511 Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste:
Ever get triggered by something you’re seen on social media? Hah, just kidding … we all have, right? Especially now. We’re all a bit raw, many people are taking refuge in self-satisfying judgment, while facts seem to have become optional.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who is also a behavioral scientist and a “digital wellbeing officer”.
Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste is the best-selling author of Digital Self Mastery series and executive producer of the Evolving Digital Self and Global Nomad Hacks podcasts. Her mantra: Knowledge is Power, Sharing is Powerful™
Today we dig deep into the comparisonitis of social media, how to leverage it for good without being burned by all those flame throwers and trolls … and much more besides.
Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste combines 25 yrs experience in social strategy consulting with her scholarly research in the human relationship with technology and her personal passion for wellbeing. As Managing Partner of 2BalanceU, Heidi holds several advisory roles as an expert on strategic integration of Digital Wellbeing and Ethics to support the transition into the digital era without losing humanity in the process. Through her board roles she has been recognized for her global outreach, mentoring and professional development for women entrepreneurs and start-ups. Today we have a freewheeling conversation about all that and more…
Heidi’s two podcasts are on the Podopolo network so be sure to download the app and connect with her there … as well as Wings!
As nearly empty nesters and serial entrepreneurs, Heidi and her husband Björn – the food tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Oatly – decided to join forces to create Valhalla d’Oc – an executive retreat center in the south of France, integrating digital wellbeing, sustainability and remote productivity and social connection. Designed with the intent to showcase best practice remote working and living environment and to capture the data on the impact on productivity, human connection and wellbeing in an optimized environment with the latest technologies that
enhance the human wellbeing and experience, they integrate biology, digital wellbeing and sustainability concepts into the design and management – and feature locally sourced farm-to-table meals, bio-dynamic wines, and more. Heidi is a Global Nomad at heart and mind. American by birth, Swedish by marriage, mum to two kids in launching phase, “based” in San Francisco, Gosnold (Cape Cod), Malmö (Sweden) and outside Bezier (Southern France).
Let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste.
Melinda Wittstock: Heidi, welcome to Wings.
Heidi Forbes Oste: Thank you so much for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: You seem like a person that lives a very full life, and I just want to start by asking you, what is inspiring you right now?
Heidi Forbes Oste: I think what’s inspiring me the most right now is Generation Z. I keep on coming back to this, in that I am so inspired by this generation that is coming into adulthood, and their passion for creating a world that is a better place. They’re not waiting for someone to say it’s okay, they’re just jumping into it. They already have an incredible global perspective, they see things in a completely different light than a lot of us do. It really excites me.
Melinda Wittstock: We really need that fresh perspective now. I think the message from the coronavirus in making us all stop and shelter in place, was either to get into alignment, or to really understand the things that are not working in your life or society as a whole. It’s so interesting how it’s pointed the light at so many things that are structurally wrong with our society. I see all these Gen-Z’rs just thinking outside the box, which is so needed.
Heidi Forbes Oste: Absolutely. I am so fortunate to have two children that are in the Gen-Z generation, and just watching them and their peers and listening to the conversations as the fly on the wall. Fortunately, because of quarantine, we’ve actually had them much longer at home than they would have normally. So we’ve really had these amazing conversations, and I just find that they’re so inspiring and they’re so motivated to create the change. They don’t ask why or if they can, they just do it.
Melinda Wittstock: You are an expert in digital wellbeing and ethics, and this is a really hot topic right now with everything that’s going on, say on Facebook with fake news, with misinformation, with … Oh, gosh. So many things. I call it comparisonitis, and a bunch of things besides. How do you see that evolving from where we are right now? Is this another area where coronavirus has shown a spotlight on a few things that are a bit broken there?
Heidi Forbes Oste: Absolutely, I think it is. To clarify a little bit on the perspective of digital wellbeing, because it’s one of those terms that’s been thrown around a lot, particularly since Google decided to create an app called Digital Wellbeing.
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Heidi Forbes Oste: It’s really more about just tracking how much screen time you have. So digital wellbeing, I’m a behavioral scientist, but I’m also a technologist. I’ve been working in social technologies for 25-ish, 30-ish years. We don’t need to go into the numbers. But the point is, what I work with is more the human side of technology and the human relationship with technology and how we engage with it. Building proper boundaries around it, but also recognizing that it’s really only a tool. If the technology itself is developed by humans, it’s created for humans, we have to take some onus on that relationship in itself.
Just like when you have toxic friends that don’t bring out the best in you, sometimes there’s certain technologies that do the same thing. So there’s one part that’s the individual personal side, and then there’s the other piece that the people that are developing the technologies and really making them held accountable for using behavioral science ethically, and that they’re designing things that really enable us to be better humans rather than become, that are replacing the human experience, and are hiding what we’re capable or replacing it with something that’s artificial. So I have incredible hope and excitement for technology, but I think it’s really important for us to recognize the human’s role in that.
Melinda Wittstock: As someone who has built a number of different tech startups and now with the socially interactive podcasting network, Podopolo, I’m keenly aware of this. Because you can use technology and social networking and all these different tools for good, or for bad. So to come at it in a way that it’s actually empowering people and enhancing their lives, rather than taking over their lives or disempowering them. There’s a really fine line there, and I want to geek out with you a little bit about that. What makes the difference?
Heidi Forbes Oste: Sure. It’s different for every individual. Just like in all humans are different, and all humans, we all come with our own stories, our own baggage, which really define how we’re going to engage with different tools and different individuals. So a lot of it is really doing the inner work and recognizing what it is that works really well for us. But when you’re designing technologies or when you’re creating tools that will be distributed through technologies using mediated tools, like most of us are using right now, whether it’s for doing an interview for a podcast or for kids doing their coursework for school, whatever it is, there’s a mediated tool.
Recognizing the role of that mediated tool and how that influences the interaction is really important. In some ways, they can be really helpful. You can use lots of great different added functionality and different things, but when it gets to that point where it triggers you to have that negative interaction, where it’s no longer being productive, it’s no longer serving you, you have to build the conscious relationship with it where you recognize where that trigger is and where that switch happens.
So a lot of the work that I do is on the individual side, is really helping people identify what those triggers are. I think in this time right now, we’re talking about with the pandemic, I’ve found that a lot of people like in our field, we are all so used to working remotely. A lot of us are entrepreneurs and tend to, the days blend together and the work days blend into the weekends, there’s never really a defined work week of 9:00 to 5:00. But with the pandemic, where everything has become technology based, even people that are in our space that are so used to that flow are really recognizing the importance and the value of identifying the end of the work day and the end of the work week, to take that break where you can actually have a real face to face present interaction. That may be with yourself or it may be with your loved ones, but it’s just to put your feet on the ground and breathe, and just be here in the moment.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. The boundaries are really important. I want to go back to this whole concept of triggering though too, because I’ve learned in my own journey of I guess personal growth or spirituality or whatever tag I guess we want to put on that, that I’ve come to experience triggers, which happen less and less to me, because I regard them as opportunities for healing. So it’s like, “What is this showing me about myself?” Approaching that with a curiosity. It’s just a different level or a different perspective on consciousness perhaps, to be an observer I guess of self.
So when you’re at that level on a really human level, obviously the social networks aren’t going to trigger you in the same way. But I’m curious about your perspective say in the context of Black Lives Matter and everything that’s been happening in this country since the murder of George Floyd. I’ve seen amazing posts on social media with people baring their soul, about the nature of say their white privilege or the real rage or pain or whatever that they feel, really honestly. Then people will come on and say, “That’s just stupid.” Have all this judgment around it and all this stuff in the comments. It stops people from sharing or there’s just this flame throwing.
What can social networks do and what kind of responsibility do they have to either … I don’t know, do they have any responsibility to moderate that or try and guide the conversation? What can really be done about it?
Heidi Forbes Oste: Well, I think there’s a couple different things there. One is just recognizing where there are things that are being responded to by trolls and some of it is just unconscious behavior or people that really haven’t done any of the inner work. They’re responding out of a defensive response. For example, you often hear, the one that I’ve seen the most is where you have someone say black lives matter, and somebody responds, “Well, all lives matter.” The thing is, yes, of course all lives matter, but that’s different. It’s a different conversation. This we’re just saying that it’s important to recognize the value of black lives and that they haven’t been in the past, and to recognize our own white privilege in this process.
So we need to look at it as a conversation opener, but the challenge there is that, like you said, usually the best way to do that in a productive way is to have someone mediate the conversation. That recognizes, “Okay, here we have an inflammatory thing, instead of everybody getting in defensive mode or defense/offense, that this is a conversation, this is an opportunity to learn from each other and to understand why we have such an explosive response. What’s going on there?” I found even, we’re all trying to do our internal work to figure out where we sit in this-
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Heidi Forbes Oste: I think for me, my initial reaction quite honestly, I wanted so much to be able to participate in the protests and the peace marches, and to be able to just be there in support. But then there was also part of me that, I’m about to go travel, drive across the country to be able to spend time with my mother, and I’m driving so that I cannot expose her to any of the coronavirus, to try to keep her as safe as possible. So why would I go to this gathering where people aren’t really practicing social distancing?
But for some people, that may be perceived that I didn’t care. Which instead, I spent the time trying to learn as much as I could and to understand how I felt about it and what I could do to create the change, and what I could do to speak out or to help other people get the voices that they need to make the change that is required. Everybody has their different way of processing it, but I think in terms of the conversation, it’s such a critical conversation that to have it on a simple place like social media is really, really tricky. Because most conversations aren’t mediated, and to be honest, I have this whole … One of my pet peeves, living in California, there’s this thing that I refer to as competitive mindfulness. Where it’s like my mindfulness is more mindful than yours.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, yeah. I’ve seen a lot of that. There’s this righteous judgment like, “I’m really evolved now, because I meditate, so I’m a guru.”
Heidi Forbes Oste: Exactly. I see there’s a little of that going on too, where it’s like, “Here’s a picture of me. I was at the march.” It’s like, “You’re missing the point.”
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Heidi Forbes Oste: It’s not about the selfie at the march, it’s about are you listening to the conversations there? What are they saying? How does it resonate for you? What are you going to do that’s going to change? When we get to that point, there was actually a guy that I interviewed recently, it was before all of this blew up, Raymond Lott who is, he’s referred to as the Marine Rapper. I’ve been following his posts and he did a beautiful one today that said, “Black Lives Matter is not equal to #BlackLivesMatter.” It was really about the mindset versus the media piece. I think that’s where we needed to shift.
But the conversation has begun, and that’s critical. So I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, it’s just that we need the right people to guide us through this process of turning it into a productive conversation, rather than an inflammatory one.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. I think when we approach these things with curiosity and compassion and love, and a recognition that everybody has a different context, everybody’s at a different place on a journey, and with humility, that’s the way to go. I think it’s interesting though, like when you look at Facebook, the algorithm actually rewards posts that are the most controversial. So a lot of the conspiracy theories, and some of the weird stuff I’ve seen on there lately, attract a lot of comment and a lot of anger and all that stuff. Those posts get seen by more people, because the algorithm rewards that.
Heidi Forbes Oste: Because Facebook is entertainment, it’s not news.
Melinda Wittstock: But it’s most people’s news source though, you know?
Heidi Forbes Oste: Yes. No, I agree. I’m as guilty of that as well in that I tend to read my Facebook thread just to catch up on what my friends are up to, and usually they’ll be posting things, there’s articles from the Wall Street Journal, from this and that. I’m like, “Oh, I’ve already that, I know what’s going on in the world.” But I think what we can do at this point is really, particularly going back to the next generation, is helping them discern with a critical lens what is fake news, what is news just for the sake of news, and what is fact. I think they’re getting better at that. In some ways, the school systems are being forced to teach that. But it really depends on where you are in the world as to how far they’ve come along with that piece.
Melinda Wittstock: As a recovering journalist, one of the things I learned along the way, whether it was the Financial Times, the Times of London, BBC, all the places that I worked before I became an entrepreneur, is that one human being and one news story, it’s impossible to get all the perspectives in a narrow window of time. And that your natural biases, whether you’re aware of them or not, are going to shape the story like, who do you quote? Which quote do you pick? Who do you interview? What questions do you ask? What’s the editor do to your story? And on and on, and you really play it out.
You think, “Oh, my goodness. To really know what’s going on, I’ve got to be a bit of an investigative journalist.” Most people don’t have time or the inclination or the skill or the desire to do that work.
Heidi Forbes Oste: Absolutely. You have to, in a way, you almost have to be looking for the things that contradict what you believe, rather than looking for the things that support what you believe.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. Interesting, I like that.
Heidi Forbes Oste: Then if you have both views automatically, because it’s so easy to find things, it’s like finding people to preach to the crowd, you find people that believe the same thing as you and you can go on and on, everybody’s saying, “Yeah, yeah.” But you’re in a little bubble, and it’s not until you get someone that has an opposing perspective that you actually take a moment to step back and question your own belief system.
Melinda Wittstock: I really ask this too in the spirit of, just with say Podopolo, business number five, and your two podcasts are in the Podopolo Podcast Network, and I’m so excited to have you there because you have two amazing podcasts that everyone’s got to listen to. Evolving Digital Self and Global Nomad Hacks, we’re going to talk about those in a minute on the podcast. But Podopolo is a socially interactive podcasting network, because I’ve always believed the best content is actually conversation. On a net of people joined together around shared interests, shared circumstance, but in an environment where the conversation’s more inspired and uplifting and it’s geared to actually enhancing people’s lives.
Transformational outcomes, putting learning into action, this kind of thing. So this is very top of mind for me. I want to do it right. I’ve seen, I’ve done a lot of different social network businesses, similar background in that sense to you, and I know the pitfalls and want to make sure that those conversations are guided in such a way that people are being lifted and not squashed or put into comparisonitis or all that stuff that happens on most social networks.
Heidi Forbes Oste: I love what you’re doing.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s a challenging thing. It’s challenging and about time. I think the way we’re guiding it, as you know, is through gamification and taking actions and subtle hints like, “Did you meditate today? Did you help someone? Did you open a door for somebody? What did you learn today? What good thing have you put into your life?” Those sorts of things, and more besides. I suppose if it’s a comedy podcast, there’s lots of improv and one-liner challenges and things like that. So it depends on the context of the podcast and the podcast topic. But trying to guide it that way is one approach.
Heidi Forbes Oste: Absolutely. I love what you’re doing there, because it’s really inspired me to think out of the box more in terms of what’s the values that my listeners really want to get out of it? What are the things that they crave, for example, with the Global Nomad Hacks? I’ve been thinking about a lot of the different things in terms of how can they engage with their environment better? How can they really be fully present in their experience as they travel the world, as they connect with other people? And right now, as they connect with where they are?
Because sometimes they have been, during the pandemic they may have landed in a place that’s not necessarily home, and that’s where they’re going to be for a while. Or they may be back home where they haven’t lived for many, many years, and all of a sudden they’re experiencing that as a foreign environment. If we can help them do two things, one is to always have a traveler’s lens on where you can really appreciate things for the beauty that surrounds you and whatever’s available to you locally. But the other thing is how can you be a good global citizen and how can you connect people to that same mindset and the fact that we’re living in this shared world and this shared space together?
So doing some really just little cues for people to remind them of those two things can make it much easier and a much more rich experience when they do have the opportunity to travel, when they do have the opportunity to be out and about. Because it’s very easy, as we all know, particularly if your travel is based on being a road warrior, where you’re traveling a lot for work, but you see more of the inside of conference rooms and airports than you do of the cities themselves. Sometimes taking a moment to maybe look at the way that you’re scheduling your life and add one extra day if it’s a city you’ve been before, and to really make that a practice so that you have one day to really see where you’ve been. It’s not like checking off the boxes on a map, where you say, “Okay, I’ve been to this country, this country, this country.” Have you? Have you really-
Melinda Wittstock: Have you really experienced it?
Heidi Forbes Oste: So, I think it’s those kinds of things, and even with Evolving Digital Self, same thing. To help people build a better awareness around their relationship with technology and how they engage with it. Helping them recognize their triggers, helping them design an ecosystem for themselves so that they can have a harmonious relationship with technology that really works for them, rather than against them. So the opportunity to do all of those things with the app is so much more rich than if they’re just listening to me on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or whatnot, or even going to a Facebook page where I occasionally post there, but I’m not going to spend my whole day on Facebook having little chats with people. It’s not realistic.
Melinda Wittstock: Heidi, I think the real truth of podcasting though is the people who are motivated to create podcasts have a mission, have some sort of transformational outcome they want to see in the world, that kind of a why. So the traditional media method and how podcasting initially began was just, “I’m just going to put it out there. I’m just going to broadcast it out there.” So there was no, even though it was a digital media, there was no interaction.
Which I was like, “Wow. That’s a missed opportunity to do this digital media and a mission.” Presumably, it’s good to help your audience get to where they want to be in their lives. They’re listening for that reason. So to be able to lead them there is so, so important. I want to talk a little bit about traveling though and stick with that theme for a moment, because I know I’ve traveled a lot in my life, it’s the one thing actually I really miss most during the coronavirus lockdown is not being able to travel. Because I’ve really learned through travel to appreciate diversity, the diversity was great. Sameness is boring.
Maybe it’s just because I’m an entrepreneur and I like, bizarrely I like change and I like getting out of my comfort zone and all those things. But I just find travel the most magical, magical thing. I read a while back, and forgive me if I don’t have this stat right, but I’m Canadian and 95% of Canadians have passports, and I read that only 5% to 10% or something of Americans have passports. [crosstalk 00:24:26] Right, that’s so low. Oh, my goodness. How would this country change if people got out and traveled more?
Heidi Forbes Oste: I’m looking back in my memories of studying in Austria, and I remember sitting with a friend of mine who was German, and he made some comment about, “Oh, I can spot an American two blocks away.” I’m like, “No way.” So we’re sitting there in this café looking around, and lo and behold here comes an American bopping down the street with their sneakers on and their backpack and they’re literally bopping as they walk along. Then they’re saying hi to people. It was very positive energy, but at the same time, this is 30-some odd years ago, and the Germanic culture was definitely, not as many people spoke English, it was just very, it’s very subdued.
So this American bopping down the street, it’s the way that unfortunately a lot of Americans don’t have that cultural sensitivity that often they come into situations like a bull in a china shop. They just don’t recognize the impact of what they say or what they do. It’s not just Americans that do this, but having a cultural sensitivity is really critical in order to avoid conflict. To also take the moment to listen and appreciate, rather than just talk. I think that unfortunately, the American culture is one of those that’s very much like, it’s all blast out rather than listen. I think we’ve gotten better over the years and there’s certain pockets that are probably better than others, and there are certain levels of education that teach that.
But I do think that even having a curiosity about other cultures really comes more from that characteristic of listening and being curious, and a lot of people aren’t very curious, which is sad to me. But unfortunately, it’s kind of the way that it is. That’s why you get that figure of 10%. Some of it, to be fair, some of that is not just a question of curiosity, they’re just getting by. So they’re doing what they’re doing and it’s just never occurred to them that they would even have the option to do something different. So to be fair, it’s not all just a question of opportunity and being curious or not curious. But there is a very large portion of that of people that certainly have the opportunity, but just aren’t interested. If they do travel, it’s purely to go from resort to resort, to go sit on a beach somewhere. They never really experience the culture or the place.
Melinda Wittstock: When I travel, I like to really just soak up the culture, do things off the beaten track. But then, I’m a girl who goes to the Amazon Rainforest.
Heidi Forbes Oste: That’s why I like you.
Melinda Wittstock: But I love that. I remember when I was a kid, I just had this thirst to travel. I guess I was just born with that. I was a teenager, I had a big map on my bedroom wall. Where other girls had posters of their boy crushes or whatever, I was putting little pins in all the places I wanted to go. I don’t know where that came from or why I had that, but I just always had that curiosity. It’s a wonderful thing, because you discover that really people are more alike actually than they are different at the end of the day.
I wonder too about coronavirus, whether in a way everything that’s happening in our country right now has, in some quarters at least, brought on a humility that’s a little bit different. I just feel there’s such a big energy shift going on this year, do you feel that too?
Heidi Forbes Oste: Absolutely. We’ve been talking a lot about that actually on both of my shows, and in general conversations as well. In that this is really an opportunity for a global reset, and I think even people that don’t normally take that pause for introspection to say, “Where am I at? How do I fit in the world? Where do I want to be? What’s going on and how can I be part of it? Or maybe I don’t want to be part of it.” I think that absolutely, there’s a big shift going on and a lot of people are hurting, but we’re all hurting in different ways.
Another conversation we’ve been having a lot recently is when someone does speak up and say, “I’m really suffering right now,” the amount of other people that say, “Yeah, me too. I get it. I’ve got so much going on.” The relief that brings for feeling part of something bigger, and that you don’t have to suffer alone and that we’re all in this together, and that it’s not even just within our country, but it’s across the globe. No one is immune. Literally, no one is immune yet. So it’s really an opportunity for us to recognize our place in the bigger sphere of things, and how we can connect to those opportunities to have an impact further. So I think, yes, the global reset and yes that it’s an opportunity for that introspection.
Melinda Wittstock: You and your husband, who is also an entrepreneur, a food tech entrepreneur. You also have a really cool retreat center called Valhalla d’Oc. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing it right, so you’ll have to say it. This is fascinating to me where this concept of board retreats and bringing together executives to a retreat center. Tell me a little bit about that and how that works.
Heidi Forbes Oste: What we found for both of us in our work, we’ve come to a place, I would say it was actually right around the shift of when I turned 50 and he turned 60, we turned and looked at each other and said, “Okay, so we’ve got another chapter coming here. Our kids are pretty much grown and we could continue on our entrepreneurial paths where we’re both going full steam ahead in parallel directions, but we’re both saying hello to each other at the airport and not spending that much time together, because we’re both doing lots of different things. Maybe it’s time to either decide do we, one, want to be together for the next chapter? Where do we see ourselves in 10, 15, 20 years? But also, what do we see that looking like?”
I think what we realized was there’s a lot of really cool things that we both share in interests and in passions that we could work together as a team. So now we work with several different VC groups where we advise their companies, and him more on the food tech side, I work more on the digital wellbeing side, and also wearable technologies and wellness technologies, which have been my dissertation research piece. The part that has been a real passion project for us is we had bought a house in the south of France-
Melinda Wittstock: Beautiful.
Heidi Forbes Oste: Yeah. It was in this tiny little town and in Languedoc, and we had bought it there, we’d been looking for years, both of us are big Francophiles and love the area and actually thought we would settle there before we had kids, then the reality of raising kids away from both of our families was too hard. So it was, this is our chance to come full circle. We had another family member that had bought a house in this tiny little town.
As we started working on it, we thought, “If we want to spend more time here, this is a great place to bring our clients and we can do retreats here.” So we’ve been slowly buying up some of the budding properties and extending it out to create this retreat center, but in the process, we’ve also been applying a lot of what we preach basically, and trying to create a space that applies the digital wellbeing principles around creating spaces that encourage you to have real interactions both online and offline, having a conscious interaction of when it’s online, when it’s offline. Really looking at living futures and building with sustainable materials and really utilizing the local resources in terms of the community, as well as the products and services in the local community.
Creating a space that, for example, in the office studio space, there’s a full podcast studio in there, there’s a full space that you can be fully online and connected, and it’s soundproofed, it’s all perfect for that. But you close the doors when you’re not working there, and it’s done. You’re not in an online space. Once you’re out of there, you’re sitting out by the fire pit or by the pool and enjoying the face to face interaction. So it’s a very conscious decision, also for example, all the bedrooms have a kill switch for the network, so that when you go to bed at night, there’s no network frequencies within your bedroom, so you lower the electromagnetic frequencies.
So the idea is to create this experience where we bring our clients there and they can experience what the optimized future of work would be like when you have such a remote work environment. This was before the coronavirus where everyone now is doing remote work, and so this is really an opportunity for us to show, to feature and create a best practice for anybody that wants to continue to do work remotely, and create spaces that enable you to have a fluid relationship with your environment, with your family, with your peers, but also get your work done in a very productive and effective way. So that’s the space that we’re in, and we’re going to be bringing our clients there and doing our board meetings there instead, but having this immersive experience while they’re there.
Melinda Wittstock: I love it. I think that’s wonderful. I got together with a woman who I actually met on my own podcast last year to do retreats for women, with seven, eight and nine-figure businesses. The whole idea was similar in the sense of really unplug, go somewhere really different and really connect in a completely different way. For women, it’s so interesting, because I think we as entrepreneurs, and just women generally, we tend to try and we become a human doing, because we tend towards perfectionism and trying to do it all, to have it all and put intense pressure on ourselves.
So, to have the space for selfcare and to really create those boundaries, and to really elevate consciousness and conscious leadership in business. I was very motivated by a very similar thing, applied differently, but I think it’s so important for us to do that. So the coronavirus has stopped us from those gatherings for a time, but gosh, I’m looking forward to finally being able to do that next retreat. I enjoyed being able to bring people together in that way, because you see true transformation taking place. Especially women, when we’re together and when we’re really coming at it from a spirit of abundance to really lift each other, magic happens.
We saw amazing transformations in the ladies there and amazing relationships, and a whole culture where women really are showing up to help each other meaningfully, not just platitudes, but really meaningful help. Like buying from each other and investing in each other, and much more besides. So I love that.
Heidi Forbes Oste: It’s so important. I think you and I come from a generation where for when we started businesses in our 30s, it was hard to get investment as a woman.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, my god. It was almost impossible.
Heidi Forbes Oste: It was almost impossible. Now there’s a lot more opportunities. I always laugh because it’s like, “All these young women funds.” I’m like, “Hello, what about us?”
Melinda Wittstock: What about us? Actually, it’s interesting, what about us too? Because women in our 50s, I have this theory that women become the best entrepreneurs when they’re in their mid 40s into 50s, and even into the 60s, because it’s when we’re fully integrated. I don’t know, there’s something different, or maybe we just stop caring what about other people think of us, or I don’t know what it is.
Heidi Forbes Oste: I think it’s a little bit of all of the above, plus you also don’t have the burden, is the wrong word, but your kids have pretty much launched at that point.
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Heidi Forbes Oste: So, you can really focus 100% on growing your business as your baby.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, I forget. I wish I could remember where I saw this study, but it was saying that the optimum time for men to be entrepreneurs is in their 20s, 20s and 30s, that’s when they’re at their best as entrepreneurs. And that women are at our best in our 40s and 50s and 60s. That it would be really nice if VCs saw that a little bit more. Maybe that’s happening. You mentioned you work with a lot of VC firms, do you think the tide is changing there and women, they’re really understanding the true potential of women as really transformational entrepreneurial leaders?
Heidi Forbes Oste: Yes and no. I would say that in particularly the firms that I have worked with, they’re very, I hate to say gender neutral, but I would say that there is certainly not the discrimination that I experienced, particularly in the tech sector. Now they’re like, “This is great.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman that they’re investing in, they’re looking at their track record. Granted, it’s also at this level, they’ve generally had a few successful launches already in various different companies. So it’s not an early stage new entrepreneur that we’re talking about, and that’s really the hardest place to launch, because it’s always getting that first investment and that first investor to believe in you that’s the trickiest.
But what I do see that’s really exciting to me, and I’ve done some advisory and mentoring on this side, is that there are a lot of funds that are being put together by women who have succeeded, who have said, “I’m only investing in women. I’m going to make a point of creating this change.” So that they get that first success, and then they really encourage them to mentor others following that. So it really becomes a change in the cycle and a change in the culture around investing in women.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it’s a specific mission of this podcast to encourage exactly that, so when women have assets or have wealth that they actually invest and support other women. I think women are really good at writing checks to charity, but even very large checks to charity, but get nervous about a $10-grand check to an entrepreneur. I’ve always marveled at that, I’m not sure what that is. Have you experienced that as well?
Heidi Forbes Oste: No, it’s true. Absolutely. It’s true. But there is something funny about that difference between the donation of $5000, $10,000 versus the $100,000 “I’m investing in this company because I believe in it and this is going to go.” Granted, there’s a big difference in the capability to do that. But if you are a successful woman, don’t just nitpick. If you have the ability to do it, you should be the one that’s up there, that’s being highlighted as “I supported this person and I believed in them, and I’m standing by them.” Rather than like, “Here, I’ll pay your bills for the next month.” I think there’s a very big difference there in terms of really believing, standing behind and believing in what you invest in, rather than like, “I’m going to help you out, honey.”
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. There’s a big attitudinal shift there, where understanding, I think even just on the female entrepreneurial journey and some of the women that I mentored and I see this even in my early experience too, where women tend to be doers and don’t necessarily spot the leverage. We struggle sometimes to delegate, to do things, and all of that stands in the way of leverage. There’s even hiring too late, because we think hiring is an expense, rather than an investment. It’s an investment, you’re going to hire people who are going to grow the revenue of your business, grow the asset value of your business and that kind of thing.
It’s a very different mindset I think that sometimes women bring to this. I do think that’s changing though. Women who are succeeding in business and helping other women get that mindset shift of how to really grow scalable businesses, because there’s so many women with practices or businesses that are like jobs. If they weren’t doing it themselves, the whole thing would fall apart, even if they’re at seven and eight figures, as opposed to the real scalable business.
Heidi Forbes Oste: The double-edged sword, as women, we’re very good at multitasking, and it really comes back to the old adage of, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
Melinda Wittstock: Right, exactly.
Heidi Forbes Oste: We’re very capable of doing everything, that doesn’t mean that we should.
Melinda Wittstock: That we have to, exactly. I know. It can be a real struggle, because especially taking a company from the early stage. So Podopolo is my fifth business, and taking it from the early stage and then through that scaling part where you’re doing everything, but you’re also hiring, so it’s really like you’re doing even more. Then you’re managing, but you’ve got to start to step away and let go of things. I think sometimes we think of our businesses as babies, so it’s like it’s hard to let go. Right?
Heidi Forbes Oste: Especially when they’re in adolescence, it’s like, “Oh, god. They’re going to crash.”
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly, but that’s the single biggest predictor of success, being able to do that, being able to hand things off. Not completely hand, not let go of oversight or the inspiration or the leadership part, but the doing. Just being able to let go of that is a big thing, and it’s a real struggle for a lot of women. Heidi, I could talk to you forever. You’re going to have to come back on this podcast, because I just sense that we’ve only scratched the surface. I have so many more questions for you, how you arrived and more about your biography that I’d love to be able to dig deeper into in another podcast.
Heidi Forbes Oste: Anytime, Melinda.
Melinda Wittstock: No, absolutely. It’s such an interesting conversation on so many different levels. I want to make sure that people can find you, find your podcast, and work with you. What’s the best way?
Heidi Forbes Oste: Well, of course they can go to Podopolo to find my podcast.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes, everybody must download Podopolo, it is free and you can listen and interact with me there, as well as Heidi there and a lot of amazing women and men, all kinds of different podcasts. So yes, absolutely that. So Podopolo.com/download, or just go to the Google or the Apple app stores. But otherwise, how do people work with you?
Heidi Forbes Oste: Yeah. They can find me pretty much anywhere on social media at ForbesOste.com. F-O-R-B-E-S O-S-T-E. So I’m at @ForbesOste and then 2BalanceU is my company where there’s more information about the companies that we work with, and there’s also links to my doctoral research and my books and things like that, and the podcasts. We’ll be growing that out a little bit, there will be information about Valhalla d’Oc as we get further along. Naturally, with the pandemic, things got slowed down a little bit, so we’re still in construction phase.
But there will be a lot of things happening there, which will be super exciting. We’ll also be putting together actually a storefront, we’re going to be cultivating some really cool products and services that we’re excited about that really support our mission around sustainable innovations and that support digital wellbeing and food tech. So a lot of exciting things happening, but @ForbesOste is the best way to find me anywhere. Always love to hear from people.
Melinda Wittstock: Wonderful. Heidi, thank you so much for putting on your Wings and flying with us.
Heidi Forbes Oste: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
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