Storytelling with Ross Floate

INJ 07 | Floate Design Partners

Ross Floate is a designer, writer, podcaster, and bizarrely enough, ethicist from Melbourne, Australia. Over his 25 year career, he’s helped create magazines, newspapers, websites, and apps for some of Australia’s biggest brands. He currently works at Australia’s leading independent experience agency Loud&Clear as a design strategist. His french bulldog, Hitchens, was named Melbourne’s most hipster dog by the Herald-Sun Newspaper, and Ross is quite upset that his dog is more famous than he is.


Listen to Episode #7 here


Storytelling with Ross Floate

The episode guest is Ross Floate. Ross is a designer, writer, podcaster, and even ethicist from Melbourne, Australia. He’s helped create magazines, newspapers, websites, and apps for Australia’s biggest brands. Currently, he’s a design strategist for Loud&Clear, Australia’s leading independent experience agency. Two interesting things about Ross, first of all, his dog is more famous than he is. The second is he’s fascinated by the song Africa by Toto. Welcome, Ross. 

It’s good to see you here, Peter.

It’s great to see you. Obviously, you’re not a comedian, but you’re on this podcast because you’re a funny person. I know this because I’ve spent time with you in person and then I also follow your Twitter handle, hence learning about Toto. If you weren’t designing, writing, podcasting, or philosophizing, what would you be doing? 

Given unlimited access to funds and time, I would probably spend my time traveling on trains and talking to crazy people who travel on trains. I am fascinated by meeting new people all the time. The weirder, the better. I had a fantastic trip about eighteen months ago from Portland to San Luis Obispo on the Coast Starlight. The best part about that was seeing the Palo de Vaca and just striking up conversations with random people. That’s my favorite thing.

Is Australia train culture?

No, really. There’s the Ghan, obviously, but that’s $6,000 or $7,000 to catch from Adelaide to Darwin and I don’t have that kind of money, but given unlimited funds, I would definitely do that. Apart from that, I do it a little bit of train travel in regional Victoria. A couple of years ago, I had an accident and I was unable to drive for about eighteen months. I got really stir crazy on weekends and then just started catching trains to regional towns. I do that a little bit.

Does this serve as inspiration for you? Is this entertainment? How do you view that endeavor? 

There’s a part of my life which is just very much about the accumulation of stories. I always like to have interesting stories to tell or funny stories to tell. I live my life saying yes a lot of the time just to see where things go. Everything in life is improv, I guess.

You accumulate stories. Why?

I enjoy sitting around with people and hearing and telling stories about things. Most of us live inside a bubble of people who are on our socioeconomic group, people who went to the same schools, live the same way, and make the same amount of money. That’s not interesting to me because I know all the people that went to private school with me and all that stuff. I’m more interested in going to a bar in Austin, Texas at 2:00 in the morning and then meeting a whole bunch of people and then going to an after party at the house. That’s the interesting thing to me. It’s fun to have stories to tell people. The word raconteur is terrible because it’s a bit overused, but it’s good to just sit around and tell fun stories with your mates.

One of the nice things about studying comedy is I have new friends. When I go to dinner at a conference, I have good friends there. It’s a lively conversation and we enjoy each other’s company. Maybe I might have an opinion slightly changed as a result of that, but when I go out and hang out with comics, now I’m learning new things. We’re talking about different things. I find myself intellectually challenged in a different way and certainly entertained in a different way. I do find myself seeking out that. I hadn’t thought to do it on trains per se, but it seems like as good a place.

Trains are great. In the United States, for example, you meet people who are just scared to fly or just terrified of flying or don’t want to go through the TSA or for whatever reason have a lot of time in their hands. That’s always interesting to me because most of my friends would fly everywhere. Catching trains, especially if there’s a power car or something like that is great. The other one is, this is the wrong thing to say probably, but smoking cigarettes is also a fantastic way to meet people.

As a non-smoker, I’ve seen that. There’s a bond among smokers. 

That’s the only reason that I smoke socially, because you just get to go and chat to people who you would not otherwise talk to. It’s easy to get a lot and then get a conversation going. It’s great.

This is a side note, a theory I have about smoking in films. Obviously, smoking is on the decline. It’s certainly seen as less cool than it used to be, yet you regularly find Hollywood movies, independent movies, where a character smokes. The most recent one is a movie I really enjoyed a lot called Atomic Blonde. Throughout the movie, the two main characters are smoking. Charlize Theron is gorgeous in the movie, well-dressed and elegant and yet also a bad ass, but she just sits and smokes whenever it’s quiet. My hunch is you need to have a character do something in a scene when they’re listening to something or reading something or you have these pauses in the movie, and smoking is a visual thing to do. Also, I think it lights well. The smoke coming out of the cigarette lights very well. It fills up a screen and so on. I say this because I’ve also noticed, for instance, if you ever watch Brad Pitt in a movie, you’ll regularly see him eating. Like in the opening of Ocean’s Eleven, he’s sitting there eating nachos or something while he’s just waiting for someone.

[Tweet “Somebody who smokes have a real devil-may-care attitude and very cavalier about risk.”]

The other thing is that smoking is a signifier that you don’t give a fuck. Somebody who smokes have a real devil-may-care attitude and very cavalier about risk. I’ve always had this idea that if you actually want people to stop smoking, what you need to do is invent something that looks cool, because at the moment, smoking does signify all those things.

You’re a risk taker. You’re a deviant. You’re optimally deviant. You’re saying it’s a directorial decision because it says something about character. 

In real life as well, like if you see a young person smoking.

They’re probably risk-taking in other ways. I think that’s a fair assessment. In Atomic Blonde, she’s a spy. She could die at any moment. 

Drinks Vodka like nothing.

She’s not trying to get to retirement.

Precisely, or doesn’t expect to. The cancer’s not the problem. Something else is going to kill you first.

Bond was like that. Tell me about an average day. Do you have average days and what are they like? What are the beats? What are you doing?

At the moment, I live in an apartment that the master bedroom is on the roof of the building. It’s on the top of the hill in Northcote. You listeners might not know, but Melbourne is ridiculously flat. There’s no hills here. The hill in Northcote which I live on the top of has an amazing view and whoever built it decided that it would be fantastic to have that bedroom be a glass box. I haven’t really finished it with curtains so I wake up when the sun starts filtering in and about 5:30 in the morning.

It’s summer here, and the days are really long. 

The first line of dawn at the moment is quarter past five, almost five, so I’ll wake up then. I get up, have a look around, play with my dog a bit. I’ll get up in the morning, play with my famous dog who Linda Evangelista follows on Instagram, which is hilarious.

Who is that for people who don’t know? 

Linda Evangelista is one of the first supermodels here. “I won’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day.” She follows that dog on Instagram which is kind of weird. I play with the dog and then these days I come to work pretty early. I was here this morning at about 7:30. I eat breakfast, come to work, tool around a little bit online, chat with some friends, and then get to whatever I’m doing. I’m getting lunch about twelve and then go home at 5:30. Then generally, it’s catch up with some friends, go to the pub, talk some nonsense, or going to do some writing.

You write late.

I do. I write when I’ve got nothing to do. I’m inherently gregarious person and I’m also not super great with my own company. I like to be doing something. Reading is something that I can’t really do that much because I am too much in my own head, so writing is a way of getting a lot of that stuff out.

You’re gregarious. Actually, I was reflecting on this last night. I met you in 2013. I was doing a short sabbatical trip here. In some ways, because of you and I blame you for this, I sometimes go to meetups and the reason I go is because the first night I was in Melbourne, I went to a design event that you were hosting. This tall, dashing, well-dressed man with a funky mustache was standing at the bar. Because I knew no one else in Melbourne besides my host and he wasn’t around, I started talking to him and he was super welcoming and friendly and invited me to his design office. That man was you. A beginning of a beautiful friendship. Now I go to these meetups sometimes, social meetups and stuff, expecting I‘m just going to meet this amazing person and make a new friend across the planet. It doesn’t usually happen.

No, there’s not a lot of people like me. Which is probably good for most people, I suspect.

If they are, they’re not going to meetups. That’s the thing. The person who you want to meet at a meetup, doesn’t go to a meetup. 

If they do, they’re speaking and then they disappear straightaway.

You ran your own design agency for five or six years.

In one form or another, for almost twenty. I became self-employed at 26 and I’m now 45. This is the first job I’ve had since then.

I want to ask you about that. There’s this term that I’ve come across for people who say they’re unemployable. I’m unemployable and some of my favorite people are unemployable. Comedians are often unemployable. Entrepreneurs are unemployable. Some academics are unemployable, I think. The better ones are, typically. You strike me as unemployable, and yet I was surprised to see that you have a job. How did that happen? Why did that happen?

About a year and a half ago, I went to the Meredith Music Festival which is a three-day event in Country Victoria. About 15,000 people go there, they all camp. There’s one stage, huge acts are going to play. It’s fantastic. I go with a group friends and then you’ll always have other people who are their friends and you’ll all end up camping together. I was sitting around the campsite with some people that I didn’t really know. We just started talking about work and design and things like that. I made some pretty off-color jokes about designers. This one guy that I noticed started giggling.

What’s the joke? Tell me what’s the joke about designers. 

It wasn’t even a joke. Somebody was talking about designers and I just said, “I fucking hate designers. They’re all whining, entitled, little piss babies.” This one guy just started giggling about it, “What do you know?” I said, “Actually, I own a design firm.” “Interesting.” “Do you want to buy mine?” “Maybe.” That’s how this all came about. The other one was over the course of the weekend, people are getting a little bit untidy and somebody started talking about edible condoms. I was just sitting there and I said, “All condoms are edible if you’re committed.” Fast forward a few months, I got back in touch with the people that I have been at the campsite with to have a conversation. They came in to this building. The person who turns out to be now my boss had “All condoms are edible if you’re committed” made into a T-shirt and gave it to me. My off-color humor has helped my career a little bit.

You did sell your shop? 

Yes. I did.

Has it been integrated?

I’ve got my clients and things like that. Not many of the staff ended up coming for a while. It’s mostly just me and I pull my clients across. I’m building all that stuff up again.

How is it like having a boss? 

It’s good. There’s a whole range of things that are great about it. The first thing is I get paid every single Tuesday morning which is amazing. Having been self-employed for so long, just waking up richer every Tuesday is fantastic instead of having to worry about payroll, so that’s good. You’re not having to worry about a number of things is particularly great.

It’s easier decision-making.

Yes. I’m able to focus on the things that I’m really good at and not have to worry about the implementation or the staffing or those types of things which means that I’m able to produce better work. That’s great.

What are you good at? Don’t hold back. 

I’m really good at explaining to people back to themselves. I’m a very keen observer of people and also of organizations. I’m good at finding out the underlying problem behind the problem people are telling you about. If you go into one organization, they’ll say that they need a website for Problem X, and through conversation, you’ll find out that that’s not really the problem at all. There’s an underlying problem which is the business is having problems with retention or any of those types of things or this person is actually worried that they’re going to lose their job if this project doesn’t go well. I’m good at understanding that. I’m also good at listening to people and organizations and explaining them back to themselves, because most people aren’t able to express certain things. They can’t express their problems or they don’t have the language for it, and because I’ve been a journalist all my life, I’m generally pretty good at understanding those connections.

INJ 7 | Storytelling
In almost every person, there is one fundamental thing that is missing about them which is why they act in a particular way.

This is connected to your train stories a little bit because you’re observing then you’re like, “I got to tell you this story at some later point.” Now you’re doing this in your work. Absolutely. One of the things that I’ve noticed in almost every person is that there is one fundamental thing that is missing about them which is why they act in a particular way. You can understand this. You can genuinely predict how people will act in response to certain things. I’ve got a friend of mine and I know that the thing that he requires is respect. When you talk to him, you give him a certain amount of respect and it makes him feel good and makes him feel validated. I was an only child and my parents worked a lot which is good for them, but as a result, I’m the kind of person who needs affection and love and all that stuff. If you’re able to observe those things in people, then I think you’re able to help them sort out what their problems are or work out a solution that’s going to work for them.

What’s their underlying motive that they might not even be able to express?

Most people aren’t aware of what that thing is. Generally, I can’t do it with everybody, but you can pick it most of the time.

You’re good at this. I believe you. How are you good at this? What is it that you’re doing? How is it that you pull stories out of people? Do you have a system, a method or you have a model that you use? How is it that you assimilate this? Because basically what you’re describing to me is observation, integration, and communication. There’s three stages to this. Maybe you’re not even communicating, you might just be holding that inside and using it for other stuff. Try to give me an idea now.

Most people aren’t used to being asked about themselves. The basic way that people tend to talk is you say something and I’ll wait for my turn to speak. If you just sit there and listen to what people to say, “That’s really interesting. Tell me more about that or can you explain that in another way?” People will open up given the opportunity to have somebody who will listen to them and you can find out some pretty amazing things. I can’t think of an example just off the hat now.

My saying is, “Go on.”  I just like saying, “Go on.” 

Precisely, or you just have that two seconds of silence where if you drop it, the other person will have to just feel like they fill it. The other thing is that I used to hate chit chat and hate networking and hate talking to people. I still don’t like the idea of networking. It’s a horrible idea when you go to an event where you go somewhere and you don’t know anybody.

Like the night I met you. That was a networking event.

Yes, but I just have this one question. I think I picked it up from Merlin Mann actually. It’s, “What’s the most interesting thing to you at the moment?” People will just go, “I have been waiting on this,” or “I found out that one of my clients is a beekeeper,” which would have never come up otherwise except for that chit chat at the end of the meeting when you ask, “Tell me what’s been going on, what’s really interesting to you right now?” People will start to drop this information which then helps you form more human connections with people. My belief is that business and communications are really difficult now. Most of the people that I work with hardly ever talk to their clients. They will email them and send them Slack messages or send them text messages or something like that. That removes that human connection which you require when things go bad. You need to foster trust with people. I think it’s impossible to do that intermediated by machines.

That’s the first way. That’s acquiring information.

What then do I do with it?

Yes. Are you’re looking for patterns? What’s going on?

I’m generally looking for patterns or looking to understand things that I don’t know by referencing them to other things. The fundamental thing with design is generally you don’t invent anything new. You just see connections between things that already exist that other people don’t see. The way that I’ve lived my life being a really broad journalist, means that I’m able to see things that engineers might not see in their own work because they’re working in a particular silo. Working out these things and working out patterns help you to either come up with new ideas or more effective solutions to problems that people can’t even see.

Can you give me an illustration of that?

That type of thing? No.

That’s fine. Before you wrap up an average day, you were saying you’re writing at night and you use this to occupy yourself. 

Because I resent empty time.

Your latchkey childhood coming back at you.

It wasn’t quite latchkey. I had a perfect upbringing. I’m an only child and always wanted to find a way to fill in my time.

When you’re an only child, I think you need to be more creative about how you fill your time. 

Also, my university training was not in design. I was trained as a journalist. Writing and expressing myself like that is something that I enjoy and it just comes really naturally. It’s the same with the observation as well. One of the things that they really teach you more than anything else in journalism school is to take notice of things because in taking notice of patterns that other people don’t see, you’d be able to pull out the threads of something that’s going on. There was a famous thing in Melbourne when I was a kid where a journalist walked to work and started to notice broken windows instead of buildings and then from that uncovered a really big story about racial unrest and the ethnic unrest in Victoria. Just from walking and noticing which windows had been damaged and things like that, that’s what pulled this out. That’s what’s really interesting to me.

[Tweet “In taking notice of patterns that other people don’t see, you’d be able to pull out the threads of something that’s going on.”]

Are you just storing this upstairs? Do you write this down? What are you doing?

It’s mostly stored upstairs or if I’m walking with my girlfriend, I will say, “Have you noticed this thing?” She would just say, “No. Shut up, you idiot.” It’s also part of the way that my brain works. For example, if I hear a song, I will be able to tell you another song that the lyrics go with it perfectly. I’ll watch Sons of Anarchy, the TV show, and then four episodes in I’ll go, “This is just Hamlet.” I’m always trying to work out patterns and try to see what people have done. It’s not by choice either. It’s annoying to me sometimes. I’m enjoying things sometimes. When you watch your film and all of a sudden you say, “This is actually just a remake of Seven Samurais.” Even to the point of The Magnificent Seven is just Seven Samurai, but then A Bug’s Life is almost a shot-for-shot remake of The Magnificent Seven as is The Three Amigos. All those things are under the exact same feeling with the same beats.

Fortunately, I don’t know enough to ruin most of my entertainment decisions. 

You don’t suffer from this malady that I have.

It does happen at times. When I watch stand-up comedy, I almost can’t watch stand-up comedy anymore because I go, “I see what you did there. I see what you’re doing. That’s old. That’s tired.” It removes the emotional element from it in a way. When I do recognize that stuff that you’re talking about, I’m more delighted by it because I like that artists “steal” from each other. I’ve definitely had it where I go, “You know what? I’ve seen that camera shot before.” It takes me out of being transported by the move and by the story, which is a problem, but I feel smart when that happens. 

There are some things that I refuse to learn about. My favorite drink is an Old Fashioned. I refuse to learn how to make it. It’s a special thing. I don’t know how it’s done. I look away when it’s being made just so I don’t know it. Do you know how the Catholics have this idea of the strict mystery?

No, I don’t, and I was Catholic.

The strict mystery is, as I understand it, you can’t try and pull apart the threads of the Holy Trinity because it’s a strict mystery. You’re not meant to understand it. It’s a mystery. If you try and unpack it, that’s actually a bad thing. For me, the strict mystery is the Old Fashioned.

That clearly goes against your nature as a writer, podcaster, designer and ethicist, which is actually the opposite, to try to understand it all. I think you’re funny. Do you agree?

I’m not as funny as my girlfriend is. She’s tremendously funny. I definitely have the ability to open up a room through being silly or jovial or whatever. I would never do stand-up or anything like that because most of my humor is about having noticed things that are connected and noticing things on the spot. I’m a kind of funny.

You’re more funny speaking than writing?

Twitter has always been a good thing for me just to throw out really quick memos, noticing dumb things and putting them together and just making really quick comments, but my girlfriend and I as a team are ridiculously funny. The two of us together are very funny. She’s much smarter and much funnier than I am.

The traditional kind of two-person comedy has the straight and the crazy. 

There’s a clown and a policeman.

Yes, that’s the tradition now. In improv, you can’t have straight-straight, you can have straight-crazy, and you can have crazy-crazy. What are you guys?

The great joy and the great problem with our relationship is it neither of us has a handbrake. I would say we’re both crazy-crazy.

That’s what I would’ve guessed. I know your girlfriend so I’m not surprised to hear that. I want to talk to you about your inspiration. You’ve got a motor. I told you I was coming to Australia and you threw out three things that we could work on in some way. Where does that inspiration for doing those interesting things or doing these extra-curriculars, what’s happening there? Why? Is it just to keep yourself preoccupied?

Part of it is to keep myself occupied.

Is it occupied or preoccupied? 

I think it’s occupied.

What’s preoccupied then?

That’s thinking about things that are coming later and avoiding doing something else. There’s a number of things with that. This will sound snobbish, but it’s not meant to be. I look at a lot of people’s lives and I wonder what they’re doing with the Monday through Thursday. The idea of going home to watch television and then going to sleep at night just seems to me to be a fantastic way to waste about 17% of your life. Also, I don’t have kids. I’ve made my decision not to have kids. I’m 45 now, so I’ve probably got another 45 years at this rate. I’ve got to fill it up with something.

You have resources also to help fill it up.

Absolutely. For whatever reason, I’ve been able to build up a really good network of people who are interested in doing fun things. Part of it is philosophical, which is I would like to leave the world with the ledger being on the correct side. I want to make sure that I’ve done interesting things that have either entertained people or helped people. That’s kind of what I like to do.

Now I know why. We’ve gotten some of the how. Is there a particular person that’s inspiring to you? Do you have a mentor? Do you have a model?

To an extent, I do. I have a lot of people who are in my life in some form or another who do more and are more impressive than I am. My friend Helen Razer who is an amazing talent and amazing mind, I look at her and that makes me want to do better things. My friend, Mike Monteiro, from Mule Design in the United States, again, is a tremendously funny person. Mike’s a great guy. Mike and I have an interesting friendship. We see each other maybe once a year or twice a year in person. He’ll come out here for a conference or I’ll go to the States for something. We’re constantly in touch and talking about things. Some of those things have been interesting pranks on people that I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Some of them have been very, very interesting pranks, actually. He’s just somebody who I think is doing things the right way. He’s somebody that gives me the inspiration to go and do more.

You’re a confident guy.

Didn’t use to be, but yes.

Tell me about that evolution. I talk to a lot of comics. Almost invariably, this idea of self-doubt and the inner critic comes out. They bring it up. It’s striking to me. It’s not surprising in the sense that I think we all have it. I think probably even higher achievers have it even.

It’s what drives them to achieve more.

INJ 07 | Storytelling
You’re able to make decisions–and there’s a part of your brain that is critiquing your ability to make that decision at the same time.

Tell me about this change as you went from less confident to more confident. Do you still deal with self-doubt? Do you have an inner critic?

I do. One of the interesting things about the human psyche is you’re able to make decisions and there’s a part of your brain that is critiquing your ability to make that decision at the same time. It’s like an app in the brain that’s second guessing you all the time. I used to be tremendously shy. I’m 6’5”, 196 centimeters. I was this high when I was sixteen and at that stage I weighed 63 kilos, which I don’t know what that is in pounds, but it’s hardly any. I was very, very thin. Very tall, very weird looking, and tremendously shy. At one point, I don’t remember the specific time that I did it, but this isn’t a particularly good way to go through life and just became confident. Just fake it until you make it, I guess.

How old were you at that? 

I reckon I would’ve been in my mid-twenties by that stage. I became confident through university. University politics, running the university newspaper, doing those types of things. Later on, like now, it’s this convincing act that I play on myself. There’s a number of things that I do if I like.

What’s an example of faking it until you make it? You dress confidently? 

I dress confidently because I’m a really weird-looking guy. I just figured, was it Helena Rubinstein, like, “People are going to look, give them something to look at?” Also, there’s a very, very big part of me which does the stuff that I do out of respect and like for other people. I like to foster people’s day and have people think that it was a good experience, not a bad experience. Being confident is quite infectious as well. If you talk to somebody who’s confident and friendly, that makes you feel like you can do the same thing. It’s not about a bullying and brash confidence that you can do, and that’s one way to go through life, but a friendly, confident, and jovial thing I think is a really nice thing to even be.

I have been kicking around this idea. I like naming things. I think naming things is really important. This is this guy who named his lab Hurl. Clearly, I think the naming things super important. I think if you’ve named something right, you can win the competition. I haven’t come up with an idea and I’d welcome a suggestion. I’ve been kicking around this idea of this word of saying nicely confident. He or she is nicely confident. You said friendly confident. I actually think that a lot of people who are mean, bullying, and egotistical, when you reach deep down, it’s just coming from a place of insecurity. Most mean people are not actually misanthropic, they just feel like they’re not getting enough, they don’t feel worthy, and this is their misguided attempt to get that.

They also get stuck in a pattern. I think people get stuck in a pattern of being a thing that they don’t know how to stop being. There’s a guy that I know, who I won’t name, but he’s a very good friend of a friend of mine. I just find him completely annoying, just horrendously annoying person. We went away for a weekend, a big group of guys went away for a weekend. I get to talk to him and I was like, “Why are you this relentlessly annoying?” I said, “What’s going on? Why do you do this?” He just stopped and went silent and he went, “I just started doing it when I was about nineteen and everybody just expects me to be this guy now.” There was this moment where, a good couple of minutes we were talking, he was just like, “It’s really exhausting being this, but I don’t know how to be anything else.”

This idea that the people who are successful and the people who are comfortable in their skin and that they’ve accepted their flaws allow you to be comfortable interacting with other people and thus be more compassionate and kind to them. It’s an interesting paradox. I think that you actually have to come to accept yourself in order to be comfortable enough with yourself and to move through the world in a way that is flattering to other people.

I can give you a related example of that. The first person, I’ve never been married but I might as well call her my ex-wife, I was with her for thirteen years, was a fashion designer. She relentlessly critiqued my physique to the point of saying, “You can’t wear that item of clothing because your legs are really long and it’s also is this shape. You can’t dress like that.” She was right. She was like, “These are your flaws, you got to work with them.” Now, I dress differently and I’m known for dressing in a particular way. That stuff makes a huge difference once you accept it. You accept what it is and then you can move through it.

A couple of quick things. This is my version of the, “What are you working on, what you’re interested in?” What are you reading or watching or listening to that really stands out and it just makes you go wow.

INJ 07 | Storytelling
But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past

I read a lot of Chuck Klosterman because whether he’s writing or not, he generally has a really interesting way of looking at the world. He’s written a book called But What If We’re Wrong? which I’ve read a couple of times now. It says we seem to think that we’re at the end of history and all the facts we know are currently correct, but every single group of people in history has felt the exact same thing and they have almost turned out to be wrong. Why do we think this way? How statistically unlikely is it that we happen to haven’t have it all figured out. That I find really interesting.

There’s a saying in science that all theories are wrong. The way to think about a theory is it is good enough to solve your particular set of problems, but you have to know that eventually, something else better is coming.

The other thing that’s been playing on my mind at the moment and this will make me some crazy, have you seen the Netflix show Wormwood? Errol Morris made this docudrama about this guy who apparently fell out of a window in 1953 in New York. Some never really believed that he had thrown himself out of a window and pursued this for his entire life. It turned out that his father was struggling with LSD as part of the MKUltra stuff.  This only came out quite recently that was actually what happened. I went down an MKUltra hole and discovered that Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, also went through a particular program that was run by MKUltra. That sort of stuff is really playing in my mind at the moment. Those types of things that you think, “How could this possibly happen?” They’re really interesting to me. Like unsolved patterns.

This is connected to your why story, right? That you’re good at figuring things out. 

I like things that I can’t figure out. Anything that I can’t figure out is intriguing to me, except mathematics.

Last question. What’s the secret to success that everybody knows but nobody can do or few can do?

Convincing other people that they are confident. It depends on what you think success is. I think that the people who are able to charm other people into good work or charm other people into lifting themselves, I think it’s really good. A guy that I used to know, who I think is quite frankly a sociopath, had this thing that whenever he met a person, he would compliment them on a flaw that they have. For example, with me, I used to be habitually late to things, and one time I turned up early and he was like, “Ross, you know, one of the things I really like about you is that you’re always prompt to meetings,” and then I was never late to another meeting because he told me that I was good at this thing and then all of a sudden I had this idea that I couldn’t let that idea of myself down. People who can do that are able to charm people into success.

I think you’re right that that is difficult for people to do in part because intuition doesn’t suggest that positivity is the way to motivate people. We tend to think that yelling and stomping around and being angry and being critical is going to be a way to get better performance out of people. The research and management is clear. It’s positivity wins. Positive leaders are much more effective leaders than the negative ones and yet people don’t naturally do it. They think the drill sergeant model is useful.

The Patton versus Montgomery thing where you have Montgomery who’s trying to create these esprit de corps, they’re going through Africa; and you’ve got Patton who is punching soldiers who have the battle fatigue. The two different ideas.

I knew this would be great. 

Thank you, it’s been fun.

It’s been really a lot of fun. I already have a lot of things to think about and my podcast listeners are out of luck. I get to go to lunch with you next.

That’ll be great. Looking forward to it.

Thanks so much for doing this.

Resources mentioned:

About Ross Floate

INJ 07 | StorytellingRoss Floate is a designer, writer, podcaster, and bizarrely enough, ethicist from Melbourne, Australia. Over his 25 year career, he’s helped create magazines, newspapers, websites, and apps for some of Australia’s biggest brands. He currently works at Australia’s leading independent experience agency Loud&Clear as a design strategist. His french bulldog, Hitchens, was named Melbourne’s most hipster dog by the Herald-Sun Newspaper, and Ross is quite upset that his dog is more famous than he is.


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