Ep 5 - Bonnie Wan: The Life Brief — Embracing Penetrating Questions and Naked Honesty, Owning Women’s Imperfection in the Workplace, and Re-igniting Mad Deep Love

Episode Description

Welcome to today's episode of Dam Kind Conversations, where we get to know better Bonnie Wan, a respected figure in brand strategy and a mentor for personal growth. Bonnie is the Head of Brand Strategy at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and recent author of 'The Life Brief' - an approach to applying skills of a brand strategist to the messiness of one’s own life.

Bonnie is recognized as an AdAge 2023 Leading Woman and Chief Strategy Officer of the Year in 2022, she has significantly contributed to the world of brand creativity and effectiveness. Beyond her professional achievements, Bonnie is a dedicated mentor, actively involved in AdAge’s Diversity Council and The List, nurturing emerging talents. Her work in translating strategic thinking to personal development has earned her an audience at the likes of Google, Apple, and SXSW. Her awards and recognitions are significant, too many to mention all here at once - and so I will link to them in the show notes.

Join me as we delve into Bonnie's journey, her contributions to both the professional sphere and personal development, and her approach to living a life filled with clarity and creativity.

We enjoy a wide ranging conversation with topics that include:

  • [08:22] Penetrating Questions
  • [16:23] Retaking your passion
  • [19:50] Vulnerability and women in the workplace
  • [27:46] Having a lead parent
  • [32:46] Looking at ones own time
  • [34:21] Tools for trials and tribulations
  • [43:00] Kindness and Creativity

Show Notes:

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Episode Transcript

Ben Culpin: Welcome back to another episode of dam kind conversations today, we can do things a little bit differently. I'm going to share with you a few of the poignant parts of today's conversation.

Bonnie Wan: Not all questions are created equal. Some are big and get you more stuck because they feel impossible to answer

I find that our inner truths call to us and we can ignore it, we can suppress it and many people do. But at some point it will start screaming.

I've grown up with a generation of women leaders where there's immense pressure to show up perfect and polished.

Women, especially in the middle ranks, fall out of their careers. They choose not to keep going because, it feels impossible. I want them to see that you can hold and juggle and harmonize and be messy and still be effective as a leader.

I found being in a creative field that you can't be generative if you can't be generous. It all has a momentum and exchange. People won't bring their most creative ideas, their most creative selves. If they aren't coming into a space of kindness.

Ben Culpin: Hey, Bonnie. How you doing?

Bonnie Wan: Good. How are

you, Ben?

Ben Culpin: Good. It's good to see you. It's been a few


Bonnie Wan: It has been a few weeks. I'm sorry. I'm a tiny bit late.

Ben Culpin: Oh. Two minutes. No, not at all. This is completely within the realms of socially


Bonnie Wan: Okay, great. I used to have a much worse habit of being late,

Ben Culpin: okay,

so there's improvement. That's good.

Bonnie Wan: Growth, right?

Ben Culpin: Okay, so should we get into it?

Bonnie Wan: Let's do it.

Ben Culpin: Okay, cool. Amazing. So I would like you to start by just introducing yourself, but imagine you're speaking to a group of people who may not necessarily understand what strategy is and how it might be relevant in their lives.

Bonnie Wan: Great. So my name is Bonnie Wan, and I'm a career brand strategist at a very storied advertising agency in San Francisco, California called Goodby Silverstein and Partners, and I have spent most of my adult life with this agency luckily. Which is 25 years and as a brand strategist, my job is to help our clients big, small, iconic brands get to the essence, of who they are and then pursue their wildest, most audacious ambitions from that place of clarity. and the joy of getting to work at an advertising agency on a thing that I love. On a, in a discipline that I love is that it's a creative sandbox, and I've been surrounded by creative misfits my entire adult life, so I haven't had to completely grow up.

Ben Culpin: Wonderful. I'm aware and maybe people should know that you are in the process of launching a book. It's called The Life Brief. And I will be completely transparent. You have sent me a copy and I have looked through it, but as I have a guest every two weeks and I read like at the pace of a tortoise, I don't set myself the goal of necessarily completing that task, but I do take in all the wonderfulness of it as much as I can.

And so before I ask you to introduce your book, I just wanted to first say a couple of highlights to set the tone that like I went, Ooh, I love those word choices. So a couple of quotes, "my own sense of what mattered and why I was working so hard had all but evaporated from my consciousness". First one, you talk also about "transforming vulnerability into action."

And lastly, "surrendering to what is unlocks the magic of what will be."

Bonnie Wan: That last one is one of my personal favorites.

Ben Culpin: Could you maybe explain the concept of the life brief for yourself and how it came about? And perhaps how it combines the principles of a creative brief, which I'd also like you to set the context of what that is for anyone who doesn't work in advertising, with personal life and planning,

Bonnie Wan: Gosh, as a strategist, my job in layman's terms is to make. Meaning out of messiness. So clients come to us with really tricky problems, complexity in their in their categories in the moment, lot of high stakes situations.

And when you're in the trenches of your business. Just like when we are each in the trenches of our own lives, it can get really confusing fast. It's hard to see through the momentary circumstantial dramas and the distractions and the urgent. And to focus on the important, what's meaningful, what matters most.

It's a ball of confusion. And so as a strategist, my job is to look at the mountain of mess in front of me in terms of a client's business and understand how to make meaning of that mess. So that I can cut a really clear and invigorating path forward for them. And everyone who participates in their business, whether it's employees or customers and all that.

So in 2010, I hit a messiness in my own life that actually makes it sound quite playful. It was actually a crisis of meaning, moment of despair. I was married. I still am, but we had three young kids under the age of five. I was the sole breadwinner, though my husband was trying to launch his own business.

I was the main source of income. I was traveling a lot. I was frustrated. We were spending all of our time negotiating, arguing, debating, a little bit of competing and a lot of critiquing. And we had these three babies. It was chaos and we were both deeply unhappy. I was bitter and angry and critical.

And on a business trip home in my childhood bedroom, I had to confront some really unbearable questions, and this is the part that talks about vulnerability to action. I had to get raw, real, honest. with myself. This isn't a public declaration or or falling apart, but it was for myself and I had to strip myself of the confusion.

I had to lay everything bare. And I recognized in that moment of familiarity With all the hundreds of clients I had worked for and with, I recognize that confusion, that angst. And as a reflex in that late night session with myself, I did what I've been trained to do with so many clients. I dropped in.

To my intuition, knowing all the parts, all the mess, all the cards were on the table, I had taken a notebook and I'd scribbled all the things in answer to a primary penetrating question, which is what do I want? Not what do I feel?

Ben Culpin: Can I just interject very quickly, because that was another phrasing that I actually appreciated.

You used the term penetrating question. Would you just take a moment to just pause on that and define it for


Bonnie Wan: Yes. So in advertising, we don't, unlike therapists or coaches, we don't get to work in months or years. We have to work in minutes and days. We have to find what are the insights, the deepest truths, within that mountain of mess and we have to do it quickly so that we can turn it into action for our clients.

Because our clients don't pay us like we pay therapists to, go back years after years. We learn to use questions. Questions are a strategist's best friend, and not all questions are created equal. Some are big and get you more stuck because they feel impossible to answer. What do you want to be when you grow up?

What do you want to do in your life? But what, penetrating questions are, they're questions that cut through. They drop in and they hijack our brains because they immediately stimulate an answer. Now, whether we want that answer or allow that answer to come up and out. That's a whole different story, but our brains want to answer it.

And so the question I love to use with people in the life brief is what do you want? And I don't mean what do you feel like or what do your parents want for you? Or what does your, what do your children need or what does your partner expect? I'm asking in your heart of hearts. What do you really want?

Perhaps that what you want that you haven't even allowed yourself to admit. And when I dropped into that question, when I dropped into that question, that late night, what came up was... surprising, because I had thought in my mind's eye that my husband was the problem when I actually allowed myself to answer the question with naked honesty and I started taking notes and I put it on the page, I was able to stand back and reflect on it and see that, wait, my husband actually isn't the problem.

It's my relationship with time, that is the problem. How I was spending my time, what I wanted out of my time. I wasn't prioritizing or putting the things that mattered most, the relationships that mattered most as the highest priority. And that was the immediate glimmer of hope.

Ben Culpin: Yeah. So I have a slight build here, which is, um, I mentioned actually in our email correspondence that I have my own burning questions. And what I've done today is to try and weave them into a set of questions which are relevant to you. But one of the sort of primary first questions I have for myself, which I want to pose to you in the context of your life and your story.

And perhaps your book is how do you retake your passion? Have you ever lost it, perhaps your passion and what did you do to get it back?

Bonnie Wan: I have so many sources of joy that come in and out of my life, but I think I've had one reverberating past my whole life. And it shows up in different ways in different chapters of my life. I think I've always been fascinated by the human experience. What drives people, what motivates them. And as a child that fascination was gripped by

biographies. I remember in second grade discovering my passion for biographies. Amelia Earhart Helen Keller, Martin Luther King Jr. These were these were the people who gripped my attention. Helen Keller in particular, because it fascinated me as a young child. What motivates... what drives someone to overcome some of the biggest challenges and obstacles in life and propel themselves into a state of profound purpose and service to others, while so many others in the face of those same challenges?

And so that was really the earliest fascination. And then, of course, in college and university, I found myself drawn to anthropology, sociology psychology, all of the arts that literally studied the human brain and what motivates us. And then when I was able to meld my two fascinations, creativity, and the study of motivation and human experience in advertising and in advertising strategy, I think that's where I really started to gallop.

But the whole way through my career, there's been a different thirst and craving. Advertising has been a wonderful boot camp, and it continues to be, where I've been able to apply and sharpen my skills and shape my perspective and point of view on how do we motivate people? How do we inspire and drive behavior change?

And how do we get to the heart and essence of that motivation? And but all along I've always had a longing to help people in lasting deeper, more meaningful ways.

Ben Culpin: I think that's a wonderful passion to have. And I'm curious if it's a recurring theme, if it ebbs and flows and whatever it might dip and wane and what you've done to get it back.

Bonnie Wan: It never leaves me. It's always humming underneath everything. It's like the water that run the river that runs underground. But when I'm gripped by something exciting, At work, there's many applications when I'm doing something creative when I am gripped by a challenge with a client, a complex situation, of course, that hum.

The volume of the hum turns down. When I'm frustrated, then it comes out big, loud. It's difficult to ignore. It screams at me. So it's always there. It just comes out in different ways. And when I find ways to express it, then I feel. Moments of joy, the challenge never leaves, the anxiety, because there's a tension and in advertising we talk about the tension is fuel.

Comfort is the enemy of change, but tension is what drives and propels us forward. So healthy tension is always exists. So the desire for it to express is always with me. What I found is I get to express it in lots of different ways. I get to express it as a parent. I get to express it as a partner, as a leader, and then now as an author and a creator.

Ben Culpin: Yeah, I think that's really wonderful. Because I think sometimes in terms of if ever one's passion or even my passion to make more personal is waning that it's somehow subdued or not present. But you talk about it as a, as something that will come out if it is not addressed, which I think is a lovely way to look at it


Bonnie Wan: I find that our inner truths call to us and we can ignore it, we can suppress it and many people do. But at some point it will start screaming. David White is a beautiful poet and author, and he talks about the three marriages in life, the marriage to another person, our most traditional marriage, our marriage to our work, and then our marriage to ourselves.

And he says in our life's work, We don't get to choose these marriages. The marriages are all non negotiable. So if we neglect one for the sake of the others will eventually crumble. We, the trick in life is how do we harmonize and balance and weave and braid the three marriages together as we evolve and grow and iterate our lives.

And I find a lot of people, especially women, neglect their marriage with themselves because society conditions us to be in service. I'm Asian. I come from an Asian culture, which puts society first, family next, the individual last, and if you're a woman, dead last. So it's, a really forbidden practice to ask what do you want and allow yourself to hear that truth bubbling or bursting or screaming forward and to acknowledge it in actionable ways.

Ben Culpin: I think it's it's interesting if you talk about the female perspective. I'd like to loop back to that in a short while, but first I'd just like to just touch upon a little bit more on the book the life brief and to ask you, how has this process of teaching others to write briefs for their lives influenced your own

personal growth?

Bonnie Wan: It keeps me honest. Keeping the life brief ensures that I continue to live the life brief, and what that means is live with absolute naked honesty with what I want, with what we want as a family. My partnership with my husband has become stronger as a result of it. Having this shared language, this shared practice and as someone said to me the other day, wow, you're going, really public with this. People are really gonna hold you accountable. You can't you can't fall off the path. And I've thought about this so many times. It's in my bloodstream though. This is absolutely in my DNA and what I believe. So the best part about writing this book is that I now have a playbook,

captured of my deepest beliefs, my biggest ahas, insights and truths for my four kids. And should I ever not be by their sides when they need me, they will have this.

Ben Culpin: Wonderful. I think it's interesting. You just talked about this idea of being public because I have a question here, which is about vulnerability in the public domain.

So the original question, which is how? How can you be raw and vulnerable publicly without destroying your own credibility? Because I think there's this tension about how vulnerable is too vulnerable. How does that play in your consideration set?

Bonnie Wan: Yeah, two things. The first time I taught this practice, it was in my agency as a leader. And so I was I paced for the for the 20 minutes before the presentation, I paced, I went into the restroom, which is my how my anxiety shows up. I need to go to the restroom like five times and my anxiety was, In that I've grown up with a generation of women leaders where there's immense pressure to show up perfect and polished because there was scarcity.

There aren't enough roles. And if there was an immense unspoken pressure that if you weren't perfect, top notch always on your game, have the swagger, the confidence that you just weren't going to nail that one position, that one opportunity. I knew to teach the practice, I had to share my story.

And my sharing my story was sharing my mess, the mess of my marriage, which got me to that first life brief. So I was really nervous, but what I discovered was that was exactly what drew people into it. Because there was this illumination and an aha for the audience, which was, our employees, my colleagues, even my boss, the head of HR, what they were able to see is wow, oh, my life, my own life is a hot mess and so is hers.

And she was able to get to that place of leadership while still having all of those messes and challenges to contend with. And now it's become my mission to be really honest about what it takes, because we know what the data is that women, especially in the middle ranks, fall out of their careers. They choose not to keep going because, it feels impossible. It feels like the sacrifices are going to be too great. And it's really important to me that they see not perfect, polished, impossible figures at the top, especially when it comes to other women. But I want them to see that you can hold and juggle and harmonize and be messy and still be effective as a leader.

Ben Culpin: Would you say that is because you use the specific moment of doing this workshop? But how does that show up in the day to day for you? Is it the same? Is it slightly


Bonnie Wan: No, the vulnerability shows up in different ways in different contexts.

It's not a shtick. I think you asked the question of when is vulnerability too much? It has to be true. That's where I anchor it. I center it in why am I being vulnerable in this moment? I think in the day to day it shows up in being very real. It shows up in being curious. I've had to really shift my leadership.

I used to be the leader that always talked at you. That's the kind of leadership I grew up with. A lot of smart strategists who pontificated all day long, but what I love about strategy work is the curiosity asking. Interesting questions. Facilitating rooms of dialogue. There's a beautiful strategist that I've had the gift of working with.

His name is Graham North, and he always said our job is not to be the smartest person in the room. It's to make the whole room smarter. And I really. Subscribe to that philosophy.

Ben Culpin: I love that. So I just want to continue to sit on this this topic you mentioned before about women within the professional realm wishing to be the example and to show, these are not the best words so forgive me, to be the example, to show that it's possible.

What is your advice to that middle layer of women? And also the men, either in leadership roles or peers of these women.

Bonnie Wan: My advice, first and foremost, is don't give up, don't give in. It's possible. But you have to stay really centered in what matters to you. Because you can't do it all. I like to say you can't have it all, because it's a phrase that's been thrown around in culture a lot. Especially around women you can have the family, you can have the, career, you can have the money, the wealth, but I'll reframe it in this instance to say, you can't do it all, but you can do all that matters.

You have to stay really clear and centered in what matters to you and allow the rest to fall away. Where I see people burn out is that they're trying to serve all things, to be all things to all people. Whereas I have learned, and often in hard, awkward ways. That as long as I am super clear about what matters most in each day in each moment, I can deliver that with excellence.

And that's how you make it to the top.

Ben Culpin: Wonderful. I think part of the question was also is there anything else that you would say to other people that are part of this system besides these young women?

Bonnie Wan: Yes, so many things leaders need to shift how they show up. We are in a real change of leadership moment.

Everything is falling away. All the traditional paths, businesses are being disrupted. AI is going to come in and force more change. And it's no longer a top down one way. Leadership path. Leadership is really going to be dependent on your ability to listen, on your ability to ask questions, on your ability to hear and play and invite and welcome different perspectives.

And use those, harness those perspectives to come together to shape unexpected, surprising answers and solutions to really complex problems. The familiar is not going to deliver the results you need. So until leaders understand that it's their imperative to shift how they show up. Organizations are going to continue to falter.

Ben Culpin: Okay , so I have a little sticky here, which says, talk to me about Chip for a moment. What does, what role does Chip play in your life and


Bonnie Wan: Oh my gosh, so many roles.

The first that comes to mind is he's the grounding force. Our partnership has really deepened through the practice. The book illustrates and highlights two really dark moments, dark chapters in our marriage and how the life brief helped turn that around for us. But I'm loving where we are right now.

It's a cliche completely, but it works. People talk about. Long standing relationships as fine wines they deepen over time Chip asked me the most penetrating question of my life and of our union and it's in the book. He asked me one day in the middle of a completely routine argument If I was madly, still madly in love with him and that just stopped me in my tracks, but it was the question that turned us around and unpacked the idea of, yeah, after 17 years, now we've been married for 22 and four kids and moving cross states and multiple times is mad love possible?

And what would it take to reignite mad love between us? And that set us off on the journey that maybe has taken us here today. And mad love has many faces. Mad deep love is the one I savor today. Chip and I do these long walks around our neighborhood. It was a habit that was ignited during the pandemic and still continues.

It's a ritual that we do. A couple times a day and it's beautiful in its simplicity. but so rich in its depth of just being with one another and just feeling gratified to have each other. He takes care of all the things that I used to love that I no longer have time for so that I can spend all my time here with you in conversation, in uninterrupted conversation, out with clients traveling across the country, giving talks and speeches and teaching workshops.

And I know our four kids are secure that they have a home base. And I call him the lead parent, not the stay at home dad. Although we've both become comfortable with stay at home dad over the years, but he really is the lead parent. He's the grounding force and home base for everyone here.

Ben Culpin: That's beautiful.

How do you balance your professional ambitions? You have a very impressive career and story. And you also have what appears to be a wonderful family, four children.

How do you balance this? And, I think particularly with. societal pressures on women and what you should do or should not do, what are the constructs of a relationship and how they were and how they are becoming. How did you, yeah, how do you balance this?

Bonnie Wan: It goes back to what I talked about, getting really clear about what matters and radical prioritization against those things.

Chip and I agreed. Just a few years ago on what is enough he asked the question "What is enough?" in the kitchen over lunch one day and that unpacked a whole series of do we really know what enough is because there's this it's very easy in our culture to get caught up on a relentless drive Or striving chasing that next mountain peak that next one.

Now we're here so where's the next? And it is part of who we are. We're an achievement based production, productivity based culture, hustle culture, do more. I can get lost in it as. easily as anybody else, but when we were able to tangibly answer that question, what is enough, so much fell off my shoulders in terms of the epiphany that came out from our answer, which is, wow, we actually have more than enough.

And so maybe we don't have to strive so hard. So that clarity again, is what allows me to make a different set of choices. And then when we asked ourselves, if we could be rich in only one way, what would that be? What would our wealth brief be? That was really easy for both of us to be rich in relationship.

So now when I look at my time, I look at, okay, what gives me joy? What lights me up? What are the things I want to do? Not just because they forward the mission or come back to the work, but what gives me a deep sense of joy and allows me to serve. And then I really try to reserve the rest of my time for those simple acts of being with my family and the people we care most about.

And I have to say, you can achieve pretty wild things. In tiny, but continuous dedicated slivers of time, the question I get most right now in my life is how did I write a book leading an agency through a pandemic and having four kids?

During a huge tumultuous moment of change when the world was falling apart. And I will say it took three and a half years, but lots of tiny increments of time at the dining room table. And you can achieve amazing things in small slivers of dedicated, I call them tiny daily steps.

Ben Culpin: I think it reminds me of a book Atomic Habits. Have you read

that book?

Bonnie Wan: Yes, he's James Clear. He's incredible.

Ben Culpin: Yeah, no, it's definitely a very helpful tool in breaking down what feels like a mountain of unachievable. The I want to just ask you a question, which is around a professional achievements and challenges and for you to think maybe beyond this pivotal moment in your relationship with your husband and to to think about any significant challenges or trials that you've had. How have you ever felt you just needed to throw it all away professionally

and start again?

Bonnie Wan: Um, more often than I'd like to admit, yes. Those ditches are not far and few in between, but constant, everything looks, it's so easy when you write a bio, when you post on social media, when you sum things up so beautifully and neatly, which we've all learned to do, it's part of our culture, but the inner game.

Is the same no matter what you achieve. So even with all the accolades, I still wake up in the morning with anxiety. I still can be wracked with self doubt. I Still wonder, am I choosing the right path? And so it's being in constant conversation with yourself and in relationship. It's why the writing helps me so much.

It's why the three things helped me so much. questions, curiosity. It really, when I allow my curiosity to blossom, I hijack my brain and tune my attention towards something much more fun than the anxiety and doubt that I, that grips me. My creativity, just being able to make, create, write, express, uh, share, talk listen, that again tunes me out.

And then, Really aiming my attention towards service, how can I be of greatest service in this conversation, in this moment, in this interaction, in this meeting, in this talk, that absolutely opens up a world of joy and fulfillment. And that's how I attack it on the daily.

Ben Culpin: I love that. I wonder, you talked about the emotional signals of when you're um, when you might be going into one of these troughs.

Are there any sort of behavioral signals where it's almost like when you meditate and you, I don't know if you meditate, but For me, if you do meditation over, a period of time, you can catch yourself when you're going down the track of a negative thought or something and you can see what you're doing.

You can you can step out from yourself. So besides the emotions that you talked about, are there any other signs where you go? Oh, I see what I'm doing right now.

Bonnie Wan: It's the repeats. There are themes that repeat in the theaters of our minds, and I can see them looping back and forth, right? So that's one immediate signal that I have to get out.

I have to tune into action and out of, the labyrinth of my mind. That's the first one. I wish I could meditate more than I have time to do. Right from the start in this house, it's a, it's chaos with four kids and a dog and all the things that come with it, but I try to be meditative, in everything as I walk through my day, as I journey through a week, and that means being really connected and centered always to something below my mind.

So from the neck down, not the neck up, we're all living these neck up existences where we've put our minds on a pedestal. And what I try to do is drop into something deeper. You want to call it gut, intuition, heart, whatever that is. But being centered and thinking, acting from that place helps me not get caught up in that swirly pattern of the mind.

But I always wake up with. And lately I've been waking up with it more than ever. It might be age, it might be transition.

Ben Culpin: Yeah, I'm just wondering, I think we're quite lucky to be people that have those tools in place. Do you, this is not a question that's scripted or anything, it's just more off the cuff here. But do you see, a growing swell of people that are able to practice this.

Or do you think that there's a gap between those that can practice it and the reality of what they have to live with? I'm


Bonnie Wan: Yeah, it's a great question. One, I do think it's growing. It's growing because of technology because a lot of the ancient wisdoms. These are not. These are timeless principles, not new, but they are new to more people because they have access to them through technology.

And the more it gets pushed out, the more we can share and use technology to grow community and journey together. So I think that's one of the benefits of technology. Is this an act of privilege is I think that's what I'm hearing, right? Is this something, and people say to me they asked me the question all the time.

Is this a practice of privilege? But I've met people with very harrowing circumstances where on paper you would expect them to be crippled or in deep despair. There is one story that I put in the book and it's a friend whose father committed suicide when she was a teenager, whose brother just committed suicide while living at her house over the pandemic has lost uh, good girlfriend to a brutal homicide and we've lost a friend together.

In many ways, her story on paper is that death, death follows her, but she is one of the most joyful. people I have ever met. And I did have a moment with her over a weekend and I asked, do people ask whether you grieve or whether you're in denial? And she said, Oh yes, people have an expectation of what grief looks like.

But I grieve in my own way. I know that the people in my life were in it for a certain reason, and I've lost them, and I celebrate them by taking on their gifts and living them out as my own. And we've read stories in concentration camps, how people gave up their bread, for others. I think it is part of the human brilliance.

That we can choose. We do have agency. It's really about how we see our situation, which lends myself or lends itself to the number one principle of creativity, because creativity is less about what you can make. And it's more about what you can see and how you see. So if you're going to learn drawing or painting, you first have to learn to see your surroundings, see your subject differently.

And life is a creative act. We always have a choice on how we see, what perspective, how we frame our situation. And that's what I have... that's one of the biggest lessons I've learned in meeting so many people from so many different circumstances is we always have the choice available to us on how we want to see our current circumstances.

Ben Culpin: Yeah, so to that on creativity I've been having various conversations over the past few months now and a couple of times the topic of kindness has come up and I'm wondering within creativity or your work environment, what role does kindness play?

What belief do you hold around it as a concept? Is it good? Is it bad? .

Bonnie Wan: What comes up for me is creativity requires safety. We don't put out our most risky, our bravest, our boldest ideas if we don't feel safe. And we can't be kind to others and create safe and brave spaces. if we don't start by being kind to ourselves.

Without kindness, compassion, respect, deep listening, those are all acts of kindness, when we get inquisitive about somebody else's ideas, when we show up to their ideas with deeper curiosity compassion, respect. Expect when we play with those ideas and build on those are all acts of kindness and generosity.

I found being in a creative field that you can't be generative if you can't be generous. It all has a momentum and exchange. People won't bring their most creative ideas, their most creative selves. If they aren't coming into a space of kindness.

Ben Culpin: So how do you create that safe space? You personally,

Bonnie Wan: am deeply generous, present, inquisitive, and I see possibility. Part of what I've learned from the greats, the legends in my agency, Jeff Goodby, Rich Silverstein, Margaret Johnson and so many others. It's not just at the top, is they have a way with people of seeing possibility, even in the most basic ideas.

And they share that possibility. They share what they see with a real optimism. For what it can be so early on, I remember some conversations with Jeff where I came in with a really critical strategic point of view it doesn't meet the strategy or it doesn't do this or that or this. And he said,

why don't you try not shutting it down? Why don't you try seeing what's good about the idea? Start there. And the creatives will trust you more. And that was a real good, honest lesson in how we nurture kindness, how we nurture ideas, how we nurture confidence. In people so that they'll bring braver ideas to the table.

Ben Culpin: Yeah, I reminds me of a colleague I work with regularly is founder over here of an agency here in Amsterdam is called Jason Schütze -Fulton. I'm going to get his, I, he's just updated his name because he's married. Jason Schütze-Fulton and he, Schütze.

Bonnie Wan: Oh, that's hard.

Ben Culpin: Yeah, Jason, I'm sorry. I've screwed it up, but hey, I'm about to just bear with me while I finish one of my train of thought. He has this wonderful phrase in workshops where he'll say, Okay, everybody, get your post its out. It's time for good notes. Just adding the word good. Rather, rather just, it speaks to what you're

sharing here.

Bonnie Wan: That's brilliant, how a simple word can invite the behavior you want.

Ben Culpin: . Okay. So we are on our closing question. We have been very productive, but you're so , eloquent in your wording that we are flying through. So I have one question for you, Bonnie.

It's a closing question. It's very abstract. In what

do you trust?

Bonnie Wan: I trust in the universe, something that is bigger and beyond. myself.

You might call that faith. I'm not religious, but I do trust that there is magic and mystery beyond what our brains have the capacity to hold.

Ben Culpin: I also took a quote from your book about something else you quote you trust also.

Bonnie Wan: Oh. Tell me.

Ben Culpin: Trust what you really want is already inside you. Simply waiting to be unlocked.

Bonnie Wan: Yes. Also true. Also true. My first answer to that question was going to be, I trust in myself. And in a way that is the universe inside me.

I know there's some religious or spiritual undertones there, and I am no longer afraid of that, in the business world, I think there's definitely a church and state. And while I'm not religious, I am deeply spiritual. And I do trust that magic is inside us. So when we talk in the strategy sense about truth, that's what we mean by truth.

And there are many truths and your truth doesn't necessarily align with my truth, but the work and the path to a meaningful life to me is to be connected and centered in that truth. Even as it evolves, even as you grow, and it might change, though I find oftentimes it doesn't. It might take new shape, it might come out and express itself differently, but there are some fundamental, timeless, consistent truths in all of us.

And it is here and available for us to unlock, but it's so easy in our always on distraction life for us to ignore or avoid.

Ben Culpin: Thank you, Bonnie. It's been amazing talking to you today. I'm so grateful that you made time for me today. I really love. Everything you've said the way you phrase things. It's just it's so refreshing to hear

Bonnie Wan: Ben it's an honor to be one of your first and early guests. I believe that this road is going to be so fruitful in the most unexpected ways.

I can't wait to listen and watch you take this into new and surprising places. So thank you for having me.

Ben Culpin

Researcher, Strategist, Film and Photography Documentarian, and Podcaster.

All disciplines centre around an innate need for perspective, a sensitivity to the world.