Humans need community to thrive, so this week we're talking to Stephen Jaye whose mission is to understand, replicate, and foster community. This is a key step in fighting the isolation and loneliness, spreading as it's own epidemic under the forced social distance of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Stephen shares his experiences and curiosity around how we nurture communities and ourselves along the way.
Episode Notes and Bio at uncoverthehuman.wearesiamo.com
Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.
YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human
Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.
YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human
Alex: Welcome to Uncover the Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives.
Cristina: Whether that's with our families, co-workers or even ourselves.
Alex: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.
Cristina: This is Cristina Amigoni.
Alex: And this is Alex Cullimore. Let’s dive in.
Cristina: Let’s dive in.
Group: Authenticity means freedom.
Authenticity means going with your gut.
Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you.
Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself.
It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.
Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be.
It's transparency, relatability, no frills, no makeup, just being.
Alex: Well, hello, and welcome back to this episode of Uncover the Human. This week, we are joined by our guest, Steven Jaye, who is here to talk a little bit about creating community. And before we jump right into that, I'd love to just plug our YouTube channel, because anybody who is watching this right now has a great view of Steven who's got the acoustic magic of working inside of his car. And it's a great look. Check it out. If you're not on the YouTube channel, check it out, it’s Uncover the Human. And if you are, you already know what I'm talking about. Thank you so much for joining, Stephen. Welcome to the podcast.
Stephen: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. It's always great to converse with, and meet with, network with people who kind of are thinking along the same vibes and wanting to see similar changes in our culture.
Alex: And I think that's definitely why we – Actually we've got multiple introductions to you from a couple of different people who thought that you're very much aligned. And our conversations have very much proved that out. So we would love to talk to you a little bit about, you had kind of an idea where you want to move towards creating a lot more community in life. And that's one of the big emphasis you’ve been talking about. I'd love to hear about your thinking just about what community means to you and how you got there.
Stephen: Yeah, one of the things that's interesting when I think about communities, the fact that now that we've all been through this pandemic, we've all kind of experienced the world both with and without community. With community, of course, you think about school, high school, college, tend to naturally be their own thing, form their own communities. And we've all also encountered the isolation of the pandemic, although I'd have to say some of the isolation that people associate with the pandemic started years before when we first decided we started wanting to do everything online, as opposed to in-person. And I honestly feel like there's a lot of really bad kinds of outcomes coming from loneliness, isolation that all come from lack of community. I personally feel like a lot of our problems with violence, a lot of problems with suicide, depression, dissatisfaction in life comes from that isolation, because as much as we all got excited about social media and also about like the Internet and how many things we can do from the convenience of our own computer, we didn't really take into account how much that is like taking us out of our communities and how much loneliness and isolation it's actually bringing.
Cristina: Very true.
Alex: Yeah. That's an incredibly important point. Isolation I think it has been huge.
Cristina: Yeah, I think we were talking with Randall, who was one of the people that introduced us, and she was sharing the statistics on depression and suicide and how they're up 70% in younger people because of the isolation.
Stephen: Yeah, that chart that was shown last year in the movie The Social Dilemma, the one with Tristan Harris and the whole Center for Humane Technology, the one that shows the suicide rate, exploding pretty much at the time when high schoolers started using social media for most of their social contact is a chart that I had actually started seeing a couple years prior to that, so back in like 2017, 2018. And to me, it felt obvious from all the way back in like 2008/9/10, when everyone started adopting social media. There was a book written by a professor named Maggie Jackson called Distracted that talked about how this has taken away our attention. And this book was written in 2009. So there were some people that, when these trends first started to really manifest, we're seeing it and seeing it as a problem all the way back then.
Alex: I remember seeing, I think it was a TED talk, or it was some kind of Silicon Valley tech, it was talking about – somebody, CEO from Silicon Valley- was talking about how the real talent that has been mastered is keeping people's attention. I mean, there's 10,000 ways to keep you on the app. We’re even down to TicTok at this point where the second that video stops playing, the next one cycled into your view, and you don't even have to like touch the screen anymore. That was the overbearing thing that Instagram made us all do, like flick to the next picture. But now we have just the least amount of friction to staying on the screen at all times.
Stephen: And that was part of Netflix's streaming design even before that. It would automatically play the next episode unless you pause, which I think it still does.
Cristina: It still does, until you don't do anything for a while, and then it'll ask you, “Are you still there?” And I'm like, if I get that question from my friends, it's actually more effective than Netflix.
Alex: I've woken up on the couch far too many times to a message that says, “Are you still watching?” So it definitely still works. It’s there.
Stephen: Well, I’m glad they control for that at least.
Cristina: If we could put that in meetings and in the workplace, that would be way more effective.
Alex: Actually, we were talking a little bit about Teslas before this. And one of the features, I know I have one friend who got the self-driving feature, and they were saying that – so he let a friend test it- and it makes you touch the steering wheel, or push a button every 20 minutes or something to make sure you're awake. Because even though it's driving you, you need to be aware. And I kind of wonder if that would be funny for Zoom calls. Just after a while, “Are you still there?” And you just get disconnected otherwise.
Anyway, I love the idea of community. So I think isolation is a huge factor in this. So community, what led you to thinking about that and working towards it?
Stephen: Well, obviously, there's a connection with all that. But one of the problems I had was that it was the experience of feeling like not having a community. And one thing is that a lot of people see me and they'll see my life and they'll think that I have way more community, way more connection than most people, which is pretty true. I'm a very strong extroverted individual. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I think it's perfect or perfectly great. There are a lot of times when I have a certain thing on my mind that I want to talk out with people, or I want to learn something. And I just don't necessarily know for sure like, “Okay, who is it that I talk to? Who is it?” And especially during maybe a period of time from, say, four to seven years ago when I felt kind of a little bit more disconnected from a lot of society.
And one of the things I would just lament, I would just observe this almost on a day-to-day basis. You want to figure out how to do something, even let's say you want to figure out how to start a podcast, something that we've all done. The default assumption is to go and Google it. It's you and Google, as opposed to go and call someone or ask someone what they have done. And I was constantly thinking – I've been thinking about community actually since a very young age. I read the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam back in – I think it was like 2000 when that came out. And I actually even then was noticing the difference. Like my dad would tell stories about growing up, where he said when he was in middle school, what he would do is he would hop on his bike with all his friends, and they would ride to the baseball field, and they play baseball pretty much until either sundown or when their families designated dinner time, which Mineola 1960, I'm guessing 6:30 was the standard dinner time. I'm not 100% sure. And my social groups at the time were more interested in playing video games, Mario, Sega Genesis and stuff like that. And even then I was kind of almost looking longingly like, “I wish I had what you had back then growing up.” And then the same thing happened kind of later and later on in life as things got even more disconnected, as people turned more and more to the Internet and social media.
And every time I kept thinking to myself, and I've watched certain movies even. And this is going to sound really weird, but there was this movie in like 2005 with Tim Allen about skipping Christmas, but that neighborhood was such a tight-knit community. Every house on that block knew each other. And I would always just feel a little bit jealous, a little bit like, “Oh, wish I had this area where everyone knew each other as opposed to –” I think we all saw the Seinfeld episode where the big joke about this episode was that Jerry refused to let someone in the building, because there was a stream of robberies that he didn't recognize this guy's face. And then he turned out he lived next to Kramer. Kitty corner across the hall from him on the same wing of the same floor of this building.
So we've definitely gotten to this point where I just don't – I started to look around. I don't think that the amount of time we spend alone is really healthy. And I personally lament. Even though one thing that people tell me all the time is they say, “Oh, but Steve, you do such a good job. You do such a good job of keeping in touch with old friends. And you do such a good job in making new friends.” And I'd say for the 2010s and now the 2020s, “Yeah, I'm probably in the 95th percentile.” But historically, I'm pretty rubbish to be honest.
Cristina: And it takes time. It takes effort. It's not just automatic, for sure.
Stephen: Yeah, it does. That's the weird thing. And one of my favorite people, one of my heroes right now is the speaker, Simon Sinek, who did a kind of presentation about why so many millennials are dissatisfied. And he talks about it in terms of instant gratification versus kind of your long-term delayed gratification. Because Instagram, which has the same beginning of the word, is the ultimate, or even TikTok, like you see it, you get the like right away. But the things that really bring life satisfaction, which are building healthy relationships with other human beings and building a satisfying career are not in the realm of instant gratification. They're in the realm of you have to show up every day, right?
And so it gets to the point where if you don't exercise those muscles, as people put it, you don't exercise that ability, you build up that ability in your head, in whatever, in your repertoire. What you do, you're not used to building long-term solutions to things. You're used to instant gratification. And therefore you're ill equipped to form communities, relationships, satisfying careers, or even build something. Like building a podcast takes time and effort. It’s not something you just kind of double click an app.
Cristina: It's really interesting, because as you were talking about you're dad in the neighborhood, and the difference there, I've experienced both in the 80s. I remember, we used to -it wasn’t the baseball field-it was the swimming pool in the summers. But we used to get on our bike, go down to the pool, which was two or three towns away, so it was a good three miles, four miles away. Everybody was always there. So it wasn't a phone call, or a meeting, or anything arranged. That’s what everybody did every single day. And then at 7:30, the pool would close. And that was the signal. It was like get on your bike and bike back home.
Alex: One thing I think is so interesting about that is the flexibility offered. When you can just expect that there are people there, you can also expect there are times when people can't make it. And, yeah, I think in today's culture, it's a little bit – It takes a little bit more work to organize things. But then it can feel weird when people either can't show up, or you have to change plans, or whatever, because it takes so much more effort to get there. There’s some standing like – Yeah, I mean, some people will be at the bar. Who knows who's going to be there, but you can be there if you want. And that's an interesting part of if you want to build community, is having the availability without the forced nature, because then people start to look at it as an obligation, and then it starts to be more easily avoided. Whereas if it's just always there, you can be there.
Stephen: And that's actually something I've had on my mind quite a bit, because one of the other things that I feel strongly about right now is our need to update our work culture and our need to get away from the whole “you have to be at the same office every Monday to Friday, nine to five”, because I just don't necessarily think that that fits everyone's personality. We've been trying to make everybody be the same person for far too long on this. But a lot of people will tell me, “Well, the last time you had a really great community was when you had a job where everyone was there Monday through Friday, nine to five.” And I'll say, “Yeah, that's true.”
My first job out of graduate school, I was in Chicago working at a kind of insurance brokerage company, and we did. We were all there every day. And as a result, we all became really tight-knit and really good friends. And I thought to myself, “How do you create the community without the obligation, without that rigid scheduling of any kind?” And the interesting thing is, recently, I joined a networking group called the Elevated Results Group, ERG. I'm very new to this group. So I'm really not sure how it's going to manifest for me in the long run. But when I first hopped on to their calls, which was like back in February, because I suddenly realized, “Oh, I could hop on these Zoom calls whenever I want.” I saw a bunch of people who seem to know each other, seem to know each other's lives from years and years, from being in this group together. And I interviewed Tracy Card, who is the leader of this group, on my podcast. It's going to be episode number 13 when it comes on. And we talked about the fact that this group was able to become tight-knit even without this obligation that some networking groups, some business groups, have these “you must show up every single time”. And this one doesn't. And they seem to do it by making the actual events very, I guess, full, for the lack of a better way to put it. Something that people really want to come to, as opposed to this rigid scheduling behind it.
Alex: Actually, for that idea, that feels like somebody's cultural initiatives or corporate initiatives are like, “Well, this is now mandated. So this is going to happen.” And you're like, “Well, okay, but you've now lost everybody who was like on the fence about that or maybe didn't want to feel like that was mandatory. Now they can't make it. And now that's something that's counting against them.” I like the idea that “what if you just fostered a place people want to be?” Because then they’d show up. It’s not just if you build it, they will come. If you build it, and they'd want to be there, they'll be there.
Cristina: Yes. If you build it and don't impose it, they'll come.
Alex: If you build it and mandate it, they'll be there.
Cristina: I remember, it was the same thing for going into the office. It was really not about forcing people. Because the minute you force anything – And it could be anything. It could be broccoli for your kids’ dinner, or forcing people to go to the office five days a week, or three days a week, or whatever it is. But it's the same thing. If you make it so that it's an environment that they want to be, they will show up. If you mandate it, there's like, I think in human nature, some sort of automatic rejection cell that it's like, “No. No. Warning. Somebody is making me do something. I don't even care what it is. But I just heard the word, “You have to.”
Stephen: One of my challenges throughout my life has been overcoming the instinct to do the opposite of whatever is mandatory. Someone wants me to be X. I'm going to find a way to be the opposite of what you want, as opposed to really just deciding for myself, which is what I'm trying to assert anyway when I hear people say, “You have to be this.”
Cristina: Yeah, your way to get me to do the opposite is two things. One, force me to do it, tell me you have to, and prohibit me from doing something. And then watch me show you how I will do that as much as I can.
Stephen: I was going to say, yet it feels like to me, despite the fact that so many people are aware of this aspect of human psychology about wanting to do the opposite of what we're forced to do. A lot of people that are seeking to get things done, for lack of a better way to put it, are still reverting to force, whether it’d be corporate mandates, or even like via government, trying to like mandate like you have to do this as opposed to like trying to get someone to want to do it.
Alex: And we think there's some – we like to then assert that there must be something wrong with somebody if they're not doing this thing. They can't see why it's important. It’s like, “Well, have you communicated why it's important? Have you told them what may be good about this? I mean, is there a reason that they would feel buy-in? Or have you just said “because I said so?” And they say that, in just general human motivation, one of the driving factors of what motivates us is autonomy. We want that just in general. On everything, we like to have mentoring. We like to have guidance when we're feeling unsure. We like to have safety nets here and there, but autonomy to be able to make the choice of what we do and how we're going to do it.
And to your point, I think it becomes then if you want to lead people, there has to be some kind of autonomy plus empathy. You have to understand that other people are going to want that autonomy, rather than just being like, “Yeah, I have the autonomy now.” And now that autonomy is letting me tell you what to do.
Cristina: There's a leadership failure right there.
Alex: So, what are you working on recently in terms of creating community? What are some of the next steps? What's kind of a – Maybe even a pipe dream along the way?
Stephen: So that's interesting. One of the things I'm doing right now is I'm trying to, as I mentioned with this Elevator Results Group. There're actually a couple other groups that I'm on the fringe of thinking about attending some events. I'm trying to research what makes good communities and what makes poor communities, because one of the things is that, as much as I lament how there needs to be community and more people will be happy when this community, there's also some communities that have become, I guess, not the greatest communities for everyone. And what I mean by that is that there's this overstated phrase, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time around. And I don't always 100% agree with it, because what five people average it out to become Elon Musk, for example, right? I mean, there are people that kind of come. But it's undeniable that the people that you're around influence you, right?
And so one of the things that I want to do with creating a community is have a community of people who, much like your podcast, much like my podcast, encourage each other to try to kind of level up, get to the next level as opposed to just some communities become, I don't want to say a wine fest, but they become where people have negativity on each other. And one of my least favorite discussions I ever witnessed, and I've witnessed this in like six or seven different manifestations, is a group of people complaining about their spouses. And one person has something that's really on their mind. And then everyone feels the need to jump in and say something negative to one-up each other. I don't know. And it just becomes like all these petty little, “Oh, my spouse uses too much paprika in this meal,” or something really insignificant. It ends up with they are focusing so much on the negative and on the positive. As opposed to, “Hey, you have this idea for a business. And I really want to encourage you. Why don't I bring some materials and tell you about people from Startup Week that you can connect with? Or good TED Talks you can listen to and things like that.”
So I want to make the communities ones that, although, yeah, it's good to have someone that's there for you when you're struggling with something, someone that can really kind of give you advice. It's also important to have your community people not keep you in that negative frame of mind and have the people in your community build each other up. And I've had discussions with other people who are helping organized communities, as well as read that book, The Art of Gathering. And one of the things, it's you have to be a little bit mindful of who you bring into the community, right? Because if you bring in – There are certain people you're going to bring in, and they're just going to always be on a negative vibe, which is going to then kind of – I mean, I think we learned in that Social Dilemma movie, and just the experience of being on any social media site, even something as simple as Nextdoor, which is just designed to bring neighbors together and get somehow still turned into a bloodbath of negative comments. You parked in front of my house. It’s just all over the place. So we need to kind of make sure that we're not creating another version of that. And that's what I'm really hoping to find a way to bring together the people that really want to be innovative, that really want to be encouraging to one another, and really want to make progress toward what we all want to see in the world, which in my view is more people feeling that they can live their authentic lives.
Alex: I think you've hit on a really important point, which is the idea of curation within a community. Like the idea that there is – Yeah, there's some kind of standards beyond just either general decorum, or topics of conversation, or of how people interact. So it doesn't become like bashing on spouses or something. It doesn't become something that is sideways or just generally negative, because the tone will adjust. And actually, Cristina and I talked about this with somebody on the podcast recently. You're the same person, but if you're interacting with somebody who's negative, you're presenting differently than when you interact with people who are positive. And there's a different version of yourself that comes out. And so it's interesting to think of the idea of curation, because, ironically, this is a somewhat negatively toned thought, but it's not just about creating a positive place for people to be. You also have to be cleaning that place to make sure it stays positive.
Cristina: Yeah, definitely. It's interesting, because when I was thinking about it, we know that technology has definitely contributed to this isolation, and separation, and this dissolving of the community. And yet, I'm trying to figure out, from a human perspective, why was it so easy to lose the community because of technology? So what was missing to begin with? Or maybe it's not missing? What drove the community in neighborhoods before technology to actually happen that's not there? Or maybe it's hidden.
Stephen: Yeah. It reminds me of something that David Byrne, who's actually also one of my heroes too. Most people know him for his musical career with the Talking Heads back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. But he also wrote a book called Bicycle Diaries, has a lot of blogs, and even designed the bike racks in New York City and have different themes for different neighborhoods. So he's done a lot of stuff since. And he wrote an article back in 2014. I forget what publication it was in, but the quote, I remember in my head vividly, he said, “The one common thread of all these new technologies, no matter what it is, is that they all take what was once a face-to face-interaction and replace it with something you do over a screen.” And I was like – I read this and I was like, “Whoa! That is 100% true.”
But I would also argue, and this is what Robert Putnam does in the book Bowling Alone, that there was something disintegrating about the community even before then. When I was in middle school, people were already turning to video games before even there was social media. And suddenly everyone just kind of just double tapping on Instagram, instead of calling the friends and saying, “Hey, let's go play laser tag.”
Alex: It is, I think, somewhat defaulted in human behavior to find belonging. And also, conversely, find people that don't belong. You come up with the idea of where you're comfortable. What you're comfortable with. And it also then starts to become an exclusive definition where the other side of that feels less comfortable, feels more on than out. And I'm sure a lot of that goes back to survival tribalism where you have your group of 150 hunter gatherers and there was danger if you run into other ones, and there's lack of familiarity. I'm sure there's some innate human nature that we're kind of running up against that technology allowed us to just run with that gap.
Stephen: It's interesting how a lot of people were talking about how we had the community of the 20th century. And if you read Bowling Alone, a lot of it's like the Kiwanis clubs and all those things that you can still see some dingy signs for if you drive around in small town America, but no one talks about really anymore. And then there's the new community that people try to center online. And what's interesting is that there always seems to be the idea of an in group and an out group, right? So the purest old school form of that kind of racism, right? The out group is racism, or as you probably know from living in Italy, hristina, like my parents told me that like two generations before them, it was very much what part of Italy. And if you were a Tuscan, you wouldn't interact with a Sicilian, or something like that, right?
Cristina: It's still that way.
Stephen: Oh. Wow! Okay.
Cristina: It’s a little more open. But that's the first question. Nobody asks you what you do. Everybody asks you where are you from? So that then they can figure out, “Okay, what interaction I will actually want to have here?”
Stephen: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, because growing up, my dad's side of the family is from the south. And my mom's father's family is from the north. And I would actually hear about the stereotypes, which reminds me of what actually is still going on in the European Union today with the north-south divide between like where the efficient or stare, and they're lazy. And from the other side, it's like, well, we know how to live life. And they're constantly just trying to like bug on our buzzkill or whatever.
Cristina: Yeah. Yeah. They focus on money. We focus on life. Very much that way. It's interesting, because it is more open. And there is definitely a change into wanting to explore. I grew up with a lot of people. And I actually am ashamed to say I've never been south of Rome. But I grew up with a lot of people that have made it a point to actually do that, and love vacationing in the south of Italy. But it's definitely still there. I mean, for us, it's down to the town.
Stephen: Oh wow!
Cristina: Where I grew up, there's a river, one of the main rivers in Italy. And it divides, well, two communes, I guess, two provinces. So it's a little bigger than that. And there's a bridge. I mean, you can see the other side. It's not a long bridge. It's a normal bridge. You can see the other side. And there's huge rivalry still between, “Are you on this side of the river or are you on the other side of the river?” There's a huge difference in mentality. The other side of the river from where I grew up is much more open, friendly, community-oriented. The side of the river where I grew up, it's a little more closed. And they're famous for it. They're famous for being stingy, and closed, and judgmental. But it's interesting, because even though there's a lot of cross-pollination and a lot more traveling and openness, some of those things are still there. And some people will use that as an advantage like, “Oh, yes, we definitely want to go to the Bergamo side, because the food is better, and prices are cheaper, and people are nicer than staying on our side.” And then there's the opposite of that. There is like, “Oh, no. I won't go to that restaurant, because it's on that side.”
Stephen: Well, interesting. And I guess I always love hearing about how things work in other places in other times, which is one of the reasons I love to travel. And one of the other things I do is writing a travel blog. I think traveling just gives you this great perspective that the way Denver in 2021, or the way the USA in the 2020s does things, is not the only way they are done. It's not the only way they can be done. That’s, I think, very important for us to realize, kind of widen our perspective. It’s one of the best things we can do for the future of our culture is just widen the perspective, which is what I'm asking corporate America to do, for example, with respect to the Monday to Friday, eight to five mentality. And it's what I'm asking a lot of people to do with the respect of, “Okay, rather than the easiest thing you can do is turn on the TV. And now the easiest thing you can do is to scroll through your phone.” But it is far more rewarding to message a few people. And speaking of messaging a few people, I apologize if some of the text message noises came on to my screen. Some of the things – And actually set up gatherings with people that are going to bring you much more value than just responding to another tweet that someone else is outraged about whatever they decide to be outraged by this week.
Cristina: Yeah. It definitely takes effort to actually organize that, and then the patience to keep waiting for somebody else to show up. And that's one of the things that I've struggled with. And I know we've talked about it in our previous conversations, is the fact that I – Because I came from that community feeling of like, “Well, you have a community.” And there are certain things that you start establishing, which is you don't have to wonder what to do every Saturday night. It's the same group of friends. You just kind of say, “Where are we going?” Not, “Who am I going with?” And now I have to restart every single week to figure out the community and what people like to do. It's like the community exists. Is it your place? My place? The restaurant? The other restaurant? Walk? But there's an established, we're doing something, and it's the same group. And sometimes people can make it. Sometimes they can't. And it doesn't matter, because there's an established – Somebody is going to show up.
Stephen: And it's interesting, because I did have something similar to that vibe, first in college, then I went to graduate school, and then in the first job out of graduate school. In those three situations, I had generally a core group of people, the friends you meet. And it would similarly be like, “Okay, what's going on this weekend?” And this was the Midwest. So maybe too much of it was what bar? Or what drinking festival are we going to? But it was still really great, and that it took that level of cognitive skill. I think about, say, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wearing the same clothing every day, because they just don't want to use their cognitive load, whatever they want to load themselves with that decision. And the same thing right now, one of the things I'm feeling really right now is, every week, it's the cognitive load of, “Okay, who do I want to reach out to to go to this right? Who are the people that I want to share this event with? That event with? And it gets even harder when you get some of these like people that like, “I don't want to go off this person's going.” Or I don't want to – Luckily, I feel like I've reached the age where there's a lot less of that. So that's a good thing.
Cristina: That is a good thing. Yeah, it takes a lot of effort. And there's a lot of rejection that now you're facing every single time. You do have to re-establish, re-plan, re-reach out. And so after a while, I can see how it's just easier to be like, “You know what? I'll just stay home, because I'm not going to be the one that has to send all the messages again and figure out who is going and who's not going. And then feel bad because I'm the only one that apparently doesn't have any plans, because everybody else already does.”
Stephen: Yeah, it can be really tough. And one of the other things is we were talking about the in group and the out group. And I think it's important to maybe keep things positive in the sense that I feel like a lot of communities right now are being built around the outgroup, about being built around who we oppose, right? And that's like I think our political culture is 100% in that realm. And there are definitely some other parts of our culture too where they're just like coming in. It’s like we're going to complain about these people that believe the earth is flat or whatever. That's the most extreme example. Other groups have more – At least some more merit to what they're saying than that. But how do you keep it positive? Like right now, when I talk about the community I want to build, the community I want to build is one where we are all doing interesting things. And we're all encouraging each other to do interesting things. So the only negativity I want to build into it is just kind of avoiding the negativity of saying statements to people such as, “Oh, well, that's not – Who are you to say you're going to build a restaurant chain? Or who are you to do this? The market is saturated.” Those types of statements that just don't end up being very discouraging.
Alex: It's a really good goal. And I like on the note of like in group and out group, there's another portion to pay attention to. I was thinking about that when you're talking about going across the river in Italy. You have two different communities, or north south. It’s not different either in Europe, or even in the United States, to have this divide. Once you get across there, of course, as you would, if you reach out to anybody anywhere, you'll find plenty of humans who are just great to sit down with, fun to talk with. But there's also, I think, internally, at least I felt it, when you go outside of your comfort zone, you might feel the pressure to defend. You feel the stereotypes of the back and forth between the two groups. And you feel the pressure to then defend where you're coming from, and already be pre-defensive, which is a pretty hard place to come from when you want to lower those. I mean, that's when you end up with comments like, “Well, it's saturated already. Don't do this.” That’s where if you let your biases or your personal defenses come out, then just encourage it or see it as a separate person. And you quickly lose the ability to connect. Or at least you've created obstacles on the way. And it's going to be harder just to make that more informal connection where you can reduce that cognitive load, where eventually it just gets so comfortable you’re like, “Yeah, of course we'd be hanging out.”
Stephen: Yeah, that's interesting. And one of the things I often tell people is that this idea of, say, the fear of the other, right? And there’s probably an evolutionary reason for it. As you'd mentioned before, what tribe is going to come in and kill you? And who can you trust? But one of the things we're really trying to do with a lot of things in our culture is overcome this fear of the other and embrace with open heart, open mind, whatever. Listen to other perspectives and other ways of doing things.
Cristina: Yeah, that's a very good point. It's very much necessary, because there is a fear, and the pandemic, I think, made it even worse, because now there's the health fear of are you vaccinated? Are you not? Are you contagious? Are you not? Are you around? Do you go to concerts and hug strangers all day long? And then come to my house for dinner? Or do you not?
Stephen: Yeah, and even now, people are afraid of like, “Oh, this person got the J&J shot. Are they really safe?”
Alex: We’ve got two years of vaccines and vaccination status.
Cristina: Yes. Oh, and it's just the first shot. Or the second too? And how many months have you had it? There's definitely a lot, an added level of fear of the other that we did not need.
Stephen: No, we didn't. But hopefully – I don't know. Like I'm trying to be hopeful that after, at least a pandemic gave us a better, clearer sense of why we needed face-to-face, in-person human connection, as opposed to just always defaulting to doing everything online.
Cristina: So we've talked about this a couple of times. And clearly, the face-to-face human connection and community is important. And clearly, it's not effective when it's imposed in the workplace like “you must come to the office”. So what's the solution? How do we make that happen?
Stephen: I mean, I wish I knew the solution. Right now I'm kind of coalescing around that it needs to have like – Unfortunately, I really wish this community of the future could be everyone. But when it’s everyone, like there has to be some kind of commonality amongst the group, right? I think almost every social circle that's developed, community circle, even if it's like your family, for example, the commonality is your family bond. Or your village, in some of these smaller villages, old time, I think Small Town America might even still have it. Like your town is a town of 20,000 people, therefore, it's enough to say our commonalities that were from this place, right?
So if we’re looking kind of to expand globally, there still has to be some sort of commonality, some sort of differentiation amongst the community, but also the encouragement for people to kind of, I don't know, forming and partaking the community continue to invest in the community, continue to like participate, is got to be there. There has to be some sort of like a purpose to it, right? There has to be a reason we're still participating in this group. And even if it is just we're all supportive of one another.
Alex: Yeah, I like that. I think it's helpful to have a theme, because it also gives people a reason to show up. If they're feeling particularly disconnected, then maybe going into the supportive group is the place to be. If you’re feeling, “Yeah, I want to start out a new idea.” Maybe going to the ideas group where people just love brainstorming things is the place to be. Or the theme is important. Helps ground it. Helps give people a reason to go.
So in terms of community and stuff you're working on now, do you have communities that you're developing or things you're part of that you particularly like? You've mentioned the ERG group. Are there other ones that you either would recommend or there things that you really like about the ones you're in?
Stephen: So yeah. So there are a couple others. First of all, the podcast that I'm starting that I just kind of got to syndication with is designed to kind of be a community. And there is some community vibes. And obviously, we've had several of the same guests on both of our podcasts. So there is some amount of community there. The TEDxMileHigh Organization has fostered a pretty decent community around the ideas, kind of what TED, when I think of TED Talks, really embodies, which is people who are kind of really high on the openness scale, and personality-wise. Like I want to think about the future, I want to think about the ideas. Think about how the world can be different.
Also, there's a couple of networking events that I'm not sure if they're coming back, because things kind of went away during the pandemic and came back, but there was like the Colorado Art and Technology series that was around a couple years ago. And I went to a couple of their events there. Founders Network, which is really based around entrepreneurship and b2b networking groups. And one of the groups I'm actually looking into now, and I'm trying to find the time to get involved with, is a group called Conscious Business Connections, because their leader has told me that this group is actually – Her name is Kristin McGinnis. I met with her a few weeks ago. She told me that this group is not just about business networking. As much as it's great to have referrals and be like, “Okay, I run this business. If you know someone that needs this service, refer back and forth.” But it also encompasses some amount of fun activities, at least from my impression.
And so one of the things I'm kind of curious about is how to get the community together, where it's like, “Okay, we all have this thing in common. We're all trying to do something interesting with our lives. We're all trying to build something, build the world toward a certain future.” But we all are also open to just having some fun with it too.
Cristina: That’s a great concept, to combine the two.
Stephen: Yeah. And so it's possible with all these communities that I'm observing now that the best communities are already created. But one of the ideas I really have in my mind right now is some of these business networking groups really are kind of populated with people who are at a phase where they've already built something, right? And one question I often have is what about the people who are hoping to build something, right? What about the people who aren't quite as far along that want to build something and want to build something better, but they just need some encouragement?
And one of the ideas I really have in my mind right now is how to build an offshoot where I engage the people who have already done something, that people already have their business, where people are already building things, building podcasts, building whatever, alongside people who are a little bit younger, a little bit earlier in their career, a little bit earlier on this like path, this journey, to this mindset that are just saying like, “It would be great to someday fill in the blank. It'll be great to someday be in this spot.” But they're all generally on the same path and the same mindset in the sense that they still want something other than to just sit and play games, or whatever it is. I don't want to throw too much shade on people with specific statements right now. But, yeah.
Alex: I like both of those. First the idea that like, yeah, there can be a theme that gathers people, but that doesn't mean that's the only thing everybody talks about, which I think ends up becoming usually one of the difficulties with things like company happy hours. You get to a company happy hour and you end up talking about work, because you're there with your coworkers. There are other things you could talk about, or you could do something else. And I like the idea of there being like a fun aspect, or it doesn't have to be fun. It can be just whatever other life aspect, because we're all whole people that have more interests than just this one, even if we joined the group for that. But I also really love that second dimension you're suggesting of where you are in your developments in that group, right? Is this something you're just mostly interested in? It's kind of what they do with like sports in like college. They've got club sports. They've got intramural sports. They've got varsity sports. They've got all the way to the national teams. You're not going to want to like have spent your six years already learning how to be a soccer player and then only do intramurals or something. And vice versa, you don't want to jump in in your first soccer game and be playing with people who've played this for 10 years. So it's a really interesting concept too, because there's different advice and there're different paths to be had. So it's interesting to think about, I guess, if we're considering how to create communities, what dimensions and what axes are you really meeting? Where is the niche of how interested people are in this? What other things might they like to do? What other overlaps? If you think about all the different dimensions of what could be of interest, those are two interesting ones I hadn't really considered specifically for community.
Cristina: Yeah. And, also, like when you get to the point where it becomes natural? There's that kind of building up to, “Here's the community. Here's what we do. Here's the recruiting of people. Here's the first few that seem to show up all the time.” And then when is it at that point where it becomes this Steve Jobs wearing the same clothes every day? Like I don't have to think about it anymore. It's just always going to be there. Then that's always kind of like that tipping point, I think, of like, “Okay, I've –” The people that make the effort, I get to the point that they're tired of making the effort if it doesn't start to become just an autopilot.
Stephen: Yeah, I feel like that's like the mountain that I'm looking to climb right now, essentially, is getting to the point where it's not, as you said before, it's every Wednesday, Thursday, like, “Okay, what am I going to do this weekend? Who do I reach out to? Who do I do this with and that with?” But it becomes just like– It just flows, right?
Alex: It's like a lot in forming habits about reducing friction or attaching it to other habits you already like. The book Atomic Habits is great for describing a lot of these things. But if we're talking about creating community habitually, I think there would probably be – You'd probably be rewarded for reducing friction. So I'm curious what examples you might have or thoughts you might have about times when you've seen friction towards gathering community and ways that maybe we can brainstorm ways around those as well if you have seen those?
Stephen: I'm imagining, like some of the friction obviously comes from people. And one of the things is actually some of the friction I believe comes from our work culture that we have. At least like the old school work culture. The default assumption that if something pops up at work, it instantly becomes your top priority over other things. Like, “Oh, we have a deadline. So you have to stay at work late today.” And if you had plans, then those plans are broken. And I think up until very recently in the US, that's been the default assumption of what people are going to do, right? So that's one area of friction that I'd love to see tackled.
But there's definitely some other areas of friction as well, because I think people have become a little bit more particular nowadays too about their activities. I hear a lot more people saying, “Well, I don't want to –” Like investing your energy to go – Especially like during the pandemic, but during this whole era of how easy it is to do everything from like the keyboard. The concept of getting out of your house and going somewhere becomes like a higher lift than it used to be.
Cristina: It definitely does. Like the pandemic, I guess one of the positives of it was that, “Oh, no. I don't have to go through the motions of figuring out an excuse to reject going out. I can just use the pandemic as much as I want.”
Stephen: Yeah. It’s interesting now seeing people that really want the opposite, and people that are just trying to go out and do all the things.
Cristina: That is interesting. I remember, like even having kids, it was the, “I could use more sleep when I have infants. And now I have a very easy excuse to not do the things that I don't really want to do.” It’s like, “Sorry. Got a baby. Can't do it.”
Alex: That's a good actually example of friction on both sides. You can induce your own friction to change your own, I don't know, reluctance, or acceptance to going out.
Cristina: Yeah. And the problem with that is that then you get used to it just like 18 months in a pandemic. You get so used to saying no. Then it becomes hard to realize , “Oh, wait. Now I miss the community. Now I'm isolated. And I have to make all the effort to climb that mountain to create something that no longer exists.”
Alex: That's an interesting point, because I've had times where I've dropped out of a habit and then wanted to get back into it. And there's the moment, I think, for one, because usually you can remember what it was like to get into the habit the first time. And getting into a habit the first time is always much harder. So I think we don't give – It's harder to say like, “Well, it won't be as hard this time to get back into the habit.” It's harder to realize that, because our only experience was going in the first time. And that was incredibly rough. But then we still have the habits or we still have some of the training and muscles there. We just haven't used them in a long time. It comes back, generally, in my experience, and I don't know if this is accurate for everybody all the time, but it comes back easier than we expect when we jump back in. Community has been a great conversation. Let's talk about what authenticity means to you.
Stephen: So, to me, authenticity is a lot about alignment, and the alignment between who you are and what shows, or how you act, how you make decisions, how you present yourself, right? And I feel like in this world, there's a lot of pressure to present yourself in a way that makes people comfortable, or less uncomfortable, if that makes sense. So people are afraid of the other, afraid of people who do things differently. And authenticity means that you're not allowing that fear to make you, say, pretend you have an opinion different from the opinion you have, or pretend that you make decisions. Pretend that you like something. And it's probably the antithesis of the pressure you get in middle school, where it's like, “Oh, you don't like this band. You like that band? You like that rapper? We don't like that rapper.” And all of a sudden you're cast aside. It's the ability to say , “Yeah, I'm going to do this.”
Alex: I love that. Authenticity is the antithesis of middle school. Thank you so much for this conversation. We’ll talk to you very soon.
Stephen: Yeah, definitely. Thank you.
Cristina: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo podcast.
Alex: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Lara; and our score creator, Rachel Sherwood.
Cristina: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts.
Alex: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at podcast wearesiamo.com, or at our website, wearesiamo.com, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. We Are Siamo is spelled W-E A-R-E S-I-A-M-O.
Cristina: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.
Product Manager | Data Scientist | Meteorologist | Blogger | Podcaster | Aspiring Investor | Public Speaker | Adventurer
I was born in New York, lived in the Midwest for most of my life and have been living in Denver for nine years. I studied meteorology, then transitioned to data science and now product management. I also have a passion for opening up people to new possibilities and helping them achieve their best life possible. That is why I started Action's Antidotes, a Podcast where I interview people who have gone for the things they truly want in life in hopes that listeners will be inspired to follow their own passions.