The ideal future of shaping culture with Brad Grossman
Jinny Oh, Founder of WANDR, passes the mic to Brad Grossman, Founder and CEO of consulting and publishing company ZEITGUIDE as well as creator and host of Zeitguide’s Culture Class. In this episode the two discuss what the ideal future of shaping culture looks like and the many ways to reach the masses.
Jinny: Hello. My name is Jinny Oh, and I’m a world traveling nomad and founder of WANDR. And welcome to another episode of Pass the Mic by The Rosie Report Podcast. In each episode, the guest from last week talks to another incredible trailblazer who bravely opted out of traditional employment and turned their life’s work towards a mission that is also changing the paradigm of work. So, if you tuned in last week, you’ve heard Tammy Bjelland interviewing me about inclusivity and mental health in workplaces. And this week I’m so excited to chat with Brad Grossman, founder and CEO of consulting and publishing company, ZEITGUIDE, as well as creator and host of Zeitguide’s Culture Class. Brad, welcome to the show.
Brad: Oh, I’m so happy to be here and great to meet you, Jinny. Like I said before this, I wish I was interviewing you because I don’t know. I don’t know anything about software, so I’m fascinated. I guess that’s what I do. I’m supposed to learn and teach, but we’ll get to that. Great to be here. Thanks Jinny.
Jinny: Great to meet you. And I’m super excited to be learning from you in this interview. So, you’ve been on major publications, such as New York Times, Fortune, and Fast Company talking about how leaders can stay on top of trends and be culturally relevant to be best prepared for the future. Could you elaborate a little bit on what this really means?
Brad: Yeah, absolutely. So, I basically just say while everybody’s doing their real jobs and focusing, for example, you, who is hustling and shaping and creating an enterprise that’s successful and helps people survive and adapt today and help them with the future on a technological level, I would say, and that’s what you do and other people do a zillion other things, my job is to literally study, track, and imagine the story of cultural change. I am literally devouring information, conversation, pop culture, how people work and live et cetera, and kind of think through how it impacts business and society on a global level. So, what I usually say is that I help people maintain or become or expand their role as a cultural leader. I don’t like to say thought leader because thought leaders just think. My job is to help visionaries understand what’s bubbling up around them in the wider world and create magic that can turn into cultural success because they are culturally shaping society. And with all this craziness going on in the last eight months or so and even before that, because the world was never easy to live in and there’s been many systemic problems… to hopefully shape a future of humanity and peace and excitement. So, that’s on the macro level.
On a specific level, I’m just trying to feel the signals and synthesizing them through my own curiosity. And because people have little time and especially now, it’s really hard to really step back and think about it. My job basically is to drill it down for people to help them know what they need to know or even what they’re curious about, but they don’t really have time, and help make sure they comprehend what’s going on so that they could stay smart, culturally relevant, and prime for future success. And that’s my goal. It’s about inspiration. It’s about curiosity. It’s about cultural relevance. And it’s about thinking about your place in the world and how you can make it better being part of the cultural Zeitgeists. And my company is called Zeitguide, so I’m a guide to the Zeitgeists. There you go.
Jinny: Gotcha. So, you’re essentially taking an enormous amount of information about what’s happening in the current world and you’re helping leaders to cut through more of that information as it relates and impacts their business and how they can be a lot more culturally aware and ahead of trends.
Brad: Yeah. And not just their business, but also as citizens of the world. Right? I mean, the trend I’ve been following is about how company leaders… And Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan said this probably, I don’t know, a year and a half ago at the Business Roundtable about how businesses more than ever have to focus on their stakeholders as opposed to their shareholders, right? So, to be a leader today isn’t just to be a successful CEO, whether it’s an emerging company, a technological company, or GE, which is one of the first companies ever built. It’s like, how are you shaping and getting everybody in your company to shape society in a positive way and focusing on your stakeholders? So, it’s about looking at your business, but it’s also looking at yourself as a collective citizen of the world.
Jinny: Of course. And there’s so much to leadership than just also what’s happening within your business. There’s also externally how you’re being presented as the leader as well. There’s so much pressure nowadays.
Brad: Yeah. Wow. Yes, there is. But when there’s pressure, that’s also good pressure because it’s also… I just had a conversation with one of my clients about power and the symbolic notion of power and what it means. So, one of the good things about where we are right now culturally in the COVID era is that it’s a magnifier of all… Can I curse? The shit that has plagued our society and the world and hopefully an accelerator to what we want the world to be like. That’s my optimistic side of things. That’s my brand: optimism. But you can only have optimism if you understand the detriment.
Jinny: And that knowledge is power. And I’m curious, why is this so important to you? Why is this a personal mission of yours?
Brad: To what specifically?
Jinny: Well, one, to keep everybody culturally informed. Why you? Why this? And why now, essentially?
Brad: Because things only work or are successful if you understand the context of why things are happening or how things happened before, right? And clearly, in today’s Zeitgeist, so to speak, right? And I don’t want to get too political, even though the Zeitgeist is all about politics. I even said to Jessie, I’m like, “You sure you don’t want to do this after the election?”
It’s funny, a lot of my clients and a lot of the people that I have meetings with, they’re all like right now, “All right. Let’s book it after the election.” It’s like, I don’t know. I think the next two weeks are going to be like… I don’t know. People aren’t going to be working as much. I mean, history repeats itself and we’ve had signals before that we don’t necessarily ingest and take seriously, like the 1918 pandemic or influenza, right? Or Bill Gates telling us 15 years ago that there’s going to be a pandemic, or that the administration created… the last administration, not ours now, created a game plan for how the future administration or the current administration should deal with the pandemic. So, there’s a lot of things and Nassim Taleb called it a Black Swan that can just throw you a curveball. Right? And this is a curve ball that we might not necessarily really thought about, but if you understand the way that society is being shaped, then you can listen to that and understand how to drive your business and anything you do forward. So, again, just to give you context… So, I do write a cultural Almanac every year. I think this year I’m going to do it video-wise because… You said publisher. I guess I turned more into a producer of talks and content that aren’t just written.
And the theme of January going to this year was the world’s on fire, right? And what I tried to show in that Zeitguide was that the world was on fire. We had #MeToo. We had global protests all around the world. We had Greta Thunberg traveling around the world, warning us against climate change and how to reduce that systemic problem. So, you still had to know about that. And then this one comes, COVID. And if you understand, moving forward, that anything could hit us without us realizing it, it really could disrupt everything. So, it’s about being aware and then being curious of where things could go.
Jinny: Of course. And what would your advice be for those leaders who want to stay curious, but they’re so heads down with their day-to-day? And things are being on fire and they have to take care of layoffs, they have to take care of being quarantined and making sure that everyone’s mental health is on tack. How would you say that the leaders can stay culturally relevant?
Brad: Yeah. So you just said the words “mental health,” right? I feel that that CEO who has an initiative of focusing on mental health and being empathetic and sensitive to that and understanding that it’s not a stigma… But I like to say that the brain is an organ, just like your heart, right? So, it’s not really a psychological disease. It’s also a physiological disease. Right? And the fact that this CEO is focusing on that means that that person is tapped into the Zeitgeist. Right? So, if you feel and listen, talk to people, and wonder and see that there’s a collective consciousness, and also talk to people, talk to your peers and empower people who are working with you, then you are curious and you are shaping the future based on where the culture is now, and hopefully it’ll take the culture in a positive direction. So, I would argue that that CEO who is inundated and focusing on layoffs and mental health is part of the Zeitgeist and that person shouldn’t be alone in trying to solve that problem.
Jinny: I resonate with that a lot. Thank you for saying that. I think a lot of people underestimate the power of just listening. Listen to your employees. Listen to your managers and just hear them out. You don’t have to actually solve their problem, but just being there with them and just saying like, “Hey, I hear you. I understand what you’re going through.” And I think that could be really, really powerful.
Brad: I think that’s one of the benefits of COVID right now. Now, of course it’s… Let’s use Trump’s word because let’s not get political. But I don’t know. I can’t help from sometimes chuckling when he uses the word “disaster,” right? I mean, that is… I’m sorry to laugh. It’s serious. I mean, that’s the disaster, right? If COVID is a disaster, but it’s also in the situation that we are in right now, like I said, it is illuminating or putting a microscope on problems that have always been impacting your employees and therefore causing them to suffer. I mean, one of the other subjects I wrote about literally in the last five years, I would say… Now I would define the 2010s as the disruption decade if we were to write a history book right now, which I do every year. Right? And we’re entering this new period in the 2020s. And what I’ve been really thinking about is that what has happened in that turning point where we started seeing this tech lash, where technology wasn’t just a disruptor that were creating amazing businesses, like yours… Although, I do not know when you started your organization. What year did you start?
Jinny: 2015. So, exactly five years.
Brad: Right. So, you listened to the Zeitgeist, right? You knew that any business that was going to succeed today has to be a digital company, right? One of my clients was GE back in the Beth Comstock years, who I consider to be such a cultural listener and tapped into the Zeitgeist. I guess that’s why she hired me. And she was basically saying that GE has to be an industrial digital company. So, you understood that. And again, I don’t really know what you did before, but you’ve tapped into the Zeitgeist and created a successful business that connected with it. But you also understand that after that, that’s when technology started getting a little… You started seeing the bad side of it, right? You started seeing fake news just start up and misinformation. We were in the filter bubble. We saw the election be tampered with. We saw so many teenagers addicted to technology and the highest suicide rates from teenagers ever. And this was bubbling up in the workplace, too. People were so burnt out. They were so busy. And in addition to answering all those emails that they can’t keep up with, they had to travel every day. Right? So, I think that COVID’s terms of a cultural shift has helped everybody see that. Now, I spoke to a friend today who said that he misses traveling because he used to travel every day, but-
Jinny: Oh, don’t get me started on that.
Brad: So, I think that people were really burnt out before, and now we’re really seeing this illuminated. So, I’m appreciative that you’re really focusing on it. That’s amazing. I think every company should. It’s kind of like the new benefits, I think. You shouldn’t just get a 401k and health benefits. You should be getting some mental health benefit too, I think.
Jinny: Right. Of course. COVID is definitely shining the light on mental health now. So, going into 2021, and it’s so crazy to think that the new year is just kind of right around the corner. I feel like we just started quarantining not too long ago. How do you see-
Brad: Oh, really? I feel like it was a decade ago.
Jinny: I don’t know. 2020 just kind of came and gone for me. So, how do you see 2021 shaping? What are some cultural events or influence do you predict would happen in the new year?
Brad: Okay. So, thank you for asking that. I love that question because I guess that’s what I do, think about that all the time. And I mean, one of the things that I’ve always said pre-COVID… because I have a speaking agent or a book agent and all that kind of stuff. And since I’m just an individual who provides a service, that people would position me as the futurist. And I said before, it’s like, I hate that. It makes me so uncomfortable because there are so many futurists who spout ideas like it’s dogma. Meanwhile, none of them basically said, maybe for Bill Gates, that we were going to have a pandemic in a second. But I always say that anybody who calls himself a futurist is sort of BS because nobody really knows the future. Right? So, I would always say to my clients and my audience, “I’m not the futurist. You’re the futurist. My job is to help prepare you for the future.”
So, in terms of the future, I don’t think anybody knows. I mean, in two weeks and the election… When is it? Maybe it’s less than two weeks. I don’t even know, but I’m scared. But after that, I mean, whatever direction that goes in that is going to shape the future, right? And there’s so many things that we still don’t really know, right? I mean, we don’t really know what’s going to happen with COVID. We don’t really know what our real relationship is between us and Russia, China, and Iran. Right? We don’t really know what’s going to happen with the Supreme Court. So, all that stuff is kind of up in the air. I want to think positively about everything.
And that’s more on a societal global issue, but what’s going to happen and what we can control is relying people like you, because one thing that’s… So, that’s the societal global level, but on a business level, what’s really happening, especially now, you and I are doing this digitally through a software program called Zoom, that technology has been accelerated. So, while all the retail stores, physical stores are suffering the mall-pocalypse or the retail apocalypse now, those that are going to survive invested the right way and produced the right circumstances where they will be culturally relevant to the digital world that we’re all living in right now. We’re not even living in a physical world.
So, I feel that that’s something that’s definitely going to happen. Right? The acceleration of technology is going to accelerate the change of business that started bubbling up in what I’ve been calling the disruption era, right? And therefore we could also… which I also think is exciting. We also have the lesson, right? And this is why I think it’s so interesting that Google and the other companies are being accused for monopolistic policies. What we can learn from the last five years or so and now in this misinformation era, that we need to be careful in the way that we create technology. Right? And that is something that we can all control, but we have to make sure… There almost should be a humanitarian technology alliance, right? I even wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal probably five years ago when this was bubbling up about the fact that all AI software designers, and I guess not you, but most of them are created and shaped by white men, right? And if you don’t encourage and welcome and hire and promote women and people of color or anybody who has been marginalized in culture based in this patriarchal order that we’ve had, then they’re going to produce a digital society that’s only going to be welcoming to white men, and everybody else is going to be… It’s not going to be relevant for them. And-
Jinny: That gave me goosebumps.
Brad: Oh, really?
Jinny: Yeah. What you said is just so on point. It’s like, who are the designers who are designing the digital world for the future? And it’s so important to have diversity in that.
Brad: Right. And so that’s what I study: how is the world being shaped and how can we shape the world so that we don’t have any more systemic problems moving forward? I mean, somebody’s going to have to figure out how to fix our government and the way that we vote. Right? And it’s kind of like the startups that disrupt the businesses, who’s going to disrupt our government now? Now, Trump tried to do that. Right? And he did actually, but who’s going to disrupt and reconstitute it for the better good?
Jinny: Yeah. I think that’s going to be an ongoing decade, if not century-long progress.
Brad: Well, it’s interesting. I mean, look at all the other problems that we’re still suffering from, like racism and misogyny. Look at that. I mean, that started in eons ago. Okay, culturally speaking. Anybody who really wants to try and understand the world today and be relevant, it’s like so many people have been so into the new, new, new, new, new, but look at all the stories. I’m talking about the Western stories, like Greek mythology and Shakespeare and movies and then also the undercurrent of stories that haven’t been part of our literary canon. So, these are things that have been shaped in eons. And you’re right, it’s going to take a lot of work, but I am very positive about the fact that society and culture changes so quickly that if we really want things positive to happen, the world is so fast-paced that hopefully goodness will happen much more quickly and we won’t have to wait centuries to dismantle the hegemony. Right? So, that’s the positive now, but we have to realize that technology in the last two decades created our own version of how, of 2001: Space Odyssey. Facebook is basically how. We had no control, and look what’s happened.
Jinny: Exactly. And Brad, my last question to you, you’re essentially writing history books every year. Is there anything from history that we’ve learned that can be applied for the future in terms of how we can improve our society culturally?
Brad: All right. Let’s talk about our country and how it was founded by the people. Now, it was founded by the white, male, slave-owning framers. Right? But at least they were able to create a new world that they thought was better than the old world that they were living in, which clearly they were. We wouldn’t be America. Right? So, if we kind of go back in history, but put on this new progressive lens on, we can reframe, reconstitute, relearn or unlearn, and then relearn whatever the new framing of the society that we’re living in now and tomorrow. So, if we were to rewrite a constitution right now, what would it be? And clearly if the current nominee gets in there, that will be very problematic. But do we need the Supreme Court or the government to actually do that? We didn’t need the government to create America. I’m not encouraging another revolutionary war.
Jinny: I mean, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Brad: Right. Well, it’s happening in the rest of the world, and that’s why people have to understand culture and the Zeitgeist. If it’s happening in Honduras or Belarus, why can’t it happen here? Anything’s possible.
Jinny: Anyway, Brad. Thank you so much for talking with me about what it means to be culturally relevant. Where can people find your work online?
Brad: They go to zeitguide.com. Z-E-I-T, which means “time” in German and then guide. So, Zeitgeist is the spirit of the time. So, Zeitguide is the guide to the Zeitgeist. And you said publishing, but I turned it to life by Zoom through software where I could scale the work that I do with companies and organizations, but also bring these digests that I would write every year to life. And that’s definitely the Zeitgeist right now. It’s like experiencing things on an empathetic level. So, I’m continuing to evolve and teach what you need to know so you could be best prepared moving forward and know what you need to know. I have these culture classes that they could be a part of. So, zeitguide.com. And of course I’m on social media. Zeitguide Brad. And that’s it. Jinny, could we set up another call? I want to learn everything about you.
Jinny: Of course. And I’ll definitely be joining your Culture Class. I want to learn as much as possible from you. All right guys. That’s it for this week’s episode of Pass the Mic by The Rosie Report. Next week, I’ll be passing the mic to Brad, who’s going to be interviewing Walton Smith. We are Rosie’s very own head of content and community engagement as well as founder of Black Woman Owned. Again, my name is Jinny Oh. Thank you so much for tuning in. And if you loved this episode, please subscribe to The Rosie Report podcast on Spotify and Anchor, and be sure to check out more stories on building a future of work for everyone by everyone at therosiereport.com.