Doug Bernstein is the co-founder and CEO of Melissa and Doug, a several hundred million dollar toy company focused mostly on simple classic toys for children up to 5 years of age.  He and his wife Melissa started the company together about 30 years ago.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • They never intended to build a company from the beginning but rather, were driven by their shared passion to do something good for children.
  • They are a product company at its core. If they simply focus on making great products, everything else will take care of itself.
  • Adversity can fuel motivation. When their supplier decided to compete directly with them, rather than sue or wallow in despair, they shifted their product development cycle and started to innovate with new products so quickly that nobody could keep up with them.
  • If you look at an obstacle as something that will take you out of the game, then it will. But if you look at it as something that you have to figure out how to get around, then you will find a way.
  • They’ve never been tempted to venture into apps and digital media despite external pressure because they feel it’s not good for children at that age and it’s against their corporate values.
  • They grew to several hundred million in revenue without one dollar of advertising. It was entirely word-of-mouth.
  • They don’t do any product testing but are still able to maintain a 75% hit rate with new product introductions.
  • “Excellence is always bringing your very best to what you do and always having the inner pride to do things the very best way.”

Josh Blue is a comedian. He has cerebral palsy which forms the basis for much of his self-deprecating humor.  He won first place on NBC’s Last Comic Standing in its fourth season. He has appeared in a number of comedy specials on Comedy Central, Showtime, Bravo and Netflix and has been featured in several publications including People Magazine, The New York Times and NPR. His YouTube videos have been viewed millions of times. He was also a member of the US Paralympic Soccer Team.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how he didn’t try to run or hide from his cerebral palsy but rather, made it an integral part of his comedy early on.
  • A turning point in his life was spending a year in Senegal and coming to appreciate how fortunate he was to just have food, clothing and shelter.
  • Hear about his crazy experiment living in the gorilla exhibit at the zoo for a day.
  • It takes most comedians years to refine their material to get a good 10 minute act but Josh had that “it factor” (i.e. stage presence and likeability) from day one.
  • “A joke is just a story with all the extra words taken out.”
  • He is so talented and spontaneous on stage that he never has to write down any of his material. He tests new material “on the fly” during live performances.
  • “Excellence is being so in tune with what you’re doing that nobody can touch it.”

 

 

Jeb is one of the world’s best known BASE-jumpers and wingsuit pilots. He has made more than 1,000 jumps including the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and Angel falls to name a few.  He is featured in a documentary called Fearless: The Jeb Corliss Story.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how he was diagnosed with counterphobia at an early age which made him want to confront his fears head on.
  • “The only limits on you are the ones you place upon yourself.”
  • Base-jumping saved him from a life of depression. It was the first time he truly felt happy.
  • Getting over fear is like building muscle. You have to slowly build up a tolerance for fear so you can eventually do terrifying things.
  • Hear about one of the most terrifying jumps he’s ever done.
  • Hear how he was able to survive an “unsurvivable” crash.
  • It took years of suffering following a near-death accident to one day allow him to derive more pleasure from the simple things in life than jumping off any mountain.

 

 

Daniel Pink is the author of several New York Times bestselling books about business, work and behavior including A Whole New Mind, Drive and To Sell is Human.  His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Wired and a number of other publications.  His TED talk on the science of motivation is one of the 10 most watched TED talks of all time.  His latest book is titled WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Curiosity is more important than planning. If you simply follow your curiosity, that in itself is a pretty good plan.
  • Learn about our chronotype and how it has a massive effect on our performance.
  • To optimize your day, you should do analytic work during the peak, the administrative work during the trough, and the creative work during the recovery.
  • Napping has been shown to improve reaction time, increase alertness and boost memory.
  • Having coffee first thing in the morning can actually be counterproductive.
  • Learn when it’s advantageous to go first when you’re competing for business and when you’re better off going last.
  • There’s really no such thing as a midlife “crisis”. But most of us do hit a natural slump in our lives that we eventually overcome.

 

Show Notes:

Daniel Pink’s Book: WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing https://www.amazon.com/When-Scientific-Secrets-Perfect-Timing/dp/0735210624/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1517698858&sr=8-1&keywords=when+the+scientific+secrets+of+perfect+timing%2C+daniel+pink

 Daniel Pink’s TED Talk: The Puzzle of Motivation  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y

Daniel Pink’s Website: www.danpink.com

Morris Robinson is a world-renowned bass opera singer.  He has regularly performed at the Metropolitan Opera as well as opera houses all over the world.  He is also a highly regarded concert singer and has performed with many of the well-known symphony orchestras across the United States.  He is a graduate of the Citadel and currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and son.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • A 3 time All American football standout in college, at 6’3” and 290 pounds, he was deemed too small to make it in the NFL.
  • Learn why he quit the corporate world cold turkey to pursue a singing career.
  • If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
  • Learn how football helped prepare him for a career in the opera.
  • Talent is important but it’s not everything. You have to be willing to make sacrifices, work hard and apply yourself to achieve something great.
  • “If you have a dream, you have a right to go after it.”
  • “If you give your best at whatever you do, the product will be excellence.”

 

To some, Morris Robinson can be an intimidating presence.  He’s a big and powerful looking guy. Remember Popeye’s powerful nemesis Bluto?  Sort of like him.  There is also no pretense about Morris.  When he showed up for our interview, he was wearing workout shorts, a t-shirt and sandals.  If I told you that he’s an ex 3 time all American collegiate football player, that probably wouldn’t be much a surprise.  But if I then told you he’s now one of the great bass opera singers of our generation, you’d probably do a double take.  And Morris would have it no other way.

Morris has always relished the dichotomy of his existence – a 6’3”, 290 pound aggressive offensive lineman on the one hand and a talented performance artist on the other.  Those two seemingly contrasting personas have been a part of his identity throughout his life.  Even today with his football playing days well behind him, he certainly doesn’t “look” or “act” the part of a world-renowned opera singer (not that I personally know any of them).  An image of a polished, clean-shaven and formally dressed sophisticate driving a Mercedes may come to mind but certainly not a casually dressed, scruffy-looking former athlete driving around town in a Hummer.  That’s one of the things I love about Morris Robinson – he is who he is and he makes no apologies.

So what do you do when you finally come to the realization that your lifelong dream of playing football in the NFL isn’t in the cards?  Like most of us, you do what you feel you have to do to make your way in the world.  That is, you settle.  For Morris, that meant getting a job in corporate sales for a technology company.  That is what he did for seven tedious years until he woke up one day and felt empty inside.  Despite his success at it, the passion just wasn’t there.  He knew deep inside that it wasn’t in God’s plan for him to spend the rest of his days toiling away in corporate America.

His wife Denise also noticed that the spark was missing which is why, unbeknownst to Morris, she had secretly set up an interview for him at the prestigious Choral Arts Society of Washington.  The Director fell in love with his beautiful voice upon the very first note.  And that’s all it took for Morris to embark upon a new journey to rediscover this remarkable gift he had always had but which had laid dormant for many years.  It wasn’t so obvious at first how he could leverage his vocal talent into a career but that was beside the point.  Corporate sales had become a grind and he needed some excitement in his life.  With singing, he got just that.

With a voice as naturally sweet and powerful as his, it didn’t take long for Morris to get discovered.  But the road from salesman to opera star wasn’t an easy one. Talent notwithstanding, becoming an opera singer meant going back to school, both literally and figuratively.  He had to relearn how to sing operatically.  He had to learn how to act.  He had to learn multiple foreign languages (most operas are in Italian and German).  And he had to learn how to take critique. And lots of it.  While he had the advantage of a beautiful voice, singing opera is not something you just do.  It would be years of hard work and sacrifice and swallowing his pride to learn this difficult craft and make it as a professional opera singer.

So why did he do it?  Why did he decide to take this risk and essentially start over when he was already well ensconced in his corporate career?  Because according to Morris, “If you have a dream, you have the right to go after it.”  And he believed in himself.  His attitude from day one was that if someone else could do it, then he could do it too.  In his heart of hearts, he knew that if he wanted something badly enough and was willing to truly devote himself to it, he could accomplish anything.  No goal would be beyond his reach, even if that goal were as bold and audacious as becoming a world-renowned bass opera singer.

Mandy-Rae is an accomplished freediver based in Vancouver, British Columbia.  She holds 7 freediving world records and 13 national records.  She owns Performance Freediving International where she teaches freediving courses to the general public.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Entering a flow state allows you to hyper focus and achieve amazing results.
  • The mammalian dive reflex is a survival mechanism we share with whales and dolphins.
  • Visualization plays a critical role in the pre-dive planning.
  • She views the 14 underwater blackouts including one trip to the ER not as deterrents but as learning experiences.
  • Success is as much mental as it is physical.
  • Working toward achieving ambitious goals should be fun and enjoyable, not feel like a chore.
  • Anyone can be trained to hold their breath for several minutes and dive deep. We all have the potential to push ourselves further than we think possible.

 

What’s so special about holding your breath under water?  Not much if your plan is to dive down 10 feet in a pool while holding your breath for a few seconds. But try going down 500 feet in the ocean while holding your breath for several minutes.  That’s what the competitive sport of freediving is all about.  It’s about as “pure” a sport as you’ll find.  No fancy equipment.  No burdensome rules.  No crowds.  It’s just you and the water and your willingness to see just how far you can push yourself.

So how is Mandy-Rae able to do it?  How is she able to submerse herself to depths fifteen times the pressure we experience on dry land while holding her breath many times the average human breath hold?  It turns out there’s both a physiological component and a mental one.

Let’s start with the physical.  There’s something known as the mammalian dive reflex that humans share with whales, dolphins and most mammalian sea creatures.  It’s essentially a survival mechanism that kicks in the minute you submerse yourself in the water. First our heart rate slows way down which reduces oxygen consumption.  Next, the blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow to the limbs while maximizing blood flow and oxygen to the most critical organs in the body – the heart, brain and lungs. Finally, the blood accumulation in the lungs acts as a protective barrier, preventing the lungs from collapsing under extremely high pressure.

As with any endurance sport, the physical element is just half the battle, sometimes even less.  The mental toughness is what separates the wheat from the chaff.  It is the mental edge which gives champions like Mandy-Rae the ability to set new world records over and over again.

First there is the pre-dive prep.  For Mandy-Rae, there is a mental shift that occurs from being a land-based human to a marine animal. It’s not just about the physiological transformation but the mental one. In her own words, you must learn to “become part of the water”.  For the next few moments, that underwater world is one in which you must feel very much at home.

Next is the visualization.  Just like with skiers going through an entire slalom race, turn by turn, in their heads before they leave the gate, so too does Mandy-Rae go through an entire dive before she ever submerses herself.  This exercise includes working through potential issues that may arise during the dive so if and when they happen, she’s already dealt with them and can be calm while working through them.

Finally, she enters what is commonly known as the flow state.  This will allow her to focus 100% of her mental abilities on the task at hand.  This will remove all external distractions as well as the internal ones – those voices in our head that give us pause and make us second guess ourselves.   In the flow state, there is no thinking and there is no feeling.  There is just doing.  It’s a hyper-focused mental state that allows her to push herself to the limits and achieve extraordinary results.

Why does she do it?  What drives her to go deeper toward the ocean depths again and again?  For one, it’s fun for her.  She truly enjoys going through the rigorous training and discipline it takes to set a new record.  She likes seeing how hard she can push herself. But just as importantly, achieving something you once thought impossible can be life changing.  She sees this in many of her first time dive students. The breakthroughs they have in the pool change them in profound ways by giving them the confidence to try new things in life and achieve other breakthroughs outside the water.

Mandy-Rae is the first to admit that she has a few physiological advantages that give her a slight edge on her record setting dives.  Her lung volume is larger than average and she’s able to equalize her ears rather easily.  But her confidence, her attitude, her mindset and her belief in herself are the advantages that any of us can share with her.  If there’s something you want in your life and you believe in yourself and apply yourself, there’s nothing holding you back.