Front Porch Media had the special privilege to team up with thought leader, Craig James, to create a new podcast show, Big Audacious Idea, for listeners who think boldly and beyond conventional perception. Craig is a man who wears many hats, among them executive coach, writer, speaker, modern philosopher, Information Technology Industry veteran and Co-Founder/Managing Partner of CatalystStrategies (a.k.a. CatStrat Services), a strategic advisory firm that helps organizations stop—and think. Most recently, he became the host of Big Audacious Idea!
In each episode of Big Audacious Idea, Craig explores the meta-questions of life by talking to some of today's most provocative thinkers. Together, they examine what it means to be human, asking the questions that will lead to new discoveries for humankind. Craig interviews "mind giants" like Seth Godin and Alan Burdick for 35 minutes of deep and thoughtful discussion guaranteed to feed the curious nature of your mind.
In order to kick off the launch of Big Audacious Idea, we caught up with Craig in an interview to help you get to know your host even better - and on a more personal level. We think you will find him to be insightful, funny, and real. We could not be more excited to be working with Craig on this podcast, and we cannot wait to share this first season with you!
FPP: Have you always been interested in philosophy and in questioning different concepts or ideas?
CJ: I’ve always been a curious observer, and I think growing up as an only child has played a role. Sure, I had friends when I was a kid, and my parents would spend a lot of time with me... but I would also be on my own quite a bit—out in nature—exploring the woods... looking at the clouds.
I gave team sports a try, but my little league baseball career ended somewhat abruptly. Let’s put it this way, I forgot to put that glove-thing in front of my face as an outfielder. The first pop fly I encountered ended up smashing me in the nose. Out cold—flat on my back. When I woke up, I found myself, again, looking at the clouds.
Philosophical pondering has become increasingly dominant in recent years. So, yes, I suppose I am, and always have been, a modern philosopher of sorts (however one defines that!)
A lot of what I think has to do with my partner in life, Sue. We are constantly talking, questioning and exploring—together.
I’ve also become somewhat of an avid reader in recent years, in part, thanks to Kindle. This helps me keep the “juices flowing”. I’ve been influenced by some incredible thought leaders and authors—some of whom have been guests on Big Audacious Idea.
FPP: What kinds of questions or ideas interest you most?
CJ: I’m fascinated by ideas that test our assumptions and question our perceptions of reality. The idea that time might move both forward and backward. The idea that solid matter is mostly empty space. The mind-blowing fact that hundreds of billions of galaxies each have hundreds of billions of stars. These facts help one appreciate the mystery—and magic—of life
I’m fascinated by the idea that the chance of any of us existing, is zero... Yet we’re here. Think of all the exactly perfect things that had to happen exactly as they did for your parent’s parent’s parent’s parent’s parents (and so on, for thousands of generations) to meet, mate and produce, and create, ultimately—you. Any one left turn or right turn, in the other direction, anywhere along the line, at any time... would have changed everything.
FPP: Can you share a little bit about what you do and your work with CatalystStrategies?
CJ: Sue and I formed CatalystStrategies (a.k.a. Cat-Strat Services) 17 years ago, in 2001. We’re a strategic advisory and executive coaching firm. We help organizations (and individuals) stop—and think. It’s even more than ‘think’. We help organizations and leaders discover who they are—why they exist—and determine what really matters.
We’re at an amazing point in human history. We’re hyper-connected. We’re globally connected. We’re experiencing technological advancement like we’ve never seen. We have the potential to invent, create, produce, consume and transact like never before. But there’s a downside. Often we become so entrenched in ‘activity’ that forget where we’re going, what we’re doing—and why we’re doing it.
This is where Cat-Strat comes in. We help clear the fog.
For individuals—in the realm of Executive Coaching... it’s trite, but true: It’s lonely at the top! Executives are people too. They have wisdom, experience and insight, within—but with the demands on them as leaders, they can use a little help in stopping, reflecting and gaining new perspective.
That’s where we come in.
We help them reframe things.
FPP: Can you explain the idea of “strategic thinking” to someone who might not understand this term?
CJ: What a great question.
Here’s my snotty response: I think that many who think they understand the idea of ‘strategic thinking’ don’t understand it at all. This is not because they’re not smart. It’s just that not everyone spends every day deeply thinking about the operational definitions of ‘strategy’, ‘tactics’, ‘mission’, ‘vision’, etc., like we do.
And back to our discussion regarding our modern era; We are in such a tactical period of history that we don’t even recognize it. We’re caught-up in doing, doing, doing. It’s part of our society. ‘Doing’ can indeed be ‘strategic’—sure... But more often than not... it’s granular, tactical and reactive. Not strategic.
I could get into a big-huge discussion on the concept of ontology (the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being) (versus doing)—but I’ll spare you that. In fact, we should leave that to an episode of Big Audacious Idea.
Let me answer your question directly:
Strategic Thinking, in my view, starts with the why—i.e., the Purpose behind doing something.
Strategic Thinkers are big-picture thinkers who keep the long-term in mind.
Strategy is about the overall approach to the why-question at hand. It is the how.
Nordstrom’s is a perfect example. They have many mechanisms for conducting business, from outlets to online marketing and more—But we all know the overarching strategy for Nordstrom’s is Customer Service.
Strategies are overarching approaches that directionally guide all activities.
FPP: What got you interested in hosting Big Audacious Idea?
CJ: Big-Audacious-Idea-like activities have been of interest to me for a long time. I’ve conducted interviews on big-picture topics through the years, and was a contributor on Western Reserve PBS. I was the “What’s the Big Idea?!” guy on their NEOtropolis show.
So, when others are interested in similar conversations, it clicks—in a hurry.
Synchronicity provided that opportunity with Big Audacious Idea by way of bumping into my friend Michael DeAloia, CEO of Front Porch Media. We were in a coffee shop, chatting. I said, ‘I’m doing these conversation things with a friend in Europe’—and Michael said, ‘That’s what we’re all about’.
Michael and I decided to do something together.
Here we are—and it’s been a blast.
FPP: What was your favorite part of the process of creating this podcast? What was the most unexpected aspect of it?
CJ: Favorite part: Just that... the idea of creating. As a team, we created a ‘product’. More than a product. It’s something important—and lasting.
Together we built concept-organization systems, scripting strategies... and more. It really was a ‘birthing’. That can be difficult and painful at times (BTW, I don’t claim to know what birthing is like, but I do know what it’s like to create something).
It’s always worth it—creating something. It’s what we’re meant to do, as humans.
And, when you create—you become very close to those with whom you co-create.
Other favorite parts:
The research and prep. It was difficult, yet very satisfying and intellectually stimulating. There are hours of thinking, reading and discussion that go into 35 minutes of recorded content—way, way more than one would think.
I’m repeating; The sheer volume of effort that goes into each episode. Effort by many. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise. Some people spend an entire lifetime on any one of the topics we covered in any given episode of Big Audacious Idea. But still, like anything, it takes more than you think.
I also found myself marveling over how much I didn’t know about so many things. There’s so much to learn. And the more one learns—the more one learns there’s more to learn.
One more unexpected thing:
I never thought I’d ‘hear’ so much silence. There’s something magic about being in a recording booth. The sound-soak and sense of quiet—It’s calming.
You don’t only hear—but feel—the silence.
It’s pretty cool.
FPP: Who are your biggest thought influences? Do you have a favorite philosopher or thinker?
CJ: Thought influences:
Nature. Every day. The sun. The magic beauty of a flower.
Favorite philosopher or thinker?
You asked—so here we go.
Seth Godin; Yuval Noah Harari, author of Homo Deus—A Brief History of Tomorrow; My friend Gordana Biernat; Clay Shirky, thinker on technology and it’s impact on humanity; Steve Taylor, writer on psychology and spirituality; The German psychologist Erich Fromm; Don Miguel Ruiz; Margaret Wheatley; Peter Diamandis; Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way; Eckhart Tolle; Robert Lanza of Biocentrism; Malcolm Gladwell; Alan Burdick on Time; Daniel Kahneman; Bill Bryson; Adyashanti; Umair Haque; And of course, William Shatner.
I can’t answer that.
FPP: How would you say philosophy has evolved over time?
CJ: It has changed in the sense that we can share and compare our philosophies like never before. We can ‘pass on’ stories and ideas—before we die. It used to be that philosophies and ideas took generations to propagate. Now, they can be shared in real-time, across the globe.
At the same time, philosophy hasn’t changed at all. Philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. It’s changeless, and I think we’ll be doing it for a long, long time... pretty much the same way we’ve done it for generations.
FPP: Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in modern philosophy or thought leadership?
Learn to find comfort in the unanswerable.
If we let go of our obsession with the answers—the questions become less intimidating.
Have fun with it. Let go of fear. Trust it. Trust that your inquires need to be asked. The questions you ask... are in fact the ‘answers’—in a way. They are intuition telling you what you need to ask, know, tell or teach.
Be open to topics and ideas that are different than your own. Explore new concepts and perspectives.
Take note. Notice what you think, feel, or do. Philosophy has much to do with being aware. We’re so easily immersed in the things ‘coming at us’ and/or the things ‘we need to do’.
If we’re not careful, we’ll miss our own reality. We’ll get caught up in the things outside of ourselves (or what we perceive to be external to ourselves).
Stop, once in a while.
Go inside oneself. Go deep. Allow it to happen.
Start conversations. Ask questions when you’re with others (versus spouting all-that-you-know).
Otherwise: I have no opinion on the topic whatsoever ;-)
And: Ask me!