1 Big Idea to Think About

  • Building a culture of empathy and understanding can help us connect more deeply with others and achieve greater success.

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • Make the listening and communication skills you have already learned part of your identity. Identify something you have learned about listening and communicating. How can you apply that lesson to another area of your life?

1 Question to Ask

  • When listening to others, am I “asleep” or am I actively trying to understand that person’s truth, world, and experience?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • How to build meaningful relationships through communication and understanding (3:38)
  • How to avoid being trapped inside your own head (7:53)
  • The disciplined pursuit of understanding (13:32)
  • The Directed Discovery method (15:49)
  • How to make listening and communication part of your OS (22:47)
  • How optimism can change the world (24:13)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Connect with Nate Walkingshaw

Twitter | LinkedIn

Greg McKeown:

Welcome. I’m your host, Greg McKeown, and I am here with you on this journey to learn to understand at an accelerated rate so that you and I can be utilized at our highest point of contribution. 

Have you discovered the ultimate superpower in every context for unlocking human potential? That is literally what we’re going to be talking about today. In part two of my conversation with Nate Walkingshaw. He’s used this superpower to become a passionate inventor and a serial and successful entrepreneur. By the end of today’s episode, you are going to feel inspired to really double down on the development of this skill to be able to unlock powers within you and within everyone around you. Let’s get to it.

If you’ve subscribed to this podcast, thank you. If you haven’t and are just listening to this episode or a few but haven’t subscribed yet, please do it. I love all of the subscribers. Thank you. 

Okay, so we’re sort of at a transition point, which is useful in this conversation about how these skills born in extremity have been so portable and transformational in your career, in your entrepreneurial work, and so on, and I think that’s a great direction.

Before we move to that, let me just talk for a moment with you about what you just said. There’s a researcher that studied, I think, four minutes of video. It might’ve been less than that. It might’ve been even like 16 seconds of video. I just don’t remember off the top of my head. And he studied it for two years. A single video slide by slide. Absolute micro-moment. Literally, frame by frame, and learned many, many things in that. But among them, he concluded that all communication is an extremely complex dance, like quite a literal dance. That the way that we move our heads, the way that our body language is reinforcing or not reinforcing, and of course, because he’s studying it such a micro perspective this is happening in a subconscious way in our communication with people. And the reason I’m sharing it is because I think most people are aware of body language and whenever the body language is different than what the spoken language is and so on, but the level of richness that is available for someone who develops a heightened awareness, like an almost interpersonal ultrasound ability or something where you are looking for all of those unspoken cues. There is enormous meaning there for those that are attuned to it, and it’s always available, and I think it almost cannot be hidden. Let’s say it cannot be hidden from those that are paying attention. Do you have a reaction to that?

Nate Walkingshaw:

To me, maybe three items that come to mind. Most people who are interacting with others are reacting, so it’s not proactively intentional around trying to seek context. 

If somebody is asleep, they don’t understand that they have this unconscious bias. They don’t understand, hey, if they want to create a connection with someone else, they need to understand someone else’s truth, world, and experience. So really, they’re just listening to someone talking to them, and then they’re reacting to what they’re hearing through their own truth world and experience. And that’s the reason why there’s so much friction in the world is because, really, there are a bunch of one-sided conversations. 

What’s really meaningful is you put two dimensions to that. So the second dimension is you have two people that want to see context with each other, so they basically want to build a truth, a world, and an experience they want to co-create, and then you add the third dimension, which is just the energy that’s surrounding those two people wanting to go through that exercise over and over again.

And when you build those two types of things together, people are observing those actions like today, between you and I, will be observed by other people, they’ll be heard by other people, and my hope is that people will have a desire to want to explore this way of being or this way of working with someone else because it really does build much stronger relationships. 

Your ninth mandrill, you had nine people that did this antithesis perspective, and what did they learn? That was the gift. The gift was what was learned through the exercise, and that’s the byproduct. The byproduct is what you get from this is super rich. It’s usually a deeper connection, a fundamental understanding. Those people can go back to other groups of people that think a certain way or have taken a position, and they can help people understand and see other people’s perspectives, and that is very useful, very useful to do at scale. You really can calm oceans of people down by just going through the seeking context and relating exercises. I think it matters a lot, like so much.

Greg McKeown:

You used, again, the word useful, super useful, and again, this transition is coming, but before we do that, you used the term sleep more than once. You’ve clearly chosen that as your term of from what to what. It’s from being asleep to being awake to being aware, but could you just define what you really mean by this term? Asleep?

Nate Walkingshaw:

Yeah. Not that I would encourage anyone to go actively do this, but it is a nice social experiment, but you could walk down the street in Salt Lake City, Utah, and see a group of folks, probably even cooler. You go to London, and you put your arms around 20 people sitting on a street corner in London. Just the most exciting thing for me to think about is that if I could do this exercise, the art of relating with 20 of those people, imagine the things I could learn from that group of people.

The thing that runs me in the background is how long would it take for me to line those 20 people up with completely granted trust. They don’t know me from anyone. How long would it take me to create an art of relating experiences that they would grant me enough trust to open up their truth, their world experience, their background, their nuances, even some of their vulnerabilities?

I think some people are conditioned to, you know they’re empaths, they are awake, and they’re willing to engage in those conversations, but I think a very large swath or population of the people that we interact with on a day-over-day basis feel fairly guarded one, and then two, don’t really understand the things that would come from being able to have a conversation at that level, and it feels like our society has been shutting off and pulling apart either through social media algorithms or through political disparity or through geopolitical issues. People are becoming more closed off to wanting to be more open and vulnerable and share perspectives because of judgment because I will be judged based off of my point of view, and it’s paralyzing. It’s absolutely paralyzing our ability to build a really cohesive or blended society. Again, it comes back to the third option, which is core values.

It’s not about picking a side, one versus the other, Democrat versus Republican, or BRICs versus NATO. It has nothing to do with that. Those are people in countries. Can you imagine traveling to a rural area in China? Do you think they give two rips about what is going on between our two countries? No, I think they have the same concerns that I and you probably have as providing a meal for my family being able to raise my children that become good and productive humans back in life that treat others fairly and equal. Those aren’t the things that are present, I don’t think, for parents or for children. Children want to be able to feel safe and get great education and have a good group of friends and be able to academically or athletically pursue their dreams. They have goals and aspirations. It’s like the most precious thing, but we’re being given conversations that could paralyze our ability to want to seek context around those things.

Greg McKeown:

So to be asleep means you are trapped inside your own head. Is that what it means?

Nate Walkingshaw:


Greg McKeown:

I love it because I have been asking this question quite formally for the last couple of years, informally for the last almost 25 years, what is the primary inhibitor to people being able to understand each other? There’s many inhibitors, but what’s the primary one? And I now do think it’s people just being trapped in their own head.

Nate Walkingshaw:

Yeah, yeah. It’s the way that we’re raised. We have the best term I can. If you can imagine your brain is like a snow-covered hill, and then your brain, you sleigh down that hill and you create these ruts, like these constant neurological ruts from sledding down these same pathways, and they just get deeper and deeper and then you’re asking someone to, hey, can you blow up every bit of your wave being relative to those deep ruts and hear me from a place of non-judgment of the way that you think around your world. 

Greg, it’s so hard. This is in marriages alone. It’ll take you five or ten years just to get both of you guys completely unpacked. You’re going to say that you’re unpacked, and when you’re awake to it, you’re going to practice those things, but it’s so easy, and with literal chemical hormones like biochemically, it’s hard for you to outsmart those neurological pathways not to fall right back in that rut again. You have to be totally aware that you are saying these things this way to this person, and then you have to be so aware that the way you’re landing language in somebody else’s neurological pathway is not going to go well. It’s like I can spin Sarah up in two minutes just by flinging a sentence across the bow, and we’re off to the races. It’s just like when you have the power to understand each other’s truth, world, and experience, you can really be super graceful. 

There are some things where I’m really wound up, and Sarah knows, hey, if I wanted to jump into the corral with Nate here around what’s going on for him, we’re going to spin out for a couple of hours, and it’s not going to go well. You have to do the work. You really have to do the work to want to get ahead of it.

Greg McKeown:

When I wrote Essentialism, the subtitle is, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, but this idea of a disciplined pursuit is something that I love. That language and what we’re talking about and what I’ve been writing and researching about is something like the disciplined pursuit of understanding. It’s the ongoing process is that it’s this not done, it’s not fixed. What we discussed yesterday, let’s keep learning, let’s keep understanding. It’s so rich. What is there is so rich. Give us a quick overview of some of the things you’ve done professionally that you feel like have been enabled by everything we’ve talked about.

Nate Walkingshaw:

Yeah, so just a walkthrough on the career. Paramedicine was useful for me because I was able to invent hardware, so patient transport equipment, patient transport equipment for the fire and emergency medical services, so ambulance caught stair chairs, hospital evacuation sleds basically to move patients from non-mobile patients, non-ambulatory, non-walking patients, really innovate that entire industry. 

Most ambulance cots that hauled patients back in the nineties when I was working, they were folding ironing boards. Being able to put a hydraulic motor charged with a DeWalt battery to lift a very heavy patient from ground zero 13 inches to 37 inches. Our industry needed that innovation desperately and so being able to invent products like that to save caregivers from injuries because most of those products were invented for patient outcomes. They weren’t created to help paramedics stay in paramedicine for long periods of time, and that happened to be the biggest problem in EMS was lifting and loading injuries. So I focused on that. I built a company, I sold it to Stryker Medical, and then I really never wanted to get into medical devices ever again, and then I moved into…

Greg McKeown:

Let’s just pause just a second, just to make the connective tissue. If you hadn’t been listening and paying attention and genuinely interested beyond the surface, you would not have seen the unmet needs. You would not have understood what needed to be done, and so this whole idea that we’ve discussed in this podcast recently of the Jobs to be Done theory and so on, it’s like you can only have the insight you need if you are really interested in the people around you. That’s where innovation comes from.

Nate Walkingshaw:

I think there’s a hot debate around practitionering, but this was a practitioner coming up with a product to help solve a problem for practitioners, and I do think it’s really important. I think what we’re talking about right there is super important, but it all sounds like this very successful entrepreneurial journey. 

Like, Greg, I put a giant monster crater of failure in the ground when I was young. I was in my twenties. I was super cocky. I was really committed to looking good. I invented a product that I didn’t listen to customers. I basically built a great solution for me, not a great solution for we. So I built a product and engineering framework. I honestly built it for myself. I did not think that it would get widely adopted. It is very widely adopted now, but essentially what directed discovery is, is mile markers, and then every company that you work at or work for or I’ve taught or led, the whole intention of the framework is four big posts.

Really. I’ll start with three and then get into four, but one is the voice of the customer and you being able to capture that. The second one is CPT or customer preference testing, which is prototype observation. The third one is CCT customer confirmation testing, and this is where the fourth part comes in is really the analysis of sending your product. It’s kind of a Viking sendoff and letting humans interact with it, and then you’re building aggregated, repeatable, objective feedback, authentic feedback on how that product was experienced by people, and when you do that, you build really great products. 

I did not do that the very first time. I mean, it was not good. I produced a product, I did not do any of that framework that I just talked to, and I ended up in a motorhome on the side of my parents’ house, and it was rough, really rough. 

So I built a framework to go listen to folks, and that’s where all the success ultimately came from. I met Ann Allen who worked at Intermountain Healthcare. I took her this product that I invented. She laughed and said, “Hey, I actually need you to invent this product and at this price point and do this job.”

And then that was it. I listened to that feedback from her, and the rest was history. We launched a new product every year for five years. We took down 70% market share across two large publicly traded incumbents and then was acquired by one of them. And that was the lesson for me was that you have to constantly build an iterative framework that creates listening, prototyping and observing, objectively learning, and then iterate based off that feedback. And it has proved me well. 

So I got to work and invent at three other companies and was very successful. I was at Pluralsight, employee number 96 there, and 17 million in revenue. We took it to almost 600 million and took it public. We had eight people on our team when we got there, and there was almost 850 folks when I left, and it was incredible. It was an amazing experience. 

And then started Torus, and that’s the project that we’re working on now. I basically melded together all of my skillsets that I acquired along the highway, which was hardware, firmware, and software, and then the teams that I worked on throughout 20 plus years, I took the best groups of people that built those products, hardware from our software and then new faces and names and brought them to our company today. And so we’re 65 folks. Really what Torus is, is a modern energy storage and management company, and it’s there to build a long-term viable and sustainable energy storage device. So we invented flywheel energy storage, and then we invented a management product that allows a customer, whether it’s a homeowner or a large-scale utility or commercial or industrial space, to look at the generation, the use, and the storage of renewable energy and be able to manage that basically in real-time.

Greg McKeown:

Is Flywheel a competitor to Tesla Powerwall?

Nate Walkingshaw:

It is literally a direct competitor. Yeah.

Greg McKeown:

I was just talking to somebody who works in the solar power space, and we were talking about how many Powerwalls I would need to be able to power my whole home. That’s what I was asking you about and the amount of space it would take. And he said, well, flywheel with that because you can just stack this. You can have enough storage to be able to store everything, whereas in the Powerwall is just impractical in that way. So anyway, I personally directly related to what you are describing,

Nate Walkingshaw:

Flywheels are amazing. 95% recyclable. You only have to mine them once. They don’t care about ambient temperature fluctuations. You can charge them zero, 100%, and zero discharge, I mean no memory loss. They are phenomenal, and they last 25 years. If you look at chemical batteries, you’ll buy a 10-kilowatt-hour chemical battery, but you have to keep them between a charge state between 80 and 20% one and then two; ambient temperature is a huge problem for them. You have memory loss, and then you have to replace them every seven to ten years, and then the mining practices alone are super challenging. 

So chemical battery was great for PCs and laptops and cars for things that are traveling through environments with big energy density for homes. There is one chemistry for chemicals like lithium iron phosphate batteries are a good second alternative, but flywheels by far are a superior device.

One little nuance for the listeners too. Our grid is if you look at coal plants or natural gas or wind or hydro, the coolest part about this is it’s called inertial-based energy storage or inertial-based power. And the reason that inertial part is that you can imagine inertia-like things that spin. They’re using motor generators. So if you think about a coal plant is using a steam turbine, that steam turbine has a motor generator, and it rotates at a certain frequency, so that’s what creates 60 hertz for the grid. 

So if you think about chemical batteries, they’re not inertial-based storage devices. Flywheels use a motor generator and are an unbelievably good product for demand response, for frequency regulation, for low voltage ride through all the things you would have to keep the grid up. Flywheel energy storage is actually the perfect solution because that’s what we use to create power onto the grid; whether it’s if you look at wind or hydro or steam or natural gas, you’re using turbines and motor generators to be able to frequency regulate and ramp power back on and off the grid. Chemical batteries are cool for certain use cases, but not the right use case for housing and cities, and stationary buildings.

Greg McKeown:

We’re going to talk off-air about how to install one of these for me.

The one, let’s say, final point I want to draw to is what you just said about having learned so much in the back of that ambulance and then not making it portable in the first business. You can call it as you have done a big failure, but it reinforces this idea that we think of these listening skills as we discover them. It’s not sufficient to just discover skills and use them in one category. It’s only as it becomes something like an identity, it becomes who we are so that it becomes a process for everything we do a way of operating an OS for our lives, that we suddenly start to be able to reap the benefits in all of these different locations in all these different ways and just look at the change of trajectory that you’re describing once you have that meeting of the minds at Pluralsight, this is what I really want do this, we should stop. 

There’s a book called Mind Wise in which Nicholas Epley makes this point. He says, we’ve got to stop perspective guessing and move to perspective getting where we ask the questions. We don’t take it for granted, we don’t assume, and then people will tell us things, and we can design and build from there.

Nate Walkingshaw:

Yeah, I like it. If I want to add one thing on top of that that I think is just so crucial is optimism. 

When we’re in our own heads, I do think the internal dialogue we have with ourselves, especially based off of different people that were raised different ways, especially people who came up with traumatic events like the inner monologue, we need to improve the inner monologue that we have for the individual human. 

So if we go back to the failure of the dissent control system at Pyramid, before I met Ann, the inner monologue is based off of fear or guilt or shame of looking bad. It’s actually, it’s pretty ego-driven at that point in time. That right there on its own is like a separate chat around early childhood development into later in my life. And then what was my relationship with the dissent control system not working, and then what was the internal monologue?

One thing that was so fantastic, and really this, was kudos to Ann Allen at Intermountain Healthcare when she gave me feedback on the ambulance cot with tracks, the dissent control system. She did it so gracefully. She did not make me feel less. In fact, if anything, she was like, man, you made this; you actually CnC milled this. You built these tracks, you installed them in the cot, you’ve been using the, she was completely enamored with the tenacity and the ability for me to go build something to try and solve a problem. And I really appreciated her focusing on the A and not the F of the failure because I was already internally just beating myself up on how bad I had done here.

And Ann was like, hey Nate, I really do appreciate the love and the effort and the care and the intention of you wanting to solve this problem.

My team knows, I’ve said this for 20 years. That was a great solution for a non-problem. And that’s what happens when you don’t listen is I basically invented this problem for me. It’s a great solution for a non-problem, and I love that point of view. And ultimately, what came from that was Anne said, this word to me is what if we were able to create a product that did this? And the second we started to explore the what-if from a very optimistic point of view. And then she got me in a very optimistic perspective on an entrepreneurial spirit. Then the passion and the commitment and the tenacity and the love and the interest just poured out of me. 

I think if you can do that for teams and people that you work for, if you can do that for society, like larger society, which is what if we could and then give people really tangible ideas of what it could look like. People inherently, Greg, are good people at their core. They’re wonderful people, and they really want the most, not only for themselves but for the people around them. 

Everyone writes a narrative in there about what could success look like for me and for others. And as soon as you start putting people on that neurological highway, greatness happens. I mean, this is what’s happened at Torus, the team that we have here, unbelievable, unbelievably talented people that see the world from a very optimistic point of view. And we are taking down one of the hardest problems I think science is giving us right now. It is very difficult to create a long-duration energy storage device like physics, scientifically, engineering, mechanical engineering, electronics engineering is very difficult to do what we’re doing, and we would be perceived in certain circumstances as failing a test or failing to get something right. And that’s not the way that’s experienced here. The way that is experienced is that was a new morsel soul of learning that helped us make a better decision the next time we wanted to make an attempt. And for us, the end of the rainbow is success. We will get there. We will accomplish a milestone that will bring something to humanity that will work and give us a chance. And that’s the mental model that I would love people to take away from this podcast – that if you get people organized around optimism and relating, I think that we can make a big difference, a huge difference for folks.

Greg McKeown:

Nate, thank you so much for engaging in this conversation, for relating with me, and for being on the podcast.

Nate Walkingshaw:

Yeah, thank you.

Greg McKeown:

And that’s a wrap for part two of this conversation with Nate Walkingshaw. I know I’m going to carry on the conversation, the relationship with Nate. We share a specific passion and interest in the world that’s rare enough that we have had a real meeting of the minds here. 

What is one thing that stood out to you today that impressed you? What is one thing you can do immediately to practice this skill and develop this superpower? Who can you share this with so that the conversation continues after the podcast is over? Thank you. Really thank you for listening, and I’ll see you next time.