Meaningful conversations from the heart of your creative spark...
Join us as we explore the thought provoking themes surrounding CreativeMornings Cleveland's monthly breakfast lecture series. Excerpts of the lecture are book ended by meaningful conversations with attendees and speakers alike.
The word Invest can be used in so many ways. It’s not about money. It’s not about time. Investing is an act that can require much of a person and does not guarantee a result. Investing is all about belief and value.
David Moss: When you think about investment, you typically think about money. Money and possessions and equity and stock. But there's a great quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be." Think about that. Really there's a lot of other ways we can look at investment. Sometimes that means investing in a career, investing in a family. You might invest in knowledge, time with your friends and family, might just think about balance and investing more of yourself into something you love. Some of the people we're going to hear from today are coming at it from different angles. We sat down with Alex Michaels and Emily Keener and Adam Kaufman. I'm your host, David Allen Moss. Thanks for joining us for another episode of Wake Up Call.
Thomas Fox: Hi, I'm Thomas Fox with CreativeMornings/Cleveland. We're thrilled to have Evergreen Podcasts on board as our official podcast partner. Evergreen Podcasts is committed to producing the best original content and engaging shows. Right now you're listening to Wake Up Call, recorded on location at the monthly CreativeMornings lecture series. Enjoy.
David Moss: And we're here with Alex. What are you invested in? What do you invest in?
Alex Michaels: I'm invested in helping other filmmakers so that they don't have to go through the turmoils and pain that I went through with. It is show business, and you have to learn about income projections and financials, and how to put a value on your movie. Writing a story and making someone feel emotional is a great thing. And also writing a business plan and having someone write you a check so you can write that movie is better. I know people who come out the box and they say, "Hey, I'm making a movie," and, "Give me money for my movie." And they say, "Why?" I say, "Because I'm making a movie."
David Moss: So that's even a challenge, to know why.
Alex Michaels: Yeah. And even though I have an Emmy award, I still have to like justify to people what can I do for you, how can my move make your day brighter or your emotions are touched, some kind of feeling and people and stuff.
David Moss: Do you think that's a common thread with investing, what's in it for me?
Alex Michaels: What's in it for me is the greatest thing you can do because you go in there thinking how can I make the other person happy? It's like your marriage. Happy wife, happy life. So you should think happy investor because you're going to get something out of it anyway, but you can't think of yourself too much. Even though I do have a bit of an ego, you got to be able to please the other person. Make them want to invest in you. Give them some value.
David Moss: Investing can be very serious, especially in the way we're talking about it here. It really changes and establishes a bit of power dynamic between the parties, doesn't it?
Alex Michaels: You're obligated to those people. They're part of your family. You have to take care of them and stuff. So it's not just like you're getting money from them. They become your responsibility and you got to make them happy.
David Moss: Is this one of the big distinctions between an investment and a donation? You were in it together. You don't just receive an investment and then get cut loose. There's going to be someone or some group checking in on you.
Alex Michaels: I've actually turned down money from people. I talked to someone at, we'll say government thing, one time and they wanted to put money in but they want me to like, I do crime science fiction stories, and they wanted me to tone it down. And I was like, "Well, can't the cops go after?" It's like people killing people, "Can't they go after tax invaders?" And the guy, he liked Law & Order, which my show's kind of Law & Order/X-Files. But it was like a government thing that they wanted to be part of, like that kind of show, even though he liked it. So I said this isn't a good fit. And sometimes you get so desperate to take money, you get money from someone. It's not a good fit and then you end up fighting each other and they come up calling you and you're not living up to what you do and everything. And it becomes, oh, it becomes very vicious when money is involved. And you got to put value in your art, like what's your art worth? You may think it's priceless, I may think it's priceless. But what are people going to pay for it?
David Moss: Wow. That's a tough question. It's a really good one, too. It's easy to get caught up in what you're doing or creating. It's very difficult to remain objective. Of course, sometimes sheer determination and a little bit of delusion can serve a crater well. So maybe the rules aren't so clear cut.
David Moss: Our next guest is Emily Keener. Emily is a musician and she just played for all of us here at CreativeMornings. And as we'll find out, Emily has put a lot of time into her musical endeavors. This dedication led her to something that many of us are familiar with, a TV show, The Voice.
David Moss: When did you decide to invest time into that pursuit? That is investment, right?
Emily Keener: Yeah, absolutely. I think that I was investing in music for years before I was ever on The Voice. And it required a lot. I think actually my biggest investments took place before I was ever even on the show. And I think it all came down to just the willingness to keep creating, to keep showing up everyday, keep performing. I was performing a lot. So since the age of 12, I've been a public performer, writing my own music, performing my own music. But it was something that I was really passionate about and wanted to invest in at a young age. And I was very much encouraged to do that by my family and my friends. And so it got around to the time of my life where I was on The Voice, there was a little bit of a whirlwind for me. A band that I was in had just kind of broken up in a very dramatic way, a bunch of older people too. So it wasn't necessarily just like a teen like high school band. It was like an actual band.
Emily Keener: So yeah, that all broke up. I was feeling a little lost creatively. And a friend of a friend knew a producer on the show who had an open audition slot and was like, "Here, go for it."
David Moss: Wow.
Emily Keener: I was like, "Okay, I guess." So honestly, it was something I kind of fell into more than anything.
David Moss: Opportunity knocks.
Emily Keener: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
David Moss: Let's try this.
Emily Keener: Yeah. Right. It was a big life shift, taught me a lot. I would never do it again.
David Moss: Oh, Really?
David Moss: This story demonstrates something that has become really evident to me, but seems to be overlooked too often. People do fall into opportunities, the idea of right place, right time, it's a real thing. But if you aren't prepared to take advantage of the opportunity, it doesn't amount to anything. In the case like Emily's, she had practiced and worked for years, honing her craft and exercising her talents so that she could grab hold of this chance to be on The Voice. That's what it's all about, capitalizing on opportunities that present themselves. And if we aren't determined enough or passionate enough or diligent enough, we can't do it effectively. It's a good reminder to keep us pushing forward.
Emily Keener: I think from the outside, it would seem that The Voice was like this peak opportunity that I waited all my life for. But honestly, I think that it was just another opportunity to get me to the point where I am right now, where I'm prouder than I've ever been of what I'm doing. I'm releasing a record in May.
David Moss: Oh, wonderful.
Emily Keener: I'm so excited about it.
David Moss: We're excited for you.
Emily Keener: Well, thank you. I appreciate it. I mean, it's a lot different than the one that I released after returning from The Voice that same year. I've changed so much in the three years that it's been since that release. And I think that the challenges that I experienced throughout being on The Voice, throughout making that last record and just making this next one, it's shifted a lot of things around in my life. Like I feel like it's a very distinct shift in my artistry and I'm really excited about it.
David Moss: This is an interesting point too. We're all pliable and hopefully growing in our creative pursuits. Each experience can add to, refine or give clarity to what we do, and sometimes to who we want to be.
Emily Keener: I think it really took me going down that road and pivoting, like you said, and I had to go it to realize that I didn't want to go any further, basically, and to go a different way. And I don't know how fast that pivot would have happened if I hadn't have gone through something so intense. So it taught me a lot. Honestly, it took my performance level to it's A game.
David Moss: Wow.
Emily Keener: There is no other performance that will ever make me as nervous as I was. And if I can do that, I can do anything.
David Moss: Our next guest is Adam Kaufman, founder of the Up2 Foundation. For the past decade, he's engaged humble leaders of all walks of life in dynamic, authentic conversations on what they're up to in the many facets of their lives. It's an invitation only gathering and brings together leaders that have a unique opportunity to dive in the deep and learn directly from their peers about how they operate as true servant leaders, both in their professional endeavors and personal interests. You made a decision. You already had your foundation and you were doing these wonderful events where you bring together leaders from all over the world. But you've made a decision, you had to invest in your brand and in yourself with your podcast. Can you talk a little bit about that as an investment?
Adam Kaufman: For seven years, as you referenced with hosting live events, where we had CEOs and investors in a room, and then we would interview two different particularly accomplished and humble leaders in brief 15 minute live interviews on a mini stage. Now it seems common. But back then, it was very unusual to have a major leader speaking for only 15 or 19 minutes. So years ago, people said, "Adam, you should videotape these." And I said that I didn't want to do that because I thought it would dwindle the authenticity or negatively affect the candor that might be shared if people knew it was being videotaped. Years later, two people who I really respect, encouraged me to jump into this podcast medium as an alternative to videotaping the live events, also so that we could get more people to benefit from the sharing.
David Moss: If you have your podcast now, the Up2 Podcast, that essentially does the same thing as your live events have. Why do you still do them, the live events that is? Like you said, the potential audience is so much bigger with the podcast.
Adam Kaufman: You want to know what I invest in? I invest in people and relationships. And I've coined this phrase a couple of years ago. I must be getting older because people now are asking me to talk more about something that I'm presumably good at, relationships. So I've been asked to speak at some schools and I just did a Zoom meeting with 50 major CEOs. Steve Case was on the call yesterday. My knees buckled a little bit when I saw that he logged on for former AOL chairman, major philanthropists and venture capitalists. Very humbling to talk to him or people like him about anything.
Adam Kaufman: But for me, it's about relationships and what I call relationship equity. Similar to using an investing or financial metaphor, like an ATM machine. We can all make deposits and withdrawals in an ATM machine. But hopefully you're making more deposits into rather than withdrawals from your account. I feel the same way about people and it's not at all transactional, but rather I want to invest in people, put more time in people, listen to people longer. And once in a while, I can make a withdrawal. A withdrawal could be a favor. A withdrawal could be having them introduce me to somebody else or having them help my family with something. But for me, it's about investing in people and the relationship equity comes down to four points in my simple mind that I try to execute on a regular basis. And for 30 years, I've only been in the relationship business in various forms and it has proven to serve me well. So relationships is what I invest in.
David Moss: As wonderful a platform as podcasting is, I suppose the personal interaction you have at a live event is unrivaled. What about something you'd like to invest in more? Is there something you can share? Maybe something you've been thinking about during this time, when we're all isolated and trying to respect our shelter-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
Adam Kaufman: Professionally I'm involved in early stage venture capital. So we're continuing to pursue that and trying to find entrepreneurs, hopefully repeat entrepreneurs, who have some terrific idea that has a potential to scale to a higher level so there's financial gain for everyone involved. So that's my day job. But my real passion, like I said a moment ago, is relationships. So I'm always trying to find ways to not only identify new meaningful relationships, but how to even better cultivate existing relationships and be good, the stewards of the relationships.
Adam Kaufman: So just yesterday I was on another call where people were asking me ideas on how do we do that in this period where we're all mostly homebound and relying on digital tools to connect. And I have been calling on the telephone. Do you guys remember telephones?
David Moss: Yeah.
Adam Kaufman: I call one person a day who I don't regularly communicate with. We all have our normal circle of who we communicate with, stakeholders in our personal or professional lives. But I'm finding one new person that I haven't interacted with in quite a long time. And I reach out on the phone. Often it's a voice message where they then call me back. But it is so wonderful to reconnect with people. And there's this intangible, unexpected joy that I find just for myself when I keep a list of who I called and what we talked about, just like a half a sentence. And now I have this growing list of these kind of return to meaningful connections that I hadn't had in a while.
David Moss: Right.
Adam Kaufman: So it's just one day and it's almost like wrongly in my head homework, oh, I got to get my one call done today. But it's on a to-do list. Every morning I still write my to-dos for myself and I cross out the to-dos when they're done. But I love making this connection with an old friend, a former work colleague or just someone that I don't regularly communicate with, who they almost always say, it's so nice to talk on the phone. So that's like a simple way, but a meaningful way to cultivate relationships right now.
David Moss: Talk about like in the beginning you got into this investment and into the leadership circles and your mentorship, was there ever a time when that was difficult for you?
Adam Kaufman: Not past tense, it's still is. Like I mentioned a few minutes ago, my knees were wobbling when I saw who was on this 50 person Zoom call yesterday, to hear me talk. And I gave over a thousand speeches professionally probably 30 years old. I know how to speak in front of people. Yet yesterday, my knees were wobbling yet still. I feel like I'm an imposter. I feel like I'm the least accomplished guy in the room. I feel like I don't deserve to be in the room, that I'm in, that it's usually a really interesting room. Why am I here? We've all sat in front of speakers who talk about their success stories. And that's like, whoa, it's intimidating. But if instead I tell you that my father was an alcoholic or that I too am in my second marriage, the more people actually relate to me and approach, "Oh, me too, Adam," or, "My parent was an alcoholic," or, "Yes, this is my second marriage" or "I'm going through a struggle right now."
Adam Kaufman: So that's the irony is here in America and right now people are coming back to the basics because of the COVID crisis. And that's a nice silver lining. But we'll be back on our rat race and we'll be back to showing off and the trappings of earthly successes and more stuff and more cars and more trips. I remember after 9/11, the churches were full. All houses of worship were packed. And a month later, our society was back to the rat race. I hope that one of the silver linings of this pandemic is that more people, more quietly, connect with their family and people important to them. And maybe we have a little less materialism on the other side of this.
David Moss: So what do you think? Is this pandemic going to change the way you approach investment? Is this going to change the very way you go about your work? For some of you, you may be wondering what you'll be doing next because you don't have a clear path. Do you think that maybe some of the things you've invested in while you're in this stay at home state of mind will stick? The ways you've gotten maybe closer to what makes you strong or what makes you believe in what you love and maybe in some ways the things that you decided you're not going to invest in anymore. What do you think? Can we invest in some different things moving forward that maybe make the world a better place? Maybe, just maybe, this pandemic will teach us all a little different level of patience, tolerance and certainly gratitude. Figure out what you really want to do and don't wait. Get out there and invest in that. Do something for yourself while you've got the time. You've got more time now than ever. Make it happen.
David Moss: Wake Up Call is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to executive producers, Joan Andrews and Michael DeAloia, producer and audio director, Dave Douglas, story editor, Julie Fink, and account manager, Connor Standish. Thanks to Toubab Krewe for the use of their song, Rooster, available well on iTunes. If you would, please like and review this program. It really helps. Learn more about this and other podcasts from evergreen at evergreenpodcasts.com. I'm David Allen Moss. Thanks for listening to Wake Up Call, ideas that crow.