Episode 8: Crafting the Narrative of Success: Embracing Challenges and Enabling Growth

Episode 5 April 02, 2024 01:01:36
Episode 8: Crafting the Narrative of Success: Embracing Challenges and Enabling Growth
Stand Up to Stand Out
Episode 8: Crafting the Narrative of Success: Embracing Challenges and Enabling Growth

Apr 02 2024 | 01:01:36


Hosted By

Stuart Paap

Show Notes

Join us for a captivating episode where we have the pleasure of hearing from Siobhan Dullea, an esteemed innovator and leader in entrepreneurship and business strategy. With her roots in Mass Challenge and C Space and her current role as the Executive Director at Innovate at BU, Siobhan will dive into the transformative power of innovation and leadership, unraveling the essence of effective communication and how it propels change and fosters organizational growth.

Siobhan has honed specialized expertise in guiding organizations and individuals through the nuances of innovation, leadership, and strategic communication. Her over thirty-year career has been instrumental in driving advancements and empowering voices in the business world. Collaborating closely with diverse professionals, she brings fresh and impactful insights on utilizing innovation principles to inspire and elevate.

In this conversation, we'll delve into the pivotal role of communication in professional and personal development, the hurdles of navigating resistance, and the significant impact that strategic and assertive communication has on leadership. We'll uncover vital strategies and perspectives that empower individuals and organizations to excel in today's dynamic business world. So, brace yourself for an enlightening discussion!

Hosted by Stuart Paap.

Is embracing innovation, engaging in substantive dialogues, and nurturing an environment of growth and resilience key to personal and organizational success? Join us as we explore these questions with Siobhan Dullea, whose profound experience at the intersection of innovation, leadership, and communication offers invaluable insights into the dynamics of change and progress.

Discover how deliberate communication and innovative thinking can spark transformation, driving progress and improvement across various domains. Gain from Siobhan's expertise in managing the complexities of influence and leadership, particularly when faced with skepticism or opposition.

Siobhan Dullea is celebrated for her influential role in shaping the landscape of innovation and leadership. Her contributions illuminate critical aspects of business and offer practical strategies for enhancing inclusivity and understanding in diverse environments. Connect with Siobhan on social media or visit her website to explore her initiatives and research further.

The Influence Lab

You’re moving fast, working hard, and facing trade-offs with your time and energy. How can you be the most effective leader? How can you share your message with purpose and power? What can you do to boost your influence at work? In each episode, we sit down with experts to discuss leadership, teamwork, communication, and how to affect the behaviors and beliefs of those around us deeply.

Stand up to stand out.

Stuart Paap is laser-focused on helping more people unlock brilliant and bold ideas. He works with pioneering biotechs, technology companies, and healthcare companies and regularly presents at universities and tech incubators like the Harvard Innovation Lab. He’s also a former stand-up comedian and is a yellow belt in Judo, which strikes fear into no one.

Podcast Timeline

00:00 An Authentic, open-minded leader values communication and integrity.
06:59 Achieving growth by stepping out of comfort.
14:38 Seek advice, listen, and be humble.
18:32 Admitting wrong, learning from feedback, embracing community.
27:19 Fight through obstacles, expand, and share knowledge.
31:17 Fear of presenting; remember you know more.
34:37 Adapting my accent for better communication.
42:46 Linking organizational values to major decision-making.
48:40 Shift in business focus from software to service.
50:26 Helped customers succeed with scalable training methods.
54:51 I wish we had invested in technology for the market.
01:00:46 Valuable conversation about entrepreneurship and leadership experiences.

Learn more about the show at influencedna.co/podcast

Connect with Stuart Paap on LinkedIn.

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:01] Speaker A: Welcome to stand up, to stand out, the podcast, helping you master how you communicate. Let's dive in. Welcome, everyone. I am delighted to have Siobhan delay on the show today. All right, I'm going to try that one more time. Welcome, everyone. I'm delighted to have Siobhan delay on the podcast. Did I pronounce that correctly, Siobhan? [00:00:26] Speaker B: You did. Perfect. [00:00:27] Speaker A: All right, good. And that's a wrap, everyone. Thanks for coming. That was the whole goal. So Siobhan has a wonderfully diverse and interesting career, and we're going to get into all of it through the lens of what we do here at influence DNA. But I just want to give some highlights on her amazing career. Siobhan is the former COO and then CEO of Mass challenge, where I have deep roots, and we can talk about that. She also has done it and built it. So she was one of the founding members of Communispace, which was later dubbed C Space, and that was part of your effort as well, and which got acquired by Omnicom. In her new role. She's the executive director of innovate Bu. Or is it innovate at Bu? How do I think about innovate at Bu? [00:01:17] Speaker B: At the old school ampersand in there, I believe. [00:01:20] Speaker A: I love it. So innovate at BU. And she brings 30 years of experience and commitment to nurturing diverse entrepreneurial talent. I'm just delighted to have you on the program, and we have so much to dive into. So let's dive in. My first question is, one of the things you shared and I listened to was about your post college experience, and you were talking about how you worked at an agency for almost a decade and that kind of formed some of your early professional experience. And in that, you were talking a lot about showing up, outworking other people and really just getting it done. Something I hear from a lot of entrepreneurs and innovators and people who make it to the top of any organization. And so I'm wondering now, you also have kids who are coming through college. Does that same advice feel applicable now that you show up early? You outwork everyone else, and that's a really unique, unique advantage that you can have over others to get ahead in the workplace. Or do you think about that differently now? [00:02:28] Speaker B: I don't know the answer to that, Stuart, but I will say that it's what worked for me. I mean, I think part of that was internal. I didn't know if I was good enough. I think it was a different world 30 years ago where, as a woman, I didn't know if I was good enough. There were a lot of my background, but I knew that if I worked harder and worked longer, I could do it. The other thing that I was very impatient, and that's probably something about being a 20 something. I was very impatient, impatient to be acknowledged more in the workplace, make more money. I was broke all the time and I was ambitious. I signed up for things that I couldn't yet do, so I just worked harder to get there and to prove it. And if I made a mistake, I made up for it sort of on my own time. I felt like that was my responsibility. I believe I talked to my kids and taught them about work ethic, but not to the point that I drove myself because I don't think I was kind to myself at that point. So looking back, I dont know if id do it over again, I wouldve had to make longer term sacrifices. But I remember the joke was I worked 92 hours one week. Thats great. I look back and say, oh my God, I didnt sleep that week. I probably cried the next week. So I just dont know if its worth it. I think that the reckoning around talking about mental health is good for the world and it didn't exist then. [00:04:16] Speaker A: Yeah, well, so looking at your experience there and then the founding of communispace, which you helped change as c space, you know, it seems like earlier on, you're doing, you're building, you're doing all the work that needs to happen. And then eventually, as things scale and every company will probably scale in some way, unless you're determined to say small, what did you notice as the change in terms of how you could operate more effectively by empowering others and stepping into leadership and just really going from that individual contributor to helping mentor and lead others and inspire others to do the work of many together. Can you talk about your evolution with that? [00:05:02] Speaker B: Sure. I think there were some things that never changed about me. I have always been sort of an open listener, open to new ideas, authentic in my approach. Who I am is who I am. It's very difficult for me to put on airs. I believe it strength, but it was also just a fact of who I was. I also haven't been shy about addressing ideas or difficult topics head on. So when I first became a leader, I think that I was a really good manager and mentor because of those things, because I could listen, because I could talk about things that were difficult to talk about and felt strongly about modeling behaviors that I wanted to see in others and what I thought was important. I was never a micromanager, so I think that allowed me to coach and mentor. And that was really my first foray into leadership, was really managing and mentoring. In hindsight, I don't think it was necessarily leading. It was modeling right behavior that leaders should do. Where I struggled was when I became responsible for more and more people, and I couldn't mentor people individually anymore. I think it's called the competency trap, your tendency to do what you're good at. So I used to feel like I didn't have time to do the more strategic things, like think about the future. Two mantras say, how should we be structured? Because I was too busy doing things that I had to do. It's not until afterwards I sort of looked back and that's where I went to my comfort zone. I spent my time doing things I knew I was very good at and would lean into challenging situations with clients or the work or mentoring a team because they were having challenges instead of stepping back and saying, is this the right structure for the organization? Where are we going to be three years from now, five years from now, ten years from now? So I struggled with that. I think that I rationalize it in the moment, but I didn't realize it until I shifted to an externally facing. So it was a promotion in the organization. But when I look back, I wonder if it was, I'm going to reach out to the CEO at some point and say, was it to put me in a place where I learn more, or was it because I wasn't doing some strategic work, I was leaning in too much. So this externally facing role where I helped integrate the services from the two companies that Omnicom bought to go under this community space umbrella and then later rebranded it was talking clients, was talking about our offerings and how we branded those and presented those to the market. And it got me away from the easy stuff for me, the stuff that I could go back into the doing. And it had me step back and realize, oh, I have to do this strategically. I have to think about three, five years from now. And it forced me out of my comfort zone of doing and really to thinking. So I really appreciate that time because then when I finally left after 15 years, left c space and went to mass challenge, I realized that I can do both. I can straddle both areas, lean in when I need to, but also lift up and look ahead. And that really made me un, or I don't know if it's totally unafraid, but much less afraid of doing things wrong of messing things up or a failure. I failed plenty, but I was less worried about doing things wrong because it was a way to learn, because I saw how much I learned by shifting rolls. [00:09:23] Speaker A: So if you take your experience that took you that amount of time to go from that comfort zone to being outside of the comfort zone, and then realizing you could toggle between those two worlds, if you could gift that revelation to people who are in a new role or building a new company and maybe sticking to their comfort zone, there's something good about that, right? You're good at what you do, and there's also realizing where you have to grow and either leaning on others or develop a new skill. How can one think about that and saying, this is what I'm good at, and these are the areas where I'm not good, and it would benefit me and the organization to become better at those, to serve more people. How do you think about that relationship between those two domains? [00:10:11] Speaker B: Sure. Well, I give entrepreneurs that advice. Now when people say, I don't have enough time to do everything I need to do, I talk about my experience and also say, so what are you spending your time on it? Often it's the things that they feel really confident about. They don't have time to fundraise because they have to run the business. It could be that, but you need someone else to run the business then because you have to fundraise. So there are things that you have to do, but you don't have time. That's often leaning into that. And I think the term is competency trap, but it's leaning into what you know you can do well. It's your comfort zone. Even if it's hard, it's, you know, you can get through it. So when you don't have enough time to do everything, take an inventory of what you're doing and one, be honest with yourself if you can, or get someone to help you be honest about what you're avoiding by being good at something. [00:11:16] Speaker A: So let's use that to pivot to teamwork or build on that. Because I think when most people hear teamwork, it's positive. I do this, you do that, and collectively it's bigger than what we could do individually. But few people don't know where to begin, how to encourage collaboration, how to make the most of it. In terms of what you've both done and what you've seen and what you encourage others to do, how do you think about establishing effective teamwork for a company and internal team? [00:11:50] Speaker B: Yeah, I think that the tools I've leaned on, whether my team's small and growing or really large, hundreds of people, is what I learned about community building early on at communist space. And that's about co creation and creating rituals, not the not religious type ritual, but shared experiences. So some examples of that might be when. When you're a small company. When I was at Communispace, we created values as a team. So we had our mission, we had our vision. This is after a while. But we sat down and said, how do we want to behave? How do we want to treat each other, and how do we want to represent ourselves and show up to each other, our customers, our partners. And we co created values. We really owned that. And as the company grew and grew, we didn't have me or a couple of leaders talking about, these are our values, and this is how we behave. We had a conjure of founders or people on the team that talked about, this is how we work modeling, this is how we behave. So that co creation, whether it's service standards or anything that you can co create as you get larger. One of the things we did at Mass challenge was we had a cohort based effort to address some of our diversity Dei challenges. We hired someone from the x outside, but we put a third of our company through. What do we need to learn about DEi to change what we're doing, to do new things and to admit where we went wrong? So by co creating our effort, we created real teamwork. And when I say co creation, always across functional areas, across department skills, et cetera. [00:13:57] Speaker A: So I like the example what communist space. You're part of the founding team that works. And then, of course, when you're leading an organization, they're listening because you're in charge. What about someone who's in neither of those scenarios? Maybe they're joining a team, maybe they're hired for their expertise, but the people have already been there. They're not at the c level, they're not in a leadership role, and they're joining an existing team, but they're seeing things that aren't there, and they want to bring some more teamwork elements into a new group. Any thoughts on where to begin? [00:14:38] Speaker B: Yeah, so I have some thoughts. I don't know if they're right or not, but it's a similar thing. So you are responsible for something. So if you got a job, you have responsibilities. So the first thing you can do is talk with people about what went well and what they'd suggest to do differently, engage people in, so not co create your role, but, but listen deeply, really try to understand where they're coming from and ask for their advice. Be humble right from the beginning. So if you're leading a team, that's what I assume. If teamwork or even just peers, you can say, I'm coming in with, this is my background and this is my experience, but I have a lot to learn because I haven't worked here before and you have. Can you tell me your view of what's been going well, what advice you've given me, not just by joining this organization, but what I should do? Where are the puddles or speed bumps that I should look out for? So engaging people in your work is a way to start to open up things. And if you're asking across functions that starts to create teamwork, have a stake in not your individual, not just your individual success, but joint success. [00:16:07] Speaker A: So I love that advice. That's very practical, that you can come in and be a set of ears and listen and solicit advice. There's some research that points that advice seeking is a great way to build rapport and influence with others because you're taking a seat at the table with them and weaving together a fabric of this is what is important and I can reflect that back with my listening. So there's a lot there I'm curious about. When you were at Mass challenge, which you served as CEO for five years, is that correct? [00:16:42] Speaker B: Yeah, I was there for a little over five years accommodation and so a. [00:16:49] Speaker A: Lot of change of course, through in that organization and mass challenge changed my life. I was a mentor there for six years and our time and paths crossed a little bit. But what did you notice that you could leverage from your time, from post college agency building, communist space and then of course leading many initiatives there and then stepping into that role that you really wanted, you craved that experience to be back around founders. The international components seemed important to you. What was most important to you when you first got there or in that role as CEO? To just establish that leadership qualities that you wanted to see and to really bring about this era that you led and also capitalizing on growth. What was most important for you to. [00:17:42] Speaker B: Focus on the external community. So every the Internet drives math challenge is the, it's one of the leanest organizations I've ever experienced, even growing my own startup. So they're a global organization helping hundreds of entrepreneurs every year, like four or 500 per year. And they have less than 100 employees. So it's highly leveraged on the community, volunteer mentors and coaches. So that external view was important. And I learned a couple of things. I realized. I learned a couple of things in my career up to mass challenge is one, I went into mass challenge not afraid of being wrong. I didn't realize that until I got into one of my first meetings. And I told the founder and CEO of Mass Challenge some things that were, that I didn't love about my experience as a coach for mass challenge, as a mentor and judge. And he gave me information that helped me realize that I was misinformed. And for the first time, I realized, oh, that's okay. I was totally wrong. And I don't know why it was so poignant to me, but usually in one of those first meetings, I think I'd be nervous about, oh, my gosh, I just said something and I was totally off base. I said, oh, really? Oh, interesting. And I learned more about it. So I realized, one, I was not afraid of being wrong, and that was surprising to me. And the other thing that I realized and I learned from Scott Bailey, who is there, is it's all about the community. So as I talked with people in the community, I found out a ton of things that Naz challenge needed to do better, needed to learn, and I was really open about it. It wasn't until years later, actually, just recently, that I read Adam Grant's rethink or think again. And he talks about, you know, he celebrates when he gets something wrong. I don't think I was celebrating, but I was more open to it at that point in my career than I ever was. So that being really open to being wrong or, and not being defensive, sort of embracing it and being totally external focused was community focused was sort of my mantra for my years at mass challenge. [00:20:21] Speaker A: And by external focus, what do you mean by that? [00:20:24] Speaker B: Yeah, it was focused less on the team, so I made sure that the team was focused on. And I spent some of my time with the team, those hundred people around the world, but most of my time was spent with startups, experts, which were mentors, judges, speakers and partners, so financial donors, corporate corporations. So I spent most of my time outside in the innovation ecosystem. I think that's what set me up to even think about the current position at BU or be involved in a myriad of things that I am now. But that was my main focus. [00:21:15] Speaker A: Trey, in that role at mass challenge, what do you feel was your strong area and what was an area of growth that you really were able to learn about yourself and learn new skills as that leader of the organization? [00:21:32] Speaker B: Yeah, my strength was my link with people by my client management years, all that agency work and helping to build teams. I could connect with humans. I could be authentic. I could listen well, I got what we were doing because I was a founder before, I also worked with a lot of Fortune 500 companies. I understood. So that's where I felt comfortable meeting people, understanding their needs, sort of linking them with how we could help the very new. The very new part to me was fundraising. So there are some things that are similar to corporate sales that I've done before, enterprise sales, which are challenging, but I actually love, love the challenge. There was a portion of my leadership role at mass challenge was that what was totally new to me was government grants and fundraising. Fundraising from wealthy individuals. I came from a humble background. Rich people make me nervous, and it's this. I feel like it's this sometimes. That would be my assumption. That was all new to me. It was a challenge. I was very tempted to go into that competency trap area and say, oh, I'm busy over here doing this, so I don't have time to do this. But the thing about fundraising is you need it to pay bills. So I couldn't make that excuse. And I think I learned from my years before when I fell into that trap. [00:23:19] Speaker A: So did you learn to embrace it, love it, thrive? Or was it just something that you became a lot more comfortable with, but it's not something that you actively seek to work on? [00:23:34] Speaker B: I developed over time, so I went through all those stages you just mentioned. I went through all of them, meaning I did it somewhat not begrudgingly, but hesitantly. And then the government work, I ended up really enjoying because it was talking with people on. It's Massachusetts. That's where my focus was. But both sides of the aisle, let's say, talking with a lot of elected and non elected officials, talking with Governor Baker about economic development and all the agencies that deliver. So that was very interesting to me. It was new, and the whole political science junkie of me really found that fascinating. It was frustrating because it's slow, but I get it. I got the most money from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that we ever got from ads challenge. So that was nice. [00:24:30] Speaker A: Well, don't bury the lead, Siobhan. I mean, come on, that's real numbers. That's great. Yeah. [00:24:36] Speaker B: And on the fundraising side from individual donors, that was still challenging, but I had to work myself up every time. Having said that, fundraising for economic development is so difficult, a part of my role at BU is fundraising. Fundraising for innovation for students. Comparatively, it's a breeze. Economic development is tough because everyone thinks someone else shouldn't do it. Individuals think the government should do it because they're creating jobs. Government says, we did it. Now, unless private industry can sustain it, we're not going to fund it forever. And it's a lot easier for individuals philanthropically to give to really important causes that are about human rights instead of about economic development. So it's a top one all over. But I learned skills, and now I feel really comfortable with it. More challenging at mass challenge, less challenging here, but I feel like I built a lot of skills at mass challenge that I can apply where I am at Boston University now. And I'm happy for it. [00:25:54] Speaker A: So can we talk just about leadership a bit more and just looking at your experience and your evolution. I know I don't want to be repetitive, but I'm really just interested in seeing now that you can look back on your career from being in the trenches and building and then weaving together a company through acquisitions and leadership. You know, I guess I'm wondering for someone who is in a role where they're not seeing leadership opportunities, my first instinct is always be a leader. Find a way to lead, find a way to get people together. Maybe it's monthly social hours, maybe it's a. An interest group at work or in your organization. But I don't want to just look through that lens and say that that seems appropriate. But if you could give, you know, a playbook or an advice or just. This is what I think you can do at any stage of your career, whether you're an intern or whether you're leading a new team, how do you develop that leadership? Comfort. If it's not in your comfort zone, if you're really good on the lab bench, if you're really good as an engineer, if you're a quant and you're just a math whiz, but you know that you need to do things with people. You know, where can one begin and start bringing that into their day to day, week to week activities? [00:27:19] Speaker B: Yeah, it's not too far off, the things you said, but I'll try to be really tangible about it. One is you get to get through all the stuff that stops you from doing it. So I do want to say that it's okay to be a quant jock. It's okay to stay on your lab bench if that's what you want. Not everyone. But if you desire to do more, if you see long term, that you want to get to another place, then you do have to think about this. And taking sort of one step at a time, just stepping out of your comfort zone a little, but with people. So what do you already know? Offer to teach people about that. If there's already a staff meeting, get on the agenda and share what you're doing for work. You know that more than anything. So share that. Start by showing how you add value beyond your lap bench or beyond your desk. Just show it a little and start to look for those opportunities. You don't have to go all the way to sharing about your personal life. You can just start step by step. There are also some of the things that you talked about are really important. Showing that you care more about your job, just what you have to do, caring about what other people do and helping them. So that's starting to be a leader, starting to look for ways that you can all collectively improve. That's above and beyond what might be on your job description or what might be. Might be part of your performance or you. But it's so important. And it will be part of what people recognize. Looking beyond your work unit and team, how can you add value to the organization writ large? There might be some things that you can sign up for that are already in in action, like employee resource groups or cross functional activities. Or you just might say, here's a problem. I'd like to work on a solution. Will you help? And that's an innovator, right? It's that easy. Problem people, problem, solution. So when you see one, seek out help and say, hey, I'm going to work on this, because it doesn't make sense to me. This part of our process seems broken. Do you want to work on it with me and then take it to others? And that starts to. That starts to create leadership skills and cross functional skills that will benefit all. [00:30:04] Speaker A: I love that. The two things I really gathered from that were, number one is appoint yourself an expert. Teach others. I always tell my clients, you are the chief information officer of your domain. And I tell stories at all levels, from an intern to a new recruit to anyone else. You know more about what you do than anyone else. Now. Distill it, share it, make it actionable. Okay, that's part one. The second part, which I love, is taking that initiative to say, I'm seeing a problem here. I want to work on solving this. Do you want to work with me? I think that is such a brilliant framework, Siobhan, and it's so easy to apply in the smallest ways. And I remember being a kid, my mom was telling me about an innovator on the assembly line. She worked in software, but she told me about someone and my first reaction as a kid was like, well, won't that mean that they won't have that job anymore? She says they'll get better ones. And I was like, oh, so if you solve something, you lift everyone up, you lift yourself up. So just putting a few things together. [00:31:17] Speaker B: I have one more thing that you just made me realize is I see the same thing when people are presenting, how nervous people get in their own head. I'm going to mess up. I have this script and if I don't follow it, people are going to fill in the blank, like, negative. It's before you present. Someone said this to me and I say it to other people now, and once in a while I'll need it. I've done it so much, I feel like I don't need it much anymore. But once in a while I do is you know way more about what you're going to say than anyone in the room. Even if you're talking about science with scientists, they don't know what you're going to say, so you know it. No one's going to know that you go out of script. No one's going to know that you forgot a point on a slide. You know it, so just do it and be the, be the expert that you are. I find myself reiterating that to people. It seems to help. It helped me in my twenties 100%. [00:32:18] Speaker A: I love that. And, you know, one of the things I share, I teach a lot of this all the time for people in industry and innovators. I say, don't focus on what you have to say or even do. Focus on how it's going to help them with something. Give them actionable advice, give them an epiphany, give them a new way of looking at data, giving them a few solutions that they can partner with. If you focus on helping them fall into whatever it is they're committed to, then they're going to be hanging on your every word. You can stumble all over the place. They're not going to care. People are very selfish with their time. They want what they want out of this information, and so they either want something useful or something surprising or something in the middle, right? There's got to be some value here. [00:33:06] Speaker B: So I love that. [00:33:07] Speaker A: I love that. So let's talk about one of the things that's underpinned my whole professional life, which is communication. It seems like for leadership and teamwork, one must be an effective communicator. And so I'm wondering about your journey with communication in terms of communicating to your colleagues and then to clients and then to partners and stakeholders investors. How have you thought about communication as a skill throughout your career? And then what have you done to meaningfully affect how you communicate? [00:33:43] Speaker B: It has been quite a journey for me. I'm the youngest of four children, younger by eight years. So I was always quiet. I never got a word in edgewise within my family and it was always I was shy. Very different from how I am as an adult. I don't really know what happened there, but I think it was I finally needed to be heard on my own. So I started to step up and do this to talk for myself and that didn't happen for a really long time. So I started that because the other challenge that I had is I had a really thick Boston accent and it gets in the way of professional. I learned that at Undergrad, how strong my Boston accent was. It was getting in the way of communicating with people from different areas of the country when I was in college. So I started to adapt that a little bit. And then when I realized that, I guess I realized that I need to adapt a little to be, if I want to be understood, I need to adapt a little bit, but I can still keep who I am. It was a struggle for me to let go of my accent because I felt like I was let going of some of me, but after a while it was like, it's the only way people will understand me, so I'm going to let go of that. And then I realized when I communicate with people, I can adapt things and still be me. I just need them to understand me. So I have spoken with, as we talked about donors, rich people and not rich people and founders from many different backgrounds, academics now and I do, I change. I can still be me and change the way I communicate. So I'm understood really putting myself in their head, in the audience, as a presenter, in the audience heads and where they're coming from. But now it's almost innate with me. I sort of try to find, figure out where the person's coming from and try to meet them where they are. That absolutely came out through client management. You need to do that. You need to understand where people are to meet them, where they are, listen to not just what they're saying, but social cues. I think I got some of that, too. I've lived internationally, usually by myself, so sort of looking for cultural clues, seeing what I'm doing wrong and adapting quickly. So I don't know, how I did it, but that's, I believe, how I evolved to being a good listener and communicating in a way that makes sense for who I'm talking to. [00:36:36] Speaker A: Yeah, it starts and ends with the audience. And you found that through your experience. And, you know, I think everyone has a unique voice, not just physically, you know, their voice and their accent, but we all have a natural way of communicating. And I'm a firm proponent that there's no right way to communicate or wrong way. However, one has to be responsible for communicating to an audience and getting the message across, if that's imperative. So if you're fundraising and it's a large conference hall and the mic cuts out, you can't just rely on. Well, but I'm quiet and introverted and shy, and this is my natural voice, so I can't project you. Just this is what I need to do for this event at this time, for that audience or this, you know, so you really just have to be able to pivot and adjust on the fly, and you learn that for yourself. And knowing who you are doesn't change. But being responsible for the message, I think, is just an imperative lesson to learn. [00:37:38] Speaker B: Yeah, that just reminded me. I think one of it might go back to some work I did when I was in consulting was around process improvement. One of the things around process improvement and just sort of mapping a process is the handoffs are where things go wrong. And I learned early in my career that I need to be responsible for the total handoff, not just sort of throw it over the wall and say, I did my part. Don't know if they got it. It's, I have to be responsible for that person catching it and being able to do the next thing in a process, the same thing with communication. So I told them, I don't know. That's not an excuse, saying, I told them they didn't do anything with it. You have to communicate in a way that people can get absorb and act. And if you own that whole handoff, then you really think about the word you use. You really think about the face of the people you're talking with. And when they are looking at you like they have no idea what you're saying, or they glaze over, you have to think of a different way to do it, either in the moment or afterwards through follow up. So owning that full handoff, I think, has helped me in communication at an individual level and all the way to large groups. [00:39:04] Speaker A: It's great. It's a good imagery because it's conjuring up that handoff. You know, when I originally started pitchDna, the a was for actionable, because you had to be actionable. Get something to do something, vote, donate, join, sign up. Something that we could see. But what you're reminding me of is the physical handoff. I imagine you as the CEO or you as the executive director, you have a torch in your hand and it has a flame, and you're literally handing that off to light other people's candles or torches. But now, if they have that same flame, they got the message, what are they going to do with it? And this is the part where it separates really good communicators from next level experts, because the best I've seen have a way of framing their message such that the fires burn bright for hours and days afterwards. You know, whether it's stories, anecdotes, a feeling, something in the way they communicate that just lifts people up or inspires them to the action that they committed to. So it's just giving me that imagery. [00:40:14] Speaker B: I love that. I love that. And the people carrying the torches can light others torches or something. I'm rewatching Game of Thrones, and it's bringing up a few of the episodes recently, but I won't go there. [00:40:29] Speaker A: Fire mostly for good, sometimes for terrible. But that's aside, one of the questions I wanted to talk about was just in terms of communication, sharing values or why we're doing this. In speaking with a lot of my clients, oftentimes they'll say, I would have no problem doing x, y, and for zoom if I knew why. And so then I look at their leaders. Are they communicating? Why? Are you asking them why? So when you look at your roles all throughout your professional career, how important is it to communicate the why or the values of what we're doing to everyone? Because you can't sit with everyone one on one, even though that's a strong suit and a forte. You have to communicate across cultures, across time zones, across countries. How did you think about communicating the values and what's most important to an organization? [00:41:27] Speaker B: I don't recall the last time I communicated a what without a why. I just think that the world is too sophisticated for that. I was never one to, since catholic grammar school, was I ever want to just do it because I told you to do it? There's too much personal responsibility. People need to know why, why they're doing things, and they also need to know why I make the decisions I make. So one thing that came out really strongly about that was during Ed Mass challenge during the pandemic, but a world changing event during the pandemic, the racial reckoning. And there were things that we were making decisions on that people in the whole company needed to know the why. So I actually started to document some pretty big decisions to say this was the context, this was the decision. Decision's not up for debate, but this was the why and the thinking. And I usually or always linked it to values that we had as an organization and what I considered especially the, but not every decision, but we had some big ones during that time, big ones around what are we going to do about how we hire to improve our diversity? What are we going to do about our work in Ghana that has to address some of their laws around sexual identity in Ghana, which is different from the US, but we do work there. What are we going to do around, how are we going to address, not accusations, but concerns around the way people act? And we have made decisions on those. Those are pretty big and rippling decisions. And I decided to document those not only with the what, but the why, the context and what I considered. So your original question was less complex than this. But I'll say that I always have the why, even if. Even if I don't have to communicate it. I wait for. I'm always open to answering the why whenever there's a what. And sometimes you have to proactively talk about context and talk about the whys, because it's really important. The world is too sophisticated, and especially the workforce now who are younger, mainly younger than I am, require and deserve the information that I want. [00:44:34] Speaker A: Well, you're in an exciting new role at BU, but looking back before we look forward, and I mean this not in a self serving way, because you don't strike me as that type of person, but more as like something you're proud of. What aspects are you most proud of? From an agency, through communist space, through integration, moving through economic downturns, going through the pandemic, looking back at what you've accomplished thus far, of what are you most proud? And then we'll tailor that into looking towards the future at bullet. [00:45:12] Speaker B: I hope this doesn't sound cheesy, but relationships, and I'll give you an example. We just had what we called an OG communist space reunion. It was the people. It's like the first 1st group that were only in Watertown. We moved from Watertown to downtown Boston in 2010. So the first people or 2009. It was the first ten years of us. Those are the only people that were invited. It was 2 hours on a Sunday in August, so we, or July, we didn't really know who would show up. We had people from all around the country come. There were almost 200 of us there. And it was magical. It was these people who, some of whom I haven't seen in 13 years or 14 years, or even only just a communist space for a couple of years during that time, came and talked about how what we built changed their careers, how some of the things they learned changed their lives. It was just the connections and those relationships. I would start a company with those people again, I don't even care the topic at any moment. That was special, because we always wanted to create a company we always wanted to work for. So what we had then was special. And those were the tough years, those were the pay cut years, the roller coaster years that chase the mail carrier for a check years. So those were. That was amazing. So that's a recent example, but the other reason I say relationships is people. Students at BU have started to talk to me about networking, and people have different reactions to that word. I feel, Stevie, because of the negative connotations that word has, but I network constantly, but it's just relationships. And I'm really proud of that because I can't tell you how many connections I can make with people just because of the vast number of people. I feel like I have some sort of relationship from over the past 30 years, and it's worldwide, and I'm really proud of that, to be able to make some of these connections that are meaningful. [00:47:48] Speaker A: It reminds me of after college, I moved to Los Angeles, and the first reaction, most people was, oh, people there are fake. And I'd say, well, if I'm not being fake, then why am I going to be attracting people who are, you know, being fake? I can understand that some people move places to become someone different, and that's fine, that's welcome to America, right? But part of me thought, if you're being authentic and connecting with someone, then you're going to find those people who are also doing the same. And so that's what it reminded me of, is networking can feel skeevy if you make it feel that way. Or you could say, go learn about something and just find something you have in common. And now you'll have a shared interest or a hobby, or maybe even shared values, and rinse, repeat, go from there. [00:48:37] Speaker B: Networking needs a rebranding, but that's all. [00:48:40] Speaker A: 100%. 100%. I think you're right. And what you related to, you were hunkered down the sort of war years of building communist space, and you were building this company and you said something that I wanted to shift gears here. But as we're winding up the interview, which I've truly enjoyed, and I love hearing about your journey and your evolution as a person, as a leader, and it's all super interesting. One of the things I was hearing you talk about in early days of communist space was how you thought it was going to be a software as a service with sort of client solutions as second, and then you had to invert it. Could you talk about that revelation over time of seeing what the need was and addressing it in one way and then shifting it to the way that it's ultimately still is in existence in a certain way? [00:49:37] Speaker B: Sure. So it's probably obvious, but I'll say the reasons for wanting to be a SaaS business, the business forecasts, the visibility into your revenue is really attractive, the profitability is super attractive. It's easy to scale. For all of those reasons, we want it to be a SaaS business, highly investable. So we built, many of us came from an organization that did, I did instructional design during that time. I did a lot of training of adults. So it was natural that I would lead client services where I would train people in Fortune 500 companies to use the software. I just what now we call customer success. We just wanted them to be successful with their software. So first time we do it along with them, document what the stages are, figure out a way to train, make that scalable and move on and create a semi small group that would do that. Well, shockingly at the time for me is Fortune 500. 500 companies have money, but not resources. So they just couldn't put staff to it and they couldn't hire staff to something that they were piloting and everyone was piloting at us because we were early on. So in large companies, they don't want to necessarily hire new people. They'd rather rather spend money on a contractor or on a contract for a finite amount of time, be able to cut that than hire someone because you get rid of them, you have to lay them off. So again, Fortune 500 companies had more money than resources, and we wanted to do anything to make them successful. So we did. We found out that we were really, really good at it. Creating community online. This was the year 2000. Reddit wasn't even created until 2003, I don't think. So. We were creating community online for the first time, ish. So we started to get good at that. We realized we needed to do it for another company. We thought eventually we will turn into the SATS model and it just never happened. And it turned out that it wasn't as natural as easy. It was rocket science for people to create relationships and scale that intimacy online. And we were learning a ton about it. So we just did it over and over. And no one, a hundred percent of our clients were full service. They didn't even want a light model. They were just buying more than they wanted us. Not only to facilitate these communities, but start to write reports and sent this synthesize learnings each new service. We didn't go in kicking and screaming, but it was new to us at first. All we did for that first client, Hallmark, was facilitated their community. They found the members, they incented them, they took the learnings and created reports and translated them to the business. But we started doing that for all our clients. First they wanted us to find members. We figured that out with partnership. Then they wanted us to incent members. We figured that out. Then we were wrapping sneakers to send to Reebok community members. So we were fulfilling that. And then we scaled that, and then finally came the reporting. We thought at least our insight customers could take the insights, translate them for their businesses and act on them, but they look to us to do that too. So we started to learn it again. We thought eventually we might be able to train them or create a market for self service, that people would do it on their own. And it just never ended up happening. The expertise that we got by doing this a lot and being one of the first people to do this, just continue to be full service. [00:53:58] Speaker A: So knowing what you know now, it's so easy to look back. Of course. Would that have changed the way that you built communist space when you were first going? Because it was. I noticed that for myself, I've been doing now training, and I love what I do. I truly love it. But I also realized the only finite thing is my time, my energy. And so it's so tempting to want to build online resources and courses and clickables and this and that. And part of that is to be able to scale. A book is scaling, right? An online course is scaling. At the same time, the market wants what it wants. So I'm asking selfishly, but I'm also looking at your experience, Siobhan. Would that have changed the business that you were building had you known what the client ultimately really wanted from you? [00:54:51] Speaker B: Who knows? But what I will say is, looking back now, what I wish we did is did what we did, but also figured out how to invest in technology for a different part of the market. I don't think we would have changed what these Fortune 500 companies needed or wanted because that's where they were. It was brand new. People didn't even know if they believed online market research because it wasn't what they were used to. So I don't think that change could have happened without us doing the work and the learning on behalf of the clients. But what we didn't do, and I wish we did, was looked at another side of the market. My entire time there, we could never figure out how to deliver what we called C space light, the community model that was more self service, partially because we had a bunch of false starts, technology, leadership wise. But we should have, and any investor in us should have made us, frankly, because I think we would have scaled and had a better financial results on the bottom line. Instead, it evolved way more to an agency bespoke model. And the companies we purchased were doing really bespoke innovation consulting. So less scalable than that. So I think we could have done a better job trying to create some sort of SaaS arm. In hindsight, it is what it is, though. [00:56:30] Speaker A: Yeah. So talk to me about this role as executive director at innovate at BU. So you have a different charge now. What is your charge as executive director? If you put them in big buckets, what's most important for you to do and where do you want to focus your energy? [00:56:51] Speaker B: I was attracted to this because it is student facing and it is about helping any BU student. Across there, 17 schools and colleges. It's a huge university. Even as an undergrad, I didn't realize that we were the fourth largest private university in the state. So 34,000 students. So that cross disciplinary focus on students, helping them to build innovation skills and have an entrepreneurial mindset to make an impact in their communities and careers. So what that means to me is it doesn't have to be about a venture. It can be about someone's, someone's career as a teacher. So our focus, we have curriculum and extracurricular. So on the curriculum side, I have someone who is an academic who can do that. We have a minor. I am leaning on my instructional design skills to get into the classroom more. And then we have our extracurricular stuff, lots of programs that we're trying to make accessible to people across disciplines. One of the things that I want to focus on is over the last five years that this has been in existence, I think they've done a really good job on people who know they want to get involved with innovation or entrepreneurship. So usually someone who knows that they want to create a venture, some sort of startup or some sort of venture, I think they've done a pretty good job with the innovation. Curious, we call them that say, I want to do something. I don't know if I want to be part of a team at least or something. So can you tell me more? I don't think we've done a great job on people who don't even know how to spell entrepreneurship because it's a really hard word to spell or know anything about it. So I'm trying to get in the classroom where students have to spend time anyway. Even if they have five jobs, they have to spend time in classrooms. So trying to get in there and help them build skills in the context of what they're learning, as well as create more interesting and accessible extracurricular stuff that will be interesting for artists or people who you wouldn't think would be naturally inclined towards innovation. [00:59:23] Speaker A: Got it. So you want to give them skills, you want to give them a mindset for innovation, and you also want to expand how people think about it across bu. [00:59:33] Speaker B: Yeah, it's not just about their jobs, it's about their communities, too. They can solve problems anywhere. [00:59:39] Speaker A: I love that. Well, the value of community is clear across your career and will continue to be. And I get that. What you strike me as, and this is a high compliment, is someone who is authentic and true to who they are and just values what people can bring, whether it's their energy, leadership skills, their expertise. And you just have that warm way of making people feel inspired to want to do more, to work harder. And so it's no surprise the success you've had. So I really appreciate spending some time with you. Siobhan, thank you so much. [01:00:17] Speaker B: I think you just shot me through the next month that what you just said is going to lift be me up when I get down. [01:00:24] Speaker A: Well, that. That's great. Is there anything that I didn't ask you that would have been useful for me to ask or a theme or a topic that you would want to have spoken on? [01:00:35] Speaker B: I can't think of a thing. I feel like I just spoke about myself for the last 15 hours, so that's more than enough for me. [01:00:46] Speaker A: No, I loved it. And there's so many useful ways to sort of drill down and look at what people can do now, but also looking at your experience and learning from others. And I think the value of these conversations is really just having a chance to sit back and go on a walk or on a drive and just listen to your experience and what you've been able to, you know, not only put into practice, but also things you would change and how you've evolved. That's the story of life as an entrepreneur and as a business leader. So it's just been great speaking to you. [01:01:17] Speaker B: Thank you so much, Stuart. It's been a lot of fun. [01:01:20] Speaker A: Thanks for listening to the show. For more information, please check out influencedna co. And you can also leave us a six star review, but we'll settle for five. See you on the next one.

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