Simon Sinek | A Surprisingly Human Take on Success [Best of]

Have you ever felt like you’re just going through the motions each day, doing your work but not feeling truly fulfilled? What if the secret to living a life of purpose was simpler than you imagined? What if we could see our work as a calling, a chance to uplift others and make a real difference in the world? 

My guest today, Simon Sinek, offers a powerful perspective on how we can transform our work into a source of passion, fulfillment and service.

Simon is an unshakable optimist and visionary thinker on work, life, leadership and inspiration. He believes most people have the capacity to wake up feeling inspired, go through the day feeling safe, and end each day fulfilled—yet too many of us are deprived of this good life.

Simon may be best known for starting a movement with his TED talk and book Start With Why, which explores how great leaders inspire action by putting purpose before product. He’s gone on to write global bestsellers like Leaders Eat Last and The Infinite Game, sharing his insights on creating fulfillment in business and life.

In this powerful Best Of conversation, Simon shares not only practical wisdom on what it takes to build an environment, whether at work or home, where you and others can thrive while we do that thing called work, but also shares deeply insightful and human stories. One of the things he keeps circling back to; our most innate, biological human nature: taking care of each other. In his model of meaning, it’s both that simple…and that hard.

And these insights, while framed in the context of our work, are really much larger. It’s about how we bring dignity and connection to everything we do, in a quest to live our best lives. 

You can find Simon at: Website | Instagram | A Bit of Optimism podcast | Episode Transcript

If you LOVED this episode:

  • You’ll also love the conversations we had with Brené Brown about how vulnerability can be a powerful source of connection.

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Episode Transcript:

Simon Sinek (00:00:00) – That is the responsibility of the leader to look after the sons and the daughters of the parents who have given us their children, to help us build our companies with the same love and tenderness and care that their parents gave to them. That doesn’t mean we can’t discipline them. Of course we can. We yell at our kids, yet we care desperately about our children. We have fights with our spouses. We have fights with our friends, but we never abandon them. That’s what I mean. It’s about the feeling of safety.

Jonathan Fields (00:00:25) – So have you ever felt like you’re just kind of going through the motions each day, doing your work, but not feeling truly fulfilled? What if one of the secrets to living a life of purpose was simpler than you imagined? What if we could see our work as more of a calling, a chance to uplift others and make a real difference in the world? My guest today, Simon Sinek, offers a powerful perspective on how we can transform our work into a source of passion and fulfillment and service.

Jonathan Fields (00:00:50) – Simon is this unshakeable optimist and visionary thinker on work, life, leadership and inspiration. He believes most people have the capacity to wake up feeling inspired, go through the day feeling safe, and end each day fulfilled. Yet too many of us are deprived of this not just good work, but good life because they’re so interconnected. Simon may be best known for starting a bit of a movement with his massively popular Ted talk and book, start with Y, that explores how great leaders and people inspire action by putting purpose before product. He’s gone on to write global bestsellers like Leaders Eat Last and The Infinite Game, sharing his insights on creating fulfillment in work and life. In this powerful best of conversation, Simon shares not only practical wisdom on what it takes to build an environment, whether it work or home, where you and others can thrive while we do that thing called work, but also shares these deeply insightful and moving and personal human stories. One of the things he keeps circling back to our most innate biological human nature, taking care of each other in his model of meaning.

Jonathan Fields (00:01:53) – It’s both that simple and that hard. And these insights, while framed in the context of work, the really much larger it’s about how we bring dignity and connection and a sense of service to everything we do in the quest to live our best lives. So excited to share this best of conversation with you! I’m Jonathan Fields and this is a good life project. They’ve been hanging out with you today. And actually, I think it’s kind of an interesting place to start. We were hanging out off camera before this, and we’re actually in a conversation with someone else. You made a really interesting comment, which was and I said something like, well, you know, like you’ve got tremendous answers because your ability in person, you really interesting response to that.

Simon Sinek (00:02:37) – Yeah. I mean, I don’t see myself that way. My goal is to understand the things that are being said to me, and my goal is to understand concepts that I’m exposed to. And I’m not so great with highly complex ideas. And so I work hard to simplify them, so I understand.

Simon Sinek (00:02:54) – You know, I learned that the hard way. I think one of the biggest lessons I learned was that I don’t have to know the answers, and I don’t have to pretend that I do. And I think very often for fear of being humiliated or for the false belief that we have to sort of hold ourselves to the standard, that somebody may see us something. If you’re the boss in the company or whatever, that you have to know everything. And that we pretend that we do is to maintain our status. But the reality is that if you claim to understand things, then people assume you understand and then they go on without you assuming you understood. And so I find myself becoming, you know, much like a little kid, you know, asking tons and tons and tons of questions just so that I can understand, and repeating it back. And there’s a simple terms, as I can figure out to say, is this right again, it’s then I understand it. I’m a great believer that if you speak like a scientist and only scientists will understand you, but if you speak like a truck driver, then both scientists and truck drivers will understand.

Simon Sinek (00:03:48) – And so how can you take every concept that’s brought to you and repeat it back as a truck.

Jonathan Fields (00:03:52) – Driver and so fast? So we had in a previous conversation where I spent some time with Brené Brown. And so she’s she’s a professor, a researcher, and she brought up something to me that I wasn’t entirely aware of, which is that in the world of academia, if you write in a way that’s understandable to a layperson, you’re essentially lionized in that world and you’re viewed as dumbing things down, and it’s almost like a bastardization of the work. You know, you are not good enough and it’s not good enough anymore, which is I mean, to me, it’s sad.

Simon Sinek (00:04:21) – Which is why there are no or very few academic rockstars, because we don’t understand them, right? They have amazing concepts. I’m sure they could change the world if only anybody understood them.

Jonathan Fields (00:04:30) – So that’s the whole thing. I mean, if you’re doing all this tremendous.

Simon Sinek (00:04:33) – Work for each other, right? Yeah.

Jonathan Fields (00:04:35) – You know, and she, she brought us on call it like, you know, the average research report or the average thing that’s published in the journal Professional Journals is read like eight times or something like that.

Jonathan Fields (00:04:44) – And seven of the eight are from people to see if they’re cited in it.

Simon Sinek (00:04:47) – That’s funny.

Jonathan Fields (00:04:47) – I mean, what’s fascinating about this, though, is the the notion that people are so terrified to ask questions to the extent that they’ll actually pretend that they know.

Simon Sinek (00:04:56) – Yeah, well, I’ll tell you a funny story is a true story. I was challenged, and I and you should do the same challenge. It’s remarkably difficult to tell zero lies for 48 hours. Zero. I mean, nothing, no little white lies, nothing. And it is remarkable how often we say little lies simply to avoid conflict or to avoid humiliation. You know, you’re eating something at a restaurant. It’s not that good. The waiter says. How is it you go, yeah, it’s good. That was a lie. You know, like there’s a little lies, you know? And so try for 48 hours to tell zero doesn’t mean you have to be mean. You know, there’s there’s nowhere that it says being honest means being mean.

Simon Sinek (00:05:35) – It just means telling the truth. And so I said, all right, I’ll give this a try. And total coincidence. I had a meeting in Washington with the speechwriter for the majority whip. I think it was something like that. And we go into this, this room in the capital with these vaulted ceilings and this is gorgeous. And we sit down and the first question she asks me is, how much research have you done on the Congress by now? On any other day I would have gone a little. That’s what we say to avoid humiliation, right? Have you heard of this movie? Yeah, I think so. Again, it sounds vaguely familiar. Yeah. Have you done any research? A little, right, but of course, I took this oath that I was going to tell no lies, not even to avoid humiliation. And so I said none. And she said, okay, let me tell you. Then. And that’s when I realized that when we lie to save our to save face for ourselves, we’re actually denying ourselves the opportunity to get some information.

Simon Sinek (00:06:30) – She would have not told me what I needed to know, assuming that I had researched it myself because I told her, but by telling her none. She started from the starting point for me and explained everything to me. Now, it doesn’t always go that way. Sometimes you do get humiliated, you know, but the opportunity to learn simply by explaining or saying and willing to admit you don’t know is monumentally huge. I think for leaders it goes even beyond that. The worst leaders are the ones that think they have to know as much or more than the people who work with them. The best leaders are the ones who know that their employees know a hell of a lot more than they do, and are willing to admit it and and express the value they have. So, I mean, what is.

Jonathan Fields (00:07:07) – It that what is it that stops us from doing it? Is it an ingrained notion that if we admit that we don’t know everything, that then that’s perceived as weakness? What do you think it is?

Simon Sinek (00:07:17) – Yeah, I mean, it’s a survival instinct, right? I mean, our mammalian.

Simon Sinek (00:07:20) – Brain is the same as all social mammals, all mammals. And if you think about sort of a herd of gazelle, right. The ones that are on the outside are the weak ones and the old ones. Well, for good reason. It’s because when the lion attacks, he’s going to eat one of them, right? If they could have evolved to keep the weak ones in the middle, right, but then all the strong ones would get eaten and eventually the species would die off. It’s not a good system for survival. And so we have the same fear of being ostracized or isolated or not accepted. You know, we’re desperately afraid of not feeling like we belong. And the reason is, is, is when we’re on the outskirts and on the edges, we literally feel like we’re being left out for the lions. And so I think very often we say things or ingratiate ourselves or posture not because we’re bad people and not because, but we want the group to see us as valuable and worthy of being kept in and belonging and not sort of, you know, turned away from and pushed to the sides, which is very scary for human beings, which is very scary for social animals.

Simon Sinek (00:08:17) – Yeah, it really is much more primal. Yeah. It’s all primal. I mean, the human animal hasn’t changed in 50,000 years. The condition has. But fundamentally we the surroundings have. And this whole sort of industrialization thing, you know, living in surplus was only 10,000 years ago when we started farming because. So for 40,000 years, we’re basically, you know, hunters and gatherers. And it’s only the past 10,000. So only a fifth of our entire existence, we’ve had to learn to deal with this. But the human animal fundamentally hasn’t changed at all. So it’s all primal. We’re reacting to our environment. Yeah.

Jonathan Fields (00:08:47) – It’s so funny too, because I think people look at human animals say, oh.

Simon Sinek (00:08:51) – We’ve come.

Jonathan Fields (00:08:51) – So far. We’re fundamentally so changed. It’s interesting for me also as as somebody who studied marketing and influence and all the things and, you know, the seminal book in the world of Influence is was written 30 years ago, 32 years ago now by Rossellini. And people were like, oh, well, I want to see the new stuff.

Jonathan Fields (00:09:08) – And like, all the new stuff is just.

Simon Sinek (00:09:11) – Riffing.

Jonathan Fields (00:09:12) – On that, because that was just something which kind of like put together observations about how we are and how we’ve been for thousands of times. The only thing.

Simon Sinek (00:09:20) – We can change, the only thing we can change is the packaging. I mean, my ideas are not new either. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever said anything that hasn’t been said before. You know, the concept of why is thousands of years old having purpose not so new, you know, but it was presented in a way that makes those who I believe needed to hear it, hear it. You know, it wasn’t just preaching to the converted anymore. There’s a change of language, and it was repackaged for the times and the concept.

Jonathan Fields (00:09:46) – I want to go into that a little bit because it’s funny, as we talked about this week, last week I wrote something on my blog about who am I? A question that gets asked to me. I’m sure it asked you a lot of times, like, who am I to actually bring this thing to life? This book, this piece of art, this company, this business, whatever it is.

Jonathan Fields (00:10:03) – And like you said, there’s very little that is genuinely, genuinely new. There’s some technology, there’s some. If you get into really hardcore science and biochem and stuff like that, there’s some stuff that is truly there’s an invention.

Simon Sinek (00:10:16) – It was used by teams, not by visuals, but so.

Jonathan Fields (00:10:19) – Much of what’s out there is not. It’s it’s your voice. It’s your energy, it’s your lens that actually makes it hit home with somebody else. And I think that concern a lot of people say is, well, that’s not enough, you know, but.

Simon Sinek (00:10:31) – Don’t buy it.

Jonathan Fields (00:10:32) – Right. And then if you put it out there, you know, if ten people that heard this thing 100 times before and it never landed with them here, and it lands with them, and one of those ten people then takes an action in the light, the most profound difference in their life or somebody else’s life because of that, you know, that’s enough.

Simon Sinek (00:10:49) – Is not enough. You know, I mean, that one.

Jonathan Fields (00:10:52) – Person could then turn around and influence so many to me.

Simon Sinek (00:10:54) – Yeah. I mean, I smile when I hear you very, very often hear this. Public speakers, they stand on a stage in front of 500 people and they say, if I can help just one of you and I’ve done my job, I’m like one, one. That’s your standard. You going to 501? It’s a one.

Jonathan Fields (00:11:08) – Out of five.

Simon Sinek (00:11:09) – You left your family for a night, you’re going to have jetlag for one. And you know, it’s like and that’s the reason I think that’s a low standard is because that means the way you’re communicating it is in a manner in which only one out of 500 understood it, you know, and even if you get 10% law of averages, says 10% will simply get what you’re trying to say. I think the opportunity is to communicate in a manner where a lot more than 10%, a lot more than sort of the standard deviations that you’ll get people to go, you know, the opportunity to get somebody to come up to you afterwards and say, you know, I’m cynical with people like you and don’t really like things that people like you say.

Simon Sinek (00:11:48) – And. You converted me. Like that’s the opportunity. That one in the audience was already with you anyway before you started speaking. So I think, again, the burden goes on to the speaker to communicate the matter that is resonant and relevant with the audience. I can’t stand it when speakers ask the audience to please turn off their cell phones and close their laptops. I’m like, if you can hold their attention, let them do something else. Let them play backgammon. You know the standard the burden is on on the presenter of the ideas to present their ideas in a manner in which people can understand and find interesting and compelling and resonant. And if that happens, hopefully they’ll build upon those ideas and make them even better. Yeah, I love.

Jonathan Fields (00:12:25) – That and completely agree. So let’s dive deeper into that, though. You’re somebody who spends a huge amount of time traveling and speaking to groups large and small. So this is something that you have such intimate and deep knowledge of. So in your experience, what do you have to do to go to that place where many light bulbs in a room light up? Sure.

Simon Sinek (00:12:47) – I think there’s a mentality that you have to bring to the presenting of ideas or the presenting of anything. Product that doesn’t matter is fundamentally to have an attitude of giving every time. I mean, when I when I present, I cheat. I only talk about things I care about. You know, it’s, you know, people say, how do you how do you speak for an hour, an hour and a half without notes? It’s not hard because I care about what I’m talking about. You know, you go out for dinner with people and they talk about their kids for two hours. You know, it’s like, enough with the kids already. But but the reason they can talk for hours and hours and hours and hours about the game is because they’re good. They’re passionate about their kids, and they know the stories. They remember the stories. They remember the funny little gestures. Well, if you care about something deeply, every single one of us has a weird memory for things that we’re interested in.

Simon Sinek (00:13:29) – If you’re interested in comic books, I promise you, you have a weird memory for things that happen in that space. And so I only talk about things I care about. That’s cheating. Right?

Jonathan Fields (00:13:38) – So why is that cheating and not the norm?

Simon Sinek (00:13:41) – Well fair enough, it’s cheating because it’s not the norm, right? Right. I guess that’s number one. And number two, I don’t want anything from anybody that’s I think a very important I think it’s the most important thing that anybody who presents ideas has to have. And that includes speaking on a large stage as much as it does a one on one sales meeting, which is the strange thing is, is even in a sales meeting, the goal is not to want anything from them. Most people show up to want something. I want your business. I want you to follow me. I want your approval. You know? I want you to validate me, whatever the disposition is, to put that aside and say, I’m here to give. I’m here to share.

Simon Sinek (00:14:16) – And almost, almost every time, without fail, before I present, I will literally say out loud to myself to remind myself, because I’m fallible, you know, and I forget. I remind myself, you’re here to give. And so I don’t put up my Twitter handle. Or please follow me on Facebook because I don’t want anything from anybody I’m here to share and I’m here to give. And if they like it, that’s great. I want them to take it and use it as their own. And if they don’t like it, I’m okay with that to give me constructive feedback so that maybe I can make it clearer the next time. But it’s remarkable to me how many people show up to present an idea or in a sales meeting, and what they want is the sale. I mean, it’s terrible. We call them salesmen and sales managers. I mean, it’s actually incorrect. It’s it sets up the wrong standard. Go get the sale. It’s very, very selfish as opposed to go give someone an opportunity or go help someone find what they’re looking for.

Simon Sinek (00:15:04) – It may or may not include our product. It may or may not include our service, but help them, you know, and it’s a profoundly trust building mechanism. And people are very patient with mistakes. You know, I can make a mess on a stage and people are okay with it because they know fundamentally I’m there to give and so I can mess things up. If I were there to take and everything had to be pristine and perfect, if I screwed anything up with you all over. So if you’re setting up because you create at the end, because you create a safe space, right? As opposed to creating an us and them and me and you. And so I work very hard to to always have that as an attitude to show up, to give.

Jonathan Fields (00:15:41) – What about wanting something for them?

Simon Sinek (00:15:43) – What do you mean, wanting something for.

Jonathan Fields (00:15:44) – Them instead of from them? For them, like having going in with an intention or desire to actually create something for them or have them in some way.

Jonathan Fields (00:15:54) – Take this experience and act on it in some way that will benefit them moving forward.

Simon Sinek (00:15:58) – I don’t know, I find it’s a bit presumptuous there. Room of strangers I want things from. I want things from my sister. I want things from my niece and my nephew. I want things from my parents. I want things from my close friends. But for strangers, I mean, I’d be happy if they found stuff of value. I think it’s presumptuous to come and say, I want this for you. I don’t even know you. You know, you may be a horrible person who abuses your children. I want you to go to jail, you know? So I don’t know. I think it’s a little presumptuous to want for strangers, you know, it’s like. It’s like you see this very often, you know, websites. I can help you. It says you don’t know me. I can tell you what I’ve done for myself. I can tell you others I’ve done for others. But I don’t know to want to help.

Simon Sinek (00:16:39) – I want this for you as a statement. I want to do good in the world. But I want this for you, I don’t know. Yeah.

Jonathan Fields (00:16:47) – It creates a really kind of weird dynamic.

Simon Sinek (00:16:50) – In the.

Jonathan Fields (00:16:52) – I’m curious to you. So let’s say we’re having this conversation because I’m sure that you had a similar conversation. When you go in and talk to leaders and organizations where they’re saying, like, you know, how can we get our salespeople to buy into this? But even the leaders are probably saying, well, then how do we make money? If the whole goal of, like, training our salespeople is let’s solve and serve, and whatever comes of it comes of it. And fundamentally, I’m here because I want to give, you know, I want to offer value with no expectation of from. In that dynamic has as an organization. How do we survive? Where’s the money? Come back. Does it just come back? So what does that conversation go like when you come into an organization.

Simon Sinek (00:17:31) – If you want to do things solely for money and instant success, you will find strategies to do that fairly confident they don’t last. I mean, even if it’s 10 or 20 years, it will collapse. They’re unstable systems, and the reason they’re unstable systems is because the people involved don’t care, right? The role of leadership is to ensure that the people inside their company feel so safe. You know, that they’re willing to sacrifice everything for each other and even the company. Right. Knowing full well that the leader cares about them desperately. Right. And if you think about the world, right, the world is fraught with danger. I mean, if you go back to caveman times, that danger may have been a saber tiger, the weather, lack of resources, all of these things with no conscience trying to kill you want you dead, right? Nothing personal. And so we evolved into these social animals that realize that if we live in trusting, belonging communities where there’s shared values and, you know, shared beliefs and trust emerges, then we can coordinate and help each other and better face the dangers outside.

Simon Sinek (00:18:33) – If we don’t trust each other, then it’s not going to go well for anybody, right? This is the value of group living means we can fall asleep at night and trust that someone else will watch for danger. If I don’t trust you, I’m not going to fall asleep at night. It’s not very good. You know, in modern day and age, the same thing exists. You just translate it into a business environment. So in the business environment, the outside there is fraught with danger. There’s the ups and downs of the economy, which are unpredictable. There’s your competition that’s trying to kill you. And if they’re not trying to put you out of business, they definitely want to steal your business or prevent you from getting more. There’s all kinds of financial pressures and other emerging technologies that could render your product useless overnight. Right. That you didn’t see coming. All of these things, nothing personal, trying to destroy your survival. And so the only that’s a constant, unchangeable, I mean, the only variable is the culture inside the organization.

Simon Sinek (00:19:22) – It’s the group of people. And so if a leader offers to protect, the leader, offers a sense of belonging, of a leader, offers to manage the set of values and ensure that we only let people in who believe what we believe and never, ever, ever, ever sacrifice the people to save the numbers, but rather sacrifice the numbers to save the people. What starts to happen is people learn to trust. They learn to love each other and care about each other, would sacrifice themselves for each other and the organization, and more importantly, are better equipped to face the dangers outside. And it’s in these conditions that innovation happens. There’s no one on the planet that would offer a big, risky idea with a huge chance of failure. If the opportunity for getting laid off is what greets them. If the money isn’t there, you know, and what you find is the leaders of organizations that run like this have a very different view of money. In bad, unhealthy cultures, money is the goal.

Simon Sinek (00:20:17) – Money is just a number. It’s a result. It’s, you know, the great organizations and the great leaders see money as a tool to further fuel whatever it is they’re building. And so of course, they want financial success, because the more money they have, the more they can protect their people, the more that they can ensure that there will be no layoffs and hard times, because we’ve got lots of money, the more that we can invest in R&D and trying to take these amazing ideas that you have and invent the future, they see money as fuel, not as a destination. And so there’s nothing wrong with making lots of money. The question is, what is it to you? Is it the place to get to? Is it the thing that puts the fuel in the in the organization? But at the end of the day, it’s how safe people feel when they go to work. And most don’t. You know, this is what work life imbalances. It has nothing to do with the number of hours we work.

Simon Sinek (00:21:03) – It has no, it has nothing to do with how much yoga we do. You know, the work life imbalance is. And they know this, by the way, people who work late, it has no negative impact on their kids, for example, you know, but what does have a negative impact on children is people who come home and don’t love their jobs, come home angry or upset or afraid. Right? That has a negative impact on the raising of your children. The work life imbalance is that I feel safe at home, but I don’t feel safe at work, and we won’t have balance in our lives until we can feel safe in the place we live, and feel safe in the place we work. That’s the responsibility of leadership.

Jonathan Fields (00:21:36) – Yeah, it’s so powerful, but it’s so, like you said, so rarely, often a.

Simon Sinek (00:21:40) – Lot of bad leaders. Yeah. As leaders that are very, very bad that we for some reason have, you know, raised put them on pedestals in our society and called them good.

Simon Sinek (00:21:50) – Jack Welch is somebody we admire as a good leader, is a man who’s written five leadership books, has put his own face on all of them. Yet he talks about the people. He’s a man who talks about the people, and yet he pioneered business philosophies that you lay off. You fire the bottom 10 or 20% of your company whose work doesn’t directly contribute to the stock value that year. These are not fundamentally good ideas, and these are not fundamentally good ideas that build companies to last. You know, GE was built to make a lot of money in the time. Of great prosperity. But then they needed a bailout during the economic crisis. Strong companies, the people would have rallied to save the company. They wouldn’t have to go and ask for a bailout. It wasn’t Jeff Immelt. It was the weak foundation that Jack Welch built. And yet we Halem is a great leader. I don’t see it. I don’t see it. Great leaders of guys like Jim Senegal from Costco, there’s a great leader.

Simon Sinek (00:22:40) – There’s a guy view who was criticized constantly by by Wall Street for giving his employees too much and refusing to cut their salaries. And on average, Costco employee made more than double the salary of a Walmart employee. You mean you have these fast food workers who are asking for double their salaries? They’re asking to be the equivalent of what a Costco minimum wage employee would have made. And if you look at the stock value of GE versus the stock value of Costco, for example. So a company that believes in looking after people above all, versus a company that believes and looking after shareholders above all, and protecting the numbers above all, what you’ll see is so you can’t start it in 1981 when Welch took over. You start in about 1986 when Jim got when Costco went public. Right. So Jack Welch had been in December of 1985. Jack Welch had been in office about four years. And you look at the stock values and GE looks like this. Right. And yeah, you could have made 4,000% of your money.

Simon Sinek (00:23:31) – You could have been it’s literally it’s a roller coaster. It’s like this right. And this is what Costco looks like. Now if you compare their stock values today versus investing in if you started investing in 1986 when Costco went public in both companies today, you would have made 600% on your money. In GE, you would have made 600% on your money if you invested in the S&P, and you would have made 1,200% of your money in Costco. So you tell me which is better shareholder value, looking after your people or not. Or you can go ride a roller coaster and maybe you’ll make 4,000%, you know.

Jonathan Fields (00:24:01) – I mean, it’s such an incredibly powerful concept and you talk about it in the context of business leadership. What about the context of life, a personal leadership of the way that you actually treat family, friends, people around you? I think we innately well, that’s just the way that you’re supposed to do with your family, with your close friend. You create a safe space, you protect them.

Jonathan Fields (00:24:19) – You do everything for each other because that’s what you do with people you generally care about. But for some reason, you check that at the door when it comes to the organization or the way that you do the work that you do or the the culture is that you build. It’s a little bizarre.

Simon Sinek (00:24:33) – You know, there’s a paradox in being human, which is we are fundamentally individuals and members of groups at all times. And so people who say, no, you have to look after others first, but that’s self-destructive behavior. And people say, no, you have to look after yourself first. But that’s self-destructive behavior. It’s a paradox. This is why sometimes we have moral conflict. Do I protect myself first or to protect others? You have to do both. This is the problem. But at the end of the day, the responsibility we have is to the people we know, you know? And so though it is the responsibility of leadership to create an environment in which trust is more likely to blossom if we work in organizations in which trust is a is a rare commodity, you know, where we constantly fear layoffs or that if we fail, we’ll get in trouble or things like that.

Simon Sinek (00:25:16) – We can’t change the direction of that company and we’re not in charge. But we do have total control over how we treat the people who sit to the left of us and to the right of us. You know, the 300, the Spartans. Right? So in Sparta, it was the shield that was more valuable than the spear. Now, this was the most fierce fighting force that ever lived, you know, at least up until that time. And yet it was not their spears that made them strong. It was their shield. And mothers would tell their children when they were young, you better bring your shield home. And if you don’t, you better come home on it. Because if you lost your shield, the phalanx was weakened because. Because you could no longer protect the person to the left of you and the person to the right of you. And everyone had the responsibility to protect the person to the left and to the right. We have the same responsibility. This is what makes us strong.

Simon Sinek (00:26:01) – Not our intelligence, not the spears, not our not all of that, but our willingness to put ourselves in right in harm’s way for the guy to the left and the guy to the right. And so when you come to work, you know, it’s the person who sit next to you. When you get a cup of coffee, get one for them as well. If they’re struggling with something, don’t say, do you need my help? Just go help them. You know, it’s little, little things. And if we preoccupy ourselves and obsess about ensuring that the people with whom we work, the ones we know their names, not the people we don’t know in the company, the ones we work with, whether we work in the same department or not. But we know them. We see them, we know their names. Right? If we obsess about ensuring that they feel safe at work, that they love coming to work, that they feel that someone is watching their backs, the remarkable thing is they will do it for you, because that’s what human beings do.

Simon Sinek (00:26:49) – When someone does something nice for us, we do something nice back. It’s what we do. It’s oxytocin. When somebody, you know, somebody does something nice for us, the chemical is released. That actually makes us more generous. I went to buy a cookie late night at Insomnia Cookie and had never been there before, and I thought, I’ll give it a try. And I went in there and I said, I’d like one cookie, please. I just wanted to try it. Now, I don’t think people usually buy one. I think they usually buy like a dress or something. And she looks at me, goes one? I said, just one, she says one said one cookie please. So she hands me one. Cookie. And I said, how much do I? She says, don’t worry, it’s on me. I said, no, no, come on. She goes, it’s on me, and put a $5 tip in the jar. I paid $5 for a cookie that cost $2.50.

Simon Sinek (00:27:29) – And by the way, I think I got great value. Right? And that’s what we do. That’s what we do. When someone is nice to us, we sort of can’t help ourselves. We want to be nice back. But when somebody says, you only gave me 225, the keys. 230, you know, like that or that penny, we’ve all had experience where one penny short and you have to bring a dollar bill for the extra penny, and they look at you go, right, you know the rules right now. What that tells me is not about the person that doesn’t tell me anything about the disposition of that human being. What that tells me is they work in an environment, the culture that if they make mistakes, they get in trouble as opposed to feeling safe and protected, which would make them want to make the customer feel safe and protected. That’s how it works. It’s all very Paleolithic. Yeah.

Jonathan Fields (00:28:14) – And we’ve just moved so far away from that. But I mean, other than you mentioned Costco, which is a huge company, which is a phenomenal example of this, but could you think of like five major organizations that sort of like work with this around this ideal?

Simon Sinek (00:28:29) – The number is few.

Simon Sinek (00:28:31) – I think that’s why we feel a sense of imbalance. A lot of us are looking for work life balance is because the number is few. There are some private companies that are pretty amazing at it, because you don’t have to have the courage to stand up to think about this concept of shareholder value, right? Well, that’s what I was.

Jonathan Fields (00:28:45) – Saying in public company, like your main charge is maximize shareholder value.

Simon Sinek (00:28:49) – Yeah, but that’s incorrect, right? Sheryl about we just gave that we gave a real example of Costco versus versus General Electric. Right, right. And you got better value over time with Costco. Right? I mean that’s like saying I treat my kids based on what my neighbor said, you know, like that’s what you’re saying is like, I will treat my employee based on what someone who doesn’t really like some analyst who’s a fairweather fan and doesn’t really care about me at all, what he says is how I will determine how I treat the people who’ve given me and sacrificed their lives for me.

Simon Sinek (00:29:22) – That’s that’s the standard. It’s backwards. In the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may get in business. We give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain. It’s backwards. Yeah.

Jonathan Fields (00:29:36) – I think about a conversation I had with Nancy Duarte Duarte in Silicon Valley, and she calls her firm La Familia Duarte, and she she truly looks at everybody. She’s like, I’m the mama bear here. And my sole job is to care for everybody here. That is correct. And she’s like, you know, she’s like, I look at the parking lot and I see those companies. And what I think she’s like when I think about growing the company, what I think about is how can I take care of them all? How can I take everybody who’s given their lives to this thing and make sure that their families are okay and they can pay their mortgage, and that they’re happy with what they’re doing. And what’s interesting is when I had this conversation with Nancy, she was at a point where, I mean, the firm’s phenomenal for the top presentation design from the world storytelling, and they were moving into a window of time where there were around 100 employees.

Jonathan Fields (00:30:21) – And I said to her, are you concerned at all about the whole sort of Dunbar’s number as you’re approaching 150 because they’re growing, they’re going to hit it soon. And what that may do to the culture, as you hit that point where it becomes harder and harder to keep those close ties.

Simon Sinek (00:30:38) – Yeah. Dunbar’s number is real. Yeah. And the reason again, is Paleolithic. You know, we used to live in societies of between 100, 150. And so we’ve evolved to manage in societies about 100 150 scale is a problem for us. There’s a large tech company in San Francisco that has grown very fast and done very well, very big. I promise you. You know them. You know, their office was open plan when they were growing. And it was remarkable because there’s a wonderful exchange of communication. And as they grew very big, they thought it was the open plan that allowed for the spread of communication. So they kept this wonderful open plan. But then what they would concede in private is that communication went down.

Simon Sinek (00:31:12) – And it’s because when you don’t know any everybody, you don’t go ask for help and you don’t ask someone to turn their radio down and you don’t admit you need something because you no longer have that familial sort of experience. There’s something to be said for keeping divisions small, you know, maxing out at 150. And then, you know, the story about Gore-Tex. When that company was growing, Bill Gore realized as it was growing, he would walk into the factory and he didn’t know everybody, and that concerned him. And so even though on paper it would be ridiculous to build another factory to do the same thing, even though it’s hardly maxed out capacity, he did just that he would build. Once the factory reached about 150 people, he’d build an entirely new factory to do the same thing, and at the end of the day, it was much, much better because better exchange of information. People kept the machines running better. It’s better sort of preventative maintenance because we were in it together. It’s no longer us and there was no management analysis.

Simon Sinek (00:32:08) – So no, there’s a scale is a very serious challenge for for the human animal.

Jonathan Fields (00:32:15) – Yeah. It’s funny, I remember I used to own a yoga center in Manhattan in Hell’s Kitchen. It came a time where I was more and more hands off with it. We had managers who would hire different people or different jobs, and they came a time where I walked into the studio one afternoon and the person sitting by the front desk said, are you here for class? And it was a powerful moment for me. So something’s wrong there? Yeah. Something. And this wasn’t even a huge organization. This was a small local business. But what it made me aware of was how quickly that can happen if you’re not really attuned to and creating that container that says, we’re in this together and fundamentally like and really elevating the notion of connection within it. And so for each other, it was really interesting, the example that you gave. If you see somebody next to you needs help, don’t say, do you need help? Just help them.

Jonathan Fields (00:33:03) – It seems so small, but that’s a really big shift.

Simon Sinek (00:33:07) – Like pushing the open button when someone running for the elevator. That one’s a big one too. Is like, we don’t do that either. You know? It’s like there’s a lot of little things we can do for people that we don’t do, you know? Or very often we start with a disposition of anger or that they’ve done something wrong as opposed to empathy, you know, and this is up the chain of command and down the chain of command. We think our bosses are idiots and they think we’re idiots, you know, as opposed to saying maybe he’s having a bad day and he had a fight with his wife, or maybe she’s having a problem home with her kids, you know? You okay? Does. This is not the way I know you’re a lot better than what you okay? Like, have empathy. Is a wonderful guy who has become a dear friend by the name of Bob Chapman, who is CEO of a company called Barry Miller Inn, based in Saint Louis.

Simon Sinek (00:33:51) – About a $1.6 billion manufacturing company. Good old fashioned blue collar American manufacturing. Bob had this realization about the responsibility of a CEO when he was sitting at a wedding. He was sitting in the pews with his wife, and he’s watching the ceremony, and the father walks the bride down the aisle and ceremonially gives his daughter away to someone else. You know this, his precious, his precious child that he’s invested everything would give his own life to see that she’s. That she grows up strong and healthy. He’s literally giving her away. And ceremonially and legally, very often someone will take the name of the new tribe of the person who’s supposed to protect, and the husband is supposed to protect. And Bob realizes, he said they realized that every single person in his company is someone’s son and someone’s daughter, and every single parent has given him their child. With the expectation that he will look after them as much as they looked after their own children. That is the responsibility of the leader to look after the sons and the daughters of the parents who have given us their children, to help us build our companies with same love and tenderness and care that their parents gave to them.

Simon Sinek (00:35:02) – That doesn’t mean we can’t discipline them. Of course we can. We discipline our own children. It doesn’t mean it’s all there. Yeah, it’s not about. It’s not about artifice. It’s about we yell at our kids, yet we care desperately about our children. We have fights with our spouses. We have fights with our friends, but we never abandon them. That’s what I mean. It’s about the feeling of safety. Doesn’t mean that it’s all. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns necessary.

Jonathan Fields (00:35:27) – It’s so powerful to have that awakening in a personal context and immediately be able to change for that. But this is really what I’m doing.

Simon Sinek (00:35:34) – Well, he understands that your company isn’t like a family. It is a.

Jonathan Fields (00:35:38) – Family. Did he make a shit together?

Simon Sinek (00:35:39) – Oh, yeah. He made the shift before Bob made the shift before. And started changing the way he ran his business to profound and positive impact. And he wasn’t able to articulate what was driving his mentality. He saw something in one of the companies, and.

Simon Sinek (00:35:53) – But it wasn’t able to articulate it as clearly until he had this experience a few years later.

Jonathan Fields (00:35:58) – It’s amazing how moments like that can just kind of like, snap you into a paradigm where maybe not change your behavior, but all of a sudden just you get why you’re doing what you’re doing. There’s some intuitive reason where, you know, you have to behave in a certain way and you know something has to happen. You can’t quite key in on what exactly why. What’s the moment like that just makes it all go back.

Simon Sinek (00:36:16) – To the beginning of our conversation, right? Which is for you to have that gut feeling that this is the right thing to do is not sufficient. It’s good. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good, but it’s the moment at which you can communicate that reason why you made that shift in terms clear enough for other people to understand. And even if those terms aren’t description, but their story, like Bob, tells the story of when he was at the wedding. And we can understand that through his story because that’s helped him.

Simon Sinek (00:36:43) – That story helped him explain. Right. But until we find that mechanism, whether it’s a model or a tale or a personal experience that helps other people understand that shift that that we’ve gone through, then it’s not scalable. It’s only scalable when we can share that. Because when when I tell that story, a lot of people go, wow, yeah. You know, as opposed to me just saying it’s really important for leaders to care about their employees is a backbone of your business. Like, you know, right.

Jonathan Fields (00:37:10) – I mean, so which kind of circles us to an interesting thing. When you speak and you speak in a number of different places, you’re essentially a storyteller. You know, you have powerful concepts, very often simple concepts, but powerful. And you tell them through what was the chart that you gave? I think it was a Ted talk where you came on. You said you had planned on giving a completely different talk, but you had just come off. I think it was a military transport.

Jonathan Fields (00:37:34) – Oh, it wasn’t Ted.

Simon Sinek (00:37:35) – Yeah. No, no, it was the. Yeah, yeah. Alchemy in 2005 was the name of the event.

Jonathan Fields (00:37:39) – And so powerful. Yeah. And clearly you had just come out of a really. Yeah. Deeply personal experience. Yeah.

Simon Sinek (00:37:48) – I tell that story as often as I can, as often as others. The opportunities provide so that I don’t forget the lesson. I actually remember going through the experience. Can you share something? Yeah. Really quickly. I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan with the United States Air Force in August of 2011, and everything went wrong because there wasn’t supposed to be there for a long time. The goal is for me to I do a lot of work with the Air Force, and the general in charge at the time said, you know, you hear about us, you meet us back home. But I would very much like for you to go and witness our men and women performing their duties so you can really understand, would you be willing to go? So I said yes, and I didn’t tell my family because I didn’t want them to worry.

Simon Sinek (00:38:27) – It’s not like I can call them and say everything’s fine. You know, I would have been incommunicado. So I told them I was going away with the Air Force. True. I told them I was going to Germany. True told them was going to be in a lot of planes and would be out of touch for a while. True, I just didn’t tell them I was going on to Afghanistan. The goal was to be in country for up to 30 hours to try and get on an airdrop mission while we were there, and then come home. We took a C5 big cargo plane to Germany. We caught another plane, KC 135 into Bagram. We landed in Bagram and ten minutes after we landed, the base came on a rocket attack. When you hear it came in like, right, the big door is open. We were still on the plane and all the sirens are blaring and put on your vests and everything. And strange calm. I wasn’t freaked out strangely. I don’t know why.

Simon Sinek (00:39:06) – Probably because everybody else around me was calm. I found out later, only recently that there were actually three rockets that hit that night, and they hit 100 yards off our nose. Wow. Glad I didn’t know that. Anyway, we finally got the all clear. We went to our housing and we found out that there was an airdrop leaving very early the next morning, right? So we got two and a half, three hours of sleep, went on this airdrop. Amazing experience, you know, flew at about an hour and a and a half down to 2000ft and then watch the back of the plane open as we supplied the Army Forward Operating base with supplies is incredible experience came back. Now the goal is to leave the country. It’s always at the discretion of available flights and if the pilots is on, we found a flight that was leaving for Germany was an outbound aeromedical carrying wounded warriors out of theater. And there were three. There’s me and my two escorts. There were three seats on the plane.

Simon Sinek (00:39:55) – So great. And we waited and waited and waited and waited. Waiting where there’s a lot of waiting. Finally, we were on the plane literally five minutes from leaving, and the pilot came on and said, I need to bump you guys. We need more room for stretchers. And if there’s ever a good reason to get bumped, that’s it. Okay, so we got off the plane and went to look for another one, and we found out there’s no other flights leaving until Tuesday. It’s only Saturday. And so I’m now stuck in Afghanistan for four days. I have no reason to be there. I have no purpose. I have no job. You know, we’re stuck. I can’t call my family and say, I’m going to be home late. And I remember feeling every fiber of my being just drop. I remember my stomach dropping, my just everything. I became depressed, I became preoccupied. With my safety, my comfort, my happiness. And I didn’t care who had to go out of their way to get it for me.

Simon Sinek (00:40:35) – I remember being totally aware of it. I mean, one of the public affairs officers said, we can get you on a flight to Kyrgyzstan, but you don’t have the right visas. To which I said, you get me on that plane. I don’t talk to people that way, you know. I became that boss who didn’t care how he treated us as long as he got what he wanted. Know that was me now. We went back to our room. One guy said. One of the officers said, I’m going to see if I can get us on another plane. The other one said, I’m going to the gym, and they left me in there and I my eyes were closed because I was exhausted and they thought I was sleeping, which I wasn’t. They turn off the light and they left and I couldn’t relax. My mind was racing and I became paranoid. I was convinced there’s going to be another rocket attack, and I was convinced it was going to land wherever I was, I was convinced, I mean, I was convinced of it.

Simon Sinek (00:41:19) – And it was at that moment that I realized that this is what it’s like to be in a dead end job, where you have no sense of purpose for being there, and you confuse the high times and the big winds with being happy. I had an amazing experience that day, you know, but I didn’t want to wake up and do it again, you know? And we confuse happy moments with fulfillment. And so I lay there depressed and paranoid and scared and regretful and hated it, didn’t want to be there. And I gave up after trying to come up with all sorts of mechanisms to help me be happy I failed. I literally gave up and said, I’m stuck here. If I’m going to be stuck here, I might as well make myself useful. I’ll volunteer to speak if they want me to. I’ll go and meet some of the people that I’ve met again, and go up to them and asked me if I can carry boxes, sweep floors. I didn’t care how menial the labor, I just wanted to serve those who served others.

Simon Sinek (00:42:07) – Instantly I became calm and relaxed, even excited to be there and be a part of it. Like this. Amazing calm with this realization, as if it were like a movie, just had this realization. The door flies open. It’s Major Throckmorton, he says. I found a flight. I found a flight. It’s been redirected. But we’ve got to go now, you know, where’s Matt? That was at the gym. So we ran to the gym. We got him off his treadmill. No time to shower, put his uniform back on. We grabbed our stuff, we ran out to the plane, and the time we got out there, we could see the plane sitting out on the runway, out on the tarmac. And as soon as we got out there, security cordon comes down. We’re not allowed out because there’s a fallen soldier ceremony happening somewhere on the base. And out of respect, everything stops. While they have the fallen soldier ceremony. Only the cordon goes up and we go out to the plane.

Simon Sinek (00:42:50) – What I haven’t told you is the reason this flight was redirected is because we would be carrying home the soldier for whom they just had the ceremony. And so we were the only three passengers aboard this empty plane with one flag draped casket in the middle. We stood in a line as the army brought their fallen comrade on board. They lay down the casket. They did a slow eight count salute, turned off, marched away. We watched them walk out of sight, crying and hugging each other. And then our crew got to work strapping down the casket. And for 9.5 hours this was our flight. 9.5 hours, I sat there with this casket right here. You know, once we it’s an overnight flight. Once we’re in the air, we all sort of staked out a piece of real estate in the plane to get some sleep. And I every time I opened my eyes, I was greeted with this sight of this flag draped casket. And it was the greatest honor of my life, you know, to bring home someone who knows a lot more about sacrifice and service than I will ever.

Simon Sinek (00:43:42) – You know, it was the greatest honor. Our final flight home was on an aeromedical mission where we brought home 37 wounded soldiers and Marines, and one of them was in what they call Seacat, which is critical care. A marine whose buddy had stepped on an IED and was killed. And he took shrapnel, two broken legs, two broken arms, shrapnel in the chest, punctured eyeball, broken eye socket. He was kept in an artificial coma at the back of the plane. And this team of doctors looking after him and I went over and sort of it was uncomfortable because I’ve never seen a body that broken. And I went to talk to the docs who were looking after him, and they were amazing. They explained his injuries to me, and more importantly, they explained all the new technologies that were being developed to help trauma care from these cases. That is filtering its way back into our civilian hospitals. So even here, they’re still giving back to us. You know, what? Remarkable human beings.

Simon Sinek (00:44:31) – And I asked him what I thought was an odd question, having just had the experience I had the day before. I said to him, he was a reservist who works at a an inn in Austin, I think it was. And I asked him, I said, you’re a good person. You work in E.R., you help people every day of your life. This is your job. Do you have a different sense of fulfillment here than you do back home? And he says to me, it’s no comparison, no comparison. He said 90 to 95% of the people who come into the at home are either drunks or idiots, he says. There’s not a single drunk or idiot here. The sense of fulfillment I have here is vastly greater. And this is what I learned. Fulfillment is fulfillment is the opportunity to serve those who serve others. That’s what it is. If our bosses and our leaders serve us, we will serve them. It would be our honor if we look after each other, and others will look after us, and it will be their honor, just as it would be ours to look after them.

Simon Sinek (00:45:22) – And this is what service is. This is what fulfillment is. And this is a very, very human experience in everything that I’ve learned, everything in the human body is trying to get us to do things. For each other. That’s why it feels good to do things for each other, because the human body is trying to positively incentivize us to repeat that behavior, because it’s good for the species, you know. So that was a profound experience. Like I said, I try and tell that story often so that I don’t forget lesson because I made some significant changes in the way I do business to avoid working with people who don’t believe in the concept of giving to others, because I found myself getting short tempered and angry when I got home and didn’t want to do my own job. I became incredibly impatient and short tempered, doing what I was doing normally, you know, like traveling and speaking of things. And I realized I would only get I started to notice that if I visited a base, for example, I had endless amounts of energy and never got upset if anything went wrong and could work from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. without missing a beat.

Simon Sinek (00:46:19) – And the reason was, is because when I got to serve those who serve others, I had endless energy and was happy to do it. And when I served those who only wanted my stuff to selfishly gain and take from others, I couldn’t. My body couldn’t take it anymore. So we’ve figured it’s not perfect, but we’re pretty good now. Figured out systems to try and avoid those people criticize me and say I should be speaking to those who need to hear it, and they’d be right if only they would be willing to act. It’s not that I will only speak to the converted. I will speak to people whose organizations are broken and who aren’t doing the right thing to do their people badly. If the leadership genuinely wants to do the right thing, and they don’t know the solution necessarily, but they believe that the right thing to do is look after their people, I’m there. It’s the ones who don’t care about that and would easily sacrifice their people to preserve the numbers, as opposed to preserving them, as opposed to preserving the people I’m happier person for.

Simon Sinek (00:47:08) – And I think my work is probably better for it to.

Jonathan Fields (00:47:10) – I’ve no doubt, which is sort of a powerful way to come full circle here. You know, the name of this project is Good Life Project. And so and it’s really an exploration of what does it mean on an individual level because it’s so personal to live well in the world, to live a good life. I’m curious how you would reflect on that.

Simon Sinek (00:47:27) – Yeah. I don’t think it’s individual. We are all the same biology. It’s already been predetermined. You know that a good life, like waking up for inspired, coming home fulfilled and feeling safe in the middle at work is all biological and looking after each other, just like the great fulfillment that a parent has when they see their child accomplish something. Amazing, is that to know that your sacrifice was worth it? You know, to know that all that giving and all that hard work and all that, you know, it was all worth it. It was all worth it for this one day, you know, graduates, you could get a job, you could ride a bicycle, so you could get the driver’s license.

Simon Sinek (00:48:02) – Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. So you could get married. It’s all worth it. That’s what it is for all of us. It’s just an amazingly positive thing to see somebody achieve something, because we got the opportunity to help them and they only did it or they did it in large part. And they’ll tell us, they’ll stand up and say, I accept this award because of my coach, because of my boss. I couldn’t have done it without them. And we share that love and joy. Thank you. You know? Yeah, no, it’s not individual. The opportunity for fulfillment is singular. And it’s it’s the opportunity to find ways to give to others. Those in our tribe, those in our companies, those in attendance.

Jonathan Fields (00:48:38) – Yeah. So thank you so much. My pleasure. So enjoy the conversation. Like what? Hey, before you leave. You love this episode safe. Bet you’ll also love the conversation we had with Brené Brown about how vulnerability can be a powerful source of connection.

Jonathan Fields (00:48:53) – You’ll find a link to Britney’s episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project was produced by executive producers Lindsay Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Editing. Helped by Alejandro Ramirez, Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelly Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered.

Jonathan Fields (00:49:48) – Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project.

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