We’re bringing Brain Science backstage — Mireille puts on her interviewer hat for a deep dive into Adam’s backstory. When and how did he get involved with podcasting? How did he get in to software development? When did he get his first shot at leadership? How did he learn about sales? Why is he so curious?
- The Web 2.0 Show
- Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan
- The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development by Donald G. Reinertsen
- Take Charge Product Management: Take Charge of Your Product Management Development by Greg Geracie
- Herding Tigers: Business, Software and the Art of War by Danny Blitz
Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
So we’re going to do a little twist today, and as opposed to focusing on a topic, we’re going to do a little bit deeper dive into a person, because part of what we hope to do with this conversation and conversations is really change the way we think and understand the value of the framework that we all have, which contributes to the choices we make and where we get to in life, and how we can have the life we all want to embrace. So I’m super-excited, because we’re gonna just go into a deeper dive with Adam Stacoviak.
Oh, yes. Exciting! I love it.
Yeah, so we can– you’ve been doing the podcast thing for over ten years now, right?
I first podcasted in 2006.
So forever ago.
So, right. Before it was a thing, you were a thing.
Almost back whenever there was a podcast, you almost knew everybody in the podcast world, because it wasn’t very big.
And even when you had a podcast, you got a lot of listeners because– I guess, not so much a lot of listeners… It was very easy to become popular, because there weren’t that many.
So I’m curious, how did that start for you?
Yeah. I had been working with a fellow named Josh Allens, and we were doing web stuff together. So I was primarily a frontend designer, a frontend developer, a UX designer, and I’d built a lot of website. And my real knack for doing well was essentially user flow and user experience. I really could have an empathy for who the user might be and how they would encounter the problems we were trying to solve with interface, and so that was what I was doing at the time.
My friend Josh, he actually ran a show called The Web 2.0 Show, which is still online right now, web20show.com. The backlog is still there. You can listen to, literally, episode one to episode – I can’t recall how many; maybe 60 or 70.
He had a co-host for a while – and at the time too, you weren’t really making money from podcasts; it wasn’t serious. So you almost did it as a hobby, as a fun thing. And so the co-host he had at the time was moving on to the other things. He was busy in life and decided to move on, and so he’s like, “Hey, I need a new co-host.” We were working together, and I said, “Well, sure. I’ll be your co-host.”
Now if I can look back at that time then, I was thinking like, “Gosh, I’ve never spoken on a microphone. I’m not even sure how much of a radio voice I have.” And if you go back and listen, I sound terrible. I’m fumbling and bumbling. I still do that a little bit, but I sound better, I sound more seasoned; voice-wise, vocally, even presence-wise and experience-wise, which is just interesting. But yeah, it was by happenstance. Somebody had a podcast; I wasn’t thinking about it, I didn’t self invite myself. They said, “Hey, would you be my co-host?” I said yes, I fell in love with it, got really into it, and that’s the long story short.
[04:19] So let me rewind a little bit further then. So you were working in tech, and how did that happen? Was it something you knew you always wanted to do, you were curious around?
How did I get into software, you mean?
That’s by accident, too. It goes back as far as when I worked at Muzak. So I used to live in Orlando, Florida, and I had a sales job at a company called Muzak, which I believe is now defunct. It was the oldest company in the US for a while there, and we have this database tool called Act! that would essentially– it was like a client relations, customer… Like a CRM thing where you would manage your relationship with your customers and clients and stuff.
Back then, I don’t know, tech was just so new. And when I say “back then”, let’s say 2002, I want to say, 2000– yeah, 2001, 2002. So it wasn’t back then so long ago, but there’s just so much more advancements since then, let’s just say. Smartphones were not around, the iPhone did not exist. This is all predates, Facebook and Twitter even. So forever ago in the internet’s history.
So I got into tech to some degree by being curious about this stuff, and databasing, and connecting this Act! database to another to synchronize contacts, and all these different stuff… And over time, I just got more and more, I suppose, geeky. I didn’t really touch my first computer until I was 22. So I was into my 20s before I even touched a computer. I probably touched one in– I lied, I’m lying. I touched one in junior high… But own my own and be able to have the liberty to play with it and explore beyond a class or over a friend’s house, whatever, I didn’t really have my own computer until my 20’s.
So was it love at first sight in the sense of, “Wow, this is amazing.”
Kind of. Sure, kind of. I mean, I was like anybody. Technology is pretty tantalizing. So it’s easy to get lost in it, in this just newfound world… And I happened to be pretty smart with some of the things. I was able to pick up some of the things pretty easily, more so than others. I didn’t really see myself inclined, I didn’t take any classes aside from, say, a junior high class on BASIC, which was really funny, looking back on that time…
So then, for you, college wasn’t a part of it, like you were training up to go this route?
Well, I didn’t go to college. Yeah, I didn’t go to school. I went to the military instead. The legacy of my family, all the men in my family had been in the military, and that was a thing. So I was like, “I should go in the military.” I didn’t really have a trajectory in life. I didn’t have anybody really guiding my long-term life and career and plans. I was just sort of wayward in a lot of ways, and so–
So it was almost more default, like this is just what people do; not like you guys held particular values as a family that says, “We fight for our country.” Anything but that.
Yeah, I wouldn’t say it was like, “Oh, we fight for our country.” But when I joined, I was like, “You know what, my dad did it, my brother did it, my uncles did it, my grandfathers did it…”, so my choice was based on this legacy of– but it wasn’t like a DNA ingrained, every day like “You must go into the military because we serve our country and we fight for our freedoms”, but it was very much still a part of my choice. It was like, “You know what, my dad did it.” My dad was in Vietnam, my uncle was in Vietnam; we spent some time – whether that war was something people look back on as something disgraceful or not, my father’s effort and work towards the nation and the country had a purpose, and so I believed in that, and I was like, “I’m gonna follow in their footsteps and do the same thing.”
My father was just drafted for the war and was out afterwards. Same for my uncle, my grandfather… I think everybody. My grandfathers, one of them may have served ten years or so, but none of them were career military.
So then let me ask you, are there things then mentally that you took away from your military experience?
Oh, yeah. Gosh, everything.
I fully believe in the camaraderie. All the things– I mean, I’m trying to even recall the things I can recall from that experience, but yeah, it’s like… I’m not sure I’d be the same me without going into the military.
Now, how long did you serve?
Three and a half years. It was a program where you went in for your training and you served three years plus your training, so it was three and a half years. Served overseas, we went to Bosnia, did some stuff like that. I had a lot of fun doing it, but yeah– I mean, the discipline, the training, the honor, the trust, the buddy system, all the training necessary… So much of it. The discipline was ingrained into me. I don’t get up at 6:00 a.m. anymore in my life and run four miles before 9:00 a.m. in the morning; I did it one time. There’s a season to all life, of course, but I very much hold the values of that time of my life close to my heart. So that said, I would– if anybody says to me, they’re considering the military, I’m usually going to be an advocate.
Yeah. So it seems like it played a pretty critical role for you in going “These skills are adaptive”, whether they’re part of the military or not.
Oh, yeah. I mean, my leadership story begins when I was randomly chosen – and I say random because I didn’t earn it. I didn’t do something to get it. The drill sergeant said, “Hey, Stacoviak, front and center. You’re now the first squad leader,” and that was my first step into leadership. I was selected into it; didn’t earn it, didn’t– I don’t think I did anything special. I certainly wasn’t the best soldier, so I can’t imagine I earned it.
And there wasn’t training like, “Hey, you trained up for this.” You just got appointed.
Yeah, that’s right. It was just an OJT thing, on the job training, learn it or fail, and somebody else will be put in your place, kind of thing. So I was like, “Holy crap, I’m a leader now, whatever that even means. What does that mean to lead? What does that mean to be– to guide other people in my squad?” Now, I wasn’t leading the whole platoon, I was leading my squad, but first squad leader is second in command to the person who’s leading the platoon, or the squad or whatever… So it’s the unit. So I was like, “What does it take to be a good soldier?” So all of those things I learned – I just got lost in the opportunity and lost in the journey of what it means to be great at being a soldier.
Did it strike you at all at that time the way in which your decisions actually affected anybody else? Were you mindful of that?
No, I don’t think so. I mean, maybe… I can’t say that’s a one to one… It’s hard for me to remember a lot of the details, aside from, I suppose, just like– yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that, honestly.
[12:11] Well, I just asked because– I mean, especially being that age, that I wouldn’t suspect per se that you would be reflective around it. But nonetheless, there were things you were doing as considerate of the fact that it wasn’t just you who felt the effects of your choices.
Oh, yeah, I suppose, in that regard. I mean, people then came to me to know what they needed to do. So they would say, “Stacoviak”, because in the military everybody goes by their last name. So I’m Stacoviak, not Adam, or Stacs. They’d call me Stacs or Stac or Stacoviak. Usually, it was just the full name Stacoviak, and I guess sometimes Stacs. “Stacs, what should I do?” “We’re going over here, we’re going to meet in this way”, whatever. “You need to have your uniform pressed, you need to have these things, we need to be in this formation, at this time.” So all the questions came to me and it was up to me to have the information, or just wing it, in a sense. I mean, because I didn’t really know how to be a leader, so I just took it on and said, “Okay, we need to be here.” I’d just do my best to prepare.
At the time too, we were also learning a lot about the military. We were also learning what it meant to be– collectively, what it meant to be a good soldier, and a lot of that came from understanding the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which was the UCMJ; it’s the law, essentially. So people who are in the military are not bound by just simply civilian law, they’re bound by civilian law, as well as military law, which is the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
So I could do something that would not get me into jail as a civilian. But if I’d do it as a soldier, and it’s something that a civilian can do and not get in jail or be in trouble, but do it as a soldier or somebody in the military, I could get in trouble. So there’s things we’re bound by that are not simply civilian law.
Right. So a construct within a construct, of going “Hey, I have a double filter, because I’m always evaluating things.”
So from a perspective today, looking back, would you say that those experiences helped you build a sense of confidence around your own decision-making, when you don’t know, especially?
I would say, yeah. I mean, I think from – I either had a side of confidence always, or it was cultivated then, because… I think I can recall my 20s, essentially a confident person. I would just make choices and not have a lot of anxiety about what I was trying to do. I can’t even describe any particular example, but I just had this ambition and self-assurance, I would probably qualify it as that. Maybe confidence is the side you would say, but I think more– I was always self-assured that whatever I was doing, I can get through it well enough to not be scathed. I couldn’t be harmed. Maybe that’s just 20s in general, but maybe that was– that’s what I recall.
Yeah. Maybe not fully cooked frontal lobe at that point?
Well, yeah. Especially when you don’t recognize danger - are you scared?
Right. Yeah, exactly. You just hit the accelerator, because it’s fun.
That’s right. Let’s go. Let’s do it.
[laughs] So then do you think that there was a time in which you switched to being more deliberate around goals or where you want to get to, as opposed to more happenstance?
[15:53] I think when I got that job at Muzak, which is an interesting story, because when I left the military in 2001, I didn’t have a plan aside from “I’m going to go to school to be a film director or an audio engineer in film.” I was going down to Florida; my buddy DK lived there, so I was actually going there to meet up with a friend I’d grown up with in high school. He was going to a school in Orlando called Full Sail. And Full Sail is a school you go to to learn about audio, video. Many film directors, many people who are skilled in Hollywood and the film industry, in general, came from or come from Full Sail.
So I was leaving the military thinking “I’m gonna go down here to Florida. I’ve got this dream, I’m not even sure how to achieve it, but this is my dream. I’m gonna go there, I’m gonna go to this school, I’m gonna learn how to be a film director, I’m gonna direct films.” That didn’t happen… But it didn’t stop me from trying.
So I went down there – and I never got to actually start at Full Sail, because… I don’t know, I guess it was right after 9/11, too. So that was January 2001, and then 9/11 happened that September. So life was similar to now with this pandemic, it changed quite a bit. As a nation, we were mourning as a nation, and there was a lot of change in terms of travel and security and stuff like that.
So there was a major downturn in the economy in Orlando, Florida, because it was really driven by travel, and at the time travel was jacked up. So the economy tanked, and I lost my terrible server job. I was working as a server at Rainforest Cafe in the Animal Kingdom.
Oh, I love Rainforest–
We also have Animal Kingdom at Disney. It’s a Rainforest Cafe, right outside the gate. So it’s not in it, but it’s the Rainforest Cafe for Animal Kingdom. So I worked at that Rainforest Cafe. I loved my job, I loved what I did, but I wasn’t pursuing some– I wasn’t trying to be the best server, I was just living life. I didn’t really have a plan aside from this dream. I assumed at some point, I would make my pivot to go to Full Sail for real, but life was just sort of happening. I wasn’t really doing Life, life was sort of doing me… And I was just going with it, because I was just a flexible, go with the flow person. Just roll with it.
So to get back to this - when I got the job at Muzak, I was at… I had a good friend who was a DJ - terrible DJ, he was just trying… And so he got this gig at this nightclub in the daytime. It was more 6:00 p.m. versus 11:00 p.m. so not the time when a lot of people are really at this club. To make a long story short, a guy named Sean Hughes was also there, worked for Muzak, and I saw him talking to my DJ friend and his girlfriend, and so after they were done talking, I walked over to them and said, “Hey, any friend of my friend is a friend of mine,” and I shook his hand and introduced myself, and so that– I didn’t know that at the time, but that was what caught this person’s attention about my character, that I was just out there and just ambitious, I suppose, unapologetically or whatever, just willing to just say hello to anybody…
So I was talking to him, and we got to talking, and long story short, he asked me what I want to do with my life. I’m like, “Well, I’m thinking about getting into car sales, because I’m really good at sales… But I love helping people” and he’s like “Don’t get into car sales. I’ve been in car sales.” I was just trying to find my way to earn money to get into school and go on this plan of mine. And so long story short, he says, “Hey, come interview for this job I have open at Muzak. I think you’d be a good candidate.” That was Friday.
[19:52] Monday morning – I’m stressed all weekend, and I’m like, “I got a legit job interview. I didn’t even try.” Muzak is a worthwhile company and an amazing place to work at, so I stressed all weekend. I’m planning for going in, and I’ve got friends who are just partying all weekend and I’m just trying my best just to not hang out with them and stay on my straight and narrow, and prepare for Monday… And I go in on Monday, and I make an impression, and long story short, I get the job at Muzak.
I forgot your original question, but all that was leading to this point that that was my first real professional experience. So I’d sort of gotten this career trajectory desire from getting this job. Everything spun from getting this job. So my experience in the military led me to be a disciplined, regimented person, that was reliable, and understand honor, duty and selfless service, and I got this job at Muzak, and I just did my best to kill. I can share that story if you want, but I was the No. 5 salesperson in the company. It’s 200 salespeople, so there were a lot of people.
So would you describe yourself as pretty relational?
Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
Because it’s interesting, even as you talked through it, the opportunities that emerged… But one of the things that stands out as you shared is even– you articulate the actual individual, not just “There was this person.” These people that you call by name played instrumental and influential roles in your life’s trajectory.
And I see that even within what you’ve created within the Changelog, because you really value community, don’t you?
Oh, yeah. It’s everything.
So I think that’s an interesting juxtaposition, considering that in technology a lot of people are working more with computers or things, as opposed to people. But yet, there’s always a person behind making the computer, the program or the software do what you need it to do.
I don’t know where that came from, but I think it’s from this whole user experience designer role I really loved and enjoyed, because I like people. I guess I’m realizing that now through you saying, so I guess I like people a lot, of course… But I really cared that somebody, if they’re going to use this software, or use this application, or do this thing, that they find enjoyment in it, or that they can actually be successful at it.
I’m a helper, so I like to help people, and so that was my way, as much as I was a designer, to help them enjoy whatever they were trying to get done, done. And that could be searching, it could be reading a blog post, it could be hitting a landing page and understanding what this company has to offer and taking action… It had many different manifestations, but I really enjoy helping people, and so I think that’s why I was good at that.
Sure. So did you tend to find irritants in whatever you were doing and go like, “This doesn’t work well”, and then always end up troubleshooting, going, “How do I make this better?”
Yeah, every day. I mean, every day. You’re constantly hitting and scrutinizing the flow of an application, and you’re constantly thinking, “How could it be better? What could we take out to make it more minimal? Are we asking for the absolute necessary things?”
So minimalism, essentialism, all that ties into that role for me, in particular, and it was– that was always on the table, I was always questioning those things. How can we make it less? How can we make it easier? How can we make it more fun? How can we make it more successful in terms of getting through whatever the workflow was?
[23:54] So it’s interesting, because as you talk as well, it’s as if these opportunities came out of nowhere, and then you’re like, “Sure, I’ll just go on that ride and see where it takes me.”
Kind of, yeah.
Do you think that it was really that happenstance when you look back in retrospect, or would you say that there were actual other decisions you made in advance of those, that put you in a position either in terms of mindset and what you were looking for, or just actionable skills or work behaviors that made you ripe for those opportunities?
No. I think if somebody would have found me and caught my attention with building cars, I would be making race cars right now.
If somebody had found me and caught my attention with engineering bridges, I’d be the best bridge engineer out there. I don’t think– I think that I was just looking for something to pour into, and I guess I always enjoyed helping people, so sales was just naturally easy for me, because my theory and belief in sales isn’t to manipulate you into making a choice, it’s to help you solve a problem. So I’m a problem solver, I’m a helper, and so I like to help people, I like to add value to people’s lives; that’s natural for me. So I think I just found tech – maybe it was just what landed for me, or what caught my eye, and I never let go.
Yeah, but it’s interesting, because when you were talking earlier, you mentioned that it was easy for you. You took to it.
So while I’m sure many of us could take to different things, for whatever reason it was sticky enough, it was enough emotional payoff, like we’ve talked about. There was enough of that dopamine that says “Do it again.”
Yeah. Well, if we’re talking about that, I think the dopamine would probably come from helping people. And I think with technology, generally– so I would say probably the earliest help I ever did with software or any technical thing was our receptionist and executive assistant to the office. She always needed help with that particular thing. She wasn’t technologically inclined, and neither was I; I just was willing to learn it, and so I would help her all the time deal with our database stuff and help other executives - other kinds of executives, because I was a kind of executive as well - deal with our customer base and information and stuff like that. So I I saw value in solving problems. I solved my own problems, I solved her problems, I solved some of our immediate staff’s problems, and so I guess I saw some payout in the fact that if I learn these few things and master a few of these skills, I can help people.
It’s interesting how really strong that is for you of just this desire to serve other people, and how that’s– and alongside of the learn on the fly. You weren’t learning via textbook and somebody teaching you. You go, “How can I put together things that other people wouldn’t necessarily put together?”
…which in turn makes it easier for them, or easier for them to navigate.
One of my co-workers at Muzak at the time taught me a valuable lesson I lean on to this day. I suppose I learned it then, or learned what it meant. He said– there’s more of a backstory, but he just said, “Be resourceful” and so that stood out to me. I was like, “Well, what does that mean to be resourceful?”
[27:44] Now, this guy was fairly young, fiancée, new wife, plans to have a kid very soon. I think they had their kid a few years after that or a year after that. So young, ambitious, successful… He was very much like somebody I idolized and wanted to model, because I was like, “I like that. I want to be young, ambitious, successful. I want to be as put together as he is.” And no one said “Hey, Adam…” because his name was Adam, too… “Hey Adam, this is how you do things. This is how you do these things.” His name’s Adam Huckshold, actually. I’m LinkedIn buddies with him still yet. I’m paying attention to what he’s doing now. That’s why I love LinkedIn. But I was like, “How do you learn how to do these things? How did you learn how these things work to serve the company in these ways, and do these kinds of sales and be this good?” He said, “Man, you’ve gotta be resourceful.” I was like, “What does that mean?” He’s like, “Well, when you hit roadblocks, when you hit hurdles, you get over them. If you need more information, you’ve gotta find it. Somebody’s gonna give it to you.” I was like, “Well, that makes sense.”
So ever since then, I learned the idea of being resourceful, and so I suppose that I never let a challenge just be like, “Well, I don’t have the information. I can’t solve the problem” and bail on it and leave it.
Let it lie.
I saw it more as like, “How can I conquer this thing? How can I get through this, over this, whatever it might be?” I suppose that’s probably the early indications of entrepreneurship for me, because that’s when I learned those early things… An entrepreneur doesn’t allow a hurdle to get in the person’s way. They learn how to get around, get under, get through, remove, replace, disrupt… And that’s why I learned early entrepreneurship.
Also, when you’re in sales too for organizations like Muzak or others, you’re very much treated like– while you may be a W-2 employee and get a commission and you are an employee, you’re very much your own business. The business I bring is responsible by my efforts. The company may have a brand and may bring some things along too, and there may be some brand equity I leverage as part of that, but if I don’t put effort into, I’m not gonna get anything out of. And so I very much had to be a self-starter, had to be self-motivated, self-assured, I had to be resourceful. I had to learn these things to get through these things, and if not, I would have sucked as an account executive for Muzak. It would have been terrible.
It’s interesting, because as you talk about being resourceful, my mind makes sense of it as having initiative.
Like going “Nobody’s gonna do it for me, so I’m gonna go figure it out.” That is exactly what I was thinking in terms of the entrepreneur - so you didn’t have this vision when you were a kid or even early young adult, to say “I think I want to work for myself.”
Well, I think I’m a big believer in representation, because no one aside from, say, my grandfather, and I didn’t even understand what that really meant… He, my grandfather, did a bunch of stuff, I suppose, but he sold tires. He was a tire salesman out of his own garage, and he would fix people’s cars. It was back in the day when this person has helped everybody, so that might have been my own example of it, but nobody was a model for me of being an entrepreneur. I didn’t know you can work for yourself. I thought you had to go to school.
I came from an area where there wasn’t a lot of opportunity in the immediate area. Not everybody I knew was successful or had their own business. So it wasn’t a model to me that entrepreneurship or running your own thing or running your own business or being self-employed was an option. So I never had that as a dream. It was never given to me until later in life.
[32:04] So it was very much this a-ha, but through these other experiences, it actually provided you with some mental framework that goes, “Oh, wait a minute… How I conduct myself”, and really the correlation between effort and outcome was well developed through that experience with Muzak.
I would say that’s, generally speaking, in certain sales environments, that’s where it works well.
I go out, I work hard, and then I get the feedback from that, and– I mean, it is a lot about building relationships and meeting needs, of going “I have a product or I have something that I think would be very helpful for you.”
I didn’t learn the helpful part until a while later on, though. I mean, while I was always wanting to be a helper, I didn’t always understand that sales was about helping. It took me a long time to learn that… Believe it or not. It would make sense logically that sales is about helping people and solving problems, but it didn’t always feel that way. I didn’t learn that lesson right away.
I don’t really know when I learned it, but I can remember many years even being successful at sales, but not being what I would consider good at sales, because to me good isn’t simply your number that you earn, the thing you bring, the sales you get. It’s how much value did you provide the client base or the customer base you’re trying to attract? That to me, is what marks a good salesperson. How much value came from your effort to them and to your company, not just simply the number you brought in.
Yeah. So it’s interesting, with all of the things you’re talking about, because you sound very much like you’re a doer, and you’re like, “Whatever I invest in, I’m going to give that all I’ve got.”
But you’re also a thinker, and going “How can I think around this?” And yet, what’s interesting is the way in which the a-has or reflections come later. And I think that, in some ways, it is just part of the process, because you’re learning on the fly and going, “I’ll just figure it out.” Not like somebody is literally creating the framework for you, but you’re creating this puzzle that goes together and going, “Oh, wait, that piece fits right here, and will make it much easier for me to go about my life.”
Yeah. I could see me like building the framework. If we’re gonna call it a home or a building or something like that, whatever this framework is, if we can think of it as a structure, I’m building the things on the fly, and then retrospectively reevaluating what I built, is it correct, and undoing and rebuilding… Constantly building the structure, evaluating it, shuffling it, strengthening it, changing out some of the materials, whatever it might be. I can see that as how my mental framework has been built over time is like that. It’s like, “I’ll build a little bit”, reevaluate it, and sort of let a whole wing be neglected for a long time, and then come back to him like, “Oh, hang on a second, we’ve gotta fix this.”
Right. It’s interesting, even you and I had a recent conversation, because– so I can’t help but think of creativity as relevant in what you’re talking about, because if you’re doing that, you’re always having to think differently, both in the process and in retrospect, right?
So you and I were having a conversation and we’ve talked about on the show your love for bikes, and how you recently created your own bike, and I said, “Oh, it’s your custom bike,” and you’re like, “Well, no. I just built it.”
Yeah, “I put it together” and you’re like, “I guess that would be custom.”
Well, I suppose I was confused by that level of customization, because I didn’t make the parts specific for the bike. I assembled the bike is how I look at it. All the parts are chosen by me, so that’s the custom part of it, but I didn’t custom make a fork for it and custom make a suspension system for it. I just assembled the bike based upon my choice of parts.
[36:16] Right, but it’s interesting that you see it as even being that base layer, even further one more than just that.. And I think that that is really reflective of how your mind works, and especially relative to the creativity. Because I don’t think people think about themselves and the work they do more routinely as it relates to being creative… And yet, I think it’s the biggest way in which people practice showing up in the world and cultivate the life they want to have. Would you agree?
Yeah, I do agree with that. I’m thinking about - not everybody is creative, I suppose. A lot of people bring their creation to the world, their art to the world. I remember actually having this conversation with my wife and saying, “This is my art, babe,” and I can’t really call it–
The bike? You mean the bike?
It could have been the bike, it could have been anything I put my passion into. This is my art. I suppose anything we put our creativity into could be – how we raise our kids is our art, maybe the way we wash our vehicle or something like that could be an art. If you have a process to it, it’s part of your creativity. Not everybody has the same workflow, and not everybody can get the same shine from their car. I just think your effort in life is your art.
Okay, but so in that way, wouldn’t it make sense that you’ve been able to cultivate what you have, and by that, I’m saying all of the podcasts, the Changelog community is because of this interplay around creativity and initiative?
I would say so, yeah.
Because it’s not like you had– I mean, when you started podcasting, you didn’t go, “I’m going to build the Changelog and have this huge community.”
No, no. Like most things, it just played out.
Well, and that’s just it…
I followed the stream. I followed something to it. Laura was always chasing something, through something.
Right, which is why I can’t help but think about the role of curiosity.
Yeah, I’m very curious.
Curiosity was the carrot that has kept you going, and that there’s a sense of intrigue or discovery that’s like, “I don’t know how that works or I don’t understand that problem, and is there a hack to help remove that obstacle, not just for myself, but for someone else?”
A specific time I can think about this is whenever– I was working for a nonprofit called Pure Charity. They’re still around, they’re still amazing, purecharity.com, they’ve got some amazing people there, and I loved my time there. My first role there was as a UX designer. So I was responsible for the application’s interface, and all these different things, and user workflow etc. And at some point, the opportunity came to me to be graduated or to get a promotion into being the product manager of it. So that had a bigger role of not just– I still had inputs into my previous role, but I had inputs into so many others. I can influence the direction we went as a business, whether or not what we built would actually make money, and if it didn’t make money, how could I build what was necessary, not just alone, but collectively as a group?
[40:00] I was in charge of many, many things, but when I first was given the role, of course, I said yes because I never say no to that kind of thing. I’m like, “Of course, I’m gonna do it. Yeah, I’ll take the role.” But afterwards… I think I got the promotion on a Friday, and afterwards, I was like, “What did I just say yes to? What actually is this job even? I don’t know. I think I know, I have no clue what I’m really doing.”
I knew it was the next step, and I knew other people who did those things, and to some degree, I had already been doing some of that role, because of just my natural ambition and what I did as a designer for the organization at the time… So over that weekend, I’m like, “I’ve gotta learn” and I read two different books. I’ll have to recall what they are. I’ll put them in the show notes, to be specific, but my two pivotal books for me. I know one was Inspired, and I can’t recall the other, but they were essentially on product management - how to be a product manager; what you would encounter doing this job, what you would encounter in many ways. And so I went to bootcamp essentially, and by the time Monday came around, I was not really ready, but I had that confidence that I didn’t have Friday evening, when I was like, “What the heck did I just say yes to?” But by Monday, I was like, “I read a majority of at least both these books to have an understanding of where I’m going”, and I kept reading those books, of course… But yeah, I said yes before I really knew, and then over the weekend, I found out – and I was still excited, but I didn’t know. But I got really deep into that role, because I think I love to just be challenged on those fronts. And when I don’t have challenge, I start to get bored and complacent and lazy, and it’s not a good thing for me. So I think I move a lot and change a lot because I like a challenge, but I have to err on the side of – you can’t constantly reinvent; you have to have consistency and contentment in what you’re doing. So I have to constantly balance that. That desire to change and move to a new challenge with contentment and consistency. It’s tough sometimes.
Well, part of what I heard you say in there too was the way in which you just love to learn, and that that’s part of the problem-solving process for you. I was thinking about it like if you don’t know, you go. You go find, you learn to fill in the gaps, and whether it’s a who or a what will help bridge that gap for you. That is an ongoing process, right?
I don’t realize it, but my wife is pretty impressed with me on this front. Well, she loves to celebrate our life together; it’s not that I don’t. She just on social media and she enjoys sharing with our friends and stuff like that our story, and I’m not on social media as much for many, many reasons. So I always appreciate seeing my life through her eyes, our life through her eyes, because she’s impressed by me and different things, because I don’t stand down from challenges that– as you said before, if I put my mind to it, I find a way through it. That could be a thing - put your mind to it, get through it.
Right…? A little hint of stubbornness?
Sure, yeah. With the mountain bike, in particular, I’m personally surprised by me, because a year ago I didn’t know a ton about a bicycle. There’s a lot of things that are similar and the same across all bicycles, but mountain bikes in particular have suspension, and different things like that, and so I had no idea about the tools, about the process to build, rebuild, take apart, fix, service etc. a bike, and today I have complete confidence to… If somebody said to me, “I’ve got an idea for a bike”, I can literally help them build the bike, and I have total confidence. A year ago, I didn’t even know.
[44:07] So I don’t know what really drove me to wanna learn it, but I love learning new things, I suppose, that are– there’s a learning curve to it. For a while there, I spent many years not knowing and being very threatened by and intimidated by even taking the wheel off the bike, which is very easy… But at the time, I was like, “What happens when you remove the wheel?” I had no idea.
That was exactly my thought, of the “What if? What would happen…?”
Yeah. I had no clue, but I took the challenge on. YouTube’s such an amazing resource, too. There’s so much information on YouTube. I learned how to build and rebuild a mountain bike based upon all this information on YouTube that’s out there from many different creators. They’re creators like me, that have passions, and I just love the world we’re in now where you have this blank check, not so much in money sense, but this blank opportunity for creators to just – if you’re interested in hamsters, you can create a channel on YouTube, I’m sure, or somehow be some creator to share that information on what you love about hamsters, and somebody’s gonna love it. And it’s just so crazy that that’s the case for– we’re in that world now for creators.
Touché, touché. And honestly, it’s interesting, because I think all of that is so intertwined, of what part of this love for and around technology, and the way in which it’s served you and can serve others, and how much people can learn and grow to really cultivate more of what they want for their lives.
We’ve spent much of this conversation focused on you in terms of work and professionally for mental framework, but I can’t help but also think about the key people– that there have been some people throughout your life that have also played a critical role. I mean, just like you said, with your wife, that she’s pretty proud of you.
She is, and I’m always thankful when I see that, because… She tells me, but how often do you get a chance to tell somebody how proud you are of them or how impressed you are of them every single day? So I always appreciate her, her announcements to the world about our life because she shares those things with me in cards, and stuff like that, and even personally, but it’s different because she’s boasting about me, I suppose, in a positive way, and I suppose, I appreciate it because it’s a different lens. You get to read somebody else’s thoughts about how they feel about you and how they’re impressed by you, and it’s just interesting.
Well, I would also say – I think that, especially in the case of your wife, that she sees things in you that you don’t even know the degree to which you’re capable of. So I would suspect, and I don’t know, but in regards to the bike, that she would have probably initially responded like, “Go try it, Adam. You’ll be fine.”
That she says, “Go. Go ahead,” and provides an additional platform for you.
Yeah, she definitely is my encourager. I mean. My mom said it too, if I become obsessed with something… Like my hobbies I become obsessed with it… I suppose it could be borderline bad, but I get to a point where I just get so focused on it that I learn all there is to know about it, so that I can fully enjoy it and fully master it, I suppose. So my mom and Heather, my wife, share similar, in my opinion, similar positions on that, because they both had that consent, I suppose. If he likes it that much, he will do these things. So it’s this belief in me.
[48:09] Yeah. So it’s really interesting in terms of looking back on the key things that have shaped you in getting you to where you are, and going “Some were intentional, and some were just capitalizing on opportunities”, but what really stands out to me as we talk is how much you’ve put relationships at the forefront of your life, and going “I respect other people, the value that they have” and really too expressing a curiosity about them and the things that are valuable to them, which in turn, actually helps you, although that has never been the motivation.
Yeah. I mean, I was always a helper. I like to help people. I learned later on in life that the key to getting what you want, more often than not, is helping somebody else… Because somehow that plays out. I don’t know how it works out that way, but that’s an ism or a thing that’s known in the startup world. If you want to help yourself, usually the best thing to do is help somebody else to get what they want… Because somehow it just happens that way. I suppose I’m lucky because I enjoy that, and I benefit from that fact or that thing, but it wasn’t on purpose.
But I think that beneath that too, is this underlying sense of trust, of always being taken care of, in the sense that if adversity comes, or unexpected challenges or obstacles, not only can I figure out a way around it, but I’ve also got the support of other people right with me, alongside me.
That’s important, too. I mean, having your inner circle, your people… I don’t have many; some by design, some by just how things work. I don’t like to have a lot of people, I suppose, in my inner circle. I don’t have a big inner circle. I don’t have thousands of friends. I suppose I have a lot of acquaintances and a lot of professional friends, people I would consider friends, but we’re not hanging out together. I don’t know their deeper, darker secrets and they don’t know mine. I think those are like those deeper inner circle friends - I don’t have a desire, nor do I have a lot of those kinds of friends.
[50:40] Well, it’s interesting, because given what you’ve shared, it would make sense the way in which you go after knowledge, improvement, learning and all these other things, that that would be a lot of energy if you took a deep dive with all people, in the way that you do with these few people and few things that you invest in.
Yeah, if I do it, I do it deeply. So if I have a friend, I’m gonna be a friend deeply. I’m not gonna be a surface friend, I’m not gonna show up every once in a while, I’m gonna– I don’t have time to show up all the time for everybody, so that’s probably why I have, by design, less friends, because I just can’t go… Like why have the friend if you can’t go deep with them? Why be a surface friend?
Right. But it’s interesting, because I think with this, and being able to create a company that’s really based upon helping others, and talking to and having all of this community, it’s a way for you to invest in and interact with lots of people, and hear their stories and ways in which you can participate, support them and collaborate… And I really think that that is one of the key components when it comes to being successful or getting what you want, is recognizing the role of people in that, and that even if you’re focused in your career on working more with things that are tangible, not human, that still at the beginning and the end the people you do it alongside of and with play a critical role in the way in which that feels and where you get to.
People are crucial, yeah,. I mean, what’s worth doing if you can’t do it with people? Gosh. Even bike riding. I like to do solo rides, but it’s a lot more fun when you have a gang of people riding together, in line, facing challenges together; everything’s better together.
Amen. I couldn’t have said it better. So with that, I am so thankful for our listeners who are on this ride with us and listening, and we’d love to hear your feedback. If you’ve got ideas, things you want to learn more about, challenges you encounter or ways in which you’ve navigated obstacles in your life, come join us over on Slack.
That’s right. changelog.com/community to sign up for free, or to listen to the show changelog.com/brainscience.
Awesome. Thanks for being open and sharing your story.
Oh yes, thank you.
I hope to hear lots more stories of other people and the frameworks that they’ve used to get where they are in their lives.
This has been fun.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚