Dr. Carlos Saba shares his learnings from managing uncertainties in his life and career, learning to be aware of your deeper needs and prioritising happiness in your work and life.
#004 - As designers, we are skilled at managing uncertainty within design processes but how well do we manage uncertainty within our own lives and careers? Atomic physicist, Kung Fu teacher and the co-founder of the Happy Startup School, Dr. Carlos Saba shares his journey of uncertainties and his biggest lessons trying to find his way around his life and career and how it’s ok to not know what you’re doing or where you’re going. He also talks about why knowing how to conduct transactional research with users doesn’t automatically make us good as empathising with people we are emotionally invested with. We also talk about the importance of clarifying your definition of success before setting out to achieve it and how prioritising fun could be a happier alternative when making your career choices.
In this episode:
Happy Startup School
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg
Waking Up App
Universe with Prof. Brian Cox
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
The Map of Meaning by Marjolein Lips-Wiersma
Work with Source by Tom Nixon
[00:00:00] Carlos Saba: How we experience our lives, how we feel every day is the most important thing for us. How much money is not the measure of success, because if I can get paid a lot of money, but still feel miserable, then that kind of feels like I'm doing something, unhelpful for myself.
[00:00:20] Nirish Shakya: That's Dr. Carlos Saba. Carlos is a co-founder of the Happy Startup School. It's a community of entrepreneurs choosing happiness over profits. Carlos trained as an atomic physicist. And he also teaches Kung Fu and he's also one of my business mentors and coaches as well. And I've been learning a lot from him about creating business value that meets your own needs first as an entrepreneur, something lot of entrepreneurs don't think about because we're so focused on external needs.
And in this episode, Carlos talks about his own impostor syndrome throughout his academic career and how he embraced the uncertainty of not knowing where he was going. We also talk about how designers can be more aware of their own needs and the needs of people around them. And we go deep into what success in life means to each one of us. And how does shapes our behaviors and anxieties and, and life itself. And you'll also learn the one question you might want to ask yourself the next time you want to decide whether you want to work with someone or not.
[00:01:25] Shivaun: This is the Design Feeling Podcast with your host Nirish Shakya.
[00:01:39] Nirish Shakya: Hi, I'm Nirish Shakya, and I'm a designer, educator, and the host of my new podcast Design Feeling. Most of the time, you'll probably find me helping organisations put their customers first, or you might find me teaching design thinking and creative innovation, but I'm on a slightly different quest here - to explore the human behind the designer - who you are, what drives you, what frustrates you and why, and ultimately how you can bring more impact and meaning into your work.
On this podcast, my expert guests, and I will be uncovering ways to increase your self-awareness, creative confidence and meaning.
You are a co-founder of the Happy Startup School along with, Laurence, but that's not how your journey started. Right. and what I find really fascinating about journey you've been through is you took a more traditional pathway, in life, around, things like education, degrees. And now you are part of a pretty much, I would say a movement that inspires other people to follow their unique path, to attain their own unique, meaning happiness. How did that come into being?
[00:03:00] Carlos Saba: I never actually thought about that. I'll be like that way. That's interesting. Thank you. So yes, uh, traditional schooling, suburban west London. I went to a Catholic school, it was quite I wouldn't say strict, but it had a clear identity around what values and morals. They had, um, I was very much suited to school. I felt I was able to work with the structure of school. With the structure of science and mathematics. I enjoyed the certainty and the very clear, understanding that there is a wrong and a right answer at that level. And there is a very clear pathway to getting to that answer. And, with that, I felt that, okay. I should just focus on that because that's what I'm good at. I'm good at it. So that's probably my thing.
And then it came to the time and it was like, okay. Um, what to do. And I remember because I was good at it because it was quite obviously a path to a job. And partly because my mum was an engineer, so I should do engineering. What I was really curious about was really interested in was science-fiction, space and big questions. And so. The only other thing I could think of that was remotely in the area was physics. And so I decided to find somewhere that I could do physics. I had no idea whether it was going to get me a job or not. My parents were like, oh, are you sure this is going to be useful? I know you can go into the financial sector after physics - classic response. and I did that and I had an amazing time. And then it came to the end of that and it was like, okay, what's next?
And it became okay back into the job world. See if I can get a job. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And there was that time again. I had a call from a supervisor saying, well, you've got some PhD places offer at Sussex uni. No one's taking them. Do you want one? I think I was about third. I had no idea no one wanted to do it.
No, this was a paid place to continue studying. And I know someone, uh, who I were a good friend of mine who I'd done my final year project with. He was much more intelligent than me. I think my supervisor has gone to him first and he said, no. And he came to me and I can remember coming down to his lab. And I remember this. I was like, okay, you're not particularly inspiring, but kind of felt like a waste of time coming down. I was just curious, but the lab next door had just been taken over by a group that come over from Harvard. And they had, essentially, poached a load of physicists to work on this idea of it's called, atom optics and understanding how the nature of wave particle duality, using experiments with lasers and laser cooling and some amazing, crazy stuff. And they've managed to get this guy with loads of funding and he found himself in Sussex and he was like meeting students. And so I ended up going to him and interviewing him and saying, why would I want to do a PhD in physics with you? When people were like, aching to work with this guy, but it was pure luck. And I found this sounds interesting. I've got nothing better to do quite like physics. And I don't have to go and work for a bit. So why not? So I ended up doing that for just over three years. Traveled all sorts of places, learned all sorts of things, built lasers to cool down atoms by getting the lasers out of CD players, basically CD player lasers to do topic physics work like crazy engineering.
[00:06:30] Nirish Shakya: That sounds like a lot of fun.
[00:06:32] Carlos Saba: It was loads of fun. I really enjoyed it. It was hard. I felt totally out of depth. I felt like a massive imposter 'cause I, it wasn't something I'd ever considered doing. It was just something I was gonna fell in my lap, 'cause I, I didn't know as much physics as some of these, but these people were coming from Imperial, Oxford, Cambridge, all of these by peers there, they'd been like training their whole lives to get to this point, because this was an opportunity for them to work with this particular guy to then break into this field.
And I kinda lucked out and had a chance to continue my knowledge of all my, learning around this world of physics. But this, the maths and all this stuff, I still have, some occasional recurring nightmares of failing some of the exams that we had to do during that PhD time, did I actually get it? Did they find me out that doesn't to an extent, there's one, there's a time though. When I remember sitting in the office and I was writing a whole long list And the main supervisor came into the office and looked at me, said, Carlos, I was supposed to be the last one. What are you doing? So I'm just writing a list of all the things I don't know. So I could just like try and take them off. And then he looks at me. He said, you should see my list. So this, this whole kind of feeling like I shouldn't be there. It was a great fun, I had no idea what was going to take me on. I had no idea what the purpose was or how it was going to lead into any kind of career. I was slowly discovering very quick collapse, quickly discovering the academic life wasn't for me.
[00:08:10] Nirish Shakya: There's the thing I heard the more you learn, the more you learn that there is to learn.
[00:08:15] Carlos Saba: Oh yeah, yeah. I'll watch so much. So, and particularly, well, I wouldn't say particularly, but from my experience of atomic physics, you just realize that there's so much. That is still not understood so much, that is, they're still piecing it together. And when you're working on that edge is such crazy contrast from being in a place it's very structured where, you know, someone will have the answer and it's quite definitive and it's yeah, this has been the ages to you get to a space where actually people have some answer, but it's really nearly an opinion. It's like, there's that answered, but it could be the answer. It could be that answer. And you're scrambling, as a lowly PhD student thing, someone told me what's going on, what to do. And that is essentially the crucible. As I understand it now, that's where you start to learn actually, your in the process of creating the rules. And you're getting to understand actually, some of this certainty around how the world works. It's partly an illusion and it's partly a story. There is a bit of objective reality. I can honestly say that gravity does exist. I've experienced that on I'm show. Everyone has, but at the same time, there are certain aspects. Even the idea of quantum mechanics, if anyone has thought about it, if you ever think about it properly, you would just, it does not make sense.
That was, uh, uh, a process of extreme anxiety and imposter syndrome, extreme joy and adventure. And also a very clear path. It was like, you know, I was there three years. I knew where I was going to get to his PhD at the end is like very well-defined. But with a lot of jeopardy in the middle, I left that I had no idea what to do. And it was only again from essentially a random semi-random random encounter. My wife's best friend worked for a digital agency in London. And she knew I was looking for a job. I said, just come to the party. We're gonna have a little party. When did this party is the loft studio in Soho, really small boutique studio. There must've been 11, 10, 11 people there, amazing little setup, you know, like wood beams, max, everywhere, people smoking weed, chill out, hip hop in the background and this real kind of cool vibe. And then this woman I got talking to, I thought she was just someone hanging out, uh, ended up being the founder and she started saying, so what are you doing not much, or are you interested kind of the thing, maths and stuff. I'm quite interested in programming and not having any of it. But I'm curious about it. I said, uh, well, I'm not doing anything at the moment. And so she offered me this entry level, just bottom of the wrong web developer role, to learn on the job, how to build websites. And the first ever website I learned to build was called plain tree. And it was an online bookstore.
Unfortunately it didn't turn into the online bookstore that we all know and love, or maybe not, not these days, but it was that first time. Like, just again, I have no idea. I didn't have any qualifications. I was just working out along the way, but it was fun and it was interesting and it was cool and it was enjoyable. Um, this is getting a long story, but it, it accelerates very quickly now. After four years of being that kind of progressing through the company, becoming a director, I then got to a point where actually I wasn't enjoying it anymore. I didn't know why I was there. I didn't know what I was trying to achieve. I wasn't sure where the company was on a pathway of growth. It went from 11 when I was there to 70, 80 people on my time during my time doing lots of acquisitions and it just felt relentless. And I had no vision for myself in the company. I just did not know where I was going to, what I was going to do next.
[00:12:11] Nirish Shakya: Could you pinpoint, what was it that you didn't enjoy anymore?
[00:12:16] Carlos Saba: The politics. The pressure of, basically the chasing the tail and the churn of just getting cash in and then to pay the settlers and cash into it. She had a plan, the founder, and I'm not saying it's wrong or right. It was like they were on the growth curve. I think they're on the path for trying to get acquired. Or there was a overarching plan, but on the ground it felt relentless. And on the ground, It wasn't a path that I was particularly interested in because I was still interested in solving problems and learning new things. And in my head, at some point I wants to learn to run my own business. And so it was like immersing myself in stuff that I didn't really, I wasn't really particularly passionate about, but I felt I should learn like, you know, accounts and management and hiring and HR and strategy and all of these things when in fact the, the main thing I was really interested, it was like building stuff, building cool stuff, and learning new things to build cool stuff. That was fun. That was interesting.
[00:13:18] Nirish Shakya: I think a lot of designers also go through the same cycle where they going to go into design because they're really enjoyed the craft. They really get to get good at it and then they start to feel the need to learn these other skills that they're not really passionate about. How do you think, that's something that can be managed, as a creator, as a designer, as a creative?
[00:13:39] Carlos Saba: When you say, manage what is it that you were saying to manage?
[00:13:42] Nirish Shakya: As in, is that something that we just do it cause that's something we just have to do or do you think, there's a choice there for the designer to not pursue some of those, skills and just keep doing what they're doing.
[00:13:56] Carlos Saba: Well, the first one is just, there's always a choice, always a choice. It's whether you believe that choice is open to you well, actually is whether making that choice, what that means to you and what people think about you. So that's the quick answer. I feel the longer answer. My perception of these kinds of, environments, agency, corporate, whatever it is, there's a, a pathway to more money, more status, and a higher level within the hierarchy. And more often than not, my experience high level of hierarchies is more responsibility and more managing other people and more in control of the money as opposed to doing the work. And so if you get caught up or you, you believe that to be a successful in my career, it means to be up to level 8, 9, 10, or whatever that progress is in your.
Uh, chosen industry is what, whatever those benchmarks of success are, if you feel to be successful, you need to hit those levels. Then you need to then jump through the hoop to require the badges or do the things in order to be allowed to sit at that level. And most of that is around being the manager and working with budgets and doing strategic stuff and planning. And so you feel you need to acquire those skills. And this is generalization. And so if you just like doing your work and doing your job, if you are in that big system, then I think the other awareness is like most businesses like that. They're looking to see how they can maximize the profitability of each of their employees.
And so if you have this amazing designer, But the only work that they can get you to do that makes money is still exactly the same revenues that you were making 10 years ago. Then it doesn't matter how good a designer is. If they can't sell you at a higher rate, then you're going to be stuck there. Unless you are able to leverage your power, to manage others and make more efficiencies in the business, then you become more valuable to that owner. That's how I perceive it.
[00:16:20] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, and I think that's a great way to see things in terms of what value can your employer or your company generate out of your skills. And ultimately it comes down to that, right. And also there is, um, a certain sense of disillusionment, uh, when it comes to the design industry and how designers are currently feeling, around that lack of meaning and a sense of purpose in a lot of what we do, we tend to be very good at our craft, and build amazing products and services.
Uh, but then. What's the point of all that, right. Uh, especially over the past couple of years during the pandemic and the lockdown, we're also seeing, a great resignation happening within the design industry as well, where a lot of designers have either quit their jobs or move on to different jobs. Why do you think that's happening?
[00:17:13] Carlos Saba: Well, I think there's, going back to that pathway, is an understanding of, feeling as a success. Success is a feeling I think is the first premise of this. And so if you are in a role, this is my assumption. And if you are in a role where you feel like you're putting a lot in, but you're not getting a lot out and you might be getting a lot of money, but energetically, you know, getting a lot out of it. And when I say energetically, it's not only about the enthusiasm and the creativity for the work, but at some point it's also, like you said, it's like, what actual contribution am I making? And I think that's a question that maybe comes to different people at different times of their life, unless a very personal thing, but I believe. From my experience with the people I hang around. At some point it hits hard and it's like, why am I spending all this time doing this thing? Or why am I spending all this energy on this thing? And what do I have to show for it? And what does it mean to me, that's a very subjective thing. Cause I don't want to be judgmental and saying, okay, someone who does work purely on advertising high-end fashion, brand bags and with the full knowledge that doesn't really do much for the world.
And that is the judgment. I don't want to say that that's the wrong thing because you know, there might be things that you get out of that. And it's that for me, it's the lived experience. If the lived experience of the work does not create energy, create excitement, give a sense of joy, give a sense of being in the right place and doing the right thing. Then I think, inevitably, you're going to think, well, why am I here? And how can I change this? How I feel? And the most obvious things is like, I don't feel right here. I'm just going to leave. Yeah. And that, that's how I would simplistically answer that question now.
[00:19:07] Nirish Shakya: Um, and also, you and Laurence from the Happy Startup School where you tend to focus a lot on happiness and wellbeing, has been, key drivers for entrepreneurs and startups. Why is that? Why do you focus so much on those things?
[00:19:24] Carlos Saba: Um, the main reason, cause it's important. How we experience our lives, how we feel every day is the most important thing for us. How much money is not the measure of success, because if I can get paid a lot of money, but still feel miserable, then that kind of feels like I'm doing something, unhelpful for myself. We're here once, maybe a number of times, depending on your beliefs, but even during this time, what good reason do you have to sacrifice any kind of feelings of joy, ease, positivity, openness every day, just because you need to do something else or acquire something else or get something else. Because most of the time it would be money or status, uh, or power status and power might be mixed in those three things end up being the motivator, but then you acquire these things and still feel miserable. Personally. I don't understand how that works. Well, I don't understand why, uh, because there's something else that's driving it rather than the money on the status and the power. There's something that's driving you to have those things that's beyond the, those things is there's an emotive thing going there. That's my belief.
[00:20:49] Nirish Shakya: And, one thing that I've found, pretty powerful in terms of what you'd do in the Happy Startup School is to encourage people to, I guess self discover their own needs that they're trying to meet, on a daily basis through their work. And that's something that I wasn't aware of before I came across your work and, uh, a lot of activities that you run through your programs, which I've been part of, for the past few months. And that's really helped me understand, okay, why do I even do the things I do? And that's something that I felt was pretty much missing from my field of vision or my field of thinking that there actually needs that I myself have that subconsciously maybe I'm trying to fulfill. So how do you think designers when they're in the daily grind, all feed are running workshops and managing clients and prototyping. How can they be more aware of their own needs that they need to be meeting for themselves?
[00:21:49] Carlos Saba: Well, it takes intention. And so, you need to acquire the language of needs.
[00:21:56] Nirish Shakya: What do you mean by the language of needs?
[00:21:58] Carlos Saba: So I learned about needs. And then my frame of reference when it comes to thinking about needs and feelings and what it means in terms of, what you do in the world. I look at this through the lens, or I've been informed by looking at this through the lens of nonviolent communication and the, what I got out from that is everything we do. Every act we been act in our lives is driven by a feeling and is tied to a need that needs to be met or hasn't been met.
[00:22:29] Nirish Shakya: So you mentioned nonviolent communication. Could you just give us a brief overview of what that means?
[00:22:33] Carlos Saba: So this is a body of work started by a guy called Marshall. I think so.
[00:22:44] Nirish Shakya: We'll we'll put all these resources in the show notes
[00:22:46] Carlos Saba: Yeah. Um, again, I don't claim to be an expert, but it's something that I've learned a lot about for myself. And it's how we generally make assumptions about what the motivations of other people, particularly when we're having, a space of conflict. And so we will assume based on all of our own perceptions and beliefs and values, and ex previous past experiences with the person that we're talking to, that they say they are thinking and feeling one thing, when they say something to us,
[00:23:23] Nirish Shakya: So this is like making assumptions about how other people are thinking and what their intentions might be.
[00:23:29] Carlos Saba: And yeah, what's driving them. What's motivating them. My go-to place where this is, is talking to my partner, my wife, and how, she may say one thing and I will completely misinterpret that as something else that I might want to try and fix it, or I might try and, dismiss it or just try. And, if she's worried about something I say, oh no, don't be worried about that. It's not such a big thing without really inquiring as to what is it that you're wanting, because you're saying that it could be actually, she's wanting to just say, I want to be heard. I want to be acknowledged. I have a need for connection. I have a need to be seen. I have a need to have a shared reality with someone. Not for someone to tell me it's going to be okay, and not to be soothed. And this is a very basic way of me to understand it. It's like I start to then say things and act and behave to meet one need that I believe she has without even asking. I'm confirming, just assuming, because she says one thing, that's exactly what it is. The root of it is that when in fact she wanted something completely different.
[00:24:40] Nirish Shakya: I do find a lot of designers that I know are generally very good at understanding those underlying drivers and motivations of other people, because, because that's just part of our job. But what I find is that maybe we're not as good in doing that for ourselves..
[00:24:59] Carlos Saba: Well, I'm going to disagree with you on that, on a bit. I think my impression is designers are trained to, on the general level, understand drivers and emotions, and to inquire particularly in your, when you do user research, you do inquire and that's at a work level in terms of trying to get a job done for me, this is much more personal relationship level. This is much more when you are, because I think when you're doing user research, you have no emotional baggage that is shared or no assumptions and nothing to do with, most of the time, a history with the person that you're working with, which then clouds things. And so I would, would that context there is kind of connecting to what you're saying before in those relationships when we don't necessarily connect, because I don't think we, if we don't connect with the real need in the conversation or the conflict that you're having and really open up and inquire and be inquisitive and compassionate, then it's likely that that conflict will escalate.
[00:26:13] Nirish Shakya: What you've just made me realize is that when we're doing research and trying to empathize with, for example, our users or customers. we do kind of go in with a very neutral frame of mind in that in a, whatever they say to us, doesn't impact us personally, emotionally, it's all about the product, the product is that kind of share frame of reference. But what you're saying is that when we're in a, trying to empathize with people in our lives, that are our relationships loved ones, we are actually emotionally invested in that. And our mindset, is probably not as neutral when it comes to interacting in those, um, interactions.
[00:26:57] Carlos Saba: Yeah, I think that you've hit the nail on the head is like, is there an emotional investment? Because if you're neutral, then I don't know how deep you actually get. It's understanding the drivers and motivations and real sort of like fears and feelings that someone has. It's very at a, kind of a more functional level. And I wanted to stress that because if you're going to talk about then how do we do that for ourselves? We're not designing a product for ourselves. We are trying to understand what drives and motivates us to take action in the world that makes our lives either a pleasant experience or an unpleasant experience. And that's the core of this for me I'm relating to this whole thing about happiness. It's like, what do I do in my life? How do I work? What are the conversations I have? How do I behave with other people, adds to it or enriches it in a way that is helpful to where I want to get to as opposed to unhelpful. And I believe a lot of us, we tend to act and do things that we think is right, but it's actually unhelpful.
[00:28:09] Nirish Shakya: Things that we think are right, but is unhelpful.
[00:28:14] Carlos Saba: Yes.
Could you give us an example of that?
Working on a job or working in the profession or trying to get a bonus or a promotion, because. It looks right. The more money you have, the more power you have, the more status you have, the more successful you are, what you want is freedom. What you need is freedom. I should say, what you need is autonomy. What you need is to feel more creative, to play. You need to connect, but when you have more responsibility in this job, this role is promotion. You're going for, you have less time for yourself. So it's right to, if you want to be the top dog in the box, the job will get the kudos or whatever it is within your industry to do those things. But do they really address the needs that you really have?
Hmm. And then coming back to what you mentioned earlier around the language of needs, what, what is the language.
It's being able to identify, to use words. If I say what are your needs as law? I need to pay the mortgage. I need to put food on the table. I need to, take the rubbish out. I need to clean the house as opposed to I have a need for connection. When I feel connected to someone, I feel energized, I feel happy. I feel alive. I feel loved. And when I'm not connected to someone, I feel lonely. I feel depressed. I feel sad. I feel, lethargic. And so having an ability to pinpoint this is my interpretation of being able to say, okay, I'm feeling this way in my work. And there isn't like I'm being weak or wuss or, I just need to buck up and plow through it's like, what is it?
What is that a signal and what, and then that's, how do I interpret that as a signal that a need is not being met and that I believe people can go for years feeling that feeling and never inquiring as to what need that's connected to and getting to a point of either burnout or fuck it. I'm just leaving something and then doing that. It's still not knowing what's going on. And so until you understand or are able to articulate or pinpoint what those needs or needs are, whatever you do in terms of an act to get rid of the feeling is kind of shooting in the dark. And that's why, I mean, if, when you have that language of means it starts to create a map of your in a world, so you can then navigate around more skillfully.
[00:30:54] Nirish Shakya: It's, it is fascinating to hear about how there's this whole new bunch of words that he can use to articulate what you really want, what you really need. From our own experience. Lot of the language that we use in the industry or in a company is around like things like hard metrics. I need to, get this percentage of people to sign up to this, through this, go through this checkout flow. I need this much engagement or retention rate and so on. Uh, or it's about measuring customer satisfaction. And personally I've being guilty of putting my entire focus and energy on those needs, rather than, also considering, so what do I really want out of this? What is it that I'm seeking, at a subconscious level and also on a day to day basis? For example, when , we're busy running a workshop or doing some. Research or prototyping. We're so, vested in that work that it can be really difficult to take a step back and really feel okay.
What is it that I want out of all this, would be your suggestion on being more aware or self-aware of our own needs at that very moment in time.
[00:32:12] Carlos Saba: Well, it's two things that I hear there saying there's, there's being aware of our needs, but then there's also taking time to be aware of our needs. Being aware of your needs is a practice. And it's about finding the tools in my case, it was NVC.
[00:32:28] Nirish Shakya: So what's, what's NBC,
[00:32:30] Carlos Saba: NVC nonviolent communications. Being aware of these needs are working with needs. There's working potentially in a more general case. You're in a, well, there are many tools and weighted approaches that you can take. And so that's one thing is like finding the approach that works for you. Or you can learn, you have access to in terms of there's someone close to you or someone, you know, that it can share those tools with you, but then taking the time out to really work with them and understand the value. It takes effort and takes intention. It's like you will have to sacrifice doing something else in order to do this because we will have finite amount of time in the day taking time out to do that. Then that's a different thing in terms of the different questions and why should I bother?
[00:33:20] Nirish Shakya: Why should we bother?
[00:33:22] Carlos Saba: Yeah, well, one of my answers is for that. What is it you want from your life where is it you want to get to? how clear are you about the direction your life is going in and how much do you care about the direction of your life? And if you don't and if you're happy to just like follow the path that you're on at the time, and nothing is really, um, pushing you to make a change, then fine. Nothing to worry about. It's not an issue, but if you've been feeling unsettled, if you've been feeling like something's missing, if you've been feeling like something inside a light is turned off somewhere inside, you don't want to end up the rest of your days, not turning that light back on or feeling that unpleasant feeling.
And so if that's the case, why wouldn't you just invest some time and space now? So the next 20, 30, 40 years will feel much more joyful, much more exciting, much more engaging and feel much more present with what you're doing, as opposed to just feeling like you're just going through the motions.
[00:34:26] Nirish Shakya: Hmm. And I think I'm going through the motions does feel safe. Doesn't it? You have your structure around which you're going through those motions, you know, exactly what to do and you know, the outcome of that and getting outside of that can feel like a scary, because there is so much uncertainty outside of what you're already good at doing, which is, being a great designer, using your craft, managing a stakeholders, building great products and services. And usually I do find that designers are relatively good at managing uncertainty within the framework of their project and the design process. But then how do you apply, the same kind of, I guess, mindset around managing us uncertainty when it comes to your own life? Um, especially when you're trying to explore, uh, beyond the bounds of what you currently already do?
[00:35:24] Carlos Saba: What's coming up for me is like, what is life for you? What is thinking about what is this journey of life? Is this, is this a race, and of the first to the end wins? Or is this some kind of game? And the one who acquires the most is the winner. Is this a project where actually I got the, make the best designed life, and then I win, I've done some really great work in terms of like I've designed a beautiful product of a life, or is it something else? You talk about uncertainty within projects, particularly something, building something in the tentative, or that involves lots of variables with complexity. I think you can intellectually, take that one. But when it comes to your own life, the only one you have, the one that actually there's no going back or restarting the project or extending the budget or whatever it is around it there's a lot of fear in making the wrong decision or taking the wrong path, or maybe not to being a success because you haven't won a life. If you have that perception, then you will want to stay in a safe space. Okay. Hit retirement, find a nice house in the countryside, slowly grow old, die, which I have no judgment, whether that's right or wrong. But if, if that's what you want that for what you believe is is, is what life is about. You stay that, but if there's something else you feel is missing or if you something actually you curious about actually, what could life be like? Isn't the well-trodden path then it's time to start accepting a lot of uncertainty.
[00:37:06] Nirish Shakya: And I've also heard you talk about how one of the ways that you tend to manage uncertainty is, believing that, it's okay to play with not knowing, I remember you mentioning something around the beginner's mind or having that empty cup. What, what did you mean by that?
[00:37:21] Carlos Saba: So removing any kind of assumptions or expectations or, attachment to an outcome or a result. When you have a beginner's mind when you've done doing something for the very first time, you have no idea what good is. You have no idea what success looks like. You're just responding to what's in front of you, you know, I've never, you made a clay pot on the spinny thing. and as a beginner, I'm quite happy to totally screw up because I have no expectations of my skills or abilities. And so if I don't make an amazing vase, that's fine. And so I'm open to the experience and just the experience of holding the clay and feeling it in my fingers and just sensing how that is. And so a beginner's mind, I think means that you're fully present. Whatever's in front of you and allows you to then just use whatever wisdom you have a lot, as you already have to then do what needs to be done right there. And then rather than already projecting into the future to see, is this good enough? Is this the right thing?
[00:38:27] Nirish Shakya: That sounds like mindfulness to me.
[00:38:30] Carlos Saba: Pretty much, you know, mindfulness, meditation, power of now, whatever you want to call it. It's very much a case of, playing the cause of doubt you right there. And then, trying not to over strategize and guess and yeah, and there's like, whether it's a really challenging situation or a really uplifting joyful event. I believe now more and more, this is taking me coming to this kicking and screaming that so much beauty in that, whether that's like a really tragic moment or amazing success and triumph is like you all feeling life to the extreme because you're there with it as opposed to stuck with regret or, anticipating some expectation.
[00:39:16] Nirish Shakya: think every time, I hear you, or listened to any, um, talk from the Happy Startup School. Uh, it always goes so deep, right? It goes beyond, what a lot of other, business programs or businesses talk about in terms of what's important. It goes beyond the numbers the bottom line, the targets and the KPIs. And what I find is that if you talk a lot about, humanity itself and being human and being authentic self. What I find difficult about that is a lot of times we don't know our own authentic self, who we are. what can we do? Like on a daily basis as designers to start to uncover some of those
[00:40:00] Carlos Saba: So something I've been learning recently. I've learned it from a guy called Sam Harris and he has, this app called waking up, which I I've really enjoyed diving into. And he talks a lot about some of his, library. cocnerns the idea of self? What is the self? The question I think was how did we find who that authentic self is? I'm coming around to the idea you don't search for the authentic self. You just be aware of all the thoughts that come into your mind and be curious about where they're coming from. Because to a certain level, uh, identities on egos are a product of our environment. Our parents, our friends, cultures, we will grow up in, the news and information that was present at the time. And so. That's all part of the external programming, the sense all perspective of the world. So is that our authentic self? It's part of our history. So it was somewhere there, but some of that, particularly some beliefs, attitudes that are particularly nice or pleasant or useful are they yours or do they need to be yours? Can you let go of them? And so I would say, and this is again, we're going a bit deep for me. The really interesting thing is how can you not identify immediately with the scope that you have in your head, whether that's a judgment of someone else, whether that's a criticism of your own work, whether that's a fear or an excitement or whatever it is and say, okay, I don't like that person, but that person isn't nice. When did that come from? Is it my thought? No, this is a thought that I want to go with, or is it a thought I want to leave because actually, I don't know that person very well. And actually that thought came because of their facial expression, which reminded me of that. Ah, that's why I don't like that person. So I'm going to go and talk to them.
And this is a very simplistic example of it. Like how we can get, we can identify ourselves, think our true selves of the thoughts that we have when in fact, actually they all very random occurrences that are bubbling up from all sorts of sources from our path. Not a simple answer. Sorry.
[00:42:15] Nirish Shakya: No. I was expecting a simple answer. If it was simple, we'd be all doing it right now.
Another thing that, um, I think you mentioned quite frequently is around minimizing effort and maximizing impact. And that's something that, we all want to do. How do we, get the biggest bang for our buck or, get the biggest outcome with the lowest investment. How would that work in a designer's world? Do you think.
[00:42:48] Carlos Saba: Hmm. So where this comes from for me is my own proclivity or, past, past behaviors. It's a kind of an instinctive thing of wanting to work hard. If I don't work hard, it isn't of value. And so part of this is coming from the idea of actually there are some times you have to put a lot of effort in something, you just understand what is needed. And it just takes one little action, one little thought, one, contribution from you and it changes someone's world, or it totally, takes the design in a different direction. And I think there's a, there's a narrative of, well, there's this idea that time equals value effort equals effort. There's a, a universal scale that these things have to balance out on. I think given the kind of work that we do. In service industries and particularly creative industries, I get the impression and this is what something I'm learning that sometimes the most amazing ideas and the most amazing solutions flow. They don't require pushing. They won't require, striving. They are born from an epiphany, the happened during a period of inaction or doing nothing. And so doing nothing, not trying to work on a solution, not trying to do, but just being again, coming back to mindfulness thing, but being just aware of our thoughts and how they're percolating and how they're evolving. And when it comes to impact and effort, there are big problems in the world that need to be solved. I think for me, is the question, are you the person that has to solve all of them? Are you the person who has to solve them at all? I'm not saying you don't have to, but just even just asking that question and then if you are going to solve them, are there elegant, sophisticated, efficient, in terms of the amount of energy you expand ways of doing that or ways for you to contribute, maybe you don't have to do on your own. Maybe you do it in collaboration with other people. Maybe there's a way to make change that doesn't depend on you putting a lot of effort into something. Personally I'm advocating for myself. How can I, push myself less? So the, I can still achieve more because then that will give me space around the things that I do the times of effort to find more creative things that could potentially be more benefit for the download. But if I fill my, my hours and fill my days and fill my weeks and my months and my years with always work, cause I feel like more effort means more impact than I lose the chance to have those epiphanies.
[00:45:37] Nirish Shakya: I think one, thing that I've just taken away from that, what you just said is around, scaling our effort and impact of it through collaboration with others. And it seems like, you and, and the Happy Startup School are pretty good at that in terms of, building a community to, scale your impact, around bringing more meaning joy and happiness into our work. How have you managed to do that?
[00:46:04] Carlos Saba: well, do I want to answer that for a long time? I felt that I had the wrong focus because I was using the word scale. I'm less inclined to think of scale as an objective and more scale as a byproduct and what I'm thinking of community and collaboration now, it's less about all, how can we leverage each other's skills to the maximum to maximize the output or the outcome.. I just feel more like who can I have fun with who could I do work with the challenges me that makes me think differently. So it makes me feel safe. That makes me feel energized. That makes me feel a sense of meaning sense of connection, sense of shared reality sense of clear direction, not because of the outcome, but because of the experience of doing the work together and how that evolves. And maybe it goes somewhere and create something big and maybe it doesn't, but because both parties whoever's in that collaboration is also there for the experience of the collaboration. Not necessarily purely for the output or the strategic gain or advantage of being in that collaboration. I think if we're there for the experience of it, then there was potential for impact to happen. There was potential for beautiful things to be made, but the thing you will be setting off is you'll have a good time.
[00:47:31] Nirish Shakya: I think the next time I go for a job, I'll probably ask, can I have fun with these people, with this company? And that's in to be an important criteria for us to add to our list of from checklists. Um, but you know, if you just are seeking fun, then how does that work? Like, does it even work if you're on constantly just seeking fun and happiness and cause if I were to just have fun, I'd just be playing game. So, um, you know, playing the guitar all day.
[00:47:59] Carlos Saba: I can, I can. I honestly, and with full confidence, say Nirish you would never sit around just playing guitar or playing games. You would probably spend a day, maybe a week. And at some point you say, is shit because it's not about fun to be, to escape from reality. It's about fun and happiness is the source of power to shape your reality. Because if we can have that real motivation to be, I want, I want to enjoy this experience because if I enjoy this experience, I will put more of myself into this and I will find more, I will persist and be more likely to persist, to find the answer, be more likely to be open to any challenges and conflicts. I'll be more likely to find the epiphany's or the ideas that actually might totally take us in a different direction. We'll be more open to change because this is an event. And I'll be more happy to contribute and give my time for free or work harder, whatever. We'll put more energy into something because it's giving you energy. So it's, for me, if you think of, I'm going to make it fun because I just, I don't want to do anything then I would, I have a different perspective on fun. I'm making it fun because then I'll know I'll keep on doing it.
[00:49:19] Nirish Shakya: So making the task after do more enjoyable so that you feel more motivated to keep doing it.
[00:49:26] Carlos Saba: Yeah, totally. And making sure you're not doing that task, even though it makes you feel miserable, but more importantly being aware. It's like, why am I wanting this to happen? Am I making doing this task? Because. Someone else told me that this is a good thing to do, even though it makes me miserable. I think most of the time, if we're honest with ourselves and we are aware of the thoughts that are going through our heads, when we seek more joy, fun, and energizing experiences, they will generally going to be positive things that can create positivity.
[00:50:01] Nirish Shakya: Now casting your mind back to, um, the beginning of your journey. When you were trying to find your own self and going on. Down your own path. What's the one thing that you wish you had known that, you know now?
[00:50:18] Carlos Saba: It's okay to screw up. There are no right answers. And pain is fine. Difficulty is fine. Getting it wrong is fine. Being wrong is fine. Being called out as wrong. is not your fault. It's nothing to do with you It's to do with the person who's calling you out and being more compassionate with the frail not knowing person that I am, and realising this is all uncertain. And the only thing we can do is just respond in the moment we can plan. We can plot, we can predict, but ultimately the proof will be in the pudding. That time will come. The future will arrive and it might be completely different to what you thought was going to be. So don't sweat it, grow with it.
[00:51:04] Nirish Shakya: I was watching the, the most recent, documentary by Professor Brian Cox on the BBC. And, that basically totally blew my mind in terms of how much of the world we absolutely have no control over. So there's no need to worry because we're not in control the most things anyway. Uh, what, what are we are in control off is like you said, being curious of what is happening right now. And focusing on what we can do and what we can control rather than trying to control everything else.
so throughout your journey, is there like a resource that has helped you the most I've known like a book or a philosophy, or
[00:51:43] Carlos Saba: There's a few things. So one thing, the first thing that springs to mind is, um, Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now. Um, it's taken me ages to really understand that and it felt really. Challenging to just wrap my head around what he's trying to say that, but it's now feels like the essence of what we're talking about here about being, there's nothing about the present happening ever. And so, uh, at least from a perception level, we, all we are aware of is the present and we make up the rest. Based on again, what we talked about previously, then another thing that's been really useful important to me is just learning and understanding more about nonviolent communication and this link between actions, feelings, and needs.
I'm using that on a personal level and thinking about the way I want to live my life, as well as how I want to interact with other people. I book called the Map of Meaning, It has been very, very useful for me as well, to just, provide, uh, a simple framework to understand where, why I, my life does not feel meaningful right now. And to be able to pinpoint broad areas of my life, that I can look more deeply into to see why something doesn't feel right. And then finally, um, there's a book by Tom Nixon called Work with Source Tom's friend of mine, his or the early stage of the Happy Startup School, him and a guy called Charles Davis. And his clear ideas process actually was very useful as well in helping me over the past few years, just understand what it means to be a founder and what it means to create something that has. And what it means to work with money. And so that was a really useful resource for me that helped me crystallize, um, my understanding of this experience of building a business and finding work that fuels happy.
[00:53:37] Nirish Shakya: Great. I can definitely add a lot of those books into my reading list straight away. And, um, if you are listening, if you don't have a pen and paper, don't worry. Uh, we will, All the links to all these resources in the show notes. So you can access them later as well.
So what's the one common with myth or the biggest myth in, um, even in the design industry or the Holst in a startup world, uh, or just in a business world in general that you'd like to debunk.
[00:54:06] Carlos Saba: Well, there's this business in general. You know, one of the, one of the things that I've been working on a lot recently is about money and pricing. I think, the common myths for me is the idea that there is a true objective market rate. And that is the thing that sets the price of anything. I think that's a myth. I think the people, because value is in the eye of the beholder. And while there is a market rate for the, say, a product or a service go to the right person with the right service or product at the right time, with understanding what they're really going to achieve from that price could be completely different at different times of their lives different. And it has nothing to do with the market it's to do with that person needing a glass of water right there, and then, or else they will die. Water's supposed to be free, but that person may have a million pounds. I'll just give it to you. If you give me a glass of water, where's the market right there. So the perception of actually, there's this thing called a market, that there is a market that dictates the price as a common story, but that story is not fixed in stone and that price is never fixed.
[00:55:13] Nirish Shakya: Yeah, and that could be a whole new podcast episode. Um, so imagine it's your last day on earth and someone gives you a tiny piece of paper and says, write down something that the world needs to know and what have you write down there will go on a massive billboard for the world to see. What would you write down on that little piece of paper?
[00:55:36] Carlos Saba: So what's coming up for me is like you live in an infinite, beautiful complex universe. And either a, you don't matter at all or B this whole thing has been built for you. So you can do what you want.
[00:55:50] Nirish Shakya: Okay. We'll try to fit that in that little piece of paper.
Great. That is a very beautiful way to look at it right. In terms of your own perception of your, place in the world. And again, like we said, there's so much beauty and things that are beyond our control, but there is still a role that you have to play within this complexity. And it's, your job to find out what that role is. That's beautiful.
Great. We've gone very, very deep in this conversation here. And, uh, certainly a lot deeper than, I was expecting. And I think that's great, right? It's always a conversation with you. Like we go read it. We tend to go really, really deep into the meaning of life itself. I've got so many notes here that I've captured. We talked about, being able to, capture how we feel on a daily basis and how important that is and not just, the needs of others, but also our own needs. And you mentioned, about the language of needs that comes from, nonviolent communication, being able to, interpret what is the need that you're trying to meet through your day-to-day work? Is it connection? Is it love? Is it belonging? What is that? Also taking time. To do that, to be aware of some of those needs. And I found that really fascinating because, that's something that I haven't done much in my own career because I've been so focused on the outside needs that I've forgotten that, I am a human with needs as well. But one thing that I found really fascinating about how, what you said was, being curious about whatever you're feeling and whatever is happening rather than trying to control it. So the whole notion of, control versus curiosity, and it feels like curiosity does give you a better sense of peace of mind when so many of the things that are beyond our control. Right? But if you just go into the curious mindset, then you're just learning as you go, wherever you are, it doesn't matter whether you're in a safe place or an unsafe place, you're still learning and growing. And I think that's a really powerful mindset to have. And one thing that you've changed in my mindset is around, thinking of scale as a by-product and not an objective. So if you're trying to, build a community to, further your impact, um, maybe first question you ask is, will I have fun with this? Rather than what can I get out of it?
So thank you so much for joining us today, Carlos. It's been a pleasure having you in the Design Feeling podcast.
[00:58:04] Carlos Saba: Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure and thank you for the opportunity to just get some of these thoughts out there. And I always enjoy unpacking them.
[00:58:13] Nirish Shakya: Thank you so much for joining me in this conversation with Carlos. It really means a lot to me because I'm taking my baby steps in this podcasting journey and you're actually helping me take those steps. So please do consider hitting the follow button so that he can get my new episodes downloaded automatically onto your device. And please share this podcast with a Design Thinking friend who needs a bit of Design Feeling in their lives. See you next time.