In today’s show, Nathan Miller sits down with Seth Mattison, a Generational Dynamics expert. Seth has a well-earned reputation as a trend spotter, workforce strategist and a management renegade, and is a frequent conference speaker on topics of generations.
So this is the first time that you and I’ve met, but I’ve actually seen you speak a couple of times, Seth.
I think the last two team summits you were there.
I’m sorry you had to see two in a row. You had to laugh at some of my same jokes then, which is always a bit of a bummer.
No, I think the second one you spoke in two different manners.
Yeah, we did some break-out, some marketing stuff. Sales and marketing stuff.
It wasn’t overly repetitious for me.
It wasn’t too painful?
Not at all. But one of the things that I thought was interesting, and I don’t know if it’s just because I’m also a native Midwesterner, but you were describing your experience as being a Minnesota farm boy.
And so the thought that came to mind was, how do you go from a Minnesota farm boy to a generational expert based out of Los Angeles?
A lot a luck. A lot of luck, and a lot of people willing to reach down and give guidance, and help me up. And that’s the truth. And I think about that a lot where the small amount of success that I’ve had thus far is, I’m always thinking about how can you help the next person up? That’s what it’s all about. Right place, right time. I mean, the story kind of starts– people will like, how does someone find themselves in this path of like studying generations?
Right. It’s not really like something I was aware of or would think of as a career. You travel around and like talk about the generations, and I will usually say, it started very early on. I grew up on a fourth generation farm in Southern Minnesota.
So I grew up working alongside my father, my grandfather, my great grandfather, the guy’s born in 1910. And so I had this opportunity with these individuals to like reach back in time through history and access all of these stories. And I kind of just intuitively understood, without even realizing it, that each one of these generations has their own unique story, and it shapes how they see the world, how they think about leadership, and sales, and relationships.
And I was always just kind of naturally equipped, because I was always around older people, to be able to build relationships across a 20 or 30 year divide in age. So when I came out of school, and went to work for a management consulting firm where everyone was 20 or 30 years older than I was, like, I didn’t– sometimes I wish I could’ve gone to a company where it was a bunch of young people and you all were the same age, and I was surrounded by like 50-year-olds.
So do you think your farm experiences, being on that fourth generation farm, did that and informed the way that you navigated your way through this company that you’re in–
–where people are 20, 30 years older than you.
Were you conscious of that?
I wasn’t at the time. It wasn’t until I was at the consulting firm, and I’m building relationships with our clients who are also 50-60 plus. And they’re looking at me at the time saying, what the hell are you going to tell us about leadership, and culture, and change management. You’re like the same age as my knucklehead kid, dude. Right?
And it was like then I started to sense like, wow, there is this divide here, and so to bridge the gap I started asking them more pointed questions about their younger workforce. And the tables completely flipped. And all of a sudden, my age became a benefit. They were looking at me like, wow, you are one of them, and maybe you could help give me some insider perspective on who they are, and what they want.
And so the light bulbs kind of go off in my head of like, wow, this is a real thing. These people are really struggling with like, getting their arms around, and this is like in ’06, ’07. And so we’ve come a long way since then in terms of how much people talk about the generations. We see it everywhere today. But then, partially because social media wasn’t what it is today, there wasn’t that stream coming at us. And so I started researching the subject, and finding out there’s people who are talking about this.
And I saw there were two individuals who were roughly my age. One person was named Peter Sheahan, another was named Jason Dorsey. And I’m looking at these two guys, and I’m saying to myself, if they could do this, right, it’s like you launching this project, they could do it, I could do it. They’re out there speaking and getting paid for it. I could find a way to do it, and so I just kind of became a student of the subject.
And I found two mentors, David Stillman and Lynn Lancaster, who wrote a best seller in 2002 called, When Generations Collide, and I spent a year stalking them, and hounding them, and convincing them that we should collaborate and work together, and got them to take me on.
And so what did that look like? How did you hound them and stalk them, and finally wear them down so they were able to mentor you?
It started out just with leveraging my network, which is part of what I learned in the consulting world. Consulting, you don’t sell consulting with a cold call you have to leverage networks, and meet people, and find out how to add value, and so I leveraged my network to know someone, who knew someone, who knew David to convince them to kind of make an introduction for me, and then found a way to try to add value to his day and convince him to give me a coffee, and we met.
And I brought all of my energy and enthusiasm. And one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that people want to be around people who are enthusiastic, who are excited about, not just the subject matter, but life. Right? They want to be around that. So if you show up and you bring some of that fire, even if you maybe don’t have the most knowledge around the subject, they’re going, maybe we’ll give this person a shot.
And so while I didn’t convince them in the initial meeting to give me a job, I convinced him to at least mentor me and develop a bit of a relationship. And so he coached me up on, it’s like, listen, if you want to start speaking, you have to go out and give 200 really shitty speeches, like there’s just no getting around it. And so I spoke at every local chamber of commerce and rotary that would take me on, and gave, which I think back on, I’m like, oh, my gosh, what was I even talking about Right?
Right. But you know, you’re getting your chops.
You have to. You don’t to get to just jump to the 2,000-person venue at the Chelsea in Las Vegas, which is what we all kind of see in the beginning. You’ve got to start small, and I did that. And after about a year of doing that, they got the green light to write a new book about the millennial generation. This is now back in ’07 going into ’08, called The M Factor, how the millennial generation’s rocking the workplace.
And it was like getting called up into the big leagues. It’s like they called, and they’re like, we got an opportunity that we think you’d be perfect for to help us research and write this book. And what do you think? And I’m like packing my bags, literally, at the same time.
Well, give me the weekend to think about it.
Exactly. Exactly. And it was like, do you want to discuss money? I was already out the door. Sign me up. And the truth is and this goes back to when people wonder how do you start, how do you make it? Money wasn’t even in a conversation. There was very little money in the beginning, and I would have taken zero to have done whatever. In fact, what most people don’t know is in the beginning of that relationship, I was donating blood platelets twice a week to make extra cash to be able to pursue this opportunity, which has since then, the finances are irrelevant at this point.
But to get in the game, the question is what are you willing to sacrifice? How much do you believe in what it is you’re pursuing?
So what was it about that subject, specifically, that made you that passionate about it that I’m going to donate plasma to survive so I can be a part of this?
Part of it was them, David and Lynn. They’re very inspiring people. Part of it was I saw there was a real need in the marketplace, and people were confused, and frustrated, and hurting by it. And I had such deep respect and fascination with history and these other generations. And part of it was simply an entry point into an opportunity to be able to help people, right. Like, at my core I’m a teacher.
I could be a high school teacher right now. I could be an elementary school teacher. In essence, what I do is teach. This opportunity just gives me a much larger classroom to be able to impact people’s lives. And this was an entry point into the game.
So when you were back on that farm in Minnesota dreaming about getting out, being a part of the world, having a voice, so to speak–
–what was that dream? And is it anywhere near where you are now? Is there any sort of parallel between Seth then and Seth now?
So first of all, it’s a great question. No one’s asked me that question. What I would say is the dream was much, much smaller on the farm. In fact, the dream was not– there wasn’t even a dream of having the ability to speak around the world an impact people’s lives. It was not until my second year of college I had an opportunity to spend a semester in New York City around some really, really wise souls in the real estate development business.
And they kind of opened my– part of it is living in New York, right, you had the keys to the world. Opened my imagination to what was possible, and the idea of becoming a student of life that you will be a continuous learner, and study subjects from leadership to philosophy, et cetera, et cetera, and just open my mind to what was possible. And that kind of sparked this idea of, there’s a bigger world out there. Bigger opportunities.
And if I find a way to add value to people’s lives, money will be irrelevant. And then the universe then kind of manifests and starts to present doors to you along the way.
So are you a believer in that type of philosophy? I mean, you kind of already answered that, and I think I kind of know, but that preparing for luck, so to speak.
What’s the old saying? Luck is preparation meets opportunity.
And we are co-creators with the universe, your higher power, source, God, whatever you want to call it. I fully believe that we are in this process together to manifest. We have full control. You’re going to get some curveballs thrown at you, but what you fully set your mind to, and you own, and believe, and feel with every cell in your body, there is no other way to explain where I’m at today, other than every single morning I woke up once I kind of saw this, and I said I’m so thankful and grateful that I am speaking all over the world positively impacting and changing people’s lives for the better.
And I can say that that fast, because I’ve said that 1,000 times. And I said that before there was ever an opportunity to do it. And then, quite literally, that has become life.
I feel like I personally identify with that sense of enthusiasm, and the interconnectedness, and the possibilities that can be derived from that. But I can’t help but imagine that you run into instances sometimes in certain companies, with certain people, that don’t necessarily maybe share that same sense of belief. Maybe there’s a certain amount of cynicism that you run into. And what are some experiences like that that you face? I’m curious about that, and how do you deal with that and still get your message across? Maybe you don’t. I don’t know.
Belief, so that subject of being able to manifest and create, while it is a deep passion of mine, it’s not something that I currently spend a lot of time in delivering content-wise. It’s definitely in the lab, because I feel so passionately about it. But I meet people who have that mindset around a lot of things of what’s possible in their own careers, what’s possible with their companies?
And that’s one of the things that I do have such a deep appreciation for that Brandon Dawson here at Audigy has focused on the whole idea around the belief, our belief lid, because what we do believe does really dictate what is possible for us. And helping people to do elevate that lid of what is possible, because the truth is most people, like I did from the farm, we dream small. And until somebody comes along and gives you permission to dream and believe something much bigger, we stay in this little box.
And so I find the people who sometimes feel that way, they just have yet to encounter someone who really opens their eyes to something that could be much bigger.
Yeah. Sometimes it’s just I want to get off the farm.
And then, then what?
Exactly. That’s as far as you could see. So we want to elevate that.
So backing up just a little bit, we’ve kind of referenced the generations a few times. For those of us not aware of what the generations are, can you kind of give us a breakdown?
Sure, sure. So this there’s two ways we define a generation, one of which is by age, chronological age. So we look at birth years. So when we think about four and soon to be five generations now here in the US, we have first, what we call our traditionalist generation born prior to 1945. And from a US population size of 75 million, following the traditionalist, we have the baby boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964, roughly 80 million.
And following baby boomers, we have Generation X, Gen Xers born between 1965 and 1979, 60 million, so much smaller generation than baby boomers. Following Xers, we have the millennial generation also known as Gen Y. People will read and see both of those names thrown around. It’s referring to the same generation. Marketers just love to throw different tags on that group born between 1980 and roughly 1995 as we define them, at about again 80 million. So almost the exact same size as the boomers.
And then there’s this new generation that’s starting to be talked about now. It’s getting some traction, referred to as Generation Z, some people call it Generation Edge, born from roughly 1996 to 2010. And the latest numbers that I saw put that generation size-wise around 23, 24 million. So these would be the children of Generation X. Much smaller generation, influential, but it will be interesting to see them in comparison to millennials. Millennials being so big, 80 million.
And there’s always a lot of attention about whoever’s new and next, Gen Z, but because they’re just not that big, it will be interesting to see the impact they’re able to make in the marketplace and in the workplace. So age is a part of it. The second way, though, because you have to give a little bit more than that. Age is just a starting place. To really understand these generations, we have to look at the events and conditions that took place during each one of these generation’s formative years.
And our formative years are our preteen, teen years, roughly the ages of around 14 to 24. And so studying generational theory, what we’re really doing is we’re studying history, and we’re saying what took place during this kind of block of time for each one of these groups that then influenced and shaped their generational personality, which we carry with us throughout our entire life. And some people will say, as we get older, do we really it’s become more alike, the same? Which is what, we all get grouchier and grumpier as we get older. And the truth is-
Generally speaking, that is true, but the truth is the personality traits we develop in those preteen, teen years, we carry with us throughout our entire life. And so that’s what we look at. You start with age, and then we look at these events and conditions, and that helps give a profile and a picture of these groups.
That’s particularly interesting and almost kind of depressing, like preteen, teen attitudes and carry through those the rest of our lives.
I know, I know, right? It’s interesting.
So do you know anything about the fluctuation in the populations of those generations? Why there’s such a broad difference? It’s interesting how those different numbers pop up. Yeah, like 80 million and 20 million, like, that’s a pretty–
It’s a big span.
So baby boomers, quite simply, we call it the boom, because their traditional parents came home from World War II, everybody started having families, boom, an explosion in the population. And then we see the shrinking with Generation X for two reasons. One, women’s lib. Women started entering the workplace in record numbers. Instead of just one working parent, they’re going to work. Now you’ve got two working parents. And as a result, people start having smaller families. Number one, number two we also see birth control, obviously, comes on the market. So free love can reign without the result of children.
We’re very grateful for that, right? A dip in the population with Xers, obviously, then boomers had children, millennials, they were a huge group, so they have a large number of children, total-wise. And obviously, Generation X, smaller generation and a smaller number of children being born. And we see this small number of Generation Z, so smaller. It’s interesting.
Yeah. More dual income families, presumably, more career.
Interesting. So where do you fit into the grand scheme of things? What generation are you a part of?
So I’m actually what we call, and I didn’t acknowledge this group, but I’m what you call a cusper. And a cusper is someone who kind of sits right in between two generations.
OK, I think I’m there, too. I was born in 79.
OK, so you’re ’79, I was born in 1981, and we’re right on the edge. And I talk to a lot of people who fall into this category, either where we are, ’79 to ’81, or Boomer-Xer cuspers born between, like ’63 ’66, ’67, and this group always tells me– there’s like this resulting characteristic of they feel a little bit invisible in this whole generation’s conversation.
Because like, I’m not exactly an Xer. I’m not exactly a millennial. I’m kind of in between, or Xer-Boomer, that’s one, too, we find that they are very often what we call the great translator, the great communicator inside their company, their teams, because it’s almost as if they’re generationally bilingual. When you live on the edge like that, you probably kind of get and can relate to some Gen X characteristics.
And you probably get some of the millennial aspects.
Not all of it.
Not all of it, but some of it. And so then you kind of end up playing this kind of in-betweener. And obviously, listen, birth order, the part of the country you lived in, your parents, like all of those things have an influence in shaping who you are and which generation you relate to. We’re never trying to put people in a box, and stereotype and label people and just say. Everybody in this 15-year stretch are all exactly alike. They’re not, but the subject gives us clues as to how to interact, and communicate, and lead, and manage these people in a really interesting way.
So do you think being a cusper or having that sort of bilingual skill between generations, you think that gives you a little bit more of an objective perspective, especially between those Gen X-millennial sort of communication styles? Do you feel like it gives you kind of a leg up in your industry, so to speak?
I definitely– I mean, I think that’s probably part of what and has helped me, for whatever skills and assets I have, it’s been a combination of being a cusper and growing up around three other generations. So it’s like, I have traditionalist characteristics in me. I have baby boomer idealism characteristics in me. I have Xer skepticism.
I’m this weird dichotomy of kind of all of the generations morphed up. And what that does is it allows me to have deep empathy for each one of the generations. And I honestly believe that’s one of the biggest driving factors in whether or not you have the ability to connect across the generations, is empathy. Is you need to be able– can you put yourself in another generation’s shoes?
Can you feel what it would have been like to be a baby boomer in the late ’60s having to face the prospect of being drafted in to a war that you may or may not have agreed with? Can you put yourself in the shoes of being a Generation Xer following this massive group of baby boomers, smaller generation, labeled stereotyped, economy’s not doing well, the parents divorce? Like, can you go there, and feel what they have felt?
And if you can do that, right, it gives you such insight. And you can more effectively relate to that group that you show up in such a way that you can meet people where they are. You can meet other generations where they are, without losing who you are, and that’s the goal.
So what do you think people, just in your work and your experience, what do they typically not understand about the other generations? What do they need to know? And that’s a pretty broad, open question.
There’s got to be–
There’s a couple of things. You know, I think one of the things to think about, like if found I were to say to people, if there’s one thing you want to be thinking about with baby boomers today, if there’s one thing you want to think about with Generation Xers, for baby boomers, I would say– One thing, a trend, that I’m noticing is there’s a group of boomers that have kind of fallen into this category of what I’ll call, they’ve retired without telling you. Which means they’ve kind of–
Senioritis, so to speak?
Yeah, exactly, exactly. In fact, I heard that phrase today for the first time. I mean, I’ve heard it from a school setting, but it could relate to boomers, senioritis. It’s a little bit what it is. They are not incredibly inspired right now. They’ve been doing a particular job for a period of time. They’re kind of going through the motions, biding their time to be able to retire. ’08 kind of slammed their retirement savings, so they’re working longer than they thought they were going to. They’re kind of going through the motions.
And what I say to people if you are managing or leading up, you’re younger person managing a baby boomer, you’ve got boomers on your team, and your sensing that– don’t write them off. I think we’ve got to think about the idea of reigniting the flame with many of these boomers. They need to be reinspired. They need to have someone poke them and push them a little bit and say, what do you want to create in the next– however long your stretch is that you want to work.
You want to work another three years, another five years, what do you want to create? What you want to do? What you want to change? Let’s figure it out and find a way to help you bring that to life. They need somebody to say that to them. So watching that whole idea of baby boomers having retired without telling you, re, inspiring them, getting them fired up about what they do.
Xers are in a really interesting place in that they are, they’re kind of in want I call the Xer squeeze. They’re squeeze generation between these two massive groups, 80 million boomers, roughly 80 million millennials, a smaller group. They’ve been waiting in the wings of boomers forever, waiting to step up into these key leadership positions, and now they’ve got all of these with this wave of millennials that are like, it’s my turn, it’s my turn. I want to sit at the table, and Xers are kind of like, dude, slow your roll. I’ve been waiting 20 years to take this spot.
And so if you’re interacting with Xers, if you’re a baby boomer, you’ve got to find places to delegate to this generation, to let go of the reins, especially in family businesses. Step back, let them have an opportunity to step up, and put their stamp on things. Don’t be holding so tight into the idea of, now, we do things this way because that’s the way it’s always been done and that’s how it is. You’ve got to let them mix it up.
And if you’re a millennial, you’ve got to be conscious of that. It’s like, yeah, maybe you’ve been waiting five or 10 years for your chance. You’ve been working for that period of time, but you’re talking to an Xer who’s like, dude, I got 20 years. So be conscious of that. Be cognizant of that, so that they have a chance to really put their stamp on things. And with millennials today, millennials, that’s a whole other subject. That will be a whole podcast that we’ll do on that group. for sure.
Well, I mean, I think that’s one of the things that really fascinates people. There’s so much focus on the millennial generation right now.
But people are kind of over it, to be honest.
Yeah, I think so. I think there’s a little fatigue there. But I think that our culture is so obsessed with age, I think there’s probably an aspect of maybe a little ageism built into our attitudes around the boomer generation. And we’re so focused on youth and beauty that I think there’s maybe an attitude that gets put out there that’s not really fair to the millennial generation. That it’s a superficial, inexperienced, an ignorant generation.
I would agree with that. We get a couple of negative tags. There’s no work ethic, entitled generation, narcissistic, and within every one of those, there’s maybe a sliver of truth.
There’s a kernel of truth that I think is good for us as a generation to acknowledge and look at. And just say, where does that maybe show up for me? Where could I acknowledge that? Where do I maybe show up in my life or in my work and act a little bit entitled? Where could I show up and look to add value in other people’s lives first, to say, what can I do for this person versus what can I get out of it? We can all do that, but a [INAUDIBLE] is millennial generation. The work ethic conversation is really interesting to me. I ask my audiences all the time. That will come up. Ah, there’s no work ethic. I’ll say, well, how do you define work ethic first of all? And what does that look like?
Because many times, it’s like it’s been based on hours in time at the desk or the job. And for our generation, a lot of times, it’s less about time and more about efficiency and results. If I can knock out everything that you’ve asked me to do in five hours, and leave and get out and enjoy my day, or scroll Instagram for the next hour, like, what’s the problem versus being only consumed around time?
But I also see people who are kind of going through the motions, and who don’t have the same level of what I’ll call “grit” around work ethic of being willing to– there’s kind of this mindset that I notice of feeling like a job is maybe beneath you. And it’s like, I went to school, I got my MBA. That job is beneath me. I’m not willing to start at the bottom. I need to come in here.
And I don’t think that’s a super wise attitude to have. You can have it all you want, but the people who hustle and are willing to do whatever’s asked, even if you are the smartest person in the room, to show up and say, you know what, I’ll sweep the floors or whatever the scenario of that is, answer the phones, and put in the time. We could use a little of that.
Well, it’s that putting in the time thing that’s interesting, because I think there’s a totally different attitude about that, too. I mean, even just conversations that I have with my dad who is part of the boomer generation, is his frame of reference is, you graduate from school. If you go to school, and you get a job, and you have that job for 35 to 40 years, and then you retire, games over. Whereas I think the millennial generation and maybe Gen X to a certain degree, a career is a series of jobs. And it’s a much, much different attitude. So having those conversations with him has been interesting for me. Like, why would you leave that job?
I’m not planning to leave my job.
Listen, I could not agree with you more. We’re moving from kind of this life happens at a very linear process, you said it. And what was it? You graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, go from the starter house to the bigger house, starter car to the bigger car, work your tail off, get the corner office, retire with a gold watch, and move into a retirement period, end of story, right?
Sail off into the sunset. And that’s just being completely reevaluated today. And we see it in the statistics in the numbers, right? Marriage is happening later. Children are happening later for the millennial generation. If I’m giving the numbers off the top my head, I think it’s like 28, 29 for getting married. 30, 31 for having children. That’s moving from a 22, 23 time frame for baby boomers, which gives you freedom and flexibility.
Because the truth is, if you’ve got children, and mouths to feed, and a roof to keep over people’s head, you don’t have the ability to self-actualize and say, this job doesn’t give me meaning, I’m out of here, dude. And you’re like, you gotta pay the bills. And that’s just not the case for us.
Yeah, and I think because of that sort of attitude, I think it probably confuses people like baby boomers even further. Because that millennial– and I think it’s a good thing for the most part, they’re making their experience and their life about themselves to a certain degree. There’s a little less self-sacrifice. It can delve into the navel-gazing and narcissistic, of course, but it’s that question of what do people really want out of their lives. And I think that’s maybe something that the baby boomer generation didn’t really have the option to choose.
They didn’t have the option, because you turned 18, what were your options? You ask any baby boomer, you turn 18, what would your parents say to you? We love you. We’re proud of you. There’s the door.
Don’t let it hit you on the way out. You can go to school. You can get a job, but you ain’t coming back home. And if you did have to come back home, number one, you were publicly scorned, like it was, you would never want to tell anyone that you were living in your parents’ basement.
Right? That was the worst thing ever. And for our generation, not that it’s like the greatest in the world, but it’s–
It’s much more acceptable.
It’s much more accepted. And the truth is, most people are like friends with their parents today. And you go back, and it’s like we are friends. We go on vacations together. We hang out together. They got a bigger TV and better food in the refrigerator, by the way, so it’s like, it’s all good. And by the way, I will say this. Baby boomers who love to give me grief on that, I will be the first person that will say, that is the happiest in that equation, when millennials come home from college without a job, is mom. Because mom is saying please, dear Lord, do not leave me at home alone with your father any longer. She can’t wait.
It’s great. So I was doing a little research on you, looking at your website. I looked at the post about the blue M&Ms, and one of the ideas or concepts that you touched upon in that post, I believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, is the idea of how many people out there do what it is you do in that you always have to maintain your edge?
And I just wanted to know what is it that you think is special and unique about what it is that you do that nobody else can really deliver the same way?
That’s a big question. That’s a big question. So what you’re referring to is this whole idea of the commoditization of everything that we do, right? There’s so many people do pretty much exactly– and we can go across industries, across services, there’s a whole bunch of people, if you’re listening to this right now, there’s 50 people, there’s 1,000 people that do pretty much exactly what you do. And that can be really alarming and kind of scary, but it also creates a unique opportunity for us you take a step back and to not focus exclusively on what you do, but instead focus on how you do what you do.
Right. This gives meaning to what you do, too.
Absolutely, absolutely. And this idea of capturing what you call your “how” advantage. So my good friend and business performance expert Ryan Estes kind of coined this phrase, your “how” advantage. And when we first started talking about it, I’m just like, what the hell is “how” advantage. And it wasn’t until he and I got in this discussion, it was like the simplest and easiest way to define a “how” advantage and capture it, is to focus on being remarkable consistently.
Now my definition of being remarkable is worthy of being remarked upon. And so this whole idea of so good at your experience, your product, whatever it is, your experience is so good that I have to tell someone about the experience. And so I challenge people, and I’m like, when is the last time you had any experience with a brand or a service provider that was so good that you had to tell someone about it?
Better yet, when is the last time you created an experience for someone that was so good they had to tell someone about it? And I show up every single day thinking about that question. Every interaction with my clients, am I showing up in such a way that they have to tell someone about this, about working with me. And it’s an elusive goal. It’s a challenge and a goal that you wake up and you try to chase every single day, but you’re mindful of it.
You’re mindful of it when you get the email request about another document or another thing that they need or want. Or they need you to do a rewrite. And in your mind, you just want to be like, not respond or give it half your effort, but you say this is a moment. This is an opportunity right here to create a unique, to elevate the experience, create that “how” advantage. And that’s part of what I try to do. You try to go above and beyond.
And the thing that I lean into is, I try to care more than I probably should. I try to show up, it comes back to the empathy thing. And you could have a room full of 60-year-old engineers in an industry where they’re not inspired, and they’re on their way out. And I try to put myself in their shoes, and I try to really care about who they are and where they’re at in that moment in life, and try to make an impact. And you’re never going to impact everybody, but if you get the chance to impact a few–
And I had a gentleman a couple weeks ago come up to me after an event. He was probably 60. And I talked about being courageous in this program, and showing up, and having courage, and being brave. And he came up to me, and he said, you know, I never in my life ever felt good enough to come up and talk to somebody like you. Whether it was a leader, or a quote, unquote expert–
Like he wasn’t worthy to do that? Like he wasn’t good enough, is that what he means?
I never felt good enough, which you guessed, worthy. But because you told us to be brave, to be courageous, I decided that today I was going to come up and say hello. And the guy gives me a hug. And there’s like five people around us watching this, right?
I’m speechless, like, I’m literally fighting back tears, because you would have never guessed in a million years looking at this man that that is what he would have taken away from that program. That he didn’t feel good enough, and that he needed to be more brave and more courageous in his life to do something as simple as come up and have a conversation with me. And that’s when you realize, it’s like if you really show up and you care, the ripple effects that this work has, it’s unbelievable.
Isn’t that crazy, though? I mean, that’s beautiful story, but it seems so sad to me that the idea of connecting with another human being, if that’s his act of bravery, I mean, good for that man for being able to do that, because that’s his act of bravery. But like what– is that a generational thing?
Like, what is it with us? Like, why can’t we do that?
We’re all there. We’re all dealing with that situation. We’re all fighting these internal battles. I think there’s, when I look out at my audience, I think there’s so many people who are, they have their own internal battles. And part of which, is they don’t feel good enough. They don’t feel like they deserve to have success, or love, or they’re smart enough, or talented enough, like, we all have those that we’re fighting with every single day. And I feel like people are dying inside for someone to come and inspire them and tell them that they are good enough.
It’s crazy to think, especially when you look out on a room full of quote, unquote, what would seem successful leaders and individuals. And these are the things I’m finding people want to talk to me about the most, which is really fascinating. I can talk about communication, and generations, and leadership, and they want to talk about courage and bravery. And how do they unleash, and really be their best self, and love themselves, and love the people around them. It’s wild.
Yeah, I think that’s great, though. I mean, I think, because it does take a certain amount of bravery to be vulnerable and express–
That’s the word.
–ourselves, and connect in that way. But that’s a lot to give every day. So how do you build that part of yourself back up and maintain that edge, so you can go out and deliver on a daily, weekly basis, that level of connection with people?
It does take a lot of you. It does. But I just want to acknowledge, you said the word, vulnerability, and that is such a big part of it, especially with leadership today. I think there’s a little bit of a leadership crisis today. In a lot of the companies I go into, I see a lack of leader’s willingness to be vulnerable, to really speak from an authentic space. And people are wanting that. And I try to think about that, too, for myself, how do I show up and be vulnerable, be my most authentic self from stage?
And you’re right, it does, when you give, I mean, when I come off a 60-minute or even a 90-minute workshop, I am totally exhausted. Because if you’ve done it right, you’ve given everything that you’ve got in that moment.
But I mean, there’s an aspect of performance.
I don’t mean that in an insincere way.
No, it is.
But you are, if you’re going to command a room of 500, 2,000 people or whatever, you need to connect with them physically, and emotionally, and verbally, so it’s a lot.
It took me a while to really appreciate the reality of that, of the element of acting. I never, ever wanted to have acknowledged that before. It’s like, oh, you’re a business expert, and you’re an expert in this field. But if you have a story to tell, and you’re going to tell that story, even if it’s just one story within an hour long speech, but you’re going to tell that story every day, 60, 70 times a year, and not have it come across as canned–
–or scripted, but to make it feel real, it is an element of acting. And in order to do that, you have to feel it and live it every single day, like it’s the first time you told it. You have to go to that space. And so that can be emotionally and physically draining. And the only way for me, personally, that you can maintain the energy is, I mean, you have to take care of yourself physically. You’ve got to get your sleep. You’ve got to get your rest. Meditation is a big part of my life. Every single day that helps me recharge and keep me focused on what I’m doing.
You’ve got to make smart life choices. I like to go out and have a nice glass of wine and a few cocktails with friends, but it’s like you’ve got to limit those things, because it will hold you back. So some of it is the blocking and tackling, but another big part of it, too, is having a strong support system, I’m very blessed in that I have my family. My parents are together. They’re still a huge support system. They’ve got my back.
My wife is my biggest fan. She allows and helps facilitate me living this dream. I mean, I’m on the road right now. I’m gone 150 nights out of the year. That’s not easy or convenient for her. She supports that. And I’ve got a group of friends and mentors that continue to push me to say, you know, is that good enough? Are you at the top of your game right now, or can you get better? And they keep pushing you every single day to show up and sharpen the saw.
So how does meditation fit into all this? Is that something that you, like actively practice? We don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to.
No, we can.
I feel like meditation, mindfulness, all those sorts of things, are becoming buzz words, but there is, at least, personally, I feel like there’s real value to those things. But it gets kind of pushed into the realm of like crystals, and incense, and bead stores, and I don’t think people really understand what it is.
Yeah. So I mean, you’re absolutely right. Meditation has been something that has been a part of my life for probably the last five, six years. But in the last three years, it became much more of a daily practice built into an everyday routine, where every morning when you wake up, it’s just you have it baked in and it’s 15 minutes, and you go to your spot. And technology is helping today. There’s a lot more opportunities for guided meditations and practices that kind of help you get into it and lead you through it. But it constantly comes back to this idea of be here now.
Be in the moment. This is the only time we have. How much time do we spend worrying about the future, or so feeling bad about the past? I ask people that all the time. The mental track that’s playing, how much of your time is out here worrying about the future or feeling bad about past decisions? And you start to do some inventory on your thoughts, and I was there for a long time in both of those spaces. When it becomes painful enough, that’s when it kind of pulls you into the present moment.
And oh, gosh, the only place I can function, the only place I can actually take on these challenges here in the present moment. And it helps fuel my writing. It helps fuel the content that comes out in the speeches. And it especially helps from a speaking standpoint when I walk on stage. Because that’s a place where it’s easy for your mind to start to go to an area of are these people, do they think I’m not worthy, I’m not smart enough, I’m full of baloney? I’m losing them.
Fill in the blank. That story track is running when you should be in the moment speaking. And so I go through a routine of literally being mindful, and in my steps as I walk on stage, I want to feel my foot, my steps, literally walking across the stage. And when I stop, and I set to get ready to address the audience, I want to feel my base and my feet on the floor. Because it pulls me in the present moment.
And so these are just a couple of simple things of where it’s active in my life. It’s very top of mind to pull me into the present moment. In fact, I just got some fresh ink work done that literally represents, is symbolic for me, of the idea of be here now. When we get crazed in our day, it pulls me into the present as a reminder. It’s a constant reminder.
That’s cool. So you mentioned, briefly, how that helps fuel your process of writing. Tell us more about, in terms of producing that content, like you have a day-to-day process, is it when inspiration strikes? Like, what does that look like?
So it varies because of the travel and the client work. But I can tell you this. It definitely cannot be based around when inspiration strikes, because it’s few and far between. You cannot wait around for inspiration to strike. It’s kind of the whole idea of creativity an imagination, the idea of heating it up is something I think about a lot. In order to heat it up and get it to come, you got to just like get into it.
So if you’ve ever been in a brainstorming session, you start out and you’re kind of sluggish, and it takes a little bit to heat the room up, to heat yourself up. And that kind of holds true for me, too. and so part of it is having good people to constantly be talking about ideas with and pushing things around. I get a lot of inspiration from reading other people’s work. So the more I read, you start connecting dots. You’ve got an idea that’s over here in your head, you read a story from someone that kind of triggers that.
And so the thing that I am I’m trying to get better at is, you gotta write this stuff down. And everybody knows, ah, a Eureka moment in the shower, write it down. But it’s even more so for me. I get hit by ideas in conversations with people all the time. In fact, I was just, if we go back to the Generations piece, I was having a really interesting breakfast with a couple of Gen Xers before a meeting one morning.
And they were talking about this idea of vacation time and balance in their life, which is a big subject for Xers. Xers really drove work-life balance. And I had one of the Xers in the room in total kind of skeptical style, it’s like, balance, what [? effing ?] balance? It’s like I go on vacation, let me tell you what my vacation looks like. Vacation looks like I sneak away, and tell my wife I’m going to the coffee shop, and I’m checking my work email. But I have to do it. I have to sneak away, because I don’t want to get grief from the wife.
Or I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people that say, you know, I’m really sorry. I know you’re on vacation, but– dot dot dot. They’re like, you can’t get away. You can’t unplug. And in that breakfast, I’m sitting there, uh-huh, capturing all. And I’m telling them, I’m laughing, I’m like, oh, my gosh, you guys just inspired the next two articles. Like, this is incredible. You’ve got to capture it in the moment, because the truth is, had I not wrote that down, I don’t know that I would have remembered it.
Yeah, the moment’s gone.
So you’ve got to grab them. You’ve got to grab them when they come. So those things all kind of fuel this process of if you’re going to be a commentator on what’s happening in the world of work, not just the generations, but the world of work and the future of work, you’ve got to be mindful and listening to these conversations.
Right, yeah, I mean, that leads back to that idea of presence that we were talking about.
If you weren’t tapped in, that’s just going to go by.
The moment’s gone.
But who are the authors that inspire you? Or do you follow blogs, or websites you regularly look at? What are your resources for that?
Yeah. I mean, it’s a broad, broad range. But I mentioned one of my good collaborators, Ryan Estes, earlier. He’s a big inspiration of mine. I’ve watched his career over the last six, seven years. We launched about the same time. His ability to have tapped into his most authentic voice has been incredible and inspiring to watch. So he’s definitely somebody that I follow.
Someone else that I follow that probably doesn’t get a whole lot of buzz mainstream is Jacob Morgan in the Whole Future of Workspace. He just wrote a new book called The Future of Work, which is great. He puts out a lot of great content. I love to follow his stuff. Gary Vaynerchuk is loud and crazy, but always inspiring in terms of, if you ever feel like you need a kick in the pants to get to work and do the work, he’s definitely your guy.
And then there’s just the guys that have been around forever. The Maxwells, Jim Rohn, the old school dudes who, kind of classics, are always inspiring me as well.
We already kind of touched on the teleprompter leadership.
Yeah, we did a little bit.
Yeah. But again, I feel like that’s a potential area of kind of like, generational divide or disconnect, where people want this level of authenticity. They don’t want to see someone who’s polished and overly rehearsed. And I wonder if that also is connected with the idea of people allowing themselves to be vulnerable. The CEOs that just want to be the old school stoic CEOs, not realizing that people can’t relate to them. And that people want to see some chinks the armor sometimes.
It helps them relate. I don’t really know where I’m going with that.
No, I’m glad you brought it up, though, because you’re referencing this idea of teleprompter leadership. And so what that is, an article that I wrote recently after I did a series of annual events in the beginning of the year. Kickoff events, sales events, and I just noticed an alarming number of CEOs or heads of business units coming out and reading, there were literally prompters, like you’d see in a Presidential Address.
And they’re reading word for word from the prompter. And it’s like perfectly curated language from the communications department that had probably been cleared by legal, and it’s the most disingenuos thing you’ve ever heard. And you could just– it always bothered me, but it wasn’t until I had a couple of people come up to me after the event, and I had delivered my session.
And they’re like, you know, we so appreciated, not just your content, but the fact that you just came out and spoke from the heart. It didn’t look like it was rehearsed at all. And the fact that they like, pointed that out, I was like, wow, people are recognizing and noticing this.
These leaders who, and it comes from a couple of things. It comes from the fact, like they feel like they think they have to be perfect, that they can’t be vulnerable, that they need to totally nail this perfectly scripted– you know, the corporate mantra for 2015 is all in on blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, nobody cares about that. Like, just come out and speak from the heart. And you don’t have to be a public speaker.
Like, sometimes I think leaders get hung up on that, of like, I’m not a public speaker. I need the help. And say, you don’t have to be. Just come out and speak from the heart about what’s really– what are you excited about for this year? What are you freaked out about this year? Like, so many leaders are so worried about being not vulnerable, it’s like, trust me, your people already kind of know most of the bad stuff. And, yes, you’re a public company, and you can’t reveal everything, like, there’s some realities to that, but most of us are not in public companies. And they can deal with their own stresses on their front.
But if you’re leading five people in a five-person office, and your willingness to share with them the reality of where the financials are, how open and how transparent are you willing to be? Because |’ve met inspiring leaders who’ve literally said, I’m creating a culture where there is absolutely nothing that you cannot ask me. I have a true open door policy.
I will tell you anything that you want to know. Your only responsibility in that equation, is that you have to behave like an adult. So if I tell you the truth, that means you can’t freak out, and be a child, and start the rumor mill. You’re going to handle the information like an adult. I will treat like an adult, you’ve got to act like an adult. But I’ll tell you anything.
Because the truth is, when we don’t tell people things, when we leave that black hole, what do we fill it with?
Correct. Because the human mind will not leave it blank. We will fill it in with a story. And I ask people all the time, do your people fill that in with a super, rosy, awesome, positive, game-changing, winning story? Or do they fill it with the worst nightmare ever?
Always the latter.
Always the latter. It’s going to be a train wreck. It’s going to be a crash. The business is going under. I’m going to lose a job. I’m going to lose my house that’s what they fill it in with. So if you want them walking around thinking about that, because then you know where engagement goes, leave it blank. Or be willing to be vulnerable, be willing to be authentic, tell people what’s really going on, lead with authenticity, lead with honesty, and you’re going to get better buy-in and your engagements going up. I’ve seen it time and time again.
So how are women the future of work?
Well, so it’s funny, shortly after I wrote Teleprompter Leadership, I attended a series of events led by female leaders. And I was blown away at their willingness to be vulnerable, and to just like speak from the heart. And it’s not that men are excluded from this. There are some, but it’s just like, I was like, man, so many of the big kind of shifts that we’re seeing this need for more authenticity transparency, being willing to share information, help people up, like women just get it.
And part of the reason why they also just get the whole generations thing, they get millennials’ desire to have a seat at the table, is because they fought that battle, right?
They get it.
It’s still fresh.
It’s still fresh. It’s still happening. They have the empathy, they can totally relate. It’s there now. And so I’m kind of– and it’s funny. I’ve had a couple of clients, I wrote a piece on that why we need a female leadership movement. And I didn’t realize it would get this buzz that it’s gotten. But people, like, yes, yes, we need someone to say yes, more of that, yes, please step up. And so I’m kind of trying to do a little bit of a battle call for women to say, own that, and help show us knucklehead men the way in being a little bit more vulnerable.
Listen to us, just two dudes talking about feminism.
I know, right?
Total experts. A couple of questions, though, and then we can wrap it up. I know you had a long day. So looking back on your career thus far, what are you proudest of? And then, like, what’s next?
Wow. You and these questions. Nobody’s asked me before. What am I proudest of? I think on one hand I’m proudest of the fact that I feel like I’m living my most authentic life. That I was willing to forgo comfort and ease in money in the beginning to pursue something bigger that felt totally like a long shot and really painful, right? Go back to donating blood platelets to like get by.
And now that feels like forever ago, but to get to be in this spot now where I get to wake up every day and say, what do I want to create next? What do I think would be important for the world to hear next within the context of a field that I can play? You know, the beauty of the world we live in today is because we have access to so much information. You can become, right, if you’re interested in a subject, you can go deep, and you can pull the research, and you can make yourself an expert to add value to people’s lives.
And so you have that opportunity to say, where’s the next opportunity? What are people needing? What are people wanting? And how can we add value there? So I’m probably proudest of that. I think I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to maintain a partnership with my wife to create this dream job, and at the same time have the dream girl. And convince her to give me the opportunity and the space, and she’s done that. And that’s something I have to work on every single day. And so to get to have both of those at the same time, I do feel like one of the luckiest people in the world.
Fantastic. So anything we haven’t touched on that you want to talk about?
What have we not touched on?
Yeah, I think the last time we come back, maybe we get into a little bit more of the sensitive subjects, and we open up that can of worms for sure.
Sounds good. Well, Seth Mattison, how do people find you online, learn more about what you do?
Super easy. Everything is just Seth Mattison, S-E-T-H M-A-T-T-I-S-O-N. So Seth Mattison.com and @SethMattison on Twitter and Instagram. Easy to find, easy to follow. I try to be interesting and funny. It doesn’t always happen.
We all do our best.
Well, wonderful. Thank you so much for your time.
Thanks for having me.