Janis Spivack is the founder of CrushYourBLOCK (CYB), a product and service company helping people navigate through change using proprietary methodologies, which are a mix of neuroscience and actionable planning.
Q: You have spearheaded and seen the change in the tech industry for many years, and now you are mastering strategies on how to cope with change on an individual level. What brought you here?
When I think about this journey, which has been completely untraditional, I get excited for anyone that has the opportunity to change –to start with “I am” and move into “here’s what I can be”. I started in art school, completely unrelated to where I am today. I have no credentials in doing what I’m doing, apart from the fact that it’s been practiced along the way in my career.
After art school, I worked as a traditional art director in advertising, in the age of Mad Men. So, I was the only young woman in a group of people pitching, and building, advertising, at the height of all the exciting things that were happening –traditional television, broadcasts, etc. About eight years in, I was invited to a hybrid company that was taking high tech, cutting edge, and putting it together with traditional video. I had no idea what I was doing, and it was an eye-opening thing to be working with engineers.
It was very exciting, and it opened my eyes for the good things and the bad in learning about technology. I remember the moment when one of the gentlemen I was working with ran into the room and said, “there’s this thing called the Internet! We need to stop what we’re doing!”. It was a magical thing. Our computers, which up until that point were used only for typing, could now open up the world and connect us.
Q: Sounds like prehistory, but it wasn’t that long.
It was around the years ’99, ’98 when they were taking the Internet into general commerce, to be used by other people besides technologists. It wasn’t that long ago, but does it feel like it was ages ago. My only skill at that point was being able to take these amazing platforms that were being used for communication, and use them to bring businesses together with their customers. All we were doing at that time was experimenting, and I because I got involved so early on, had the good fortune to get embedded into the early Internet work of a lot of companies.
Also, helping ad agencies figure out what they needed to do in this new digital age, and a lot of that included bringing in people from traditional environments, paving the way for them to come into what was a fairly scary world. Making it accessible, bringing their creative powers into a place they were completely unfamiliar with, so they could thrive and contribute to the companies. A lot of my following career was being brought into different roles to help translate between technologists and creative, helping creatives get into technology and to not be afraid. At the time I didn’t realize it, it felt completely random, but that’s what I was doing.
I was very grateful because in each of my new roles someone asked me to change an environment, for example, or to make an idea for a product happen, or help a company in distress reinvent itself for the new markets. Each time the problem was actually about helping the individuals align, get comfortable and feel safe with the idea of breaking through an idea and inventing.
Q: You talk a lot about the authentic self. What is it, and why is it so important to start with it?
The advertiser’s job is almost like translating —making fascinating, complex ideas accessible and adaptable. I went down the rabbit hole about five years ago when I asked myself “what is it that moves an entire organization towards a unified goal?”. In brand practice usually an exclusive team figures out what the vision is for the business, and then they bring it down from the mountain for everyone else, everyone in that company automatically gets in line with that vision and then share it with the bigger audience.
What I realized in this engagement about five years ago, was that the individuals in this company were afraid and defeated, despite the goals and the spirit the business itself had. The question was, how can we lift and help the individuals follow their instinct to step out and do something different, despite their rational and critical self?
The discovery I made by learning about cognition and neuroscience is that the authentic self, which is our brain synthesizing our emotions, our knowledge, our true experiences, and our learned guidelines, can tell us what’s right. In many ancient cultures that’s called “inner knowledge”, among other terms. There are a lot of ways to call it, esoteric and scientific, and I use the psychology term “authentic self”. It’s your knowing self, not the part of the brain that criticizes and rationalizes.
Authentic self in the idea of a business, of us in that business and us following our path and our career, is about listening to what is right first for us, and then observing what’s right for others. If while being in a business or a group we’re not in touch with our authentic self, understanding what it is and then making a conscious choice to decide whether to follow or not what the business entity wants, we begin to get off-center. We sense before we’re able to call out, the fact that we are not in balance.
Sometimes we get too focused on one thing –work, or a person—and we feel internally that something is off. It might take us years to realize the reason is we’re not in line. People have different ways of waking up. They think “I’m not following my purpose!”, for example. If we don’t hear that voice, we won’t be able to know what’s right for us.
Q: You talk about all the research and science behind CYB. What have you learned about the brain and how it works?
The words Crush and Block came out of the idea of a catalyst. What does “catalyst” mean, and why is it so important? The most fascinating thing that came from this research for me was that being blocked or stuck is a natural part of brain processing. People who generate ideas on demand are familiar with that point where they feel they can’t come up with anything else. Now that it’s possible to record the energy of an idea forming in the brain on video, they’ve discovered there’s a pause there. And that pause is a consideration.
The common language analogy I use is computers, because they’re a mirror of how our brain works. Computers are designed, basically, by laying down a series of rules; those rules are the guides the computer uses to know where to go at every changing point. It’s branching logic.
Our brains do the same thing. The neuro-pathways, the guides, are laid down by lessons, for example, information, or simply the rule set that we’ve been given. Our brain uses that constantly to make decisions – “am I excited or afraid? If I’m excited, I move forward, if I’m afraid I pause”.
CYB was built out of the idea that if we cannot hear whether we’re excited or afraid, or we’re tending towards being afraid because the guide we’re using is outdated, then we’re blocked. CYB can help people see their guide is outdated and get them moving. Once they have that path –we call it a framing tool—to move forward, they can crush or move that block out of the way and begin going towards what’s true for each person.
Q: How do you make that happen?
A big part of it is just starting. If our brain is stuck because of a rule that’s stopping us from moving forward, we consider that being blocked. But once we start “sketching” –artists do this a lot–, feeling safe and putting that action in a series of steps, it feels doable and safe. CYB is a method designed to take your critical brain, actually see it and move it to the side every time it gets in the way of you imagining what might be and thinking about how you could get there.
The process uses current neuroscience, but also physicality, food, hydration, all these things, to help bring the authentic self out; to see what it’s saying and see how the inner critic is sabotaging, moving it to the side and playing with it.
Q: What’s the connection between identifying your authentic self, and inclusion?
Inclusion starts with accessibility. We’ve been looking at all the science and how things are shared, and one of my biggest observations has been how astonishing it is that so few people understand how their brains and emotions work, what happens physiologically. CYB is an endeavor dedicated to making –at this point we’ve had people from all genders, all education levels, all cultures, levels of wealth and position go through the methodology.
We work so that this can be accessible to anyone. We won’t use complicated scientific terms that many people won’t understand, we use accessible analogies so they can be applied to real-life situations, and put them into action. That’s where inclusion comes first, making it so it’s understandable.
The second part is making everyone understand how —again, brain science— neuro-mirroring works. First of all, there’s the idea that you can understand this; second, you can apply it to your life, it’s not theoretical; third, how I show up internally is not necessarily how people will see me externally –this is where it impacts a team.
The first piece is “who am I?”, internal self-awareness. The next piece is “how am I perceived?”. What we often do in management is “you need to be inclusive and diverse!”, but if you haven’t really understood how you are, the rule sets around asking for help, around how you perceive someone of a different culture, gender, etc., how will you shift your real perception, and your relationship with someone else?
I have the CYB macro –the methodology, tools, and services–, and also a consultancy where I get to practice agile learning. I work with individuals and organizations, and what I learned very early about organizations was that if the leadership has not actualized internally, only in aspiration, every individual will still be afraid of that other –in gender, age, education, etc.
People are always going to tend and retreat to what’s safe, but by being aware, making it a practice and habit, making pauses and examination, the change can happen. One activity, one workshop, two days, an hour, etc. are not enough to transform the mentality towards inclusivity and diversity in a group.
Q: So you can’t force inclusion from the outside, you have to work from the inside and make both efforts meet.
First, each person has to examine their perceptions –or blocks, and often they’re not what we thought they were. We grow up in a particular place, with certain cultural reinforcements about groups that are “not to be trusted”, and that’s how our brains are wired when we go into the workplace. That’s why without really examining and making a choice to re-wire before implementing anything, there’s always going to be a natural reaction of fear, rather than excitement, about behaving differently towards that other.
At CYB we love these trends, this awareness, and transformation in the world today; this idea that together, by collaborating, we can be more successful. However, we’re focused on the and –and, let us create a safe, nurturing, and actionable way for you to begin to explore your mentality, the emotional safety around the known, and make it wider, more compassionate.
Q: Have you seen any positive trends that point towards inclusion?
Absolutely. One thing I’m passionate about is intergenerational engagement. At the Midlife movement I was honored to be included as part of the Modern Elder Academy faculty, for a movement that Chip Conley started with his book Wisdom at Work. This movement created a multitude of efforts towards bringing the boomer generation, Gen-X, millennials –and we’re starting to see the beginning of Gen-Z–, together to leverage each other’s experiences. Digital experience meets life experience, for example.
There are perceptions out there that are always at the beginning. The trend I’m seeing is a gradual opening up to the fact that idea exchange is important. On the one side I work with midlife people who are in active search to transform and move into their second act, and it’s astonishing –people who made entire steady, dedicated careers and who are breaking out and completely transforming how they see themselves, and moving into completely different careers, completely different ways of being. Out of their safety nets.
On the other side, I work with a lot of late-20s to late 30-year-olds, and I am very heartened –there are a lot of perceptions about millennials, but I am so heartened about the proactive search for other ways of doing. I don’t think that when I was their age I was so open, so actively looking at the people who were 10, 20, 30 years older than me and asking them how they did what they did to reinvent it. I love how conversations go.
The term “navigating” is really important for me, and that’s another aspect of CYB. The dedication for both CYB, my consultancy and the rest of my work, is about the individual. I believe in empowering the individual, in the idea of independence and building both compassion and belief in oneself. The role of navigator for me, versus the coaches or teachers whom I work closely with and who try to be guides for people, is getting people in touch with what they know, with their truth, which is often right –but we end up second-guessing, diminishing our sense of self in favor of the collective and the sense of other.
What I love about millennials is that they tap into the other while searching for who they are. Us older people often think of them as self-centered, but I wish I had been more like that when I was their age. I celebrate that they’re adopting the self-discovery ideas as much as acquiring wealth, which is what most people used to do when they were younger. We wanted to prove ourselves and we ignored the importance of understanding oneself.
The Movement is fairly consistent, and the market tells us that wellness is projected to be in the trillions of dollars as an industry, as people begin to search and invest in it.
That’s very uplifting because, like you said, the more aware we are of ourselves and the better we take care of ourselves, we’ll be more prone to include others in our world.