Playmakers: On Purpose

The Power of Everyday Innovators (ft. Josh Linkner, 5x Entrepreneur & Bestselling Author)

Episode Summary

If we all sit around waiting for an earth-shattering breakthrough to change our lives or change the world, we’ll be waiting a long time. Those kinds of innovations come along once or twice in a generation. But what if we could shift the way we approach innovation, instead focusing on small improvements and creative solutions to problems that incrementally add up to total transformation? That’s the power of everyday innovation.

Episode Notes

The Power of Everyday Innovators

Why you don’t have to be a global game changer to make innovation a part of your life and career.

OPENING QUOTE:

“Most of us think of innovation as this big topic that's out of our reach. Inventing the electric automobile or SpaceX or something and we say, "Great for Elon Musk, but I'm a normal person. How does that apply to me?" I tried to flip that whole concept upside down. This is like innovation for the rest of us. Again, helping everyday people become everyday innovators.”

—Josh Linkner

GUEST BIO:

Josh Linkner is a creative troublemaker. He started his career as a jazz guitarist and then went on to become the founder and CEO of five tech companies, which sold for a combined value of over $200 million. He is also a deeply experienced business leader, venture capitalist, top-rated keynote speaker, New York Times bestselling author, and professional jazz guitarist. He is a world-renown expert on innovation, disruption, and hyper-growth leadership.

Learn more about Josh Linkner:

CORE TOPICS + DETAILS:

[7:04] -- Lifelong Learning in a Busy World

How to read in the rat race, and why you should

Josh mourns the statistic that 50% of adults haven’t read a book since they graduated college. Whether it’s books, podcasts, YouTube videos, or some other source, lifelong learning is 100% essential to being an everyday innovator. You don’t have to be holed up in a study poring over books for hours— find small moments in your day to learn something new, and your creativity will blossom.

[12:23] -- The 30 Days Rule

Try it, experience it, and move forward

You don’t have to commit to some monumental life change in order to transform your trajectory. Interested in something? Commit to 30 days. At the end of that 30 days, determine whether you want to commit to another 30. Breaking up your passions into manageable time periods will help make life changes feel less monumental.

[12:44] -- The 5-Minute Creativity Ritual

Josh’s jet fuel for a day of innovation

Every day, Josh starts with a 5-minute ritual designed to supercharge his daily creativity. Minute one, he guzzles inputs. Watching a performance, reading a poem— anything to inspire. Minute two, he goes through the highlight reel of his recent successes and future goals. This is the confidence boost. Minute three, he thinks of solutions for a problem unrelated to his life and business. Recycling plastics, for example. This is the mental stretching exercise. Minute four is the time machine. Go forward to a future where you’ve achieved everything you ever dreamed. How did you get there? Finally, minute five— take 60 seconds to consider an active problem in your life. It could be personal or business-related. This is a one-minute sprint to consider how you’re going to work towards solving that problem today.

That’s Josh’s 5-minute creativity ritual. What’s yours?

[22:00] -- The Story of Big Little Breakthroughs

How Josh unlocked the secrets of CEOs, billionaires, and celebrities

All over the world, people do amazing things— some in the public spotlight, some away from it. Josh interviewed dozens of them to determine how they structure their days to allow for small breakthroughs that lead to big rewards.

[25:42] -- The Power of Just Starting

Start with bad, and get a little bit better

Imagine you and another person both see an opportunity. You have more money, more smarts, and more resources overall. You take some time to start mapping out the options, determining the best path forward, weighing the risks and rewards. But the other person just starts. They start with what they have, and it’s terrible, but each day it gets a little less terrible. By the time six months have gone by, that person with no money or resources will be ahead of you.

[27:20] -- No Money, No Time, No Innovation?

“I don’t have the resources to be creative.”

Josh shares the funny but true statement, “If the amount of resources that you had equaled your level of creativity, the Federal government would be the most creative organization on the planet and startups would be the least.” Resources don’t create innovation. Innovators do.

[34:14] -- The View from the Peak

What to do, and not do, when you’re at the top

Josh shares with us the peaks and valleys from his career, and one key takeaway is the importance of not learning the wrong lessons from your successes. Don’t become full of yourself— recognize the combination of luck and perseverance that got you there, take a moment to celebrate, then move on to the next challenge.

[38:45] -- You Have More Time Than You Think

Don’t let what you have to do stand in the way of what you want to do

As Josh and Paul close out their conversation, Josh reflects on how anyone can find a moment every day to be the truest, most authentic versions of themselves. No person alive has days filled front-to-finish with only the things they want to do. But we can all find the time, whether it’s five minutes or five hours, to pursue the things about which we’re the most passionate.

RESOURCES:

FOLLOW:

We'd love to hear your thoughts on today’s episode. Feel free to DM Paul on social or shoot him an email at paul@paulepsteinspeaks.com.

Learn more about Josh Linkner:

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ABOUT THE HOST:

Paul Epstein may not be a hard charging running back on the actual football field, but his list of high-profile wins in the world of sports will have you thinking that he could be.

Paul has spent nearly 15 years as a pro sports executive for multiple NFL and NBA teams, a global sports agency, and the NFL league office. He’s transformed numerous NBA teams from the absolute bottom in league revenue to top-two in financial performance. He’s broken every premium revenue metric in Super Bowl history as the NFL’s sales leader. He’s opened a billion-dollar stadium, helped save the New Orleans NBA franchise, and founded the San Francisco 49ers Talent Academy.

He's since installed his leadership and high-performance playbook with Fortune 500 leaders, Founders and CEOs, MBAs, and professional athletes.

Now, as Founder of Purpose Labs, keynote speaker, bestselling author, and host of the Playmakers: Impact Unleashed podcast, Paul explores how living and working with a focus on leadership, culture, and purpose can transform organizations and individuals anywhere to unleash their full potential.

CREDITS:

Episode Transcription

Josh Linkner:

Most of us think of innovation as this big topic that's out of our reach. Inventing the electric automobile or SpaceX or something and we say, "Great for Elon Musk, but I'm a normal person. How does that apply to me?" I tried to flip that whole concept upside down. This is like innovation for the rest of us. Again, helping everyday people become everyday innovators.

Paul Epstein:

Welcome to Playmakers. I'm your host, Paul Epstein, 15 year NFL and NBA business exec and bestselling author of The Power of Playing Offense. In my journey, I have discovered that there are two types of people in this world. The difference between elite performers and the rest of the pack, or what I like to call those that play on offense versus those that play defense. Defense, always on their heels, offense on our toes.

Paul Epstein:

Defense, playing not to lose, offense, playing to win. Defense, the market dictates the terms, offense, we operate on our terms. Playing with purpose, playing with passion and taking control of our future. So now the question is, how do you want to play? Here on the Playmakers podcast, we play off offense, 10 out of 10 times. As we ramp up toward today's episode, pull out your notepad so you can capture all the action so we can make place and level up together.

Paul Epstein:

Playmakers it's about that time to welcome Josh Linkner into the conversation. Josh has been the founder and CEO of five tech companies, which sold for a combined value of over $200 million. He's twice been named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, as well as the recipient of the United States Presidential Champion of Change Award. Josh now serves as chairman and co-founder of Platypus Labs, an innovation research, training and consulting firm.

Paul Epstein:

He's the proud author of four books, including the New York Times bestsellers, Discipline Dreaming and The Road to Reinvention. Today you're going to hear us talk about his newest release, Big Little Breakthroughs. Josh is also a passionate Detroiter, father of four, professional level jazz guitarist and has a slightly odd obsession for greasy pizza. I hope you're as fired up for the conversation with Josh as I am and as a reminder, many of the key takeaways of today's show can be found in the show notes on playmakerspod.com. With that, let's welcome Josh Linkner into the Playmakers podcast.

Paul Epstein:

Josh. Welcome to Playmakers. How are we doing?

Josh Linkner:

I'm doing great. I'm just delighted to be with you.

Paul Epstein:

Absolutely, and I'm fired up to be able to either re-introduce or introduce you to the entire Playmaker community. We know that you are the king and guru, you would never call yourself this, but I will humbly call you the guru of innovation and you and I have shared whether it be keynote stages or thought leadership spaces. So we think the world of you, but I want to go back to yester, yesteryear and a passion of yours and something that was a trade and a craft is that you are a jazz guitarist.

Paul Epstein:

So that's near to your core. Then you make this really interesting transition going on to be the founder of five, in fact, check me if I'm wrong on any of this, five tech startups, which had a total exit value of over $200 million. So walk us through how a jazz guitarist makes that pivot, makes that transition. What inspired it?

Josh Linkner:

Thank you so much, and it's always a pleasure to sit down with you, Paul. I have such deep respect for your work. So what happened for me is, so in jazz, jazz is mainly an improvisational art form. It's kind of cool. I don't know of any other art form really that is, you're sort of composing and performing simultaneously and every night is different. So if you and I were in a jazz combo and we played the same song for 10 years in a row, it would be literally different every night.

Josh Linkner:

In the same way that our conversation today isn't scripted, neither is most of jazz. So jazz is all about responsible risk-taking and inventing stuff in real time, and course correcting when you screw something up inevitably and being a good collaborator sometimes, and sometimes shining individually and other times just being in more of a supporting role and in the weirdest way, those are the identical skills needed in modern business.

Josh Linkner:

So this transition seems so weird. Like why would a jazz musician become a tech entrepreneur, but it actually is more aligned than you might think. In fact, by the time I started my first company at age 20, I'd never taken a business class. My business school was playing jazz music, but having since taken many business classes and read hundreds and hundreds of business books, I frankly think I learned more about business from playing jazz than I did by studying business.

Paul Epstein:

That's fascinating. We're going to double-click on a couple pieces there only because you mentioned hundreds of business books. So that's a very big sample size. If you could pull out one, and I know that everybody listening in might have their own shtick and care about different things, unique things in life, but if you could recommend one of those hundreds that you feel is the most universally applicable to all Playmakers out there.

Josh Linkner:

There's this wonderful book called The Power of Playing Offense. It is a wonderful book though and I do encourage everybody to read it. It's a hard man because I'm like you. I'm a voracious reader. I love learning. If I never made a cent again, I get excited when I'm learning. So I read easily 20 to 50 books a year. It's always hard to say like what's your favorite book. I can tell you a few favorites recently.

Josh Linkner:

Adam Grant's book, Rethink is outstanding, I highly recommend it.

Paul Epstein:

Phenomenal.

Josh Linkner:

John Acuff's new book, Soundtracks is outstanding. I highly recommend it. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari from Robin Sharma has always been one of my faves. Like I said, it's so hard. Seth Godin's work is amazing. I think Atomic Habits is as a phenomenal book.

Josh Linkner:

So I would say that rather than individual ... Of course, you're welcome to borrow any of those books, but I just think the notion of being a lifetime learner is so meaningful. If we want to be a Playmaker, like it always breaks my heart when I read the statistics that over 50% of college graduates, the last book they read was in college.

Josh Linkner:

I'm like, "What do you mean? You graduate at 22 or 23. You don't ever read another book the rest of your life?" Oh my gosh. I understand we can consume content in different ways. It could be podcasts, it could be YouTube, whatever, but as long as we're always learning, I think that's the most important thing far more than a particular book, other than yours of course.

Paul Epstein:

Of course. Of course. So let me ask you this. I like you and a lot of Playmakers, most, I would argue Playmakers out there are in the lifelong learner bucket, but let's say somebody says, "I want to do it, but I'm just caught in the rat race. I'm caught in the madness. I don't have the time." What perspective would you share if knowing the time is scarce, knowing that we're all fighting and scrapping for that extra minute, how have you personally been able to carve out that time in your life and what advice would you give those of us that we want to be lifelong learners? Maybe it just hasn't hit our calendar just yet.

Josh Linkner:

It's a great question, Paul and I think so often when we want to do something, we think of it as this all or nothing, change, permanent type stuff, and it feels so overwhelming. Like who's got the time and we think about being a lifetime learner means that I've got to find an extra 12 hours a week or something. I'm a big fan of small steps and as you know, my newest book, Big Little Breakthroughs is around taking small steps of creativity, but if you're talking about learning, I would say the same thing.

Josh Linkner:

Could you find two minutes a day, literally two minutes and start there. So that's 10 minutes ... Let's say just two minutes for five days a week, 10 minutes a week. There's 10 minutes, start there, but you know what I would do if I were someone in that predicament? The very first book I would read is I would go search for the number one time management book.

Paul Epstein:

Oh, there you go. So now you're double dipping. Yup.

Josh Linkner:

Then say, "Are there any hacks?" So in other words, I would use the constraint of time and learning to say, "How can I learn quickly to uncover more time?" I've seen many other people do this. They say, "Oh my gosh, I have no time," but you say to yourself, okay, if you studied time management for 30 days, just 30 days, that's it. 30 days, picks time. Could you find 15 minutes a day? I bet all of us could, and they're little teeny steps.

Josh Linkner:

It's not even all at once. Maybe it's like you shift your commute by 10 minutes so there's slightly less traffic. Maybe you consolidate when you have your meals, so you have less downtime or maybe you put the printer two steps closer to you. So even if you got to that 15 minutes extra a day in the most messy, disorganized way, then you say, "Okay, cool. Now I've got something new." The question is, do you let it get absorbed in the whirlwind or do you decide to reinvest it? So, in other words, I would use the concept of learning to learn how to get more time to solve my learning problem.

Paul Epstein:

That's fantastic and to add one small piece of that, and I've been given this advice and it worked extraordinarily. So I just want to share it out with everybody listening in. If, as an example, not that it has to be a book. You can learn in many different ways, but just to say that if reading is your thought leadership of choice, start with something that you love. Start with something that you're passionate about.

Paul Epstein:

In other words, if you love innovation, pick up Big Little Breakthroughs, but in all sincerity, if cooking is your thing, pick up a book in your passionate space, because you will be more fired up to dive into it and to stick with it and to find that time and create those disciplined habits versus picking the subject that you hated in grade school. So just a quick hit there. Josh, I know you've been really-

Josh Linkner:

Yeah, just doubling down on that quick. I'm sorry to interrupt you, but there's also the thing that you love, but the format that you love. So sometimes for me, when I read a physical book, which I do often, but my eyes get a little tired. I actually enjoy listening to books. Then I say, "Okay, how can I get more time?" If I'm in an airport and I'm waiting for my flight, well, I can be listening to a book or maybe some people prefer watching stuff. You could either watch a video book or you could watch a lecture or a TED talk or something. So the point is the learning style that you appreciate most is another one to pursue. It doesn't have to be a textbook to be meaningful.

Paul Epstein:

So it's not only what you do, it's how you do it. So that's great context that you added there. I know Josh from our personal conversations and just hearing you in many platforms out there, you are a massive believer and fan of habits and rituals. I know one thing that really caught my attention, and I want to share this out with everybody listening in, you have a five minute morning ritual. If you could share that with us and I think this really expands on the concepts we've been talking about, but this is how Josh Linkner does it and I think frankly, every single person can tap into this.

Josh Linkner:

Absolutely. So just a little context. My real passion in life is around human creativity. I believe that all human beings and I mean all, have large reservoirs of dormant, creative capacity. When we bring that capacity to the surface, the outcomes that we care about the most come to life, whether that's a business outcome or a health outcome or a family or your church or whatever.

Josh Linkner:

So I think in other words, think that we have a super power locked inside of us, and if we can bring it out, then we can enjoy amazing results. So my body of work is basically around helping everyday people become everyday innovators. So my ritual, again, people can have different rituals for different things. Mine isn't to build my biceps, it's to build my creativity muscle. So I do. So I've written four books on the topic of human creativity.

Josh Linkner:

I've delivered over a thousand keynotes around the world. It's sort of my passion, helping people become more creative. So my five minute a day ritual is around that, just to be clear, but here's what I've done and actually I wrote about it in the book. I've even since updated it a bit. Here's what I do every day, five minutes a day. I just think before I say that, it's crucial that we're always updating it. So I just wrote this book, it came out two months ago and I've since upgraded that ritual. So rather than committing to it-

Paul Epstein:

Really? So it's already evolved since the book came out?

Josh Linkner:

It's already evolved since the book came out. So my only suggestion to people is rather than thinking of self as all or nothing like, oh, I'm going to have to do this for the rest of my life. Just think about it in fix time, like, okay, I'm going to try this for 30 days and if you like it, keep it. If it works for the next 30 days, keep that. If it doesn't tweak it. So you don't have to make permanent change that you have to accept forever. Just try something, but anyway, here's my five minute a day creativity ritual.

Josh Linkner:

Ready? Minute number one, they're five one minute sprints. Minute number one, I call it guzzle inputs. They say in software engineering, if you want to change the outputs, you got to change the inputs. So for me, I spend one minute, that's it, absorbing the creativity of others.

Josh Linkner:

I might watch a band playing on YouTube. I might read a poem out loud. I could stare at a piece of art. I switch it up, but the idea is I just bathe in the creativity of others to get my juices flowing.

Paul Epstein:

Love that.

Josh Linkner:

Minute number two, you'll relate to this being a sports enthusiast. It's basically a highlight reel. So we all can imagine a highlight reel in sports. I just quickly play a one minute highlight reel in my mind of myself. Highlight reel of me doing something creative in the past that could be solving a problem, dealing with a challenge, seizing a new opportunity and that anchors in my mind that I have the ability to do it.

Josh Linkner:

Then I switch like a highlight reel of the future. I just imagine myself doing something successful, like winning a deal or having a moment of success fueled by creativity. So this one minute highlight reel, anchored half of it in the past and half of it in the future helps me really cement that this is within my grasp.

Paul Epstein:

Love it. So you're studying the past, and then we'll go to number three. You're studying the past. You're building that muscle memory, but then you're creating that more inspirational, maybe aspirational vision of the future. So you're piggybacking both.

Josh Linkner:

Yeah. Almost and not to get all geeky on you, but within that one minute, think of it as a 30 minute previous highlight reel that spills into a 30 minute future highlight reel.

Paul Epstein:

Got it. Cool. All right. What's step number three?

Josh Linkner:

Minute number three, step number three, I call this the unrelated problem. So here I'm basically doing jumping jacks for my creativity. It's not meant to solve a particular issue that I, as a human being, I'm dealing with. [inaudible 00:14:30]. My family, my business, none of that. I might just take an unrelated problem. Like here's a bottle of water I have and say, environmental recycling of plastics.

Josh Linkner:

Again, that's not even my field. I know nothing about that topic, but I spend one minute, it's unrelated. Not trying to solve it all at once. In other words, we know that plastics are a problem. I don't try to say, "Can I come up with a perfect solution?" People spend their whole careers and they don't up with the perfect solution. Instead I say, I'm going to take one minute and say, "What are small little ideas that might help the problem?"

Josh Linkner:

So all I'm doing is riffing on a problem outside of my expertise. I'm not trying to develop actual work product. I'm just trying to get my creative juices flowing. So you can take on a problem, like something really simple, like how do you get people to stop speeding to how do you win some more Olympic gold medals, if you're an athlete to how do we create peace in the Middle East? It doesn't matter. Whatever the topic is, big or small, just spend one minute coming up with how many little ideas can you think about for it.

Paul Epstein:

So Josh, quick question on that and then we'll go to minute four. I love the concept. My question to you is do you have to take action? So the way that you picked up that water bottle, and then you say, you're thinking more from an environmental standpoint, does the third minute of your five minute routine and ritual, does it always result in action or does it sometimes just stay in thought?

Josh Linkner:

It never results in action. That's the whole point of it because I take an unrelated problem. So if a problem was, hey, I just read an article on the news about a short manufacturer that's running low on cotton or their supply chain is goofy. All I start thinking about it as if I was in that shoe, what are some small ways that I might be able to help that problem?

Paul Epstein:

Got it. Okay. So it's a creative juice piece.

Josh Linkner:

It's all it is. Just like when you're doing jumping jacks, it's not a work product. It's just getting your muscles flowing.

Paul Epstein:

Beautiful.

Josh Linkner:

Pumping iron for your creativity.

Paul Epstein:

There we go.

Josh Linkner:

Minute number four. Minute number four, I call it the time machine. So I fast forward in my mind to something I really want. So Paul, let's say it's you and you're like, "Hey, I really want to win a Nobel prize someday." So then imagine that you're winning the Nobel prize and a reporter comes up to you and says, 'Mr. Epstein, congratulations. What percentage of this accomplishment would you attribute to your creativity?"

Josh Linkner:

So when I do this for myself, I never see myself answering that question like, a half a percent. How about 1%? Of course it's always like 30% or 60%. All this does Paul, it cements in my mind, the importance of creativity toward the goals that I care about the most.

Josh Linkner:

The last minute and I'm in minute number five. Now I take an actual problem that I really do care about that's personal. So it could be a business problem. It could be a personal thing. So for me, I gained a couple pounds during COVID. I'm like, all right, I got to burn this off. Again, I just try to think about how many small ways could I improve the problem in one minute.

Josh Linkner:

So it's a one minute sprint. I could drink more water. I could have healthy snacks at the office so I don't go home and overeat. I could stop eating at a certain time during the day. I could exercise more. I could take the stairs instead of the elevator. So it's not, again trying to solve the problem all at once. It's thinking about little teeny bites at the problem. So that's my process, five minutes a day and I probably took more than five minutes to explain it but the whole notion is this quick, just repetitive, five minutes a day. That's like taking a shot of creativity and it fuels me for 16 hours going forward.

Paul Epstein:

So that's where you're bringing us because I was going to ask how you came up with these five elements and if I know you the way I do, I'm sure those weren't your original five. They probably iterate. You evolve just like anything else, but what I just took away from your closing piece there is, it fuels you for the day. So this is really an energy ... If you had to put a through line through all five, feel free to respond to this, is energy the through line? What is the why of the process? I heard energy, but what's your take on that?

Josh Linkner:

I would say it's creative energy. So for me, that's a specific five minute ritual designed to keep me creative from morning to night. I would just say for anybody listening, maybe creativity isn't your primary thing. Like that's my passion in life and maybe someone else's is peak performance or it's being an outstanding leader or being a wonderful wife or husband.

Josh Linkner:

Whatever your thing is, the point is design your own ritual. You're welcome to use mine if you want, but if you just take a five minute ritual designed to boost your skills and energize you with whatever your thing is throughout the day, do it every morning. That's like taking a shot of espresso that just lasts for forever it keeps getting better.

Paul Epstein:

As we take a short break from today's interview, I'd like to share a quick reminder to check out the episode show notes on playmakerspod.com, where you will find a treasure trove of key insights, thought-starters and additional resources from today's conversation. Also a quick shout out to our show sponsor, Audible, who is offering each and every Playmaker a free audio book and a 30 day free trial when you visit audible.playmakerspod.com. With that, let's get back to the conversation. It's time to level up.

Paul Epstein:

So everybody listening in, we've teased out a bit that this was a very big year for you and like you said, it, wasn't your first rodeo in writing a book, but I know you're super proud about just in this case, the art of impact that you continue to put out via these innovation tools and everything else that you're doing.

Paul Epstein:

So Big Little Breakthroughs is the book. We're probably, at this point, a few months removed from the official launch and release. You've talked about it, but if you could just give us that central premise, what inspired the book and also, because I know it's extremely rich in research, maybe one thing that surprised you the most during the process of writing the book.

Josh Linkner:

Thanks Paul. So the book is called Big Little Breakthroughs: How Small, Everyday Innovations Drive Oversized Results and the inspiration behind it is that most of us think of innovation as this big topic that's out of our reach. Inventing the electric automobile or SpaceX or something and we say, "Great for Elon Musk, but I'm a normal person. How does that apply to me?" I tried to flip that whole concept upside down. This is like innovation for the rest of us. Again, helping everyday people become everyday innovators.

Josh Linkner:

The way that we go about it, I think a much more pragmatic approach actually is instead of taking these moonshots, is taking little baby steps. Micro innovations. Cultivating high-frequency micro innovations or big little breakthroughs on a daily basis and here's why. It becomes way more accessible.

Josh Linkner:

If you run a call center, you might not have the ability to take an industry-changing-billion-dollar bet, but you can apply creativity for sure. So it's way more accessible to all of us. It's way less risky. So you screw up a little teeny thing. So what? If you screw up a bet your career and company thing, that's a problem. So it's less risky. It's more accessible. You're building critical skills in the meantime.

Josh Linkner:

So the best way to get good at something is repetition. Now you're doing the reps and then finally those little things add up. I discovered in the research that, actually according to Harvard, 77% of the US gross domestic product is not driven by those headline attention, grabbing big ideas. They come from the everyday meat and potatoes, big little breakthroughs. So these little things really do drive progress, even though they may not make the cover of a magazine.

Josh Linkner:

So I tried to write the book to create a simple logical shift to help everyday people become everyday innovator. So I examined the mindsets, the habits and the tactics of the most creative people and organizations on the planet. So you mentioned about the research. I spent over a thousand hours on the book. I researched academic research, neuroscience research, business research, but also personal interviews.

Josh Linkner:

I interviewed CEOs, billionaires, celebrity entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, and everyday people who are just doing amazing things. That really became the through line is like, all right, how to normal folks like you and me get their creative juices flowing, build the skills, build that muscle and deploy it to drive results?

Paul Epstein:

Got you. Got you. I love the spirit of everything you just said. And within the book, there are these eight core obsessions, as you call them of everyday innovators. So again, as a Playmaker, you may think you're a 10 out of 10 on the innovation scale. It's something that fires you up, juices you up, or you may be lower on the scale, but maybe there's something in the past 20, 30 minutes so far that has inspired you to think, now I've kind of repositioned innovation in my mind.

Paul Epstein:

It feels more, to your point, accessible, tangible. So there are a few obsessions that particularly caught my eye and I think that as a Playmaker community, we'd be super intrigued about. Can you dive deeper on, start before you're ready and use every drop of toothpaste? Those two in particularly, I kind of just stopped in my tracks, but just walk us through those.

Josh Linkner:

Sure. So [inaudible 00:23:40] at the basis of first of all, is that for the research that we cover in the first part of the book, every human being creative, and it's just crystal clear that we all have creative capacity. I like to say creativity is more like your weight than your height. So you know, we've been together in the same room and I'm 5'5 on a good day. So try as I may, I am not going to be 6'3 next month, just not going to happen, but my weight I can control by my behavior, exercise, nutrition, et cetera.

Josh Linkner:

Creativity is exactly like that. Every one of us can boost and expand our creative capacity. So once we had that premise, that we all can be innovators in our own ways, I examined these commonalities among ... And this is through not only personal experience, but by decades of research, what are the common mindsets and approaches that the most innovative people take?

Josh Linkner:

What I discovered are these eight principles that you're describing, these eight obsessions as I call them and most of them are counter intuitive. They're the opposite of what we've been taught, the opposite of what most of us think, but with a little mindset shift, they can make a huge difference. So with that as the backdrop, the first one you asked me about is the principle start before you're ready.

Josh Linkner:

The thing is this. Most of us wait. We see an opportunity or a challenge. We say, "I'm going to wait until the boss or someone gives me a directive. I'm going to wait until I have total confidence or until I have ideal conditions or until my game plan is bulletproof," but the problem with waiting is that we miss an opportunity. We either wait too long and miss it altogether or we give up a headstart.

Josh Linkner:

The most innovative people do the opposite. They say, "Here it is and I'm just going to get after it," recognizing full well that we don't have all the answers, that we don't have the perfect game plan, that we're going to need to adapt and pivot and course-correct and change along with changing conditions but it's the idea of getting started and not letting time slip through your fingers.

Josh Linkner:

We've seen this time and time again. One of the stories in the book, I interviewed a guy named Matt Ishbia, who was an athlete actually in college and he now is the CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, the second largest mortgage company in the world, I believe. He's now worth 12 or $13 billion, depending on the day but Matt told me this when I was interviewing him for the book.

Josh Linkner:

He said, "Josh," he goes, "Let's say you and I both see an opportunity." He goes, "Let's say you have more money and you're smarter than me and you got more resources." By the way, he was being polite. I have none of those things, but he said, "Let's just say you wait for six months and work it out and get committees and model everything until you have the perfect game plan."

Josh Linkner:

He goes, "Let's just say I start today. Here's what's going to happen. I start today and my first iteration stinks. It's a mess. Then tomorrow it stinks also, but it's a little, teeny bit better and each day I keep learning and I'm adapting in real time while you're out there trying to figure things out." He goes, "By the six month mark, when you actually launch this thing, I've had a hundred cycles. I'm going to be light years ahead of you. Not because I was smarter or anything, it's because I just got going." So that's the core principle in essence. Start before you're ready.

Paul Epstein:

So in a sports term for those that are fans of baseball, this is batting reps. In his example, he had so much more batting practice before you ever even pulled the bat above your shoulder. So I love that.

Josh Linkner:

So the second one you asked about, it's another one that's counter intuitive. We often think that, "Hey, I'd love to be more innovative, but I need more..." and there's like a fill in the blank. I need more money. I need more time. I need more people. I need more equipment. I need more materials. So this is the opposite. Use every drop of toothpaste, is the notion of doing more with less. It's the notion of being scrappy and using grit and hustle and determination and spit and shine and resourcefulness, as opposed to relying on external resources.

Josh Linkner:

It's funny, I always playfully respond when people say, "Oh, I want to be more innovative, but I don't have enough of something." I say, "If the amount of resources that you had equaled your level of creativity, the federal government would be the most creative organization on the planet and startups would be the least."

Josh Linkner:

Of course, we know the exact opposite is true. So the principal, use every drop of toothpaste says, okay, we may be resource constrained, but maybe we can figure that out. One quick example that I would like to share is I started music in college. As I mentioned, I'm a jazz musician and I had this professor that would force me to remove strings from the guitar. So he would make me take off half the strings, three strings from a six string instrument.

Josh Linkner:

So you're thinking immediately like, okay, man, that's going to screw up your creativity and at first it was really weird, because I couldn't rely on the patterns that I knew but then, because I was forced, I had fewer resources. I had to solve musical problems in fresh ways and actually my creativity accelerated because in this case, I used every drop of toothpaste.

Paul Epstein:

Oh, okay. That's beautifully said, super applicable to all of us. Let's take a left turn here. We've been talking a lot about, and I know for you and I, we are much more about work life harmony versus the cliche term is balanced. I think we found a calling. We pour ourselves into it all to positively impact others and that impact is something that is core to our entire community listening in.

Paul Epstein:

So I want to take you through Josh, a bit of a personal exercise that I have found is extremely purpose centered and purpose driven, but also results in understanding what somebody's internal fire of impact is. So I call it the lifeline. So let's assume you have a blank sheet of paper in front of you and I ask you to write a horizontal line. So from left to right.

Paul Epstein:

On the left, that is birth, on the right is present day. Above the line are peaks of life. Below the line, valleys of life. So if you could share with us one peak and then one valley and select the one that you feel has molded you, shaped you, groomed you most in terms of who you are today. So let's start with a peak and then we'll transition to the valley.

Josh Linkner:

Man, that's a really good question. Because I'm 50 now and you realize that there's a lot of oscillation in life. You have more peaks and more valleys the longer you go. I still have plenty of both by the way. It's a hard question. I think that ... I know this is going to sound like a cheesy Hallmark ad, but connecting with my wife, Tia has got to be the peak. I love my kids too, of course, but just Tia is like my soulmate and came together in a weird way and we've been married now eight years and I couldn't be happier.

Josh Linkner:

So that's probably the one that comes to mind the most. I think, economically, I had a big exit with ePrize but the reward there wasn't so much ... Nothing against economic gain. That's great and you can do a lot with money, whether it's ... It doesn't have to be draping yourself with gold. You can be philanthropic.

Josh Linkner:

It's like stored energy. So there was an economic reward, but also just seeing the impact that you made on others and stuff. I guess maybe in my advanced age, I started looking back and measuring things more than just dollars. It's more like, okay, these people were able to take care of their kids and send their kids to college and these people who were along the ride with me now learned something and went and started their own companies.

Josh Linkner:

So I think there's been some moments like that that have been really cool. There's certainly been moments in writing my first book and hitting the New York Times in the first week was pretty cool and I was published in 16 languages or whatever. Knowing that people around the world ... Again, it's not so much about how many books did you sell, but it's more about how many lives did you change.

Paul Epstein:

For sure.

Josh Linkner:

It's hard to pick one. The valley, also hard to pick one cause I've had all kinds of tough ones but maybe one that comes to mind. I was building my company, ePrize and this was in 2000. Our venture capitalist at the time gave us a commitment, a verbal commitment for an additional $3 million and based on that commitment, I hired more people and took up more office space and invested blah, blah, blah.

Josh Linkner:

So I get a call like a month later saying, "Hey, Josh, you know that $3 million we talked about. Listen, I'm really sorry, but NASDAQ had just tanked and we decided to get out of the venture capital business. So there's no $3 million. You're on your own, but don't take it personally." I'm sorry, man. I took it personally and it wasn't about money.

Josh Linkner:

It was about like, I was responsible for 40 families at that time. I made commitments. So anyway, what happened was really tough. This was like rock bottom. So I spent the next couple of months getting in early five, 6:00 AM every day, leaving after midnight, seven days a week and it was stressful. I'm trying to find new investors and it got ugly with the old investors.

Josh Linkner:

Anyway, just real quickly. It came down to the last minute. I had an all company meeting scheduled that day and it was previously scheduled but coincidentally, that was the day that everybody's paycheck was due. The problem is, by that time, I had pulled every trick out I knew. I stretched vendors, blah, blah, blah and I woke up that morning with $0 in my bank account and I was getting close with some new investors, but I actually didn't know how it was going to end.

Josh Linkner:

So that morning, I wrote two speeches. This is what I'm going to say to my team if we save the company, this is what I'm going to say to the team if we lose it. I'm not exaggerating, 15 minutes before that company was gone, doors, padlocks, dreams shattered, I got the wire from this new investor. I walked in exhausted, sweating, beaten down and said, "Guys, we saved the company."

Josh Linkner:

Let me just say, first of all, it was wildly painful. Like it was awful and I got lucky. It could absolutely, 100% gone the other way. So it wasn't my smartness. It was my stupidity that got me there in the first place probably, but I don't take credit for that. Point is though, that was a very low, low. That was a valley, but it was really impactful because I said, first of all, never again.

Josh Linkner:

I'm never going to be beholden to somebody. I'm never going to make decisions based on things that aren't concrete and that actually made me a far better leader and it made our company far stronger going forward. So even though it was wildly painful in the moment, I look back now with fondness, because we all learned a lot and grew a lot from that moment.

Paul Epstein:

Well, for one, thank you for sharing that with us and being open. It reminds me almost immediately, and this will resonate a lot just given the story that you just shared. So former NFL running back, Curtis Martin, I heard his TED talk in person. This is a few years back now and his story, the big takeaway was underneath our biggest problems lie our biggest opportunities. That's exactly ... Almost in parallel track, as you were sharing the story, it mirrors a lot of what I took from that. So I'm sure everybody tuning in is resonating with that. Let's have a little fun with this one.

Josh Linkner:

Just real quickly. I think the takeaway, just real quick, I'm sorry. About the peaks and valleys, because we're all going to have peaks and valleys in our lives. Anyone listening. I would say in the peak moments, don't become arrogant. Don't become full of yourself because you got to recognize that's a temporary state. It's awesome. Like spike the ball, enjoy the moment, but don't get all caught up in drinking your own Kool-Aid or whatever.

Josh Linkner:

Recognize that there will be-

Paul Epstein:

Great advice-

Josh Linkner:

Peaks and valleys no matter how high you get, and in those valleys also recognize, like you said, it doesn't mean it's fun. I'm not saying go hug your failures or any of that nonsense, but let's recognize, it sucks, but that's part of the gig and failures and setbacks and adversity are part of success. So we have to also recognize that as painful as it may be, you're right. That's the opportunity to learn and grow and recognize that if life is a series of oscillations, when you're laying on the mat beaten and battered and bloodied, you're not going to have to stay there. So let's say okay. Let's learn from it. Let's dust ourselves off and get back in the fight and aim for that next peak. So let's just recognize that going forward.

Paul Epstein:

Your point about oscillations in, let's call it a roller coaster because when I do a lifeline, it's exactly that. It looks like a stock that's very unpredictable. It's up, down, up, down, up, down, and the point being whether it's a peak or a valley, it's temporary. So to your point, don't get too arrogant when you're high because you aren't going to stay high forever, especially if you take your foot off the pedal. Then same thing, adversity take the pandemic as an example.

Paul Epstein:

In the moment, it feels like forever but when we look back at it, we'll say, "Man, that was a rocky 12, 18 months," whatever it is but in the grander scheme, there's still kind of that rebound. So one final piece and then we're going to transition. So I'm a genie, you're on a deserted island. You get three wishes from this set genie and the only thing you cannot wish for is A, get off the island, B, more wishes, C, something that will get you off the island. So sorry, no boat, no helicopter. You're on this deserted island, but you could ask for any three other things. What would your three wishes be?

Josh Linkner:

So just clarifying question. Am I staying on that island forever?

Paul Epstein:

That's the table stakes. Yes.

Josh Linkner:

Yep. So I would say at that point, I would say that my purpose on this earth is not doing enjoy things in comfort, it's to help the world. So I would, in that case, if that was the constraint, I'd wish for completely selfless things. Like cure all environmental challenges and make the world sustainable.

Josh Linkner:

End all injustices and suffering, Make sure that there's plenty of resources so we can abolish war and anger and hatred. So I don't know exactly what they would be, but they would be all completely unrelated to me because I'm stuck on this desert island forever. If you said, I have three wishes, but I get to not be on a desert island, I would have a moral struggle there because I'm sure I would say, "Hey, I want some cool stuff for me too [inaudible 00:36:56]" but literally, if I was on a desert island and there's no way I'm getting off, I'd say, "Cool. You know what? I'm going to live on this desert island till my last breath, knowing that I made the world a better place."

Paul Epstein:

All right, beautiful. So now for the grand finale and you actually-

Josh Linkner:

But to be clear, I'm not that kind of benevolent if I was just in my own house.

Paul Epstein:

I get it. I get it. We gave you some constraints. So you made the best of it. So here is the mic drop grand finale, and it ties back to a couple of things you've said throughout the conversation, but assume that your life is in phenomenal condition. Finances, you, your family, for generations are taking care of. Minimal stress, minimal anxiety. You literally have a blank canvas in front of you to live on your terms. What would you like to spend the rest of your life working toward?

Josh Linkner:

I don't say this in a arrogant way at all. I say this with great, great humility and respect. I kind of feel like I do that now. Doesn't mean that there aren't moments of anxiety and stress. Nothing's ever perfect and if it was, it probably wouldn't be helpful, honestly, but for me, I'm so grateful that I get to learn all the time. I get to teach and share all the time. I get to create stuff all the time. I get to dabble and I just still feel that at my core, personally, I'm a jazz musician.

Josh Linkner:

Sometimes I'm doing that with a guitar and other times I'm doing that with a start-up, and other times I'm doing that when writing a book. To me, jazz is the art of creating something out of nothing.

Josh Linkner:

It's about navigating difficult circumstances. It's about listening and learning and changing and evolving and adapting. I'm so grateful that I really get to do that every day and I would say anybody listening, it's easy to think that you're not in that position, but I would say probably more of us are than we might think.

Josh Linkner:

I know we all have financial pressures. Again, I'm not trying to be glib about that with deep respect, but most of us can actually be the person we want to be now and we may still have to spend some time doing things we don't want to do to pay the bills or whatever, but I think that too often we say to ourselves, "I got to get something and then I can be who I want to be."

Josh Linkner:

I think we almost would flip flop that and say, "I'm going to be who I want to be and in turn as a by-product of actually being authentic to who I am or what my calling is, I'll probably end up getting a lot more than if all I did is chase it in the first place."

Paul Epstein:

So good. So good. That is the path to authenticity. Josh, from the bottom of my heart and every single person listening in, know that you have helped all of us level up across all aspects of life. So thank you so much for being on Playmakers and we can't wait to continue the relationship. We'll see you super soon.

Josh Linkner:

Thanks brother and thanks for your incredible contribution as well. You're doing amazing things.

Paul Epstein:

Loved what you just heard? Share it with another Playmaker, and if you gained significant value from today's episode and genuinely feel that you have leveled up, would so appreciate if you gave us a five star rating. For all of today's show notes, head over to playmakerspod.com, where you can not only enjoy additional resources from this show, but all previous episodes as well.

Paul Epstein:

If you haven't already, subscribed to the show on Apple podcasts or wherever it is that you tune in from, and on a personal note, I'd love to connect one to one. Hit meet up anytime. On LinkedIn at Paul Epstein or Instagram, @paulepsteinspeaks. Playmakers is produced by Detroit Podcast Studios in collaboration with Purpose Labs. Wishing you a high impact week of action and purpose. See you next time on Playmakers.