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The future of retail with Sterling Hawkins

This week, we’re wrapping up Season 2 of the podcast with another very special guest: Sterling Hawkins is a global keynote speaker who focuses on the intersection of emerging technology and big business. In addition to his speaking gigs, Sterling is the Retail and E-Commerce Committee Co-Chair for the VR AR Association (VRARA) and Community Chair for RetailTomorrow, an industry initiative that organizes a community of thought leaders from retailers, brands, innovators, investors and universities dedicated to enhancing the seamless shopper experience in retail. He’s been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, The New York Times and Inc. Magazine, among others.

SHOW NOTES

Sterling’s Website: https://www.sterlinghawkins.com/
Sterlings LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sterlinghawkins/
VRARA Webinar: https://www.marxentlabs.com/event/vrara-webinar/

Listen on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-inreality-podcast/id1232627518
Listen on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/05akf7T5W6TbBJwqqVMm66

TRANSCRIPT

00:01 Joe Johnson: Welcome to The In Reality Podcast. Now starting three, two, one. Welcome to the In Reality Podcast, where we cover all things Augmented and Virtual Reality. The In Reality Podcast is hosted by Joe Bardi and Joe Johnson and features news, commentary and perspective from industry veterans and experts. First up, the introductions. I’m Joe Johnson, Creative Director at Marxent Labs.

00:22 Joe Bardi: And I’m Joe Bardi, Communications Director here at Marxent.

00:24 JJ: And this week, we’re wrapping up season two of the podcast with another very special guest. Sterling Hawkins is a global keynote speaker who focuses on the intersection of emerging
technology and big business. Sterling grew up a fifth generation grocery retailer which gave him an early appreciation of the importance of studying human behavior. After founding several companies, he worked on innovation projects with brands like Mitsubishi, P&G… You want me to say Procter and Gamble?

00:47 JB: Either way.

00:48 JJ: Like Mitsubishi, Procter and Gamble, Synchrony Financial and Energizer. More recently, Sterling’s been traveling the world spreading good news about how legacy businesses can still push what’s possible for retail.

00:58 JB: In addition to his speaking gigs, Sterling is the retail and e-commerce committee co-chair for the VR/AR Association. Shout out to the VRARA and he’s a community chair for Retail Tomorrow, which is an industry initiative that organizes a community of thought leaders from retailers, brands, innovators, investors and universities dedicated to enhancing the seamless shopper experience in retail. He’s been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, The New York Times and Inc. Magazine among others.

01:24 JJ: So, Joe, we’ve got a knowledgeable accomplished guest today, a man who understand where retail has been and where it’s going over the next five years and beyond. What do we do now?

01:32 JB: Pepper him with endless questions about 3D visualization, mobile check-out and killer death robots. You know, the usual.

01:41 JJ: We are live, Joe, whenever you wanna start.

01:47 JB: Okay. Alright. So, we’re joined today by Sterling Hawkins. Hello, Sterling, thank you for being on the In Reality Podcast.

01:55 Sterling Hawkins: Yeah, thanks for having me. Great to be with you guys.

01:57 JB: So, I know you have a… As we record this, you’re a couple days away from doing a TEDx Talk in Chula Vista, California. Can you tell us the topic? How much can you tell us without spoiling it?

02:09 SH: Yeah, I’m excited for it. It’s my first TEDx Talk. It’s right outside San Diego so not far from where I am in Los Angeles and the whole idea is in this world of innovation because I think
innovation, in a broader context, is just a significant positive change and in our world, it’s typically technology but it can be any kind of change. It could be in relationships, your finances, even a career and the idea that I’ll be talking about at the TEDx is how discomfort is actually necessary for innovation.

02:45 JB: Interesting, okay. I almost wanna dive right into that but I’m gonna let it go because it’s a fascinating topic but not what we’re here talking about it.

[laughter]

02:55 JB: Hopefully, they’ll post that.

02:56 SH: Well, some of it I’ll talk through, I’m sure.

02:58 JB: Yes. Do they post those online after the fact? Because…

03:01 JJ: They typically do.

03:02 JB: So I’ll include the video of that in our show notes as well, so you can get the answer below and then so, last week, as we record this, you hosted a VR/AR Association webinar with a very long title that I’m gonna read right now. It was Creating ROI In the Future of AR/VR In Retail, how retailers are using VR/AR to achieve growth, profitability and customer experience goals and you had Marxent’s own Gabe Karp and Scott Perry from Bob’s Discount Furniture. What was your key takeaway from that conversation?

03:33 SH: Well, there was so much good stuff in that conversation we had and it was really cool to look at not just technologies in terms of what could be possible but more so through the lens of well, what’s possible right now? What are some of the retailers and brands that have implemented the stuff and what are some of that result. And I think the biggest takeaway for me is, we’re never gonna have all the answers. I don’t know if AR/VR has a right answer that we’re trying to arrive to. Like, “This is the only implementation that works. It’s the best way.” No. There’s so many different businesses and customer types and groups and regions that it’s gonna be a little bit different everywhere. But what I got was it’s starting, right? As soon as we have some kind of foray into the AR/VR world as brands, as retailers, we’ve got some results and they might not be exactly what we want to have but directionally, they can start to point us in the direction that’s gonna work and so that was really cool to see.

04:42 JJ: Do you have any stand-out brands for people who have just started putting stuff together? Do you have any favorite?

04:48 SH: I liked what Marxent was doing. It was with Macy’s right?

04:53 JB: Yes, yes. No, good answer. [chuckle]

04:55 JJ: Totally, unprompted. I did not prompt him.

04:58 JB: That’s right. We did not discuss this earlier.

05:00 SH: Right. I’m not looking to placate anything here. I think what they’ve done there is phenomenal and from talking on the webcast and having little background with that, I think the key to the whole thing has been not just the technology itself but the support and the training that’s gone along with it. If you just drop technology in the stores, it’s not going anywhere.

05:26 JB: Right.

05:26 SH: It’s the fact that the teams got up to speed. They understood the value. They understood the technology, how it works, a slight caveat which is blatantly important is that technology does work as advertised and no surprise, with the support and training, they’ve actually got some really great results.

05:46 JB: So, talking about it in the terms of baby steps or first foot forward, first steps, we really
wanted to talk to you about the future and this is a good way to get into that.

05:58 JJ: What a segue.

06:00 JB: Thank you. Thank you.

06:00 JJ: You’re so smooth.

[chuckle]

06:01 JB: So in your keynotes, Sterling, you talk about what you call the innovation gap, which is the distance between what companies think is possible and what they can actually achieve. It turns out there’s a lot of small thinking going on out there and so, let’s go. I wanna go through… Well, this will be the bulk of our conversation from here on out, but I wanna go through some examples of emerging retail technology and I’d like to get your take on each one, both in terms of where you see them going in the next one-year, five-year, 10-year, the usual sort of, put on your fortuneteller hat and let us know but also in terms of how these companies may be thinking too small around the technologies that everybody’s heard of but we’re still figuring out…

06:41 JJ: So, it’s prognostication time.

06:43 JB: Yes.

06:43 JJ: Okay.

06:43 JB: And I just want it like, the ground rules are, these are all real retail solutions that are now in use in the US. I’m not gonna do like implanted Microchip payment systems or anything like that.

06:53 JJ: Jesus.

06:54 JB: So we’ ll start in your wheelhouse with, as a member of the VRARA. So we’ll start with augmented reality visualization and virtual try-on. So what are you seeing out there and where do you see that going?

07:08 SH: Yeah, well, I think how it started out is perfect, with augmented reality being used in homes and offices to kind of see how some larger furniture and things along those lines fits in the space. I also really like what… I don’t know if Best Buy has launched it yet. If they haven’t launched it, they’re about to launch it where you can see the different TV sizes in the physical space through augmented reality. I’m like, “Ah, that’s a great implementation of it.”

07:38 JB: Yes, yeah, absolutely.

07:39 SH: Right and even getting into some of the clothing, although I think it’s got a ways to go before it’s really meaningful, to start to see some of the different fabrics, the clothing or things and how they look on you or in your home is certainly directionally where we’re headed.

07:56 JB: Do you see…

07:57 SH: I think it’s gonna be a while before everybody gets their own virtual reality goggles.

08:02 JB: Right.

08:03 SH: I got the Oculus Go, I don’t know, back when it first came out. I think they’re about to launch their second version now.

08:11 JB: Yes, it’s the…

08:12 SH: And I played with it for a week straight and I’ve used it really sporadically since. You know, it had me with the cool factor. I’m like, okay, that was cool. Moving on, you know?

08:22 JB: Yeah, no absolutely…

08:23 SH: I don’t…

08:24 JB: The new Oculus is the Quest and it’s like the Go in that it’s free…

08:28 JJ: But a lot more powerful.

08:28 JB: But a lot more powerful. You should probably give that one a spin. You may find you’ll
last like an hour and then start using it sporadically instead of just a half hour.

08:35 SH: Right, I think there’s… We’re still looking for what is that virtual reality killer app, like the printer was to the personal computer. With that combination, all of a sudden the whole thing
took off. What is that gonna be for virtual reality? And it could be something that already exists, we’re not just paying attention to it yet or it might not be something that’s been invented yet.

09:00 JB: Do you think the next couple years look pivotal for both AR and VR in the sense that it definitely feels like there’s gonna be a whole bunch of new hardware that’s gonna come out, where it’s sort of ending… We’re reaching the end of the first gen of modern VR and we’re about to hit this sort of point where, I don’t know, I’m gonna guess, like, all of the major tech companies are gonna release some kind of AR glasses or implementation. How do you think that that is gonna change the way we’re looking at what we can do with virtual reality and does it make it go wider, does it sort of flop at that point? Do you have a feeling, a guess?

09:39 JJ: You can make a completely crazy guess and it won’t matter.

[laughter]

09:45 SH: Well, I think the next couple years are pivotal for most technologies, most businesses out there. I mean, we live in a time now where the pace of change is only accelerating and it’s always crazy for me to stop and think about like right now, this moment is the slowest pace of change we’ll ever see again and it’s like, wow! Already we’re seeing things happen so quickly. I don’t know how long it was between the Oculus first generation and the second generation they’re coming out with, like a year or so, is that right?

10:20 JJ: I’ll have to do the math on the DK1 to DK2 release but…

10:23 JB: No, no, no, he meant the Go to the Quest and yes, it’s about a year.

10:26 JJ: Oh, yeah, it’s about a year.

10:26 JB: It’s about a year and really, the Go is like two years.

10:29 SH: Yeah, it goes pretty quick.

10:30 JB: It does, yes.

10:34 SH: And we’ve got autonomous vehicles on the streets more and more just within the last year, year and a half. We’ve got private companies, multiple private companies sending rockets up into space and I don’t think it’s just the next couple years where we’re gonna see a bunch of changes. I think change is the new normal.

10:54 JB: Interesting.

10:54 SH: If that makes sense.

10:56 JJ: What a great tag. Am I writing an advertisement? Is change always in?

[laughter]

11:03 SH: Yeah, it’s funny ’cause I’m like the innovation guy and the tech guy and don’t get me wrong, I’m the biggest nerd about it. I love playing with all of them. Well, I couldn’t code to save
my life but the thing is, a lot of these technologies from a business perspective are secondary to the business culture. It’s the group of people and what they’re creating together, in terms of an
experience for them and maybe just as important, the experience that they’re creating for their customers. Technology should be secondary in that petitioning process, not an end goal.

11:42 JB: Right, servicing whatever the company’s product is or whatever service they are providing, it should be bolstering that, not overshadowing it.

11:52 SH: Yeah, totally. Macy’s again is a good example to go but back to that, I don’t think they were sitting around the board room saying, “Hey, we think virtual reality is coming so let’s just figure out how to get it into our stores.” The approach, at least what it looks like from my end and I don’t have a lot of inside connections there but you can tell me but it sounds like, hey, we’ve got a need, a customer need where we can add some additional value. How can we add that value? Ah, virtual reality can add that value. So it’s really kind of, how do we use technology as an enabler to create a better customer experience?

12:33 JJ: It’s certainly a better customer experience. I know that the numbers that we’ve seen around adoption and engagement are really… They’re a big deal.

12:40 JB: And I can tell you just from… I have a little bit of visibility into what happened and really it was, Macy’s was looking to solve a very specific problem or set of problems, which were, people were reluctant to make an initial furniture purchase because they don’t know whether or not the piece will fit in their house or not and then, the other problem was, once they would buy the piece and then once it was delivered, they would realize it didn’t fit for whatever reason.
13:08 JJ: Or it wouldn’t look the way they thought it would…

13:09 JB: Or it wouldn’t look and so they would return it and so furniture returns are brutal to that business and they really, they kill the bottom line and so Macy’s was looking at VR as a way to both give the customer a chance to be able to prove the fit before they actually purchased it and then on the back end, therefore, negate the returns and that’s what we see every time they install one of… They went through a pilot and now they’re in… I think they’re about to go 150 stores.

13:37 JJ: Yeah. It’s so funny to me when you think about… It feels like a really small problem. Will it fit in my house? But it’s integral to what…

[laughter]

13:45 JJ: It does. It feels like, “Okay. Well, what were your previous solutions for that sort of thing?” Take a lot of measurements, tape measurements, graph paper, stuff like that. Now, you can just give them the overall size of your room and then you can just pick items that are similar to what you already have to fill out what’s in there and then at that point, you can start establishing whether or not things fit and it seems like such a small problem to solve but it took a long time to get to where we are right now.

14:13 SH: Yeah. The technology is no small deal but I think the genius of what you said and the
genius that Macy’s had with this is how you phrase the problem. It’s not a business problem. It’s not, “Oh, my God. We’re losing too much money from the return.” It’s oh, yeah. As a customer, my problem is that my measurements are inaccurate or I can’t see how it fits in my home and from that perspective, like standing in the customer’s shoes, we make better decisions and businesses.

14:47 JB: Right So let’s talk about one that is a business decision and actually moves on a little bit from 3D.

14:53 JJ: I’m excited.

14:53 JB: I’m talking about ultrafast delivery. I’m talking hours, even minutes. Am I insane or are we approaching a world where I will go into a store buy something and they will deliver it to my
home before I even get there?

15:07 SH: Yeah.

15:07 JJ: It depends on how many errands you have, yeah.

15:09 SH: I think it’s getting there. Yeah and I think there again, we can stand in the customer’s shoes because sometimes that’s a problem. One of the things I joke about is like that toilet paper example. You run out of toilet paper, that’s a fair emergency. Somebody’s gotta do something about it.

15:26 JB: It happened to me recently in my home.

15:27 SH: And if you can have that… Right. And if that can show up on your doorstep in minutes, that is a tremendous value add for you.

15:36 JB: Have you seen any…

15:37 SH: And there’s other products in that same category.

15:39 JB: Have you seen any of the implementations of… I know Amazon is working with this and Walmart and a few others where the products will actually reorder themselves when they get low.

15:48 JJ: Yeah. Amazon does that via a couple of different tracking systems.

15:51 JB: They have their tracking… There’s now actual containers that are doing it. Do you have anything on that, Sterling? Have you see any of that stuff in action?

15:58 SH: Yeah. There’s a couple of ways that they’re addressing that. Most simply, it’s just a
reordering cycle. Every month send a new toothpaste or new shampoo and there’s a couple of
different companies out there. Amazon of course, Groove is another. What’s starting to happen
though, is the devices themselves are getting smart. So the stream knows when it’s still two
cartridges low and it can order some new ones or your dishwasher knows, “Oh, you’ve run it 30
times and you had 15 dishwashing tablets in reserve, we need to reorder that now.” And it’s
basically… I don’t know if you guys remember the Amazon Dash button but it was the IoT device
that was a button you could press, and it would just reorder and they’ve since retired that and I think a lot of people looked at it like, “Oh, it didn’t work.” But they’re not retiring it because it didn’t work. They’re retiring it because they’re integrating these technologies directly into the home and as that happens, it removes entire product categories from the traditional retail market. There are also something that’s…

17:08 JJ: I imagine there are also… Oh, sorry. My bad. I was gonna say I imagine they’re also using Alexa to do some of that heavy lifting?

17:17 SH: Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. Alexa’s kind of their smart hub of the home of the future and what happens is once you lock some that stuff in like, “Okay. I’m only going to use Tide and my washer is going to reorder for me, it’s a big change to go in and change the systems when Tide just starts to show up.17:42 JB: Because there’s no way for competitors to really get in the way of that transaction at that point. The person isn’t even making a conscious decision anymore.

17:51 SH: Right. Exactly. The home, the devices, they’re just ordering things themselves.

17:57 JB: And that sort of points the way to interesting… Not only advertising strategies but just business strategies where companies are gonna start aligning with each other to try to… When you buy from company X, you automatically get this group of products versus company Y.

18:14 JJ: I have a great example for you right now. Do you remember when you bought your Bose headphones and they’re Alexa-enabled?

18:19 JB: Yes.

18:19 JJ: And then Amazon was like, “Hey, why didn’t you set up your Alexa?” And they offered you a pretty significant amount of money.

18:27 JB: They didn’t offer, they just asked if it would appeal to me, would that get me to set up my Alexa account.

18:31 JJ: Oh, I’m sure it would but it’s evident to me that their play is clearly to get into that system, to have you constantly in their ecosystem and just, if it starts ordering things for you, you don’t make conscious decisions about your purchases anymore.

18:44 JB: Yes. My God!

18:44 JJ: Well, you know.

[laughter]

18:45 SH: Yeah. And that’s super valuable over time. It’s only worked so much, one trip to the supermarket to buy new detergent but over the years of that equipment, hugely valuable. And the cool thing about it for me is, yeah that’s useful in some categories but there’s also almost a new opportunity opening up in-store because of that, which makes things much more experiential. If I can have everything show at my house, great but I still need to leave my house sometimes. What am I gonna do? I’m leaving to see friends, to be around new experiences and that’s where kind of the retail of the future, whatever, looks like, can kind of step in.

19:32 JB: So let me… I’ll move this now on to one of the technologies that’s sort of intimately involved in what you’re talking about, which is mobile checkout, the ability of the customer to just
pick up the thing and buy it right there and go. So I sort of phrase this as am I the future of the cash register.

19:48 JJ: You are.

19:51 JB: But what have you seen about mobile checkout?

19:52 JJ: If you’ve been to a Walmart in the last, I don’t know, month, six months, year… If they can just enable people to buy and then walk out not actually have an employee necessary to do any of that, I don’t know how they’re gonna manage inventory. I’m sure they’ve come up with a bunch of different ways to handle it.

20:07 JB: That’ll be my next question about robots.

20:09 JJ: Oh, okay. Got it.

20:10 JB: So, Sterling, mobile checkout…

[laughter]

20:12 JB: Do you have any… Have you seen any of these systems and do you have an opinion on them, can you tell me about that?

20:18 JJ: Yeah, how do you feel about them?

20:21 SH: Yeah, I think it’s been around for a while. It’s funny ’cause I’ve been looking at that technology for probably a decade and most of the feedback was a worry around loss prevention, up until the last couple of years and now there’s been like this resurgence of, everybody wants to have a mobile check-out and I’m for it, for sure. I think the customer experience there, it’s a well-done app, really trumps having to stand in line but even to go a step further, where you’ve got the computer vision-based check-out like an Amazon Go or Standard Cognition, where you’re not scanning anything. You’re just picking things up off the shelf and walking out and have you guys been to an Amazon Go store by the way?

21:03 JB: Not yet, not yet.

21:05 JJ: I’ll be in Seattle in July, I’ll give it a shot then.

21:09 SH: Yeah, definitely check it out because I’m a retail guy, I know exactly what the experience is and how it was gonna go and it’s still very trippy walking out of a store without doing anything with the products. Like it feels like you’re stealing and…

21:25 JJ: Yes, I’m looking forward to that thrill.

21:28 SH: Yeah, it is really cool and then all of a sudden you’re picking stuff up and putting in back and yet you walk out with way more than you planned on buying and the same thing is happening there, I think, happened with the credit cards. When credit cards rolled out, people started spending more ’cause it didn’t feel like cash and now when you don’t have to swipe anything, stand in line, do anything other than walk out, all of a sudden you’re buying more.

21:53 JB: Yeah, I could see how that… I hadn’t thought about it as a way to further disassociate the consumer from the actual money that they are spending. My…

22:04 JJ: The technophobist in me would say something along the lines of I’m sure that that’s what they’re all trying to do.

22:09 JB: No, I’m sure they are to some extent because that’s a basket size conversion.

22:12 JJ: Yeah, it is a basket, average order value goes up that way.

22:14 JB: Once you are in the store, if they can get an extra five bucks out, that’s why there’s candy at the front, like it…

22:18 JJ: Oh my God, I want some candy right now. You’re a monster.

[laughter]

22:23 JB: Alright, so…

22:24 SH: Yeah and it’s also just, back to where we were standing, it’s also a really great customer experience. To walk into some of those stores and you’ll probably see it when you go to Seattle, there are about 80 to 90% of the people going into those stores and they’ve been there before, they know what they’re doing, they walk and they walk out and it’s a great experience for them. They literally have a hard time going anywhere else, to go from no line to having to stand in line, it doesn’t work. But you’ll see about 10-20% of people that aren’t quite sure. It’s their first time, they’re kinda figuring it out and Amazon staffs the front door for exactly that reason. It’s not for loss prevention, it’s so people can be educated on how it works and they don’t have to check out and they can get the app and everything else.

23:09 JJ: Yeah, I suppose… Go ahead, sorry.

23:12 SH: You get more and more people… I was gonna say, the more and more people acclimate to that being the way retail works, kind of the traditional way of standing in line to check-out becomes less and less appealing.

23:25 JJ: Yeah, I was gonna say, it seems to me like the loss prevention staff, if the average order value goes up significantly and the loss prevention or shrinkage is roughly the same or even slightly larger. I don’t even know if it even matters them at that point.

23:37 JB: Walmart actually scrapped or shelved their version of the Go concept.

23:42 JJ: Yeah, why’s that?

23:43 JB: Because of loss prevention.

23:43 JJ: Was it real bad there?

23:44 JB: It was real bad.

23:45 JJ: Yeah.

23:46 JB: So I think that…

23:46 JJ: Is that a customer demographics thing?

23:48 JB: So I think that you’re on the right track in the sense that it’s only a problem until the numbers work out and it is not a problem anymore and I think that… It’s interesting to me…

23:58 JJ: That old chestnut.

24:00 JB: I think that to some extent, the Walmart audience is trained to the idea of well, the express scanner didn’t scan it so I guess that’s mine now.

24:08 JJ: Is that right?

24:09 JB: I mean, it’s sort of what happens.

24:11 JJ: Pretty savage buddy.

24:14 JB: I’m not making this up, they shelved it because of loss.

24:15 JJ: When the revolution comes you’re first against the wall buddy.

24:18 JB: Hey, no, I’ll be the first to the Walmart.

[laughter]

24:21 JB: Alright, so we’re gonna… Last question Sterling, we’re gonna change gears totally here.

24:26 JJ: I’m keeping all that in.

24:27 JB: Thank you. What am I, trying to say the word gears for two minutes. Okay, great.

24:30 JJ: Love it.

24:30 JB: Okay, so when you’re not on the clock, you’re a bit of an adrenaline junky, Sterling. According to your online bio…

24:36 SH: That’s right.

24:36 JB: And this is you talking, I’m gonna quote you, “When I’m not on stage, I’m pushing my own edges of what’s possible with friends and executive clients. We’ve embraced adventure
workshops, shark diving at Seal Island, skydiving in Southern California, Century Cycling in Utah… ”

24:51 JJ: Pause, pause! What is Century Cycling?

24:53 JB: Guessing a 100 is involved?

24:56 SH: It’s riding a bike for a 100 miles.

24:58 JJ: Okay!

25:00 JB: Okay. “Camping in the Sahara desert”, which that’s just camping in the desert, that seems horrifying, too.

25:03 JJ: No, it’s camping in the hottest, most inhospitable desert I can imagine, other than the Gobi.

25:09 JB: “Racing in Monaco”, which almost killed Tony Stark, “marathons, flying, yoga, and an
ever growing bucket list.” So my question is what sort of the hairiest situation you ever found
yourself in and what did it teach you about risk?

25:24 SH: Yeah, there’ve been a lot of them.

25:27 JB: It sounds like it.

25:29 SH: It’s kind of funny to listen at the your back, I’m like, “Wow, that’s a lot of stuff in there,” and it is because I think a lot of the kind of game we’re playing as businesses and to some extent as humans, is kind of breaking the knowledge patterns we have of the past, to see what new we can create, whether it comes to technology or even just how we’re fundamentally operating and so I see a lot of the activities that I’m doing are not just fun and scary and in some cases a little bit life-threatening.

26:05 JB: A little bit?

26:05 SH: But we’re doing them under the context of kind of breaking the cognitive models that we have, to see what is it that we are blind to right now? How can we use those experiences to
illuminate our blind spots? And I think it’s gotta be between shark diving and skydiving, both were terrifying. Maybe a year and a half ago, we were out at Seal Island and they can’t guarantee sharks obviously ’cause they don’t sign contracts but the…

26:37 JB: But Seal Island is basically… The name Seal Island is basically calling it “Shark Buffet.”

26:42 JJ: Yeah.

26:44 SH: Yeah. Yeah, it’s on Discovery Channel. Like the place to see Great White Sharks and so I had a mental model of what it was gonna look like. Oh, yeah. I’ve seen that. I’ve been there and watched the TV and we’re out in the boat and there’s nobody out there. It’s not a major tourist destination. There’s one small boat fishing for something and then there’s us and hours go by, so many hours. I’ve now kind of threw in the towel. I’d figured well, it’s not our day and I’ve got my feet sitting over the side of the boat in the shark cage, not just in open water.

27:24 JB: Okay, good.

27:25 SH: And I’ve got my wetsuit kinda half on. I’m half paying attention and all of a sudden, a 15-foot shark jumps out of the water, I kid you not, 18 inches away from me.

27:40 JB: How fast did your feet get back in the boat?

27:42 SH: Well, here’s the thing. I didn’t do what I thought I was gonna do. I froze. I couldn’t move. The people there are yelling at me, they’re not yelling at me to get back in the boat. They were yelling at me to get in the water and so for a good two to three seconds, which is a long time when you’ve got a shark that close to you, it’s shaking its head back and forth and I can’t move and it’s one thing to imagine yourself in that situation, it’s something else entirely to be in it and be in the experience of such primal fear, I guess I would say. That I couldn’t do anything.

28:24 JB: Do you just, after two or three seconds, did you just snap to and be like, “Oh yeah,” or how does that resolve itself? ‘Cause I’m assuming you jumped into the water then but… So how
does it resolve itself?

28:35 SH: Yeah. I did. I did. Three seconds later, I kinda snapped to, I shake it off, I jump in the water and as soon as I was underwater, it was completely peaceful. The shark came down from
chewing on the bait and you look into their big black eyes and it… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain but it wasn’t scary anymore because there’s no yelling, there’s no splashing, you’re underwater, it’s very quiet. It was extremely peaceful and to go from literally a life-and-death situation, at least how I experienced it to total calm and peace was unbelievable.

29:12 JB: Alright. And on that note, I think we will say thank you for…

29:16 JJ: No, no. No, no. I got one more thing. I got one more thing.

29:18 JB: Oh, wait. Joe has a follow-up. Never mind.

29:19 JJ: You said it was a toss up between diving to see sharks and skydiving. Did you do tandem jumping?

29:30 SH: Yes.

29:30 JJ: Okay. So I’m gonna share my tandem jumping experience with you, real quick.

29:35 JB: Alright.

29:36 SH: Please.

29:36 JJ: I’m terrified of heights but I had agreed to do this because I’ll do just about anything at least one time. So did you… What kind of plane did they put you in? Do you remember?

29:48 SH: I don’t remember the type. I know the back of the plane opened up and you jumped out the back.

29:53 JJ: Okay. So you jumped out the back of the plane. We were in a one-engine turboprop that had a rolling door on the side of the fuselage. It wasn’t like a… There were no hydraulics. There’s no… It was literally just a shutter that they raised and then, you sit with your feet dangling over it for a second and then they just push you out. You get pushed out. Right? So there’s no moment to hesitate. You’re not in control. That’s probably for the best and that was probably the worst… It was fine. It was also the worst moment of my life.

[laughter]

30:30 SH: It’s terrifying.

30:31 JJ: Yeah.

30:31 SH: And I don’t know how it was for you but the place that I went, you sign about 12
different documents.

30:38 JJ: Only three of them are waivers.

30:39 SH: Acknowledging you’re putting your life at risk and you might die and then, the part that got me is they wanted the proof of life video. So they take a video of everybody saying, “I’m
skydiving and here’s my name. I’m not doing it under threat.” And after signing all of this, they’re like, “Oh. It’s no problem. Take it easy.” I’m like, “I’m not sure about that.”

31:00 JB: Yeah. No, if you make me videotape myself saying you’re not responsible for what’s about to happen, that’s a hostage situation.

31:05 JJ: Is that right? [laughter]

31:07 SH: Right. Right. I’m really glad I did it. I might even do it again but I’m not ready to do it tomorrow. Would you?

31:14 JJ: Just once for me. Just once for me. I’m okay.

31:17 SH: Fair enough. Fair enough.

31:19 JB: And for me, if the plane is ever on fire and there’s an available parachute, yes, I’ll do it.

31:23 JJ: That’s fair.

31:24 JB: But paying someone to push me out of a perfectly good airplane, probably not.

31:27 SH: Good deal.

31:27 JJ: Alright, well, thanks for joining us, Sterling.

31:29 JB: Thank you, Sterling. Really appreciate it. Have a good afternoon.

31:33 SH: Yeah. It’s my pleasure. Thank you guys.

31:38 JJ: Thank you.

31:39 JJ: It is the future. The distant future. [laughter]

31:43 JB: Space pants.

31:44 JJ: It is the future 2019 and we are robots. Sorry.

31:49 JB: I think I’m just gonna yell out Space pants from…

31:51 JJ: Alright. We already did hellos. We already did…

31:52 JB: Okay. So now, go all the way to the bottom. We’re not quite all the way at the bottom. Post-Sterling.

31:56 JJ: Alright. So one little bit of housekeeping before we go. This is the last episode of Season 2 of The In Reality Podcast.

32:01 JB: Boo. Or yay! Boo. Yay.

32:03 JJ: Why do we have seasons? What is their purpose? We’re not really sure. Purative rejuvenation. Re-evaluation and whatever other re-words we can throw at it. So a big thank you to all our Season 2 guests. Scott Perry from Bob’s Discount Furniture, Holly Shively at the Daily News, Margie Manning from the St Pete Catalyst and Flynn Wear at Furniture Today and of course, Sterling Hawkins. Fair warning, Season 3 will start a little slow because we’re upgrading our recording equipment during the break. But we’re planning some special shows and interviews for when we return. So keep your eyes peeled for The In Reality Season 3 coming to iTunes, Google Play and wherever else you download or listen to podcasts. So that’s it.

32:36 JB: We’ll be back in a few weeks for the Season 3 Premier of The In Reality Podcast. Until then, the balcony is closed.

32:42 JJ: Mahalo.

[music]

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