The Biggest Obstacle to Growth as a Creator (And What to Do About It), with Nathan Elson

#45: Nathan Elson is longtime personal friend and mentor of mine, and one of the smartest marketers I know.

Nathan took me under his wing early in my career, and I’m incredibly grateful because the leadership and marketing principles he taught me back then profoundly shaped who I am and set the trajectory that led me to where I am today.

We’ll dig more into that story in this episode, as well as the philosophies and frameworks that Nathan has used to become an effective marketing leader with a long track record of building high-performing teams and solving hard problems.

If you’re the type of person who wants to break through the content creation ceiling and build a business that achieves more than you thought was possible, you’ll definitely want to listen to this episode.

Podcast Episode Summary

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • About his unique and effective approach to leadership and building a team;
  • Why we shouldn’t fear failure;
  • What makes a Leader and the characteristics of a Doer;
  • That there’s always a better way to do things (Better Theory).


But what we have as a society is a society that tells us that failure is a bad thing, when it’s not. Failure is a neutral thing. It’s going to happen. You can do everything absolutely right by the book and not make a single mistake and it can still fail. (11:59)

Failure is going to happen. Just cause failure happens, it doesn’t mean you don’t try. And that’s really something. (12:55)

Every day, be better than we ever did before every day. Do better than you were the day before. And just rise above all of the stuff that the world’s trying to get you down with and just keep moving forward. (13:35)

In order to lead, you have to have people willing to follow. But also in order to lead, you have to have a goal and you have to have a timeframe in mind. (29:39)

Marketing has not changed since it was founded in the first place at all. Marketing serves one purpose and that’s to get someone to change their behavior from one thing to the next. That’s all marketing is. (33:46)

I think it’s important for people to understand that what you should be chasing and focusing on is not perfection. It’s not even excellence, it’s progress. (39:39)

No one really cares about what you’re doing, unless you give them a reason to care. (44:59)

Connect with Nathan Elson

LinkedIn: Nathan R. Elson

Email: [email protected]

Ep. 45: The Biggest Obstacle to Growth as a Creator (And What to Do About It), with Nathan Elson

Nathan (00:00):

Far too often, we find ourselves in a place where we think our value is tied to our output. And if you want to grow from being a person who does stuff to a person who leads stuff, that's the obstacle to overcome. It is probably the most difficult thing you'll ever do in your life when it comes to your own personal self, because you have to get to a point where everything that you thought about yourself and how you value what you do becomes irrelevant. And you have to be okay with it.

Josiah (00:27):

Welcome to Content Heroes, everyone. We're back with another great conversation to help you build a profitable business on your own terms by creating content online. We have a special treat for you today because our guest, Nathan Elson is a long-time personal friend and mentor of mine. And one of the smartest marketers, I know. Nathan took me under his wing early in my career, and I'm incredibly grateful because the leadership and marketing principles he taught me back then profoundly shaped who I am and set the trajectory that led me to where I am today. We'll dig more into that story in this episode, as well as the philosophies and frameworks that Nathan has used to become an effective marketing leader with a long track record of building high performing teams and solving hard problems. If you're the type of person who wants to break through the content creation ceiling and build a business that achieves more than you thought was possible, you'll definitely want to stick around for the rest of this episode. So let's jump in.

Announcer (01:20):

You're listening to the Content Heroes podcast, where entrepreneurs, marketers, and creatives share how they build profitable businesses on their own terms by creating content online. And now your host Josiah Goff.

Josiah (01:35):

Welcome to Content Heroes, everyone. I'm here with Nathan Elson, who is the Chief Marketing Officer at CDF Capital and a long-time mentor, a friend of mine. And I'm so pumped to be able to have this conversation with you, Nathan, thanks so much for being on the show today.

Nathan (01:49):

Oh, it's my pleasure Josiah. I'm excited to be here and it's fantastic podcast you have, and I'm really excited to see where it's going.

Josiah (01:55):

Awesome! Before we kind of get into it. Why don't we talk about your origin story and kind of where you came from?

Nathan (02:01):

Sure. So this is planet in the galaxy called Krypton. No, it's always hard for me to look at my origin story because it's not a straight path. So the best way to describe how I got where I am and where my career path has been is that I've done the same thing I do now just at different scales and different contexts since I started... I started actually really young. I was 19 and my dad was working for a construction company and the director of it quit one morning and my desk computer failed and he had a big presentation for a project he was working on that afternoon. So he tracked me down at college, found out where my class was, pulled me out of class to fix his computer. And I was fixing his computer, the president of the company walked by and goes, Oh, I didn't know you knew how to fix computers, Nathan. Like, yeah, I do. And he goes, do you want a job? And my dad said, yes. And so I became the IT director for a $20 billion construction company when I was 19. And I did that throughout college. So I went from working at Burger King and Natural Wonders to managing a staff of five and handling the computer infrastructure for a massive corporation inn a blink of an eye. And I can't say that I did a great job there because I got fired a few years later, but they had every right to fire me. I didn't know what I was doing half the time, but I learned a lot in that short period of time. So when I graduated college, I started recruiting for IT companies cause I knew computers and stuff and it was kind of a sales gig and I wanted to get married and I want to earn commission. And I got out of that right before a bust. And I started working for a church denomination. And the process of finding faith, I just decided, Hey, I can do the stuff I want to do for churches. And that was a great job. I was there for four years, learned a ton. I got my Master's degree business out of that and went to seminary during that time. And when I came out of that, I decided to use all this experience that I had to go start my own business. And I started doing some consulting for a buddy of mine that has a computer company that does web and stuff, and then started putting on my own clients. And now had kids, did all that stuff. And the 2008 bubble burst and lost my clients and stuff. And so I went to go get a real job and went and worked for this high tech company and sold virtual reality simulators to the military and to foreign militaries and universities. And that was cool. And then got hired by a software company out of Washington that does Bible stuff. And that's where I met Josiah. And did some cool stuff there. Then went to a church that was really huge, 30,000 people did some stuff there and then ended up at CDF Capital. So it's really just been taken this building block approach or this method of just building marketing systems... Marketing. I'm indifferent, both focusing on the messaging side and the technology side for 25 years now. So I got the job at the IT place or the Construction company, IT job in 1995. So it's been three distinct areas of marketing and three distinct areas of technology and three distinct areas of business that I've been through and are headed into number four. So that's the abridged version of my story.

Josiah (04:51):

I love it. So let's talk about where you are now, what you're doing at CDF Capital.

Nathan (04:55):

Sure. So CDF capital is an interesting organization. We are what's called a church extension fund, which means that we sell securities to individuals like CDs and money market type of things. And we send money only to churches and religious nonprofits. So we've been around almost 70 years. We have about 650 million in assets and over 500 million and those out right now to over 200 churches. And we also do a lot more though. We're not just focused on that side of things. We focus on leadership side of things with churches and ministries as well. As well as the spiritual side. So we're unique even in our niche because we have a focus on the leaders of organizations rather than the bottom line of organizations. And I was just doing a lot of different things. So when I was brought on almost five years ago, I was brought on to rebrand the organization and completely change the trajectory of how we talked about ourselves and what we talk about. And so the best way I can describe my role now with CDF Capital is I protect and advance the brand and I create opportunities for us to help churches and ministries. So there's a lot that goes into that from running our marketing to our brand management, to our partnerships, to our business development and assisting the other parts of organization on how they go about doing things. Just to have that in a nice tidy package for our investors and the ministries we work with.

Josiah (06:16):

What I'm really interested in talking through is a couple of things. One, like you said, your journey has been sort of all over the place. What is the core kind of common thread that has been throughout each of those phases in your life?

Nathan (06:31):

Yeah, that's interesting. And it's something I've had to actually explain a lot more than I'd ever thought I would. And mainly because my dad had no idea what my career was and was baffled that I kept changing jobs every so often, but the reality of what I do is I build things. I build systems, I build teams, I build organizations and I solve complex business problems. So when I got hired at the denomination, this is back in 2000-ish, I was hired to figure out how to transition them from a brick and mortar bookstore that would sell stuff and fulfill it out of a warehouse to churches all over the United States into an online way of doing that. And it was a competency that they didn't have. So even back then, my core, what I was doing was solving complex business problems and building stuff. So ever I've gone. I've done the same thing. Whether it's being the denomination of working for churches. When I had my consulting, all the different clients I had, I didn't get hired to do the things they've done before, do them better. I got hired to help them do new things. And when I found myself up at faith life in Washington, where you and I met Josiah, that's kind of what I did there. I got there and they wanted me to figure out how to do e-commerce better and ended up building an entire marketing department from the ground up there with a team that you were a part of that, and I've done the same thing at the churches I've been at. I've done the same thing at CDF Capital. So the common thread really is this idea of transitioning from what was to what could be, and then what is. And it's a process, you know, that I've, I wouldn't say perfected because I don't believe that's even possible, but I've gotten good enough at it where I keep getting opportunities to do that bigger and bigger scale.

Josiah (08:07):

I love that. So for everyone listening, Nathan actually was the one who hired me. And I got to love to tell this story because it was early in my career. I was like 25, which was like the median age of the marketing department, I think when I joined...

Nathan (08:19):

Oh no, you're older than 90% of the marketing, honest.

Josiah (08:24):

I've been working for a nonprofit in Chattanooga for a few years, you know, right out of school. And I got this because I, you know, I've tried it out at school and I knew everything. I decided to leave my job and start my own business 'cause I read the four hour work week and I figured, you know, everything would be great.

Nathan (08:41):

It's awesome.

Josiah (08:42):

Oh man, I had no idea what I was doing and definitely had a lot of growth that I needed to work through and just crashed and burned in my first six months. And so then I started looking for a job and found this company on the other side of the country in Washington state. And I remember you and I, we only had like a 15, 20-minute conversation and you ended up hiring me. And I walked in my first day, you pulled me out of orientation. So I got hired at least what I thought I got hired to be like an entry-level kind of front end coder. Front-end developer. And you walked into orientation and pulled me out of orientation my first day and started taking me to all these high-level meetings. And that was like my first day. The next day I came in early because I didn't even have a chance to set up my computer. So I had like, come in and like, get everything set up. And you were in there and you came and sat down and talked to me and you're like, Hey, what do you know? What did you think of yesterday? And I said, well, I don't really know what to think, to be honest. My head's still kind of spinning from it. And you said, just so you know, I didn't hire you to be an entry-level coder, I hired you to take over my job in six months. I was like, what? And sure enough, it was almost six months to the day, man. It was like we had grown this team and grown the department so fast or you're doing amazing things in the company. And you had moved up to run operations for the whole department. And I moved up to lead the team within six months. For the longest time I could not figure how did you make that decision to take a chance on me? From my perspective, there was nothing about that conversation that we had, 15-minute conversation, that you had decided to do this, but that was a really pivotal moment in my life because you taking a chance on me, the way that you did and giving me the freedom to fail, essentially giving me way more responsibility than I had experienced to match and the opportunity to rise to that challenge. I grew so much in that period of time and it set the trajectory for my career. I would love to dig into your kind of approach to leadership and building a team and maybe talk through some of the stuff that we did. And some of the things that you taught us back in those days.

Nathan (10:55):

Yeah. I think one thing that you actually started talking about, you mentioned it a minute ago was one of the reasons why I thought it would be a good idea. Why do you accepted the job offer? So that was part of it. You said yes. And we've had that conversation before on how bad of a mistake that was. But this idea of failure, and I think one of the reasons that I had confidence that you can come out and do some stuff for us and whether or not you are going to rise to the challenge or not, to me, it was immaterial. You had experienced failure. And to me, that's something that you can't teach. You can't manufacture, you can't do anything. You can't substitute the role of failure in life. And it's something that I value tremendously and something that I know you guys back then, got really tired of me talking about, cause you guys were blocked me half the time when we walk into meetings and you guys would say exactly, I was going to say before I said it, but that's why I knew it was working. And the reality is I have a very pragmatic view of failure. And a very pragmatic view of the world to begin with. And that serves me very well in a lot of things. I don't get overly excited or overly bummed out about things because I start with a framework in my mind where failure is inevitable, everything we do in life, there's going to be failure. It's a natural state of the human condition is failure. But what we have as a society is a society that tells us that failure is a bad thing, when it's not. Failure is a neutral thing. It's going to happen. You can do everything absolutely right by the book and not make a single mistake and it can still fail. And because of that, we have this flawed view at a whole on what failures and the role of failure. So if you start with a framework where failure is going to happen, you're not mitigating disappointment. You're just not disappointed when it does happen. You can become opportunistic when it does happen. And someone who understands what it feels like and knows what it's like to fail yet, pick themselves back up and try again anyways, is someone who I would want to invest in. And that's the story that I had from that first part. And it's interesting because I've used this quote for 20 something years, and now it's kind of in Vogue as a motivational quote from Samuel Beckett, from Westward Ho! Ever tried, ever failed. Nevertheless, try better, fail again, fail better or something of that nature. And it's not really a quote that's supposed to be inspirational. It's quote it's supposed to make you realize that failure is going to happen. Just cause failure happens. Doesn't mean you don't try. And that's really something. I instill on my teams to this day. I still use that quote, the people I work with and the people that I engage and the people that I have relationship with still use that with them. Because to me it's just such a valuable thing. So if you understand that failure will happen and that that's not a bad thing, not something lament, not something to get bent about, but something that when it happens, it's an opportunity to learn and to get better at whatever it is you're doing. Then there's this continual progression of things. I just used the mantra, be better, do better, rise above. And you guys, you really get frustrated with that, but that was the point of it, right? Just every day, be better than we ever did before every day do better than you were the day before. And just rise above all of the stuff that the world's trying to get you down with and just keep moving forward. Because progress in specially in business, especially in commerce, especially in work, that's always easier to correct things if you're moving than if you're not. And the entire software she's built up on that principle with the whole sprint and Kanban philosophy is always be doing something. That goes back much farther than that. And so really the basis of everything that I teach and everything I do is understanding that not everything that we try is going to work. And when it doesn't work, it's you just learn, shift and move on. And I can't tell you how many times I would enjoy walking into your workspace with a team and just kind of blow up your world because things changed. And of course I do it the most absurd way I possibly could just to screw with you guys

Josiah (14:24):

For everyone listening. That was the thing that just like drove us crazy. We would just be like heads down working, you know, super intensely. And Nathan would walk into the room and be like, Hey, I need everybody's attention. And then he would like write a random movie quote on the board and ask us, okay, what movie is this from? We're just like, what are you doing to us right now? But there's always a method behind his madness.

Nathan (14:49):

Always a method. And that kind of the other part about it is that so many people find their value in output. How much can I do? How much code can I write? How many words can I write today? How much of this video can I get edited? How much of this thing can I create and go to bed or end the day completely stressed out because they feel like they didn't have enough output. And so the second part of kind of my methodology back then, and it's still my methodology today, quite honestly, I haven't really changed that much. Just I've gotten better at doing it is this idea of understanding where you are, where you need to be and where you need to go. And I just call it like this idea of more for less. And really it's just these three things that I kind of wrote myself philosophically. So I start the foundation of failure's inevitable. Now don't get me wrong. I abhor mistakes. Mistakes are completely avoidable. There because you're sloppy because you move too fast because you're not careful enough. And there are things that can be completely avoided. And even when I make mistakes, it drives me nuts. Probably more so than when I meet people that work for me and work with me, make mistakes. Mistakes are completely avoidable. Failure is not. You cannot avoid failure no matter what you do in life. So that's kind of the foundation. And then building on that foundation is this idea that there's three things we could all do all the time. And the first one is to be realistic. And the way to phrase this, the way I teach people, this is really, really simple. How can you know what you need to achieve if you don't know where you are and what the difference is between that, where you want to go. If you don't take an honest assessment of where you are in life, whether it's you as an individual, as a family, as a business, or as a department in a business, or if you're a freelancer, what you're able to do, you have no idea what it is. You're actually aiming for it. You can have all the dreams in the world. I want to accomplish X. Great. Where are you today? Be realistic about where you are and it's not to bring you down or to ground you. It's just so that you have an understanding of what you're actually trying to achieve. From there it's moving on from being realistic. It's this idea of seeking simplicity and there's two viewpoints in simplicity from a philosophical nature. I won't get into them cause I can talk probably the next two days on this alone - is the Alchemist razor version, which is to not make things more complicated than they need to be, or the Einstein understanding, which is may things as simple, but don't make them too. Some of them, they don't do their job. There's this balance in between there where things need to be sufficiently complex to solve a problem that they need to solve, but no more simple, no more complex than that. So be realistic, makes things as simple as you can have them still do things. And then the last one is to remove friction. When I do teach this and I'm talking to a group, what I always do is I go through all of this and I say, okay, now practically with remove of friction, think about one thing that you're doing today to cause friction in a relationship and stop doing it. And I do that because removing friction, isn't just about making these easier in a business sense. It's also relational side of it because the moment you have two people in a room there's friction, whether you like it or not now. Not all friction is bad. Sometimes friction is good, but wherever you, you want to remove that friction. So really when it comes down to methodology, I was always pushing or pulling those levers, understanding that failure is okay. And if we fail great, we'll learn from it and do it better next time. But also just trying to pull those other levels. Like, are we being realistic enough of what's possible? Are we doing enough to be things as simple as possible? Are we doing enough to remove the friction and make it easier? If you remember back, there was multiple projects that we had some really great ideas, but they just weren't realistically practical. Or they became too complex, actually do, or they cause too much friction in the organization. So a lot of what I was doing is trying to get you guys to move along and to, to start to see those levers for yourself. And sometimes it was fun to poke the bear, I guess. I don't know. I enjoyed my time at Faith Life because I had to just do what I wanted to do. And if I got fired, I got fired, whatever. But we had fun.

Josiah (18:38):

We had a lot of fun that's for sure. So Nathan, one of the things that you touched on that I'd like to dig into a little deeper is this idea of there's a transition, that there is a kind of a juxtaposition of...

Nathan (18:53):

That's a fancy word.

Josiah (18:54):

And I don't think I've used that one on here before. You bring up the fancy word in me.

Nathan (18:58):

I mean, you just try to impress your boss here, right?

Josiah (19:01):

There's a juxtaposition of being a doer and focusing on output versus focusing on outcome. Can we dig into that more?

Nathan (19:11):

Absolutely. And really one of the biggest impacts on my life is coming to understanding that my personal value, which for so long, I thought was wrapped up in the amount and the volume of work I can personally produce when I realized that that's not the value that I have. And it costs sort of an existential crisis for me, the sense of, Hey, I'm causing all this to be done yet, I'm still here. Why is that the case? And, and actually had a conversation when I was at Faith Life that really changed my life, my perspective, tremendously on this. And we brought in a consultant as an organization who kind of went through and interviewed almost everyone in the company. And we're talking about reorganization, doing things. And one of the questions they asked was asking the staff, the entire company, across different departments, whether they thought the most successful projects were and of the 10 projects that came up, five or six of them are ones that our team did. And so she asked Bob the owner of Faith Life, Hey, I need to talk to the guy who was the project manager for these, because it's remarkable that the same team was responsible for most of the successful projects for the past year. And in talking with her, I kind of asked her if I could be frank and kind of let out some of my frustrations and she sent them something very similar to me. It's like, well, what are you complaining about? You made the choice to be here. Make better choices. And even my wife to this day will tell you that I came home that day after that conversation. And I was different. And I didn't know I was on the same journey that I was trying to take you guys on at the same time. And that journey was trying to find where my value truly was. So I spent my career up to that point, doing a huge amount of work and bringing people along with me into that sheer volume of work we did in that product launch we did together was just staggering. And it really was our team that did most of it with us and on the development side. And there's like 12 of us that pulled off a minor miracle in six months. And it should have been a year and a half to do all that we did. And it was very profitable for the organization. And I thought that my value was the sheer output and it wasn't until I had to make some tough decisions where I realized that my value for that wasn't the output. It being the catalyst and the cause of making all that happen. And that's something that I think is a journey that way too many people find themselves on and because of massive hindrance to growth. To put it another way, I know there's many of you listening to this that are fantastic content creators. You're doing a great job of bringing new things into this world. But you think your value is in how much of that you can do where your value may not be there. Your value may be in the effect of that or the outcomes of that, or the fact that it gets done in the first place. And it's a huge existential thing because we are taught since we are little kids that if we work hard enough, good things will happen. And you know, I'm a nerd. So I like star Wars and all the things that. If you watch A New Hope, a first star Wars movies, what is Luke taught? Work hard. You work hard and you do what you supposed to do and good outcomes will happen. And really it comes from the whole American dream mindset, being a self made person and being able to pull yourself out of the boots. If you just work hard and long enough, then you can be a multimillionaire. And that's really not how the world actually works. And it's not actually necessarily a good thing. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but I don't think it's a good thing because it's taught generations of Americans that the answer to the question is just putting more hours to work, be at the office or work harder, find ways to leverage your free time. Is that hustle. What's your side hustle? I saw close... Even now, we're doing this middle of the COVID-19 core team. I've seen closer saying if you don't come out of this with that book written or the side hustle started, what did you do with your time? If I don't come out of this spending as much time as I can with my 14 year old daughter before she starts high school and in four years moves off to college, then I failed because. It's not how much I can do right now. It's who I can spend my time with. And I think far too often, we find ourselves in a place where we think our value is tied to our output and overcoming that. And if you want to grow from being a person who does stuff to person who leads stuff, that's the obstacle to overcome. I'm gonna be honest with you, Josiah. And you could probably attest this first hand. It is probably the most difficult thing you'll ever do in your life when it comes to your own personal self, because you have to get to a point where everything that you thought about yourself and how you value what you do becomes irrelevant. And you have to be okay with it. And you have to be okay with it to a point where you're willing to do something about it because it's no longer about am I getting this done? It's am I making the right decisions so the right things get done. It's prioritization of things. It's making the tough call. Yeah. This project is going to be late, but this over thing over here needs to happen. And in our time together in Faith Life. That's what I had to do. I had to come into the room and your guy's world from time to time because that was what's required. But I had to do it in a way where I wasn't causing you guys and doing it in a way, which is adding value back to the organization. So I had a tough time because I couldn't spend my time doing anymore. I wasn't the one writing the code. I wasn't the one writing the marketing copy. I wasn't the one doing those things. I had to be the catalyst for it to get done. So I had to find an entirely new way to find value. And I wasn't able to articulate that as well as I can now back then, because of it, I made the decision to move on and I'm not lamenting the decision at all, but I'm sure if I had the vocabulary I have now around this, I could have made different decisions or had a different conversation. But really that's gonna be the challenge for most people out there is signing what side of that fence you fit on? Are you a builder? Are you trying to build something? That's got legs? It's got a legacy that can exist without you at some point in the future, or are you just a doer? And there's nothing wrong with either one. So the greatest artists the world has ever seen fall flatly in the Doer category. They were prolific in what they did, did it excruciatingly well and where the pinnacle of creativity. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But some people aren't. Here's how you know. If you go home at night or if you're freelancing and go to bed at night or stop working. And the first thing you think about when you transition to something else is the paragraph you didn't write or the line of code you didn't get to, or you have a better way to edit that video so that the impact of that scene change is going to be better than you're probably going to fall on the Doer side of things, because that's really what you value. But if your first thought is, man, I'm working really hard and I like to not work as hard and you're probably falling on the other side of things. Now there's a chance you might just be lazy and that I can't help you with, but it's really not that simple. But I've never once gone home at night thinking my gosh, I could do that better. I went home at night thinking I'm killing myself to get this stuff done. And I hope I'm appreciated. That's the trigger for me is I hope I'm appreciated. Cause if you're an artisan, if you are a doer, you know, you're appreciated. And if you start to question that appreciation, then you need to spend serious time and thought of whether you're a doeor not a doer, whether you're artisan or you're a benefactor. If you want to put it in artistic terms, are you the one doing the creative act or are you the one that is sponsoring or helping that creative act happen? And I find myself being clearly on the benefactor side of things. And when I start making that transition, I started growing exponentially in my career, my responsibilities. And compensation, frankly, for that matter, I found myself making better decisions. I found myself able to better navigate corporate realities. I've found myself being able to manage better and help people better. So really you guys have a team back then, Josiah you benefited from all that because I was discovering this and not out of some great sense of self awakening, but out of sheer necessity, because somebody had to figure out how to get everyone moving in the same direction or else nothing would get done. And so I just said, all right, if no one else is going to do it, I might as well. And again, it wasn't for selfish reasons. It was just one of those things. Like, I guess someone's got to do this. So I think there's ebb and flow and a give and take here that goes with it. But a lot of it is that self realization of, Hey, I think we got to do some of these a little bit different here and can I make that change or what do I truly value.

Josiah (27:03):

Yeah, that's so good. And perfectly describes the journey that I've been on as well. Like when you and I, you know, we first started working together. I was absolutely a doer, but I had this existential thing always back there if like I would do and I would create, and I would put all this stuff out. And at first it would be really gratifying, but very quickly it would turn into but like, what does this really matter? And am I actually like making an impact? Am I really like moving the world forward? Or even the, like the business forward, like what's really going on here. And I didn't understand. I mean, just like you for the longest time, I didn't understand that. And it was really stepping out and starting my own business that started to bring all that clarity for me in the last few years of if I never touch a piece of code for the rest of my life, I'll be super happy because I don't want to be that Doer. I want to be the person who is responsible for the outcomes that I create, but you're absolutely right. That if that's who you are, it's really important to take ownership of that and be the person who is letting go of the things and bringing other people on board. I've run into this, you know, so many times talking with content creators, who they hit the ceiling and it's exact same thing. Usually they've been working on like a blog or a YouTube channel or something for probably three to five years. And they've started to see some really great traction and get some great results as I've stuck with it. And they've been in that Doer mindset of just output, output, output output, but then they hit the ceiling where like the growth just sort of tapers off. And some people stay there for a long time. Some people just give up, but a few people actually break through that. And the ones that I've found who break through that are the ones who do exactly what you're talking about. It's a mindset shift of realizing I'm no longer this DIY lone-wolf content creator. I'm a leader. I am the CEO of a media company, or I'm the one building the team who's working on the output and I'm giving the direction and setting the vision, all of that. And it is a huge, huge shift, but that's where you see that exponential growth and where you can break through that ceiling.

Nathan (29:19):

It'd be fascinating because once you're around it enough, you can see it in other people really quickly. It doesn't take me more than one conversation with somebody to see what side of the fence they fall on. But here's what you understand. There's nothing wrong with either side of the fence.

Josiah (29:31):

Both are needed.

Nathan (29:32):

Both are needed, right? And if you study leadership academically, there's one theme that comes through it. That's probably the most impactful thing about it. And in order to lead, you have, have people willing to follow. But also in order to lead, you have to have a goal and you have to have a timeframe in mind. So I'm not talking about being a manager somewhere or having authoritative responsibility or somebody. I'm talking about shifting your mindset from somebody who instead of about capable of leading it's about who views leadership as a value in and of itself. Who can go from I'm deriving my personal value, my self worth for the output that can create to, I'm deriving my self worth from enabling other people to create. And that creation serves some sort of purpose, right? Because meaningless, if it doesn't serve a purpose. Is that purpose driving more hits to a website? Is that purpose getting more ad revenue from your YouTube channel? Is that purpose meeting a client's need, whatever that purpose is, your mindset has to not just be, I don't want to create any more. I want to lead. It has to be understanding that that leadership has a purpose to it. And the best way for me to fulfill that purpose is to enable and help others do the work to get there. And that is the crucial difference because it's not just about authority or responsibility. It's about that. It's about caring enough about the outcome and enough about the people to help the people realize the outcome.

Josiah (30:56):

That's so good and very accurately describes our time together. We're working together at Faith Life.

Nathan (31:03):

And knowing that something that I still do, I still care deeply about the people who work for me and who I get to bring onto the teams I've had the ability to lead and take them on these journeys and some go faster than others and some don't happen at all. And that's okay. And I find myself really blessed because I get to still have relationship and do stuff with you, Josiah all the time. And other people that are on that team are still around in some shape or fashion. And I've seen people from that team go off and start things that have had massive impact and have had great results, both on the Doer side and on the Leader side. So, or the outcome side. So I was just really gratifying to sit back and say, Hey, I've been entrusted with these young folks to do this with now. I get to see them doing it with others. And it's wonderful.

Josiah (31:44):

That's so great, Nathan. So I don't want to get off here without talking about the marketing side of things, because most of what I learned about marketing, especially in the early years, came from you. And part of that was because when I came in and I led the marketing technology team, my mindset at that point was, I don't really care about marketing. I just care about geeking out on the tech side of things. And you very quickly helped me realize that I did actually care about marketing. It took me several years for that to really sink in, but now it has completely flip flopped to the other side where the marketing and sales is like, what I love the most in my business. And the tech stuff is just kind of the necessary things that help on the infrastructure that helps put that stuff in place. As much as I love tech. Like the thing that you helped me realize was that to me and to you, the marketing and sales side is much more interesting problems to solve.

Nathan (32:41):

Yes. And also there's just much more to do there and much like everything else. There's a foundation here that I want to share that I truly firmly believe. And the reality is is that marketing as a practice hasn't existed for as long as you may guess, it's not like marketing has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. In times before there was transportation, before there's mass communication, before there was exchange of value across orders, there was no need for marketing because you had a town shop or you had a traveling person that would go through towns from time to time with the wares and services and everything else was different. What really forced marketing into being something that had to be dealt with was, there's the rise of consumerism. You're looking at the railroad and steam locomotive eras and the beginning of the digital revolution where you had this concentration of people that had purchasing means that weren't dependent on other people that had choices to make about where they got stuff and how they got it. So at best, I would say you have about 200 years of history in marketing. But what people would like to tell you and what a lot of folks will espouse. And if you listen to certain podcasts and blogs out there, and I'm not saying that they're necessarily wrong, marketing has not changed since it was founded in the first place at all. Marketing serves one purpose is to get someone to change their behavior from one thing to the next. That's all marketing is. And marketing has fundamentally been the same since it was first necessary. And marketing specifically is getting people to choose one course of action over another when it comes to the purchasing habits, that's it, whether it's B to B marketing B to C marketing, whether it's online, print, digital, whatever, the only purpose to do in marketing is to convince someone, to change their behavior, to your benefit. And that's a very reductionist view and a very pragmatic view, but that's just like everything else I have is extremely pragmatic. What has changed over the decades and especially in the past two decades is the mode and method of it. What's possible, nNow marketing wise, wasn't possible even a decade ago, people forget that the iPhone came out in 2007, which if you ever want to do a little bit of history on technology, 2007 was the most important year for technological advancement in most people's lifetimes. I wouldn't say my lifetime because I would argue that some stuff that happened in the seventies and eighties was quite important as well. But as far as the younger generation, my kids 2007, it was a watermark here. That was the year that Twitter was used to live tweet South by Southwest. That's the year that Apple opened up the app store and released the first iPhone. That was the year that Facebook allowed ads on Facebook. And that was the year that Google launched Google ads, right? So the very foundation of building block also, by the way, the year YouTube launched as well. So for most people listening to this 90% of the methods that you use to do whatever marketing stemmed from that. The idea of using social media as a method of marketing, the idea of online advertising, all of that isn't that old. And so the disciplines around it changed so rapidly, but marketing is still the same. It's what are you doing to change someone's behavior from what it was to what it can be. And this happens in two ways, you're either co-opting someone's behavior. You're asking them to take a brand new behavior. And you really need to understand this when you're launching something, or you're trying to figure out how to do something better. What I mean about co-opting behavior, I call it the Coke method. Coca-Cola their stated. If you read it, their history, their whole thing is they want a Coke product within five feet of every human being on earth at all times. So when someone is thirsty, they pick up a Coke product. It doesn't matter if it's a Coca Cola or a Disani water or whatever it may be. They want somebody to associate thirst with a Coke product. There are subsuming and existing behavior and trying to change it to their benefit. Whereas Pepsi is trained to create a new behavior. And all Pepsi wants to do is convince you there's a choice to Coke. They're not worried about trying to get you the moment where you're a thirsty, they're trying to get you at the moment where you're deciding how to quench your thirst. And so they're introducing a new behavior. So the new behavior is we're not Coke. So no matter what you do, if you're starting a podcast, or if you're starting a blog, if you're starting a YouTube channel, you are forcing someone to make a decision in a behavioral way. A fantastic book on this. I really can't remember the author's name off the top of my head. It was called the Paradox of Choice. It's a psychology book, and it's a book that I recommend. I can't believe I can't remember the author's name, but it's a really, really good book that talks about this concept that when there's lots of choices, people have a tougher time making choices. When there's fewer choices, it's easier to make a choice. And that's been very foundational and how I look at things. And another book that I think is fantastic is a book called Contagious written by Jonah Berger, another psychology book that looked at how things went viral. And the most important stat in there, and which is really key to marketing is that at the time of the book was written roughly six, seven years ago, maybe a little bit longer, the study was done and only at most 7% of everything that human beings shared, they shared online. And it's still hold very close to the percentage today. Majority of what you choose to share as a human being with others is done interpersonally one-to-one. Now you may use an online tool to do it, but it's still personal interpersonal sharing. So two things that are foundational to it is that marketing and change behavior works best when you limit choice and you focus on the choice that you want, which is a lot to say that we talked about about when we're selling software and books is you don't put too many choices on the page. You focus the one that you really want to buy, make sure it's easy to find, make sure that it's going from top left to bottom right. And your button is red or some color because it draws more attention. All of that stuff is purely behavioral change. The other part of it is, and this is where conduct creation becomes really fascinating, is are you creating content that people are going to be willing to share with another human being one-on-one? Are you going to pick up the phone and say, Hey, I read this thinking about the last time you saw a movie that was so good. They couldn't wait to tell your friends about it or TV show or song, right? That's where things get shared. It's when you're compelling people to change their behavior from not sharing to sharing. Because human behavior, we're not predisposed as human beings to share positive things. We're predisposed to share negative things. What we don't like. That's why Yelp is such an interesting thing. Think about it. If you go to a restaurant and you don't have to service, unless they incentivize you to leave a positive review, you're more likely to leave a review if you don't like the service that if you did, could have the best dinner at a restaurant you've ever had with no incentive, you're very unlikely to leave a positive review. However, if you go to that same restaurant, have a horrible experience. You're very likely to leave a negative review. So it's just understanding these little things and understanding that it's about behavioral change has gotta be the foundation of anyone's marketing that we do.

Josiah (39:21):

Boom. Mike dropped. Oh man, this has been fantastic. So Nathan, I know that you have over the years sort of formulated an overarching framework of how all of this fits together. Can we talk about that?

Nathan (39:39):

I think it's important for people to understand that what you should be chasing and focusing on is not perfection. It's not even excellence, it's progress. And if you think about the idea of what entropy from a scientific perspective, entropy is the amount of energy it takes to overcome someone's inertia. When they hear the phrase entropy set in, it means that something is kind of rigid or stiff. So if you think about putting a block of like a brick on a surface, the amount of energy it takes to overcome the entropy of that brick standing still and get it to move in a direction is the amount of initial force it needs. When it's still, you need a whole lot more force to get that brick to move along that surface. But if you're already moving that brick on the surface, if you need to change course and change direction, it takes a whole lot less force in order for that to change direction and much like that works in physics, it works that way in life and a business as well. A lot of people have projects. They want to get started, have things they want to get off the ground and they're waiting for the right inspiration or for the circumstances to be right, or for things to be aligned perfectly before they start moving forward or for the website to be perfect, or for them to have the perfect edit on whatever it is they're doing. And it takes so much more energy to get some like that moving then if you were to start something and make it better along the way. And so the ideal shouldn't be for us perfection or even excellence, it needs to be progress. Is this better today than it was yesterday? Is it farther down the road than it was a day before. Is this serving a greater purpose now than it did when I started? Is this something that's more sustainable today than last month? Is this heading in the right direction? Maybe not. But it's easier to get it going in the right direction. If you're already moving, then even just standing, still waiting to figure out what direction that is. And so I come up with this that I like to call better theory as really very simple. There's always a better way for us to do things. And it's just a framework that I use everywhere I've been and whether or not I've had that moniker for it or had the framework structure the way I have now, isn't important. What's important is the ideas, It really is moving from one thing to the next, and it's not a magical thing, nor is there a systematic way to project manage something it's more of a practical guide for progress. And the first thing you gotta do is you got to frame the need. Like, what are you trying to do here? Are you trying to enroll hunger? Or are you trying to create a YouTube channel that makes people laugh and keeps them entertained? Like, what's the need, what's the problem you're trying to solve? What does this add to the conversation? The next thing you have to do is figure out, like, what are the important questions to ask? What are the essentials to make things happen? Then from there, you move on to this idea of exploring solutions. Has it's been done before it has somebody done? This has, it's been something that you can add to, or is this something that's gotta be created? Or is this something that new that it's gotta be done? And then once you have those in place, once you understand the need and frame the questions and understand the questions to ask and understand the solutions that are out there to it that are possibilities, you have to understand the path you're going to take. You have to figure out this is what I'm going to do, and this is why I'm going to do it. And the last part you have to do is actually do that thing that you say you're going to do. Post that blog or create a YouTube channel or in my case, rebrand a 65 year old financial company and do it so they don't lose any money along the way. Whatever it is, that piece is actually going and doing that thing. But then you start over. 'Cause the moment you and act action, and you take that positive step, it is done over with and irrelevant, so you got to go back and say, okay, okay, what's the need again? What are the questions I need to be asking? What are the possibilities to make this go forward? Do I understand how I need to get there? And can I deploy this new thing? And it's just this framework they can use over and over again, to get from point A to point Z and all points in between, whether it's like my career and not be a straight line, or if it is, that's not important, what's important is the progress. Am I pushing forward? Am I doing these things? So really if you're focused on in a world where, you know, failure is going to happen, a way around that failures to have a system in place that assumes that failure is going to be there. And this framework assumes that, but also a way to keep things realistic and keep things simple. And to keep removing friction from things is by this process or with this theory or this framework or whatever that I like to call it Better Theory. And it's just very simple. I firmly believe there's always a better idea, right? How good my idea is. There's a better idea out there. And I want to go find that and do that. And it's kind of cool because I never have to be right, because I always assume that I'm wrong in the first place. But it's also very freeing because it's like, great. This is it for now. And let's go make it better. And I've had conversations even this week within my organization about this and about, Hey yeah, what we're doing, isn't what you envisioned. And you may not see it as the end goal, but it's better than what we did last week. So let's do more of this. And the next time we do it, let's get better. Because there's a false assumption where people have, especially in the content world where you got one shot. If you blow your shot, then you're never going to get another chance again. And let me just tell you for anyone out there listening, no one really cares about what you're doing, unless you give them a reason to care. And there's enough audience out there for you to make all the failure and mistakes in the world and still recover for them. Because I guarantee you, there's more people that haven't heard you or what you're doing than have. There's always a better way. Just get that forward momentum. Don't stop yourself because you're afraid of something of the failure or you need to be perfect. It's not perfection or even excellence. It's just progress that I think drives us forward the most, as most important, especially when it comes to the creative endeavors.

Josiah (45:35):

I love that, man. I had kind of an a-ha in that we've had conversations about this and I've talked to other people, I've put a lot of focus on just getting momentum. But one of the things that while you're talking that I realized this is just as important, you said after you're done, then you go back and start over. I realized that also requires you to stay detached. So you're still engaged, but you have to detach yourself because if you get attached to the outcome, right, then you don't want to go back and start over and then you get stuck. You don't move forward and progress isn't made.

Nathan (46:10):

That's brilliant. That's awesome. I'm going to add that into my repertoire.

Josiah (46:14):

Well, man, this is so great. I have loved this conversation and I'm just so thankful that you were able to make the time to come on the show. And I know everyone in the audience got a ton from this conversation as well. Before we hop off here, Nathan, can you just share with everyone where they can connect with you online?

Nathan (46:35):

The best way honestly, is to find me on LinkedIn. It's LinkedIn/in/nathanrelson. Not hard to find me. There's only like three of us in the world with the same name. So easy to find, or you can shoot me an email at [email protected] I can't promise that I could get back to you right away, but I will eventually, and I'll give you my cell phone number because why not? It's (619) 838-0746. I used to be neighbors with Bob Goff, Bob Goff. He puts his phone number and all of his books. And it's literally his phone number. And if you call him, he'll answer it. Even if he's on stage speaking, just to, I probably won't answer cause I don't. But if you leave a message, I'll get back to you.

Josiah (47:14):

That's great. And we'll make sure that all that's linked up in the show notes. Although I don't know if we'll put your phone number in there just because I don't want you to get robo calls. Well, this has been great. And for everybody out there listening, go be a hero.

Josiah (47:29):

Hey everyone, thank you for listening to the Content Heroes podcast. I just wanted to take a second and let you know that we have some amazing guests planned for the coming weeks. So if you haven't already go ahead and hit subscribe so you can make sure to catch every episode. And if you enjoyed today's episode, go ahead and leave a five star review to help make it easier for other content creators to find and enjoy the show. Lastly, I'd like to invite you to join our Content Heroes Facebook community, where you can connect with other online content creators to share, learn, grow, and have fun to join the group. Just visit Once again, that is

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