Jessie is one of those individuals who is just as much of a talker as he is a listener –someone naturally good at communication. I noticed right away the enthusiasm in his voice when he spoke about life and the things he cared about. At a time when people often begin to become jaded, it is refreshing to hear someone who confronts the challenges of society with a sense of purpose. That characteristic seems to be one of the key ingredients of all successful people –the ability to take what is difficult and turn it into an opportunity for growth while maintaining hope. During our interview, we discuss his travels across the United States during the peak of the polarized presidential election, the rise of the 4th Industrial Tech Revolution, the need for a humanized response to technological advancement, behavioral economics, modern love, fear, and more. Jessie is a mix of old soul and young spirit. Thank you for sharing your insight with Millennial Nomaad.
Occupation: Director of Strategy for Indeed Innovation
The key to happiness is: Being grateful for something in every moment.
My kryptonite is: Kettle-cooked potato chips
In three words, I would describe myself as: Grounded, Compassionate, Optimistic
I dream of: a world without suffering
Success to me means: As David Foster Wallace said “being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day”
Define curiosity: Curiosity is engaging in the pursuit of understanding without being attached to any single idea
To be brilliant is to be: able to realize, in every instance, that no situation is actually about you. Brilliance is the understanding that it’s never personal.
To be a Millennial Nomaad means: A Millennial Nomaad is someone who is interested in and connected to the world. Someone who views the whole world as his home and, therefore, his responsibility.
During our interview, you mentioned that you and your brother embarked on a year long cross- country trip spanning the United States. We can live in a country for years and still barely understand its landscape and pockets of communities. What lead you to make this decision to road trip? What is something you learned that surprised you about American culture? What is something you learned about yourself through the process?
I couldn’t agree more and that was part of the inspiration for going on this trip. The idea sparked from a business venture that would require regular travel around the US. Though we ultimately scrapped the business because neither one of us wanted to leave our jobs, we thought to ourselves: “Maybe we could do this trip anyway." Once we realized we could, the inspiration was “Why not?!” Our journey began as the US presidential election was becoming ever-closer of a race, and it was a fascinating time to see an American culture we’d never really seen before.
To say I learned that the US is massive sounds trite, but in fact, it was a profound realization. The life we experienced in Tocquerville, Utah or Oklahoma City was significantly different than the lives we lived growing up in NYC. Witnessing such stark differences in generational values, cultural needs and day-to-day experiences led me to appreciate the complexity of the US. We also discovered the unbelievably beautiful landscape of the Southwest and the West. For those who haven’t made it to the Colorado mountains, the Utah National Parks or the Oregon coast, GO!
As for self-discovery, there was quite a bit. So as not to bore you, I’ll focus on just one: my relationship with nature vs. cities. I had spent more time in nature that year than ever before in my life. Throughout the year, we spent about 30 days in national parks and many more hiking through local or state parks, totaling an approximate 500 miles hiked. Not only did I learn the importance of good hiking shoes, but also that being in nature makes me feel whole –that I don’t need any additional material objects in my life to be complete whereas when I walk through cities, I often want things. There’s an insatiable desire to buy an overpriced espresso or health-promising green juice. That said, Boston is one of the cities where I don’t feel that. Boston is a place where I can walk for hours on end and not want to consume anything other than the views of architecture in Beacon Hill and sunsets over the Charles. Oh, and I also learned that I do a pretty good job of cutting my own hair (it’s now been 15 months without a professional haircut and no one notices) — #lifehack.
For more insights on the trip, check out this article our dear sister wrote upon our return: Off the Road
You recently joined as Director of Strategy for INDEED-Innovation –an innovation and design consultancy dedicated to bringing a human element to innovation. The tagline on the website says: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution will only be human if we design for it. Our vision is to establish design as the single most effective steward of our being human in the computational age.” Why is this important? What is the risk of technological advancement and how has it both positively and negatively impacted our societal culture?
Bringing humanity into work has never been more important. For context, the fourth industrial revolution refers to the current and future technological revolution which is blurring the lines between physical, digital, and biological. It currently includes the development of the Internet of Things (IOT), AR/VR, AI, blockchain and other world-changing technologies.
The industrial revolutions of past have in many ways made us less “human.” Think back to the advent of the assembly line which valued people based on their output and built the 40 hour work week to maximize efficiency within the confines of legislative compliance. The most recent industrial revolution of the internet brought great advances to our society, but it also posed new risks.
For one, the internet created the potential for exponential technological growth which created a system that ensures technological advancement will always be many steps ahead of psychological insight. This is what I currently fear most. We are just beginning to understand the effects of total digital connectivity leading to social isolation, yet in some ways it’s too late as we’re already raising a generation addicted to screen-time.
The deeper issue stems from the incentive structure of capitalism. CEOs and their companies are rewarded by monetary value, not societal value. We’ve put financial gains and technological advances ahead of what’s good for society. The question of “will this be good for humanity” is rarely, if ever, asked.
Our goal at Indeed is to use design and innovation to ensure that these questions are asked in the creation of new products and services. Not only will this help build a sustainable future for society, but it is also essential to build a sustainable business well into the 21st century. Together with our clients, we can ensure that this fourth industrial revolution will change our collective trajectory for the better.
You recently attended SXSW in Austin, Texas. What was one of your favorite experiences or speakers from the show? What can you share about emerging trends in the creative arts and startup community?
The best part of SXSW for me was seeing a new focus on understanding and using behavioral economics for good. Behavioral Economics is an ever-growing field of study, providing deepening awareness of our daily decision making experiences, big and small. With a focus on recognizing cognitive biases and inconsistencies, Behavioral Economics has profound insight into business ideation and product creation. The insights aren’t all that new; many of them have been used in sales and marketing strategies for years but the recognition of the field and the pursuit to use it for the benefit of society was certainly new and exciting.
The most impactful session was focused entirely on how to use behavioral economics to “hack” the opioid crisis in the US. Ideas ranged from longer-term community building to simply changing the order in which opioids are listed on post-surgery medication lists.
Some say to be a visionary can be a lonely road at times. Do you feel that because of your aspirations, you are often misunderstood? How do you cope with doubt and balance a practical lifestyle with the pursuit of your dreams? What is a dream of yours?
Being called a “visionary” makes me feel pretty uncomfortable, which perhaps answers your question. I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can collectively create a better future but often doubt whether I should share these thoughts. Though my friends may be rolling their eyes, thinking “Jessie loves the centerstage,” I actually feel uneasy sharing my views in public settings, such as this one. I often doubt whether I’ve taken enough perspectives in to account before raising an issue. However, when I am in doubt, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter all too much what others think of me and if I don’t take risks, I won’t accomplish anything at all.
As for a dream of mine, I don’t really have one. I balance grandiose thoughts with taking each day and moment as it comes. I’m a big believer in thinking about my impending death, regularly. No, not in a sad way but more so in the momento mori/life is precious/carpe diem sense. It helps keep me in the moment and therefore not take my aspirations or dreams too seriously.
Happiness. We are living in the age of “Think and Be Positive” where everyone seems to be searching a way to find joy? How do you think one can experience happiness? What role do you think negative feelings or pain play in self-discovery?
I’ve spent years reading and thinking about happiness, which probably makes me a true millennial. At this point, I feel pretty confident in saying that happiness is directly tied to gratitude. When I’m truly grateful, I become instantly happy.
Pain and negativity plays a very important role in self-discovery and even in happiness. If we’re talking about psychological or emotional pain, then I think pain is an incredibly useful signal as to what we care about and how deeply we care about it. Answers to those two questions are often not obvious and take a lot of self-reflection to get to self-discovery.
Say for example, I were in pain because I lost a relationship that meant a lot to me. If I were to ask myself “why does this hurt so bad?” I could eventually get to an understanding that it hurts so bad because I cared so much —and that level of care is something for which I ought to be grateful and. in turn, happy.
Where do you think fear comes from? Describe what fear looks or feels like. Can you share a story of a time fear specifically impacted your life? How do you deal with vulnerability so that it makes you a stronger person?
I have no idea where specific fear comes from for individuals though I’d venture a guess that it all ties back to childhood trauma. However, where it comes from evolutionarily and the effect it has on our lives today is quite interesting. Evolutionary theory explains that when our sapien great great great etc. grandparents, wandered in the jungle and heard a rustle in the leaves, their brain would have to make a snap decision as to whether that rustling was a potential threat of a predator or something completely harmless like the wind blowing. To promote genetic survival, our brains would always take the safer bet and assume the worst i.e. it’s probably a hungry tiger. From years and years of those experiences, we developed a strong and often overexerted fear muscle.
Most of our fears in 2018 have nothing to do with survival, yet our brains have not evolved to account for that. I think that’s where our fears come from. With this I mind, I try to not let fear impact my life too much. For me, it’s similar to pain —it’s simply a signal worth exploring.
Vulnerability, however, has a more frequent effect on my life. As Tim Ferris said, “the more difficult conversations someone is willing to have, the more successful they are in life.” It’s often these difficult and vulnerable conversations that have the most profound impact, and I embrace them as they arise. From my experience, embracing vulnerability has always paid off in spades. It creates trust, intimacy and compassion –key ingredients to any successful relationship.
Love. What's your take on the modern concept of “soul mates”? How has your views on love evolved over time? How would you describe the feeling of love using adjectives and imagery? How do you think today’s dating culture differs from our parents’ generation, if at all?
I will preface this with the (potentially obvious) claim that I am not an expert on love. Credentials aside, I believe love has never been more fragile than it is today. As Esther Perel and Alain de Botton discuss in their TED talks; this is the first time in history that we’ve put so much hope and trust in one person. Our “soul mates” have replaced the gods of the past. We now expect one person to play the role of our best friend, emotional support system, parent to our child, co-director of our lives, sole sexual partner and soul mate and we expect this to last for 30-50 years. This puts a lot of pressure on our partners.
Additionally, due to an increase in all sorts of tech-enabled options, we’ve been moving from a place where love was intertwined with need and, therefore de facto unconditional, to a place where love is now highly conditional. In the past, there weren’t many other options for life-partners; what you chose (or was given to you) is what you got. We now have the world at our (screen-swiping) fingertips. We are seeing this rise in possibilities throughout many areas of our modern lives. Daily life has become easy and convenient.
I don’t know if it’s a good thing that we can now sit at home, alone, for years on end while building a profitable online business, ordering food to our doorsteps and watching endless hours of highly entertaining Netflix. We’ve built a world where we have all our shallow needs met, at the potential expense of our deeper human needs: love, meaning and connection.
All that said, I believe that fragility is beautiful and perhaps it is this impermanence of modern love, it’s ever increasing conditionality, that makes it more incredible that even before. If we know we could quite easily switch partners, yet choose to remain with one, I think we’ve arrived at the deepest level of love.
Want to know more about Jessie? Roam to -->
IG: @infinite_jessst insta