Fearless - Ep. 50: "The Buddhist" - Mark Eckhardt

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"The Buddhist"

Mark is the CEO of Common - a company that accelerates the launch and growth of businesses that take care of the planet and all the creatures on it. He has grown up with and lived with tension in a variety of multiple forms and has been on a journey to discover his through line. My conversation with Mark made me think about my own through line.  I hope it does the same for you. I talked to Mark about becoming a Buddhist, about leading from behind and about his fear of what’s possible.


Three Takeaways

  • What’s the difference you’re trying to make in the world?
  • Embrace your positive attributes and be open to your negative.
  • Invest in others.

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 50: "The Buddhist" Mark Eckhardt

I’m Charles Day and this is Fearless!!

This week, my conversation with Mark Eckhardt, which is called -

The Buddhist

There are some conversations that make you consider the world through an entirely different lens. 

As the leader it’s easy to get caught up in the top line, the bottom line and the dividing line. Between risk and reward. Between the future and the status quo. And between creativity and predictability.

But the line that I have found to be most important to the very best leaders is their through line. The one that connects their business to their humanity. Their effort to their intention. Their how to their why.

My conversation with Mark made me think about my own through line. 

I hope it does the same for you.

Mark is the CEO of Common, a company that accelerates the launch and growth of businesses that take care of the planet and all the creatures on it, according to their website.  Common was founded by Alex Bogusky, of Crispin Porter + Bogusky firm, as well as his wife Ana and two other partners, Rob Schuham and John Bielenberg.  

I talked to Mark about becoming a Buddhist, about leading from behind, and about his fear of what’s possible.

Charles:

Mark, welcome to Fearless. Thank you for being here.

Mark Eckhardt:

My pleasure. It's great. I'm very excited to have this conversation.

Charles:

Can I ask you the question I ask everybody, which is when did creativity first show up in your life? When were you first conscious of something coming across as creative?

Mark Eckhardt:

I love that question, and I think that that moment for me occurred when I went from imitating to actually having interesting ideas. I was a drummer, that was for my first career, and for many, many years it was really about imitating my teacher and my idols and things like that, and then one day I was listening to a CD and a tune by the Yellow Jackets, a form of symphonic jazz, a combination of jazz band and orchestra, and it just blew my mind. At that point I just found myself walking away from that experience with all kinds of ideas and thoughts about music and sound and texture that I had never ... It had never occurred to me. All of a sudden it's like it opened up an entirely new canvas that was blank and for the first time I had an opportunity to place whatever was occurring to me on the canvas, as opposed to having things appear on the canvas and then trying to manipulate them. I would say that that was ... I was 22.

Charles:

What a fascinating perspective, actually. I've never heard it framed that way. That really resonates with me, that notion of moving from imitating to creating. Was music a big part of your growing up?

Mark Eckhardt:

It was. If you ask my mother, she'll tell you that I was a drummer from the beginning and to this day she has the pots and pans to prove it. It's just like, "Mom, let me buy you some new pots and pans. Really you don't have to continue using these banged up things." I think it's a source of pride for her.

My father was a piano player. He played the church organ and piano. My mother kind of dabbled in music lightly in her early years, but not a whole lot when she had a family. But music was always around. My parents loved to listen to Simon & Garfunkel and a bunch of folks from the '60s and '70s. I just happened to be really fortunate in that we moved from New York in the late '70s to Southern California and specifically a town called Claremont, which is very artistic and very culturally-driven and academic. I just kind of landed in this wonderful little tiny small town that had music and creativity flowing all around.

Charles:

What did you study in school?

Mark Eckhardt:

Good question. I started out as a business major, and then eventually went back and did graduate work in music, music composition and classical percussion.

Charles:

So the tension of art and commerce has been part of your life for some time.

Mark Eckhardt:

Yeah. Yeah, it absolutely has been. Commerce as a vehicle for pushing ideas out into the world, and the music side has just been about expression and interpretation and re-articulation.

Charles:

As you know ... You live this every day, the reality of running any business that's dependent upon creativity is a balancing act between art and commerce. You have to forever be managing that tension.

In reading about you, before this conversation, I was struck, actually, through a piece that you wrote a couple of years ago, as you took over as the sole CEO of Common. The tension in different forms has been a very big part of your life, certainly a very big part of your background. Better you tell the story, than I, but would you mind just telling all of us, how tension played a role in your upbringing? You bring different backgrounds, you bring different ethnicities, you bring different cultural reference points, but also had an unusual childhood in terms of your parents.

Mark Eckhardt:

Yeah, so I'm a brown guy that was adopted by a white couple, so Clair and Myer Eckhardt . So right from the beginning, starting from the age of four months, my world didn't look like the typical world or family and so there's always a tension, a positive one around the fact that I'm African-American, or at least according to the eye, I'm African-American and so there's that, then there's the fact that my father is gay. Something that I learned in my thirties and was the source in my parents deciding, ultimately, not to continue their marriage.

I am from a family of educators, so everybody from both sides of the family for the most part, has been in education at one point in their journey. Grandfather on my mother's side was a professor at Stanford and UC Berkeley. So, really interesting people, very aware of what's going on in world. Obviously committed to younger generations and making the world a better place, so there's just been a number of tensions between serving that larger whole versus taking care of one's self. I can go and on and on.

Charles:

Yeah, for sure. Finding out that your father was gay in your thirties, must have been a shock. How did you respond to that? How did that change your perception, not just of him, but on the world around you?

Mark Eckhardt:

That's another really good question, so there's two sides to the answer. We were driving down from having visited a Zen center, close to my hometown of Mt. Baldy, and I was just probing, asking questions, because I was trying to connect some dots, and eventually he said, "The reason you haven't seen me in a relationship with a signification other is because I'm gay and I haven't told you because I've been uncomfortable just sharing that part of myself."

I was driving the car and I remember immediately grabbing his hand and I said, "Regardless, I love you. You're my father, and that's absolute." And it was really a beautiful moment, and I could feel him exhale.

The unfortunate, or the tragic side about it is that my relationship with him up until that point didn't have the kind of trust, or the nature of trust, that would've made him feel more comfortable coming forth and just being open about who he is, fundamentally.

And there's a lot of societal elements and influences that I think led him to hold his reality and truth closer to his chest as opposed to feeling like he wanted to include me and the rest of ... my brother and sister, up to a certain point, in that. You have a gay man who was working with children, in a school district, in a somewhat conservative school district, and as I've learned, he was concerned that as it became known that he was gay, in the eighties, that that might become a problem and he might be the source of people pointing fingers and accusing him of behaving and conducting himself inappropriately.

So there's a tragic side to that, but as all things, there's a light side and a dark side.

Charles:

Were your brother and sister adopted as well?

Mark Eckhardt:

No. So my older sister Kim's three years older than me and then my younger brother Dan is three years younger, so I'm right there in the middle.

Charles:

Yep. What was the dynamic like when ... Did they learn at the same time?

Mark Eckhardt:

 My brother learned first and then my sister learned soon after I did, and it didn't change anything to do with the quality of their relationship with him. As a matter of fact, it's been, again, depending on the filters and how you see it, the fact that my father shared his reality and his truth and we kind of moved on, and it's never needed to be a topic of discussion since. There's one way to look at or you can also look at it from the standpoint was that the only conversation she only had about his reality and truth and maybe there's something missing about that.

Charles:

I'm always interested in learning where people either gain, or lose trust from, in their development, right, because I think we are, to a greater or lesser extent, struggle with the notion of trust and I think part of this exploration that I'm interested in through this podcast of understanding, "How do the best leaders overcome their fear and move to the other side and make big decisions." It's always rooted, to some extent, in how much they trust themselves and the world around them and what they know of it.

So I'm interested to understand, in a situation like that, with a revelation that's that significant with somebody who is so significant to you, came late in life, whether it had any impact on how you saw the world around you or whether it rocked your world or whether you ... It sounds like you just moved through it in a very open, supportive way.

Mark Eckhardt:

Yeah. The fact that my father's gay is kind of like a big "so what" in a certain sense. That's really not an issue for me at all. My father's my father and how I see him first and foremost.

Charles:

The fact he didn't tell you until that point didn't really change your perspective.

Mark Eckhardt:

Yes and no. My father's still my father and I loved him, but there's also ... I've had to do a lot of work around, "Well what was up with the withholding?" What was going on such that he couldn't just share who is he authentically and feel safe in doing so and have I misinterpreted or am I over-projecting the potential personal nature of that? Meaning that that's just a survival strategy that he applied to everyone maybe at the loss of separating, or making distinction between close family and the rest of the world.

Charles:

 Yeah, I think that's so interesting. Did you feel that it changed your willingness to invest in other relationships professionally, personally, going forward? Did it make you hold back a little bit or did you just keep it always in the context that you've described?

Mark Eckhardt:

Again, I think there's answers on both sides. I think I've been able to go forward and in a company, in working on a project like Common, which is really just at the end of the day, comes down to trusting people and relationships, I have to do a lot of work to stay conscious and present, in relationships, just to make sure that whatever might be waiting in the wings, to come in and take us out in the knees, doesn't.

So one thing is I always try to do, as the leader of Common, is to be fully transparent about my human process in what's going on inside of me at any given time, and often that means that I need to kind of tell the truth or telling on myself first in order to create space for other people to do so, because in that space that opens up, that's where the magic happens.

Charles:

Yep. No, I think that's well put. I'm interested for a number of different reasons, one of which is I had a not dis-similar situation in terms of discovering something significant about the life my father had been leading. I wasn't as old as you were but I was in my twenties. And looking back ... Looking forward then and looking back now, at the impact that that's had, I'm always interested in that as a reference point.

How did you get to Common? Tell us about the journey from which you went from being business and music focused, college, to being the CEO of this extraordinary company today?

Mark Eckhardt:

So I had a wonderful career in music. Started out as a drummer and producer and dabbled my fingers and toes in the area of film composing, film and television composing. Then jumped out of that into media and technology.

Hang on one second here. Let me just start that over, because some reason my phone just decided to start talking. I think Siri heard my voice.

Charles:

You know, Siri has been bouncing ... Let me ask a question again and we can do a lead in.

So, tell me about the transition from being in college, studying music, and being a business major. What was the next step in the journey for you after that?

Mark Eckhardt:

Okay, so after music I went into media and technology. Did that for three years, and realized ... had an "aha" moment. It wasn't a profound one relatively speaking, but I just realized that success really doesn't come down to one's talent or the resources that are immediately visible or readily available. Success really comes down to the degree that people can work effectively together.

I just saw that playing out over and over and over again and at that point in time, I was heavily involved in [inaudible 00:13:06] and Buddhist training, and I had developed a bit of an infatuation with neuroscience, so I combined those two disciplines into my own process and began working as a consultant. I started working with high-level executives and very high-level creative professionals and taking them through a process that would allow them to navigate really critical crossroads in their work, in their journey, in their life.

 That captured the attention of a small little boutique consultancy called You Fuse in West Hollywood and they brought me in and it was there that I was fortunate to lead the process, with Alex McGusky and Rob Shuham , that resulted in Common.

So, I met Alex at the point he had just stepped out of CPB, his agency, and was doing with all of that. And Rob Shuham was asking big, existential questions about what he was supposed to do with his life and his experience and I just happened to be the guy to meet those two wonderful gentlemen at the right time, and the rest is history.

Charles:

Before we talk more about Common, at what point did you find Buddhism?

Mark Eckhardt:

So I was 28, and I arrived at the Santa Monica Zen Center with this big open question that I wasn't able to answer. I was very fortunate, and without bragging, I was able to produce really cool results, and I had a lot of success pretty early on in my career. And then I noticed, in small, little doses, that producing the same result was getting harder and harder and harder. So it's having to exert a lot more effort that was very natural and effortless at some point.

And so, I started reading books, I went to therapy, I did colonics, I did basically anything anybody told me to do, and one day I happened to meet a Zen priest in training, who was training at the Santa Monica Zen Center, and he heard my story and my challenge and he invited me to an introduction to Zen training.

So I jumped in. It was a six-hour workshop and the rest is history. I was involved formally in Zen for fifteen years and became a fully ordained Zen Buddhist priest.

Charles:

Oh good heavens, that's fascinating. And what's relationship with the religion now?

Mark Eckhardt:

I still am a priest and I'm still a Zen Buddhist. I'm not engaged in a formal teacher-student relationship at the moment and I'm not practicing on a regular basis with a Sangha or a regular community.

I had an opportunity to make a choice. I could've continued down the Zen track and become a teacher, and start a Zen center, or do something else, and ultimately, I chose capitalism, believe it or not, as the vehicle to deliver on my vows to end and reduce suffering throughout the world.

And I chose capitalism because I just find, while the Zen Buddhist community, and the practice, and the legacy there, and the heritage, and the history, is profound, incredibly powerful, and it's also a very, very small pocket of the Western world. I didn't see it translating seven, eight years ago, at the level, and at the way, that I thought it needed to. My training wasn't gonna translate in a way that I thought I could utilize it powerfully, if I stayed within that very specific context. So I chose capitalism.

Charles:

Have you met anybody else along your journey who's made a similar choice?

Mark Eckhardt:

Not at the level of, "Are you gonna become a teacher or not?" But I meet Buddhists all over the place. It's kind of like they come out from the walls when they find out that I have 15 year background. There's a ton of Buddhists out there and they're very much involved in the world of creativity and capitalism and business.

Sometimes it's just a hard thing to talk about. The words that are used in the Zen context are different and can sound a little funny, and they don't necessarily land well in the conversation that's rooted in business.

Charles:

I'm so struck by your notion that you could take the power for good, of your religion, and apply it more effectively, essentially, through investing yourself into capitalism as a force for good.

Mark Eckhardt:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charles:

I don't think I've ever heard anybody describing that. I was reading an article yesterday actually, in which ... I think it was in The Economist or something, it doesn't matter ... But I was reading an article yesterday in which there is enormous gathering research, or increasing research about the fact that religion is being abandoned en masse. Any kind of religion is being abandoned en masse by young people around the world.

In Britain apparently, 70% of people under 30, have no association with religion whatsoever, and France is 64% and I'm fascinated by your insight that you can take the power of trying to do good ... I think a power that is often seen through the lens of religion, but actually apply it through the lens of capitalism, I think is a profound insight in that, actually.

And we'll talk about, obviously, we'll talk about in the next stage of your career in a second, but what have you found about that insight to be true and where have you found it to be a struggle?

Mark Eckhardt:

That's a really good question. So I have found, and this is gonna sound really woo-woo ... I've found that at the end of the day, all people are really pursuing, is a feeling of connectedness and love. So every move I make within the context of Common, and capitalism, is designed and intended to create an experience where people actually feel connected and that they're loved, and that they're cared about.

Everything else is just a tool or a lever and when I'm operating consistent with that, the results are very powerful. As soon as I switch into, "I'm going to go make more money," or, "I'm going to be this brilliant business guy," I tank. The truth is, I see a lot of people tanking too, when they try to put on that mask and to present themselves in that way.

Whenever we separate from who we truly are, whenever we separate from our original self, our true self, it's just very tragic and a lot of people suffer silently and in many ways, you see people suffering overtly, in a very visible way. And that's because of that that departure and I think it's also a results of, within the context of business, people are not comfortable, or they've been training not to use the word "love" or to acknowledge that that's something that they probably prize the most and want the most.

Charles:

How do you find your true self? How do you recognize when you are acting in a way ... You, or your observation of others, how can people tell when they are acting in a way that is not authentic or consistent to their true self?

Mark Eckhardt:

This is gonna sound very Buddhist and woo-woo again, but the presence of love. The presence of feeling connected. Increased energy, inspiration, enthusiasm, vitality, those are all the indicators, and the one things that I've found over and over and over again, is that when I'm operating in the most authentic way, in the most true way, to myself, I don't have the sense of myself. That identity that gives me the sense of, "Mark, you'll be over here. You go over there, Charles." That goes away and I can speak to a very, very profound experience that I had in my personal life right around the time that my first daughter was about to be born, that allows me to stand very confidently and a very solid way, with my feet on the ground in regard to what I just described.

I'll just tell the story very quickly. My wife was pregnant with our first daughter, Amelia, and because I'm adopted, Melina , my wife, said, "Will you please reach out to the adoption agency or try to find the adoption agency from which you were adopted, because we know nothing about your medical history and your family background and I want to know what I'm getting into and if we're going to have any-"

Some part of me, my feelings were a little hurt. I was like, "Oh, you know." I shuffled my way over to getting that in action-

Charles:

It's an extreme version of caveat emptor, but never the less.

Mark Eckhardt:

Exactly. But believe it or not, within like 24 hours, or something ridiculous like that, I got the full report back.

Charles:

Wow.

Mark Eckhardt:

The full case report. Of course, it was redacted, and the names and all that kind of stuff was not visible to me, but in reading the story around my adoption, I got to the part really specifically about my birth mother, and I'm reading it. Very, very passionate about her Catholic faith, was an employee of U. S. Postal Service and Post Office, and was second-generation Italian and white.

Charles:

Wow. You must've been stunned.

Mark Eckhardt:

Stunned. Stunned. Up until that moment in time, and I was forty years old, I had just assumed that my story was the same story of many other African-Americans here. It never dawned on me that there might be part of my DNA that is of European descent. And in that moment, my entire identity exploded. It just disintegrated and I was literally, for a few moments there, there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. And so that's the experience that I draw from, and draw on, when I am working in Common, and saying I'm navigating towards working on that experience of love and connectedness and inspiration, and all of that stuff. Because those are the indicators we're actually doing a little bit of damage, in the most positive of way, and kind of releasing the grip on the identify and creating space for something magical to happen.

And it has proven to be true over and over and over again.

Charles:

How did you put yourself back together in that, in those moments thereafter? I imagine it wasn't quick or easy.

Mark Eckhardt:

Just ask my wife. Again, back to two sides of everything. It's an incredible gift I have, and it's a relief, and the easing of a burden, and it's still a work in process. It's taking me a long time to figure out the answer to that question.

When I find myself reverting back to story and trying to reassemble story, things don't go well. And the story that I, for whatever reason default to, is one of insufficiency, lack of capability, lack of talent, all that kind of stuff. It's not a really wonderful narrative.

 But when I step into vision, or becoming, or being of service, that's very powerful and productive.

Charles:

How do you trigger that? What are the practices that you use to remind yourself, or get yourself back to that place of essentially stepping away from yourself, right? It sounds like you're really able to actually, take your ego, as it were, and put it to the side, and be about more than that. I think most of us fail pretty spectacularly in that endeavor and tend to dive further into are insecurity and our ego when threatened and get defensive and protective and dig deeper, metaphorically and sometimes physically.

How do you go about ... What do you trigger in those moments when you realize, "I'm becoming too engaged in who I am and let me get back to the things that matter to me?"

Mark Eckhardt:

My only place of refuge is the one thing that terrifies me the most, and that's people.

Charles:

Explain that.

Mark Eckhardt:

My narrative, through all the good stuff and the other, the uncomfortable stuff and the disappointments, part of my narrative is being in relationship with people is terrifying and uncomfortable and results in wounds and hurts and things like that. But is only in relationship with other people that I am able to lose myself.

Let me correct that. The other space is art, and music, and creativity, that's the other space too. But right now my work with Common is really focused on people, engaging with people, adopting and creating and introducing a new narrative, and a new possibility for capitalism to evolve into and that requires that I seek refuge in the things that terrifies the most, which is people.

Charles:

Very, very powerful. I appreciate you sharing all of that with us a lot.

So, let's talk about Common. So you met the founders at the right moment, as you've described. I know Alex by reputation. I've done some work at CPB right after he left, and his presence is still very, very, very ... I think it still is, but certainly back then it was very felt. What was it that drew you to the idea? What was it that drew you to the possibility?

Mark Eckhardt:

I didn't know who Alex was when I met him. Everybody at the office was really excited and jumping on chairs, and high-fiving and chest bumping, and I'm like, "Who is this guy?" Also, "Who is this guy Rob Shuham ?" He's badass in his own right, and in walked the door were two really great guys and human beings, who had just spent their lives in the world of creativity that was very different from mine. Design, advertising, marketing, and communications.

And seeing them wrestling with their own larger existential questions and seeing them unpacking how they were gonna resolve where they were at that point in time, very much paralleled by experience and my commitments to how I was going to live my life. So as the process unfolded, and Common wasn't named "Common" at that time, but the idea presented itself and the values that were infused into it took hold, it becomes very, very clear that what they were creating was very badass, and I was fortunate that they invited me to come along for the ride.

Charles:

It was coincidentally I think, called "The Fearless Cottage," wasn't it?

Mark Eckhardt:

So they had started The Fearless Cottage, or Fearless Revolution, and that was intended to be a way of harnessing consumer advocacy, so it was a media company doing campaigns and stuff like that. Their first client was Al Gore and what is now known as The Climate Reality Project.

But they were looking for a way of taking all of that consumer energy and intention and doing something with it and so they were thinking like, "What can we do to create real things in response to what consumers are demanding and the trajectory that the world is headed in, or is on?" And Common was the result of that.

So they launched the brand, and a couple months after that, I joined them. I've been with them ever since. I started out as the COO. We've gone through a couple iterations and then late 2015, 16, I took over and have been running the ship ever since.

Charles:

What was your expectation when you took over the role as the sole CEO?

Mark Eckhardt:

 My commitment has always been to honor our founders vision and intention for Common. So, the highest expression of that is redefining capitalism, or creating enough momentum or mass to influence maybe a new form of policy, piece of legislation, and on and on.

So that's the intention and then as that ladders down, it's been a question about, " How can we present something to the world, and entrepreneurs specifically,?" Or mainly, in this case, "How can we present them something that will one, allow them to really self-identify as the movement that's redefining capitalism, and at the same time, maintain their own sovereignty, and provide them with the ability to provide on their own aspirations and dreams in the form of businesses?"

So those are kind of the larger pillars that I'm always operating from and navigating with.

Charles:

And what kind of progress are you making? What kind of shifts are you seeing?

Mark Eckhardt:

I think we're making really good progress. We've been intentionally slow and uber-conscious in laying the foundation. So right now the main focus of our work is on building our community. It's a subscription based model, so people are paying $99 a month to be members of the Common community, and in exchange for that, they're receiving mentorship, and advice, and access, and introductions. And we promote them, and we do everything we can to foster collaboration.

And we've got a lot of wonderful proof points, like a distributive model, one that doesn't require you to relocate your life works. And having access to the kind of thinking and approach that BCs apply, to applying jet fuel to businesses works too.

Our whole motto is "You shouldn't have to relocate your life or give up ownership in your business to accelerate your business." And that ladders up to this whole notion of redefining capitalism.

We knew that venture capital is a limited resource in many ways. We know the traditional incubators and accelerators operate under a roof with four walls attached to it, is limited, from the physical point of view.

So in order to fulfill on redefining capitalism, we needed to create a platform that can invite, welcome, and take care of, in a really high way, in a wonderful way, thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs and that's what we felt.

Charles:

And you talk a lot about creating a community. How do you go about finding companies, individual talent, to be a part of that, and then how do you about locking through, from a collaboration standpoint, the capacity that they provide when they work together?

Mark Eckhardt:

Everything that happens with Common happens because of two things: the values that were infused at the beginning or solid, and operating, and we haven't abandoned them; and the brand is just cool. The word Common, as you dig into it, it just resonates with people. People really dig it. And we cuss; we're just ourselves, and sometimes we use bad language, we always try to have fun and have a good time while we're getting serious work done. So those kind of fundamental elements have really served us well, and fortunately we haven't departed from them.

When people join the community they're screened, they're vetted. We make sure that their values align, we make sure that their working on products or sending up businesses that are designed to do good in the world, to have social impact. And then the art of getting folks to collaborate is still very much an open question. People tend to kind of dip up and down in the level of their participation. Life happens and people get really busy and need to focus on what's in front of them, and other times, they have more space and can make themselves available.

The biggest prohibitor of collaboration the next level, like at radical way, is our current capitalist system and it usually gets expressed or shows itself in two ways, "I love what you're doing, but I just don't have time to help you any more than I have." Or, "I've gotta focus on making money." And I describe those two ways of expressing that as the gravitational pull towards profitability. It's this phenomena of force, that little by little, pull social entrepreneurs off of their mission in the pursuit of money and survival. It's all rooted in scarcity and it's a reflection of the function of the way our capital system works.

And so, what we're doing to unlock radical collaboration within the community, and this is where I'm tying it back to the earlier part of my answer, before we got interrupted, is we're actually gonna be introducing a digital currency, specifically design to create the room for people to collaborate at a much higher level, and at a much faster rate.

Some of the things that are gonna be included in that, Common Sense, which we're gonna be introducing May at our Unsummit, are things like universal basic income. So for members in good standings that have passed a couple of thresholds, they'll receive monthly distribution in Common Sense, which will ultimately be able to be converted and viewed into US dollar, or krone, if you're in Denmark, for example.

We're also gonna be creating an equity pool, so for those whole voluntarily participate, they'll issue a small sum of stock or enter a warrant agreement or maybe a revenue share agreement, with the equity pool, and that will allow all of us to be incentivized to contribute to each other's success, and in doing so, know that we'll be rewarded for helping a company succeed.

So, for example, Charles, let's say you stand up in your company and I help you in it, if you're participating in the equity pool, and let's say you have some kind of exit, some of those proceeds will go back into the equity and pool and distributed out to the other members of it.

So we're really moving in the direction of abundance. We're moving in the direction of recognizing that there's more than one form of capital or equity. Wisdom and culture has inherent value in it. Commodities do and on and on and on. Our goal is to start unlocking the other forms of equity and capital, accounting and registering for them and in doing so, open up a whole 'nother way for people to engage.

You probably know very know in your work, that freelancers or service providers, are always trying to justify their time and to earn a good living, and so on and so forth, and it can be quite hard. Through our digital currency in our program and our platform, people are going to be able to do that in a new way, and hopefully it will capture fire and just take off.

Charles:

What do you think that the biggest obstacles to unlocking people's creativity in the environment that you're creating, interesting the ecosystem that you're creating?

Mark Eckhardt:

Story. Story. Narrative. We have been raised in, we've been immersed in, we've been trained in a particular way of thinking about business and money, and value. We deem some things valuable and other things not, and we basically negate the inherent value in too many things throughout our society.

So just saying you're a social entrepreneur isn't enough. Just saying that you're committed to having a social impact, or social innovation, isn't enough. It's the value's that are driving that, and then the unlearning process that you have either gone through, or have not gone through, that's ultimately gonna determine the degree to which you can move to another different plane, or playing field.

Charles:

What do you see holding people back? What do you see preventing people from leaning into this approach, and leaning into this mindset?

Mark Eckhardt:

Perceived scarcity. Because we haven't been raised in a system that allows us to survive and thrive, without making money as the dominant activity we're invested in and engaged in, we immediately go to scarcity. We are not trained to think, and we're not comforted at the thought of simply asking for help, like, "I need a blanket," as a physical example of something that somebody may need, which would be incredibly value-provided by a neighbor, or a collaborator, or fellow member of the community, all the way to, "I need some design help."

Charles:

Do you find people drawn in by the concept and then drifting away, because they can't make that adjustment, they can't rewire themselves, or rewire their approach, and their thinking, their mindset?

Mark Eckhardt:

I'll have a more thorough answer to that, soon after we launch the currency in May, but what I can say, given our activities up to this point, based on the way the community currently operates, there are people who do get it, and kinda zip in out or ... kinda lean in and out of a more collaborative way of working, and there are people clearly stuck in the old archetype and way of thinking. You can see it and you hear it because they negate the other forms of value that they're actually receiving, that they're just not trained to know, or identify, or assign value to. So-

Charles:

I'm sorry, go ahead. Finish what you were saying.

Mark Eckhardt:

I was gonna say, those conversations tend to do right back to money and profitability very quickly and they nullify anything else that's going on that's actually lifting them up.

Charles:

Is age a factor in people's receptiveness to that? Do you find young people are more adaptable and old people not, or is that just stereotyping on my part?

Mark Eckhardt:

That's a little stereotyping, but I will say that it does tend to occur more with men.

Charles:

The man have a harder time adapting?

Mark Eckhardt:

Yeah. Men are really attached to money, and profitability, and success. Women, without being cheesy, are much more inclined to be collaborative.

Charles:

Yeah, I think that's interesting. Do you find the dynamics of certain kinds of groups work better? Ar you involved in casting the groups and putting together the right kinds of collaborates the right kind of way? Because obviously not every designer shows up the same way, right. Not every graphic designer shows up the same way.

Mark Eckhardt:

In our one-on-one work with our members and out entrepreneurs, we do a lot of curation, so we identify a present need. I'll curate a list to people for them to consider and choose from and then I'll facilitate that introductions and then there's a process of conversation that takes place, and ultimately, the entrepreneur chooses who they're gonna work with.

When we consult, meaning when other brands who are not necessarily part of our community ... Snap Kitchen, for example ... Even Tom's Shoes reached out to us about a year ago. What we do in those cases, is we do as much as we can to understand the character and the needs of the client, and then we will curate a team of professionals to deliver whatever work needs to be delivered on.

So there I'm reaching into our media community, but also reaching deeply into our extended network, which is global.

Charles:

How do you lead in the middle of all of this? I mean you're trying to fundamentally rewire society, I think, right, on kind of a macro level, ultimately? If you roll this all the way forward, rewiring society would be the natural outcome of this. How do you lead in that context?

Mark Eckhardt:

I think there's many different types of leaders, but I'm gonna kinda break it down to two that are very clear in my mind. I think there's people who lead from the front, and I think there's people who lead from the back. I tend to be the latter. I tend to lead from the back and I think I'm effective enough at creating the space and articulating the context within which we want things to happen, and then finding ways for people to deliver the best of themselves.

So, I'm constantly looking for ways and opportunities to get people engaged based on my understanding of who they are and who I know they're capable of contributing to whatever process or project we're working on.

Common Sense, our digital currency is a great example of that. So I'm holding this space for a group of our members to have this ongoing conversation and to grow through this architecting process, and design process, that's ultimately gonna manifest in this digital currency, that's gonna benefit not only our community, but ideally, the world.

My job is to again, support people in being the best version of themselves, knowing that there's incredible and wisdom and talent and experience and talent that we can bring to bear at any given time.

Charles:

One of the characteristics, or the practices of leadership, is accountability. How do you bring accountability, both within the context of the mindset shift you're trying to create, and also the functional reality that you're trying to create?

Mark Eckhardt:

I think accountability applied incorrectly looks like and feels like and sounds like, a heavy hand coming down. I try to apply accountability to myself first, and then model how we want to behave out in the world, for people to see. And the majority of that Charles, is again, really just telling on myself over and over and over again. It's interesting, when you take your Buddhist vows ... when you commit to the precepts, and the precepts are very much like the Ten Commandments. They're basically guidelines for how to live your life. The second you say, "I'm not gonna gossip," just to paraphrase one. The chances of you not fulfilling that, and operating consistently with that 100% of the time, there's no way you can do it.

So, I'm constantly calibrating, based on your commitment to values. Your values are those guiding principles, and, without driving yourself crazy, you have to acknowledge that you're constantly parting from them. You move away, and then you return. You move away and return.

The better I am at admitting when I have departed from our values ... Doesn't mean that the sky is falling and we've steered the ship into the dock, just means that there's been a slight variance in who we said we're committed to being. The more I can admit that, tell that on myself, the more accountability gets baked in.

Sometimes there are moments where you just have to have a conversation with some person, but that conversation should never come from a place of, "You've broken the rules and we're gonna punish you and we're gonna hold you accountable." The conversation needs to be generated from a place of, "We're gonna return you. I'm committed to returning you to who you said you were gonna be." Big self. Not hammering on small self.

Charles:

I find all of that extremely, extremely powerful. There's a couple of other questions I'd like to ask you. I'm just trying to figure out which order. That's the beauty of being able to edit this, right? Which is, I can actually talk out loud about which I'd like to ask next.

Mark Eckhardt:

We can order pizza, I mean all that could be going on.

Charles:

Yeah, exactly. What do you think is the biggest risk in this approach, both for you personally, and for the organization that you're trying to create ... or you are creating?

Mark Eckhardt:

I think one of our members, her name is Christine McDougall . She's based in Australia. She is an integrity architect for our entrepreneurs and businesses. I think she said it best, just last week, "As we are creating our currency and as we're creating the community and creating the platforms to do the work we wanna do in the world, if we don't have conversations, form the beginning, about the shadow side of that work, we're in danger, we're jeopardizing the entirety of what we're creating."

 Some people may hear that and go, "Man, this guy Mark, he's completely negative. He's telling on himself." It's not about being negative; I'm a very positive person, but you have to recognize the other side of humanity and that has to be built in, and factored in, to your design and whatever you're creating and wanting to put out in the world, because it allows you to navigate. If you're not navigating with the shadow side of what you're doing, in mind, then you're navigating in a very incomplete way.

I'll even go as far as saying that's an irresponsible way. There's no judgment to admitting that you're human, and you've got a dark side to yourself, so why not include that, and allow conversations to take place from the beginning, so they don't stack and get to the point where you're dealing with what Facebook is dealing with currently.

Charles:

So confront it immediately ... Confront stuff as it comes up.

Mark Eckhardt:

Yeah. We haven't fully articulated. We don't have the language or the words to describe, the form that the shadow side of Common Sense could take. We're not there yet, but thank goodness for Christine , in acknowledging that that is aa factor in what we're doing, and now we can dialogue about it and we can have contingency plans in place. If, for example, I start doing something stupid, like all of a sudden I get greedy and I take the whole thing for myself and I run.

Charles:

 The last question we're going to ask you is, "What are you afraid of?"

Mark Eckhardt:

Earlier I said the thing I'm most afraid of is people. I think another way of saying that is I'm afraid of what's possible.

Charles:

By which you mean?

Mark Eckhardt:

I don't know if I can handle what's possible. I'm afraid that I would try to sabotage what's possible.

Charles:

Because?

Mark Eckhardt:

I've fundamentally have some weird insecurity about myself.

Charles:

This is more than a fear of success.

Mark Eckhardt:

Yeah, it's a fundamental question about my own self, and my fitness to realize something that's possible in a huge way.

Charles:

Actually, I guess that was not my last question apparently, because now I have a follow-up to that. Do you find that your instinct it to act first, or think first?

Mark Eckhardt:

I'm thinking, so I think. I think, but I don't think that the process of thinking is an extended one. I am pretty quick at gaining enough clarity to move, and I find, as I get older and older, that action is actually the best way to arrive at clarity. Getting stuck in my thoughts is not a good thing, but interacting with people, engaging, being active, is the way to actually produce the real essence of what you're working on. It reveals itself through activity.

Charles:

Such an interesting conversation, Mark. I finish every episode with three takeaways. Three themes that I have heard. These are those for today, for this conversation. One, you're trying to make a big difference in the world, obviously. It almost goes without saying. You have clearly defined that. Really clearly defined that and it's a very big difference, and I often find leaders who just are not that clear about the difference they're trying to make in the world, and so therefore struggle to bring people along on the ride with them.

Second, again, I think clearly you are extraordinarily self-aware and not just open to self-analysis, self-evaluations, self-observation, but do so willingly, and even enthusiastically.

There's probably any number of things I could say third, but the one that is most resonant with me, is that in self-evaluation, you continue to push yourself to a higher plane, to higher expectations of yourself, up to and including the fact that you're trying to essentially, it sounds like, get yourself out of the way as your own reference point, because that's actually the thing that holds you back. So, I think that kind of motivation and that kind of awareness, that we, in the truest sense of the word, can be our own worst enemies, is actually, in many ways, fundamental to unlocking really extraordinary leadership. When we can actually eliminate ourselves as the obstacle, from a leadership perspective, and really, fully invest in others. That's when we are at our best from a leadership standpoint.

Do those resonate with you?

Mark Eckhardt:

Yes, I'm moved, actually. The last point, in particular, is something that I've been really, really working on as we get ready to launch Common Sense to the world, and try to unlock collaboration to the next level and it's accelerate, innovation, and change.

Just to take a couple quick seconds here ... So, the entire governance committee that's working on this has been going through their own process, and I knew immediately that I needed to elevate my own work and the triggers, or the indicators were, that certain within Common, stopped.

For example, we had a contract to do some consulting work that got just stalled and stopped. We have some receivables from previous consulting work that just stopped coming in, and I knew, because those things related to money, I knew that I had been activated, through the conversation about Common Sense, and currency, and abundance. So I've been fortunate to have, a couple of amazing people, women in my life, who are taking me through the process making sure that we do whatever we can, to get me out of the way of this thing that's emerging. There have been a lot of tears. It's been really hard, but I could not do the work that I'm currently engaged in, because I would take us out.

So your last point is particularly resonant, so I appreciate you for teasing that out. I think it's really important.

Charles:

You are clearly on an extraordinary journey, both personally and professionally and I wish you nothing but success, on both aspects of it.

Mark Eckhardt:

Thank you so much.

Charles:

Thank you for being here. You've been listening to Fearless: The Art of Creative Leadership. If you've liked what you've heard, take a moment, go on YouTube, leave us a rating, and a review, and please join us again next week, when we will have more.

Thanks again, Mark.

Mark Eckhardt:

Thank you. Such a pleasure.