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IAM2090 – Founder and Author Shares His Insights On Effective Leadership and Embracing Curiosity

Podcast Interview with Thomas Koulopoulos

In this episode, we have Thomas Koulopoulos, chairman and founder of Delphi Group, a think tank, and an influential author and entrepreneur.

The discussion begins with the importance of surrounding oneself with people who challenge and push for growth. Tom shares his remarkable journey, insights into effective leadership, decision-making, and the significance of constantly challenging oneself and embracing curiosity.

The conversation delves into Tom's latest book, ‘GigaTrends,' exploring six tech trends shaping our future.

The episode highlights the power of perspective in leadership, the necessity of decision-making, and the impact of surrounding oneself with challenging voices to foster growth and innovation.

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Thomas Koulopoulos Teaser 00:00

I think we often surround ourselves with people that allow us to slip into what's comfortable. And while it's nice to have people that you can be comfortable with, I think it's so important to have people that really are going to challenge you, constantly push you.

Intro 00:13

Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and level up your business from awesome CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you've come to the right place. Gresh values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of. This is the I AM CEO Podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:38

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO Podcast, and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Tom Kalopoulos on the show. Tom, excited to have you on the show.

Thomas Koulopoulos 00:46

Gresh, it is a pleasure to be here with you. Thank you.

Gresham Harkless 00:51

Yes, absolutely. The pleasure is definitely all ours. And before of course we jump in, I want to read a little bit more about Tom so you can hear about some of those awesome things that he's doing. And Tom is Chairman and founder of Delphi Group, a 30 year old Boston based think tank named one of the fastest growing private companies by Inc. Magazine and the founding partner of Acro Manage Ventures, which invests in early stage technology startups. He is also the author of 14 books and inventor with several patents and Inc.com columnist, the past executive director of the Babson College Center for Business Innovation, the past director of the Dell Innovation Lab, and a professor at Boston University.

His insights have been received wide praise from luminaries such as the late Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, D. Hawk, the founder of Visa International, and Tom Peters, who called his writing a brilliant vision of where we must take our enterprises to survive and thrive. His Inc column is read by over a million people every year, and Tom's 14 books include Reimagining Healthcare, Revealing the Invisible, The Gen Z Effect, The Innovation Zone, and Cloud Surfing. His latest book, Gigatrends, looks at the six tech trends that are shaping the future of how we live, work, and play. And he said this in the video when I was preparing for this, which really stuck with me, what Tom actually does.

He says, what I give more people more than anything else, I think it's a lens through which they can see what they do day-in and day-out in a slightly different way. And you, it's so powerful to be able to understand like how we can change our perspective and it doesn't necessarily change our world, but the way that we interact in that world. So I love that you do that, Tom. Excited to have you on the podcast. Are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO Community?

Thomas Koulopoulos 02:27

I am absolutely ready to go. And thank you for that. I think that notion of looking at life through a slightly different lens is so important because we get stuck on tracks and it's just human nature. We keep on looking at things the same way. We see the same things. And if you look at them differently, different things. So yeah, a very cool way to begin, I think.

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Gresham Harkless 02:44

Yeah, absolutely. And it's so powerful, I think, especially with everything you've been writing and doing. And I think so many times we get mired in and focused on like how we're operating through life. But I guess just to speak to that, I wanted to rewind the clock a little bit here, a little bit more on your life. What led you to get started with all the awesome work you're doing?

Thomas Koulopoulos 02:59

Yeah. So look, at the end of the day, I think I am just a very curious person. I like to learn. I love to grow and I love to surround myself with people who similarly enjoy learning about things that they don't know. And that stretches you. It's painful sometimes.

It hurts to learn. As we get older, it hurts more, I think. Think about how to play a musical instrument. When you're three years old, you can play the violin, you can play the piano, you can play the guitar. Your mind is a sponge. As we get older, it's tougher and tougher to rewire.

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So I think we have to constantly challenge ourselves. I love doing that to myself, challenging myself to learn new things and to explore new dimensions of life that maybe otherwise I wouldn't have left to my own devices. We all get a little bit lazy. So I love to push myself. I love to have people around me that push me and force me to learn.

Gresham Harkless 03:45

Yeah, that ends up being so powerful to be able to understand that and understand how powerful that is, but also how powerful having those people around you, that environment so that you can create opportunities for you to do that.

Thomas Koulopoulos 03:56

Absolutely.I think we often surround ourselves with people that allow us to slip into what's comfortable. And while it's nice to have people that you can be comfortable with, I think it's so important to have people that really are gonna challenge you, constantly push you.

I know you've got a son, my son is now 24. He has forever pushed the envelope with me. And I'm so grateful for the fact that he has challenged me and taken me to task and forced me to see things through his lens, through his eyes, which is so different than mine.

And at first as a parent, you wanna believe you know everything and you wanna push back and say, wait, I've got the wisdom. Listen to me. My son once said to me, Gresh, get this. He said to me, after I gave him some advice, he said, dad, you've only taken one path through life, your path. There were infinite other paths you could have taken.

And it stopped me to, I stopped. I froze my tracks. I said, you know what, Adam, you're right. There are infinite other paths. So we can get educated by all kinds of people, including our own children many times. And it's good to be challenged. It's good to be challenged.

Gresham Harkless 04:52

Yeah, absolutely. So I want us to drill down a little bit more, hear a little bit more about your latest book, Gigatrends. Can you take us through a little bit more on what we can find there and how you're helping us to think differently, of course, probably live differently as well.

Thomas Koulopoulos 05:04

Gigatrends caused me to think differently. I wrote the book with my co-author, Nathaniel Palmer. He and I sat down and we asked the question one day, what is most gonna change to create the future for our children? He has two children, I have two children.

And we rolled up our sleeves and tried to create a list of all the things that would most impact our children's lives. And we came up with a list of two dozen different things. We said, this is a lot. Can we boil this down? And we ended up with these six trends that I think are most going to shape the world, our future and the future of our children and our children's children.

And they looked at the changing nature of population. We're all getting older as a globe. That's gonna create a very different society. It's gonna change social welfare, health care, education, agriculture, all these will be affected by that. We look at health care, which is not just the US crisis, it's a global crisis.

And in 10 years, there's not a single health care system that we looked at across the globe that's gonna survive intact the way it is now. So we have to change health care radically. And those two are very related. As we get older, we have more complex health problems. So health care is going to get more complex just as a result of that.

With the transportation, how that's going to change, autonomous vehicles, electric cars, what that means. With an identity, 4 billion people out of the 8 billion people on the planet today live on less than $7 a day. They have no identity, no bank accounts, no credit cards. They're taken advantage of constantly. As we bring those people into the mainstream, what's going to happen? We're going to choke the planet from just an ecological standpoint.

So we have to use technology to give them identity, give them the ability to enter the economic mainstream. But the future of things, everything's becoming digital. Your biggest asset will be your digital self. What does that mean? What does that mean for politics? I like to get political here, but think about it. I think that the AI gives you personal liberty because AI creates transparency. If a bill goes through Congress and it has 3,000 pages, there's no way I can understand it.

There's no way I can make sense of it. I don't know how to take a stand on it, but I could use AI to help interpret that bill for me and tell me what does it mean to me. So, creating transparency in government, creating transparency in policy, in the legal system, in the justice system.

So, we've had an array of things that fell into what we thought were six very neat buckets that would most affect and impact the world going forward. Of course, climate change is part of that, energy is part of that, but we tried to take a very scientific look. We did a lot of research at how these trends are going to evolve and what it means to us.

And we call them Gigatrends because giga is a tech term for billions. So gigatrends are trends that are going to affect billions of lives. The radio affected billions of lives. The Industrial Revolution affected billions of lives.

Advances in agriculture affected billions of lives. So, these are gigatrends that are going to impact billions across the globe. It's a very big look at a bunch of very big topics.

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Gresham Harkless 07:55

Yeah, and it seems extremely powerful. And I almost wonder if that's part of what I would like to call your secret sauce, be for yourself, the book, or a combination of both, that thing that sets you apart and makes you unique. And initially, I was thinking it was a lot of that curiosity, but I think that might be a strong part of it.

But I also wonder too, if it's that optimism that you talk about, but also maybe awareness of being able to see the forest for the trees, understand why we're doing the things that we're doing, that human part that we talked about. Do you think that maybe blend of those things is a part of your secret sauce?

Thomas Koulopoulos 08:21

It's a really good observation. The way I describe this, I'm a very simple-minded person. I've lived my life in technology and in very complex things like health care. And I think when things are complex, we feel overwhelmed. We become pessimists because it's daunting. We don't know how to approach the future. It's daunting. And my objective is let's not make it daunting. Let's make it simple. And by making it simple, we can breathe a sigh of relief, and then we can be optimists. We don't feel overwhelmed by the weight of the future. And so, yeah, it's an interesting observation that you just made. And I thank you for it because I believe that above all else, I am incredibly optimistic about the future, whatever challenges we might currently be facing.

Gresham Harkless 09:01

Yeah, that makes so much sense. So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an Apple book or even a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Thomas Koulopoulos 09:14

I think the biggest challenge as a CEO is decision-making. And what I've seen, and before we get to the hack, what I've seen in ineffective leaders is an inability to make decisions. They want to come to consensus. They want to be democratic. They want to constantly engage and involve everyone in the conversation.

That's wonderful in its essence, but it can also slow things down tremendously. The best advice I ever got was when it comes to the point where you have to make a decision, make it, because good or bad, any decision is better than no decision. And that's often what you're faced with as a CEO. Are you at a point, at a juncture, where you either have to make a decision and live with it or live with indecision? Indecision is never the preferred path.

So my suggestion, my hack, if you will, is to get comfortable with yourself and your ability not just to make decisions, but to live with their consequences, to own those consequences. So I will make the decision as a CEO, and I will own the better or the worse outcome, but I have ownership over this. And I will take the feedback. I will take the inputs from everyone.

My mentor, Peter Drucker, who you mentioned in the introduction, an amazing human being, he used to say to me often, because he worked with presidents, he actually worked with folks like Eisenhower, can you imagine that? And he would say to me, look, at the end of the day, the great leaders will take the input and then they will make the decision and they will live with that decision.

And what makes a great leader is that they have followers because the followers want to see that path clearly. They want to know what that future will look like. And a leader can give you, if not a prediction of the future, the assurance that in their mind, this is the right path.

And we all want that. We want those assurances. So that's my hack. Get comfortable with making decisions and live with the consequences, own those consequences. And many of them will be bad. Some of them will be good. And you hope at the end of the day, the good outweigh the bad. And that will be your ultimate test of leadership, but never shirk from the decision.

Gresham Harkless 11:15

Yeah, absolutely. And so what would you consider to be a little bit more of what I call a CEO nugget? Just a little bit more word of wisdom or piece of advice. I like to say it might be something you would tell your favorite client, or if you hopped into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.

Thomas Koulopoulos 11:30

Ooh, I love the time machine piece of that, right? Look, I think the nugget would be surround yourself with people who will challenge you. As a CEO, you want to believe you have ultimate authority. You do, to some degree. Again, you are the decision maker.

Don't shirk, don't be afraid of the people that will challenge you. In my experience, there are two categories of people that have been most important in my life. The people who have challenged me and those who have opened doors for me.

And both have done it, I think, from the depths of their soul. The folks who have opened doors for me didn't need to, but they did anyway. They were gracious enough to open the door for me and I walked through it and that allowed me to experience an enormous opportunity.

Those who have challenged me did very much the same. They opened up doors for me as well, doors in my own mind that I had closed.

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So allow yourself to be challenged and don't surround yourself with people that are simply going to follow and take your lead. Surround yourself with people who are truly going to challenge your ideas, your directions, your vision, because that is how you temper yourself as a leader. By temper, I mean temper the way you temper a sword, right?

A samurai sword is tempered in heat, and it is that process of going through that tempering that ultimately, I think, results in true leadership. Those are the folks that are able to do that who end up being the greatest leaders.

It doesn't mean that being challenged is gonna change your point of view necessarily, but allow you to refine it. It'll allow you to pivot. I've yet to see a company, a successful company that has not pivoted multiple times.

The vision of the leader, of the partners, of the founders is really where that company ends up. And I challenge anyone to give me a company that hasn't gone through multiple of those pivots and succeeded.
So that pivoting requires that you take on those challenges, that you see them clearly, you allow yourself to be challenged, and then you make the right accommodations as a result of that. I think that's the nugget is make sure that you don't surround yourself with people who are always going to just agree, but people who are going to truly take you to task on your ideas and your vision and your concepts. It's important.

Gresham Harkless 13:39

Yeah, it's huge. So I always wonder, is that your definition of what you, what I like to call being a CEO? I mean, our goal is to have different clinical CEOs on the show. So is that custodian of ideas? Do you feel like that's how you would define being a CEO?

Thomas Koulopoulos 13:50

Absolutely. You are the custodian of the ideas. You are the custodian of the vision of the organization and your responsibility is to do everything that you can to see the fulfillment and success of those ideas. You are secondary, which is a tough thing for a CEO to embrace. You are secondary to that priority. So how you are perceived, how you are thought of, how you are measured by others is secondary to that. And again, look, over time, whether the decisions you've made, whether the ways that your ego has influenced those decisions, whether the pivots are correct or incorrect, it'll be proven by the marketplace. It's that simple.

So take yourself back up every time that it doesn't go your way and keep moving forward. And it could be with a different idea. It could be with a different vision. But, yeah, I think being the custodian of the ideas is the best way to define leadership and take yourself out of the equation.
You are not the priority. It is the ideas, it is the organization that is the priority.

Gresham Harkless 14:48

Yeah, that ends up being so powerful.Tom, truly appreciate your time and all the awesome things that you're doing. What I wanted to do now is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know, and of course, how best people can get a hold of you, get a copy of the books, find out about all the awesome things that you're working on.

Thomas Koulopoulos 15:04

So gigatrends.io is the website. You can certainly get Gigatrends on Amazon or in any bookstore. They can reach out to me directly through gigatrends.io. There's a form on there. They can reach out to me or my co-author, Nathaniel Palmer. We love to communicate with readers and have chats about these ideas because there's always more to learn and more to talk about.

My personal website is tkspeaks.com. I'd love to connect with people on that website as well. A lot about me and what I'm involved in lately. This is a great show. And I know you've got a lot of folks out there who are aspiring to be CEOs or currently CEOs, and my best advice is. And take all advice and take it all with a grain of salt because your path, as my son, is your unique, as my son said, is your unique path and have confidence in your ability to inspire others and do what you can to be a good custodian, good shepherd.

Of those ideas and that vision and ultimately the greatest joy you will have as a CEO is having other people come back to you years in the future to say, you know what? That was a hell of a ride. I, that was a great time in my life and it's okay to take a little bit of accountability for the fact that you were a player in that.

Gresham Harkless 16:15

Yeah, absolutely. We're going to have the links and information as well in the show notes as well, too, so that everybody can follow up with you, but truly appreciate you for taking time out, appreciate all the awesome things that you're doing. And I hope you have a phenomenal day.

Thomas Koulopoulos 16:25

That's well said. Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to be here with you.

Outro 16:28

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO Podcast powered by CBNation and Blue16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co. I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community.

Don't forget to schedule your complimentary digital marketing consultation at blue16media. com. This has been the I AM CEO Podcast with Gresham Harkless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(CEOBlogNation.com), podcasts, (CEOPodcasts.com) and videos (CBNation.tv). CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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