William Rosenzweig : Business Lessons from a Quiet Gardener
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Apr 29, 2017
Awakin call with William Rosenzweig on 4.29.17 Host - Nipun Mehta Moderator: Lynne Lawrence
Nipun: Welcome to Awakin call. Every Saturday we host conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life, so we can inspire or in the service. Thank you for coming together to plant seeds for a more compassionate society. Welcome again to our weekly Awakin call. Today in conversation with Will Rosensweig. My name is Nipun and I will be your host for our weekly global Awakin call.
Our theme this week is- "Business Lessons from Quiet Gardner". We have a remarkable business leader and a Gardner on our call today.
I also want to take moment to introduce Lynne. Lynne was working in the Silicon Valley as a web engineer for a along time. But then, she moved to Idaho and started an organic cattle ranch there with her husband. They home school their two sons who are now 19 years and 22 years old. As they are leaving them with an empty nest, she is getting back into the start up world and the gift economy, yoga, poetry, weaving, basketry. Here is an interesting tit bit about her- She has an identical twin. She is a perfect Lynne quote- " I was a we long before I was a me."
So Lynne I'm happy that you will be taking on this conversation here today. I know you're super excited. You have been super excited I think probably for about a year, when we originally thought of bringing Will on. Would love for you to just give everyone a little bit of an insight into who you are and what connects you to this call before I introduce Will.
Lynne: Thank you so much Nipun. Thank you for that insight into me. What I'd like to just give a glimpse of now is, sort of how I'm connected to this call in two ways. The idea for this particular call came out of a video call I was on with Nipun, where there was an entrepreneurial effort we were resonating with. And I offered that I've never encountered a more useful book than Will's- regarding how an idea becomes the business. And then Nipun sends me a follow up email saying that we should have Will for call and we'll discuss that book about during the call because that's a great resource. And the other dimension in which I'm connected here that's really exciting is that, I was in the same high school class as Will. So I have a bit about special perspective there, which I'll share as well.
Nipun: High school! Wow! Ok, now I have to zoom through the intro so we can get to the fun stuff.
So let me just for those of you that haven't read the online tidbit here's a brief summary of Will's background. He's a person of incredible character is what I would say. Here's a little bit more. Will spent more than twenty-five years integrating practices and perspectives of an entrepreneur a venture investor and an educator. Will was a founding C.E.O. and I think his business card read minister of progress at the Republic of Tea, a specialty tea company that is actually credited with creating premium tea category in the U.S. "sip by sip rather than gulp by gulp." Republic of Tea is celebrating its twenty fifth anniversary in 2017. But Will as an entrepreneur an investor, has been involved in all kinds of major companies from Odwalla, Trinity spring, Winetasting.com, Yummly, and Brand New Brands, a functional food incubator he founded in 2004.
In 2010 Will was honored with the Oslo Business for Peace Award, that I referenced earlier. That's an award given by a committee of Nobel laureates. And in his accepting speech Will had a beautiful talk. Here's a paragraph, which I think is really inspiring. And here's Will. He says: "The people who know me best know that at heart I'm just a quiet gardener. A Gardner sees the world as a system of interdependent parts where healthy sustaining relationships are essential to the vitality of the whole. A real gardener is not a person who cultivates flowers, but a person who cultivates the soil. In business this is translated for me into the importance of developing agreements and partnerships, where vision and values purpose and intent are explicitly articulated, considered and aligned among all stakeholders of an enterprise."
So, that's the kind of person Will is. He has pioneered and in fact tops the first M.B.A. course in social entrepreneurship and social venture development at Haas School of Business at my alma mater U.C. Berkeley. He's been there on faculty since 1999. Currently he's teaching with Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, the most popular undergraduate class at U.C. Berkeley: Edible Education, a course that "explores the future of food, and its diverse systems and movements. Lastly, most recently, Will joined forces with the Culinary Institute of America, not to be confused with the other CIA, to launch The Food Business School. The CIA's newest center for executive and graduate education. He's the Dean and Executive director at the Food Business School at the Culinary Institute of America. And really trying to support a lot of innovation that addresses the world's most pressing food challenges.
It is an honor Will, to have you on this call, to have this conversation and to get a chance to learn a little bit from you. Welcome Will.
Will: Thank you Nipun. It's a pleasure and honor to be with you and Lynne. Really looking forward to our conversation this morning.
Nipun: Absolutely! I hand it over to Lynne.
Lynne: Great! So in our circle, we're interested in stories of transformation and I thought we are addressing such a significant body of work, I wondered how to sort of begin. I know that maybe almost as much as Will loves his garden, he loves words; words with precision. And so I've chosen four words that I know Will loves to frame our conversation. And they are: serendipity, potential, sustainability and eudaimonia.
So the first- serendipity. From my viewpoint there have been so many serendipitous events in Will's life. But my favorite is the story of the inception of Republic of Tea and also the book that was born then. So, maybe Will you could begin there.
Will: Thanks Lynne! I really appreciate your own embrace of that book which has been mentioned. It's called The Republican of Tea - How an idea becomes a business. It's published in 1992. And it itself was kind of an accident, like the company itself. I was in my late twenty's and I had just become a father. And I was just embracing the responsibility of having another family member, my first child and kind of beset with awe of becoming a parent and the need and the desire to provide safety and security. It was interesting. A whole set of energies kicked into me that I was not acquainted with.
So I was working to figure out how to kind of provide that support. And I had had an offer to become part of a publishing company and I was getting ready to accept the job. In the mean time, I was invited to a conference on the east coast. It was a conference that was organized by a group called Social Venture Network, which was very early in its formation. During this weekend conference in rural New Jersey, I had a chance to meet some truly remarkable and inspiring people who were bringing their energy and their values and their ideals into the world of business to try to create a better world. Many of them that I met were quite a bit older than me. Ten to fifteen years older than me, which was old enough to feel almost not a whole generational gap, but definitely, you know a different stage of life. During this weekend, I just witnessed people that were so committed to what they were doing. Just to mention, some of the people I met in that one weekend was quite amazing. I met Ben and Jerry of the Vermont Ice cream fame. I met Paul Hawken, who is back in the news now because of his book Drawdown. I met Jeff Hollender who is one of the founders of seventh generation, Gary Hirschler on the founders of (undecipherable) farms. It was such an amazing gathering and I was really swept up in that meeting. I felt something kind of wake up in me. It also created a little sense of confusion because I was about to go down another path, more of a secure path. I was supposed to leave the conference very early on Sunday morning; fly back to California and on that flight I was supposed to meet up with the man who was hiring me for this other job. He had generously arranged for me to sit next to him in first class and fly across the country so that he could negotiate final terms by contract. So I got up very early, like 4'o clock in the morning. I went out to the lobby to get a cab, which I had arranged the night before and lo and behold the cab did not come. By sitting alone in this lobby, this is 1990, so no cell phones, no way to text, no way to contact either the gentlemen I was going to travel with or the cab company. I was anxious and lo and behold I missed my plane. I was sitting on the suitcase at the lobby of the hotel and this guy walks up to me and says," you look a little lost. You look like you are going to the airport " I said, " Yeah."
He said, " I am going to the airport too. Would you like a walk with me?"
So he had a car coming and we got in the car and it turned out that he was also going to San Francisco. When we got to the airport, I changed my flight. I ended up on the same flight as him. And we ended up changing our seats so we could sit next to each other. As we said Lynne, very serendipitous. I didn't know it was serendipitous at that time. Anyway, the plane took off and somewhere over Philadelphia, the flight attendant offered us coffee. And we both asked for tea, which is kind of unusual. We were served tea, which was probably the worst tea I had in my life. We both made a grimacing face and had the same reaction, which is I like," Why can't you get a decent cup of tea when you need it?" And that provoked and catalyzed a six-hour conversation about tea. It turned out that my seatmate was quite a remarkable entrepreneur and visionary. It was Mel Ziegler, who was the founder of the Banana Republic. He was also at the conference. I didn't meet him during the conference. I met him obviously on the way to the airport. And we just were completely involved in a conversation that I never had about all the attributes of tea. How it gives us better health and wellbeing. How it’s rooted in spiritual practice in Japan. We both shared our own experiences with tea. He had come to tea fairly recently because he had to defect from coffee, because coffee and withdrawals from caffeine would give him migraine headaches. So, he was kind of new to tea and was discovering tea and the rich spectrum of different types of tea. I have been a tea drinker all my life. I never actually had a cup of coffee. Anyway, six hours later we are getting ready to land. I am just so alive and inspired in this conversation. And I said, "Why don't we start a tea company?" He sort of paused and said, “Well, I don't know if I am up to starting another company right now, but I'm happy think about it. But I've got an idea for the name. How about The Republic of Tea?" Then I just blurted out," I'll just be the minister of progress."
Lo and behold, he got off the plane; he shook hands and went in different direction. And I got back to my study and I wrote him a fax, or those of you that remember what a fax machine was. This was even before the email. I sent him a fax and he sent me back a fax. And it turned out we both loved to write and we corresponded. We start writing letters to each other about this idea for a business. We started dreaming it up together. And his wife Patricia, who is a very talented artist, started to chime in with little drawings and we ended up generating about four hundred pages of letters and ideas and concepts and research in about six weeks. It was just the most remarkable burst of inspiration.
I'll pause now Lynne. Just to recap, the serendipity was, you know, just the unintended outcome of having one plan and all of a sudden having it be sort of changed before your very eyes. So the best laid plans all of a sudden turn into something else in the most unexpected way. But behind that was some preparation. You know, Joseph Campbell, the wonderful mystic and humanitarian, who wrote the Hero's journey and really helped us understand how mythology plays into the patterns in our lives, he described in the hero's journey, that most hero's journeys begin at some strange point of departure, where you're not familiar with your surroundings, where you're out of your elements. And that certainly was the case for me at this conference New Jersey. So unbeknownst to me at that time, I had taken that first step towards... You know embarkation on this serendipitous journey.
Lynne: So Will, the book that was the result of those faxes, the real time conversations back and forth. So personally myself, I give away a few copies of that book every month. We have a question that has come in on our lives stream from Mexico City,
"I have a project in early stage here in Mexico called Cultivating good Luck, can I talk about it with you? I find many resonations with your philosophy and practice. Salads¡"
So, whenever anyone says to me, you know I've got this idea that I'm trying to help become into reality, I go to my bookcase, because I would keep a couple of copies on hand, and I hand them this book. And to me, there's nothing like it. My experience with our project development and what actually works is kind of woven into this as well. It's an organic process and so that's why I think the book is so valuable for the conversation and also the tools, which are embedded in the book. They are not all high tech but they are very effective. There's the mind mapping the idea of the company originally. There is a statement of values; your values that you want to align originally with the company. And the appendix at the end has a business vision plan that is a template I think for any type of business, really. And that plan has stood the test of time. Your plan for the Republican of Tea, that 25-year-old company.
Will: Lynne, the thing about this that was so remarkable was - first of all it was never intended to be a book. It sprung from a passion and impulse but it met a kind of a rigor and discipline in the flossing out of the business. And I have the good fortune to have a mentor who kind has been where I wanted to go. That relationship also was very confusing at times because, we are very different needs in our lives. I was a "wantreprenuer" at that time. I wanted to be successful. I wanted to create, as I mentioned earlier, security and stability in my family. I want to be a good father and provider. And most importantly, I wanted to bring something special into the world that would touch people and move people. And while doing that, I wanted to create business.
So the letters were all of those expressions of those hopes and ideals and they were, you know met with some wisdom and experience from another person. It was really propelled along. But you know there's an interesting thing that happened because, six weeks in, my colleague said to me by fax. He said, “Well I'm pretty much done now. I’ve given you what I can and I've given you my thoughts."
I responded," why don't we start a business?' This is like after six weeks! And I would just not quit. I was actually kind of shocked because I thought originally we were going to start the business together and that we were going to be partners. I thought that given his prior success, that he would want to invest and write a check. I had all these assumptions that were not correct. So I was kind of let down and was a bit nervous about what would happen. And I actually had to take another job because I wasn't ready to start the company. I didn't know what I was really doing. I had explored a lot of creative ideas, but I didn’t unlock what we called the competitive advantage.
Lynne: So it was not at all a linear process. It was very organic.
Will: Exactly! Well, it was just a burst of joy and exploration and then a very kind of curt stop and regrouping happened. I think now in business school we call that a pivot. It was not away from the business so to speak but because of the pivot and because I was a young parent that I needed support my family and so I went and took a job with a friend of mine in the design business. But I kept working with the idea and the ideas have worked with me. It was just so alive in me that I kept researching. Its interesting because, about this time, these letters, these big pile of faxes were shared with another friend who had been at that conference, and he was reading those letters and he said, “These letters should be a book about how to start a business. Do you mind if I send them to my friend at Doubleday?" So he copied a bunch of a letters and sent them to his friend, a very 35:43 talented editor at the time. She wrote back and said, "I'd like to publish these records as a book about how to start a business." And I was just on cloud nine. Because, you can imagine, about six weeks earlier, I was in this conference and I meet this this guy and generated all these ideas. Now we have a book offer from a leading publisher and I was just so excited about everything that is happening. He said you know quite soberly that, “I don't think we should publish a book about how to start a business, if we don't have a business." That was a good point. It was also easy for him to say, because he already had a business.
So that's how it went. One month later, after I finally figured out that what I was really missing was- I didn't know a lot about tea! I had a lot of ideas about how to market tea. I had a good sense of what's missing in the market place. I knew that know people were getting really excited about specialty beverages. This was just about the time when Starbucks had come on the scene and went public. So people were prepared to pay more for finer quality ingredients. So I had to go become a tea expert.
So I went to London and had another completely serendipitous experience. I went to London based on an introduction by someone had met that I also met at that social venture conference. He was a gentleman who was in the tea trade. His family was involved for hundreds of years owning tea plantation in India. And I had arranged, again through faxes to meet with this gentleman. He would sort of introduce me to the inner world of tea trade.
I arrived in London and went to his office, which was at Sir john Winehouse, which was a big tea-trading center in the city of London. I got there and his secretary informed me sadly, that he had just had a heart attack and he was incapacitated and he was not going to be up to meet me. You can Imagine, I went all this distance .. You know I was sad and was a bit lost. I was just stunned and I was walking around this Sir John Winehouse. I went to meet the man that ran the tea association. I told him my story. He in turn said, “Well, I think I know who you should meet. You should meet a man named Brian Writer." Brian Writer is a long time tea trader, specializing in specialty teas. Anyway, its much longer story but Brian became my mentor and he really took me under his wing. I was like the son he didn't have at that time. He had three sons. One was a doctor and one was a lawyer and another was an accountant. None of them were particularly interested in the tea business at that time. I kind of showed up, you know similar in age as his own children. I was wide eyed with curiosity and energy that changed the world for tea. So he became again, serendipitously, a very important person in my life.
Lynne: So there you were, at the right place at the right time. I think it's so important especially for the kids to know about this organic journey that we go on. Often they see success and they think it's a linear path. I think that is very dangerous to expect that in life and so I think it's so important to share how it goes, the serendipitous path.
The next word that I had offered up was potential.
Will, when we did our pre call, I think I read you a quote "whatever you can do or dream you can do begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."
So speaking of potential, back in high school, here was this very purposeful young man, who I would often see being like an amateur poet. The precise word that I would put on this- he would be striding. He often wore these black canvass high top tennis shoes, which probably made him look like he was walking even faster. But he was always purposefully striding. I'm so used to seeing him as a leader, because he was always leading something. Whether it was in student government in our publications or performing especially playing his trumpet for us. But he was also like in at least one musical and there is one picture from the yearbook, I especially think of with regard to him when he's in costume as a magician. We had hundreds of kids in our class and well over a thousand in total and there was a lot of talent in that school and he just gets up in front of them all and possibly in the beginning, saying this very gently, maybe in the freshman year he was the learning that trumpet a bit. So I think it was very vulnerable, but I really was impressed at that time by his courage. I thought it was very courageous. I learned a little bit more, in doing the work for this about the source of that courage, being encouragement.
So, Will, we talked a little bit about that. And that it was especially your dad at that time.
Will: Yeah. I think that encouragement of others is such a powerful resource. You know, it starts with attention and it also involves attention and care and nurturance and belief in one's potential. And I was just really blessed to have a father that was so generous with all of those qualities. He would always told me that he believed in me. He said, "I know whatever you do you will be successful." That vote of confidence, that source of encouragement, although it turned out not necessarily to be true. Because I certainly wasn't successful in everything that I did, but it gave me the confidence to at least try. The other thing that I learned about this was that these characteristics of encouragement are also really vital to gardening. My mother was a gardener and she was always out growing plants and food. We grew up in Southern California where as you recall everything grows. I was very fortunate. So, I had sort of very interesting source of encouragement in my life and as I become older and as I worked as a teacher or a mentor or an entrepreneur I take seriously the power of encouragement, as a resource to help other people really achieve their potential. And if you think about people as being full of seeds if you will, seeds of potential, we can take seriously our roles in helping people realize their potential and bring those seeds to fruition. And it's a different focus than a lot of our business world, which is very kind of celebrity oriented or individually oriented. We "celebrify". We make entrepreneurs into heroes. But effectively everything that comes about my experience in business comes through people, and a team of people. In almost every case that I know, a partnership or a team of people starts almost every business. And always almost without exception that story is rewritten, either by one of the people who kind of prevails and carries on in the business. But if you go back into the founding of any great company you know fro example Apple Computer. We know of two founders, the two Steve’s but there were actually several other people who were instrumental in getting that company started. I'll often ask my students, the undergrads who are in their late teens or early twenty's -Have you ever heard of Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. No. I think that. There’s a dynamic where co-founders somehow encourage one another to take risks and to try things. So I don't know, I think about that as a resource that I try to share with direction and intention.
Lynne: So still from within this strain of potential, another thing another sort of non-linear piece that I would like the future generations to be aware of is ... You had a lot of different sort of talents and skills that you built upon. So you had this early spirit of entrepreneurship or you had this early entrepreneurial spirit. And then you know, the magician, the musician, the mime and you studied film. You were educated so broadly. So just with specific regard to you I think that this was a key part of what was maybe seeded in you that that built that potential.
Will: Well again, I was really privileged to you know.... we went to a public school, remember Lynn? That actually had a lot of art and a lot of crafts and a lot of opportunity for creative expression, not as an elective or after school activity, but integral. We had a band; we had an orchestra; we had a choir. We had a lot of people participating. We had a theater. You know last week, I had a really fun experience. One of my students from edible education came in my office hour, which I always enjoy, and he said to me - "you know I really enjoyed this class and I notice how comfortable you are up on the stage there with your guests and you're always really good at kind of making this conversation interesting and carrying it forward. How do you do that?" He said, "What should I do if I want to be able to do that?" I thought for a minute. I thought you know the most seminal experience I had, to prepare me for that was, improvisational theater in high school. You know the tenants of listening, of being present, of showing up, of responding to people in the affirmative. In improv we always learn this tool of - 'Yes and'. Because that's what carries an idea aboard. It also you know prepares you to think on your feet and to engage and to collaborate and to co-create. I was thinking about that. It teaches you how to play too. One of the things that so tough right now as I see so many of the students so concerned with their grades and their structure and the way they look to the outside world and how their resume looks and if they're going to be able to get a job. It's just so intense. You know it reminds me of the importance of being able to play and to show up and collaborate.
Lynne: Yeah and that word play, really transitions in a nice way to the next frame, which is sustainability. To be able to sustain anything over the long haul, you've got to have that refreshment in some form or fashion. It's got to sort of come from within I think.
So there's a t pod cast out there somewhere in the web, where Will is asked about his initiating one of the first venture fund dedicated specifically to social venture. And he's being asked about his mindset around that. Instead of giving some sort of analytical proof about how he thought it could work, what he first says is- "I thought I could try."
You've already used that word in this session - Try. And that put me so in mind of a fragment of Roka- from letters to a young poet.
"If you have this love for what is humble and try very simply as someone who serves."
I just think that the perspective of that, as opposed to what you were just saying about the pressures on to succeed, whatever that means now a days. So sustainability, Will, seems as a viewpoint from which you view just about everything. I think now we should dive in the garden a bit, both actually and metaphorically. Tell me a bit about the origin of your gardening interest.
Will: Well let me just take off a little bit on your words there, Lynn.
I think humility is such an important idea. It's a power. Humility is a source of energy and humility comes from a recognition that your own power comes not from within but from without. It comes from the other. Again in our culture in our society, we think about the self and the power of the self. But when you embrace notions of humility, you really realize that your source of inspiration, your source of wisdom, your source of guidance comes from without. That takes me right into the garden. Because there's nothing more humbling than being a gardener. In the garden you're interceding with living nature. And Trying to shape it and arrange it and design it and nurture it in a way that it creates an ever-changing kind of environment that can envelop and inspire and relax. The other word Lynne that I am thinking of now... the sustainability is a perplexing word and it's particularly perplexing in the business world because it's kind of been used in so many different ways. Nobody really knows what it means. I mean we can talk about human sustainability. But the problem with sustainability is - It sounds like status quo. It sounds kind of like entropy. The words that are emerging now that I think are actually more appropriate for business and maybe for the garden are the notions of generation or regeneration. It's an appreciation that we actually have to create more than we take out rather than just sustain what we have. We have to invest for the future to generate more than we have now. And this is fundamentally what's not happening in our culture, in our world, in our society. We are extracting using up resources and we're depleting the limited resources that we have. Somehow we maybe we can blame Descartes or some offspring of his thinking but we keep thinking that resources are unlimited; we know now looking at our planet and the resources of water and air and soil are limited. We are using them up much faster than ever before, in just a blink of an eye, in a hundred year industrial period. So what I've been trying to do is - Understand more about how things grow by dedicating more time in a garden. I've been gardening in this particular piece of land for about eighteen years. It really teaches you about the appreciation of having a long view. It also teaches you to appreciate that you don't have control over everything. I think we like to think we have control. In business school we teach a lot about strategy, in planning and execution just as if we control but we don't. We are subject to forces much greater than us. And I think all of this comes into real focus in food. That's why I've been studying and teaching more about food systems. Because food systems are is where we connect intimately and personally with how things grow, the resources required and how what we grow nourishes us and also nourishes our friends and community and family and the world. It really puts center and us front in a system and takes us out of something that's kind of intellectual or conceptual.
So idea gardening- I call my garden the "idea garden", because I like to think that it's a safe environment to entertain ideas. It always reminds me that for an idea to take root and flourish the conditions for success have to be set up in advance.
One of my friends asked be recently- "Will, what are you going to do in the garden today?" Today? Well, today is almost May. Frankly, today I'm just going to enjoy it. Most of the hard work was done in you know November through March when there was a lot of pruning to do and a lot of clearing and clearing the soil and feeding the soil and composting and things like that. So you know you also learn a lot about cycles and spurts. You come to appreciate that we all go through dormant cycles and that we need to, at least for me I'm learning it's taking a long time but I'm learning, that these dormant cycles are so critical to getting that source of regeneration. Because we can't just you know go full speed all the time. And just one other thought when that I wanted to share Lynne- Just the last couple weeks, some of the entrepreneurs that have been in my classes have been really struggling with investor relations that weren't set up properly. They're really struggling now, in their businesses. They're kind of a couple years into it. Things are actually going well but there's not a good alignment or agreement among the shareholders and the founders and it's inhibiting them from growing further. And the trust is dissolved and they're in very painful situation. They're kind of trapped. They can't go forward or they can't really get out. I just wanted to mention that because, I know you know we wanted stock about the business lessons, but from the garden I just so appreciate that if you don't set things up for success, you're going to fail. You can create you know a spectacular short bloom or allusion which is what you often see in a nursery. Because plants have been fed you know super fertilizers and they've gotten a lot of you know heat attention right before they're put gloriously for sale. But. That will die. That plant doesn't have strong roots. So you really have to take your time. I like to think of it as- "you have to slow down to grow fast". You have to set things up. You have to do the hard work. Sometimes we get carried away with how exciting the possibilities of something are, and we don't kind of rigorously think about what resources are going to be required and what design and what agreements and what governance is going to best support the long term shared vision of an enterprise.
Lynne: When I think about idea gardening, one of the business words that we hear a lot is scale, which is very mechanistic. So we see the returns- the hockey stick outcome. But I think what you're talking about is- the vibrancy and the Eco systemic perspective that yields the harvest of that growth can be so much more exponential. I remember, you told me that - the rose bushes had all leafed out overnight. Growth is so far beyond like the hockey stick up. So doing all that tending and all of that the designing in the beginning, it bears more fruit financially as well.
Will: One of the things that is often forgotten in today's capitalistic democracy is - we tend to think the market wants to think that it can just keep growing. That growth is exponential. Donella Meadows wrote many years ago about limits to growth and that we exist in systems systems. A lot of people tell me, "Oh I don't have a green thumb." Gardening just requires attention and continuous engagement and care and encouragement and resourcefulness. That practice is to me so vital for creating the kinds of businesses that the world needs. I do believe that in the world that we exist in, that business is going to prevail. It can prevail in a positive way or it can continue to extract and mistreat and not think about potential or not think about the encouragement of human beings and the systems we work in.
Lynne: The optimal outcome is something like, eudaimonia, one of Will's favorite words. The short definition that I looked up is - Beyond human being, it is human flourishing. And so maybe this should be the goal, perhaps of all ventures, ideally. In my mind, when I think of a visual definition of eudaimonia, its any image I've ever seen of Will's garden. Most recently, the irises are going crazy. Someone actually used the word on Facebook. They said, "That looks like the definition of flourishing."
So I will have you describe eudaimonia and what can we learn.
Will: Lets just spell it for people. It is - EUDAIMONIA. It goes back to be ancient Greeks, Aristotle and Plato and Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius. The Stoics picked it up. But it doesn't really have a great English translation. It was translated kind of simply as happiness. This notion of cultivating happiness. But it's really more about- it's not individual happiness; it's kind of collective happiness. Then as other people have done more work on it, it's really about flourishing. And it's an intention. Eudaimonia is the desire to achieve or create or generate. Eudaimonia is this notion creating and supporting human flourishing. I just love that because you know when you think about the purpose of an organization or a business enterprise- rarely if ever, would you see a goal of generating human flourishing as one of the desired outcomes. You always hear- we want to generate a profit for our stakeholders. We want our customers to love us and be happy. We'd like our employees to feel good about working here. But this eudaimonia goes way beyond that. So I'm just starting to think about the ways that my actions and those that I get to collaborate with; how we can set an intention in a goal to actually create flourishing in the communities and organizations that we're part of in the same way that we do in a garden. A Gardner hopes to create full bloom and full bloom over the season or you know beautiful fruit or vegetables. We work hard knowing that that -fleeting moment will come where there is something to harvest and then hopefully cook and share and eat. And it's a cycle. It's a cycle that generates a lot of happiness. So I've just been trying to think about -instead of unfettered growth, just in that one hockey stick direction to these more cyclical, regenerative cycles, where in the process of creating goods and services and solving problems in the marketplace, we are also first and fundamentally generating human flourishing. There are some wonderful things written about it. It's kind of a last word. When I give talks or when I'm teaching I'll ask people- have you ever heard of that word? It's kind of been lost from our vocabulary and from our mental models. I think there's a great time to bring it back and maybe this Awakin community, Servicespace community will resonate with this concept and think about- what kind of what design principles or what cultivation activities can generate eudaimonia.
Nipun: Beautiful! Beautiful!
Thank you for sharing your journey. I mean it's incredible and gives us a real taste of who you are and the values you stand for. There's a whole cluster of sort of questions around food. But food is, at this point, maybe twenty years ago we didn't have enough food to feed everybody in the world, today that is no longer the case. We have lots of food. But food is a really political issue. I mean food insecurity, hunger. Washington Post did this story on how twenty million people are starving because there's a famine. They listed something like, at least eight or nine countries that this was true for, where all these famines are caused is primarily due to wars. And so I know on one side, you really come at it with this great compassion and this spirit of interconnectedness and on the other side I know, you're very steeped into the food world. So can you share some insights into how in your view, what is the current state of the world and how can we apply some of these ideas of human flourishing, when it comes to food and compassion and solve some of these issues which seem to be very hard for us to solve as a humanity.
Will: Getting deep into food really requires a shift of mindset from this kind of mechanistic, extractive, techno centered orientation to ecosystems and interdependencies. Some of the issues you mention Nipun, I would add to them that seven out of the ten lowest paying jobs in the United States are in the food industry. So the people who are harvesting the food, cooking the food or bringing the food to your table in a restaurant, so many of them are not paid enough to be able to buy the food that many of us get to enjoy when we go out to a restaurant. There's a lot of inequity, there's a lot of injustice in the entire food system. The good news is that we're coming into an era where the eaters in the world, as Lynn likes to say the "prosumers", or the citizens of the world who are eating and becoming enlightened eaters are calling for transparency. They want to know where the food comes from, how it's grown. What was put on the food or the in the soil? They want to know how it was handled; they want to know who's prepared it. And increasingly we are getting tools and connectivity to help us understand that. I mean this is happening in the world seafood, where there is you know rapid scarcity and there's been a lot of really good work in sustainable seafood. It's very complicated. We have to change people's patterns and habits and tastes.
We know now that forty five percent of all climate impacts, of negative climate impacts, in terms of carbon are generated by industrial agriculture. And that's from us producing and eating meat in a certain manner. We're going to have nine billion people on the planet with an appetite for meat. So there's a lot of exciting innovation going on right now to blend meat with vegetables; to replace meat with plant based proteins; to help people change their preferences slightly; knowing that they're not really sacrificing a lot.
So in a nutshell, there are so many opportunities for people to participate in solving food systems problems. You mentioned famine and starvation and there's also a lot of nutritional stunting that happens when children don't get the right nutrients. But as you've mentioned, there's a lot of food on the planet. We have to get it to the right places and we have to participate as individuals in solving this and not thinking it's going to be left to a government or some big company that has different incentives and motivation. So I would just encourage people to start locally, start in their own community. Start where they know the landscape so to speak. There's a wonderful online resource called - civil eats; that talks about just and fair eating. They have a wonderful resource for people. It's probably kind of US centric but nonetheless it's really useful. It lists about forty different organizations that one can get involved with if they want to participate in creating a healthier and sustainable food system.
Nipun: There are so many interesting angles on this. I suppose, you have been involved with you know with physics ventures and you have been investing in a lot of food based innovations. So there's this tempting tendency to, in terms of the innovation world, to focus on technology. But you and I can say that- Hey look. If forty five percent a negative climate impact is coming from agriculture and our food, particularly meat, can we just create synthetic foods? And then you start going further and further down that track and US essential arrive at Soylent. Which is you know you're just pop this artificial thing into your body and you take all the food requirements away. There's someone in our building that gets like their weekly supply of Soylent. I see that all the time. Versus a very different approach you know, say something like a Blue Apron, which is really trying to Trying to use technology to make it easier for you to get your vegetables and for you to connect it with well local produce. What are your thoughts on that?
Will: I think you're illuminating the difference in paradigms. Soylent is a reductionist, kind of mechanistic, technically driven idea that- jee, let me just get you all the basic nutrients you need in the most efficient manner. And that just completely ignores all that is beautiful about food. We are what we eat. If you want to just be a collection of nutrients, fine. If you'd like to be you know beautiful and alive then vibrant and a source of inspiration and energy and output for others, then you're going to embrace the thousands and thousands year old cultural history that food has played in our lives. I think what worries me a little bit is that - with all of the 'celebrification' of Silicon Valley and technology and all of the media hype that technology gets is that, we're going to loose rare heirloom seed. It was the most beautiful cantaloupe anybody ever grew and because somebody wasn't paying attention we're just going to lose it out of our cultural heritage. It's not that we don't need technology, we certainly need technology. Technology has played an amazing role in making food more affordable and accessible and even more nourishing in some ways. But it's not just technology. Technology is just one piece of a complex puzzle. Eventually another company contrasts there, where they're taking a systems approach. They're looking at how do we nurture local food systems to produce seasonal, healthy, nutritious regenerative products to people when they need them? And also encouraging and teaching and making it easy for people to cook at home, is a great proven, scientifically efficacious proven way to help people be healthier. Harvard School of Public health done a lot work showing that people who cook at home for themselves are actually much healthier and avoid many of the chronic diseases or forestall them; diabetes, obesity cardiovascular disease that are a result of an unhealthy food system and diet.
Nipun: You are also teaching and addressing a lot of younger folks with your edible education. What is the angle you take there? With younger people I can imagine this sort of fascination with this technology and maybe this reductionism that is embedded in that. And you're clearly coming at it from a different angle. What have you found to be useful in terms of getting this idea through to the younger folks, the undergrads?
Will: We work on understanding how our actions interact in and affect the food system. I like to think that the class of edible education is about developing food systems intelligence and a point of view in understanding where we stand and then taking a stand and then realizing that the actions we take actually have an impact on the whole food system. So it's a little bit like the butterfly effect. We each individually can have such a profound effect on the way the food system goes, by what we buy, by what we put in our bodies, by what we support in terms of agriculture. If we're mindless or basically just kind of being blind or you know let's just say we're participating in the opacity that the commercial system likes to create; confusing labels, confusing names, confusing jargon, instant gratification that everybody has come to expect in our technically and technologically driven world. We lose sense of what's really happening. So the classes are really fun. They're about waking up. They're about participation in action. We talk a lot about transparency. I try to have the students think about how they can develop a superpower, kind of X-ray vision, so that they can peer into the system and really understand how all the parts are connected and what's happening and what's just and equitable and what might not be, what's healthy and what's not, what sustainable and what's not, from their own point of view I don't profess to preach a certain way. I actually get a lot of complimentary and competing opinions and views. We look at public policy; we look at law; we look at science; we look at technology and economics; and we look at labor rights. We look at all of these facets of what makes up the food system, not just the super obvious ones. From what I could tell, this is like a transformative experience for people and it's also known that it's during the college years that one's habits are most set up for how they will eat for the rest of their lives.
Nipun: Really! Wow!
Will: Yeah! That's millions and millions of meals. It's when people leave home; they leave those patterns or cultural patterns. Some cultures are rich in food traditions and unfortunately some are not. But when they get to college they start making choices on their own, living on their own. They tend to set up their health and well-being, which in turn affects the sustainability of the way we live on this planet and then ultimately leads to a state of eudaimonia or death.
Nipun: You are teaching this class with Alice Waters, if I'm not mistaken. What's it like to work with Alice?
Will: Well, Alice is the catalyst for this course. This was her idea. She has a foundation called the -The Edible Schoolyard Project. If you want to see the Course Lectures they are on Edible Schoolyard project.org. The course all semester, was live streamed from Berkeley, from the Haas School of Business, where it's situated now. It started in the Journalism school, five years ago with Michael Pollan. Then it moved to the College of Natural Resources with Mark Bittman and then this year it moved to the Haas School of Business with me. Alice is really the standard bearer of the organic movement. She's been more than forty years, advocating for organic agriculture, local agriculture, for appreciating the bounty of the seasons. She's been kind of a tireless educator and she started this wonderful program in Oakland and Berkeley a number of years ago, to actually plant gardens at schools and then teaches kids how to cook. It's simple, it's low tech, but again it's completely transformative in terms of one's worldview. So she's a legend. She is one of the true leaders of the food movement. She's uncompromising in her ways. We don't agree on everything. I think she you know has a worldview that is very particular and doesn't necessarily reach in this moment in time, broad swaths of the global population. But she holds the ideal and for that I'm really grateful, for her leadership and her mentorship of me. Her generosity... she has enormous amount of energy which manifests as generosity of giving of herself to spark the interest of other. When she comes to class, she doesn't come every week, but when she comes the students just love it. Also she is the focal point of some controversy and protests. It's Berkeley, don't forget, Nipun, you were there. It’s still the capital of the free speech movement, despite what's going on right now in the world. So we've actually had protesters in class too, who don't particularly appreciate that she still serves meat at Chez Panisse. Nonetheless she takes it in good stride. She promotes free speech in the classroom and she's just an inspiration to many people.
Nipun: Are your courses live streamed? How can people tune into that
Will: Yeah. They are live streamed and then they're also captured on video, so people can follow along. The syllabus is also on that edible schoolyards site. There's a Facebook page called edible education 101 and at Berkeley Haas edible education 101 at Berkeley Haas. There's a Facebook page that I think catalogs the classes. Next year in spring 2018, we will offer it again and I'm hoping that I can turn it into some kind of open enrollment class, so that people around the world can participate in the entire class, not just lectures.
Nipun: Totally! I know Greater Good Science Center at U.C. Berkeley did something like that and they had one hundred thousand people for their science of happiness course. And it was it was awesome to get spread these ideas to more people and I can imagine with you and Alice, you guys would have quite an audience! That's exciting.
We have Mish in Brooklyn New York, who has sent in a comment: You have encouraged me about my times of dormancy and slowing down... I can now look upon them as my times of replenishment...awesome! Thank you for so many gems from your sharing today.
I want to take the next question in the direction of spirituality. Will, I think the person that introduced the both of us was an incredible elder named Jacob Needleman. That's somebody, I think, you really deeply resonate with. And I'm sure you have other spiritual elders that you look up to. I'm wondering how in your journey, how you would describe that weaving in of spirituality? I mean clearly, gardening is a spiritual process, because of it's ecosystem view. But also tea has been historically, an incredible source of spiritual practice. I was in Japan and I went to a tea ceremony. It felt so sacred. You seem to, maybe by the virtue of serendipity, you seem to gravitate around a lot of very interesting things that sort of have one foot in this world and one foot in the other. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about that other, that spiritual world and how that is most presently intersecting with your manifest work in the world.
Will: It's all around us. You know, it was another moment of serendipity, Nipun. I met Jacob Needleman because he had a book called Money and the Meaning of Life published simultaneously with the Republic of Tea back in 1992. Doubleday, it was the same publisher, Doubleday had organized book tour for me and had organized a book tour for him and all of a sudden we had had this first Iran- Iraq war back then and Doubleday decided that they were going to put all of their eggs behind General Schwarzkopf biography or autobiography and so at the last minute they reconfigured our book tours to go on the book tour together.
Nipun: No kidding!
Will: Jerry and I were sent out on multiple book signings together. That was again, the most remarkable experience for me and I learned so much from him. I just talked to him the other da. He's just a dear, dear friend, special mentor. He's also a magician. So it turned out we both loved magic growing up and whenever we get together we're always talking about things he wrote. He has written like seventeen books. I highly recommend them. Money and the meaning of life for any entrepreneur on this or anybody that is wondering about the spiritual energy of money, that is the best book. He also wrote a book called Sorcerers, which was a novel about his childhood growing up in this kind of group of nerdy kids that loved magic. I think Nipun, what I've learned is that, developing a practice that has some continuity, that transcends all the different jobs or roles or personas or things that you might have in your life. We're living longer. I just saw a book called The Hundred year life on the shelf. It's not going to be long before people can expect to live a hundred years. It's going to create a whole bunch of other questions. I think having a practice that literally grounds us, that quiets us, that replenishes us, that takes us out of this sort of rapid transactional hypnosis that we fall into. I just feel like so much of our attention and our energy and even our vital energy, our money is being usurped unknowingly. I don't know if you saw this on Facebook - There's this game that people are playing that lists the nine or ten concerts you went to and one you didn't go to. I saw that and I thought and I see all these people like jumping in and doing that. It looks like fun. But what you don't know and what you don't see is that somebody probably, I hope this doesn't sound cynical, but somebody probably can see that as a way of getting a lot of information about people. Because that says a lot about people. If you know nine concerts that they went to and one that they didn't; if you've got a data analytics company and you can scrape together millions of pieces of data and then identify it to an individual person, you can know a lot about what that person's likes what they might prefer over something else, where they might stand politically, how old they might be. All of that information now is being used either to sell you more stuff or to influence your perspective. We've just seen our last election interfered with by another government. I don't mean to sound dark about this but we got to wake up. We've got to wake up about what people's motivations and forces are. That's why I think you know having a practice that quiets you and again enlivens your ability to perceive what is, not the way you'd like it to be, but to see things the way they are, to be in the moment, to use that moment to generate new energy, new potential and possibility, new commitment. So that you can show up and so that serendipity can work in your favor. We need this. I probably saved myself thousands of hours of therapy and the associated costs by gardening. So I would encourage people start small. Don't be intimidated just. Make yourself a nice cup of tea. Use tealeaves. Warm the pot. There's a wonderful saying Nipun, for the tea drinkers - As I drink my tea I stop the war. And so having these kind of momentary experiences that pull us into something bigger than ourselves, I think is just a requirement to cope with the pace of change the uncertainty, the feeling of risk and threat and alienation that are permeating our culture. And in doing so we can bring so much more to those that we care about, work with, even those that we don't, to the very work that you do at service space, of just bringing kindness and care, I n gross size in total into the world.
Nipun: Thank you. Yeah that's beautiful! As I drink my tea, I stop the war. As we pause we stop the violence. That's it's great. You're speaking of kindness and connection and I know we're at the tail end and there's still a bunch of people that have figured out that you were you running TED conferences before Chris Anderson, is that right? Were you the executive director of Ted?
Will: Yeah! I went to the first TED conference. That was another serendipitous moment in my life. That was in 1984. After that first conference was life changing for me but unfortunately was not a success. It's the original founders Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks had some challenges with it. They hadn't made any plans to do it again and then I went to them. I was like a twenty seven year old whippersnapper. And I said, "Hey That conference changed my life and showed me how converging disciplines and sectors come together to create something new. I think this technologic goal kind of innovation wave is going to be big and I think Ted could actually be a business. What he what do you think about letting me kind of rekindle it?" They said yes and I stepped in and I was the executive director of Ted 2, which restarted it. It carried on for a number of years before Chris Anderson acquired it. Turned it into something a little bit different. Chris certainly got phenomenal media experience. And he managed to kind of open the source and system of the wisdom and makes it available around the world. That was really his genius.
Nipun: Yeah! So that is true! That's Amazing! But the question I was actually going to ask, I know we're at the tail end of our call here, was around kindness. An act of kindness you received you said online, going to the theme of serendipity, You said that a friend who changed plans last minute which ultimately led to you meeting your wife. And that's been a kind of that you're continuing to receive from. That's been a serendipity that you've been receiving from. So before we close, maybe that personal story?
Will: Well it's another very odd circumstance at Newark Airport. So for those of you that think Newark Airport is bearing of all potential, I dig to differ. I still go there over Kennedy. I had been teaching at Princeton and I was supposed to leave the next day. The colleague that I was with offered to rush me to the airport so I could get home. I made a run for a plane. I got the last seat on a plane. Then the plane was delayed and I was starving and I went into the little the T.G.I.F area in the united terminal and I bought a sandwich and a beer. I wheeled around and I noticed that there was nowhere to sit. You can't leave with a beer. So you're kind of confined in that little area. I t turned out there was a person sitting at a table that had one chair that was empty. And I kind of uncharacteristically, shyly went over there and asked if I could sit down and that person turned out to be my beloved wife.
Nipun: Maybe it seems like your whole life and perhaps all our lives are full of this, if we just take a moment to observe it, notice it, to give it encouragement, I suppose.
Will: I just encourage everybody to get to an outpost that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Because that's where the journey and the serendipity begins.
Nipun: Beautiful! Are there ways Will, before we go into our collective minute of silence, are there ways that he larger Servicespace ecosystem can support you, can support your work, the values you stand for. What you recommend for people tuning in?
Will: Well, I am in awe and grateful Nipun, for the spirit of organization that you brought to spirit space. I think it represents a new a new model of energy collaboration and impact. I would be grateful to learn from Servicespace members and to hear from Servicespace members who might like to work on these food systems issues and particularly in making education more accessible and more vital on a local basis. I've got a lot of ideas about how to do that. But I could certainly use a lot of smart people who understand, education digital medium, communication. So if anyone would like to be part of that effort, I would certainly like to hear from them.
Nipun: You know we do these twenty-one day challenges. We have a portal dedicated to that and it literally has I think over a thousand challenges. But it would be amazing to try to do a twenty one day edible eats’ challenge or a twenty one day food challenge or you know something of the sort that really gets people into twenty one days of just mindfulness around. Not just what they're putting in but how it's generated and going deeper into its roots.
Will: Yeah! Lets do it!
Nipun: Yeah! Definitely, keep the conversation going.
Thank you all for being on the call. Thank you Lynne for really bringing out some great stories from way back in the high school days, that is. That is a gem. Thank you Will, for just being who you are. So many beautiful things you shared today. We're going to put up the audio of this call. We’re going to have volunteers going to transcribe this by hand as their labor of love and gratitude to whom you are and we hope that the ripples will continue on. So I will certainly keep all of that in motion.
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