Episode 8: Team Building With Philip Folsom
Philip Folsom found his Passion & Purpose helping teams transform into tribes. His origin story begins in the backwoods of Washington. As a young boy, his parents decided to reject the western lifestyle and build a commune with a group of other families where they would live off the land and live in freedom. In his own words, this social experiment was doomed from the beginning.
This experience was the first in many that set a path for Philip. Today, he is widely regarded as one of America’s top cultural development experts. He helps leading organizations build healthy, high-performing environments through inspiration and innovation. Clients include: Apple, Google, Red Bull, Snapchat, and entertainment juggernaut Walt Disney.
In this inspiring conversation, you will learn:
- How to go from being team to becoming a tribe
- The two things that create psychological well-being
- The difference between a tribe and a community
- How focusing on your passions can lead you to your purpose
- The benefits of building a tribe
In today’s episode, listen to Philip explain how you can heal the world around you by building your tribe and connecting with others.
SOME QUESTIONS I ASK PHILIP:
- Have you always had a tribe of people surrounding you?
- What happens when you can’t find your dream job?
LINKS FROM THE INTERVIEW:
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode. Who was your inspiration for following Passion & Purpose?
For full disclosure, Philip Folsom was a student in my Personal Brand Masters Program.
Thanks so much for listening!
Click To Read The Full Podcast Transcript
Richard Janes: Today’s guest is one of America’s top cultural development experts, helping leading organizations build healthy, high-performing environments that foster healthy high-performing individuals. His client list includes some of the most inspiring and innovating companies in the world, from Apple to Red Bull, Snapchat to Google, and Walt Disney to Electronic Arts. To call his work transformational and game changing, well, it’s an understatement as is calling his approach unique. His programs include Tibetan death cave meditations, equestrienne therapy all the way through to integrating teams with real-life pack of wolves.
Now, as with many of my guests, his passion and purpose can be traced back to a young age and in his case, it was his parents’ failed experiment to buck the commercialization of community and get back to that real living that left an indelible mark on his soul and has become the shadow from which he is relentless in trying to cut himself free.
My guest today is Philip Folsom, also known as the ‘tribe guy’. And we started out by diving into that early childhood that made such an impression.
Philip Folsom: I grew up on a commune in the northwest, and a commune is kind of a dynamic where a bunch of families in the ‘60s and ‘70s got together and they were attempting an alternative lifestyle by bucking the traditional nuclear family in the suburbs. And so the ’60s was a time of just tremendous upheaval where people were really looking at the world and going “I reject all of this.” They were bucking the passion and purposelessness of the contemporary American society of the ’50s and ‘60s; we don’t need to chase success or cars or any sort of measurable external drivers of value, let’s just reject all of that and get back to nature. So they were looking at taking some bold stabs at “I’m going to reinvent society” and got a couple of friends to get together and try that with.
So the commune that I grew up in was several families got together, bought 40 acres of land out in the boonies and started building their own houses and recreating life in some sort of fashion without really navigating or doing any research or finding out what are the psychological needs of children, how do families work and all this stuff. And they were children themselves now reflecting back and looking at these poor mid 20-year-old people who are children. And so it was doomed from the beginning. And it wasn’t their fault. They were doing the best they had with what they had and their fathers were the same before them and they just didn’t have access to some of the primary foundational pieces that make humans healthy and happy, and that is, feelings of safety being inclusive, having some level of mastery of your world. And unless you have those things, unless you have some sense of mastery, you cannot launch forth and to take risks.
Richard Janes Commentary: Now when we talk about mastery of your world, it’s very easy to jump into the ego notion of intellectual and craft mastery. Getting that degree, that apprenticeship, having years on the job. But the key here is self-mastery. Self-mastery gives you the control over the one thing in this life that you can control in any situation. Whether you are on a commune in the middle of nowhere, in a job or family that’s not filling you with excitement, or simply feeling lost. And that one thing that you can control in any situation is yourself. It allows you discipline, persistence and focus. It allows you the ability to control emotional impulses and bypass the heightened emotions to make decisions based on rational thinking.
Now we’ve all heard of the power of visualizations and affirmations to help us take our lives to the next level. But what many of us miss is the fact that if we don’t have self-mastery, the energy we put out is erratic. One minute calm, then the next minute stressful. And rather than a focused stream of energy to achieve our desired objectives, there’s a chaotic bombardment with no real direction.
And that’s where Philip found himself. Unenrolled in the bigger vision of the community — the community led by people who had yet to master their own world.
Philip Folsom: Well, I still went to school and I was around other kids who, number one, had money. They were socially relevant, relevant to the time, they were cool and I definitely wasn’t. I was this kind of weird ratty kid from the woods. I didn’t know anything different, so there isn’t a frame of reference of “This is weird.”
Now reflecting back on it, it was definitely fairly weird and I had strange clothes and strange hair and didn’t have the cool big giant bellbottom pants that everybody else had. And so to not be accepted and relevant, that’s a painful thing for a pack animal. I did poorly in school. I didn’t have any parenteral involvement. I never did sports. The sports I attempted, I quit and I don’t have any support or accountability from any of the adults in my world. And so, not having any involved adults is one of the number one causes of childhood dysfunction.
Richard Janes Commentary: So Philip’s parents had sort out this new utopia, something that I know in my mind that has occasionally wandered off to think about wouldn’t it be great to get a group of friends together and build a life where all live close and can really support each other away from all the craziness. But in Philip’s case, it didn’t work.
Philip Folsom: I was part of that didn’t work. When people start pushing into the “Everybody’s okay, you don’t have to try. Let’s remove all the structure, let’s remove all the hierarchy and all of the success-based stuff from world,” then what you have is kind of a collapse. We have a full collapse into dysfunction. And people need to struggle. We need to be able to struggle successfully. And as a psychological pillar of healthy humans, struggle is one of the big ones, right, next to connection. Those are the two things that create psychological well-being. And I didn’t have that.
I definitely had connection growing up. There was other kids who played dungeons and dragons and we played a lot of good fantasy play. And my fantasy play extended deep into my high school which is I guess one thing we see when we look at traditionally dysfunctional young men is that they will check out. They check out in video games, they check out with fantastical stuff as a means of avoiding the pain of the present. Like, “I’m not successful in the real world so let me try this fantasy world” because at least they have some measure of control and I can escape from the shocking that I’m getting regularly in the monkey cage of reality.
Richard Janes Commentary: As Philip mentioned earlier, we are meant to struggle. It is part of our DNA and the process to learn who we really are and what we are really capable of achieving. The issue here is in how modern society, so much struggle has been taken away from our life. For many of us, food and water is readily available. We have shelter and clothing and to a degree, we have access to education and healthcare, even if it is just the local pharmacist down the road. What we are left with is benign struggles that we play up in order to propel ourselves forward or conversely, we just settle back as a shell of our potential and live out our struggles vicariously not only through computer games as Philip says but through the reality TV show we love so much that’s constantly playing in the background. The action movie where we watch the hero risk everything or diving into that romantic novel where amazing things have to be overcome in order for love to prevail.
By shying away from real-life struggles, many of us miss out on discovering our true passion and life purpose that can propel us forward on our journey. But we also miss out on an important element that is at the heart of Philip’s work: a deep connection to a tribe of people. Given Philip’s chosen profession, I wondered if for all the struggles he at least felt like he had a tribe of other kids around him.
Philip Folsom: I didn’t have a tribe; I had a community. And I don’t think a community is a tribe. The first full tribe experience that I had was in the United States Army.
It’s one of our few proto tribal expressions that we have left. You could say gangs, any sort of Greek organization in college, those are just still tribal. But the military is one of those that happens to contain the DNA of tribe components, and that is, we understand what the vision is or the purpose of the military. You know what it is. When you sign up, you actually state an oath: to defend the country from all enemies both foreign and domestic.
You swear an oath, you raise your right hand. You swear an oath. And then, you get your operating system wiped clean and reinstalled.
You get your head shaved, you go through a sleep deprivation boot camp intensive thing where you get a new operating system involved and it is tribal. At its core, it is tribal. And you’re prepared to kill and die. Literally you’re prepared to kill and die. It’s commonly thought that these are a bunch of high-speed patriots who have joined out of service and the reality is, in my experience of basic training, we’re a collection of misfits. Poor kids from down south and first time I was ever around black guys, speaking full Ebonics and southern boy’s drawl and, like, the characters in here, it’s just outrageous. But we’re all dysfunctional, we’re all poor. I mean, that was the reality. That was the common glue.
Most of the veterans in the military have two to three times the amount of pre-trauma that the average well-adapted person does. We came from poverty. We came from not on a winning streak and so eventually we ended up here, and like if you have a chance to go to college or the army, ooh, most people take college. Good-paying job or the army? Hmm, probably going to take good-paying job.
Richard Janes Commentary: Now it was here in the army that Philip had one of those life-changing moments. We’ve all had them where we’ve heard, seen, or done something that broke her belief system that kept as firmly in a specific line of thought or way of doing things. And in Philip’s case, one of those defining moments came from a moment whom all recruits feared to death.
Philip Folsom: Drill Sergeant Thomas — I will never forget him. I mean, that man could sing cadence. He was yoked, he was funny, wore his hat super low, a drill sergeant hat. I mean, he was the man! And one point he called us down from our barracks and we had two minutes to run down the stairs, fall into formation and stopwatch running and we make it in five minutes before everybody gets finished and fidgeting and all organized.
“Okay, you got two minutes of push-ups. Go!”
So we do push-ups and then he goes, “Stopwatch, on! You got two minutes. Go get your pillow. Go!”
And we all run off and make it down in 4 minutes and 50 seconds and we do push-ups. And then they go, okay, “Two minutes. Get on your lifeboat. Go!”
We did this for 8 hours and we had every single piece of equipment that we owned lined up in the parking lot, fully set up and we were doing it in two minutes. So it was experiences like that which completely shatter you as an individual because if anybody in those 24 men failed, you will fail. There is no “you” anymore. In the same way that in tribes it is not “my food,” it is “the food”. It’s “the” formation. It is “the” unit. And that’s a profound thing. If you’ve never done sports, that will change you.
And so the crystallizing moment was at some point in our dysfunction we were out in the middle of the night and we were getting smoked and we called it “grass drills” which is up, down, roll right, roll left and we’re getting smoked. And he said “I know all you guys think you can’t do this.” You know, you can’t get through basic training, you cannot be a good soldier. Because we’re just wrecks, we cannot get our s*** together. And he said “And I was the same way and so is every other man who’s been through here. And I have to tell you that there has been literally millions of men who have managed to do it.”
And he pointed at the street light that was over our grass drills and he said “If I see another man who can climb that street and they jump off and not get hurt, I know I can do it too.” And there you go, it was another diamond bullet that hit me in the head. I was like “I’ve never been told that before” and I never even realized it that if somebody else who has bought a house started a company, got a college degree, if there’s another man that can do those things, why can’t I? It’s a profound awareness.
So I now look around me and when I see you or any of my powerful, smart, competent accomplished friends doing something, I go, “How are they doing that?” And I know I’m just as smart as they are, maybe not quite as smart but I definitely have all the humanity and the tools to address that problem and make myself better. And it’s going to involve the death of a previous way of being.
That transition which is the movement, I guess, from a passion to a purpose is not free. It requires a blood price, it requires an intentional murder of a preexisting identity, a thought process, assumptions, and that space is the rebirth of something else. So if you’re going to the military and you leave basic training, that is your new operating system. You’re a spartan at that point. Here’s your shield, you protect this guy on this side and then you kill those people.
That’s why Spartans existed and that is what the function of the military is, and it is profound.
Richard Janes: Any passion there?
Philip Folsom: Huge.
Richard Janes: What is the passion?
Philip Folsom: To be the best you can be at that point. And there’s a tremendous amount of competition within the military, they build it in. They build in, you know, who can march the best and who can fight each other the best and who wins this, and you march by another unit and you sing songs basing them and uplifting yourself. And the dark side of tribes is tribalism. Because it involves exclusive virtue.
So to be a member of a full-functioning tribe and this is one of the things that I do share with people is, as soon as you have tribal alignment with people, there is always going to be such an exalted sense of pride and identity based on that tribe that all other tribes are less than. And if you hold up a couple other competitors, if there are any, they will be less than and there it’s going to be a pushback. And until we assume the global tribe of humans as a species which probably won’t happen until we’re attacked by aliens, right?
There needs to be the other and then they’ll become the other. But right now, there always needs to be another. And that’s in our DNA. There is something connected to competition in any of our passions. That fire that’s igniting something, there is a need to express yourself to compete, to compare. It’s there.
And you can say “Well, I make pottery for myself.” Bulls***. At some point you want somebody to look at your pottery and you cannot help but compare your pottery to be somebody else’s pottery. It’s going to happen. And so that is part of humanity as well. That’s what Carl Jung talks about with struggle. And that’s just built into tribes.
Richard Janes Commentary: And this brings us neatly to Philip’s passion and purpose. I’ve been fortunate enough to have Philip as a guest speaker at a number of my personal branding seminars as well as being graciously brought in by him to speak at some of the companies he works with. What I do for individuals, he does for corporations and organizations. Not only is he on the way to mastering his own life but also helping organizations transition from teams to tribes.
I learned this firsthand when 5 years ago, Fanology, the digital content agency I set up in 2010 engaged him to help heal some divides we were seeing between different areas of our business. We engage Philip with the goal of employee retention and increasing productivity, but what we got was something a lot more impactful.
Philip Folsom: My purpose of organizations is to create modern day tribes within organizations, and a lot of my job is to be able to have organizations clarify what their vision is so people can understand the purpose of why they are invested and giving this time and employee retention. Right? And for people to show up and give 8 hours of their precious life, that purpose needs to be something that is aligned with a vision, that is uplifting, that is changing something. And if there isn’t that meaning, and you can equate purpose with meaning, they’re almost synonymous, and unless we have some sort of a meaning then that’s a bleak thing to give 8 hours of your life too.
So my job is, you know, I’ve spent 20 years gathering a pretty good toolkit on how to address team development and individual development and leadership work and being able to, you know, I want to kick a hole in the roof with the organization. I want to put water on the fire source and not just brand over society like “Oh, we need to be nicer to each other.” That’s not the source of the fire. That’s just the burn on the outside. So, I think the fire source is isolation in the workplace. Work is the fire source of our pain. It’s where we spend most of our hours.
So we have made the cardinal mistake of not acknowledging where the wound is and we are living for the weekend, we’re living for Coachella and for our holiday every year as a means of finding passion and purpose. And we’ve surrendered the center of the chessboard. We’re trying to win the game without those four squares. It’s a death sentence.
So until we start really looking at our careers or wherever you spend most of your day, but I’m going to guess it’s doing some job. If we haven’t found passion and purpose in that arena, then we’re done; we’ve already lost. We’re seeing an epidemic level of anxiety, depression, diabetes, heart disease. We’re not doing well in any of those capacities and they’re all inflammation-based and they’re all isolation driven.
So leaders who are the head of culture, our job is to provide a purpose and a vision alignment for our people. Those of us who are now intentionally creating our lives with passion and purpose, we have to start understanding so what exactly are we orienting off of? What are those metrics by which we’re placing people in the correct slots that are aligned and worth being there?
So it’s absolutely indispensable that not only are we conducting ourselves with passion but that we are being able to align with purpose. Passion is individually sourced. It’s my own expression. It’s my own needs to do something and it can be internally sourced. It burns hot and bright. Purpose is something that is bigger. SpaceX is the most passion- and purpose-filled organization that I currently work with. And when you walk into SpaceX and you see people wearing SpaceX shirts, it’s not because they’re cool shirts, it’s not because they have to wear them. It’s because they have a passion for what they are doing. It is aligned with their purpose.
And I was sharing this one of my liaisons at SpaceX and we’re in the lobby and there’s two giant maps. One of them is Earth and one of them is Mars, and Earth is this beautiful blue-green circle on the wall and Mars is this reddish bleak planet. And we’re having this meeting in front of these two big maps and we’re talking about vision and purpose. And my contact there said, pointing to the maps, “That’s our vision,” and I said, “What is that? Like it’s, oh, we’re going to Mars?” He goes, “No. That blue-green planet, that’s not Earth. That’s Mars. Meaning we’re not just going to Mars, we’re taking it. We’re getting another planet.” And I get chills saying that because I have never heard such — I think lofty would be too small of a word for a purpose. “We’re not just going to space and we’re not just going to Mars. We’re getting us another planet. Are you on board?” Hell yeah!
Richard Janes Commentary: So from an organization level, mission, vision and values have to be crystal clear. And then as individuals it’s up to us, it’s our duty to choose who we align ourselves with. That’s the old adage that it’s better to be on the right bus but the wrong seat than the right seat but the wrong bus.
The destination of the bus is the most important. Otherwise, we’ll just be moving further and further away and further away from the environment where we can truly shine. But for many of us who have options when we go job or client hunting, we look for jobs we want rather than the companies we want to work with. There has to be a fundamental shift in how we approach choosing the organization that the average man devotes 90,360 hours of his life to. But what if you can’t find that dream organization with that dream opening that you’d just be perfect for?
Philip Folsom: Not all jobs are sexy. We don’t all get to be at SpaceX. There are times that we flip burgers and I’ve been a line cook, I’ve been a soldier. I mean, there are things that we do that may not be in full alignment with what our purpose is in the world. However, we can still be passionate about that and we can still understand this may not be a direct shot towards my purpose but it’s in the same general direction. Right? Which means I’m still closer, I’m going to have to make a little dog leg to get back on but at this point, this is what I have access to. And at least you keep moving in that direction. And everyone will take a little look at the mountain you really want to be on and make sure that you’re navigating off of that.
Regardless, we still need to move. We need to be taking the steps. Human beings have a need to struggle and have momentum and to grow. We are never staying still. There is no stasis. There is either expansion or contraction. There’s growth or there’s death. And so it doesn’t matter. If you’re in the wrong purpose organization or you have no purpose. You still need to move. And that’s what passion does for you.
Whatever it is you’re doing, be the best at that and then as long as you continue to lean to that, it starts opening doors. People go “Wow! That kid at McDonald’s greeted me in the most extraordinary way. He made eye contact.” Now, yeah, McDonald’s may not what their purpose is but they are passionate as hell when they’re doing it. I give business cards to those people and I have a bunch of them working for me. So the act of following our passions tends to ignite the big logs and eventually that opens the doors.
Find out what engrosses you. Find out the activities that you do that you lose track of time. So take all those activities and then remove the ones that are pleasure and the ones you have left over your passions. Don’t worry about purpose. People are searching for the Holy Grail of purpose and you will never find it until you’re worthy. It’s almost not wanting it is what gives it to you. The night that is desperate for purpose never finds the Grail. It’s the one that doesn’t want it, it’s the one that it finally lands to. So focus on the things that you’re passionate about and eventually it will be revealed and it will be something that you already have now. You don’t have to go find it. You already have it. As the Grail was found within the castle itself that they were in, it appears to us. And I do believe that our passions eventually lead us into our purpose.
An authentic passion, for me, is something that is internally sourced, it’s joy. There’s some sort of spirituality. It’s in an internal happiness for me, is passion. And it traditionally has always been about me, the things that make me better. So passion is an egoic expression. Passion is central to us. It’s our own needs or expression and it’s great. It’s the kindling; it burns hot and bright and fiery.
The purpose are the big logs that are designed to do something. They’re designed to heat a room, to take care of people, to cook food, to run a forge. Those are the big logs.
It isn’t until you get the big burn or you’ve killed off the dead wood. That’s when you get the whole new level of understanding about things.
And now since I have a legitimate purpose in life, my previous passions seemed fairly pale compared to the pursuit of purpose. That’s a much louder passion for me now. Purpose involves serving, it involves something other than yourself. For me that purpose is legacy and the legacy of healing the world. I want to do as much healing as I can. And the way that that’s manifested seems to be a bit of a drifting target for me but it has to do with people. The primary pain source of the world is the fact that we’re isolated from each other. My purpose is to push back on that. I’m going to do as much of a redirect and a healing of that isolation as I’m capable of doing in my 10,000 days left. And that’s my purpose. So I wake up every day and I don’t have enough hours in the day.
Richard Janes Commentary: How many days do you have left on this planet? Ten thousand days will hit the average life expectancy of a US male spot on. But in truth neither he, you or I know how much longer we have, which is why it’s so important to sit up and take stock now. Are you working in or with organizations where you can fully embrace your passion and purpose? And if not, now is the time, in Philip’s words, to take a little look up and cast your eyes on the mountain that you really want to be on to make sure that you’re navigating your career off of that.
Richard Janes: Philip Folsom, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m so excited, I’ve had you obviously come into the social media agency that I founded 8 years ago and it was just phenomenal the difference that you had there. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the companies that you’ve gone in around the world, helping transform them into that tribe so that we can have many more SpaceX-like companies around the globe.
Philip Folsom: Oh, it’s just been a tremendous pleasure and this conversation as I always have with you has been a process of clarification and exploration and discovery. Conversation is the way that humans think and I think that’s your gift, is that in conversation you’re taking people on an exploration through which there is always treasure. So I’ll just close with the creed that’s just one of the culminations that I did with my personal branding work with you, and that is, peace, power and sacred purpose. And I wish that for everybody listening in all the organizations that I have worked with and going to work with.
POdcasT HOST: Richard Janes
Richard Janes is an Emmy winning personal brand expert with a passion for storytelling. His unique approach to personal branding has launched, revived, and catapulted the careers of many actors, athletes, musicians, television hosts, executives, and entrepreneurs.
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