I may have met the most interesting man in the world (No…not the Dos Equis guy)

If you caught last week’s newsletter,  then you already know my feelings about working for incompetent people who are completely unaware of their level of incompetence (an occurrence becoming so frequent it has been dubbed The Dunning-Kruger Effect).

Today I’d like to have an honest discussion about whether or not being an asshole is a prerequisite for making your creative visions a reality.

One reader reached out regarding The Dunning-Kruger Effect with the thoughts below which no doubt ring true whether you work in Hollywood or any other creative industry.

“We romanticize the concept of the insane genius who works insane hours and pushes their people to insanity simply because it’s a good story. I have coined it ‘The Kubrick Effect.’ This is where individuals romanticize the concept of being cruel. We need to start celebrating the good people who treat people with respect and thus make good products.”

I’ve worked for my share of “insane creative geniuses” in my twenty years in Hollywood, and by and large they were completely insufferable to work for. Yet they got away with it because they created a product that made A LOT of money. But I’ve also worked for insanely talented people who were also delightful human beings that treated everyone with respect & dignity. And they too created a product that made a lot of money.

Needless to say, there is not a direct correlation between your level of genius and how much you allowed to treat people like shit. Which is to say, no matter how brilliant you may be…it doesn’t give you the license be a dick.

As I discussed in my interview with Oscar-winning animation director Peter Ramsey, creative collaboration requires trust and respect. Therefore working with mean people is not only miserable, it will also most likely lead to a really crappy end product because you have no incentive to bring your best. There just happens to be enough artists in the world who create amazing work despite treating their team like crap that we are willing to perpetuate the mad genius stereotype for the sake of success.

At this stage of my career I’ve made it an absolute policy that I won’t work for people who create a pit in my stomach every time I see their name in my inbox, every time I open Slack, or every time I step off the elevator and walk to my office. In a way we become the sum total of the five people we surround ourselves with the most, and I want to be motivated & inspired by the people around me, not feel small, devalued, and disrespected.

I’ve also made it a policy to become more aware of the people behind the shows I watch and the products I buy. If I know for a fact a director or show runner is notorious for treating their crew like crap, I won’t support their show. Having said that it’s not easy to do the research on whether the CEO of Brawny paper towels treats his people with respect or not as well (and kids make a lot of messes), but every once in a while I come across a product I’m excited to use and endorse not just because the quality of the product itself but also because of the people behind the product and their mission.

A Company Doing It the Right Way

If you’ve followed along with the podcast for a long time, you know that by and far the #1 product I’ve endorsed over the years is the Topo Mat. I’ve lost count of the people I meet who start our conversation with “I bought my Topo Mat because of you!” Well the Topo Mat finally has some legit competition for a product that promotes better health through movement and higher levels of productivity at your workstation…but this product extends far beyond your standing desk.

If ever there was a product I’ve discovered that is the perfect blend of being a fantastic product that’s also a mission-driven company with amazing people behind it, it’s Xero Shoes.

Like millions of others, I originally heard about Xero way back in 2013 when they appeared on Shark Tank (here’s the full video of their Shark Tank appearance). At the time they were essentially just a homemade sandal company, yet they received a $400k offer from Kevin O’Leary (which was a HUGE amount back then in the early days of the show). And they turned it down!

At the time it was just another segment on the show, and I didn’t think much of it. But then a couple of years ago I was reintroduced to Xero Shoes by my friend and ninja trainer Tony Horton as a healthier alternative to standard athletic shoes. And as soon as I tried them on I completely fell in love.

In fact I fell so much in love with these shoes that I’ve replaced every single shoe I own with Xero Shoes (to the tune of 10+ pairs). And I’m not talking just training shoes, I mean from sandals to ninja shoes to running to Spartan Races to slippers around the house to casual wear on a Friday night to dress shoes for a wedding. They cover it all.

In the next few weeks I’ll be releasing a full product review of Xero Shoes and explaining why I endorse their product so wholeheartedly (after 2 full years of use…I don’t do quick product reviews for free crap in return).

But I’m not interested in talking about shoes today. I’m interested in talking about great people behind great companies and how being the mad creative genius can be incredibly powerful when it accompanies treating your team with respect.

The Most Interesting Man In the World?

Not only have I had the pleasure of wearing nothing but Xero shoes for the last several months, I’ve also gotten to know the creator and CEO of Xero Shoes Steven Sashen who’s become somewhat of a business mentor.

And Steven Sashen is quite possibly the most fascinating human being I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot of people).

Within five minutes of talking to Steven it’s painfully obvious that he’s a mad creative genius experiencing the world on a completely different level than most of us. Virtually every sentence out of his mouth is a mic drop moment where your mind is blown. But rather than using his creative genius to simply achieve his own ends, he instead is on a mission to right the wrongs of the world, specifically within the shoe industry.

Yeah, I didn’t know there were rights to wrong in the shoe industry either, but man oh man is this guy’s story and mission fascinating.

You Don’t Want to Miss This One

My interview with Xero Shoes Founder & CEO Steven Sashen drops tomorrow (click here to subscribe so you don’t miss it), and it’s quite possibly the most fascinating conversation I’ve ever had. We get deep, we get existential, we heavily debate “luck” from completely opposing sides, we talk about the mindsets behind success (of which Steven argues there are no mindsets that lead to success), and how to manage the fact that as you become successful your life will be filled with MORE problems, not less.

I cannot wait to see what you think of this interview, friend!

Be well.
Zack Arnold
Creator, Optimize Yourself

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”