Aspire for More with Erin

What are James Lee and Nicole Will Thinking???

February 22, 2024 Erin Thompson
Aspire for More with Erin
What are James Lee and Nicole Will Thinking???
Show Notes Transcript

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Erin:

Hi everyone. Thank you for joining us on this very special Aspire for More with Erin podcast, where I have two of the most amazing thought leaders that I have followed since the beginning of my LinkedIn journey, which is Nicole Will, founder and of Will Gather and co founder of Think Tank. And of course, James Lee. CEO and founder of Bella Groves and of course, co founder of Think Tank. So thank you guys for being here. Thanks for having us,

James:

Erin. Yeah.

Erin:

Thank you. It's been a journey of a lifetime to get to know you guys and to be, I like to say in your orbit, but just because, to find like minded people who helped me grow, to understand a lot of different things, not even intentionally, just through content, through podcast episodes, through of course, think tank, It's just been so much fun. So thank you. Yeah,

James:

same here. it's been really fun to get to know you, Aaron, and I'm just looking at the screen at the 3 of us and I'm thinking about the origin of all of those. 1 of us sent a message to somebody else and then turn into this.

Erin:

It's true. I will say I met, I saw Nicole at a listen to her speak at a cocktails and conversations and Florida. And I sat there and I watched her and I said, I need to know her. I don't know what a care economy is, but she's very passionate about this. And I am passionate about things too.

Nicole:

Shortly thereafter had the most beautiful phone or zoom call, I think, and got to know each other. So yeah. So glad we did. Yes.

Erin:

Yes. So it's such a cool thing to have three podcasters on one episode. So I am sure this is going to be rapid fire questions and people asking people questions. but we really want to dive into think tank. And the journey that all of us have had through the think tank creation, because as James has said, there's been many iterations from it. And we have a unique perspective because we have founder and then we have co founder, and then we have attendee. This is pretty cool. Yeah.

James:

it's going to be pretty cool perspective. And, I think, we've talked about the think tank a lot since, the most recent one. And, it's been really cool to see everyone's posting and the relationships and things that have formed. as we, as I was thinking about this conversation for the three of us, I was thinking, what is the behind the curtains, behind the scenes questions and conversations that the three of us might have, even if we weren't recording for a podcast? And I thought, that might be fun to talk about. And, we have such a unique experience of it. And then. Let's go share that with other people.

Erin:

Yeah. One of the questions that I had going into it, I think was what were the projects like? And I think that was one of the main things when I saw it, saw the think tank first, like social media collateral and you talking about it first in December of 2022, I saw a group of people working together to benefit. The industry. And to me, I was excited about that and I knew nothing at that point about anything, but I saw a group of people coming together to do something that I had never seen before. And not because they were at a conference or anything other than they wanted to better the industry. And I thought, I want to be a part of that group, And, that's what led me to want to go at first. in hearing how you described it and how James's content regarding it and seeing people there that their content intrigued me too. That's what sparked my interest. Yeah.

James:

Yeah. and that one, Nicole attended that one. That was her first one. So I think it should be really, great to lead off. with her own thoughts about it. So you saw this stuff from the 2022 event, which was Nicole's 1st time attending. and then the 2 of you went to the think tank last year. yeah, I think that's a really great for Nicole to think about talk about.

Nicole:

Yeah, I was intrigued in the same way, Aaron, in terms of, okay, people are getting together to actually do work and want to make positive change in the world. And I think, given my goals and mission and vision for wanting to support people, and bring good things into the world, I naturally gravitated towards that. I think a lot of times. Conferences are wonderful. We learn education. We meet people. There's a lot of really good benefits, but I always walked away, then it's over and nothing really, lived on from that time. And so to know that we would be working on, these projects that would continue to live on. Really indefinitely and to be put out into the world to have people think to affect change to impact lives in such a positive way. Totally drew me to think tank the 1st time and I had the opportunity to work with a great group of people and seeing how we all came together. What's really, I think, just beneficial about that time is that we all have unique backgrounds. So we're bringing different education, different lens. We're in different, professions in some way. We're all in the senior living aging services world, but our roles are different. So it was such a rich. Time because we all bring different perspectives to it, which I think is what makes it unique and beneficial for everyone. Because how cool is that, that we are able to pull from all these different brains and resources and work on these projects together. And I think too, when you do work together, you learn how people show up and their thought process. And it deepens that relationship and respect a lot of the times. And so It also then segued into other collaborations. Other work together because of that time we had spent, and the topics are great. I think we all come to the different topics with a little bit of an understanding. But, the topics that I've been a part of kind of push me outside of my comfort zone. If I'm being honest, which. Was good. And, if anyone feels uncomfortable about that, or I don't know, can I bring anything to the table? You can. We want your thoughts. We want your perspectives. We want your, even like objections or challenges. I think that makes for really rich discussion and brings, brings about really good dialogue, which is what I think our industry as a whole is working through right now. We're all dialoguing through all these different. Topics and challenges and how do we do better? And pushed me outside of my comfort zone and learned a lot and connected with a lot of really great people. So I think, yeah, it was just really cool to see it then live on after think tank was over, each week people can always reference, you deliverables that we've had. So it's been really cool

Erin:

to see the growth.

James:

Good. I'm not, I don't even have to be here. I'm leaving. No, it is. It's really interesting for me to hear you both talk about what interested you about the think tank. on the flip side of that. I was feeling like, are people going to come to this thing? It's just an idea that I have. and, the novelty of, oh, I've never seen that before. And especially after the fact, if you retrospectively look back on something, it's oh, I hadn't seen something like that. And you might feel like, of course, that makes sense. Why wouldn't we do that? But at the time, because there was nothing like that, it felt risky. It felt very risky to, put something out there, charge people for it, put an event together, and, hope that people wanted to do it. And it occurred to me while Nicole was talking about the, mindset she had approaching it, I have a metaphor. I haven't used the metaphor before, so we'll see

Erin:

if it lands or not.

James:

the thing about the senior living industry's conferences, I've attended a lot. I'm sure you guys have both attended a lot. It would be like if the music industry had a conference. You're going there to learn about the state of the music industry. You're seeing exhibitors for instruments and foot pedals and, so it's the economy of the music industry that is on display. Think Tank is like a jam session. So the thing was like, let's get all of these people who play music and want to be with other people who want to play music and let's create some music. let's just jam together. And the small group work was really that it was like, let's get a couple of people together, give them a song and let them just play. And that to me is what the deliverables really felt like. Is that we're not here to talk about the like economy of aging services. We're here to actually vibe off of each other to improvise. And anyway, there's clearly a lot of music metaphors, being baked. That's what I, I, that's what entered my mind as Nicole was describing, her experience, so maybe we'll start talking about it.

Nicole:

Yeah, I know. And coming from a family of musicians or my dad and everyone gets together and jams and you can hear it. It's like someone will go in this direction and you pick it up and you elaborate on that and you can pull the notes and oh my gosh, great picture.

Erin:

Yeah. I think the theme of when you keep the music theme, And it's like Inspiration, support, it's writing. It's the collaborative song that each person, like you, like we are the world, right? that was a great song, right? But there was a bunch of people that came in and made that song. And. Would it have been the same song had different people been there, like that's what it is the level of support, the level of, the one rule was, to build and maintain trust. And that means different things for different people. And, if you are an artist and you're trying to create something, that's what you have to do. You have to trust somebody so you can be vulnerable and create that work of art. And that's putting those pieces together, having a good mosaic thing,

James:

that's really also the spirit of how we select people who are going to join us. And it's not about, there I think there's some gatherings in the industry that feel like the cool kids are getting together and I'm either part of it or not part of it. And in no way are we trying to do that here with a think tank. It really is more of do the people vibe with the other people that are going to be there like are they. Similar, are they going to have a good jam session? Yeah, I feel like we're going to carry this metaphor through the whole call, but it was, thinking about Aaron. Okay. Aaron's going to be here this year. And, by the way, your small group is 1 of the ones that really stood out this year. not just in terms of your deliverable, but the relationships that clearly developed from that. And that was, deeper than a topic. It was deeper than just coincidental timing that you guys were all there. It was a concerted effort of thinking about who's going to match together for a topic as important as trauma informed care. You couldn't just throw anybody into that. You had to have people there that we're going to support that rule of you got to build and maintain trust. I've been in jam sessions. The last thing you want to do is try something and everybody looks at you like, but where, what's that James? You want people in the group who are like, yeah, let's go with it. And let's, and even if it's the wrong note, or you took it the wrong direction, you want people in your group who are going to let you run with it and be like, cool. and then you just slide back into it. so I'm curious, Erin, so here's the podcasters asking each other questions. Yes. your small group experience, what was it about the five of you, or what, what was it that created such a bond for the five of you?

Erin:

I, trying to put that into words is Interesting for me. It, I went into it with my own lens of part of my growth process. Aaron's not tied to a community. This is just Aaron coming in and I want to take the lead in this because I want to, this is just part of my growth process, right? Aaron, just Aaron is part of a project and I want to be the best version of myself and I want to try it. To lead it and they were so receptive to that. And then it was just like we all like even on the first call it was. Almost as if we've all known each other for a long time, and I don't even know how to describe that, it's just that we just all jammed, and we allowed, Gene to talk about it, and then we all, because I had no idea what trauma informed care was. So I went into it and I'm just going to be the logistic queen. I can make projects move, And, she was started talking about it and it just, we all just came at it and we were like, oh yeah, we understand this. Oh yeah, this is the real problem. And then we just, we started diving in very deep and Jean was like, no. We're all, this is just awareness, And so then each call. We did because that's another thing we did several calls because none of us had been to think tank before except for Joanna. And so we literally were creating a team atmosphere before we even got to think tank because I don't know. am I going to have a time limit? I have to make sure that things are really good and going on point. And so we had a lot of time, an hour every other week, a month leading into it. And when we got there, it was, Joanna said to us, Hey, we're not going to have, we have time to do this, like we need to stop these calls.

James:

We don't need to finish ahead of time.

Erin:

So I think that helped us. And then when we got there, it was just like, we just opened up. it was like a force that you could not. Stop, you just felt connected. And I didn't know any of them, none of them from, I didn't even follow any of them before that. So we literally were strangers that met and our topic propelled the connection. And it's a testimony to really how connection is built. it's just literally one topic at a time, agreeing with people, listening to people, hearing them, supporting them. And it was just so organic that, you just make friends for life.

James:

That's really cool. it makes me think about, the intent behind, Think Tank and why We got together in the first place. and it informs a lot of what we're trying to do. Nicole and I as we're thinking through Chicago in May and Austin in December, and, and then Paris the next year. Yeah. Yeah. there's a lot to think through, but the spirit of it, the thing to protect about Thing Tank was the experience that you had her in the experience that Nicole has had twice now and, when people ask, what's the purpose of the think tank? I break it down into 3 kind of specific things. the 1st 1 is goodwill. if you wanted to pick a word for the small group work, and what is the point of all of that? It's goodwill. it's to create things. From those jam sessions, put it out into the universe, specifically into either the senior living industry or aging services at large. This is about people who have great thinking resources and ideas. And you form something like your group put together a CEU to educate other people about trauma informed care. We didn't charge people for that. You didn't charge people for it. it was just. It was goodwill. It was just something to put out into the industry and then let's see what people do with it. So that is the, that was the original and it's probably still the strongest, component of the think tank is goodwill. Let's put all of our knowledge to good use. and then number 2 was to improve your skills, personal skills development. So last year, it was about, storytelling. And, it was hard picking a theme that everybody could relate to, and it was funny after the think tank was, or as it was concluding, a few people told me, I wasn't sure that I was gonna that theme. I was just along for the ride, but it became a very powerful tie for, it tied the entire event together. And I think, looking back on it, I remember the feeling of standing up in front of the whole group, which is very nerve wracking standing in front of 30 use, out there. And, and the feeling of everybody was just like leaning and everybody was like really focused on what was going on. And so we had these moments too. Reflect and talk about deep topics, like our own mission, our own purpose, and then you take the spirit of that and then you go into your small group on your topic. So it was like, it was just a really cool thing to be able to experience. goal number 2, which is personal skills development. I hope you felt both of you felt that. And then the 3rd was to deepen relationships because we all go to conferences and see hundreds of people. And how many of those relationships turn into what you guys have experienced, right? So when you look at those 3, your story and your accounting of the think tank experience, it hits all 3 of those.

Erin:

Yeah, absolutely. Nicole, do you have anything?

Nicole:

Yeah, I was going to say, it's absolutely. All of those 3 components are a major part of my experience. It was the goodwill piece of knowing that the work we were doing would live on and impact lives for good. That's like what I most feel so drawn to and develop personally each time. Absolutely hearing James speak and the other facilitators really learning on, what is my story and how do I tell my story and what's my purpose? And how do I articulate that? And how do I share that? it was a lot of deep work. I absolutely teared up as I was reflecting through all of that and then the people, being able to have more of that smaller group time. Not only as a whole with think tank, 35 or 30 to 45 people lends itself to you get time to really be intentional about visiting and connecting with people, 1 on 1 conversation, which I think is really missed and really big events, right? It's just hard to do that. There's just 2 different forms for that. and then those relationships really continue on. 4 years after, for me, the 1st time I attended think tank, those friendships were so deepened by that time and continued into the, even now. it's been really cool to see. Yeah. And for Aaron, do you find that you've been able to connect with not only your small group, but everyone else that was there? Did you have those meaningful relationships carry on

Erin:

for you? Yes, and even ones that I weren't, were not able to really interact with at Think Tank. I actually have been very intentional with interacting with them via LinkedIn, Zoom calls, podcast episodes, and built relationships with people that I may have only spoken to one on one for 10 minutes. In three days that now outside of think tank, we have spoken for two and a half hours, and, I think why the relationships are so key and like that personal development, that deepened relationship is because that everybody abided by the first rule, which is build and maintain trust and we allowed the space. Even at the beginning when it may not have been, we didn't know where we were going. And a few people were vulnerable at first, and then it just became, it's that momentum of vulnerability. And like we allowed it, even the guys got vulnerable with us and it. It bleeds out like it just, you can see the tentacles if you watch it, which we do, we know it because we were in it, but you can see the tentacles touch all throughout the community and you attract people with the. Deliverables, you attract the people who want to give goodwill. Because there's a lot of passionate people that work in this industry that do not get the passion fed into them. And so the outlet becomes not able to move because it's more business. It's goal oriented. And you can certainly find the ways to deliver the passion, but do you get fed and replenish the passion? And. That goodwill piece is what I've always used to make a community great, right? I'm going to give you everything I have. And then in return, over time, I'm going to build a great community. And that's what this is. And that's why you attract the people who want to work for free. Because the goal is bigger than themselves.

James:

not even for free Aaron, you paid think tank to go to work. And but yeah, it's, if you think about it, it's a self selection tool, essentially. to tie it into senior living a little bit, there's. Lots of conversations about, should you put your pricing on your website? So we have believed that from the outset, yes, put as much information on the website as possible so that your customers are, they are in control of, am I self selecting in or out to have further conversation and engagement and look, our leads are like way lower than comparable memory care facilities, but our conversion rates are probably three or four times higher. So it's a self selection tool for our customers. And if you think about what you said about the think tank, the fact that the primary thing we're doing together is we're going to put, a deliverable together. We're coming to work and you'll have about 30 days before the event to get together with your small group. There are plenty of people I run into senior living conferences. I run into them at these conferences and when they, when conference hosts try to get like. an event or like a side, you know what I'm talking about? Like they try to get this energy of let's all work together. And inevitably, there are people who are just Oh my God. They're rolling their eyes or checking their phones or just Oh, this is. And I've heard people. Be pretty ugly about it to, in the main conference are very polite and all of that. But you get into the small, breakouts of, we're going to put together, these, icebreaker team building type activities. And 2 or 3 people who are in it and they're like, yeah, this is a. Activity I did in elementary school, but they're all in and then you've got the 2, 3 people who are like, oh, this is so lame and it destroys the spirit of the event. So the deliverable component of why people would even want to apply to go to the think tank. It eliminates all those people, right? It eliminates all the people who are like, yeah, I don't want to get together to work. I just want to get together for a good time.

Erin:

Yeah, it builds confidence though. Working together in a group and putting something out from four or five different angles. Yeah. And creating a piece of art and then giving it away. Yeah. Like that. Is perspective, and then is perspective, that perspective, that experience, that, action is the root of confidence, right? Like it's the first step, like all of that is gains of perspective and a piece of clarity. And it's just. I don't know, that whole process for me was something that I value greatly and in seeing everybody else's deliverables, I could sit here and go on about some of the high quality, the video y'all made is excellent and will always be available to people. And the tech questions, I thought that was, Way outside the box in a great Avenue and in the marketing stuff. And then, the questions to caregivers and all those things, like to be a part of that is.

James:

the fact that you remember all of the other small group deliverables, and we didn't present on them. we talked about the reflections of going through the exercise together, but the fact that you remember all of those topics, Aaron, what was the last conference you went to? And what were 3 of the speaking engagements that you attended? I, it's going to, it's going to be a little hard for you to think through that because there's just so much of it. Every conference has, this topic, that topic. And a lot of them, frankly, are repeated things that we've heard for years and years. this is not about going and let's listen to a great speaker. It's let's go. break this puzzle apart, study it and put it back together and see what we come up with.

Nicole:

And the amount of learning from each other, I learned so much from the peers, Aaron, I remember you sharing when we were in our big group together and just hearing your thoughts. And I was just so inspired by that. And even in our small group and, the feedback. And when we were getting our points across and hearing how people thought through that, I learned so much. So it's such a rich time for me and. Yeah. I also think there's so much value in that it's not just all CEOs, it's, people in all different, positions and companies and walks of life. And that brings such a depth, which is so important. I think when we're really, if we're truly wanting to make change and right, raise everyone's voice. We can only do that if we have everyone's a voice and perspective, right? If we're only, taking into account one person's lens or one position's lens on the work that we're doing, we're going to be missing out on so much more that adds value to the people we're caring for, which is ultimately, right? The older adults that we're serving and their families. It's been really cool to see that

Erin:

happen. Love it. It's so true.

James:

There's, a lot of people had some mic drop moments throughout Think Tank. but one of yours, Erin, thinking about at the end of it all, we were sharing our aha moments. I'm sure you know where I'm going with this one, but everybody was going around sharing the reflections of really the whole think tank experience. And I'm not even sure you planned on saying it. I'm curious if you had written it down and then you expressed what you had written down. So this is a question for you, but I'll never forget the feeling of, you're talking about your experience and you were talking about, specific to like storytelling and everything that we went through. you said knowledge is power. But clarity is priceless. And, we're like, yeah, totally. And so you, I'm guessing you've probably never said those words in that exact phrase before. Did you write it down before

Erin:

you shared it? yes, the exercise was for us to break out and spend a few minutes. Writing down the answer to some of your questions and what were our big takeaway moments and those types of that type of thing. Now I come to think tank from a perspective of straight community level experience. I did not have a bigger. big picture perspective. That's what the journey of 2023 was for me is to gain perspective. And I had been on a journey for myself. Like I had bought into a coaching program and I actually learned more than anything, any other time through that six month period about clarity, about understanding, about mindset, about those types of things. And then think tank was the other avenue for me to invest in myself, but from a senior. Living lens. Yeah. And they both paralleled with each other. And when we talk about storytelling and we think about it from people that work inside of a community, executive director, sales director, maintenance director, activities director, we always say that knowledge is power and it is. But when you can be clear, and you have that clarity about. What actually motivates you? Why are you doing these things? All of a sudden, you have this confidence that sprouts up. And you can get very clear on your why, your reasons, your how, all those things. And then All the goals and everybody's opinions and all the things they don't, the validation that we seek doesn't hold as much power. And so you are stronger to be able to achieve the goals that you want, but through a growth lens, because now all of a sudden your foundation is important because you know it. And I didn't have that foundation before. I think I struggled with, you have to be everything to everybody. The whole premise of think tank is we're not for everybody. And I think from that perspective, if you can gain clarity on who you are as a leader, then you can become an authentic leader and then you will attract all the sudden rejection becomes a filter. It's not tied into worth deliverables are a filter. When you have clarity, it's priceless because now all of a sudden you can put all your energy into actually what's going to move you forward in a healthy way than literally trying to do everything for everybody. And I think that helps burn out more than anything. And if a family, if a person wants to invest in themselves or wants their company to invest in that for them, it's the perfect thing to do. Yeah. I invested in the coaching program for me. To learn how to be a podcast host. And I got so much more than I could have ever bargained for, which prepped me for think tank through a lens. Of, of senior living, but it was so much more than that. And to me, we don't give enough knowledge in the industry. Number one, But knowledge isn't power unless you're very clear on how to implement it. Yeah. And it's. It's a new approach, I think personally, and I've been saying this for a lot in my head, but, there's not enough mindset talk in senior living. There just isn't. I became an entrepreneur and all of a sudden my mindset became important. Why? Never, ever have we talked about that in senior living. And being an executive director or director of nursing, or even a sales director. that mindset is an important piece and it's a, that clarity is was the biggest piece, the puzzle piece that was missing in my life. And 2023 was the year that it all came together and think Tank just happened to be and December it up and, yeah. in it for me, oh, the timing. Yeah.

James:

I think the reason that, your statement resonated with so many people at the event was like, it put words to what they were feeling too. And it was an express goal of the storytelling theme of, if we tell generic stories about ourselves, then we're not actually living within our purpose, which our friend and all would, she did such a great job, bringing that point home for us. but. storytelling isn't just about here's how you tell a good story. It first starts with what is your actual story? And so the entire three day experience was about clarity in your own story. And I could see the light bulbs of oh, wait, this is my story. It's not what I've been saying. This is actually my story. And the empowerment that comes from that, whether. You are an entrepreneur, or you've been just stuck in your role of like, how do I move myself to the next step here? what was really great for me seeing the room from the facilitator point of view was I saw clarity happening for a lot of people and it wasn't that, the event or me or the speakers gave you new ideas. It was that you had ideas that were. 95 percent of the way there, and you're like, I just can't quite, just get it over the hump. And I think the experience, what it allowed for you and for a lot of other people, Lo was just on your other, it was on your podcast episode, and he talked to me about it. And if one thing that I take away that was really great for me was I found clarity in the thing that was just in my mind, and I was able to put words to it in a way that I hadn't before and, like the curated, dementia care that was within him. That was already all there. The ingredients were all there. He had them all on the table and the experience somehow allowed for him to find the configuration of it where just that makes sense. And so now, in 2024, he's off and running again. It's not a credit to think tank in giving him the idea. It was the space for him to allow that idea to but the outcome of that thinking has to be action, clear action. So it's really cool to hear you tell that story in that accounting, Aaron, because that, that wasn't expressed, written intended purpose of the think tank.

Erin:

Yeah. I will say vulnerability breeds innovation, safe, a safe space. there's not many opportunities I'm sure in all of our careers. That allowed time, quiet space, intentional of vulnerability that then allowed you to say what you needed to say. And then other people's opinions rickled in and You come up with something that you had floating around,

Nicole:

it is that fine tuning. I think sometimes, when you've got ideas or things you're working through, it helps to get it out and verbalize it. If we're just having it stuck in our minds, we don't. Have the space to get it out and to hear ourselves to share through that or to see other people's thoughts or reactions or whatnot. And I think it really helped to not only have the space to build trust, to have the vulnerability to share. I think another thing that really came through was that we're leaving perfection at the door, right? we're not bringing that with us that. because I think that keeps us stuck a lot of the times. And so being able to have the space to just be who we are in our full purpose leads to that innovation, the confidence, the leadership, telling our story authentically, in many ways.

Erin:

Yeah. And that's why the clarity is priceless, Yeah.

James:

Great is the enemy of good, right? And that, if you think about the deliverables, I'm sure that there are people who look at the deliverables that we put forth and oh, that's it. that's what they came up with. and it's a very cynical way to look at it, but I submit to you, put it up against what you put out on that category. so something compared to nothing is further, and so I think with the think tank, what's really beautiful about it. I am really proud of all of the deliverables, but it happened in 30 days. So it's as much as you could put together with great thinkers in 30 days. And then, but what's going to happen with it. After here and what if the trauma informed care is a topic for the next think tank and what will that group do with what you guys created and it's that spirit of like innovation. I think people think senior living needs this eureka moment and it doesn't. It just needs to put forth good ideas and we build on that. So I just, I got tired of going to conferences and hearing the same topic over and over. I was like, has anybody just tried this? give us some. Yeah. Give us some figures on, on, on what you've done, or better yet, give us a platform to stand on, let us stand on some shoulders here and try to look out a little bit further, and I think. I think the think tank when I envisioned the think tank 10, 15, 20 years down the road, especially now that Nicole's on board, I think about what is the 20th iteration of the things that we started today. And it's just, it's really cool to think about that.

Erin:

Yeah, it really is. Yeah. I think the simple, I think we get lost. This is what I've gathered. over the last 18 months or so, we get lost in trying to make things harder than they are, we lose people. And so people may have a cynical view about deliverables or other people's work or whatever, but you really get change when you start back at the basics. everything that's cut, everything, every budget cut starts with training and education. And so right then we're starting out with people skipping kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and moving into middle school when it comes into senior living, Yeah. And so why not build something that is an iteration of. those multiple guides that those guys put together, which I'm going to tell you, I didn't think they were going to make it happen, but they did, I was

James:

sitting next to them. I was the only all guys group that ended up happening. I'm not sure how that happened, but, yeah, everybody pulled through

Erin:

and they did, and I thought their ideas were really great and then you can build on that. And now all of a sudden we have a. On, on leadership and to me, simple is good because simple is actually where power is, because when we make things complicated, we lose the ability to move forward. So you can keep it complicated, but success is a simplicity, That's so true.

Nicole:

And if you think about it, our human nature is if we have six months, we'll take six months. If we have a year, we'll take a year. it's 30 days. That is our time. That's what we're working with. cause we will always move the needle if we can. I think it helps. It helps just have actions, right? Which is what the intention is.

James:

Yeah, one of the things, thank you events. I think we had a little bit more than 30 days, but the deliverables were exactly the same like quality. So it was like, okay, let's compress that down to 30 days. And it eliminates excuses for people to be like, let's push it to next week. You prep what you prep, but, Yeah. The spirit of it is really what, I think both of our groups did really well. Nicole, obviously, you and I were part of the same small group, and it was really great to just build. And I got a sense of the other people, on our group before we got there. And then for Aaron, you were describing about how the 5 of you just Built that relationship and built that trust. And by the time you got to the think tank, it was like, the water is warm. we didn't have to start from a very cold position, like by the time we all got together. And by the way, let me break out the agenda for people thinking about what the experience is like. So we have the small group work, which is 30 days before you get to the think tank. and then before that there's a whole selection process. And, if. Nobody should be nervous about submitting their name. Submit your name. We want people to apply, and we want to talk to you, and we'll figure out if Chicago's the right event, if Austin's the right event, or, we'll work hard to make sure it's a positive experience for you. So there's the selection process, there's the 30 days to work together in your small group, and then when you arrive, the first thing we do is do the welcome reception. you get in, and then you just Unpack Jill and then that evening we all get together and we just eat and just and have fun putting a face to the names that we've been working with. And then we just ease into, okay, the 1st. Morning, a think tank, we're coming right out of the gate with the leadership topic, which was storytelling. And then we break out into the small groups for you to work and you come back and we continue the storytelling with other facilitators. It just builds and builds until, the end of day two. I know it's really cool to see the pockets of people like, Hey, let's go to dinner. Let's just sit together after, the main event is over. and then we ended on the 3rd day, the 1st half of the 3rd day before everybody traveled home, it wasn't presentations. It was more reflections and aha moments because we don't have enough time for everybody to present their topics. We just have time to know what did everybody else experience. In the thing that I just experienced relevance to the whole thing and then we shared the projects in the weeks after so I just it came together really beautifully and this group that was together just really made it special. Nicole and I are working hard on Chicago now to see, can we recreate that magic? And I think we can, I

Nicole:

think. Yeah. Yeah, they do. It's going to be a special time. And, the reflection time, it was just a beautiful recap of the whole, three days together and hearing, what people learned, a lot of those aha moments were emotional. In a good way in terms of what, how, what that impact was. Erin specifically, I remember yours, right? Those mic drop moments where you're like, Oh, you just articulated what I was thinking and I didn't have the words to say. And so I think that was helpful. we all left feeling like I have more words now to explain that time. And that was really helpful. I think we, we needed each other in that.

Erin:

It was quite the moment, really, in time, and I hope you can recreate that in Chicago. I won't get to be there. My goal is to make it to Austin. but, I, I of course will always be, my, that, that time. With those people, it's almost like summer camp. If you've been to summer camp, Like you are stuck in a place with strangers or even the real world, for us that can appreciate the real world. from MTV, it's you're just dropped in a house, which wasn't a house and we didn't go anywhere. We were. We were firmly planted there, and so we had to grow and deepen those relationships, which. Was quite the advantage and I don't know what Chicago, where you're choosing in Chicago, and I'll look forward to experiencing what Austin is, but, that, that experience for me was transformational because I was ready for it. Number one, and there's a lot of leaders inside the community that I, like I've said, are full of passion and who want to do the right thing and who are struggling with burnout. And I think one of the ways that companies can invest in their people is to send them to a place that will fill their cup. Yeah. Because companies have to understand, they may not be able to fill their people's cup. And you have to seek out opportunities to fill your top performer's cup that, need it. You have to be able to identify that. and if your company won't. I will tell you, I invested money in myself in 2023, more than I ever had. And, I'm a better person for it because I went there. Ready to do the work,

James:

yeah, in your reflection episode about the think tank. I'm really glad you talked about that to Aaron that I think it was about a 3rd of the attendees at the think tank for last year paid out of pocket. Maybe more. I'm, now I'm thinking about. All of the entrepreneurs that own their own businesses, they, it came through their company, but it really came from their own bank account. So probably half of the people that went to the think tank paid for it out of pocket. And again, we had people that were kind of entry level positions and we had people in their middle stage career positions. We had people who were pivoting and, I'm starting a new like chapter of my career. And the great equalizer here was that we didn't. We didn't even introduce people from what company they worked with, right? we just jumped into we're all equal. The 1 rule is build and maintain trust. Let's get down to it. and everybody was ready again. The water was warm. So everybody was ready. They had tuned their instruments before. See, I just called back to the, uh, but, everybody was tuned up practice rehearsed. And then now we got together and I really hope that this continues. I just, I feel like it will, and it's just something that our industry is needed. And. last thing I'll say for me, cause I could talk about this all day long, but this wasn't born out of ambition. This wasn't born out of oh, I hope we can create a conference to compete with other conferences. Nobody wants that, there's already too much to choose from. I, I created this opportunity because I wanted it. I personally wanted to be around Nicole, Erin, and the people that were at the think tank, I needed it because my flame was going out, my, my burnout was, it was like, you get to a moment in your career where am I even supposed to do this anymore? you feel like, am I really making an impact? And the very, very first thing tank was that was an effort of I have all of these people coming together to help us celebrate the opening of Bella Groves. Let me just experiment with that idea. I had, I think it was 20 people at a time. So can we get 20 people together that were going to be here anyway? let's put some work in front of them. And they just, they did such a great job with it. And it was only intended to be one Think Tank. I didn't plan on this to be multiple Think Tanks. But then, they were like, hey, are you doing one next year? And then they talked to other people like, hey, I heard about the Think Tank. So we did a second one. Now we did a third one. And it's clear that this is not a side project anymore. So that's why I brought in the big guns. I was like, Nicole, will you help me with this? And

Nicole:

I said, yes,

James:

immediately. She did. And she helped so much with the think tank in, in San Antonio. Before I made the offer, before I thought, Oh, wow, Nicole and I worked really well together. She really did it from a standpoint of, I enjoyed last year. What can I do to help you with this year? and I found myself just going to her more and more. And a lot of, even though I facilitated a lot of the think tank in San Antonio, a lot of it may was clear because Nicole was there to help out and, and be a sounding board. So I was like, let's just make that official and do this thing together. and it's just like in business, wouldn't you rather have a smaller piece of a bigger pie? And, if this is a collaborative experiment, then I need a collaborative business partner. So that's where all of that came from.

Nicole:

Yeah, I'm honored to work with James and it has been really fun in the last couple of years to not only do more work together, but then now when we're doing this intentional work, just, how great of a leader he is and communicator and I think our styles and how we show up with each other has been, supportive and it just makes me more excited about the future and that people also get to learn from James and, yeah. To learn and feel poured into and, Aaron, like you were saying that mindset and people can't pour from an empty cup and we take that responsibility very seriously. So know that all of our efforts are. To have that happen where people feel that they walk away really, doing goodwill, developing their leadership, deepening those relationships, all of those points we were making, because we know how important that is, and I think may is ambitious and we knew that we had a short amount of time to plan and let people know it's a very busy time for other conferences. So we know that as well. So if anything, know that, we want you there, whatever your role is and how you can contribute, we know that it's going to be a really impactful time. And it's important to us to be able to continue that goodwill, not just once a year, but twice a year to see how it evolves and grows.

Erin:

Yeah, it's a perfect pairing of the two main components of who the senior living industry serves, right? It's senior living and it's the care economy. it's the, it's the perfect pairing. and so you have two different audiences, two different avatars. And me to be able to bring them together is, it's exciting to watch it grow. I know we're running out of time a little bit, but this big, hairy, audacious goal of Paris 2025. do you want to give us like a three minute, five minute, Where did that come from? Nicole?

Nicole:

Yeah, it was my idea. In the sense of, James and I, we do have big dreams and goals and I think, we should not live those out. In my work, I've had interviews from around the world, and even in more conversation, being at CES, AARP, the H Tech Collaborative, just how international, all of these organizations, Aging services and carry economy challenges are that why not open up that dialogue to the world? I know my podcast not only has listeners in the U. S. made the apple charts and a lot of other countries, too. And there's a conversation collectively. As the world is aging on all of these different fall, so we're, we know it's ambitious and we will do our best to put it

Erin:

all together.

James:

Yeah. I love it. We were talking and Nicole's so what do you think about Think Tank Paris? And I was like, Oh, 1st, I was scared. I had to catch it. It's but it makes sense. It feels so intuitive and a part of the spirit of the think tank. And because it's, we're breaking the walls down of senior living vendor provider operator. We were doing that stuff anyway. And this is just a bigger version of that idea of, like, Why not put the U. S. on the world stage and the things that we're doing, in our various professions in the space. Why not lead those conversations to why not create a platform where other professionals like us in other countries are. Coming together and sharing ideas. So it's taking the idea of goodwill and personal development and deepening relationships to the global stage. we set it out for 2025 so we can tackle 1 ambition at a time. the 1st ambition is, let's do 2 cities. Let's take it on the road. Let's see if we can recreate the magic and then Austin will introduce a new topic. So it'll be a different leadership development topic. People like you, Aaron, can come in. It'll be a brand new experience for you every year. We wanted to make everyone's, personal, self improvement list. We want the think tank to be, I got a plan for that. And then what other things do I need to go to this year? I want it to be a mainstay for people. I want it to be for myself too, to go in and grow in those areas. think tank Paris, we're going to put a lot of work behind that. It'll take the year and a half between now and then to. put the work together and we're going to designate a certain portion that can come from the U. S., but we hope we'll get a good majority of the people from everywhere else.

Erin:

It's fascinating. It's, I'm sure people, and even I, thinking what are you thinking? But in some ways, in, in very big ways, it's okay, be the example, of Allowing your light to shine and do what you feel is your calling and moving forward in the growth and you go from goal oriented to growth oriented, and it's inspiring it the big moves inspire the small moves and other people and you're just living your mission and. I love every part of it, so make it happen.

James:

Let's make it happen. let's make it happen. Let's work hard and let's make it happen. It just my, yeah. Yes, but thanks for having us on and having this conversation with us and yeah, I hope this time next year we're having this conversation with new people who maybe heard this episode Aaron and we're like, yes, I have to put think tank on my list and then we'll be having this reflection with them a year from now.

Nicole:

absolutely for giving us the space to share seems a lot.

Erin:

Thank you. It's my pleasure and certainly something that I, want to do again and again to continue the goodwill and to deepen the relationships and for people to have that perspective. So I appreciate your time and sign up for Think Tank. It is an excellent investment. I'd love to work with you. Yeah. Yes, it's an excellent investment. And so as for all my listeners, every time we close it out and we say, aspire for more for you.