We are living in a world that is uncertain, ambiguous, and volatile. Rick Simmons suggests that we use this as an opportunity to not just live through the change but harness the energy for productive change and forward progress. Rick sits down with Kevin to talk about liminal space and what we can do to use that momentum to think more clearly and deeply and make change happen.
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Kevin Eikenberry: Today we're going to talk about liminal space. But you didn't come for that. But you'll be glad that you came. You came to to create transformation in the midst of all the uncertainty that is around us. And I promise we'll get to that, too. Welcome to another live episode of the Remarkable Leadership podcast. If you're here live. As I've asked a number of you to do already, say hello.
Tell us where you're from. We are glad that you do that. And while you're here, imagine that you're joining my guest, Rick and I, for a cup of coffee. Share your questions, your comments and ideas they will make for a better conversation and eventually a better podcast. Episode two And if you aren't here live, that means you are listening to this as a podcast or watching it on the podcast.
But you could be for live for future episodes. You can get all future live episodes and therefore interact with us and see them much sooner by joining our Facebook or LinkedIn groups. Just go to remarkable podcast dot com slash Facebook or a remarkable podcast dot com slash LinkedIn. And today's episode is brought to you by remarkable masterclasses. Each masterclass is designed to help you become the remarkable leader and human you were born to be.
Details on how to get on board for a specific skill or to get discounts can be found at RemarkableMasterclass.com. Our guest today is Rick Simmons you can see him here beside me if you're watching. Rick is the co-founder and chief executive officer of the Tellus Institute, which helps leaders in business and industry hone their leadership skills, optimize their business strategy and embrace change as a strategic advantage.
And we're going to talk about today. He's also the coauthor of the book Unleashed Harnessing the Harnessing the Power of Liminal Space. Prior to finding Telos, Simmons spent ten years in various senior strategy and sales leadership roles in the financial services industry. His coauthor and co-founder is also his partner in life, Amy Simmons, she is not joining us today, but they live in Ohio and they have four children.
And Rick is here and the tap dancing stops and the conversation begins. Rick, welcome. So glad that you're here, sir.
Rick Simmons: Kevin, it's great to be here. And thank you for your flexibility. I found myself in a little bit of technological liminal space this morning, and you're very gracious and very patient and I appreciate that greatly.
Kevin: We've got folks joining us now from Zimbabwe and all the way from Tennessee. Good morning, Chris Glover. And Bonjour from Montreal. And we've got Colorado. And so the waters warm. Jump in if you're here, you can tell us where you're from. Let me dove right in, Rick. Normally I would have your book here and I would be holding it up and letting you smile but I left it at home, not in my office, but at my home.
So let's just dive right in. Hello, Scott. From Ohio. I'm not going to spell it out the way you do because I'm not a Buckeye. And so I want to start by having you talk a little bit about the journey that gets you to this place, not just writing a book, but doing all the work that you're doing.
Let's just start there. Tell us a little bit about your journey. Rick.
Rick: Yeah, thanks, Kevin. And good, good to be with you again today. I think that that for most of us, we we reflect back on our lives and our journey and we realize retrospectively that there's these these periods that accelerate our forward progress. We, we may not recognize it at the time, but there's these moments that force us into seeing more clearly thinking more deeply and responding more directly.
And I certainly have found myself in those places on a number of occasions, both personally and professionally. And I think it culminated in many ways, as Amy and I were in graduate school and we were in one of those curated moments, the two week period overseas, where with our graduate school cohort cohort, we were found ourselves in some liminal space, traveling through the EU, doing some consulting work as graduate students.
And we commented to one of our professors of our sister university, we were spending time with there that, gosh, it felt like we were really accelerating. And and it was it was he that sort of looked at us and said, yeah, of course, this is, you know, a liminal space, a one of these periods as we now define it, these periods of discontinuity, that creates an openness to change.
And so I think that whether we look back retrospectively as we've been in one of those accelerating periods, and I would say even today, being more open to those periods and how to leverage them and harness them. But what we'll talk about, I'm sure a little bit, Kevin, is the opportunity to actually trigger those, to author those. But but our journey was really born out of a graduate school experience where we found ourselves in one of these liminal spaces.
We learned more, we grew more, we looked more deeply. And it certainly affected the path we've been on for the last 15 years.
Kevin: So you know that I promised in the open that we would talk about this thing called Liminal Space. And I'm guessing that many people never heard of that. And you just sort of told us what it is. And I think that you said something really interesting about that. We often can see it looking back And so talk a little bit more about that.
You know, when we look back again, we you know, the wonderful thing about language and about words is that oftentimes once we have a word for something, it helps us see the world in a new way. So we may not have known this word or this phrase. And so we might not have thought about the space that we were in.
That allowed the growth to happen. What we may remember is or recognizes the growth or this this this massive change that perhaps we went through one way or another. So talk a little bit more about and we're definitely to talk about triggering it and moving forward and all those sorts of things. But talk a little bit more about as we all as we're here looking back at perhaps one of these moments, how do we know or how do we how do you help us dissect or pull out the liminal part of it, if you will?
Rick: Yeah. So, you know, the word liminal itself is is a word that that Webster's defines as, you know, betwixt and between. You know, the the threshold moment, you know, very practically, it's even of a daily situation where you're in one room you're no longer you know, you're not quite yet in the next room and you're in that threshold period there.
You're you're sort of in nowhere no man's land there. And I think we find ourselves in those periods in life many times as well where we're where, you know, it's akin to another analogy. Kevin often uses the trapeze artist right there to to to grasp the next bar. They actually have to let go of the previous bar first.
And so those those in-between moments and to your point, it's hard without that language or that framework to recognize when we're in one of those liminal spaces, those transition periods. And I think I would I would bifurcate this on a personal and a professional level. I think on a personal level, there's often, you know, an earmark of being in that space is a a subsurface feeling of fatigue or angst.
And we often can't quite put our finger on it.
Kevin: None of us have felt that in the last two years.
Rick: Right, right. Right. For sure. Right. Well, and let me just say, this is this is in addition to those more high profile instances where we lose a parent or, you know, a death of someone close to us or a divorce or a job change or loss like those are the more obvious on the no instances but the majority of the circumstances where we feel that subsurface level of safety and you're right, you know, the pandemic has been both a liminal space in and of itself and has triggered some of those feelings for all of us and I think caused us to be in that that point of in-between on a number of different levels.
Now, professionally, I want to just say that oftentimes organizations will approach having a period of of a three or ten. And here's what I mean by that. When we approach, let's say we're a $30 million business and we continue to grow, we approach $100 billion and we've grown quickly or over time, and we approach 100 million when we hit those threes and tens, we really are wise to start to reimagine how the business is constructed and how it's operated and really reconstitute all of that.
When we go from 30 employees to a hundred or from 300 to a thousand or a thousand to 3000, whatever it is that the rule of three and ten tends to play out pretty consistently, no matter how the degree of the scale that might exist. There. So, so there's often an internal feeling that we that can be generated, but in this case in the, from a business context, there's often markers of growth that might indicate that we're approaching one of those transition points.
Kevin: Right? So in the book, you you provide us a framework and a formula, really. So now that we know what we're talking about, how to what's, what's the formula and how does it help us truly create transformation? Because these moments happen. But now I think the big idea here is what do we do with those moments and how do we get from them what we could or can get from them.
Rick: Yeah, for sure. And and I'll I'll unpack this, Kevin, in a way that distinguishes between what we'll call imposed liminal experiences and those that are curated or self authored, as I'll say, and across the whole continuum, when we have visibility to an oncoming period of disruption or a liminal space we actually go across the continuum of preparation, the catalyst itself, that disruptive moment or period, a period of integration and then that final, that fourth phase, which is sustainability.
Now, of course, when, when, when the 50 year flood hits and liminality is imposed on us, we don't have a lot of time for preparation. So it really shortens that process down to a three phase three phase experience. But all for the purposes of this discussion, talk about that full continuum from from preparation to to sustainability. And it's really an opportunity to get us prepared and most highly predisposed to absorb this oncoming period of transition.
And I think in part, Kevin, without going too deeply into the each of these steps, I'll say that it's really about cataloging what is what will be unchanging as we move through this period of transition. You know, I like to think that people are unwilling to change until they know what won't and so I think it's really important to catalog what will be the enduring aspects of who I am, what's important to me in my life, what the values of our business are for talking about an organizational context and armed and equipped with that.
Now we become more open and predisposed to whatever the shifts or transitions that might be ahead, because we know that these core things are locked.
Kevin: You know, I think it's a really important point. Obviously, I'm taking some notes here. I I think that many people and lots of people like you and I who write about and teach about and consult and coach about change, miss the point that you just made, and that is we need to help people see what's not changing. Because when when we when we make all the the conversation about the change and here's what's happening and here's why it needs to change, we all this great communication, even if we do that really well, then all of our brain or amygdala and everything goes to oh, it's changing.
Oh, it's changing. Oh, it's changing when it's often relatively small in the big picture perspective, relatively small amount of things that are changing. And if we can have that foundation that we can rest on and we can lean against, then we are in a much better position to deal with what is in fact changing. And the more to that so.
Rick: Well said, Kevin, I beautifully said, I, I think that, that you're right, the, the list of, of what is changing as a ratio to what isn't is often turned upside down. There's Yeah. Three or four things that might be changing, but there's, you know, a hundred that are, you know, that are foundational and I think I think a lot of this is born out of well-intended leaders who, who, who want to do well by their constituents, who want to be good stewards of their organization, that want to talk about bright, shiny new objects because they know or believe strongly that it will help their organization and their people.
But I think that they're wise to lead with what's enduring. Give them and their organizations or themselves firm footing, get knees bent shoulder width apart so that when we introduce the two or three things that will shift, we're ready for that.
Kevin: Yeah, I think that's 100% true. So that's that's really the preparation step. Talk a little bit about the other maybe a sort of at a high level the other three steps in the in the model.
Rick: Yeah. The catalyst is again whether whether we're curating it and authoring it, which could be, you know, a change in facility. You know, we, we have a client is building a new corporate headquarters that is a that is a liminal space in and of itself. And so how do we use, you know, an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
Right. People in motion tend to stay in motion. So how do we use this gelatinous environment that we've now created and it will close, you know, at soon enough, but how do we use that to introduce additional changes? Because people are more in motion now. And I think that's really about the catalyst. How do we see this as an opportunity not only to manage our way through whatever the specific disruption is, but to use it as an opportunity to consider other things.
We've been helping to make shifts on that we've never been able to get access to because everyone's just locked in and sort of dug in.
Kevin: OK, so how do we how do we juxtapose that? There's Kevin's fancy word this morning. How do we juxtapose that with the the sort of research proven fact that there's only so much change we can handle any given time? Right. Like and in fact, oftentimes that's the that's the explanation slash excuse. People will use what we can't change anymore.
Right now, there's just too many changes happening. So what you're actually saying is, hey, use that momentum of the change moment to actually perhaps create other change. How do you how do you make sure you're finding the optimal tension, number one? And then number two, how do you not let that become the excuse?
Rick: Does your repeat that wonderful question? And I think that, you know, the core of this is that that human beings, you know, wonderfully so our pattern recognizing mimicking machines. And so it's really the business case for why when disruption falls upon us, why we really want to leverage those opportunities? Because left to the day to day, it's very hard to break human beings out of the patterns and the habits that they recognize and in part on an ongoing basis.
So we know that this creates an open window for us to to to, again, this gelatinous phase that we're now open to which you make an excellent point. You know, even too much water will kill you, Kevin. So like, I think there's there's real inside.
Kevin: Not even just outside. Outside seems like too much around us. Right.
Rick: But inside, right. So I think it's a very fair point, you know, to understand that that introducing or dosing in too much change actually paralyzes us. And and we may talk more about this later, but, you know, we'll often use new physical surroundings we take senior leaders to bucket list type destinations around the world Kilimanjaro, Patagonia, Iceland, the Grand Canyon.
And we use those physically disrupting experiences to to take them to their red, so to speak. But when you take them beyond the red line, then they stop processing, they stop being able to integrate some of that learning. So what we tell leaders and organizations is, is introduce and test write meaning introduce a new change concept. If there seems to be a readiness there for the organization or that team or that individual, then introduce again and test and I think this is where the intersection of art and science, you know, culminates and what we call organizational development, because there is no one size fits all formula here for that.
So we encourage leaders to introduce and test test meaning test their ability to metabolize that new concept, integrate it. We'll get to integration and sustainability in a minute. But I think that's really the formula for seeing how much change we can introduce.
Kevin: So let's do that. Let's talk about those last two pieces. Real quickly. So integration and sustainability.
Rick: Yes. So I think what we've learned from from individuals and teams and organizations is the real opportunity here is to to take these disruptive catalyst moments and make meaning of them. And so I think that it's important to be delivered great and thoughtful about what did we learn from that disruptive period. What what do we know as an organization that we do well, that we don't do well?
How did we manage through that catalyst experience in a way that was optimal or suboptimal? And I think that's really, you know, most of us want to just get through that catalyst, whatever that disruptive period was, and go back to normal. Right. And I'll use the pandemic as an example. How many times I've heard, as I'm sure you have from neighbors and friends and family, when are we going to be back to normal?
Guess what? The world will never be free. Either in memory or in reality of what has happened over the last two years.
Kevin: And oh, by the way, what we learned from it right sadly.
Rick: Exactly right. So taking that thoughtful and deliberate period, you know that after action opportunity to assess what did we learn, what do we know and how do we want to integrate this into our new way of being because of it. And that's a step that's often overlooked in and seen as a nice to have, but not a must have.
We think it's an absolute must have perfect.
Kevin: So, you know, we've we've we've sort of talked this through and we've talked about how to use these situations. Right. And obviously we can self author or curate them, as you said, which gets us to the next point of can we actually decide we want to create them like we want to intentionally trigger them. Like first of all, can we and secondly, why would we want to do that?
Because, you know, there's all this angst and pain and stuff that goes with all the change. And so can we intentionally trigger liminal space and if so, why would we want to?
Rick: Yeah, you know, and this is where often in a conversation like this, Kevin, I, the, the, the, the streak of pragmatism is rearing its head in my psyche because, you know, these new terms like liminal space and you know, you can talk about this at a macro level and, you know, your question reminds me of a personal experiment I did seven or eight years ago whereby I dedicated myself to driving no faster than the speed limit for two weeks not in a single moment whether I was on time or late or what was not going to drive over the speed limit.
Now, those that know me a bit know that I generally drive no slower than the speed limit most times. So this was a.
Kevin: Really this was a stretch.
Rick: Well and a stretch in what I would call a break in pattern, which is really what a liminal space is. And Kevin, do you know that I saw things. I experienced things. I considered things that I had never considered on routes that I had taken a thousand times. So simply changing the pace at which I moved through my daily life was a personal experience and a form of liminal space that was incredibly insightful for me.
So, you know, I just want to I want to.
Kevin: Can I just say something? I mean, I wasn't living that with you, and I'm not going to ask you how fast you drive now, but I am going to but I am going to say this, that my belief as to why some of that happened is because you had to be present. Yeah. You had to be present to make sure you weren't going over 45, 55, whatever it happened to be.
And as it turns out, in the state of Ohio, it's probably not a bad idea. Just say it to stay there. But, but by by being present for that you are able to be present for everything else, which there's a pretty big lesson there in and of itself. I know I interrupted you, but I thought that was too important to let slide.
Rick: No, I'm glad you did. I, you know, this, this I 100% agree. And I would just add the adjacent component that that because I was changing my pattern in one means I was open to changing how I was thinking and being in other ways without having to be so deliberate about it. Presence being one of those what I was looking at, I mean, I always going through those routes in a pace that was far different.
So is recognizing different things.
Kevin: Notice everybody not just a little different, far different. He said we are learning more about we're driving habits without judgment.
Rick: I'm going to revisit it as a percentage, as a percent.
Kevin: So it's fair enough. OK, so so maybe that says, yes, we can intentionally trigger it. And now we would probably all say it often is just a decision that we make that, you know, maybe you know, whatever that might be. You know, I'm a big proponent of and I've written much about the idea of having an intentional learning goal.
Like I'm going to intentionally say I'm going to work on this thing or practice this skill for the next 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, whatever it is. And that's a that's a way of doing this to the intentionality piece of that. So I want to sort of take us back. That gives us a chance to talk a little bit about the curated or the chosen situation.
But I want to take us back. You know, we've mentioned the pandemic a couple of times. And so I'm curious, you know, the book came out in the middle of 20, 21. And so you were, I'm guessing, writing it or finishing writing it after the pandemic had started. And so now we're looking at a number of months since over a year since you finished writing and over and approaching a year since you since it came out.
So like what are the lessons that that you would say now we could all take from this common experience, this common liminal space related to the pandemic? So what are some of the present day lessons that perhaps we can take?
Rick: Yes, from there, I think there's two things Kevin. You know, you're right. We did start writing this before. You know, a global pandemic was thrust upon us. You know, in some ways it has it has created a portal for us, a foundation for us to talk about this concept, because so many of us have been have have a shared, lived experience with the pandemic.
But I would say that the real thesis prior to the pandemic and the bedrock of why we wrote the book was was twofold. Number one, you know, in 1955, the average life expectancy of an S&P 500 company was 75 years. You know, in it currently the average life expectancy of an S&P 500 companies 15 years. And in the next ten years half of the S&P five will have been turned over.
So the point here is that we're living in a in a world in an environments that are more volatile more uncertain more ambiguous than ever before. And so simply being aware that these liminal spaces exist that we can we can have access to them in a in a in a more regular and ongoing way. And we have opportunities not just to live through them but to harness them for productive change.
And forward progress is was sort of the thesis around why we wrote the book itself. And I would say number two, to your question is that liminal agility, this ability to manage optimally, these transition points is is like a muscle group and I think the reason to curate these, the reason to self authorities is in part to to trigger forward progress in a more accelerated it and and deliberate way.
But it's also to better prepare us for when those imposed liminal scenarios when those 50 year floods hit. We're we're we're more predisposed we're more sick around being able to manage them and leverage them.
Kevin: So creating agility flexibility whatever word you want to use there perhaps even resilience when we when we know that we've successfully been through changes even of our own choosing we put ourselves in a better position to be more confident and ready for the next ones right for sure. So the book again we're talking with Rick Simmons, the author coauthor of the book Unleashed Harnessing the Power of Liminal Space.
And and we'll give Rick a chance to tell people where that where you can learn more and get a copy in a few minutes. But the book is really written for us as leaders or for us organizationally. And yet we've talked about this both individually or personally as well as professionally. Anything else that you want to add on the leadership side about doing this with a group that might be useful, like maybe something that we left out or that you wanted to make sure you had the chance to sort of highlight or underline before we move on?
Rick: Yeah, I get I get a question a lot, Kevin, about well, well, tell me about Liminal Space as it relates to, you know, at an organizational or enterprise wide level. I don't want to talk about it on a personal level, like I want to talk about or refresh my level. And I understand that especially leaders leading big organizations with with, with big challenges on a daily basis for all the reasons we've mentioned already.
It's at that point, though, that I try to remind folks that that organizations are made up of people and if and and one of the surest ways to to to create followership is to build this muscle group around the ability personally as leaders to identify, to manage and to harness these transition moments. It is not only the path towards leading effectively, it's the path towards signaling to your team to your entire organization that following you is the right thing to do.
Kevin: So you just raised an important point, and that is that as leaders, we are all role models. And you're just saying we need to add our ability and our willingness to change to that list of things that we're role modeling and what to which I would. 100% agree, Rick. 100%. I want to ask a couple of questions is heard round the bend here and start to close up a couple of things that I ask pretty much everybody that joins me here for these podcasts episodes.
And the first one is like, what do you do for fun? Like, I'm sure you like your work. It's pretty clear that you do, but what do you do, Rick, for fun?
Rick: Yeah, I do want to overshare here. But but there's two things I do. I do feel I do feel a responsibility to be in the business of testing my own edge. If I'm going to be on widely broadcast shows like yours and talk to your listeners about being open to testing their own edge, I feel a personal sense of responsibility.
So, you know, in an athletic sense, I regularly test my own edge and I'm a runner and an athlete in different ways. So testing and challenging myself from an athletic perspective is certainly something that I make part of my regular rhythm and something I enjoy doing. Secondly, and completely unrelated, about a decade ago, I fell in love with timepieces and I think that through timepieces I've understood that.
And I think it was I think it was Longfellow that said I would not give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity, but I'd give my whole life for simplicity. The other side of complexity. And for me, timepieces are a tangible expression of that. The seeming simplicity of keeping time and the way in which most timepieces do it is very straightforward.
But as you get into the hobby, you understand that there is a degree of technology that hides behind that watch face. That is just a full expression of that for me, and I really enjoy that.
Kevin: So if you're if you're with us live, you know that we had a little bit of challenge getting started. We dealt with a little liminal space to get started. And there's a question, Rick, that I ask all of my guests, but for nearly all I've I tell them this ahead of time and I didn't have the chance to tell you this ahead of time.
So let go of one trapeze and get ready to grab the other one. OK, so the question that I love to ask smart people that I have done this my entire life and I decided to do this as a part of this podcast is to ask you this question. Are you ready? I'm ready what are you reading these days, Rick?
Rick: Yeah, good question. One of the things I and I do enjoy reading I do enjoy learning. I should say I'm certainly a reader, but I consume a lot of content in a number of different ways, both experientially and in reading. And one of the things that that I have found really helpful having is, is this idea of, of content analysis, meaning I'm reading things on a widely, seemingly non correlated level that completely correlate when I'm able to sort of analyze that content.
Kevin: From different connecting dots.
Rick: Yeah. For example, I recently read The Hidden Life of Treats and, you know, what the heck does that have to do with anything? Well, it's, it's a wonderfully written book. And what you find out is that there is a community that exists. There is a cohabiting ecosystem that exists among the trees and how they allocate resources. And, you know, no single tree is free of the impact of the entire forest.
And so there's great learnings and great insights there. But I would add the hidden life of trees to a, probably a one of those pieces that I'm reading now that seems to have no correlation to my work or my interests. But, but has been quite meaningful.
Kevin: Perhaps surprising to all of you. Rick is not the first person to suggest that book. I can't at this moment tell you who the other person was, but I will find it. We will put it in the show notes for anyone who listen. We'll make sure that that's one of the other podcasts we recommend as a part of being a part of this.
So, Rick, I just have one more question for you. And it's the one you've really sort of been hoping I'd ask from the very beginning. So, Rick, where can we learn more about your work? The book Here's Your Chance. Tell us where to reach out, how to connect with you, all those sorts of things.
Rick: Yeah, for sure. Well, our website, the Telo Institute dot com is is a good landing spot for a number of things, learning more about our work in the mental space, the work we do on a day to day basis. And my great colleagues at the Telephone Institute, it's also a portal to Access our podcast, which is unleashed harnessing the power of liminal space as well as Access.
Our book which is by the same title and you can find Unleashed on all of your favorite book buying platforms, Amazon, what's a million, Barnes and Noble, et cetera, et cetera. So there and certainly linked in our company profile on LinkedIn and certainly my personal profile, I welcome anyone to reach out. I enjoy connecting on LinkedIn as well.
Kevin: And that's where some of you are watching and you can find Rick pretty easily if that's where you're watching. And if you type in Rick Simmons into LinkedIn, you'll find him, I promise. You, because I did it once anyway. So before we go, everybody, I've got a question. I'm done asking Rick questions. I'll thank him in a second, but I have a question for all of you.
And the question is simply this my favorite question? Now, what what action are you going to take as a result of this? Rick said something about being a learner a few minutes ago, and this is the question of learning and application in terms of maybe you didn't when you got here, you didn't know what liminal space meant maybe you never thought about the difference between curating or choosing or creating or self authoring those moments versus them simply being imposed upon us.
Maybe you had a chance to think about what you could do to create it, trigger it intentionally for you or your organization. I don't know what your actions will be from this, but I do know that you will get far more from it if you in fact ask this question now what? And then take action. So, Rick, thank you so much for being here.
It was a pleasure to have you had a couple of fits and starts, but it was worth the effort.
Rick: Yeah, hey, can I can I just weigh in on that now? What question real quick?
Rick: I just wanted to say as an expression of thanks to you, I've long believed that the questions we ask each other say more about our competence and our ability to add value than any answer to any question we might offer. And to be together today and see and field such excellent questions from you is now what for me, I think being in the business of asking good questions is not a foregone conclusion.
So thank you for that and thanks for that reminder.
Kevin: It's my pleasure. And it's my pleasure, as always to be with you all every week. So if this is your first time with us, why you can fix that by changing it for next week? Because if every week there's a new episode or there's a big long back catalog, for you to go back and listen to, we'd love to have you do that.
But man, we'd love to have you back next week for another episode of the Remarkable Leadership podcast. Thanks, everybody.