just have regular gatherings. I’m sure there are lots of those sort of local communities that… for different reasons that do that. Um… it’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t necessarily… I’ll give that one some thought. I think there’s power in having a shared brand and shared principles, and I know from the last two communities I’ve built that there’s a huge amount of benefit, a lot… I get emails at least once a week, people that say… I just had one the other day that said… I reached out to somebody who had been a TEDx organizer to help me. I had to try and get an Indian visa for my daughter, and she’s like, “All right, you’ve got to know that every day how much you’ve changed my life by connecting… by creating TEDx and connecting me to these people that will become my great friends around the world,” right? So through this common brand, which she no longer is even associated with, she has a global set of friends who she is very, very close to. And so that was through a shared brand. I don’t know if that would have been achievable otherwise, right? The other thing I want to point out, a lead investor, actually talking about big companies and, you know, going towards more of a People-Purpose-Profit model, a lead investor who I won’t name, is a German family, who for the last 50 years has had values that align very strongly behind this idea of People-Purpose, you know, Profit-Planet sort of… and they’re known for their respect to the environment and learning and the people that work for them. And so very forward thinking long before there was a B Corp stamp. And that’s an example of a large German organization who really, authentically, is trying to drive good on the planet without it having to say, “Oh, I’ve got my B Corp standard approval.” And they’ve been there for 50 years.
Klaus: Lara, you like things global. What brought you this broad perspective, this global perspective? When you start something, why does it have to be global for you? Why do you look at global? It seems like it’s inherited in you.
Lara: Well, I guess I grew up in South Africa, as I said during apartheid, and I lived at the tip of Africa and always felt very isolated. And I was an artist. And so I think, um, you know, I physically felt the sense of isolation, and as soon as I could travel, I did travel. But I also saw, wherever I traveled, I saw similar problems like it was different country, different culture with similar problems. And so I often thought about how one solution in one part of the world could easily fix something going on in a different part of the world with a bit of a nuance. And so I think a lot of what I’ve built or done has been driven by that. I also very early on, when I lived in L.A., just fell into running the licensing department of an animation company. And so I was young and I was running… building these brands around these intellectual properties and was at every trade show on the planet from like, you know, the magic T-shirt companies to technology trade shows, and I saw the power of building a brand and what it could mean to the revenue for that intellectual property. And so I had this very commercial beginning and then landed up at TED, at a very… at a place that was very non-commercial, and I sort of merged the ideas, I guess. But always whatever I’ve done has been with this idea that we have all the tools to solve some of our big global problems. We have places in the world that are solving those problems, and somehow we’re not replicating them in similar communities elsewhere in the world. And so how do you connect all those dots? And that’s sort of… at least for the last 15 years, a lot of what has sort of driven me, and what I do, and… and also this idea… it all goes back to passion in whatever I did, I had to believe in it and after I had children, whatever I was doing I had, in some way, to try and make this world a better place. And if I was going to have to go back to work, to do it in a way that I was adding some value to the future for my children.
Klaus: To come back to the beginning or to two of these big things we talked about is, we talked about sharing inspiration and… or providing inspiration, or… I don’t know the correct word in English, and creating impact. If you had to choose, which one is more important, inspiring or creating impact?
Lara: I don’t think impact, by virtue of being impact, is positive. Like you said, we’re creating positive impact, we’ll then be under the… yes, creating positive impact. But also the word “positive impact” means very different things for different people. You know, if you’re purely driven by “how much money can I make in my life?” well, positive impact would be “How much money can I put in my bank for future generations?” So I guess I can’t really answer that question. [laughter] It feels like I’m simplifying something that I can’t simplify.
Klaus: Lara, thank you very much for being part of The 2pt5. Thank you for taking the time for this conversation. Thank you very much.
Lara: Thank you for having me. Klaus: That was my conversation with Lara Stein. On the2pt5.net website, you get additional information, videos, links and the transcript of this episode. You can subscribe to the podcast on all the major platforms. If you have liked the episode, please give a review on podchaser.com or on the platforms, you usually listen to your podcast. Thank you very much for listening. My name is Klaus Reichert. I’m an innovation coach in Baden Württemberg, in the southwest of Germany. This is The 2pt5 – Conversations Connecting Innovators.
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