Scott Kriens: Generative Energy – The Real Currency of Life
“What really matters in life?” That fundamental question was what inspired the chairman of a major multinational corporation to launch 1440 Multiversity, an innovative hub for immersion learning. In this episode, Scott Kriens shares candid, heartfelt thoughts on the importance of facing our fears head-on and how “generative energy” can help us all make powerful course corrections to bring us closer to living from a place of true WELLth.
“The real peace that I think we all imagine … is to be found inside of us and not by that which we manifest outside of us.”
Announcer: The true WELLth podcast is made possible with support from Brighton Jones, helping clients, colleagues, and the global community, live a richer life. To learn more about how you can live a richer life, visit brightonjones.com.
Scott Kriens: You could pick for me, in my life, any number of things that I’ve had the great good fortune to be part of. And each time, if I’m really brutally honest about it, somewhere in my mind, I was thinking that, “Well, if I just do this, if I could just have it,” some part of me, each time I’d do these things, would say, “Well once you’ve done this, then you will have arrived.” And each time, instead of that being what happened, it was more of a relief than a sense of deep accomplishment and it just led to the question, “Well, now what do I need to make me happy?”
Manisha Thakor: Welcome to the true WELLth podcast, where in each episode we explore from all sorts of different angles, questions such as, what if everything we’ve been taught about money and making it is wrong? What if success is defined in modern society as merely a recipe for increased disconnection from self, others, community, and life? I’m your host, Manisha Thakor. If you, like me, have ever found yourself exhausted from running on that proverbial hamster wheel of seeking success, or if you want to explore your thoughts about money, meaning, and purpose for whatever the reason, I welcome you with wide open arms to our true WELLth community.
Manisha Thakor: My guest today is Scott Kriens. While Scott may sound like a wise tenured professor of philosophy in the snippet you just heard, Scott has actually scaled the wall coveted by so many. He is a literal corporate titan, having served as the highly lauded former CEO and current Chairman of the Board of Juniper Networks, a $9 billion company as measured by market cap, with $5 billion in global revenues. Today, Scott and his wife Joanie also serve as the founders of a very unique organization called 1440 Multiversity. More on that in just a bit. For now, I wanted to know what life is like at the summit of a global multinational corporation. By definition, there are limited number of people who reach this pinnacle, so I asked Scott, as he looks back at his time building out Juniper, can he see any life learnings that really jump out at him?
Scott Kriens: Oh my gosh, there would’ve been several. A lot of what I learned at Juniper, I learned it in hindsight and in retrospect. In the early days, the founder of the company, Pradeep Sindhu, who was at least one of, might be the smartest, but he’s at least one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and his belief when he talked to you, was that he wasn’t smarter than anybody else. And so, as a result, if you were like me and you said, “Well that guy’s a lot smarter than I am, and if he doesn’t think he’s smarter than anybody else, than neither am I.” And so, what came about as a result of that, was humility. And, I think that’s a powerful enabler for learning at a rapid rate, you know? And in fact, as soon as it slips to hubris or to some sense of arrogance or overconfidence, boy the learning gets harder to come by.
Manisha Thakor: Scott, you had said there had been several other learnings, so what else?
Scott Kriens: The other thing, which I didn’t really learn until some years in, after the company was large enough that I thought, “Well what am I supposed to do now as the CEO?” We were at the time, probably a couple thousand people and two something billion dollars in revenue, and we were in maybe 70 of now 100 countries in the world, and I was thinking, “Well what am I supposed to do? Because I can’t just parachute in and be more insightful than the people in all those countries or all those people working on all those products, and they’re at least as smart as I am and they’re working on it everyday, which makes them smarter about that subject, so what do I do?”
Scott Kriens: And, the answer was, for me, leadership development. And that was not on my radar when Juniper started. I just thought, “We’re just working hard and trying to make this quarter and the quarter after that and get this product out and the one after that.” And focusing, it wasn’t until 2004 when I started to focus on leadership development and had, that’s probably the biggest thing I would have done differently if I’d have known it sooner. Just the power and the importance of developing leaders, and how do you really do that?
Manisha Thakor: Today, Scott and his wife Joanie have founded and organization near Santa Cruz California called 1440 Multiversity, focused on a very universal component of leadership development, and that is, leadership of self. I was eager to learn more. Scott, you and your wife were very intentional about the name 1440 Multiversity. Let’s break it down, what is the significance behind the number 1440?
Scott Kriens: The first thing to say about it, is the meaning of the name actually, which is something my wife Joanie was the author of. And it’s named for the number of minutes in a day, and it’s really meant to acknowledge the power of presence in each minute, moment, minute and moment, that we have in the day. And actually, if you count them one at a time and spend them one at a time, there’s really quite a lot of them. And so, 1440 is really just a reminder of presence and the power of it, and also sometimes of how much time we squander in the past or in the future, when we really can’t be anywhere except the present. So, that the origin of 1440.
Manisha Thakor: And what is the significance of the word multiversity?
Scott Kriens: Multiversity is really meant to invite people to explore the multiple dimensions of themselves. And in conventional education, we’re taught a lot of things intellectually, but there’s very little offered to the rest of ourselves. And that would be the emotional, relational, spiritual, social self. Arguably, the more interesting and most valuable parts of ourselves. And so, Multiversity is a place to come and explore those other dimensions that make up the whole self.
Manisha Thakor: Okay, and when you combine those two concepts in to 1440 Multiversity, what do you get?
Scott Kriens: The one way to think of it is, as kind of a retreat center reinvented, and it’s what we called a learning destination. And as a learning destination, it’s meant to be a place to come and participate in and stimulate and contribute to real conversations that matter, about whatever matters to you. And people come to study contemplative practice for their own understanding and benefit, they come in relationships to learn about parenting or being in healthy partner relationships. They come as teams from groups and corporations to learn about how to be more supportive and effective in a team organization. And so, all really built around real conversations that matter and on the subject of inner wellness, as opposed to the outer, which is what we spend most of our time on as well. And it’s really the inner self and inner wellness that we like to think of this destination as a place to come and learn more about.
Manisha Thakor: I’ve had the honor of teaching several weekend financial literacy workshops for women at 1440. The last time I was on campus, I bumped in to Scott in the main lodge, and we had one of those conversations that felt like it had gone on for five minutes, yet when we looked up, nearly an hour had passed. I asked Scott if he remembered this conversation, and if so, if he could share with you some of the highlights. Specifically, the parts about what really matters in life and the role that human energy plays.
Scott Kriens: I do remember the conversation well, and what I am trying to find is, what is the currency that matters in this journey called life? What is the coin of the realm in this experience that we’re having? And, at the most base level, what I believe is, that we’re talking about is energy, human energy. And so, human energy is that thing that fuels us. What’s fascinated me over the last some months at least, and even well before, is this pursuit of making it a quantitative aspiration. It’s not just an abstract thing, it’s actually possible, if you create a safe space, if you invite people in to that space to be vulnerable and to open up to each other, if you realize intimacy from all of that, and connection, that produces energy.
Scott Kriens: And we all experience it. Energy, when we’ve worked on things we’re excited about, we all have what I call generative energy, it produces more than it consumes. That’s the whole mission of the foundation, is the production, leaders producing generative energy, compassionate communities leading generative lives, that’s our mission statement for 1440. And these generative lives are ones that create more energy than they consume.
Manisha Thakor: And, what about the opposite Scott, what about energy that’s draining?
Scott Kriens: And unfortunately, we’ve also all been in toxic energy situations, which are debilitating. You know, I’d only spend an hour there, it might only be a quick conversation, but it’s debilitating. And I think that what is actually available to us as humans on the planet, is to be intentional about gravitating towards people and environments, and ultimately, living a life that is energy producing, and testing how we’re spending our 1440 minutes, by whether that’s a minute that produces energy for me or consumes energy from me. Is this a person who does that? Is this a job who does that? Is this a place that does that? That being either generative or toxic, and if it is producing energy, then I’m going to spend more time in that place, with that person, at that job, on that thing, in my life. And if it’s a somebody who’s draining energy from me or if it’s a place or whatever that is taking from that reserve, then I’m not going to spend my time there. And sometimes, that takes a real courageous act to accomplish.
Manisha Thakor: This concept of harnessing the power of generative energy as Scott puts it, clearly lights him up. When I asked him if there was a chance one day that there would be a course at 1440 on the topic, the energetic tone of his voice as he answered it said it all. He said he had indeed been thinking about it, about who would be the optimal people to teach such an interdisciplinary concept like this. About how it could address the vital topics of the two paths to energy, which are fear and love, and the downsides to our current world, in which there is far too much energy being spent making people afraid rather than taking the opposite approach and energizing through caring and compassion. I could go on and on about Scott’s thoughts on the importance of energy as the currency of life, so I will cut myself off here by simply stating I for one, can’t wait to learn more about harnessing the power of generative energy at 1440 when that course is birthed.
Manisha Thakor: Switching gears, a core question we explore on the true WELLth podcast, is about the difference between being wealthy, W-E-A-L-T-H-Y, and being wellthy, W-E-L-L-T-H-Y. So I didn’t want to let Scott go without asking him about how his personal experiences had been with these concepts. Scott, having accomplished so much in the three key realms of professional life, personal life, philanthropic life, what are your current views on success? And I’m particularly interested in your views on success in the context of professional accomplishments, which is where so many of us consciously or subconsciously end up placing a huge portion of our life focus.
Scott Kriens: My experience with accomplishments, is that they kind of overpromise and under deliver for me. There’s the promise that it’ll be some sense of deep peace, and it isn’t, it’s just another thing before the next thing and after the last thing, and it’s not the thing.
Manisha Thakor: Scott, one of the other themes we love to explore on true WELLth, is the notion that real peace and contentment in life comes from spending your time and your money in alignment with what matters most to you. And, you’re so introspective, so I can’t help but wonder, have you ever found yourself out of alignment with time, money, and meaning in your life?
Scott Kriens: Yes, actually. Most of my life, in all seriousness, has been spent pursuing stuff that, in retrospect, didn’t matter. And I guess I want to say that a little bit carefully too, because when I think of raising our family or building Juniper or building Multiversity, on the one hand, it’s kind of a, it’s paradoxical. Actually, that’d be a whole nother conversation we could have on paradox. So I think the most valuable lessons in life are when you find yourself in paradox. And so, on the one hand, when I talk about some of those things, building a company or a campus or what have you not being it, what I mean is, that personally, I placed the wrong expectation on stuff like that. Like it’s going to be the arrival at some nirvana where the white light shines down from heaven and all the consternation magically goes away. And obviously, it’s not that, and so there’s this, it’s not the answer to the personal journey.
Manisha Thakor: One thing that I’m wondering, how has building out 1440 Multiversity most changed you as a person?
Scott Kriens: Personally, I would say it’s the understanding of the role fear plays in my own life. Fear of rejection, fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear. It’s so insidious, it puts, it wraps itself around every doubt or hesitation that we have I think. So understanding its role and the nature of the inner critic in, I’ll just say, my own head, we all have our version of it, and developing a relationship with that critic and with that fear. As Liz Gilbert says, “I’m not kicking you out of the car,” because it’s not really realistic to live a life without fear. So as Liz would say, “I’m not kicking you out of the car, but you aren’t going to drive.” So, you can sit in the back. And I know you’re there, and sometimes your concerns might actually help me and save me from bad things, but you’re not going to take the wheel.
Manisha Thakor: Okay, lastly, let me ask you one of my favorite questions, what daily practice most supports your wellbeing?
Scott Kriens: I’ve had, for a long time, a daily meditation and journaling practices that are at this point, very foundational for me. But, what really energizes me at the moment, even though it’s scary and difficult, or maybe because of that, I know it’s probably related, is pushing the envelope of my own self. Pushing past my own fears about the judgments of others, and being really, really willing to put my whole self out there for all of its ugliness and doubts and uncertainties, at the risk of people’s judgements and so forth. And I’m not as good at it as I want to become, and it’s stepping out from behind the walls I’ve built, to show up and be more real. And that means less perfect and available to be judged or criticized in ways, that if I hid better, wouldn’t worry me. And yet, I think that’s where the growth is. So, as a personal practice, that’s mine. I’m trying to step out from behind the wall with more courage than I’ve ever had, and let come what may.
Manisha Thakor: Scott, it has really been so wonderful hearing your thoughts and reflections on creating a life of true wellth, thank you so much for being here with us today.
Scott Kriens: You’re welcome Manisha, thank you for pulling this together and we’ll see you here on the campus again too and teaching soon, which will be great.
Manisha Thakor: As for my takeaways from this conversation with Scott Kriens, wow, there were so many. As with the interview I did with Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life, the learnings for me from Scott were so all encompassing, I found myself thinking of them as themes rather than the typical list of action items I so love to make and check off. Theme number one for me was humility, this vital lesson that Scott learned from Juniper’s founder, Pradeep Sindhu, reminded me of a classic story about Socrates. To paraphrase, and let me emphasize that I am very much paraphrasing, as philosophy is far from my area of expertise. But as the story goes, in ancient Greece, the Oracle of Delphi was regarded as the most accurate prophet in the known world. When asked, the Oracle declared the philosopher Socrates was the wisest man in all of Athens.
Manisha Thakor: Socrates responded not by boasting or celebrating, but by trying to prove the Oracle wrong. So he went about questioning citizens of Athens from the highest politicians to the lowest craftsmen, to find out if anyone knew what was truly worthwhile in life. For if anyone had that answer, they surely would be wiser than Socrates. Yet everyone seemed to give the same answer, pretending to know something they clearly did not. And thus, Socrates famously declared, “All I know is that I know nothing.”
Manisha Thakor: So perhaps the Oracle was right, Socrates was the wisest man in Athens. Not because he possessed some knowledge that others did not, but because he alone was prepared to not only admit when he didn’t know something, but to view this ignorance as a strength. This is exactly what Scott was referring to when he said that humility is a powerful enabler for learning at a rapid rate. And that as soon as it slips to hubris, arrogance, or overconfidence, the learning becomes harder to come by.
Manisha Thakor: Theme number two was facing fear. I was blown away by how open Scott was talking about the relationship he had with fear, and his current focus on putting his whole self out there with all the ugliness, doubts, and uncertainties that are inherent in being, well, a human being. There seems to be such a societal taboo around talking about our fears, yet we all have them, that someone who had both been the CEO of a major multinational corporation and in the corporate world, the word fear is typically viewed as four letter word to be avoided at all costs, plus, the founder of 1440. It was inspiring and personally liberating to hear Scott be so open and so human as he talked about it.
Manisha Thakor: Scott said that he felt that it was so worthwhile addressing our fears head on, as it was that process, where he observed the potential for true growth could be found. That’s why he felt so strongly about his daily wellbeing practice of stepping out from behind the wall that so many of us put up. Instead, choosing to show up each day as his real self, allowing whatever comes from that openness and transparency, to happen.
Manisha Thakor: Theme number three, and perhaps my favorite, were Scott’s thoughts around generative energy, this notion that, with our 1,440 minutes in each day, we can intentionally choose to put ourselves in situations that fill us with more energy, and remove ourselves from toxic settings that drain our energy. My summary of this concept is a gross oversimplification. We could literally do an entire episode of true WELLth with Scott, regarding his thoughts about the two paths to energy, fear and love, and how to operate from the latter.
Manisha Thakor: Related-ly, Scott shared one other thing with me around both his personal interest in the study of generative energy, and the way it’s currently being addressed on campus. He pointed out that spiritual teachers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and many others, come to campus to present practices around concepts that are 5,000 years old. And yet, also in the same weekend or week on campus, you could choose to hear from cutting edge researchers, scientists, and doctors, focused on how disciplines such as interpersonal neurobiology, are helping us better understand how to adopt our primal brains, to use a phrase from our episode with Dr. Daniel Crosby, to more effectively deal with modern day stressors, which of course, are very different from the ancient ones our brains were originally designed to deal with (IE. Being chased by that proverbial lion or bear).
Manisha Thakor: To bring my reflections on Scott’s insight to an end, I’ll return to the wisdom of Socrates, to highlight what I see as the enormous power of what Scott and Joanie Kriens are building with 1440 Multiversity. For Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think. Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Or, to share the bumper sticker version of this observation, “Life is full of questions, only idiots are full of answers.”
Manisha Thakor: Regular listeners of the podcast know I love to end each show by sharing my takeaways and inviting you to share yours with us, by visiting truewellthpodcast.com. And remember, that’s wellth spelled W-E-L-L-T-H. The true WELLth team would really love to hear what life lessons or changes you look forward to making on your outlook or habits, that have resulted from listening to this episode. And we have a special place for you to share your thoughts with us on our website, at the bottom of the show notes for this episode.
Manisha Thakor: Also on the show notes page for this episode, you’ll find a link to the 1440 Multiversity website, where you can access their online course catalog and sign up for their newsletter. I highly recommend you get on 1440’s email list, to learn about the incredible teachers that come through the campus each week, bringing wisdom from literally, around the globe. And also, because the 1440 team regularly shares fantastic articles and profiles of these teachers in their e-newsletters.
Manisha Thakor: As we do with every episode, I’ll bring us to a close with an ask. If you enjoyed what you heard, with every fiber in my being, I would be so profoundly grateful if you would consider taking five minutes to go to the true WELLth podcast page on iTunes, and leave a review with your thoughts about the show. The reason I keep asking you to consider doing this, show after show after show, is that these reviews, which listeners like you leave, are literally the primary way that other people around the globe, interested in the same kinds of big life questions as you, can find the true WELLth podcast. I am Manisha Thakor, and that’s it for this episode of the true WELLth podcast.
Manisha Thakor: Oh, and in case you were wondering, this episode ran 25 minutes. So if this were the start to a fresh 24 hour cycle, you still have 1,415 minutes left to put to good use.
Announcer: The true WELLth podcast is made possible by Brighton Jones, an innovative wealth management firm, founded 20 years ago in Seattle. Today, Brighton Jones serves clients from the east to the west coast, with a singular goal of helping them live richer lives. Today’s episode was edited and produced by Stan Hall, with help from John Dougherty, Hallie O’Reilly, Michael Stubel, Marc Asmus, and Chris Sylvester. For more info on our show, visit truewellthpodcast.com.